4B - The Michigan Daily - We4* e*. - Thursday, November 9, 1995
OyamO's passion fuels work
'I Am a Man' tells story of Memphis strike
i I ';
By Kristin Bartus
For the Daily
"I almost never really relax like
most people do. Maybe that makes
> me a workaholic, I don't know, but I
have to write what I have to write.
I've just got to do that, because if I
don't do that, basically I'll just die."
Passionate, peaceful and eternally
exhausted, University professor
Charles "OyamO" Gordon dedicates
himself to two careers that he finds
immensely demanding and reward-
An associate professor of theater
and one of just two professor/play-
wrights currently on staff, OyamO
came to the University in 1990. Inci-
dentally, this was the same year he
wrote his critically-acclaimed play
"I Am A Man," which makes its Uni-
versity premiere this weekend.
Presently, classes and writing
projects not only fill his life - they
are his life. In the middle of his hectic
schedule of grading papers, doing
rewrites for productions across the
country, rehearsals until 2 a.m., as
well as his own personal writing
projects, this sleep-starved man takes
a precious half-hour to sit in his dark
office and simply close his eyes.
This short period of meditation
seems to help OyamO regain focus.
Casually clad in jeans, turtleneck and
a gray striped shirt, he relaxes in his
chair, stretches out his legs, and pro-
ceeds to reveal the influences and in-
tricacies of his life as a professor/
"Usually I try to write about what
interests me, whatever occurs to me
that can hold my attention. And as for
the way I may write about something
... I let the material dictate what the
style and structures are going to be,"
Although "Man" is based on a his-
torical event, OyamO does not write
all his plays about history, nor does
he attempt to make them all docu-
mentaries. He never really knows what
he will write about next or how the
work will present itself, but this is
half the fun. "Most other occupations
don't really interest me that much.
They are too predictable, they're too
dull, and they have too many politics
involved. I don't like playing poli-
tics. I know there are politics in ev-
erything, but I don't have to like
them," he said.
"My job is to absorb what I mean to
absorb of the world and to process it
inside myself, and then to recreate it
in an expression for the stage, essen-
tially, or for film. And, anything that
interferes with that process bothers
me, a lot, and politics definitely inter-
fere. Therefore, I keep politics out of
my life," he said firmly.
OyamO the playwright believes he
will never run short of things to write
about. He does not understand the
concept of writer's block and insists
if he were locked up in a cell for the
rest of his life, he would always have
new ideas in his head to write about.
While he remains open to a rain-
bow of possibilities of future writing
projects, OyamO has strong feelings
for what he dislikes in the theater. He
holds forceful opinions against the
currently chic trend of so-called
"avant-garde" theater that contains a
very cynical regard for the world,
progress and the "futile" state of hu-
"Life is an ongoing process and I
don't think it is wise to make some
ultimate, definitive statement that
says, 'this is life,' unless you really
think you are some kind of god."
He also generally dislikes plays that
lack passion, where people just come
into a room and "yack at each other."
"The theater that I love most is the
theater of bouncing theatricality -
muscular, visual, visceral theatrical-
OyamO's "I Am a Man" focuses on the 1968 sanitation worier's strike that led to the assassination of Martin Luther King J
ity," he said.
It is this theatricality and passion
that tends to exist in the writers he
enjoys most. Although OyamO claims
he has never been specifically imita-
tive of any particular author, he cites
the names of numerous writers who
he appreciates and admires. His list
includes Adrienne Kennedy, Maria
Irene Fornes, Ralph Ellison, Tennes-
see Williams, Leroy Jones and Fyodor
While he appreciates a variety of
authors and works, OyamO's actual
influences in writing stem from his
"I think the greatest influence on me
was my grandfather who was a minis-
ter and who liked to tell stories with
his sermons in church," he said,
squirming in his chair from his re-
laxed state and becoming more alive.
"He acted out all the parts in the
stories and so forth and he was gener-
ally funny. He really looked like he
enjoyed himself when he was telling
these stories and for some reason I
never forgot what he did. Even as a
little child who usually squirmed around
a lot in church, I never squirmed around
when he was talking."
This squirming child also caused
quite a bit of trouble in school, but
always loved reading and writing. In
fifth grade his required one-paragraph
writing exercises would stretch on for
pages. Although quite a clown and a
troublemaker, the young OyamO also
enjoyed a great deal of time alone
playing in the woods and spending
time with his own thoughts.
H is delinquent-style troublemaking
ended as a teenager, but in terms of
his writing, OyamO believes causing
trouble is not only good, but also nec-
essary. He exercises this belief in his
own writing and also stresses this idea
to the students in his playwriting
"I try to let the kids know that if you
are going to be an artist, you have to
understand you are in a state of rebel-
lion and that it is your duty, your
responsibility to get into trouble," he
said. "If you are an artist and you
don't get in trouble, there is a problem
- you are not going far enough."
OyamO writes from his heart and
by reaching deep into his spirit and
soul and encourages his students to do
the same. "For me, the value of these
courses is discovering people who do
in fact have some kind of ability and
some love of language and willing-
ness to be honest and to be crazy and
to connect with that wild thing that is
inside of them," he said.
Similarly, OyamO feels that this cur-
rent University production of "Man"
can serve as an inspiration for college
students to reach inside of themselves
and make something special.
OyamO created "Man" from ti
historical perspective of the sanit
tion workers' strike of 1968 in Mer
phis that led to the assassination
the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
figure there are so many plays writt
about Martin Luther King - filrr
television specials, and so forth -
and Martin Luther King just didr
interest me. So, I told (the stor
through the eyes of this worker wI
was poor, who was uneducated
only through the eighth grade - a
who didn't have anywhere near tI
kind of resources King had."
Since 1990, OyamO's perspecti'
on this event has won him much crit
cal acclaim, numerous national at
international productions, a publis
ing deal with Applause Books, at
even a deal with HBO. He has cor
pleted a screenplay for "Man" ai
also wrote a script for HBO's "F
mous Black American Anthology.'
As for OyamO, his immediate f
ture includes a production opening
Stanford November 10, a newly-fi
ished screenplay, a commission f<
the Seattle Children's Theater and n
merous personal writing projectg.
Some of these projects will get hi
in trouble, and that excites him. F
certainly, however, will not find tipT
for more sleep any time soon, unle:
his unlimited creative powers begi
to border on miraculous.
a Playwright OyamO brings his forceful opinions to the stage and the classroom.
PARTAS CUSA/RAYOMOS.JUIEA LADS
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STEP INTO A NEW WORLD...
PEACE CORPS WEEK
comes to an end...
Events on-campus today:
Look for us at the
"Job Fair" being held in the
Stay for the Liberal Arts
Job Panel at 530,
also in the Michigan Union
Come see the Peace Corps film
in the International Center
at 7:00 p.m.
For Peace Corps information, or an
application, call your Peace Corps
Campus Rep., Joseph Dorsey at