Rituals, Theatre, and Transformative Goodness

Adinkra symbol of transformation.

Adinkra symbol of transformation.

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen

The first time I met theatre expert Paul Carter Harrison, he distinguished “theatre” from “drama” as theatre being the story that always contained some form of ritual and symbolism whereas drama simply told a story.  It was a bit more complicated than that, but I still remember that discussion.  It made me think of essays I read about how theatre began among us humans as rituals and performances designed to appease the gods or God.  Theatre was birthed in belief, in belief in something higher and more potent than ourselves, and that we all had a responsibility to this entity or entities higher than ourselves.  This thought has popped in my head off and on for the last two weeks…and today I think I discovered why this notion of ritual as theatre and theatre as ritual all designed to bring favor from the gods or God is so potent and timely…

Today I met a fiftyish White woman from Minnesota who told me that several cities in Minnesota solved their transportation problems by “building freeways through Black neighborhoods and business districts.”  Then she said, “they destroyed those neighborhoods.  There is a documentary about this but I can’t remember the name of it.” I then mentioned a former classmate who was writing his thesis about such a topic.  She was genuinely angry about it and talked about how unethical it all was.  “I’ll take Atlanta’s traffic to that kind of destruction any day of the week,” she said.

After she and I exchanged a few mutual comments about the late Minneapolis-born Prince, she asked me what was my discipline and I told her “History” and that my dissertation topic was about theatre.  Then she mentioned the Penumbra Theatre in Saint Paul, Minnesota and our conversation was off to the races.  I also had a conversation with a young man from South Africa that had moved here and lived on my side of town.  “I love it, here!” he said.  He and I had a conversation that ranged from the problems of the old South African government to recent politics to the status of women.  He also mentioned that he had a hard time with sexism since everyone came from the body of a woman.  I reiterated that I always meet talented, respectful young Black people every single day.  So what does this have to do with theatre and rituals?

Here is something I would like you to think about, and it ties in with theatre as ritual, and the rituals found in theatre and everyday life.  When one attends the theatre, one typically leaves with a different perspective.  No one leaves a theatre the same way that they came in.  Sitting in the dark of that theatre and watching performers suspend reality and portray characters other than themselves is in and of itself a ritual for performer and audience member alike.  One is literally transformed by witnessing what is done on stage.  One can get into the habit of going to the theatre, but a ritual is not a habit.  A habit is something you do almost by reflex, almost involuntarily, and it may or may not have any particular benefit to you.  You just do it because, well, you’re in the habit of doing it; and that might not be a bad thing, but a habit does not originate from the same source as a ritual.

A ritual is deliberately done; it follows a deliberate pattern in order to produce specific results.  Rituals create order, or at least make us feel that there is some order to the universe and the world we inhabit even in the midst of chaos, which is why human beings created rituals in the first place; and also why human beings can become so alarmed when certain rituals are not followed to the letter.

Today I discovered my own ritual.  Someone asked me how I end up having these stimulating conversations with people who are often complete strangers like the woman from Minnesota and the young man from South Africa.  Well, maybe it is because I don’t really meet strangers.  Yet, it is also due to my determination to not become a news junkie that feeds on bad news and controversy.  And to avoid bad news and controversy these days, one must deliberately turn off the television and internet and smart phone, and look for the truth, or at least find some balance between the real truth and the truth that is often manufactured for us.  So consider this…

The word “theatre” comes from a Greek word meaning “the seeing place.”  The seeing place was where you went to witness performers deliver the truth and wisdom.  Well, the truth is that, in spite of what you see in the media, there are so many nice, thoughtful people out there. Most of these people will never be on the news.  You have to look for them where you are; and you often find what you deliberately look for.  Make that a ritual.  Àṣé.

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

 

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

I Celebrate Them

cropped-10311780_10202865095520823_7587379838691260173_n_wm.jpg

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.

People that know me well (and some people that barely know me), know that I am a huge advocate for theatre.  I’m a Historian, an Oral Historian, and at the insistence of actors Margo Moorer and Keith Arthur Bolden, I’m also a dramaturge.

I saw the play “FENCES” that was written by the magnificent and late August Wilson decades ago.  Wilson was that rare African-American playwright that thought the particular culture of ordinary Black Americans was as worthy of a story to tell as any other story on earth…And he was right…He was damned right…

One of the joys of being an Oral Historian is interviewing people, many of who will never see their names in a book or newspaper.  Yet, what they can tell us about any particular period of history is invaluable precisely because they will tell you the truth about how any public policy affected them or did not affect them…which is why I always celebrate them…because they are so very important…and sometimes their stories are told in books and in films when most people least expect to see their stories told…So…

I am celebrating the fact that Denzel Washington and Viola Davis have brought the stage play FENCES to life as a film…and I am not going to lecture about how many people need to go to see this film or to see plays…

