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Welcome to OpenForum.  We love plays that start a good conversation and there are many ways and places to have that conversation! This is your one-stop place to join in on the discussions going on about all the shows at Forum.

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OpenForum Blog:

An Interview with How We Got On Playwright Idris Goodwin

Posted on October 20, 2014 in Season 11
An Interview with How We Got On playwright Idris Goodwin (@idrisgoodwin)
By Natalie Piegari (@nataliepiegari), Assistant to the Artistic Director Intern

 
 
On November 2nd, Forum Theatre will kickoff our 11th Season with Idris Goodwin's How We Got On. Set to the music of the late 80's rap scene, the play is a coming-of-age story about three suburban kids, Hank, Julian, and Luann and how they navigate tumultuous family relationships, cultural isolation, and the search for authenticity. A sultry DJ re-mixes their lives as they use music to discover and express themselves in places words fail. How We Got On premiered at Actors Theatre of Louisville in the 2012 Humana Festival. Idris Goodwin, playwright, essayist, and spoken word artist, uses his cross-discipline talent to tell this contemporary ode to the roots of rap.
 

Goodwin answered a few questions for us -- and gave us a playlist to get us through 'til opening night. 
 
Natalie: What was the generative idea for How We Got On?

Idris: So I wanted to write something familiar (the coming of age story) in an unfamiliar way. It sprung from the well of my experience. I grew up in Michigan and Illinois. I grew up writing and spouting and recording rap music. I know a lot of people who’re similar. I wanted to write a coming of age story drawn from that experience.

Natalie: Have there been differences in audience reactions around the country?

Idris: More or less, the reaction has been the same from Louisville to Boston to Sacramento folks across all walks of life. The play’s themes and spirit seem to resonate.

Natalie: How did you come to start writing plays?

Idris: I went to film school. I was most interested in the writing part. The actors I was using for my bad student films came from the theatre dept. Theatre parties are way better than film parties so I became friends with a lot of people from that realm. It was a natural progression. I believe I wanted community and nobody does theater unless they really love it. My first play was in a fringe festival in Chicago. A 60, maybe 70 seat house—no budget. I loved every second of it. So I kept doing it. 
 
Natalie: Do you have any strange writing habits?
 
Idris: The way I type is pretty strange. Two fingers. It’s not exactly hunt and peck--I been doing it so long I know where all the keys live—I go pretty fast but it’s just two fingers darting all over the place. Ridiculous. I have tried to learn to type so many times but I think I am a lost cause.

Natalie: What are the essential songs for a How We Got On playlist?

Idris: Well just to get started you gotta have Run Dmc’s "Runs House", Big Daddy Kane "Set it Off", MC Lyte "Paper Thin", Kool G Rap "Road To the Riches", Salt N Pepa "Push It", any and everything from Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions album, "Children’s Story" by Slick Rick, "My Philosophy" by BDP, Eric B and Rakim "Paid in Full"---that oughta get you off to a good start.
 
 
 
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Creativity, Community and Collaboration: The (Re)Acts Series

Posted on September 14, 2014 in Season 11

 

 

 

 

By Natalie Piegari (@nataliepiegari), Assistant to the Artistic Director Intern. 

 

Everyone who has taken a day of acting class knows this: acting is reacting. Listen. Yes, and. 

 

Forum has taken these concepts and transformed them into a mission statement for a series of performances throughout the Season. We call these the (Re)Acts. It is a supportive environment in which to share ideas with a group of diverse, multidiscipline artists. Our goal is to not only reflect the themes within the work of the Season, but also to showcase the beautifully diverse community in which we produce shows. 

Local artists are given prompts based on topics relevant to our upcoming mainstage productions a month or so before the performances. This whets the artistic palate of our audience members, prepping them for the evening of theatre they will see in a few weeks. The (Re)Acts themselves are an assortment of short pieces that range from podcasts to visual art to film. We encourage artists to try a medium with which they are not familiar in order to birth something truly revelatory onstage. 

 

(Re)Acts ask questions: how does one cope in the face of adversity? How do we find home in a city so rapidly changing and gentrifying? Can we ever truly start from nothing? 

