ON THEATRICAL JAZZ
On closing night of The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite I heard the cast wishing each other ‘Happy Opening! I don't know how it started or even if it's a theater tradition new to me. Their well-wishing was appropriate, I do know we were all initiates; our production was deep and transformative and as a company we were not the same as when beginning the rehearsal process eight weeks before. Everyone took a creative leap. At the post show toast I felt literally transparent, a sensation that has happened at other high-water marks in my artistic life where I know I have produced with every ounce of myself all the way down to the marrow, a mixture of euphoria and exhaustion. I am way past words, with only the ability to share grateful tears and heartfelt hugs. Luke Bosco, the actor who played Percy of the Herdsfolk presented me with flowers from the cast offering an oh-so meaningful compliment; “Thank you for introducing me to a world I didn't know existed.”
What is the world Luke was introduced to?
The world that guided our production of The Bacchae and is inspiring a new generation of theater makers is the synergy of Black Feminist Theater practices, the improvisational nature of African Diasporic performance traditions, the understanding of creativity as the essence of spirituality without limitations of dogma and hierarchical control, an honoring of orature in tandem with literature, the assuredness of humanity’s fundamental harmonious relationship with nature and the absolute, unwavering commitment to the sovereignty of the one’s body. This world is best expressed through the jazz aesthetic and thrives as the genre known as Theatrical Jazz.
The vivifying, rapidly evolving, cutting-edge world of Theatrical Jazz defines my career as a theater artist. It is a markedly different than the competitiveness, commercial commodity approach and scarcity mentality generally associated with the professional theater industry. Thanks to Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones’ pioneering explorations in the jazz aesthetic and to the 2015 publication of her groundbreaking book Theatrical Jazz: Performance, Ase and the Power of the Present Moment, I am able to identify myself as an innovator in the jazz aesthetics’ distinguished lineage.
Since our planet has recently turned inside out and upside down with labor pains it’s possible for theater at large to finally catch up with Omi Osun Jones’ stellar scholarship, multifaceted artistic sensibility and plain ‘ole courage to name what has been incredibly impactful although largely invisible because it is the province of Black people and significantly Black women. Responding to the demands of global upheaval, suddenly everyone in the social justice world, education and human capital development is using the techniques and modalities we have been honing underground in our studios and rehearsal rooms for decades. We are experts in navigational tools for designing much-needed new societal systems, our playbooks and cookbooks are tried and tested. I add cookbook alongside the need for a playbook because the jazz aesthetic nourishes on so many levels. Approaching the world of Theatrical Jazz, one must willing to let go, to lose control, lighten up and enter its pages and images and people in exactly the same way engaging with live jazz music demands that you Be Present. When the musicians, actors and dancers hit there’s nowhere to hide so you might as well enjoy being seen and seeing who else is out there on the journey with you.