Friday, February 27, 2009

Flexing the Writing Muscles

When I moved to Chicago, I was filled with ambition, both as an actor but particularly as a writer/spoken word artist. I had been doing the whole SLAM and Hiop Hop Theatre scene in both Portland, OR as a student, and in Florida during my MFA, but i was now moving to the self proclaimed "birth-place of spoken word!"

I had told myself to immerse myself in the writing scene, and hit up all the spots regularly performing my style of spoken word....but that didnt quite happen. Instead I've hit up the Green Mill a few times, been a featured performer, and done Public Enemy last year for thinkTank. The focus for the last two years in this city has been on acting...only. And thats been great! just fine with me, since thats what my degree is I've worked with Victory Gardens, Steppenwolf and Lookingglass to name a few, and been gaining really important professional experience.

So as you can imagine, its taken me a bit to flex that writing muscle and get back into the writing, while during the rehearsals so much of my energy has been in the actions, the motivations for each piece. I hunger to find specificity in choices on stage, how to enliven a piece, but thankfully with the editting and conversational help of my co-horts, the writing has come along grandly! as well!

Its an amazing feeling when it feels like things are chugging along, and you are artistically connecting to a piece both as a writer and hip hop kid, but also as an actor.

So for me, we are in that place right now, where the writing is all coming together, we are more and more satisfied with what is on the page, and now its time to build, create, make choices, make more choices, and bring it all onto the stage. That great, nitty gritty stuff that all actors love.

I was reading Hanif Kureishi's Strangers When We Meet, and he has a great thought in there. He says "The depth and passion Florence has on stage is clear to me. But, I know what an artist finds interesting about their own work, the part they consider original and penetrating, will not necessarily compel an audience, who might not even notice it, but only attend to the story."

Very well put.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Director's Take- HipHopHopeLand

Today the show started to really take shape and find its direction--which is good for me, as director! As we began to put sections together and see how they fit, I realised that the initial sections that we had created early on were not quite making sense--which makes sense! As our three intrepid writers are still writing, and have responded to their recent experiences and feelings (Usman's return to his Pakistani homeland, Kelly's response to current hiphop music), the shows pieces begin to change tone and to crossfade/mix with each other in different combinations. Now a section on television can be divided into two, one half on role models and creation myths, a second on news and its censorship of experience. This devlopment then changes the section before, and changes where the comedy and lightness needs to be. So this process, so alive and so exciting, just took another step into scary territory, since I am far more comfortable, or expereinced at least, in carving up Shakespeare's text, than I am in analyzing Idris', Kelly's, and Usman's soft rhymes, riffs, ragings--but I love their passion, their opinions, and their words. This is a wild ride into hiphophopeland, and today the show just grew another super power!


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Columbia College on Race in the Media

Media Coverage of Obama and Race Schemas
by CRM Interactive - Monday, October 13, 2008, 08:17 AM

Toni Nealie's class recently discussed media reports about Barack Obama being "too black", "not black enough" or off on an "exotic holiday". Some examples include the NY Times article about steel workers not wanting to vote for Obama because he is black, Cokie Roberts statements about obama's exotic holiday and Time magazine's cover story is Obama black enough. (see New York Times Article). The students in Toni's class explored personal and media schemas about African-American males and how news reports about black male criminals, shootings on the South side etc provide a shorthand version but not a wider picture. How do those schemas play into media commentary about Senator Obama?

For more and to see student dialogue, click on the picture.

Monday, February 9, 2009



Chicago Shakespeare Theater
800 East Grand Avenue
Admission is free, but reservations are recommended.
Call 312.595.5460 or visit

My Nose and Me: A TragedyLite or TragiDelight in 33 Scenes by John Surowiecki is the inaugural winner of the Poetry Foundation’s Verse Drama Prize. It makes its Chicago debut here, under the direction of Bernard Sahlins.

“Loosely inspired by Gogol's comic masterpiece ‘The Nose,’ master poet John Surowiecki has written a laugh-out-loud gem of a play. In some 30 short, fast-paced scenes, this award-winning work carries us through time and across continents, taking shots at pompous doctors, randy nurses, and intellectual quackery in general while attesting to the unity of our physical constituents—including our noses.”—Bernard Sahlins

John Surowiecki is the author of Watching Cartoons before Attending a Funeral, The Hat City after Men Stopped Wearing Hats, and five chapbooks. He won Nimrod’s Pablo Neruda Prize and has received fellowships from the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism. He makes his home in Connecticut, where he is a freelance writer and teaches poetry courses at Manchester Community College.

Bernard Sahlins co-founded the Second City Theater and the International Theatre Festival of Chicago. He has produced and directed shows in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, London, and Toronto. His memoir, Days and Nights at the Second City, appeared from Ivan R. Dee in 2002.

Presented by Poetry Foundation

Friday, February 6, 2009

Global Media

For this week's blog entry, we borrow a post from Usman Ally's own personal blog.
Usman recently returned from Pakistan, where he was fascinated by what he calls the "creeping Americanisation of Pakistani Media."

Here's his excerpt: (for more of his blog check out


I’ve been here just about a week now, and I have to admit there has been quite a bit to take in. Everything from uncovering of old family stories that make us laugh and ache deep in our hearts, to the unavoidable reopening of old wounds that never fully healed and become part of our unspoken family history.

Life is strange: I finally become used to sitting next to my mother, watching Pakistani dramas and Indian movies when the world outside all of a sudden rudely interrupts our awkwardly beautiful moments of reconnection. The news on the telly has been flooded with images of death and destruction in Gaza, and the perception of the Arab-Israeli conflict is presented in a completely different light than it is in Chicago, Illinois.
However the media here uses much of the same tools. There is a FOX News here too, and it features radical perspectives calling for an armed military intervention by Pakistan in Gaza to “teach Israel a lesson” much in the same way Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity wanted America to “bomb them to bits” a few years ago. Thankfully the sane, sober news stations far outnumber the crazy ones, but it still leaves an impression in your mind when you see how different yet similar things are here.
As the conflict in Gaza grows many Arab nations and peoples have been looking to Pakistan as a muslim force that might be able to halt Israel. I say hogwash to that. Pakistan has plenty of its own problems to deal with what with inner turmoil of terror organizations, the Afghan border and India. And besides Arab nations love to beckon Pakistan to do something because this country has armed nuclear power, but Arabs still treat Pakistani people in a very pejorative way. But, I think I have mentioned this in a previous post already so I won’t waffle on now. I’ll just say that hopefully the armed offensive will end soon before more Palestinians are killed.

Back to war time terminology though…here terrorist organizations that lurk in the shadows of the northern areas of Pakistan feel galvanized and find justification of their actions because of the United States’ inaction, and seemingly pro-Israeli standpoint. Today 2 bombs went off in a part of Punjab that is not too far off from where we live. Far enough that it doesn’t affect us here in Islamabad at all, but still eerily close. I wonder if Americans back in Chicago realize that the terror organizations that plant these bombs that kill women and children use the same language as the US armed forces. When innocents are killed they call it “collateral damage” and those that have been killed are “casualties of war.” When more Pakistanis die than those who are targeted they say that it is due to “friendly fire.” They justify their war in exactly the same way that the US Armed Forces justify their own military actions in the Middle East. Interesting huh?"