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Meshed Ndegeocello's 'CAN I GET A WITNESS?' to Make World Premiere at Harlem Stage

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Harlem Stage will present the world premiere of Meshell Ndegeocello's Can I Get a Witness? The Gospel of James Baldwin, a new theatrical music and art work commissioned by Harlem Stage through its WaterWorks program, December 7-11.

Structured as an African-American church service, and directed by Charlotte Brathwaite, the work features sermons and original musical compositions by Ndegeocello, Reagon and Hicks, original poetry by Chin and testimony by Thompson. The piece gives audiences the timely opportunity to engage in critical investigations on race and power in America today, guided by the work of James Baldwin.

Performances will take place December 7-10 at 7:30pm, and Dec 10 & 11 at 2pm. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased at harlemstage.org; 212.281.9240 ext. 19/20. The Harlem Stage Gatehouse is located at150 Convent Avenue in Manhattan.

Can I Get a Witness? The Gospel of James Baldwin is inspired by Baldwin's The Fire Next Time and the following Baldwin quote: "From my point of view, no label, no slogan, no party, no skin color, and indeed no religion is more important than the human being."

Ndegeocello explains, "The Fire Next Time has been a guide and a lesson, on what happened to my parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents and those before them. It has been a tool in understanding the condition and experience of people of color all over the globe. It has been an essential text in understanding myself. It is a testament to what is often unspoken, misunderstood and painful to hear, it has revealed truths that needed acknowledgment and illumination. I am trying to explore how we manufacture ideas, faith and belief systems. I am also interested in investigating how once one realizes the fallacies of constructs such as race, religion, ethics, politics and the media, how do these moments change us?"

"Harlem Stage is proud to collaborate with Meshell, and to commission, produce and present Can I Get a Witness?, a project that exemplifies our commitment to the visionary artists who create works that reflect our times," said Simone Eccleston, Director of Programming at Harlem Stage. "Meshell's continuous field of inquiry, daring investigations and stand for our personal and collective humanity help to propel Baldwin's legacy into the future. His work has only proven more poignant and relevant in our current sociopolitical climate, and Can I Get A Witness, has the potential to be a transformative agent in the engagement of community. Audiences can expect to leave the role of passive onlookers, and to become active co-creators of an experience of fellowship.

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

Meshell Ndegeocello (Concept, Music Direction, Vocals, Bass) has lived through the boom and bust of the music industry and emerged just as she entered: unequivocally herself. Her fans have come to expect the unexpected from her, and have faithfully followed her on sojourns into soul, spoken word, R&B, jazz, hip-hop and rock. What unites Ndegeocello's widely varied musical explorations is her lyrical, spiritual search for love, justice, respect, resolution and happiness.

A vast array of influences has informed Ndegeocello's albums, and there are traces of her native go-go, hip hop, R&B, new wave and punk in each. Every one of her recordings has been a step away from the last-a chance to investigate and integrate new sounds and ideas, from the deep-funk of Plantation Lullabies to the raw and confessional approach of Bitter to the melodic, lyrical music of Weather. Possessed with instrumental gifts as diverse as her interests, she composed, arranged and produced a jazz record in 2005. She has also paid homage to Nina Simone, a kindred musical spirit and one of her most cherished inspirations. Her most recent release, Comet, Come to Me, is her eleventh album.

In addition to her own recordings, Ndegeocello has been expanding her repertoire as a producer, producing three albums in the past year: British-Trinidadian poet and musician Anthony Joseph's new album, Time; Jason Moran's Fats Waller tribute, All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller; and a new album by GRAMMY-nominated artist Ruthie Foster.

A bass player above all else, Ndegeocello has appeared alongside the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Alanis Morrisette, James Blood Ulmer, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Tony Allen, John Medeski, Billy Preston and Chaka Khan. Among her own bass-playing influences are Sting, Jaco Pastorius, Family Man Barrett and Stevie Wonder. Ndegeocello was the first woman to be featured on the cover of Bass Player magazine and remains one of few women who write the music, sing the songs, and lead the band.

