All-female cast & crew present opera inspired by the life of Swiss explorer and writer May 21 at 2 p.m. & 7 p.m. ET Produced by DEMASKUS Theater Collective, Amanda Van Story, and Kassia Ensemble as part of AWAACC’s inaugural B.U.I.L.D. Residency
Evening will also feature world premiere of “Kassia” by renowned composer Judith Shatin
Pittsburgh, PA – May 2, 2022 – The August Wilson African American Cultural Center (AWAACC) announced today that Amanda Van Story will star in the upcoming adaptation of SONG FROM THE UPROAR: THE LIVES AND DEATHS OF ISABELLE EBERHARDT, the first Black woman to perform in the lead role. The chamber opera, the premiere work produced in the AWAACC B.U.I.L.D. (Build, Utilize, Inform, Lead, and Develop) program, tells the only-in-the-movies, boundary-breaking life story of Swiss explorer and writer, Isabelle Eberhardt, who traveled to and lived in Algeria disguised as a man, survived an assassination plot and suicide pacts, only to succumb to a desert flood.
Featuring an all-female cast, SONG FROM THE UPROAR is composed by Grammy nominated Missy Mazzoli with a libretto by Royce Vavrek and Mazzoli, direction by Risikat “Kat” Okedeyi, and conducted by Fernanda Lastra, who also serves as musical director. SONG FROM THE UPROAR is the first work produced by B.U.I.L.D. artist-in-residence DEMASKUS Theater Collective, led by Shaunda Erikka McDill, a Pittsburgh-based national service-oriented collective, and is presented in collaboration with Kassia Ensemble, a non-profit chamber music group composed exclusively of women. Performances at the non-profit AWAACC take place Saturday, May 21 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. ET. Zuly Inirio of the Afro-Latinx Song and Opera Project serves as the understudy for the production and will perform in the lead role during the matinee performance. The program runs approximately 80 minutes with no intermission. Tickets, starting at $32.25, are accessible at www.awaacc.org or by phone at 412-456-6666. An opening reception and meet and great with the opera’s cast and crew, as well as members of both Kassia Ensemble and DEMASKUS Theater Collective, which is free and open to the public, will take place on Thursday, May 19 at 6 p.m. ET.
Inspired by the salvaged journals of the early twentieth-century explorer, SONG FROM THE UPROAR has been hailed “a captivating multimedia spectacle” by The New York Times. At age 21, after the death of her father, mother, and brother in quick succession, Eberhardt traveled alone to Algeria. She dressed as a man, converted to Islam, joined a Sufi order, roamed the desert on horseback, and fell in love with an Algerian soldier. After surviving an attempted assassination and a failed suicide pact with her lover, she drowned in a desert flash flood at age 27. This new production uses the migration, resistance, and the fortitude of Black women as its focuses, and looks at how universal Isabelle’s story is to any woman who wants to live as her authentic self while facing the realities of the constraints placed on her by society.
“Song from the Uproar tells an amazing story of a woman who would not be held back by society, and with the incredible Amanda Van Story leading this production, we are uplifting the countless talented
female artists and creative leaders in the performing arts who continue to be underrepresented and overlooked,” said AWAACC President and CEO Janis Burley Wilson. “The August Wilson African American Cultural Center has long been dedicated to celebrating Black artists and championing innovators in the arts, and I’m thrilled that through the inaugural B.U.I.L.D. residency at the Center, Shaunda Erikka McDill and her team have created an exciting production of Song from the Uproar for the people of Pittsburgh.”
“When DEMASKUS began the B.U.I.L.D. residency program over a year ago, we were committed to bringing unique stories that resonated within the local Pittsburgh community and beyond. Not only is Isabelle Eberhardt’s fascinating journey largely unknown, performing it with an all-female cast and production team featuring a historic performance of the first Black woman to lead the role, we hope to uplift and inspire all who experience the work at the Center,” said Shaunda Erikka McDill, Founder and Executive Producer of DEMASKUS Theater Collective. “I am truly grateful to the Center for their support through this residency, and to Missy Mazzoli for trusting us with this re-imagined version of her work. This opportunity has allowed us to bring together incredible women from Pittsburgh and across the nation to make our original vision a reality.”
