We all started this year with an idea of what was the come, preparing for plans that were soon to set in motion and an expectation of what we, individually and as organizations, wanted to accomplished.
Of course, several of those plans did not come to fruition due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing conversations surrounding race and anti-racist efforts, and the realities these circumstances presented. While there has been immense tragedy, there has also been great opportunity to deepen our connections and our work moving forward.
One of our greatest partnership has been with Step Afrika! presenting their self-titled production back in 2013 and The Migration at the end of our 2017/2018 season. At the beginning of this year, we anticipated their return in the summer of 2020 with Drumfolk, a performance that had taken New York City by storm with a story of perseverance, strength, and the beauty that lies between. Even a handful of staff members were invited to see the show in early March, the weekend proceeding our office shutdown, instilling the sense of excitement only a Step Afrika! performance can.
While we have to wait to immerse ourselves in the percussive energy of a filled theatre, we are thrilled to be collaborating with Step Afrika! through new forms, as we explore our own roles as an arts institution during the pandemic.
Stono is a thirty minute short film highlighting the spirit of resistance and activism of the oft forgotten parts of American history.
On September 9, 1739, the largest insurrection of enslaved Africans in North America began in South Carolina on the banks of the Stono River. Twenty Africans marched south toward a promised freedom in Spanish Florida, waving flags, beating drums, and shouting ‘Liberty.” When Africans lost the right to use their drums through The Negro Act of 1740, they began to use their bodies as percussive instruments in response, giving rise to ring shout, tap, hambone, and stepping. They were referred to as “Drumfolk,” keeping their traditions alive in the face of oppression and inequity.
Step Afrika! has been an integral part of ArtsEmerson’s history and we’re thrilled that they are becoming an integral part of our future. Partnering with them on Stono in these times feels just right, to re-engage our imagination, learn from our histories, and move forward through collective action and art making.
Stono from Step Afrika! premieres on WED, SEP 9 at 8 pm ET. We’re also hosting a conversation with Founder and Executive Director of Step Afrika! C. Brian Williams on FRI, SEP 4 at 12 pm ET. Both events are free with an RSVP, which you can find by clicking here.