What do you do when you’re an audience member and the actor onstage becomes the slave auctioneer, asking if anybody would like to purchase a “special nigger” for $500 (This is not a joke, by the way…)?
Well, if you were anyone in the Rosecreek audience, your face might have been a reflection of horror, grief, surprise or amusement…but if you attended last weekend’s Southwest performance, you might have simply watched, cried…or bought a slave?
That’s right! The line was “Hey bidder bidder! Open up those wallets and purses! What am I to bid for this fine specimen here? He’s nice and strong. Big and burly. Almost a little monstrous looking, now this is a special nigger. He’s well-learned in field handing and potato planting…I will start the bidding at 500 dollars! Yes, 500! Do I hear 500?”
And I heard “five hundred”, accompanied by a hand popping into the air. And audience participation cannot be ignored. So, I smiled big and moved the price on up for the next person to agree to 550. Not to make those who purchased feel naughty for participating, but what exactly happened here?
Now, let me back this up. Preparing for this scene, I am fully aware that I cannot be objective as the actor, or the “participant.” I must step outside of the reality that I am selling people, and believe that I am auctioning something as cheap or valuable as furniture. At this point, the auctioneer can be “honest.” At this point, he is human.
Spotting the “observers” out there in the audience was no challenge! They were fully aware of who I was, what I was selling and our storyteller (Sojourner). This particular group of audience members wanted no part in playing with the auctioneer. However, I found those who waved their hands for the purchase most unpredictable and interesting. From what I could tell, every person that participated was likely a slave descendant, which might (in some way) explain the lack of hesitance to interact. Perhaps, there is a sense of “right of passage”, because they were our ancestors, slavery is our heritage and this IS just a PLAY. It is not real, so why not? Surely, we can all agree that slavery is a painful part of history (Warning: If you cannot agree, this show is NOT for you). Therefore, there must be some plausible explanation for why the African American audience was able to happily participate in this scene.
My opinion is that the auctioning audience must have, in some way, de-sensitized themselves to the memory. And I cannot judge them! The truth of the matter is that I, myself, de-sensitized for the sake of my given role…hmm. Very interesting. If I, in a given moment, could allow myself to be the jolly auctioneer, then could they allow themselves to be the jolly buyers?…could we take this further to say that the audience became active players or the actors? One thing is for sure- when the first hand went up, I was so shocked that I felt as if I were the audience and the play was happening in the house of the theatre. And maybe that is it; the play happened onstage and in the house. This is truly interesting connection- this link between the actor and audience. In that moment, we both contributed and completed a rough sketch of how a real slave auction may have occurred. I would take this up another step and say that many of us enjoyed that moment together. There was even laughter at the end of one transaction.
Reader, if you have not yet seen the show and find this blog/experience outrageous, insensitive and unacceptable, please understand that this is only a small portion at the beginning of the play, highly necessary to complete the full picture of Sojourner Truth’s struggle overcome by her victory. From great comedy comes tragedy. There is no way we could have had a successful auctioning scene (seeming more like selling pigs at the county fair) without tearfully experiencing Truth’s warfare as an American slave. My heart, as the participant, smiles at each light and comical character I allow to live within the world of the play, just as it frowns and breaks when our tragic heroine’s heart breaks. That’s just the way it is…
Or maybe that was just this weekend…let us see what happens this Wednesday!
Uncle Barley(marty) - Sun, 16th August, 2009
The username is what Uncle Logan said you use to call me when you were real young cuz you couldn't say Marty. I am so proud of you i can't even put it in words. When you're on stage, it seems like you're a different person. I'm sorry i couldn't come to the last show everybody came too, but i showed everybody your youtube performance. Hope you aren't madd. I'm still keeping up with how many views you get on youtube. i just wanna say how proud i am and i will make one of those shows before you become famous. good luck and all best wishes,
Every time you ask the Spirit to come, He comes...Every single time.