AWAACC’s two-year B.U.I.L.D. residency program, launched in April 2021, is dedicated to supporting Pittsburgh-based emerging artists of color and creating a platform for diverse artists and organizations that have historically received unequal access to funding and resources for the development of new work. Performing arts producer, curator, and consultant Baraka Sele serves as the program’s lead producer. In addition to DEMASKUS, Pittsburgh-based visual artist, photographer, and filmmaker Emmai Alaquiva is also developing work as part of the inaugural residency term. Major funding for the program is generously provided by the Richard King Mellon Foundation.
Additional creative team for the opera includes 2022 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow Alisha B. Wormsley (director of production photography and video design); curator and cultural producer Demeatria Boccella (costume design); Co-Artistic Director of Reed Dance Kontara Morphis (choreographer); recent Carol R. Brown Emerging Artist award winner INEZ (electronic recordings); Joyce Milford (set designer); Corrine Adkins (assistant musical director); and Managing Artistic Director of THEARC Theater & Woolly Mammoth Theater Board Member Kimberly E. Douglas (artistic director). Chorus members include Emily Gallagher (Carnegie Mellon University graduate), Julianna Grabowski (Duquesne University graduate), Ketti Jane Muschler, Sherry Rusiski; and Sophie Thompson (Carnegie Mellon University graduate).
Co-producer and Pittsburgh-based performance ensemble Kassia Ensemble strives for more inclusive gender and racial representation in the world of chamber music. The Ensemble achieves this by promoting women’s entrepreneurship and leadership in the arts, collaborating with artists of all genres and performing music by composers of all genders as well as diverse ethnicities. The seven-member ensemble is composed of the traditional string quartet, double bass, clarinet, and harp. Kassia members hold positions in the Pittsburgh Opera and Ballet orchestras, the West Virginia Symphony, the Wheeling Symphony, and the Erie Philharmonic. Guest musicians joining Kassia Ensemble for this special production include BJ Miller (piano); Brittany Trotter (flute); Mila Shadel (electric guitar); Ryellen Joaquim (viola); and Tiffany Freeman (bass).
In addition to the one-act opera, the evening will feature the premiere of Kassia by Judith Shatin. The unusual instrumentation of the Ensemble, consisting of string quintet, harp, and clarinet, performs for the first time as a complete septet in this video presentation linked to the history of opera in Pittsburgh and serves as an introduction to Songs from the Uproar. Kassia, the namesake of the group and work, was a ninth-century Byzantine abbess, poet, and hymnographer, and is likely the first woman whose music has
survived until now. Shatin draws on melodic fragments of two of Kassia’s major chants, “The Fallen Woman” and “Augustus, the Monarch.” The music opens gently then builds to crises of torment, resolving to dreams of a world beyond. This project was made possible with funding from the Sparkplug Foundation and Opportunity Fund of Pittsburgh.
Finally, a special, one-night-only performance of “Free Within Ourselves: Phenomenal Women” will be performed by Duquesne graduate student, Candace Burgess as part of the opening reception on Thursday, May 19 at 6 p.m. ET. “Free Within Ourselves: Phenomenal Women” is a multimedia program focused on celebrating the lives and legacies of African Descended female classical composers and arrangers by showcasing selected vocal works of Maud Cuney Hare and Cynthia Cozette Lee.
AWAACC is one of the largest non-profit cultural organizations in the country focused exclusively on the African American experience and the arts of the African diaspora. The organization is a leader in presenting programming that reflects the diversity of Pittsburgh and the nation. In addition to the two-year B.U.I.L.D. residency, this month, AWAACC unveiled August Wilson: The Writer’s Landscape, the first-ever exhibition dedicated to the life and works of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. Spanning close to 4,000 square feet, the multisensory exhibition explores Pittsburgh, where Wilson was born and raised, and which had a profound impact on shaping his worldview and inspiring his unprecedented 10-play American Century Cycle. To learn more about the August Wilson African American Cultural Center and its year-round activities, please visit https://awaacc.org.
