“Miss You Like Hell:” Art is Propaganda

The cast and collaborators of Miss You Like Hell, Fonseca Theatre Company

The cast and collaborators of Miss You Like Hell, Fonseca Theatre Company

I thought I would never feel again the kind of creative ferment that made New York in the Fifties so unique and exciting. It was centered in Greenwich Village, where Jose Quintero was directing “The Iceman Cometh” at The Circle in the Square Theatre. (I was sitting on an aisle when Jason Robards came past me to step on to the stage.) Those were the days when I met James Baldwin in The White Horse Tavern, a Columbia classmate introduced me to Jack Kerouac at Johnny Romero’s bar in an obscure Village alley, and I heard the great trombone player J.J. Johnson (from Indianapolis and Attucks) at The Village Vanguard.

Lorraine Hansberry met me for coffee at The Limelight on Sheridan Square to thank me for writing in her defense to a drama critic who said her hit Broadway play “A Raisin in the Sun” was “propaganda.” I quoted my Columbia professor Lionel Trilling, the literary critic, who had told us “All art is propaganda” and I added that Hansberry’s play was “propaganda for humanity and survival.”

That kind of “propaganda” – the propaganda of art for humanity and survival – is being produced here in Indy, now, at the new Fonseca Theatre. Bryan Fonseca, who founded The Phoenix Theatre has opened up a vital new theatre in Haughville, on West Michigan Street. I am proud to be one of the theatre’s “Collaborators” and I’ve seen two of their first slate of plays – “Hooded: Or, Being Black for Dummies” staged at the art space Indy Convergence, and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grille” put on at The Linebacker bar for real authenticity. Each of these performances was riveting, memorable.

Their own theatre will open on West Michigan Street in the fall, and in the meantime they are staging a knockout drama called “Miss You Like Hell” that will open in a The Kinney Group warehouse at 2425 W. Michigan Street July 12 and run through July 26. As a “Collaborator” I was invited to the first read-through of the play at the small but productive “Hit City” studio of musician Tim Brickley on 54th Street, just around the corner from The Jazz Kitchen on College. Bryan Fonseca sat at the head of the table like a great Papa Bear tending his pack, the cast members arrayed around him. He made this work  seem like the kind of adventure you always hoped to be included in, explaining how the use of the large space of the warehouse was an opportunity to create a more exciting kind of theatre experience, for the audience as well as the actors.

You could feel the cast members coming together in the spell of the opportunity, the chance to make something special. When the reading began and the actors playing the immigrant mother and the daughter born in the USA began to sing, I felt the kind of stirring of the blood that makes you know this is something special – it reminded me of Odetta at The Village Gate, of Geraldine Page in Tennessee Williams’ “Summer and Smoke” at The Circle in the Square, and listening to the aspiring opera singers putting on “Aida” to the music of a single piano at The Amato Opera House, a converted movie theater.  

The other night I felt that spirit here – it’s a sense of communal excitement and commitment, the spirit of doing something meaningful in the arts, not just “art or art’s sake” but for the kind of “propaganda” I felt in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” – “propaganda for humanity and survival.”
 
Tickets for Miss You Like Hell are on sale now. Tickets are $25 for regular admission, $20 for 21 and under, and $15 for Near West residents. Performances are held Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm.

Tickets for Miss You Like Hell and Flex Passes can be purchased by visiting https://fonsecatheatre.org/buy-tickets/ or by contacting our Associate Producing Director Jordan Flores Schwartz by email at jschwartz@fonsecatheatre.org or by phone at 678-939-2974.

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How an old white guy got woke

From a new piece published this month in Indianapolis Monthly:

Five years ago, a man called me and began with an apology. “I’m sure you get too many of these,” he said. “But I have to call you because I am writing a book on the Emmett Till murder trial, and you are the only one who was at the trial and is still alive.”

That has become my distinction.

The Supreme Court had outlawed school segregation in its 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education, ruling that “separate but equal” education was not valid and no longer the law of the land. Everyone knew this was a major decision that would have a huge impact on American life. There was a feeling of national apprehension. What would happen? Would the South revolt? Would it be the start of another Civil War? It felt like the country was holding its breath.

