Gospel at Colonus – Poolside Family Reunion

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My go-to pic for all pool party invites.

We hosted a glorious reunion of our Colonus Family yesterday. The colleagues whom I met only about two months ago have become family. That can be one of the powerful aftereffects of a theatrical venture. In certain productions, the chemistry of a company becomes larger than the vessel that holds it, and spills over, flooding your lives with the epsom-salted-soothing water of a warm bath. Or in this case, of a warm pool, as the twenty-plus guests gathered to celebrate the upcoming remount of the show in the Rec room at our condo in downtown LA. There were conspicuous absences, of course, as several cast members live back east or across the country and were not able to attend. Others, still, had work, or family engagements, or reunions planned after the flurry of the show this summer and were otherwise engaged.

Yesterday was a tough and emotional day for Jimmie and me, as one of Jimmie’s nephews passed away suddenly after a brief but impactful series of medical episodes. In the scrum of the party organization in the morning, I glanced at FB, seeing a picture of Jamie on his brother Doke’s FB page, and the dreaded words, rest in peace. Though he had lived with AIDS for over 30 years, managing his health well, his departure was a blow. His twin, Martha, herself recently widowed, had sat with Jamie every day for the past five days, in ICU, as the medical team worked nobly to stave off the inevitable. Nothing prepares you for the loss of a family member.

Death crept elsewhere around our Colonus family reunion yesterday. Jackie Gouche´ arrived, on her lips a story of the sudden passing that morning of her next door neighbor, a 56-year-old man. I am ever alert to the potential for loss. You can call me Maude Lynn;  I guarantee I will use that as my nom de plume in the future.  My hyper awareness of loss is genetic, as well as due to the large age gap between myself and my husband. The picture I select for our invites each time we host a pool party is of a woman who closely resembles my dearly departed stepmother. Her kind, limpid blue eyes, combined with the silly plastic spangled swim cap reminds me of dear Joan, and her strong impact on me as a teen and later, as a young mother. Each loss stings as a reminder of losses to come. This hopeless extra sensory perception to loss causes me sometimes to go overboard planning parties where I can more easily embrace our family and the non-blood-related families we build around us via the theatre.

I feel an urgency to make the most of each day; so, on a day when our apartment looked like a war zone due to the bathroom remodel in progress, I gathered up the necessary tools to make the Condo’s lovely rec room adequate to host a party and pushed my cart down to the 2nd floor pool level.

By 1:00pm, I was ready, plastic red and white checked table-cloth rolled out over the rec room’s tables, all the available chairs pushed up next to the long 15′ table area, buffets set up near by, and a station of cold drinks ready by the door to the outside, where 95 degree temps eagerly mashed their sweaty fingers up against glass protecting the cool, air-conditioned room. It was sunny and the grill was heating. I swooned a bit from the combination of grill and natural heat as I flipped the first burgers.

The inevitable fear of party failure loomed. Tough questions rolled through my brain:

What if no one comes? What if no one eats? What if no one has a good time? What if there is nothing to talk about? Did I make enough food? Will anyone swim? Will the lack of parking deter them from coming?

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L to R: Ricky Nelson, Els, Jackie Gouche, Andi Chapman, William Allen Young. This photo almost didn’t happen but we convinced each other it was a good idea.

One thing I should have been certain of is that there would be plenty of talk and laughter and frivolity.
At more than one point in the afternoon, the decibel level in the room exceeded the legal limit for condo rec rooms, but thankfully, the doors were closed up against the heat, and we just reveled in the sonorous ricochet of laughter.

As at all family reunions, topics of health came up. We bemoaned this family’s shared acute asthma, comparing treatments and the high cost of inhalers, and hopeful appraisal that we could still take up scuba diving in spite of the affliction. We talked about the value of the epsom salt soak, either lavender-scented, or plain.  We took turns reveling in the achievements of our children, the raucous chatter and laughter silenced for a few minutes to listen to the extraordinary vocals of Jackie’s son, featured on Tyrese’s latest and last album, Black Rose. We laughed about the Hollywood phenomenon of being in a TV Series; how a mundane drive across town could suddenly be punctuated by seeing your own face on the side of an adjacent bus, or on a nearby billboard. Surreal. Enjoy it while you can!

Did you get a selfie?

I have a selfie stick.

You do not!

I do, just not with me.

We shared Face Time with Muff, who had recently moved to Florida; we visited briefly, me sitting on the edge of the pool, feet dangling, as Angie held the phone up to my face and I struggled to see Muff through the sunny reflection of Angie’s phone. Then Angie swept her away to visit with some of the others.

It felt good to laugh, to listen, to relish the memories of the brief time that we have known each other as a group. People came and left during the afternoon as their schedules allowed. IMG_4849We had a brief visit from the Colonus Pater Familias, Wren T. Brown, his beautiful wife, Anne Hailey Brown, and their son Brandon, who had performed in the last weekend of the show as one of the Henchmen. It is because of Wren and Gayle Hooks that we exist as a family now. This two month-long hiatus, broken up by our Colonus Poolside bash allowed us to remember what bonded us. Ricky regaled us with a story about being recognized recently by several large groups of women.

