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Banned in Uzbekistan (by my own country)

May 12, 2014

Banned in Uzbekistan (by my own country)

Before I went to Uzbekistan, I was banned in Uzbekistan.  Actually I wasn’t banned, but my play Ninjas & Squirrels was pulled from a festival and deemed “too controversial” for the Uzbek community by the U.S. government, in particular some of the folks at the U.S. Embassy.  I hope the folks at the Embassy know that there’s no hard feelings, in fact being banned in Uzbekistan (other than the headaches Ninjaof having to switch scripts mid-stream) may have been one of the best things that could have happened to me or my work.

Now, I appreciate the fact that the Embassy may have been looking out for my safety or they may have been looking out for the image of the United States (and Ninja’s & Squirrels paints a pretty bleak picture of the continuing aftermath of the farm crisis).  It did seem a bit odd that they had a copy of the script since the fall, but the piece was pulled shortly after the revolution in the Ukraine.

Perhaps they were altruistically looking out for the Uzbek people. A community in which very few people speak English (and my play was to be presented in English),  and a theatre that chose to include my play in a festival they were curating, but the Embassy was funding.  The first self-supporting theatre in the USSR.  A theatre which had never been censored in its 43 year history.

Ninjas & Squirrels is an homage to the work of a contemporary Russian playwright.  Said playwright’s work has been presented at the theatre, albeit this work was presented in Russian and therefore outside of the purveyance of the U.S. Embassy (yet is, as of this writing, coming under fire from his own country).

Whatever the Embassy’s reasoning, I’d like to believe they had the best intentions and I’m grateful that both they and the Ilkhom Theatre stood by me and my writing.  Many things happen for a reason and this may be one of them.

As I stood in the back of the theatre on the night of the reading, I thought about how lucky I was to have been banned by the US in Uzbekistan, because here I was, playing a part in the creation of an experience that spoke to us all in ways far beyond words–a play that pushed the boundaries of what a play could be.1215441410235483012lemmling_cartoon_squirrel-svg-med

Once I realized how deeply Dance On Bones connected to the audience, I realized that the Embassy had created an opportunity by swapping out the more traditional play for an ambitious, ethereal, and experimental work; a work that would not have been complete by the previous deadline.  A brand new work with no curse words.  And even with all the obstacles thrown in our path by forces beyond our control–we managed to share stories that connected us all.

As I hope you’ll see in the coming posts, what resulted was a collaborative process that brought together remarkable American actors and directors, a phenomenal Uzbek  jazz quartet, quick-thinking Uzbek designers, AND one non-linear jazz-based script to create a collaborative experience that pushed Dance on Bones into a reality beyond my wildest expectations.  But first I have to get to Uzbekistan.

What is Dance on Bones?

Hat Bar Photo

Musicians jamming at The Hat Bar in St. Petersburg, Russia. A place where jazz is young again.

Dance on Bones is a new script by Dave White
Written: October 2013– January 2014
Revised: March 27, 2014

Dance on Bones is 37 interlocking poems inspired by the jazz scene in St. Petersburg, Russia (see my Dance on Bones research page as well as numerous posts from May/June 2013), but set in a world in which cities have disappeared:  are we in St. Petersburg or New Orleans or St. New PeterOrleansBurg?

An early draft of Dance on Bones was prepared for the Festival of American Culture at the Ilkhom Theater of Mark Weil, Tashkent, Uzbekistan in April/May 2014.

Cast of Characters:
1 – 4 actors
1 – 4 musicians (piano, drums, bass, trumpet)
Shadows, puppets, and advertisements
The pages of the script are the template for performance.
Some can be performed as monologues.
Some can be performed as dialogue with indentation indicating changes of voice. Two
are suggested as such.
Some of the pages may be stage directions.
Some of the pages may be told through images, movement, or puppetry.
The pages included after this point can be rearranged.
Shuffled into a random order.
Performed in a different order each time.
Arranged to articulate different ideas.
Read around a campfire.
Dance On Bones has been generously supported by:
Cultural Fellowships in Russia, a program of the Likhachev Foundation, funded by The Foundation of the First President of Russia Boris N. Yeltsin and the Committee of External Relations of St. Petersburg and The Dramatist’s Guild via Generous Company.

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