Continue reading the longform piece at Indianapolis Monthly

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“Kurt’s Karass: Dan Wakefield” Premiering at Shortridge High School

Tuesday, May 21st, 7:15 pm

This event is free and open to the public. Kurt’s Karass: Dan Wakefield, a 35 minute short documentary about Kurt Vonnegut Jr, will be followed by a panel discussion featuring the star of the film segment, Indiana’s own Dan Wakefield.

In the film, Wakefield reminisces about Kurt, a 1940 graduate of Shortridge and editor of the school’s daily paper, The Echo. Wakefield, also an Echo writer, graduated a decade later. Wakefield traces his friendship with Kurt from his first meeting with Vonnegut in 1963 to the year before Vonnegut died, when Wakefield gave a talk in New York that Vonnegut attended and then warmly took his old friend out to dinner so they could catch up.

Vonnegut reviewed Wakefield’s first novel Going All The Way, in Life magazine, and wrote “Having written this novel, Dan Wakefield will never be able to go back to Indianapolis. He will have to watch the 500-mile race on television.” It took about forty years for Wakefield to move back to Indy. Going All The Way was later made as a movie starring Ben Affleck, Rachel Weiss and Rose McGowan. Wakefield’s memoir New York in the Fifties was produced as a documentary film by his friend Betsy Blankenbaker, another Indianapolis native, and is available on Netflix.

Commissioned by the Vonnegut Estate, Wakefield has edited compilations and written introductions to the books Kurt Vonnegut LettersIf This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: The Graduation Speeches, and Kurt Vonnegut Complete Stories, with Jerome Klinkowitz.

Former WFYI radio personality and longtime Indianapolis resident, Travis DiNicola, returns to Indy to emcee the event. DiNicola, founder of Indy Reads Books, is thrilled to return to the stage with Dan Wakefield and host the evening’s panel discussion, “Sitting down and talking with Uncle Dan about writing, and his memories of authors he has known, is one of my favorite things, and perhaps what I miss most about living in Indy. I’m so excited to be given this opportunity to come back to Indy and share a conversation with Dan and the audience.”

After the screening the panel discussion, including Wakefield and emcee Travis DiNicola, will feature Shortridge student Shaun’Tae Swanson, Shortridge teacher Michael Gawdzik, and Max Goller, who conducts courses for teachers who want to use Vonnegut’s work in their classrooms.

The Charles Bruce Foundation, a Pennsylvania based non-profit that supports Writers, Artists and Musicians (WAM!), in conjunction with the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library has devoted the past three years to interviewing some of the Vonnegut’s dearest friends. The film team – headed by Tim Hashko of Steaming Kettle Films – has produced a series of short documentaries in hopes of preserving fond memories of this American Icon as shared first hand by his closest companions. Earlier productions featured artists Joe Petro III and the infamous Ralph Steadman.

Special thanks to the folks at Shortridge High. None of this would be possible without Shortridge educators, Mike Gadzick – who will be participating in the panel discussion – and Charles Langley who coordinated the event for the high school.

 

Panelist information:

Michael Gawdzik is a language and literature teacher at Shortridge High School. For the last two years, he has strengthened the connection between Shortridge High School and the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library by incorporating Kurt Vonnegut focused curriculum at every grade level. His hope for every student at Shortridge is to read at least one book by the beloved Hoosier author.

Max Goller is the Director of Education at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis, Indiana. Goller works with educators across the U.S. promoting classroom teaching of ideas related to Kurt Vonnegut. He retired with 20 years of service from the United States Navy in 2001 having served as an electronics technician, instructor, and recruiter. Max currently teaches 8th grade English at Hamilton Southeastern Intermediate Junior High School in Fishers, Indiana.

Shaun’tae Swanson is an African American girl that has seen the scary side of this world: the side we think is normally hidden from children. She is an artist that seeks to put her trauma to use, painting vivid imagery with her words. She is a poet, writer, but most importantly a reader. Reading is a part of who she is, and has taught her how to become the writer she dreams to be.

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Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield