Carl Hancock Rux is an American poet, novelist, OBIE award-winning playwright, interdisciplinary performative artist, and recording artist. His albums include Rux Revue (Sony), Apothecary Rx (Giant Step), Good Bread Alley (Thirsty Ear), and Homeostasis (CD Baby). Rux is the author of the OBIE award-winning play Talk, and the critically acclaimed novel Asphalt. His work has been published in numerous journals, anthologies, and magazines including Interview, The New York Times, A Rude Magazine, Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art, and American Theatre magazine. The Exalted, Rux’s new work, concerning genealogy and genocide,with music by Theo Bleckmann—in which both star–is directed by Anne Bogart. Part of the 2015 Next Wave Festival, Oct 28—Oct 31, 2015, the play will be presented at BAM Fisher/Fishman Space (321 Ashland Pl, Brooklyn, NY, 11217). Rux will additionally be involved in Steel Hammer (2015 Next Wave), a staged incarnation of Julia Wolfe’s oratorio, also directed by Bogart. Visit Rux’s Web site at: http://carlhancockrux.com/
Visit BAM: http://www.bam.org/
Carl Hancock Rux Gives Part II of an Exclusive Interview with SV's Bob Shuman
What led you to write The Exalted and, given that you are a dramatist, novelist, poet, essayist, and recording artist, why did you decide it was a play?
I spent some time in Germany some years ago and became very interested in Afro-German history (my great grandfather was German and my surname, Rux, is very German). While researching Afro-German history, I came upon Carl Einstein and his book-length essays on African art and its influence on Cubism. I was not only drawn to his thesis but to his life story. Initially I intended to write a novel, or rather, something in the order of Creative non-fiction) about the life of Carl Einstein and the Herero/Nama genocide in German South West Africa (this is still my intention) but in discussing what I was working on with my manager, Steve Cohen, and BAM Executive Producer, Joseph V. Melillo, we thought it might also make an interesting performance work.
What are the challenges and process of writing stage biography?
I wouldn’t say the work is a strict stage biography. It is much more of a staged biographical meditation on Carl Einstein’s trek across the Pyrenees Mountains with ruminations about his life, told in a nonlinear way. It is a painterly theatrical abstraction of his mind and my fascination with him as a character.
When did you decide that music would be part of the play—and when and how did you go about finding your collaborator Theo Bleckmann?
Theo Bleckmann and I have the same manager. We’d never met, but I was a fan of his music and his inventive compositional style. I asked that he meet with me and he agreed. We spent some time together at his apartment discussing The Exalted and the possibility of working together on it as a performance work. We then performed an excerpt of the text with improvised music at the Baryshnikov Arts Center during the APAP conference in New York City. After that, we both agreed it would be an interesting project to pursue as collaboration.
Which comes first: your words or the music?
The text existed first. In fact, about twenty versions of a four hundred page novel I was working on existed and had to be pared down to something essential and performable. Theo wrote songs using my text, and he contributed original compositions, as well as a few WWII era German ballads. Once we had a workable text and had decided on the music, we spent a few weeks rehearsing with Anne Bogart at Columbia University and later, at her barn in the Catskills.
How did Anne Bogart become involved in the project?
I’ve long been a fan of her work and years ago I attended SITI Company’s production of Room (based on the writings of Virginia Woolf), written by a close friend, Jocelyn Clarke and directed by Ms. Bogart. I was riveted by her treatment of the character and how she created an excursive nonlinear path to the intellectual soul of Virginia Woolf. I also saw her production of Gertrude and Alice (based on the life of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas). Again I was drawn to Ms. Bogart’s directorial approach: intuitive rather than purposeful, random rather than developmental, emphasizing feeling over action and psychological affect over aesthetic realism. After reading her book, What's the Story: Essays about art, theater and storytelling I was able to further educate myself of her methodology.
When did you both meet?
Ms. Bogart contacted me and asked that I come to Columbia University to speak to her students about my work and my process. Not long after she commissioned me to co-write the text for SITI Company’s production of Steel Hammer (based on the life and myth of John Henry). I then asked if she would meet Theo Bleckmann and I for lunch, and I asked if she might be interested in directing The Exalted. We discussed the project for over an hour and to our delight, the story interested her as much as it did us.
What does it take to keep you writing?
Sunrise, sunset, and a beating heart.
What was your first work in the theatre?
I was a child actor with a leading role in a two character play, Ole Judge Mose Is Dead by Joseph White, directed by Emmy award-winning director Neema Barnett.
How did you compromise yourself to become an artist—how do you compromise yourself to be an artist now?
I didn’t. I don’t.
What are you reacting against in your Art?
Are there Arts police, and have you ever offended them? What happened, if you did?
Yes, and I offend them all the time. Usually they hand me a citation and a warning.
What’s the worst job you ever took to keep yourself afloat as an artist—and how long did you stay in it?
I worked as a telemarketer on a graveyard shift for about three weeks.
Who holds the real power in theatre?
What's the best way to get produced?
What's the worst?
Submitting your plays to literary managers and the process of constant open readings involving audience feedback.
What do you think should not be shown on stage?
Does anything need to be changed in today’s theatrical environment ? What is it?
Yes. The lack of spontaneity.
What probably will be different in 10 years?
Genres of live performance. I think live performance will evolve and multiply into forms that have yet to be invented, in the same way social media continues to evolve and redefines how we interact with each other and the realm of the art of ideas.
What will stay the same?
Our need for live performance.
When were you happiest in the theatre?
When I was sitting in the dark watching the play.
Who in the American theatre would you be willing to sleep with so that you would not have to answer any more of these questions?
James M. Nederlander.
Press: Baha Ebrahimzadeh/BAM
Photo Courtesy of John Labbe/BAM (l, Carl Hancock Rux; r, Theo Bleckmann. All rights reserved.
© 2015 by Carl Hancock Rux (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.
Stage Voices Publishing for archived posts and sign up for free e-mail updates: http 2015:// www.stagevoices.com/ . If you would like to contribute a review, monologue, or other work related to theatre, please write to Bob Shuman at Bobjshuman@gmail.com.