I am the master of low expectations
~ George W. Bush
Breakfast: Cottage Cheese and fruit
The Girls Next Door
TODAY on TV
Too much CNN
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FROM SKIPPY TO WOLF BY WAY OF A LEGEND
12 May 2004
My "fuzzy alarm clock" got me up at 5:30 this morning. I was surprised to see Skippy’s face in mine, since I don’t remember him coming upstairs before. But we communed a bit and then he started barking his "I want to go out" bark. I figured that since it was so early, I’d do Olivia a favor and let him out, but when I got downstairs, he just ran into her bedroom and lay down again. I’m still not sure why he wanted me to get up, but by then it was too late. I was already wide awake, so I made coffee and settled in to watch CNN.
Before I left Davis to come here to Boise, I had my interview with the “living legend.” Since it is cold and rainy outside, I thought I’d talk about the interview experience, especially since I still have the creeping crud today and haven’t left the house. I’m feeling a tad better, thanks to TheraFlu, but still coughing, sneezing and blowing my nose. At least the fever is gone and I feel half-way human, so I spent some of today, when I wasn’t following the testimony of General Taguba et al. or napping, transcribing part of the interview.
I spoke with Yvonne Brewster for, oh, about 30 minutes, I guess, and when I left the theatre department, I was on such an incredible high. I walked out of there thinking “I absolutely love this job!” I haven’t interviewed a lot of big names, but a couple and they’ve been delightful.
I started the conversation telling her that this was a first for me—I’d never interviewed a living legend before. She laughed and poo-poo’d the honor. It was given to her by the people who run the largest black theatre festival in the world, held each year in North Carolina. She wasn’t sure how a British director with very little experience in the United States, was even known here, but she modestly stated that she thinks that the the Internet, people’s reputations are more widespread than they imagine. She agreed to accept the honor and said that when she actually went to the festival to accept it, she was greeted by all of the biggest names—like Cecily Tyson, for example—whose work she had admired for years, and that is when she realized what a very big deal it was.
(She also pointed out that the plaque hangs on the wall of her home in England and her British friends are less impressed with her status as a “living legend”!)
It was interesting speaking with her, and getting a view of what it’s like to be a black woman working in theatre. She is a couple of years older than I am, so she’s been through some rough times getting to become a legend. At one point she left England because at that time there was no work in theatre for black people. She returned to her native Jamaica and founded her own theatre, in the barn on her father’s farm (sounds right out of an MGM musical, doesn’t it?). The barn still stands, nearly 40 years later and is still used today as a theatre, where playwrights are able to come and do experimental plays. They can only play a maximum of 3 months and if the play loses money, Yvonne subsidizes it. If they make money, they move on to a better venue where they play a legitimate rent.
At one point she was invited to participate in the very first New York theatre festival, to join nine other directors, who would each direct their own version of St. Joan. She says that the organizers of the festival “got somewhat of a shock when I showed up because, you see, they expected someone English and they had no idea there were so many black people in England.”
But the most poignant story of being black in theatre did not come from our interview. When I went to do some research on her, on that Internet that scares her so much, I found a story concerning Talwa, the black theatre company she founded in England. This story kind of gave me chills. There is a video on the web site of her telling it, but it’s also printed:
The Jamaican High Commission asked me to do a tour of Smile Orange, which was a play by Trevor Rhone, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Jamaica's independence. So I got this cast together, Mona Hammond, Stephan Kalipha, Trevor Thomas, Charlie Hyatt, I mean, a really, quite a fancy cast. And we went round to prove that we could do this. The first show had four people in the audience. Four people. We had about 12 venues that we went to. By the time we came to the end of this tour and we turned up at Anson Hall in Cricklewood, the first night it was full. The second night, they were queuing quite heavily, and the third night there was a big rumpus because there were as many people outside the hall as there were inside the hall. It was a matter of supply and demand. There was no supply, and there was a lot of demand. Well, the good citizens of Cricklewood saw all these black people turning up in their neighbourhood, which wasn't black at all in those days, and do you know what they did? They burnt the place down. So that's how the tour ended. Everything, the props, everything, went up in flames. You know, trying to work in black theatre in Britain is quite hard.To see her, on the video tape say “Everything, the props, everything went up in flames. You know, trying to work in black theatre in Britain is quite hard” was heartbreaking.
We get insulated, you know? Not being part of a minority group. Here is this woman, extremely accomplished, with this highly regarded theatrical troup and this is what happens in Britain, of all places.
I don’t know why this brings me full circle to the CNN coverage in Iraq and some of the e-mails which came into to Wolf Blitzer's show, including more than one which essentially felt that whatever indignities we inflict on the Iraqi prisoners were justified because they’d done it to us.
These are scary times.