Hopping in the car with Troy (a close cousin), Sharcie (a close friend who's basically family) and a new friend, Mercy, I had everything figured out- the time we should get there, how the chemistry of the ride should be, what should happen upon meeting a people radiating love at Rose Creek Village, and most of all- my own performance. I had rehearsed it dozens of times. I knew how everything would go...well,
Hah! And I was wrong. Completely wrong. Despite how late we left, we arrived just in time for a tour of the community (llamas...I mean, they got llamas? So awesome), and despite the age, culture, racial, and relationship differences in the car, you'd think that we were four long, lost sisters who had not caught up in a while. I expected the formal handshakes and curiosity of friendly strangers upon meeting the community; instead, I received full eye contact, smiles, hugs, honesty, warmth and the love that Jesus talks about in scripture. And the performance? It should have gone line by line as I had rehearsed. Action by action. Moment by moment...the way I had rehearsed. But the Spirit comes every time you ask. He comes.
That is just what Mercy, Sharcie, Troy and I did before &amp;“The Journey of Truth” began. We prayed that He come and do what He does best- comfort, amaze, warm, excite, and revive. And I believed he would...but not like that.
Troy, Sharcie and Mercy made their way back to the audience (which totaled 12 people the last time I had seen it), but as soon as I threw on ole' Sojourner's apron, I walked out to greet the few in the audience...150-200 people? When did they all get here? And why are they getting quiet? OH SNAP! They expect me to start performing!
Well, Sharcie, being the quick, gifted woman she is, gets onstage, boldly introducing the show, and before I know it, applause. And my legs are carrying me back onstage.
Once more. The Spirit comes every time we ask. Before the first line escaped me, I felt him. What did I feel? Comfort. Amazement. Warmth. Excitement. Revival. And &amp;amp;quot;The Journey of Truth began in Selmer, TN at Rose Creek Village.
Theatre did not just happen on the stage; it happened both on the stage and in the audience. It happened where it was strongest- smack on the bridge of communication between the two of us. Sojourner spoke to them. And they spoke right back to her. She felt with them and for them, and they for her. Sojourner and the audience laughed like children and cried like close friends. And the Spirit was among them. And He was good.
I felt, did, said and responded to things I never had in rehearsal. Before I knew it, my final lines were escaping me, and I stood amidst the audience. Then Sojourner put her hand on a woman's shoulder, assuring her that, &amp;amp;quot;Someone walks with you when you're afraid&amp;amp;quot; and witnessed the tears, tempted to spill over, in her eyes. And the show was over. A journey, indeed.
The audience was beautiful, the moment that we closed the book of the journey with applause, I knew, God has put his mark on this show, and it is His. Now I've got to take it where He wants it to go. This is no longer about me- it never has been. Thus, the show (like the car ride and its chemistry) was not what I expected...
...because every time you ask the Spirit to come, He comes.
Ekundayo Bandele - Mon, 20th July, 2009
Congratulations, Jazmin. I hope to see you on one of your show dates, in support of your talent.
Ms. Celie - Thu, 30th July, 2009
Play with fire...best not get burnt UP.
Deana - Fri, 31st July, 2009
Saw you on tv Jazmin. You look great! I know the show is going to be fantastic.
Lawrence - Sat, 1st August, 2009
As promised, I want to leave my 2 cents about this excellent show. First of all, Ms. Miller is a talented performer and brings Truth to LIFE in a powerful, humorous, haunting, and often touching way.
I think this play brings up so many issues that persist and currently affect the African American community to this very day.
Two of these issues boldly depicted are the deadly reprisals Black men face in American society when they decide to be MEN and the devaluing the worth of Black women according the terrorist slave system.
And these issues persist until this very day!
So as you can see, Ms. Miller's play proved to be quite thought-provoking and will inspire and enlighten all who see the performance!
Alicia - Mon, 3rd August, 2009
I know the show was good at southwest. I did not come but i wanted to be there so much. I watched you again on tv.
I don’t blog often, but we’ll just have to see how this one goes, won’t we?
