Monday, March 12, 2018

Theatre on Sutter in San Francisco

Sunday I went to two wonderful performances in one afternoon. Granted, I was tired when I got home at 10 p.m., but the work was excellent and worth the hunger and sleep deprivation (smile).

The first production was African American Shakespeare Company's excellent interpretation of Tennessee Williams's A Street Car Named Desire through March 18. Under L. Peter Callender's excellent direction the exceptional cast renders the work with class and sensitivity to the charged, sensitive themes in Williams more highly charged works.

The story takes place in New Orleans. Stella and Stanley are living in wedded bliss, when elder sister Blanche arrives unannounced to stay with her sister and brother-in-law in a small apartment. Blanche comes from wealth, is college educated and does not understand her sister's happiness with a man clearly beneath her socially.  To compound the matter, Stanley insulted by her disapproval baits  Blanche.  The two circle one another as the mating dance reaches a crescendo-- Blanche crushed by the shear weight of Stanley masculine presence which she is not able to resist. The hot temperatures mirror the turmoil inside each character.

Blanche represents the forbidden, a prize beyond Stanley's reach. While Stanley perhaps is both tempting and frightening at the same time for Blanche who lives both in the world and in her imagination. She says that she adapts the truth when necessary, if such adaptation softens or cushions her eventual fall.

Set in the late 40s and premiering on Broadway in 1947, Williams's work introduces to the American audience a play, similar in impact to Lorraine Hansberry's play, A Raisin in the Sun. Like the Youngers, Stanley and Stella, Steve and Eunice are working class people.

What is different is Stanley drinks. When Stella meets him, he is a decorated officer.  Now he is about to be a proud father when Blanche arrives and upsets the fragile balance that is his life--

He travels for work; plays cards with the guys, is captain of the bowling team, and controls his house and his woman with an iron fist-- both literally and figuratively. He pays all the bills Stella tells Blanche, and so keeps all the money. Stanley is no different from the other men in his neighborhood and community. Most of them drink too much and when drunk hit their women.

Stanley is a strong presence and Blanche rivals or upsets the balance. He needs to get rid of her-- the question is how. Desire is something that runs all night long and during the day.  When she steps out of the hot bath, desire creeps into shoes and under her slip. It hangs in the air like steam, brightens the room even if the bulbs are covered with Chinese paper lanterns to soften the light. 

The set mimics the confinement-- each character trapped by his or her thoughts. When the play was adapted for the screen, it was censored and certain scenes removed. There is sexual violence in the work and it was taken out and later returned when the film was remastered.

It is amazing what the mind edits out too. The psyche doesn't call it censorship, rather survival. The memory in service to the soul, carefully remasters experience so that what we recall does not disturb the delicate balance that is sanity. If trauma interferes with a person's ability to function then the life script is rewritten so well that trauma is sublimated even hidden so that the harmful experiences
is "forgotten."

Circumstances in the form of eyewitnesses or people whom you love agree with the edited version-- the victim often thinks the experience imagined until the reality is no longer available to consciousness. This is what happens to Blanche-- she witnesses a suicide. She thinks it's her fault and lives with the guilt and trauma. She is stuck in that cycle and it is sexual desire that makes her come alive. Her lover, the person she thought she knew, is really a stranger.

She is forever this girl-child, girl-woman waiting for fulfillment which never comes. Mitch, Stanley's friend would have been perfect; however, Stanley ruins the potential relationship. Mitch could have helped Blanche reconcile the pieces of herself, pull the parts together because she trusted him and he liked her. He didn't quite get what was wrong, but he listened.  He abandons her and she is trapped.

Stanley is angry with Blanche; the rape is to get her for what she says to Stella when she thinks he is gone after he has beaten the pregnant woman, yet she returns to him and they have conciliatory sex. He beats her up all the time we hear, and she escapes to her neighbors and then returns. Blanche wants her to leave, but Stella cannot imagine life outside of this situation she calls "normal."

This is what "desire" does to her. Stella's desire is satisfied with Stanley, a man who is brutal - his love a battle, their bed a war-zone where peace agreements are negotiated, the baby perhaps a truce. Stella tries to fight back, but she is no physical match for Stanley. She says when they came home from the wedding he took her shoe and broke all the light bulbs in the apartment.

He literally put out all the lights. Darkness surrounded them. Blanche covered the lights. She said it was too bright and she wanted to keep certain things hidden or secret. Both sisters avoided disclosure. it was better if the women kept illusions in tact. It was easier to survive that way. 

The acting is superb. Jemier Jenkins's Blanche is a multifaceted Southern Lady whose secrets push her over the edge. When she arrives on Elysian Fields, wet and withered from the journey, she stays in a constant stupor. She pours libations down a willing throat; however, she cannot drown the shambles her life has become. it has all caught up to her, and despite Stanley's uneducated or unschooled position to hers, he is smart enough to see through Blanche's subterfuge.

Jenkins's presentation is subtle as she allows her character to unwind like a spool until the threads have all played out and we see the broken discarded Blanche without her adornment. This Blanche is perhaps more lovely in her tragic slips of herself, than the others especially Stella, who clutches Stanley and the baby-- chooses Stanley and the baby over the truth.

Once again, it is the economics of the situation that bind her. For both Blanche and Stella, poverty limits their choices. They have nowhere to go. Blanche could work, but her current mental state make that impossible given what takes place in the Laurel School District. Girl just needs a good therapist. However, the playwright, tackles this in another play: Suddenly One Summer--talking therapy took second place to electrical shock treatment and lobotomies.

Khary Moye's Stanley is a man who still carries the trauma of war with him. He might be a decorated veteran, honored by his country and woman, but the battle still rages in his mind. His bursts of temper and his unchecked drinking when he is home points to unresolved issues, that and perhaps alcoholism. He and Blanche share this fate. Street Car was not written with black cast in mind. However, Moye adds to the story's complexity with his black male body. He is a black man with a pregnant wife, working -- yes, but not making a lot of money. He thinks Stella has an inheritance, and as her husband so does he.

Stella leaves her home for New Orleans. She is younger than Blanche, not college educated. We wonder why she leaves and why Blanche stays. Perhaps Blanche feels obligated as the eldest to take care of the elder male family household members.We hear of their monetary discrepancies -- taking loans of the mortgage until the property is tied up in legal debt. The fact that a black family owns a mansion is a part of the story that is a bit hard to believe given the period. There were free black people of color in New Orleans, free people of color with wealth too. Whether or not the elder sister would have worked as a schol teacher . . . I don't know.

But back to actress Santoya Field's Stella, she welcomes Blanche into her home and so does Stanley, who had not been apprised of his sister-in-laws visit. Perhaps had he known she were coming, he could have prepared himself emotionally for what this might mean? Who knows what such calculations Stanley might have cooked up in advance.

