My philosophy of acting and thus life transcends anything that resembles philosophy. It is now about what I do and not merely what I think. I experience happiness with a smile. I experience thought with a word. I experience life with action. I act therefore I am!
- Summer Hill Seven, Squircular!
As a child, Summer Hill Seven studied and taught from the Bible and Quran. He became a 5%er and later a youth Imam with the American Muslim Mission. At Richard Stockton College, he served as the first African-American and first two-term student body president. At Princeton University and the New York University School of Law, he emerged as a national student leader in the same year that President Obama became the editor of the Harvard Law Review. After leading a protest & take-over of the dean's office at the NYU School of Law and establishing the Nelson Mandela Scholarship for the National Black Law Students Association, Seven transformed the paradigm provided by the legal system and pursued an even more powerful vehicle to provoke social change. He found acting. He found theater. Poemedy found him.
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About the Author
Summer Hill Seven is an iconoclastic and innovative performer, hip-hop theatrical artist, theatre and film director, and educator who has interpreted the works of Shakespeare, Shaw, Hughes, Douglas, Holder, Wilson, Parks, Fuller, et. al., at some of the country's greatest venues.
As a Poemedian, Seven has performed at New York's Lincoln Center, the Adrienne Arsht Center for Performing Arts, the Byron Carlyle Theatre (Miami Beach, FL), the Utah Shakespearean Festival, Asolo (Sarasota, FL), the National Black Theatre (Harlem, NY), Nuyorican Poetry Caf, Bowery Poetry Club, Miami's Literary Caf, and the Afrikan Poetry Theatre. Seven continues to tour Poemedy in the US and abroad.
Summer Hill Seven is a distinguished alumni of Sister Clara Muhammad School (Philadelphia, PA), Richard Stockton College (Honors), Princeton University, New York University School of Law and the University of Delaware's Professional Theater Training Program. He was the National Director of Community Service for the National Black Law Students Association and a Legal Aid Attorney for the Essex-Newark Legal Services of New Jersey.
As a director, in June of 2010 his directorial debut, Platanos & Collard Greens (Audelco Award), began its eighth consecutive year off Broadway in NYC. Currently, he is developing and directing several projects for both stage and film.
Squircular! - An Actor's Tale is his third Poemedy memoir. This volume includes 49 sections of perfect poemedyz (a seven line poem, each line containing seven syllables) and essalogues which spring from a thirty year conversation with his favorite writers including Laurence Holder and Langston Hughes - August Wilson and William Shakespeare - George Bernard Shaw and Tennessee Williams - Amiri Baraka and Tanya Barfield - Arthur Miller and Suzan-Lori Parks - Charles Fuller and James Baldwin - Dale Carnegie and Steve Covey - Og Mandino and Napoleon Hill - David Walker, Dr. WEB Du Bois and Carter G. Woodson.
Read an Excerpt
Squircular!An Actor's Tale
By Raymond Abdul-Alím Ákbar
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Summer Hill Seven
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Actor!
This actor's action is to write and thus translate human noises into marks on a page. Your action is to read and thus invent the images and the meaning. You are my co-author. We are actors. (GS)
An Actor's Tale
The word was the beginning.
And that was ALL. And the word was the ALL and the word was with the ALL. And the word — the first word was be. And the ALL uttered this action word and became the first actor.
Before the ALL came to be called God — the ALL said be and it was. And there was sound. The ALL said: let there be light and there was light. In the beginning every utterance of the ALL was action. The ALL acted. The ALL created. The ALL created nouns, adjectives, phrases, paragraphs, sentences, and slang, colloquial, formal — all with a single word. A verb. Be. The ALL creates with words. Verbs. The ALL acts. The ALL fashioned humanity with a divine form endowed with the ability and duty to act, create and serve.
Humans are actors not because William Shakespeare said so — rather because we are the reflection and result of the action of the Ultimate Actor. Even before we are male or female or any nationality or race we are actors acting on an egg. We are acting to create our initial creation: ourselves.
We are all actors first. We are creators. And as Shakespeare has aptly observed many of us share common roles such as infant, student, parent, career-seeker, teacher, writer, elderly, etc., and thus we share the scripts written for these characters.
