|If Lewis Carroll had met Robert Johnson, it
would have been at Klub Ka, the world imagined in "Klub Ka, The Blues
Legend," a play with classic Delta blues written by two-time Obie winner
James V. Hatch and prize-winning poet Suzanne Noguere. The play is a mythical
journey into the Underworld by a teenage girl who deals with the demon of
sexual abuse and longs to be a poet. Her quest leads her into a variety
of encounters, from the laugh-out-loud funny to get-goosebumps eerie. The
production features blues performed by Kevin "B.F." Burt and original
music composed by Christa Victoria. Tisch Jones directs.
The play is adapted from "The Stone House, A Blues Legend,"
a fairy tale for adults by Hatch and Noguere. It is conceived as an "Alice
in Wonderland" fairy tale with music, reflecting on both the psychological
process of recovery from early trauma and the cathartic effect of Blues
and poetry. The play's design by David Thayer incorporates the Picassoesque,
fanciful artwork of Camille Billops, who illustrated the book. To establish
each scene, pictures by Billops will be projected on large moveable screens.
The story is that of Suji, a young girl struggling to articulate her
own blues under the dark memories of her father's sexual abuse. After
falling under the spell of Papa Gee, an old Delta bluesman who materializes
from a 1930s recording, Suji aims at joining the legendary Klub Ka to
tell her poem in that home of all blue poets. A legend holds that when
blues musicians and poets die, they don't go to heaven, but to Klub Ka,
a roadhouse on "The Other Side." ("Ka" is the ancient
Egyptian word for "soul.")
Until recently, the theme of sexual abuse in children was fairly taboo
in the media and the arts, in spite of the artistic necessity of dealing
with it. "Klub Ka" is a story about the process of recovery
from traumatic child abuse. Like the book it is based on, the play does
this in a Joycean way. Commenting on "The Stone House, A Blues Legend,"
poet Alfred Dorn (author of "Voices from Rooms" and "From
Cells to Mindspace," Somers Rock Press) has written, "The scene
in the Driftwood Bar reminded me of the tavern episode in Joyce's 'Ulysses.'
Here and elsewhere there are shifting and interpenetrating planes of perception,
memory, imagination, dream and hallucination. As with Joyce, it all works
through the magic of words. 'The Stone House' is a mind-expanding experimental
"Klub Ka, The Blues Legend" was first performed in the University
of Iowa's Partnership in the Arts Program in November 2002, directed by
Tisch Jones, director and professor of theater at the University of Iowa.
James V. Hatch is creator, with his wife, Camille Billops, of the Hatch-Billops
Collection (winner of an Obie for Outstanding Achievment in Theater, 1997),
which was established in 1968 to preserve primary and secondary ressource
materials in the black cultural arts. The archive now includes an extensive
slide and photographic collection, an oral history library of over 1500
taped interviews and a reference library. (It was the place where young
George C. Wolfe found his first job in New York.) Hatch has also received
an Obie as playwright of "Fly Blackbird" during the 1962-63
season. (Its L.A. production included George Takai as an actor and Francis
Ford Coppola as a carpenter and lighting designer). Hatch's film, "Finding
Christa," which he co-wrote and co-produced with Ms. Billops, won
the the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for best documentary film in 1992.
With Errol G. Hill, he is author of "The History of African American
Theatre" (Cambridge University Press, 2003), the first history of
Suzanne Noguere is a widely published and anthologized poet. Winner of
the 1996 "Discovery"/The Nation Prize and a 1989 award from
the Poetry Society of America, she is the author of two children's books
and "Whirling Round the Sun," listed as one of the 10 best poetry
books of the year in New Times Los Angeles Book Supplement. She is a member
of the Dramatists Guild of America.
Illustrator Camille Billops is both a visual artist and filmmaker. Her
films have been shown on Public Television and at the Museum of Modern
Art. Her prints and sculpture have been exhibited internationally in galleries
and museums, including Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design, The Chrysler Museum,
and The New Museum.
Director Tisch Jones was assistant to Lloyd Richards during his ten-year
tenure as head of Yale Rep. She has worked at the New Federal Theatre,
the Apollo, and Lincoln Center in New York, as well as at the Karamu in
Cleveland and the Unadila Theatre in Vermont. Her directing credits include
"Grey Panthers," "Miss Invictus," "Christchild,"
"Woza Albert" and "Joe Turner's Come and Gone." She
is known for mounting new works as well as historical plays that have
seldom been performed, such as "The Escape or A Leap for Freedom"
by William Wells Brown and "Rachel" by Angelina Grimke.
Composer/musical director Christa Victoria is a vocalist and composer.
Her musical experience includes 13 years as classical pianist and vocalist
in gospel, jazz, and blues. Her live performances have carried her to
London, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Taiwan. This fall, she was composer
and musical director of "The Good Faith, 1940-1990" by Harold
Dean James at La MaMa. She is the Christa of "Finding Christa,"
whom Ms. Billops had originally given up for adoption as a small child.
She was reunited with her natural mother at age 24 and has collaborated
with her on numerous projects since.
Kevin "B.F." Burt is a black, Iowa-based Blues vocalist and
instrumentalist with Mississippi roots. He has sung with Buddy Guy, Lonnie
Brooks, Koko Taylor, Honey Boy Edwards, Little Ed and the Blues Imperials,
Robert Jr. Lockwood and Michael Hill. He has opened for B. B. King, Bo
Diddley, Albert Collins, Luther Allison and Charlie Musclewite. He is
the subject of an upcoming documentary film by Dave Gould and Kevin Kelly.
His style is often compared to Bill Withers'.
Production designer David Thayer is emeritus professor of theatre arts
at University of Iowa. Before retirement, he served as head of the Design
and Technical Theatre programs and, at various times, production manager
for dance, opera, and theatre, and as interim chair of the Theatre Arts
Department. He was original designer for "Klub Ka, The Blues Legend"
at University of Iowa and has re-designed the production for La MaMa.