Fred Pitts as "Mitch" is in striking contrast to Moye's "Stanley." He is gentle with Blanche. he seems to intuitively respond to the fragility she represents. He feels unworthy, and appreciates the gift of her attention. All he has is his mother and sees emptiness ahead when his mother is no longer present in his life. He like Blanche is a caretaker. Blanche took care of the men in her household. Mitch's mother loves her son and encourages him to get out the house and be with his friends; whereas for Blanche we sense she was a loner-- Belreeves estate a place where the halls echoed emptiness.

Supporting cast, especially Kim Saunders as Eunice, owner of the apartment Stanely and Stella occupy, is sassy and wise. Older than Stella, she tells the younger woman what to let go of and what to hold onto when presented with a choice. She and her husband, Steve (actor Shawnj West) also fight. We see Steve holding his head or running down the street more than a few times. Models of domestic strife populate Desire, yet "desire" wins each time the score is tallied on Elysian Fields.

A Street Car Named Desire is at Marine's Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter Street, in San Francisco through March 18. Performances are Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Closing performance there is a Sunday Brunch a few blocks away at "Jones" – 620 Jones Street, from 12:30-2:30 p.m. For tickets to the brunch and the program, visit AA-Shakes.  Guests will have an opportunity to meet the Artistic Director, L. Peter Callender and Board Members.

The Sunday I attended there was an enlightening conversation with cast members and the director, facilitated by an AA Shakes Board member. Featured on the panel was Rev. Dr. Sarai S. Crain-Pope, Bay Area Women Against Rape, who spoke about sexual violence in the context of popular culture and America's fascination with violence against women. The top rated TV shows all feature such thematic content. Callender stated that when the season was planned, and the Williams' play selected, he knew he would include this discussion piece. A couple members of the cast were intimately affected by the characters and themes and shared self-care strategies they were using to perform this work. Such self-disclosure whether it was as a victim of sexual violence or a respondent to such violence, deepened the experience for me. I felt the authenticity, however, to know this was a visceral retelling for certain members of the cast deepened my respect and appreciation for the actors who shared this aspect of their past.

Given the heightened awareness presently in this country: Me Too Movement; Desire is just a reminder of how present sexual violence is in a nation where black women are not seen in the same light as white women. It does not matter if the woman is a college or university professor, a high school English teacher like Blanche or her kid sister, high school graduate, pregnant mother, Stella.

It also does not matter if the guilty party of current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and the accuser, his lawyer, Anita Hill. Ms. Hill is guilty, not Thomas, (this before his nomination is affirmed).  Ms. Hill is a national hero, yet when she accused Thomas her testimony, which I remember, was met with distaste by black men and women who thought she was betraying the race by speaking her truth.

Now a man leads the country who has similar pedigree. I can see why this play was produced by two companies in the same season: Ubuntu Theatre Company's sold out run closed just a couple weeks before African American Shakes opened. Ubuntu's run was phenomenal, different there was music and a physical intimacy the company is known for given its site specific format. The actors were within touching range. Blanche's chest like Pandora's box-- what secrets did it hold?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Wanda's Picks Radio Show Rebroadcast (Black Panther Conversation Part 1)

This is a black arts and culture site. We will be exploring the African Diaspora via the writing, performance, both musical and theatrical (film and stage), as well as the visual arts of Africans in the Diaspora and those influenced by these aesthetic forms of expression. I am interested in the political and social ramifications of art on society, specifically movements supported by these artists and their forebearers. It is my claim that the artists are the true revolutionaries, their work honest and filled with raw unedited passion. They are our true heroes. Ashay!

1. Tomye, artist and Joshua Whitaker, curator, owner, Spirithous Gallery

2. S.Pearl Sharpe joins Tomye Neal-Madison

3. Naomi Gede Diouf, Diamano Coura 

Naomi Gedo Diouf is the Artistic Director of Diamano Coura West African Dance Company.  She has assisted and choreographed works for numerous performing companies including the Dutch Theater Van Osten in the Netherlands and Belgium, and U.C. Berkeley’s Drama Department.  In 1998 and 1999, Mrs. Diouf collaborated with the San Francisco Ballet in the premiere of “Lambarena,” an African and classical ballet fusion piece for the allet for Utah, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Ballet of Florida, the Singapore and South African Ballet.  A strong advocate of Arts-in-Education, Mrs. Diouf has worked with the Arts in Education programs in the San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, and Alameda School Districts to promote cultural literacy.  She was named one of America’s top teachers in the Who’s Who Among American Teachers and has received numerous awards and recognition. She currently teaches West African dance and culture at Berkeley High School to over 400 students per semester.  She also teaches at Laney College and the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts in Oakland.  In addition to being an educator, she also consults and conducts workshops in costume design, cultural events/program coordination, and West African culture.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Wanda's Picks Radio Show, Friday, March 2, 2018

This is a black arts and culture site. We will be exploring the African Diaspora via the writing, performance, both musical and theatrical (film and stage), as well as the visual arts of Africans in the Diaspora and those influenced by these aesthetic forms of expression. I am interested in the political and social ramifications of art on society, specifically movements supported by these artists and their forebearers. It is my claim that the artists are the true revolutionaries, their work honest and filled with raw unedited passion. They are our true heroes. Ashay!

1. WAX Poets

 Wax Poet(s), the Oakland based arts and performance collective, presents the world premiere of Swivel:Hinge:Return, choreographed by Artistic Director Heather Stockton investigating the impact on the body of the 24-hour news cycle, “breaking developments” and the constant barrage of alerts, tweets, likes and calls to action from smart phones, social media and the mainstream media.  How does the body weather this deluge that at best galvanizes unified action and at worst feeds the cycle of passive resistance in this social media era?

Swivel:Hinge:Return features original live music by Shanna Sordahl and the techno duo, KYN.  The dancers are Stockton, Garth Grimball, Stephanie Hewett, Kim Ip, Jenna Jones, Kevin Lopez, Aiano Nakagawa and Tiffany Tonel. 

Performances are Thursday through Saturday, March 1-3 at 8 pm at CounterPulse in San Francisco. Tickets are $20 - $25.  For tickets and information, go to  or 415-626-2060.

