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Interview with Robert O'Hara, Part Two: "Everyone is Welcome, No one is Safe"

Posted Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 12:30pm

Wilma Dramaturg Walter Bilderback sits with Playwright/Director Robert O'Hara. This is the second part of his interview.

Walter Bilderback: Your plays have run a gamut of subject matters and historical settings. Your first play, Insurrection: Holding History, was about a young gay Black man who takes a wrong turn after a family reunion and finds himself in the middle of the Nat Turner uprising. Antebellum bounces back and forth between Nazi Germany and Atlanta the night of Gone With the Wind's premiere, with a transsexual Black cabaret artist connecting the two stories. Etiquette of Violence imagines the later life of Walter Younger's son from A Raisin in the Sun. What draws you to stories? Do you feel you have a "style" as a playwright?

Robert O'Hara: What draws me to each of my plays is a collection of questions that many times I don't even know I'm asking. My brain is filled with What Ifs and Whys and what I like to call "Who shot Johns." I like history because it allows me to play with expectations and realities. I like creating alternative histories and I think that’s because in many ways I feel like I live in an alternative present. I get to go to these wonderful places and explore my creativity and that simply is not most peoples reality. As for my style. . . I've always thought of my work as the Theater of Choke: I want to choke my audiences. Just so it’s not easily digestible and therefore forgettable.  I want them to have to work my plays inside them and feel themselves gasping for air. So if I have a style of writing, I guess it would be. . . Autoerotic Asphyxiation. LOL... yeah that’s my style.

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Interview with Robert O'Hara, Part One: "Everyone is Welcome, No one is Safe"

Posted Friday, April 19, 2013 - 10:43am

Wilma Dramaturg Walter Bilderback sits with Playwright/Director Robert O'Hara. This is the first part of his interview.

WALTER BILDERBACK: Let's start with the basic: What's Bootycandy?

ROBERT O'HARA: Bootycandy is the name that my grandmother and mother used for the penis when I was a little boy. After seeing the world premiere of this play in DC, my mother turned to me and actually said "It was BooBoo Candy ­ why on EARTH would we call your penis Bootycandy?" and my response to her was "Oh Boo Boo Candy makes oh so much more sense, right???" Regardless I heard Bootycandy... all my life. So I think my Mother is making up some Boo Boo Candy ... that just sounds crazy. Now, Bootycandy... I can kinda understand. LOL...

WB: The play has been described as semi-autobiographical. I'm guessing the stress is on the "semi."

RO: When I watch the play I can see where most of the scenes come from... they are all from real life experience and most of the more surreal things are absolutely true...

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Hull and Distant Water Fishing, Part Five: Cod Today

Posted Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 2:07pm

Before you set foot onto the deck of the Kingston Jet, the James Joyce, and the Arctic Kestrel Museum in our North American Premiere of Under the Whaleback, check out this five-part series by Dramaturg Walter Bilderback about the rich history, maritime culture, and world-wide impact of Cod Fishing.

Cod Today

In 1994, Canada close the Grand Banks to fishing. The Gulf of Maine and Georges Banks, off the U.S. coast were similarly closed, and have been gradually re-opened. Britain is now a part of the European Union, which means even the North Sea and Irish Sea are commonly fished, with each nation having a quota of the fish they can catch. The center of British fishing has moved north, to Peterhead, Scotland, where the fuel costs to the Orkney and Shetland Islands are much lower than from Hull.

Cod are still being caught, but in much smaller numbers and, perhaps more significant, much smaller sizes. Paul Greenberg's Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food (2010) has a chapter on cod, updating Mark Kurlansky on the state of the American fishing grounds and attempts to farm cod, as salmon and sea bass are being farmed. The prospects don't seem good; in fact, a few days before rehearsals for Under the Whaleback began, the New York Times ran an article that the New England Fishery Management Council had "voted to recommend reductions of 77 percent from last year's catch for each of the next three years for cod in the Gulf of Maine," the healthiest of fishing grounds when Greenberg published his books.

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Hull and Distant Water Fishing, Part Four: The Cod Wars

Posted Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 3:11pm

Before you set foot onto the deck of the Kingston Jet, the James Joyce, and the Arctic Kestrel Museum in our North American Premiere of Under the Whaleback, check out this five-part series by Dramaturg Walter Bilderback about the rich history, maritime culture, and world-wide impact of Cod Fishing.

In 1958, Iceland decided to protect their share of the declining cod stock by extending their territorial waters from 4 miles to 12. The British responded by sending warships to protect the trawler fleet. This first Cod War lasted until, when Britain accepted the 12 mile limit. (British trawlers continued to poach fish inside the limits whenever possible.) Things remained stable until 1972, when Iceland announced it was extending the waters to 100 miles from the coast. Since cod is a cold water fish that sticks to the continental shelf, this eliminated most of the Icelandic catch. Again, Iceland and Britain engaged in games with each other, including shots exchanged between warships. Again Britain gave in.

The end came after the third Cod War. This one started in 1975, when Iceland extended its waters to 200 miles. Norway joined Iceland, and eventually 200 miles became the international standard. All the distant water fishing grounds were now closed to the British. To worsen the sting for the Hull fishermen, Iceland is rumored to have offered a quota for British fishing close to what constituted a good season's catch, only to be rejected by Her Majesty's Government, including Hull's own MP, because of their demand for a quota that was impossible to fill.

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Cod and Under the Whaleback

Posted Friday, March 15, 2013 - 12:27pm

by Wilma Dramaturg Walter Bilderback

Cod is responsible for all of this. The boats, the deckies, Hull itself in a way. And yet in many respects Hull came late to the game.

"Cod should have lasted forever, and for a very long time it was assumed that it would,” Mark  Kurlansky writes.  “As late as 1885, the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture said, 'Unless the order of nature is overthrown, for centuries to come our fisheries will continue to be fertile." A century later, cod fishing from the Great Banks to the St. Lawrence estuary was closed. For the British fishing industry, however, the end of cod was a matter of politics as well as scarcity, with Britain and Iceland engaging in three "Cod Wars" between 1958 and 1976.

Kurlansky started the pop-historical genre sometimes called "micro history" with his book Cod: The Story of the Fish That Changed the World. (He's since expanded the genre on his own with Salt - a topic closely-related to cod almost everywhere except Britain and North America - and The Big Oyster.) Cod shows how its namesake may have led to the European discovery of North America, and how this once ubiquitous northern fish (an 1856 book described it as "too well known to require any description") became a staple part of the European, African, North and South American diets, became what most people thought of as "fish," before technological advances led to the almost-complete collapse of its stocks.

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