Gem of the Ocean : process and performance -- memory/rememory

Material Information

Gem of the Ocean : process and performance -- memory/rememory
Johnson, Teniece Divya
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla.
College of Fine Arts, University of Florida
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
Project in lieu of thesis


Subjects / Keywords:
African American culture ( jstor )
African Americans ( jstor )
Aunts ( jstor )
Esters ( jstor )
Oceans ( jstor )
Poetry ( jstor )
Rehearsal ( jstor )
Spirituals ( jstor )
Theater ( jstor )
Theater rehearsal ( jstor )


August Wilson’s Pittsburgh cycle chronicles the African-American experience in America by representing each decade in the twentieth century. Influenced by the creative writing of Jorge Borges, the political art perspective of Amiri Baraka, the paintings and collage art of Romare Bearden, and the Blues, Wilson connects the African-American tradition in conjunction with the spiritual roots of Africa. Eighth in a cycle, Gem of the Ocean serves as the first play in the ten-part series beginning in 1904. The play marks the story of Mr. Citizen Barlow and his journey of self and communal discovery as he travels to the City of Bones under the guidance of Aunt Ester, Eli, Solly Two Kings, and Black Mary Wilks. The following document traces my process of character development for the role of Black Mary Wilks, the young female domestic and spiritual protégé in training under the tutelage of Aunt Ester in Dr. Mikell Pinkney’s production of Gem of the Ocean. My investigation into the poetic and blues-inspired language of August Wilson is shown with the implementation of Arthur Lessac’s voice training system. The Lessac system lends itself to examining language on a micro-level. Through in-depth vocal markings of consonants and vowels, breath-markings, enjambment, and the exploration of operative work, I will demonstrate how I was able to orchestrate the text on stage and bring the musicality of Wilson’s language alive. For this project Dr. Pinkney asked us to reach beyond what is in front of us and connect to our ancestors, a new element to introduce and integrate into my creative process. As a result, I connected to books that I have read, images, and quotes from artists, writers, and poets, to keep fueling and inspiring my creative journey. In addition, my research into the time period and August Wilson’s creative background, text analysis, rehearsal preparation, and journaling will also be explored as foundational to my process of character creation, as well as the importance of other elements such as set, costume, and movement (specifically Alexander Technique). The process begins with an in-depth exploration of August Wilson followed by director Dr. Pinkney’s vision, the numeration of my personal goals and challenges with the character, rehearsal preparation, character development, as well as feedback and criticism from the performances.
General Note:
Theatre terminal project

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida Institutional Repository
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
889235041 ( OCLC )
32932013 ( ALEPH )


This item is only available as the following downloads:

Full Text
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8
REPORT xmlns http:www.fcla.edudlsmddaitss xmlns:xsi http:www.w3.org2001XMLSchema-instance xsi:schemaLocation http:www.fcla.edudlsmddaitssdaitssReport.xsd






3 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank all of the persons who have pro pelled me to continue dreaming: Kashi Johnson, Michelle and KenYatta Rogers for my first Wilsonian experience; Jill Marie Vallery for reminding me to reach for the stars; Mia for making the world a better place; Rory for a heart of gold and a sharing a desire to a lways win; Ryan for teaching me how to love and fly; Marques for leading by example with greatness always ; and Momma, Diana, for the sage advice and a bearing witness to the many transformations of self. I must also give gratitude to August Wilson for encouraging me to find my song: work to banish them with illuminatio n and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels August Wilson A special thank you belongs to Dr. Mikell Pinkney and Dr. Hely Perez for their leader ship and light in leading the way through the Ocean. Dr. Charlie Mitchell; Tiza Garland; Dr. David Young; Dr. Judith Williams; Yanci Bukovec; and Sarah White.


4 Abstract of Project in Lieu of Thesis Presented to the College of Fine Arts of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts Theatre GEM OF THE OCEAN: PROCESS AND PERFORMANCE -MEMORY/REMEMORY By TENIECE DIVYA JOHNSON AUGUST 2011 Chair: Judith Williams Member: Charles Mitchell Major: Theatre American experience in America by representing each decade in the twentieth century. Influenced by the creative writing of Jorge Borges, the political art perspective of Amiri Baraka, the paintings a nd collage art of Romare Bearden, and the Blues, Wilson connects the African American tradition in conjunction with the spiritual roots of Africa. Eighth in a cycle, Gem of the Ocean serves as the first play in the ten part series beginning in 1904. The pl ay marks the story of Mr. Citizen Barlow and his journey of self and communal discovery as he travels to the City of Bones under the guidance of Aunt Ester, Eli, Solly Two Kings, and Black Mary Wilks. The following document traces my process of character development for the role of Black Mary Wilks, the young female domestic and spiritual protg in training under the tutelage of Aunt Ester in Dr. Mikell Gem of the Ocean


5 My investigation into the poetic and blues inspired language of August Wilson is system lends itself to examining language on a micro level. Through in depth vocal markings of consonants and vowels, breath markings, enjambment, and the exploration of operative work, I will demonstrate how I was able to orchestrate the text on stage and reach beyond what is in front of us and connect to our ancestors, a new element to introduce and integrate into my creative process. As a result, I connected to books that I have read, images, and quotes from artists, writers, and poets, to keep fueling an d inspiring my creative journey. In addition, my research into the time period and August also be explored as foundational to my process of character creation, as well as the importance of other elements such as set, costume, and movement (specifically Alexander Technique). The process begins with an in depth exploration of August and challenges with the character, rehearsal preparation, character development, as well as feedback and criticism from the performance s






8 I. INTRODUCTION AUGUST WILSON (1945 2005) Self educated from the age of fifteen years old, August Wilson gained insight into community and the search for self through his life growing up in the Hill District in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Born F r ederick August Kittle in 1945 to Daisy Wilson and his father, a German Baker, Wilson grew up in a cold wa ter flat at 1727 Bedford Ave nue Outraged after being w rongfully accused of cheating on a paper he had written on He spent his days at the Carnegie Library and enjoyed being abl e to learn outside the rigorous confines of the standard curriculum. He absor bed the environment around him and was a consummate listener. When he spoke, he was able to woo the room as an orator and storyteller. Wilson became a poet, lover of blues, and is now renown for a rhythm ic cadence and musicality of language fused with the ancestral storytelling tradition. Overall, his writing was influenced by what can be notably de creative writer Jorge Luis Borges; artist Roma n Bearden ; and activist Amiri Baraka. Blues, Borges, Baraka, and Bearden Born of African rhythms, slave songs and spirituals, the blues is an extension of the oral story telling tradition. Since there was no television, conversations that o ccurred


9 the people. It was their news, entertainment, and a vital connection between people as telephones had yet to have been invented. The telling and retelling of current events and happenings from down south in story and in song were in the vein of African griots also known as cultural keepers and storytellers From the specific to a time and place and culture and still have the work resonate with the his plays taking place in the Hill District in Pittsburgh ( is set in Chicago) Wi non explores themes of : slavery and imprisonment; music and song; relationship s betw een men, women, friends, and family; gentrification the economic upgrading of a community that in turn forces out those current residents of lower socio economica l groups, often this subgroup of people contains persons of color ; intergenerational conflict ; in the face of betrayal or self doubt. Amiri Baraka, formerly known as LeRoi Jones, a poet and acti of men of color by Joe Turner in the south and The Great Migration North (in Joe ) as historical reference points to the n write, re right ( or correct historical accounts written by the majority by providing an account from a minority perspective ) or re memory of the history of ancestors by penning a story of African American struggle for acceptance and meaning. Wilson noted rom Amiri Baraka I : the integration of blacks into


10 sports in Fences ; the manipulation of black musical artists from white ownership in Ma ; the impact of the prison industrial complex and small business management in Jitney ; and the threat to African American community through gentrification in Radio G olf. From musical to political muses, Wilson was also influenced by visual arts, specifically the works of collage and mixe d media artist Romare Bearden. works are like quilt work depicting people with oversized features, eyes, noses, and hands against vibrant landscapes, and illustrating black life experiences of epic storytelling proportions. on its o wn terms, on a grand and epic scale, with all its richness and fullness, in a language that was vibrant and which, made attendant to everyday life, ennobled it, affirmed its value, and exalted its presence. It defined not only the character of black Americ In 1998 at the Hood Museum of Art Wilson commented about the complexities and magnitude in the artistic vision of Romare Bearden : never cea sed to think of since Piano Lesson (1983) when he created the fourth play of the cannon, The Piano Lesson, a drama revolving around a sibling rivalry over the future of a family heirloom, a hand engraved piano with the faces of their once enslaved ancestors. I found it interesting [Bea Piano Lesson] is thought to be jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams, who spent


11 her childhood years in Pittsburgh This the connection to this love for music as an extension of black culture and c ommunity illu minates the artist s creative connection (The Art of Romare Bearden). The creative bond bet ween artists did not end there, Mill Hands Lunch Bucket (1978) [pg 54]. as a spring board for the creation of Come and Gone. Inve a dark brooding figure is found slumped over in the chair, representative of the character of the lost Herald Loomis struggling to piece his life back together after seven years of imprisonment as well as a vibr ant, wide eyed and large handed character of Jeremy in motion moving down the stairs and eager for what lies ahead. B eyond the confines of the house, the still mill is pictured in the background, bright and burning, reflective of a Pittsburgh skyline. Au gust Wilson passed away in October of 2005 from cancer, just after the completion of Radio Golf This was t he last play of the cycle about gentrification and the controversy over the destruction of the spiritual house of Aunt Ester, 1839 Wylie Avenue. A tw o time Pulitzer Prize winner, Wil heatre is priceless in its ability to convey a deca de long struggle for African American s and a quest for self and acceptance in the face o f the challenges of oppression. In addition to the u niversal themes, the political perspecti ve, influence of story telling B lues and the art of Romare Bearden, the Wilson canon is the search for spiritual fulfillment that spans from Chris tianity to African spirituality. It was also a quest for identity and place within community that comprises the cultural quilt that dramatist August Wilson crafted as he reflected life for African American s throughout the twentieth century.


12 I was inspired at and knowledge of his life and artistic perspective gave me permission to incorporate my multiple artistic interests T he creation of African American culture stems from a sense of re memory; mining and collecting fragments of community and identity of the past, and forging those with the aspirations of the future. From a sociological perspective I understood the complexities Gem of the Ocean I was a fforded the opportunity to inf use this knowledge into action through my creative process. Gem of the Ocean were going to embark on a journey of re memory that would introduce the life and legacy of African Americans in the 1900s during a time of struggle and re invention that would be shared with a Gainesville, FL audienc e. This production represented a challenge of spiritual and art istic magnitude. GEM OF THE OCEAN, Pittsburgh, PA, 1904 Gem of the Ocean is the f irst play of the Pittsburgh can on and arguably the most misunderstood due to its duality of reality and spirituality. Completed second to last in 2003, two years before the completion of Radio Golf Gem of the Ocean is significant as very old, yet vital spiritual advis ( Gem introduc tion). Ester Tyler resides at 1839 Wylie Avenue and serves her community, listening to the needs of those that come to find sanctuary S he provides spiritual leadership and guidance and carries with her the history of generations that have come


13 before her Wilson utilizes the two hundred and eighty five year old matriarch as a reoccurring character in his series She is inspired by Prevalence of Ritual (1964) the first series of paintings th at Wilson encountered by Bearden [pg 55] It is a mixed media a spirit figure in southern African American culture, She is called upon to prepare love potions, cure illnesses, and assist with pers onal problems (National Gallery of Art). The artwork is also printed on the cover of the Theatre Communications Group publication of Gem of the Ocean. Aunt Ester recounts having traversed the middle passage and in the Hill District she serves as the Con jur Woman receiving guests on Tuesdays and aiding them in their search for peace. Wilson also includes Aunt Ester as a reoccurring character in the Pittsburgh cycle. Even w hen she does not appear in the play, the significance of her home is mentioned, ev en in the last play Radio Golf Wilson writes: Aunt Ester has emerged for me as the most significant person of the cycle. The characters, after all, are her children. The wisdom and tradition she embodies are valuable tools for the reconstruction of thei r personality and for dealing with a society in which the contradictions, over the dec ades, have grown more fierce. (The Actors Theatre) In Gem of the Ocean once audiences are able to embrace the concept of a timeless spiritual griot living in the Hill District, the play then furthers the magical spiritualism of his work by having Aunt Ester take Citizen Barlow on a journey on a slave ship through the middle passage to the ancestral mecca of the City of Bones. The image most associate d with the atrocities of the middle passage for me is that of the African slaves being [pg 56] Wilson however, through Aunt Ester transcends this horrific memory into one of respect


14 and homage through his creation of the Ci ty of Bones, a culturally rich and vibrant city that lies below the watery grave of those Africans lost at sea. In this speech, Aunt Ester explains the City of Bones to Citizen : me to light. The people made a kingdom out of nothing. They wer across the water. They s The people got a burning tongue, Mr. Citizen. Their m ouths are on come across the waters. Then thousand tongues and ten thousand chariots coming across the water. They on their way, Mr. Citizen. ( Gem of the Ocean, act 2, scene 1) The boat they travel on to the center of the world is a boat folded from slave bill of sale and although the group travels spiritually to the City of Bones, the action never leaves the confines of the living room. The journey to the City of Bo nes is a central cultural element in Gem of the Ocean, and it reflects the important aspect of re memory and re righting the past, in order for African Americans to heal over their suffering and gain perspective into building their future. Gem of the Ocean sets the tone racial variables impacting the lives of Black persons in America through storytelling, dance, song and faith. Gem of the Ocean premiered at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago in the spring The Mark Taper Forum. In the fall of 2004, the production was presented at the Huntington Theatre Company before premiering on Broadway at the Walter Ker r Theatre in December of 2004. The cast was led by Phylicia Rashad portraying the role of Aunt Ester and Lisa


15 Gay Hamilton from the Huntington Theatre Company production played the character of Black Mary. Direction and Vision Dr. Mikell Pinkney Dr. revolved around highlighting the journey of the protagonist, Mr. Citizen Barlow through the infusion of community, storytelling, and cosmic connection. Frequently, the protagonist of Gem of the Ocean is misidentified as being the la rger than life character, Aunt Ester, who was labeled by Wilson himself as his most poignant character of the Pittsburgh cycle, the mother giving birth to all of the other Wilsonian characters. journey from Alabama to the City of Bones in order to find his song and place in this mad, mad world, in a time of transition and oppression would require a collective effort of the cast as Mr. Citizen is not alone on his quest for self a nd identity. He will learn that his ancestors accompany him on his quest and throughout the two acts he is a student of tho se who confession and reclamation of self is Aunt Ester. She is accompanied by gatekeeper Eli, protector of the peaceful house, and Solomon or Solly Two Kings, traveling pure expert (dog manure used as fertilizer) both of whom had once worked the Underground Railroad leading slaves u p North to freedom. Selig is a traveling pots and pan man with access to the community and the ability to travel outside without question, a friend of the 1839 Wylie avenue family. The antagonist and arguable embodime nt of euro centric assimilation is the boss man Cae sar Wilks who is the policing catalyst for the play.


16 F while simultaneously making transformational strides in her own discovery of self. Pinkney illustrated the intentional simila rities between the characters of Gem of the Ocean and the casting, noting that the actor cast as Citizen Barlow would need the teaching and assistance of the veteran members of the cast in order for our production to be successful. He noted that each actor had been specifically cast for the gifts they brought and each had a responsibility to help Mr. Citizen find his way A dditionally in order to perform to our potential we must cultivate the community required to embody the cultural sanctu ary of 1839 Wyli parallel motivated many of the ensemble members to connect to the work above and beyond the responsibilities of a collegiate endeavor, and comm it to a level of dedication birthed from a familial obligation and cultural p ride. The union of the cast would serve to be instrumental in on and intention of also cultivating spirituality as the relia nce upon our ancestral heritage became an active ingredient in our creative process. Charged with the task of stagi ng one of the most misunderstood plays of Pinkney reminded us that the experience and humanity of the story was greater than the ensemble and that spirituality could only be accomplished if we were to connect to our blood memory and cultu ral re memory /re righting of our history He was emphatic that our unity as a group our reliance upon language as part of a larger diaspora of oral story telling tradition and our connection to our ancestors would lead to success Aware of listenin g to the voices and stories of


17 collective expression, I understood what Dr. Pinkney was asking of us as a company and was ready for the challenge that lay ahead II. TEXT ANALYSIS Freytag Dramatic Visual Text analysis provides the working structure for the creation of character that the actor can investigate and use their imagination to build upon. I prefer to read the story and create my own Freytag, or visu al representation of the plot line that highlights significant events from the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement [pg 57, 58] The format of an Augu st Wilson play is different than the neo classicist tradition of five acts following the pattern of a rise of action until the climax then a subsequent fall ing action and conclusion. Wilson ends Gem of the Ocean after the death of Solly Two Kings and leaves the audience questioning what Mr. Citizen Barlow will do with his n ewly acquired legacy from Solly This was bestowed upon him along with the wise words of Eli advising Mr. Barlow on his exit from 1839 Wylie Avenue -(Gem 85). The visual representation of the plot line allo ws me to familiarize myself with the time span and order of events. The two act play takes place over a span of a week, and having a clear sense of day and specific information regarding the time of day and season provides a plethora of information to help build the moment before and fill in the backstory (missing moments between scenes ) that is not provided within the text.


18 Timeline of Gem of the Ocean ACT I Prologue: Friday night. Autumn, 1904. Scene 1: Saturday, next day. Scene 2: Same day, later. Early evening. Scene 3: A few days later. Scene 4: Very early the next morning. Scene 5: Later the same day. ACT II Scene 1: Morning, a few days later. Scene 2: Later that night. Scene 3: Two hours later. Scene 4: Early the next morning. Scene 5: Later the same day. Collective Voice/Song After creating a visual structure of the plot, I read the text multiple times, at least once fo r each character in the story taking the time to experience the play from each perspective. I use d the se readings as opportunities to highlight the text, indicating breath marks and line enjambments I view the text as one long poem, similar to that of a Shakespearean play. Through this reflection I am able to get a sense of the different voices, see how the language intersects, an d how relationships are formed.


19 August Wilson writes with a poetic pulse influenced and informed by the B lues. During my first Wilsonian theatrical experience in The Piano Lesson under the direction of Professor Kashi Johnson at Lehigh University, I was l e d to investigate the text like providing insight in to their particular contribution to the son g or to serve as their character melody. For my process it is essential that I know the song in its entire ty in order to prepare to sing my part in harmony with Wilson inspired, poetic use of language. Knowledge of the bigger picture is especially important for a character like Black Mary, who is present throughout many of the scenes, but her contribution is not always verbal. When she does interject herself into the conversation, the cadence of speech should not call attention to itself but rathe r read as an integrated component of the poetic textual experience. Similar to the rhythm required to perform a Shakespe are can on is constru cted to be delivered in a holi stic and collective vocal style creating an aria of the Afri can American tradition o f oral storytelling in one soul filled song. Language Dr. Pinkney, Gem of the Ocean rehearsal, August 2011 Pinkney could be heard echoing the words as if it were a sermon, emphasizing the importance of the relationship between the actor and the text of August Wilson.


20 Reading or performing Gem of the Ocean is a language d riven experience. It is poetry and requires a well trained voice to execute it with proficiency, a feat similar to that of performing Shakespeare. The action of the play is in the relationships and the storytelling. The conversations are entertainment and therefore language serves as an important art form and it functions as an oral history and re m embering or re memory. Pinkney preached that t here is a lusciousness in the joy of speaking. What does each word mean? You must take your time because you are t elling history. This [ Gem of the Ocean ] is a audience will amen, this is speaking to me The goal with the language is to find the weight imagery, cadence, and comfort. Gem of the Ocean is not a contemporary text. The focus must be to train yourself to see the memories and paint the picture fo r all to share. Pin kney reminded us e have the m aware of the constant battle between Black Mary and Aunt Ester about the fire level on the stove. Lessac Voice Truly fine poetry mus t be read aloud. A good poem does not allow itself to be read in a low voice or silently. If we can read it silently, it is not a valid poem: a poem demands pronunciation. Poetry always remembers that it was an oral art before it was a written art. It reme mbers that it was first song. Jorge Luis Borges, Seven Nights Borges text echoes Dr. ion for language as an oral art and in order to convey the musical poetry of August Wilson I relied upon my Lessac voice


21 training. The Lessac voice training is a technique of investigating language on a micro level, engaging the vowels and consonants to enhance communication and expression. My process of using the Lessac system begins by marking all of the breath marks, circling punctuation, co mmas, semi colons, etc. and placing a line at the end of sentences. Punctuation provides the road map, indicating where breaths can be taken. To ensure that all sentences are continued from one line to the next without adding an artificial pause I connect ed the lines by marking the enjambment, a text analysis technique acquired from working with Shakesp eare an text. After using pencil to indicate the breath marks and enjambment, I then move d on to explore the consonants. Consonants are important as they pro vide the structure and meaning within language whereas the vowels supply the emotion or feeling. Playable consonants are marked with a double line indicating a possibility to elongate the sound (but only if support ed by imagination and imagery to avoid a m echanical interpretation of sound extension), and plosive s are marked with a single line. Exploration of the consonants allows me to identify poetic patterns such as alliteration and antithesis that can be helpful when trying to memorize lines, as well as find ing additional ways to texturize the language. The marking of the consonants is followed by identifying the vowels. The Lessac system requires marking each vowel with a corresponding number that correlates to the size of the mouth opening and the sou nd generated. The vowels, also known as structure, provide an opportunity to connect with an emotion and project using tone to fill a large space. The vocal markings require a time commitment but I find the more


22 energy I am able to spend deconstructing t he language, the better I equip myself with more possibilities for creativity when I begin to engage the words accompanied with the imagery. The next step with the vocal markings involves exploring and identifying operative words. During conversation and d aily communication, an individual is able to convey one central idea or focus within a sentence. With text analysis, operative work is the concept of choosing one idea that would be emphasized within the thought phrase. When identifying an operative word, the process begins by stressing the first word in the line, then reading the line again and stressing the second word of the sentence, and so on and so forth until each word has been explored as an operative. This exercise is instrumental in adding depth t o the lines because those words not chosen as the operative have still been engaged during the rehearsal process. After exploring all the words in the line and decidin g upon the choice of operatives, I then put focus toward the verbs, as they are indicato rs of doing and taking action. Each day before rehearsal I reviewed my lines on stage. My goal w as to explore the full range of Black Mary by push ing my creativity with the language above and beyond in rehearsal and practice so that when we were on stage in the Constans Theatre I would be able to project to the last row of seats with a sense of ease. A well trained voice requires similar maintenance and training to that of an athlete. Athletes train rigorously so that when it is time to compete no thinking in necessary -the actions have become part of the body sense memory. In addition, if an athlete fails to train consistently they may fall short when it comes to competing as they have failed to put in the time and effort needed to succeed. I view my relationship with my voice training in


23 the same fashion. Getting ill, losing your voice, and inconsistent vocal performances are the sign s of an untrained actor. Only if you are spending time strengthening your instrument and c ommitting the actions to body memory will you have more control over the sounds your instrument can generate. Too often I witness actors holding back or waiting until opening night to bring thei r full self to their vocal work and by that time it is alre ady too late. Lessac voice guidelines suggest that one should avoid stressing the first letter of each word within a sentence to prevent the creation of an irregular vocal pattern. The following excerpt illustrates the vocal markings when this guideline i s ignored: I d k now w hat h e d one. A ll I k now h e s ay h e r eady t o g [Underline : indicates stress/emphasis/elongation of the letter supported with imagery.] ( Gem of the Ocean, act 2, scene 2) The choice to stress the first letter of every word is conflicting and dissonant to the natural iambic pentameter, (unstressed/stressed) speech pattern of American English. The sentence below has been adjusted to reflect the ia mbic pentameter stress pattern: know what he done. All I know he say he re a dy to [Bold: indicates stress/emphasis/elongation of the letter supported with imagery.] da duh da duh double note pattern that is most commonly associated with the American English vocal cadence. Shakespeare p resents a textual style that demands formal scanning of the language to ensure that the actor is working with the text and not against its intended


24 rhythmic form. This same attention to language is vital to perform any of t he wo rks of on. August Wilson is highly regarded for his ability to capture the voice of a people, from his many years as a youth hanging around barber shops, corner stores, and social lie Avenue was a famous street in the Hill District that once thrived with black businesses. aria of a griot bursting at the seams with imagery, lying and sanctify ing, spirituality, history, and re memory. Much l ike the Shakespearean actor who relies upon vocal training to command the language, a Wilsonian actor is in need of the same heightened attention to the spoken word. Phylicia Rashad, renown for portraying t he role of Aunt Ester Tyler in the Broadway run of Gem of the Ocean, language, noting that his words required both technical proficiency and surrender. This is a shared concept with the Lessac voice system, in that a n actor will mark the script trusting and surrendering to the text and the spirit of the work. The communication of language requires an actor to speak in thoughts and discover the words as they are spoken. The ability to see, taste, and experience the that can be conveyed through the speaking of a word. However, this texturizing of the language can only occur in conjunction with attention paid to the technical aspect of the


25 text including comprehension of plot/relationships, awareness of the consonants and vowels, and firm command over the construction of the word order. The excerpt o f text is the letter that Solly Two Kings asks Black Mary to read during Gem of the Ocean, act 1, scene 1 with vocal markings [pg 59] Reading a letter aloud on stage called for some texturizing unlike a monologue. The letter had to be read aloud as a narr ator, from a neutral perspective, allowing the listeners the chance to absorb and respond to the information being reported without emotional sway. The reading also had to be labored with real time comprehension for a young woman, most likely self educated and the only reader of the house. In addition, the letter recitation required weighted description, clear distinction for the introduction of new thoughts, people, places, and events all conveyed with the voice. Although it may be ill advised to stress or emphasis the first letter of each word; that does not mean that these first letters should be overlooked. There is a wealth of additional information that can be provided from exploring these letters vocally while supporting the word with imagery. High lighting the first letter of words allowed me to explore the alliteration within the lines. The use of that poetic device provides a natural emph asis for the language: h aving a h h old on h as a sound effect and endowed with imagery, conveys the heavy burden and struggle being endured by Eliza Jackson and others suffering from racial oppression, through the breathy and the use of vowels allows for the tone of emotion.


26 As well as recognizing patterns within the language, identifying words that are used multiple times throughout the tex t provides additional information and insight in to specific voice. For instance, r epetitive words are intentional and each time the word is spoken it must be endowed with a different connotation to express an additional meaning. III. R EHEARSAL PROCESS Acting is Doing The Freytag and Lessac markings help to understand the flow of action on stage and provide the framework for the action required within each scene. Black Mary is the domestic of the sanctuary at 1839 Wylie Avenue. Respon sible for the cooking, cleaning, laundry, assisting Eli, and studying under the tutelage of Aunt Ester, she serves as an active type of mortar to the plotline. As the play progresses, the text indicates how Black Mary, although not always speaking, keeps t he action together through her domestic duties and spiritu al obligations. Acting is doing: the use of props; movemen t within the space; the focus of attention; and the ownership of costume can assist in the creation of character and deepen the levels of ex pressive life that can be enacted on stage. From the first day of rehearsal it was imperative that I began working with set, props and costumes. There was much stage life of the character to be created as Black Mary plays an integral part in the unscripte d action of the play. The text pro vides what action is occurring o n the stage when it is happening. For example, in act 1, scene 3


27 This information allows me to create the circumsta nces that motivate the question to Solly and make the timing of the action fit the within the lines of the text. The text analysis included creating the moment before and delivering the lines within a logical action sequence. Aunt Ester and Black Mary had just been outside putting pure (manure) into the garden. In order to prepare to serve bean s to Solly, the action included : entering the house; connect i nitiated upon the exit out back which is an example of directing focus and meaning; washing and drying hands; moving over to the coatrack n ear the front door to return a cloak ; putting on an apron; getting a towel to lift the hot lid on the pot and a se rving s poon for the beans; serving the plate; then grab bin g a cup and reach ing for the water in the icebox. Trial and error was the best approach to getting the timing of actions in sync with the delivery of text in positions where I could be both seen and heard on stage. The set included a functional water pump for hand washing, cooking, and dish washing. In addition, there was food and liquid being consumed by actors on stage so the use and maintenance of props on set was more intricate and labor intensive. After each rehearsal I would take notes as to what work ed and where the problem areas still remained. By dedicating myself to submerging myself in the day to day duties of a domestic wor ker I was able to work with Pinkney to integrate a series of actions that were not included in the text but served as means to bring the house and its activities to life on stage.


28 before laundering, tending to the wood in the bottom of the fire stove, moisturizing Aunt Ester feet with salve aft er washing her feet, then the spiritual protection of the house with salt in the doorways and window seals. The logical order of action on stage needed to sustain a life filled environment can only be created once the text is analyzed. I spent time cre ating an intricate properties list, devoted time to set up the set (specifically the kitchen), gathered and preset property items, and costume pieces prior to each rehearsal. Aware that the organization of props would require a team effort with the crew an d stage management, I began engaging our stage management in the conversation early so we could all stay on the same page. Organization was the best methodology I devised to approach what could have seemed like a daunting task. During rehearsal I wrote d own the order of action on stage when it was successful and highlighted problem areas. I reviewed each scene after rehearsal and thought of a different approach to the problem, then revisited the changes before running the scene again in rehearsal. By stay ing on top of solving on stage issue s on my own I had a greater sense of ownership over the material and was able t o answer questions posed by Pinkney about the needs of the kitchen. Costume From the first day of rehearsal I had props pulled and a period style costume of heeled boots, long skirt, corset, and apron to begin building the physical life of the character on stage There w as much to be created in the on stage life of the character and the sooner I was able to mar k through the actions the sooner I would be able to


29 make multi tasking look effortless on stage while enacting the daily duties of Black Mary. By providing my own costume I was able to be innovative with my creativity and hit the ground running working within the informative confines of the period style garments. The inclusion of the apron allowed Pinkney to begin a conversation early in the process in terms of when he wan ted the apron on and off, a dialogue that would continue throughout technical rehearsal. Bringing a purse and cloak helped with the timing of entrances and exits. The use of these costume items early in the process also helped facilitate constructive conv ersations with the costume design team in terms of being able to express the physical demands and costume needs of the character as blocked by Pinkney. The frequent removal and replacement of the apron required a change in the design regarding how the apro n was tied. The initial design tied from behind Ho wever when it came to usage circling the tie around to the front allowed for a more convenient and complimentary solution. In addition, we were able to find a solution to fulfill the need of having to r oll and un r oll the sleeves of the blouse for water usage and cooking. After trying several ideas easy sleeve use My proa ctive approach to my costume le d to the facilitation of a creative dia needs and specific staging for our production.


