by Norm Stamper
The last performance of Woman in the Woods Productions, featuring movement artist Jon Boogz, spoken word artist Robin Sanders, and the Steve Alboucq Jazz Quartet, came on the cool night of February 22, 2020—just before Covid-19 pretty much slammed life as we know it into lockdown. The theme for that production? Almost too ironic for words: “Out of the Shadows.”
In that moment, with the global pandemic about to take center stage, our world seemed to be slipping into darkness. And while Covid continues to play a central, unwelcomed role in our lives we can, adhering to smart precautions, return to “our regularly scheduled programming.” And at WIWP we intend to do just that. It’s been too long, friends. Way too long.
Our next, much-delayed, much-anticipated show? The sensational “Rebirth of a Nation” by Paul D. Miller also known by his professional name DJ Spooky.
Along with generations of cinephiles, Paul Miller recognized the genius of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 groundbreaking silent movie, “Birth of a Nation.” The film introduced no fewer than 16 major technical and creative breakthroughs that made “Birth” among the most-watched, praised, and copied motion pictures of the early twentieth century. Indeed, many of Griffith’s artistic innovations are staples of today’s moviemaking. But as a Black man with a scholar’s knowledge of slavery, the Civil War, and our young nation’s patterns of systemic racism and discrimination, Miller also saw “Birth” as a virulent vehicle for KKK propaganda. A showy, blackface tribute to white supremacy.
In 2004 Miller, conceptual artist, musician, and writer, went to work on a “remix” of the film. Commissioned by the Lincoln Center Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, Weiner Festwochen, and the Festival d’Automne à Paris, Miller cut the Griffith original from three hours to an hour and 40 minutes, added graphics and an electronic/hip-hop musical score. Then, a hundred years after the premiere of Birth of a Nation, he brought in the Kronos Quartet and with a haunting new score produced “Rebirth of a Nation,” as we know it today. A riveting multimedia production evocative not only of the early days of the Klan but of today’s world.
One cannot watch Paul Miller’s “Rebirth” without being reminded of both local and global uprisings that erupted in the wake of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s public murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day last year. The scale of the protests offers ample evidence of the everyday reality of persistent racial inequality and social injustice in America—and of Americans’growing willingness to confront these ills.
All told, Paul Miller’s Rebirth of a Nation has been performed around the world over 50 times, from the Sydney Opera House to the Herodian Theater at the Acropolis in Athens. Michell “Mitch” Marshall, founder, president, and CEO of Woman in the Woods Productions is proud to bring that same astounding work to the Orcas Center main stage for two performances, on Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. and Sept. 26 at 4 p.m.
Marshall wants everyone to know that while both performances are open to people of all ages, “We especially want to welcome and encourage a big showing of mature high school-age youth for the Sunday performance. This is very much in keeping with our desire to build on our outreach to young people.” Two years ago, according to Marshall, after artist Paul Rucker’s moving presentations to audiences of all ages, “The library told me they were inundated by young people seeking books on race, slavery, civil rights.” As she noted at the time, this interest “dovetails precisely with our mission which seeks to promote a better understanding and appreciation of racial and cultural differences through various forms of artistic expression.”
Mr. Miller will be joined on stage by Tres Voci, local artists consisting of Pamela Wright, Holly King, and Scott Heisinger. Guest violinist Dr. Rachel Bishop will turn the trio into a quartet for these two performances of Miller’s original music.
Tickets for Sept. 25 and 26 are available through Orcascenter.org, strangertickets.com, and The Office Cupboard. In order to attend each of us must: Wear a mask; Purchase a ticket; Show ID and proof of vaccination. We hope you’ll welcome these measures. They comport with standards embraced by medical experts and adopted by the Moore, Paramount, Neptune, Ballard, Capitol Hill and Ashland, Oregon theaters, as well as over 130 restaurants in Seattle. Get your tickets early. See you at the movies!