NOTE: PortFringe will be profiling PF14 Artists and their shows on this blog in the weeks leading up to the festival (June 24-29, 2014). The next snapshot is of Donel – a “poet, playwright, actor, musician, filmmaker, and revolutionary activist” from Brick, New Jersey, appearing at PortFringe for the first time. It was a pleasure to recently converse with Donel a bit more about his unique blend of activism and performance.
Show: A New Day
Description: In the tradition of Amiri Baraka and Langston Hughes. A New Day is a combination of poetry, song and storytelling. This play is Donel’s critique of industrialized society and his conscious revolutionary transformation. “This play is that most difficult of stage performances, the one man show. Donel sings, speaks, and narrates his way through what’s in his mind and heart, unedited. It’s pure emotion and truth,” says Rich Quatrone, Producing Director of Playwrights on the Rise. Donel is a poet, playwright, musician, filmmaker, and social activist. His new book Musical Meditations is available from Genuine Press.
PF: Tell us something we don’t know about you or your PortFringe Show.
Donel: I’ve spent a good amount of time living in the woods, and traveled all over the country visiting different Occupy Wall St. encampents while it was going on. And this show is really an expression of the soul of this country and my generation.
PF: We understand you have a book that’s been recently published (Musical Meditations, available through Genuine Press Productions). Congratulations! Are there shared themes and words between your book, and A New Day (the show you’re bringing to PortFringe later this month)?
Donel: Thank you! And yes. In fact The title poem “Musical Meditations” runs as a refrain throughout the play. Both the play and the book speak on the theme of the increasing struggle for sanity and love in American Culture. Technology, spirituality, and our collective disconnect from nature.
PF: Your show description indicates that you’ve undergone a “conscious revolutionary transformation.” Was there a defining “aha!” moment that set you down this path of awareness?
Donel: It was a gradual process of first being introduced to alternative culture through punk rock music and animal rights activism when I was a kid. One moment does stand out though. When I was 14 I got my first job at a local grocery store and an older kid that worked there named Chris, who was in the Jersey based punk rock band S.O.V. and then later Let It Burn, gave me a whole stack of information after talking politics. That information forever changed my life. He gave me a documentary on The Move Organization called The Bombing of West Philly, the movie Panther that depicts the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, a book written by political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, pamphlets from the Anarchist Black Cross Federation that informed me about the Political Prisoners currently serving time in the United States, and some general information on Anarchism. It’s hard to remember what else he gave me because it was a lot, but those few items stand out. And thats when things really started taking off for me as far as my critical thinking and sociological analysis go. It just developed from there.
PF: What are some of the sacrifices you’ve had to make in order to transform in such a way? Are there artistic sacrifices as well, or has this process only expanded artistic potential?
Donel: Well I had to realize that my purpose in life isn’t to have fun and be happy and comfortable all the time, but it’s to try and make the world a better place. So I would say I’ve had to sacrifice my own happiness and comfort a little bit for the greater good. From changing the way I eat, to curbing my consumption, to keeping my money in the local alternative non corporate community. No I don’t see or feel any sacrifices artistically. I stay very true to my craft and my intuition in creating. I do my best to allow my creations to flow through me without a filter, and I think I do a pretty good job at it. If anything this gradual transformation has allowed me to be more empathetic, giving me the chance to see the world through other peoples eyes and perspective which I would say has in fact expanded my artistic potential.
PF: The art of the one-person show might seem lonely to some people. How much of your work is done in creative solitude? How much is done in collaboration with others (other activists, artists, etc?)
Donel: A lot of my creative process takes place alone, but it all draws from real life experiences and the community around me. From the artistic, counter cultural revolutionary community. All of my work is a collection of the essence of everyone I’ve ever met, had a conversation with. I am involved with an artistic community down here in the Jersey Shore. Some of the songs in this play are songs that I play with my band Bohemia. And I’m in a new theater company called The American Poetry Theater, so there is a nice little music, poetry, theater, film and art scene down here.
Also to borrow from William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg I like to focus on the ‘minute particulars’ of my own inner most thoughts and feelings because in doing so I believe that we connect on the most intimate level possible as strangers and human beings when we realize we share the same thoughts and emotions, the same hopes and dreams, the same fears and pains, the same ills and yearnings and desires as people that we never met before. Thats what I hope comes through in my work, the universal oneness and connectivity of all people and life.
PF: Have you spent time in Portland before?
Donel: Nope I’ve never been to Portland or Maine, I’ve always wanted to come check it out though, and I’m very excited to get the opportunity to.
PF: What are you most looking forward to about PortFringe 2014?
Donel: I’m really looking foward to seeing the other performances and checking out/performing in Portland.
PF: Indulge us as we get a bit philosophical:
What does the term “Fringe Theater” mean to you?
Donel: To me fringe theater is just that, theater thats out on the fringe of society and cultural norms. I see it as rebellious authentic theater in its raw form. A place for experimentation and pushing art forms to the limits. You can do basically whatever moves you in the Fringe and I think thats a place that society needs to go and Fringe Theater and Festivals are one way that we can get there.
PF: And as we get even more existential:
Why is theater important?
Donel: It gives us a space to cope. A space to dream, a space to create new worlds that don’t exist yet. It gives us a space to vent to come together and experience the raw emotion and passion of life together. It reminds us that like jazz musicians in life we can play the notes that are not there.
PF: Are there other projects you’re working on next that you’d like to share with us?
Donel: Sure, I’m debuting a collaborative play with my new company The American Theater Company a play called “The American Flag” on July 6th in Asbury Park New Jersey. I’m also filming my first short film called Bohemia this summer, and if you’re ever on the Jersey Shore, I co-run a monthly open mic series at Kaya’s Kitchen in Belmar New Jersey called the Live and Direct Open Mic. And through my publishing company Genuine Press I’m about to put out a zine called Occupy Your Mind Literary Series Vol. 2 featuring various writers and intellectuals from the Jersey Shore.
PF: Lobster, or Steak? Discuss.
Donel: I don’t eat lobster and I don’t eat steak, I am a vegan so… fresh grown organic veggies.
PF: If you could fix one thing in the United States through your art and message – where would you start?
Donel: If I could fix one thing it would be the corporate and bank control of the United States government that leads to so much poverty, hunger, homelessness, wars and injustice in this country and around the world. Which really at the heart of the matter is capitalism itself because at the heart of capitalism is imperialism and colonialism and I believe in freedom, in peace, and in love and history has proven that capitalism and freedom are the antithesis of each other.
PF: What role does theater (or the arts in general) play (or could or should play) in social activism today?
Donel: Theater and art in general play an important role in social activism today, one because all the activists and revolutionaries out there that are doing important work need a sound track, need plays, movies, poems and writings to keep inspiring them and feeding their souls as they continue to work for a better world. And two to prep the masses for the transformation and revolution that is necessary in our society as a whole for the survival of our species and for freedom and love to prevail.
SEE DONEL’S “A NEW DAY” AT PORTFRINGE 2014!
Wednesday, June 25 at 10:00pm – PSC Storefront Theater
Saturday, June 28 at 8:00pm – PSC Storefront Theater
for more information about PortFringe, visit www.portfringe.com