Levi King’s Emerging Director Residency – Week 2 Blog Post

Fresh Milk shares the second blog post by Barbadian actor & director Levi King, the current participant in the Emerging Director Residency Programme held in collaboration with the National Cultural Foundation (NCF). This week, Levi reflects on his first session with his mentor for the residency, Barbadian performance artist, theatre director, writer and educator in theatre arts Sonia Williams. Their discussion reminded him that as important as it is to be detail oriented, it is equally critical to focus on the fundamentals of a project, ensuring there is a solid foundation to build upon. Read more below:

K.I.S.S.

So when taking on something as important to your development as a first residency, it is easy to overlook some things. Having spent some hours this week speaking to my mentor Sonia Williams, I came to a conclusion. I was so focused on details, that I was not giving the right focus to the whole project. In the conversation, my mind started to go where it usually does; following the trail the words are creating til it comes across something seemingly unrelated, but which pieced together well in my head. It went a little like this:

Mentor: *asks a basic question expecting a simple answer*
Me, an intellectual: *responds with long winded thing that is barely part of the answer*
Mentor: *asks same question again*
Me, clearly not intellectual enough: *dials it back and sees the actual question being asked, tries to answer that*

Then we move on.

This process basically took my ears and wrung them, dug into the file-o-fax in my brain and produced a saying I saw or heard somewhere a time ago: K.I.S.S – Keep It Simple Stupid. I was missing the forest for trying to look at each tree, I was missing the whole painting for looking at each brush stroke. I wasn’t on the wrong path entirely, but I was making it harder for myself than I needed to, because I wasn’t asking myself the basic questions I should have been.

I wasn’t keeping it simple. By keeping it simple I don’t mean abandoning any intricate details of what I envisioned. I simply mean that I was leaving out some fundamental basic things that would strengthen the work I was doing. I had to revise my approach to these fundamental aspects of how I was working and keep it simple. In this case, keeping it simple meant, for me, not to overlook the fundamentals.

My lesson this week was about these fundamentals, even though the conversation was about Grotowski, Brecht, Boal, Stanislavski, working with actors, and going through the script. Damon Wayans said in a performance (and I’m paraphrasing from the show My Wife and Kids), “Don’t forget the fun-da-mentals, because that’s what makes da mentals fun.” So lemme go forward and do de rest uh dis werk. Til next time ppls.

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ncf mark rgb2This project is a collaborative initiative, funded by the NCF Barbados

Levi King’s Emerging Director Residency – Week 1 Blog Post

Fresh Milk is excited to have Bajan actor & director Levi King in residence with us, as we get our collaboration with the National Cultural Foundation (NCF) to host the second edition of the Emerging Director Residency Programme underway!

This project is funded by the NCF, and allows a local emerging director the chance to research, experiment, work with actors and connect with a theatre arts mentor during the course of the residency. Levi will be mentored by Barbadian performance artist, theatre director, writer and educator in theatre arts Sonia Williams. See more from Levi below about his first week in residence, and stay tuned for more updates on the programme!

The importance of open-mindedness in the process of directing

So, I began this residency last week, and to be honest I was anxious, never mind the constantly cool exterior. I know what piece I want to explore, I know the areas I wanted to improve (or thought I did), I knew to some extent the approach I wanted to take. I knew all this, but I still felt woefully unprepared, and it scared me. Then in my research process (reading some of the many books at Fresh Milk), I came across a statement in the book Scriptwork: A director’s approach to new play development about open-mindedness. In that moment one thing became clear. I was, up to that point, not being as open-minded as I needed to be. It made me immediately relax.

I know that a director has to have a solid plan, and know every detail of the work they are about to do. I completely overlooked the part of the work that also requires a director to be open-minded. Open-minded to the possibilities that the work can open up to you. Open-minded to ideas different than yours on a project that may actually work better than your own (but not so open-minded that other people end up directing your work lol). Open-minded to the process and all the dimensions and directions it can open up. The stage is a blank canvas, the script is the paint, the set, the technical, and performers are the brushes. Together, they can form a masterpiece.

In my realisation that I needed to be more open-minded, I abandoned the fear of my own failure for lack of being adequately prepared. I abandoned my fear of not being good enough to produce something of quality. I abandoned my feeling of needing to have every single aspect of this residency under complete control and began to refocus. I am now more open to the process that is learning through mentorship, when I didn’t realise I was closed off before. Though I still have much to learn, now I am more prepared to be open to learn it effectively. I look forward to the mentorship with Sonia Williams.

Here’s to week one, where by confining myself to a desk in a room, restricting my actions to reading for research purposes, I was reminded to be more open in my approach to the residency and to directing as a process. On to week two.

