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Occupy My Heart anniversary: Which cast member was the FBI mole?

One year ago today the Occupy inspired play, Occupy My Heart: A Revolutionary Christmas Carol, hit the stage for the first in what would be a series of standing room only  shows across Chicago. Amid revelations this week that the FBI gathered extensive intelligence on the Occupy movement, according to formerly secret documents recently obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. The documents clearly show that the FBI gathered and shared intelligence about the movement, which it acknowledged as “peaceful and non-violent” that was then shared with corporations, Wallstreet, banks and media, all groups that w ere clearly and loudly in opposition to Occupy’s demands for reforms, transparency and an end to government corruption and collusion with corporate and banking interests to the detriment of the so-called 99% of the nation un represented, or under-represented. http://www.democracynow.org/2012/12/27/the_fbi_vs_occupy_secret_docs

Despite the increasingly overt violent rhetoric by the Tea Party, a corporate and media invention playing on the  base fears of a predominently male and elderly conservative constituency,  there was no parallel scrutiny by the FBI. Tea Party members regularly showed up at rallies with weapons, including a presidential stop in Arizona by Barack Obama, all implicit threats.

The FBI gathered extensive intell on Occupy movements across the country in a coordinated effort with proxies, local law enforcement and private agencies such as Stratfor to undermine and discredit Occupy. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, which obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act, told Democracy Now this week that “there is repeated evidence of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, American intelligence agencies really working as a private intelligence arm for corporations, for Wall Street, for the banks, for the very entities that people were rising up to protest against.” Click the link below to view the documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund: http://www.justiceonline.org/commentary/fbi-files-ows.html#documents

The documents show that the FBI rationalized its actions, by stating that Occupy might “provide an outlet for a lone offender exploiting the movement for reasons associated with general government dissatisfaction.” Interesting that they did not apply that same template to the Tea Party movement, which was openly hostile to the government, and whose rhetoric maintained and built on an underlying threat of violence.

Occupy My Heart, the Occupy inspired play arose from the Chicago movement in November of 2011, drawing its small cast from within the movement. The play made national headlines, filled theaters and generated a radio play on WCPT, Chicago’s progressive Talk radio. The play helped change the national media’s negative narrative about Occupy. Now, in light of these recent revelations, the question arises; which member of the auspicious and talented cast was an FBI mole. As writer and producer of the play, I can confidently exclude myself, failing some Manchurian Candidate scenario. So, I will offer the suspects, and ask the readers to hypothesize which of the cast was a possible FBI infiltrator?

Zachary Johnson-Dunlop: “Josh” in the play, Zach played the banker who is visited three spirits in the play. Over the past year Zach has changed his appearance several times, and has become a vegetarian. Zach is an imposing figure. At first, recalling the outdoor play in Chicago’s Grant Park, I recalled that Dunlop’s suit was wrinkled and a bit tight, something I had trouble imagining any self-respecting FBI man would allow. Does that remove him from suspicion, or was it pure genius for an undercover agent?

Teresa Veramendi: Playing the female lead. Teresa is brilliant. Perhaps too brilliant. She played the part of  a passionate Occupy protester, and Josh’s love interest almost too well. A founding member of “Theater for the Oppressed” in Chicago, could she still be gathering intelligence among the artists and actors she openly associates with?

Timothy Calwell: Tim’s contribution to the play was incredible, helping to bind the cast and production. He played several parts, including the Spirit of Christmas to come, an unemployed worker, homeless man and security guard. Within months of the end of the run, Tim moved to New Orleans. He claims to work for a film company there, but what  a perfect excuse to have a lot of surveillance and camera equipment around. Tim remains, in my book, a  strong candidate for FBI informant.  

Hannah Friedman: Appeared out of no where, offering her amazing talents as director for the show. We met surreptitiously one evening at  coffee shop, as if she did not wish to have too many witnesses around. Throughout the month-long rehearsals Hannah disappeared several times, traveling east to “visit family.” Hannah still directs and produces with the “Theater for the Oppressed” group, as well as other theater efforts. Theater and the arts has always been a breeding ground for subversives. Is Hannah, if that is her real name, a deep mole?

Rebecca Kling: Rebecca delighted audiences playing several characters in the play, a TV producer, Josh’s mother, and Josh’s cruel and heartless boss, as though she was trying extra hrad to gain their trust and favor. The ease with which Rebecca moved between those characters makes her suspect as  a deep mole. She continues doing theater and recently released a new book, “No Gender Left Behind,” available on Amazon. Does that only deepen her undercover profile?  

