Vassar will collaborate with the Bardavon Theatre and the City of Poughkeepsie School District to present two award-winning programs that address racism in America and encourage honest conversation about prejudice. Rhapsody in Black (Friday, February 6, 7:00pm) is LeLand Gantt’s one-man play about his life as an African-American seeking to transcend racism. Through A Lens Darkly (Friday, February 20, 7:00pm) is the first documentary film to explore the critical role of photography in shaping African-American identity from slavery to the present.
Both programs will be followed by a panel discussion with prominent local African-American scholars, artists, students, and community leaders, including conversation with the audience. The programs are supported by Vassar's Office of the President as part of the college's "Dialogue and Engagement Across Differences" initiative. The program was organized by two members of Vassar's faculty: Leslie Offutt, associate professor of history; and Miriam Mahdaviani, visiting assistant professor of dance. Among the goals of the programs are to “be part of a meaningful conversation about the African American experience in Poughkeepsie; forge a closer relationship between Vassar College and the surrounding community; and, demonstrate to students how artistry and creativity can challenge societal assumptions.” Note: Free transportation to and from the events will be provided between campus and the Bardavon with shuttles leaving from Main Circle beginning at 5:30pm, but reservations are suggested. Email history professor Leslie Offutt (firstname.lastname@example.org, x5668) to reserve.
Rhapsody in Black: Written and performed by LeLand Gantt and developed at NYC’s Actors Studio with Estelle Parsons as directorial consultant, Rhapsody in Black is a one-man show that explores LeLand’s personal journey to understanding and eventually transcending racism in America. We follow his spellbinding life story—from an underprivileged childhood in the ghettos of McKeesport, Pennsylvania to teenage experiments with crime and drugs to scholastic achievement and an acting career that land adult LeLand in situations where he is virtually the only African-American in the room. How he manages to cope with the various psychological effects of consistently being marked The Other is recounted in remarkable and exquisitely moving detail, guaranteed to leave lasting impressions.
LeLand Gantt - Writer, Performer: Rhapsody in Black was first unveiled at the WorkShop Theater Company’s Sundays @ Six reading series in March 2013. Further development at The Actors Studio yielded a slot in their Playwrights/Directors Unit’s spring festival in May 2013 and, subsequently, a three-week workshop run in December 2013 and a return run at WorkShop Theater in February 2014. In November 2014 it played the United Solo Festival in New York where it won awards for Best Storyteller (LeLand Gantt) and Best Direction (Estelle Parsons). Mr. Gantt’s regional credits include: Two Trains Running and Radio Golf (Syracuse Stage); Walter Mosley’s The Fall of Heaven, world premier (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park);Gem of the Ocean (Arena Stage), Jitney (Pittsburgh Public Theater), and In Walks Ed (Longwharf Theater). Off-Broadway/Broadway: Slippery When Wet (La Mama), Another Man's Poison (Peter Jay Sharpe Theater), OyamO's Killa Dilla and Let Me Live (Drama Desk and Audelco Award nominee for Featured Actor), and the revival of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (u/s Rock Dutton). Film and television credits include: Miracle at St. Anna, Requiem for a Dream, Malcolm X, Presumed Innocent, Law and Order, Law and Order SVU, J.A.G., and HBO's The Affair.
Estelle Parsons - Directorial Consultant: Ms. Parsons won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1967 for her role as Blanche Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde. Among her most noted television roles, she played Roseanne’s mother on the award-winning sitcom Roseanne. She played the title role in Miss Margarita’s Way on Broadway and the National tour, and Violet Weston in August: Osage County on Broadway and the national tour. Ms. Parsons’ directing credits include: a multi-cultural Anthony and Cleopatra described as “the most exciting and innovative presentation in English since Peter Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Belasco Theater; Flaubert’s Madame Bovary adapted by Adrienne Kennedy at the Signature Theater, NYC; Oedipus the King (Yeats adaptation) and Salome: The Reading (Oscar Wilde) with Al Pacino at the Bardavon, on Broadway, and the National tour. Nominated four times for the Tony Award, Ms. Parsons was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2004.