At some point we participate in the creation of the writing and interpretation of our own script; and begin to feel that we are unique. We act as if our story has a new twist or fresh interpretation. Maybe your story is a funnier version of the infant story; maybe it is a more tragic parent story; or more ironic career story.
Your story is in demand. Humans have an insatiable appetite for narrative. Story is the food for the human mind and spirit. Since, we are what we eat — then we are the stories we ingest. The five senses are the tools of transmitting story — therefore we are all engaged in a never-ending cycle of story transmission, ingestion, creation and interpretation.
We are the word made manifest in flesh. We are a location for action. No single action has primacy — yet the primary action is one that we base all existence upon. The first action — to be — is our sole common pursuit. We all — religious and non-believer agree to bind ourselves one to another in pursuit of our existence.
This tale is about one of those locations for action, me. Yet it is only useful if it serves the location for action that is you.
Chapter TwoPoemedy ~ The Third Way
Me as Boyd in the Jazz@Lincoln Center's World Premiere of the Jesse B. Simple Suite composed by Vincent Gardner — written by Langston Hughes, co-adapted by me and Anthony Thompson Adeagbo. Directed by James King. (FS)
THE REVOLUTION IS POEMEDY.
POEMEDY is often articulated as poetry mixed with comedy, tragedy, mystery, and poverty and spoken to a rhythm and a beat. That definition is the beginning of a conversation that has the aim of leading a literary revolution that touches every aspect of human communication.
Poemedy recognizes that every syllable uttered by humans is in fact a poem. Why? You may go to any open-mic venue or location where people gather to hear poetic words spoken — stand before them and utter any syllable, sit down and wait only moments before the room will fill with wild applause for your utterance. Why? Why not?!
To my ear most sounds are beautiful. (The sound of fingernails scratching a chalkboard is a notable exception.) Perhaps, the ugliness we hear in words is supplied by our own imagination and the beauty is complimentary. What if, all that is associated with beauty resides at the very tip of our tongue? What if, the absence of beauty or other words we relentlessly pursue — love, joy, happiness and peace — result from our unwillingness or inability to access beauty with our own utterances? What if?
A piece of Poemedy begins with the idea that human sound is beautiful; that meaning is relative; and that the definitional opposite is a necessary component of complete comprehension. For instance, the word day can mean whatever we agree upon and yet it requires another word for its full meaning to be communicated. For example, if we include the word night or week in the same sentence with the word day — we clarify the meaning of the word day. You might say, "this is a very hot day — I hope it cools down tonight" or "this is the first hot day that we have had all week". In both cases, the sound of the word day remains the same, and yet the relative meaning has shifted. Poemedy thrives in these shifts of relative meaning.
Poemedy asks the words of sinners to stand next to the words of saints. Poemedy requests that the sublime speak to the vulgar and the ignorant listen to the wise.
Heretofore, the world of acting has been principally divided into comedy and its definitional opposite — tragedy. Poemedy is the third way. If we agree that every utterance is a poem — and that meaning includes the definitional opposite — then there must be utterances that are not poetry.
Poemedy addresses itself to poetic intent. You create that which is poetic when you intend to do so. One writer claimed that life was a comedy with a poorly written final act. The Poemedian says that life is a perfect Poemedy with a perfectly wrought beginning — middle — and end.
In fact, in our modern cinema the movie star must transcend being strictly a comedic actor or tragic-hero actor — the star is in fact a poemedian. Every sound the star utters is art. When I think of my favorite movie actors — Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson, Anthony Hopkins, Denzel Washington, Sidney Poitier, Laurence Fishburne, Samuel L. Jackson and Jeffrey Wright — they are funny, heroic and always poetic. I love their work not because they make me laugh or cry, but because they make me believe anything is possible. They make me believe I am important because they believe they are important. They make me believe with bits of poetry. They take fragmented human noises and assemble them with a poetic intent. This is what inspires the Perfect Poemedy: a seven-syllable statement regarding a philosophical position about life. It turns out that the Perfect Poemedy is the heart and center of the haiku.