Donier Tyler: Donier, impassioned and talented as Zach’s floosey girlfriend in the play is in my opinion the least candidate for an FBI mole. She is outspoken on middle east affairs, having travelled there several times. Earlier this year she portrayed another character from my last novel, The Last Man, in a dramatic reading in which she wrested the part of the Black male character in the book and redefined it as a feminist/humanist piece; both which in the released documents the FBI have shown themselves to be opposed to. It might have been the perfect cover.   

Keith Glab: He played a cop in the play, and nailed the part, almost as if it was part of his past. Hmm. He also played the jilted boyfriend to Teresa’s character. Keith lived through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. He worked at Major League Baseball Advanced Media, and was the In-stadium operator of a system used to track and locate every pitch thrown in baseball games at Wrigley and US Cellular Field, both perfect covers, and excellent places to pass sensitive intell over to FBI contacts without being detected.

Agnes Otap: A student at the University of Illinois at the time, her parts as the “Corporate” journalist, who becomes disillusioned with the corporate slant on Occupy, and also as the quirky street-kid spirit of Christmas past were  stand-outs. She was quiet and reserved, even nervous before rehearsals, but came alive during her parts. It was almost as if she was two different people. Suspect?

 Write in with your suspect, or like the Revolution and Beer facebook Page for regular updates, and you choice.

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We’re puttin’ on a show! The Last Man comes to the stage

So lately I’ve had my face down, working hard on the stage adaptation of the novel. It hasn’t been a solo project by any stretch. In 7 months I wrote and produced Occupy my Heart, working with an incredible director, Hannah Freidman, and an amazing cast which filled to capacity every theater, performed on the radio and drew national attention. Critically, the play was a smash hit. The play was followed up quickly with the critically aclaimed novel The Last Man, with an amazing cover designed by a fellow activist and friend, Brian Murray. My fingers were still smoking from completing and publishing a full length novel in just a three and a half months when I began work on the  stage version.

I’d gone back to Hannah, my director, and elicited the expertise of Brian’s wife, Sarah, to begin what would be the effort to bring the novel to life before audiences. In part time was a prime consideration, but Occupy my Heart was my first foray into theater, and I realized from the start how big of a learning curve I was on. I was wise enough to realize the immeasurable expertise of my cast and director as I learned and grew through an amazing and ardous…and often emotional… process.

Hannah and Sarah would guide the writing process, offering critiques and suggestions for making the script workable. Deeply connected with the story, it becomes too easy for the writer to lose focus on critical aspects of the story. The writer often carries assumptions and leaps of faith while imagining and visualizing a story and the characters. they might be the greatest hazard to the storyteller. Those assumptions can overlook simple motivations of characters or the believability of relationships between characters. I needed that critical feedback, and as agonizing as it sometimes could be, I encouraged Hannah and Sarah to “rip the story” apart and be brutal. They were-in a constructive and specific manner that help create a great script and brought us to this moment.

But there was more. I had written the story as a male character. The first script was for a man. In March I did several improv shows with the cast from Democracy Burlesque, and believed during one of the shows I’d found my male lead. It wouldn’t be an easy character to cast nor would it be the easiest to play. I wanted William Shakespeare meets Aldous Huxely meets Chris Rock. It felt like providence that I might have found the perfect man for the role. All that went out the window a week later I was at a theater piece written by a friend when Donier Tyler, one of my actresses from Occupy my Heart floored me with an incredibly powerful performance. Up to this point Donier had played light or comedic characters. From that moment, seeing her in that other role, I knew the Last Man had to be a Black Woman. Instantly the true heart and soul of that piece seemed fulfilled.

In May, Donier rehearsed a 6 minute piece for a gallery show, a step forward in realizing the play as a whole performance. At first I described the piece from my perspective, still thinking in terms of a male character, telling Donier, “do it this way, but make it sound like a woman,s voice.” A bit later, realizing how silly that sounded I said,”I want you. Just be Donier in the part.”

From the first rehearsal Donier was stunning in the piece, but it just wasn’t…it was missing something, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. I was far too close to the story. Hannah stepped in once again. This time Donier portayed  a more feminine voice, but there still was something missing. We were closer but still not quite there. I was clearly frustrated, and worried as we drew nearer to the performance, fearing the audience wouldn’t believe the piece.My wife Ana had been thinking alot about the piece. With a background in women’s studies, she asked if she could sit in on the rehearsal. the ater is all about community. I agreed immediately.

I made an Italian-inspired dinner for the girls, on a near perfect spring evening. At last we moved to the livingroom. Before a p ainting of our late friend, the  artist Montana Morrison, Donier began.

It seems incredible that a Black woman might not come to her Black voice naturally. As we move through power systems in society, no voice has been marginalized more than the those of Black women. For a novel that speaks to systems of power, when Donier at last uncovered that true voice it was a revelation, and a comfirmation that we were about to embark on a truly revolutionary project.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKh2xH8ngTc&feature=relmfu

This Saturday at 7pm, we will take a monumental step forward in bringing the novel to the stage in a full public reading of the stage adaptation at quimby’s bookstore 1854 W. North Avenue in Chicago. It will be a communal, organic reading with a full cast, including some  volunteers-or conscripts from the audience to take on a few parts. we’ll elicit sound effects from the audience, so that no one can escape being a part of the play.

This is a dream of mine, but as with the first play and the novel, it is the community that makes those dreams reality. We are all 1%ers in our minds, exalted and glorious in our own egos. It is the 99% that gives anything that we endeavor possibility and meaning, and I thank that community everyday for helping me realize even a few of those dreams, and hope that I am giving back that blessing ju st as surely.


The task of the writer: be bold and daring

The Last man is a big novel in a small package. As a reader told me recently, it begins introspectively, inside the Last Man’s head and then “it punches you right in the face.” This was the novel I was meant to write. It challenged me as no other novel I have written, assailing unexplored frontiers and realities, not just within my heart but those beyond my normal experience.

A couple of weeks ago I went to see  a theater piece by friends and former cast members of my play “Occupy My Heart” For the play my director cast a black woman, Donier (pronounced: Donyay) Tyler, in the role of  a ditsy girl, but in this new piece I recall watching her come to several parts with this amazing strength and confidence. The realization was instant and powerful; The Last Man could be, or should be a woman!

The whole point of the book, and the stage adaptation is to besiege paradigms on systems of power. I’d written the main character as a black man on trial for his life. Casting Donier in a dramatic reading for the stage and Youtube later this month revealed a whole new dimension to the story, one I exalt in realizing and lament for not realizing earlier.

And so, this past weekend I sat down to read the piece aloud with Donier. The piece is from the trial, in which the Last Man is arguing for his very life. Alone, with the court and odds stacked plainly against him, he remains defiant, if for no other reason that to show pride and disdain for his accusers and would-be executioners. She paused a moment, pulling herself into the part. Slapping her hand hard to the table she began, with all that strength and passion I’d glimpsed earlier. Her voice rose in the still of the livingroom. She was the Last Man.

“Kill that dog!” Her hand fell loudly against the table.  “If a man uses a dog to keep you from what is yours, kill that dog! Violence is the last domain of the downtrodden. Power concedes nothing without demand, said Frederick Douglas. There is an implicit power behind any demand, or it has no value. The only true power of the powerless is violence. Or the potential for violence. It must be a possibility when power is unbalanced. You must understand, that when your power overcomes reason and justice and mercy, that I may rise against you, and that our very existence becomes part of the negotiation…”

Against those who hold and abuse power, the words of the writer are violence, and are thus met with their ultimate rage. It is the reason that oppressive regimes and rulers single out the writer and artist first for destruction. and whether under benevolent or oppressive government, the writer has a responsibility to be bold, to dare to tell the truth that resides within the human heart, and which ultimately guides or rampages in human society. In that way, The Last Man might well be applied to the responsibility and the danger of writing and writing the truth.

“…I must justify my existence,” Donier continued. “Men must tolerate men by right of agreement. You must know that my rights are inviolable, and that no man may ‘give’ another man rights, for if you can give those rights then you may take them away.  No one gives me rights. They are mine, and if taken away then they are stolen, and that is the difference. Hence the words of Malcolm X; Kill that dog! I have done nothing. This right to exist is mine by virtue that I am, and if you remove that from me then it is you have committed the real crime!”


W.C. Turck: The tougest question

I was speaking with someone recently about writing and art. I mentioned that I had several books in print and the person asked point blank, “So, you’re a novelist.”

