Saturday, July 14, 2018

Introducing The Immeasurable Want of Light

Everyday Afroplay has undergone another, wholly new, transformation. While every iteration of Everyday Afroplay requires reinvention—as collaborators, venues, and text selections change—this new incarnation of the play would present an alien array of opportunities and challenges due to one important perspective shift: Mubashshir was to craft Everyday Afroplay for publication rather than a specific production.

This offer from 3 Hole Press began a nearly yearlong process of writing, rewriting, late-night phone calling, meeting, deadlines, missed deadlines, new deadlines, and artistic soul-searching.

Aside from the usual questions that arise in materializing any discreet presentation of Everyday Afroplay—which individual plays to include and why; how best to arrange them in accordance with those thematic, substantive designs; whether any new interstitial material needs to be developed towards those ends; and whether any of the source plays need to be modified for dramatic, thematic cohesiveness—it was now necessary to grapple with the demands of a reader: what does it mean to read a play without seeing it, either first or ever; how does the arrangement of the words on the page, with all the attendant typographical and grammatical consideration, affect the play's imaginary performance in its reader's mind; what creative, unconventional materials might be deployed on the page to form and inform read interpretations of the script; and finally, what sorts of preemptive concessions, if any, should be made in all these decisions with regards for potential future physical productions of this particular product.

The result of this process, The Immeasurable Want of Light, addresses these formal concerns with answers both familiar and novel while maintaining and even deepening the core concerns of Everyday Afroplay—namely an expansive blackness, historically grounded but infinitely human.

As with the performance at JACK, this is an eclectic conglomeration of individual playlettes stitched together by several parallel through-lines delineated by specific combinations of characters. Last time, those characters, Naj and Dandy or the formless dancer, were on an imagistic journey through memory and imagination to examine and hopefully find, their socio-historial place in the world, to determine the freedom and totality with which they could navigate through a life that is joyful and awful.

Here, in The Immeasurable Want of Light, through-lines burrow into veins of history, refract through memory, and are scattered across a dark universe. The familial strife between Naj and Dandy has been replaced with the romantic entangling of Maker and Tress. Naj and Dandy had to reckon with a past dispersed across printed books and distorted memories in order to reassemble their fractured present. Maker and Tress, similarly, must transcend some daunting limitation, this time across the infinite space of a fictional cosmos. These structural similarities are under-girded by the reappearance of several individual plays from earlier presentations of Everyday Afroplay.

The most striking departure from previous iterations of this project, apart from the implementation of a naming convention and the integration of four digital collages by Nell Painter into the text, is found in the irreverent unmooring of towering black cultural figures from their designated domains. As Everyday Afroplay seeks to unearth the limitlessness of blackness, so too are the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Fred Moten dug up from the planters of their dignified fame and allowed to shake out their dusty roots in thoroughly post-modern style.

Overall, the effect is a funky slice of painterly, avant-garde theater—what Mubashshir frequently calls Afro New-Wave—that represents the deliberate efforts of a host of readers and commentators, including editor Rachel Kauder Nalebluff and dramaturg Stephen Christensen (me). I was asked to provide a short description of the work for publication which to the consternation of my vanity ended up largely a causality of the editorial process. But as I still feel it is a solid description of the work and its success (and for my ego's satisfaction), I will reprint my own full accounting of The Immeasurable Want of Light now,

Everyday Afroplay is an eclectic palette of thematic, sculptural, durational, and short-form narrative performance-pieces about blackness in all its permutations from which Daaimah Mubashshir--and often her collaborators--selects then orders and blurs to give form to a more limited consideration of her subject matter. In The Immeasurable Want of Light, one such discrete composition, Mubashshir paints a divided canvass where a galactic, inter-dimensional blackness alternates with the bold, potentially overpowering colors of world historical momentum. Uniting these sometimes wild alternations is a fundamental question that has always been relevant and will likely remain so: From where is value derived?

What follow will be a few interviews about the formation and execution of this publication between myself the playwright. First we will cover what it is and how it came to be and then move on to general questions about artistic intent and interpretation before finishing with issues that more specifically pertain to the peculiarities of Everyday Afroplay including the production challenges of the fantastically impossible and what it means recycle and refurbish material from production to production and how that is affected by conventions of naming and intellectual property.