30 Set of 1839 Wylie Avenue Black Mary was a resident and care taker of the house and consequently the creation of her character also required a relationship with the house of sanctuary as she would be Aunt Ester spi ritual and cultural successor. I would attend each rehearsal early (at least an hour and a half) and with permission o f the stage design team warm up in the space. After the physical and vocal warm up, my routine consisted of walking through the space with blocking notes in hand, miming the use of props when needed, and speaking all of my lines aloud. With regard to the special attention had to be paid to sight lines regarding use of the stove placed upstage left center and the sink snugly located in the upstage left corner. The challenge was using the space in a f unctional manner and making the slight cheat out of my body to face toward the audience seem natural There were several initial locations for th e functional water pumping sink and working with Pinkney we discovered the best locale for the sink so that it would be used and still be part of the theatrical experience. In addition to familiarizing myself with the potential areas for upstaging myself, I had to find ease in arranging the furniture in the dining area, using the drawer downstage r ight next to A and the routine of attending to the bureau by the upstage right front window, as well as exhibiting a proficient use of all of the exits bedrooms, inclu ding becoming acclimated with the staircase. While working in the space I paid particular attention to traversing about on stage in serpentine movements to make the most of the costume and support the period


31 style of 1904. University of Florida SOTD Prof essor and internationally recognized the curvilinear movements [of your Black Mary character portrayal] seemed in opposition to the domestic function of efficiency of move ment, but it added a sense that Mary was Once there was a familiarization created with the structural aspects of the house I could engage with the set on a different level to f ind and expl ore functional symbolic, and more interesting movements There is not much time allotted in rehearsal for running a scene multiple times, therefore I found great comfort in being able to work in the space on my own time reassured that I was comfortable with all the aspects of the space and furniture. The role as domestic house keeper. IV. CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT SANKOFA One of th e characteristics of the Wilson can on is the universal quanda ry of revolves around a need for recognition of self that is achieved when a character is able to acknowledge and make peace with their past in order to receive what is intended for their future.


32 From the deep and near South the sons of daughters of newly freed African slaves wander into the city. Isolated, cut off from memory, having forgotten the names of the gods and only guessing at their faces, they arrive dazed and stunned, their heart kicking in their chest with a song worth singing. They arrive carrying Bibles and guitars, their pockets lined with dust and fresh hope, marked men and women seeking to scrape from the narrow, crooked cobbles and the fiery blasts of the coke furnace a way of bludgeoning and shaping the malleable parts of themselves into a new identity as free men of definite and sincere worth. Foreigners in a strange land, they carry as part and parcel of their baggage a long line of separation and dispersement which informs their sensibilities and marks their conduct as they search for ways to reconnect, to reassemble, to give clear and luminous meaning to the song which is both a wail and a whelp of joy I ntroduction, August Wilson). Having been abducted from their African roots and transplanted in America where they were stripped of their cultural practices, African Americans search for identity o ften involves a duality of back tracking to African origins and then the responsibility to name oneself in order to more forward and progress. August Wilson understood the struggle to hold on to the past while simultaneously seeking a new future and its relevance to the creation of community for African Americans. This search for awareness through the past is closely related to the concept of s ankofa, a symbol of the W est African Akan language, whose English meaning translates as to return and fetch it (Sankofa). Sankofa is e mblazoned as the Adinkra symbol of a bird flying forward with its head facing backwards, the egg is representative of the gift or gem of knowledge being provided for the next genera tion. The pan African Sankofa symbol and served as a ve hicle for me to find significance in the portrayal of my character that was influenced and invigorated by the blood memory of my ancestors.


33 Sankofa is ideology of Sankofa is interwoven in the personal conflicts of the Wilsonian characters. For instance, Herald Loomis of Joe is haunted by his history of kidnapping and enslavement for seven years and the consequential loss of his family. Loomis migrates North to find the m other of his daughter Zonia, but he is also running from his past. Through the spir itual leadership of root working Bynum, a spiritual keeper similar to that of Aunt Ester in Gem of the Ocean Herald Loomis is able to face his paralyzing past and reclaim his song to li ve when he once was a man who had forgot ten how to touch and who was without a future. In our production of Gem of the Ocean, plight of young Citizen Barlow in his time of manhood initiation and search for self. Our job as supporting characters in this vision was to devel op strong definable relationships and a cle ar sense of our characters throughout the play. After analyzing the text using the Freytag, I w as able to work through the plot to discover the character arc of Black Mary. Citizen Barlow undergoes a change as the play progresses similar to the transformation of self that Black Mary experiences. The Black Mary and Surrender In act 1, scene1 Solly Two Kings describes the character stating that Gem 17 ). It is a trait that she share s with her brother Caesar Wilks and


34 although she does not possess the evilness of her brother, the family trait of stalwartness impedes with her discovery of self and purpose grows on jagged rock Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers Will come up where you are. many years. Try something different. The excerpt from A Necessary Autum by Rumi was a poem introduced by Dr. David Young during our creative process class The poem was utilized as a reminder that we as artists, must be malleab le and embrace change as it is part of the evolving artistic process. A t times this change may require letting go of past or habitual behaviors. The need for surrender associated with my creative process seemed infused within the play and parallel to the surrender that Citizen Barlow discovers in the City of Bones. Although Black Mary arrives at the sanctuary of Aunt Ester to heal her heart from multiple failed attemp ts at love and to seek refuge, as the play begins Black Mary is tough and seemingly resistant to attempts to reach her Black Mary shares a realization wi th Citizen in act 2, scene 3 Gem 73) Gem of the Ocean reflects her j ourney to be right with herself. Although she first seeks change through external factors through the course of the play her character evolves by confronting her past, asserting herself in her present situation, and then situating herself for a future.


35 character arc through her relationshi ps of past, present, and future [pg 60, 61 ]. The past was represented through her relationship with her brother Caesar Wilks the local constable, t tutelage under spiritual leader Aunt Ester and the future was reflected through her new relation ship with Citizen Barlow. A thorough analysis of the text revealed that the most transformational speeches from Black Mary include : the confession to Citizen Barlow in the kitchen after he asks her to come to his room that night (act 1, scene 4) ; the declaration to Aunt Ester over the stove at the end of play (act 2, scene 3) ; and the state ment of banishment to Caesar over the recently deceased Solly Two Kings (act 2, scene 5) In act 1, scene 2 Aunt Ester speaks of the dream she has of Black Mary arriving with h er seventeen rings names some of these past loves: Leroy. And John. And Cujoe. And Sam. And Robert. One after the other they your hands. ( Gem 43). This is her confession of hurt and the rationalization behind her hardened demeanor to in her and his sexual advances: You got a woman in your hands. Now what? What fill me up with? Love? Happiness? Peace? What you got, Mr. Citizen? I seen it all. You got somethin g new? ( Gem 41). Here, Black Mary is testing him, inquiring what it is exactly that Mr. Citizen seeks to gain from their companionship. Earlier, in act 1, scene 2, Black M ary and Citizen share a


36 stolen moment of lustful eye contact but before she can proceed, possibly putting her heart in jeopardy she has to confess her fears, name them and move past them. The second signi ficant moment of change occurs when Black Mary stands up to Aunt Ester defending her way of cooking, cleaning and taking care of the house in act 2, scene 3 : somewhere and my own way ( Gem 74). This moment represents her reclamation of self as a capable and reliable contributor t o the household without question. She has not only created a reputation through her ha rd work and dedication but now through this monologue she has named herself as having her own identity. her transformation by Gem 74). Finally, Black Mary acknowledges her past and chooses to divorce it for a new future when she denounces Caesar as her brother in act 2, scene 5. Prior to this moment, Black Mary was attempting to defend her brother in his absence, but his treachery and spitefulness over the death of Solly crossed the line violating Black she looks back on their shared history and the man she remembered him to be. Then she confronts him in the present Gem 84). This final declaration of independe nce and severance from her pa st was only possibly through her self awareness and desir e to change. By showing up at the sanctuary and then


37 embracing the lesso ns that Aunt Ester has to offer, Black Mary become s right with herself. With the last coat, hat, and stick and leaves the house to return South to embrace his destiny, we can only assume that when Citizen Barlow returns to Wylie Avenue, they can be right with one another. Being Verses Showing Black Mary is described as being stubborn and Dr. Pinkney described Black Mary as a pot of boiling water. Although she may not spe ak often, Black Mary is always ing to herself about how she feels, similar to the water bubbling below the lid of the boiling pot. The challenge with her character would be pushing all of the wor ds, feelings, and impulses down and swallowing them until she is given the opportunity to speak and react. There is always more happening below the surface with her E ven a simple task may be enacted as h er true feelings kick and punch beneath the surface. For the first several weeks o f rehearsal I fought with myself in an atte mpt to accurately embody the no nonsense attitude of Black Mary Wilks. The pattern I found myself in was constantly wearing a face of scorn to illustrate the character s disposition. I found both exhausting (as i t requires more facial muscles to frown than smile) and The following is a journal entry of 8/26//11: can feel the tears welling below the surface. Am I in a bad mood or is this an extension of Bl just received a positive note and yet tears still well in my eyes. I feel tired and USED.


