Diving a little deeper … In the Red and Brown Water at Trustus Theatre: A Preview by Rosalind Graverson

red and brown


When Columbia starts trusting the arts programs and supporting them more, the organizations can start taking more risks and exploring. Trustus Theatre has reached a point where they can start sharing unique theatre experiences with their audiences. That’s exactly what their production of In the Red and Brown Water is.


First in The Brother/Sister Plays trilogy, written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the series blends Yoruba mythology with a modern day story set in the Louisiana projects. The trilogy is described as a choreopoem, combining poetry, movement, music, and song. The language throughout the show is beautifully lyrical, but it’s not what you expect to hear from the average citizen of Louisiana.  Along with the poetry, the actors are also called to say their stage directions, reminiscent of Shakespeare’s asides.


The cast features some familiar faces: Avery Bateman, Kendrick Marion, Katrina Blanding, Kevin Bush, Annette Dees Grevious, and Jabar Hankins; and some new ones as well: Bakari Lebby, LaTrell Brennan, Felicia Meyers, and Leroy Kelly.


Not only does the audience get to experience something new, but the production team and cast do as well. We asked Avery Bateman to share some of her experiences getting to know her character, Oya, and Kendrick Marion to explain some of the differences in the rehearsal process between this production and a more typical play or musical.


Avery Bateman - photo by Jonathan Sharpe
Avery Bateman – photo by Jonathan Sharpe

Avery: “Oya is a completely different character in comparison to the others I’ve portrayed throughout the years. She delves deep into a part of my spirit that I have not returned to in a while. She is both regal and vulnerable. Her regal persona is that of her Orisha/Goddess name. “Oya” known as “The Mother of Nine” is the orisha or storms, wind, change, magic, death and the cemetery, and the guardian between worlds. She is the bringer of death and new life (hope). Oya’s orisha persona has every right to stand high and tall with pride. However, her vulnerable persona, her humane side is a type of soul that is complex and broken. Oya’s broken spirit gives her a complexity that I as an actress must sit and think about every now and then so that I give her the correct amount of balance when on stage. I must say that I am extremely blessed to not have experienced all that “Oya the human” has experienced in my youth. Everything that she loves deeply is taken from her against her will. I’ve not had the privilege of portraying a person of this definition in all my years of theatre. I’ve only ever portrayed the comic-relief character or the misunderstood villian or the obliviously happy sunshine. All of them had great dimension but none of them reached into my chest and broke my heart as much as Oya. I love this character; she has helped me understand love and life in a way I don’t think I would have ever understood fully if not for this show.”


Kendrick Marion, photo by Rob Sprankle
Kendrick Marion, photo by Rob Sprankle

Kendrick: “This production differs from your normal straight play because there are so many other elements and textures involved with this piece. The text itself reads like poetry, and McCraney challenges the actors to portray it as such, while still making it feel natural and conversational. Both the music (most of which we arranged) and the stylized movement help to tell the story in an almost ethereal way. This has been an incredibly challenging piece, but an amazing experience, and I cannot wait for Columbia to take the journey to San Pere, Louisiana with us!”


Also, in the gallery at Trustus, Ernest Lee , The Chicken Man, will have his art showing and for sale. Wednesday, February 4th at 7:30, he will have a meet and greet and give a talk, “The Life and Art of Ernest Lee, The ‘Chicken Man.'”


Be sure to get your tickets for In The Red and Brown Water, opening Friday, January 23rd and running through February 7th.

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Movie Review: DJ Spooky’s “Rebirth of a Nation,” Showing Monday, Jan. 19 at 7pm at The Nick


Watching the Birth of a Nation (1915) is a chore.

Based on the novel The Clansman by Thomas Dixon, Jr. and directed by D.W. Griffith, the film is an dramatic and epic silent film that tells the tale of two prominent families, one from the North and one from the South. Proceeding from antebellum unity, both political and between the two families, and the horrors of the Civil War in Part I, it continues into the violent, untenable Reconstruction period which ends the familial and political reconciliation thanks to the Ku Klux Klan. It’s pretty painfully racist throughout, too.

Renowned for its cinematic innovations as well as for its powerful cultural impact upon its initial release, viewers usually have to grit their teeth to get through its nearly 200 minute runtime today. The power the film had as the first major full-length picture and the thrilling cinematic storytelling innovations it introduced are mostly lost on us, unless we’re looking for them, and the rampant historical inaccuracies, downright creepy use of blackface (used most often when white female characters are also in the scene), and outrageously blunt racism are shocking and alienating to audiences used to the likes of Selma (2014) and 12 Years a Slave (2013).

This disconnect is partly why, as DJ Spooky (née Paul Miller) insists, it is so important that we see and understand the film today. While there have many spirited debates about what it’s actual box office haul was, Birth of a Nation was easily the most popular film of its time, even as it faced boycotts (mostly north of the Mason-Dixon line) from the NAACP. It was the first film screened at the White House, where President Wilson purportedly said that it was like “writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” It is often credited with the resurgence of the Klan in the 1920s, and was used as a recruitment tool for the white supremacist group up until the 1960s.

