Performing Jean Toomer

May 4, 2017

The Dramaturgy Packet is just about complete, which represents a considerable amount of research condensed into a single pdf.

This packet is designed to have all the research collated and put into one organized place, allowing any director or producer in the future to be able to immediately start work on the project.


The full script of Kabnis is also now in American theatre script format.

The “Production diary” section of of my proposed project has also fallen away as I focus my efforts on history and preparation rather than directing.

Not Gonna Lie… (April 16, 2017)

Young Jean Toomer looks just like Danny Pudi

April 15

Beineke visit #2 went very well. I read through nearly all of Toomer’s correspondence with Waldo Frank and got many interesting tidbits from the archive of newspaper clippings kept by Carl Van Vechten, as well as drafts of Toomer’s autobiography. Toomer’s autobio of course cannot be trusted with anything, since by the time he wrote it he was fully a mystic. Toomer’s descent (or rise) into “The Gurdjieff work” is distressing and fascinating, but it is not my current subject.

The most striking things about the correspondence between JT and Waldo Frank are: 1) how friendly it is, considering their complete break by ’24, and 2) how bad WF’s advice is. WF seems to not understand what “Kabnis” is trying to do dramatically, and his editorial suggestions on early drafts of Cane are questionable at best. I’ve found this also with WF’s correspondence with Hart Crane. WF knew everyone in 20s New York, and could get anyone published. But his abilities as a reader were pretty limited.

Speaking of Crane, there is a trove of correspondence between JT and HC in the archive, which I read through again more for fun than any real research. What is more satisfying in this folder vs. that with WF is how often the two disagree. There is some enormous off-stage argument that happened between them that the two spend the next several letters trying to reconcile, trying to move past it into some form of agreement. Also what is striking, in all of HC’s letters, is his enjoyment of life and social activity. While WF describes his social engagements with the finest minds in his circle (Kenneth Burke, Goram Munson, Sherwood Anderson, etc) with the perfunctory dryness of a society column, HC describes wild nights of drinking until dawn and his personal affective feelings surrounding talking, drinking, celebrating.

A few more images from the JT archive:

JT’s description of Cane to WF

JT and wife, novelist Margery Latimer

JT, in autobiographical writings, describing entering the “colored” world as a child when moving to a black neighborhood in Washington

As for the project, I may end up folding the annotated bibliography into the Dramaturgy Packet, since all the research seems to be aimed towards that. The NCE has some lovely images, including a map of Sparta, GA in 1921 that I need to scan and incorporate.

Early April Update

Scheduled another visit to the Beineke to take a look at the Toomer archives, this time with a focus on his letters. Many of which are included in the Norton Critical Edition of Cane, but I want to see if there are any gaps.

Picked up a number of biographies to set down the exact time frame for both the composition of Cane and for his brief yet eventful stay in Georgia. All this for the Dramaturgical packet I am putting together.

Also gathering all the secondary sources on Cane I’ve looked through. I don’t think I will have anything essay-wise to say about these sources, so instead an annotated bibliography should suffice.

Beginning to format the raw text from the Black Drama archive into Celtx for proper script format, which is painfully time-consuming.

I see there are going to be these main sections of the final project to provide by the end of the month:

  • Introduction
  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Dramaturgy Packet
    • This will include a summary, author’s biography and timeline, historical background, the geographic and political details of the setting, images relating to the characters and setting, considerations about the dialect, the themes, the manner of composition, an overview of other theatrical works by Toomer, as well as a rundown of the characters and a glossary
    • This is not intended to be complete: the dialect portion especially deserves more study than I have time to give
  • Production Diary
    • This will include first day speech, rough schedule, and rehearsal considerations
    • Notes on rehearsal exercises
  • Formatted script of several of the vignettes
  • Partial formatted script of Kabnis, with annotations
  • Drafts of syntheses of Kabnis and the vignettes, to work from

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