TALKS: Tony Bonani Miyambo

Tony Bonani Miyambo performs in ‘Red Peter’s Way Out’.

Internationally acclaimed South African actor Tony Bonani Miyambo will perform the U.S. debut of his one-man show Red Peter’s Way Out this weekend at the Oakland Winter Live festival. The performance piece is based on the Franz Kafka short story A Report to an Academy, in which Red Peter, an ape from the Gold Coast, is captured, caged, and placed on ship to Germany. As a way out (and a “way out” is not to be confused with release), he learns to behave as a human would, to the point that he no longer remembers his previous life. Kafka’s story is often considered to be an exploration of freedom and (or versus) identity, as such literary critics have often pointed out resonances with slave narratives, religious and cultural assimilation experiences, colonialism, and (as explored in Red Peter’s Way Out) South African apartheid. Tony Bonani Miyambo talked to Arts in Color about Red Peter’s Way Out and his own experiences as Johannesburg-based performer.

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THOUGHTS: My Lingerie Play at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater

Matt Park, Diana Oh, Ryan McCurdy, and Rocky Vega in {my lingerie play} Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel

If Lily Allen, Regina Spektor, Fefe Dobson, Gwen Stefani, and Margaret Cho had a baby (even though science tells me that’s not possible), there’s a good chance it would be Diana Oh. She is a rock star, activist, feminist who fearlessly addresses many issues people of color, women, and queer bodies face today in {my lingerie play} 2017: Installation #9 THE CONCERT AND CALL TO ARMS!!!!!!!!! This wasn’t just your average theater going experience (thank the gods), nor was it simply a didactic lecture on all of the things wrong with the patriarchy – all though the multitude of Cro-Magnons that are attempting to destroy the world right now may disagree. Diana Oh delivers a glitter, bubble, music filled, colorful extravaganza. Because this was more of a concert-event than your mama’s kitchen sink play, Diana started the show off by asking the audience to remove their theater helmets (the ones that limit our understanding and expectations of what theater can or should be). I’ll ask you to do the same as I give you 7 details about my experience. 

  1. The Shimmer Station: The minute I stepped into the theater I was greeted by rocking house music, christmas lights, pink/blue/purple/green and every color in between, and walls covered by brown paper bags that had individual responses to Oh’s prompt “Why do you create a safer and more courageous world for us?” Diana stood on a soap box on stage wearing sunglasses and holding up brown bags with the question and directions written in bold on them. Projections on the side wall featured images and video of the many installations of {my lingerie play} (more on that later). Rattlestick staff welcomed me as I crossed the threshold into the totally transformed space and directed me to the Shimmer Station at the back of the theater. What is a Shimmer Station? It’s only the biggest throwback to my teenage love of Limited Too and Claire’s glitter make-up, body art, stickers, temporary tattoos, etc. The only thing not from my teens was the enlarged sculpture of a hairless vagina with the words below “You were born from here.” I promptly deposited my things in a theater seat covered with shimmery fabric and went to the back to shamelessly cover myself in all the sparkly things. I loved seeing how creative the audience got, especially the men with glittered up mustaches. 
  2. This is the 9th of 10 Installments: Before the production at Rattlestick, Diana Oh had been working on {my lingerie play} since 2014. There were 10 installments, and each is different and took place in a different location. Installation 1/10 involved Diana standing on her soap box in the middle of Times Square in her lingerie with a brown bag on display that read “THE WORLD BENDS OVER BACKWARDS TO MAKE EXCUSES FOR (white) MALE VIOLENCE​.” The 10th and final installation took place last Saturday in Washington Square Park before her final performance at Rattlestick. To find out more about her other installations Click Here.
  3. Lingerie as a storytelling device: As you may have speculated, or not, there is a fair bit of lingerie worn during the performance. Diana takes us on her journey of self discovery, coming of age, pain, joy and advocacy using her personally iconic lingerie to identify different chapters in her life. We start start with her Calvin Klein Red Lace Bra during her Jim Bobbio crush faze at 16, and she peels off or replaces pieces down the line as her story continues.
  4. Down with the patriarchy: It’s a tough time in America to be a woman right now. With birth control and abortion on the chopping block and the go ahead from the leader of our country for men to treat ladies however they want, any steps we’ve made forward must have been on a treadmill instead of on the path to progress. {my lingerie play} is a call to arms, and Diana Oh is intent on leaving no stone unturned.  She has, as she calls it, a “rant” where she discusses the multitude of issues with the way women are and have been treated in this world and other problems caused by the patriarchy. She gives some pretty powerful words that hit home: “​Here,​ ​I​ ​experience​ ​street​ ​harassment walking​ ​to​ ​the​ ​E​ ​train.​ ​Somewhere​ ​else,​ ​women​ ​are​ ​stolen​ ​off​ ​the​ ​streets​ ​and​ ​become​ ​kidnapped child​ ​brides​ ​or​ ​have​ ​acid​ ​thrown​ ​at​ ​them​ ​because​ ​they’re​ ​too​ ​pretty.​ ​What​ ​we​ ​experience​ ​here​ ​in the​ ​States​ ​is​ ​a​ ​micro-percentage​ ​of​ ​the​ ​violence​ ​and​ ​degradation​ ​that​ ​women​ ​face​ ​globally.”
  5. Bye fourth wall, or expect the unexpected: Not only does Diana engage in conversation with the audience, but individuals who are brave enough to venture on stage might get their head shaved (no, I’m not joking), participate in a consent workshop that involves a smooch or two with our leading lady, or join the band to rage out about the patriarchy while playing instruments they never thought they’d play.
  6. The Band and the Music: Ryan McCurdy (Musical Direction/Drums),

