Archive for July, 2012
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.
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.
Tickets: $10, only in advance through the Fringe Festival website. No tickets will be sold in person at the door.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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 Obeid. Leslie is an Associate Professor of Dance at Rowan University and author of Body-Presence: Lived Experience of Choreography and Performance. 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.
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.
The concert also features Bidisha’s collaborative performances with Leslie Elkins and Jodi Aleen Obeid. Leslie 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.
What: EINSTEIN/TAGORE: SEASHORE OF ENDLESS WORLDS
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.
Please hear me out. In the case of mass shooters what we need is stronger mental health laws, not more gun laws, or at least coupled with more gun laws. That’s one area that has never been aggressively pursued by a politician from either major party in gun legislation. I challenge you to do so, Obama, Romney, Mike Bloomberg, et al. Go ahead, ban/approve all the weapons you want. It will have zero impact on mass shooters who are by and large psychotic. (BREAKING NEWS UPDATE 7/25/12: James Holmes mailed a notebook full of details about how he was going to kill people to a University of Colorado psychiatrist before the attack. Sorry, my fellow liberals, I don’t think that not having access to an assault rifle would have stopped him.)
As Dr. Harold Koplewicz of the Child Mind Institute pointed out after the Loughner shootings last year, the first signs of 75% of psychiatric disorders appear by the age of 24. We need to start treating it early before it kills again. There were heroes in that movie theater in Aurora, CO last week but there were others who could have been heroes if they’d bothered to pick up a phone. Severe mental illness doesn’t develop overnight. There are warning signs, and those who explicitly ignore them should be held criminally liable going forward.
According to an NPR story this week, the owner of an Aurora gun club thought that Holmes sounded scary enough that he informed his staff not to let him join. But he didn’t inform the police. Under my proposed legislation, similar to a Good Samaritan law, the gun club owner would face criminal charges. If he had picked up a phone those 12 people might be alive right now. If I were the relative of one of the shooting victims I would be directing my rage at this guy first and foremost (second to Holmes himself). (BREAKING NEWS UPDATE 8/1/12: Holmes’ psychiatrist Lynne Fenton apparently did believe Holmes was dangerous…but also didn’t call the police, which psychiatrists are obligated to do if they think a patient is a threat to themselves or others, no? She did report it to the university’s “behavioral evaluation and threat assessment team”…who also apparently did not bother calling the police. Brilliant. I’m sure the civil suits will soon be flying against the university from the victims’ families, but in the future such people should also be charged criminally with negligent homicide. UPDATE 4/5/13: Now that the judge has unsealed additional documents in the case we know that Dr. Fenton DID inform the campus police as required by law that Holmes was dangerous to others and that he had also threatened her. My hat is off to her; she promptly did exactly what she was supposed to do. And now the campus police have a few questions to answer about their inaction, eh?) Maybe these people thought it wasn’t their business to call the police but that’s exactly the mindset we need to change and it transcends party politics. Maybe, just maybe, we stand a snowball’s chance of stopping some of the mass shootings in the future if people would pick up a phone.
So while politicians like Bloomberg and celebrities like Jason Alexander, despite their good intentions, keep talking about the need for more legislation to keep assault rifles out of the hands of lunatics, well go ahead, why not?, can’t hurt, I’m all for it, but you’re missing the point that it still leaves the lunatic in the equation. Taking away a lunatic’s particular choice of weapon doesn’t cure his lunacy. With all due respect you are like a turtle putting its head in its shell and thinking it makes him invisible: does not compute.
Here’s the bold legislation I want to see proposed by a politician with guts (Romney? Obama? I’m waiting): If You Know Something, Say Something. The next of kin, most likely the parents, should be hauled in for questioning whenever a psychopath commits mass murder. If it turns out they knew the guy was severely mentally ill and never called the police or had him committed then they get charged with multiple counts of negligent homicide. (BREAKING NEWS UPDATE 9/30/12: See? Exactly what I’m saying, here we go again. Andrew Engeldinger’s parents were worried about their son’s growing paranoia. In 2010, they sought help, enrolling in a 12-week class for families of the mentally ill…but they never reported him to the cops or had him forcibly committed where he might have gotten help. 5 people are now dead. In my view his parents should be held criminally liable.)
