Kim Coles' one woman show, "Oh, But wait...There's More" was more than I expected.  I went to see it for two primary reasons.  First, I remembered Kim Coles from "In Living Color", but especially from "Living Single", and recalled appreciating her sense of humor, her delivery, and her timing.  Second, I'm particularly interested in the one woman/man theatrical genre because I've had my own project in the works for a number of years (side-by-side with all my other creative writing undertakings!) and particularly since having seen Brian Copeland's "Not a Genuine Black Man" in 2004 which I thought was outstanding.  Longer ago in the 90s when I saw Anna Deveare Smith perform in her "Twilight:Los Angeles" one woman show, I was daunted.  I literally sat on the edge of my seat throughout, mouth hanging open, completely consumed by the experience.  Unfortunately, feeling daunted goes beyond being inspired.  Powerhouse talents like Ms. Deveare Smith simply blow all the rest of us wannabes out the water.

But we are all capable of rising to our own brand of greatness, with a not so magical formula—believing in ourselves and giving it our all.  We have to bring the 'gifts' to the table.  Too often, however, someone falls short of this mandate.

So, in my opinion, Rhodessa Jones' one woman show fell short.  The title, "The Resurrection of SHE", single-handedly raised high my expectations.  Even the dramatic opening—two men descending the center aisle at the Brava Theatre in San Francisco, solemnly bearing the effigy of a female body on a stretcher headed for the funeral pyre (a real spectacle in the truest theatrical sense of the word)—whetted the appetite for a transformative experience. It never happened.  I sat throughout the show, front row center, unmoved, waiting for that magic moment.  I stayed past the intermission because I assumed it would get better.  Niet.  There seemed to have been a lack of coherence and continuity and, in the end, I couldn't figure out what I was to take away from the experience. 

Perhaps on some level I'm comparing apples and oranges (Coles and Jones) since the focus of their respective careers appear vastly different.  But they both took it to the stage, the story of their respective lives.  And perhaps there are those of you who would ask why I'm bringing up Ms. Jones' production now when her show ran several weeks ago.  After all, her body of work off the stage will become an important legacy some day and she is, in her own right, a living local legend and hero.  

I wanted to write about Ms. Jones' show back in April when I went to see "The Resurrection of SHE" and decided not to because...  I wanted to address her failure to entertain and to inspire me—as I'm certain she must have done for others (a woman sitting next to me had returned from the night before, having driven all the way from Mill Valley, for a second helping)—but I found little point in writing about it if that was all I had to say.  I saw no merit in just dissing a sister who does a lot of good for others.  

Unfortunately, in my small idiosyncratic world of experiences, these two shows came close together in time.  And the difference in how I felt when I left each was remarkable.  As much as I felt disappointed by one's art I was just as delighted by the other's.  These two factors—closeness in time and the vast difference in experiences—presented an opportunity to write a more balanced article.  I left one feeling flat and irritated versus leaving the other energized and upbeat.  Uninspired v. Inspired.  Hence, carpe opportunitatem.

Back to "Oh, But Wait...". I laughed a lot—and I can assure you I don't laugh easily when someone is attempting to court my tickle bone—but I also listened.  Ms. Coles' show kicked off the 2013 season of the Bay Area Black Comedy Competition and Festival.  Her message (simplified): Discover your gifts and share them with the world.  It's not original but I was receptive to it because she packaged it in a palatable presentation of her life that was engaging and entertaining.  She told her audience that her gift is that she's a clown and can make people laugh.  Along the personal journey she shared with us she was irreverent of some figures from her past and in awe of others who had come, gone and/or stayed in her life but not without changing it in significant ways.