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ncf mark rgb2This project is a collaborative initiative, funded by the NCF Barbados

Deadline extended: The NCF and Fresh Milk Emerging Directors Residency 2017

The National Cultural Foundation (NCF) and the Fresh Milk Art Platform are pleased to share an open call for the Emerging Directors Residency 2017. Launched for the first time last year, this exciting programme is a paid artist residency for early career theatre directors, which will provide them with an opportunity to conduct much needed research into Caribbean theatre heritage and to explore and create through theatre form and style.

The deadline for applications has been extended until October 18th, and the residency will take place between November 6th – December 8th. Read more below:

One residency will be offered for one emerging Barbadian director, who will receive a stipend of $1,000.00 BBD. The residency will be based at the Fresh Milk studio in Walkers, St. George, and will run for a 50 hour period which the resident must complete over five weeks, between November 6th – December 8th, 2017. The deadline for applications is October 18th, 2017.

The selected resident will be mentored over the course of the programme by a noted Caribbean Director and, at the close of the period, will present by way of an intimate, private showcase with their actors and specially invited theatre professionals, aspects of the work they have been exploring.

Rationale:

Residency programmes afford professionals time and space away from the demands of daily work life to carry out much needed professional development, with the emphasis on process rather than necessarily having the pressure of producing a finished body of work. Outside of traditional longer term training, a paid residency allows artists time for contemplative study and exploration. In the Barbadian context, there is much focus on the training of performers, however there are considerably fewer opportunities for those theatre artists with a special interest in directing to hone and develop their skills. Highly skilled, culturally aware and visionary directors are needed, as we move nationally to advance our cultural industries sector, and to enrich the quality of small and large scale staged events, whether drama, music, dance, or indeed multimedia events.

Greater awareness of Barbadian/Caribbean theatre form and style will serve to enhance the ideological and interpretive output of those up and coming directors on the local theatre scene, and equip them to create work that consciously and profoundly engages with Barbadian tradition. ‘Emerging Directors Residency’ offers an opportunity to design and apply staging concepts for ‘alternative spaces’, i.e. the “site-specific”, and otherwise environmental concept. It offers mentorship, access to archival material, and affords time for creativity.

Eligibility:

The ideal candidate should be a trained Barbadian theatre artist, who has directed between 1 and 4 plays.

Duration of Programme:

50 hours to be undertaken between November 6th – December 8th, 2017.

*Please note that your application must include a timeline mapping out your use of the set 50 hour period. While access to the Fresh Milk studio may be granted in addition to this timetable which may inform the work, it would be considered as work done outside of the parameters of the residency

Application process:

Prospective candidates can apply with the completed application form (which includes a bio/artist statement, project proposal and detailed timetable outlining the 50-hours of the residency, and can be downloaded here), full CV and portfolio, writing samples from your director’s notebook and 2-3 critical (newspaper, peer or academic) reviews of recent work to the National Cultural Foundation, Theatre Arts Office at the email address lisa-cumberbatch@ncf.bb before midnight on Wednesday, October 18th, 2017. They will be interviewed by a panel comprising NCF and Fresh Milk officials.

The successful candidate for the residency will be offered a stipend of $1,000.00 BBD. The mentor will spend 10 hours in total with the resident over each 50 hour residency. The resident will have access to two actors for 15 hours to experiment and/or create work. At the end of the residency period, there will be a short, private showcase where the resident can share aspects of the work they have been contemplating with a small audience of invited theatre professionals.

Expectations:

In addition to the 50 hours spent at Fresh Milk, each resident will be required to keep a weekly blog of text and images documenting their thoughts and processes which will be shared on the Fresh Milk website. At the close of the residency, each resident will also be required to submit a report according to Fresh Milk and the NCF’s guidelines.

Open Call: The NCF and Fresh Milk Emerging Directors Residency 2017

The National Cultural Foundation (NCF) and the Fresh Milk Art Platform are pleased to share an open call for the Emerging Directors Residency 2017. Launched for the first time last year, this exciting programme is a paid artist residency for early career theatre directors, which will provide them with an opportunity to conduct much needed research into Caribbean theatre heritage and to explore and create through theatre form and style.

One residency will be offered for one emerging Barbadian director, who will receive a stipend of $1,000.00 BBD. The residency will be based at the Fresh Milk studio in Walkers, St. George, and will run for a 50 hour period which the resident must complete over five weeks, between October 2nd – November 3rd, 2017. The deadline for applications is July 27, 2017.

The selected resident will be mentored over the course of the programme by a noted Caribbean Director and, at the close of the period, will present by way of an intimate, private showcase with their actors and specially invited theatre professionals, aspects of the work they have been exploring.

