The Wooster Group, an innovative company of theater and media artists, presented four free performances of the critically acclaimed “The B-Side: ‘Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons’ A Record Album Interpretation” as part of its residency in the University at Buffalo’s Creative Arts Initiative (CAI). Following the Saturday performance, audience members had an opportunity to ask questions of the artists about the inspiration for and development of the project.
Chosen by Ben Brantley of The New York Times as one of the best shows of 2017, “The B-Side” is based on performer Eric Berryman’s interest in the LP Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons, which was recorded in 1964 by CAI co-director Bruce Jackson, SUNY Distinguished Professor and the James Agee Professor of American Culture at UB. The LP features work songs, blues and spirituals performed by a group of inmates in Texas’ racially segregated prison farms. Mr. Berryman plays the album and transmits the material live, by channeling, via an in-ear receiver, the voices of the men on the record. Accompanying him are Jasper McGruder and Philip Moore. Mr. Berryman also provides context from Jackson’s book Wake Up Dead Man: Hard Labor and Southern Blues.
The Wooster Group develops and presents work in New York City at The Performing Garage at 33 Wooster St. Their national and international touring productions have received BESSIE and OBIE awards for individual productions and for sustained achievement.
With “The B-Side,” The Wooster Group returns to an artistic form that it has explored throughout its 42-year history: working with record albums as source material for original theater pieces. These works have included NAYATT SCHOOL (1978), L.S.D. (…JUST THE HIGH POINTS…) (1984), and, most recently, EARLY SHAKER SPIRITUALS: A RECORD ALBUM INTERPREATION (2014), a piece based on a 1976 album of Shaker songs recorded by the sisters of the Shaker community in Sabbathday Lake, Maine.
Eric Berryman saw EARLY SHAKER SPIRITUALS in 2015 and brought the album Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons – which had been in his record collection for years – to the Group, and together they collaborated on THE B-SIDE.
Mr Berryman commented, “After I saw EARLY SHAKER SPIRITUALS, I was inspired to have the black convict work song tradition of these men honored in the same way.”
Director: Kate Valk
Mise en Scène: Elizabeth LeCompte
Lighting: Ryan Seelig
Sound: Eric Sluyter
Video: Robert Wuss
Costumes: Enver Chakartash
Musical Director: Gareth Hobbs
Stage Manager: Erin Mullin
Videographer: Zbigniew Bzymek
Set Building: Joseph Silovsky Studios
Production Manager: Bona Lee
General Manager & Associate Producer: Pamela Reichen
The Buffalo presentation of the Wooster Group’s The B-Side has been made possible by major support from UB’s Creative Arts Initiative, College of Arts and Sciences (Robin G. Schulze, dean), James Agee Chair in American Culture (Bruce Jackson), Edward H. Butler Chair in English (Cristanne Miller), James H. McNulty Chair of English (Myung Mi Kim), and David Gray Chair of Poetry and Letters (Steve McCaffery). Significant support has also been provided by The Robert and Patricia Colby Foundation, Riverrun (Patrick Martin, President), and Rigidized Metals (Rick Smith, president)
The Wooster Group makes original works for the theater. The company integrates visual media, sound, architectonic design, and text with live performance. Founded in 1975, it has remained at the forefront of experimental theater for decades.
The Group’s major works include: Rumstick Road (1977), Nayatt School (1978), L.S.D. (…Just The High Points…) (1984), Frank Dell’s The Temptation of St. Antony (1988), Brace Up! (1991), The Emperor Jones (1993), The Hairy Ape (1996), House/Lights (1999), To You, The Birdie! (Phèdre) (2002), Poor Theater (2004), Hamlet (2007), the 360º video installation There Is Still Time . . Brother (2007), the opera La Didone (2009), Vieux Carré (2011), Early Shaker Spirituals: A Record Album Interpretation (2014), The Room (2016), The B-Side: “Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons,” A Record Album Interpretation (2017), and A Pink Chair (In Place of a Fake Antique) (2017).
The Group’s founding members were Spalding Gray (1941-2004), Elizabeth LeCompte, Jim Clayburgh, Ron Vawter (1948-1994), Willem Dafoe, Kate Valk, and Peyton Smith. Wooster Group director Elizabeth LeCompte has received fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation and the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts Distinguished Artists Fellowship for Lifetime Achievement in the American Theater, as well as the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and the 2016 Dorothy & Lillian Gish Award. Director Kate Valk has received the Guggenheim and TCG/Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowships, as well as the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Performing Artist Award. The Group and its members have also won nine Obie Awards, six Bessie Awards, and the National Endowment for the Arts Ongoing Ensembles Grant.
The Performing Garage in the Soho neighborhood of lower Manhattan is The Wooster Group’s permanent home and performance venue. The Group owns and operates the Garage as a shareholder in the Grand Street Artists Co-op, which was originally established as part of the Fluxus art movement. The Group regularly tours its productions throughout the United States and internationally. For more information, please visit www.TheWoosterGroup.org.
Jacob Bigelow, Zbigniew Bzymek, Enver Chakartash, Matthew Dipple, Mike Farry, Ari Fliakos, Clay Hapaz, Cynthia Hedstrom, Gareth Hobbs, Elizabeth LeCompte, Bona Lee, Erin Mullin, Michaela Murphy, Pamela Reichen, Scott Shepherd, Eric Sluyter, Kate Valk, Robert Wuss
Eric Berryman, Matthew Brown, Dennis Dermody, Jim Fletcher, Mia Fliakos, Linus Ignatius, Bruce Jackson, Modesto Flako Jimenez, Ken Kobland, Juliet Lashinsky-Revene, Andrew Maillet, Frances McDormand, Bobby McElver, Jasper McGruder, Greg Mehrten, Bebe Miller, Tommie Mitchell, Philip Moore, Matthias Neckermann, Jamie Poskin, Scott Renderer, Suzzy Roche, Kaneza Schaal, Andrew Schneider, Ryan Seelig, David Sexton, Casey Spooner, Lucy Taylor, Maura Tierney, Jennifer Tipton, Danusia Trevino, Ariana Smart Truman, Victoria Vazquez, Wladimiro Woyno, Omar Zubair