Performance » Theater

The New Ben Rose

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Ben Rose is a poet. And a photographer, musician, dancer, drummer, father, director and actor. The list doesn't stop there either.

A spoken word artist, Rose went to college to study writing, focusing primarily on short stories and poetry. He crossed over into film and screenplays around the same time he started performing his poetry at open mics, something he hasn't been able to do much of lately. Speaking about his return to performing, Rose says, "I want people to see me at my best."

He runs down a list of elements he's interested in incorporating into a one-man show, including music, video, dance and the opportunity to interact with the audience. "It takes so much time to put that together, and then you've got life with four kids ..." Rose says, also noting that his oldest two will head off to college next year and give him the chance to stretch himself more. "I'll pull the show together and present it ... ah, it's the new Ben Rose!"

"I'm automatically comfortable around multicultural people," says Rose. - CHRISSY LAKE PEARSON
  • Chrissy Lake Pearson
  • "I'm automatically comfortable around multicultural people," says Rose.

Rose's return to the stage is highly anticipated, especially by artists in the Indianapolis area who have known the performer for upwards of 20 years. Explaining that the new era of spoken word poets around town aren't that familiar with his work, Rose simply states, "Whenever I come back for the mic, it'll still be there."

A native of Tipton County, Rose thought it would be cool to act but was involved in band and sports as a high school student. He was also interested in plays more contemporary than "Oklahoma!" and "Music Man." After college, a job at Freetown Village gave him the chance to do period acting. A short time later, he got the chance to fill a non-speaking role in a play at the Phoenix Theatre. In what became his proverbial lucky break, the part turned into the lead when the actor who had the part dropped out of the production. Rose begged for a chance to star, got the role, and he's been acting ever since.

To date, Rose has starred in 10 plays at the Phoenix, including last season's North of the Boulevard and the upcoming "River City," which opens Jan. 8. The plot of the latter is the journey of a multiracial woman to find out information about her father following his passing. The play, Rose explains, examines the woman's relationship with her father, as well as his relationship with his father -- the role that Rose plays. "He's a small business owner involved in late '60s and early '70s civil rights activism," Rose explains. "It's funny and heartfelt. It's about searching for roots and getting some answers, but also problems and heartbreaks."

One of Ben Rose's many hats will be speaker at the Checking the [Other] Box forum. - CHRISSY LAKE PEARSON
  • Chrissy Lake Pearson
  • One of Ben Rose's many hats will be speaker at the Checking the [Other] Box forum.

"River City" will be staged in the Phoenix's cabaret theatre, an intimate space that can hold up to 100 people. "We want to get the energy going ... swirling in the midst of it ..." Rose says. "We want to get people back to understanding what theater really is."

He explains that when we see people when watching a film, our minds are programmed to think a certain way, and we project those feelings on and in ourselves. "But there's a visceral thing of being a voyeur, of watching something in front of you without necessarily being perceived as being there. You hear, smell, taste the atmosphere. It's like the Matrix: Take the red pill; this is real," says Rose.

Rose poses with his children, Nahum, Kamen, Noami and Jadon. - BEN ROSE
  • Ben Rose
  • Rose poses with his children, Nahum, Kamen, Noami and Jadon.

The intimate performance space is important for the play's subject matter, as well as the cast itself, which includes biracial/multiracial actors. "Everybody has some type of connection to the characters," Rose says. "It's almost like it's been written for us."

Rose speaks from experience. He was born to a white mother and a black father, and he was later adopted by a white couple from Tipton County. Rose is also the father of four multiracial children. "[The play] talks about issues such as 'What am I going to tell my kids what they are?' without preaching. These are human stories with characters people can identify with," he says.

On Jan. 10, the weekend after the play opens, Central Library will host a forum called Checking the [Other] Box, a chance for the public to hear from biracial and multiracial individuals and their families. Interested persons who are unable to come to the forum can attend a talkback session with the cast following the 2 p.m. matinee Jan. 18. Rose, along with forum panelists and attendees, will certainly be in his element: "I'm automatically comfortable around -- I used to say international but really it's multicultural -- people. Get me in that environment, I just feel naturally at home. We kind of are a race, no matter what mix you are. Your perspective informs you of what it's like to be in two different places or have to be or to play that middle role. That does something to the way you live and perceive things. It makes you into kind of a moderate person. It makes you laid-back and cool."

Catch up with Ben Rose around town during the Arts Council of Indianapolis' annual Art & Soul celebration. You might also see him in the audience or on stage at Localmotion. Guaranteed appearances will take place during "River City," which runs from Jan. 8 to Feb. 1. For more information about the play and/or the forum, contact the Phoenix Theatre at (317)635-7529 or visit http://phoenixtheatre.org.

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