Ask Philippa: SPUNK Edition

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes and production dramaturg for Spunk, shares her thoughts on the current production, and invites your questions. Spunk runs July 4–29, 2012.

Spunk Inside Scoop by Jay Yamada

Philippa Kelly, Margo Hall, Patricia McGregor, and L. Peter Callender at the Inside Scoop event for SPUNK; photo by Jay Yamada.

To honor …  and adapt … Black southern dialect forms the living heartbeat of this musical theater piece, lovingly made by George C. Wolfe in 1982, in which the Broadway genius—already a significant star by the age of 35—adapted three of Zora Neale Hurston’s short stories to create Spunk. An anthropologist as well as an artist, Hurston used the language of her southern people—not the language of Dickens or Shakespeare or even of Richard Wright—to represent the world she came from. She saw oral culture as the key to the selves that slip down through the family tree: the spirits of parents and grandparents that live on in tongues, not texts.

Are you going to see our  production of  Spunk? Do you have questions or comments about the production’s music, cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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12 Responses to Ask Philippa: SPUNK Edition

  1. tr voloshin says:

    Appropriate for what ages?

    • skalem says:

      Stefanie from Cal Shakes here. To expand upon Philippa’s response below, we believe that every child is different and that parents are best suited to make decisions about the appropriateness of any production for their children. Spunk contains mature subject matter including themes of love, joy, courting, flirtation, and violence. All the actions are staged in a very stylized way, not graphically or realistically, but the emotional situations will be clear. We hope all families realize that we are presenting these adult stories as life struggles that everyone goes through on their journey to becoming their own self, not to condone difficult or painful behavior. We hope all audiences come away from seeing Spunk with a sense of discovery and joy from participating in the everyday lives portrayed.

  2. Philippa Kelly says:

    hi,

    It’s great for all ages. Sorry I didn’t see this post till tonight

  3. Loeta Rogers says:

    Phillipa

    I thoroughly enjoyed your grove talk last night (3rd preview). You always set the play in context with good info and humor and relate the info to the production we’ll be seeing. Last night’s talk was particularly helpful to me since I am less familiar with Zora Neale Hurston than other writers. I enjoyed the performance immensely and I know to a greater degree after having had the benefit of your insights. Thank you.

    • Philippa Kelly says:

      Loeta, this is a lovely email to receive. I’m glad you got to see my talk early in the season, as my talks are all run out for this show now. But if you do come back, we have two excellent speakers, Joanie and Cathleen, who will give you some wonderful takes on the show. I’d really advise you coming back to see it – there is so much richness and beauty and truth in this show.

  4. Marc Kluender says:

    As I listened to your comments last evening I again was amazed at your ability to use articulate “words” to bring to life what we were about to experience on stage and then loving answering our questions for you. Having seen the Scottsboro Boys at ACT the previous week, I was aware how the black music tradition, in both plays, enlivened the “words” putting them to music, but this time I got to participate opening my mouth with a “UGHH!” refrain to all the women belting out a city name. You wrote of previous criticism of Spunk creating “minstrel like black figures.” After the play dancing the jazzy music on stage following Traci’s vibrant lead, I said to myself,I don’t think those “critics” ever got a chance to dance on stage with Traci. I thank you and all of Cal Shake’s “movers and shakers” for broadening our Bay area world of theater.

  5. Philippa Kelly says:

    Thank you Marc,

    This is a wonderful observation about the Minstrel figures. One wonders – is it that our time is more open-minded now, so that people are ready to rebuke the preconceptions behind Minstrel- images, and are, perhaps, therefore much less likely to see it as a Minstrel-figure show? But even moreso, I think that Patricia has brought her brilliance (her spunk) to the show in presenting all the colour and richness and complexity of her subject. In building the show around three dimensions (puppetry in #1, then the zoot suits of Harlem, where people are shown to be far more able and willing to take up more space than society formerly allowed them), to the three-dimensional third story where the dawn breaks and this scene could be any two people sitting on the side of a bed – THIS has created a complexity and depth that draws an audience from a comfortable ‘white’ space to enter deeper and deeper into a world of progressive recognition AND self-identification. Does this make sense? I have not slept all night – I suffer occasionally from insomnia, and so at such moments I take the opportunity to write (I have been working on our next show, Hamlet) – but wanted to write this before I go to bed! If it requires more explanation, just write back again tomorrow and I’ll give you more detail. But basically I love the fact that the slaps given to Zora in the past are now seen for what they are – slaps to try to rebuke an extraordinarily far-sighted and dedicated and originally gifted woman.

  6. Andrew Davenport says:

    I’m wondering if you can tell me what other plays this all-star cast will be in next. From the deliciously villainous Sykes played by L. Peter Callendar to the gentle giant of Joe, and the hilariously over the top Sweet Back and Jelly these amazing performances and characters are not something I would want to miss. On a side note however, I was wondering if there was any way I could get in contact with the cast and crew of this fantastic performance over this blog.

  7. Philippa Kelly says:

    Hi Andrew,
    We’re just finding out the list of actors/productions now – it may take a few days to get them all together. And it’s fine to contact them over this blog – just ask a question of any actor and I’ll ask them to contact the blogsite with an answer.
    thank you for your interest.
    Philippa

  8. Philippa Kelly says:

    Hi again Andrew,
    we sent an email out to the cast and director and we have one reply at this point – Aldo Billingslea will be in Neil LaBute’s This Is How It Goes”at the Aurora in the spring. When other people write back, we’ll keep you posted. (I just had a thought – in years or decades to come, when the postal service is largely archaic, I guess kids will think ‘keep you posted’ originated with the internet! In fact, we can trace the word back to the postal service, and we can trace THAT usage way further back to when people rode and delivered messages ‘post haste’; and THAT usage back to the Latin ‘post’ as in ‘following behind’!! it is interesting how much internet vocabulary – eg post, surf – originates in the physical, tangible realm of corporeal bodies.)

  9. I am inquiring about the publication playbill in which the piece, “Three Encounters With Zora,” by Phillipa Kelly was featured in. I haven’t the copy in hand at this time and would like to cite it correctly for a paper I have written on Zora Neale Hurston for my English class. Would the following information be available on lime (or is anyone nice enough to provide it for me): Publisher’s name, location, and date of publication. I have the rest. Thank you so much. I truly appreciate any help available.
    Sincerely, Lydia J. Stephens

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