Bob Mielke's Directions and Prologue for "Discipline 27-II," from CALLING PLANET EARTH

Opening  Cast and Director Notes for Discipline 27-II    Plus Prologue

Dramatis Personae

Sun Ra, the living myth on keyboards

Members of the Arkestra:
         June Tyson, vocals
         John Gilmore, tenor saxophone
         Marshall Allen, alto saxophone and flute
         Pat Patrick, baritone saxophone
         James Jacson, bassoon and percussion

Four aliens
        Three Saturn Aliens, plus additional Saturn Aliens on Earth:
         Drexel
         Rorrg

Alabama judge

Wynonie Harris, a blues shouter

The band at the Peacock:
         Tommy “Buggs” Hunter, drums
         Red Holloway, tenor saxophone
         Alton Abraham, fellow spiritual seeker and Afro-futurist

The Lintels (four doo wop singers)

Bartender at Slug’s, a bar on New York’s lower east side
Barfly at Slug’s
NASA official

Gaia, the Earth Goddess

Plus other members of the Arkestra, court officials, musicians with Wynonie
Harris, strippers, musicians at the Peacock Club, bar patrons at Slug’s, etc.

Parts can be doubled if necessary.

Scenes in the Play

Prologue

Act One (here interspersed with the Arkestra playing and other exposition)
          Scene one: Birmingham, Alabama, late 1930s
          Scene two: Alabama courtroom, early 1940s
          Scene three: Nashville recording studio, spring of 1946
          Scene four: the Peacock Club outside Chicago, 1947
          Scene five: Sun Ra’s apartment on the South Side of Chicago, 1955
          Scene six: same as previous scene, 1960
Act Two
          Scene one: Slug’s, a bar on New York’s lower east side, 1969
          Scene two: the House of Ra, Philadelphia, a month later
          Scene three: a stage in Orlando, Florida, slightly later

 

Discipline 27-II: A Cosmo-Drama in Two Acts

Induction / introduction to the play:
This work will simultaneously tell the story of Sun Ra and offer a facsimile
of a Sun Ra concert. To replicate the latter, total theatre is optimal
(if the production can afford it). The audience should be in a Sun Ra space
(pun intended) the moment their tickets are torn and they enter the theater,

Here are some suggestions for achieving those results.

In the lobby:
Members of the cast who will not be needed to play on stage before the play starts (see below) should be at some utility tables. They should be in costumes reminiscent of Sun Ra’s Arkestra. The easiest way for a costume designer to accomplish this is to study the abundant visual evidence of the band’s “look” on album covers, videos and the internet. Shriner effects, the 54 Two History Plays: Discipline 27-II costumes of Black Masonry, colorful felt hats and an abundance of colored metal foil are a rough approach to this part of the mise-en-scene.

They can be selling Sun Ra CDs either at cost or to make a modest profit to donate to the actual living members of the Arkestra, most quite elderly, who live at 5626 Morton Street / Philadelphia, PA 19144. Other
merchandise if available is great: Sun Ra’s books, vinyl, t-shirts, jewelry.

Sun Ra’s “Moon Stew” (which he fed the band on in tough times) may also be sold as a concession or given away to the patrons. Here is the recipe obtained from the internet. Bear in mind that there are no specific
measurements involved. As Sun Ra notes, You can’t say “One teaspoon of this, or one teaspoon of that.”
Like a musician, you have to improvise. It’s like being on a spirit plane; you put the proper things in without knowing why. It comes out wonderful when it’s done like that. If you plan it, it doesn’t work.
      Here are the ingredients:
      • Green peppers
      • Onions
      • Garlic
      • Potatoes
      • Okra
      • Tomatoes
      • Corn
      • Flour
      • Butter or Vegetable Oil
      • Broth (chicken or vegetable)
      • Salt and Pepper to taste
      • Sincerity
      • Love

To prepare:

Chop the vegetables. Bring the broth to a simmer on the stove while making a roux. To make
the roux, melt the butter or vegetable oil in a pan and add flour, stirring until it reaches the consistency of wet sand. Stir a little of the broth into the roux and then add the roux to the broth.
Add the vegetables, salt, pepper, sincerity and love to the broth. Cook for at least one hour, stirring occasionally, tasting and adding ingredients as needed for culinary improvisation.

Prologue

On the stage:
As the audience members arrive, the stage lights should already be on and the house lights down. Actor / musicians in suitable costumes are on the stage already, improvising gently on stringed instruments. The more exotic, the better: African koras, kotos, lutes, zithers, harps, string dulcimers. There should be already in place musical setups for keyboards, drums, etc.

Since the number of members in the Arkestra varied, the director will have to work with the resources at hand. But everyone in the Arkestra will need (at least ideally) to have some competence, however modest, as both an actor and a jazz musician. The easiest way to solve the problem of playing the more difficult actual Sun Ra compositions would be to have either a pit orchestra or use recordings of the real band. Then the onstage musicians can fake their playing. Ideally, one could have for some productions people
on stage who could actually play everything.

The Arkestra should have at least seven members and could go as high as fifteen—or even above!