These questions were the central idea that led us to choosing the works that make up our mainstage line-up. The thoughts and ideas that we and our artists are most interested in exploring with our audience.

As with everything that Forum does, (Re)Acts start conversations. With your friends, with the person sitting next to you at the theatre, with a stranger months later when a piece flickers back into your mind. 

 

The result is a Season that more fully reflects the thoughts, perspectives and fears of a community. The result is that we have new collaborative relationships with local artists directly. The result is some truly adventurous and inspiring art. 

We ask you to (Re)Act with us.

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Generation R.A.P: Beginnings of a Genre

Posted on September 8, 2014 in Season 11

By Amylia Johnson (@its_amylia), Marketing & Outreach Intern
 

 

 

 

 

Rap is often characterized by and criticized for its harsh words, loud beats, and thuggish persona. But what is rap really? The word “rap” is not a arbitrarily chosen term; the word is an acronym for the phrase “Rhyme and Poetry”: the true essence of the genre. Though marked by violence and sexual references, rap is a melodic and poetic expression of people born in adverse environments. Chanting, storytelling, and smooth flowing melody were the crux of the genre’s conception and growth. 

The genre gained popularity in America during the late 70s and early 80s. When the rap group The Sugarhill Gang reached the Top 40 charts with their song ‘Rappers Delight’ in 1979, the style became more than street performance and underground mix tapes. Artists took on unpopular subjects like racial tension in urban cities, poverty, and violence  and presented their opinions in a loud, unapologetic form of poetry that allowed minority voices to be heard. Rap created a format in which frustrated individuals could finally articulate their thoughts while relating to an audience of people who shared the same reality. The early audience of rap music were young kids and adults who were living in these cities and saw the same harsh truths that rappers would either address or glamorize. Rap artists like Run D.M.C, Public Enemy, 2Live Crew, and N.W.A are just a few of the big names that influenced the direction of rap as a genre and caused a large buzz all across the United States. 

As the audience for rap music grew, so too did the amount of young people wanting to become part of the movement. Artists sprang up all around the cities and even in suburbia. In the play How We Got On, three kids from a suburban town known as the Hill each have dreams of rap stardom. They watch shows like Yo! MTV Raps and participate in rap battles while in the pursuit of a career in rap music. For them, rap is an escape and a blessing to which they feel a deep connection. Because they are in suburbia, their parents and others around them fail to understand their passion. Despite this, they create music and long to find their own voices. The City and the stories of rap stars serve as an ideal place world that they all want to be a part of.

Rap music, filled with imagery of trendy clothes, wealth, and sex painted a grandiose picture that listeners either loved or hated. The marriage of confidence, aggression and talent is what fledgling performers tried to create. Emulating famous rap stars and their lives serves to motivate as well as dishearten the young high school students in this play. Through this they learn about the values of courage and determination. 

Join Hank, Julian, and Luann as they navigate tumultuous family relationships, cultural isolation, and the search for authenticity in The Hill. 

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Unravel and Reveal: Mental Illness in Season 10

Posted on August 12, 2014 in Season 10

Written by Natalie Piegari (@nataliepiegari), Assistant to the Artistic Director Intern. 

 

 

 

 

In Season 10, Forum brought to the foreground a series of plays dealing with suicide and mental illness. Steve Yockey’s Pluto, Steve Gurgis’ Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Aditi Kapil’s Agnes Under the Big Top and Johnna Adams’ Gidion’s Knot -- all of these share stories of people who commit suicide - the outlier being Anu Yadav’s Meena’s Dream. 

This was by grim happenstance -- none of the plays held mental illness as a primary issue and none were picked specifically because of this shared topic. Other issues took the spotlight: immigration, gun control, healthcare. 

This tells us several things: there is growing interest in mental health and lack thereof. That there is an awareness of the steady and horrifying suicide rates in this country. There is a need to share questions with society at large, hoping for an answer. Artists of all disciplines have always been drawn to darkness, and these plays are no exception. 

