Go Deeper Diving Deeper on Awakening in the 2022 Fringe Festival

Diving Deeper on Awakening in the 2022 Fringe Festival

Posted March 19th, 2021

Today we continue our series (read our first post here!) featuring the creatives and the inspirations behind Awakening, a new operatic work coming in 2022, beginning with the two dramaturgs who are part of the team: Matthew D. Morrison and Sunder Ganglani! 

Matthew D. Morrison, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, is an Assistant Professor in the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and holds a Ph.D. in Musicology from Columbia University. He has worked in collaboration with the opening of The Shed, NYC, with the Glimmerglass Festival Opera, and has held fellowships at Harvard University and the Library of Congress. He is currently completing a book entitled Blacksound: Making Race & Popular Music in the U.S., which considers the making of race, intellectual property law, and American popular entertainment out of blackface minstrelsy. 

Sunder Ganglani was Co-producing Artistic Director at The Foundry Theatre before attending graduate school at Yale School of Drama. At The Foundry he commissioned, developed, and produced many new works among them Ariana Reines’ TELEPHONE, and most recently W. David Hancock’s MASTER. He collaborates across disciplines and is currently working with visual artists Izhar Patkin and Ak Jansen, and composer/musicians Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, and Rhiannon Giddens. He sits on the board of The Stop Shopping Choir, and sings and screams on the street as well.

Awakening imagines a 21st century Black woman – played by Helga Davis – who transforms herself out of an oppressive situation with the guidance of three iconoclastic spirits: Rebecca Cox Jackson, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth. A precursor to this work, and one that showcases the true collaborative nature of the Awakening creative team, is “Yet Unheard” Composed by Courtney Bryan with text by Sharan Strange and featuring Helga Davis as the solo soprano, this work was commissioned by The Dream Unfinished Orchestra to honor the one year anniversary of the tragic death of Sandra Bland. Featured here is an excerpt from the World premiere at Ojai Music Festival in 2017, performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble. 

Helga Davis is a vocalist and performance artist with feet planted on the most prestigious international stages and with firm roots in her local community. Her work draws out insights that illuminate how artistic leaps for an individual can offer connection among audiences. Davis was principal actor in the 25th anniversary international revival of Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s seminal opera Einstein on the Beach. She also starred in Wilson’s The Temptation of St. Anthony, with libretto and score by Bernice Johnson Reagon. Among the collaborative works written for her are Oceanic Verses by Paola Prestini, and You Us We All by Shara Nova and Andrew Ondrejcak. She has conceived and performed First Responder and Wanna as responses to Until and The Let Go by multidisciplinary artist Nick Cave. She is artist in residence at National Sawdust and Joe’s Pub, host of the eponymous podcast HELGA on WQXR, winner of the 2019 Greenfield Prize in composition, a 2019 Alpert Award finalist, and the 2018-21 visiting curator for the performing arts at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. 

Our final feature today focuses on another one of the significant historical and spiritual figures who are central to the one-act opera. Harriet Tubman, originally Araminta Ross and later known as “Moses,” was born enslaved in Maryland in the early 19th century. She not only escaped slavery, but became one of America’s greatest heroes, rescuing at least 70 enslaved Black people. She was a very important abolitionist, political activist, and while a spy for the Union army (in addition to being a cook, nurse, and scout!), liberated more than 700 enslaved Black people. She also helped establish the National Association of Colored Women. We honor Harriet Tubman’s legacy and commitment to ensuring the freedom of so many others.

Visit our blog next week for more on Awakening, and check out last week’s post here. Research by International Contemporary Ensemble. Follow their Instagram at @intcontemporary.

Major support for Awakening has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from a catalyzing gift from Arlene and Larry Dunn as co-commissioned by the International Contemporary Ensemble, FringeArts, and Opera Philadelphia. Production and Development is supported by The MAP Fund, supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.