HOWL in the Time of Trump is my third poetry-in-performance solo piece. First, there was Poe’s most mystical poetic pieces, performed with music and images. Then came Whitman’s Song of Myself, performed with original music and film.
Now, I’m doing Allen Ginsberg’s famous 1956 protest poem against a patriarchal, heterosexually monogamous America.
This is the America referenced in the expression: “Make America Great Again!”
And that in a nutshell, so to speak, is why Sanctuary Theatre and its Performing Knowledge Project are doing this poem now.
I’ve wanted to perform Howl for quite some time, but with the craziness of the last election, and with the craziness of America’s money-obsessed culture, and with the craziness of the rise of a new artistic bourgeoisie, we decided that the time couldn’t be more right.
HOWL in the Time of Trump is an artistic, theatrically-produced poem that will challenge all our stereotypical, consumer-driven, elitist, MFA-driven assumptions about what it means to be an artist in America.
Ginsberg, of course, reaches back into Walt Whitman, both stylistically and thematically. Both artists rejected the thin bandwidth of the acceptable poetry of their day. Both were inclusive, to a fault some might say, a hipster, pre-hippie love-one-another outrage at narrow mindedness.
With HOWL in the Time of Trump we’ve got my first live musician, Doug Fraser. We have a taped score that’s fantastic and that covers cohesively various genres from jazz to bassa nova. Doug has collaborated with me on all my solo shows, and he’s finally agreed to join me on stage.
We’ve got audience participation, a “happening” kind of approach that places the audience front and center as instant community. I think Ginsberg and Howl allows for that type of an approach.
We’ve even got finger puppets and a mask, compliments of Elizabeth Bruce and a cohort of fellow travelers, and no it’s not a Trump mask per se, but…I’ll leave it at that.
Yitna Firdyiwek, another longtime collaborator, directs the show and developed the visuals along with filmmaker Aashish Edakadampil.
As always, however, the poetry is primary. Ginsberg’s wild and beautiful language. I won’t call it wisdom, because that’s counter to everything Ginsberg’s poetry is about: let’s just say it’s full of it.
As Ginsberg himself says in Howl: “the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit.”
Tickets for HOWL in the Time of Trump
Robert Michael Oliver, a performer-playwright-director-poet-filmmaker-educator-writer, has worked for over 30 years to bring new, thought-provoking works of literature and performance to Washington, DC. In 1984, Oliver co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre and served as its Artistic Director. The theatre introduced DC audiences to works by such renowned international artists as Enrique Buenaventura (The Orgy), David Hare (Fanshen), and Tawfiq al Hakim (The Tree Climber). In 2010, he founded The Performing Knowledge Project: Finding Narrative in Knowledge, Giving Voice to Words. Oliver created and performed Embodying Poe in 2011 and Song of Myself: The WHITMAN Project in 2014. His scripts include The Greatest Generation, Images from a Darkened Classroom, and Epiphanies by Midnight.