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Conflicting Sexuality: Exploring sexual abuse in the Internet age

An autobiography with online chat rooms

By Antoine Craigwell

(New York, NY) – Cybersex: The Play, morphed from a 10-year-old seed, as an idea in the mind of Jason Duvall Hunter, to finally growing into and becoming a tree that bloomed and bore fruit with a performance at the New York City Producer’s Club.

At the Producer’s Club, last Saturday night, Jul 10, more than 60 people gathered to share in Hunter’s dream of producing a play. A real estate broker by day and the play’s writer, producer, director, and sound and lighting master, Hunter was finally able to bring to the stage his vision of melding his story with current technology: exploring his sexual abuse as a child with his search for love and affection in Internet chat rooms.

“I’ve thought of this play for over 10 years and with the rise of the Internet and computers, this is also autobiographical where I explore sexual identity and conflict. It’s also an opportunity for me to create this using my own life experience as a template,” Hunter said.

CyberSex: The Play is an adult rated play, which describes in graphic detail the sexual escapades that people engage in online chat rooms. It features a cast and crew of 13, and consists of people of different racial backgrounds, who, according to Hunter, were chosen from an open casting call and is intended as a reflection of diversity in society.

The play, with Harmonica Sunbeam as the Online Host, began with introductions into Internet Chat Rooms by the character “YouMe69n” (a handle used by several of the characters), played and with dance sequences choreographed by FranCisco Vegas – in drag, Michael Smith, Oscar Salazar, Nick Dorvill, and DJ Baker as “Shine2Fine”. Using different chat room handles, the characters include “Boy1683n” played by Delvon Johnson, “ShavedFratboy” played by Yvette Quintero, “Kenny1744n” played by Tristan Sample, “Tyboy1215n” by Nemian Quaid, and “LindaSue49n” by Unique Mills. The play devolves into the story of David, played by Alton Alburo, dressed simply in a black T-shirt and pants, who interleaves into the play a monologue describing his seduction and rape when he was 8-years old by his older cousin.

FranCisco Vegas as "YouMe69n"

It is in Internet chat rooms that David turns to find his sexuality identity, to determine if he is gay, straight, or bisexual. And, it is by entering into the Chat Rooms, in six different scenes, that he encounters people who populate these Internet sites, and are not who they say or claim to be; that in fact, many are hiding their true selves behind masks and various costumes with attitudes and behaviors. He realizes that as he searches for meaning in the chat rooms, he is the only one being truthful.

David reveals toward the end that since he was raped, his sexual development has been stunted: although he has participated in several different sexual acts, including having a girlfriend who turned out to be a lesbian, and with many different people, the trauma of the rape has prevented him from ever achieving an orgasm.

A scene from a sex chat room

“I want people to come away from seeing this play with perceptions of themselves, to see in the people they know, the costumes and the masks people wear, and the lies people tell, especially the covers people use as they interact with each other online. This is basically an exploration of sexuality and sexual identity, and is a peeling away of the layers to reveal true selves,” said Hunter.

Sharing in the play’s production, associate producer Nathan James, a writer and advocate for and of the LGBT community, said that working with Hunter and Bill Johnson, the co-director, was a privilege to create a performance that is at once both provocative and groundbreaking.

“It is provocative in that it’s a play that steps outside the boundaries of convention and engages the audience with intriguing concepts regarding our sexual identity and some of our darker life experiences,” James said.

DJ Baker as "Shine2Fine"

Bill Johnson, 14 years as a director, who participated in productions such as “Colored Museum” by George C. Wolf, and “Bus Stop” by William Inge, said that he was glad to have been given the opportunity to give voice to Hunter’s personal story. He said he took the writer’s words to ensure that the story is told through direction, lighting, costumes, and props, which were minimal.

“It’s a good story. Unfortunately, molestation is too much part of life. Too many men have been molested and haven’t dealt with it, and don’t know how to deal with it. This play addresses this issue and I hope it opens some lines of communication,” the co-director said.

