Category Archives: Theater

Talk to the Cat: Shakespeare’s The Tempest Review

Hey Blogosphere! Here’s my review of Shakespeare’s The Tempest at St. Ann’s Warehouse. 


Love Always, 

Damali Speaks Xx

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Can Freedom be Found in Collective?: Meditations on Living in a Collective Space

Hey Blogosphere! I have to say that I owe you all a huge apology. My life since moving to Los Angeles has been super cray, super fast. I’ve gotten jobs, quit them, found other jobs and started living in a collective with two other beautifully black individuals who constantly keep me on my toes in more ways than one. As a result, my blog has suffered! BUT! It suffered because I’m focusing a LOT of my energy into a YouTube Channel! My YouTube name is Damali Speaks and moving forward, everything here will be shared there and visa versa. The blogs I start here will be videos answering the questions I pose there, etc. I promise to share all links and also to blog while I establish this new thing. I will not leave you! I promise. I have to say that I really do love writing this blog and I miss it terribly when I’m away. There’s something about typing life’s chronicles that is entirely different from video. The art of writing, old as it is has a certain something that I can’t help but come back to. Let’s dive into the topic of today’s post!

I recently went from living mostly in a single fashion, to living in very close proximity with two other human beings. It’s definitely true that we as human beings learn more about ourselves when we interact with others. Do you ever find yourself in other people? What I mean by that is: What attracts you to other people?. That’s a question that I’ve been asking myself throughout this entire process. The more I get to know about these people, the more I realize that “I am you. You are me. We are one. ” is the truest statement ever.

To simplify it, did you grow up hearing ” Be careful who you keep company with.”? As much as we may dislike to admit it, the people in our lives are simply reflections of us. So if I’m letting people in my life who don’t seem right, it may be a good idea to do some digging and take stock of where I am emotionally, psychologically, physically, etc. Now this isn’t always the case. Sometimes there are people who I like to call “Energy Vampires”. They see my energy and they want some, so they attach themselves to me and now I’m stuck with someone that I didn’t even realize did absolutely nothing to be in my space except charm the pants off me and I’m the one suffering. So I say sayonara and make a swift exit!

How do I know who means well and who means ill? Well, that’s the tricky question isn’t it? In living in collective, I consistently question. I’m always asking if this is real. I’m always waiting for these people to turn on me or make a swift exit themselves. But in reality, when I surround myself with giving people and we’re all focused on giving to each other, we’re not thinking about taking and running, we’re thinking about giving and building off what each of us possess and give to each other. We each have our roles and even though those roles switch, they still stay very much the same. One of my loves likes to say that they “call things into existence”. I’ve called it “Manifestation” for years. I manifested a collective over the course of years. It kept coming and being entirely too messed up for me to truly invest. I manifest my life moving forward. My responsibility is to be ready for the manifestation to appear.

But enough about me. What do you manifest? Where does your collective lie? What is your self love plan? Do you have a plan? Who has your back?

I send you light, love and acceptance. Until next time.

Damali Speaks Xx

Meditations on Self Worth, Love & New Environments

Hello Faithful Blogosphere! Wow, so where do I start? I’ve been in LA for two weeks now, almost three. I have an apartment with two dope ass roommates in NoHo (North Hollywood), I have a car (2008 Black Ford Focus) by the name of Freedom, I have not found a job yet, but I am applying like crazy and attempting to find myself in this world of a city.

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One word that describes this experience of the last few weeks would be “Overwhelming”. I wrenched myself from the world of the east coast, submerged it in west coast and well, it’s been REAL. There are certain spots in LA that I’ve discovered that remind me of home but for the most part, this place is an entirely new beast.

One thing that’s stood out the most is just how much more social media active people are out here. Maybe it’s just in general, but it’s kind of astonishing how much promotion there is online. I’ve never truly been a social media wiz and being here just kind of intensifies that fact.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and definitely a lot of over-thinking. It’s one of the things I do, I think myself into a hole so very often. In many ways, don’t we all? We’re conditioned to. I will say that one of the most beautiful things about LA is that I’m a 30-40 minute drive from the ocean. I think I can honestly say that I’ve been to the beach 3 times this week alone. I can’t help it. Water is one of those things that just calms me down, no matter what is going on in the outside world.

