Valencia, CA—January 12—On New Year’s Eve 1969, Jimi Hendrix’s electronic blues trio, Band of Gypsys, played at New York City’s Fillmore East Auditorium. Taking this legendarily funky concert as inspiration, CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP) presents the West Coast premiere of The Hendrix Project at Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ Off Center Festival. Performances take place on February 1, 2 and 3 at 8 pm. In the Center’s Samueli Theater. Click here for reservations.
With a soundtrack created by the seminal Hendrix album Band of Gypsys, the production takes audiences back to New Year’s Eve 1969—where 12 disciples have gathered in the upper balcony of the Fillmore East to bear witness, as heat is brought to a nation caught in mid-winter chill.
Developed at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), by the acclaimed playwright, performer, director, and longtime Spike Lee collaborator Roger Guenveur Smith, in cooperation with Experience Hendrix, L.L.C., The Hendrix Project made its world premiere at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival on January 11.
The Hendrix Project’s company is made up almost entirely of CalArts School of Theater students, alums and faculty. Through a rigorous audition process in which student actors improvised to the concert recording, a dozen undergraduates and graduates were chosen to devise a series of on-campus performances. The result was The Hendrix Project. In it, the ensemble cast movingly evokes an iconic moment in rock and roll history, as “bullets fly like rain,” at home and abroad in Vietnam; the Sixties come to an end, and Hendrix gives a revolutionary performance on his final New Year’s Eve.
The actors’ movements and mannerisms speak to the era, and to the timeless power of Hendrix’s music. “The Hendrix Project is an extension of Performing History, a workshop I directed at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) School of Theater,” said Smith. “In the workshop, we developed a movement vocabulary, a kind of Soul Train Kabuki, in which all props are mimed, and the ensemble is consistently focused on an otherwise unseen Hendrix.”
Smith’s passion for performing history has previously brought Huey P. Newton, Frederick Douglass, and Rodney King to life through visceral and critically acclaimed monologue performances. “My work has been consistently informed by American histories, and I have often imagined that I was at that Band of Gypsys concert, as the scratches on my original album will attest,” he said. For Smith’s CalArts workshop, students mined archival materials to create new work for the stage. Actors immersed themselves in period history: music, literature, and documentary films and created an interior “backstory” that enabled the cast to execute choreography which, although disciplined, is open to improvisation.
“As CNP launches its spring 2018 season of world premieres in the US and abroad,” said CalArts School of Theater Dean and CNP Artistic Director Travis Preston, “The Hendrix Project perfectly exemplifies our artist-driven ethos of originating world-class productions in which students work shoulder-to-shoulder with celebrated artists, and acquire a level of experience that goes far beyond their curriculum.”
The Hendrix Project features actors Samantha Bartow, Morgan Camper, Hannah Cruz, Jasmine Gatewood, Heaven Gonzalez, Ariyan Kassam, Liam O’Donnell, Dante Rossi, Henita Telo, Max Udell, Ieva Vizgirdaite, and Christopher Wentworth.
Roger Guenveur Smith adapted his Obie Award-winning solo performance of A Huey P. Newton Story into a Peabody Award-winning telefilm directed by his longtime colleague, Spike Lee. Lee’s direction of Smith’s Bessie Award-winning Rodney King marks the ninth collaboration in a relationship unparalleled in American cinema.
Rodney King premiered on Netflix on April 28. Smith’s historically-driven work for the international stage also includes Christopher Columbus 1992, Who Killed Bob Marley?, Juan and John, In Honor of Jean Michel Basquiat, The Watts Towers Project, Iceland, Two Fires, Patriot Act, The End of Black History Month, and with Mark Broyard, the “not-too-dark-comedy” Inside the Creole Mafia. For the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial of 2018, Smith will present his signature Fredrick Douglass Now, which he initially devised as an undergraduate and has since played at the Kennedy Center, The Public Theater and the Institute of Contemporary Art, London. Smith has recently directed Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, Steven Berkoff’s Agamemnon and The Hendrix Project at CalArts’s Center for New Performance, where he conducts his Performing History Workshop. Among Smith’s many screen credits are the recently acclaimed Chi-Raq and Dope.
CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP) is the professional producing arm of California Institute of the Arts, established to provide a unique artist- and project-driven framework for the development and realization of original theater, music, dance and interdisciplinary projects. Extending the progressive work carried out at CalArts into a direct dialogue with professional communities at the local, national and international levels, CNP offers an alternative model to support emerging directions in the performing arts. It also enables CalArts students to work shoulder-to-shoulder with celebrated artists and acquire a level of experience that goes beyond their curriculum.
California Institute of the Arts has set the pace for educating professional artists since 1970. Offering rigorous undergraduate and graduate degree programs through six schools—Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music, and Theater—CalArts has championed creative excellence, critical reflection, and the development of new forms and expressions. As successive generations of faculty and alumni have helped shape the landscape of contemporary arts, the Institute first envisioned by Walt Disney encompasses a vibrant, eclectic community with global reach, inviting experimentation, independent inquiry, and active collaboration and exchange among artists, artistic disciplines and cultural traditions.
Segerstrom Center for the Arts is committed to supporting artistic excellence, offering unsurpassed experiences and to engaging the entire community in new and exciting ways through the unique power of live performance and a diverse array of inspiring arts-based education and community engagement programs. The Center presents a broad range of programming for audiences of all ages, including international ballet and dance, national tours of top Broadway shows, jazz and cabaret, contemporary artists, classical music performed by renowned chamber orchestras and ensembles, family-friendly programming, free performances open to the public from outdoor movie screenings to dancing on the plaza and many other special events. It is provides education programs to inspire young people through the arts. Community engagement programs connect the Center more comprehensively with Orange County’s many diverse communities. The Center is also home to the American Ballet Theatre William T. Gillespie School and the School of Dance and Music for Children with Disabilities.