Wednesday, January 30, 2008

KQED Spark Feature

Mark your calendars! KQED will be airing a special Spark episode that goes behind the scenes of Blood Knot at 7:30 p.m. on February 6, 2008.

The Spark team spent time interviewing Charles Randolph-Wright and Tracy Chapman about the challenges they face working on this play. They also captured exclusive rehearsal footage with Steven and Jack.

Watch a preview of the Spark episode online (Real Player is required), and click here to check out all of the upcoming air dates.

UPDATE: The entire Blood Knot feature from the Spark episode can now be streamed online on the KQED website. Make sure you have Real Player installed on your computer so that you can watch the video.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

PBS website about race in society, science, and history

The publications department at A.C.T. provided a great link to the 2003 PBS documentary Race: The Power of an Illusion.

Visit the website: Race: The Power of an Illusion

This interactive site contains a slew of fascinating materials including articles, quick facts about race, and a comprehensive collection of research materials.

Many of the questions raised on the website are the same questions our actors and artistic team will be contemplating as they work on bringing Blood Knot to life on the A.C.T. stage.

Stay tuned for more...

Blood Knot rehearsals underway

Yesterday we had the wonderful opportunity to welcome Charles Randolph-Wright, Tracy Chapman, and the cast and artistic staff of Blood Knot to A.C.T.

At our meet and greet, Carey Perloff gave Charles a very warm welcome back (he previously directed Insurrection: Holding History, Tartuffe, and Blithe Spirit at A.C.T.) and he proceeded to share many of his thoughts about directing this challenging play. He also introduced the lovely Tracy Chapman, multi-talented songwriter and performer, who will be composing original music for this production of Blood Knot. In addition, we got to see a special sneak peak of the costume sketches and set design concepts.

Core company actors Steven Anthony Jones and Jack Willis are now in rehearsal and preparing for Blood Knot to open on February 8, but they will continue to share their thoughts here about the show and their trip to South Africa last year.

Be sure to visit to read more about the cast and the show!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A trip through time and space

I am trying to fully understand the trip Jack and I just took, the people, the places, the events, past and present. It encompasses so much, the details of it are overwhelming. Just traveling from Oakland, California to Cape Town, South Africa is a monumental task. You are literally moving through space and time and you feel the enormous weight of them both as you make that trip. It was as if we moved from the here and now of our lives in America through space not just to another spot on the globe, but to another time, another era.

The effect of so much of what South Africa was is still present, you can see, hear, smell, and touch and be touched by it. I know that every place holds its history. If it is not immediately evident, with a little digging it can be revealed. But in South Africa all one needs to do is turn a corner, glance out a window, or look into the eyes of the person you just asked for directions and you can feel the weight of the past pressing in on the present. The present is such a fragile thing, and so many people must work so hard to make sure the past remains in the past. Navigating the present and mapping the future are serious endeavors that are not taken for granted, because every moment in the present is so delicate, so valuable, so precious. We don't have that sense of time here, we walk over, around, and through our history as though it never happened. So many of us take today for granted and assume the arrival of tomorrow without reflection and only a little worry about those things that matter the least. As we go about our daily lives, as we move through space and time ignoring the weight of our collective past and indifferent to the fragility of the present, we are putting off a task that only grows larger the longer it is ignored.

The Blood Knot is a journey through space and time, it began with our trip to Cape Town, South Africa. Right now I am not sure where it will lead or when it will end, but I look forward to the rest of the journey.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

And many MANY thanks

At this time, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to everyone who made this remarkable trip possible. This trip was an extraordinary gift that is rarely afforded to stage actors. I hope we'll do you proud.

Thank you to the funders who trusted us and believed in our intensions and the significance of this trip in creating our BLOOD KNOT.

Thank you to everybody at A.C.T. who worked so hard on the logistics of this trip.

Thank you, SAJ, for being such a great companion. Our journey has just begun.

And especially, everyone in Cape Town who guided us, taught us, and shared your communities, homes, stories, spirits and humanity with us so generously - THANK YOU! I hope our paths cross somewhere in the future.

I can't wait to share with all of you the photos, videos and voices we collected during our visit (with the help of the A.C.T. IT team, of course).

Next - Prague? ; )



(1) Why is pale better?

(2) Can we forgive? - Others, ourselves?

(3) What is family?

(4) What is blood?

Last Day - September 6, 2006

(1) One more trip to District Six Museum. More time with Noor. He talks about the word, “Boss.” He then points to the sky, and says,”I have only one Boss.”

(2) I pray here more than I have in years.

(3) For the first time, SAJ and I separate. I’m looking for St. George’s Cathedral and walk maybe a mile out of the way. Hopefully I got some great pictures. I am so sweaty and tired and everything is packed so I can’t change. It’s going to be a lovely flight home.

