VESSELS debut shifts to Philadelphia, March 2019

Dear VESSELS Friends and Supporters,

Thank you for your support of VESSELS. In August, we wrapped up a fabulous residency at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans, where we integrated our amazing set, costumes, and lighting into the piece. It’s beautiful, and we are so excited to soon share it with you in performance.

We want to let everyone know that we are shifting the premiere of VESSELS to occur in Philadelphia. Performances will take place March 7-10 as part of Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts’ 2018/2019 season. We are excited to partner with that organization and Junebug Productions, who joined us as co-commissioners for VESSELS via a National Performance Network/Visual Artists Network (NPN/VAN) Creation & Development Fund grant.

We decided to shift the premiere to Philadelphia for many reasons, but most fundamentally, we’ve received many clear signs and messages, all of which told us that this change was necessary. Spirit is speaking, and we must listen.

For those who were planning join us this month in New Orleans, don’t fret! We will still present VESSELS in the city that has held and stewarded its development, the city where most of the ensemble was born and raised or has been living for a long time. We are excited that we have Junebug Productions to help powerfully present this work for its New Orleans premiere, which will take as part of Junebug’s 2019/2020 season. Stay tuned for dates!

In the meantime, we always welcome your financial support in order to continue paying our artists for rehearsals and prep for the March 2019 debut.

Click here to make a donation through our fiscal sponsor, NPN. (Note: please designate your contribution to go to R. MWASE CULTURAL PROJECTS, so that it specifically benefits VESSELS).

You can find tickets for VESSELS at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts here.

Thank you again for all that you’ve done. We look forward to sharing VESSELS with you in Philly, New Orleans, and beyond.


Rebecca Mwase + Ron Ragin
Co-Shapers, VESSELS

by R RM

We've launched our crowdfunding campaign!

Hello friends!

How are you? How are your hearts, spirits, souls? Since the election I have gone through shock, denial, disbelief and anger, and in recent days, come to equilibrium. What has sustained me is a knowing that we have the tools to combat hate. We have the songs that open up space in our bodies to feel, to push against the numbness, to find freedom again. The work of Vessels and the Freedom Chamber has helped me to practice these knowings. Gathering together with black women to sound, tell stories and sing has reminded me that I can keep moving, keep strategizing, andorganizing, as long as I hold my community with me. We are at one moment in a long struggle for freedom, and I am interested in continuing.

As an artist, I know my calling is to create stories, rituals and experiences that bring solace, release grief, and uplift spirit. We will soon embark on our 3rd Vessels intensive (slated for April of 2017) and have launched a crowdfunding campaign to invite our community to support our work. With your help, we will raise $25,000 for our next intensive and would love for you to invest in this work. Please listen to our story, donate, and share by clicking here.

Vessels is incredibly important to me. At a time when we are fighting to remind ourselves and our society that black life matters, it is imperative that we continue to strengthen our healing containers. Vessels has been a transformative experience, connecting me more deeply to my ancestors, my work, and my healing, and I hope it will do the same for all those who are able to witness it.


Vessels October Intensive

From October 23-30, 2016 we had our second Vessels intensive in New Orleans. This spectacular week was supported by the New England Foundation for the Arts, the Arts Council of New Orleans, and the MAP Fund, along with Tulane’s Newcomb Art Museum. Returning intensive participants connected with women who were new to the process as we dived deeper into the sonic world of this piece. We were also blessed to be able to strengthen the ritual practice of our process by working with Mama Nana Anoa, Mama Sula, and Aesha Rasheed throughout the week.

While last May’s intensive focused on conjuring the boat world of the Middle Passage, this time around, we combined song, movement, and ritual to explore the survival strategies of our ancestors that were rooted in JOY. Given our speculative approach to the recorded histories of the Middle Passage, we asked ourselves, “How might joy, pleasure, and comfort have appeared during that journey?” Our designer, Jeff Becker, also led us in a deeply meditative drawing experiment, through which we created image inspirations for the sculptural environment that will house the ritual performance.  

Photo Credit: Ron Ragin

Photo Credit: Ron Ragin


On October 28th, we had an open rehearsal at the Newcomb Art Museum. There, amidst totemic trees meant to guide human spirits from ground to sky, we experimented with space, bodies, song and sound. The art within the galleries, made by aboriginal Australian women, was incredibly inspiring and grounding for our work. The intensive culminated in a work-in-progress sharing at Dancing Grounds on October 29th – a deeply joyous and wonderfully held event. Using an abbreviated Critical Response process led by Stephanie McKee, Artistic Director of Junebug Productions, witnesses offered wide-ranging and insightful reflections and questions about the connections of our work to current movements, and the impact of joy on survival (to name a few).