Do I know you from church?

No! We saw you in the play!

How did you recognize me?

We recognized you from your hair!

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I watched affectionately, as my hostessing duties took me away from the table, and Dominique invited Jimmie closer in to the table to talk. And, at the end of the afternoon, when I realized there was another party booked in the room, I felt terrible to have to tell people it was time for us to wrap it up.

Everyone scurried to make plates of food for people to take away and to help with the clean up. Nina’s yummy baked beans! I quickly snagged some of Lantrez’ beautiful enchiladas, and I am glad I did! I missed Deante’s mac and cheese, which, I was told, was very cheesy! Oh well, next time.

With classes starting, and the beginning of the fall semester, along with the remount of Colonus for three brief weeks, I am not sure how to get another party pulled together. That’s okay. We will see each other soon!

Next weekend, Jimmie and I will see our blood family, for Jamie’s memorial. In this business of life and death, it’s about making opportunities to be together, about embracing and laughing and eating.  COLONUS ART

This is the last week for early bird tickets. Tickets $25-35 are on sale only through August 21st. Get yours now! http://www.ebonyrep.org/

The Gospel At Colonus – The Music and the Movement

We are nearing the end of our third week of rehearsals; in my last post, I mentioned the upcoming rehearsal with the choir There are many parts in The Gospel at Colonus – actors speaking powerful text, quartets singing harmonies and performing movement. In addition we are fortunate to have Tony Jones, Choir director of the LA Youth Choir of the Gospel Workshop of America and his dedicated singers who will fill the Colonus choir stand with their fervent singing.

Last Sunday, at the end of our regular rehearsal day, thirteen choir members arrived for the first rehearsal at the theatre with Musical Director Abdul Hamid Royal and Tony Jones.

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Abdul Hamid Royal and Tony Jones work with the choir on the music from The Gospel At Colonus

We had set up the chairs around the piano in the rehearsal room, and spirits were high as everyone assembled to sing through the choral numbers in the show. After a rousing welcome by Wren T. Brown, and a brief tour of the set in the theatre, Abdul Hamid lost no time, jumping immediately into the material with the choir.  It soon became clear that the talents brought by these young people are real and significant.

Producer Wren T. Brown, Director Andi Chapman and I were sitting at the tables in the room working on our own tasks, and basking in the music. It is unquestionably one of the perks a stage manager has to get to listen to the voices that are on any show, but particularly on this production. There are some phenomenal vocal talents in the show – Dorian Holley , Jackie Gouché and LaVan Davis, whose sense of humor and actor’s sensibilities support his vocal chops. And without exception, their voices are exceeded by their  humility. What’s clear from watching the musicians on the show is the joy that they each derive from using their voices in service to the work at hand. It has inspired me to watch them support the text with their voices. This play is tricky – the language is oblique at times, and both Andi and Abdul Hamid have worked hard to make sure the story is clear.

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Andi during a moment of listening to the Sunday Choir rehearsal

I know I’ve digressed from the choir, but in my earlier posts, I focused more on the text and the fact is that Bob Telson’s music is equally important to this play.  Back in the rehearsal room, at one point, as they sang “Let the Weeping Cease” with the music building in intensity and volume, I glanced over toward Wren and Andi. I can’t speak for what they were feeling, but I was moved to tears by the emotion of the choir’s commitment and their faith. It was palpable in the room.

The day before, our first day on stage, just at the end of rehearsal, Andi, as she was talking to one of the actors, and standing on the steps into the house, took a step back and slipped off the step, falling hard on her right knee. It was shocking and unexpected and required an impromptu trip to the emergency room that night. But on Sunday, she was sitting IMG_4209with her leg propped up, her crutches behind her, grinning with my same excitement about the contribution that the choir was bringing. The music was a good tonic to the pain in her knee. This blogger pushed a little too hard with the insistence on pictures  however, and got this photo saying

Talk to the hand.

In addition to the music work, we have done some musical staging with the effervescent Keith Young. I had never worked with Keith before. He is extremely laid back, but brings a rigor and groove and expectation that his actors will do well.  And he is the funniest choreographer I have worked with. His imagery is quirky and unrestrained. He employs a lot of laughter and an extremely talented assistant who executes the choreography with precision and offers useful suggestions to make the moves easier.

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Keith Young

There are two musical groups in the show, the Ismene Quartet, headed up by the afore-mentioned Jackie Gouché, and the Choragos Quartet, led by LaVan Davis, in the role of Choragos. After blocking in the rehearsal room, last Saturday, both groups got on stage with Keith to begin movement.

