By Byrne Harrison
Name: Rock WILK
Play: Broke Wide Open
Relationship to play: Writer and performer
An actor, playwright and poet, New York City's own Rock WILK is also a socially and politically charged vocalist and an accomplished multi-instrumentalist. He creates all of this art while riding the subways of NYC. Along with being a 2009 Nuyorican Poet's semifinalist and 2010 runoffs qualifier for The Nuyorican's national team, Rock has worked as a studio and touring background vocalist for many years, most recently singing with the legendary Patti LaBelle and contributing vocal and horn arrangements to the Grammy Award winning Les Paul compilation album, "Les Paul and Friends."
Rock's music can also be heard on such TV shows as MTV's "The Real World" and "Making The Band," among others.
You have a very interesting bio. What would you consider your best performance moments so far?
Hmm... that's a tough one because all of my performances are special in their own way. Lemme see... hmm.... well, I'm just gonna go with a relatively recent staged reading of Broke Wide Open. It was at a beautiful small theater down in Asbury Park, NJ called The Showroom, and it was going to be my last reading for a while because I was, at that time, in the process of workshopping with a number of directors, in the midst of trying to find the perfect person to continue this journey with. And so the day came for this performance, and there was a pretty big snowstorm, and I thought, "Damn, nobody's gonna come." To make a long story short, the theater was full, there were a few directors in the house, and the performance was profound for me, I felt like I found a lot of new things in my words that night, and we had a Q&A after the performance that was so deeeeeeeep. A man walked up to me after the performance with his son, who was about 20 years old, and they both looked kinda dazed. This guy had seen me perform at The Nuyorican Poets Cafe one Friday night and when he saw I was performing in his area, he decided to come see me and bring his father, not really knowing what to expect. I'm not sure he even knew that he was coming to see a play, that perhaps he thought he was going to see a night of poetry. Cool thing was this... he was adopted, was bringing the man who had adopted him, his father, and my play REALLY affected both of them. [Broke Wide Open is the true story of my search for my biological mother] They came up to talk to me after the Q&A, both in tears, and his father said to me, "I heard so much in your play that I have heard out of my sons mouth over the years. We have had some issues." The son said to me, "Yeah, we've had some issues. I've had some problems dealing with this 'being adopted' thing." It was very intimate, and so without getting into the details of our conversation, that experience really hit home with me, made me realize that there were people I was seriously connecting with, made me feel the power of the theater. Truthfully, I was humbled by that, everything changed for me that day. I have always felt like people go to the theater or to concerts or to any type of performance to FEEL something... that night I REALLY felt that, like this was a beautiful shared experience for me and the people who came out to see my show. So from that day on, every time I get on stage, I say to myself, "Tonight.. all I want is to have this beautiful shared experience with these people. Tonight is never going to happen again, so let's do something special together." And it seems like it always works out that way, I appreciate each opportunity to perform, but that night is one that I will never forget. Oh... and about a week later, I decided that my director was going to be the amazing Tamilla Woodard, and thankfully, she said yes!
As you mentioned, Broke Wide Open is a very personal piece. Tell me a little bit about how it came to be.
Broke Wide Open actually started as an album. Music. A collection of songs. My very close friend Jack Rollins, who was the long time manager of Woody Allen, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, David Letterman, and who also happens to be the father of my old girlfriend, who now happens to be my best friend, [whew! I digress]... Mr. Rollins encouraged me to embark on this journey of revealing myself in this collection of songs, to create an album that would, in a sense, be my legacy. He kept saying to me, "Rock, I feel like you NEED to do this, you have this interesting life story that people will want to hear, and if you are willing to REALLY open up, they will love you as much as I do." Damn, THAT stopped me, I took that moment in, we were sitting together in Riverside Park on a bench at 83rd Street that day. Anyway, he was talking about doing this for the sake of the art, like I said, he felt it was IMPORTANT for me to do this, and I respect Mr Rollins so much, and so after going back and forth for a while, thinking about whether or not I really had anything to say that anyone would find remotely interesting, I decided to take the opportunity to do this album. So I got on the subways and started to write songs. That's where I write, on the trains, just riding and riding, that environment is inspiring for me, it's where I feel most creative. Then when my little digital recorder was full, when the songs were written, I locked myself in my small studio in my apartment in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn and recorded the album in a few months. Then everyone who heard the album said, "Damn, this sounds like a play", and so I created this performance piece called Ma'Plej, each letter standing for someone in my family. At a performance of Ma'Plej, I met Stephen Bishop Seely, who was at that time the creative artistic director of The Revision Theatre in Asbury Park, NJ, and he said, "This is great, but it's about 14 plays, so you need to choose one, and write it." I chose the portion of Ma'Plej that was my search for my biological mother, my search for home, my identity, and so then this cathartic journey began, and Ma'Plej found it's way back to the beginning of this process and so Broke Wide Open, the play, was born, and here we are now.
I like that you call it a "verbal opera." What exactly does that phrase mean to you?
My director, Tamilla Woodard came up with that. And when she said it one day, it really hit home with me, felt like the perfect description of Broke Wide Open. There are A LOT of words in my play, and sometimes I say them REALLY FAST. They feel like a "movement" or almost like an opera or symphony. The play moves dynamically, with parts that are quiet and somewhat serene and then there are crescendos. We journey up and down, high and low, it feels like there is this beautiful motion, or EMOTION. So when Tamilla said that one day, "Rock, this is a verbal opera", my approach became like I was a conductor moving through this story like music, and it really feels that way for me, only verbally. There IS, literally, plenty of music in the play, along with these monologues and all of this poetry, all of these words are being weaved in and out of each other... yeah, Tamilla found the perfect way to describe Broke Wide Open.
What are your hopes for this production?
To serve the work, to really explore this and make it a beautiful work of art. To give it real opportunity to grow, to continue, for Broke Wide Open to have a long life. And to be REALLY honest... the first day I sat with Stephen Bishop Seely when we first began talking about what I was doing with this project, he asked me, "Where do you want to go with this? Where do you want to do it?" I immediately said, "The Public Theater." That was my dream from the beginning, my intention, and so I would like to see Broke Wide Open keep progressing, and yes, I'm saying it out loud, I WANT TO DO THIS AT THE PUBLIC, THE MARK TAPER FORUM, BERKELEY REP, BROKE WIDE OPEN ON BROADWAY!!!!!!!!!! I would love the opportunity to share this work everywhere and anywhere. And I visualize all of that, every day, seriously. But having said all of that, truthfully, it's all about the work for me, I am completely in love with this process, and we will just continue to attend to this work, to stay open to learning, I'm very grateful to be here at this particular moment.
What is next for you after undergroundzero?
We are fortunate enough to be doing a full workshop in September at The Medicine Show Theatre on 52nd Street in Manhattan, directed by and developed with Tamilla Woodard. We will have the full production being workshopped, collaborators included, lighting and set design, the video and music elements, I am VERY EXCITED to get this on. We open that on September 9th and will run Thursdays through Sundays until September 26th. After that, who knows? We are rolling!
Broke Wide Open
Written & Performed by Rock WILK
Directed by Tamilla Woodard
150 First Ave at 9th St.
Sat July 24 @ 2pm - Downstairs Venue