2. NYAFF 2018 at BAMPFA with Mamadou Dia, director, Samedi Cinema (2016)

3. Program A: Between Us at TheatreFirst

JUST ONE DAY: A Story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy
Written by Cleavon Smith
Directed by Elizabeth Carter
LAVEAU: A Conjuring of Marie Laveau
By Brit Frazier
Directed by Margo Hall
with Dezi Soley

Show Link:

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Wanda's Picks Radio Show, Wed., March 7, 2018

This is a black arts and culture site. We will be exploring the African Diaspora via the writing, performance, both musical and theatrical (film and stage), as well as the visual arts of Africans in the Diaspora and those influenced by these aesthetic forms of expression. I am interested in the political and social ramifications of art on society, specifically movements supported by these artists and their forebearers. It is my claim that the artists are the true revolutionaries, their work honest and filled with raw unedited passion. They are our true heroes. Ashay!

1. Tomye, artist and Joshua Whitaker, curator, owner, Spirithous Gallery

2. S.Pearl Sharpe joins Tomye Neal-Madison
3. Naomi Gede Diouf, Diamano Coura

Naomi Gedo Diouf is the Artistic Director of Diamano Coura West African Dance Company.  She has assisted and choreographed works for numerous performing companies including the Dutch Theater Van Osten in the Netherlands and Belgium, and U.C. Berkeley’s Drama Department.  In 1998 and 1999, Mrs. Diouf collaborated with the San Francisco Ballet in the premiere of “Lambarena,” an African and classical ballet fusion piece for the Ballet for Utah, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Ballet of Florida, the Singapore and South African Ballet.  A strong advocate of Arts-in-Education, Mrs. Diouf has worked with the Arts in Education programs in the San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, and Alameda School Districts to promote cultural literacy.  She was named one of America’s top teachers in the Who’s Who Among American Teachers and has received numerous awards and recognition. She currently teaches West African dance and culture at Berkeley High School to over 400 students per semester.  She also teaches at Laney College and the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts in Oakland.  In addition to being an educator, she also consults and conducts workshops in costume design, cultural events/program coordination, and West African culture.

Edgar Arceneaux “Library of Lies” and “Until, Until Until . . .” at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts through March 25, Asks the Question: Is Truth Furniture in a Dominant Narrative Structure

Frank Lawson (actor) in Until, Until, Until. . .
In February, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Edgar Arceneaux presented a performance piece in connection with an installation “Library of Lies.”  The wooden labyrinth cabin-like structure is filled with bookshelves and books.  Some books are wrapped in black plastic, more interesting books are covered in crystalized sugar. As we look at crystalized confections, our moves reflected in mirrors—the shelves are caught in a maze making t is hard to figure out which stacks were visited and which were not. The only books with any certainty were the books with Bill Cosby’s face on the covers.
Artist, Edgar Arceneaux seated in Library of Lies at YBCA
Just the name, “Library of Lies,” (through March 25 at YBCA) makes the patron fact check her thoughts . . . just in case. Several years ago, Arceneaux, who is an artist whose work is not confined to one genre—theatre, mixed media, architecture, writing, watched a performance by Ben Vereen at

Ronald Reagan’s Inauguration at the White House. It was a tribute to vaudeville legend Bert Williams (1874–1922). In blackface, Vereen sang ““Waiting for Robert E. Lee,” and then sang another song, “Nobody “ as he removed the paint. The only problem was, the ABC network just aired the first half which distorted Vereen’s intention and message. The response from Black community was outrage. Vereen was called a sellout and a “Tom.” It was a horrible time for the artist whose work, had audiences seen the entire piece would have realized he was not insulting Williams’s legacy or memory.

Silence or omission is just as bad as an outright lie. When Vereen learned about the project he was supportive and even invited the artist who was to portray him to his home to help him with the dance.
In Until, Until, Until . . . (2015-17) the actor, Frank Lawson, looks just like Vereen. The work is more than a re-creation of an historic moment. The live-action play and immersive multimedia art installation gives audiences a chance to query a particular historic moment from multiple perspectives: the present, the past, Vereen’s and the audience at the White House that evening.

As cameras document the rehearsal and later the performance we see multiple Vereens performing; the effect is past and present merging. This is one of the many beautiful moments in an emotionally disturbing work. Perspective is key, as is memory. Is Vereen’s correct or the camera? What about the viewers who just saw the ABC rebroadcast with Vereen as Bert Williams singing “Waiting for Robert E. Lee” in blackface? The TV audience think they have the truth when we see they did not. If this is just one of many instances when fake news distorts or changes reality irreversibly, we see how fragile information is and how easily it can be changed intentionally. The lie becomes the truth. (Sounds like Orwell’s Ministry of Information in “1984”. Facts are shredded; yesterday does not exist if it does not serve the state’s interests).

“Vereen’s biting commentary on the history of segregation and racist stereotypes in performance was lost on viewers at home” (press notes). When the scene with Williams singing “Nobody” as he removes the black paint is omitted, we lose important commentary and Vereen loses his credibility.
Before the curtain rises, there are free cocktails. Vereen at the bar helps serve. When the lights go up—the lounge becomes a stage where Vereen is rehearsing his steps— Arceneaux says later it is Vereen’s memory telling him to speak more convincingly.  There are empty chairs on stage which the audience later fills – not enough for everyone, others stand, some with drinks in hand.  Guests at the White House we look out into the empty audience; we now a part of the spectacle. We watch Vereen sit at his dressing table, we see the makeup come off, watch him rise, speak, sob . . . tears streaming down the actor’s face and then he walks off.  There is silence. He doesn’t return.  We sit and wonder. We look around confused. Is the performance over? Where are the directions for this part? Why are the cameras still rolling?

Artist Event
Conversation:  YBCA presents an evening of lively conversation between two longtime friends and collaborators, artist Edgar Arceneaux and art historian Julian Myers-Szupinska on Friday, March 16, 7 p.m. in the YBCA Screening Room, .  Admission is free with same day gallery admission.  Venturing far beyond mere observation or criticism of the works presented in the exhibition, they will discuss the nature of their artist-historian collaboration and deliver a fresh look at their shared world of art. Using as a point of departure a small but charged set of historical and popular archival images, film clips, writings, and music, they will share their insights on the ideas and themes embedded in these objects and ephemera.

While there don’t miss another exhibit also in the lower gallery:  Yishai Jusidman, a Mexican artist of Jewish heritage’s “Prussian Blue”
Yishai Jusidman’s Prussian Blue is a series of paintings rendered almost exclusively in one of the earliest artificially developed pigments used by European painters—Prussian Blue. The chemical compound that makes up this pigment happens to be related to the Prussic acid in Zyklon B, the poisonous product deployed at some of the Nazi concentration and extermination camps. By a strange turn, traces of the pigment remain to this day in the walls of the gas chambers. Such stains are quiet, disturbing, and palpable reminders which Jusidman’s paintings re-engage with a profound effect.
This exhibition is organized by Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC) in Mexico City, and is making its United States debut at YBCA.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is located at 701 Mission Street, San Francisco, Tix: 415-978-2787,


Wanda Sabir:  Could you please address the reason why you felt compelled to present the complete story, to exonerate the name of fellow artist, Ben Vereen?