Hunter, who has been working on producing the play since January, had a

Alton Alburo as "David"

table reading in February this year and depending on the success of the play, plans to pursue an extended run for about three or four weeks in the Fall at a mid-level theater, such as the Helen Mills Theater or a theater with about 140 seats. His vision for the play’s future is that it would attract sponsors and with a bigger budget go off-Broadway or even ambitiously, to Broadway itself.

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July 14, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Blogroll, Caribbean, Caribbean Community, community, Elderly LGBT, Guyana, Health, HIV, Immigrant rights, Jamaica, LGBT community, LGBT Immigrant rights, LGBT Rights, LGBT Seniors, Male Health, Public Health, Theater | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jamaican Folk Music and Dance Raises Rafters at NYC Hunter College

Celebrating Braata Folk Singers official launch

Braata Productions official launch program

(New York, NY) To the pulsating rhythms of drums, the sound of a tambourine and the distinct sharp notes from two keyboards, the ensemble that is Braata Folk Singers officially launched their group for all the world at a concert held on Sunday, Jun 27 at Lang Hall in Hunter College, City University of New York.

Dressed in traditional Jamaican costumes, the stage set with props reminiscent of a market place in rural Jamaica, the members of the ensemble of Braata Folk Singers: six men, five women and two children, danced and sang, and told stories of their homeland, people and culture in folk songs.

Although formed a year ago, the company, whose name is colloquial Jamaican for “a little bit more,” has been performing in and around New York City’s five boroughs, and the tri-state area. Its complement of 12 members is made up of students, teachers, and nurses, to name a few professions. With the formation of Braata Folk Singers, it has brought together talents and experience, which serve to expand the repertoire with folk genres such as Kumina, Bruckins, Dinki-Mini, Revival, Mento, Ring Games, Maroon, and Nine Night. This official launch was an occasion to establish the ensemble as a serious group within the Caribbean Diaspora and to the collection of West Indian cultural heritage groups here in the U.S.

Center, Braata Productions founder and director, Andrew Clarke

Founder and artistic director, Andrew Clarke said, “I am humbled …by the diverse and talented members of Braata Folk Singers who I have the pleasure of leading as I do my part in helping to build on the tradition and legacy of groups such as the Jamaican Folk Singers, Carifolk Singers, and the NDTC Singers, to name a few. I am particularly excited that the faces you will see and the voices you will hear entertain you …are those of the next generation, intent on upholding the rich tradition.”

Clarke said that for him, this official launch is like a father who has nurtured a child and is now sending that child to school for the first time.

“Sadly, I can’t continue to protect this child from the reality that exists in the world, but I take comfort in the fact that I have done a good job and they will make me proud,” said Clarke.Baraata Productions musicians

In a congratulatory letter to the ensemble, Member of Parliament and Minister of Youth and Sports Olivia Grange said that the government of Jamaica is always proud to acknowledge the work of Jamaicans abroad.

“Although Braata Folk Singers is merely a year old, the group has already established itself and it is expected that its first anniversary celebration concert will provide exceptional entertainment as it pays tribute to some of Jamaica’s cultural icons, including Louise Bennett and Professor Rex Nettleford,” said Grange.

The ensemble performed a collection of 27 folk songs, in one part those common to the market place, such as “Solas Market” and featuring food, and many social situations, including gossip, romance, justice, and commerce, as with the performance done by Ms. Jamaica USA 2009 Diane Johnson, who sang a moving rendition of “Saloh (Quattie a yawd)” which had similar strains to the peddler’s song from the production of “Oliver.” And, the rendition of “Ratta Maddan Law” seemed to carry in its arrangement hints of a folk song “Bamboo Fire” common in Guyana.

Following the 15-minute intermission, one of the ensemble assumed the role of and paid tribute to the late Dr. Louise Bennett-Coverly, DM (1919 – 2006). She performed a medley of songs, one of which “Dis Lang time gyal” is familiar across the Caribbean. As the narrator explained following the rendition of “Di Buggy Bruk” which lyrics were seemingly innocuous, in fact announced the abolition of slavery.

