Light the Flambeaux!

In a diverse undertaking full of world premieres and international visitors, the 2013 Dream Up Festival, presented by Theater for the New City, will only feature one dedicated musical: “Flambeaux: A Caribbean Musical.” With a book by Nandi Keyi, who collaborated with directors Roderick Warner and Lawrence Floyd on lyrics, and music by Jeff Bolding, “Flambeaux” explores colonialism and the question of home in 19th Century Trinidad, then a territory in British possession.

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Nandi Keyi wrote the book and collaborated with Lawrence Floyd and Roderick Warner to write the lyrics for “Flambeaux: A Caribbean Musical”

Flambeaux” tells the stories of the residents of a tenement yard in early Port-of-Spain, the largest city in Trinidad. After the mysterious death of Sello, a popular stick-figher, a brawl breaks out, causing the colonial authorities to harshly punish all involved—those whom they see as a base class. The musical presents people of different races and social classes struggling for power and a sense of belonging in the complex melange that is Caribbean society.

Though the second portion of the title is rather self-explanatory, you may be wondering what exactly the term “flambeaux” means. According to Keyi, “Flambeau(x) is a makeshift lamp, created by placing a piece of cloth in a bottle with kerosene, which creates an unwieldy flame. Caribbean people used the flambeaux to see in the dark before lamps, and of course, electricity.” But beyond the literal, “Flambeaux has a… place in the annals of Trinidad & Tobago history, as the Africans took to the streets with lit flambeaux to commemorate the Emancipation Bill, which came into effect on August 1, 1833 freeing them from enslavement.” Although slavery ended then, colonialism and injustice in Trinidad did not. In fact, the country only became independent in 1962, becoming a republic in 1976.

Much like the island nation in which it is set, “Flambeaux” did not develop quickly, or in one swift step. Keyi wrote the work’s forerunner, “Light the Flambeaux” while living in Canada in the 1990s. Even then, she knew that “there were still layers – particularly the wants and needs of this community – that needed to be developed.” However, other endeavors took precedence. Keyi contends that “I worked on the play very, very, sporadically over the years … actually decades. Then last year, I met two amazing artists, our producer Lawrence Floyd and director Roderick Warner, who demanded, inspired and supported an exploration into the depths of this world.”

Though it is not Keyi’s first work centered around Caribbean characters (she wrote a novel entitled “The True Nanny Diaries” about female domestic workers here in New York City), it is her first play with entirely original music. She states, “I think it would be untruthful to tell a story set in a barrack or tenement yard in early Port-of-Spain, Trinidad without music.” Music serves as a cultural symbol, and as a reminder of the resilience of the Trinidadian people. She explains, “Whether it is music story of the highly-spiritual “Shango Baptist,” or the Jab Molassi – music coaxed from old British biscuit tins – or a half-full glass bottle and a spoon, the voices of washerwomen, the ribald voice of the chantwelle (early calypso singer). Music is everywhere; it rises, and rises in spite of the conditions on the ground.”

In order to create the music for the show, Floyd worked with Jeff Bolding, a two-time AUDELCO award winner and former member of the music ministry at the Abyssinian Baptist Church. Though he has made his name in composing Gospel music, Keyi contends that “The spiritual songs in ‘Flambeaux’ are, of course, coming from a Trinidad aesthetic but [like] the Negro Spirituals of America [they come from] African roots – the black keys on the Piano – so Jeff connects.” In any case, “working with [Bolding] is fantastic; he listens to the traditional old-style Trinidad melodies and applies structure, range and polish. He may not know what it is, but he has good instinct on what it is should sound like, and that’s what he delivers.”

Keyi and her collaborators did not choose to set their story in colonial Trinidad without reason. Keyi, director Roderick Warner and costume designer Martin Scott-Pascall are all of Trinidadian descent. According to Keyi, “I am tied to Trinidad and Tobago, because my parents were born there; their forebears were kidnapped and dropped in the Caribbean during enslavement. I was born in England because my parents left colonial Trinidad & Tobago to seek ‘betterment’ in England.” Though she spent the first five years of her life in England, she spent most of her formative years, from the ages of five to 16, in a small town in Trinidad. Though “home life was brutal” in Trinidad, “the upside is that I was imbued with this amazing connection to a culture that fits me, despite my British birth. The ten years I spent in Trinidad & Tobago [influence] everything I do.”

That question of identity has been very important to Keyi in a number of ways. Nandi is not her given name, rather, “Nandi replaced a pretty, Eurocentric name I was given by my parents. Nandi was chosen by me. It reflects how strongly I feel about my African-self. Keyi is my name by marriage; it reflects the like-minded views of my husband who legally replaced all his names with African names.” As she reminds us with this choice, as well as in the themes of “Flambeaux,” “Names are important. When Africans lost our names through enslavement, we lost a vast part of our identity. My name reminds me that the reclamation is part of my work.”

If you do not want your Caribbean experience to end after viewing “Flambeaux,” then Keyi recommends that you “take the #4 train to the end of the line; walk down Utica Avenue, across Church Avenue. Enjoy how de people walk as if dey carry music in their waists. Experience a steel band side during practice, purchase a corn from the back of a car truck, some nuts [from a] man on a bicycle; it is all part of the experience.”