Edgar Arceneaux: “The intentional omission of the second part of the tribute foreshadows a future parade of partial truths normalized in a society where the truth has multiple lives, all of them irrelevant. I am speaking specifically of Trump, but "fake news" is not new."

EA:  “I was compelled to make [Until, Until, Until . . .] because of a coincidence really. I was commissioned to do a performance by Performa out of NYC and thought I had an idea for what I could do. But then I ran into Ben at a kid’s birthday party. I mention that I was not invited to the party partially as a joke, and that it’s also true. I was not invited nor had any idea there was such a party, yet there I was in front a man that had done one of the most memorable works of performance I had ever seen in my life. I thought that if serendipity was showing me something that I should pursue it and see where it leads. Once I learned about the effects that his performance of ‘Nobody’ had on his life and career, I was struck with a risky opportunity and a burden. If I told his story the way in which it was intended to be seen, would I suffer the same fate as Ben? He made me promise that I wouldn’t allow that to ever happen to him again, and with a resolute heart I said "I promise."

WS:  What does Vereen say about the re-staging, screening of his full-work, as well as the sculpture -- "Library of Black Lies" (2016) where you say the intentional maze or labyrinth is an opportunity to "find what is lost [in oneself]."

EA:  “Ben Vereen has not seen the library and black lies yet and I’m uncertain if he is even aware of it. But he was quite moved to see the performance for the first time in Los Angeles this past summer. He expressed his gratitude and also offered to work with my actor Frank Lawson on some of the dancer's moves, which we did, two days later and it was surreal to watch the past in the present colliding on stage.”

WS:  Why did you find it necessary to catalog and present the Lies with such formality (smile).
Who gets access to Black Lies? Who operated the facility? Where does one get a card? How are Black Lies and artifacts arranged? Is it a circulating space? If so, how long can a patron check out a Black Lie?

EA:  “​Great Questions. The black lies are more metaphorical then literal. The term is meant to be poetic, [except] in some specific instances, like Cosby as being about misdeeds and criminality. What do we do with the Cosby show now? ​Can we separate the art from the man?

“Within the narrative of the library, and who owns it, I meant it to feel like a cabin in the woods meeting a geode. Wanted to builder to remain a mystery so you could image who the person might have been who built it, based on what’s left behind, and how its organized. Along the way, within the labyrinth library, or labyrinth, you get lost along the way so you can find yourself in the middle. Both the self-reflected in the mirror and our shadow side.”

WS:  Is everything we read a Black Lie? Who is your archivist? Is the Library Growing? If so, how can one contribute? ​addressed above. ​

I am also really interested in the sugar metaphor. As black people, "sugar" is both traded and treasured like salt. Both are detrimental to our health once we land on these shores: sugar diabetes and hypertention. (Vereen has diabetes.) My father died from renal failure, another one of those environmental toxins -- present traumatic slavery syndrome).

EA:  “Oddly enough. I didn’t start w the sociological effects of sugar or its metaphors. I began working with sugar close to 15 years ago because I was looking for material that could exists in multiple states simultaneously. Sugar can exist as a granule and a liquid gelatin or crystal. I was excited about the Crystal because it has geometry to it. Not all sugars are sweet. And it exist as a basic building block of ourselves, the cells in our body. The power of juxtaposition is that when you put two things together that are unrelated they begin to say things, things that they would not on their own.

"When I juxtaposed [sugar] to history and in particular African-American history, you begin to come to some of the conclusions would you described above. As an artist I rely on their prior knowledge that I believe if you were will bring to it. But it’s my job to pivot on what you know to explore something that you may not have considered. The destruction of the book renders it unreadable or readable but the crystals give it a new life. Not just an aesthetic life, but the crystals themselves express a paradox. We consider crystals to be frozen in time but in reality they actually grow organically like the roots of a tree. So well after the crystals are dried they can still inhale and exhale the moisture in the room.

"This is the metaphor of transformation but in what direction is the question. Between the states of building and destruction there is an in between the crystals on the books is that in between. Is the viewer’s job to decide where that’s going. Building up or falling down, is it a ruined or a beautiful transformation; I hope that the viewer can possess both of those things hold them up side-by-side and consider that they are both simultaneously. Does that seem perplexing to want that as a goal for a work of art?”

WS: The work suggests a fragmentation, what Dubois calls "double consciousness" or a split or auteur self, which black people tend to send ahead (the facsimile more welcome that the woman or man. Please talk about The Library and how you conceived it and its integration into "Unil Until Until."

EA:   “These are two separate words that I was developing at the same time. Both use mirrors and reflections refracture transparency and partial views as a way of exploring history. In the library I am doing this with architecture. With until until until I’m doing it with narrative in the format of play and an art installation.

“Both works are meant to envelop the viewer and transform them from the beginning and the end of the experience. This has less to do with the notion of a double consciousness and more to do with the journey of self-exploration that could if intended explore the perils of a dual identity. I hope and both works to show a Third World beyond the dualistic thinking.”

WS:  There is an intention structured into your work, which mirrors Vereen's intention in honoring vaudeville legend Bert Williams (1874–1922), a man many African Americans were ashamed of. What does Bert Williams mean to you, an AA performance and visual artist? Juxtapose this with Ben Vereen, "Chicken George," juju man, Ifa warrior like Williams who made it work, despite the hostilities he faced in Hollywood? If black men are characters, where are they safe when not performing?

EA:  “There’s a lot in those questions. During the lifetime of Brett Williams I am not convinced that people were ashamed of him. He was one of the most celebrated performers [or] entertainers and an all America. He produced his own films and in some instances none of the black actors besides himself in black face. You know that’s what audiences wanted but no one else had to wear a black face. That’s how he got his movies made.”

Jewel Parker Rhodes (archived show from Sept. 9, 2011)

Jewell Parker Rhodes Sept. 9, 2011

8 AM: Jewell Parker Rhodes is the award-winning author of Voodoo Dreams, Magic City, Douglass’ Women, Season, Moon, Hurricane, and the children’s book, Ninth Ward. Her writing guides include: Free Within Ourselves: Fiction Lessons for Black Authors and The African American Guide to Writing and Publishing Nonfiction. Jewell is the Virginia G. Piper Chair in Creative Writing and Artistic Director of Piper Global Engagement at Arizona State University.

Her book, Voodoo Dreams; was cited as “Most Innovative” Drama in the 2000-2001 Professional Theater Season by the Arizona Republic and she is currently at work on a theatrical version of Douglass’ Women.

Her work has been published in Germany, Italy, Canada, Turkey, and the United Kingdom and reproduced in audio and for NPR’s “Selected Shorts.”

Her honors include: the American Book Award, the National Endowment of the Arts Award in Fiction, the Black Caucus of the American Library Award for Literary Excellence, the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award for Outstanding Writing, and two Arizona Book Awards. Rhodes is the Virginia G. Piper Endowed Chair of Creative Writing at Arizona State University and Artistic Director of Piper Global Engagement.

8:30 AM – 9 AM: Claude Marks & Yusufu L. Mosley

Yusufu holds two degrees, a BA in sociology, and an MA in political science with an emphasis on social ethics. He is also a longtime community activist and has worked with various community organizations designed to advance the liberation struggle. Currently, Yusufu works in the social justice field and is a member of several professional organizations related to the criminal justice field in the Chicagoland area.

Yusufu is a trained and certified as a Circle Keeper in Restorative Justice (RJ) field. He has completed 80 hours of Restorative Justice sponsored by the Community Justice Institute and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of Florida Atlantic University; 16 hours training for Community Panels for Youth at the Children and Family Justice Center of the Northwestern University School of Law; and, 120 hours of Peacemaking Circles for the Living Justice Institute of St. Paul Minnesota and the Center for Reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois.

Claude Marks is a former anti-imperialist political prisoner and is the Project Director of The Freedom Archives, a political, cultural oral history project, restoration center, and media production facility in San Francisco.

Under his direction, The Freedom Archives has released several recent documentary CDs and videos combining restored historical audio and contemporary interviews.

Commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Attica Prison Uprising

Friday, September 9th - 7pm Sharp
518 Valencia Street - San Francisco
Attica - The Restored 1974 Film

Discussion with:
Azadeh Zohrabi - Hastings Race & Poverty Law Journal
Dennis Cunningham - Original Attica Attorney
Manuel La Fontaine - about connecting the dots to
Georgia, Ohio and California prison strikes

Prison unrest in the United States hit a boiling point on September 9, 1971, when inmates at Attica State Prison after months of protesting inhumane living conditions rebelled, seizing part of the prison and taking 35 hostages. The uprising was met with a military attack and the murder of 43 people after NY State troopers assaulted the prisoners. Attica - released 3 years later - is an investigation of the rebellion and its aftermath, piecing together documentary footage of the occupation and ensuing assault. Especially significant today as prisoners from Georgia, Ohio, California and other states fight for their human rights in the face of increased imprisonment and the brutality and torture of long-term solitary confinement.

$10 Donation - $5 youth - No one turned away
Sponsored by the Freedom Archives & the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement

Catch this 8-minute video

9:00 PM: Rohina Malik & Raelle Myrick-Hodges

Rohina Malik (Writer and Performer) is a Chicago-based playwright, actress and solo performance artist. She is a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatist, and an artistic associate at the 16th Street Theater. She was born and raised in London (UK) of South Asian heritage. Her one-woman play Unveiled, had its world premiere at the 16th Street Theater, where Rohina performed to sold-out houses and received critical acclaim. Unveiled received a second production at Victory Gardens Theater, a third production at Next Theater/Evanston. Rohina is thrilled that Unveiled is having its fourth production here at Brava. She workshopped her play Yasmina’s Necklace with the Goodman Theatre in their New staged Series in Dec 2009, directed by Henry Godinez. Her third play The Mecca Tales, which is a Goodman commission, had a staged reading June 2011, directed by Ron OJ Parsons. Rohina recently completed a one year residency at The Goodman, as a member of The Goodman Theatre’s Playwright’s Unit. With the success of Unveiled, Rohina has been invited to perform at High schools, middle schools, Universities, Churches, Mosques, Synagogues and other venues. You can contact Rohina at

Raelle Myrick-Hodges (Director) studied literature at Ealing College (London) and theatre arts at the University of Southern California. In early 2008 Raelle Myrick-Hodges was appointed as the second Artistic Director in Brava’s 22 year history. As founder of Azuka Theatre in Philadelphia, Raelle presented several world and regional premieres and was a NEA/TCG awardee. Raelle has had the opportunity to work at The Public Theater, MudBone Collective, Aurora Theater, McCarter Theater, Philadelphia Theater Company, Berkeley Rep (Education Dept.), Magic Theater, Playmakers Repertory Theater, Arden Theater Company among others. She has had the chance to work with several artists including Geoffrey Arend, Meryl Streep, Jeffrey Wright, Harold Perrineau, Liev Schreiber, Doug Hughes, George C. Wolfe, Suzanne Lori-Parks, Larry Gilliard Jr., Kirsten Greenidge, Ryan Templeton, Charlayne Woodard, Frederick Weller among others.

9:30 AM: Lenora Lee, Francis Wong

Event: Asian Improv aRts, API Cultural Center & CounterPULSE in association with Chinese Historical Society of America Museum, and Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation present: Reflections by Lenora Lee Dance with Kei Lun Martial Arts & Enshin Karate, South San Francisco Dojo, featuring media design by Olivia Ting, music by Francis Wong, text by Genny Lim, and videography by Ben Estabrook.

The piece is inspired by stories of three generations of men as they realize their identity and community as Chinese Americans.

Thursday - Sunday, September 8th - 11th, 8pm, (panel discussion September 10th) also featuring "Pretonically Oriented V. 3" by FACT/SF CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission St @ 9th St, SF, CA 94103 Even though they are sold out, there are tickets available at the door. Arrive early to get on the wait list. Tickets are $20 at the Door

Live Performers: Lenora Lee, Marina Fukushima, Ronald Wong, Dale Chung, Raymond Fong, Yukihiko Noda, Jon Iiyama, and Collin Wong.

Additional Artists on Video: Corey Chan, Nolan Chow, Junichiro Nakanishi, Keith Soohoo.

Music score by Francis Wong with Kei Lun Martial Arts, Tatsu Aoki, Karen Stackpole, Melody Takata. The Asian American Arts Centre, New York City has given generous permission for the use of excerpts from "Uncle Ng Comes to Gold Mountain" performed by NEA Heritage Fellow Ng Sheung Chi (Uncle Ng).

The mission of Lenora Lee Dance (LLD) is to give artistic voice to the experiences of Asian Americans. Deeply rooted in the Chinatown and Asian American communities of San Francisco, LLD pursues this mission through the creation and presentation of interdisciplinary dance works integrating movement, music, video projection, and text that tell untold stories of family, community, and transformation in facing the challenges of building a life in America.

