Jefe's House

Archive for July, 2012

Mantua Theater Project

by on Jul.30, 2012, under NYC, The Sixth Boro, Theatre

I’m thrilled to have been a part of the incredible Mantua Theater Project this past weekend, sponsored by Drexel University and created by Drexel Theatre Program head Nick Anselmo.    Nick modeled it on New York City’s 52nd Street Project where he used to work, based at my old stomping grounds The Ensemble Studio Theatre.  He also previously replicated this phenomenal organization at a theatre in Trenton, NJ several years ago to work with economically disadvantaged kids there.  Now he has replicated it for at-risk 4th through 8th graders in Philadelphia’s Mantua neighborhood which borders Drexel’s campus.

Nick’s technique is based on Daniel Judah Sklar‘s book Playmaking: Children Writing and Performing Their Own Plays which was the foundation for the 52nd Street Project.  This summer’s inaugural program at Drexel took  place over the course of four weeks during which Nick taught the basics of playwriting to about a dozen kids.

After that, the students were paired with professional playwrights for a retreat weekend, working one-on-one to create short plays.  That’s where I came in, helping an energetic 8-year-old girl realize her awesome creative vision with her Peter Panlike fantasy play Croc Galore which is 7 pages of poignancy and hilarity about two orphaned creatures helping each other survive in a jungle full of traps, danger and liars.  Hers and the other students’ plays are now being handed off to professional directors and actors, and will culminate with a performance for these young writers’ friends, families and community members on Drexel’s main stage, the Mandell Theatre, in August.  I plan to be there front row, center.

As Drexel’s website accurately puts it, “the process yields funny, creative, surprisingly truthful and often hilarious results. Along the way students develop self-esteem as they create something to be proud of.” Drexel students are also helping with various aspects of the program. Education, and Screenwriting & Playwriting students will be involved in the classes, and Theater students and alumni will help with the production.

Granny, 1967.

For me, a similar lifesaving program didn’t come along until I was a teenager. That program was the Young Writers Workshop at UVa which I’m glad to see is still going strong. Thanks to a partial financial aid scholarship from the good old Vinton, VA Moose Lodge across the street from my high school (thanks to the efforts of my profoundly influential 10th grade English teacher and lifetime friend Rose Townsend) and a donation from my now-departed grandmother, Ethel Orelia, who had an 8th grade education and had been out picking tobacco at the age of 4,  I was able to attend the 2-week UVa workshop two summers in a row.  The experiences I had there — visiting a college campus for the first time, getting a taste of college life, meeting professional writers and other like-minded kids — set the course of the rest of  my life.  I had been raised in a cash-strapped single-parent home and wound up becoming the first person in my family to attend college, let alone grad school, moving to New York City at age 19 with a one-way ticket and a duffle bag, and went on to terrific success as a dramatist and university faculty, and it all started because a writing workshop presented itself to me out of the blue.

I hope that my thimbleful of work this weekend yields similar results for these kids someday.  Not that  they all need to become playwrights but that they see there’s a whole, wonderful world just outside the borders of their own neighborhood and that they’re just as entitled to participate in it and have a piece of it as anyone else.

Congratulations to Nick Anselmo and the  Mantua Theater Project.


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Einstein/Tagore: Seashore of Endless Worlds ONSALE NOW

by on Jul.28, 2012, under Shaheb Cafe, The Sixth Boro, Theatre

Tickets: $10, only in advance through the Fringe Festival website.  No tickets will be sold in person at the door.


Philadelphia, PA –  Shiva3 and Mangalam Dance are proud to announce the world premiere of acclaimed Indian classical dancer Bidisha Dasgupta‘s concert EINSTEIN/TAGORE: SEASHORE OF ENDLESS WORLDS at the 2012 Philly Fringe.   The 45-minute show will be performed at Twelve Gates Arts at 51 N. 2nd Street in Olde City for a total of 6 performances.

