Summer Hill Seven created poemedy - a lyrically poetic storytelling form where the past meets the present to create poignant, passionate theater for today and tomorrow. Hang Time! is for tomorrow.
Platanos & Collard Greens
This is a profound work of art by a very talented and gifted poet. I highly recommend it to all who appreciate the spoken and written word.
Sekou Molefi Baako,Executive Director,
Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center-Queens Public Library
President, Black Caucus of the American Library Association
Summer Hill Seven’s ebullient “neo-beat-hip-hop” verse explodes from the page to the stage with a powerful multicultural message! Delightful!
Chair of Performance Studies Department
University of Nevada Las Vegas
Summer Hill Seven is an exceptionally gifted writer and performer whose work is both entertaining and thought provoking.
Director, Professional Theatre Training Program University of Delaware Fiercely powerful! Jennifer Weaver Daily News of Southern Utah
Director, Professional Theatre Training Program
University of Delaware
Daily News of Southern Utah
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About the Author
A writer and spoken-word artist who has performed at the Nuyorican Poetry Caf�, Bowery Poetry Caf�, Afrikan Poetry Theatre and has toured his work throughout the United States. He has written and directed an autobiographical film � A Poet�s Pilgrimage � about a young poet�s decision to abandon the law and pursue his dream of becoming a poet.
He is a graduate of Sister Clara Muhammad School (Philadelphia, PA), Richard Stockton College of New Jersey (with Honors) and the New York University School of Law. He is the former National Director of Community Service for the National Black Law Students Association and a former Legal Aid Attorney for the Essex-Newark Legal Services of New Jersey.
He is also the author of Notes of a Neurotic! He has acted with a diverse group of theater companies including the Phoenix Theater (Indianapolis) the National Black Theater (Harlem), and the Utah Shakespearean Festival. He was the original director for Platanos & Collard Greens, the longest running hip-hop play in the country. He currently resides in Newark, Delaware and is affiliated with the University of Delaware�s Professional Theatre Training Program.
Read an Excerpt
A Poetic Memoir
By Summer Hill Seven AuthorHouse
Copyright © 2006
Summer Hill Seven
All right reserved.
Chapter One The Ater: Race, Sex, Politics & Hip-Hop
I believe that power is best used to control my own actions. I believe in exercising power over myself before someone else needs to intervene.
I believe in the power of words to change things from what they are to what we want them to be. The words we read, write, speak and think are the words that reveal to the world that we are.
I believe that great relationships are the result of an ongoing and profound conversation with someone that you unconditionally accept.
I believe that time does not equal money. I believe there is only one time of day: right now! I believe there are only two amounts of money: enough and more.
I believe that differences in race, gender, political ideology, philosophy and lifestyle matter and manifest life's greatest opportunities. The extent to which we ignore, minimize, marginalize and fear these differences is the extent to which we diminish any possibility for personal and community growth.
I believe poetry is medicinal and is the only prescription needed to prevent the vast majority of mental and emotional illnesses. I believe theater is the place where we go to receive a collective healing with powerful and poetic words. Everyone in the theater - whether on the stage or off - is an essential element to the solution of societal ailments. Together the speakers and the listeners create power.
I believe theater removes the veil of our differences in identity, power or desire and uncovers our common humanity.
Theater proves to even the most cynical of witnesses that we each have the power to become more than we are - in every moment that we are. If we suspend our disbelief (or perhaps instead fortify our beliefs with faith) we can transcend in every moment of our lives. Don't merely suspend your disbelief. Hang Time! will show you how theater gives us an access to the power of transcendence and transformation. Choose to be a believer.
I began acting in theater more than sixteen years ago. It was precisely this opportunity that acting represented for me - the opportunity for a new name; a new job; a new life; and a new location. The new location is what I refer to in metaphorical terms as - the Ater. To me the Ater is the crucible where this new identity is forged. I simply find it entirely too pretentious and limiting to refer to theater-making as "the theater", e.g., "her work in the theater". And, my own poetic rhythms resist the cumbersome repetition of "t-h-e" in "the theatre"; instead herein I opt for the simpler, hipper and more distinctive "the Ater" (pronounced AY - TER). The Ater is distinct from "the theater". The Ater contains within it's metaphorical walls the stage of all the worlds.
The Ater is bigger than the theater and includes: television; film; poetry-slam venues; piss-stained halls in the projects; refer-filled studios; speeding vehicles parading down the strip with a musical escort; ghetto-fabulous clubs on Saturday nights; Pentecostal churches on Sunday mornings; Synagogues; Mosques; jail cells; mental hospitals; college dorm rooms with virgin co-eds; your mama's basement; and perhaps most obviously any corner in the hood where the real players gather.
In Being an Actor, Simon Callow, the British classical ensemble actor, writes, "that today's theater needs actor-poets". Some actors recreate and others create. The poet-actor must be in the habit and mode of creation. Nothing else merits live witnesses. The Ater is for the witnesses. The Ater is the place where all the players are invited to both tell and witness their own story and their own relationships. In my case I have done it with solo performances in the same way that the generation ahead of me - Whoopi Goldberg, Anna Deavere Smith, Nancy Giles and Roger Guenevere Smith - have taken their interests in the modern stories of humanity and told all of our individual stories. I owe a debt to each of these solo artists. My work will be forever indebted to having witnessed their live performances or in the case of Whoopi Goldberg - the video version.
My first solo performance began humbly as a poetry reading of Langston Hughes' work - which for me would have been enough; but owing to the vision and artistic ambition of one of America's leading theater-makers, Laurence Holder - the reading was quickly transformed into a full length one man play entitled: Shakespeare & Harlem later published in Notes of a Neurotic
Nigga! I started acting as an ensemble player but when I went solo I became free and escaped the misconceptions that I had about myself.
Even Simon Callow describes his solo work very differently from his ensemble work. He leads me to believe that solo theater work is the result of something unexpressed in the performer's ensemble work - regardless of whether the solo work is biographical in nature or not.
Witnessing the solo works of Goldberg or Smith hit me in the same way that reading John Langston Gwaltney's Drylongso: A Portrait of Black America and Stud Terkel's Working altered me. All these works affect me at a gut level. I came to know myself better through the experiences of these strangers that were created in front of my eyes. These works continue to move and liberate me.
My work, especially in this volume, is designed for you to know yourself better through the eyes and experiences of a stranger. Even the relatively small percentage of the population that knows my work will readily concede that like most actors, to quote Simon Callow, we are "unknowable". Therefore don't waste your time reading this memoir trying to figure me out - figure you out.
Furthermore, the work in this and my previous volume should serve as a blueprint for further self-exploration and expression on the part of the performance artist. The poetry in Hang Time! should convince you of the great poetry that still lies dormant in you - even if you have already declared yourself a poet.
1989 was the summer when I began my never-ending journey toward actualizing as an actor and author and artist in the Ater. I had just turned 24 and had completed one year of study at both Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the New York University School of Law. I was working as a highly paid intern for the largest civil litigation firm in Oakland, CA. Despite being located in a city with a black majority population, Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May (Crosby et. al.) was an exclusive and elite firm of mostly white attorneys.
By the time I started working at Crosby in the Summer of 1989, I was two years out of my state college experience where I had served as president of the student body for two consecutive years. However, in these two years since graduating from college, my social circles had changed significantly from: first generation college students and sons and daughters of poor working class parents to: the sons and daughters of royalty and extreme wealth (John F. Kennedy, Jr. was a year ahead of me in law school - had I not taken a year to study at Princeton we would have been classmates). While I was never comfortable in this new milieu - I was already a good enough actor to disguise my inelegance in those environments. Up to a point.