    Ryan McCurdy, Diana Oh, and Rocky Vega singing. Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel

    Matt Park (Guitar) and Rocky Vega (Bass) were pretty awesome and almost as exposed as their fearless leader. They had fun costumes on that seemed like modern glam rock meets Josie and the Pussycats. Diana’s lyrics (and guitar playing) reverberate long after the lights have dimmed and the audience has gone home, “Love​ ​to​ ​my​ ​mother​ ​for​ ​giving​ ​me​ ​these​ ​hips​ ​and​ ​all /Swaying​ ​like​ ​an​ ​animal​ ​as​ ​we​ ​stood.” Fingers crossed there’s an album in the future.

  7. She Goes There: Diana gets personal, vulnerable, and exposed (emotionally and otherwise). She bares her scars to the world as well as her strengths, from her first sexual experience with Jim Bobbio to the time she was followed by a car full of catcalling men late night in Brooklyn. It’s an inspiration to witness her courage and candor as she shares intimate details of her life and body with a room full of strangers. One of my favorite things that she pointed out was that we’ve “never seen someone who looks like her speak for this long.” She unabashedly voices the issues that continue to be swept under the rug today about race, gender, and sexuality.  My only question now is where do we go from here?

Diana Oh at the center of a circle formed by audience members and band members (from left) Matt Park, Rocky Vega and Ryan McCurdy, during the finale. Photo Credit: Credit Emon Hassan

{my lingerie play} was one of the hottest tickets in town in from September 27th to October 28th, 2017. While the metaphorical curtain dropped for the last time at Rattlestick Theater last Saturday, I have no doubt that the project will live on, continue to grow, and provide more humans with the Shimmer Station they never knew they needed.

For more information about Diana Oh and {my lingerie play}, click here.

TALKS: Kimille Howard – Assistant Director, Ain’t Too Proud

Kimille Howard

Ain’t Too Proud closes at Berkeley Rep this weekend after a successful 2-month run. A few weeks ago we had the chance to talk to AIC alum Kimille Howard, the assistant director on the show, about her experiences.