So to go back to the thinking. I’ve been thinking about and feeling a lot of love lately. Love from new people, love from family and friends and love from myself. Being in a new place forces me to ask the age old question of : “Do you love yourself?”.  Someone actually asked me the very same question the other day and it was so expected that I just stopped and froze for a second. Not in fear or self-consciousness but in actual realization.  I do love myself. I’m not anywhere near where I want to be, and sure, I have days full of doubt and insecurity but over-all, I do love who I am. I love my skin, my eyes, my lips, my voice, my personality, my weird, my silly, my sometimes guardedness, etc. All the things that have led me to who I am are human and loveable. In this society that we live in that places value on “likes” and “followers” and material wealth, how do we establish self love outside of the constant barrage of advertisement? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.

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Moving onward with new meditations, I realized, or better yet it was brought back to my attention how important travel is to me. I’ve always wanted to travel and yet a lack of money has me land locked. I don’t want to start a “career” yet. What is a career? Maybe I’m just being unreasonable in wanting to live outside every box presented but i’m starting to care less and less and want more and more. I’ve been not really creating and that makes me unhappy. I started a new short play, sort of based on true events and sort of not really but it seems that every time I sit down to write it, I can’t. How do I have writers block?! In a world where stories are abundant, how am I having a problem in writing them down?!

I miss coffee shops. It seems in LA that the only coffee shops that I find near me are Starbucks. Not on every corner, but they’re around. Also, LA is expensive so I can’t see myself writing in a coffee shop in the same way that I would in New York or even in New England. So where does my writing grow wings and fly? How does one make friends in a sprawling city? How does one embrace?

Ah, so many questions and not many answers. I suppose answers must be found, rooted out and ultimately discovered.

Until Next Time Xo

Meditations: Farewell, Goodbye & Moving On

This post is written at two separate points in the process of moving on. It journals my last few days in Providence, Rhode Island and my first day in New York City before flying to Los Angeles. The music video is a song that I’ve been listening to this summer and I love.

Whoever said that the twenties were turbulent definitely had something going on. I’ve been talking with a lot of people recently about their twenties. I love talking to those who have passed the twenties and lived to tell the tale. They seem oddly empathetic but also so very glad to be clear of these woods. My cousin told me that in preparation for Los Angeles, I should be ready for the highest highs and the lowest lows. I’m writing this post on my last night in Providence, Rhode Island. I move to New York tomorrow and then on to LA in two weeks. I used to wonder if this year was ever going to end, and now that it’s here, I find myself in shock. Is this actually happening? Am I actually ready to start the next chapter of my life? I don’t have a job or car or apartment yet! What am I in for? Did I really sign up for this?!

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Saying goodbye has been a month-long process. It started slowly, with long walks at night and late nights at bars with friends. Trips to Boston included long looks around a city that I couldn’t trace the moment that I started to fall for. Pictures of sunsets and summer selfies with friends are the classic staple of short goodbyes. I don’t know that I ever intend to return to New England. I currently don’t see any strong reason to besides graduate school, but it is interesting isn’t it? This life is at times characterized by the strange nostalgia and utter joy that human beings have the ability to feel at the same time. Dual feelings war with each other and make a perfectly sane person feel like an alien. Have you ever stopped to look at the place that you’re leaving after you pack everything into the car? For me, it’s so very odd that this place that only a few hours ago was filled with my energy, my things, my life, is now empty and waiting for the next person. It shocks me that through time, humans come and go and yet the monuments remain, just as they were when we were there.

These last few weeks have been integral to making me wake the heck up to the world around me. Hilary Clinton became the democratic nominee and I realized just how many people support this woman, which is scary as I currently live in the world with a black female body. The new Ghostbusters came out, sparking conversation and animosity from various receptors. I started to pack my life away and move on from the space that’s been mine for exactly a year.  I lost friendships that were once so dear to me. Value of the materialistic kind tends to fade as huge life changes approach. What is near and dear to me are the relationships, the people I’ve interacted with, the work I’ve created that lives on. Below is a collage of some of the gorgeous children that I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with.