38 Unappreciated. Black Mary or Te niece? Does it even matter? Feel demeanor Black Mary cries herself to sleep at night. Still seeking love. The making faces or posing was a pattern of behavior that I engaged in when acting prior to Gem of the Ocean so I sought out assistance from one of my professors to help me overcome this seemingly habitual over effor ting. By working with Alexander Technique instructor, Kathy Sarra, I was able to relieve myself of the obligat ion of showing the audience how tormented Black Mary was and allowed myself to be submerged in the situation. Initially, the change in my app roach made me feel like I was not doing enough because I was no longer fatigued by holding onto that attitude. Onc e I was able to let go of the face of scorn, I discovered many more possible reactions from a neutral face and the changes led to the creating of different levels y be useful as a s tarting point but to relegate a character to just one generalized disposition limits the degrees of expression. J ust as an actor may choose to incorporate playing the opposite in a scene, the same type of exploration holds true to a label such as stubborn When I was are able to move past the generalization that stubbornness equated to a scowl, I then discover ed that it might be possible to be stubborn while wearing a light hearted smile and laughing. By relieving myself of the obligation of showing emotio ns and attending to the situation at hand I felt a freedom in just being. It is the job and challenge of an actor to go beyond generalizations, let go of the first good idea, and trust oneself to explore for new possible means of expression.


39 Blood Memory Black Mary stands for an archetype of a domestic woman, head down and in her search for identity and place in the world. She represents the heritage of women as daugh ters, sisters, wives, mothers, domestics, and sexual objects. This legacy of Black women is a past that cannot be ignored. A shared bond exists between the B lack women who have forge d the path to give women such as myself, an educated Black woman of the t wenty first century, a voic e. from Beloved further explicates the connection of blood memory when she writes Yes. I remember you. You never forget me? 249 ). Zora Neale Hurston described the oppressive duality of gender and race of Black women noting that they are mule to the dual oppression endured as Black women [who] invisibly suffer in the euro centric patriarchy that is America (Hur ston 18). These cultural reminders serve only to reinforce the magnitude of and the importance of accessing re memory of the past to inform and texturize my performance As I toiled preparing props before during, and after rehearsals I would often become overwhelmed. Incorrectly timing props while wearing a corset and heels, I was frustrated, tired, and silent I thought of the black women who have paved the path to my current state of independence as a black wo man in America. I thought of countless women who would have traveled on foot with children or searching for lost husbands as


40 the y traveled up North, only to find similar situations of oppression based on skin color and female gender inequity Many died s truggling so that I could have a voice. It was an emotional, honoring, and humbling discovery that deepened my love and appreciation for the work of August Wilson. The following is a journal entry of 8/19/10: physical exhaustion. Find Boundaries push to find out of bounds No days off push to exhaustion; training discover sp irituality emotional kicked my a**. So many props to set and stage business to attend Challenge yourself to get out of the way. Blood memory KUNTU: cosmic an d spiritual connection. act 2 scene 5 [to Caesar] Gem of the Ocean is theatrical journey of two acts, and ten scenes with high demands physically, vocally, and spiritually for an actor. Building my stage endurance was an integral part of my rehearsal process and an aspect of my leadership contribution. The days were not always easy, but I found that when I was fe eling tired I focused my energy on how the women who came before me lived this experience. Through rigorous training and spiritual connection to my ancestors, I gained more ownership over my character, felt more comfortable with the flow of the storyline, and was a ble to accomplish more with greater ease. Specifically my acting process consisted of physical and vocal warm up s presetting of props and costumes review of r un and mark through blocking scheduled scenes and detailed note taking after scenes.


41 In addition to the daily actor respon sibilities, I was accountable for discovering the complex character of Black Mary. From a technical perspective the stage life of the character was extensive including operating an o nstage water pump, tending to the stove fire, chopping and serving food, as well as reading and writing letters. The organized and determined manner with which I approached the on stage business allowed me to easily adjust during tech week when I was given the task of restoring the set and putting props away at the close and top of scenes as Black Mary was on stage a majority of the play. Ancestors lood memory. We will find the rhythm and pace of the Dr. Mikell Pinkney, Gem of the Ocean rehearsal, August 2011 My vocal process is formulated and prescribed and often I am most challenged by the fear of lettin g go. Consequently I prefer to over prepare and find freedom within the comfort of knowing the text. Ear ly in the rehearsal process, Pinkney approached that I was working in, my lower third, was good placement but he noted that I sounded too educated. Although Black Mary is the only reader in the house, her proficiency is not that of a college graduate and thus her speech pattern needed to be adjusted to fit the character. I used it as an opportunity to surrender to the language as Phylicia Rashad had advised with the spiritual support of my ancestors. The only way I could fully attend to the challenge at hand would be with passionately detailed work and surrender to a


42 collective power greater than myself, my blood memo ry. This was the work being recorded in my journal and onstage the realization added to the quality of my vocals, stemming from a sense o f confidence and trust. Final Monologue Discovery! last monologue: little girl. I must disown. He must hear me. Vulnerability. No walls left standing. The only thing that could GET Caesar is BLACK MARY. (removal of his self respect.) Last speech This rehearsal discovery was pivotal in the development of that final Black Mary monologue to her brother Caesar. It was the first time that Black Mary broke an d a softer, compassionate, and more gracious side was revealed from beneath her grizzled as if Black Mary had finally absolved herself from her past wrong do ings. On ce free of guilt, she is able to stop concealing her shame and decide for herself how her future will corruption. It is important to fight for the objective in a monologue This specified focus assis ts the actor to stay the course in the face of emotion. It is not necessary for an actor to emote in order to elicit a cat hartic response from an audience and this fight to create emoti on within the actor can lead a mon ologue astray by having it become too personal and internal when the ultimate goal must be to communicate. The drama


43 unfolds for an audience in watching a character overcome their emotions as they continue to strive to achieve their objective. Although this was the first time I found a new sense of comfort in the monologue, this revelation led to a conflict I encountered and one that is experienced by many actors It is the idea of holding on to an idea and attempting to repeat a once eupho ric eureka mo ment of yesterday. It was not until much later in the process during tech week that I was able to transcend my own preconceived limitation s By letting go o f the idea that Black Mary has reverted to an earlier state of naivety and become a little girl aga in, I was able to acknowledge that she is not regressing to her past but rather she has experienced a change into womanhood rid of childhood obligations. Her newly acquired sense of self was a more active state of being to fight for. It was alive with th e remembering her blood family. She has experienced a metamorphic reincarnation into a woman poised and ready to fulfill her destiny to her larger blood family, as heir to the cu ltural spiritualist Aunt Ester. Hindsig innocence was a needed part of my process. It marked a day where I was vulnerable enough with the material to reveal an in ner love within Black Mary. The next step of working the act 2, scene 5 monologue was trying and frustrating. After multiple attempts at reworking my approach I eventuall y let the monologue go from my to do list with the intention of coming back to it at a later date or when I had to, whichever came first. The costume ( specifically the corset ) aided in the stifling of the words and physicality of Black Mary tha t could be internalized as a combination of Lab an effort s called wringing The journal entry of 8/12/11 reflects this inner conflict of the character.


