Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When Things Ain't Right, Go Left.

In the last few years I have tried to live under the motto "If things aren't going right for you, then go to the left." And with that, I embarked upon a rabbit whole which led me to writing plays for the stage--and someday film and television. Many of my dear friends and colleagues in Chicago & NY have always asked me "When are you coming back? Don't you hate LA?? IT'S SO FUCKING EVIL!"

I don't hate Los Angeles.  It hasn't been a perfect ride, but I'm not done here yet.  I may be in the minority, but I like it here. I'm a So-Cal chick. I like my men rich, cars fast, and marijuana organic.

In 2005 I had the foolish notion in my head that I could write a play about a civil war in Liberia.  Though I have not had the great fortune of traveling to the continent of Africa, I wrote Black Diamond: The Years The Locusts Haven Eaten armed with a series of interviews that I conducted, tons of research, collaboration with genius actors & designers and naivete. I just trusted my gut. I was a young writer with a debut play, at a respected theatre in Chicago. If you don't know, Chicago is a hotbed of play making. It's such a terrific city---and the theatre scene is alive and cracking. I cut my teeth there and trained under the tutelage of so many actors, designers, patrons and even critics.  When I graduated university in 98 B.C. I was determined to keep my eyes on the prize.

If you only know the personae of Dr. Slick then you might think she's a person limited to dick jokes and vodka binges. While that is true, there was a time that I was sweet girl.  I dare say, I am still that sweet girl.  Okay maybe not sweet, but trust me--if you're an amazing talent, I'm an easy lay.

 While I was writing Black Diamond there were times I was simply transfixed by the story and the characters. The play was a new work--and I didn't invent a wheel, but it was quite ambitious in its ideas. I had never directed, never written and was freshie Artistic Associate at Lookingglass Theatre.  When I was invited to the company in 2004, I was happy as a piggy in shit. But mostly, I was scared shitless. I was younger than the ensemble (I still am *tosses hair, sucks in waist) and didn't want to see like a remedial talentless dick head and have the invite revoked.  I wanted to create projects, and act in plays but I didn't know how. Gracefully I was given a huge chance with the development of this idea for a play.  Black Diamond kicked my ass. I worked on it non stop (and for the record, I still ain't done working on it.)  While I was writing the play from my 2 room apartment in Venice, I would close my eyes as ask the characters to come and talk to me. I would burn sage and hope that my spirit was open for them to cross over. I invited them to live with me--to guide me.  It may all sound like a bunch of lofty writer back water hogwash, but it's an honest account.

I didn't become a play maker because I thought I had the potential to sit for hours, days, months years to crank out drafts. I didn't start writing plays for praise or accolades. And I sure as fuck ain't doing it for the money.

I simply starting writing plays and directing because deep down inside I've always been a bit odd, and greater than that--I've always had a limitless capacity to imagine things. Atlantis, utopia, figments, mirages, rainbows and fools' paradise has always been sacred to me. When I was a little girl, I would watch my favorite television shows and without really knowing what I was doing--I would write myself onto the shows. I'm not kidding! On Soap, I was Benson's niece who hung with Billy Crystal's JodIE Dallas (yes, even in early childhood--I wanted to be a gay man's girlfriend).  On China Beach, I was a prisoner of war who escaped her confines and fell in love with Michael Beach. And of course on Different Strokes, I was the little gremlin who beat up The Gooch, siphoned Mr. Drummond's riches, and asphyxiated that red headed Jump The Shark creep SAM. *There was nothing good about that little shit.

And it goes beyond pop culture. I would read accounts of the Harlem Renaissance and have the feeling that I understood everything they described.  "I've had a past life there.  A past life where I dressed like an empress, fought for social justice, drank with Langston, Countee and A'lelia and lived life to the fullest."

I've always had a thing for vintage clothes, antiquities and fine dining. Again, I know every other word that comes out of my mouth is pretty fucking rancid, but if you really know me you'll know that I prefer parlors and salons.  I use cloth napkins with every meal.  I often pin curl my hair. Love Carmen McCrae. Prefer classic cinema and cars.  I've spent entire aid checks on first edition books.  High tea warms my soul.  Elocution. Utterance. Manners. These are all topics that I've spent so much time discussing with my dear friend Ellis Foster.