For more information,,, or email

Lenora Lee (choreographer / dancer) is a native San Franciscan and has been creating and performing work since 1998. She has been an integral part of the San Francisco and New York Asian American contemporary dance and creative music communities, as choreographer, dancer, and Managing Director of Asian American Dance Performances, as dancer and taiko artist with Gen Taiko, as Co-Artistic Director for the Red Jade Collective, as artist-in-residence at the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Northern California, the Chinatown Beacon Center, and in the SFUSD, as Co-Artistic Director of Lee & Wang Dance, and most recently as Project Manager for Asian Improv aRts. Lenora has directed, choreographed, and produced her own works performing nationally and internationally.

Her projects have been sponsored by Mulberry Street Theater’s Ear to the Ground commissioning with generous support from the Jerome Foundation, CA$H, a grants program administered by Theatre Bay Area in partnership with Dancers’ Group, Zellerbach Family Foundation, Performing Arts Assistance Program, Lighting Artist in Dance Award, a program of Dancers’ Group, Asian Improv aRts, Footloose Presents AIM: Artists in Motion, and by Generous Individuals. “Japanese drumming (taiko), tai chi, gung fu and karate, forms I study, bring me to tradition and to cultures I have a great affinity toward and ancestral roots in. What becomes woven into the fabric of my dance is the body’s understanding, in the muscle memory, of what it is to be in confrontation, defense, as well as in harmony, with fiery velocity. Moreover, the dance is informed by the body’s understanding of what it is to be the driving heartbeat of song and community spirit.

My movement vocabulary is also influenced by what are distinctly American art forms: modern dance, sign language, contact improvisation, and jazz music. It is within the detailed narrative gesture of the hands colliding and collaborating with the striking physicality and partnering within contact improvisation vocabulary, where a dynamic visceral language develops, one that is reflective of intimate connection and storytelling. In addition to pursuing the creation of choreography and collaboration with musicians/composers, I have been pursuing the integration of forms such as video projection, large scale visual art, even public art, in informing the synthesis of my work, as well as in providing the frame for the exploration of key themes in my body of work. These themes include the questions: What is my role within the lineage of my family history? How do our experiences within the Chinese Diaspora interweave to manifest a collective narrative? What place does this narrative have in the forming of community within our increasingly complex global trans-cultural and dynamic social ecology?”

Francis Wong
Few musicians are as accomplished as Francis Wong (composer / sound designer), considered one of "the great saxophonists of his generation" by the late jazz critic Phil Elwood. A prolific recording artist, Wong is featured on more than forty titles as a leader and sideman. For over two decades he has performed his innovative brand of Asian American jazz/creative music for audiences in North America, Asia, and Europe with such with such luminaries as Jon Jang, Tatsu Aoki, Genny Lim, William Roper, Bobby Bradford, John Tchicai, James Newton, Joseph Jarman, Don Moye and the late Glenn Horiuchi. But to simply call the Bay Area native a musician would be to ignore his pioneering leadership in communities throughout Northern California. Wong's imaginative career straddles roles as varied as performing artist, youth mentor, composer, artistic director, community activist, non-profit organization manager, consultant, music producer, and academic lecturer. Wong was a California Arts Council Artist in Residence from 1992 through 1998, and a Meet The Composer New Resident in 2000-2003. In 2000-2001 he was a Rockefeller Next Generational Leadership Fellow. He has also been a guest member of the faculty at San Francisco State University (1996-98) and at University of California at Santa Cruz (1996-2001).

Music: Aaron Neville's "So Many Tears" on Hurricane Katrina Relief Benefit CD; Michael Franti & Spearhead BOMB the World "Remix;" Thaddeus Edwards's "Prelude to Peace;" Liz Wright's "Fire."

I am always nervous before the start of a show. I always feel under prepared and this morning was no different. I'd planned to get up three hours before the show and only got up two hours earlier (smile). In the middle of editing and running between rooms picking up files and copies I had unexpected company arrive--

I schedule my life around my show. I don't teach on Fridays and don't schedule work or appointments on Friday either because I usually spend the rest of the day recuperating from the show afterwards.

I was so looking forward to speaking to Jewell Parker Rhodes, such a phenomenal writer--she is a study within herself. Her work is so intentional: her character's integrity and sense. She spoke about the communal aspect of African healing. I like that. In Rufisque this is what I experienced, an experience verified by Joy Degruy Leary, Ph.D., who said that black people are communal, when we are ill the healing takes place in community--it is participatory. I witnessed this first hand when I was invited to several healings where there were drummers and everyone in the village knew the healing songs, the dances and the rhythms even the one who was sick.

I was so excited about our interview, when Mrs. Rhodes Parker responded to my email request for an interview with a yes, I smiled for two weeks at the thought.

Each one of her novels is such a wonderful journey, I want to revisit them now. In Voodoo Dreams after reading the trilogy: Voodoo Season, Yellow Moon and Hurricane, I got background information on characters I'd met tangentially in the other subsequent novels. How does one discuss five novels in such a finite span of time-- half an hour? Not well, yet if audiences got a feel for the author and a curiosity about her work, then I am happy. I could have just talked about Hurricane and perhaps next year we can so just that along with Ninth Ward, but the way Rhodes Parker personifies the watery goddess--names her and her entourage is quite fantastic. Oya's wrath, the water's curse on the west and its capture of her children gems on the ocean floor (August Wilson).

Last night at Brava's Regional Premiere of Rohina Malik's "Unveiled," directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges tells stories of women beyond the veil, the veil a metaphor for hypocritical and racist responses to women who veil after 9/11. Most of these women, I think all of them, are non-Arab.

Not the first to visit this topic, Malik might be the first to tell these stories from the perspective of women, from a housewife and an attorney in Chicago to a rap artist in London. The five women are unique and yet they are the same, their loss or pending loss is one which can be avoided if at the end of the play, one unveils.

One character speaks about the scarf or hijab --ritual covering she wears in contrast to the political veil bigoted Americans don to justify discrimination based on religion: Islam. When Timothy McVeigh set of these bombs, all Christians were not subsequently vilified another character states.

I thought back on 9/11: where I was that morning and days later when I found out that a friend of mine, a stewardess scheduled to fly that day to DC, but didn't. Masajid were evacuated for safety.

At Laney College where I was teaching, we received bomb threats for months after that fateful day. It became a routine we never got used to: seeing the sheriff at the door with the announcement to evacuate.

Yesterday in class one of my students spoke about a friend of hers, a blind man who survived the World Trade Center bombing with his dog--amazing! He now lives in Alameda. Another student in that same class spoke of a bomb threat at her child's school: Skyline High in Oakland. She was there picking him up and told me she wouldn't be able to make it to class.

I recalled a series of photos my daughter made depicting the different faces of Muslim women. No one was immune, women who covered their hair, anyone who looked like the stereotypical "Arab," was suspect, when Islam is a faith with a diverse constituency.

