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Mabou Mines to Present Preview Performances of THE VICKSBURG PROJECT

The Vicksburg Project examines the history of racial pain in this country through the lives of women and gender-expansive people from the titular Mississippi city.

Mabou Mines to Present Preview Performances of THE VICKSBURG PROJECT

Mabou Mines will present preview performances of The Vicksburg Project, May 11 - 15, May 18 - 22, May 25 - 29, 2022 (at Mabou Mines, 150 1st Avenue, Second Floor, New York), in anticipation of its premiere at Harlem Stage in 2023. Produced by Mabou Mines and piece by piece productions, Vicksburg is conceived by composer Eve Beglarian, created in collaboration with Mabou Mines co-artistic directors Karen Kandel and Mallory Catlett, and described by the three visionary artists behind the work as an "exploded song cycle." Through deeply researched and resurrected stories, The Vicksburg Project examines the history of racial pain in this country through the lives of women and gender-expansive people from the titular Mississippi city.

Spinning a rich network of songs from accounts of the Civil War, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, and today, The Vicksburg Project is constructed from historical diary entries, newspaper accounts, letters home, and live interviews with women in Vicksburg as well as material based on the creators' own experiences as women-Black and white, straight and gay, the descendants of enslavers and the enslaved. Evoking the temporal panorama of Vicksburg-and the multitudes of both trauma and growth it can contain-through genre-and-time crossing music are singer/performers Karen Kandel, Kasper, Megan Schubert, and Eve Beglarian, a band featuring Gwen Laster (violin), Melanie Dyer (viola), Christina Morris (standup bass), and Beglarian (keyboards). The design team includes Peiyi Wong (set designer), Dianne Smith (costume designer), Kate McGee (lighting designer), Wyatt Moniz (video designer), Michael Hernandez (associate sound designer), and Louis Brown (assistant costume designer).

Transforming as they pull costumes from laundry lines stretching across the stage, performers embody and assume the voices of myriad characters. Across the work, these range from an enslaved woman for whom no first person written accounts exist; a Northerner who moved south and embraced the Confederacy with the passion of a convert; a Union soldier who lived life as a man, before dying in the women's ward of an old age home; the mother of an innocent Black man lynched by a rabid mob; the mob itself; a West Coast transplant teaching at Vicksburg's freedom school; a teenage activist in the 1960s who would go on to become the first Black woman from Mississippi to work for a member of Congress; and the creators of The Vicksburg Project, grappling with their evolving understanding of this place whose streets, monuments, and stories form a fascinating microcosm of our troubled country, and the brutality woven through the fabric of its existence.

In keeping with the generative tension created by the creators' own outsider relationship to Vicksburg, numerous characters they selected are also people who found their way there-and were changed by it in some way. The title itself-the name civil rights workers used to refer to Vicksburg's Freedom Summer operation-similarly references an outsider perspective: layered upon the place by those who came in search of some kind of understanding and change.

The inspiration for the project began when composer Eve Beglarian visited Vicksburg while traveling the length of the Mississippi River by kayak and bicycle during summer/fall of 2009. Beglarian describes, "The history of racial pain in this country is completely visible in Vicksburg. People live on Confederate Avenue and on Union Avenue; when you take your dog for a walk in the park, you walk out one of those avenues and back on another. The falsification of history that is so endemic in the whole culture feels less falsified there in a curious way - because it's all right there, and you can't avoid it. The first time I went to Vicksburg, this all seemed embedded in the streets, in the monuments, in battleground parks: a confrontation with that history felt like a part of everyday life. I felt like there was a song cycle here, and through working with Karen and Mallory, that song cycle has exploded over time."

Beglarian, whose style of composition could be called radical bricolage, has received acclaim for her "eclectic imagination" and "mixture of wild stylistic synthesis and overall relaxed mood" that makes her music "feel so personal" (The New York Times). With its sung and spoken stories that Karen Kandel refers to as "approaching singing until they escalate into a freaking gorgeous song," The Vicksburg Project encompasses genres both directly correlated to their time and place, as well as those that are unexpected-from intimate folk to Wagner and Bach-tinged compositions to the blues and freedom songs. It summons, as Beglarian notes, "the multiplicity of sonic languages that go into making America." The work tests the boundaries of the song cycle genre as it approaches the confluence of music and words from various angles: whether as portraiture or ensemble choral composition, filmic underscore or full-blown operatic aria-all while set, video, costume, and character offer an expansive vision of the form.

