Ensemble Blog #5 – Headlines & Baselines (Honolulu)

Ensemble Blog #5 – Headlines & Baselines (Honolulu)

For each tour city where Progress Theatre travels to perform, one of our ensemble members uses this blog to reflect on new insights, discoveries, questions and conversations we encounter as we engage with audiences and communities across the country. We share this “Ensemble Blog” as another way of following the tour, continuing the post-show dialogues often started with our audiences, and mapping our journeys “in progress”–literally and figuratively.

“Headlines & Baselines”

HEADLINE #1: Being the Technical Director for Progress Theatre, I’m afforded the opportunity of observation in a different way than the performers in the Ensemble. During residencies, if I’m not coordinating lighting, sound or other technical matters, I have the pleasure to see how the work of PT affects communities during workshops, shows and talkbacks and to take in the big picture of the environment we live in while in residence.

BASELINE #1: As the character Broadcast in The Burnin’ would put it, in this blog I want to “Get past the headline and into the baseline.” My baseline: I’m angry. As a young, Black male, twenty-two years of age: I’m livid. Injustice,inequality, prejudice, ignorance, colonization, passivism, White Privilege, subpar public education, stereotypes, bigotry and racism make me angry. This blog is about my observations, feelings, emotions, insights and explorations in continuing to understand my country, this world, my ancestry and OUR history.

HEADLINE #2: I had some great experience in Hawaii and during the residency, artistically and spiritually. In a land as beautiful as Hawaii and an estate as stunning as Doris Duke’s Shangri La Center for Islamic Arts and Culture, one can’t help but examine his/her place in life and connection with the Most High. I enjoyed learning more about Doris Duke and more about Islamic art. A spiritual highlight for me was wanting to revisit and learn more about my own spiritual practices after taking a tour of Shangri La. There were several phrases engraved in walls and doorways through the museum written in Arabic. Dr. Truscott, our artistic director, was able to translate the words for us. One of the phrases that stood out to me was Bismillah. She told us that Bismillah means “In the name of God” and is said before each prayer in the Muslim faith and even before any various activities during the day to be reminded of connection one’s actions to God. I was inspired to see Bismillah and other reminders throughout the home at Shangri La and it reminded me of my own spiritual practices and faith. It was a much needed reminder and a beautiful glimpse into another faith. An artistic highlight for me was PT’s collaborative high school workshop with the Sound Shop program at Honolulu Museum of Art. The weight of the students words and the works of art that they produced through their collaboration with each other, the moderators of the workshop and PT displayed consciousness, critical thinking, desire, readiness, excitement and brilliance. I have to give props to my brother Derrick Brent who made these kids shine during a warm-up and Tiana Johnson who was a superhero in helping the groups develop their own originality and ideas for their final performances. The results of the workshop were glorious in my eyes.

BASELINE #2: Being in an environment different from my own reminds me of who I am. In good ways and in difficult ways. I learned that the Hawaiian Renaissance was partially influenced by African American culture in way of music and resistance while having lunch with Navid Najafi, one of the artists who ran the workshop. He explained that hip hop was a vessel used to to do their work as activists. After this introduction to the subject, I was intrigued, I went online and found more information connecting the inspiration of the renaissance to the civil rights movement of the sixties. I was proud and reminded of the struggle of my people that helps me exist the way I exist today. The reminder makes me grateful. But, being in Hawaii also helped me to see the world from yet another perspective in learning some of its history. When I see people of color as the majority population in a specific environment in America, I’m always curious about the story behind the community. The histories are always different, most times under-told, but vital to our story as people with shared histories that are full of omission. I learned that Hawaii was annexed in 1898 as a US territory and granted statehood in 1959. The takeover of the state was hostile, leaving heavy casualties of the Native peoples of Hawaii who are now only ten percent of the population in their home according to the 2010 Census. What hurts about this, for me, is that there was yet another Native people that I didn’t learn about in school who had their home occupied and colonized. Why wasn’t this a part of my U.S. History lessons? Every day that I live as a person of color, I learn more and more of the injustices that have happened and are still happening to other peoples of color. Because of these injustices, one of my life’s missions is to continue devoting my time, conversations and energies to causes for the advancement of all people and learning diverse histories.


HEADLINE #3: In the midst of my mind’s processing all of this new information, there was beauty and peace in the nature of Hawaii and the art of theatre. But, all of that can be Googled. My praise for Hawaii as a tourist won’t be much different than the ones you can read at the bottom of Google Maps. Having hiked and stood atop Diamond Head in O’ahu, able to see the vastness of the sea and lush of the island, I was reminding that we are all but grains of sand in the grand scheme of things. It makes me grateful to exist in this miracle.

BASELINE #3: The thing I’ve come to most admire about the nature of Hawaii is the trees. Every other tree in Hawaii on the island of O’ahu is different. It’s beautiful. Hawaii has a climate that is able to sustain and nurture a plethora of trees. That is amazing to me. My wish is that we create a social atmosphere that mirrors Hawaii’s diverse landscape of trees. That we can one day create a space in our country where people of all races, religions and cultures can thrive and flourish in society, where people can be unhindered from advancement in any aspect of life. But, there is so much more to this conversation. There is work to be done. Let’s keep working to “Get past the headlines and into the baseline.”

Read Daniel’s Bio here.

⇐⇐ Read Ensemble Blog #4: “Sankofa” by Tiana

Read Ensemble Blog #6: “Teach’em & Watch’em” by Derrick ⇒⇒

Progress Theatre

March 30th, 2016

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