Then as if attending a spiritualist or revivalist gathering the women appeared dressed in long white dresses with different colored head and waist cloths, and the men with white shirts, black pants and colored head wraps and cummerbunds. Swaying to the rhythms of “Anywhere the army goes, Satan a follow” it seemed as if the ensemble were at a revivalist or spiritualist meeting, as they sang a Bible medley which included songs such as “Cock-a-crow, Peter gone,” “King David slew Goliath with a sling and a marble stone,” “Symbol a gon roll away,” and “Rolling down to Babylon.”

Baraata Productions ensemble performing at official launchAudiences at the two shows, both of which nearly filled the 150-seat Lang Hall, expressed their appreciation and during many of the renditions, were heard giggling, laughing, and even applauding as the folk songs brought back memories of life in Jamaica.

Offering a slight comment contrary to the general sense of approval, Clifford Warmington, a Jamaican living in the U.S. for five years, said that while the production was good, the performances was as close to authentic and Jamaican as possible. He drew attention to a few minor technicalities, such as the choreography, “could have been a little tighter,” and at times some of the drumming seemed to overwhelm the voices of the singers. Explaining, he said that in some of the group dance movements, all were not sufficiently coordinated.

Warmington, an environmental scientist with a penchant for the arts, said, “Hearing folk songs take me back and I imagine for the older people in the audience how hearing these songs take them back.”

Braata Productions ensemble performing a revival piece

At the conclusion of the program, Clarke thanked the audience and those who were vital to the production and performance, including Ruth Brown, from Florida, who he said went shopping for the props and costumes and shipped them to him. He also thanked his co-director and musical director Garnet Christopher Lloyd Mowatt, who as a minister of music at Oakgrove CME Church in Water Valley, Mississippi, traveled once a month to New York for rehearsals, and those members of the ensemble who excelled with only a few weeks of rehearsal.

June 29, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Men, Caribbean, Caribbean Community, community, Guyana, Jamaica, Theater | , , , , | Leave a comment

Positive: Retelling the HIV message

Trevor Rhone’s play, directed by Karl Williams.

By Antoine Craigwell

Trevor Rhone (1940-2009)

Dressed in black with a long red silk stole draped around his neck, he hovered in the background as a specter, visible to all, yet intending to be unseen by those he haunted. He chortled and skipped with glee, announcing “another one gone” when someone’s test results were positive or someone had succumbed and died from complications associated with HIV, and gnashed his teeth in chagrin when someone’s results was negative or despite his attempts at influencing, someone chose to use a condom. He was the embodiment of HIV.

Poster - Trevor Rhone's Positive
Poster – Trevor Rhone’s Positive

The image of HIV, familiar yet menacing, was the central theme of the play written by the late Jamaican playwright Trevor Rhone (1940 to 2009). Set in the island nation of Jamaica, “Positive” explores and examines different sections of society, unconfined to the island, which remain as obstacles to effective dissemination of information, prevention, and treatment of HIV. Originally, Rhone intended “Positive” as a musical, incorporating the pulsating, suggestive lyrics, and beats of reggae, music from Jamaica. The play, when it was presented at the New Perspectives Theater on Saturday, Mar 6, 2010, although it was a first performance, the small theater space was packed, standing room only, with friends, guests, and possible sponsors. In this production, an old story of the devastating consequences wreaked on those infected, HIV was told with the definitive accent and vernacular of Jamaicans at home in their city, according to the director, Karl O’Brian Williams, at the post performance Q&A, without music. Two companies collaborated to produce Positive, Barata Productions and Banana Boat Productions, with a nine-member cast, whose intensity and passion found identification with the characters, and with the shifting scenes, at its conclusion received sustained and enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Trevor Rhone