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Fernanda Lastra (Musical Director, Conductor) Fernanda Lastra was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina. She is a passionate and creative conductor with an energetic personality which characterizes her artistic and leadership style. In 2022, Fernanda was appointed to be the Conductor Diversity Fellow at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, a two-year fellowship position as part of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s commitment to fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion within the orchestral field. Fernanda will serve as a member of the BPO’s artistic team and the BPO’s Diversity Council. Fernanda Lastra was selected in 2021 as a conducting fellow for the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music led by Mtro. Cristian Măcelaru and in 2018 was awarded First Prize for the conducting competition held by the Opéra de Baugé, France. Fernanda’s interests encompass a vast repertoire including symphonic, contemporary, and opera works. She has served as assistant conductor in public opera performances such as the University of Iowa’s 2019 production of Little Women by Mark Adamo. In addition, Fernanda is a passionate advocate for Latin American composers, especially those from Argentina. In June 2020, she created Compositores.AR, a cycle of interviews with Argentinian composers in collaboration with the magazine MúsicaClasicaBA in Buenos Aires. As conductor-educator Fernanda currently serves as Director of Orchestras at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, where she leads the symphony and chamber orchestras. She also serves as Assistant Conductor for the University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra. Fernanda holds two bachelor’s degrees from La Plata University in orchestral and choral conducting, and a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from Penn State University. Fernanda is currently completing doctoral studies in orchestral conducting at The University of Iowa under the mentorship of Dr. Mélisse Brunet, Dr. William LaRue Jones, and Professor David Becker.
Missy Mazzoli (Composer, Libretto) is a Grammy nominated, Brooklyn-based composer. She is the Mead Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and her music has been performed all over the world by the Kronos Quartet, Eighth Blackbird, pianist Emanuel Ax, Opera Philadelphia, Scottish Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Cincinnati Opera, New York City Opera, Chicago Fringe Opera, the Detroit Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Minnesota Orchestra, the American Composers Orchestra, JACK
Quartet, cellist Maya Beiser, violinist Jennifer Koh, pianist Kathleen Supové, Dublin’s Crash Ensemble, the Sydney Symphony and many others. In 2018, she made history when she became one of the two first women (along with composer Jeanine Tesori) to be commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. That year she was also nominated for a Grammy in the category of “Best Classical Composition” for her work Vespers for Violin, recorded by violinist Olivia De Prato.
Amanda Van Story (Isabelle Eberhardt) has been studying opera and voice technique for over 19 years. She graduated from the Baltimore School for the Arts, received her B.M. and M.Mus. in opera and voice performance from Howard University, and studied opera and theater at the Accademia dell’Arte in Arezzo, Italy in the vocal studio of Francesca Francalanci. She is a former August Wilson African American Cultural Center Fellow and the 2015 BNY Mellon Emerging Artist of the Year. Amanda has performed and collaborated locally with organizations such as Undercroft Opera, and the #NotWhiteCollective, and has performed various solo and collaborative concerts in and around Pittsburgh, DC, and Baltimore and internationally in Europe and the Caribbean, and is a member of DEMASKUS Theater Collective.
Royce Vavrek (Libretto) is a Canadian-born, Brooklyn-based librettist and lyricist. His opera, Angel’s Bone, with composer Du Yun was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Music. In addition to Songs from the Uproar, he has worked with Mazzoli on an adaptation of Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves, which premiered at Opera Philadelphia, co-commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects, and directed by James Darrah to critical acclaim in September of 2016. The work won the 2017 Music Critics Association of North America award for Best New Opera and was nominated for Best World Premiere at the 2017 International Opera Awards. A new production premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in the summer of 2019, produced by Scottish Opera and Opera Ventures, helmed by Tony Award-winning director Tom Morris and earned star Sydney Mancasola a coveted Herald Angel Award for her performance. Their next opera, an adaptation of Karen Russell’s short story “Proving Up,” commissioned and presented by Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha, and The Miller Theatre in 2018, was a finalist for the MCANA Best New Opera Award of that year. They are currently developing a grand opera for Opera Philadelphia and the Norwegian National Opera based on an original story by two-time Governor General’s Award-winning playwright Jordan Tannahill, as well as an adaptation of George Saunders’ Booker Prize-winning novel “Lincoln in the Bardo” for The Metropolitan Opera. Vavrek is co-Artistic Director of The Coterie, an opera-theater company founded with Tony-nominee Lauren Worsham.
