Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Check Out What's Happening This week In Brooklyn, NY

Color Between the Lines
Presented by Brooklyn Historical Society, Irondale Ensemble Project & Weeksville Heritage Center

Final Performances

Tues May 22 7pm $10
Wed May 23  & Thur May 24 8pm $35 General Admission; $20 Student Rush

For tickets: Visit www.irondale.org, call 866.811.4111 or
Irondale Center Box Office | 85 South Oxford Street | Brooklyn, NY
30 minutes before the performance

Color Between the Lines is a new play about the antislavery/abolitionist movement in Brooklyn. The play is part of In Pursuit of Freedom, a public history project, which is a collaboration between Brooklyn Historical Society, Irondale Ensemble Project & Weeksville Heritage Center.

Meet Victoria L. Ward. She is part of the Irondale Ensemble Project. Here are some details about her participation in the project in her own words:

Victoria L. Ward in Color Between the Lines

This project literally came out of no where for me. Jim [Neisen, director, Color Between the Lines] emailed me on a Saturday saying that an actress in the show needed to leave because of complications with her pregnancy, and he needed a replacement ASAP. He gave me a brief description of what the show was about, but all I needed to read was "a show about Brooklyn's involvement with the abolition of slavery"...I read that and knew it was the show for me. I love black history and the chance to be in such a monumental production, was something that I couldn't pass up. I called him as soon as I was done with the email and I said, "I'll be there Monday morning". This is my second "new work" but first show where there is no "playwright". I've never been in a production where the cast creates the peice from the ground up. It took me a few days to wrap my head around the process, but once I released my expectations of "how a production SHOULD be put together" the process became freeing. I would come home and tell my husband, "I can't believe they're paying me to play." Thats what it was: play. We would read the history as a group, disect it, digest it, then put the books down and play!  However I was feeling on the day of rehearsal I could come in and use it, and the group always said YES, everyone was open to any idea. No one ever shot anything down.  It was try it and then after we'll see if we like it or not, and does it serve the purpose of the peice? The Irondale ensemble is different than any place I've ever worked before because the ensemble alows themselves to play. Just be who you are in your true self and the create work will flow out of you like a fountain. That's what I've learned here, and that's what I'll take with me. Jim would always say to me, "We don't know what it is yet, but we'll find it." That is how art should be created, don't think, just go...be...live. From that comes magic, through that we were able to find the voice of these people. I specifically say people because they were not characters in a story book or script. These were real live human beings striving for a better tomorrow. And it was our duty to bring them back to life via the history that we read. This experience will stay with me for the rest of my career. This process reminded me why I became an actress in the first place. I was put on this earth to tell the story of those who cannot tell it themselves. This production is necessary to today, to this community and I am honored to be the voice of these poineers."

Make sure that you catch Victoria and the rest of the Irondale Ensemble in this seminal work that gives voice to our fore mothers and fathers.

--Marcia Pendelton

One more thing! Check out DANCEAFRICA at BAM. Programming is now underway with the huge vendors market slated to begin on Friday, May 25th. Vendors from all over the globe will gather in the People's Republic of Brooklyn to sell their wares. Dance, music, food, film, fashion and DANCE will be in full effect this Memorial Day Weekend. Baba Chuck Davis has an amazing festival in store for us all! For more information about DanceAfrica at BAM  visit 30 Lafayette Avenue, call 718.636.4100. or visit www.bam.org/danceafrica.

By the way -- I attended an amazing concert on Sunday, May 20th at the BAM Opera House that featured some of the original companies and dancers who participated in the very first DanceAfrica in 1977. My favorite? Arthur Hall's African American Dance Ensemble? Why? Because they are from Philadelphia, PA and so am I! Arthur Hall really changed the arts and culture landscape in Philly. I am grateful for his infusion of a bold and unapologetic celebration of the African Diaspora.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Color Between the Lines is a new play about the anti-slavery/abolitionist movement in Brooklyn, NY presented by Irondale Ensemble Project. The play, now running at Irondale Center (85 South Oxford Street in Brooklyn) through May 24, kicks off In Pursuit of Freedom, a multi-site, multi-faceted project by Brooklyn Historical Society, Irondale Ensemble Project, and Weeksville Heritage Center. In Pursuit of Freedom recovers the role that Brooklyn played in one of the tumultuous periods of American History.

