Our time calls for heart-openings, forgiveness, depth, and authenticity. We need art that shows us what this looks like. Rock Wilk channels his personal story through storytelling and music, two mediums which can be incredibly open and communal for an audience. The Broke Wide Open experience is an intense and entertaining body of work. It is ultimately about a survivor who is not letting anything, fate nor past mistakes, keep him from soaring. He is able to translate his journey into a universal work of transformation. In his play, the audience gets everything from Rock, and he has got a ton to give. The impetus for the show is Rock's adoption as a baby, and his subsequent search for himself, rather than his birth parents. Rock started writing BWO in 2006, and made it into a full length recording in 2007. Naturally, it became a play after a million re-writes, tours, and workshops. It's been open since October in midtown, Manhattan.
Rock has had many accomplishments in his career, such as signing with the legendary Patti LaBelle. He continually gives props to his director, the theater crew, his mural artists Lee Alston and Jason Sisino, his audience/fans who are 500 Names, so far raising $27,638, and his new producer Rain Pryor, daughter of Richard Pryor. Rain is an amazing force herself; she currently stars in Fried Chicken and Latkas, and works to promote theater education in Baltimore. Rock Wilk, Rain Pryor, and the brothers who made the mural, Lee and Jason, share a background in the search for self-identity and the break from cultural expectations, as well as stories of parental loss. They are the part of the family that is Broke Wide Open.
The play's current reincarnation at The New 45th Street Theater features a 25 foot high mural, which encapsulates the important aspects of BWO: a NYC vibe expressing humanity through a community (depicted by various larger-than-life portraits). BWO and its mural are about deep storytelling, and the search for home – a lasting sense of inner peace.
LEE AND JASON ARE LIVING HERE FOR A WHILE, AND IT'S MY HONOR AND PRIVILEGE TO HAVE THEM… DEVOUR THIS WEBSITE AND SEE WHAT'S GOING ON, A MIRACLE IN PROGRESS, A REAL LIFE MISSION, A FORCE OF COMMUNITY, BROKE WIDE OPEN IS GOING TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD, CHECK IT AND BE A PART OF IT, BE ONE OF THE 500 NAMES!!!!!!!!
~Rock Wilk's Facebook Status Jan 29, 2012
At 25 feet high, the mural was a huge project, which resulted in exactly what was in Rock's brain. The creative process was a very interesting and new one to the brothers. They passed images back and forth, until the items were all tied together in one place in the final sketch. Jason Sisino, who was a poet and writer, found a suitable medium in visual art through his brother's teaching. He began as a realistic painter at first, and then moved toward abstraction. He wasn't sure how returning to portraiture would pan out for the BWO mural. His fluid style fit for the cityscape parts of the mural, which connect the faces, building a diverse audience, reminiscent of the memorial portraits throughout the streets of NYC, which encounters the seated theater audience. It is clear that Rock's play is for everyone he meets, and that he will never forget those that have touched his life. The mural solidifies Rock's creative purpose.
In Jason's personal work, he uses all different blends and types of paint. He likes to make abstract paintings that allow the viewer to fill in the rest of the meaning. “I try to make someone feel something.” Jason's true artistic value challenges the viewer, offering more upon repeat viewings, and hopefully makes someone feel something. He is currently making work out of metal, which he calls cog-works, relates to the faces/audience/cityscape in the BWO mural. “They will outlast canvas, wood and bone, they are essentially timeless. Durable. The cogs themselves, small parts working together to create a whole — just like life. If they do not work together the machine will not function. These cog-works combine the micro and macro, simultaneously. It is my ultimate goal to create works of true integration; combining the strength of eternal materials with passionate organic emotion.”
Jason loves drawing now, as did Lee when he was younger, Jason freestyles and has turned his art into a business, incorporating digital graphics and making his own prints. Lee was always a visual artist and showed Jason how to paint. They influenced each other but kept their own thing going, which led to them collaborating on commissions. Through conversation, arguments and restarts, breathing room and talk, feedback not criticism they found their ability to work well together.