Such a law would be nonpartisan because the anti-gun control people on the right get to keep their “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” bumper stickers and the pro-gun control people on the left get to keep their “Guns don’t kill people. People who like guns kill people.” coffee mugs. Everybody wins.
Seriously. Let’s go, people. Everybody can get behind this one. Contact your elected official now.
Here we go again. Time to rerun this blog posting from January 2011. The reasons will be obvious…
Let’s Stop It Before It Claims Lives
by Dr. Harold Koplewicz, President, the Child Mind Institute
“In the mass shooting in Arizona Saturday there were heroes who prevented even more bloodshed…But there are others in this story who could have, and I believe would have, been heroes if they had the knowledge and tools they needed to stop Jared Loughner’s descent into mental illness.
“It’s heartbreaking to read the accounts of college students and professors who noticed Loughner’s bizarre and frightening behavior, shared their fears with others, but didn’t see a way to get Loughner effective help…It’s terrible to imagine a student actually sitting by the door of her classroom because she was so afraid of another obviously mentally ill student — and outrageous that it took more than a single day to resolve the situation. In fact, it took three or four weeks before her concerned professor, and others who had Loughner in their classes, were able to have him removed…What his professors didn’t do is acknowledge that he was a risk to both himself and others, and call the police.
“Schizophrenia, if that’s what this is — or any of the other psychiatric disorders that can lead to psychosis — doesn’t develop overnight. There are warning signs, and those signs didn’t prompt the intervention they should have. ” FULL STORY AT CHILD MIND INSTITUTE>>
[So while everyone’s talking about the need to “keep assault rifles out of the hands of lunatics” and demanding even more legislation, well go ahead, why not?, can’t hurt, I’m all for it, but they’re missing the point that it still leaves the LUNATIC in the equation. (hint: taking away a lunatic’s particular gun doesn’t cure the lunacy). Think James Holmes in Denver would have called off his big night at the movies if he hadn’t been able to get an assault rifle? Keep dreaming. It’s like a turtle putting its head in its shell and thinking it’s invisible: DOES NOT COMPUTE.
Ban all the weapons you want but you’re only treating the symptom, not the cause. What’s the cause? THE GUY’S A LUNATIC. You know, like Jared Loughner who killed 6 and wounded 14 and only had a pistol, or Cho at Va. Tech who had 2 pistols and killed 3 times as many (37 dead, 17 wounded) as Holmes, or the Unabomber who didn’t use guns at all, etc. etc.
Here’s the bold legislation I want to see: the next of kin, most likely the parents, should be hauled in for questioning whenever a psycho commits mass murder. If it turns out the nearest kin knew the guy was mentally ill and never called the police or had him committed then they get charged with multiple counts of negligent homicide.]
[image by me; baby head sculpture by Ron Mueck, Boston Museum of Fine Arts]
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.
If there’s a Hell we can all at least enjoy picturing Joe Paterno burning in it right now, and enjoy knowing that Jerry Sandusky, Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz and Tim Curley will one day be burning in Hell, too. In their sick minds it’ll have been worth it because they committed such a heroic act to protect a college’s reputation while knowingly letting a child rapist run loose on the campus. And Paterno’s family has the gall to continue leaping to his defense issuing a self-serving statement this week that he wrote before his death where all he’s worried about is whether “football” has been tarnished. I hope his wife enjoys hanging out in the hot tub (oops, I mean “hydrotherapy machine”) in the same building where many of the rapes took place. How lovely. And don’t even get me started on the Penn State student rioters who also heart child rape. Disgusting and remorseless, all of them.
Guess what, Sandusky, Paterno and their worshippers? Despite your best efforts to afford sanctuary to a child molester, football has been tarnished, Penn State has been tarnished, and it’s all your fault.
Please let there be a good, hot, raging Old Testament Hell and let Paterno be in it being burnt to a crisp and repeatedly raped daily. May he never RIP.
A new mother and professional scientist from East Passyunk Crossing gears up to bring traditional Indian dance styles to the Fringe Festival
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>>
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.
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–
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
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 poetryfoundation.org and massreports.com]