Who: Roberta Gumbel, Susan Kander, Chip Miller, New Morse Code (Hannah Collins, Michael Compitello), J. T Roane, Erica Richardson, Teona Pagan, Yael Meegan
What: Virtual opera
Where: Baruch College online
When: October 23, 9:00 am - October 29, 10:00 pm, free with RSVP (donations accepted); live discussion Thursday, October 29, free with RSVP, 6:00
“Mobility is essential to freedom,” historian Gretchen Sorin says in Ric Burns’s new PBS documentary, Driving While Black, based on her book Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights. “It allows us to understand the way that African Americans have moved forward in this country and the way that African Americans have been pushed back.” The phrase “driving while black” is a loaded one that white Americans will never fully understand; they don’t have to have “the talk” with their children about what to do when stopped by a police officer. Baruch Performing Arts Center and Opera Omaha have teamed up to explore the issue in the virtual chamber opera dwb (driving while black), streaming for free October 23-29. Previously presented in a 2019 concert version, dwb has been reimagined for the internet, featuring a libretto by soprano Roberta Gumbel and music by Susan Kander; the fifty-minute piece is directed by Chip Miller and is performed by Gumbel and New Morse Code, the duo of cellist Hannah Collins and percussionist Michael Compitello, with videography by Four/Ten Media and audio by Ryan Streber and Oktaven Studios.
“This March was to have been the New York premiere of dwb (driving while black) at Baruch Performing Arts Center,” BPAC director Ted Altschuler said in a statement. “It is a musical provocation to engage with the essential conversation of our day: racial justice. Live performances are paused for the moment, but the need for learning and dialogue is not. Given the brevity of the piece and the uncertainty of live performances, our organizations are collaborating to help create a high-quality version of dwb directed explicitly for streaming presentation. Not everyone has the capacity to create content in this moment, but the conversation this piece provokes is urgent. As an arts center located on one of the most diverse public university campuses in the U.S., we exist to promote inquiry and discourse, something we will encourage via post-performance events.” On closing night, October 29, at 6:00, there will be a live discussion with Gumbel, Arizona State University assistant professor of African and African American Studies J. T Roane, Baruch College assistant professor of English Erica Richardson, and students Teona Pagan, the president of the Black Student Union, and journalism major Yael Meegan.