Michael Jackson Lives

In a recent post about Race and the New Generation of Musical Theatre, I gave a shout out to Michael R. Jackson, a musical theatre composer/lyricist whose work I recently came to know, and who was telling stories about people of color in a way I’d never seen before.


I had originally heard of Michael when I saw a song from his largely autobiographical musical A Strange Loop performed as part of William Finn’s Ridiculously Talented Composers and Lyricists You’ve Probably Never Heard of But Should cabaret at 54 Below. (Well – truth be told I think I originally originally heard of him when the pop-star Michael Jackson died, and he was forced to distinguish himself on Facebook as Michael “Living” Jackson, but that’s neither here nor there.)

I then got to meet him as we were both participants of the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at the Goodspeed Musical Theatre this past January. There I got to see more of his work on the show come to life.

A Strange Loop is, how shall I put it…graphic. Continue reading Michael Jackson Lives

OSF Breaking Down Barriers


The Oregon Shakespeare Festival proves once again that it is America’s foremost regional theatre company with the launch of its facilitator training program on inclusion and equity issues called artEquity.

As organizations continue to seek new ways to connect with their changing audiences, it will become increasingly important for artists and organizations alike to learn how to break down barriers of gender, race, and class. The problem is that these barriers are often invisible to the artists and organizations.  That’s why this type of training is so integral to making real and lasting change. Continue reading OSF Breaking Down Barriers

This is Theatre

I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to see a lot of new plays and musicals.  However, it’s an unfortunately rare experience, given that I see so much, that something really blows me away – particularly, I’m sorry to say, in Los Angeles.  And it’s an even rarer experience to have it happen twice in one month.

Last night I saw Cornerstone Theater Company’s production of Cafe Vida, created in partnership with Homeboy Industries and Homegirl Cafe and presented by the Latino Theater Company.  Cornerstone’s unique brand of theatre incorporates individuals from the community to help tell their own stories.  Sometimes this can make for messy theatre, but often it makes for extremely exciting theatre, especially when those stories are deftly structured by an accomplished playwright, as Cafe Vida was by Lisa Loomer.

Directed by Michael John Garces, it tells the story of two Latinas from two enemy barrios in Los Angeles, who are forced to interact after being released from prison and joining Cafe Vida – a community outreach program (like Homeboy Industries and Homegirl Cafe) that provides hope, training, and support to fomerly gang-involved and recently incarcerated men and women, allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community through restaurant services and culinary arts.

Most of the actors are from Homeboy Industries and provide raw, unpolished, but stunningly frank performances of, in some cases, their own life stories.  And these are not easy life stories to tell.  But this type of work is in essence what all theatre aspires to – the spilling forth of personal truths, truths that are almost larger-than-life in their drama and danger, truths worthy of the stage.

• • •

 A couple weeks ago I also had the pleasure of seeing Danai Gurira’s The Convert at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, a co-production with the Goodman Theatre and the McCarter Theatre.

The Convert takes places during the British occupation of Zimbabwe (1895), and tells the story of a young African woman, who comes to live with a Christian African  missionary in order to survive an undesired fate in her tribe community, pitting ancient African traditions against Western culture and Christianity.

Directed by Emily Mann, it’s a riveting three act play, that also highlights theatre at its best – no flashy sets (though beautiful!), no flashy costumes, no flashy word play and wit – but honest, engaging characters thrust into dynamic conflict with each other and the worlds around them.

What is so exciting about each of these plays, is that they each make incredible points without attempting to preach or sucker punch.  They are gritty, they are daring, and they are unapologetic.  It is not pretty, or tv-worthy.  It is not white and middle class.  It is humanity caught in the struggle of life.  This is theatre.  This is theatre.

(Photo credit: Lynette Alfaro, by John Luker; the cast of The Convert, by T. Charles Erickson)