The Ground on Which I Stand

The ground on which I stand is very fertile  -Sade Lythcott, National Black Theatre

 

The last day of April has arrived and it has been a whirlwind of a month! I was able to write praises and recollections for two of my favorite artists born in this month, my husband and THE August Wilson. April has had a few downers , too.

I was reflecting during one of my recent morning jogs and I started to focus… on the wrong things. I was getting hung up on all of the things that were not happening for me. I haven’t booked a commercial job since October 2013. I haven’t been seen by a certain casting director since February 2014. A certain HUGE film director came into town and I did not get called into the room. Ruminating over these thoughts made life pretty depressing. Add to that pictures of everyone else seemingly doing what they love in this business and their careers. I was a step away from completely checking out…of facebook. The above quote from the lovely Sade Lythcott (via the August Wilson Black Theatre symposium with Congo Square Theatre and the Goodman Theatre) kept ringing in my head. ” The ground on which I stand is very fertile”. what There’s nothing like the  good ol’ dictionary to really bring the meaning home.

fer·tile
ˈfərdl/
adjective
adjective: fertile
  1. (of soil or land) producing or capable of producing abundant vegetation or crops.
    “fields along the fertile flood plains of the river”
    synonyms: fecund, fruitful, productive, high-yielding, rich, lush

    “the soil is fertile”
    • (of a seed or egg) capable of becoming a new individual.
    • (of a person, animal, or plant) able to conceive young or produce seed.
    • (of a person’s mind or imagination) producing many new and inventive ideas with ease.
    • (of a situation or subject) fruitful and productive in generating new ideas.
      “a series of fertile debates within the social sciences”

    This blew my mind! The ground on which I stand is ready and capable of producing an ABUNDANCE! It’s so easy to focus on lack, to believe that there’s not enough work, not enough space, not enough jobs. It’s so easy to talk about the rooms in which we have not been invited that we forget the ones where we have already thrived. Not only do we have amnesia in what has already been done, but we stop cultivating the very ground on which we stand. We stop putting in the good, hard,honest work. We stop pulling out the weeds( people, bad habits, negative thoughts) that exist only to choke the very life out of the seeds we’ve already planted.

    August Wilson wrote 10 plays! A play for every decade from 1900 to 1990! Do you understand the magnitude of that?! Do you realize where we would NOT be if he decided to wallow in doubt, lose focus and stopped doing the work? He kept writing, he kept listening, he kept his hands in the soil.

     

    Gardens don’t grow overnight, but when they grow oh boy do they! Small seeds planted produce a crop that is plentiful enough to feed a neighborhood. I won’t worry about what I can’t see right now. I know that as long as I stay standing on fertile ground and tending to MY garden ,( stay in your lane , Candice Jeanine) there will be an abundance of work both onstage and off that I will have so much of that I will have to give it away!

     

     

    Thank you so much to the Goodman Theatre,  Sydney Chatman and Denise Schneider for allowing me to be a part of the August Wilson Dream Team. Love and Light to Danielle Pinnock and Loy Webb for making this blogging journey one to remember.11053675_10155374364175187_1404071671324547498_o

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Gem of the Ocean

It will all come to stand in the light…everything and everybody got to stand in the light.-Aunt Ester

I went expecting to complete my personal journey with Wilson. By attending the concert reading of Gem of the Ocean, I would have completed the 10-play cycle by performing in or experiencing a performance of every decade  during my lifetime. Ironically, Gem of the Ocean is the beginning…

The presence Wilson writes for his characters fills the room, especially the women. He does not shortstop when it comes to Aunt Ester. The stage directions read, “Her presence has an immediate calming effect on Citizen.”  It’s not just on Citizen she has this effect, it is most everyone that enters.  This house is referenced numerous times as a sanctuary and a peaceful place.

I did not plan on attending church on a Tuesday night, but that is exactly what I did. Upon the deliverance of every utterance  of Aunt Ester’s words through the sanctified mouth of THE Greta Oglesby, I felt like I was in service just a few days too early for Easter Sunday.  I can not tell you how many times I ( and the people around me)  said an Umph, nodded my  head, or waved a hand. I was a willing participant in the call and response.

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Millie Langford, Greta Oglesby, and Candice Jeanine

If Aunt Ester is Mahalia’s Walk with Me, then Aunt Ester’s protege Black Mary is Bessie Griffin’s Ole Ship of Zion. Black Mary (played exquisitely by Tiffany L. Addison)  might not have as many years as Aunt Ester, but she’s got experience ; rumor says she had 17 husbands. When Citizen gives that age-old woman needs a man speech. Black Mary lets him have it without breaking a sweat.  Men have been taking and using for as long as she could remember .It’s not a tongue lashing, it’s simply the gospel truth.

This world was built and is sustained on the backs of strong women. The women of Gem supply not only strength, but sanctuary. By the end of the night, we all had traveled to the City of Bones and our souls were washed white as snow.

This post is part of the series #AugustWilsonCHI where I chronicle The August Wilson Celebration  as a part of the August Wilson Dream Team with a focus on the women in Wilson’s work. There are only a few more performances left before the celebration is over. There are events all over the city!  You do not want to miss out on being on this side of American history!

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Gem w/ dir. Mark Clayton Southers and Chuck Smith

Make Room for Women in the World of August Wilson

I am so full right now! I’ve attended Opening Night for Two Trains Running, A Concert Reading of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and a panel discussion of Women in August Wilson Panel. All of these are a part of the Goodman Theatre’s Celebration of the legendary playwright August Wilson.  