Having lost their loving parents in their early 20s, art was a way for Lee to vent positively. He transferred this knowledge into his 14 year career in youth corrections, using the arts to bring out the inner angels of the kids. Drawing and painting became the way to help people, anyone, Lee says. Lee remarked that he witnessed the very challenging home lives of the kids, with violence, drug dealing, and all kinds of abuse and gangs. Yet, in the time and space he had for rehabilitation it was all about having art class. The kids thought it was cool, even kids who had no inclination. He also brought in jazz music, and through the music they would draw the most beautiful things. Lee says art “helps everyone that gets involved. It helps you learn to speak a different way. Try something different, sing, paint, talk more. Its important to talk about how you feel.” He shared with the kids that he was there helping them because of all the stuff he went through with his family.
With a black dad from NJ, all American and into sports, and a Sicilian mother born in NY, who grew up in foster homes, Lee and Jason didn't know where they belonged or fit in. Because no one knew what or who they were, they could be popular with everyone and every culture. They still constantly miss their parents and say they received their strong work ethics from their parents. Their mother committed suicide and father died from complications of angioplasty. The connections between the BWO team go very deep, as Rain Pryor also has also dealt with her mother attempting suicide as an adult.
On where he wants to go, Lee states: “NYC is where I want to be. I have a lot of super powers with me – my brother and friends, and my wife is great. That support level is something I can't explain. I plan to be with great galleries in the next 5 years. With Rock and Rain in Broadway is so much different than the visual arts, in theater you are creating big. I could see us doing really large group works. I think we hit something there. We are waiting to hear from Rain's investors about the mural we planned with her – which no-one has seen anything like yet. I just want to be able to paint and I couldn't do this without my brother.”
Theater is ephemeral; you could watch a video of Rock but it is not the same as the live experience. The BWO mural represents Rock's past, present and future. It is a touchstone for him of his memory. It comes alive during the show, and can serve as a document of his show for posterity. Rock gets very interactive with the painting, meeting and reflecting with the eyes and faces during the show. Being surrounded by people gives him energy and each night is a different experience. It just keeps growing, though the script stays the same as he takes the audience deeper and deeper in an exhausting experience that leaves him spent after the show. On working 8 shows a week, Rock says, “Staying in the script is like staying in a relationship — staying and facing it — dealing with THIS right here, all the time. Process of creating this is my life work. It is kinda intangible, something has happened to take the performance to a new level, so vulnerable, dangerous- what we performers look for- It is on the edge.”
Press is growing for Broke Wide Open, including Sway in the Morning, PIX 11 and Huffington Post, and the forces of Rock and Rain, with their loving source of supporters, will not stop till Broadway.
For me, it will always be about making the best piece of theater, what is best for the play for telling the story, to take people on a journey, to have a beautiful, shared experience, that is the point.
If you want to see what YOU built, from the ground up, you better bring yo' ass to The New Theatre at 45th Street on any Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday night from tomorrow thru January 11th, and let's feel all of this together, I promise you, you will never forget the experience, I remember every one of mine, for sure. All beautiful shared experiences.
~recent Rock Wilk status updates
Directed by Stephen Bishop Seely
The 45 Street Theatre
354 W 45 St., NYC
Don't miss BROKE WIDE OPEN closing January 11, 2013
The New 45th Street Theater in NY :
Buy tickets http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/250252
Lee Alston/ L.A. Creations Art LLC
www.jasonsisino.com and stay tuned to his first gallery show coming up in Spring of 2013 at New Jersey's Knowledge Bennett Gallery.
Rain Pryor's Indiegogo campaign http://igg.me/p/276333
Be a Founding Donor and help Rain Pryor launch Baltimore TheatreWorks to increase performance opportunities for students in grades 6-12.
Facebook: Rock Wilk