Roger Guenveur Smith
Roger Guenveur Smith is a writer, director and performer best known for his Obie Award-winning solo performance A Huey P. Newton Story, which was subsequently adapted for television by Spike Lee, where it won a John Foster Peabody Award. Smith will make his cinematic directorial debut this spring with Who Killed Bob Marley, produced on location in Jamaica by Steven Soderbergh. Last fall, Smith and Soderbergh collaborated on the innovative HBO series, K Street. Smiths new performance, Iceland, opens Thursday, February 26th,2004 at P.S. 122.
You have described Iceland as “a meditation on exile, the cataclysmic terror of nature and the no-less-catastrophic terror of man.” What was the origin of the piece?
The original impetus for Iceland was a study of exile: a tropical power couple in the Arctic. It expanded to include a story perhaps closer to home, that of a dancer and a painter, and an abortive Brooklyn breakup. The challenge of the piece has been to find the correlation between the two stories, and allow them to breathe as one. I began Iceland as a solo endeavor but now perform it as a duet, in collaboration with Treva Offutt.
In the past your subjects have primarily been historical figures (Huey P. Newton, Federick Douglass, Christopher Columbus). What are the differences in creating something that is fictional?
The “fiction” of Iceland is supported by a myriad of “facts” culled from history, current events, and personal experience. Even with larger-than-life historical figures–Frederick Douglass, Christopher Columbus, Huey P. Newton–I’ve always sought an intimate emotional connection with my audiences. With Iceland, I’ve perhaps reversed the process, using the encyclopedia to inform a love story.
The music for Iceland was created by your long-time collaborator Marc Anthony Thompson. How did you and he meet and begin working together?
Marc Anthony Thompson and I first collaborated on Christopher Columbus 1992, for which he provided live sound design, a function he replicated for A Huey P. Newton Story. He scored the televised adaptation of Huey as well. Marc Anthony and I traveled to Iceland to gather material (including sounds) that would be incorporated into the Iceland performance. For the Philadelphia Fringe Festival last year, he and I performed Two Fires, a festival commission which explored two tragedies in Philly history–the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 and the 1985 MOVE bombing. Marc Anthony did sound design for Two Fires as well.
You are perhaps best known for your Obie Award winning show A Huey P Newton Story, which was later made into a film by Spike Lee. How did Lee get involved in the project, and how did his
involvement shape the piece as it moved from the stage to the screen?
For an involved essay on the evolution of Huey into a film, see PBS.org/hueypnewton.
So what’s next? Iceland is being presented as a work-in-progress, what are your plans for the future of the piece?
We’re certainly hoping that Iceland will develop into a production worthy of a mainstage run. PS 122 has afforded us an essential opportunity to shape this new work. Thank you.