Although it's called the Black Theatre Festival, this biennial gathering of African-American artists draws creative people from all over the nation working in a variety of mediums. Kwame Dawes, the poet in residence at the University of South Carolina, will present his multimedia productions titled Wisteria and Hope during the festival. [For complete performance listings, see page 20.] Wisteria and Hope are two separate pieces performed back to back. Their only connection is that Dawes wrote and performs spoken word readings for both and composer Kevin Simmonds wrote all the music, said Dawes.
Wisteria is based on interviews Dawes conducted with African-American women in Sumter, SC in 1995. Ten years later, the poems were published in a book called Wisteria. Shortly before the book's publication, Dawes met Simmonds, a PhD candidate at the university.
Simmonds had the idea of putting music to Dawes' words. He then brought together an ensemble of African-American musicians and singers, many of them graduate students from the university. The first performance of Wisteria was held in 2005 at the Columbia Museum of Art and later toured Europe, where it received rave reviews. The BBC even did a one-hour documentary on the project.
Dawes has served as one of the organizers of the festival's International Colloquium since the mid-1990s. He said he's looking forward to performing at the festival for the very first time. Dawes has served as one of the organizers of the festival's International Colloquium since the mid-1990's. He said he's looking forward to performing at the festival for the very first time. The Hope project began when Dawes was approached by the Pulitzer Center to write a journalism piece on HIV AIDS in Jamaica.
"The initial plan was not for me to be writing poetry, but as I always do, I write poetry about my experience," Dawes said.
Later, Simmonds came on board to compose the music and photographer Josh Cogan traveled to Jamaica and followed the path of the story. The Pulitzer Center hired top-notch web designers to put together a multimedia website.
"The mission of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is to bring international news stories to an American audience," Dawes said. "They do that through innovation — one of the great innovations of this project was poetry. It's off the beaten path for journalism, but this is probably why we were nominated for an Emmy." Dawes praised the genius of Simmonds for his ability to arrange singers and musicians "to create a wonderful tableau of stories that have emerged from the work I've done." "The African-American audience looking to connect with their legacy will enjoy Wisteria," Dawes said. "And those who want to understand the human face of an international tragedy will be able to come to that in the beauty of Hope."