Sunday, January 28, 2018


Ground-breaking and life altering theater is coming to the Fairfield University’s Quick Center for  the Arts for one remarkable performance on Saturday, February 3 at 8 p.m. with the operatic performance of “Parable of the Sower.”  Created by composer, librettist, music director and producer Toshi Reagon and her mother, civil rights activist and Freedom Singer Bernice Johnson Reagon, PhD, this work grew out of a love and respect for the written words of Octavia Butler. The pair also collaborate on movie and television scores, recordings and two other operas with director Robert Wilson.

This original adaptation of Butler’s work began with a mother’s admiration for Butler’s books which she shared  with Toshi, who enjoyed their sense of science fiction and mystery.  One Christmas many years ago, they each bought the other the same book:  Butler’s "Parable of the Sower."  At the time, Toshi wasn’t prepared to read it.  It took an invitation from Toni Morrison for Bernice to lead a workshop  about Butler at Princeton, one the mom invited her daughter to present with her, to get Toshi to open the pages.  Since that time, she has consumed the novel more than fifty times.

That intense delving into Butler’s themes has led mother and daughter to work  in an easy and enjoyable way.  To Toshi, “ if you believe in multiple lifetimes and a connection of souls, my mom is incredible and it is a privilege and honor to be her daughter.  We connect musically and I hope to follow in her footsteps.  We’re very different but she’s wonderful and my favorite collaborator.”

“Parable of the Sower” takes place in the year 2024, a scant six years from now, when a young girl Lauren Olamina, locked in a self made gated community, one that was once an open cul de sac in a suburb outside of Los Angeles, is consumed with the dangers of global warming and how it is destroying America and the world.  The pollution of air and water is pervasive and drought is a constant threat.  Those who have are separated further and further from those who have not.

To Lauren, God and change are intertwined.  She disagrees with her  pastor father  whom she loves.  She says her father's God is not her God.  She realizes that the walled community is not sustainable and she thinks they should leave.  Her father thinks they should stay and hold on. One day, after he disappears and is presumed dead, she with two friends runs to the north to avoid an assault on her home.
The whole community is attacked and many die. Before she leaves , she starts dropping seeds, wanting to find a rich soil where they will thrive, to grow a new religion of change, understanding and hope which she calls Earthseed.  When it rains for the first time in six years, she experiences a cleansing that is special and spiritual.  Feeling clean is an unexpected luxury in a parched land and Lauren records it all in her journal. Now she concentrates on survival and building a new community on the road and finding a new home with her chosen family.

Toshi uses a chorus of  twenty voices, and musical genres that span rock, rhythm and blues, soul, punk, gospel and spirituals, to tell this poignant tale.  Centuries of the black music experience are explored in this emotional passage from despair to hope.  In her view, this frightening scenario is all too real and we need an immediate change of direction by citizens to reshape our relationship with our government, from the local level on up to the top.

Our basic needs are at stake:  clean air and water, shelter, health care and education.  She feels we must stop using bigotry and prejudice as excuses but rather make a community of communal voices. She hopes experiencing her opera will motivate audiences to take up the cause.

Thanks to the efforts of presenter Bill Bragin, of the NYUAD Arts Center, the work had its world premiere in Abu Dhabi last year and its American premiere in North Carolina at UNC Chapel Hill and later at the Public Theater in New York City. Fairfield University is its fourth presentation.  This is thanks to the efforts of Peter Van Heerden, executive director of the Quick Center for the Arts, who stated “We are thrilled to present this ground-breaking performance…that resonates on such  critical and timely themes.”

For tickets ($50, $40, $30 members, $5 Fairfield students), call 203-254-4010 or 877-ARTS-396 or online at  Eric Ting directs this spirited call to action. 

Be moved and spiritually carried away by this peek into the future and what awaits if we do not heed the call to action of this pressing musical message.                                                    

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