Islam is the largest and fastest growing religion in the world. TaSin was absent and asked me to read a poem at an exhibit at Pro Arts when Betty Kano was director.

As I was speaking to my last guests Lenora Lee and Francis Wong the program kicked me off. This is the second time I have been on the air and all of a sudden I was disconnected and got a busy signal in the middle of the show. This is within the past three months. Luckily my two guests called me back.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau @ TheatreFirst in Berkeley through 3/10

An Interview with Brit Frazier, playwright

Dezi Soley is a woman to watch. She gets it right every time.  A goddess certainly, but the kind who walks among us – the characters she embodies as great as the imaginations which birth them—Star Finch and now, Brit Frazier’s LAVEAU: A Conjuring of Marie Laveau, directed by Margo Hall starring Dezi Solèy as Marie Laveau. Recently seen in Alter Theatre Company’s “Bondage,” the Haitian actor is still in the kitchen stirring the broth, this time as chief cook, Madame Marie Laveau. When one thinks conjure woman, Mambo, look no farther that this Louisiana Gumbo Ya-Ya, Spirit Worker.

Frazier’s new work which opens Program A of The Participants at TheatreFirst, once again, Jon Tracy, TF Artistic  Director, has done it again.  TF is the place where discourse around difficult topics like race, class, politics are encouraged.  These seven new commissions in repertory are amazing. The situation of the Laveau piece as the opening chapter is fitting.  Laveau says: “Words are spells, incantations.”  We are what we think, so spirit is self-articulated.  Make sure your thesaurus is open so you can choose precisely.  Laveau tells black women to breathe and let go of a lexicon which has not served us.  Yes, from the stage, the mambo speaks to us.  Where else than at TheatreFirst can one see this kind of work?

On a breezy, lovely Berkeley Sunday afternoon, Brit was kind of in a daze after the warm reception—the work, her work is so magnificent.  She is truly a vehicle for a story we all need to not just hear, but represent—Laveau’s humor and fearlessness is contagious.  Imagine a sorority of Laveau Daughters from the Bay? Brit says when she encountered the Voodoo Woman, enchantress, healer, she wanted to tell her story.  Her Laveau appears vivacious, fun yet reverent.  She has come to set the record straight.  There are too many misconceptions, so bring pens and notebooks.  Laveau is a lesson.

The character admits some people fear her, while others love her.  A scientist, she knows her spells and incantations work, and if her directions are followed precisely, results are guaranteed.  I like that kind of certainty.

An abolitionist, Laveau freed many African Diaspora kinsmen and women.  On stage she pours libations on the many altars assembled as she honors her ancestors and deities who helped her with important work—her primary role was to free her people. She talks about the duppies or sleepwalkers and her reach beyond the grave.

Laveau might laugh, but make no mistake, she is a powerful woman.

An altar dominates the room where Laveau performs her prayers and rituals. Dressed in ceremonial white, we see her shadow dancing behind a curtain as projected images cover a screen ending with Laveau’s portrait.  As she honors her ancestors and prays throughout the work, Laveau sprinkles juicy tidbits about her life between a song or an offering.  She speaks of marriage, divorce, slavery, African deities and spiritual practices.

Solèy’s work as a dancer is evident here. One wonders if the playwright has Dezi in mind as her character evolved.  The actress is such a perfect fit. Even though the work is theatre, the ceremony is real. What Brit’s “Laveau” says is both an affirmation and a word to the wise.

The conjure woman’s magic and spells to keep black women, black mothers, black girls safe— We can see this ideological work in the artistic work of two Bay Area conjure women, Amara Tabour-Smith and Ellen Sebastian Chang’s Housefull of Black Women Project. Housefull looks at how enormous a task it is to be a black woman, to walk in our shoes. Smith and Chang have developed creative queries called “episodes.” The series of episodic moments within a discourse unpack the ever shifting dynamic: black women vs. the rest of the world.

The February “Housefull” episode was passing/through/the great middle. Tabour-Smith et al had audiences look at what it means to lose a child—sexual violation and the cost of refusal.  The work examined what was left – the words that remain after the body is no more. As she called these spirits from slave ships or in slave quarters or working in the field . . . into the room there was a hush—something holy was passing over.  Similar to the masque, a woman dressed in bones walked among us– bones knocking against other bones; rattling, touching us as Egungun or ancestors danced—
Spirit women sang, played music—took us to holy gatherings under sanctified rooftops. We were told to grab hands as we looked for a lost letter, walked down the street into an alley where blood was being washed away only to reappear just as the story recycled.

This episode (as had so many others) took place at EastSide Arts Cultural Center located on a busy thoroughfare in East Oakland (23rd Avenue and International).  Before we went down an alley around the corner, we stepped into a sanctified space where Obeah, Juju Conjurers, Mambo women sat on pillows singing – admonishing, laughing and telling plenty lies.  Also in the room were altars in a variety of sizes to the Orisha: Yemanja, Oya, Esu Legba. I didn’t see Oṣun, but she was probably there. The space was tight and people let go of each other’s hands.

We then left for another leg of the journey, the final stop outside where obeah women sat on benches while others washed a white cloth.  It was a ritual washing, choreographed to the rhythm of the storyteller—Amara’s voice.  She told the same horrible story three times. Each time she reminded us that the story was true. This was the hardest to witness and then leave. We were offered a cookie as we made our way back to the theatre singing “Wade in the Water.” Some of the women didn’t make it across – others stopped singing. The silence was worse than the story we could not forget, the story of the child beaten to death because she refused to relinquish her rights to her body.

This “House/Full” episode was about embodiment and how frightening this concept is to captors who tried to beat it out of the girl and failed.  That night we heard stories. Words spoken like maps tracing our way back home.  Back in the theatre, a film shot on the beach reiterated those same words. Poetic, the repetition was comforting.

This is the place Frazier’s “Laveau” also occupies. This is the place Star Finch’s “Bondage” occupies. In “Bondage,” Dezi Solèy, as mixed-race “Zuri,” is a slave girl who would kill all captors before she relinquished rights to her body.  We also see Dezi in a more contemporary work, directed by Frazier in TheatreFirst’s “Participants: Star Finch’s “Take the Ticket.” The work explores how white theatre artists thematically exploit black pain.

All of these black women characters (and to a certain extent their creators) realize there is no place in the world for them—unacknowledged, they pose a very real danger. Nonetheless, just because acknowledgement is refused does not mean black women are not present and can, if she chooses, dismantle the wall or better yet redo the entire cosmos.

All black women should see Brit Frazier’s “Laveau,” up through March 10 at TF at Live Oak Park Theatre in Berkeley.  Tickets are going fast.  Laveau is an opportunity to leave the baggage behind. It is already too heavy, besides Marie Laveau reminds us, the sh– is not even ours.