1. Tell me a little bit about your background (how did you get into theater, why you came to NYC, etc)

I started out as a dancer, beginning ballet at the age of 3 and increased to tap, jazz, flamenco, hip-hop, modern, and character at the Jordan College Academy of Dance as I got older. My parents always took me to see theater growing up, and my grandmother would take me to Broadway shows when I visited her in New York. When we performed a tap piece to West Side Story songs when I was 9, my parents got me the laser disc (yep) of the film and I fell in love. Continue reading

THOUGHTS: Ain’t Too Proud at Berkeley Rep

Derrick Baskin as Otis Williams

Derrick Baskin (Otis Williams) in the world premiere of Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of The Temptations at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Many musical theater lovers and artists (this one included) groan at the thought of jukebox musicals. The jukebox musical is most basic of musical theater genres. The songs are recycled, usually recognizable, and presumably already hits. The characters are either tropes, or characters you already know (the original artists themselves). In essence, jukebox musicals can be guaranteed cash cows for producers exploiting nostalgia. I’ve only seen two other jukebox musicals: the movie version of Mamma Mia, and American Idiot, the Green Day musical, which also premiered at Berkeley Rep before moving to Broadway, and I was skeptical about how much I would like this one. But Ain’t Too Proud surprised me. It was a dynamic, fascinating look one of the oldest and greatest R&B/soul groups: The Temptations.

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THOUGHTS: An Octoroon at Berkeley Rep

Lance Gardner as BJJ

Lance Gardner as BJJ in the West Coast premiere of An Octoroon at Berkeley Rep.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

As artists of color, we are accustomed to being categorized according to our perceived race. We’re not just artists, we’re Asian Actors, or Latinx Directors, or Black Playwrights. But what does it mean to be an “(insert ethnicity here) Artist” and will we ever be able to create work without everything being tied back to our race?

This is the question BJJ (Lance Gardener) asks when he walks onto a bare stage at the top of An Octoroon. He is a Black Playwright. It doesn’t matter what he writes about, theaters and their audiences will always bring it back to race. So, he tells us, he has adapted an old, once wildly popular melodrama, which, in turn, had been adapted by a white, Irish playwright from a novel. And he will be playing the lead role. In whiteface. Continue reading

THOUGHTS: The Last Tiger in Haiti at Berkeley Rep

Laurie (Jasmine St. Clair) tells a tale to Joseph (Reggie D White), Emmanuel (Clinton Roane), and Rose (Brittany Bellizeare). / Photo: Jim Carmody

Laurie (Jasmine St. Clair) tells a tale to Joseph (Reggie D White), Emmanuel (Clinton Roane), and Rose (Brittany Bellizeare).  Photo Credit: Jim Carmody

What is a story? What is its purpose? A story can entertain or educate. It can comfort or unsettle. It can foster divisions or forge connections. A good story can do many of these things at once. The Last Tiger in Haiti is a very good story. Continue reading

THOUGHTS: It Can’t Happen Here at Berkeley Rep

ICHH ensemble

Cast members in the world premiere of It Can’t Happen Here at Berkeley Rep. Seated: Anna Ishida and Tom Nelis. Standing, left to right: Gerardo Rodriguez, Gabriel Montoya, William Thomas Hodgson, Deidrie Henry, Scott Coopwood, Will Rogers, Alexander Lydon, Carolina Sanchez, Mark Kenneth Smaltz, and Sharon Lockwood.
Photo credit: Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

It Can’t Happen Here was written in a United States still reeling from the Great Depression. Fascism was on the rise in Europe, and there were fears that it would cross the Atlantic.

Senator Huey Long of Louisiana had broken with his party– as well as President Roosevelt– over the New Deal, and he was poised to run as a third party candidate with the support of a fiery, anti-Semitic radio personality, Father Charles Coughlin. Author Sinclair Lewis and his wife Dorothy Thompson, a political reporter, were among those concerned about a possible dictatorship should Roosevelt lose. And thus was born the book that was then adapted into a play. Continue reading

THOUGHTS: ‘all of what you love and none of what you hate’ at San Francisco Playhouse

