Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2015: pt. 20: Andrea Hairston

Trying Times, Amazing Times
by Andrea Hairston

2015 was quite a year. Trying times. Amazing times.
I am grateful to all the artists whose brilliance offered us much needed perspectives, analysis, fun, insight, and hope. In the midst of willful ignorance and raging disinformation, so many artists rehearsed complex truth and rescued meaning. There was/is no time to despair—so imagination to the rescue!
I teach screenwriting and playwriting at Smith College, and I was particularly struck this year by the creativity and audacity of my students. Instead of trying to second-guess the market or a phantom mainstream audience, these writers crafted stories they wanted to tell, stories they longed to see on stage or screen but rarely get a chance to. Every week their plays and screenplays got better. Everybody’s work got better.
I was also excited to see the readings and productions that Smith College students directed, designed, and performed in: Yellowface by David Henry Hwang, Stop Kiss by Diana Son, Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman, Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler, Water By The Spoonful by Quiara Alegria Hudes , In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) by Sarah Ruhl, And The Sun Stood Still by Dava Sobel ), The Koyal’s Cage by Afreen Gandhi, and Dirty Talk by Shaheen Vaaz.
Read these plays. If a theatre is doing a production, check it out. Or better yet talk producers into bringing these plays to a stage near you!
I didn’t see a production of By the Way, Meet Vera Stark by Lynn Nottage but reading it for my class—Rehearsing the Impossible: Black women playwrights interrupting the Master Narrative—was a real treat. Nottage makes the invisible mind-control of the stories we see, live, and act in visible and she has a laugh-out-loud, good time recalibrating our narrative landscape.
One of the best shows of the year on the east coast of the USA was the blood moon or total super moon eclipse on September 27, 2015. Nothing like standing in the dark and watching the celestial bodies line up.
Other highlights of the year include:
Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon by Kim Zetter. Stuxnet and binge-watching three seasons of Person of Interest—cyber horror to read/watch when you can’t sleep.
Steeplejack by A. J. Hartley-- a YA debut novel offering murder, mystery, romance, and political intrigue in a fresh landscape that riffs on South Africa’s multicultural history.
Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World by Naomi S. Baron -- Another book that kept me company during sleepless nights.
Stories for Chip edited by Nisi Shawl and Bill Campbell. This is a breathtaking, whirlwind tour of the mythic, science fictional landscape that Samuel Delaney has engendered.
Watching the same screen at the same time, we all see a different movie. I delighted in this while watching Mad Max Fury Road. Director George Miller, and performers Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy had some folks fussing about THE FEMINIST TAKEOVER. Not me. Let the feminists take over. Chi-Raq, Spike Lee’s anti-gun, anti-violence riff on Aristophanes’ satire Lysistrata, wasn’t “real” enough for some folks who proclaimed that satire won’t “stop the bullets.” Hey, neither does realism stop the bullets. But I certainly was inspired by the screen images of women in Chicago and all over the world from West Africa to Denmark, Japan, India, and Brazil refusing to have sex with men until they quit their violent ways. No Peace, No Piece.
Spike Lee references Nobel Prize winner Leymah Roberta Gbowee and women in Liberia who worked across ethnic and religious divides to end civil war in Liberia. Women using collective power and sex strikes to challenge male violence and tyranny has a long tradition in West Africa. Igbo women in Nigeria call it ogu ndem—sitting on a man or women’s war. How real is that? 
Realism is just what you’re willing to believe. Hooray to the artists who make me believe in tomorrow. Imagination to the rescue!

Andrea Hairston is the Artistic Director of Chrysalis Theatre and has created original productions with music, dance, and masks for over thirty years. She is also the Louise Wolff Kahn 1931 Professor of Theatre and Afro-American Studies at Smith College. Her first novel from Aqueduct Press, Mindscape, won the Carl Brandon Parallax Award and was shortlisted for the Phillip K Dick Award and the Tiptree Award. Her second novel, Redwood and Wildfire, published by Aqueduct in 2012, won the James Tiptree Jr. Award as well as the Carl Brandon Kindred Award. Aqueduct released Lonely Stardust: Two Plays, a Speech, and Eight Essays, last year and will be publishing her new novel, Will Do Magic for Small Change in Spring 2016.

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