Ms. Coles has an endearing charisma that took me pleasantly by surprise.  Her show had a sophisticated zaniness, a lighthearted warmth, and a gentle honesty.  It served up a weaving of memories that created a dynamic texture and flow.  It was neither sugary nor overly dramatic, and did not dwell too long on any one subject matter—one major sign of a great stand-up comic.  She'd hit it and move own, strategically planting punchlines artfully woven into the fabric.  At times she was a high school cheerleader, a star-struck admirer, a rising star, a loving and proud daughter, a jobless comedian/actor looking for work, and a seven-month long  listless, hopeless depressive who had lost her "funny", her "shine", who felt all used up, worthless, and ready to put an end to it on Mulholland Drive.    

Not trusting that there is usually some meaning beyond ourselves when driven to do something, I often question why I write, why I want to finish my one woman show and the other play I've started and my book and the numerous short stories that beg for time to be written and the poems that crop up when least expected.  I so often say to myself in the greatest impostor form that no one wants to hear what I have to say.  Why would they?  It's nothing new.  It's all been said and done before.  

Voice.  That is what distinguishes one person's art from another's, along with one's unique set of life experiences.  Voice.  No two voices are alike, even when some do their best to imitate the voice of others.  Voice.  Every voice has its own unique blueprint.  Depending on the medium in which the voice chooses to express itself, it is composed of a unique set of qualities and characteristics, whether through the visual arts, the performing arts, the fine arts, voice is an expression of tone, pace, rhythm, texture, dynamics, delivery, finish...because all of that and more make up the final product.  But none of those is anything if the voice does not communicate that, if it does not inspire.

It's not that Ms. Coles' message is innovative; it was her blueprint  for getting it out there, the one woman show being the medium.  And it felt genuine, as though coming from a sincere place in her heart.  If I can do this so can you, she was saying in her own words.

And now I'm wondering if Ms. Coles' and Ms. Jones' points of departure are so different after all.  They both claim to help others by sharing their gifts—in this case on the theatrical stage—while being completely and unabashedly self-serving at the same time.  No?

I rarely do standing ovations but I popped right out of my seat to join the audience in its energized appreciation of an innate talent whose light had heated up the room.  When I left the Kaiser Center Theater, located at 300 Lakeside Drive in "Oaktown" CA, I did so with the feeling that something cathartic had taken place.
 
 
Disclaimer, of sorts...

I blew off so much indignation in my last blog post that I felt weakened by the experience of having written it.  Les fortes émotions, to use a French term,  are exhausting.  What could be more exhausting than emotional fatigue?  So, basically, food for thought this time around.

I had the great pleasure of attending the Oakland East Bay Symphony's final concert of the season last Friday, May 3.  I came away feeling as though I had gotten considerably more than my money's worth (tickets were donated by a dear friend).  Joking aside, it was an evening of seemingly disparate musical adventures lacking a central theme.  Highlights for me were the countertenor, William Sauerland, who performed the alto voice in Bach's Magnificat in D Major, and Terrence Wilson, the pianist in Beethoven's powerhouse 5th Concerto in E flat Major, dubbed the "Emperor Concerto".  I might add that my daughter, my companion for the evening, particularly enjoyed the Pacific Boychoir as well.  Sauerland was a rare treat for me, as it also reminded me of the prominence castrati used to enjoy back in J. S. Bach's time.  Wilson's performance was simply stunning.  I've always enjoyed the shear power and magnitude of the first and third movements of this concerto.  However, his interpretation of the Adagio, so deeply contrasted, moved me more than any I've heard.  Played with sensitivity and intelligence, my eyes sometimes closed, sometimes wandered to the ceiling in order to savor the full beauty of his rendition.  

This blog post is not, however, a review of the musical event, as I am not a music critic.  I'm at best an amateur musician who knows what she enjoys musically.  For a decent and on point critical review, I refer you to Joshua Kosman's insightful article published on SF Gate's website.

The matter causing concern:

I'm so accustomed to seeing a sea of white faces both on stage and in the audience at a symphony concert that I've become desensitized to the experience.  It took a while for my consciousness to adjust—time to read the program and put a few cough drops in my jacket pocket for quick retrieval.  After my awareness adjusted to its environment, as when one walks into a dark movie theater from the brightly lit lobby...or, vice versa, from a place of total darkness into the blinding light of a bright sun, a sadness swept over me.  As the auditorium filled with symphony goers—many of retirement age and a representative number in wheelchairs or otherwise assisted—and the performance area filled with musicians and choristers, the lack of people of color became glaringly apparent.  Even if, evidently, the Pacific Boychoir, founded and based in Oakland, has members of various ethnicities, they, as far as I could tell, did not appear on stage to perform.  

Initially I thought it was an interesting situation—the only African Americans on the program (unless I overlooked someone, which is highly likely from the wonderful orchestra seats just seven rows from the stage) were among the principles: Michael Morgan, OEBS' illustrious director; Shawnette Sulker, soprano soloist with the Bach Magnificat, and Terrence Wilson.
Until I recalled that similar scenarios existed back in the day when the entertainers were often African American (i.e., Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, etc.) and the audience exclusively European American—I'm making an effort to move away from the term 'white' because it is meaningless outside a politico-social construct and doesn't exist without its counterpart, 'black', much like there is no 'good' without 'evil', no 'up' without 'down', all relative opposites on a dichotomous scale; there is no gene for 'white' which isn't even technically a color, but rather a poor showing of melanin which is spoken for in our DNA—because African Americans were not allowed in the audience and, after performing, had to leave the room or lounge or the concert halls entering and exiting through the back doors when they did so.  

So there is no question that African Americans have been 'allowed' to entertain European Americans (this will take some getting used to because the 'punch' [=tension] is gone—in a 'black' person's mouth, the word 'white' can often feel loaded with meaning sometimes intentional and sometimes not that centuries of institutionalized then de facto slavery [=segregation and Jim Crow] caused to evolve) for a long time as long as it didn't offend, for example, European women's sensibilities (Little Richard was forbidden to gyrate in front of them but it was okay for Elvis Presley).

We are in Oakland, California.  Oakland might very well be the most ethnically diverse city in the country. In 2010, according to the Census, Oakland was 34.5% "white" (up from 31.3% in 2000) and 28.0% "black or African American" (down from 35.7% in 2000).  These are interesting statistics in and of themselves (that's another blog post).  The remaining 37.5% is spread among other ethnicities.

I realize it is not realistic to expect the ethnic makeup of the orchestra and the boys' choir to reflect the ethnic makeup of Oakland; there is no requirement that they hail from Oakland to be members of those organizations.  Nor should there be.  Opportunity should be for all.  The percentage of guest artists came close to expectations: three European Americans and two African Americans (60% and 40%).  But, excluding Maestro Morgan, even if there were two or three African Americans in an orchestra of at least eighty musicians, that figure would not even match the ethnic percentage of African Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area (roughly 6.5%).  

Obviously, circumstances are different now than they were in first half of last century and prior. No one is prevented from attending any public event where one pays an admission to be entertained, be it in sports or in the arts.  It can be expensive to attend the symphony in a non nose-bleed section.  So sometimes certain groups of individuals are priced out of the pleasure of attending.  I was told quite recently that when you watch basketball on television, when the camera pans the spectator stands, the faces are nearly exclusively European American, shocking when you consider how much African Americans love and participate in the sport.  The tickets are far more expensive (yet another blog post) than the symphony or opera unless you don't mind lugging around a pair of binoculars and a box of Kleenex.

As I watched the performance the other night I couldn't help but be distracted by the absence of people of color in the Boychoir (I didn't even see any Asians), and among the orchestra members (that I could discern, though there were very likely Asian members).  But that doesn't matter.  What does matter is the overall impact.  The effect was great enough to leave me wondering about the many historical and social issues that would lead to such an outcome and have me scratching my head when it was over after what had been a delightfully fulfilling evening of music-making.