Monday, November 1, 2010

Congratulations to our Cast and Crew for a Great Run!

Area Boy Cast

Ali Yalgin                                   Judge/Cyclist/Miseyi’s Father
Colby Johnson                            Area Two-Four/Accused/ADC/Soldier/Prisoner
Andy Chu                                   Trader
Afftene Taylor                             Barber
Jennifer Blocker                          Mama Put
Bailey Parks                               Boyko
Conrad Haynes                           Big Man Shopper/Minstrel/Military Officer/
                                                      Conductor/Band Leader
Kimberly Goffe                           Girl/Miseyi’s Attendant/Another Witness
Brycen McCrary                          Sanda
Kyler Griffin                                Parking Attendant/Woman/Prisoner/MC
Julian Spector                             Foreigner/Prisoner 1/Soldier/Chief Kingboli
Yavuz  Acikalin                           Victim/Prisoner 2/Soldier 1/Bridegroom
Neha Sharma                              Mother of the Day/Police/Prisoner/Newsvendor
Faraz Yashar                              Witness/Prisoner/Warder/final Soldier/
     Military Governor
Ritza Calixte                               Shop Worker/Passenger/Prisoner/Miseyi

Director  Jody McAuliffe
Percussionist  Ben Crawford
Set Design  Torry Bend
Costume Design  Sonya Drum
Lighting Design  Roz Fulton
Choreography  Clay Taliaferro
Dramaturg  Nina Billone Prieur
Musical Direction/Arrangement  Todd Hershberger
Video Design  WIlliam Noland
Stage Manager/Sound Board Operator  Don Tucker
Asst. Stage Manager/Video Operator  Merve Tahiroglu
Asst. Stage Manager  Will Sutherland
Asst. Lighting Designer/Light Board Operator  Ophelia Chua

Notes from the Director

JUDGE:  (raises his head slowly to stare, like others) And what is that desolate throng? (The procession continues, seemingly endless.  He seizes a pair of clippers and bangs it thrice on the table, formally.) The witness will answer all questions put to him and address the bench only.  I said, what is that dismal throng?

            Offered the opportunity to work with Wole Soyinka, I chose to direct The Beatification of Area Boy—a play in which the hero pointedly alludes to both Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Brecht’s Mother Courage.  The forced displacement of Maroko residents from their homes in Nigeria, on prime Lagosian real estate, forms the central image of the play.  This violent action provides the galvanizing force in the transformation of the hero from highwayman to hero.  These days, we live in a time of severe displacement and the procession of the dispossessed is our story, too—one that must be told again, here and now, fifteen years after the play was written. 
When I’m working on a new project, sometimes an idea flies in through the window like a bird, or I’m walking down the street and I stub my toe on a stone.  Then I look down and find that the stone is just what I’ve been looking for.  I had just seen William Kentridge’s animated battered humanity on display at MOMA and at the Met in his production of Gogol’s The Nose.  My videographer, William Noland, and I considered going to Nigeria to shoot video for the production, and then to Ghana because the State Department had warned travellers about Nigeria. Then we stubbed our toes on our very own stone: Detroit. 
Noland and I had both seen Andrew Moore’s grand, disturbing photos from Detroit Disassembled in the Times, especially the looming, skeletal, ominous Michigan Central Station.  The magnificent photo of such elegant decay could not overtake the power of the thing itself: a huge empty monument to capitalism run amuck.  We were horrified to discover that the once profitable, now defunct station is owned by a private individual—billionaire Matty Maroun (a name Brecht would have loved)—the very same private individual who owns the bridge from Detroit to Canada.  I could not understand how such lunacy was possible in a major U.S. city.  When a thing like a train station ceases to be profitable, it’s bad business to maintain it, so the owner lets it rot.  When a place like Maroko needs to be destroyed, so that profitable luxury waterfront apartments can be erected, a million people are rendered homeless in a day. 
In the parking lot behind the Duke Literature Program I happened to bump into my colleague Susan Willis.  When I told her I was working on a Lagosian Kaleidoscope, she said I had to check out Rem Koolhaas’ documentary Lagos Wide & Close.  In wide shot, the city is a fantastic kaleidoscope, up close—a hub of tremendous industry and vitality.   In Area Boy, Soyinka gives us a world up close, a world at once Lagos and Detroit.  When I told people I was going to Detroit to shoot, they looked at me as if I were nuts, or worse, deserving of pity.  It was supposed to be a scary and dangerous place, a place that was dying or already dead.  Death might be catching.  On the other hand, our guides in Detroit wanted to make sure we were not planning to make poverty porn.   They needn’t have been concerned.  We were looking for the future, the seeds of it, and we met a version of Soyinka’s hero, Sanda—Hamlet, MacHeath, and Robin Hood rolled into one—in Southwest Detroit, living in Mexicantown. 
What I found in this play was what we found in Detroit: a vibrant community with great food and a lot of fun, artistic innovation, a troubling past that continues to play itself out over and over, and a promise of hope for the future.  Hope for a phoenix rising from the ashes.  On our “toxic tour,” the young people working for Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice told us that if America will be reborn from its rubble it will have to start here—at the Packard Plant that has been standing empty for over fifty years. The troubles in Detroit—like the troubles in Area Boy—didn’t happen overnight.  They’ve been festering for a long time.  When the Judge asks—who is this throng—we are the ones sitting in the witness box. Soyinka demands a response.
It was the best vacation I’d had in years.  

Friday, October 1, 2010

Fine-Tuning Their Instruments

Fine-Tuning Their Instruments

Vocal coach Ellen Hemphill (theater studies faculty) works with the Area Boy cast to get the most out of their voices. They learn to dig deep and throw far as they embody Soyinka's masterful language.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Moving Through Lagos

Moving Through Lagos

A play is filled with movement, and it doesn't just happen. Duke Dance Professor Emeritus Clay Taliaferro works with the cast to help them find their movement mojo. Watch the video to see how it's done.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Who is Wole Soyinka?

It is not a culture of silence. Sometimes, yes, there is stasis, a seeming acquiescence. But, believe me, there is simmering ferment going on all the time. People may be hobbled by the superiour power, the ruthlessness, of a regime like Abacha’s. But… talk to the people who come out from time to time; look at the underground press in Nigeria, the risks they take. They are jailed, they are brutalized by the police, their families are sometimes taken hostage. For me, this is reality, this underground reality. The culture of resistance begins gathering force, sometimes slowly, sometimes suddenly. You never can tell which way it will go.
--Wole Soyinka, interview in American Theatre, 1997

Wole Soyinka is a Nobel Prize winning author and a prominent scholar and activist from Nigeria. He also served as the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the promotion of African culture, human rights, freedom of expression, media, and communication. Throughout his illustrious career, Soyinka has been an advocate for human rights, often at great cost to his own safety. In 1965, he was arrested after supporting the cancellation of rigged elections in Western Nigeria and again in 1967 for his attempts at brokering peace during the Nigerian Civil War. In June of 1993, the military prevented an elected civilian government from taking power, installing instead a puppet civilian who was toppled within weeks by General Sanni Abacha in an obvious pre-arrangement. For speaking out against the dictatorship, Soyinka was forced into exile in 1994 and charged with treason in 1997.

Soyinka wrote The Beatification of Area Boy in the early 1990s and first announced plans for the production to premiere in Lagos in 1994. However, when the dictatorship of Gen. Sanni Abacha forced Soyinka into exile, the production was moved to the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, UK where it was directed by Jude Kelly. On opening night, the Nigerian government announced that nine activists for the Ogoni people would be executed, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, a friend and colleague of Wole Soyinka. Like Soyinka, Saro-Wiwa was a Nigerian author and activist. He was a member of and advocate for the Ogoni people, an ethnic minority who live in Ogoniland, an oil-rich region in Southeastern Nigeria. Both Soyinka and Saro-Wiwa helped to expose the ethnic cleansing of the Ogoni people that was perpetrated by the military dictatorship of General Sanni Abacha. Several weeks later, the execution of Saro-Wiwa and the other activists who came to be known as the Ogoni 9 prompted international outrage at such egregious human rights violations. Soyinka reflects that, “Even though this play was written before the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight Ogoni people, there’s no way anybody would see this play—which involved the military, and takes place in Nigeria—without immediately thinking of this universally traumatizing event”  (American Theatre 27-28). The lighthearted, comic dimensions of The Beatification of Area Boy operate in constant tension and dialogue with the gruesome violence of its context.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The work begins...

On Labor Day, quite fittingly, our work began.  Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka came to the Duke campus to work with the students and creative team on his play The Beatification of Area Boy. The play is rich in history and culture and music and multimedia and comedy. Follow with us as the story of our production unfolds, from the words of the playwright to the behind-the-scenes design to the musical composition to the day-to-day rehearsal process. Lagos, Nigeria is the setting, but is Lagos really so different from countless other cities, both here and abroad? And is the corruption in Lagos unique? Join us to find out...