Here in Steamboat Springs, CO with the family! And here I am, the same person I am in Memphis. The same person I’ve always been, for the most part…
A coffee addict. Leave it to me to find the only the only Starbucks for miles hidden in the mountains. If it weren’t for Jesus, I’d live for coffee. Liquefied coffee beans might be apart of my biological makeup. Without it, I feel…eh, less perceptive? But I don’t just come for the coffee- I’m here for the individual and combined energy the people bring. Heck, I come for the people. People are so interesting.
Another addiction- people watching. Call me creepy, 6’0” stalker if you’d like, but today that’d only be half true. My hair is puffed high! So that’s creepy 6’2” stalker, thank you very much. The people in Steamboat are “unique”, sure. At the end of the day, there are social replicas in the Steamboat to the Salamancan public. Ex.- most of the people here are not alone (same as most coffee shops in which I’ve stalked). They’re absorbed in company, conversation and culture. But there are few alone, and they are absorbed, as well, in reading, coffee cake or unfortunately, the insecurity of being here alone.
Oh, I don’t mean that shaky, afraid, “I’m-lost-and-I-can’t-find-my-way-and-people-are-watching-namely-the-6’0”-creepy-stalker-woman (which would only be half true)” insecure. I mean that “I’m-going-to-sip-my-coffee-every-2-seconds-and-not-make-eye-contact-with-anyone-and-constantly-peer-at-my-watch-and-out-of-the-window-for-my-late-company” insecure. As of now, I’m fighting the temptation of hopping my long self on top of their table, shouting, “Hey! Easy on the coffee! Look me in the eye! And stop peeking out of the window! Your company is on the way!”… but I do not want to be escorted from Starbucks. I like this Starbucks. I like coffee. And I like watching people. So, I will refrain.
Nonetheless, this guy is absorbed. He’s absorbed, consciously, in his absent company, and subconsciously, in his insecurity (something I’m not a stranger to myself). Other folks are absorbed in conversation, coffee, company, crumbs of coffee cake…(boy, do I love alliteration. Props to Dr. Seuss) but all of us are involved in something outside of ourselves, yes? Yes, we are. What happens when we drop the conversation, fork, coffee cup, caffeine, company (Sorry. I tried to break the repetition with “fork”, but a few more “c”s escaped. Do I enjoy this? Yes. Yes, I do)? What happens when we drop the anxious waiting for the late friend, the order-taking, the pain in the under-side of the left leg from the pressing, rough leather of this chair? The music? The computer screen?…the pen? What happens when we drop the props, the characters in the scene playing right now in our lives?
Okay, let’s try it this way- I’ve never been any good at math, but we’ll give it a go, shall we? Our world – the external attention grabbers=…ourselves? Us suspended in space? I don’t really know. I rarely go to that place. And when I used to, it was pretty lonely. Perhaps that’s why most people don’t go there? At the end of the day, we’re afraid of being lonely.
But when I go to that place now, it isn’t lonely at all. As a matter of fact, I find myself more lonely and alienated when I’ve given my entire heart and attention to one human being. Have I done that before? Yes, I have. This moment, my world, our world – the external attention grabbers= me, suspended in space…in addition to one other form, being, an “everything” that I cannot subtract (there is no such equation), my first love à God. His blueprint is my beginning. The matter that makes myself I am (truth)= me. He is apart of me. Saying the He isn’t is saying that cells do not make up the human body or that trees do not practice photosynthesis. That is how real He is in me, with or without the world outside of myself.
But here is the other side of the equation (I am, in fact, a mathematician at the moment. So, I tell myself- skillz!): Me the external world = the moment? Our world? I ought to have a firm, straight answer here, because this is where I dwell most often. But there is one thing I do know- his blueprint is in everything! As much as most of us want or try to ignore it, He’s there. Beyond the coffee, insecurities, food, stalkerish tendencies, etc., there is a beautiful human being, created by a very personal God. Outside, as of now, there is a unique tree, flower, mountain, cloud, waterfall, bee, leaf and energy. This is, maybe, the greatest metaphor for the great, colorful, diverse, infinitely-functioning God we have. He’s good. And all that he has created is good…but I wonder- if we (creation) believed that we were created by a good God, as an expression of goodness, would we be good…or just better?