Mr. Ellis Foster was an extra ordinary man.  A veteran of Chicago stage, and film.  At first glance he was a peculiar looking man. Thin, long and piercing eyes.  And on the double take? Baby that buttermilk skin would wear you back! Those eyes--my lord. And his style? A satorialist. Impeccable style to match his acting.

I knew of Ellis Foster for many years. I didn't have the pleasure to meet him until 2006 while holding auditions for Black Diamond.  I had the nerve to ask the casting director to invite him to audition--I didn't think Ellis would. In my mind, why would a duke accept an invite from a freckled faced pauper?  But he did. He came to the audition and I was transfixed again. He was so strange. And beautiful. His voice? I'd never heard such rich tones.  And he was so kind to me. He even thanked me for calling him in.  I wanted to throw a chair at him. It's like when you meet your favorite rock star, and they turn out to be awesome.  The joy is so overwhelming you want to incite a goddamned riot.
In the end--we didn't work together on this project, but I felt like I had finally met my long lost relative.

We kept in touch over the years, and I always kept tabs on him.  Just a few months ago I held auditions for an upcoming production that I will be directing.  Ellis Foster was one of the actors considered for a role in the show. I'll never forget--it was a hot Chicago summer day.  I had a great time in the auditions  witnessing the genius of Chi towns finest talent. These old school brothers (read:blactors) were pulling rabbits out the hat.  They were good--but then, in comes Mr. Ellis.  And let me tell you--he totally snatched the rug from under me. He was fucking great.

The play we were auditioning for is set in 1947.  Some actors dressed in period, some didn't. It was fine for me--it was after all like 100 degrees that day.  But Ellis? He wore this brilliant seer sucker suit, bow tie, walking stick and haberdashery. I could barely pay attention to his audition, because I was so floored by how glorious he looked. My man was cleaner than the board of health.

Don't get it twisted, Ellis could act his ass off. He was a master on that stage.
He was also well versed in proper etiquette. You see in addition to being a fine talent, he taught charm.  The man even tended to natural tresses in exhibitions.  We last spoke sometime this summer on the phone, and made plans to sit for high tea when I returned to Chicago. We had a good time chatting away. Tea time? Yes! I couldn't wait to pick his brain on so many topics. And I couldn't wait to share with him that I was writing a role for him for a television series that I was creating.
All day today, I wrote scenes for the show. And even when I was at working modeling, on the stand I thought about Ellis, alot. It was strange that he was infiltrating my thoughts.  But that's what happens when you create. Your muse can come to you at any time and any place. And you simply pay attention to what he or she says--then you follow their spirit.

I'm writing this tv show. And it IS going to get produced. By the ball sac of Fela Kuti, it will come to pass! That's all I've been thinking as of late.

Again, a goofy kid with big dreams. But I felt like, I could tell Uncle Red that I was setting out to write a tv show--and to get it produced. And that he had inspired one of the characters. I am going to Chicago in 3 weeks, and can't wait to meet for tea. I can't wait to play dressup and for one hour take respite from this sad serious world.

So when I got the phone call today that Ellis--Uncle Red had died, I was outdone. I was light headed. I had just finished a grueling workout at the gym and I sat in that parking lot and wept. Then I popped in my favorite Prince CD and drove as fast as I could. I kept thinking, if I drive fast enough I'll hit a sound barrier and those words "Ellis passed away" won't be true.

I've lost people that I've loved--be it friend, family or colleague. But with Ellis, I felt anger. I felt cheated. It's irrational and it's still raw--but I'm so happy to have met and known this sprite.  But I'm so sad that he is no longer on earth.

One thing is for certain, I have to create this project. I have no idea what will happen with it...but one things for certain. You cannot ignore a muse. So Monsieur Foster, wherever you are---you'd better know that my lace gloves are typing away at the keyboard.  I'm thinking of you. And I'm thanking the gods for you. I can still hear your voice. I'm hurt, but I'm glad that you are no longer in pain. You've made an indelible mark on Chicago Theatre.  And so on behalf of blactors everywhere--we say REST IN POWER.

And I'm still going to prepare tea for us darling. And burn sage--hoping that you will guide me.


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