Consider, if you will, the prosaic class issues in the green movement. The price of BART vs. driving, the utility of feeding one's children McDonald's after one's shift is order so you can play with them outside the kichen, the inconvinient truth of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Now add race, and stir.
Dancer-community activist-poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph did. The result was the Life is Living festival, which he stages in underserved 'hoods throughout the country (and took place in West Oakland Oct. 8). The festival's amazing, but its creation was a journey -- which Bamuthi has brilliantly set to stage with dancing and singing at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts through Sat/22. It's called red, black & GREEN: a blues"I've got this male Liz Gilbert eat-pray-hip-hop kind of thing," recounts Bamuthi onstage during opening night at YBCA. Around him, bisected sharecropper's cabins swing open and shut, revealing their innards and front porches by turns. The set was made from repurposed materials and clay by Theaster Gates (new favorite name), who is participating in double-time -- Gates is one of three supporting characters in the play, mainly contributing those eponymous blues in a rich voice from a porch.
Bamuthi's flip remark (it reaps a guffaw from the audience, one of many garnered from the play's dealings with race and class) evokes the difficulties that he and his "do-gooder" team faced in cobbling together Life is Living. Originally meant as an eco-festival -- Bamuthi's account of meeting with New Age Oakland environmental activists is gold -- the group shifted the traveling events focus to "the celebration of living."
The cast of red, black & GREEN: the blues. Photo by Bethanie Hines
The play could be read as an explanation of why this transformation took play. In the scene that serves as the performance's chorus, repeating through the play, Bamuthi talks to a grieving mom about his festival. “I ask a mother about environment/She tells me of guns/Of emotionally disabled boys."
She's got bigger fish to fry than hydroponic gardens. As does a sculptor: "He speaks to me of misters/Old men gathered to pastime/Play young/men games/Share news/Insult/Seed comfort/Cultivate friendship." A freezing crackhead in the New York winter: "I'm calling collect from tomorrow/track riding."
And you forget you're being taught (Bamuthi is fond of likening himself to a 10th grade teacher) because it's all gorgeous, real artists doing their real artist things. Characters recreate sunny day hip-hop cut-ups, but they also morph their bodies to evoke addiction, old age -- two miraculous transformations that showcase the talent in their bodies through the way they restrict their own mobility.
Asking about "what sustains life" instead of "what is sustainable" could be an important cognitive shift for the green movement -- one that would reactivate the choir and provide an entry point for people just coming to the green movement. Bamuthi was a featured artist for the NAACP’s centennial anniversary celebration during Barack Obama’s inauguration exercises. President Obama... I hear you're having some PR troubles. Were you listening to this guy?
red, black & GREEN: a blues
Thu/20-Sat/22 7:30 p.m., $10-$25
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF