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