Irondale explores Brooklyn’s abolitionist history through theater and song for Black History Month
Art, education, history and social justice collide in critically acclaimed work
After celebrating four decades of popular and entertaining theater performances, Irondale Ensemble Project is revamping their 2012 production, Color Between the Lines, with the new showcase, Behind the Scenes and Between the Lines, on Saturday, Feb. 4, in honor of Black History Month.
A work created as part of In Pursuit of Freedom, a collaboration with the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Weeksville Heritage Center, this musical theater piece was devised by eight members of the Irondale ensemble and explores the abolitionist struggle in Brooklyn. The first major public history project to tell the unknown story of Brooklyn’s abolitionists, the work celebrates the unknown, ordinary people who did extraordinary things in perilous times. In honor of Irondale’s 40th anniversary, admission is free to all.
In the decades after the Revolutionary War the anti-slavery movement gained ground in New York City, and Brooklyn became home to one of the largest concentrations of anti-slavery activists in the entire United States. While there were both black and white influential abolitionists that have made it into history books, there are countless others who joined the struggle in working for the end of enslavement for millions of men, women and children.
Through original songs, developed by its ensemble cast/creators, Color Between the Lines takes a deep dive through the people and places that shaped the borough of Brooklyn, and recognizes the history of the community, its struggles, its victories, and its evolution to become the borough we know today. Developed from source material that encompassed research of names, dates, places, maps and milestones from the abolitionist era, the ensemble pieced together the storyline of this important time in history through improv exercises that turned into song, yielding a full-length evening of riveting theater.
Driven by a diverse ensemble of eight in 2012 as Fort Greene was seeing an undeniable gentrification, the work also creates a hyper-local history lesson, exploring the racial tensions of past and present, and now eight years after its original premiere, the future.
“We undertook Color Between the Lines because it offered us the opportunity to participate in an education project with two very important cultural organizations; Weeksville Heritage Center and the Brooklyn Historical Society,” explains Jim Niesen, the company and project’s Artistic Director.
“All we really knew about abolitionism in Brooklyn was the name Henry Ward Beecher, his statue behind Borough Hall, and a few stories about the importance of Plymouth Church,” he continues. “We came away with a deep appreciation for the stories of countless Brooklynites, black and white, who rose up when called on to do what needed to be done. We learned that they did so courageously, with profound conviction, before stepping out of the spotlight to return to their own lives with their only reward knowing that what they were doing could change history.”
For this evening presentation, a combination of live performances and archival footage will be presented in four parts followed by discussion with the cast and creators. The evening will be moderated by cast member Damen Scranton and guest panelists to be announced.
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