Squircular — An Actor's Tale is my third Poemedy memoir. This volume includes 49 sections of perfect poemedyz (a seven line poem each line with seven syllables) and essalogues which spring from a thirty year conversation with my favorite writers including Laurence Holder and Langston Hughes — August Wilson and William Shakespeare — George Bernard Shaw and Tennessee Williams — Arthur Miller and Suzan-Lori Parks — Charles Fuller and James Baldwin — Dale Carnegie and Steve Covey — Og Mandino and Napoleon Hill — David Walker and Carter G. Woodson.
Poemedy is also a description of a neoteric performance aesthetic. This style of performance is always interdisciplinary and is heir to the Last Poets. And yet this evolving style is increasingly influenced by my peers in the world of solo performance including, but certainly not limited to, Saul Williams, Bryonn Bain, Darian Dauchan and the Mighty Third Rail.
Essalogue — an essay intended to be spoken - is the definitional opposite of poemedy. Every poemedy memoir contains both. The difference between each of the memoirs in the Poemedy Trilogy is that with the first - NOTES OF A NEUROTIC! - I was looking at a way of life — call it poemedy — longing for it and expressing the anxiety of someone who wants something just beyond his or her reach; with the second - HANG TIME! — I was enjoying the way of life we now call poemedy - reflecting on my move from hell to heaven - leaving clues for others who want to travel on the path of poemedy; and with this final volume we share what it is like to live in bliss or in the unfolding of a Perfect Poemedy.
Be: the first poem. The revolutionary actors - the poemedians - create, act, and exist in bliss with every utterance from their mouths. Poemedy is a revolution.
Chapter ThreeNotes on NeuAmerica!
The following essalogue is adapted from program notes placed in the lobby at the Mosaic Theatre (Plantation, FL.) in August, 2008 for the Florida premiere of Radio Golf by August Wilson. Directed by Richard Jay Simon. We were nominated for a best ensemble Carbonell (Leila Elam as Mame, Dr. Robert Strain as Roosevelt, John Archie as Old Joe, W. Paul Bodie as Sterling, and Summer Hill Seven as Harmond Wilks). (GS)
Notes on NeuAmerica!
The morning of September 11th, 2001 — I awoke with the worst hang over I could ever imagine to witness the unimaginable on television. My eyes opened in time to see the 2nd plane crashing into the World Trade Center. Shock quickly turned to guilt. I knew that I was personally responsible for this catastrophic event. Only once, prior to now, have I admitted my culpability in this tragedy. Until now the details have existed as fragmented figments of my imagination. My telling of this tale began unfolding in my NOTES OF A NEUROTIC! In this conclusion to the Poemedy Trilogy I will complete the round unvarnished tale. I will share my memories of the messiah games in the same way the story exists in my mind — in fractured fragments and gallant glimpses of past moments carefully hung to inspire.
Denzel Washington made his return to the stage with the role of Brutus in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. It happens to be one of my favorite plays by that author and yet many of Mr. Washington's fans privately confided to me that they were wondering: "What the hell is DENZEL thinking?"
Life is always perfected.
Many fans of movies like Training Day and other what I refer to as Denzel Washington's pimp movies like Mo Better Blues or (Malcolm) X or even He Got Game (not surprisingly all three were directed by Spike Lee) have little interest in the works of Shakespeare with maybe the possible exception of Othello. Nevertheless, this was the role that brought Brother DENZEL back on the boards. Why? I may have met him briefly once in passing, but I don't know him like that and yet I am willing to speculate based on my studies of him as a show business entrepreneur. One simple reason — money! I doubt that he expected to win any awards with the role of Brutus — he did not.
My initial reaction, as a student of Shakespearean acting at the time of this Broadway production — was that his decision bespoke his hubris. It takes a big pair to play the role of Brutus - for even the most seasoned veteran stage actors at their peek. While his pay from the Shakespearean production may have been modest by comparison, his value as an actor increased. As a businessperson, I suspect DENZEL was saying to the global film industry that he is on the very short list of the greatest actors that have ever dared to wear the title. He made it clear that he was campaigning for the coveted title of the greatest living actor. Hence, Denzel Washington as an actor has become a luxury commodity that will continue to appreciate in value.
