“If you realize what we idolize, it’s Suicide”¦” This daunting phrase woke me out of my sleep on a warm Los Angeles February night in 2007.
I had conveniently placed a pen and paper in the drawer of my bedside table, not because I was an organized and eager college student, but because I was a zany, mad, and the coolest kind of quirky wordsmith. “I have to write this down or I will forget it.” Scribbling in my black notebook, I jotted down this phrase.
But, the pen continued to move! My wrists had entered a dance upon the page and words pirouetted out of me. Eight words turned into an 800-word poem that censured humans for focusing on the wrong ideas instead of what should really take precedence: socio-economic status, sexual health, disease, education. The piece touched on hints of racism, hypocrisy, the rise and obsession of reality television, social networking, even addiction. The pages stared back at me, defeated with fresh ink wounds as my mouth dropped. “I didn’t write this!” It was as if some force had taken over, something Greater, because this was unexpected, unplanned in an awkward way, like a teenage pregnancy. This poem was my newborn baby and I named her Suicide.
I had to try this new piece on some fresh ears. As a spoken-word poet under the moniker Vintage Soul, I went from venue to venue to get in front of crowds full of fellow poets and poetry lovers. Being that quirky girl, I wouldn’t dare step to a microphone with book in hand. I prided myself on being a performer. I felt that if my head was down, eyes glued to a book, how could I feel, see, and completely sense what the audience was experiencing? With the poem so seamlessly engraved in my head, I took to the stage and gave wings to the poem.
“Do they like it? Am I going too fast? I berated myself with these questions as I delivered the piece. Then soon enough, as the fast-paced, highly emotional, abstract yet concrete poem began to wind down, I heard grunts and groans of concord from the crowd; I knew then that I had won them over, and Suicide now had legs.
The spontaneity of Suicide‘s creation scared me. “What if I never write something that can measure up to it?” I had to immortalize it, but how? The questioned plagued me, but sooner than later, life got in the way. I went on to graduate from college with a BA in English, and as my passion for education took primacy, I moved to New Jersey where I worked at an astounding charter school. But after one year on the East Coast, this full-bred Cali girl’s passion for creating and performing went into overdrive, and back to Los Angeles I came””with a plan.
I was so filled with ideas for stories, shows, and so much more that the only way to get it all out there was to do it myself. Besides, a company of one’s own is the best kind there is. Vintage City Entertainment, that’s what the company was to be named. It would be the metaphoric city where “Theatre, Film, Music, and more LIVES!” After my company’s two successful runs of our first stage production, Jesus on the Way””a story about faith, loss, and family surrounding the crazy antics of a drive-thru church””Suicide was ready to become something more than just a poem.
Half a decade after the poem was created, here I am with this manifestation of its myriad themes””a stage play. Usually I would just wear my customary hat as writer/director, but this piece was personal to me. These words were from a very honest place, and being a performer for several years (an actress first), I was compelled to take on the lead role as Phoenix Veritas-Thoreau, a girl struggling with addiction whose hallucinations take her for a trippy and all-too-real ride through her memories.
The evolution of this piece from poem to play was a natural progression. As I took the bounteous touchy subjects in the poem and created relationships and characters in the play, Suicide transformed from a poet’s words to a show that encompasses addiction, delusion, and self-destruction. I converted the literal meaning of suicide into a metaphoric significance that characterizes the fact that the things we idolize are the very things that will be the source of our fall; the fall is self-inflicted, as is the act of suicide. With the backdrop of the poem and what it stands for, Suicide serves as a wake-up call for life, and life more abundant.
Suicide, presented by Vintage City Entertainment. Written and directed by Tai French. Opens March 24. Plays Saturdays at 7 pm and Sundays at 5 pm only. Through April 8. Tickets: $20. The Victory Theatre, 3326 W. Victory Blvd, Burbank. www.vintagecityent.com
***All Suicide production photos by FreeMynds Entertainment
Born in Los Angeles, California, Tai French began performing in the world of dance, where she studied under choreographers such as Kenny Long and Debbie Allen. As an actress, she landed roles on FX’s drama The Shield, Dennis Dortch’s feature film A Good Day to Be Black & Sexy, and in a stage production of The Miracle Worker. As a musician and poet, she has performed in Los Angeles including the House of Blues and Da Poetry Lounge, and in New York City at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. As a writer, director, and editor, French has completed the feature films BEAST and The Molding Maverick Mason. On stage she has written and directed three shows: Jesus on the Way, Suicide, and Push.