Rationale:

Residency programmes afford professionals time and space away from the demands of daily work life to carry out much needed professional development, with the emphasis on process rather than necessarily having the pressure of producing a finished body of work. Outside of traditional longer term training, a paid residency allows artists time for contemplative study and exploration. In the Barbadian context, there is much focus on the training of performers, however there are considerably fewer opportunities for those theatre artists with a special interest in directing to hone and develop their skills. Highly skilled, culturally aware and visionary directors are needed, as we move nationally to advance our cultural industries sector, and to enrich the quality of small and large scale staged events, whether drama, music, dance, or indeed multimedia events.

Greater awareness of Barbadian/Caribbean theatre form and style will serve to enhance the ideological and interpretive output of those up and coming directors on the local theatre scene, and equip them to create work that consciously and profoundly engages with Barbadian tradition. ‘Emerging Directors Residency’ offers an opportunity to design and apply staging concepts for ‘alternative spaces’, i.e. the “site-specific”, and otherwise environmental concept. It offers mentorship, access to archival material, and affords time for creativity.

Eligibility:

The ideal candidate should be a trained Barbadian theatre artist, who has directed between 1 and 4 plays.

Duration of Programme:

50 hours to be undertaken between October 2nd – November 3rd, 2017.

*Please note that your application must include a timeline mapping out your use of the set 50 hour period. While access to the Fresh Milk studio may be granted in addition to this timetable which may inform the work, it would be considered as work done outside of the parameters of the residency

Application process:

Prospective candidates can apply with the completed application form (which includes a bio/artist statement, project proposal and detailed timetable outlining the 50-hours of the residency, and can be downloaded here), full CV and portfolio, writing samples from your director’s notebook and 2-3 critical (newspaper, peer or academic) reviews of recent work to the National Cultural Foundation, Theatre Arts Office at the email address lisa-cumberbatch@ncf.bb before midnight on Thursday, July 27th, 2017. They will be interviewed by a panel comprising NCF and Fresh Milk officials.

The successful candidate for the residency will be offered a stipend of $1,000.00 BBD. The mentor will spend 10 hours in total with the resident over each 50 hour residency. The resident will have access to two actors for 15 hours to experiment and/or create work. At the end of the residency period, there will be a short, private showcase where the resident can share aspects of the work they have been contemplating with a small audience of invited theatre professionals.

Expectations:

In addition to the 50 hours spent at Fresh Milk, each resident will be required to keep a weekly blog of text and images documenting their thoughts and processes which will be shared on the Fresh Milk website. At the close of the residency, each resident will also be required to submit a report according to Fresh Milk and the NCF’s guidelines.

Matthew ‘Kupakwashe’ Murrell’s Emerging Director Residency – Week 3 Blog Post

Matthew ‘Kupakwashe’ Murrell writes about the third week of his Emerging Directors Residency, a collaboration between Fresh Milk and the National Cultural Foundation (NCF). Having extended his time at Fresh Milk to continue his research and exploration around the play ‘Shakespeare’s Nigga’, Matthew had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Sean Benson, a professor at University of Dubuque, USA who specializes in Shakespeare and is currently on a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados. Read more about their thought provoking discussion below:

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Dr. Sean Benson in conversation with Matthew ‘Kupakwashe’ Murrell

Greetings.

This week was a short week, but this post won’t be short; though short, it was still relatively impactful.

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of meeting and conversing with Dr. Sean Benson, a US professor specializing in Shakespeare. We had quite an extensive and enlightening conversation. I had my questions ready to discover some truths about Shakespeare, but the conversation didn’t go as I’d imagined. We’ve both discovered Shakespeare’s impact on the US is not necessarily as deep and as complex as it is in the West Indies. Within my research, I wanted to uncover Shakespeare’s invasive legacy onto the Caribbean space as a tool of socio-political, race related, educational and literary oppression. Many of these things Sean didn’t know, but totally understood how it could be so, being as we both agreed that after the Bible, the next series of literary oppression to the enslaved Africans and free Africans would be the works of Shakespeare. Shakespeare in the US, is not Shakespeare in the West Indies. As Sean stated, Shakespeare isn’t putting anyone on the back burner in America, as America has been more diverse in its literary scene. Many American and non-American writers dominate their spaces, with Tennessee Williams, Langston Hughes and even Samuel Beckett having their dedicated audiences, and even festivals in their names. Whereas on this island, every year in Holder’s Season, Shakespeare is met with bourgeoisie audiences, expensive tickets and a class privilege one must hold; let’s not forget Gale Theatre as well and their Shakesperian contribution.

