Representation and Responsibility Take Center Stage at Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ Speaker Series

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Representation and Responsibility Take Center Stage at Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ Speaker Series

In October 2017, Opera Theatre of St. Louis launched Representation and Responsibility, a series of community conversations focused on representation and equity in the arts, entertainment and media. This winter, OTSL is welcoming a host of well-known and award-winning entertainment and media professionals to events within the series.

From now through June, there will be several screenings, book club talks and Q&As with filmmaker Kasi Lemmons, composer Terence Blanchard and The New York Times columnist Charles Blow. Beginning Jan. 19, Lemmons, a St. Louis native who is best known for appearing in “The Silence of the Lambs” and directing “Eve’s Bayou” and the forthcoming and much-anticipated “Harriet” about the life of Harriett Tubman, will participate in a post-film screening of “Eve’s Bayou” at Webster University. Additionally, on Jan. 20, she will be featured on a panel on racial and gender equality in film and television with “30 Rock” writer and producer Colleen McGuinness and Emmy-award winning food journalist Catherine Neville, who led St. Louis-based Feast Magazine and Feast TV into the new PBS series “TasteMAKERS.”

Finally, on Feb. 1, Lemmons will lead a book club conversation on Blow’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” which she has adapted into an opera libretto that premieres at OTSL in June.

Representation and Responsibility Take Center Stage at Opera Theatre of St. Louis' Speaker Series

Filmmaker and actress Kasi Lemmons.

Published in 2014, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” is a memoir detailing Blow’s childhood growing up in Gibsland, La., to adulthood. He discusses the sexualized violence he endured at the hands of a family member at the age of 7 and how that traumatized him as an adult, forcing him to question his sexuality and perception of violence. Additionally, he writes about his parents’ divorce, his mother’s commitment to education and how he chose to not continue the cycle of violence that had so intimately penetrated his life. The book has been reviewed as “stunning,” “riveting” and “exquisite” by various media outlets. In a press release by OTSL, Blow shared that he is “absolutely thrilled that one of my favorite musicians and one of my favorite filmmakers are joining forces with the Opera Theatre of St. Louis to bring this story to the stage.”

The opera libretto adaptation of Blow’s memoir will be scored by Blanchard, the Grammy-award winning composer who most recently scored the 2018 Spike Lee-directed film “BLACKKKLANSMAN.” Blanchard has also scored a host of other films such as “Red Tails,” “Cadillac Records,” “Malcolm X” and “Eve’s Bayou.” His first opera, “Champion,” premiered at OTSL in 2013 as a part of its New Works, Bold Voices series. (“Fire Shut Up in My Bones” was co-commissioned for this series by OTSL and Jazz St. Louis).

In mid-March, Blanchard will participate in a panel discussion on music and the written word featuring St. Louis-based musician Lamar Harris and others, followed by a workshop that will launch OTSL and Jazz St. Louis’ newest endeavor, THE LAB, which will bring high school students from around the region together for a six-session program focused on helping them develop their own musical voice and explore composition across genres. Additionally, Blanchard will speak on a panel about equity in the music industry and a post-screening Q&A of “BLACKKKLANSMAN.”

OTSL has collaborated with an array of community partners that have made the Representation and Responsibility series possible, including institutions of higher learning such as Webster University, St. Louis University and Maryville University; arts and cultural institutions such as Jazz St. Louis, the Missouri History Museum, Cinema St. Louis and the Regional Arts Commission; and retailers such as Left Bank Books. Past events included an Oct. 26 a panel on casting in the performing arts, moderated by Adrienne Davis, Vice Provost and William M. Van Cleeve Professor of Law at Washington University, featuring panelists Julia Bullock, Duane Foster, Christina Rios and Andrew Jorgensen.

“Fire Shut Up in My Bones”—which will be directed by James Robinson and conducted by William Long—received an award from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as a host of other funding support. OTSL is currently planning events for April featuring Blow; these will be available on the OTSL website in the coming months. All events in the Representation and Responsibility series are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted.

All images courtesy of Robert Hale and Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

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