Culchahworks Arts Collective and Panamania presented by CIBC Present the world premiere of Obeah Opera A Nicole Brooks Vision in association with Nightwood Theatre and b current
Obeah Opera is a hand clapping, foot stomping, spirit-lifting, magical musical sensation unlike any other opera before it. Steeped in Black music, sung entirely a cappella by a powerful, racially diverse all-female cast of 14, Obeah Opera tells the story of the legendary Salem Witch Trials from the fascinating perspective of Caribbean slave women.
Breaking new ground, this dramatic work redefines traditional opera by moving away from European classical standards. Unbound by any particular genre, Obeah Opera encompasses an array of musical styles - spirituals, blues, jazz, gospel, traditional African, Caribbean Folk, Calypso, Ska, R&B and Reggae. What additionally makes this work unique and beyond the conventional definition of opera is that there are no musical instruments; just pure, compelling voice.
In 1692, Puritans initiated the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Anyone different could be convicted of witchcraft. The first person to be accused, arrested, and the catalyst of the greatest witch hunt in North American history was a Black slave named Tituba. Obeah Opera is a timely reminder of the toxic power that a few can hold over many.
The high-octane powerhouse cast of 14 women includes: Obeah Opera creator and Harry Jerome Arts Award recipient Nicole Brooks (Tituba), Juno Award winner Divine Brown (Mary), Jesus Christ Superstar Broadway cast member Karen Burthwright (Candy), Jean A. Chalmers Award winner Diana Coatsworth (Captain/Doctor), musical theatre maverick Saphire Demitro (Auctioneer/Shapeshifter), versatile vocalist Deidrey Francois (Sarah), Collective of Black Artists - COBA - dancer Nickeshia Garrick (Shapeshifter), Acting Up Stage's Falsettos company member Sarah Gibbons (Abigail), Mary Poppins Broadway and U.S. national tour cast member Janet MacEwen (Parris), artist educator and multi-forms dancer Debbie Nicholls-Skerrit (Shapeshifter), Afro-Cuban drum and dance ensemble Ilédè Artistic Director Melissa Noventa (Mercy/Shapeshifter), Juno-Nominated God Made ME Funky lead singer Dana Jean Phoenix (Betty), Dora Award nominee Sabryn Rock (Elizabeth) and international Calypso star Singing Sandra (Cultural Ambassador of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, two-time Calypso Monarch) as The Elder.
Lezlie Wade directs this unprecedented a cappella theatrical epic; celebrated musician Andrew Craig is the musical director and Anthony "Prime" Guerra is the choreographer. The talented creative team is rounded out by set and costume designer Robin Fisher, lighting designer Bonnie Beecher and sound designer Graham Clarke. The stage manager is Kathleen Harrison and the producers are Derrick Chua, Marinda de Beer and Paul Shaw.
In the Caribbean, "Obeah" refers to one of the religious practices brought from West Africa by slaves. Historically, both good and bad are tangled up in Obeah - healing, mysticism, witchcraft, folk magic and Christian symbolism. For Brooks, Obeah is not about the negative; she embraces Obeah as a healing art and says, "My definition of Obeah specifically looks at it as a spiritual practice that incorporates nature and holistic practices which are generally ignored by a society that would rather run with the negative connotations. Obeah as healing is a new and unpopularized spin on a controversial word."
The world premiere of Obeah Opera is commissioned by Panamania, the 35-day arts and cultural festival enriching the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games experience. An earlier version of Obeah Opera, produced by b current and Theatre Archipelago, received a 2012 Dora Award nomination for Outstanding New Musical/Opera. Under Nightwood Theatre's guidance and in collaboration with musical director Andrew Craig, Nicole Brooks continued to develop the show, leading to a workshop production that was showcased during Nightwood's Groundswell Festival in September 2014. The world premiere marks a significant transformation of this important work (in development since 2009) which now features a cohesive storyline in place of independent tableaux and is twice the length of the 2012 incarnation and features more than 60 musical pieces, 80 percent of which is new material.
Nicole Brooks is a filmmaker, director, performer, singer, playwright, composer, curator, teacher and "art-ivist," who has devoted over 15 years producing innovative content (for the stage and screen), with a focus on narratives that illuminate the peoples of the African Diaspora. In 2012 Brooks officially added playwright to her list of talents with her debut theatrical work OBEAH OPERA which has been staged in various incarnations from festivals to staged workshop productions in Toronto between 2009 and 2014. Honoured with a Dora nomination in 2012 and with continued development thereafter, OBEAH OPERA now has its world premiere as a prestigious commission from Panamania, the cultural arm of the Toronto 2015 Pan American/Parapan American Games. She was also the 2014 recipient of the prestigious Harry Jerome Arts Award for her outstanding achievements in the arts. Brooks is Co-Artistic Director of Culchahworks alongside acclaimed musician and founder Andrew Craig as well as founder and Director of Asah Productions Inc.
Culchahworks Arts Collective is a Toronto-based not-for-profit arts organization established in 2013 led by Co-Artistic Directors Nicole Brooks and founder Andrew Craig. The name and unique spelling are drawn from the pronunciation of the word "culture" in Jamaican patois. Culchahworks' mandate is to celebrate stories drawn from the African-Canadian, Caribbean-Canadian and African-American cultural legacies that have universal resonance.
Click here to watch a flash mob performance of "Di Moon Song" from Obeah Opera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
And here is a link to Obeah Opera's GoFundMe campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/