The panel for Rhapsody in Black will include: moderator Edward Pittman (Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life at Vassar College); LeLand Gantt and Estelle Parsons; Bryant “Drew” Andrews (founder and director of Kingston’s Center for Creative Education’s award-winning hip-hop dance troupe, Energy); Quincy T. Mills (Author and associate professor of African-American history at Vassar College); and Vaughn Harper (Dutchess County Community College student and entrepreneur/founder of Struggle Life clothing).
Through a Lens Darkly (2014) was inspired by Deborah Willis’s book, Reflections in Black, and was directed by Thomas Allen Harris Through a Lens Darkly. The film considers how Black photographers have used the camera to define themselves. It is the first documentary to explore the role of photography in shaping the identity, aspirations, and social emergence of African Americans, from the time of slavery to today. It presents photos that were shot by professional as well as vernacular African-American photographers and were previously unknown, forgotten, or suppressed. The images open a window into the lives of Black families and present complex and nuanced perspectives frequently absent from the historical canon of representations of African Americans. The film features works by Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, Anthony Barboza, Hank Willis Thomas, Coco Fusco, Clarissa Sligh and many other visual storytellers.
Thomas Allen Harris - Director, Producer, Writer: Raised in the Bronx and Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania, Thomas Allen Harris is an award-winning filmmaker and cultural warrior, whose documentary films, installations, and experimental videos have been featured in venues around the world, on television, at festivals, and in museums and galleries. For over six years, Harris produced for public television and won two Emmy nominations (in 1991) for his work as a staff producer at WNET (New York’s PBS affiliate). His documentary programs CRISIS: Who Will Do Science? and CRISIS: Urban Education aired nationally on public television in 1989 and 1990 respectively.
Harris' film Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela is the third film to make its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and was broadcast on POV/The American Documentary Series. The film made its theatrical premiere at the BAM Cinematech and won over five international awards and honors. Harris' 2001 documentary, É Minha Cara/That's My Face, premiered at the Toronto, Sundance, Berlin, and Tribeca Film Festivals and was broadcast on the Sundance Channel and ARTE. The film also made its theatrical premiere at the BAM Cinematech and won seven international awards. Harris' 1995 documentary feature, Vintage – Families of Value, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival; won Best Documentary at the Atlanta Film and Video Festival and a Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival; and was selected for Official Competition at FESPACO in 1997. A Harvard graduate, Harris is presently a visiting professor at Sarah Lawrence College.
Don Perry - Producer: Mr. Perry is Chief Operating Officer of Chimpanzee Productions, Inc. He was co-writer and co-producer of Thomas Allen Harris’ feature-length documentary É Minha Cara/That’s My Face. Mr. Perry is an experienced financial and management consultant with a wide-ranging background in commercial finance. Prior to his association with Chimpanzee Productions, he was Executive Vice President - Finance for Wyndhurst Associates, LLC, a boutique financial restructuring and turnaround management firm. Prior to joining Wyndhurst, Mr. Perry founded a strategic management consulting practice that provided services to emerging growth companies focusing on business turnarounds. Mr. Perry holds a BA in International Relations and Development Economics from Williams College. He received his Masters in Business Administration in Strategic Management from the Peter F. Drucker Center, Claremont Graduate University.
The panel for Through a Lens Darkly will include: moderator Tyrone Simpson (Associate Professor of English, who also teaches in the programs of Urban Studies, Africana Studies, and American Culture at Vassar College); and Thomas Allen Harris and Don Perry; Camilo Rojas (Professor of Film and Communications at Dutchess Community College); and Nina Scott (senior at Poughkeepsie High School and co- recipient of the 2015 Catharine Street MLK Scholarship).
Tickets for each program are free (suggested donation $6) and are available the Bardavon Box Office; (845) 473-2072 or visit the Bardavon website.
About the Bardavon 1869 Opera HouseBardavon 1869 Opera House, Inc. (the Bardavon) is a New York State nonprofit corporation that owns and operates two historic theaters—the 944-seat namesake theater in Poughkeepsie and 1510-seat Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) in Kingston—and the region’s premiere orchestra, the Hudson Valley Philharmonic (the HVP). It presents top-notch music, dance, theater, and classic films for diverse audiences in both its venues; stages free annual outdoor events in local communities; and partners with area schools to offer unique arts-based learning experiences. The Bardavon also continues to restore and preserve its historic theaters for today’s audiences and future generations to enjoy.