Friday, July 15, 2011
What Did Sun Ra Teach?
What did Sun Ra teach?
He taught the need for discipline in the artistic life, not freedom. He told me to stop teaching my actors freedom when discipline was needed. He demonstrated discipline by keeping his band together for over twenty years. When I got him to take a young actor of mine on European tour, he sent the very talented singer/musician home because he lacked discipline. He taught me not to be so moral, especially when I took a scene out of my musical with a sex scene. He was horrified that I had done so. He said, "Marvin you so right you wrong. That scene was the best one in the play. That's what people want, a little dirt. They don't want to truth, they want the low down dirty truth."
Most importantly, he taught the importance of mythology and ritual theatre, breaking down that fourth wall and merging with the audience, becoming one and indivisible, thus reaching the level of African communal theatre wherein there is no audience, only the community. His Arkestra, including poets, singers, dancers, and mixed media, expanded the potential of black theatre. It was a great experience performing with an Arkestra as opposed to simply reading solo or even with a small band. This is no doubt why I can only conceive of theatre as extravaganza in terms of performance, space and time.
Imagine being able to work with some of the greatest musicians in the world, aside from Sun Ra himself, there was John Gilmore, Danny Thompson, June Tyson, and Marshall Allen. See my DVD Live in Philly at Warmdaddy's, which I call 39 minutes of Jazz history. The set included Marshall Allen and Danny Thompson, along with bagpipe legend Rufus Harley and myself reading poetry. Also Elliott Bey, Ancestor Goldsky and Alexander El.
We can say that Sun Ra had a profound influence on the Black Arts Movement coast to coast. He was a founding member of Amiri Baraka's Black Arts Theatre in Harlem as well as a worker at my Black Educational Theatre in the Fillmore.