BLACK NATIVITY – A BOSTON CLASSIC
by Kay Bourne
The Child is born. The kings have left their gifts. The gospel choir glides away with candles flickering, only a gilden star, above the stage remains, until a little chorister dashes out, alone. He is awe struck, as are we, who have celebrated the meaning of Christmas through the glories of
Indeed, the annual holiday season offering from the National Center of Afro-American Artists touches the singers and dancers in the show as surely as it inspires us in the audience. The very first ‘baby Jesus,’ who annually is played by a tiny infant kicking happily in the manger, was the son of current lead soloist Vivian Cooley-Collier, who sings ‘No Room’ and ‘Come All Ye Faithful.’
At the time, a single mom with three boys, she was grateful through the ensuing years for an activity that “didn’t give them time to get in trouble; we were involved six days a week. And I believe Black Nativity helped them along the way to make wise choices in life.” Ronald is now a computer analyst; one of her twins is a flight attendant who also teaches yoga and the other is a police officer in Oakland, California.
A number of families, over the years, have found a haven in Black Nativity. Marcus Brooks, son of musician/folklorist Janice Allen Brooks, was in the show many years, first as ‘baby Jesus,’ then in the choirs, and, finally, as a wise man. Now a manager with the franchise Coldstone Creamery overseeing two stores and 30 – 40 employees in the winter (the number jumps to twice that in the summer).
Marcus says “the show started out as a place where my friends were, but as time went on, it taught me discipline. You have to maintain your composure in order to do two shows a day. I learned a lot of skills I’m using now, such as how to meet people, what you say and what you can’t say.” Brooks is also a counselor for the national intervention service ‘Visions’ that helps ease problems in schools and the workplace arising from racism, age-ism and the like.
The Springer-O’Neal family, mother, father and children, are Black Nativity production regulars. Now teenagers, Stephen Korliss and Danique “sometimes grumble when it’s time to start rehearsals,” comments mom, Desiree. “But once it gets underway, they’re excited and ready to go. They help backstage too.” Stephen (senior) has been a percussionist and African drummer for over thirty years. Desiree dances ‘Mary,’ as she has since she was 16. Stephen Korliss also drums and Danique is a singer. Both have been the Baby Jesus. “They are good students and good citizens, and I think some of that is the impact of being in the show. Also in an era where there is so much commercialization of Christmas, ‘Black Nativity’ reminds us of the real meaning of the holiday,” she said.
This 38th annual Black Nativity opened last week and plays weekends through DECEMBER 16 in Converse Hall at Tremont Temple, 88 Tremont Street, downtown Boston next to the Omni Hotel and is easily accessible from both the Park Street and Government Center T stops. Tickets range from $41 – $17.50, and click here for 1/2 price off $41 orchestra tickets, (while supplies last). For more information, visit the website listed below.
THE A.R.T. STAGES A BRILLIANT “NO CHILD”
by Kay Bourne
NILAJA SUN‘s very first theater experience was defining. Her parents took their young daughter to see ‘Fences,’ August Wilson‘s drama reflecting on the American, urban Black experience in the 50′s and his second play to go to Broadway (1987). The family had secured seats in the fifth row. “It was a big deal” remembers the native New Yorker, who grew up on the Lower East Side. An only child born to African American and Puerto Rican parents, Sun was also raised by an Italian stepfather from Brooklyn – “I feel lucky to have been raised in that kind of environment,” she has said, “because it taught me a lot about different types of people.”
At ‘Fences,’ the little girl was electrified by the performances. “It was a stamp on my brain,” she says.
“Mary Alice. Courtney Vance and, of course, James Earl Jones (who won his second Tony for the stunning performance). There was a great amount of passion in all three actors.
“I try to put passion in the work I do, particularly in a piece that has something to say, especially about society,” she said in a phone conversation the night before Thanksgiving.
Such is the case in the brilliantly funny, astounding “NO CHILD. . . ,” Nilaja Sun‘s provocative, one-woman show at the Loeb Drama Center, home to the American Repertory Theatre at 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge. A.R.T. has brought the Obie Award winning production to Cambridge. The Off Broadway success, which continues through DECEMBER 23, was inspired by Sun‘s years of experiences as a teaching artist in New York’s public schools. She, however, does not see herself as a docu-dramatist, but rather creating in the vein of those heartfelt stories of teaching against the odds such as “Lean On Me,” “To Sir With Love,” and “Blackboard Jungle.”