Charlotte Brathwaite (Director) is known for her unique approach to staging classical and unconventional texts, dance, visual art, multimedia, site-specific installation, performance art and music events. Her work has been seen in the Americas, Europe, the Caribbean and Asia; ranges in subject matter from the historical past to the distant future; and illuminates issues of race, sexuality, power and the complexities of the human condition. Playbill recently named her one of the "up-and-coming women in theatre to watch." Upcoming projects include Shasta Geaux Pop, in collaboration with Ayesha Jordan (Under the Radar Festival); Dolphins & Sharks, by James Anthony Tyler (Labyrinth Theater); (Be)longing, by Byron Au Young and Aaron Jaffaries (Moss Art Center); and House or Home: 690 Wishes, in collaboration with Justin Hicks and the Hawtplates. Brathwaite is recipient of the Princess Grace Award, the Julian Milton Kaufman Prize (Yale), a Rockefeller Residency and the National Performing Network Creation Fund. MFA Yale School of Drama. She is assistant professor of Theater Arts at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Staceyann Chin (Performer) is a Jamaica-born writer and activist best known as a co-writer and original performer in the Tony Award-winning Broadway show Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam, for which Chin received a Drama Desk Award in 2003. She is currently the Poet-in-Residence at The Culture Project. Chin's first one-woman show, Hands Afire, ran for ten weeks in 2000 at the Bleecker Theater, where she also performed her second, Unspeakable Things, in 2001. Her show Border/Clash opened in 2005 to rave reviews from The New York Times and others, and ran for three months. She recently completed a successful run of her new work MotherStruck!, directed by Cynthia Nixon and presented by Culture Project and Rosie O'Donnell.

In 2009, Scribner published Chin's memoir The Other Side of Paradise. Her work has also appeared in Essence, Jane, The New York Times, The South African Times and other publications. Her poetry has been included in numerous anthologies, including Skyscrapers, Poetry Slam and Bullets and Butterflies. Chin was the recipient of the 2009 New York State Senate Special Human Rights Award, the 2008 Safe Haven Award from Immigration Equality, 2008 honors from the Lesbian Aids Project, and the 2007 Power of the Voice Award from the Human Rights Campaign. In 2006 she was nominated for the GLAAD award for Outstanding New York Theater: Broadway and Off Broadway, and in 2007 she was selected by the Center for Women and Gender at Dartmouth College for the Visionary-in-Residence Award.

Toshi Reagon (Vocals) is a versatile singer, composer, musician, curator and producer with a profound ear for sonic Americana-from folk to funk, and from blues to rock. Her expansive career has taken her to Carnegie Hall, the Paris Opera House and Madison Square Garden, in addition to countless music festivals, theaters and clubs. Reagon knows the power of song to focus, unite and mobilize people. She is a 2015 Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow and the recipient of a NYFA award for Music Composition. She has been awarded The Black Lily Music and Film Festival Award for Outstanding Performance. She is a National Women's History Month Honoree, and was the 2010 recipient of OutMusic's Heritage Award. Her many collaborators include Nona Hendryx, Lizz Wright, Carl Hancock Rux, Allison Miller and Meshell Ndegeocello. Reagon's recent projects include Celebrate the Great Women of Blues and Jazz, a 16-piece all-women's ensemble of some of New York's best instrumentalists and vocalists; the opera Zinnias: The Life of Clementine Hunter, directed by Robert Wilson, with libretto and music by Bernice Johnson Reagon and Toshi Reagon and a book by Jacqueline Woodson; and The Blues Project, a collaboration between Dorrance Dance, Reagon and BIGLovely. In 2011, Reagon created Word* Rock* & Sword: A Festival Celebration of Women's Lives, which takes place each September throughout New York City. Reagon is currently developing an opera based on the novel Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler.

Abigail DeVille (Installation / Set Design) has exhibited at Socrates Sculpture Park (2016); The Contemporary, Baltimore (2016); Hauser Wirth & Schimmel (2016); Galerie Michel Rein, Paris (2015); 601Artspace (2015); the Old Bronx Courthouse (2015); Monique Meloche Gallery (2015); Radcliffe Institute (2015); Sculpture Center (2014); El Museo del Barrio (2014); CAMH (2014), the Bronx Museum of the Arts (2013), The 55th Venice Biennale (2013), The Studio Museum in Harlem (2012, 14), ICA, Philadelphia (2012), the New Museum (2012) and the Stedelijk Museum (2011). DeVille designed has sets for theatrical productions directed by Peter Sellers and Charlotte Brathwaite at La Mama (2015), Stratford Festival (2014), JACK (2014-16) and Joe's Pub (2014). DeVille is a 2012 Joan Mitchell Foundation grant recipient. 2014-15 fellow at The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and received a 2015 OBIE Award for design. DeVille was an Artist-in-Residence at the Cite Internationale Des Arts Paris (2015) and Studio Museum of Harlem (2014). She also received a Fellowship for The Radcliffe Institute for Advance Study in Cambridge, Massachusetts. DeVille received her MFA from Yale University 2011 and her BFA from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2007.