Thanks to the generous and brilliant women who invested their spirits, energy, and love into this work: Mykia Jovan, Denae Hannah, Anna Martine Whitehead, Rebecca Mwase, Mysti Adams, Jamie Dzandu, Marguerite Hemmings, and stage manager India McDougle.


Photo Credit: Melisa Cardona

Photo Credit: Melisa Cardona


In the News

We leave for Ghana & Senegal in a week and a half! Ron, Jeff and I are thrilled to participate in a residency  at L’Ecole des Sables (home to the amazing Compagnies Jant-Bi) and to engage with artists in and near Dakar around ritual practices of women. We’ll also lead a Vessels intensive at the University of Ghana Legon, visit Cape Coast and El Mina castles, and travel to Île de Gorée. Follow us on Instagram @vesselsperformance and on Facebook to follow us on our travels.


Arts Activism

Our engagement project Freedom Chamber is going incredibly well. Ron and I had the opportunity to lead a Freedom Chamber workshop at Arts in a Changing America’s Detroit REMAP event. Jamilah King, a journalist and participant in the workshop said, “It pushed me out of my comfort zone. I'm not a singer and was nervous to participate, but this workshop helped me think about how, when, where and why I use my voice.” Since then, we have conducted three additional workshops with our New Orleans partners – STAND with Dignity and Women with a Vision. The workshops have been incredibly profound, and we’re excited to share upcoming events and public engagements in the Spring. If you or your organization is interested in bringing a Freedom Chamber workshop to your community, please let us know.


Posted by Rebecca Mwase


Vessels May Intensive

From May 22-28, 2016 we had our first Vessels intensive in New Orleans. This gathering was supported by Dancing Grounds and Catapult. Our ensemble of seven black women gathered with co-shaper Ron Ragin, designer Jeff Becker, and stage manager Lauren Fitzgerald to co-create a grounded spiritual beginning to our work and to begin our collective exploration of the question “What does freedom sound like in a space of confinement?”

We spent our week getting to know each other, creating ritual to connect us more deeply – to ourselves, each other and our ancestors – and explored physically and vocally the creation of altered states. Vessels is in part an exploration of synesthesia; how can we translate memories, stories, smells, tastes and visions into sounds? These explorations resulted in a 35-minute work-in-progress sharing with community members on Saturday, May 27, after which we asked for folks to share their reflections. Click on the following sense words to see what people saw, felt and heard.

Thanks to the generous and brilliant women who invested their spirits, energy, and love into this work: Michaela Harrison, Mykia Jovan, Denae Hannah, Jarrell Hamilton, Anna Martine Whitehead, Audrey Hailes, and Rebecca Mwase.


In the News

We were honored to be selected as finalists for the 2016 New England Foundation for the Arts National Theatre Project award! Although we didn’t receive the award, we were awarded a development grant to continue our work on Vessels. In addition, we were awarded Theatre Communications Group’s On the Road grant and will be utilizing it to travel to Ghana in November and December of this year to conduct our third Vessels intensive with performers and choreographers from the University of Legon in Accra, Ghana.  


Community Engagement

It is deeply important to us that our work is reflective of and accountable to the communities in which we live. Additionally, we want to draw connections between our performance work and current social issues that impact our community. Freedom Chamber is our effort to that end. It is a series of song and story workshops with formerly (and hopefully currently) incarcerated folks in New Orleans. The workshops engage our partner organizations’ constituencies and the wider community to sing, create, and document songs and sounds of freedom amidst confinement.

Fundamental to this project is the belief that communal singing strengthens our individual and collective voices, helping us to improve movement-building work. We are drawn to the practice of communal singing as one defined by individuals raising their unique voice in collaboration with others. Our fondness for this practice comes from its lack of material necessity other than the body. In slavery, as in our current context of mass incarceration, people are left with little space to exist outside of themselves. Our process is about both remembering our voices and reminding ourselves of our humanity in relation to a system that seeks to dehumanize us through shame, fear, and invisibility.

Freedom Chamber is a recipient of the 2016 A Blade of Grass/ David Rockefeller Criminal Justice Award. This $20,000 award enables us to co-create listening, singing, and sharing space in New Orleans and will greatly influence and enhance our work on Vessels.

Our work is supported by A Blade of Grass, Map Fund, Platforms Fund, Alternate ROOTS, We Shall Overcome Fund, and the Vera Opportunity Fund. It is fiscally sponsored by National Performance Network.

Posted by Rebecca Mwase

by R RM