Is there a real difference between Farewell and Goodbye? They are two very similar phrases and in the world of Merriam- Webster, they have the same definition. But somehow in the past few days of hearing them, they mean something different.

Farewell:

Used to express good wishes on parting

 

Goodbye:

Used to express good wishes when parting or at the end of a conversation

In my mind, “Goodbye” holds a certain finality. To say goodbye is to say that I won’t be back, that this is truly the end. “Farewell”, in my mind, is saying that this moment is only “See you later” or “See you soon” and remains open-ended. Although I’ve had tons of practice in moving on from places and people, it somehow never gets easier. I’ll always miss the time I’ve had. Isn’t that so human? We always miss the places we never thought we’d leave. Throughout the day, my mother was adamant: “You aren’t leaving. You’re just moving on.” Now that I think about it. There was a point to her stressing that I was moving on. Leaving requires no looking back, a fleeing energy that comes from disparity. Moving on requires maturity, heart and soul and even some tears within the firm understanding that this is for my good as I take with me, the trials, tribulations and successes of a year fully lived in.

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This and last summer, I taught theater at a theater summer camp here in Providence. I met some beautiful brown girls, who worked their way into my heart.  All year long, I got to mentor them as they came into the theater to take various theater classes, expand their artistry and just sit in the office and talk to me about their lives. Saying farewell to them was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. But, as I looked in their deep brown eyes, and they asked me with tears, “Why do you have to go?” I realized that this moment was oh so familiar. As a young girl growing up in New York, I had so many brown women come into my life and leave to pursue their dreams. I would ask the same question with tears filling my brown eyes and they would say something to the affect of ” I have to leave so that you can be some other girl’s beautiful brown woman and mentor.” As I looked at the future dead in the eyes today, I said those same words. ” I have to go, so that you can be some other beautiful brown girl’s mentor.” They bestowed upon me the same Black Girl Magic that I bestowed upon them. They changed me just as much as I changed them. They needed me just as much as I needed them. What a gift.

New Pieces and New Peace

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Hello Blogosphere!

I’m working on a new piece and although I video doc’ed the first day, I’m not quite confident enough to post the video yet. It will come soon! Anyway, I’m working on a new movement piece. It’s called “I Watched My Future Leave Without Me” and it documents my last year in Providence. So much has happened this year and I always knew that it needed to take form in art, yet there was so much stifling that creation. However, with only a few weeks left, the time has come for some creation and healing and lots and lots of work. The piece features poetry that I’ve written over the course of the last year, as well as movement, and probably some music. I’ve been using a lot of Tracy Chapman as inspiration.  I’ll keep you posted! haha “posted”.

Enjoy!

Cat Xo

Let The Work Speak

Recently, I’ve had the great fortune of being around some amazing, unapologetic, black artists and it’s caused me to stop and take stock of the work that I’m doing and not doing. I’ve been doing a lot of research around the lives of Angela Davis and Assata Shakur. Both incredible pillars of unapologetic blackness and womanhood. Both of them, soft spoken yet armed with powerful streams of consciousness with words to match. It all made me think, have I been talking too much? Have I allowed myself to become nothing but a talking head?

 

These past few weeks have been armed with sorrow and questionings of black life. Following The Pulse Orlando shooting, I attended a Vigil here in Providence, Rhode Island. I don’t know why I was surprised, but the lack of attention and active silencing paid to voices of people of color and then to the voices of women of color were astounding to me. Yet, at another gathering, I was asked to speak and I said no. I had nothing to say. My voice didn’t feel strong enough, the words would never be right and I would be left feeling more empty than fulfilled. I watched my peers, women of color get up and speak and in so many ways, find freedom in their voices being heard. Why could I not have that same freedom? To use the words of Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a Woman?”

As an artist, I’m both blessed and cursed with the ability to bring to life, the hidden stories in the everyday world. Lately, I haven’t been doing much of that. I’ve been taking the time to educate, to debate, to fight white supremacy with my words and I’m left feeling exhausted, and burned out. What if the way for me isn’t to constantly speak using my vocal chords for conventional speaking purposes? My art for the past year has been stagnant. I went from actively writing and creating to doing everyone else’s work but my own and that feels wrong in so many ways. How do I get back to finding me? My voice? MY being? I had a professor once, who used to say, “let the work breathe”.

I’m creating an experiment, the duration of the next 6 months and calling it “Let The Work Speak”. I can only make 2 posts via social media, 2 educational or “call out” moments, but I can write, dance, sing as many feelings/songs/emotions/etc a day related to whatever I want, experience, live, etc. Can I do it? What will my work look like at the end of it all? Will I lose my mind at not addressing evident ignorance? I think that black women tend to force ourselves to address, to fight. Yet, how much of that is weight that we put onto ourselves? What if we all took action in subversive ways, not yelling ourselves into exhaustion, but continuing the work in the unconventional ways of Angela and Assata?

In love, revolution and artistry,

Cat Xo

 

 

Activating Activism When Fear Leads

Image result for black activism                                       A screenshot from the W.W. Norton/Dalton Conley video (click to view; art by @kissmeimpolish on Twitter)

“The movement is a rhythm to us. Freedom is like religion to us. Justice is juxtapositionin’ us. Justice for all just ain’t specific enough”

Lyrical introduction? Why the hell not! That song is called Glory, featured in Selma. Back after a brief hiatus. In coming back from LA and resuming my life it’s been sorta cray. It’s nice to return to this with open yet life-tired eyes. I haven’t really broached theater topics and race relations like I should on this, so here goes nothin!

As an artist who wears many theatrical hats, I’m learning recently that my philosophy when it comes to art-making is that comfort is dangerous and radical is creating a voice for the voiceless. I don’t ever want to make a piece of artwork that is well received because no one left thinking. Don’t thank me for my work. Leave wanting to change something. If you’re mad. Great. If you’re provoked? Even better. Don’t sit in my theater with a big smile on your face and leave feeling like you have nothing to question. I’ve been thinking lately on the effect of clapping in the theater. We as audience members are expected to clap, to have a standing ovation to announce our approval for a job well done. The theater that I want to make rebels against that aesthetic. I want to make theater that is ceremonial and more memorial in nature. “Mmm if you feel it and hollar if you hear it”, snap if you feel something, in more interactive theater, which involves, I think, more room for allowing things and moments to hit and circulate rather than hit, bounce and stay hanging in the space like a noose waiting for a “criminal’s” neck. Yea, I just gave you that visual.I’ll come back to it later.

Exactly a year ago, I was directing a piece that I think will always remain with me. It was written by a now friend of mine, produced by friends of mine and acted by people, some of whom became… you guessed it, friends as well. As I’ve been working so closely within theater in the year afterward, I’ve had to question both my role as an artist and as an activist. I believe and I could be wrong that the role of ones’ very body on the stage is active and can quite possibly be a form of activism. This is true for me of directing, playwriting, dramaturgy, etc. Even though it is behind the scenes, it is still an activated position. My choice then as an activated member is to choose to use my powers for good in forward movement or for evil in backward or warped movement.

Lets talk a little about the things I’ve learned about the work I want to make from a theatrical perspective. Color-blind casting is when a person is placed in a role, regardless of race, culture, background, etc. Now acting is tricky, because we place ourselves in roles where we have to “be” other people, despite having or not having that characters’ experience in our own lives. This is where things get sticky and racist. White people have been playing roles that should belong to people of color for as long as acting has been around. Countless white men have played Othello, Natalie Wood played a Puerto-Rican Maria in West Side Story, God’s of Egypt entire cast, etc. I could go on for ages. But what about when a person of color is put in a traditionally white role? What are we then saying? How are we asking them to erase themselves instead of using who they are and what they bring to inhance a role? Color blindness is refusing to see the person’s difference and attempting to suppress any mention of it entirely.  Color-conscious casting is a lil bit different. Can be just as problematic and racist but it is in fact different. Color-conscious casting is when a person is cast across race for the purpose of creating a radical response. Full acknowledgement of that person’s color is present, therefore they themselves are not erased. It’s thought provoking. I’ve played around with it before, to some extent it was successful in creating conversation. Color-consciousness is accepting and in fact lifting the dialogue of this brown body in this white space and visa versa.