In the case of Crosby et. al., the point was reached within the first month. Two things happened to hasten my arrival at this proverbial point of no return (literally). The first was - through some miracle - I began dating a wonderful, charming, and dazzling young law student - the daughter of a prominent San Francisco Judge (former law partner of Mayor Willie Brown). The second event was a gala event that I attended as part of Crosby's pro bono/minority outreach/guilt assuaging program. The summer interns were treated to an auction sponsored by the Asian and Pacific American Bar Association to raise funds for legal services for indigent Asian bay area citizens. Prior to arriving at the auction, I thought "wouldn't it be more efficient simply to give these po' folks the money rather than participate in this charade. Who really wanted these otherwise worthless items anyway?"
Surprisingly most of the items turned out to be rather valuable. In fact, one item even intrigued me enough to bid. It was intangible: lunch with an unknown (to me) Asian American director - Phillip Kan Gotanda. Gotanda had also graduated from Hastings Law School - the same school where my then girlfriend was the president of the local Black Law Student Association (BLSA) chapter.
I bid on the item because - for at least a year - I had been planning a career shift from law to acting. I'd never confessed my plan to become an actor to anyone because it seemed too ridiculous to utter aloud. Therefore I was stuck telling whoever asked that my career path was politics. My job with Crosby - new girlfriend - elected position as the National Director of National BLSA - were all consistent with my publicly stated goal. Not knowing how or even believing I could make a change, I carefully guarded my true career aspirations.
Yet here I was - bidding - ready to let the cat out the bag in front of my legal colleagues and future constituents. I quickly ran through the speech I would give this Gotanda guy in exchange for his commitment to assist me. I almost uttered the words aloud as I rehearsed: "I'd took an acting class in college; performed Pancho in Night of the Iguana; appeared in several lightly scripted television programs; I'd been speaking publicly since I was a teenager."
This calculated approach was designed to hide the unbearable truth that I had become disillusioned and cynical about the American political and legal system. I had spent the last six years studying and participating in this sordid charade that produced the ineffective Civil Rights legislation - the inefficient state school funding policies - and the, at that time, hotly contested welfare reform legislation.
I knew that any benefits to be gained via the legislative process for people like me - brown and poor - would be as quickly taken by them - pink and/or rich people. I no longer wanted to play this game. The game of - beg - get - and lose. Beg the power-elite (usually in the form of idle threats of bad publicity) - get an impotent political concession (followed by a brief battle to keep the concession for symbolic reasons) - finally to lose the supposed gain only to begin the fight anew.
The game of politics was once fun but it had become more and more meaningless to me. In my search for a meaningful life I chose acting as a career because I knew that "acting" was what I had been doing to get me through the daily drama of life as a young black man in America. I had survived and later thrived while frequently changing schools - moving among various foster parents and group homes - attending colleges and graduate schools; I survived by donning new characters for each new audience.
Also, acting would allow me to take advantage of my already expert public speaking skills without inflicting my ever-changing and already eccentric personal opinions on the masses.
However, despite my college acting class and my secret burning desire, I knew nothing about the profession of acting. I did not understand that there were theater actors - of which I knew none - television and film actors - of which I knew of many - commercial and radio actors - and more types of actors than there were ways for a black man to go to jail.
At the time I was a great admirer of Joe Morton's work on an exceptional legal drama - Equal Justice [R]. I urgently wanted to be on that program because as a young black male and second year law student, I had already come to understand that justice in America almost exclusively existed on stage or screen.
Here was my chance. My chance to get some justice; some fame; even more loot than these high paid slave lawyers; sex; drugs and rock & roll. I bid on this lunch with Phillip Kan Gotanda determined to win. Winning was far more important to me than being charitable. Besides, I could afford to bid high since I was making more money per month than my parents had ever made in their life. I won the bid.
I remember the lunch like it was yesterday. It changed the entire course of my life. Phillip told me his story, which I will allow him to share if he chooses. I will simply say, that his story moved me enough that the following day I took off from my high paying job to have very expensive headshots taken and went to a theatrical bookstore. In this dank San Franciscan bookstore, I purchased a basic book of male monologues and Michael Shurtleff's groundbreaking work Audition.