Add to that Forum’s dedication to unraveling and revealing the heart of the human condition and it has been quite the season. 

The Season 10 plays are not the first plays in the theatrical canon to deal with this topic. Drama loves mental illness, loves insanity - to be colloquial -- loves “craziness.” It is an excuse to write characters who exist in a heightened sense of reality. But what we see onstage is so often not the case. Many people dealing with mental illness suffer quietly, struggling in stillness. Unsure of what they are even experiencing when they feel too sad to get out of bed. Or that terrible empty loneliness, or the rage that builds hot in the chest. There is a vicious stigma - self, structural, and social - against those with mental illness that runs deep in the veins of our society. As such, it is important to present these quieter stories and conversations onstage as well. Mental illness is challenging to talk about and so people often simply don’t. Not so with the plays of Season 10. 

In Gurgis’ Judas, there is a discussion of the issue with Dr. Sigmund Freud. In it, Freud concludes that one who commits suicide must necessarily have a proclivity for mental illness. The audience is thrown this question in regard to the titular Judas, who hung himself from an olive branch. The man lands in a purgatory of his own creation, for he cannot forgive himself for his crimes - against Jesus and himself. Pluto’s Bailey is silent until he is not. Agnes hides her children in her beautiful stories until she herself starts to believe them and ends her life before her cancer does.  Gidion of Gidion’s Knot is trapped in a mire of unknown origin. 

What is important about the Season 10 shows is that the characters are treated as individual cases, rather than speaking for an illness as a whole. These plays offer little windows into the hearts of these characters. These plays neither martyr them nor demonize them for their actions but simply offer up questions to the audience that they can answer for themselves. 

Or, perhaps for some of our audience members, they provide a reflection in that theatrical mirror: you’re not alone. You are not alone. 

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK
Washington, DC Suicide Hotline: (703) 527-4077

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

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Untying Gidion's Knot: Part 4

Posted on August 5, 2014 in Season 11
Throughout this week, Forum will be delving into the fascinating world of Gidion's Knot in a series of blog posts written by some of our Season 11 class of interns! #forumKNOT 

By Luis Zuluaga-Orzoco, Forum for All Intern
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Forum’s latest production, Gidion’s Knot, brings up a very interesting concept: a modern fifth grade Marquis de Sade. In the 1700s the French philosopher splashed into the scene with his erotic and controversial ideas. His works often featured violence and sexual imagery as a way to present his philosophical beliefs. During this historic period many people had different opinions about de Sade, some were fascinated, others were repelled. Playwright Johnna Adams uses de Sade as way to ask one of the plays most serious questions, how do we react to a young child with such a creative and extensive imagination? 
 
In the play Gidion has a very active imagination which, like de Sade, brings him praise and criticism. The two central characters of the play have conflicting opinions about a story that Gidion wrote. The character Coryn, Gidion’s mother, finds his story to be an excellent piece and the proceeds to comparing it to the Marquis de Sade. Heather, Gidion’s teacher, finds that comment (along with Gidion’s story) to be of poor taste and disturbing. Heather believes that it is her duty as a teacher to protect her students from dangerous ideas, but Coryn argues that children have the right to be able to express themselves. Coryn then proceeds to say that people like Gidion and de Sade will be remembered and cherished for centuries to come.
 
This raises the question of what constitutes as artistic expression and what is considered horrifying and harmful. Gidion’s imagination is a powerful tool he uses to express himself and in the play, there are two very different reactions from his mother and teacher. In de Sade’s time many people were also unsettled by his work, he was incarcerated and sent to an insane asylum on more than one occasion. However, many years have passed since de Sade’s time, and like Coryn says in the play, he is now studied in several important universities and libraries. Is the fact that Gidion is a child what makes his writing so alarming? Why is it that as human beings we punish what we don’t understand? In today’s educational system, creativity can be both encouraged and suppressed, and both actions will strongly impact a child’s life. Gidion is regarded as many things in this play: a bully, a victim, a protector. Is Gidion a suffering genius, a troubled youth, or is that one in the same? It is up to the audience to decide his character based on his story and the fragments of his life that are presented. 
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