Is being an artist a revolutionary act? Musings and updates

Hey Friends. I hope the New Year is off to an auspicious start. Despite the title and tone of the email to follow, it was not my intention to make this a “Black History Month” email because, you know, Black history should be celebrated daily, not just in February. I actually started this email in November but with holidays, work, and more pointedly, frustration, I didn't complete it until now. Most of that is self-explanatory, maybe even including the frustration.

As a young, Black man, who grew up in the South, I am no stranger to racism and systemic injustice - an unfortunate but true fact. So the spate of killings of Black people across the county is not new to me but never before have we seen the amount of coverage these recent events have garnered. So much has transpired over the last 7 years since Oscar Grant was killed New Year's Day of 2009, and more specifically since Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012. So much so that I became numb to the news. Each Black body became another trending topic - another reminder that to be Black and American is the biggest oxymoron. 

I often found solace in my art. As a theatre maker I tried to lose myself in the world of the stories I tell for a living. That worked sometimes but those ephemeral reprieves stopped doing the trick on November 15th, 2015.

That day, an unarmed Black man, Jamar Clark, was shot by police officers in my new hometown of Minneapolis, MN. At that time, I was in rehearsal for MY CHILDREN! MY AFRICA!, a play, while set in Apartheid South Africa, speaks to some of the tensions of being Black and American. More specifically it asks the question, "what are you willing to sacrifice to fight against injustice." That question hit me hard in the immediate aftermath. I sat in a dark room, playing make-believe, while people who looked like me, and some who didn’t, marched up and down Minneapolis streets. I couldn't help but ask myself the question Fugard wrestled with in his time - "is being an artist a revolutionary act?"

I’m blessed to have had a few experiences recently that have helped me shape my definition of what it means to be a revolutionary artist. I’m working with Pillsbury House Theatre’s BREAKING ICE team, devising a show to speak to and address structural and systemic racism, using theatre as a way to spark conversation inside communities. I’ve been commissioned by CLIMB theatre to write a play around the stories of kids of color being treated unfairly inside of the school system. I’ve infused my upcoming production of  THE SHAPE OF THINGS with contemporary hip-hop artists who speak to me and speak to the play in very profound ways.

The dynamic Erin Washington has convened a group of national Black theatre artists on a bi-weekly phone call, using essays from 20th century Black theatre artists as a launching point to discuss the current state of the Black arts/artists. I’m grateful to be included in this cohort. I’ve also been inspired by the most recent episode of Kenya Barris’ ABC show Black-ish, "Hope". The episode revolves around the Johnson family, a contemporary Black family living in the suburbs of LA, dealing with the news that yet another officer will not be indicted for their role in the shooting of a Black citizen and how the family grapples with exposing their children to the realities of the America they live.

I’m still a work in progress and I now take solace in that fact. My world has been changed by that question and I struggle daily to find my appropriate place in the continuing struggle. I'm thankful to have a wonderful partner in Lauren who understands my frustrations and helps me find the balance. I thank you all who are out there on the front lines marching, protesting, and proclaiming loudly that BLACK LIVES MATTER. I thank all of you all who "share" and "like" Facebook posts and engage in healthy dialogue around this important concept. I will continue to use every platform I have to inspire change. As we all do what we can to change the world around us, I remain confident that my son won't fear for his life in the ways I've seen.

2015's struggles were balanced with a lot of success. I thank God for the ability to say that. The biggest news is that Lauren and I are engaged to be married!!! I'm quite a lucky man and I look forward to growing old with her. 

Additionally, I had a chance to work on a "few" projects since we talked last February. Here are the highlights:

  • Named 1 of 6 participants in TCG's Leadership U: One on One program. I'll spend the next 18 months at Park Square Theatre. Here's the official announcement and the rest of my colleagues
  • Featured in November's American Theatre Magazine as 1 of "6 Theatre Workers You Should Know"
  • Josh Wilder and I produced the New Griots Festival, a three-day festival dedicated to celebrating emerging Black artists in the Twin Cities
  • Co-directed MY CHILDREN! MY AFRICA! with James A. Williams
  • Assisted directed for Marion McClinton (GOSPEL OF LOVINGKINDNESS), Peter Rothstein (CHOIR BOY), and Charles Randolph-Wright (AKEELAH AND THE BEE)

BTW, all the shows I worked on received end of the year recognition #HumbleBrag

  •  Directed a reading of James Tyler's new play, directed a piece by Idris Goodwin in Black Lives, Black Words at the Guthrie, directed two shows with CLIMB, a Fringe show, an ongoing exhibit/play at the Science Museum of MN, and a show with students at Steppingstone Theatre
  • “Professor Jude” talked to college students at Augsburg and St. Cloud State about life in theatre. I also had the opportunity to speak to sophomore students at Colgate University (my alma mater) about life in the arts
  • Participated in several music-theatre training programs with Nautilus Music-Theater
  • Alongside some dynamic teaching artists and colleagues, had a chance to teach theatre to kids of color thanks to Arts Access funding/programming at Park Square
  • Decided to take my retirement seriously and joined SDC as a full member (yay pension plan!)
  • Joined the steering team of MN Theater Alliance’s human resource training series called PAHRTS
  • Visited theaters and friends in ATL, DC (Dre's wedding!), TN (Brendon's wedding!), Tallahassee (Gary's baby!), Chicago, NYC, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Houston, Syracuse and BELIZE! We even had some friends come to visit us here in MN and we took the dogsledding!

As 2016 gets going, here's what I have coming up:

  • Directing THE SHAPE OF THINGS for DalekoArts (opens March 4th), and assistant directing TROUBLE IN MIND at the Guthrie
  • Collaborating w/ the aforementioned playwright James Tyler on a workshop of a new play of his
  • Working with my collaborator, the aforementioned Josh Wilder, on a workshop of a play we’ve been developing that will premiere in ‘17
  • Will I see you at the TCG Conference in June?
  • '16-'17 Season announcements are coming soon! I’ll be busy (Thank God!). Check out for the updates #ShamelessPlug

Thanks for making it to the bottom of this post! 

Other than that, the football season was a huge disappointment for the Eagles and the Hurricanes BUT Colgate won yet ANOTHER conference championship, and made a deep playoff run. Basketball season looks good with Colgate playing well, the Hurricanes looking to win the ACC and the age-less Spurs look prime to win ANOTHER title.

Love you all. Can't wait to cross paths, either virtually or in the real world!

Positive vibrations