Dasgupta’s show is a collection of original dance works that draws inspiration from Albert Einstein and Rabindranath Tagore‘s profound conversations in the late 1920s.  By combining a movement-based interpretation of their musings with inspiration from Tagore’s poetry and songs, her choreography explores human ties to the cosmos.  Her performance fuses the Bharatanatyam style of Indian classical dance with Tagore’s Rabindra Nritya dance style, as well as modern dance.

The concert also features Bidisha’s collaborative performances with modern dancers Leslie Elkins and Jodi Aleen ObeidLeslie is an Associate Professor of Dance at Rowan University and author of Body-Presence: Lived Experience of Choreography and PerformanceJodi is a contemporary dance artist and movement educator.  She is a professor of Dance at Rowan University and recently finished a new dance theater performance “The House of Empty” produced by the nEW Festival in Philadelphia.

Bharatanatyam is one of the oldest dance forms in the world, originating in southern India some 3,000 years ago.  Originally performed in Hindu temples as a form of worship, this ancient dance style is celebrated today for its rhythmic, sculpturesque movements and use of hand gestures and facial expressions to convey a narrative.

Tagore was the greatest poet of modern Indian literature and one of India’s most influential thinkers.  In 1913 he became the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for his poetry book Gitanjali.  This prolific Bengali writer authored over one thousand poems, a dozen plays and novels, and numerous essays on philosophy, education and religion.  Tagore was a celebrated composer, and set many of his poems to his own original tunes resulting in the music style known as Rabindra Sangeet, or “Rabindranath songs.”  He also created an entirely new dance form known as Rabindra Nritya, or “Rabindranath dance,” which broke away from traditional Indian classical forms, focusing instead on a more naturalized expression of emotions.  Tagore was highly educated, widely traveled, and well-versed in both Western and Eastern thought.  He took a great interest in science, particularly biology.

In 1926, Tagore met with Einstein in Berlin.  They began a years-long series of intellectually and spiritually riveting dialogues about science and spirituality.  Their meetings spanned continents and garnered considerable press.  The New York Times article “A Mathematician and a Mystic Meet in Manhattan” described Tagore as “the poet with the head of a thinker” and Einstein as “the thinker with the head of a poet.”  The transcripts of their conversations portray a fascinating discourse on the purpose of existence and humanity’s connection to the Universe.

A Unique Location
Twelve Gates Arts (which refers to the fortified gates that walled many ancient cities such as Delhi, Lahore, Jerusalem, and Rhodes – inside of which lay the heart of each city’s art and culture, and which today offer perspectives on history and possibilities), established in 2011, is a non-profit organization based in Philadelphia.  Through a unique and thought- provoking atmosphere, Twelve Gates Arts (12G) aims to showcase international arts bound by the sensibilities of a diaspora identity, including the South Asian identity, to create and promote projects crossing cultural and geographical boundaries, and to educate the community about diaspora culture.

About Choreographer and Dancer Bidisha Dasgupta
Bidisha has been dancing since the age of 4. As the past Dance Director of  New York City-based multicultural dance and theatre nonprofit eyeBLINK she worked with artists of various disciplines to curate and produce the 2007-08 Rhythms Showcase series.   In New York she has presented her original choreography at the Arya Dance Academy, Times Square Initiative, The Women’s Mosaic, Fordham University, Dance New Amsterdam (DNA), PMT, Steps on Broadway and in several festivals and showcases. She created and performed a Bharatanatyam piece for the space-themed Saving Hubble documentary film fundraiser.  She has guest lectured about Indian classical dance at New York University Tisch School of the Arts and Rowan University.  In 2008 she was an invited performer at a Durga Puja celebration in Kolkata, India.

