Artwork by Ojore Lutalo

Echoes of Attica

Sunday, September 12, 2021 at 3:00pm
Ring Family Performing Arts Hall

FREE! For Wesleyan students, faculty, and staff.

Echoes of Attica, a play about the 1971 Attica Prison revolt, will receive a world premiere for Wesleyan students, faculty, and staff as performed by formerly incarcerated actors and musicians to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the uprising, and to raise awareness about its relevance to the current outbreak of state violence against communities of color.

This event is part of “Remembering Attica: Legacy of a Prison Revolt," a series of events commemorating the Attica anniversary, including lectures, films, and “Behind Enemy Lines: The Prison Art of Ojore Lutalo," an exhibition of prison protest art by Ojore Lutalo, in the South Gallery of the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery. The exhibition will be on display on campus from Tuesday, September 21 through Sunday, October 17, 2021. Lutalo will give an artist talk at the opening of the exhibition on Tuesday, September 21, 2021 at 4pm. His collages were recently displayed at MoMa’s PS1 gallery in Queens as part of the exhibition "Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration" from September 2020 through April 2021.

“Attica in 1971 is a picture of what can happen to you," said Carlos Roche, a 79 year old survivor of the Attica Prison massacre. "It’s not just the past. It’s the present. It’s the future. It’s all of us.” Roche will be introducing the play, as well as taking part in a post-performance discussion.

The music / theater performance is based on court transcripts, recently released FBI files, and interviews with men who survived the assault. The Attica Prison riots took place between September 9 and 13, 1971, during which 29 incarcerated men were shot to death by state police in what the New York State Official Commission on Attica called “the bloodiest one-day encounter between Americans since the Civil War.”

Echoes of Attica includes original songs written and performed by Philadelphia-based rap poet and activist BL Shirelle, and the gospel singers Simply Naomi and Crystal Walker, who are associated with Die Jim Crow records, which produces music written and performed by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated artists. Also featured in the performance is Dario Peńa, who played the title role in “Macbeth” when he was serving time in Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York and studying theater with the author of the play Ron Jenkins, Professor of Theater and Chair of the Theater Department at Wesleyan. And the cast also features Wesleyan Assistant Professor of the Practice in Theater Edward Torres, who spent ten years working with men on death row while co-founding the award-winning theater company Teatro Vista in Chicago.

Read "New Play Revisits 1971 Attica Prison Riot" from News @ Wesleyan

Ron Jenkins has staged plays in prisons in Indonesia, Italy, and the United States, and will be teaching the course "Gospel, Rap, & Social Justice" about Attica at the Yale Divinity School’s Institute of Sacred Music in New Haven, Connecticut this fall with Roche, Shirelle, and Naomi as guest lecturers.

In May 2021, Wesleyan students in the course THEA 114-01 “Incarcerated Stories: Documenting In/Justice” taught by Jenkins collaborated with formerly incarcerated individuals and their families to create performances of theater and music based on interviews, trial transcripts, prison memoirs, and other texts related to mass incarceration and the Attica Prison uprising. Guest artists on the free Zoom webinar included Shirelle and Naomi, as well as Maserati E. The May performance was followed by a dialogue with Attica survivors Roche and Tyrone Larkins, and was supported in part by the Creative Campus Initiative of the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University. The course will be offered again at Wesleyan during the 2021–22 academic year.

Made possible with support from the Wesleyan University Departments of Music, Film Studies, Theater, and History, the Art Studio Program of the Art and Art History Department, the African American Studies Program, the Science in Society Program, the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, the Center for Pedagogical Innovation, the Center for the Arts, the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, and the Provost’s Equity Advisory Board. Special thanks to the Healing Justice and Prison Watch Programs of the American Friends Service Committee in New York and New Jersey.

Echoes of Attica was previously presented on Thursday, August 5, 2021 at 3pm in a free outdoor preview performance in the courtyard of the Quaker Meeting House, located at 15 Rutherford Place, New York, NY 10003. That event was hosted by the Healing Justice Program of the American Friends Service Committee. The New York performance was made possible with support from the New York City Artist Corps Grants program, presented by the New York Foundation for the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with support from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment as well as Queens Theatre.

Image: artwork by Ojore Lutalo.