INTERVIEWS with ARTISTS

BEN VEREEN

JEANINE TESORI

PSALMAYENE 24

SYLVIA MCNAIR

MICHAEL McELROY

DEIDRE KINAHAN

BOB ARI

PAUL TAZEWELL

PATRICIA ROZARIO

NANCY RHODES

MAIA DANZIGER

EARL “PEANUTT” MONTGOMERY

WILLIE RUFF

DENNIS D’AMICO

GRACE CACHOCHA

KAREN SAILLANT

JENNIFER HORNE

JEANIE THOMPSON

ROBERT PERRY

WAYNE SIDES

JAMIE LEE McMAHAN

“Deep at the center of my being there is an infinite well of gratitude. I now allow this gratitude to fill my heart, my body, my mind, my consciousness, my very being. This gratitude radiates out from me in all directions, touching everything in my world, and returns to me as more to be grateful for. The more gratitude I feel, the more I am aware that the supply is endless.”
- Louise L. Hay

“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, Rejoice, for your soul is alive.”
- Eleanora Duse

“Enlightenment is always there. Small enlightenment will bring great enlightenment. If you breathe in and are aware that you are alive – that you can touch the miracle of being alive – then that is a kind of enlightenment.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh

 

 

 

“The meaning of life is to see.”
- Hui Neng

“Deep at the center of my being there is an infinite well of gratitude. I now allow this gratitude to fill my heart, my body, my mind, my consciousness, my very being. This gratitude radiates out from me in all directions, touching everything in my world, and returns to me as more to be grateful for. The more gratitude I feel, the more I am aware that the supply is endless.”
- Louise L. Hay

“Love is stronger than differences. We all live on the same planet. We walk on the same earth. We breathe the same air. No matter where I was born, no matter what color skin I have or what religion I was raised to believe in, everything and everyone is connected to this one life. I no longer choose to prejudge others, to feel either superior or inferior. I choose equality – to have warm, loving, open communication with every member of my Earthly family. I am a member of the earth community.”
- Louise L. Hay

“Enlightenment is always there. Small enlightenment will bring great enlightenment. If you breathe in and are aware that you are alive – that you can touch the miracle of being alive – then that is a kind of enlightenment.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh

“We have to continue to learn. We have to be open. And we have to be ready to release our knowledge in order to come to a higher understanding of reality.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh

“Many people are alive but don't touch the miracle of being alive.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh

“Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh

“Life is available only in the present. That is why we should walk in such a way that every step can bring us to the here and the now.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh

“Every thought you produce, anything you say, any action you do, it bears your signature.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh

“A frequent change of role, and of the lighter sort – especially such as one does not like forcing one's self to use the very utmost of his ability in the performance of – is the training requisite for a mastery of the actor’s art.”
- Edwin Booth

“But Nature cast me for the part she found me best fitted for, and I have had to play it, and must play it till the curtain falls.”
- Edwin Booth

“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, Rejoice, for your soul is alive.”
- Eleanora Duse

“The poem, the song, the picture, is only water drawn from the well of the people, and it should be given back to them in a cup of beauty so that they may drink - and in drinking understand themselves.” – Federico García Lorca

“Art is a ripening, an evolution, an uplifting which enables us to emerge from darkness into a blaze of light.” – Jerzy Grotowski

“Success has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It's what you do for others.” – Danny Thomas

“There are always new sounds to imagine; new feelings to get at. And always, there is the need to keep purifying these feelings and sounds so that we can really see what we've discovered in its pure state.” – John Coltrane

“Living consciously involves being genuine; it involves listening and  responding to others honestly and openly; it involves being in the moment.” – Sidney Poitier

 

 

 

Ronald Rand in Let It Be Art

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
– T.S. Eliot

"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world."
– Harriet Tubman

Ben Vereen

A Tony and Drama Desk winner for his renowned performance in Bob Fosse’s “Pippen.” Mr. Vereen’s Broadway appearances include “Wicked,” “I’m Not Rappaport,” “Chicago,” “Hair,” Fosse,” “Jelly’s Last Jam,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and “A Christmas Carol. Mr. Vereen appeared in the World Premiere of “Fetch Clay, Make Man” directed by Des McAnuff at The McCarter Theater. Mr. Vereen continues to tour throughout the United States with his concert act, “Stepping Out with Ben Vereen. His notable film appearances include “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” directed by Kenny Ortega, “Time Out of Mind” with Richard Gere, “Top Five” with Chris Rock, “Idlewild,” “All That Jazz,” “Sweet Charity,” “Funny Lady” receiving a Golden Globe nomination, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” and “Once Upon a Forest.” His television appearances include an Amazon series produced by David Shore and Bryan Cranston, “the miniseries “Roots,” “Hot In Cleveland,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Grey's Anatomy” receiving a Prism Award, Tyler Perry's “House of Payne,” “NCIS,” “Law And Order: Criminal Intent” and “An Accidental Friendship” receiving an NAACP nomination, “Feast of All Saints,” “Tenspeed” and “Brown Shoe,” and “Star Trek: the Next Generation.” Mr. Vereen is one of the nation's most requested motivational speakers delivering talks on Overcoming Adversity, A Trip Down Broadway, Black History, Arts and Education, Substance Abuse and The Art of Physical and Occupational Therapy. Mr. Vereen has created The Ben Vereen Awards and the organization, Wellness Through the Arts benefiting young people across America. He directed “Hair” at Florida's Venice Theater and on Broadway in the musical “From Brooklyn To Broadway.” Mr. Vereen has become an advocate for American For the Arts the largest advocacy group of arts in America and spoke at the Democratic Convention in July 2016. He has received a number of awards including the Broadwayworld.com Cabaret Award Best Celebrity Male Vocalist, Israel's Cultural and Humanitarian Award, three NAACP Image Awards, an Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award, and a Victory Award. Mr. Vereen was the first recipient of The Walk of Fame Award from The LaGuardia School of Performing Arts and has been inducted in The Theater Hall of Fame, The National Museum of Dance and The Dance Hall of Fame.

