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Ed Bullins (2)

Ed Bullins (2)

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Published by Blanche DuBois

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Published by: Blanche DuBois on Feb 24, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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As the author of more than thirty plays, Bullins isregarded as one of the most significant playwrights toemerge from the Black Power Movement. Consideredone of the most prolific and influential playwrights,producers, essayists, and short story writers. Ed Bullinswas born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Bertha MarieQueen and Edward Bullins. Shortly after quitting highschool, Bullins joined the navy but later returned toPhiladelphia to complete his secondary education.Bullins is always a moralist; he probes and questions clichés, accepted values,stereotypes, and romantic illusions to test what is of value in them. His basic concern is withblack people, their values, aspirations, dreams. Constant in his work is a questioning of themeaning of the idea of a people, a community, and its various definitions: the ideologicaldefinitions generated by the black nationalist movement of the 1960s and early 1970s; thetraditional definitions of family and kinship networks; street definitions evolved from thepartnerships and loyalties of neighborhood and street life; the looser definition suggestedsimply by the phrase with which he often concludes his list of characters: ³the people in thisplay are Black.´A wanderer himself, Bullins sets his plays all over the United States: Los Angeles,New York, Philadelphia, Newport, and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. However, geographyin Bullin's plays is superseded by a more important location, the black nation which existswherever black people are. They, and Bullins, create an imaginative and subjective sense of 
place through their music, language, and perceptions of the world. they transform geographicplace into their own territory.Bullins frequently asserts he does not write realistic plays, regardless of the style inwhich they are written. For example, his characters frequently drift freely between timeframes, ore ven step out of the play to address the audience; Bullins knows it is on suchimaginative realities that not only a culture but also a political and social identity can be built.Intrinsic in the imaginative world of a Bullins play is black music: it is always either coming from a radio or from an actual combo which sits on the stage and even takes part inthe action. Jazz, blues (for which he often writes the lyrics), and gospel music become thecontext for this characters' activities, providing another dimension to their meaning.Language, too, provides more than realistic detail; it defines the sensibility of hispeople. In Bullins¶ plays, black street argot becomes lyrical without losing any of its energyand edge. Moreover, his plays are often punctuated by long monologues through whichcharacters define themselves with a precision made possible by Bullins perfect ear. In fact,two of his plays, Street Sounds (produced in 1970) and its spin-off House Party, a Soulhappening (produced in 1973) consist entirely of monologues through which the mosaic of theblack community emerges.When Bullins edited Drama Review's black theater issue, he divided the plays into twogroups: ³Black Revolutionary Theatre,´ under which heading he placed plays depicting racialconflict, often literal racial warfare, and ³Theatre of Black Experience,´ in which group heplaced his own Clara's Ole Man. Bullins has written in both modes; however, his plays differ radically from the work of Baraka, Ben Caldwell, Marvin X, Sonia Sanchez, Herbert Stokes,and Jimmie Garrett.Bullins has greatly influenced American theatre and literature. His work, characterizedby a disdain for ineffective political rhetoric as a substitute for action, most often examines
the lives of black people in iner-city ghettos and offers the audience the opportunity to interactverbally with the actors.Formal critical response to Bullins¶ work is as yet sparse; theater reviews²most of them enthusiastic²still constitute almost all of the commentary on his plays. He is mostfrequently praised for his language, power of observation, humor, and veracity. The structuraltechniques of Bullins¶ plays most frequently disturb critics who feel his episodic vignettes,central use of party, and the monologues in particular leave the plays unfocused. But all agreethat, in Clive Barnes¶ words, he ³writes like an angel.´A central figure for the black arts movement of the 196os and 1970s, Bullins,however, avoided making theoretical statements to which other leading figures of themovement turned in seeking a rationale for the new writing and daring theater that themovement produced. Although hard on his characters who are cultural nationalists, Bullinsdoes not criticize their beliefs, but rather their substituting rhetoric for art, for the actualcreation of new cultural and social realities. Moreover, if one must label Bullins, the mostaccurate one is that of cultural nationalist, for the effect of his work is to give substance to thetheory, to make possible a definition of cultural nationalism that has not yet been proposed.A national culture exists when the artists of a nation have created a world of theimagination. They have succeeded in giving the people of the nation an extended artisticreference point, a mirror as well as a picture of their possibilities, creative means for extending their personal, social and political sense of themselves.Black music has always performed this service for black Americans; black writers andvisual artists have only recently begun to do so. Bullins consciously and carefully seeks tocreate a counterpart to black music: a world his audience can visit and revisit, in which theycan see themselves, from which they can draw sustenance, through which they are challenged

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