I did not see Denzel's production of Caesar. However, I have been a fan of DW since he played Richard III in the Public Theatre's production in the outdoor Delacorte Theatre (Central Park, NYC) in the summer of 1988. I saw it three times and waited for hours in the hot sun to secure the best possible seats. I never watch Denzel for any reason other than to be inspired or entertained. As a fan, I believe nobody dast critique this master of the game of acting. Yet the reviews of Denzel's performances as both Richard III (and later Brutus) varied. Despite the reviews — it was Denzel Washington that first made Shakespeare accessible to me. I am grateful that he dast believe that he is worthy of being the greatest living actor.
Among those actors that consider themselves skilled in the art of interpreting Shakespeare's words — the kindest statement about Denzel's Brutus came from one of my own mentors. Steve Tague, a 30+ year veteran of Shakespearean acting told me there was not a single moment where he could discern that Denzel was not present.
Presence for a stage actor is like water for a fish. You can live for a little while without it but eventually without presence your performance and ultimately your career dies. Every stage actor knows that presence is far from a gift — it is a skill that must be practiced obsessively.
Everyone else I spoke to about DW's performance of Brutus seemed to delight in describing flaws in either his performance or the production itself. Mr. Washington may not have won any awards, but in my mind, he continued to lead the actors of all colors quietly and by example.
Life is always perfected.
Professor Denzel Washington taught me what it looks like to be in competition with yourself only. This contest with myself requires that I tell me a tale big enough to get myself out of bed everyday. The voice in my mind that secretly questioned DW's actions became quiet. I was present to my own purpose as an actor. I chose to bring more focus to my own pursuits.
As my colleague, KWAMI K. KWAMI, stated so poetically after reading this essalogue: "Competition with yourself is the only true competition because you bring your past self and your present self together to go on a journey of discovery to seek out and find your future self."
DENZEL would again lead American actors when he returned as Troy in the first Broadway revival of August Wilson's Fences. I saw the production with a quiet mind. I was free from judgment about his performance or his choice of playwright. He won awards. He won more fans. He won his own self-respect.
In the five short years between Denzel's return to Broadway as Brutus — and the Broadway revival of Fences — both the world and I had forever changed. The changes in my world-view were more affected by both Denzel Washington and the author of Fences, the late August Wilson — than by the election of a black man as president.
My performances in Jitney and Radio Golf, the first and final plays, respectively, authored by August Wilson, continue to shape how I articulate my own world- view. The world had changed because for the first time a self-identified black man or African-American, if you prefer, had successfully run and been elected as President of the United States of America. And just as I had not bought a ticket to see Denzel, in the role of Brutus, overthrow Caesar — I had not bought a ticket to see Obama overthrow the Bush legacy, as represented by John McCain and Sarah Palin.
Life is always perfected.
Just as I — by then enjoying my arrival at full maturity — accepted that what Denzel did with his career choices were mostly for his own benefit — I understood the same to be true of Obama. I followed their example and not their rhetoric. I pursued my own career more aggressively.
I listened to the reviews of Obama's performances and was astonished at how he was widely praised for virtually every syllable he uttered. Even his opponents searched in vain to find human noises that were critical of Obama without being false or offensive. Denzel seemed to have enough highly skilled critics to share at least a few with Brother President-Elect. Was Brother Obama, the latest Caesar in the making — "upon what meat" doth this our Obama feed? Yes, I have long identified with Cassius in Shakespeare's tale of man's hubris. In fact, I would excitedly support Brutus (Denzel Washington) in a campaign against Caesar-Elect any day. During the presidential election most of the people in my social circle appeared afraid to question their only hope for hope.
Excerpted from Squircular! by Raymond Abdul-Alím Ákbar Copyright © 2010 by Summer Hill Seven. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPreface....................Page 5 One The Actor!....................Page 14 Two Poemedy:The 3rd Way....................Page 18 Three Notes on NeuAmerica!....................Page 24 Four The Eighth Poemedy....................Page 39 Five The Ninth Poemedy....................Page 58 Six The Tenth Poemedy....................Page 73 Seven The Eleventh Poemedy....................Page 96 Eight The Twelfth Poemedy....................Page 114 Nine The Thirteenth Poemedy....................Page 152 Ten The Fourteenth Poemedy....................Page 176 Eleven The 2008 Inaugural Poemedy....................Page 204