And I am positively, deliriously delighted to see Viola Davis win the Golden Globe for FENCES; and I am delighted that the story of the African American FEMALE scientists who helped put a man on the moon is now brilliantly portrayed in the film HIDDEN FIGURES. Now, what I am about to say in the next few lines matters to me and to a lot of women…

It is rare when Black women (or women in general) receive any visible, tangible praise or remuneration for having brains. Women get called on for advice and to listen to people’s problems; and women get praised for their physical beauty and politeness and tact, but we rarely get praised for being smart…and we rarely get paid for being smart…

Now, while I can almost hear all the good men I personally know getting ready to challenge me on this, I want to remind everybody of one important thing…

President Barack Obama actually awarded the Medal of Freedom to Dr. Katherine Coleman Johnson who is the subject of the film HIDDEN FIGURES, a film that traces her and many other Black women’s mathematical and scientific contributions to the race to place a man on the moon.  The Medal of Freedom is the highest award a president can give to a civilian American.  Actor Taraji P. Henson portrayed Dr. Katherine Coleman Johnson in the film HIDDEN FIGURES.  However, Dr. Johnson won this Medal in December of 2015 and it was featured in a news story in the New York Times and in a few other mainstream newspapers…But

this Medal of Freedom award did not particularly resonate and become viral news with too many folks…Hell, even I stumbled on it much later in mid-2016 and I wondered why I did not know much about this Black woman, myself…But I’m not angry with anybody…and I’m not calling any names because…

When I was a little Black girl growing up in Atlanta, a beautiful and regal and talented and supremely intelligent and gloriously Black woman named Diahann Carroll received death threats from White folks via mail because she was a Black woman who portrayed a widowed nurse named “Julia Baker” on a TV show called “JULIA” back in the late 1960s…and there are folks that think I ought to forget about that…but I will not forget it…and

I, and so many other young Black girls from that era, dreamed of a day when young Black women like Ava DuVernay and Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis and so many other glorious sisters would occupy places in the sun and tell great stories…and I know I am leaving out about three dozen names of some other wonderful sisters, but I am going to ask you all to fill in those extra blanks and go support these young women whenever you can…and I can say that after witnessing my sisters with talent and brains be too often ignored that…

I lived long enough to see enough of them shine without asking anybody’s permission…and I am going to live even longer to see them shine even more and tell some more great stories, and ask no one’s permission to do so…Àṣé.

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

No Ordinary Man

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Left to Right: Actor & Cultural Architect Charles Reese, Historian Leslye Joy Allen, and Actor-Director-Drama Professor Keith Arthur Bolden (Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.)

Left to Right: Actor & Cultural Architect Charles Reese, Historian Leslye Joy Allen, and Actor-Director-Drama Professor Keith Arthur Bolden (Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.)

When I learned that Mrs. Margarette Bolden passed on to the ancestors on Wednesday, October 26, 2016, I immediately thought of her son, my friend Keith Arthur Bolden.  I never met Keith Arthur’s Mama, but I knew her through him.  He spoke of her lovingly and often.  But then, that is Keith Arthur’s nature. (I call him by his first and middle name.)

An actor, director, Professor of Drama, and director of the amazing Spriggs Burroughs Ensemble at Spelman College that contains actors from all-female Spelman and all-male Morehouse College, I am highly familiar with Keith Arthur’s phenomenal work with young actors.  I had the good fortune to act as a Historical Consultant for him and this group; and the adventure was a lot of fun, and his asking me to do so was a supreme compliment.  But on Wednesday, October 26, 2016, Keith Arthur lost his Mama.  Yet…

In an act of unwavering devotion to his art and craft, he was up at 1:00 AM on October 27, 2016 for a late night/early morning rehearsal with his actors in the Spriggs Burroughs Ensemble.  One day after his amazing mother passed away from her third bout with cancer, Keith Arthur stated that his Mama would want him to keep working and perfecting his art.  This behavior might sound unreasonable to an ordinary man or woman, but Keith Arthur Bolden is not an ordinary man.

I have listened to him rave about how good his wife Tinashe Kajese is at acting.  “If you want to know how to get into a scene, you watch my wife,” he has said on so many occasions.  He could routinely brag about how beautiful his wife is (and she is a real beauty), but he praises her work all the time.  In that respect he is quite different from a lot of men.  Many men will praise a woman’s cooking and will talk about how pretty she is, or how supportive she is, but rarely do we women get praise for our professions unless the man has discovered some personal use of his own for our particular skills.  Even more rare is the man or husband who brags about his wife’s abilities in her chosen profession.  Keith Arthur Bolden is proud of his wife—as he should be, because Tinashe is a powerhouse of an actor.  He doesn’t mind telling everybody how proud he is of her as a professional.  In addition to that, he remains one of the most thoughtful men I have encountered…

When my cousin and theatre veteran Billie Allen passed to the ancestors in December of 2015, one of the first people to contact me was Keith Arthur.  When I had no money to attend the theatre, Keith Arthur made sure I saw Tinashe Kajese in the phenomenal play “Serial Blackface” about Atlanta’s late 70s-early 80s missing and murdered child cases; and actor-playwright Terry Burrell in her one-woman show “Ethel” about the life of the late Ethel Waters. (I have to add that Atlanta actor Margo Moorer is also another one of my theatre angels.  Margo came and picked me up and took me to the theatre to see Gabrielle Fulton’s “Uprising” and made me take some money.)  Keith Arthur adds even more love and light to the best in the theatre tradition.  He thought of me and got me tickets all while he managed and directed a college theatre group, while he taught classes, acted in a variety of television roles, while he had the regular duties of husband and father, and while he went back-and-forth to L. A. to check on his ailing mother.  I WILL NEVER FORGET HIS THOUGHTFULNESS.  So…

When I learned his mother passed away, I thought of the value of good parenting, the value of raising a boy to look for substance in a woman. Mrs. Margarette Bolden had to have been one hell of a woman and Keith Arthur’s dad was probably pretty smart for having married her…and now she has left the earthly plane to join the ancestors…

Keith Arthur would probably tell me that he has made some mistakes and that my compliments here are a bit over-the-top.  I would have to disagree.  Ordinary men rarely understand much about women, not always because women are that complicated, but often because ordinary men never really ask women any real questions, at least not any questions about what a woman wants to do for a living, particularly if what she wants to do professionally has nothing to do with the man asking the questions. Keith Arthur Bolden is not so self-absorbed and does not fit that description…

I suspect that his mother had a lot to do with his thoughtfulness and genuine respect for a woman’s ambitions and talents.  I have little doubt that his tenacity and belief that “the show must go on” (which explains his early A.M. rehearsal) not only comes from the theatre tradition, but also from his mother who battled cancer like a champion, always with a smile and positive attitude.  I looked at the photos Keith Arthur would post of her smiling, even though her health was declining.  So I thank Mrs. Margarette Bolden for her shining example and also because she raised a man who is not ordinary by any definition of the word.  One day at a time, Keith Arthur…Rest in Peace Mrs. Bolden.  Àṣé.

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

I AM…

 

(for Billie, who insisted that I boldly say, “I AM,” and for Nevaina (nih-von-yah)—one of many actors who were once under Billie’s direction—who reminded me to say it even louder)

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am Thomas and Syble’s daughter.

I am the granddaughter of Lorena and George and Minnie and Will.

I am a historian.

I am an intellectual.

I am a dramaturge and patron of theatre and the arts.

I am a Jazz fan.

I am a Johnny Mathis fanatic.

I am eloquent.

I am also a great procrastinator.

I am one who is often impatient.

I am one who does not like braggarts or pretenders.

I am a good and loyal friend.

I am also one who, some times, does not listen.

I am a woman who will drop you like a bad habit if you lack empathy or fidelity.

I am an environmentalist.

I am a lover of animals and nature.

I am a lover of children.

I am a Black Nationalist because it makes sense to take care of your home and your people first.

I am a woman that does not deal easily with shallow people.

I am a woman that prefers simplicity.

I am a woman who is fond of the exotic.

I am a woman who has learned how to say, “No” the hard way.

I am a woman who does not like playing small.

I am a woman who never discounts what other people have to go through to do whatever it is that they need or have to do…which is why I am deeply offended when other people discount what I go through.

I am a woman that dislikes men and women who try to prove their worth with things rather than demonstrate who they are by what they believe in and what they put into practice.

I am a woman who would prefer the company of a poet over that of a stockbroker or the company of a musician over that of an accountant or the company of a college professor over that of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company…

I am my mother and father’s daughter.

— Leslye Joy Allen 

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Sayonara 2015…Changes in 2016

by Leslye Joy Allen

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I lost a lot and gained a lot in the year 2015. When this happens you reassess what makes sense in your life, and what you need to let go of. So, with that said…

I lost my dissertation advisor Dr. Clifford M. Kuhn, who died of a massive heart attack in November 2015. Yet, I learned that I had the support of the wonderful faculty of the History Department at Georgia State University; and I thank them all. I had to agree to stop teaching for at least a couple of semesters in order to fulfill the requirements of a dissertation fellowship, but that is okay—I won that dissertation fellowship.

I had the love and support of supremely talented actor Margo Moorer—one of many members of my extensive theatre family—who ensured that I witnessed the phenomenal stage play “Uprising.” Margo and that cast were superb in this great play and she generously pressed some money in my hand when I was dead broke.  I should also acknowledge that Margo was one of the first members of Atlanta’s theatre community to show up when my Mama passed in 2013.  Her fellow actor and co-star LaParee Young said it best, “Margo will be there for you.”  LaParee was damn right.  THANK YOU MARGO!  She also insisted that I meet the author of “Uprising” Gabrielle Fulton, who is a brilliant playwright whose literary and artistic maturity are far beyond her years.

As an only child, I naturally have “adopted” brothers and sisters. I could not let this year go by without thanking my long-time “adopted” brother (and fellow only child) Marc Freeman for covering me, praying for me, and for letting me hear some amazing music that no one else has heard.  He is an amazing composer and producer. We have been friends for fifty years and counting.  I must thank Wafa who is my “sister from another mother,” and who has covered my behind more times than I can count.  I also have to thank my cousins Saundi, Yolanda (Yandi), Lorena, and Cynthia for reminding me that I am loved and for showing up to make sure that I knew it.  My cousin Saundi lost her Mom (my Aunt Sara) this year, but I have one of her angel ornaments to remind me of her.  I thank Claude and Don, my “adopted” brothers and favorite couple for always making me laugh and for reminding me that only children often inherit loving siblings late in life.  

I thank Dr. Karcheik Sims-Alvarado—the Historian in Heels—for “talking me back from the ledge” so to speak, as she understood/understands the stress and frustration that comes with being a doctoral candidate; and I must give a special shout to the GSU History Department’s Business Manager Paula Sorrell for getting all that paperwork handled so that I could get paid on time; and I also must thank Paula for always remaining cool when she is dealing with crazy Ph.D. candidates like myself.

I thank all of my former students who are too numerous to mention by name. They remind me that the future is in good hands. I also thank the young men and women who have chosen me as their mentor.  It is an honor to be chosen by such wonderful young people from everywhere around the United States, and from as far away as Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Antigua, and Québec.  All of my students, protégés and protégées will change the world.  

This year I participated as a historical consultant in the directorial debut of Keith Arthur Bolden, a brilliant actor and artistic director of the phenomenal Spriggs Burroughs Ensemble of Spelman College. I thank Keith for inviting me along on his very special journey. Okay, I give up!  Margo, Keith and several other performance artists have called me a dramaturge, and I am finally accepting the label.

I must give super props to my adopted “Baby Sister,” the phenomenally talented actor Nevaina Rhodes (pronounced “Nih-Von-Yah”), who is also a drama coach and founder of Real Actors Workshop (RAW).  She also remains the only person I can honestly call a bona fide prayer warrior. Her midday prayers at 12:00 Noon every weekday are a revelation. I know of no one who prays with as much intensity or belief or talent…and she and I have also laughed at some supreme silliness—that is always a blessing!

I met and befriended talented young Black male doctoral scholars like Jerquil “JC” Campbell and Malcom Devoe (his Malcom does not have that second “L”), and talented young doctoral scholars like Jessica Ramadhin, Cinnamon Mittan, and Corrianne Bazemore-James. Cori was my roommate during “The Compact for Faculty Diversity: Institute on Teaching and Mentoring Conference” for SREB Doctoral Scholars held in Washington, DC.  Meeting these young dedicated scholars of color is/was always a blessing and inspiration…

I recognize and embrace the fact that I am a fierce and brilliant intellectual who owes so much to so many scholars and artists who invested their time and energy in my intellect and abilities. I am also the daughter of two now-deceased parents who knew that my purpose and destination would exceed the limits of their lifetimes. Therefore, some changes for 2016 are in order so that I might fulfill my ancestral legacy and complete my sacred God-ordained mission.

I am saying, “Sayonara,” “Adios,” “O da abọ,” “Kwaheri,” “Au Revoir” and “Goodbye” to that small group of men who narrowly envision me (and women in general) as someone designated to sit and listen to their plans, their projects, and their problems. If any of these men are reading this and need some kind of advice, I suggest that they call a counselor or their Mamas, but they need not call me. Too many of these same men who dialed my phone for all kinds of help and assistance have also routinely compensated other men for doing what they expected me to do free of charge…Therefore…

I will no longer vet projects and/or consult and/or render my academic expertise without some form of compensation. The wonderful people that I have individually thanked above in this blog deserve me as one who operates at full capacity for myself and for them.  Mess over or mistreat or mishandle any one of these phenomenal people and I will take it as a personal insult.  I have only one thing, however, to say to those men who think I am some kind of built-in, automatic, academic workhorse meant for their personal use: Delete my phone number until you recognize my value and until you can pay me what I am worth; and we need not speak unless I consider my association with you to be a plus rather than a liability. And please understand that all of the people I care about know who you are, so do not bother calling them either!

To all those friends and colleagues who have encouraged me in some way this year:  You are too numerous to name in a single blog, and I am sure I have forgotten someone, but charge it to my head and not my heart.  Please know that I appreciate every one of you.  Happy New Year!  Àṣé!

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.