44 [B lack Mary is on stage often without speaking.] Black Mary focused. In the room and always listening. Monologues [are] in her head. Her emotions are hot and dangerous like a pot of boiling water that must be contained, par t of her training process is that she must deal with her own demons. The physical choice of wringing was internal and through rehearsal this built up tension that could be integrated with the text similar to the effect of boiling water, adding texture to the character. An additional means of communication included the use of props. The hand towel is endowed with more of a psychological power, an extension of Black Mary character and her ability to communicate her unspoken feelings. Snapping it around w hile cleaning when she is frustrated and almost petting or stoking the towel in times of contemplation, the towel is an extension of her internal turmoil when no dialogue is scripted. Finding My Song Wilson says: Journal 8/9/11. Although I remember singing in the choir in fifth grade and even surprising my classmates while singing a solo i n sixth grade, I brand ed myself a non singer, a self imposed disadvantage as a performer. The thought of having to sing on stage, which is often a requirement in the works of August Wilson, was exhilaratingly terrifying. In Gem of the Ocean, Black Mary not only participates in the harmony for the songs to the City


45 of Bones and the subsequent Juba that follows the journey, she leads the ensemble in first approaches the City o f Bones illuminated in its full glory. The song is significant in that it is the first time that Black Mary has assisted Aunt Ester permission It also signifies a union between Citizen and Black Mary in their trans formational journeys of self. To combat my anxiety I began working with the songs from the moment we received the compact disks from Pinkney I relied upon my vocal training to find the confidence to sing in front of an audience. Again using the Lessac vocal markings I identified the consonants and vowels in the lyrics. The consonants were essential in providing the information, whereas the vowels provided an opportunity to emote through imagery. Paying attention to the structure of my mouth would be v aluable in maintaining form and holding notes. Aware that nerves would create tension during the moment of truth, I spent time focusing in on my Alexander Technique. When I reminded myself of my primary control the relationship between your head, neck, and spine, and turned into my body mapping I found additional length and space in my spine and ribs, allowing more of my breath to drop in. It was also important that I focus on breathing in and out with my diaphragm versus my ches t while lifting my soft pallet. I addressed all of the above in the way of a physical check list during my warm ups for rehearsal. Most important in my process of singing however, was freeing the spirit of my voice. Simply put I needed to fee l comfortabl e and enjoy the act so every rehearsal I would take stage as part of my warm up in the empty theatre and sing envisioning faces, bodies,


46 and spiritual energy from the audience. Visualization and repetition aided in my process of gaining confidence. By the end we had recorded ourselves singing for additional sound cues and I was singing on stage with confidence. The Lessac voice training, Alexander Technique, and rehearsal allowed me to accomplish the challenge at hand. V. PERFORMANCE Salt Water and Sage As part of our rehearsal process, Pinkn ey introduced the concept of a community of seven a name to represent the union of each member of our ensemble. He expounded upon the unity noting that the success of our play depended on our ability to create, ma intain and sustain a strong familial bond. Not only did Pinkney ask that we as a cast unite, throughout the creative process he implored that we connect with our ancestors as o ur blood memory w as the only way we would be able to bring the play to life for an audience. The spiritual invitation by Pinkney was welcomed and interpreted by everyone in different ways, adding to the beauty in the creative process. For instance, Ryan Johnson (Eli) commented that he appreciated the brotherhood he was able to exerc ise in the text w ith his cast mates Reginald Wilson (Solly Two Kings) and Troy McCray (Citizen Barlow). Anedra Johnson (Aunt Ester Tyler) noted that for her, theatre was her service, comparable to a ministry, serving as an opportunity to reach the masses. And finally, Doug Rory Milliron (Rutherford Sellig) experienced a rebirth, being able to open


47 up an emotional block within himself to connect his acting craft to a spiritual or higher purpose as he sang and danced in our warm up jubas. The experience was l ife altering for all due to the spiritual bridge Pinkney provided for us; there was no way one could separate self, spirit, or community from the text of Wilson and the impact it was having beyond the confines of the stage. During dress rehearsal Pinkney b ega n to bless the performance space in preparation for our artistic journey. He brought a sea blue healing candle and prior to the beginning of rehearsal he greeted each of us, connecting, and then had us bless the candle with our positive energy by touc hing the candle, very similarly to how Aunt Ester, Black Mary, and Mr. Citizen touch the candle before Mr. Citize n heads North in glass window of Pinkney moved through the theatre before fight call. In the spirit of curiosity and armed with an innate connect ion to Black Mary, I found myself yearning to learn how to bless the space. Dr. Pinkney served as my spiritual mentor and I watched how he welcomed our ancestors into the space, asking for their ble ssings. During the show, I blessed the space with our hea ling candle and sage. The ritual was cleansing and I enjoyed how the process developed and transformed throughout the run. Dr. Heley Perez taught me that our ancestors appreciate song and encouraged me to hum what I through out the ritual, an Alexander movement technique to remain in the moment.


48 I would begin the ritual by saying hello to the creative spirit verbally, releasing anything that I may be feeling to get into the moment, then applying Florida water over my face, chest, back and arms. The process began in the dressing room -lighting the candle and then the sage. I would traverse from the dressing room to the theatre space m oving aisle by aisle through the audience, moving on stage, backstage, and t hen to the entrances to the theatre where there was a tribute created for August Wilson I hummed spirituals that I had never heard but flowed through me. Whenever possible, I would engage each ensemble member and production member to sharing in this cle ansing of sage, and then continue through the space. There wa s never a verbal exchange and the ritual was never premeditated but it created a relationship that evolved throughout the run. As each person prepared for the performance, they all had their own contribution. Mine was meditation and spiritual invitation and I welcomed the duty with an open heart. I developed a relationship with persons and places. Doorways, serving as passageways in or out, or to the past or present, were significant, as well a s windows. On stage, I took time in each area unique to each actor, blending the backstage and onstage lives seamlessly. And finally, the areas of spiritual significance on set, the altar in the great room, the entrance to Aunt around the carpet that concealed the compass built into the floor for the journey to the City of Bones. I developed an almost out of body meditation that would prepare me for the cts of an August Wilson drama. For me, the ritual was essential to my acting process and spiritual health. The process always felt greater than myself and that obligation to give voice to these


49 characters, facilitated my ability to get out of my own way, surrend ering to the story and serving as a vessel for the African American spir were continuing to intertwine, strengthening the creative spirit of our ensemble August Wilson Symposium During the Symposium for August Wilson and Spirituality hosted by the University of Florida as part of opening weekend the cast was invited to lunch with all of the invited guests. It was a momentous occasion being able to perform for and then converse with an audience including New Yo rk producer Woodie King Jr., scholar and teacher, Dr. Sandra Shannon and singer/actress Ebony JoAnn. Before the conclusion of lunch Mr. Woodie King and Ms. Ebony JoAnn commented on my performance. King noted, know what it is Black Mary, but your voice. That voice, I keep using Spike Lee as an like that, (fist to table), you know. But hs) August Wilson Symposium, University of Florida, September 2011 ) Ms. Ebony Jo Ann continued He gets all his actors by paying them the minimum. I wanna piggy back on that, your voca l quality, your bl Right, right, right. ) It comes through in your vocal quality and that was what was so amazing to me when I saw the production last night. And I thoroughly enjoyed your work because of it. And then you, y ou held on to your, your nativity, and a sense of the era that you were portraying. You had a worldliness as well as a, and I watched every one of your activities. You, I could tell that you lived in that house. And I loved that so much and I was eventuall y going to get an opportunity to say that to you, so I am telling ( August Wilson Symposium, University of Florida, September 2011 )


50 I was taken aback and left speechless. The goal of this production for me was to find my voice as an actor, and the verbal feedback regarding my vocal quality had me smiling from my heart. I can remember our vocal instructor, Yanci Bukovec, telling us in v oice class, that if we put in the work studying and exploring the Lessac voice training as life training that people will notice som ething special about our voices. He also commented that awed listeners may not be able to identify exactly what it is about our voice that is appealing, as it is the result of not only technical prowess through training but also from an imaginative or creative surrender to the language In addition to comments about my vocal work, I received much feedback on the engagement and use of the props and set Most people spoke about how I was always cooking or cleaning or doing something. Several people noted how at home I seemed in the space, a true testament to how a focus on creating relationship with the space can serve as pric eless character work Conclusion Like all prov ocative forms of expressive art, my creative process was constructed with contradictions. The yin a nd yang symbiosis of discipline and value of responding actively in the moment was an integral relationship for my process. In addition, a connection created with my Black ancestors allowed my realistic interpretation of the character of Black Mar y to exist on a spiritual level as well. I approached the character of Black Mary with an ent husiastic discipline. The text work, repetition, and exploration added to the detailed focus of my portrayal, similar to that of a trained athlete. Dr. Judith Williams focus


