Friday, July 15, 2011
What did Sun Ra teach?
He taught me the need for discipline in the artistic life, not freedom. He told me to stop teaching my actors freedom when discipline was needed. He demonstrated discipline by keeping his band together for over twenty years. When I got him to take a young actor of mine on European tour, he sent the very talented singer/musician home because he lacked discipline. He taught me not to be so moral, especially when I took a scene out of my musical with a sex scene. He was horrified that I had done so. He said, "Marvin you so right you wrong. That scene was the best one in the play. That's what people want, a little dirt. They don't want to truth, they want the low down dirty truth."
Most importantly, he taught the importance of mythology and ritual theatre, breaking down that fourth wall and merging with the audience, becoming one and indivisible, thus reaching the level of African communal theatre wherein there is no audience, only the community. His Arkestra, including poets, singers, dancers, and mixed media, expanded the potential of black theatre. It was a great experience performing with an Arkestra as opposed to simply reading solo or even with a small band. This is no doubt why I can only conceive of theatre as extravaganza in terms of performance, space and time.
Imagine being able to work with some of the greatest musicians in the world, aside from Sun Ra himself, there was John Gilmore, Danny Thompson, June Tyson, and Marshall Allen. See my DVD Live in Philly at Warmdaddy's, which I call 39 minutes of Jazz history. The set included Marshall Allen and Danny Thompson, along with bagpipe legend Rufus Harley and myself reading poetry. Also Elliott Bey, Ancestor Goldsky and Alexander El.
We can say that Sun Ra had a profound influence on the Black Arts Movement coast to coast. He was a founding member of Amiri Baraka's Black Arts Theatre in Harlem as well as a worker at my Black Educational Theatre in the Fillmore.
Those who have a problem understanding the complexity of Marvin X need only understand he was a student and colleague of Sun Ra, the bandleader of the Arkestra that Marvin X performed with on the east coast and west coast. Sun Ra worked with Marvin X at his Black Educational Thearte in the Fillmore, 1972. Sun Ra did the musical version of his play Flowers for the Trashaman, retitled Take Care of Business.
Sun Ra and Marvin X did a five hour production of Take Care of Business at the Harding Theatre on Divisadero Street in San Francisco, 1972. Sun Ra also told Marvin X he would be hired to lecture in the Black Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Marvin X doubted Sun Ra since Gov. Ronald Reagan had banned him from teaching at Fresno State College in 1969, the same year he banned Angela Davis from teaching at UCLA. Marvin X did indeed teach at UCB and his off campus class was at his Black Educational Theatre in the Fillmore. Sun Rn worked with him and the Harding Theatre concert was a five hour show without intermission, that consisted of a fifty member cast, including the Sun Ra Arkestra, the Ellendar Barnes dancers, along with the Raymond Saywer dancers and the Marvin X actors.