Performance Review

Queer Women of Color Can Do Anything
by Matré Grant

Toshi Reagon’s adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower was inspiring to say the least. Women of color can do anything, and leading a workshop opera performance based on a science fiction novel is one of them.

The novel, Parable of the Sower, is set in California in 2024 in a society where 15-year-old Lauren’s family lives in a closed neighborhood of man-made walls. Society has gotten so bad that one has to carry a gun when they leave their walled communities for protection.

Many have described the genre of this book as Afro-futurism, which revolves around the idea that science fiction should contain people of diverse backgrounds, just like in the real world.

Toshi Reagon performed her concert/workshop version of the novel at the Annenberg Center this past weekend. Friday’s performance included a talk-back with the cast, mediated by Penn’s own Dr. Herman Beavers.

The California setting of the performance brought to mind the Gangsta Rap movement of the late 80s and 90s which was recently featured in the film Straight Outta Compton. It also wordlessly touched on the Black Lives Matter movement.

Toshi Reagon says that if we don’t fight back now, our future will be just like Lauren’s, the central character, in the novel. Dr. Beavers shared a similar sentiment, recalling the first time he taught the book in one of his classes. His students were afraid because although the novel takes place in the future, everything that happens seems to be a plausible result of today’s world.

Toshi Reagon’s adaptation blended congregational singing, musical theater, folk, rock, and operatic styles. As a self-proclaimed out lesbian and musician, Reagon is inspired by her mother, Bernice Johnson Reagon, who first taught her to compose.

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