St. Ann's Warehouse Announces THE B-SIDE: NEGRO FOLKLORE FROM TEXAS STATE PRISONS
St. Ann's Warehouse continues a banner 2018-19 season of major theatrical productions confronting issues as urgent as the core of America's identity (in Daniel Fish's now Broadway-bound reimagining of Oklahoma!) and immigration, borders, and the lived experiences of refugees (in The Jungle). From March 1-24, St. Ann's presents The Wooster Group's The B-Side: "Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons," A Record Album Interpretation, based on a 1965 LP of work songs, blues, and spirituals recorded live by inmates in Texas' then-segregated prison farms. The work features Eric Berryman, alongside Jasper McGruder and Phillip Moore, and is directed by Kate Valk with production design by Elizabeth LeCompte.
In a New York Times Critics Pick review of The B-Side, which The Wooster Group first staged at The Performing Garage in 2017, Ben Brantley wrote, "The act of listening somehow becomes a process that extends to and heightens all the senses... Performed a cappella, the songs spin tales of mythologically mean prison guards, and loves and lives lost, and the backbreaking purgatory of unendingly repetitive physical tasks...[The performers] become conduits for the songs of prisoners who were themselves conduits for an oral tradition that stretches back to at least the early days of slavery in this country." Brantley included the production in his list of the Best Theater of 2017 and went on to write, in an article previewing the 2018 Tony Awards, that The B-Side, were it eligible, should have been nominated for Best Musical, and that Berryman should have been nominated Best Actor in a Musical.
The development of The B-Side began when Eric Berryman brought the album "Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons" to The Wooster Group after seeing their record album interpretation of Early Shaker Spirituals. (In 2015, St. Ann's Warehouse presented that production based on a 1976 album of Shaker songs recorded by the sisters of the Shaker community in Sabbathday Lake, Maine.) Berryman has said, "After I saw Early Shaker Spirituals, I was inspired to have the black convict work song tradition of these men honored in the same way." In The B-Side, he plays the album and channels the voices of the men on the recording via in-ear receiver, transmitting the material live. He is joined by McGruder and Moore. Berryman also provides context from the book Wake Up Dead Man: Hard Labor and Southern Blues by Bruce Jackson, the folklorist who recorded the album at the prison in 1964 and is now a SUNY Distinguished Professor at the University at Buffalo.
With The B-Side, The Wooster Group returns to an artistic form it has explored throughout its 44-year history: working with record albums as source material for original theatrical productions. These works have included Nayatt School (1978) and L.S.D. (...Just the High Points...) (1984), in addition to Early Shaker Spirituals.
The creative team of The B-Side includes Kate Valk (Director), Elizabeth LeCompte (Production Design), Ryan Seelig (Lighting Design), Eric Sluyter (Sound Design), Robert Wuss (Video Design), Enver Chakartash (Costume Design), and Gareth Hobbs (Musical Director). Erin Mullin is the Stage Manager, Wladimiro Woyno is the Video Engineer, Joseph Silovsky Studios is the Set Builder, Jacob Bigelow is the Technical Director, Bona Lee is the Production Manager, and Pamela Reichen is the General Manager & Associate Producer.
The B-Side comes to St. Ann's Warehouse after the work's West Coast premiere at REDCAT January 30 - February 3. Berryman and Jackson participate in a keynote conversation, "Black Sound & the Carceral State: The Wooster Group's The B-Side," at the inaugural symposium of Yale University's Black Sound and the Archive Working Group, on February 8 at 5:30pm.
St. Ann's Warehouse presents The B-Side: "Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons," A Record Album Interpretation March 1-24 2019. Performances take place March 1&2, 5-9, 12-16, and 19-23 at 8pm; and 3, 10, 17, and 24 at 5pm. Critics are welcome Sunday, March 3, at 5pm for an official opening Monday, March 4, at 8pm.
Tickets start at $36, and are available now at stannswarehouse.org, 718.254.8779, and 866.811.4111.
St. Ann's Warehouse is located in Brooklyn Bridge Park at 45 Water Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201.