What’s more, Birth of a Nation serves as one of the most powerful examples of the ways moving images can play an outsized, almost coercive role in how our society understands the world around us. DJ Spooky actually says that he was inspired to make the remix by watching 24 hour news coverage of the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina, noting the present-day way narratives of race and power are constructed by the stories told through moving images. This is his main entry point into his “remix,” Rebirth of a Nation (2007). Originally conceived and commissioned as a live performance by a number of arts festivals, including Spoleto USA, Miller’s goal was to apply the DJ turntable principles to film, cutting, splicing, and upending the film to different ends than the ones intended by its creator. More importantly, he also gave it a new, more dissonant score that fits modern sensibilities around the film much better. Eventually, these performances gave way to a full-length film, with the score performed by the Kronos Quartet in addition to Spooky himself.

Perhaps somewhat problematically, this remixed version of Birth of a Nation makes the whole experience easier to stomach. Cut almost in half to 100 minutes, a feat achieved partly through editing (much of Part I appears cut out) and partly through speeding up key sequences, the film rides its hypnotic score, which alternates between ghostly, oscillating synth lines, understated string parts, and the occasional high lonesome wail of harmonica, through its convoluted narrative with relative ease. While hardly spliced and diced to the extent that the term “remix” suggests, there are some nice use of lines and shapes as well as highlights, lens filters, and shifts in focus, which work as a kind of hip close-reading of the film as well. Those changes as well as the occasionally clunky voiceover allow audiences both a stronger and more comfortable sense of disconnect from the visceral experience of the film–as well as a means to critique and deconstruct some of the ways in which Griffith is manipulating us.

That being said, these interventions can often feel half-baked, particularly when long stretches go by with a mere lens filter shift or when scenes pregnant with meaning, like the two infamous near-rape scenes which gives the films its bizarre sexual charge, are left uncommented upon. The film shines brightest, actually, in its opening minutes when it connects the film’s politics of racism, fear, and extreme prejudice with heartbreaking news footage from the 21st century and (somewhat bluntly) overlays DJ Spooky’s thesis via voiceover. There are also key interventions in the name of historical accuracy, like during parts of the Reconstruction section, or times when the voiceover inserts an important cultural mythos being formed, like when the “superhero” white man fights off multitudes of free black men in the barn. In a film so fraught with meaning and multiple layers of meaning, it would have nice to see more of them though.

All in all, it’s difficult not to recommend this film, particularly if you’ve never seen the source material. It retains much of what’s important (and troubling) about the original while allowing an easier, quicker, and more critically distant position that makes the entire process ever-so-slightly less painful. And it’s important to understand this film if you want to understand the country’s history, present, and future. -Kyle Petersen

Rebirth of a Nation is screening at The Nickelodeon Theatre on Monday, January 19th at 7pm. For more information or to purchase tickets go here.

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Two Local Artists Put On a Carefully Crafted Night of Live Music and Dance at Harbison Theatre on Jan. 17


Join trumpeter and composer Mark Rapp and choreographer Stephanie Wilkins at the Harbison Theater for a night of the weaving of two art forms.  With live jazz music and varied styles of contemporary dance, Woven: Life in Notes and Steps “alludes to how everyone is connected in the giant web of life, like threads strung together,” says Rapp.  The show is comprised of eleven live, original musical movements alongside contemporary ballet and swing dancing.  “Each piece, each melody is choreographed while the solos are improvised by both dancers and instrumentalists—inspiring one another—creating an exciting, organic and unique artistic presentation each time.”


Rapp and Wilkins did not meet before this project, but found they had much in common during their collaboration.  Both artists are originally from South Carolina and found great success living and performing in New York after completing their MFAs in their respective arts disciplines.  The pieces now known as Woven were born in New Orleans in the 1990s as part of Rapp’s master’s thesis.  He knew he wanted to incorporate dance, but it wasn’t until he linked up with Harbison Theater at Midlands Tech’s executive director, Katie Fox.  After viewing some DVDs of local choreographers’ work, Rapp felt a connection with Wilkins’s choreography. For the first few months of rehearsal, Wilkins and her six dancers had to perform to recorded music. “The first time we worked with the musicians, it was glorious. It was amazing. It was so different. It brought the dance to life so much more,” Wilkins says. The different movements in Woven, some traditional jazz, some contemporary jazz or swing, inspired a knitting of different dance styles that changes with the music. The very nature of jazz, its aliveness and undulation, allows for the dancers to improvise at times.


Woven will be the third performance to come out of the Harbison Theater at Midlands Tech Performance Incubator. The project aims to promote sustainable local employment, especially for artists. “It reflects the college’s overall mission of connecting capable people with sustainable rewarding careers,” Fox says. “We want performing artists to live in our community.” Fox hopes that the show will travel to other stages and believes it will enrich the lives of the Midlands community. -Kirby Knowlton

Woven: Life in Notes and Steps
Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College
7300 College St., Irmo
Saturday, January 17th at 7:30 p.m.
harbisontheatre.org / 803-407-5011

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