Hype Man: A Break Beat Play, At The Wilbury Theatre: Timely,Urgent, So Worth The Hype, I Saw It Twice

26 Nov

Hype Man Wilbury Theatre
Hype Man Wilbury Theatre

Hype Man actors, l to r, Phoenyx Williams, Jeff Hodge, Helena Tafuri, (photo credit: Erin X. Smithers)

I knew I wanted to see Hype Man: A Break Beat Play as soon as I heard about its November run at The Wilbury Theatre Group in Providence. And after seeing the play, I knew I had to write about Hype Man’s timely theme of race, police brutality, and the impact it has on the relationship of the play’s three characters: Pinnacle, the white rapper, played by Jeff Hodge,Verb, Pinnacle’s Hype Man, who is black, and is played by Phoenyx Williams, and Peep One, the woman who creates the group’s beats, played by Helena Tafuri. The play written by break beat poet and playwright, Idris Goodwin, was expertly directed by Don Mays, who allowed each actor to shine in their respective roles.

Verb and Pinnacle grew up together, the best of friends, and bonded further through music, and the formation of their own hip-hop group. Peep is a newer addition to the group, but is vitally important with her attention-grabbing beats. The entire play takes place in the group’s rehearsal studio–save one time the set doubles as a television stage–the spare set consisting of an elevated round platform fitted with a mixing table, a stool, and a microphone. I learned from the play’s director, Don Mays, that the tri-colored, at times overlapping, voice patterns painted on the black walls behind the set, represent the three recorded voice patterns of the actors.

In the opening scene of this one-act play, Verb enters and begins fumbling with the sound system. Pinnacle sneaks up on him, and after a good laugh, and greeting one another with a hug, we learn Verb is just returning to the group after a month-long hiatus for therapy, for what Pinnacle later calls Verb’s “wild behavior.” Peep enters in a rush, and apologizes for being late for rehearsal, sharing there was a police shooting by the highway that slowed her arrival. Verb, looking at his phone, reads that police shot a young black male, 17, named Jerrod. Peep picks up her phone and reads that Jerrod had just gotten the news that his grandmother had taken a turn for the worse in the hospital and was rushing to get to her before it was too late. He was unarmed. He was shot with his hands up while running away from officers.

Sound familiar? It is in this moment we, the audience, are about to witness [Read more…]

On Being Jewish, On Being A Part Of The Tree Of Life

30 Oct

Ridgewood Pool Club. L to R, my Mom, Myrna Kahan, daughers, Nancy and Diane Kahan, Debbie Albert

Me As A Rat (See #10 )

“Mom, some boy called me a kite today!” I told my mother, after walking home from school in third grade. I didn’t understand why he called me that word, but I knew it had to be something mean, because of the tight twisting of his face when he screamed it at me on the school playground.

Right then is when my mother had to teach me the word kike, a derogatory word for Jew. There is some discrepancy on the origin of the word, but some say it was born on Ellis Island when there were Jewish migrants who were also illiterate, or could not use Latin alphabet letters. When asked to sign the entry-forms with the customary “X”, the Jewish immigrants would refuse, because they associated an X with the cross of Christianity. Instead, they drew a circle as their entry-form signatures. The Yiddish word for “circle” is kikel, which got shortened to kike, as a nickname for Jews, and later turned into a derogatory slur. Another story is that German Jews already assimilated in the United States, used kike, a word created from how many Jewish last names ended in ki or ky, as a put down for Eastern European Jews coming to the States, who they saw as inferior to themselves.

It’s four decades later from that day on the playground. But the familiarity of the pain associated at times with being a Jew came back to me this past Saturday when a fellow staff member at work called me over to our hospital unit’s dimly lit tv room to see the breaking news of the murder of eleven Jewish people worshipping at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Numbness was all I could allow myself to feel in that moment. Yet, I was forced to remember there are still people who hate me, who want to see me gone; dead, simply because I am a Jew.

Memories cropped up. Here are 10 times I remembered who I was, was not acceptable. [Read more…]

What Whiteness Does, And Doesn’t Do, Or, Some Things I Learned During The North Smithfield, RI Proposed Nike Ban Resolution

23 Oct

North Smithfield RI Nike Ban
North Smithfield RI Nike Ban

Beauregard’s Nike Ban Resolution

I wish I was an “in the moment” blogger. The kind that writes about a newsworthy event right after it happens and posts it within the same twenty-four hours. But I’m not. I seem to take my time these days, thinking that perhaps letting the dust settle, helps me process, and consider the story worth telling.

On September 17, 2018, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed in order to distract myself from writing, my eyes fixed on a post from a friend telling of a Town Council meeting taking place that evening in Smithfield, Rhode Island.  The Town Council president called the meeting to put forth a resolution “suggesting” the town schools and businesses not purchase Nike products.  In my immediate WTF reaction, I typed in my Facebook status that I would be going to that meeting wearing full Nike gear. I asked if anyone cared to join me. Never mind that I don’t own any Nike. I am not sporty. I also decided years ago to stop buying their goods when I heard of their labor practices employing children, and paying horrible wages. But I knew I needed to show up. I could not let this meeting in the state I now live in go by without being there to protest it.

Smithfield, Rhode Island is a suburban town of about 12,000 residents, and is situated about twenty minutes north of where I live in the diverse city of Providence. Smithfield’s demographics: 96% white residents. John Beauregard, the Town Council president who called for the resolution, is a former State Trooper. He claims working as such gives him a perspective different from the average citizen. Beauregard stated in a news article about the meeting, that he feels Colin Kaepernick has a high disregard toward police officers, and that Nike’s ad featuring Colin’s image, with the tag line: Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything, is insulting to police officers. In his words, Kaepernick has sacrificed nothing, nothing like the sacrifices that police officers make every day, hoping that they’ll make it home safe to their families. Mr. Beauregard, apparently also part of the gaslighting committee in town, is yet another human being who has done the mental gymnastics necessary to turn Colin’s taking a knee in protest of police brutality and racial inequality, into a threat–in this case–to the very fine town of Smithfield. He sees as the natural solution to the worrisome Kaepernick: have the town not buy Nike products endorsed by Colin Kaepernick. But we know better what his resolution implies, right?

I thought I’d be going to the meeting alone that night without any friends saying they’d join me, but shortly before I was about to go, [Read more…]

The Power of Aretha Franklin’s Think

20 Aug

Aretha Franklin Aretha Now
Aretha Franklin Aretha Now

Aretha Franklin

When my daughter Leni was born, like all new babies–in between sleeping, breastfeeding, quiet awake time, and diaper changes–she cried. As a new parent, you do that thing where you try to figure out why they are crying. Is she hungry? Is she tired? Is she gassy? Is she…? But most of all, especially when you are running on little sleep, and you are stressed because you know you don’t know, you just want your baby to stop crying.

No longer married now, my husband at that time, Tim, had bought for me, the 1968 Aretha Franklin cd, Aretha Now. If my memory is correct, he got it for me because it was classic soul, and as a fine artist and furniture-maker,  he believed the history, the context, and the classic, best examples of an art form, were highly important. That they gave us the foundation necessary for appreciating and understanding a work of art. I have mostly always listened to more mainstream popular r & b, soul, funk, and hip-hop. The Aretha Now cd, if I’m not mistaken, was to both upgrade my listening ear, and I even think it was intended for Leni, to from the very beginning of her new life, know what real, best-of-the-best music is. Some babies got Baby Mozart cd’s. Our baby, Leni, got the Queen Mother Of Soul.

On one of those crying moments in the cramped living room of our one-bedroom apartment in New York City, tripping over Leni’s Boppy pillow, I put Aretha Now into the cd player and pressed play. I picked up Leni from her floor seat, and held her close. I rubbed her back to try and get her to calm down. Aretha’s Think came on.

Leni stopped crying instantly. She let her body loosen. Her gaze became alert.

She knew. She knew Aretha’s voice commanded her attention. That all would be all right. That she was in the presence of something beyond explanation. She didn’t need to cry any more. And it was like one of those funny baby videos that you watch and they show the baby crying until the parent makes some kind of funny face, and then the baby immediately stops crying, but just as quickly starts crying again when the parent stops making the face, and then calms again with the face making, and so on. Leni, if she wasn’t fully calmed down, would cry as soon as Think was over, and so we simply played it again. And again. On numerous crying occasions.

And as I danced around the room with my Leni, who is eighteen now and about to leave home for her first year of college, there was nothing to trip over. My dazed, sleepless state, erased, I  floated, elevated by joy.

Rest easy, Queen Mother Of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Thank you for the extraordinary gift you bestowed upon all of us on this entire planet.







Photo credit: Rhino.com


Every Day, Chip Away At De-Centering Whiteness

8 Aug

decentering whiteness

I really want to say, take big chunks; take a sledge hammer and demo away at that center.  But, I know de-centering whiteness will take time. As I vision in my head another dimension of existence that we have not yet lived here in the United States, as I imagine our world without “white culture” as the norm, or center, two aspects of centered whiteness come to mind:

First is the unconscious existence of white people to not notice that we are at the center of everything in this country. Yet, we engineered it to be so. Because of that we have the luxury to not notice that we can move through this world so fluidly. We can take for granted, and we do, how easily we can live where we want to live, work where we want to work, go to school where we want to go to school, and spend our leisure time where we want to. And, for the most part, we can do all of this surrounded by mostly other white people. We can live, work, and play in mostly white spaces where we feel comfortable surrounded by people who look like us. And our museums, and movies, and our news channels, will reflect all of this back to us, and tell us that our existence this way is real, and it is good. It is our normal.

The second is the centering of whiteness in order to [Read more…]

If I Die And Come Back As A White Man, I Want To Come Back As Anthony Bourdain

19 Jun

Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain Eating in Hue Vietnamphoto credit: David S. Holloway/CNN

If I die and come back as a white man, I want to come back as Anthony Bourdain.

Since the June 8th death, a suicide, at age 61 of the famed chef, author and host of the popular television show, Parts Unknown, there has been an outpouring of love for this man. Out of all the news bits, social media articles, and postings from friends, every single comment has been positive. Every. Single. One. People loved Anthony Bourdain so, so much. Whether Black, White, Latino, Asian–whatever race, ethnicity, gender–everyone loved him. But I don’t want to come back as him because I want everyone to love me even though I do want everyone to love me and am too much of a people pleaser because of that, but that’s for my therapy sessions, not you all. I want to come back as Anthony Bourdain for the [Read more…]

The 10th Annual Black Lavender Experience At Brown University’s Rites and Reason Theatre

11 May

The Pink Dress
Travis Alabanza Black Lavender Experience

Travis Alabanza, The Black Lavender Experience

In April I went to two performances at Brown University’s Rites and Reason Theatre. The shows were part of the theater’s 10th annual Black Lavender Experience, a series of plays, folkthoughts (post-performance talks), and workshops, led by nationally and internationally recognized artists of color from the LGBTQ community. The Department of Africana Studies’ Rites and Reason Theatre is a research and developmental theatre dedicated to giving expression to the diverse cultures and traditions of continental and diasporic Africans and the vast Africana experience. Artistic Director of Rites and Reason Theatre, Elmo Terry-Morgan created the Black Lavender Experience in the spring semester of 1998 in response to students’ request for plays with Black LGBTQ+ content.

The Pink Dress

The first play I attended, The Pink Dress, was written and originally performed by members of the drama club at  Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women’s (LCIW).   The Black Lavender production was performed by local actresses, who were either students currently involved with, or alumni of, Brown University’s Rites and Reason Theatre. The actresses were Anna Hunt, April Brown, Elyssa Perez, Sylvia Ann Soares, Weitong Zhang, and Uchechukwu Onwunaka. Rites and Reason Director-in-Residence, Connie Crawford, directed this production. The play’s title refers to a pink sheath that prison staff used as punishment for women prisoners who presented themselves in a “too masculine way” by altering their state issued uniform: an oversize T-shirt, baggy jeans, and sneakers. The thought was that to wear the sheer, shapeless dress through which your undergarments could be seen,would shame and humiliate the women.

The play, a series of vignettes, celebrated the features and parts of  a woman’s body through word and movement, and was originally directed and choreographed by Ausettua Amor Amankum and Kathy Randels, co-directors of the Drama Club at the LCIW. Odes to their hips, hands, and feet, were akin to a poetic dance celebrating both womanhood and sisterhood. The play’s latter act took place in a dress shop named, “Pinky’s Boutique,” and highlighted the self-doubt a gender non-conforming ex-prisoner faced when looking for work at the shop post prison-release. Actresses posing as mannequins wearing paper doll cut-out tabbed pink dresses, came alive to first, mock, and then empathize with the woman. Is was as if they too, seemed constricted by their roles as mannequins being told what to wear, and how to perform their roles. After facing discrimination for her manner of dress from a co-worker, the woman finds acceptance with the shop’s owner, who focuses on the woman’s strengths instead of her attire preferences and prison record. With the recognition of her humanity, we see the woman’s belief in self begin to grow.

We learned during the folkthought talk, that the vignettes were inspired by [Read more…]

Wake Up And Change The Racism, (insert: White) People!

23 Apr

Rashon Nelson, Donte Peterson
Rashon Nelson, Donte Peterson

Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson

I almost used the cliché title of: Wake Up And Smell The Coffee, People, but that’s weak. Like, instant coffee weak. But enough with the clichés and play on words, as I reflect on what happened in the Philadelphia Starbucks last week, and if you don’t know, then you do need to wake up.

Two young real estate entrepreneurs, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, went to a Starbucks in the well-to-do Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia to meet with business colleague, Andrew Yaffe, to talk about a deal they all were working on together. While waiting for Yaffe, who happens to be white, to arrive, the two men were deemed suspicious by [Read more…]

It’s Been 2 Years, Since You Left Us, And Still…Nothing Compares 2 U, Prince

21 Apr

Wearing my Prince t-shirt today, and listening to The Current app (get it!) that a friend shared with me. It’s a Minneapolis NPR music station,and inside the app, there is a station called The Purple Current, which explores the musical universe of Prince. Today they are playing all Prince for a straight 24-hours, in remembrance of the 2nd anniversary of his passing.

Still missed by millions around the world, perhaps we all can take a pause and pay our respects, in a way that feels right to each one of us. If you’re looking for suggestions:


Download The Current app, and click on The Purple Current station:




Wear something purple <3


Read my tribute to Prince, first posted at the time of his passing:

Nothing Compares 2 Prince


Watch this beautiful video of never before seen rehearsal footage from 1984 which just surfaced yesterday of Prince’s first recording of Nothing Compares 2 U. Something so special about seeing an artist in their early days. Of course, Prince already shines his otherworldly brightness and genius here:





Finally, just go dance your royal Purple ass off today. The Purple Highness would surely appreciate it. <3




www.youtube.com, Prince, Nothing Compares 2 U

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. Always and Forever

10 Apr

In honor of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. who was taken from us 50 years ago. All I can say is this:

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.











50 years

like yesterday

motel. balcony. sky.

remembrance of reading book

was it elementary school when

I turned pages

got queasy from

birds-eye view of crew cut

blond bristles exposing pale skull

eye glasses, gun rising

hands up don’t shoot

didn’t see it coming

except night before

you intimated

we’d have to

go on without you

but how

when you led us

mountaintop full of hope


thine eyes have

seen the glory


grateful, reverent

reverend king

dream not deferred


what would you preach today

what salve soothes

seeing arms not linked, but

not german shepherds

hoses spraying in selma, but

hands up don’t shoot


instead: teargas, tanks, rubber bullets

over ferguson

bodies of young men,

boys, women

falling from balconies

armed with dreams

of living while

walking while black

dreams of

not being

pulled over

felled not by

officers with dogs

but officers with real bullets

now you have birds-eye view

you see the voices of

the unheard

rise up

once again

you see fannie

pass the baton to

alicia, patrisse, opal

you see your principles

in action in streets

across this make

america great again nation

and see the jail letter

still holds water

salt water tears

stream down cheeks

us missing you martin

live on everlasting promise of

promised land

I promised you

I wouldn’t forget

and told my daughters

to promise

to remember

when they march

the streets

arms linked

with fellow students

so that one day

your dream for them

comes true


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