Immediately thereafter I began auditioning everyday for the remainder of the summer. My audition schedule required excessive absences from my internship. But to Crosby's credit the checks kept coming consistently. As far as my success as an actor - nothing happened. I had pictures, resumes and monologues but I could not get arrested - forget about getting cast in anything. Adding insult to injury - my law school girlfriend decided to have headshot's taken and shortly thereafter, received a callback for a national commercial. I was too naïve to be discouraged or perhaps too desperate because when I returned to New York for the second year of law school I began to audition even more urgently.
In New York there seemed to be significantly more interest in my "type." By December, I'd been offered a role in an independent feature film - Straight Out of Brooklyn - and a role in a national college tour of a Soldier's Play. I never completed my work on the film because the tour schedule conflicted with Matty Rich's ever changing shooting schedule. Nevertheless, my acting career was going so well in such a short time that I prepared to leave law school permanently and pursue a professional acting career.
Race matters in the Ater and it has always mattered to me. In some circles it is said that people should avoid discussing religion and politics in polite company or social settings. My experience has been that genuine discussion of race is also on this same list of conversational taboos.
Perhaps because of this taboo, I refuse to write in too much detail about my personal background. Whatever I say will be used to justify the views of the white world toward all black men. For every achievement I describe there will be a chorus of white people singing - see he was different - he had chances I never had. For every defeat - some of them will sing - black people when will they learn.
I renounce them and preempt their chorus with poetry - words that need no music to be appreciated - yet words that transcend stereotypes - categorizations - labels - pigment and politics. I agree with James Baldwin when he says in the Fire Next Time - "the only thing that white people have that black people need, or should want is power - and no one holds power forever." With their power white people have hung black people - but we do not fear because black people have learned how to hang time. And once time is dead - there is no forever - there is only now!
White people when they feel close to me often will ask quite confidentially - have you ever experienced racism? What I hear is - come on - isn't all this talk of racism simply a few misunderstandings that lesser black people use as an excuse for under-achievement? It must be all the love gifted me by my grandmother that prevents me from spitting in their face. Instead, I simply smile and nod. "Yes, I experience it" manages to magically fl oat from my lips. My hands remain by my side instead of around the neck of the inquisitive white American.
Excerpted from HANG TIME! by Summer Hill Seven Copyright © 2006 by Summer Hill Seven. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of ContentsContents Acknowledgements....................XI
Act One The Ater: Race, Sex, Politics & Hip-Hop....................1
Act Two Poemedy in VII Movements: I Am Black Man @ XL....................19
Poemedy I. Life Is A Game - Play To Win....................20
Intro: Allow Me II-B VII....................21
Life Iza Game!....................24
Let's Bring Hip-Hop 2 Da Stage!....................26
NYC Iz Burning!....................28
Platanos & Bling-Bling....................30
X - Con....................32
Poemedy II. Dreams Are The Goals - So Hold Fast....................33
A Poet's Pilgrimage....................34
Overture L' Overture....................41
Poemedy III. Sacrifices Are Sacred....................46
A Book Deal?....................50
Poemedy IV. The Right Playmate Iz Priceless....................56
The Day New York's Lights Went Out....................58
Poemedy V. Learn To Earn & Learn To Learn....................65
Officer John Jay Can't Read....................68
Con - X....................69
Poemedy VI. Love To Live & Live To Love....................71
My Enemy's Enemies....................72
Heaven Zon Earth....................73
u-r-nat u-r-e's poe-tri....................81
Poemedy VII. Today Is The First & Last....................84
Hang TimeBefore Time Hangs Us....................85
I Am Black Man @ XL....................86
April 15, 2004....................87
Homelessness Iz Still Rising!....................91
Loud Whispering To Red Rocks....................93
Kun Fieya Kun....................96
Act Three The Final Call: Philosophy of Hanging Time....................103