In the 75-minute recreation of a day at the troubled (fictional) Malcolm X High School in the Bronx, where eight armed guards watch over the daily comings and goings of students, Sun morphs into an array of 10th graders, a demure teacher, a no nonsense principal, and a wise custodian. A comparison with Anna Deveavre Smith whose one-woman shows (“Fires In The Mirror;” “Twilight Los Angeles”) blur the line between journalism and theater comes to mind, but Sun rejects that notion. “I don’t go into another world. I’m creating out of nine years of my life and the piece is about my life. Close to my heart.”
The show has also become her life. “I live like a monk,” she says about staying fit to perform the demanding night. “I don’t party,” she said, launching into a daunting portrait of her life style between shows. “I don’t smoke or drink. I do drink lots of water. I get eight to ten hours of sleep a night. I have a ton of herbal drinks for my throat. I pray a lot. I pray for the story to be understood. I pray that people who have lived through this situation or go to these schools or teach in them make their way to the theater and see my story. I try not to have a lot of drama in my personal life.”
Sun also looks forward to doing workshops in local schools; already scheduled are Cambridge Rindge and Latin and the Fenway School. And one of her dearest wishes is that adults will organize groups of teens to come to “No Child. . . “
“Not the easiest thing to do,” she observes but their presence in audiences is important to her. She said that school administrators have not flocked to see the show, but teachers have and she’s often at the theater for an hour or more afterwards talking to them. “They line up to tell me their stories,” she said. “I want to hear every one of them.”
JAZZ COOKS AT HARVARD
by Kay Bourne
Pianist GERI ALLEN‘s residency at Harvard University this weekend reminds me of a cook book that comes in useful for the holidays: ‘Jazz Cooks/ Portraits and Recipes of the Greats’ by Bob Young and Al Stamkus (Stewart Tabori & Chang , New York, 1992).
Readily (and inexpensively) available online, this collection of recipes makes for entertaining reading and some good ideas for what to serve guests or your family.
Allen‘s visit to Harvard, DECEMBER 7 – 8, sponsored by the school’s Department of Music and Office For The Arts, is open to the public. For instance, a discussion with music examples, entitled, “A Musical Conversation with Geri Allen,” the first event of three, was at 4pm Friday afternoon at Lowell Hall (Kirkland and Oxford streets, Cambridge. That night at 8pm, Geri Allen and her trio were in concert at John Knowles Paine Concert Hall.
Saturday night, Allen will be a guest artist with the Harvard Jazz Bands in a tribute to Mary Lou Williams. The music is all originals from William (1910 – 1981) and Allen. Tickets for this concert are $10, students and seniors $8 which are available through the Harvard Box Office, 617-496-2222. The concert is at Lowell Hall, at Kirkland and Oxford Streets.
Allen‘s contribution to the cookbook is a recipe for Cream Cheese and Peach Pie, which she learned to make back home from her mom who got it from her sister. “Just a simple family recipe,” notes Allen with the directions. As with the recipes from jazz greats, Allen‘s comes in a text about her career based on an interview and with a short discography.
Other artists represented in the cookbook who are associated with the Boston area are: sax player Ricky Ford with Bajan Codfish Cakes; sax and clarinetist Phil Woods with Barbeque Sauce DuBois; drummer Roy Haynes with Derby Day Lobster; and pianist James Williams (1951 – 2004) with Elizabeth Williams’ Apple Cobbler. What could be more satisfying than reading about a favorite musician, with one of his or her CDs on, while your kitchen fills with good aromas?
A TREE GROWS IN ROXBURY!
by Kay Bourne
Have you ever thought of growing your own Christmas tree? Urban gardener PATTI MORENO offers some advice in her on-line news letter “Garden Girl/Urban Sustainable Living.” Moreno, a filmmaker, too, and wife of filmmaker Rob Spruill, grows produce outdoors and inside at their Roxbury home at Lambert Avenue on Fort Hill (once home to the late filmmaker Henry Hampton).
Late fall and early winter are great times to plant trees, she writes. Not only do the trees prefer to be planted now, but you can take advantage of the sales at your local nursery. Make it easy on yourself and plant small trees. This way you don’t have to work as hard because you are digging a small hole. Trees are one of the things that reduce carbon in the atmosphere, so let’s plant as many trees as we can!”
This year Moreno pledges to make the holidays more green.” I love having a real tree on Christmas, but I wondered if there was a way to have one without cutting one down,” she writes in her newsletter. “Going through the city, I see piles of Christmas trees for sale. So my idea is to use a potted evergreen tree instead. During the rest of the year, I will keep it pretty well trimmed and fertilized and hopefully use it over and over again.”
Think of it, she’ll have that great piney aroma all year long, too!
The Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra’s ICP Program (Intensive Community Program) invites you to its Annual Holiday Concert on Sunday, DECEMBER 9 at RCC’s Media Arts Center, 6-7:30pm for holiday songs with guest performance by The Boston Children’s Chorus. Free and open to the public, doors open at 5:30pm.
Anthony Williams’ 7th Annual URBAN NUTCRACKER is a celebration of the holiday classic but with an inner-city edge. Set in contemporary Boston, Urban Nutcracker presents a multicultural interpretation of the 19th century fairy tale fusing ballet, swing, hip hop, and urban tap with the classical score of Tchaikovsky and the pulsating beat of Duke Ellington. Starts DECEMBER 8 till the 16th at John Hancock Hall. Tickets $20 – $55, click here for more information.
Artistic Director Donald W. King will lead Black Rep‘s Affiliate Artists in TABANCA, a workshop production that continues to pursue Black Rep’s core aesthetic values of investigating images of race, class, gender and culture in America and across the African Diaspora. Tabanca is a collage of poems, jokes, songs, stories, and ideas exploring the pain that comes from being alienated, silenced, and denied in your own home. Tabanca, comes from a Trinidadian slang word used to describe the pain that comes with loss or heartbreak. Performances: DECEMBER 8 at 8 p.m. ($5 general admission) DECEMBER 9 at 3 p.m. is The People’s Matinee (Pay What You Can). For more info click here.
Enjoy a Boston holiday tradition with the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists’ 38th BLACK NATIVITY in The Tremont Temple, 88 Tremont Street, Downtown Boston, until DECEMBER 16, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Call 617-585-6366 for more information and group discounts. Also limited discounts available through Theatermania.com and www.MayorsHolidaySpecial.com
R A M B A X, MIT Senegalese Drumming Ensemble, Lamine TourÃ© & GROUP SALOUM! perform Saturday, DECEMBER 8 at 8pm, in MIT’s Lobdell Bldg. – 2nd floor, Stratton Student Center, 84 Mass. Ave., Cambridge. Free and open to the public.
The documentary WAR/DANCE screens at Coolidge Corner Theatre till DECEMBER 13. Set in Northern Uganda, a country ravaged by more than two decades of civil war, WAR/DANCE tells the story of Dominic, Rose, and Nancy, three children whose families have been torn apart, their homes destroyed, and who currently reside in a displaced persons camp in Patongo. When they are invited to compete in an annual music and dance festival, their historic journey to their nation’s capital is also an opportunity to regain a part of their childhood and to taste victory for the first time in their lives. Click here for showtimes and tickets.
DEADLINE DECEMBER 12 WGBH LAB Open Call for Submissions! The WGBH Lab and National Black Programming Consortium invite filmmakers and other aspiring media-makers to pitch ideas for video shorts that look at the issue of how we resolve past wrongs, especially around matters of race. One hundred and fifty years after the end of slavery, Americans continue to struggle with the legacy of this history and its impacts on society and on every day life. In our nation, no wide-ranging plan has yet been adopted to acknowledge or redress these actions. The WGBH Lab and the National Black Programming Consortium invite you to pitch us your idea for a video short exploring belonging versus expulsion, anger versus forgiveness, guilt versus reparations. A successful pitch offers a new approach to story telling — we’re looking for a surprising visual style, a fresh genre or a unique voice in your three-minute video story. Selected pitches receive production funding and editorial support. Shorts may be presented in conjunction with WGBH/PBS’s Black History Month programming in February, via broadcast and broadband. We’re also happy to consider completed shorts that address these themes. Click here for more information.
Origin Nile Films presents the independent, Boston-produced film: “KWANZAA WITH THE JONES’“ on Thursday, DECEMBER 20, (one night only) 7:30pm at Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard Street, Brookline. Screenplay by Nicole D. Parker, Directed by Nicole D. Parker and Jibril Haynes. Starring: Alvin Penn Jr., Cayla Johnson, Michael Malcom Davis Jr., Christopher Lee McLaughlin, Mansur, Greg Nutcher, Kenneth McFadden, Shalia Wilson, Morales Hendricks, Daniel Matta and more. For info call 617-304-1625.
KWANZAA CELEBRATION 2007, Thursday, DECEMBER 27 at St. Katharine Drexel Church, (formerly known as St. John/St. Hugh Church), 517 Blue Hill Avenue, Grove Hall. 7-9pm, free and open to the community. Sponsored by State Rep. Gloria Fox, Sister Leah Randolph, Sister DeAma Battle, Brother Frederick Hayes Dance Company, Sister Sophia Hayes-Caldwell. For more info contact State Rep. Gloria Fox at 617-445-6518.