Sunjata and The Tree of Life at MITF

The Midtown International Theater Festival has its fill of academic individuals this year. Professor Tom Marion of York College directs THE WATER CARRIERS, WRITTEN BY MICHAEL WILLIAMS


PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE: TUES 7/25, 6:00PM; SAT 7/29, 7:15PM; SUN 7/30, 2:00PM

This deeply-moving family drama with music by South African playwright, Michael Williams, brings to life African legends, Sunjata and The Tree of Life, to help tell the very timely and turbulent tale of six refugees stowed away in a shipping container bound for who-knows-where. Set in one small place, this powerful story reveals the immensity of a global crisis… which cannot be ignored.  Ronna Levy from Kingsborough certainly represented enlightened thinking in her interview. Prof. Marion certainly didn’t disappoint either.

16681821_1713229582026689_1387840634626211705_nProfessor, what inspires you as an artist?

Bill Esper asked me basically the same question when I auditioned for grad school.  I got accepted but I don’t think it was from my monologues.  I’ve always thought it was because I told him that there was a lot of stuff that meant a lot to me but I couldn’t figure out how to make it part of my acting.  Now-a-days as a director I struggle with the same problems, always trying to figure out how to make a script come to life. It’s a bigger problem, directing is about working with many other artists.  Though, like in acting, one can’t force things.  An actor has to set up certain conditions for the work to flourish, like soil and sunshine. Looking for results is a waste of energy.  Same thing in directing, no amount of willful energy will speed the growth.  But it sure is hard.  An actor who doesn’t trust her/himself will end up using stale tricks to get things to work.  It’s the same for directing.  You gotta let go, and be willing to be at risk.   In the end that’s where all those things that mean something live, isn’t it?  Can one can truly be in touch with something that really means something deeply, and not be at risk.  Like telling someone you love them.  Trusting the process I guess is a little bit like just appreciating life.  It’s so hard to do, but it’s worth everything.

What are your observations about independent theater’s viability?

There is an article in today’s Times speaking on a loss of democracy as philanthropy helps fill the retrenchment of public funds.  Power shifts to the wealthy when they control when and if Flint Michigan’s water can be made safe to drink.  Of course all art is reliant on benefactors, especially one as difficult and complex to produce as theatre; even Michelangelo struggles in the Agony and the Ecstasy.   It is wonderful, however, that some institutions like the aptly named Public Theatre have a strong enough endowment to weather capricious storms from corporate patrons like Delta after the current presentation of Julius Caesar. But the corruption of art to wealth and power can be much more insidious.  Finishing up watching the third season of Bosch on Amazon I was struck by the fatherly talk a detective gives his young son as he explained why he had to shoot to kill.  He explained that wounding or missing the assailant would put the public more at risk.  Of course the son did not counter to question why then did Yeronimo Yanez shoot Philando Castile seven times almost killing his four year old daughter?  And the problem here is not just that the producers of Bosch placed this sentiment in such a tender scene, but that the acting and writing which surrounds it is so good.  There was some wonderful writing in Dragnet and Adam 12, and in any propaganda film of the early ‘40’s set up to get America to buy War Bonds.  But then, one didn’t have to look too close to see it for what it was.  Even in the 60’s and 70’s when theater was cutting its ties to commercialism, it used to be that an actor wanted to do theater because, well, heck, an episode of Kojak or Hawaii 5-0 was just too … well, too Starsky and Hutch-ish.  But now, independent theater is even more important when the level of reality in writing is matched with the superior acting from America’s professional acting programs.  The two can imbue commercial scripts, even those with the most pernicious messages, with a bright hue of truth and believably.

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