I had the chance to ask Irondale Artistic Director Jim Niesen (who also directs Color Between the Lines) and Executive Director Terry Greiss about how the theater piece developed for this very exciting public history project.

 How did Color Between the Lines develop?

Jim Niesen, Irondale Ensemble Project Artistic Director: It started with a summer of research, followed by a three day workshop and "performance" as part of our annual retreat in Maine. This was a traveling environmental piece which bore more resemblance to Sleep No More than to what you're seeing at Irondale, but both were attempts to deal with the fact that the historical narrative is made up of contributions of many individuals who either worked quietly behind the scenes or rose up briefly to public prominence. The obvious solution to the problem is the history pageant or living picture approach, and right from the beginning that was something we wanted to avoid.

When Nolan (Kennedy) returned from his sabbatical to Chicago, I made him the musical director for the show. Historically music played a dominant role in the movement, but the songs as written and performed were firmly rooted in another era. Nolan's first charge was to take the dust off this material and then to add some original incidental music. In the process working musical skills on a daily basis became a part of the company's rehearsal process when we turned our full attention and time to the development of the show in January. The fall of course had been spent working on our Henry V. Part of the reason for doing this was an experiential investigation of how the world's greatest playwright shaped history into drama. (At one time we even considered using the dramatic and dynamic structure of Henry as a basis for the show.) At this time we still had no idea that music would play such a major role in the show. Then we went down a number of dead ends trying to find our form and content--improvised scenarios, storytelling exercises. Eventually Nolan developed some song exercises allowing individual songs, based on character and relationship) to emerge. A result of this is that almost every song was initially developed by the actor who performs it in the show. At some time I asked Nolan what he thought about the idea of the entire show being sung within a format of intuitive connections rather than a linear narrative. And that’s how it all happened.

Why and how did Irondale become involved with the project and its partners Brooklyn Historical Society and Weeksville Heritage Center?

Terry Greiss, Irondale Ensemble Project Executive Director:
The city of New York issued an RFP (Request For Proposals) for cultural organizations who would create a project that celebrated the abolition and anti-slavery history of Brooklyn. I knew Deborah Schwartz (President, Brooklyn Historical Society) for many years. We had often talked of doing thing together (not dirty things, just projects).When I got the RFP I went to the phone to call her and she had called me with the same thought in mind. We knew that we needed the additional voice of an organization like Weeksville (Heritage Center) to give the project its full due. Deborah called Pam (Pamela Greene, Executive Director, Weeksville Heritage Center) and we three created the project. For us, it's an extension of our (Irondale's) history based work: Degenerate Art, Peter Panic: Flying Underground, Murals of Rockefeller Center, Outside the Law. It made artistic, community and educational sense.

Talk about artist selection/participation.

Jim Niesen: I think I covered this to some extent in the first answer. As always we begin with the contributions of the core company and what skills they bring to the project. In this case, that included Terry Greiss, Patrena Murray, Damen Scranton, Scarlet Marissa Rivera, Nolen Kennedy, and our two student interns: Alex Miyashiro and Ben Matthews. To fill this out we brought in Taifa Harris, a terrific actress I've known for about 13 years and has experience developing this kind of work. When Taifa had to drop out (she just gave birth to twin daughters) Vicki Ward replaced her and continued developing Taifa's stuff as well as making strong contributions of her own. Antwayn Hopper and Natasha Soto-Albors came in to do the dances when the show started moving in that direction. The designers Ken Rothchild (set and lights) and Hilarie Blumenthal (costumes) have been with us almost since the beginning of Irondale.

I have to say that this has been the most collaborative piece we have ever done. There was a strong sense of ownership and excitement about the material that kept propelling us through the entire process.

What do you want the audience to learn/take away from experiencing Color Between the Lines?

Jim Niesen: That the battle to make this a better, fairer [world] is never done, that we have the example to these brave, steadfast, courageous and largely unknown women and men to remind us of the necessity to keep on going no matter what and to not let the bastards get you down.

Irondale Ensemble Project’s Color Between the Lines
Now through May 24
Tuesday 7pm $10
Wednesday-Saturday 8pm $35, Student Rush $15
Irondale Center – 85 South Oxford St, Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Tickets: www.irondale.org or call 866.811.4111

For more information about:
In Pursuit of Freedom – www.PursuitOfFreedom.org
Irondale Ensemble Project – www.irondale.org
Brooklyn Historical Society –www.brooklynhistory.org
Weeksville Heritage Center – www.weeksvillesociety.org