Harlem Stage Debuts The Mystical World of Afrofuturism – Bewildering and Charming Experience

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Movie Poster Still From Film, “ROXË15”

Before attending the Order Out of Chaos, a night of Afrofuturistic short films, music performances and a ‘Mind Share’ panel discussion recently, I had a vague understanding of the term: Afrofuturism. The phrase: Afrofuturism, was coined by Mark Dery in 1993 in his essay: “Black to the Future.” Dery, a cultural critic, essayist and journalism professor, examines the intersection of sci-fi and African pride. According to Dery, “a community of people whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces of its history, imagine possible futures?” The wildly successful Academy-Award winning pop culture movie: “Black Panther” is a testament to Dery’s hypothesis and focuses on black diaspora and technology – central themes in Afrofuturism.

On this night, Harlem Stage’s audience was treated to two experimental short films delving into the theories of Afrofuturism. The first: “ROXË15”, directed by Celia C. Peters, is a film about a virtual reality female programmer, living in a bleak futuristic New York City setting, searching for a better life through technology, reliving certain events she can’t escape from that prevent her from moving forward; it’s jarring and uncomfortable, but hints at the limitless possibilities technology has to shape our lives.

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Still From “Prototype” Film, From Left to Right, “Android 499” and Sol

The second short, “Prototype,” by writer-director, Christopher Ortega examines human emotions when a black female scientist tests out different android prototypes in her mother’s lab to determine if they can experience empathy. In her quest for substantiated results, she discovers family secrets about her mother and her own existence. It’s “Black Mirror” meets modern-day Telenovelas; and I’m here for it. Would love to see a full-length feature made and have the subject matter explored further.

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Photo Credit: Marc Millman, From L to R, Celia C. Peters, Craig T. Williams, Nona Hendryx, Craig Harris and Darian Dauchan

Post film screenings, director and moderator, Celia C. Peters led a discussion on the origins of Afrofuturism with fellow speakers: Nona Hendryx, acclaimed vocalist, record producer, songwriter of the hit song “Lady Marmalade” and former member of the group, Labelle, Craig T. Williams (filmmaker) of upcoming movie: “Hanging by a Thread,” Craig Harris (jazz-musician) and avant-garde composer, and Darian Dauchan, award-winning actor, writer, musician of the off-Broadway production of: The BroBot Johnson Experience. These talented artists discussed the past, present, and future of Afrofuturism. The role technology plays and one of the first innovators of the concept of Afrofuturism (before it was labeled a concept), Sun Ra – a jazz musician, who infused elements of space and jazz in his work. Sun Ra, in an NPR interview said: “In my music I speak of unknown things, impossible things, ancient things, potential things,” Known as recording pioneer, cosmic philosopher and poet, Sun Ra claimed to be from Saturn.

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Photo Credit: Marc Millman, Nona Hendryx

Following the panel discussion, the galactic sights and sounds of Nina Hendryx filled the auditorium – Hendryx is currently resident Artistic Director for Afrofuturism at Harlem Stage. With her band mate on the drums and the visual backdrop of colorful orbiting bodies, 74 year-old Hendryx confidently sashayed on stage and made her way to the audience wearing a black cat-suit and digital audio tutu with synthesizers; multifunctional fashion. Hendryx is a force. Younger musicians can take a cue from Hendryx’s sultry appeal and career longevity.

Closing the night was Darian Dauchan as his Brobot Johnson character. He raps. He beat boxes. He dances. Moving to simulated outerspace sounds, manifested on screen with shapes and figures, Brobot Johnson (dressed as a robot, complete with silver hair) got the audience pumped and made his performance interactive. It was strange, yet unexpectedly entertaining to watch as some of the loud, pulsating sounds lingered.

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Photo Credit: Marc Millman, Darian Dauchan as Brobot Johnson

For over 35 years, Harlem Stage has been one of the countries’ leading performing arts centers fostering and showcasing contemporary artists of color, bringing exciting and diverse performances daring to be provocative and engaging new audiences transcending cultural experiences. To check out more Afrofuturistic performances throughout the year and explore other phenomenal programs, click here.