It should have been an easy question. I do indeed have two novels out in the world. “The Last Man,” and “Broken,” as well as a war memoir, “Everything for Love.” Two of those are very definitely fiction, and are  categorized as novels. I could quite easily have nodded and said, “yep, I write novels.” But I don’t write novels. At least that is never my intention. I have said on many occasions that I am working on a new novel, but I can honestly say that I have set out to write a new novel, and here is why.

It should have been an easy question, but I honestly didn’t know quite how to answer. Do I say yeah, and then have them expect something that can be read in an afternoon and then discarded for the next junk-lit craving? Do I pompously proclaim that I only write real literature for real thinking people? Both answers seem condescending in their own right.

A novel is a relatively simple thing to write. Spy, intrigue, horror, romance and action genres are simple. they are formulas, plugging into simple emotions and visceral reactions. I have dozens of  sketches for such stories, as do most writers, I’m sure. They come easily, inspired by events of the day, a news headline, a simple fantasy, what have you. Not that all those novels are all bad, the same way a bit of chocolate, or a little fast food has their place in a reasonable diet.

My goal is to tell an extraordinary story. My intention is to place that story in some sort of context with the human heart and to draw connections between hearts. By design or coincidence, the length it takes to tell those stories corresponds to the length of a novel.

In the end, it is all about the story. it isn’t junk lit, nor is it high-brow literature. It isn’t artsy or trendy, and it isn’t the sweeping war novels and adventure stories I dreamt of writing when I was young. what I have done is what I am proud of. I have written those extraordinary  stories, standing alone against impossible odds, finding love and humanity amid war, and finding peace and perspective after returning affected and changed by war. My heroes are average folks finding their way in the world and through life, like each of us.

Do I write novels? I suppose I do. Am I a novelist? That is another question entirely, and for me, the toughest question.


Occupy My Heart: The radio Show on Best of the Left

The Play that made national headlines, changed hearts and energized a movement is now available on Best of the Left at the link below:

 
Filled with heart and truth, Occupy My Heart: A revolutionary Christmas Carol is not just a story for the holidays, but a tale of our times. You will be touched in this modern retelling of the Dickens classic.

Please share it with your friends, especially those who still think the struggle of our times is not the co-opting of our great nation by corporate and financial greed.


Staging a protest — on a makeshift stage: Outdoor reworking of ‘A Christmas Carol’ makes use of actors who have been drawn into the protest movement

originally published in the Chicago Tribune. All ights reserved by B. Brotman and the Chicago Tribune:

December 24, 2011|By Barbara Brotman, Chicago Tribune reporter

The audience members began to arrive, walking behind a man carrying a sign reading, “Where are the jobs created by the tax cuts for the wealthy?”

Occupy Chicago was putting on a show.

The set was ready. In front of the memorial to Abraham Lincoln in Grant Park, a bench was hammered onto pieces of plywood to keep it from being blown over. Rolling wardrobes on the sides were anchored against the wind by backpacks. Scene lists were duct-taped to the tall columns on each side.

“I like that Abe Lincoln is looking over us,” said Teresa Veramendi, looking up at the president’s somber, seated figure. “I think he would approve.”

“Occupy My Heart: A Revolutionary Christmas Carol,” by writer-activist William Turck, is a modern take on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”:

On a cold, snowy Christmas Eve, an ambitious Chicago banker loses his job and his money-hungry girlfriend, encounters a former love who is part of the Occupy movement, is visited by three spirits who show him painful truths, and finds redemption.

“It really stays pretty true to the classic Dickens tale of somebody who has sold out all their values to the pursuit of money and isn’t really happy,” said Zach Johnson-Dunlop, 28, who plays the banker.

The action is set amid a protest, and last week it was seen by audience members who had just come from one. The premiere — a single outdoor performance Friday afternoon — was coordinated to begin at the end of a protest march that set out from LaSalle and Jackson.

The small and chilled crowd, joined by several perplexed tourists, watched and occasionally participated, to director Hannah Friedman’s delight.

The actors gently shooed away a man who had walked on stage to take close-up pictures of what he thought was a real TV newscast but was actually part of the show. And one Occupy regular kept joining the actors portraying protesters in the show.

Turck conceived of the play just before Thanksgiving. As he attended Occupy Chicago’s general assemblies, he was struck by how many theater people he was meeting.

