nytheatre.com q&a preview by Tom Block
May 16, 2013
What is your job on this show?
What is your show about?
White Noise follows an African-American painter whose work is based on spiritual themes, as he travels to Detroit for an exhibit of his work. At first calm, mature and erudite, he slowly psychically decomposes as the members of the church art central committee tweak at his interior demons.
What do you do when you’re not working on a play?
I am fortunate in that I have numerous creative outlets, in addition to two children who feed my spirit while robbing my sleep. A mid-career visual artist (I have had more than 100 exhibits around the United States and Europe over the past 20 years), my paintings are an integral facet of my theater productions. The paintings form the backdrop for the stage, adding an unusual visual element, as well as providing clues to the interior, psychic experience of the characters and the play itself. Additionally, I am an author of non-fiction books, which I research and write over several years each. I have also been fortunate in being invited to discuss my art and ideas at universities, conferences and events around the world, in Egypt, Turkey, Ireland, Spain, France and throughout the United States and Canada. All of this information provides fertilizer for the ideas and dialogue in my plays, which are variegated explorations at the frontier between human spiritual aspirations and cold reality. I only began writing plays recently -- my first full-length production took place in Washington DC a year ago -- and I find the collaboration and production experience as the most invigorating artistic outlet I have ever enjoyed.
Why do you do theater (as opposed to film, or TV, or something not in the entertainment field)?
The relationship between the audience and the theatrical production is immediate, vital and can be profound for actors and acted upon alike. I have experienced many public art interactions, from creating permanently installed public visual art to speaking to large audiences, but the energy and excitement of a theatrical production cannot be matched. As I have variously noted, when I have had art shows, I often find myself in a room surrounded by my art, with people standing with their backs to it discussing the quality of the wine. In theater, however, the audience sits riveted, as my multi-media (involving actors, live music, visual art, dance etc.) explorations of human frailty unfold right before their eyes. There's just nothing else like it!
Do you think the audience will talk about your show for 5 minutes, an hour, or way into the wee hours of the night?
One actor referred to my plays as "Rorschach tests." Although I have only had two productions, in both cases audience members have informed me that they were still thinking about the themes, dialogue, relationships etc. for another day or even more. One does not step into one of my theatrical productions looking for answers, or that "ah-ha" moment that defines "riddle art." I dig around in the human unconscious experience with a dental tool (metaphorically speaking, of course), unveiling the bloody innards and then leaving them there on the stage. No putting this mess back together. That is the job of the audience, in their post-show lives, as they integrate what they have seen into their world views and lifestyles.
Which “S” word best describes your show: SMOOTH, SEXY, SMART, SURPRISING?
Hmmmm. There is plenty of sexual tension, but no one has ever accused my work of being sexy (though "sexualized" it most certainly is). "Surprising" would be the word, as I play with theatrical conventions, integrate various artistic media and utilize language and ideas not "courant" in the post-modern aesthetic of theater. So -- let's go with "sexualized" (but not "sexy") and "surprising."
Who are your heroes?
People who will risk everything for what they believe in, provided that what they believe in furthers the cause of humanity. It is this willingness to risk that that brings ideas such as human rights, democracy, social health and other issues to life. Specifically, this includes Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Simone Weil (who appears as a character in this play, by the way), Mansur al-Hallaj, Abraham Abulafia, Meister Eckhart, Moses Maimonides, St. Francis of Assisi, Mitch Snyder, Jackie Robinson and various others who don't come immediately to mind, but are no less heroes for my inability to recall them at this moment.