So, I know I'm gonna get some push back, so I'm going to preface with this: This is how I feel, if you have a problem with it, you'll be alright.
I just got through watching this Jet Li movie called "Hero." This one part stood out to me. An assassin's wife was furious that he did not assassinate the emperor. He explained his reason, but she didn't agree. He explains that two things lived in his heart: his country and Her. She still didn't believe him, and demanded that he draw his sword and fight HER to prove his love. He spars with her a little, still holding back, but she is coming at him full tilt. She charges him again, and he lets go of his sword, allowing her to stab him in the heart. As he sits there dying, she begins asking "Why didn't you block? Why didn't you block?" He replies, "So you will believe." He then dies. She holds his body, crying out "You could have blocked!"
I'm watching this, and I'm like "Why the hell are you trying to stab him in the first damn place?" As I'm watching, I'm getting more and more upset, wondering "why do we force the people we love to let us harm them in order for us to believe that they care?"
There is this concept that people have of the "ride or die", and people think it's honorable. Men and women cheat on each other and abuse each other, and paint it as "if you cared, you would love me through the shit I put you through." On social media, we post hurtful shit about each other, and justify it by saying "if you're my ally, you will accept this, cause I'M hurting."
It doesn't matter what the relationship is: if I have to hurt for you to believe that I love you, the truth is that you don't love me. Stop measuring someone's devotion to you by the pain they allow you to inflict on them. No one should die at the hands of the ones the are riding for.
"I'd give anything for an ice cold moscow mule, in a frosty copper mug", he thought as he gulped down the last of the luke warm water from his dusty canteen. The heat was sweltering and the dense canopy of leaves towering above him did not provide much protection. "Two more miles..." he sighed aloud, a promise made from equal parts resignation and exhaustion. He knew that he would have to turn back soon. Though the sun began to sit low in the sky, the heat wouldn't subside, and predators lived for warm nights when the aroma of their prey would escort them directly to their bounty.
Quickening his pace, he carved his way through the lush vegetation. An image of him tiptoeing through his mother's garden flashed in his mind. He quietly laughed to himself, recalling her enraged admonishments about walking on plants as he plowed his way through exotic flora so thick and colorful that it seemed almost otherworldly.
The sound jerked him from his daydream, bringing his senses to high alert. "Branches don't break themselves" he thought. Still as a statue, he waited. Surveying the area near him... watching for any sign of movement. Moments that felt like eons passed. Not quite sure he was alone, he pressed forward. Clearing another patch of brush, his anxious expression turned jubilant. He found it. The cave...
He raced towards the opening, and placed his hands on the rock surrounding it. It was real. He could feel it. Quickly, he snapped pictures of the indentations around the entrance, stopping only to briefly marvel at one crescent shaped symbol, with flecks of crimson pigment that had miraculously survived through the ages. Satisfied with the photos, he set his GPS beacon, and stepped inside.
The air was much cooler. Lighter. Only now did he realize how much the sweltering heat was affecting him. The light from the entrance was fading, and he was grateful for his mag light. The beam swung from side to side, cutting the darkness, revealing a vast ceiling and dusty walls untouched by human hands in ages. Caught in the euphoria of his discovery, he absentmindedly dropped led lights along his path, to help guide his way out, lest he become lost and find himself a relic of the cave.
Again he froze. Quieting his breath, he fought not to make a sound. He'd seen enough horror movies to know that you never call out if you're not alone. His heart began to pound, nerves tingling, his senses screamed that he was not alone. as he slowly swung the light around, examining every corner. For a moment, it occurred to him, that the light could be leading who, or whatever, was following directly to him.
Summoning his courage, he turned off his flashlight.
The sound of faint shuffling... growing louder... closer... He turned back on the light revealing two cold eyes staring into his, gleaming in the darkness. Terrified he whispered his final word, as he understood that the legends were true and that it had found him. He'd found it's home. He knew it exists. And he knew it's name.
The 2016 BET Awards was a special night for many reasons. We got to see the Prince Tribute he deserved, an amazing debut from talented future legends Chloe and Halle, and an overall well produced celebration of Black Culture (though I was pretty underwhelmed by Desiigner's and Bryson Tiller's performances... I'll address that in a future post about Hip-Hop performances.)
But the greatest moments came in the form of an amazing opening performance from Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar, a well deserved Lifetime Achievement Award for the God Thespian Samuel Jackson, and a soul stirring speech by the always brilliant Jesse Williams.
I slowed down over the past couple of years. i knew where I wanted to go... but a few key failures and a couple interpersonal relationships gone sour left me disillusioned. For a while... I gave up on the goodness in the world. It seemed as if any good was either 1) a mask for the true nature of people, 2) overshadowed by someone else's cruelty.
In all honesty, I just stopped feeling that this world was not worth saving. I didn't see the point of trying to bring beauty in a world enthralled, if not obsessed with it's own ugliness. As a person who from childhood believed that goodness always overcame... this feeling was debilitating. I couldn't write, I didn't want to act... I supported my friends talents, and artistically lived vicariously through them.
Lately, I have been plagued with a new thought... What if I'm not here to erase the ugliness? Maybe, I'm here to create oases of beauty. Places where people can leave the darkness... if only for a little while.
I have a (new) Theori.
More info coming soon.
Everyone who knows me, knows that I am a HUGE Hip-Hop head. I love a great beat, vivid storytelling, clever word play, gritty themes, and irreverent party anthems. I'm particularly blessed to be friends with one of my favorite emcees. Several years ago, during the run of I Still Love H.E.R., I was bemused by the state of Hip-Hop in Chicago. Yes we have Kanye, Common, Lupe... but I was waiting for the next great Chicago Emcee that wasn't a backpacker or a drill rapper. There is a happy medium in Hip-Hop where legends vibe out, that mixes street intelligence, with book smarts, an intrinsic smoothness, and a ferocity that resembles that of tribal warlords. It's that well rounded guy or girl, who can reach people on several different levels while not seeming phony on any of them. You can play their music when you're getting ready for work, going out to get your mack on, or about to hand out a fade or two.
As I sat musing over this current missing link in our scene, my boy Andre DuBois (CEO of Reflective Music and Co Founder of Theori Fine Arts) sends me a link of this guy freestyling and tells me this is a guy I need to know. Now I get these messages all the time, but Dre doesn't vibe to Hip-Hop on the level I do, and his seriousness about this dude has me curious. I take a listen... and my first thought is "This is what the **** I'm talkin' about." I ask for the cat's name: D2G.
I need the "Woke" community to stop trying to police Black Thought. I am not your respectable nigga either. I don't have to agree with every conscious trope and whatever cause de jour it is today. Yes, white supremacy is far reaching and takes many forms. Do all of those forms affect me? No. Some parts I find oppressive, others I find a mild inconvenience at worst, others I barely consider an issue. The Black experience is both shared and individualized at the same time. How I experience parts of it will not be the same as how you experience parts of it. Just because every action of white ignorance doesnt send a person into the outrage cycle doesnt mean, they aren't down and don't care.
I’m Black. I’m a man who was raised on the South Side of Chicago by my mother and step-father. In my lifetime I have traveled the world, gone to some of the best schools, performed for thousands of people and been blessed to have brought several of my dreams to life. I have also been homeless, struggled to find work, sold drugs, gotten banned from Chicago Public Schools and attempted suicide. My life has been a full one, but one of constant battles. The greatest one has taken place in my brain. I have Major Depressive Disorder.
As a playwright and a director, I have an obligation to my audience. I owe them the best I have to offer and for me to continuously elevate the quality of what is considered to be my best. They deserve honesty, intelligence and integrity. When they purchase a ticket to a Theori Stages performance, they are paying to share my world. They have made a choice to invest in my vision, with the return being an entertaining evening that they will remember for a lifetime. For me to provide that, I have to be willing to expose the complexities of my spirit and the reality of my heart. Clearly, this presented a problem.
I want my audience to leave with a sense of joy and levity. Often I would leave my own performances and go to my apartment (or wherever I was sleeping at the time) and stew in my on sorrow. I want the people who paid to see my art, to leave with a broader perspective of the world and how they can affect it positively. Immediately after the applause ended however, I would find myself plummeting from the high right back into the dark, claustrophobic prison of my thoughts. What I wanted for my audience I wanted for myself. I wasn't being dishonest with them. I truly believe the messages that I put out. There was something blocking me from being able to hold on to the feeling that I was trying to convey.
There was this darkness everywhere I went. No matter what I did, I couldn't escape it. I prayed. I fought. I smoked. I drank. I womanized. I abstained. I exercised. I binged. I cut. When I could do nothing else, I went to get help. There were no more options. Poison had failed me twice. Guilt at what my family would have to see stopped me from slashing my wrist or blowing my head off. I considered tricking the police into doing the job. Lord knows no one would suspect a Black man of trying to get killed by the police. I couldn't bring myself to ruin an innocent person’s life because I was screwed up.
I couldn't leave my sisters. I may not have been much of a big brother, but I was (am) still big brother. When I thought of them, I wanted to live. It was enough to make me go to the emergency room. It helped me through 6 days of being kept on the psych ward under suicide watch. It’s what keeps me going today and gave me a doorway to find two more reasons to live: The prospect of joy and to help others like me make it through. Through therapy and medication, I was able to find the strength to fight this illness. One year later, I debuted my first one man show, Wendell Tucker Hates the World, the story of my battle with depression. In this show I chronicle the events leading up to my breakdown, how the community has failed its members with mental illnesses, and how I fought for my life. The hope is that my story will encourage others suffering from MDD to get help and motivate people to be on the lookout for the warning signs in their loved ones.
When I wrote this, I was on the 23rd day of a 40 day fast, with the goal of raising $25,000 to create and produce plays and documentaries to teach about depression and suicide prevention. In the time frame of my fast, 38 members of the US Armed Forces, Director Tony Scott and countless unsung individuals have committed suicide. The majority of their friends and loved ones are completely shocked. It’s hard to recognize the signs and nearly impossible when you don’t know them. I want to help. I need your support to do so. Please visit www.thetheori.com, make a donation, or come to a performance of Wendell Tucker Hates the World and join in the fight to defeat depression.