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Jamil Jude, We’ll Miss You

Jamil Jude

Park Square Theatre was blessed to have Jamil Jude join its artistic/production team in December 2015 to begin a two-year mentorship with Artistic Director Richard Cook, made possible through a prestigious Leadership U[niversity] – One-on-One Program award of a two-year grant to fund Jamil’s professional development via a mentorship. Jamil was one of only six early-career leaders from all areas of theatre throughout the nation to receive such an award.

At Park Square Theatre, Jamil was given the title of Artistic Programming Associate, and he was placed in the foreground to help the organization remain a relevant theatre in a community with a demographic that will continue to shift towards greater diversity. During his mentorship, he would move forward the theater’s vision to be “intentionally diverse” and practice “radical inclusivity” (both terms appear in Park Square’s website).

Richard Cook

It has been nearly a decade-long journey to prepare Park Square for the 21st century and beyond. This mission was initially envisioned by Richard as he witnessed the impact of live theatre on students, particularly students of color, attending its Education programs. The long journey is not surprising as institutionalized exclusionary practices are difficult to dismantle to be able to support truly inclusionary practices. An organization must have strong leadership support and clear and consistent buy-in both from within and without to be able to broaden its scope.

In his short time here, Jamil especially impacted Park Square by being a skilled connector and unifier, doing the very hard work of fostering trust amongst diverse artist communities and giving generous access to his broader network. He has also provided crucial insights and suggestions to challenge the same old approaches in the theater’s programming and audience outreach. Some changes were made in tailoring post-show discussions for diverse student audiences, making script selections and recruiting and attracting more diverse talent to be onstage, behind the scenes, and as instructors for workshops. All his actions accelerated the impact of making real, lasting changes. However, there is still quite a bit to do even as Jamil’s mentorship comes to an end after June and the Artistic Programming Associate position dissolves.

While Park Square is a top employer of local stage talent, 64 percent of whom are women and artists of color, it still has no core staff (including leadership positions) and just one board member of color. But a few years ago, it created the role of Artistic Associate for the purpose of broadening the organization’s perspectives, and recruited Aditi Kapil, Carson Kreitzer, Ricardo Vazquez and James A. Williams to serve as ongoing Artistic Associates. Park Square has also invited local theatre companies, such as Girl Friday Productions, Sandbox Theatre Company, Theatre Pro Rata and Wonderlust Productions, to become Theatres in Residence and partnered with Mu Performing Arts to produce this season’s Flower Drum Song as mutually beneficial exposure to new audiences.

Currently, Park Square is partnering with the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce to create a Community Advisory Board made up of people of color to give ideas and feedback on what types of stories need to be told on stages and who to share them with–in short, to engage in honest dialogue to better understand how Park Square fits within an evolving community. On June 21 from 5-6 pm, Jamil will be a facilitator for “Cocktails and Conversation” in our Proscenium lobby for professionals of color to give such feedback.

Only time will tell what the future holds for Park Square Theatre without the transformational presence of Jamil. It’s more difficult to question and alter inherent biases and beliefs than to organically build from the ground up with that vision in mind the way that a new organization, such as Full Circle Theater Company, can do. It’s more difficult to transform an organization with individuals at different spectrums of cultural competency regarding issues of equity, diversity and inclusion. Any stall into complacency, regression into status quo or backslide into habituated ways of doing things negatively impacts the outcome. Park Square will steadily need to match good intent with continued action to move forward into its total vision.

Jamil himself will move forward to Atlanta, Georgia, where he will become True Colors Theatre Company’s Associate Artistic Director. At True Colors, Jamil will also get to direct a play each year and, for the first time in his career, focus his energy within one organization rather than be, as he described, “split-brained” amongst multiple organizations and freelance projects.

Darrick Mosley, Kevin West and Peter Thomson in The Highwaymen, directed by Jamil Jude
(photo by Scott Pakudaitis)

While Jamil has certainly left his mark on Park Square Theatre, what many may not know is the wider impact he has also had on the Twin Cities theatre scene since his arrival in Minnesota in 2011. From 2011 to 2014, he worked for Mixed Blood Theatre Company in Minneapolis’ West Bank as its National New Play Network Producer in Residence and created and facilitated artist/educator-audience discussions as its Free Speech Program Director. Jamil made another strong impression in 2013, receiving the year-long Playwright Center’s Many Voices Mentorship to help Minnesota-based playwright of color hone one’s craft. Within a few years, Jamil had further widened his circle and influence, joining the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Theatre Alliance (2012-16), the Minnesota Fringe Festival, and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (both since 2014). In 2015, he had founded the New Griots Festival to promote the work of Twin Cities black artists into the future; the festival will return this year at the Guthrie from July 6 to 16. In 2016, he directed the highly relevant and critically praised inaugural productions of Underdog Theatre’s Baltimore is Burning, written by local artist Kory LaQuess Pullam, founder of Underdog Theatre, as well as local playwright Josh Wilder’s The Highwaymen at The History Theatre in St. Paul.

Park Square Theatre and the Twin Cities theatre community will dearly miss Jamil Jude. Not only could he inspire us, but more importantly, he brought people together to get things done. Jamil Jude has left things better than when he’d arrived. What more could we ask for? We are very grateful and wish him well.

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(Note: Be sure to also read the previous blog post, “What’s That Got to Do With Jamil Jude?”)


 

Build the Table

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When I first heard about Other Tiger Productions, what I admired most was its intention to cross cultural lines to create a multi-talented, inclusive organization.  In a world where inclusivity often means permission for a seat at the dominant table, Other Tiger Productions proactively built an already diverse table of its own.

What surprised me as I read my program for The Palabras Project while awaiting the start of this past Sunday’s performance was the list of collaborating artists–36 in all–on top of the five featured master artists from the Twin Cities’ Latino/Chicano/Spanish communities.  The first names of the 36 ranged from Akiko to Odin; their last names, Cervantes to Rhomberg.

In their letter to patrons, Other Tiger’s co-founders, Jessica Huang and Ricardo Vazquez, claim to “work to bring artists and audiences together to celebrate a global theater experience.”  In turn, may they be embraced by a global-minded audience, right here in Minnesota.

Come support Other Tiger Productions and the numerous artists who have created The Palabras ProjectThree performances remain from July 15 to 17, including a free public reading of Lorca’s Blood Wedding in English on July 14 at 7:30 pm, at Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage.

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Chasing the Tiger

“…We’ll hunt for a third tiger now, but like

The others this one too will be a form

Of what I dream, a structure of words, and not

The flesh and blood tiger that beyond all myths

Paces the earth.  I know these things quite well,

Yet nonetheless some force keeps driving me

In this vague, unreasonable, and ancient quest,

And I go on pursuing through the hours

Another tiger, the beast not found in verse.”

—  From The Other Tiger by Jorge Luis Borges

 

Through July 17, Other Tiger Productions presents The Palabras Project, an immersive musical and theatrical experience at Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage.  It will feature some of the Twin Cities’ top Latino talent, co-directed by Other Tiger’s founders, Jessica Huang and Ricardo Vazquez.

Jessica Huang

Jessica Huang

Ricardo Vazquez

Ricardo Vazquez

Huang describes Other Tiger Productions as “a small but mighty company that seeks to pursue other forms, stories and modes of collaboration in order to present an inclusive and global theater experience.”  It was purposely created as a production company–not solely a theatre organization–to be able to fulfill this mission.

Although its inaugural production, The Palabras Project, is Latino-centric, Other Tiger’s overarching goal aims for what Huang and Vazquez describe as “radical inclusion”–types of multicultural, multigenerational and multidisciplinary collaborations unlike what we normally encounter in the Twin Cities.  They state their vision and values as these (see www.othertigerproductions.org):

  • Deliberate collaboration with artists and communities who challenge the assumptions of dominant cultures.
  • A practice that values collaborators’ time and commitment with equitable working conditions, including competitive compensation.
  • A reevaluation of the theatrical canon, common creative practices and traditional use of space.

When asked why they chose to deem their company Other Tiger, Vazquez explained the name’s tie to Borges’ poem, which inspires the notion of ever-chasing an artistic form or vision.  As Vazquez put it, “The artist is always finding another tiger, something that feeds the desire to keep the artist moving forward.  He thinks that he has a product, but then it also informs his search for the next one, then the next and the next….”

The Source is the Words

Palabras Rehearsal 2          Palabras Rehearsal

Rehearsal for The Palabras Project

Recently I was in the audience watching the post-show discussion of Calendar Girls when Charity Jones, who plays Chris, the mastermind behind the nude calendar idea, spoke up about the need to support smaller production companies that do great work as well.  With that in mind, Park Square Theatre introduces to you Other Tiger Production’s The Palabras Project on its Andy Boss Thrust Stage from July 8 to 17.

“Palabras” itself means “words” in Spanish; and it is specifically the words of Federico Garcia Lorca’s play, Blood Wedding, that is the inspiration for The Palabras Project.  Yet the project itself features an amalgamation of various art forms, including theatre, music, dance, and puppetry, which suggest a reliance on further words — namely, “collaboration,” “passion” and “trust” — to make it possible for Other Tiger Productions to create the grand spectacle that we shall see, hear, and feel.

We use words every day to impart seeds of ideas, plant them to grow, then lovingly tend them.  But the process itself requires a measure of letting go, which is exactly what Other Tiger founders Jessica Huang and Ricardo Vazquez did for The Palabras Project According to Vazquez, each artist read Blood Wedding then explored and created around what spoke to them in the play.  Collaborators Susana di Palma, Maria Isa, Armando Gutierrez G., Gustavo Boada and Dario Tangelson were given artistic freedom to tackle their medium of expertise then repeatedly came together as a group to form the overall production.

In rehearsals, the artists kept constant touch with words, sharing those from movie lines, lyrics, poetry, etc. that inspired them, always circling back to their connection to the script itself.  Vazquez described their creative process:  “Every idea should be tried, even though most ideas may not work.  We tear down, try again, build up again to be better.”  All the while, the source of inspiration — the words of Lorca — remained the constant touchstone.

So I am not surprised that, as part of the show’s run, two free readings of Blood Wedding are also scheduled:  one in Spanish on Thursday, July 7, 7:30 pm; another in English on Thursday, July 14, 7:30 pm. The readings will be done by bilingual talents from the Twin Cities Latino community.

 

(Also refer to the June 28 blog, “Spanish Immersion: The Palabras Project Comes to Park Square,” and look forward to the upcoming blog, “Chasing the Tiger,” to learn more about Other Tiger Productions.)

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