What I have come to appreciate even more through this process is that we as individuals bring unique gifts to this project. The men in the quintet, Milton Ellis, Otis Easter, Gerald J. Mitchell and Ricke Vermont all are strong and experienced singers. Keith has given them pretty straight forward movement and has guided them and refined the movements based on their skill and in celebration of their vocal talents.

In the course of staging one of the numbers, one of the singers was having a little trouble getting the steps. Another choreographer might have said, “Actor A, please swap with Actor B because you aren’t getting the steps.” Not Keith. Instead of shaming anyone, he reworked the steps so that the actor became featured in the number; he did it with such grace, remaining flexible in his approach so that no one felt less capable and the number ended up working just as well. Keith’s philosophy is clearly karmically correct.

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.

Romans 12:6

It is that kind of grace that makes it so nice to go to work each day on Colonus.

The Gospel at Colonus – Week 2

COLONUS ARTWeek two of rehearsals for The Gospel at Colonus has hastened the alchemy of character and scene work, familiarity with the music and blocking into a cohesive and, at the risk of jinxing it, potentially thrilling production. We are now working through the play each day, making discoveries and strengthening the telling of the Oedipus at Colonus story. Director Andi Chapman is skilled at opening doors by asking her actors the right question at the right moment in their process, and allowing their answer to be “I don’t know yet.”  I have watched a half-dozen times as the actors have listened to the question, and then thought a minute, their eyes widening in recognition. Watching Andi and the actors dissect the literal and metaphoric meanings of the script’s text has reawakened my creative intellect, reminded me again why I love being in rehearsals. The rehearsal room is (in the best circumstances) a crucible of exploration; time is taken for the important work of being and representing humans in all their heightened emotional phases – love, grief, remorse, pride, redemption. The two actors playing Oedipus, Roger Robinson, and Ellis Hall continue to raise the bar for each other – the musical text fortifying the spoken text in a powerful way. The depth of the work in the rehearsals has inspired me as well as all the others in the room, which bodes extremely well for the audience’s comprehension of the story.

Our numbers have grown, with several more talented singers joining us. Abdul Hamid Royal, our puckish and ironic Musical Director, has met and rehearsed once with the choir with another rehearsal planned this weekend. He has worked with the Choragos Quintet separately from the main rehearsals. The men in that Quintet (LaVan Davis, Otis Easter, Milton Ellis, Johnny Gilmore, and Gerald J. Mitchell) each have amazing vocal instruments and under Abdul Hamid’s direction, have blended strongly as a group.  Tomorrow we will assemble wholly for the first time, the four members of the Ismene Quartet (Jackie Gouché, Dorian Holley, Ricky Nelson and Sharletta Morgan-Harmony). If Jackie and Dorian are any indication of the level of talent of the other two, we (and you) are in for a treat.

That’s what I mean. Every day on this project has been like Christmas, or a birthday – the moments musically and dramatically unwrapping in front of our eyes.

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Madison Orgill-Rhoades, former USC student headed up the paint call at Colonus this week.
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Early moments of the load in for Colonus

Tuesday, the pieces of Ed Haynes’ set arrived in the back of a huge stake bed truck. Built by Sets-To-Go owners Mark Henderson and Tim Farmer, the set is not for the faint of heart. For the past three days, at every break and before I leave at night, I have hurried back to see the progress they have made in the load in. When I left rehearsal the first night, Andi sat next to Ed on one of the top choral platforms, overlooking the laying of the carpet on the lower stairs.

(I’ve already shown you too much. You will have to wait to see everything assembled when you come to see the show.)

Speaking of giving it away, this is a generous group. Each day, we have had several contributions of food from cast members, which makes the rehearsal room almost completely self-sustaining. We almost wouldn’t need to go out to eat, except this group likes each other and likes to eat. A combination which makes our lunch breaks very enjoyable.

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Jessica’s meta shot of her computer open to my blog….I promise it was before rehearsal began.

Tomorrow we get on stage for the first time, and will do spacing and realize in three dimensions the work we have done in the rehearsal space.  We will roll the freshly tuned piano into the theatre to support the work. Four of our five designers, Ed Haynes, Phil Allen, Naila Sanders and Karyn D.Lawrence will join us to see a stumble-through. Tom Ontiveros will join us later in the process. There is plenty left to do and plenty of time to do it before we begin tech rehearsals on June 9th.

Jessica, my PA, shared her snapchat photo with me yesterday. snapchatWhile snapchat is a younger person’s game, I am nevertheless learning how to more effectively use technology as a tool in stage management. When new actors join the company, I still will call them to touch base and make sure they have their call, but now I also  text them my contact info so that they can ingest it into their smart phones. That way they know whose call they aren’t answering…Just kidding – they are very responsible and acknowledge their calls. Though a busier group of actors I have not seen in a long time.

Now’s the time for you to book your tickets. Group sales are taking off – You can buy your Tickets to The Gospel At Colonus here. Hear’s to seeing you in the Holden for Ebony Repertory Theatre’s upcoming production.