Since moving to Philadelphia, Bidisha performed in Mascher Dance Co-OP’s INFlux Spring 2009 Choreographer’s Showcase and has presented her work at various venues including The Frontline Philly Showcase (2009), Philly Fringe (2009), and the Kimmel Center’s Summer Solstice Celebration.  She has worked with NJ/PA based Attitudes Dance Co. to develop classical dance-based fusion choreography.  In 2009 Bidisha was selected as a New Edge Mix artist by the Community Education Center (CEC), Philadelphia’s longstanding arts incubator.

An Indian classical dancer by training, Bidisha is also proficient in several other dance styles and is an avid choreographer. She studied Bharatanatyam at the Nrityanjali School of Dance (Boston) under guru Smt Jothi Raghavan and completed her arangetram (dance graduation) in 1990. For several years she was a member of the Srijan Dance Company (Boston) which specialized in the Amala Shankar style of Indian modern dance. During her undergraduate years at Case Western Reserve University Bidisha choreographed and performed in many Indian classical, bhangra, folk, western modern and competitive ballroom dance shows, garnering several awards.

A recent transplant to Philadelphia, Bidisha is eager to collaborate with local artists to create exciting new works and to continue to contribute to the city’s vibrant dance scene.

Jodi Aleen Obeid

Leslie Elkins

The concert also features Bidisha’s collaborative performances with Leslie Elkins and Jodi Aleen ObeidLeslie is an Associate Professor of Dance at Rowan University and author of Body-Presence: Lived Experience of Choreography and Performance, a phenomenological-hermeneutic study involving work with noted artist Deborah Hay and Philadelphia-based dance artists Grace Mi-He Lee and Tania Isaac, published by Lambert Academic Publishing. She is married to Andrew Buss, Director of Public Programs for the Office of Innovation and Technology in Philadelphia.  Jodi is a contemporary dance artist and movement educator.  She is a professor of Dance at Rowan University and recently finished a new dance theater performance “The House of Empty” produced by the nEW Festival in Philadelphia.

Listings Information

When: Friday 9/14/12 @6:30pm, Saturday 9/15/12 @6:30pm, Sunday 9/16/12 @2pm, Thursday 9/20/12 @6:30pm, Friday 9/21/12 @6:30pm and Saturday 9/22/12 @2pm

Where:  Twelve Gates Arts, 51 N. 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Tickets: $10, purchased only in advance through the Fringe Festival website.  No tickets will be sold in person at the door.


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Lisa Cain in NYC

by on Jul.16, 2012, under NYC

"Juke Joint" by outsider artist Lisa Cain

I urge you to hit the Harlem Book Fair this Saturday 7/21/12 at the Schomburg Center, 515 Malcolm X Boulevard (aka Lenox Avenue, aka 6th Avenue) at 135th Street. Very easily accessible on the 2 or 3 express train to 135th right outside the Schomburg’s door.

Why are you going? So you can stop by the booth of acclaimed folk artist and my very good friend Lisa Cain. If you were ever in my Harlem home you saw a painting from her “Juke Joint” series hanging in my living room.

Lisa’s not only a folk artist, she’s a neuroscientist. Yep, one of the only black female neuroscientists in the US (not to mention a former Miss Jackson State University) and we’re talking Deep South here, people.

She’s a true outsider artist. In fact she and I first became friends at one of my favorite annual events, the Outsider Art Fair in New York City, about 6 or 7 years ago. Actually we met while sharing a Super Shuttle van from LaGuardia Airport while en route to the fair, and we’ve become close friends over the years.

As she explained it to me, Lisa tends to paint images from her childhood and that of her parents and grandparents growing up in rural Mississippi. What you’re getting in her paintings are snapshots of rural social life and religious events. Do not expect images of pain and suffering. Do expect whimsical scenes of survival, hope and jubilation.