The theater should open at least twenty minutes before the actual beginning of the show. As the starting time approaches, other musicians should file in: reeds, horns, percussionists (as available). This music, like the Moon Stew, is totally improvised. There should be no recognizable melodies. The only ground rules are that the musicians should listen to and dialogue with each other, play off the feel of the audience (what mood are they in? did some good or bad event happen on the world stage and/or locally?) and
gradually build in intensity (tempo, loudness) so that by the starting time of the play the music is almost painfully loud, raucous, dissonant.

At an off-stage hand signal or dramatic on-stage noise like the banging of a gong, all the instruments should cease playing except for one or two percussionists who switch to a simple beat appropriate for the first chant, “Waiting for the Sunrise.”

Prologue


The actress playing JUNE TYSON comes out and steps up to the microphone.

JUNE TYSON : The world is waiting for the sunrise, for the sunrise, for the sunrise.


She sings this several times; on the third pass, the other members of the THE ARKESTRA join in for a few more iterations.

Some nights the audience might also join in; one could even put in “plants” for that purpose to encourage participation.

When JUNE TYSON raises her hands (at somewhere between four and seven repetitions), ALL the music stops.

JUNE TYSON (sings a cappella):
     When the world was in darkness
     And darkness was ignorance
     Along came Ra

OTHER MEMBERS OF THE ARKESTRA : Along came Ra

JUNE TYSON :
     When the world was in darkness
      And darkness was ignorance
      Along came Ra

THE ARKESTRA : Along came Ra

JUNE TYSON :
     The living myth
     The living myth
     The living mystery
     The living myth
     The living myth
     The living mystery

THE ARKESTRA onstage, pit band or tape begins playing “Discipline 27-II.”

SUN RA walks out from stage left. He should be dressed resplendently along the lines of available imagery.
The actor who plays him should be of portly girth (or willing to wear a “fat suit”). All of his moves onstage should be regal, even portentous. SUN RA is after all the living myth, a pharaoh, a representative of the sun and the greater omniverse. He walks to center stage and spreads his arms.

SUN RA :
        Some call me Mister Ra
        Some call me Mister E
        But you can call me Mister Mystery

He turns his back to the audience and exhorts the band to play even more intensely. The band in whatever arrangement plays the theme for several minutes while SUN RA prowls the stage.

SUN RA : This world is not my home, is not my home, is not my home.  This world is not my home, is not my home, is not my home.  Why would I come from a planet of death? I said, why would I come from
a planet of death? If you were born here, you have to die here! I come from the greater universe. The universe has sent me to converse with you.


The band plays on as the stage lights fade. A screen is needed for the next part. It could be lowered or just set up at the back of the stage. Or one could use a scrim. SUN RA could be narrating this portion live or on tape, since the actor who plays SUN RA will be changing into street clothes, ca. late 1930s to early 1940s.
THE ARKESTRA music should also fade, perhaps to be replaced by a tape of big band jazz—ideally Fletcher Henderson.

While SUN RA narrates, historic slides of Birmingham, Alabama should be projected on the screen. The director has a lot of leeway here, but some bases should definitely be touched: Terminal
Station and the old “Magic City” sign, Tuxedo Junction, motorcycle cops in a row in front of Legion Field, any photos of African Americans and the black business district, the pig iron blast furnaces that were the city’s original source of growth and wealth, the statue of Vulcan and the Temple of Sibyl. (These
last two to show that the city had a certain tolerance for myth!)

Todd Keith’s Birmingham Then and Now (San Diego: Thunder Bay Press, 2008) will have most of what the production will need. Or just surf the internet.


SUN RA : I arrived here on May 22, 1914. I wasn’t born, because whoever is born has to die. Birth with an “i” points to berth with an “e,” which is be-earthed, doomed to be on Earth, which is not for me. Or for you.
I arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, which is the Magic City so I grew,  surrounded by magic and learned how to practice it, you see. There was a statue of Vulcan the forger god at the state fairgrounds
to remind everyone of the magic that made the city rise up from two train crossings in a field to make pig iron from the minerals in the surrounding hills. Some white man built a temple to other Greek gods
up on another hill.


And I grew up right near Terminal Station, the largest train station in the South. That’s magic too, all them trains coming through: the Black Diamond Express, the Sunset Limited, the City of New Orleans. Magic to ride on them, magic to see them whoosh by, magic to flatten them pennies that you put on the tracks if you had any to spare. There was lots of music in my life always, bands you heard of and natural beauty you couldn’t believe if I told you, joyful noise that blossomed like a flower and then faded away to just a memory. For a long, long time I never saw any white people close up. Back then blacks and whites didn’t mix at all. They had that temple on the hill and their good seats in the movie shows; we had music, you see.

That’s why music was so important to black people. It was almost all we had, and it was free. Sound is free. I can make you pay to hear my sounds, but I don’t have to pay nothing to make them after I get the
instrument. Back then you didn’t even have to pay for the electricity because musical instruments didn’t need it. So I never saw white people really, but I did see black people.

End of Prologue