In our society, for many years, to know and understand Shakespeare, his ‘classics’, sonnets and the iambic pentameter, showed your level of intelligence and social status, or potential for these things. Sean also mentioned that his UWI students (who he believes are being overworked!) come into the classroom knowing more about Shakespeare, almost twice as much as his American students! Yet, though he himself says he’s a fan of Derek Walcott, can’t say the same for his Caribbean students. I introduced my new buddy to the works of some of my favourite Caribbean playwrights and poets, Kamau Brathwaite, Denis Scott and Earl John, to have a feel for some awesome Caribbean classics.

Sean and I also delved into the Moor characters, Aaron and Othello, and this is where I learned a lot and discovered some greatness to employ in Shakespeare’s Nigga. Sean gave me a basic timeline for Aaron, from Titus Andronicus being the first mention of a Moor in Shakespeare’s earliest works. Though the writing of the play and staging of it were two different times, it was staged before slavery ever started. Interestingly enough, Aaron is a slave that carries out deadly deeds in the name of the crown and persecuted for it. My question was, how would Shakespeare have met with Moors at that time? Apparently, Mr. Shakespeare would’ve befriended a Moor living in the UK and, as writers do,  felt compelled to understand his friend’s culture and write about it, as a challenge to himself. Sean also believes that Othello is an evolved character based on Aaron, basically a Moor going from slavery to being a free man, with Othello being written much later in Shakespeare’s life. I found it interesting that Shakespeare in his time would’ve been seen as a very progressive writer, who wrote for the unspoken for, defied the traditional way of writing and gave not only a black man a voice, but women a more powerful voice at the time. It’s interesting to see how a meager living playwright could centuries later be considered the ‘pinnacle’ of literary greatness. (Something to aspire to! Hmmm). Also funny, when same said meager playwright, whose profession was seen as lower than low, centuries later is heralded by the bourgeoisie. When Othello was staged, Sean informed me, that it was the most hated of Shakespeare’s plays for many reasons.

  1. At the time, the Aristole way of playmaking was to write about Kings and Queens, and though army generals might seem noble, it’s not noble enough! (Noble Othello! – or not so much)
  2. How dare you, Shakespeare, write a play about a black man! Especially when at the time you wrote that play, Europe was about to embark on the biggest economic plan the world has ever seen! SLAVERY!!!
  3. And then you had the audacity, the unmitigated gall to give that…that…Moor the title of the play…Othello!
  4. And he’s married to a white woman??? And you expect this play to be released under the queen’s patronage? A black man with a white wife??? You are inciting interracial coupling, do you know what that means!? God what next? Gay marriage!?
denzel

Denzel Washington in ‘Training Day’ (2001), directed by Antoine Fuqua

I had no idea Shakespeare could’ve been seen as progressive; kinda made me respect that man just a little. Maybe it’s his followers who irk me a bit (sounding a lot like John Lennon here). To think that Shakespeare wrote a play like this of such political magnitude at a time where he could’ve easily lost what little he had, was quite brave. What fascinated me more, was the progression of Aaron to Othello. Aaron, an angry and enslaved Moor, was desperate for freedom and basically would do anything at any cost for this freedom. Aaron would’ve faced blatant racism to its highest degree, physical and mental, causing his actions to seem evil though understandable – he’s treated like an animal and will lash out like one. Now with Othello, a successful and progressive Moor, he speaks the language, walks in their spine and adheres to their rules, yet he is not an equal. He too faces the racism and jealousy of white men who feel that, because of their skin colour, they deserve more than Othello. Othello, I think, has a deep internal struggle which I see a lot of black men today face, where to prove success is to embody the oppressor while still being oppressed. This type of black man is caught between the field of Aarons, questioning his blackness or his contribution to the struggle, versus fighting the system from within, almost assimilating to become part of it, and although having proven himself worthy of all praise, is never good enough due to the ‘curse of skin pigmentation ’.