Beglarian, whose relationship with Mabou Mines began when she composed music for Lee Breuer's Animal Magnetism, asked Karen Kandel to work on the project after watching her performance as a Union General in César Alvarez and the Lisps's Futurity, and noting her transformative abilities as a performer. Kandel recalls, "She was responding to me as a performer in that I could embody something or someone that I don't look like: 'oh my goodness, you can play a man, a woman, a white woman, a Black man.' So playing with that was her first exciting ask for this piece, and then she said, 'would you write some of it?' And I said that would be really exciting."

Together, Beglarian and Kandel traveled to Vicksburg-the first time Kandel had been to the Deep South. Over the course of the project, Kandel has developed a relationship with the material- especially the journals from the Civil War-that manifests in a response in the piece she refers to as "very personal and very direct." As the collaborators decided to weave their own perceptions of Vicksburg into the work, Kandel also enlisted the direction and insight of Mallory Catlett, whose family is from Mississippi-and who pushed Beglarian and Kandel to find ways, in the work, to be even more transparent about their personal relationships to the material. Kandel adds, "I've felt more and more connected to the material that I wrote, to the material I read, and to the experience I still feel inside of me when I think about it."

Says Catlett, "Though theater is a narrative form, I don't much consider myself a storyteller; I'm much more interested in our relationship to stories and the necessity psychologically we have for story. I think that I'm always tending towards thinking-with whoever I'm working with-what are our personal connections to the material and can we start from there and move outward?"

Catlett's vision for the work surrounds the motif of laundry-its symbolic richness, its signifying of intimacy, its display of the costumes that shape and determine and result from the spaces we occupy in society, and its association with women's labor; it becomes the conduit for the work's many jumps in story and time. Catlett has also imagined the world of the performance soaked in the color blue. She says, "Discussions surrounding race in this country can be very binary and Black and white, and we were hungering for a different color around which we can be brought together. The color blue has a real calming effect on people, and we're trying to use that color to work a kind of magic: to create a place a place where people can let their defenses down."

Performance Schedule

Performances take place May 11 - 15, May 18 - 23, May 25-29 at Mabou Mines (150 1st Avenue, Second Floor, New York), Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7pm and Sundays at 3pm.

About the Co-Creators

Eve Beglarian is a composer and performer. Her concert music has been commissioned by Roomful of Teeth, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the American Composers Orchestra, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Voices of Ascension, and loadbang, among many others. Awards: 2017 Herb Alpert Award and 2015 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Robert Rauschenberg Award. Music-theater: Mabou Mines' Obie-winning Mabou Mines Dollhouse, Animal Magnetism, Ecco Porco, Choephorai, and Shalom Shanghai, all directed by Lee Breuer; Forgiveness with Chen Shi-Zheng and Noh master Akira Matsui; The Bacchae at China National Beijing Opera. Performance: Brim, Songs from a Book of Days, The Story of B, Open Secrets, Hildegurls' Ordo Virtutum, twisted tutu, and typOpera.

Karen Kandel is a writer, performer, visual artist and a Co-Artistic Director of Mabou Mines. Awards: 3 OBIEs, Dramalogue, Connecticut Critics Circle, Edinburgh Festival's Herald Angel Award; Drama League Outstanding Performance citation. Grants: NYC Women's Fund, US Artists Fellow, Audrey Skirball-Kenis T.I.M.E. Grantee, Asian Cultural Council, TCG/Fox Fellowship, TCG Future Collaborations, Peter S Reed Foundation, Jim Henson Foundation, Spencer Cherashore Fund. Writer/Poet: Song for NY (Mabou Mines); Co-Writer/Co-Creator/Performer: Washi Tales (Asia Society); Portraits (TNC). Performer: Mabou Mines Lear, Peter & Wendy, Ecco Porco with Mabou Mines; Futurity at Soho Rep/Ars Nova; Love In The Wars at Bard Summerscape; Love And Information, A Civil War Christmas and Beckett Shorts at NYTW; The Bacchae at Shakespeare In The Park; The Silver River at Spoleto USA, Singapore Arts Festival and Lincoln Center Festival; The Children Of Herakles European Tour; Quartet Court Theatre; Talk Foundry Theatre At The Public, Fragments Of A Trilogy at La Mama; House Arrest at Arena Stage.