“I thought, ‘Boy, if we could channel this talent, there’s no better form of communication, heart to heart, than art,'” he said.

Christmas was a little more than a month away. And Turck happened to be a great fan of Dickens.

“On DVD somewhere, I’ve got just about every version of ‘A Christmas Carol,'” he said.

Turck had his concept. He banged out the script in a week, returned to Occupy’s general assembly “and tried to convince people I was sane.”

“He jumped up and said, ‘I have written a play,'” said Veramendi, 26, an actress who teaches theater in Chicago schools. “People were very excited. … Everyone cheered.

“It’s a great vehicle to get people interested and to bring more people into the conversation who might not come out to a protest — but who might come to a play.”

Friedman, 22, who has been an assistant director and stage manager at Lookingglass Theatre Company, Piven Theatre Workshop and Chicago Dramatists, saw a notice on a Chicago theater website asking for actors and a director for an Occupy play. She met with Turck and Veramendi.

“I got a chance to read the script, and I really liked it a lot,” Friedman said. “He’s taken this classic — it’s almost become an icon in American culture — and turned it into a revolutionary story.”

Turck’s version differs in one important respect. “Our banker, Josh, is a likable character. He’s not Scrooge,” he said. “His arguments are compelling.

“We tried to be very realistic. We didn’t want to be cartoonish. We really wanted people to think.”

On Friday, actors changed costumes — all of which included coats — on stage, in the open. No one used mics, and though traffic hummed, sirens yowled and trains whistled, the actors generally made themselves heard.

The audience, standing behind or sitting on the steps up to the memorial, chanted along with the play’s protesters and tried to stay warm. One young man passed out chemical hand warmers; another, cookies.

At the end, people wiggled upward-raised fingers, an Occupy expression of approval, and gave enthusiastic reviews.

“It was funny, but it also had real events and actions. And I liked the turnaround of the main character,” said Ryan Griffin, who added powerful praise for an outdoor performance in winter:

“I was really getting cold, and I wanted to get out of here. But I really wanted to see the play.”

“Occupy My Heart” will be performed indoors, for free, at 8 p.m. Monday at the Prop Theater, 3502-04 N. Elston Ave., and at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday at Studio BE, 3110 N. Sheffield Ave.

A radio play the cast recorded was to be broadcast at 10 a.m. Saturday on WCPT, 820 AM, during Marshall Stern’s “Awakened America” program. A podcast of the show was scheduled to be posted soon at bit.ly/uH3oBb.

bbrotman@tribune.com


The Fusion of Art and Activism, in the evolution of a movement. On December 23rd thousands will make Chicago and Occupy history in Grant Park for the first performance of “Occupy My Heart: A revolutionary Christmas Carol” The march will begin at 2pm, arriving at the Lincoln Memorial at Congress and Columbus for a 3pm performance of a new, innovative and family-friendly retelling of the Dickens’ classic, with the glorious skyline of Chicago’s Loop at the backdrop.

Based upon the Dickens classic, Occupy My Hearttells the story of Josh, an ambitious Chicago banker, who one cold and snowy Christmas Eve loses his job and girlfriend. Josh happens upon Kay, an old love, protesting with the Occupy movement. Where they once found cause to change the world, Josh is now lost to the greed of Wall Street. Where once he fought for the cause and dignity of every man, Josh’s heart is now indifferent to the suffering around him. But on that frosty Christmas Eve night Josh will be visited by of the oddest ever spirits three spirits that will show him that other world, the one that might have been with Kay, a world of hope and decency and dignity for all. But can a cynical heart be changed in a single night? Can that heart be changed enough to ask or beg forgiveness and a second chance with Kay? And can the changing of one heart be enough to change the world?

Our stage!

Set against the backdrop of the Occupy movement, Occupy My Heart is an hour long play written as a celebration of the movement, to bring the spirit and message of this historic moment to a broader audience. There is romance and comedy, politics and regret, heartbreak and hope. Above all this is a story of the 99%, for the 99% and by the 99%. Occupy My Heart, A Revolutionary Christmas Carol is the story of us.

Directed by K. Hannah Friedman, and brought to life by a talented and amazing cast, this family friendly one hour play is a bold, fresh and innovative realization of a holiday classic. Come out and march, or just come for the show and be part of the biggest story in Chicago theater history! And if you can’t make the show, stay tuned for details on how you can hear it on your radio, your iphone or computer anywhere in the world!


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