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Recently, I won a grant from the Illinois Arts Council to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of African-Americans. 1619: The Journey of a People is a new production that premiered at Kennedy-King College in Chicago this summer. Told through the multi-disciplinary tool of musical theater, it strives to convey a sizable piece of this history, while taking an unflinching look at America’s current conditions. In doing so, my hope is that it also honors our biblical call to remember.
The process of creating a theatrical production was daunting, even though this was my second major musical effort. The first, TORN the Musical, took two years to fully develop. Through both processes, I learned to follow artistic inspiration, wherever it led. Some scenes and songs were written in the middle of the night, others in my office, still others while driving in my car. I spent countless hours in a self-imposed solitary confinement, to the consternation of my family. The creation of 1619 included five months of writing, two months of pre-production meetings, and three months of rehearsals leading up to the premiere. My production team auditioned and interviewed a host of people before choosing those most likely to help effectively tell this story. We eventually settled on a talented group of musicians, dancers, singers, actors, music producers, crew, and light designers.
Onset - History - Way - Issues - People
From the onset, I wanted to explore history in a way that infused contemporary issues. Often when people think about a historic project, they assume a clear chronological approach that respects tradition and limits of time and space. This was the very opposite of what I hoped to accomplish. 1619 immediately opens with “The Journey,” a hip-hop and African musical fusion that purposely uses dance to tie centuries of people together through the power of rhythm. It then moves into a look...
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