FOR THE NEW CITY'S DREAM UP FESTIVAL PRESENTS THE WORLD PREMIERE OF
"SONGS OF THE HARLEM RIVER",
A COLLECTION OF ONE-ACTS BY MARITA BONNER, RAFE M. COLEMAN,
GEORGIA DOUGLAS JOHNSON, WILLIS RICHARDSON and EULALIE SPENCE
NEW YORK, July 15 -- "Songs of the Harlem River: Forgotten one acts from the Harlem Renaissance" is a collection of one-acts written between 1920-1930 including works by Marita Bonner, Rafe M. Coleman, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Willis Richardson and Eulalie Spence as well as the poems of Sterling A. Brown, Langston Hughes and others. The evening is directed and choreographed by Shela Xoregos and will have its world premiere August 30 to September 6 in Theater for the New City's 2015 Dream Up Festival.
"Songs of the Harlem River" takes us back in time to the 1920s, complete with authentic 1920s costumes and props, accompanied by music of the jazz era by Jean Moreau Gottschalk, Ray Henderson and Shelton Brooks. The plays will be performed continuously without breaks, uniting what have long been distinct one-acts. Some of the poetry will be set to dance choreographed by Xoregos.
The evening premieres two comedies, "The Deacon's Awakening" by Willis Richardson (1920), about the newly passed Women's Voting Rights Act, and "The Starter," written in 1927 by Eulalie Spence , which reflects on young couples in love everywhere. The dramas, by Ralf Coleman and Georgia Johnson, include "The Girl from Bama aka The Girl from Back Home," which shows a darker side of 1920's Harlem life involving the numbers racket, and "Blue-Eyed Black Boy," which is from a now forgotten genre, the 'lynching play.' Writers wrote these plays to influence Congress to pass anti-lynching laws, which it never did. The final play, "Exit, an Illusion" by Marita Bonner, was premiered by the Xoregos Performing Company in February 2015 on a different program.
Marita Bonner (1899-1971) published short stories, essays and wrote only four plays (with none of them being produced in her lifetime and only one afterwards). Her plays are surreal, which was very unusual for the time and place in which she lived. A graduate of Radcliffe, she married William Occomy and had three children, later living in Washington, D.C. She stopped writing in 1941.
Ralf M. Coleman (1898-1977) acted on Broadway and headed the Negro Federal Theater of Massachusetts, where Frank Silvera was in his company. He wrote plays, directed and acted in Boston. His brother Warren was Crown in "Porgy and Bess."
Georgia Douglas Johnson (1877-1966) was a poet and songwriter born in Atlanta, who later married and moved to Washington, D.C. She was known for holding famous literary salons on Saturday evenings during the 1920's and 30's.
Willis Richardson (1889-1977) was the first black writer to have a non-musical play on Broadway ("The Chip Woman's Fortune," 1923). Often his plays were years ahead of their time. He had three children and lived in Washington, D.C.
Eulalie Spence (1894-1981) wrote, acted and directed for small Harlem theaters and later taught High School in Brooklyn. One of her students, Joseph Papp, whom she encouraged to go into theater, said: "She was the greatest influence in my life."
The program's director and choreographer is Shela Xoregos, who has directed for many NYC and regional theater companies and choreographed for Oakland Ballet, Seattle Chamber Dance, others. Recent company productions which she has directed include "Antigone," a new opera, "Circle of Haunts, Harlem Remembered" and the premiere of Donna Spector's comedy, "Eros & Psyche."
The cast features Michèle Cannon, Carol Carter, Andrew R. Cooksey, Yohanna Florentino, Michael A. Jones, Mike Jones, Jessie Jordan and Jak Watson. These eight actors play all the characters in the five plays.
Sound design is by Ron London; costume designer is Kayla Guminiak; musical director is Clark Baxtresser; lighting designer is Clarence L. Taylor.
Xoregos Performing Company explores the classical theater repertoire as well as new playwrights' works, poetry and arcane musical choices in its programs. The company began in San Francisco premiering works by Carolyn Carlson, Welland Lathrop, Nancy Spanier and Artistic Director Shela Xoregos. Charles Weidman worked with the company for his "Lynchtown," "Brahms Waltzes" and "Flickers." Duke Ellington invited the company to perform with him at Grace Cathedral in his Second Sacred Concert. Two years after incorporating as a non-profit, the company added theater, poetry and musical works in varying combinations including "Salomé,"Love, Isadora," "Zahn Street," and "The Picture of Dorian Gray." The company performs hybrid works that mix the mediums of music, theater, poetry and dance. The company has also performed in many festivals and art museums, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the DeYoung Museum and the Smithsonian Institution. (www.xoregos.com)
The sixth Dream Up Festival (www.dreamupfestival.org) will be presented by Theater for the New City (TNC) from August 30 to September 20, 2015, offering a lineup of wide-ranging and original theatrical visions embracing drama, musicals, improv, aerial and more. This year, owing to growing popularity, the festival has expanded beyond its primary venue. Previously, all productions were presented at Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. This year, 19 productions will be presented at TNC and seven will be presented at an outside venue, The Producers Club Theaters at 358 West 44th Street.
The festival is
dedicated to new works. TNC feels this festival is especially needed
now in a time of declining donations to the arts, when grants are not
being awarded due to market conditions and arts funding is being cut
across the country and abroad. The festival aims to push ideas to the
forefront through imaginative presentations so as to challenge audience
expectations and make us question our understanding of the way art illuminates
the world around us.
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