Don’t forget to check the tags before exiting the airport or train station.  Just as I thought, the tags are wrong.

I had an opportunity to interview the playwright, Brit Frazier, a fierce black woman in front of and behind the curtain.  She definitely has the ear of the Orisha or black deities.  Ashay, Ashay, Ashayo! The conversation here is insight into the play, answers to questions posed in the review and more.

Here are links to two Wanda’s Picks Radio interviews, one Friday, March 2, 2018 with Dezi Solèy, actress, and director, Margo Hall, plus an interview from the archives (09/09/2011) with one of Brit’s primary sources, writer, Jewell Parker Rhodes.

The Interview

Wanda Sabir:  What is your fascination with Madam Laveau?

Brit Frazier:  “I wouldn’t call it fascination, it’s more reverence. I recognize her power and honor her work. She died supposedly over 100 years ago and is still as potent energetically now as she seemed to be in her time. She is an example of a pillar of spiritual strength, and an unapologetic, fearless vessel of the feminine divine.”

WS: Why is she the vehicle for a celebration of Black Life and Black Women?

BF:  “She was a healer, a root worker, an abolitionist and a juggernaut in the fight to create and protect space for Black People to worship and experience catharsis in the midst of brutality against their bodies, family structures and worth. She realized black love, black procreation, was important; so along with healing and freeing black bodies, she saw to it that our existence wasn’t whipped away by cruelty, she made sure black People had the time, space and security to know love as well.”
WS: The work is a libation for African Ancestors of the Middle Passage. Talk about the symbolism and ritual items from altars to white garment, projected images, dance . . . songs.

BF: “The color white is owned by Obatala in Santeria and Damballah in Voodoo. Both deities bless our consciousness, they are representations of The Mist High in our thinking. The whole piece surrounds the idea of cleansing the consciousness. Laveau mixes a spiritual “white bath” onstage, traditionally used to cleanse the body and spirit of lower energies, negative influences. Ritual and repetition help us to access that which has been stolen, lost or forgotten.”

WS: There is history and a dismantling of lies and mythology associated with this roots woman Voodoo Queen. Talk about your research and how the material chosen made it to the stage and what spells did not (smile).

BF:  “My research involved a mixture of reading, introspection and listening to Marie Laveau guide me through her tribute. There is soo much information about her and her daughters and at the same time so little. Deciphering between truth and lies came from listening to her. I read a few books but two that stuck out were Jewel Parker Rhodes’s “Voodoo Dreams” which is a beautifully rich  “fiction,” but has a lot of fact weaved in and the other “Voodoo Queen” by Martha Ward, which is nonfiction and gives a really extensive account of what Antebellum New Orleans was like.

“Ward also does a lot of research finding old legal documents, articles and interviews about the Laveau’s themselves and their rituals that helped me shape the piece. I ended up cutting a lot of the history around her best friend , priest of St. Louise Cathedral and former leader if the Spanish Inquisition, St. Antoine aka Father Sedella and Marie Laveau’s the 1st, second husband ( a white man , who legally changed his race , gave up his privilege  to marry her)Christophe de Galpion because I only had so much stage time and two ,we, Marie and I, felt it important to highlight the strength, power and resilience of Black Women… men are great, don’t get me wrong… friends are great but they were cut from this particular iteration.

“Ward includes spells in the book, one of which is supposed to be one Laveau’s most powerful spells to ward off injustice . . . it’s a revenge spell. I didn’t use it, because I have feelings around Ward including the spell in her book in the first place (it’s nothing to play with) and two, this piece isn’t about revenge, it’s about self-preservation and believing as black women that we have the power to do practice that conjure, and see results, watch the blessings show up in our lives.”
WS: You have not been to NOLA or Haiti, two places where Voodun is a national religion, not to mention West Africa in Yorubaland.

BF:  “Nope. I’ve never been except in my mind.”

WS:  What have you learned about African spirituality in the writing of this mythical character and what lingers with you now that she is fully formed?

BF:  “I had knowledge of Yoruba and Santeria religions [developed in the Diaspora] before knowing Laveau or starting this piece. . . .  This experience was more about finding her in me. She isn’t a mythical character, she is very real. I learned a lot and was inspired by her unapologetic strength.”
WS:  You have shattered the 4th wall. What is your vision for the future of staged work? Talk aesthetic, respect, ethics, voice, content, authenticity, honesty, ownership

BF:  “I’m not sure. I just know I’m interested in performance ritual… I feel entertainment especially now has been charged energetically/spiritually with ushering in a new consciousness. . . . I just wanna do that work.”

WS:  As the pieces right themselves and artists rethink their processes, what would you like your audiences to take away from this experience?

BF:  “Black resilience and the will “to conjure themselves clean.”

WS:  What are Laveau and Big Mama whispering to you right now?

BF:  “Be easier on yourself Brit. You are magical, gifted and fragile… and worthy. REPEAT AFTER ME, YOU ARE WORTHY! “

WS: Talk about your director, actress, and design team . . . did they make Brit’s vision come true?

BF:  “Margo Hall (director) is amazing at everything, she really helped me activate the piece. My biggest fear writing it, was that it would turn out didactic and visually boring. It’s anything but, in my opinion. Margo is a blessing. Dezi Solèy (actress) is a Queen. She herself is a very powerful bruja . . . . I felt it as soon as I met her, she brings light everywhere she goes and isn’t afraid to drop the performance and spiritually attune. The design team are the most patient and giving people ever!!! I think of them like the nurses in the delivery room, they helped clean my baby, make sure she was healthy and vibrant… I’m so thankful for the Love and care they wrapped [me and Queen Laveau] in.”

WS: What’s next? Margo said you have a longer play written. Are plans in the works for a run? Where are you performing next?

BF:  “I don’t know… maybe a short? Black noire, shot in New Orleans in Congo Square, on Lake Pontchartrain and in Laveau’s old house and at her gravesite; Featuring dancers, real ritual work, and drummers; shot out of order , highlighting ritual imagery. I don’t know… but I can dream. The piece presented at TheatreFirst is eleven pages, the full piece is around twenty five pages. . . . I don’t know what is next.

Here is a short video interview which includes Brit re: TheatreFirst: Between Us: Program A

“My next gig is Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm’s “Hooded: Or Being Black for Dummies,” March 8-31, at Custom Made Theatre, (415) 798-CMTC (2682), 533 Sutter Street, in San Francisco in which I’m am Assistant Director and Dramaturg and my next acting opportunity is with Campo Santo called “Casa De Spirts” at YBCA, May 16-17, written and directed by Rodger Guinevere Smith.”