LOS ANGELES (Sept. 9, 2020) – Kicking off a series of new digital and streaming events, CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP) presents, in collaboration with Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a free screening of the world premiere production of The Carolyn Bryant Project beginning September 18, 2020. Created by Nataki Garrett and Andrea LeBlanc, and directed by Garrett, Artistic Director at Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), the production will be available for viewing for a two-week run through October 1 on CNP’s digital platform.
The Carolyn Bryant Project traverses time, conjuring the specter of Emmett Till’s murder amid today’s ongoing struggle for racial justice. “When we began this project in 2007, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were running for President. Emmett Till’s murder felt it might be part of a receding past. How different it all feels now,” said Garrett. “I’m thrilled about reconnecting with CNP in this streaming collaboration, a place where my career as a director and artist took shape. I feel proud to be able to connect this project to audiences around the world right now, as we live through this time of alt-right racism and violence, and of surging uprisings for justice across the nation.”
The co-creators met while the two were attending the CalArts School of Theater in the early 2000s. Garrett is a Black woman from Oakland, California, LeBlanc is a white woman from Lafayette, Louisiana. Garrett and LeBlanc began the project after reading an article about Bryant, the woman whose claims triggered the violence against Till, in New Orleans newspaper The Times Picayune. Through a series of phantasmagorical episodes, The Carolyn Bryant Project evolves into a nightmarish reverie on racial malevolence in America. The work’s premiere was produced by CalArts Center for New Performance and presented in 2018 at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).
“This is an important work addressing urgent issues of racial justice,” said CNP Artistic Director Travis Preston. “Both artistically adventurous and politically necessary, I’m thrilled that we can share The Carolyn Bryant Project more broadly through our digital platform.”
To watch The Carolyn Bryant Project online during its two-week run, and for more information, including artist bios, production credits and more, visit: centerfornewperformance.org/streaming.
Sixty-five years ago, in August 1955, Emmett “Bobo” Till, a 14-year old Chicago youth, walked into a store in Money, Mississippi to purchase 5-cents worth of bubble gum from Carolyn Bryant, a 21-year-old, white mother of two. Within a few days of this interaction, Till’s beaten and bloated body was found tied to a cotton-gin fan in a shallow part of the Tallahatchie River. Bryant’s husband Roy and his brother, JW Milan, would be acquitted of Till’s murder by an all-white male jury, only to confess to the murder a year later in a Look Magazine article. Carolyn Bryant maintained a public silence about that day for six decades, until 2017.
What happened in those fateful minutes shared between Bryant and Till in the store? Creators Garrett and LeBlanc (Associate Dean of the CalArts School of Theater) layer historical transcripts, video imagery, and re-imagined encounters to expose what lies beneath the exchange between Carolyn Bryant and Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955. Piecing together fragments of a distant era, Garrett and LeBlanc’s excavation traces terrifying parallels to America today.
Evoking the events surrounding Till’s murder, Garrett and LeBlanc worked with historical documents—including Bryant’s expunged court testimony—video imagery, and re-imagined encounters to expose the forces that lay beneath the long-ago meeting between Bryant and Till.
“Carolyn Bryant was the only living survivor of this story,” noted LeBlanc. “Her silence and lack of acknowledgement constitute a kind of violation that granted her an amnesty,” remarked Garrett.
The Carolyn Bryant Project was developed by Blank The Dog Productions and CalArts Center for New Performance and was made possible in part through funding by the MAP Fund and Trans-Atlantic Consortium.
For its 2020–2021 season, CalArts Center for New Performance continues its commitment to artists and audiences through new offerings that both dive into past projects and experiment with new forms of engagement, continuing to support artists in the development of original works through dynamic process and new modes of presentation. Look for participatory workshops, podcasts, screenings, artists talks and other digital events.
CNP will host a range of resident and guest artists, inviting each to reimagine artmaking in this current landscape, as CNP approaches its 20th anniversary season in 2021-22.
Artists and project partners for 2020-21 include Daniel Alexander Jones, Monty Cole, Natalia Lassalle-Morillo, Rickerby Hinds, Kati Hernandez, Chris Kallmyer, STUDIO teatrgaleria, Ray Sun and Chen Wu-kang, Condola Rashād, Nataki Garrett, Andrea LeBlanc, Dahlak Brathwaite, Ron Cephas Jones, Octavio Solis, and Chi-wang Yang.