Sunday, May 14, 2006

Fear itself

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
Frank Herbert, Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, "Dune"

Fear. Fear is what stops people, shows, performances, and art from greatness. I learned this pretty early in my life as a performer. I could tell when I’d let the fear of something get the best of me. My work on stage always suffered. So early on, I decided not to let it in. To take that fear and push up against it, in essence, use the friction from fear and faith to create.

Professionally, I’ve been feeling some apprehension over where I’m going as an artist. Which road to take, how to see through the foggy lens of the future. Balancing being the artist I know I can be against the human being I need to be. Without a doubt being a good father, friend, and person weights out everything. You can be a true artist if you let your art get in the way of loving someone. At the same time, I got work to do that is bigger then me. The responsibility of it pushes me forward. It’s not just this “lofty” goal of giving something back to the world. It’s also because I love what I do. Love it. I’m thankful for it. The people who have employed me, the audiences that have enjoyed my work… I’m humbled by it. I can’t thank God enough for the blessings I’ve received.

What I really wanted to write about has to do with working on “Griot”. As I write this, I realize this play, and reworking it, has become a metaphor for what I’m trying to do in my career and life.

So the good news Griot: He Who Speaks the Sweet Word will be taking part in the New York City Fringe Festival. Brilliant! I’m overjoyed. What’s the significance? Being in NY and having the opportunity to get agents, producers, and theaters to come see the show can really help us move the piece forward. Honestly, I was a little at an impasse as far as where to take the show next. We’d wanted to take it to Edinburgh, but decided against it. The cost outweighed the benefits, so it made sense for us to stay stateside and try to get into Festivals here. We’d missed the cut off for a lot of the festivals, but NYC Fringe was where I wanted to be anyway. So here we are.

Here’s the part where the fear plays a part. I have always wanted to rework different spots in the play. For the most part I think the play is solid. But there are parts in the play that stick out like a sore thumb. The biggest is the Motown section. There has been a disagreement within the production itself about this section of the play. There are those who think it’s fine, but I hate it. I hate it mostly because we are lip-synching the Motown songs. It feels empty, and not quite professional. I’ve never seen a Broadway show where the characters lip-synched a song. Either you sing it or you don’t. Secondly, I feel like the play on a whole does not give it’s due to the civil rights struggle. It was important to me, when first writing the piece that we created a play that would welcome all people to enjoy. I want the play to touch African-Americans, but I didn’t want to alienate other people. I still feel that way, but without truly dealing with the dark passages of history in this country, we will never be able to have an honest discussion about race. The exclusion of the civil rights struggle was not intentional at all. We were just focused on dealing with the modern equivalent of Griots. King, Malcolm, John Lewis, Stokely Carmichael, Andrew Young were great leaders, but not Griots.

Recently, when I was looking over the play, I read a line from the Miles monologue I wrote, (using Mile’s Autobiography as reference) Miles said “we were the soundtrack of the struggle, musicians give the marchers their beat” it struck me this is how the civil rights and the Griot fit. During the Motown era the movement was in full swing. I don’t think most people think of the music of the time when they think about the struggle, or vice versa. This is what Motown should reflect in the play. The full picture of history. What the art was doing. How the struggle formed the art, and how the art formed the struggle.

It’s tough when you’ve written something and the general public likes it, but you know this isn’t what you want. You don’t want to break something that works. On top of that there are those in the production who have valid points for not wanting to change. But it doesn’t feel right to me. In my bones, I know I have to make this change. I know I can’t be scared of failure. I must reach up and embrace it.

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