PlayGuide - "Antonio’s Song / I Was Dreaming of a Son"

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By Dael Orlandersmith and Antonio Edwards Suarez Directed by Mark Clements | 414-224-9490


By Dael Orlandersmith Directed by and Antonio Edwards Suarez Mark Clements A John (Jack) D. Lewis New Play Development Program Production

Executive Producers: Catherine & Buddy Robinson

Associate Producers: Connie & John Kordsmeier

The Stiemke Studio Season is presented by FOUR-FOUR FOUNDATION




Lindsey Hoel-Neds CONTENT WRITER


About the Creators


CATF Interview with Dael Orlandersmith and Antonio Edwards Suarez


Telling a Story in Its Own Way: The Structure of Antonio’s Song


Featured Artist


Exploring the Themes of the Play Through Memoir


Child Abuse Stats and Resources


What is a Co-Production?






Antonio’s Song – PlayGuide

ABOUT THE CREATORS Antonio Edwards Suarez holds a BFA in Acting from

Marymount Manhattan College and an MFA from ART/MXAT at Harvard University. He has served on the Faculty at Marymount Manhattan as an Assistant Professor of Theater Arts and at Hunter College. Suarez has performed on Broadway, Off-Broadway, in several regional theaters, on television, and in film. You may have seen him on Royal Pains, Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order, or Elementary. Suarez returns to Milwaukee Rep with Antonio’s Song after appearing in 2008’s The Night is a Child.

Dael Orlandersmith grew up in East Harlem, New York and attended Hunter College before leaving to attend classes at HB Studio and Actors Studio. Orlandersmith’s work has been performed Off-Broadway and at many regional theaters and her writing has been nominated and received several awards. Orlandersmith was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2002 for Yellowman, which also received a Drama Desk Award nomination. Orlandersmith’s Beauty’s Daughter won an Obie in 1995. She has won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 2003, the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award in 2005, and a Whiting Award in 2008. Orlandersmith’s additional works include: Monster (1996); The Gimmick (1998); My Red Hand, My Black Hand (2001); Raw Boys (2005); The Blue Album (2007); Stoop Stories (2009); Bones (2010); Horsedreams (2011); Black N Blue Boys/Broken Men (2012); Forever (2014); Until the Flood (2016); and Antonio’s Song (2019). Antonio’s Song is Orlandersmith’s third production produced by Milwaukee Rep.


An Interview with Dael Orlandersmith and

Antonio Edwards Suarez Researched, interviewed, and edited by Sharon J. Anderson, CATF Trustee/Professional Story Listener and Creative Director. Reprinted with permission from Contemporary American Theater Festival.

CATF: Why is this play called Antonio’s Song/I was dreaming of a son and not Antonio’s Story/I was dreaming of a son? DAEL ORLANDERSMITH: There’s something rhythmic about how Antonio moves throughout the world. Songs do something that’s very universal – they manage to capture a moment. You can be on the other side of the world listening to Piaf, and you can get what she is saying even though you don’t understand the language, because it transcends language. Songs can zero in on the collective unconscious in certain ways. “I was dreaming of a son” is a way to think of men being dreamy, liquid, and soft.

How did you two hook up? ANTONIO EDWARDS SUAREZ: We were in the same space one day doing some work, and Dael came on stage. I had never seen her work before, and I thought, “I want to work with this woman somehow, some way.” So I followed her work over the years and came to appreciate how she can write across the board for men and women, regardless of race or socio-economic class, and really show empathy toward human beings. Josh Sherman, a good friend of mine, got us in touch, and Dael and I met, talked, and she was very interested in my story. Because it’s my story and it’s personal, Dael has been very good at making sure I was being taken care of. She’s also been very good at pushing the envelope when necessary.

You’re both storytellers. What was it like to collaborate? How did the process actually work? AES: I would write some material, and Dael would write some material. We would read it every few months to see what’s working, then go back to the drawing board and write some more. Dael was very good at pushing me in terms of, “No, this is not clear. This is not good enough.” It’s been a really good back and forth. DO: And it’s been good on my end.

The format of the words in this play is fascinating: 3,600 lines, just 50-60 words per page. It reads like a poem, a song. DO: That’s the way I write. What we tried to do on the page is create a sense of music, poetry, and dance.

The spacing reminds me a lot of the work of the experimental writer/novelist Carole Maso, who uses a lot of white space between lines.


DO: Because that’s what Maso does, makes up her own language, as does another wonderful writer Max Porter in his novel Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, which is now a play. I noticed that there is a lot of air between the lines because what Porter is doing is a fusion between theater and novel.