51 helped to sharpen mine Thr ough my process with Gem of the Ocean I was also s being in the moment By letting go of the habit of posing or playing the quality of the character, I experienced more possibility working from a neut ral face, a blank canvas painting moment to moment, a goal I had yet to achieve i n my previous work. In addition, I was able to find my artistic voice, through the use of my vocal training and willingness to try despite my fears. I attribute this newly exp erienced creative freedom to the detailed discipline with which I approached the role and the incorporation of spirituality in our creative process introduced by our director, Dr. Pinkney. I believe that there are many ways to tap into our creative wells and just as athletes can benefit from changing up their training to engage different muscles, the same type of innovation can be instrumental in on creative exploration The textual analysis and research on August Wilson, his inspirations, and readin g the Wilson ten play ca non, strengthened my understanding of the material, and broadened my historical perspective having myself grown up in Pittsburgh. Much of the backtracking and collection of information on the African American experience in the early 1900s reminded me of S ankofa and the maxim that one does not k now where they are going unless they k now from where they have come


52 WORKS CITED National Gallery of Art, Wa shington D.C.. Web. 22 Aug. 2010 < ht tp:// 130.htm > The Prevalence of Ritual: Conjur Woman National Gallery of Art, Wa shington D.C.. Web. 22 Aug. 2010 < 020.htm > Borges, Jorge. Trans. Eliot Weinberger. Seven Night s New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1984. Print. Gem of the Ocean s Web. 22 Aug. 2010 < content/uploads/2010/10/Gem_studyguide.pdf >. Hurston, Zora Neale. Th eir Eyes Were Watching God. New York: HarperCollins, 1990. Print. o Times 3 Oct. 2005. Web. 22 Aug. 2010 < pagewanted=4 >. Lessac, Arthur. The Use and Training of the Human Voice: a Bio dynamic Approach to Vocal Life. New York: McGraw Hill Companies,1996. Print. Lyo ns, Bonnie and George Plimpton. Web. 25 Aug. 2010 < art of theater no 14 august wilson >. McKissack, Fredrick and Patricia. New York: Turtleback Books, 1994. Print. Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2004. Print. Black Urban Times. 30 June 2010 Web. 1 July 2011.< has roots in slavery and the middle passage african americans please read before you ever plank again/ .> Mill Hands Lunch Bucket 1978 Web. 22 Aug. 2010 < o%20artist/romare%20bearden/pages/Romare%20Bearden%2016 %20Mill%20Hands%20Lunch%20Bucket%201978_jpg.htm .> Rumi. Trans. Coleman Barks. The Soul of Rumi: A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems. New York: Harper Collins Publishing, 2001. Print. Rieh Life 5 Dec. 2007. Web. 15 Aug. 2010 .< return reach back and fetch it adinkra symbols define path in a womans life/ .>


53 ity of Denver. Web. 15 Aug. 2010 < >. August Wilson. August t. 16 Feb. 1998. Web. 15. Aug. 2010 < > Gazette. 28 March 1999. Web. 15 Aug. 2010 < >. Wilson, Aug ust. Gem of the Ocean. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1996. Print. Wilson, August. New York: Penguin Group, 1988. Print.


54 MILL HANDS LUNCH BUCKET Mill Hands Lunch Bucket 1978 Web. 22 Aug. 2011. < %20Mill%20Hands%20Lunch%20Bucket%201978_jpg.htm .>


55 THE PREVALE NCE OF RITUAL: CONJUR WOMAN Romare Bearden The Prevalence of Ritual: Conjur Woman National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.. Web. 22 Aug. 2011. < 020.htm .>


56 SLAVERY Urban Times. 30 June 2011. Web. 1 July 2011.< has roots in slavery and the middle passage african americans please read before you ever plank again/ .>


57 FREYTAG Created by Teniece Divya Johnson. August 2011.


58 FREYTAG (ACT II ) Created by Teniece Divya Johnson. August 2011.


59 LETTER Wilson, August. Gem of the Ocean. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1996. Print.


60 BLACK MARY ACTION CHART ACT I Scene 1 Notices Citizen Barlow standing across the street from the house. Scene 2 Notes disapproval to Aunt Ester about Citizen Barlow staying in the house. Scene 3 Scene 4 Opposes Caesar telling him she prefers living at 1839 Wylie Ave. compared to living with him. Scene 5 Confronted with the legacy Aunt Ester wants to pass on and the resistance perceived from her. Created by Teniece Divya Johnson. August 2011.


61 ACT II Scene 1 Reveals m ap with City of Bones location to Citizen Barlow. Scene 2 City of Bones Scene 3 Aunt Ester, act 2, s cene 3 Scene 4 Disrespected by Ca esar arresting Aunt Ester, despite protests that 1839 is a house of sanctuary. Scene 5 Denounces Caesar as brother after assassination of Solly Two Kings. Created by Teniece Divya Johnson. August 2011.


62 Teniece Divya Johnson, University of Florida, M.F.A ah] Johnson (Black Mary Wilks) fears stepp the responsibility and gift associated with being a theatre artist. She is an activist, artist, dreamer, poet, and forever a student of life. Born a Georgia peach with her childhood spent in Pittsburgh, PA, Teniece is honored to enter her 3 rd year as an MFA candidate at the University of Florida with the thesis role of Gem of the Ocean. Prior to embarking on her MFA journey she was a Division I athlete playi ng basketball for Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. She became a LU alum twice over with a degree in Marketing and a Masters in Sociology. A community activist and co founder of Redsun Productions, she is proud that 2011 marks the fifth anniversary of Re Elemental 4.0 of Lehigh University. For Teniece, theatre has been a means to connect and give voice to people, in true griot style, sharing the stories that create community and c ulture. While at the University of Florida she has had the opportunity to engage in the creation of several devised theatre pieces including Signs of Life Speaktactics and Legends, a movement intensive with Professor Tiza Garland. After spendi ng two weeks


63 in Rugerero, Rwanda, with genocide survivors she returned to work alongside Dr. Mikell Pinkney in the creation of Where Can We Run?; Aim for Africa in July of 2009. Other stage credits inc l ude The Piano Lesson (Berniece), Polaroid St ories (Persephone/Semele), Pride and Prejudice (Mrs. Gardenier), Faculty Room (Zoe), Macbeth (Witch), Pillowman (Detective Ariel), and In the Blood (Hester LaNegrita). Regional stage appearances include A Christmas Carol and (The Other Woman). In the summer of 2010 she completed her first international tour A Streetcar Named Desire (Stella) performing in Hamburg, Germany, as well as Brno and Prague in the Czech Republic. During her M.F.A. int ernship she worked at The Forum Theatre in Silver Springs, M.D. under the artistic direction of Michael Dove and with the Legacy Theatre in New York with producer Lorna Littleway. While in Maryland Teniece participated on the served as a reader at the Roundhouse Theatre, and performed in Chatterbox One Flea Spare. While in New York she interned at the first annual Juneteenth Legacy Theatre New Plays Festival and worked as a stage manager for Diana Sands directed by Sue Lawless and sta rring Tony nominated Hope Clark. She also stage managing for Young Fredrick Douglas directed by Peter Zazzalli and performed as a reader in 1000 miles (Ellen Craft) the historical account of a slave pa ssing as a white man so that she and her husband could escape slavery, directed by Allie Woods. While living in New York Johnson filmed her first national te levision show Celebrity Close Calls on the Biography Channel, playing the reenactment role of Pam Grier to air


64 in August of 2011. Additional film credits included an interactive gaming project, an th year anniversary of the I Will Survive video. She is currently in rehearsal for All American Girls: A Negro League of Their Own written and directed by Layon Gray, portraying the role of hard nosed, no nonsense, third baseman Jonetta Burns. The production of All American Girl s will run Off B th S treet at the end of July before traveling to the National Black Theatre Festi val in Salem, North Carolina to perform the first week of August 2011.


65 GEM OF THE OCEAN PRODUCTION PHOTOGRAPHS Compliments of T F Gunt ru p and the School of Theatre and Dance, University of Florida BLACK MARY IN THE KITCHEN