Flicka’ Flicka’ Burn on Me: Dancing at the Juke Joint with Visiting Multicultural Faculty Sharon Bridgforth

Rob Dieringer is a BFA 4 Theatre Arts Major. His previous work includes Dramaturg for A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare and Hamletmachine by Heiner Mueller, as well as Assistant Director for Electricidad by Luis Alfaro and blood pudding by Sharon Bridgforth. He also served as an Artistic Apprentice at Dad’s Garage Theatre in Atlanta, GA.

The world of blood pudding whisks African dance and Cherokee chants, historical data and abstract poetry, gospel singing and the kinetic keyboard riffs of Alex Hardaway (1/2 of the bluesy-folk, TTS-native band, Adam and Alex Trio) a delicious and utterly satisfying gumbo. Working on this project, I knew I’d often have the opportunity in the rehearsal room to trade my assistant director’s beret for the smart felt fedora of the dramaturg. Having just finished our first tech rehearsal in the Theater Wit, an off-Loop theatre space, I’ve come to realize that the show has taught me more than I expected.

Written and directed by Sharon Bridgforth (Visiting Multicultural faculty/Queen of Soul and Peace) in the “theatrical jazz aesthetic”, blood pudding addresses the history of indigenous and African slaves in Congo Square – located just beyond the old city walls of New Orleans – as they stand against French settlers to reach towards freedom. The play/concert/dance/ritual transcends timeline to course through the memories of the girl who lives both then (early 18th century) and now (2010).

Instead, we witness the birth of jazz in the heat of the fast-and-loose Juke Joint, the French Quarter in the midst of a slave auction, and the modern-day ritual of the Mardi Gras Indians, African Americans who parade through the New Orleans streets in elaborate indigenous garb to commemorate their historic friendship. Time in blood pudding flows along with the mood of the piece. Like jazz music its importance dissolves into almost nothing to only surge up again.

And, to top it all off, there are no characters. Well, not really, at least. There are, in the words of the author, voices. These voices replace the naturalistic influence of psychology (“My character wants ____.”) with the stream-of-consciousness memories of distant ancestors and the personality traits of Yoruban deities.

For the first few weeks of rehearsal, I tried to exert some semblance of continuity on the piece, whether in regard to time, place, or action justification. And then one day, I turned to John Coltrane. After listening to the album twice, I understood everything there is to know. Like the music itself (and indeed the city that gave birth to that music form), blood pudding relies on improvisation, experimentation, and the silencing of the “why” in favor of “try”. My greatest dramaturgical input was to simply be present in the space, trust my intuitions, and treat the attention of others as a sacred gift. Given this, I began to speak from a place of utter truthfulness, and my contribution towards the piece developed.

To tell the story of non-Western people, one must depart from the storytelling traditions of our Western heritage. No Stanislavski here – sorry. In blood pudding, we adopted the belief of time as a continuum from Native American and African religions. We revived the ritual in the theatre, transforming the stage to a living altar on which are born the spirits of way back when. We have woven a landscape that, in keeping the spirit of jazz, will simply wash over the audience. Let it.

blood pudding closed on Halloween after an awe-inspiring six-day run. Sharon will continue to offer classes in the theatrical jazz aesthetic through the Winter and Spring quarters at The Theatre School. For more information on her work, visit http://sharonbridgforth.com/content/.

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