Time Warner Helps Harlem Stage Celebrate 30 Years
While Harlem Stage is as integral to New York City’s arts and culture scene as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, it has yet to garner similar iconic status, due to a lack of funding and its upper Manhattan location. During a Sept. 27 breakfast gala hosted by the Time Warner Center to honor Harlem Stage’s 30th anniversary, many esteemed artists and guests agreed that support for the performance space will ensure Harlem’s status as a beacon for both emerging and established artists of color.
“I cannot say passionately enough how important it is that Harlem continues to be associated with the creative core of the city,” said Kate Levin, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs. “It’s important to our continued health and prosperity.” Other speakers drew from their personal histories to get their messages across. “Harlem was where the wizard lived,” exclaimed actress Tamara Tunie, Harlem Stage’s chair of the board and long-time resident, recalling how crucial the city was to her own artistic development. Even Congressman Charlie Rangel, a native of Harlem, was not afraid to show his love for the historic neighborhood. “Harlem is a lot more than a geographic site,” he said. “It’s creative. It invites you to think that you can become anything that you want if you make it to New York and manage to make it to Harlem.”
Since 1996, Time Warner has served as a leading sponsor to Harlem Stage. Their partnership has been a fruitful one, from its inception of The Gatehouse (a former 19th-century aqueduct converted into a performance space) in 2006 to initiatives like WaterWorks, which commissions new work from artists all over the globe each season. Harlem Stage’s 2012–2013 season, which includes five commissioned works to premiere this fall and next spring, is perhaps its most thought-provoking lineup to date.
“Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project,” which focuses on a younger generation of veterans entering and leaving the Iraqi war, made its world debut on Sept. 19. It combines the poetry of Mike Ladd and war veteran Maurice Decaul with the music of jazz pianist/composer Vijay Iyer. “Some people wanted us to critique war as policy, and that doesn’t really make for an interesting evening of storytelling,” Iyer said shortly after the gala. “I felt like vets weren’t really being heard, and certainly not vets of color. Part of it was just facing this thing that nobody wants to talk about—what was it like to have been trained to kill on behalf of your country and then to try and go back to normal life after all that.” “Sleep Song,” the companion piece to “Holding It Down,” shifts its focus to the lives of Iraqi civilians and will make its American premiere on Nov. 30.
Writer/performer Carl Hancock Rux collaborated with visual artist Edouard Duval-Carrié and saxophonist/composer Yosvany Terry to bring to life his contemporary opera Makandal, inspired by the life of Haitian leader François Mackandal, who made an unsuccessful albeit courageous attempt to poison the plantation owners during the 1750s. While the opera was conceived prior to the devastations in Haiti, Rux remained mindful of their impact, all the while showing a broader perspective of the country in Mackandal. “I was very conscious of making sure that the opera was still relevant and that we were not going to present something that ignored these realities,” Rux said during the panel discussion. “But at the same time, Haiti itself is larger than [both] the earthquake and cholera epidemic.”
Executive Director Patricia Cruz, a self-proclaimed proselytizer for the arts, discussed yet another important aspect of Harlem Stage’s service to the community: providing more than 10,000 students annually with access to the arts through live workshops and performances. “[We’re] introducing them to these ideas so that they can understand and be a part of their creative selves, so that they are not lost in an urban environment that hasn’t been encouraging for them,” said Cruz. And so the cycle of artistry continues.
Visit Harlem Stage’s website for more information about the 2012–2013 season.
—Shannon J. Effinger