Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Crafting The Script

The epic proportions of EverydayAfroplayits variegated forms, from the empty stage to the edge of the cosmos; its vast array of characters, from foppish beekeepers to singing cellos; the expansiveness of its central consideration, blackness and the black body right here and now—bring with it a series of inherent challenges when translating the work into performance. It is likely that you will want to pare down from the seventy odd plays that comprise Everyday Afroplay, which triggers subsequent questions about focus and perspective, intent, duration, space, logistics, and structure. The difficulty of winnowing the body of work is amplified by the method of production Daaimah Mubashshir has so far employed: to enlist a sizable cohort of collaborators. With numerous directors to identify and divvy up the material amongst themselves, selecting a set of pieces and defining a framework—if there is to be any—become longer but more vital processes.

For the performance of Everyday Afroplay as part of the Bushwick Starr Reading Series, these challenges were navigated with simple, organic solutions. Without deciding on any sort of structure beforehand, the directors ranked a personal selection of pieces—with overlapping choices allotted by strength of interest. Once the list of plays was decided upon, the pieces were arranged to create a dynamic flow, alternating the plays by length, form, and director, though some pieces, like #36 and #37, were bundled in order to create a unified image or narrative. Everyday Afroplay #30 was broken into three chunks, two smaller sections and a lengthier conclusion, and disbursed throughout the production as a sort of refrain.

Along with that repetition that grounds us in a contemporary discussion of the ideas at hand, a cellist, Lester St. Louis, was given leeway to respond during, before, between, and after each play or coupled plays, with a few predetermined exceptions. What manifested was a coherent, real-time response, a flow of accents, themes, variations and counterpoint—uncovering hidden connections, underscoring or contrasting moments of drama and comedy, and lending the work the natural unity of the solo artist. More than anything, his playing provided the movement from piece to piece and the context through which we could view each part or the entire affair; it was the artist sitting down with his muse.

The process for assembling the text to be used in the upcoming performance of Everyday Afroplay started with a similar strategy then diverged significantly into new territory.
A large team of directors once again individually assembled lists of plays that interested them. Anticipating a desire to fit the pieces together under some theme, structure, or idea, the directors arrived to the pertinent meeting with extensive lists, designed by both interest and flexibility in mind. It was immediately clear that the selections could not be entirely fixed until some through-line or structure—often called the axis—had been decided upon, though a general consensus developed around a few of the individual plays quickly through mutual or acute curiosity. Ideally, this axis would also determine, or strongly suggest, the order, whether pieces would be linked, whether they might be repeated, in a series or sprinkled throughout the evening, or whether they might happen simultaneously.

The first strong impulse was to frame the production as a singular event, a carnival or circus-type big top that could encompass a wide breadth of Everday Afroplay selections. At the center of this event would be a kind of master of ceremonies—a role played perhaps by Daaimah herself. From this initial thrust, the playwright stitched together a first working draft. Whereas the first presentation of Everyday Afroplay included no additional production specific text, Daaimah this time created an entire web of interstitial material, a narrative of forgotten priorities and lost sustainability but tempered by unexpected expansiveness and a sifting of history and knowledge for dual treasures: what has been lost and what might be gained.

These ideas played out across several dramatic strands, including a set of back up dancers contending with a young protagonist over the glories of cotton candy, the upheaval of an entire social ecosystem, and Egungun squeezing through the clamor of it all to dismantle the whole affair. In the course of furious drafting and redrafting, these various ideas were distilled into a single convention, a contention between two characters, Naj and Dandy, over what is true and valuable about being human and living black. This development reinforced an already stated curiosity about the dark skinned intellectuals of #14, who were slowly subsumed into the Naj and Dandy characters. Their endless searching atop a mound of books served as a visual manifestation for that accruing and scrutinizing of history and philosophy that appeared as a common link for the various pieces. A world filled with books, additionally, became an obvious and convenient location in which the afroplays might reside, accessed by the survival-driven and perfectly human curiosity evidenced by Naj. In place of Lester's sonic commentary, this searching, missteps and all, becomes the focal point through which each piece is channeled and the current that makes them each flow.

The exact order of the plays has changed frequently (and could still change again) in pursuit of rhythmic dynamism, staging needs, thematic cohesion and development, intuition, the natural chaos of a large scale collaborative undertaking, or any number of different reasons. However, like the previous production, this text is structured to alternate styles clearly from piece to piece and features repetitions that remind us clearly what is at hand, but in a visceral redirection, what was an incantation has been substituted with the matter at hand, the black body itself, dancing a formless dance. (#31).