Risikat Okedeyi (Director) Risikat “Kat” Okedeyi shares her time between two passions: cultural architecture and teaching. Kat is a self-defined cultural architect and owner of LiL SoSo Productions, LLC (www.lilsoso.com). She creates high-quality, multi-sensory experiences, produces and directs conversations on and around progressive Black culture and aesthetics, and works with artists and creatives of all sorts in a variety of branding and strategic planning capacities. Kat is also an associate professor in the English department at Prince George’s Community College. She teaches courses in composition writing, specializes in African American and world literature, and also serves as the college’s director for its PGCC Book Bridge Project. She serves as adjunct faculty at Bowie State University and teaches a course on self-promotion and marketing as part of the university’s Visual Communication & Digital Media Arts (VCDMA) program.
Judith Shatin (Composer) is renowned for her acoustic, electroacoustic, and digital music. Called “highly inventive on every level” by the Washington Post, her music combines an adventurous approach to timbre with dynamic narrative design. Described as “powerful and distinctive” by Fanfare and “both engaging and splendidly controlled” by the San Francisco Chronicle, her music includes chamber, choral, and orchestral; electronic to electroacoustic and multimedia. An innovator, she often combines acoustic and electronic media, as in Ice Becomes Water (string orchestra and electronics fashioned from glacier field
recordings). Her imagination is sparked by her multiple fascinations with literature and the visual arts, with the sounding world, both natural and built; and with the social and communicative power of music. She creates music for virtuosos, children, and those with no musical training, believing that the joy of music-making should be open to all. Her music is recorded on more than 30 albums, with more in the pipeline! Shatin is William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor Emerita at the University of Virginia, where she founded the Virginia Center for Computer Music and led the program to national prominence.
DEMASKUS Theater Collective is a Pittsburgh-based national service-oriented collective founded in 2005. Its artists and administrators engage their creative imaginations to mend breaches, heal the brokenhearted, and promote equity, democracy, and justice. The vision is artistic freedom, space for imagination and the ability to take risks, provide abundant work opportunities, and compensation for creatives. The collective is fiscally sponsored by New Sun Rising. Since its inception, the Collective has produced extensively although not annually due to various constraints. DEMASKUS is a Black-led organization seeking to marry the history, passion, and soul of untold stories with high production values. The organization values the history of traditional theater in all forms and seeks to push those traditional boundaries through the development of unique and atypical stories as well as through the presentation of canonized works produced in creative ways. The collective will always aim to create tour-ready productions, develop multicultural curricula for educational purposes, assist affiliates with career development, and consult with churches, schools, and community groups in the writing and production of quality theatrical projects.
ABOUT AUGUST WILSON AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURAL CENTER The August Wilson African American Cultural Center is a non-profit cultural organization located in Pittsburgh’s cultural district that generates artistic, educational, and community initiatives that advance the legacy of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson. One of the largest cultural centers in the country focused exclusively on the African American experience and the celebration of Black culture and the African diaspora, the non-profit organization welcomes more than 119,000 visitors locally and nationally. Through year-round programming across multiple genres, such as the annual Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival, Black Bottom Film Festival, AWCommunity Days, TRUTHSayers speaker series, and rotating art exhibits in its galleries, the Center provides a platform for established and emerging artists of color whose work reflects the universal issues of identity that Wilson tackled and which still resonate today.
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Cydney Nunn August Wilson African American Cultural Center firstname.lastname@example.org
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