In The Invisible Actor, Yoshi Oida tells of a gesture in Kabuki theatre called “looking at the moon.” He explains two very different actors that perform this movement, the first actor captivating the audience with how beautifully he points at the moon. However, the audience did not recall how the second moved; they simply saw the moon. I wish to achieve this in my career as an artist. I wish to be the instrument that guides the heart, mind and spirit of the audience to the moon.
During my freshman year in college, I had the honor of being the first Division III National Qualifier for the Rhodes College swim team. I remember the excitement of the flight to a frozen Michigan to compete with the best of Division III swimmers from all over the country. The pace of my heart matched the rhythm of the movement and high energy around me. From the airport to the car ride to the hotel and then to the pool for warm ups, the momentum of my anticipation never slowed. My heart danced through the snow, front double doors, and then finally the lobby. I sped to the front desk, where I asked a Caucasian woman sitting behind it for directions to the pool area. The movement of my heart, mind, and spirit at that moment halted when the woman replied, without bothering to peer up from the desk computer, “Janitors enter through the back.”
So why am I an artist? Why have I ‘chosen’ it? In actuality, those questions are invalid, because it is my sincere belief that art chose me. I am an artist, and I did nothing to choose the calling. The mystery lies in defining and implementing my responsibility as such. The true essence of responsibility is in sharing personal knowledge of self-revealed truth. It was my revelation that day at swimming nationals that racism is still a social impediment in this country; therefore, my responsibility is to address it through art. Racism, as well as poverty, terrorism, hate, and disaster are ugly dimensions of the moon that the audience of the world must see, and as an artist, it is my responsibility to guide their attention to it.
Yet, the greatest truth revealed to me to date is one that lies at the birth of my art and life: the love of God. It is that truth in my spirit that calls me to imitate Christ, as the artist imitates humanity. It is this truth that spoke a peaceful, yet potent, protest against the woman behind the desk. The truth of Christ makes me responsible to act in love, both in life and the representation of life onstage.
Amongst several others mediums, theatre possesses the capacity to empower a collective voice to which its audience will listen. The performance artist shows the audience the moon in all of its beauty and imperfection. The actor must take the audience on that journey emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually in order to afford the audience the opportunity of leaving better than they came. I sincerely hope for theatre to be our mirror, allowing us to alter those less-than-favorable aspects of the world as we know it for the better and celebrate what we love in our reflection.
Perhaps theatre as a mirror existing to initiate change is idealistic; however, show me an artist that does not treat this medium as if it would change the world, and I’ll show you an artist that needs to re-evaluate his/her standards for the art of theatre and humanity. I take my faith seriously, and through faith, I take my art seriously. Inevitably, I take humanity and our collective potential, not only as creatures, but spiritual beings, very seriously. And with the utmost sincerity, I believe that we must give ourselves completely and unselfishly to our chosen professions in order to expose what we know in our heart of hearts to be true.
Little pieces of truth settle into my grasp everyday, and all of my being desires to express these treasures through art…but you, friend- with your God-given gifts and talents, will you guide others to your own beauty or to the moon?
July 12th @ Rose Creek Village - Selmer, TN.
Jazmin's current project, The Journey of Truth is a one-woman show on historical figure Sojourner Truth, an ex-slave, abolitionist, women's rights activist and traveling minister.
The show covers the beginning of Truth's personal war as a child to a major turning point in her life, where she takes on the name Sojourner Truth. Truth's personal walk with God, astounding wit and humbling honesty empowered her to take every opportunity to profess God's good truth to the nation.
Jazmin walks in the same faith in which Truth walked and desires God's good truth to be as evident and powerful in the show itself as it is in her life. She sincerely hopes for this project to be a life-long endeavor, changing and shaping as she continues to grow and mature in age, wisdom and in God's likeness.