The play examines frequently colliding and juxtaposed religious dilemmas and socio-economic issues, cultural mores and pressures, and of sexual abuse and promiscuity, which runs as an undercurrent in society. It tells of the story of Devon, played by Kyino Cunningham, a late teenager of his time, tall, muscular, lithe, and physically attractive, who is already jaded by the experiences of his life: the many family and friends who have died from HIV. He is caught in a position where he has to choose between the demands of his peers and immediate society to prove his manhood through multiple sexual conquests, and what he knows would protect him from the fate of those he mourn, as he declares resignedly, “there’s no tomorrow in my reality.” In exasperation he exclaims, when asked about his preference for not using condoms, that since he was about nine or 10-years-old, when he first had sex, condoms were too small for his penis and the girls he had sex with wanted the intimate feel of skin on skin, insisting that “true intimacy is sex without a condom.” As the play progresses, Devon meets and is smitten by Melissa, played by Annmarie Cole, who is voluptuous, sexy, beautiful and desirable; everything about her screams sex. She is a willing partner for sex, not only with Devon, who she desperately desires, but also with his friends in a sexual orgy, termed “to run battery”. She wants to prove herself, to her peers, and to share in the experience she has heard from her friends. She agrees to have sex with Devon, but he cautions her that it would not be with him alone, he tells her she would be having sex with six men. All the while, as Devon and Melissa negotiate their impending sexual encounter, HIV, played by Lemark McPherson, lurks behind them as a specter, miming, gesticulating suggestions, and as if he was a master puppeteer, manipulating the strings to ensnare one more victim. Melissa agrees and when the time arrives, in a simulation of the act, surrounded by the males in the cast, she falls to the floor, holds her abdomen and utters a guttural scream from the pain of the number of penetrations, which are imagined to be not all vaginal.

from a production of "Positive"

The playwright explores, addresses, and reconciles the conflicts the religious institutions experience when faced with the stark reality of the suffering of ordinary people. In one scene, Sister, a habited member of a Roman Catholic religious order, played by Hillary Roosevelt Ricketts, is recruited to assist with outreach. She quickly learns how removed she is from the real world when she answers a call to the agency from someone enquiring about how HIV is  contracted and about “eating at a two-foot table”, a term which perplexed and  embarrassed her when Joe, the head of the HIV prevention and outreach agency, played by Andrew Clarke, explained that it was another term for oral sex on a woman, “I’ve learned more out here than from all the books I’ve read,” she said.

Poster - Smile Orange

Revealing is the reconciliation which occurred when the pastor of the evangelical church, played by Ian Forrest, demonizes Joe’s outreach enterprise, condemning to hellfire and damnation with vehement denouncements all those who lead lives of the flesh, “people must change their evil ways.” The pastor himself undergoes a conversion and comes to a realization when he meets Marilyn, played by Kara Colley, and a romance blossoms. He invites her to attend and hear him preach at a crusade, to dinner and just as he was making moves to consummate their relationship, Marilyn stops him, insisting that he use a condom and explains that she is HIV-positive. Meanwhile, the specter of HIV hovering in the background, turns away in disgust at Marilyn’s revelation. So enamored is the pastor that he approaches Joe and the Sister to discuss what he should do, especially since he couldn’t understand how someone as physically attractive and sexy with no outward manifestations of the disease as Marilyn could be HIV-positive. After a conversation with Joe and Sister, he renounces the hellfire and damnation vitriol, asks what he could do to help spread the word about HIV, and asks Marilyn if she would be his wife.

In another scene, a mother, Delrose, played by Camile Deans, comes to the agency asking for help. She does not know what to do,  she knows that her boyfriend, who tom-cats all over the town, having sex with many people, has also been having sex with her 13-year-old daughter. Although she has sent her daughter away to live with an aunt and had once evicted the boyfriend from her home, she is desperate, because his financial contribution to the home provides for her and the other children, but he demands that his turn to the house is conditional on the daughter coming back home. Joe and Sister are themselves shocked by the revelation and perplexed as to how to advise Delrose, except to suggest that the daughter stay with the aunt.