Teen and baby

Girl A (Britney Frazier) cares for a newborn baby
Photo Credit: Kevin Levin

Scholars call the era we live in now “the information age.” The digital revolution gave rise to a way of life that involves near constant immersion in a mediated world and its associated messaging. It is a world in which we can ask a question and get thousands of answers in seconds, but still have no real sense of which of those answers is correct. It’s a world in which self-presentation and social communication are tied to soundbyte advertising profiles. All of what you love and none of what you hate is very much a product of the information age. Characters introduce themselves through their Internet dating site profile answers or a laundry list of their Facebook likes. Friends appear on stage together yet only communicate though cellphones. Google searches are projected on large screens. At the same time, the play is pure theatre, exploring human experience and human emotion through physical movement and face-to-face interpersonal interaction as it tells the story of a 15-year old girl navigating the first few hours after seeing a blue plus appear on a home pregnancy test. Continue reading

THOUGHTS: John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons

Latin History blackboard

Award-winning playwright, actor, and performer John Leguizamo in the world premiere of Latin History for Morons at Berkeley Rep.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

John Leguizamo opens his new one-man show with a bit about his son getting bullied at his middle school. The bully comes from a long line of cops and veterans, or, as he puts it, “heroes.” To boost his son’s spirits and maybe his social standing, and because, as it turns out, his son actually has to write a paper about the subject to graduate 8th grade, Leguizamo decides to find a Latin American hero for his son to be proud of.

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TALKS: Actor Robby Ramos on HYSTERICAL at T. Schreiber Theatre

13557736_10157221449440601_2994830954315080431_nCurrently running at T. Schreiber Studio & Theatre is a world premiere of a new play written by Emmy nominated Disney Executive Jim Geoghan entitled, HYSTERICAL directed by Crystal Edn. A workshop production, this dark comedy finds an ideal venue in T. Schreiber’s intimate black box where the focus is on the fine actors telling the stories through complex character relationships in the setting of a Las Vegas mental hospital. One of the play’s most intriguing characters is Monroe, played by Robby Ramos, the hospital’s resident schizophrenic drug dealer. Robby Ramos is utterly captivating in this role, both hysterically funny and heartbreaking at the same time. Ramos is a standout in this production and Arts in Color had the pleasure of interviewing him!

AIC: Where are you from? When did you decide to become an actor?

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THOUGHTS: Red Velvet at the San Francisco Playhouse

Ira Aldridge (Carl Lumbly*) and Ellen Tree (Susi Damilano*) perform as Othello and Desdemona at the Covent Garden theatre.

Ira Aldridge (Carl Lumbly) and Ellen Tree (Susi Damilano) perform as Othello and Desdemona at the Covent Garden theatre. Photo Credit: Ken Levin

It is difficult to adequately portray in words the magnitude of the moment African-American actor Ira Aldridge appeared on stage at Covent Garden in the title role of Othello in 1833 London. Aldridge took over the role over from a dying Edmund Kean (who played Othello in brownface), an actor considered at the time to be the greatest interpreter of Shakespearean tragedy on the British stage. While Aldridge had already made a name for himself in smaller theatres and regional theatre, an actor of African descent on the most noted stage of early 19th century London, playing a dramatic lead role, moreover a romantic lead role opposite a famous white actress, was groundbreaking. Continue reading

THOUGHTS: runboyrun at the Magic Theatre

Disciple - runboyrun

Disciple (Adrian Roberts*) returns home from work on a cold Massachusetts evening.
(Photo credit Jennifer Reiley)

We are introduced to the story of runboyrun through ghosts, although we do not yet know that that is what they are. At the beginning of the play they are just two characters from a different time and place: Sister (Katherine Turner) and Boy (Rotimi Agbabiaka).

The meat of the action begins with Disciple (Adrian Roberts) returning home to his wife, Abasiama (Omoze Idehenre), who is buried under blankets, trying to keep out the frigid New England winter. After a tense exchange, he descends into the basement where he strips off his outerwear and tries to write about Nigeria. It is there in the basement that the ghosts come to him. He doesn’t see them, but he senses their presence, as they inhabit the space, to the point of physically invading his.

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