Justin Hicks (Performer) uses text, music and sound to explore various themes including identity, economics, marriage, and religion. His compositions and performances range from singer/songwriter-style presentations and recordings, to interdisciplinary and collaborative performance works involving movement and set design. His work has been featured at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Baryshnikov Arts Center, PS 122, The Julliard School, The Knitting Factory, Jack, Arlene's Grocery, Pianos and Bowery Poetry Club. He was a member of Kara Walker's 6-8 Months Space and a performer and Sound Designer for Kaneza Schaal's Go Forth, which premiered in PS 122's COIL Festival 2016. Hicks was a performer and Sound Designer the OBIE Award-winning (Abigail DeVille design) production of Prophetika: An Oratorio by Charlotte Brathwaite (La MaMa 2015). His work The Odetta Project: Waterboy and the Mighty World was shown at Bowery Arts and Science in 2014 and was featured during the Freedom Songs Festival: Which Side Are You On, Friend? at Jack in 2015. He served as music director for Steffani Jemison's Promise Machine (MoMA 2015) and is currently working with Jemison on Mikrokosmos, a performance vocabulary that uses musical literacy as subject and form.

Paul J. Thompson (Performer) has spent the last twelve years serving as Principal of the Urban Assembly School of Music and Art, a small high school he founded in downtown Brooklyn in 2005. In this position, he developed all aspects of the school, from planning to implementation and daily management.

Last year Thompson was one of ten to be selected as a New York City Chancellor's Fellow, and was also recently a member of the New York City Department of Education's Advanced Leadership Institute Cohort II. He previously completed the New York City Leadership Academy's Aspiring Principals Program Cohort II, and was a founding teacher at both the Bard High School Early College and the High School for Contemporary ArtS. Thompson started his career in Education, teaching music to incarcerated youth for the non-profit War Child USA.

Before becoming a principal, Thompson had an extensive career as a musician and composer. A protégé of Wadada Leo Smith, he has worked across styles and genres and has extensively, both in the U.S. and Europe. He has collaborated with artists including Meshell Ndegeocello, the Black Eyed Peas, architect Michael Rotondi, and the American Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leon Botstein, which performEd Thompson's work for orchestra, Purple, Black and Green.

In 2008, Thompson sat on a National Endowment of the Arts Review Committee for Learning in the Arts for Children & Youth in Music and Opera. He has been a member of Bard College's Board of Governors since 2007, serving as Chair of the Diversity Committee 2007-09. Thompson's work has been featured in Bard's alumni magazine, The Bardian, Jazz Magazine (Japan), Spin, Jazz Life, The New York Times, and Time Out New York, which namEd Thompson among 25 New Yorkers to Watch in 2005.

Abraham Rounds (Drums), who hailsfrom Sydney, Australia, started playing drums at the tender age of one, and has never looked back. Surrounded by music from an early age, he learned a lot from his father, a renowned bassist in Australia. Now 24, he has been a member of Meshell Ndegeocello's band for the past three years and has recorded, performed and toured with artists such as Seal, My Brightest Diamond, Andrew Bird, Aimee Mann, Susanna Hoffs, Doyle Bramhall II and producers Trevor Horn & Craig Street.

About Harlem Stage (Commissioner, Producer, Presenter)

Harlem Stage is the performing arts center that bridges Harlem's cultural legacy to contemporary artists of color and dares to provide the artistic freedom that gives birth to new ideas.For over 30 years Harlem Stage has been one of the nation's leading arts organizations, achieving this distinction by commissioning, incubating and presenting innovative works by visionary artists of color, and by facilitating a productive engagement with the communities it serves through the performing arts. With a long-standing tradition of supporting artists and organizations around the corner and across the globe, Harlem Stage boasts such legendary artists as Harry Belafonte, Max Roach, Sekou Sundiata, Abbey Lincoln, Sonia Sanchez, Eddie Palmieri, Maya Angelou and Tito Puente, as well as contemporary artists like Bill T. Jones, Vijay Iyer, Mike Ladd, Meshell Ndegeocello, Jason Moran, Nona Hendryx, and more. Its education programs each year provide over 4,000 New York City children with introduction and access to the rich diversity, excitement and inspiration of the performing arts. In 2006, Harlem Stage opened the landmarked, award-winning Harlem Stage Gatehouse. This once abandoned space, originally a pivotal source for distributing fresh water to New York City, is now a vital source of creativity, ideas and culture. Harlem Stage is a winner of the William Dawson Award for Programming Excellence and Sustained Achievement in Programming (Association of Performing Arts Presenters).


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