As a humanitarian and arts advocate, you have spoken about “the breath of creativity…for the need of more arts in schools for children who can make a better difference in our world…to give them the tools that they need” making a difference in other’s lives – was this something that was impressed upon you as a young person?

Life is an art form; we have forgotten that. It's all in the Good Book as a spiritual understanding based on faith. A spiritual understanding, a secret to understand the power, call it Jesus, God, Buddha, Krishna, one power and we're trying to understand that awesome power. In the beginning a power was created, a creative power. I say: Why don’t we use this creative power to come together instead of separating ourselves.

I started Wellness Through the Arts with the idea for young people to talk about obesity, low self-esteem, how to live with one another. These are the topics we need to discuss, to put on the table, to dissect them. We’ve all been bullied, so many of us are living with obesity, have diabetes. I have diabetes.

I teach master classes, do workshops, get these kids to start talking about themselves and with one another. I want these young people to get out there with purpose. They write essays, do workshops. I put them with a music person or a drama person, and we put together a show about the essay they've written, bringing art into play, and we act their stories out onstage so they can see the arts, to touch their fears, to embrace their fears. Inside those fears are our strength.

What it is for me in the performing arts is that it's life itself. Any art form is life. It's a creative expression of who we are, and that creative spark is working towards the good in us. It allows you to express whatever avenue you want to go down in a positive way. If there's anger you're feeling, it's been created but we can take it and entwine it in a way to learn how to live with one another. Each breath we take has been given to us, and we have to accept that out of that breath all of us are given an opportunity to bring creativity into the world.

When I was about twelve years old; I was living in Brooklyn. I grew up in the Pentecostal Church. I was a kid in a poor family, and I couldn’t afford to go to the theater. It was also a time of great crisis, there were riots in Harlem. I remember I was traveling in a subway train returning to where I lived, and the riots had started in my neighborhood; it was in flames. It was the time of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Huey Long, Dick Gregory.

I learned from them that we're here to make a difference in the world. I was part of that generation when it was hard for me to sit still, and in the arts I found a place where I could tell stories, to take the places I was feeling my anger in my heart, and to make something productive out of it. To be something that could heal people, to be someone that could heal our nation, especially today when we need that more than ever. We need a  coming togetherness. Never mind what political party were part of; we have to get it together. We need to love one another.

Ben Vereen as the Leading Player in the original production of “Pippin” on Broadway

You studied under world renowned choreographers, Martha Graham and George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and was directed by Bob Fosse, among many other extraordinary artists. What were some of the great lessons that have stayed with you over the years?

Fosse gave me style. He wanted his work done well. He gave me a discipline from his experience. He’d say: “Yo’'re free to do this,” and he’d bring things out of me and then he’d shape it. Balanchine and Martha Graham were adjudicators at the High School of the Performing Arts. It’s also where I saw the first modern dancer, Norman Walker the way he danced, it blew my mind.

I had so much passion and there were all these great teachers that there that set me a foundation. Working with Tom O’Horgan gave me freedom. And before everyone there was Ira Aldridge, an African-American actor who escaped slavery and change the face of doing Shakespeare on this planet.

Ben Vereen as Judas Iscariot in the original production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” on Broadway

You continue to tour the world with your one-man show, “Stepping Out with Ben Vereen” which receives rave reviews internationally, which I experienced in Detroit. Why did you originally want to create your own show and what has it meant to you?

Ben Vereen as Chicken George in the mini-series of Alex Hailey’s “Roots”

The “ham” in me. We sing, we act, we do it because we need more love. My love was so big I had to get it out. When I did the shows I did, they were part of my life. I’ve been doing the show telling the spirit of my journey. When I did “Jesus Christ Superstar” working with Tom O’Horgan, singing “Corner of the Sky” from “Pippin,” “Sweet Charity, the Sammy Davis songs, “Wicked,” all the songs have a personal vibration inside me.

So, I started singing back then. I decided to put my act right together right after “Pippen.” It's my gratitude show. I get to share with the audience where we’ve been together and to thank the audience for being here with me in the moment.

Ben Vereen as Leroy in “Grind” on Broadway

What continues to give you the greatest joy in life and on the stage?

In my life, it’s seeing my children blossom and grow. To see how young people grow through art. So many people come up to me and tell me: “How wonderful it is to meet you. You changed my life.” or “I saw you in “Pippen” or you taught a master class and it changed my life.”

This is why we do what we do. we like to get paid, but the important thing is like the legacy or laying down with this book. The real payback is beyond any monetary reward. I’'s the gratitude, the recognition that you touch somebody's life and made a difference.

Ben Vereen as The Wizard of Oz in “Wicked” on Broadway

 


"It is a law of life that man cannot live for himself alone. Extreme individualism is insanity. The world's problems are also our personal problems. Health is achieved through maintaining our personal truth in a balanced relation of love to the rest of the world. No expression is more emblematic of this relation than the creative act which we call art. No art by its very constitution typifies the social nature of that creative act more than the theatre. The theatre, to be fully understood and appreciated, must be seen as a manifestation of this process of interchange between society and the individual. It must be judged as a continuous development of groups of individuals within society, a development which becomes richer, acquires greater force and value as it grows with the society in which it originates. Only in this way can the theatre nourish us.  - Harold Clurman

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