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Join us at the 2013 Dream Up Festival to see “Flambeaux: A Caribbean Musical” on 8/18 (8 pm), 8/20 (6:30 pm), 8/22 (6:30 pm), 8/24 (5 pm), 8/28 (6:30 pm) in the Johnson Theater at Theater for the New City. The show runs 120 minutes, and tickets cost $18. For tickets and more information call (212) 254-1109 or go to: www.theaterforthenewcity.net.

By William Gutierrez

Namaste

“Bow your head in gratitude. Namaste.”

If you are like many New Yorkers, then you have heard those exact words at the end of any yoga class. However, at this year’s Dream Up Festival, presented by Theater for the New City, you might hear those familiar words in a completely new setting. “One Breath, Then Another,” a one-woman show written by and starring writer, actress, massage therapist and yogi Amanda Erin Miller, features a blend of performance and interactive yoga that has never been seen before on stage.

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Amanda Erin Miller, author of “One Breath, Then Another”

Fear not—there is no need to bring your yoga mat or dress in athletic wear if you want to attend the show. According to Miller, “audience members are invited to chant Om and Sanskrit mantras, engage in breathing exercises and a couple of yoga poses, lift their arms, balance on one foot, and meditate. These participatory moments are sprinkled throughout the show so there will be time when the audience is just watching as well.” Yet Miller would not go so far as to call her piece explicitly interactive. “One Breath, Then Another” is instead experimental. Ms. Miller contemplates, “I still consider this level of participation in theater to be experimental. It’s still not the way most of the contemporary public expects to experience theater. Every invitation to the audience to chant or breathe or move is an experiment. Will they comply? Will they resist?” As previously mentioned, “the fourth wall keeps going up and coming down,” which further solidifies this work as something experimental that cannot be defined by what has come before.

But of course, not everything in the show is totally new. For one thing, Miller contends that “there is a certain performative element to teaching yoga. In order to facilitate a healing experience for the class, to help the students find a sense of ease and peace within their bodies and minds, I have to access a state of a calm and centeredness within myself… I am playing the role of yoga instructor.” In this way, her performance does not, in some ways, attempt to reach into a place she has never gone before as an instructor or as a performer.

It cannot be ignored that Miller tells her own story through “One Breath, Then Another.” The autobiographical play focuses on her search for answers at an Indian ashram following a mental breakdown that caused her to move from New York City, where she was studying writing at The New School, back to her hometown of San Diego, where ineffectual therapy sent her looking for answers elsewhere. Describing her disorder, Miller states that, “Every sentence I spoken lingered in my mind so I was deconstructing it word for word and wondering how the words carried individual and collective meaning.” First, Miller turned to body work as a manner of therapy. Miller explains that “I felt an intuitive pull to study massage therapy and found the giving and receiving of bodywork to be monumentally healing. There was no language necessary for this sensory exchange and it was a huge relief.” But eventually, writing her memoir which eventually became this play became part of an effort to “tackle language, to reclaim it, to use it to tell my story and to help others.”

For large portions of the show, Miller portrays herself. This comes with unique benefits and challenges, for Miller, including that “I compound my vulnerability as a performer. Performing itself is already a vulnerable act, and then on top of that I am striving to truthfully relive some of the most painful moments of my life in front of an audience.” However, playing oneself also comes with a few perks. For Miller, the character “is already in my bones.”

But although this is a one-woman show, Miller portrays multiple characters. Her biggest challenge as an actress is the portrayal of her father. Miller’s father was a “heavy smoker” whose health problems were only compounded by his struggle with anorexia nervosa. “My relationship with my father was complex but loving at its core, as we understood each other better than anyone else. Nearly a year after I recovered [from her own severe case of anorexia], he died of lung cancer.” For Miller, “One Breath, Then Another” is not just a play about learning the practice of yoga. She synthesizes her difficult familial experiences in this journey, and having to play her father is “the most emotional part for me, the driving force behind the whole story: my being like him, loving him, not wanting to end up like him.”

Although “One Breath, Then Another” has already gone through several stages in Miller’s life—as an experience, a memoir, and now a play—she is not finished with this story just yet. In the future, she hopes to “perform the piece in yoga studios and have the audience sit on mats,” making the piece even more experiential than it already it.

Amanda Erin Miller performing "One Breath, Then Another"

Amanda Erin Miller performing “One Breath, Then Another”

Join us at the 2013 Dream Up Festival to see “One Breath, Then Another” on 8/18 (8 pm), 8/21 (6:30 PM), 8/23 (9 pm), 8/25 (2 pm), 8/28 (6:30 pm) in the Cabaret Theater at Theater for the New City. The show runs 50 minutes, and tickets cost $12. For tickets and more information call (212) 254-1109 or go to: www.theaterforthenewcity.net.

 

Written by William Gutierrez.

A Wilde Tale, Indeed

Everyone has heard of Oscar Wilde. After all, the famed Irish playwright and novelist is probably the most-studied literary figure in the English language after Shakespeare. But did you know that in addition to his sharply witty works based in Victorian society, Mr. Wilde also wrote fairy tales? These relatively unknown works form the basis for playwright and director Kevin P. Joyce’s new work in adaptation, “Wilde Tales,” to be presented for the first time by Theater for the New City as part of its 2013 Dream Up Festival.

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Kevin P. Joyce, adapter and director of “Wilde Tales”

Though the Boston native has kept theater in mind as a career path for some time (he graduated Cum Laude from Pace University with a degree in Theatre Arts), he did not set his sights on adapting Wilde’s stories until rather recently. As Joyce describes it, he was “between projects, [and] grew especially bored, and felt inclined to read. For whatever reason, I decided I wanted to read The Picture of Dorian Gray and headed to my local Barnes and Noble.” Yet his mysterious fascination took him in a rather unexpected direction. He recalls, “I stumbled upon a collection of his fairy tales, and was awe struck to learn that he’d written fairy tales in the first place! How had I now known about these before? So I picked up the collection and began to read them” Perhaps more than anything, he saw the potential for creative performance– “The stories jumped off the page,” offering “opportunities for the kind of theatricality that is exciting to employ,” such as puppetry, music and double-casting. In short, Joyce saw an opportunity to create something totally new from the product of a great mind.

Like any theater student worth his salt, Joyce was already familiar with Wilde’s sparkling style and societal subject matter. Yet it was precisely the difference within these stories that made him feel drawn to them. He warns that audiences “should expect to see stories that highlight a different side of Wilde; stories that are earnest in a different sort of sense. They should expect to see stories that are going to both charm them and make them think.” Yet simultaneously, these stories are neither quintessential Wilde nor are they classic fairy tales– audiences “should not expect to see happy endings.” Wilde himself once stated that the source material is “not for children, but for childlike people from eighteen to eighty.”

But it is not gore or sexuality that makes these stories unlikely to be picked up by Disney. Rather, Joyce contends that if you were to read these to a child, the point of the story would sail over their head. These are tales that deal with adult issues, such as what are the long term effects of our personal sacrifices? What is the nature of love? What is our relationship and duty to ourselves, and what, of that would we sacrifice for those we love?” These dark but all-too-common issues pervade the fairy tales, suggesting to Joyce that Wilde “was working through some deeply personal demons at the time of their publication.” Further research proves this point, as they were written just as Wilde’s second son, Vyvyan was born, which coincided with his own coming to terms with his homosexuality. Clearly, it was a turbulent and confusing time in the writer’s life.

And this struggle is something with which Joyce identifies. According to Joyce, “Wilde is a huge inspiration to me. Mostly because, I like to think I was Oscar Wilde in my past life. It sounds presumptuous, I know, but ask anyone who’s been to TJ Byrne’s [an Irish bar and restaurant in the Financial District] with me and they’ll agree.” And the personal connections do not stop there. In fact, Joyce recounts that he “was first introduced to his work by [Tara Brooke], the same mentor who fostered my interest in directing. Her favorite piece ever was Earnest, and that was my first experience with Wilde, and since then I’ve just been the most intrigued by his work and by Oscar himself.”

Wilde proves inspirational to Joyce both in his roles as a writer and as a director. As a writer, Joyce appreciates that “Wilde’s manipulation of words is something that is awe-inspiring. That man could do with words what Michelangelo could do with marble. His word play is something that I admire and try, however successfully or unsuccessfully, to emulate.” Simultaneously, as a director, Joyce points out that the “fairy tales have an incredible musicality and personal flare to them that makes them simply enchanting to read and hear.” Yet the ideas present in these works go far beyond nice language, or even Wilde’s skill and iconic status as a writer. For Joyce, these plays hold far more importance. Ultimately, the works are “a tribute to [Wilde’s] visions for equality, social consciousness and self-sacrifice.” These fairy tales may not have happy endings, but they certainly hit all the right notes.

ImageJoin us at the 2013 Dream Up Festival to see “Wilde Tales” on 8/19 (9 pm), 8/30 (9 pm), 8/31 (5 pm), 9/1 (8 pm) or 9/2 (9 pm) in the Johnson Theater at Theater for the New City. The show runs 60 minutes, and tickets cost $15. For tickets and more info call (212) 254-1109 or go to: www.theaterforthenewcity.net.

Written by William Gutierrez.

Dream Up 2013 is fast approaching, and it’s shaping up to be even better than we could have hoped! In the coming weeks, check here for news and updates for what you can expect to be shown at the festival. We will also be publishing profiles of some of the people involved with the festival– writers, actors, and directors. In other exciting news, the official website, http://www.dreamupfestival.org/ has been updated, and tickets are on sale, so be sure to get yours soon!

Hello!

Welcome to the official blog for Theater for the New City’s Dream Up Festival! We could not be more excited to showcase these new and innovative works. Be sure to check here for photos, interesting facts and stories, and any other pertinent information leading up to and during the festival! For more information, check out http://www.dreamupfestival.org/