Still shot from 'The Harder They Come' (1973), directed by Perry Henzell

Still shot from ‘The Harder They Come’ (1973), directed by Perry Henzell

Not only in Shakespeare’s Nigga, but in many contemporary forms of Othello, we’ve seen this struggle of black masculinity challenged, and conversation has been generated around successful black men marrying white women as a way to boost to their social standing. I think we’ve had more stories understanding the Aarons of the world, the plight of the disadvantaged black man in an oppressive state (even I have my plays about them), but Othello is quite interesting to dissect. Often times, we praise the Aarons: we filled the seats for Roots in the 70s, Django Unchained had many people talking, Birth of a Nation is coming out soon, and most if not all Caribbean nations have a statue built of their emancipation hero. Then there are the unsung Aarons, ones not quite heroes, but tragic black heroes who in our contemporary adaptations face harsh penalties like Jimmy Cliff in The Harder they Come or even the portrayal of Easy E in Straight Outta Compton.  We don’t always like these images, these harsh, broody and hateful images of black men. Men whose faces are hardened by the life they were systematically placed in. We feel these images are destructive, demonstrative of an already disenfranchised community. When the art is reflecting the images we see, we panic that it can and possibly encourage more Aarons without a cause, almost seemingly forgetting the point of the existence of that Aaron. We just see the gratuitous violence, the tattoos, misogyny, the drugs and the love of a deadly lifestyle; then we want to see more Othellos.

“…I am a fucking black man
Hole in my head
Brains in my belly…”

– Kamau Brathwaite

Sarah and Thomas DuBois from 'The Boondocks'

Sarah and Thomas DuBois from ‘The Boondocks’ (2005-2014)

What about the images we give the Othellos? First image that came to my mind was Thomas DuBois of the Boondocks. Middle class black man, highly educated and great job. These Othello images can’t seem to just get it together, with people often questioning their blackness (How real is you, Nigga!). He doesn’t want to be labelled as an Aaron of the world, but he understands the Aaron. He still has to do his job, even if that means placing Aarons in trouble. He could easily be very well hated and loved for the same reasons. He’s successful, he’s over diplomatic, he wants to please his people but he wants to keep his status and gain power. He can’t really balance both; if he wants to please his people, he could risk his status, putting him back in a position where he can’t do much as before. If he pleases his superiors, he’s a ‘sellout’ an ‘uncle tom’ and a ‘coon’, and essentially ‘forgot where he came from’.

We know these Othellos. They’re professors at our Universities, they govern our countries and become knighted, they eloquently speak for the misleading media houses, the doctors, lawyers, the academics. We praised them when they fought on our behalf, but somewhere down the line they became ‘sellouts’, they’ve lived long enough to see themselves become what they once hated. A friend of mine from South Africa, she shook me to core once when she told me she has no love for Nelson Mandela. I know many black people who are dissatisfied with Barack Obama not addressing gun laws (or even pardoning Marcus Garvey!). How many disparaging statements we’ve heard about Sir Hilary Beckles. Our preferred Othellos usually have tragic moments before we could see them evolve into characters we no longer recognise; basically they die in climax of their revolutionary stance. Those Othellos are like Walter Rodney, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Some have slow deaths into obscurity due to whatever reason like Marcus Garvey, Clement Payne. These Othellos ultimately want peace, not justice. He might even say words like ‘assimilation’, ‘adapt’, his version of equality might not match yours. He wants Progression without Aggression, but sadly it can’t always happen, so they opt for the life better suited. They want their status, respect and a comfy home. Their partners may play the part of submissive wife, preferably in the categories of white, light skinned or racially ambiguous. Even if she’s black, she has to be highly educated but submissive, she doesn’t have to work either, and please, not the angry Angela Davis/Cole type! Why the change? He can’t take it anymore, he’s done enough for you ‘ungrateful negroes!’ If he can do it, you all can do it! He no longer believes there is a system because he’s cracked the system and become successful, so there is no racism!

…my people? They don’t need me.
They got legs and arms of their own…

– ‘Dutchman’ – Amiri Baraka

He’s worn, tired and frustrated with black people not working hard enough. He believes that after either affirmative action or 50 years of Independence, black people should know how to better themselves. He also feels disrespected by black people for not giving him the credit he deserves for his contributions. He’s done so much and received so little, all he gets is black people wanting more and more from him. He is now a miserable and cantankerous old man. Oftentimes, he’d write in the newspaper or be on the radio having an opinion no one cares about. He no longer cares to discuss race or race relations because it’s tiring. He’s more #AllLivesMatter than he is #BlackLivesMatter. Internally he still cares for black people, but he doesn’t think they care about him anymore. They’ve scrutinized every move he’s made. Disregarded his contributions. He’s self-loathing. He remembers so many times he’s wanted to be seen as more than just black, that he’s colour blind. Blind to the world, and blind to the struggle…blind to himself.

…We Cannot All be Masters,
nor All Masters Cannot Truly be Followed…

– Othello

What a life to live.

Anyway, much more to learn and grow. I’d like to thank Dr. Sean Benson for a great conversation and learning experience. So much more to learn about the Aarons and Othellos of this world, and the rest of us Moors in between trying to find a balance and conquer these dated notions of black masculinity. Until next time…

– Kupa

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ncf mark rgb2This project is a collaborative initiative, funded by the NCF Barbados