Center for Applied Theatre and Active Culture (CATAC) and New World Performance Laboratory (NWPL) present “Death of a Man,” the first part of the company’s Devil’s Milk Trilogy, a long-term project based on Akron’s relationship with rubber.
Preview performances will take place Thursday, Friday and Saturday (Feb. 4, 5 and 6) at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 7 at 2 p.m. in The Balch Street Theatre, 220 South Balch St.
Opening night is Thursday, Feb. 12 with performances continuing on Feb. 13, 14, 19 and 20 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for students. Attendance is limited. For information and reservations call (330) 867-3299 or devilsmilk1.brownpapertickets.com. Each performance will be followed by an audience talkback session. These previews and performances of “Death of a Man: The Devil’s Milk, Part 1” are produced in conjunction with The University of Akron’s Rethinking Race: Black, White, and Beyond (uakron.edu/race).
“Death of a Man” is a solo performance conceived by and featuring Colombian actor, long-time Akron resident and NWPL Co-Artistic Director Jairo Cuesta, and directed by University of Akron theatre professor and NWPL Co-Artistic Director James Slowiak.
In this moving evocation of the jungles of the Amazon where countless indigenous men, women and children were mutilated and massacred in the mad search for natural rubber, Cuesta seeks to lead the public on a quest for the sources of a city’s sorrow.
Through his virtuosic physical and vocal skills, Cuesta enacts a ritual of storytelling, a sacrifice to heal the city by confronting the violence and blood on which the city is built. “Death of a Man” is an attempt at authentic intercultural understanding by re-engaging the past and bringing it alive in the present.
The performance is not meant to sentimentalize the story or merely invoke empathy, but to interrogate, criticize and empower by opening a dialogue between text, past, present, performer and audience.
The performance event is based loosely on John Tully’s book, “The Devil’s Milk: A Social History of Rubber,” along with other historical and fictional sources. Cuesta and Slowiak recently returned to Akron from an expedition to the Amazon where they engaged in meetings with members of the indigenous community represented in the performance. This intercultural exchange was made possible, in part, through a grant from the Network of Ensemble Theaters’ Travel & Exchange Network (NET/TEN), supported by lead funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
NWPL in conjunction with the Center for Applied Theatre and Active Culture (CATAC) began to devise “The Devil’s Milk Trilogy” in six intensive two-week work sessions between March and November 2015. Each work session culminated in an open rehearsal and talkback session with the public.
“Goosetown: The Devil’s Milk, Part 2” and “Industrial Valley: The Devil’s Milk, Part 3” are still in development and will begin performances later in 2016 at the company’s home base, The Balch Street Theatre, 220 South Balch St. in Akron. Each part of the trilogy will stand on its own as a performance event and take on a very distinct theatrical form and style, providing a stimulus and forum for a frank discussion about the city and the rubber that shaped it.
A grant from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation helped pay for artists’ stipends during the development process and allowed CATAC/NWPL to offer ensemble members and local theatre artists the opportunity to refine their craft. Further funding for the project has come from the Char and Chuck Fowler Family Foundation.
For info, visit www.nwplab.com.