September 5–8, 2019
The B-Side: “Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons,” A Record Album Interpretation is an original performance by The Wooster Group based on an LP of work songs, spirituals, and toasts recorded in 1964 in Texas’ then-segregated prison farms.
The LP had been in performer Eric Berryman’s personal record collection for many years when, in 2015, he had a chance meeting with Wooster Group associate director Kate Valk. He had just seen the Group’s Early Shaker Spirituals: A Record Album Interpretation, which Valk directed. Berryman asked to work with the Group on a record album interpretation of Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons.
In The B-Side, Berryman and fellow performers Jasper McGruder and Philip Moore channel the inmates’ voices from the record via in-ear receivers and transmit the full album live. In between tracks, Berryman reads from the liner notes and provides context from the book Wake Up Dead Man: Hard Labor and Southern Blues by Bruce Jackson, the folklorist who recorded the album. The voices of the live performers blend with and complement the voices on the record, creating a moving and intense performance.
Across its 44-year history, The Wooster Group (The Emperor Jones, 2007 Fringe Festival) has adapted numerous record albums into original theatrical productions: Nayatt School (1978), L.S.D. (…Just the High Points…) (1984), and Early Shaker Spirituals (2014), among others. The B-Side is directed by Valk, with production design by Wooster Group director Elizabeth LeCompte.
“Performed a cappella, the songs spin tales of mythologically mean prison guards, and loves and lives lost, and the backbreaking purgatory of unendingly repetitive physical tasks…. [The performers] become conduits for the songs of prisoners who were themselves conduits for an oral tradition that stretches back to at least the early days of slavery in this country.” The New York Times
“I wanted to honor these men who were put through brutal conditions and created some really incredible artwork to survive. It only really existed in this form in the prison. The songs kept them alive, but these guys didn’t sing this music when they got free. It reminded them of a time they didn’t want to go back to. But as a piece of culture, particularly for my generation, I want people to play it the same way they play a Bessie Smith record. Put these guys on.” Eric Berryman
Member discounts available
Performed by Eric Berryman, Jasper McGruder, Philip Moore Directed by Kate Valk Production Design Elizabeth LeCompte Lighting Design Ryan Seelig Sound Design Eric Sluyter Video Design Robert Wuss Costume Design Enver Chakartash Musical Direction Gareth Hobbs
Based on Negro Folklore From Texas State Prisons (Elektra 1965), an LP recorded, edited, and annotated by Bruce Jackson, featuring performances by Johnnie Adams, W.D. “Alec” Alexander, Virgil Asbury, John Bell, Douglas Cannon, James A. Champion, William Evans, John Gibson, James Hampton, James W. Hobbs, Louis “Bacon & Porkchop” Houston, Johnny Jackson, Floyd James, Lemon Jefferson, Jesse “G.I. Jazz” Hendricks, James Johnson, Joseph “Chinaman” Johnson, C.B. “Snuffy” Kimble, Henry Landers, L.Z. Lee, Clem A. Martin, Leroy Martindell, Mack Maze, D.J. Miller, Houston Page, Marshall Phillips, Johnnie H. Robinson, Arthur “Lightning” Sherrod, Albert Spencer, Lee Curtis Tyler, David Walker, Jesse Lee Warren, Venesty Weles, George White, Morgan White, Matt Williams, and Eddie Ray Zachary.
Film footage from Afro-American Worksongs in a Texas Prison, by Pete, Toshi and Dan Seeger, and Bruce Jackson, 1966.
Photos by Bruce Jackson (featured), Teddy Wolff (above), Steven Gunther (below)
The B-Side: “Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons,” A Record Album Interpretation has been made possible in part by support from the Independence Foundation.
Festival Star Producers Arthur M. Kaplan & R. Duane Perry
Festival Producers Carol & Tom Beam
Festival Co-Producers Chris Deephouse & Donna Hunt; Cat, Annie & Steven Bohnenberger; Lynne & Bert Strieb
Sept 7 at 3pm at the Fringe Festival Bookstore at Cherry Street Pier.
Eric Berryman and Kate Valk (The Wooster Group) moderated by Raina Searles (FringeArts).
About The Wooster Group
The Wooster Group, under the direction of Elizabeth LeCompte, makes original works for the theater. The company integrates visual media, sound, architectonic design, and text with live performance. Founded in 1975, it has remained at the forefront of experimental theater for decades.
The Group’s major works include: Rumstick Road (1977), Nayatt School (1978), L.S.D. (…Just The High Points…) (1984), Frank Dell’s The Temptation of St. Antony (1988), Brace Up! (1991), The Emperor Jones (1993), The Hairy Ape (1996), House/Lights (1999), To You, The Birdie! (Phèdre) (2002), Poor Theater (2004), Hamlet (2007), the 360º video installation There Is Still Time . . Brother (2007), the opera La Didone (2009), Vieux Carré (2011), Early Shaker Spirituals: A Record Album Interpretation (2014), The Room (2016), The Town Hall Affair (2017), and A Pink Chair (In Place of a Fake Antique) (2017).
The Group’s founding members were Spalding Gray (1941–2004), Elizabeth LeCompte, Jim Clayburgh, Ron Vawter (1948–1994), Willem Dafoe, Kate Valk, and Peyton Smith. Elizabeth LeCompte has received fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation and the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts Distinguished Artists Fellowship for Lifetime Achievement in the American Theater, as well as the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and the 2016 Dorothy & Lillian Gish Award. Kate Valk has received the Guggenheim and TCG/Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowships, as well as the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Performing Artist Award.
For more information, visit TheWoosterGroup.org.
Fate Leads Eric Berryman and Kate Valk to Tea Drunk in the East Village for The B-Side by David Gordon in TheaterMania
The stars aligned one night and brought Kate Valk, a cofounder of the famed Wooster Group, into an East Village café called Tea Drunk, where Eric Berryman, a young server determined to pitch her a theater piece, happened to be working.
Berryman had appeared in a touring show called Steel Hammer, a SITI Company production by Julia Wolfe and Kia Corthron that examined the folkloric legend of John Henry, the African-American “steel-driving man.” Berryman, who played John Henry, and his fellow actors, had done a significant amount of research. An avid record collector, Berryman had amassed a collection of music pertaining to the piece, including a 1964 vinyl album recorded by folklorist Bruce Jackson called Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons.
At the same time, he saw a production of the famed Wooster Group called Early Shaker Spirituals: A Record Album Interpretation.
Pneumatic Memory: Listening to Listening in The B-Side: “Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons,” a Record Album Interpretation by Julie Beth Napolin in Social Text
In 1964, incarcerated men in a segregated Texas state prison gathered before an ethnographer’s field recorder and sang work songs, toasted, and told tales known intimately to them. Bruce Jackson, a Junior Fellow at Harvard, listened and recorded the various corners of the DOC. The men sounded into an unknown and not-yet constituted public. They had likely never recorded their voices before. In one of many photos taken by Jackson, a group of men stand in the field, looking down, as if listening to something we cannot see. Just out of frame sits a tape recorder that plays back their voices to them. They do not see me, though I listen. They do not see nor imagine the possibility that three performers, Eric Berryman, Jasper McGruder, and Philip Moore, would transmit their songs half a century later as The B-Side: “Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons,” a Record Album Interpretation … In singing, toasting, preaching to the recorder, they were opening a space for the possibility of listening. Two spaces touch.