Then in another scene, the daughter, Jane, played also by Cole, comes to the agency one year later, because as she said, her mother told her that if ever she needed any help she should go and ask for the Sister. To the chortles of glee from the HIV specter in the background, she recounts that her mother had died from HIV and that she is also HIV-positive. She explains that she works in a strip bar and asks for some condoms so she could go to work. Sister hesitates, as once again she faces a conflict, the church’s stance against condom use and the desperation before her: as Jane explained that she is now the sole breadwinner of the family and has to work in the sex industry to support herself and other siblings. As if not wanting to seem complicit, Sister asks to be excused from the room, and as soon as she leaves, Jane grabs a handful of condoms and flees.

Poster - The Harder They Come

While audience participation in the post performance Q&A was spirited and engaging, asking questions and offering comments, there was no consensus on retaining the strong Jamaican accent and dialects, and how to address the sexual suggestiveness of some of the portrayals as Rhone intended, if the desire is to take the play into the New York City public school system. One of the objectives of the performance was to attract sponsors for future performances. The producers thanked Rhone’s estate for permission to stage the play.

Poster - One Love

Rhone, who died suddenly last September from a heart attack, was a prolific writer, producer, director, and lecturer, being involved in films such as the cult classic “The Harder They Come” (1969), “One Love” produced in Jamaica, and his stage works, which included “Smile Orange” (1971), “Old Story Time” (1979), and “Two Can Play” (1982). He was a consultant to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Global AIDS Program in Guyana, with oversight and responsibility for a serialized radio drama production. As a member of the Caribbean theatre, he advocated that his work should “mirror the lives of the ordinary man, and to reaffirm his strengths in such a way that he learns to diminish his weaknesses and to believe that he can make a positive difference in his society.”

For more information and for sponsorship opportunities, contact Andrew Clarke, executive director, Barata Productions at zuzu92_2000@yahoo.com

March 12, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Blogroll, Caribbean, community, death, Guyana, Health, HIV, HIV Status, Jamaica, LGBT community, Male Health, Public Health, Theater | Leave a comment