I recently finished a play called Rachel, written by Angelina Weld Grimke and was one of the first anti-lynching texts. It was written in 1916. As the dramaturg, part of my responsibility was to find and collect the names of those who had been lynched in this country between the 1800s – present day. I had to while in this process, grapple with the unknown. Even as an Africana major, I didn’t know so many of these names, these men, women and children, my ancestors who had been brutally raped and murdered. I once heard that the best way to silence a voice is to make it believe that none came before. Theater reflects real life, our struggles, our strengths, our humanness. If that is true, then it also reflects our racial systems of oppression. How often to we create work that is for the “oppressed” populations of this world? How do we honor those? How do we gain information? As an artist, who do I want to make work for? How do I uncover that?  Is it forward movement for me as a black queer woman to play with color-conscious casting? How do I continue with my art, when scared of being the biggest hypocrite of 2016? Thanks for the lyric Kendrick.

Headlines & Horizons

“I might be too strung out on compliments, overdosed on confidence. Started not to give a fuck then stopped fearing the consequence. Drinkin every night because we drink to my accomplishments, faded way too long, I’m floatin in and outta consciousness.” Yo. I been ON a Drake moment lately. But I’m not all in my feelins though. Don’t try to play me! Okay. Maybe I am all in my feelins. But I’m allowed! Dag nabit! Soooo I’m writing this on my phone in the theater because I’m on book for tech because I’m tryna make some money so I could go to LA wit my sister for my birthday. The struggle, she art real.

I digress, it’s time to get into topic time. I haven’t been sleeping lately, which leads to me having some real conversations and moments because my usual guard is SO down because I’m running on reserves. I actually prefer my life on reserve sometimes. I appreciate and observe the world in such a different way when completely exhausted. I digress twice, I have yet to get real theatery on this blog. Well, get ready.

My current favorite play is a piece of work written by Angelina Weld Grimke written in 1916 by the name of Rachel. If you haven’t read it, get on that shit. It is dope. It is dated. It is a representation of life in 1916 for a black queer woman who has the world on her shoulders and no way to split the weight. As a black queer theater creator, I’ve been wondering why I’m in the spaces that I often find myself in. I’m weird. I’m not just an actor, dancer, singer, director, writer, etc. I don’t fit in. I feel called to do many things. To wear many hats. I get so excited and grateful to be in the space. All I ever want in life, is the chance to be in the space and soak up information around me like a sponge. I will never be able to gain enough knowledge. Lately, I’ve been acting more than I have in a long while, jumping from gig to gig without room to breathe and it feels wonderful. I get to do what I love! But as I’m feeling so blessed, something is also off. I find myself questioning my role in the room dominated by “well-meaning” white people as a black queer woman and also theater creator who speaks very directly and truthfully without apology. How do I use my voice? Do I use my voice? Should I use my voice? Why do I feel silenced?

The other day, when walking home with a friend, I was given SO much information that I needed a day to really absorb. One of the things we spoke about, was an amazing woman by the name of Mama D. Mama D, is a singer/songwriter, activist, actor, photographer, basically anything you can think of. Her music is soul deep. (Side note: Mama D’s website is http://www.horizondancer.com, she’s dope af, look her up) She calls herself a horizon dancer, which my friend then explained to me. True to form, let us head to the land of Merriam-Webster.

Horizon: (noun) the line at which the earth’s surface and the sky appear to meet

or

the limit of a person’s mental perception, experience, or interest

My friend’s definition of a Horizon Dancer, was a person who lives as the horizon. Unexplainable, maybe not even real, an illusion, truthful, straight to the point, beautiful, in solitude. “One of the things that Mama D pledges her life to is solitude.” He explained. This threw me for about 50 loops. Solitude is one of the most important elements of life in my mind. What do I find in solitude that gives me a voice? How do I filter these spaces and not lose me?

All these unanswered questions! In all honesty, I’m not concerned with answers. I don’t always want to figure everything out. Let me flounder a lil bit. I never want to be comfortable. I always want to be questioning and living in enough discomfort to keep me active and searching. So am I uncomfortable overall? Yep. Is it fucked up? Yep. Do I want it to end? Nope. I still have so much to learn.

This sleep deprived moment is a pure example of my brain. All over the place and never quite getting back to slide A. Oh well, maybe that’s just what makes me special.

 

Peace, Love, and Solitude

Cathy Xo