Review: ‘Antigone in Ferguson’ Greek Mythology, Modern Times, and Social Justice Parallels

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Photo: Gregg Richards, De-Andrea Blaylock-Johnson (center) and choir members 

With so many transgressions of police brutality plaguing African-American communities in our country, daily – it’s quite easy to slip into a path of desensitization. The Harlem Stage in collaboration with Theater of War Productions, the citizens of St. Louis and Ferguson refuse to let that transpire with the production of Antigone in Ferguson. One-part play with gospel chorus inflections; one-part panel discussion and equal parts entertainment, patrons of this unconventional presentation are in store for an eye opening cultural awakening. With scenes from Sophocles’ ancient Greek play, staged readings performed by leading television, film, theater actors and an unusual – yet extraordinarily talented choir – comprised of law enforcement, activists, educators, and counselors – form this experimental show.

At first, I couldn’t fathom staged readings in lieu of customary scenes with verbal and physical components performed against picturesque backdrops to illustrate the highly popularized Sophocles’ play, Antigone – done in past iterations, similar to the Classical Theatre of Harlem Stage production I covered earlier this the summer. The synopis: Antigone, it’s about a young woman who is adamant about burying her brother, Polyneices, whose slain body lays lifeless in the ancient city of Thebes at the end of the civil war, against the wishes of newly crowned King Creon. The courageous Antigone is ready to risk life and limb to honor her deceased brother and seek a proper burial for him even though he was considered an enemy of the state. The parallels, from this more than 2,500-year-old play, couldn’t be timelier, as this rendition focuses on the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown Jr. in 2014 at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, MO. The subsequent African-American deaths by white police officers that followed in our country, the lack of action this administration demonstrates, and the perseverance of movements such as Black Lives Matter to affect change.

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Photo: Gregg Richards, (L to R) Actors Tamara Tunie and Tate Donovan

What’s fascinating about this production is that the mix of stage readings from acclaimed actors Tate Donovan (King Creon) from the Damages and The O.C. series, Tony award-winning actress Tamara Tunie (Antigone), Chris Myers from the She’s Gotta Have It and Netflix’s Sneaky Pete series (as Creon’s son, Haemon, among other roles) and Chinasa Obguagu from the Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and A Walk Among the Tombstones films (as Ismene, Antigone’s sister, and Eurydice, Creon’s wife) are instrumental in telling the story, yet their performances don’t overshadow the focal point of this production – which is: solutions communities and lawmakers – can and should – come up with to end senseless deaths as a result of police brutality and gun violence across the nation with much needed conversation. Panel discussions with Michael Brown Sr., community members-turned-activists describing first-hand accounts of the night of the Ferguson shooting, members of the Man Up Project, therapists and individuals committed to make an impact and let their voices be heard – moved the audience in the theater that night: including me.

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Photo Credit: Gregg Richards, Panel (L to R): Erica Wright, Lt. Latricia Allen, Michael Brown Sr.

Artistic director and moderator of the Antigone in Ferguson production, Bryan Doerries has presented over 60 performances across all five boroughs. Antigone in Ferguson at Harlem Stage marks a departure from the company’s history of nomadic presentations. Having mounted over 700 events at a range of venues around the world, from Guantanamo Bay to a playground in Brownsville, Brooklyn, this extended run (September 13 – October 13) will be the first time Theater of War Productions will embed itself in one location for an extended period of time. Exclusively supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the 30 free (RSVP required) performances at Harlem Stage will offer expanded opportunities for community participation in this innovative social justice project. Don’t miss upcoming performances by actors: Frankie Faison (Coming to America, The Wire) Chris Noth (Sex and the City franchise, Law & Order), Samira Wiley (Orange Is the New Black), and Kathryn Erbe (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) to name a few. For more information on Antigone in Ferguson and upcoming schedule, click here.