Sexuality among African-Americans

Against a backdrop of acceptance, ambivalence and denial, a social commentary of same-sex relationships in Oprah Winfrey’s production of Alice Walker’s Color Purple and implied in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, needs examination.
The Color Purple , with its run on Broadway ended, attracted not only notable stars to many of its leading roles, but hordes of African-Americans who came to see the performance, which to some reflected the suffering and redemption running like a strong river through their lives and to others, to see their favorite stars up close and personal or as close as they could get to the stage to biblically touch the hem of their idols. In its final week, I was privileged to share this theatrical experience with a full house of African-Americans from all walks of life. Notwithstanding, there were a few non-African-Americans in the audience and in the row I shared with about twenty other patrons, there sat the president of ABC-TV.
Interesting though the play was, I was struck by the seeming acceptance, if that is what it was, of deliberate actions acted out on the stage. At the end of the play, Channel 7, ABC News Anchor Sade Baderinwa hosted a question and answer session with the cast and audience. Without boring you with a re-hashing of the play, I asked a question about the significance to African-American women of the kiss shared between Celie and Shug Avery, when Shug first came to visit. The response from Zonya Love (appropriate surname?) the leading lady and from Angela Robinson, the actress who played Suug was anything but satisfactory. At best they skirted around the issue and dissembled, referring to the reaction of Robinson’s mother coming to see the play and after seeing it made a dismissive comment about Celie and Shug kissing and the continued development of their relationship.
The fact that it seemed perfectly acceptable to everyone in the theater to see the depth of the relationship between two women shared so openly, with ease and without question, much less a raised eyebrow is cause for question. While art imitates life, if in real life women are having close sexual relations with each other in private and in secret, and with all the denials and vitriol against same-sex relations, the long passionate kiss between Celie and Shug should have stirred catcalls and jeers, to say the least. Does this not suggest an accurate reflection of what is happening between women, but is denied, unaccepted, and covered in pretense?
While many women would scoff at a sexual relationship between two women, the lack or absence of any type of reaction, averse or accepting, pointed to a development in social awareness: that two women should kiss on stage without boos, catcalls, hisses or jeers.
Understandably, the suffering, the pain, and the loneliness Celie experienced when Nettie, her sister, was sent away no doubt left a hole in each other’s world. She and her sister were companions in suffering whose deep love for each other was forged in the fires of pain and hardship and was the means to a flight of fantasy of their creation to help them escape from the realities of their lives. When Shug came to visit, Celie so desperate for companionship and to identify with another woman, gravitated to her. Shug, on the other hand, insecure and with her own low-self esteem issues, was drawn to the appearance of strength and stability, forged out of pain in Celie, like a moth to a flame. While on the many different levels, whether sociologically or psychologically, it was the expression of a longing and finding satisfaction for that longing that proved to be the bond between Celie and Shug. And, even when Shug eventually left Celie and returned, then left again, Celie seemed to have become filled with strength and purpose where she didn’t need Shug anymore.
However, while the Color Purple began with abuse, poverty, pain, it was resolved with forgiveness, care, concern, prosperity and a renewed sense of a family unit that had been tested, battered, stripped, survived, and reconstituted stronger than before.
On the opposite side of this tale, of the intricate machinations of people caught up in hardship who were able to resolve their differences and heal, is the raw exposure of a dysfunctional family in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Indeed, all the actors’ selfish agendas only served to heighten their individual sense of expectation, like cats on a hot tin roof, ready to spring into the air and jump off for the heat on soft exposed skin of their paws. Like the Color Purple, Cat on A Hot Tin Roof in its limited run, attracted some famous actors, James Earl Jones as Big Daddy, Phylicia Rashas as Big Momma, Anika Noni Rose as Maggie, and Terrance Howard as Brick. As the play unfolded, the characters were all motivated by greed or some form of selfishness: hoping Big Daddy would die and leave the estate to them, driven to wresting control of another through pregnancy, and yet, others were anxious their secrets be preserved.
As the layers peel away, we are left wondering: why did Maggie have sex with Skipper, if she actually did, or was she saying she did just to get a rise[pun] out of Brick?
Let us then take a closer look at the secret Brick harbors. Brick is pursued by Maggie, his recent wife, to become a father. In Maggie’s mind, a child would cement not only her relationship with Brick but solidify her position in the family and so inherit the estate on Big Daddy’s demise. Why, with Big Daddy’s death from cancer looming, who else would inherit and take over management of the estate? As the story unfolds, Brick’s alcoholism is already a problem, but one which is known, tolerated as befitting men who drink, and passed off as normal. But when Big Daddy gets involved and begins to interrogate Brick about his drinking, because it seems that the alcoholism is not related to having been cheated on by a woman, feeling aggrieved over some slight or insult to his manhood by a woman; for after all, Maggie is literally throwing herself at him. As Big Daddy with his crude methods was able to deduce, that Brick’s drinking was to hide, escape and deny the relationship that existed between him and Skipper. But with the persistence of a dog digging for a bone, Big Daddy would not let up in his questioning and eventually, in as much as he didn’t get a direct answer from Brick as to whether or not Brick’s drinking was tied to the closeness with Skipper and Skipper’s death, Big Daddy was expressing his concerned for Brick’s health. What was Brick’s relationship with Skipper? We were told they were young men who grew up together and were close friends. How close were they? It is obvious that Brick’s drinking, intending to hide his feeling rather drew attention to them. Brick was undoubtedly caught in his own Catch-22: drinking to hide his feelings over Skipper and Skipper’s death and drawing attention to his feelings by his drinking. What should he do? Come clean and admit to Big Daddy and Momma and to Maggie, that he loved Skipper much closer than two close friends? Is he to admit that, if not in so many words as to offend the Southern sensibilities, to a particular special friendship? It is clear, his drinking is a pathetic attempt to hide his grief, longing and desire, not for Maggie, but for his friend, and like a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, he is filled with anxiety: he can’t stay on the roof – he misses Skipper so much, it hurts so he drinks, but that is drawing attention to his problem; he wants to, but is afraid to say how deeply he is hurting, because if he does, he runs the risk of losing everything, Maggie (whom he really doesn’t care for but who is necessary for appearances sake) and the love, respect and acceptance of his family. What is he to do?

March 20, 2008 Posted by | Theater | , , | Leave a comment