This year marks the Season Sweet 16 for the powerful Downtown Urban Arts Festival. The five-week art & culture showcase supplying audiences with live stage works, independent film, cutting-edge music and envelope-pushing poetry, will take up residence in some of lower Manhattan’s most thrilling and celebrated spaces. Running from April 7 through May 12, artists with their finger on the pulse of what the city is thinking will present their works at Theatre 80 St. Marks, Tribeca Film Center, New York Live Arts, Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater, and Nuyorican Poets Café.
ArtsIndependent will be doing a series of interviews with some of the stage artists prior to showtime. At THEATRE 80 ST. MARKS, 80 ST MARKS PLACE, NEW YORK CITY, a powerful, literate, and engrossing piece goes up by an author who is the same.
The articulate J.E. Robinson shared some brilliance with us recently …
FRIDAY, APRIL 20 @ 8:00 PM
THE STRONG MAN BY J.E. Robinson
Decades ago, at the head of his gang, Pearl Crabtree was strong enough to kill any man. Is he now strong enough to kill one of his own?
Also featured: CORPORATESTHENICS BY Baindu Dafina Kalokoh
Tell us about yourself as an artist.
My aesthetics believes strongly that, in order for the work to live for the audience, it must live for the artist. Without this predicate, the work fails to become art. In every medium in which I have worked (fiction, poetry, essays, plays, history, even within the classroom), I strive to see my audiences sit wide-mouthed, and to hear them say “it’s not just like I met these people; it is like I was actually there!” Perhaps this impact leads them to consider my work “historical,” or even “autobiographical.” Whatever. My audiences, however, do see dimensions beyond the moments I present. Their visions vindicate my trust in them in telling these stories. The gone are not gone if we remember them, if only as parts of a fiction.
Where did you get the idea—the inspiration—for the play?
Perhaps I could explain THE STRONG MAN as being set in my ancestral home in South Carolina, from which my great-grandfather moved around the turn of the twentieth century, or I could explain that the governor of South Carolina who incited and failed to arrest the Honea race riot in the early 1900s shares his birthday with me, but those would elude the true inspiration of a play about how men die.
At fifty-two, I find myself approaching the end of my life. How shall I be remembered? How will I die? Each of us asks those questions. In THE STRONG MAN, Victor has started answering them, and he has resolved not to die cheaply, with the life of yet another person on his head. Perhaps a person arriving at that conclusion serves as the real inspiration for this play. Perhaps I sought to see it represented as religious allegory. That sounds good! “Perhaps so.”
Are you an historian or a history buff—I ask as the play has element of events of decades ago.
That is an odd question. In it, might you reference my profession or my material?
What are your hopes for this play…and goals in general?
For THE STRONG MAN, I should hope an appreciative audience would see it well. I should hope that it inspires thought for someone. I should hope someone seeks to redeem themselves. After all, ever since the time of Aeschylus, drama has been a most redemptive art.
Any ideas for a full length play?
Currently circulating is a longer play, set in Ashante country, in Ghana, between the 1500s and the twenty-first century. In it, Mother Ashante sends storms across the ocean to regain her stolen children, and she rejoices when her children return. It is called MOTHER ASHANTE GATHERS THE WAR CLOUDS FOR HER CHILDREN. I would wish it be seen somewhere beyond my flash drive.
My current project is a screenplay set in the 1930s, featuring a trouser-chasing director forced into a relationship with a starlet to save his job at the studio. Its title remains in flux. Who knows? Perhaps it would interest Kevin Spacey…