Huey the Transformer
I had the good fortune to see A Huey P. Newton Story for the second and, in a strange way, the first time. I had seen the production with a well-behaved, enthusiastic, adult audience and was hugely impressed with Roger Guenveur Smith's skill as actor and creator.
But when I saw the piece with an audience of 180 high school students, I had an epiphany. I knew the experience was going to be different when I was approached in the elevator by the bravest of four students, who asked, "Ma'am" -- yes, I felt old -- "is this one of those plays where they turn off all the lights?" I explained about the lights; she and her friends were amazed.
Later, Antigone Trimis of Magic Theatre asked how many had seen a play before. Faced with a bare handful of hands, she explained that a play is different from a movie because it happens live, right in front of them. She went on to say that a play is different every time because each audience makes it different. "The more attention you pay," Trimis said, "the better the play will be." The lights dimmed, the play began, and at the first rhetorical question, kids in the audience called out answers. This was no conventionally behaved audience. These were people who took seriously Trimis' promise that they could make the play different.
I spoke with Smith after the performance. "What was it like," I asked, "when you heard those answers?"
"My first thought was, 'Oh my God,' " Smith replied. "My second was that I had to use it. Once I made the decision to ask more questions, I just let it happen." The result was electrifying. Smith, with his questions, and the students, with their answers, made it a better play, an interactive experience. The students were more than entertained; they were involved both in the actor's performance and the character's struggle to communicate his message. Once again, theater, with its in-the-moment immediacy, transformed. If you missed Huey at the Magic, you can see it in Oakland at the Laney College Theatre. Call 441-8822.
Lemonade From Lemons
There are so many joys for those who devote their lives to the arts -- low pay, no pay, no insurance, and, of course, no possibility of building up one of those delightful nest eggs to tide them over during catastrophic illnesses. The Lemonade Fund of Theater Bay Area gives cash grants to theater workers in need, money that can be a real help to someone dealing with a disabling accident or debilitating disease. If you have seen a play this past year that moved you or entertained you or made you think, send something (I mean money) to the fund. The donations are tax-deductible; call 957-1557 for information.