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Stinney: An American Execution

January 2019

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About the Show

Work-in-Progress | Opera
January 12 & 13

Co-Produced with Frances Pollock & Emily Roller
At French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF)

An involuntary symbol of sickening injustice, George Junius Stinney Jr. was executed at the age of 14. Having been wrongly accused and convicted of the rape and murder of two white girls in Alcolu, SC, in 1944, George became the youngest person legally executed in 20th century America. Stinney tells the story of George, his family, his community, and the jury of ten white men that sent an innocent black boy to the electric chair. A new opera with roots in both gospel and electronic techniques, Stinney spotlights the anger and agony of the entire populous of Alcolu, connecting the dots to our own socio-political climate in 2019 and the pervasive "fear of the other".

Composer Frances Pollock
Co-Librettists Tia Price & Frances Pollock
Co-Directors Emma Weinstein & Jeremy O. Harris
Music Director Alexander Lloyd Blake 

Dramaturgs Imani Mosley & Jeremy O. Harris
Stinney Family Representative Maria Williams

Harlem Stage will host a moderated panel discussion, Democratic Ideals and Racism: an examination of the Cradle to Prison Pipelinearound the creative response of artists as they witness, experience and analyze the collective trauma of being Black in America on January 10. The discussion will Feature members of the creative team of "Stinney: An American Execution."

 

Co-Presented with French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) and Harlem Stage

Stinney was workshopped in Baltimore, MD at 2640 Space with the support of Peabody Conservatory and the 2014 Diversity Innovation Grant through Johns Hopkins University. 

 

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Show Run Time 2 hours

Artwork by William Roller

Artist Bio

Frances Pollock (Composer and Co-Librettist) Known for her “bold and bracing” (Baltimore Sun) opera writing, Frances Pollock’s music “pulls no punches and never flinches.” (City Paper). Originally from North Carolina, Frances’ music digs its roots into jazz, blues, gospel, folk, and a variety of other styles. Her music has been performed all over the country by the Bridge Ensemble, Prima Volta, The North Carolina Governors’ School, Divine Waters Ensemble, and many others. Frances was the composer in residence for the Divine Waters Ensemble from 2016-2017. In 2016, Frances was commissioned by Washington National Opera to write a one-act opera entitled “What Gets Kept” as part of the Kennedy Center’s “American Opera Initiative” Festival. Frances is a founding member of the new music non-profit, Prima Volta. She holds a M.M. from Peabody Conservatory in Vocal Performance. She currently studies composition with Christopher Theofanidis at Yale University. Frances is a composition fellow with American Opera Projects’ Composers and the Voice where she is developing a new opera entitled “Transference” and will be a composition fellow at the Aspen Music Festival Summer of 2018. Stinney’s accolades include multiple awards from Johns Hopkins University and beyond, including the prestigious Diversity Innovation Grant and a Baltimore City Paper’s “Best of Baltimore” award.

Tia Price (Co-Librettist) is a Black, queer community artist that promotes the liberation of black and brown youth through arts education.

Emma Weinstein (Co-Director) is a New York City native who writes and directs plays, installations and movies.Emma's theatrical work has been seen all over New York City, and in Chicago, IL, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Washington DC, Boston, MA and Lincoln, Nebraska. Recent Projects include: an all female pop-infused Romeo & Juliet, Jeremy O'Harris's Slave Play, Chris Nunez's In the Palm of a Giant, the 18-month national tour of Madeline Burrows's Mom Baby God. Emma is currently working on several original projects including Come My Beloved, a new play with music about the intersections of Jewish and Black history in Detroit, Michigan. Emma’s short film Candace will premiere at the American Pavilion Emerging Filmmaker’s Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival this May. Emma worked as an Assistant Director for Barry Edelstein at The Old Globe, Tony Simotes at Shakespeare & Company, Sheryl Kaller at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and Anne Kauffman at Yale Rep. As an educator, Emma ran the Guerrilla Filmmaking Program for Teens and has worked with organizations such as The New Generation Theatre Ensemble and The 52nd Street Project. Emma was a Fall Festival Director for Shakespeare & Company and has directed in their Shakespeare in the Courts program for adjudicated youth. Emma graduated summa cum laude from Smith College. She is an alumna of the Drama League Directors Project and is a New Georges Associate Artist. She is currently the 2019 Cullman Scholar in Yale School of Drama’s M.F.A. Directing Program. www.emmaweinsteindirector.com

Jeremy O. Harris (Co-Director & Co-Dramaturg) is a theatre artist currently residing in New Haven, CT by way of Los Angeles, CA. As a playwright his full-length plays include, Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1, "Daddy", WATER SPORTS; or insignificant white boys, and Slave Play (Winner of the 2018 Kennedy Center Rosa Parks Playwriting Award and the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award). His work as a writer and director has been presented or developed by Pieterspace, JACK, Ars Nova, The New Group, NYTW, and Playwrights Horizons. His work as an actor has been seen at About Face Theatre, The Goodman, and most recently HBO’s High Maintenance. He is a 2016 MacDowell Colony Fellow, 2016 Chesley/Bumbalo Playwriting Award Finalist, 2016 Princess Grace Award Semi-Finalist, resident playwright with Colt Coeur, and is under commission from Lincoln Center Theater and Playwrights Horizons. Jeremy is currently in his second year at the Yale School of Drama.

Alexander Lloyd Blake (Music Director) is the founder of Tonality, a new professional choral ensemble with the intention of connecting people with our shared humanity through song. Established with the idea that we are all one people, Tonality performs a variety of music in an effort to unify the community through concerts focused on unity, peace, and social justice. Blake also works as the Choir Director of the Los Angeles County School for the Arts (LACHSA) and as an Assistant Choir Conductor at First Congregation Church Los Angeles. An ABD candidate in the Doctoral Choral Music program at the University of Southern California, Blake formerly served as an associate conductor of the USC Apollo Men’s Chorus and instructor Choral Conducting I. Blake earned a Master of Music choral conducting student at UCLA and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Vocal Performance at Wake Forest University. Blake currently serves on the Choral Music Faculty of the North Carolina Governor’s School, where he also guest conducts for the Governor’s School Orchestra. Aside from his studies at USC with Dr. Jo-Michael Scheibe and Dr. Nick Strimple, he has previously studied with Donald Neuen, Dr. Brian Gorelick, Dr. David Hagy, and Dr. David Connell. He has studied composition with Dr. Dan Locklair and choral arranging with Morten Lauridsen.

Artist Statement

The opera was born as two 23-year-olds sat in the library of a conservatory where neither of them felt like they belonged. We were two girls from the American south who were pursuing the thing that we loved more than anything—singing. Tia was from West Virginia, arriving in Baltimore a year before I matriculated up from South Carolina. Tia was a force to be reckoned with and I badly wanted to work with her. 

When I first brought the story and libretto to my mentor, David Smooke, his immediate response was “absolutely not.” In his three decades as a composer and teacher, Smooke had seen the tumult of reactive political art. He knew the polarizing conversations that usually led to pitfalls. Tia and I did not. We only knew where we came from. I remember thanking him for his time and telling him that we would be writing the show with or without his help. Maybe he liked our gumption. Maybe he saw our ignorance and felt a thrum of pedagogical guilt. Either way, he was convinced and signed on to our team as an advisor. 

We wrote the show quickly. Tia crafted the character of Alma Stinney around her grandmother, sharing stories of segregated West Virginia and memories from her childhood. I wrote the music that I grew up with—jazz, blues, gospel, and Baptist hymns. We wrote a world that made sense, where characters were friends, family, and fellow churchgoers, where actions were carried out with reason and where the horror of the story felt familiar.

Tia and I knew that we were writing our own stories of home, but we did not realize how intimately we were writing others’ stories as well. The first workshop of our piece took place in Baltimore, shortly after Freddie Gray was murdered. Our little workshop attracted attention from major media outlets and packed the church where it was staged. We learned how to be careful, how to listen, and how not all stories end with right and wrong, good and bad. I also caught my first glimpse of how art can be a powerful unifier in a moment when there doesn’t seem to be a way to move forward. 

Throughout the process of writing and revising the work, the Stinney family has been a continual encouraging and supportive anchor. In the summer of 2017, Tia and I traveled together to Atlantic City to present the work at the Stinney family reunion, a gathering of over 300 people from all around the country who all share the same last name. 

The truth is that five years later, those southern girls are still desperately grappling with the impact of Stinney in their lives. The story is both rooted at the core of America’s DNA and as fresh and relevant as tomorrow night’s CNN breaking news. We realize now that the opposite of being toothless is to shake loose realities that implicate ourselves and the people that we love. But we have come to believe in the continual power of collaboration in telling charged stories. Stinney is a fully American story, a story that is as much a part of our present as it is part of our history. A story that should continue to implicate, lest we continue to watch children die at the hands of inaction.

Thank you to PROTOTYPE who has opened the door for us to come together to tell this story. And as always, thank you to the Stinney family, whose support and guidance has ultimately been the force that has pushed this show forward. 

 

 - Frances Pollock


 

Photos

Frances Pollock - Photo Credit Claire Galloway Weber

Tia Price - Photo Credit Eboni Sellers

Emma Weinstein - Photo Credit T Charles Erickson

Jeremy O. Harris - Photo Credit Andre D. Wagner

Alexander Lloyd Blake - Photo Credit Chantell Pfitzer

Location

Florence Gould Hall—French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF)

55 East 59th Street, New York, NY 10022

Artist’s Praise

"Pulls no punches and never flinches."
— Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun