MORE THAN YOU WANTED TO KNOW
People may click on this page looking for information about different things. Therefore, this is a very long bio divided into time periods so that family, friends, or curious people can read about whatever they want to read about. Links are included so that people can check out some of these amazing places.
Below the bio is a brief "Zen bio" for people curious about my training or the Kwan Um School. Feel free to scroll past the silly life story if that's what you want to read about. I'll also come back and add some photographs.
EARLY YEARS - EAST PROVIDENCE, CHICAGO, NEW YORK
Algernon D'Ammassa was born at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1971 and raised in Rhode Island. He took an interest in acting in early childhood and began appearing with community theatres in his teens. At the age of 18, he lived briefly in Chicago and attended classes at DePaul University's Theatre School when he wasn't drunk and/or doing improv comedy. From 1990-4 he lived in New York City, finishing college at the Eugene Lang College and getting involved in avant-garde theatre and radical politics. He worked at War Resisters League as an intern during this period, did crew work for Theatre For The New City, and also became interested in Zen.
PROVIDENCE AND BOSTON
In 1994 he returned home to begin practicing Zen with Zen Master Soeng Hyang at Providence Zen Center. He also became part of the Providence theatre scene, joining the Perishable Theatre's Shows For Young Audiences company and appearing regularly on their mainstage as well as other theatres. He moved into the AS220 Arts Center in downtown Providence and developed performance art there as well. He was also a member of the Improv Jones troupe for three years. In 1996, he entered the Trinity Rep Conservatory, completing the program and earning an M.F.A. in Acting from Rhode Island College in 1999. During this period he also lived at Providence Zen Center, taking part in long retreats and serving in various temple jobs. For the 1999-2000 season, he was a member of the resident acting company at Trinity and taught on the adjunct faculty of RIC. He subsequently moved to the Boston area, serving as Cambridge Zen Center's director and acting with Wheelock Family Theatre and other companies.
In 2001, he was appointed Abbot of Dharma Zen Center in Los Angeles, and served the Zen Center first as Abbot and later as Head Dharma Teacher. During this period he also continued training at Providence Zen Center for periods of time, and even returned to his beloved Trinity Rep one last time to play Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol. He was a member of Company of Angels, the oldest repertory company in Los Angeles, and founded Theatre Dojo in 2006, a project that developed methods for actors to incorporate martial arts and meditation into their training. In 2008, his first son, Gabriel Maheen D'Ammassa, was born in Pasadena.
Shortly after Gabriel's birth, Algernon moved to Deming, New Mexico to teach theatre for the Deming Public Schools and set up house with his wife, Sarah. They welcomed a second son, Lucca James D'Ammassa, in March 2011.
In 2009, he began hosting a meditation group in his garage and this gradually evolved into Deming Zen Center, an affiliate of the Kwan Um School of Zen, with Judy Roitman JDPSN (now Zen Master Bon Hae) as its guiding teacher.
He has continued to train and work as an actor, and has taught several acting workshops at the Black Box Theatre in Las Cruces. He has also written plays for radio which have been broadcast on public radio in San Francisco and Albuquerque.
In the summer of 2012 he was a visiting artist and teacher with the Festa Theatre in Florence, Italy. Upon his return to the United States, he served for one year as a visiting professor in the theatre department at New Mexico State University. He is currently teaching as an adjunct professor at the university's Creative Media Institute and regularly offers classes, talks, and consultations at Deming Zen Center. In the summer of 2014, he was in residence at the Mountainside Theatre in Cherokee, North Carolina, performing in the seasonal production of Unto These Hills.
He also writes the weekly "Desert Sage" column for the Deming Headlight, a column on politics and culture with a local focus.The column regularly appears in the Las Cruces Sun News and several other online news sites.
1996 - Five precepts at Providence Zen Center
1998 - Ten precepts at Providence Zen Center, began training to teach meditation.
1999 - Residence at Providence Zen Center, served as Head Dharma Teacher in charge of formal practice at the temple.
2000 - Dharma Teacher ceremony at Providence Zen Center
2000-1 - Director of Cambridge Zen Center
2001-3 - Abbot of Dharma Zen Center in Los Angeles
* In the Kwan Um School of Zen, the title of Abbot has a different significance than in Soto and Rinzai Zen. An Abbot is simply the administrative head of a temple. The title does not itself confer spiritual authority over the center, although an Abbot will interact with residents and encourage their practice.
2005 - Sixteen precepts at Providence Zen Center, Senior Dharma Teacher ceremony
* In the Kwan Um School of Zen, a Senior Dharma Teacher is someone who gives public talks, answers questions, offers private consultation, teaches meditation and leads practice, and may even lead retreats as necessary. They have not received inga, do not transmit Buddhist precepts to others, and do not teach koan practice. Among the requirements for SDT is intensive training including at least one 90-day retreat (Kyol Che), 16 precepts, and five years of experience and feedback as a Dharma Teacher.
2005 - Head Dharma Teacher, Dharma Zen Center
2009 - Convened the Deming Zen group in New Mexico (Judy Roitman, JDPSN, Guiding Teacher)
* The group incorporated as Deming Zen Center in April 2011.
2011 - 64 precepts at Deming Zen Center, Bodhisattva Teacher ceremony
* The duties of a Bodhisattva Teacher are similar to those of a Senior Dharma Teacher, with additional experience and approval of guiding teacher, including an additional 48 lay precepts. This is a position created by Zen Master Seung Sahn for people whose life situation makes celibate Buddhist monastic life inappropriate, yet feel called to a similar commitment. (In fact, originally the title was "Bodhisattva Monk" and later changed to "Bodhisattva Priest," similar to the training and commitment of priests in other Zen schools who combine the life of a layperson with a serious commitment to training and sharing our practice.)