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The Fisher Center at Bard Presents Meshell Ndegeocello's CHAPTER & VERSE: THE GOSPEL OF JAMES BALDWIN


The 2020-2021 season will launch September 15th.

The Fisher Center at Bard Presents Meshell Ndegeocello's CHAPTER & VERSE: THE GOSPEL OF JAMES BALDWIN

The Fisher Center at Bard begins its 2020-2021 season of virtual and interactive works-focusing on healing and transformation in troubled times-with a Live Arts Bard (LAB) commission from 10-time Grammy nominated musician Meshell Ndegeocello's Chapter & Verse: The Gospel of James Baldwin, made in collaboration with acclaimed director Charlotte Brathwaite. Inspired by James Baldwin's groundbreaking treaty on justice in America, The Fire Next Time, this project was created during the time of two raging pandemics plaguing the United States: COVID-19 and racism. It is a 21st century ritual tool kit for justice-using the vernacular of a church service, structured rituals of worship, empowerment, and sacred practices-shared in isolation but bridging communities around the world. Launching September 15 with new content released monthly through December, its gifts of new songs, thoughts, meditations, and video with visual testimonies of resilience are offered each month for free, and can be accessed via and UPSTREAMING, the Fisher Center's online venue.

Chapter & Verse: The Gospel of James Baldwin-a co-production of Bismillah, LLC and Fisher Center at Bard, co-commissioned by Live Arts Bard (the Fisher Center's residency and commissioning program), UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre, and Festival de Marseille-invites participants to engage in an urgent and critical investigation of race, religion, sexual orientation, America, and its status quo. Baldwin's ideas and legacy are celebrated across three forms of experience. 1. Call: Participants anywhere in the world can dial a toll-free telephone number and, through a continuous listening experience, discover songs, meditations, and chants to ease the mind any time, day or night, when they need it most. Featuring works from Ndegeocello, Staceyann Chin, and more. 2. See: Participants experience visual testimonies of Baldwin's text, with original music created by Ndegeocello and artistic collaborators, including Suné Woods, Nicholas Galanin, and Brathwaite. 3. Read: Participants can sign up for a custom printed monthly broadsheet featuring Baldwin's words and calls to action, delivered four times, directly to their mailboxes.

Chapter & Verse: The Gospel of James Baldwin continues Ndegeocello and Brathwaite's activation of and engagement with James Baldwin's writing and legacy, which began with 2016's Can I Get a Witness? The Gospel of James Baldwin, a "rousing musical performance" (The New York Times, Critic's Pick review), "equal parts reverence, tenderness, gratitude, and funk" (Artforum). In this moment of isolation, paired with the ongoing revelation of inequality in America, the artists have adapted their vital, continuous collaboration to respond to the power, hope, and collective energy of the Black Lives Matter uprising. Brathwaite proposed creating a phone line, and, as Ndegeocello describes, "It was a conceptually brilliant idea." She adds, "Wouldn't it be amazing if you could just pick up your cell phone-and instead of scrolling through Instagram or buying things, actually call a number that would somehow, even for just for 30 seconds, give you some sort of succor, or a moment to say what you feel is alright?" The music composed and performed by Ndegeocello - with Chris Bruce, Jebin Bruni, Justin Hicks, Kenita Miller, Abraham Rounds, Julius Rodriguez, and Jake Sherman - by turns inflamed and soothing, wound and salve and salvation coexisting in the mighty range of Ndegeocello's voice will eventually be released as an album.

Ndegeocello began reading Baldwin's work-and became awed by its transformative clarity-later in life. She explains, "I see James Baldwin as an Orisha, his writing as the living word. The Fire Next Time became something I carried around-it gave me a better understanding of what I was experiencing in terms of racism and not quite fitting in the world, and spoke to me like a religious tome, in a sense. I'm constantly engaged in this work because my experience of life is such that I have to be. I wanted to pay homage to him and to the time and effort it took to sit, to physically and emotionally fill the page with a truth that made my own sorrow feel less lonely. He put me on a path of empathy and humility towards my parents. It humbled me towards my mother born in 1944 and my father born in 1939-a time I can't imagine living in while Black. But I'm constantly reminded in his work of what we're seeing in the present. It's prophetic. It never leaves me."

"This piece is a call to action, a call to do something, a call to sing with a purpose and intention," says Brathwaite. "It's a call to put pen to paper with an intention to change something in your world. My hope in every piece of material that comes out of this work-the phone call, the broadsheet, the video meditations-is that it motivates conversation and incites people to want to do something. Whether that's about themselves personally or how they treat others and who they're willing to listen to or hear. Who have we not been listening to?"

Responding to the events of 2020, the projects in this season at the Fisher Center elore and reflect on what it means to live through and create work in the midst of a pandemic, global crises, and political turmoil. From multimedia performances, rituals, and political actions to classical music, interactive live art, and dance on film, this season at Bard broadens the potential of virtual performance across genres. Audiences will be invited to experience and engage with each of these projects in entirely different ways, yet together the season seeks to build community and activism in isolation.

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