(4) Everyone at the hotel seems genuinely happy to have met us and sad to see us go. It must be SAJ.

(5) Easy drive to the airport.

(6) Great porter helping us with the luggage. He is a 5'6" soccer player from J’burg. This is just his day job.

(7) SAJ really messed up the luggage thing and must repack.

(8) I enjoy this immensely but I stay quiet as a good friend should do.

(9) Found a smoking lounge at the Cape Town Airport but it was closed for renovation. Walked in anyway. Two guys working. They didn’t seem to notice me. And I smoke to my heart’s content.

(10) Take off!

(11) Patches and Nicorette.

(12) Cape Town to London – 12 hours

(13) Heathrow – the biggest mall in the world – Tiffany’s, Herrod’s, Gucci’s etc. It seems obscene.

(14) London to SFO. This last leg of flight seems to take FOREVERRRRR.

(15) There it is, the Golden Gate Bridge. We are back!

(16) Caresa takes me home.

(17) My wife has food, iced tea, and vodka in the freezer. All waiting for me with a love note on each one. She will be home soon.

Family, blood, humanity.

Robben Island - September 5, 2007

(1) Pissing rain and soaked to the skin.

(2) What can you say? I think I’ll just let the recorded testimonies do the talking. You’ll see in here soon.

(3) Tears…but not of sadness. Tears of joy for the human spirit. Forgiveness? Maybe.

(4) Last night here. SAJ, thank you. I love you. You are an easy travel companion. A joy and a challenge.

(5) Quickly buying gifts for family and friends. Using phone card minutes. Packing, watching soccer. Dreading the flight home and 24 hours on the plane.


Robben Island:

Townships-Day 2, September 4, 2007

Townships, Day 2

(1) Waiting for Songs. People going to work. The market across the street already set up. Cabbies waiting for a fare and playing cards using a dumpster as their table. Traffic and pedestrians daring the traffic to hit them.

(2) And once again, a warning to be careful. I know we are old, but do SAJ and I look vulnerable? This is vanity speaking.

(3) Miles of settlements and poor black townships lining the highway. It’s overwhelming. It’s numbing. The highways littered with everything. Garbage and thousands of old tires. Horse drawn carts picking up scrap metal. Songs says it is a common living here. Cages of chickens and women butchering them on the side of the road.

(4) Cape Flats, the area between the Table Mountain and the ocean. It stretches out for miles. One black township with 1.4 million people. Mainly one, sometimes two-room shelters crowded right next to one another – it just seems to go on forever.

(5) It’s so….and I can’t think of another word, numbing.

(6) I tell Songs I need to see the ocean. It is breathtaking. Cape Town is a city with a sea, flat lands, hills that lead to highland vineyards and mountains in the distance. It should be the sister city of San Francisco.

(7) We visit Rodney, also a musician friend of Songs, in the “coloured” township of Bellville South. It’s like a gated community compared to informal settlements or black townships. Kitchen, bath, living room, two bedrooms, garden in front, back yard with a garage and chihuahua that jumps all over the place. It’s the family home and he lives with his parents. Hell, I wouldn’t want to leave home neither.

(8) The disparity of life because of color… tint…hue… the spectrum of the rainbow…

(9) In America, there is this thing called “white guilt.” I experience that. And in South Africa, I think there is this thing called “coloured guilt.”

(10) Coloured, coloured, coloured
Black, black, black
White, white, white

(11) Raymond makes a lovely cup of tea.

(12) Raymond’s house has a wall between the toilet and the bath/bathroom sink. I use the toilet and upon exiting, his mother points out the bathroom door, and says, “wash your hands.” Moms are universal.

(13) Raymond talks about “coloured indifference” and “coloured fear.” He admires blacks. He claims they are fearless. When do generalizations become bigotry, even when they are meant to be compliments?

(14) So many questions about the play are being answered. If not answered, then recognized. SAJ and I are already arguing about who the “good guy” is in the play.

(15) That’s a joke.

(16) Culpability…who is responsible? How far back do we go? What is retribution? What is forgiveness? Can we forgive others? Can we ever forgive ourselves?

(17) Blood, family, blood, humanity.

(18) It seems to me that this play is eternal.

(19) Songs suggests we tip Raymond. I ask should we have tipped Nkululeko? Songs says no, not really.

(20) There is a black woman washing the windows for a coloured family across the street.

(21) SAJ is my brother. I can’t wait till he meets mom back in Kansas.

(22) Lunch at Tiger’s again. Even better! Sitting at the patio when 20 – 25 pale…and I mean Nordic white tourists walk around the corner. SAJ jokes that my presence must have confused them. I get the joke but what am I, but a tourist.

(23) In the play, SAJ’s character talks about the bar he used to frequent before my character’s arrival. SAJ suggests we visit such a bar.

(24) And against my better judgment we head back to Nkululeko’s house and “his” bar next door.

(25) You can’t buy a “single” drink here. You have to buy a bottle. It’s like blue-law dry Kansas.

(26) Well if you gotta buy a bottle, you gotta buy a bottle. When in Rome…

(27) Recording everything

(28) A last drive around and I hope pictures and voice recordings come out. They ARE the record.

(29) At dinner, a 27-year old South African white female bartender claims we have seen more of Cape Town than she has, and she has lived here all her life. Why?

(30) Tired. Still bad TV. And I’m still looking forward to breakfast.

Informal Settlements - September 3, 2007

(1) Songs is our guide. A large African man with a great laugh… Reams of knowledge and the wisdom that seems years beyond his age. Without him, this trip would be meaningless. Thank you, Songs!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(2) Informal settlements…squatters’ land. Lean-to’s, shacks, shanties, made of scrap metals and salvaged woods. Tarred paper roofs held down with old tires. One door and no windows. A communal water well and a common area for washing clothes. Rows of porta-potties that are blocks long. Stray dogs everywhere. Dust, dirt, litter. No electricity. Large campfires for cooking. A dozen cattle being herded down the dirt road on which we are driving. Where do they graze? Even Songs doesn’t know the answer to that. Tables, set up on corners, that sell “smilies”… sheep heads that are roasted and considered a delicacy. I suggest we get one, but SAJ wisely talks me out of it. People sitting and staring. Children moving dirt with their toes as if it is a game. Clothes and bedding hanging on fences that separate these settlements from more affluent townships. A dirt road that separates one settlement from a township area nicknamed “Beverly Hills.” Beverly Hills is a neighborhood in Langa consisting of one – to two-room bungalows. And believe me…compared to the settlement, the name is fitting. Row upon row of these shanties connected by a common wall, because that means one less wall to build. Most times, connected in the back, too, because that means two less walls to build. These settlements are found throughout Cape Town. They have no names. Children are born here.

(3) And yet people smile and wave.

(4) We re-visit the black township of Langa and home to Songs. He takes us to meet Nkululeko, a musician friend of his. Nkululeko is a percussionist and marimba player and this morning he is terribly hungover. Man, artists are the same everywhere.

(5) Nkululeko’s favorite bar is right next door to his house. Cool.

(6) There is a tour bus on Nkululeko’s street. Tourists having lunch at a restaurant there.

(7) Nkululeko plays some of his latest music for us. It is a DVD recorded in Japan. He shows me a picture of his Japanese girlfriend. I show him a picture of my Japanese wife.

(8) Lots of laughs and jokes at each other’s expense. It’s like hanging with Judd and Rene.

(9) Back on the road. The mass transportation system here seems to be all privately owned. Vans and buses pick up people at collection spots in townships and drive them to Cape Town proper or its suburbs.

(10) All public school students wear uniforms. As a child of the 60’s, surprisingly, I like that they do.

(11) I just saw a dog scratching his back on the front bumper of a Volks Wagon.

(12) Langa has a population of little over 170,000. It is the smallest and oldest of all black townships in Cape Town. Songs seems to know every one of those 170,000 people. Waves, yells, honking horns. We are in the capable hands of a rock star.

(13) Lunch at Tiger’s…A long connected 3-room heaven! You buy your meat (lamb, beef, pork, chickens, sausages, and variety types) in the first room, a butcher shop. You then season it with assorted spices. Songs did this for us. You then give this platter of meat to the cook in the second room. And while he is grilling, you proceed to the 3rd room and come to the lounge and an outdoor patio. The patio is a concrete slab facing the street with cars parked about 6 ft away. Order a few beers and wait for the food. Watch Songs greet everyone and introduce us to them. Everyone knows everyone. All are kind and welcoming. A school bell goes off across the street. Then the food comes on a large tin tray with one knife. It is placed on a chair between us, and it’s every man for himself. Grabbing, pulling, tearing the meat apart and tasting the best food I think we had in Cape Town.

(14) And not one vegetable in sight. Not even a lamb-flavored potato chip.

(15) Recording and filming everyone and everything we can. I hope these machines work.

(16) More black townships. Alive with people and activities. Interactive…not just people rushing home to work, to home. Laughter. The joy of a common struggle?

(17) Back at the hotel, and the woman at the front desk seems genuinely shocked that we spent a day in Langa. Crime, gangs, drugs, etc. She is “coloured.”

(18) Terrible television in South Africa. 5 stations and 3 of them show soccer. The other two, old reruns of American soap operas.

(19) Consciously observing is exhausting. Night, night.


Visual tour of the township: