"And You Were Going to Tell Us When?"
Fall / Winter 2023
While it’s still Fall, technically, here is the Fall edition of my newsletter, which I got up at 4:45 last week and promised myself I'd complete. But then, there it was, the latest script of Ladysitting, formatted by Arden’s fantastic stage manager Alec Ferrell. The week before I’d revised and edited. But I hadn’t gone back to make sure the opening notes and character descriptions reflected thse changes. So, the pre-dawn, pre-dog walk hours went to the play. And Alec, bless him, had to manage yet another draft.
Likely not the last.
And I was going to finish this newsletter when?
My General Tubman, by Theatrical Rights Worldwide: live stage production rights and the paperback script. When The General was shut down in 2020, its publishing life, like other new plays’, went on hold. Thanks to Terry Nolan, Arden’s artistic director, and my agents, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret, and TRW’s Robert Vaughan and Joel Rudzinski!
TRW gives the play legs and a life. My first known reader of the paper script: Misha McDaniel. The former #VoteThatJawn undergraduate youth leader now studies and writes about spec fiction in the UChicago graduate English Department—and will include My General Tubman in her series of essays about how spec narratives interrupt American slavery tropes.
Ladysitting rehearsals starts this week at Arden Theatre, directed by Philadelphia theater legend Zuhairah McGill. Our first two weeks of rehearsal overlap with her run as Rabby at the Wilma's production of Fat Ham. That Pulitzer-winning play was written by James Ijames, who directed My General Tubman!
Here’s the performance schedule and ticket portal, starting with previews January 18th and running until February 25th. A fine director and cast teach so many things. It’s like watching acrobats on a high wire; you see as they fly where the equipment needs adjustment.
My friend, Tina Smith-Brown, author of the novel Fish and Grits, scheduled for reissue next year by Tursulowe Press, and the Letter to My Father workshop, was never particularly interested in opera. Still, she listened as I talked about writing librettos in American Lyric Theater’s Composer-Librettist Development Program. Here she talks about what happens when you open up, with curious generosity, to the passion of a friend.
At sixty-one, sixty-two in January, it feels inconceivable to me that I would still find such pleasure in discovering a copacity for growth, interest, and change that I didn’t realize I still possessed. As a kid I had always imagined that people the age I am now had settled into the earth, planted themselves to await the reaping of their lives: not seeking or sowing anything new. It’s stunning to me, that things that interested me not one bit, like cooking, sewing, or listening to opera are being shaken out of me, like seedlings waiting to be planted anew.
Skipping up and down North Philly sidewalks, with scarred knees from falls against cement, I took in music all day. It burst from windows trying to suck in a cool breeze from a summer heat, or lopsided screen doors that screeched when opened, or booming car radios that rattled the nerves of the old and lightened the hearts of the young. R&B and gospel, lullabies of inner city living, held me in their arms, safe in their rhythmic familiarity. Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and “Living for the City,” The Isley Brothers’ “Harvest for the World,” The Jackson Five’s Christmas Albums, and Marvin’s “Let’s Get it On”—not an operatic solo in the bunch. I was happy, satisfied, clueless, not interested at all in the music that only seemed to play on “rich people’s” record players.
Then, came my time on the board of Art Sanctuary. Our “Hip H’Opera” asked composers chosen by Opera Philadelphia to set the poems of afterschool students, and the soil of familiarity began to shift beneath me. Then hanging out with people who loved different kinds of music, plays, and events that had always felt too far away for me to reach. The earth widened as I discovered that things were closer than I’ve ever dreamed.
The final crack in my surface has come in the form of a friend, a friend who always seems to be reinventing herself: but a librettist? I’m embarrassed to say that before Lorene made the announcement, I had never even heard of librettists. For a solid year, I watched her schlep back and forth between Philly and New York City, on buses or trains, (would have been on bicycle if she’d had to) determined. How could I not wonder: what was so special about this opera stuff? So, I listened, and I grew, because there is no way I would be sitting in the audience of her new opera, Jubilee!, the only one not understanding what is happening. By the time that takes place in 2026 I’ll be ready, because that’s just what friends do. We reap from each others’ newly sown fields, even when we have no idea what they'll produce.
MORE FRIENDS AND FAMILY NEWS & PROJECTS
Family friend from her childhood at her father’s Church of the Advocate in North Philly, Klancy graduated Columbia University and then went to France to master de pâtisserie from Le Cordon Bleu Paris. She's written articles and a book Cooking Solo. But now, she's put her foot in it. For the Culture: Phenomenal Black Women and Femmes in Food: Interviews, Inspiration, and Recipes Cookbook, is nourishment for the mind and soul! Now on The New York Times’ and LA Times’ best cookbooks lists! Need a Christmas or Kwanzaa gift? This book is it!
Students and Assistant Professor of Music Gwendolyn Brown read and sang; singers, alumni, and staff attended, commented, and asked insightful questions; and composer Damien Geter sent a message to singers and their coaches. I told loved ones I intended to submit on November 28th so I could attend Wilma's Black Affinity Night and dance with Zuhairah and the cast. I was going to wake up WND—With No Deadline—on my birthday. Instead, when dear friends and children sent texts on birthday I responded with that photo of the marathon runner soiling himself as he approaches the finish line, which came, for me, on my birthday. Close enough.
And from Kelly Writers House at UPenn, @allikatz has compiled some of her best parent comics into a hilarious book. Simple drawings and honest, dry-witty observations on the absurdities and whacky moments of parenting. Loving, true, self-effacing. My daughter and I stood at the kitchen counter and laughed out loud. Can’t find the book? Follow the IG!
"And You Were Going to Tell Us When?"
America thrills to Black death, especially violent and young. But mainstream culture hardly notices the quiet passing of old Black people. Theater can. Theater can take its time to let human beings act out stories while other human beings sitting round them in the dark can feel--maybe not better, but more. Loving, curious, even merciless, attention is its own memorial. These old, complicated Black lives matter.
Adapted from my memoir of the same title, Ladysitting is my third telling of the story of my grandmother's end-of-life in our home after 99 years of fierce independence. Between those two forms is the short libretto I wrote
Three takes? Sheesh! But it's a Big Question: Is love as strong as death? No, f'rill, f'rill: Is it? Can we make it so, despite fear and the wounds we give each other and the armor we use to protect ourselves? The Bible's Song of Solomon says yes. It tells us to set this very phrase as a seal upon our arms. So I did. @distoart created the art, and daughter Zoë played Mahalia in my ear as @deathbynewyork inked it in. (It also said to set it as a seal upon your heart, but a titty-tatt at this stage? I'ma let that one go...)
Early this fall Theatrical Rights Worldwide (TRW), will take My General Tubman from the stage to the page. Paperback copies, digital—and licensing for theatrical production.
This photo of the gorgeous original Philadelphia cast, directed by Pulitzer-winner James Ijames, was taken on the night COVID shut us down in March 2020. For two years since, I’ve answered queries with raggedy-behind Google Docs. Nada más. Please follow me on social for the pub announcement and to share with friends in the biz and schools!
Or check out TRW Plays in mid-September.
Save the Date:
October 6th, 3pm CT/4pm ET.
Thanks to Fisk University, who will host a reading, featuring Fisk students, of my draft libretto for Jubilee! Damien Geter will compose this Portland Opera commission that connects today’s Fisk Jubilee Singers to the originals: teens and young adults who brought spirituals to the concert stage--and paid for Fisk’s land and Jubilee Hall. Sing Sankofa!
The Little Theater, Fisk U, Nashville, TN
Or follow me @LoreneEmilyCary for ways to view online.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY NEWS & PROJECTS
By Carole Hopson, United Airlines Captain, and my amazing sister! Carole brings to life aviatrix Bessie Coleman. When no one in the US would teach her, Bessie went to France and earned her license in 1921. Proceeds go to Carole's Jet Black Fdtn .
By Tyler James Russell, author, teacher, and former student. He's crafted a taut apocalyptic thriller. Husband and wife were going to break up; now, in alternating chapters, they take us on the road to Anchorage. Hang on!
By Elizabeth L. Silver, author, lawyer, founder of Onward Literary mentoring, and former student. I'm thrilled to be talking with Liz at Kelly Writers House on 10/16 about the new book. An 83-year-old Supreme Court justice does not trust historians, so she tells us her story. Oyez!
By Simone Stolzoff, author, designer, former student, and workplace expert, who once, when I gave a writing prompt and left the classroom, organized a calming sound environment to help his peers focus. Now, he calls out our culture's "fetishization of work"--and asks us to choose life.