Antonio, you’re going to speak and dance… AES: . . . and move. I’m an actor who moves well. What the piece does with the language is help me examine those sides of men that aren’t explored in our community. How do we move? How do we move in our space? How do we move with each other? When we want to start to break away from that, what does that mean? With Dael’s words, how can I explore that space? How do I explore this new space that I want to go into? It becomes a form of a song within my body.

So you moved after you got the words, or she watched you move and wrote the words? How did this work? AES: I knew I wanted this to be something with movement, so Dael listened and watched me and watched me and watched me. The first thing she said was, “You have very small hands.” It didn’t offend me. This is who I am, and she knows that in a gentle way, whereas within the community, it’s not known in a gentle way. In the play, we’re examining what it means when somebody calls you out on your size, calls you out on having a light voice, being a man.

Dael, did your turbulent childhood influence your writing of this play? DO: That’s within this play. That’s what I wanted to look at. For example, we don’t take children very seriously. The sins of the father, the sins of the mother also play into Antonio’s Song. Mostly, we wanted to look at what masculinity means: what does it mean in terms of coming from Brooklyn, what does it mean in terms of men of color, what does it mean if a man is small? Is a small man not really a guy because our perception is that men are big and strong?

In his article, “Blackness as a Lens,” [New York Times, 4/28/19], Wesley Morris writes, “The thrill of this generation of black playwrights is that they’ve harnessed the true power of theater. It’s their sense of danger, their belief in risk that may explain why none of them has yet made it to Broadway. They don’t give a damn about your comfort.” DO: That’s a sweeping statement. The expectation in theater of color is to write about identity. I don’t wake up and think I’m a black woman. I know that I am. Antonio’s Song is about someone of mixed-race descent, but it also deals with universalism.

Antonio’s Song – PlayGuide

Sometimes people don’t know what to do with that because they are going to make it into a “race” play. It goes beyond those things.

Working alongside Dael has helped me understand that being a man is so many more things than what I came to the table with a few years ago.

This generation of playwrights is doing some great work. I know many who say that they want to write about other things, but they’re not being allowed to. That’s part of the oppression as well. It’s not mutually exclusive. No one really talks about when Antonio’s character speaks about watching Baryshnikov and going to Russia. They just talk about the ghetto stuff.

DO: Our perception of men is really very warped. We haven’t created a space where men can move through the world softly and feel that it’s okay to be soft.

Antonio, as a performer, you’ve said that your “alone time is precious.” AES: To be an artist, you do at times need to be selfish about your own space, your own time, your own energy. For any show, for any art to be what you want it to be, your time becomes sacred. You have to protect yourself because the business comes at you from so many angles. “Alone time” is a way of getting your energies together, arming yourself so you are not only preparing for your art, but also for what the business is going to be asking of you.

What’s it like to be making and/or performing in plays knowing that the theatergoing audience is primarily white? AES: I just want to put the theater up and see what people think. If I put it up, I want to hear about it, good and bad. Maybe I’m being too broad, but I don’t really care about race, gender, or ethnicity. As long as you want to come see it, I will do my best.

In Chester Bailey, another play in CATF’s 2019 repertoire, the character Dr. Cotton makes this observation about his patient, Chester Bailey, to his father, “Your son, Mr. Bailey, is the author of his own mercy. He stitched it together out of what was around him. Just like the rest of us.” How have you been the author of your own mercy? AES: I hope I have been the author of my own mercy. I’ve been living with Antonio’s Song for a while, and because I’ve been living with it for a while, I can’t drop it. It’s making me continually ask, “Am I building the best bridges that I can with my friends? With my family? My son? With work?” It’s making me want to be my better self. DO: In terms of mercy, for me it means jumping and leaping more. Taking more chances. It’s actually scary to do that, but I’m definitely doing it now more than ever. You have to have a certain amount of self-compassion to do that.

DO: I love diverse audiences. Having said that, no matter where I am, I will perform.

The form of your play reminded me of Suzan Lori Parks’ observation in a Time magazine interview [4/3/19], “Now there are more voices who are breaking form, because they realize the form perhaps doesn’t serve the story of the lives we’re living. It’s like way back when, Shakespeare only wrote about kings. Then Arthur Miller comes along, and he writes about people. We have deeply satisfying stories and literature – but they need to be told in a different way.” AES: This is what we are doing in Antonio’s Song. It’s the way we feel comfortable doing it.

Antonio Edwards Suarez in Antonio’s Song at CATF. Photo Credit: Seth Freeman.

DO: There is a movement. When you watch Antonio walk, he does move like a dancer to a certain degree because that’s what he is. How can we take that and use that in the piece? AES: I naturally move. At a young age, I moved well. But when I moved, I had to put on a certain armor, another type of movement, just so I could survive. As time went on, college and grad school helped me understand that I don’t need to put on armor. As the play says, I need to “put down the BOP,” which is more figurative because I still have a little BOP. It’s more of a mindset, more of how I was supposed to move.


Telling a Story In Its Own Way: The Structure of Antonio’s Song Antonio’s Song is a theatrical experience unlike many audiences at Milwaukee Rep may have experienced before. Some of the unique elements of Antonio’s Song are detailed below.

Solo Performer

Antonio Edwards Suarez is a captivating performer who ignites the stage with his personality, movement, and talent. While Milwaukee Rep has produced powerful solo shows such as Every Brilliant Thing, An Iliad, and The Lion in the past, this show creates a new type of performance that will engage audiences in a different way.

Poetic Text

Orlandersmith and Suarez’s play reads and sounds like a poem or spoken word piece more so than a traditional dialogue-based piece of theatre. Orlandersmith’s body of work leans heavily on poetic verse to convey stories in captivating and innovative ways. Throughout the piece, audiences will notice the cadence and rhythm of Suarez’s performance as he weaves his memories as poetic language.

Memoir Play

This piece comes from Suarez’s lived experiences, and as such, resonates with deeply personal energy. The stories he tells are his own, with a sense of theatricality added for performance.

Movement and Dance

Antonio’s Song is filled with movement and dance as an essential part of Suarez’s story and the collaborative storytelling envisioned by the creative team. Dance and creative movement are an important part of Suarez’s life narrative and as such, are an important theatrical device for this piece.


Music in this piece adds to the mood, conveys time, and connects Suarez to his body and his story, bringing the audience along on the journey.


Visual projections add to the storytelling of the piece, while keeping the focus on Suarez’s performance.


Antonio’s Song – PlayGuide

Photo Credit: The Ginger Beardmen

Photo Credit: Judith Boroson

A conversation with Antonio’s Song

movement director, Alexandra Beller BY AUBURN MATSON

MATSON: How did you get involved in the project? Can you talk more about your role? BELLER: Dael and Antonio brought me in years ago, when it was still a fledgling project, because they knew it was meant to be a dance as much as anything else.

MATSON: Movement and dance are another language in this piece – how did you work alongside the words, music, projections, etc. to choreograph this piece?

BELLER: The words, and Antonio’s instincts around the words and his embodied memory, were key. Antonio

did a lot of improvising while speaking the text and I catalogued what naturally came up from his body. Then I would hone it and crystallize it and teach it back to him. Some of the larger, more “dancey” sections, I made from my own imagination, but most of it initiated from his body. We worked with music later in the piece, once those choices had been made. Video really came in later, and I tweaked spacing and proximity during tech, but it wasn’t hugely interactive for me. MATSON: How was the music selected and designed for the show – was it in collaboration with the work you and Antonio did or did you choreograph to pre-selected music?

BELLER: I didn’t choreograph to music at all. I did adjust our choreography to the music once it was chosen,

mostly determined by the script (references to actual music), Dael and Antonio’s memories, and Mark’s choices. I made a few suggestions, but most of the music was chosen after the movement was created, and then I adjusted choreography to find the music, and sometimes asked to edit music to mesh with choreography.

MATSON: How do you tailor your choreography to the skills and interests of the individual performer? BELLER: I always like the actor to both reveal themselves, and find a pathway to grow during the creative

process. This definitely happened with Antonio. His instincts, talents, movement style, and physicality were central to creating the work, but I also pushed him to do things that were more complex than he might have naturally chosen, and I pushed against some of his biases so there would be more range of dynamic in the show. Pushing against instinct was always done at the service of the text, where something he was choosing seemed to be more habit than true response to the text.

MATSON: What is a moment from your experience working on this play that has resonated strongly with you? And why? BELLER: Honestly, one of our very first rehearsals is one of the things that sticks with me most. It was the

first time that we had tried the process of having Antonio improvise movement while speaking text, then having him think the text but not sound it while moving, and I analyzed what he was doing in terms of rhythm, posture, gesture, body parts, proximity to the audience, kinesphere, and energetic dynamics. I processed my information and started choreographing for him, but it had all been generated from his body through the text, and that seemed really magical to both of us.


Exploring the Themes of the Play Through Memoir Antonio’s Song deals with themes of the intersections of parenthood/ fatherhood and race in thought-provoking and deeply personal ways. The piece is a memoir play, delving deeply into Antonio’s experiences, thoughts, and emotions through poetry, dance, and movement. Many contemporary memoirists have looked at race and family through their own experiences in their work. Some titles to check out from your local library: Motherhood So White by Nefertiti Austin Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates Black Dove: Mamá, Mi’jo, and Me by Ana Castillo The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride The Grace of Silence: A Family Memoir by Michele Norris Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama


Antonio’s Song – PlayGuide

Child Abuse Statistics and How You Can Help

Antonio’s Song also addresses the toll of child abuse within a family. Physical, psychological, and emotional abuse are widespread problems throughout our community and our country. A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds. In 2015, an estimated 1,670 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States. In 2015, Children’s Advocacy Centers around the country served more than 311,002 child victims of abuse, providing victim advocacy and support to these children and their families. Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S. annually. An estimated 683,000 children (unique incidents) were victims of abuse and neglect in 2015, the most recent year for which there is national data. CPS protects more than 3 million children. Approximately 3.4 million children received an investigation or alternative response from child protective services agencies. 2.3 million children received prevention services.

Neglect is the most common form of maltreatment. Of the children who experienced maltreatment or abuse, three-quarters suffered neglect; 17.2% suffered physical abuse; and 8.4% suffered sexual abuse. (Some children are polyvictimized—they have suffered more than one form of maltreatment.) About four out of five abusers are the victims’ parents. A parent of the child victim was the perpetrator in 78.1% of substantiated cases of child maltreatment.

If you suspect a child is being abused or maltreated, please contact your local Child Protective Services. You do not need to be a legally Mandated Reporter to report.

The youngest children were most vulnerable to maltreatment. Children in the first year of their life had the highest rate of victimization of 24.2% per 1,000 children in the national population of the same age.

In Milwaukee County: (414) 220-SAFE (7233) In Waukesha County: (262) 548-7212 In Racine County: 262-638-7720 In Kenosha County: 262-697-4500

Additional Resources for Child Abuse Prevention and Parenting in Milwaukee


What is a Co-Production?

Co-productions like Antonio’s Song allow regional theater companies the opportunity to collaborate in different ways while fostering already existing or new relationships.


Antonio’s Song – PlayGuide

Milwaukee Rep has shared co-productions with several regional theaters over the past few years. As theaters work together, they can highlight the talents of their individual artists while creating a production that may not be possible otherwise. Co-productions often introduce actors to audiences that may not otherwise be familiar with them, allowing the actors more opportunities to work in different theaters. This arrangement also helps new work, such as Antonio’s Song, to reach wider audiences in different geographic locations. When developing new work, this arrangement often allows the theaters and playwrights more resources and time to develop the scripts and productions, creating meaningful and beneficial development of the play. In sharing resources, theaters not only help make more theatrical magic happen, but can also highlight each theater’s specific strengths and provide the opportunity for a company’s

Courter Simmons, Kevin Kantor, and Armand Fields in The Legend of Georgia McBride, a co-production with Arizona Theatre Company. Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow.

national reputation to grow. This co-production with Contemporary American Theater Festival has allowed Milwaukee Rep to bring this exciting new work to Milwaukee audiences. Theater companies try to find partners that have similar spaces, artistic quality, and budget expectations. The show is usually built at the first theater to produce the play, but that is not always the case depending on specific artistic needs, artists, and production capabilities. Decisions are made by teams at both theaters, and the adaptations that will need to be made for each audience and space are taken into account.

Cast of In the Heights, a co-production with Seattle Repertory Theatre and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

Co-productions are a wonderful way for regional theaters such as Milwaukee Rep to share their stories with larger audiences, while also fostering relationships that strengthen the power of the arts to change lives.



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TheRepertory Ticket Office is visiblePatty on the leftJay upon entering theComplex Wells Street doors. The Quadracci Milwaukee Theater’s and Baker Theater is located in the Milwaukee Powerhouse is located Mezzanine andStreets. can be accessed via escalator or elevator. Center downtown at the corneron ofthe Wells and Water The building was formerly the home of the Electric Railway and Light Company.

The Ticket Office is visible on the left upon entering the Wells Street doors. The Quadracci Powerhouse is located on the first level.


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