Mallory Catlett is a creator and director of performance across disciplines, from opera and music theater to plays and installation art. She is a co-Artistic Director of Mabou Mines since 2020 and the founder of Restless NYC whose Bessie and Obie Award winning production This Was The End was developed and performed at Mabou Mines (2018). Her work in new opera and music theater includes: Mika Karlsson's The Echo Drift (Prototype Festival), Stefan Weissman's The Scarlet Ibis (Prototype Festival), Tarik O'Reagan's Wanton Sublime (American Opera Projects) Aaron Siegel's Brother, Brother (Experiments In Opera), Dave Malloy's Beowulf (Adelaide & Edinburgh Festivals - Herald Angel Award), Christina Campanella's Red Fly/Blue Bottle (HERE, Noorderzon Festival & Empac), Oh What War (HERE) and The Banana Bag And Bodice's Fall And Rise Of The Rising Fallen (PS122). In New York her work has premiered and performed at 3LD, HERE, Ontological-Hysteric, PS122, Abrons, Chocolate Factory, EMPAC, LaMama; featured at COIL, Prelude, Prototype and BAM's Next Wave; developed at CultureHub, Baryshnikov Arts, Pioneer Works, Watermill Center, McDowell, Performing Garage, Mabou Mines, LMCC, EMPAC and Yaddo; and toured internationally to Canada, France, UK, Ireland & Australia. She is a recipient of a 2016 Creative Capital Grant and a 2015 Foundation for the Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award. She is an Associate Artist at CultureHub and a member of the Collapsible Hole at the WestBeth Arts Center.

About Mabou Mines

Mabou Mines is a collaborative hub for diverse, intergenerational, avant-garde theater artists. Mabou Mines' creative vision is informed by the ethos of our co-founders: JoAnne Akalaitis, Lee Breuer, Philip Glass, Ruth Maleczech, and David Warrilow. Fifty-one years later, the company remains committed to collaboration and providing a platform for work that interrogates, innovates, and represents a multiplicity of identities and experiences. Today company members include Co-Artistic Directors Mallory Catlett, Sharon Ann Fogarty, Karen Kandel, Carl Hancock Rux; Associate Artists Tei Blow, Perel, David Thomson, Carrie Mae Weems and Senior Artistic Associates JoAnne Akalaitis, Clove Galilee, Philip Glass, Greg Mehrten, Maude Mitchell, David Neumann, Terry O'Reilly and Bill Raymond.

Mabou Mines' home at the 122 Community Center provides the company with a space to create new work and support artists in our Resident Artist Program for emerging artists and in SUITE/Space, a performance program for artists of color.

About piece by piece

Wendy vanden Heuvel is the director of piece by piece productions. Productions have included: Medea directed by Deborah Warner with Fiona Shaw on Broadway (associate producer), The Tricky Part by Martin Moran (2004 Obie award and two Drama Desk nominations including Outstanding Play), All The Rage by Martin Moran, (Lucille Lortel Award, Outstanding Solo Show 2013) produced with Rising Phoenix Repertory and The Barrow Group; The Walworth Farce by Enda Walsh; Mabou Mines Doll House, Emma Rice's Brief Encounter and Let The Right One In, all in association with St. Ann's Warehouse; My Name is Rachel Corrie in association with The Royal Court Theatre; Slipping in association with Rising Phoenix Repertory and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater; Elective Affinities with Zoe Caldwell by David Adjmi, co-produced with Rising Phoenix Repertory and Soho Rep; Lee Breuer's La Divina Caricatura in association with St. Ann's Warehouse, La Mama ETC, Mabou Mines, and Dovetail Productions; and Hundred Days by The Bengsons and Kate E. Ryan, co produced with Z Space (TBA Outstanding New Musical 2014). piece by piece productions has been a producer with co-founders Brian Mertes and Melissa Kievman on The Lake Lucille Chekhov Project since 2010 (Ivanov, Seagull, Cherry Orchard). Film: The Rest I Make Up directed by Michelle Memran (a documentary about the life and work of the playwright Maria Irene Fornes), I Am A Seagull: The Lake Lucille Chekhov Project directed by Brian Mertes (Mass MoCa and Under the Radar 2019). In 2018 piece by piece productions co-produced with Ars Nova and Z Space, The Lucky Ones by The Bengsons. Other notable productions of 2018 were Noche Flamenca's Antigona,The Kilbanes indie rock opera Weightless and The Wooster Group's The Town Hall Affair all co-produced with Z Space (Lisa Steindler, Executive Producer). In 2020, piece by piece productions started developing OHIO with The Bengsons and co-produced with Rattlestick Playwrights Theater Ren Dara Santiago's play, The Syblings Play. Wendy vanden Heuvel was awarded TBG's 2012 Outstanding Contribution to Theatre Award. She is a long time member of the 52nd Street Project and a member of Rising Phoenix Repertory.

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