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“East to West: Tagore Inspires Fringe Dance”

by on Jul.05, 2012, under Shaheb Cafe, The Press, The Sixth Boro, Theatre

A new mother and professional scientist from East Passyunk Crossing gears up to bring traditional Indian dance styles to the Fringe Festival

by Jess Feurst

South Philly Review


“Tagore is really revered in the East and he has a Western following, but the average Westerner doesn’t know of him as they do other artists. He was the first non-Westerner to win a Nobel Prize, in 1913 — at the turn of the century was when he was really prolific,” Bidisha Dasgupta, of 11th and Emily streets, said. “He is to the East what Shakespeare is to the West. He’s really, really big.”

The poet Rabindranath Tagore is an inspiration to Dasgupta, who is a performer of traditional Indian dances, most prominently trained in Bharatanatyam. For the upcoming 2012 Fringe Festival, Dasgupta is drawing inspiration from Tagore and a Western icon to present Indian dance to the Philadelphia audience with her show, “Einstein/Tagore: Seashore of Endless Worlds.”

“The first time Tagore and Einstein met was in 1926 in Berlin. They were introduced by a common friend who thought, ‘You are the big thinkers of our time. You should meet,’” Dasgupta said. “I’m also a scientist and [their conversation] was something that really triggered my interest in the scientific view of humanity and how does religion and human consciousness tie-in to the world around us.

“The transcripts of their conversations from the 1920s to ’30s are really well recorded and it was the inspiration for the pieces, a theme based around these conversations.”

Her one-woman show, which will feature modern- and folk-dance techniques as well as her signature traditional Indian styles of Bharatanatyam and Rabindra Nritya, will be showcased Sept. 14 to 22 at Twelve Gates Arts, an Old City gallery.

“I had an issue of what kind of venue I would want. I didn’t want the first iteration being in a big, black box theater setup. I wanted something more intimate,” the 34-year-old, who hopes to move the show CONT’D AT SOUTH PHILLY REVIEW>>



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The Great Age reading on 7/12/12 @7pm in Philadelphia

by on Jul.02, 2012, under The Sixth Boro, Theatre

The Belle of Amherst

Judge Lord

I’m thrilled to invite you to Philadelphia’s first public reading of my unproduced play The Great Age, a racy romantic  comedy — about Emily Dickinson.  Set in Amherst, MA, the play is a time-jumping, supernatural romp about Amherst College undergrad Leah, an Emily-obsessed young writer and idealistic Wiccan who’s having an affair with her married English professor, Michael.

When she and her classmate Ashiq, a young Saudi prince, steal Emily’s famed white dress from the Dickinson Homestead and hold a seance to contact Emily’s ghost they they stir up a heap of multidimensional trouble and incur the wrath of junior English department faculty, Mary Beth.

Mabel Loomis Todd

The reading of this work-in-progress is connected to my current PDC @Plays & Players Artists Residency.  It’s directed by the amazing Mark Kennedy and features an incredible cast including–

Austin Dickinson

Laurel Hostak, outgoing president of the Drexel University Players, as the brazen young Leah

Anthony Adair as Leah’s friend Ashiq

Kaki Burns, most recently seen in Tom Stoppard’s Travesties at Plays & Players, as Emily Dickinson

David Todd

Kevin Bergen as Emily’s randy brother Austin Dickinson

Mike Hagan is Emily’s long-distance lover Judge Otis Lord

Bethany Ditnes as 19th century social climber and Dickinson family groupie Mabel Loomis Todd

Eric Wunsch, last seen as Dadaism founder Tristan Tzara in Travesties, as Mabel’s swinging husband Prof. David Todd

Sarah Schol as the frustrated and desperate-to-land-a-husband-before-she-gets-any-older Prof. Mary Beth Hodder

Tina Brock, artistic director of Philadlphia’s premiere absurdist theatre the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium (They Bring Good Nothingness to Life) in a variety of madcap roles.

Don’t miss it! Q&A of this work-in-progress afterward with myself, the director, and much of the cast.

WHEN:  Thursday, July 12 @7:00pm

WHERE:  the 1st floor main stage of Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place, Philadelphia, PA


See you there.

[images via and]


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