Sometimes I’ve had a bit of trouble listening, I can be a little too zealous with talking. Busy trying to prove something instead of trying to learn something. When I arrived at the Women in August Wilson panel, I made up in mind that my only job was to listen and I am so glad I did.

There was a gracious panel of women with various Wilson experience. Seret Scott, Roslyn Ruff, TaRon Patton,Regina Taylor, video panelist Phylicia Rashad and first lady Constanza Romero.There was so much greatness in that room that I’m surprised it did not explode. It was an  honor to simply have a seat at the table and boy was I fed.  The women spoke of the challenges, surprises and gifts from working with the text. Over and over the response was the words. Everything needed was written in the words.

Roslyn Ruff  (winner of both the Obie Award and Lucille Lortel  Award in 2007 and 2013 respectively) spoke of the catharsis she experienced while performing in  The Piano Lesson after experiencing a major loss in her life. She was able to live in that final scene and say thank you to her mom, uncle and aunt who had all passed in the past 9 months.

We laughed and we cried. It was like being at a slumber party with all of your great friends  and all of your favorite aunties. August was known to listen a great deal. His listening made it possible for him to write and for us to speak. I’m so glad he listened…

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Does anyone know of a woman (or women) who has completed the American Century Cycle in professional theatre or come close? Please comment below!IMG_1766 (1)

Leave a lil room for worth: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

“I don’t need  nobody wanna get something and leave me standing  in my door” -Dussie Mae

 

For 48 pages, we wait for her entrance.  She is not in the room, but oh is she in that room. Her reputation precedes her and when Ma Rainey ( played like a tornado by TaRon Patton) finally does walk on that stage,  you better move outta the way!

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hoto credit: Kamal A. Bolden

Ma Rainey is very much a boss, but her gender might lead others to call her that other b**** word. Unlike some of the other women in Wilson’s canon, Ma does not need to ask a man “how much woman” she is  or how much she’s worth. She knows it all too well.

As an artist,  I’ve undersold myself many times. I’ve questioned if I’m really worth what I’m charging. I believe I’m talented, but am I talented enough to demand that price. Will they laugh at me thinking I’m charging too much?  Then, after setting a price, I feel timid about asking for a payment that’s due to me when it hasn’t arrived on time. What will they think of me? Am I being too demanding? Should I just wait another month to see if they’ll remember to pay me what they said they would pay me for the services already provided? Typing this now, it seems  a bit crazy. Why would I be afraid of asking for something that I’m already owed. I’ve accepted “exposure” as a form of payment knowing  mamn well that exposure won’t keep their lights on nor mine.  Don’t even get me started on how men are demanding and receiving more for their services and asking for  it without  blinking an eye.   Acknowledging and accepting my worth and value is still a skill that I’m working to perfect, but I have stopped apologizing.

I lets them know it, though. Ma don’t stand for no … Wanna take my voice and trap it in them fancy boxes with all them buttons and dials . . . and then too cheap to buy me a Coca-Cola. And it don’t cost but a nickel a bottle. They don’t care nothing about me. All they want is my voice. Well, I done learned that, and they gonna treat me like I want to be treated”… Ma Rainey

My voice, talents and time are valuable and so are yours! The next time someone tries to get something for nothing just think WWMD? What Would Ma Do? She would get what’s due!

Have you ever sold yourself short and charged less than you were worth? How’d you finally stand up for yourself and get what you deserve?

This post is part of the series # AugustWilsonCHI where I chronicle The August Wilson Celebration  as a part of the August Wilson Dream Team.

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TCC, little AAA and I at the Ma Rainey concert reading!

 

Two Trains Running

Leavealilroomforgrace is a blog about my quest to navigate my marriage, motherhood, and career with grace. By a stroke of Grace, I was selected to be one of the four bloggers for the August Wilson Celebration at the Goodman Theatre. I am so elated to chronicle this journey with you as I travel through the decades of the Black experience  by way of August’s ten-play cycle. We will provide personal reflections on the women of August Wilson.

Often times women are relegated to being the backbone of society. They are banished to the background to bear the weight of the burden. This holds true in August Wilson’s 1960’s based play, Two Trains Running.

Nambi E. Kelley’s Risa is the very spine of the piece.  Though her demeanor is stiff and protective at times, her movement is lucid. Her gait deserves its own soundtrack. Risa is no-nonsense and she literally takes matters into her own hands to make it clear that she is no one’s sexual object. She is tough enough to withstand the lewd passes, barked orders, and  frequent demands of the men she’s surrounded by daily and yet compassionate enough to handle the less fortunate with white glove service.  Many knock at the door to gain entry into Risa’s heart, but only one man succeeds…Hambone( the incomparable Ernest Perry, Jr.) The relationship between Hambone and Risa is the real love story. Hambone may be mentally handicapped, but he has more sense than most. Risa handles Hambone with humility and grace.   The very man who does not objectify her is the one who truly has her heart. Though there is the more “traditional” love line between Sterling ( played suavely by Chester Gregory), it is clear that Risa’s true love is Hambone.


Ernest Perry, Jr. as Hambone and Nambi E. Kelley as Risa photo credit: Liz Lauren

 

The thing about the backbone is that it’s complicated. It has so many components that contribute to the strength and flexibility of the body. It is vital for the whole unit. Well, sounds a bit like a woman to me, at least this woman.

Please look for more posts chronicling the celebration from these ladies:

Sydney Chatman 

Loy Webb

Danielle Pinnock