Commissioned responses to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Sal Martirano’s L’sGA

2024 Chicago Tour Dates

February 17, 7pm • Logan Center Penthouse
915 East 60th Street, Chicago IL 60637
TICKETS

March 10, 7:30pm • Epiphany Center for the Arts Sanctuary
201 South Ashland Avenue, Chicago IL 60607
TICKETS

April Date • TBA

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On November 19, 1863, President Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery and described the United States as a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” As we continue to witness disproportionate brutality against Black Americans, NON:op Open Opera Works presents L’sGA : Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, a concert tour of three commissioned works by Black artists that re-interpret and re-present the Gettysburg Address and Sal Martirano’s 1967 anti-war classic, L’sGA.

Chicago Hip Hop artist and poet Kao Ra Zen, 3Arts awardee and multidisciplinary artist A.J. McClenon, and Urbana poet laureate Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure explore themes of liberty, oppression, patriotism, racism, and revolution. Chicago Emmy winner, actor, and playwright, Willie “Prince Roc” Round, will be featured in a new production of Martirano’s L’sGA.

Concerts take place in Bloomington at the McLean County Museum of History (March 4), Urbana at the Independent Media Center (March 5), and Chicago at Elastic Arts (March 12). The performances will be preceded by a reading of the Gettysburg Address and poet and L’sGA collaborator M.C. Holloway’s Dance Wreck. The Bloomington and Urbana programs will include a presentation on the meaning and relevance of the Gettysburg Address. The Urbana program will include a presentation by the Writers of Oya from their writing workshop conducted by Ja Nelle and Kao.

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PROGRAM

reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure

Now That is a Terrible Thing
Kameron Locke, video/performance

Kameron Locke’s Address
Kao Ra Zen

L’sGA, featuring Willie “Prince Roc” Round as the Gassed-Masked Politico
Salvatore Martirano, composition; Ronald Nameth, films; M.C. Holloway, poetry and characterization

INTERMISSION

The Score
Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure

FATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS
Kao Ra Zen

All the Pretty Little Horses
AJ McClenon

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About L’sGA

L’sGA was created by Salvatore Martirano (concept and score), Ronald Nameth (films), and M.C. Holloway (poetry and performance) in 1967 at the height of America’s war in Vietnam and rising protests. In L’sGA, Lincoln’s words were buried—almost irretrievably—by an onslaught of images, sounds, masks, and distortions. They became at once the empty bombast uttered by a puppet leader—part fascist, part clown—and visceral, bodily screams of rage against the slaughter in Vietnam, the suppression of dissent, the abuse of women, the oppression of minorities, and the dispossessed; against war games, pornography, blind prejudice, and empty, meaningless clichés of beauty.

A literally “gas-masked politico” delivered Lincoln’s text, cavorting, and blustering, with a voice distorted by helium pumped into his lungs, administered by a cartoonish nurse. The text itself was dismembered, interrupted, repeated, transformed into cheers and slogans, and eventually reduced to vacant shouts of blah, blah, blah.

The whole of L’sGA protested against a government that drafted young men—especially African-American men—as cannon fodder for American imperial dreams; that incarcerated, deported, or killed Black Panthers and other activists for daring to assert that persons are created equal; that poured billions of dollars into war machinery and the firms that built it; that enabled cities and cultures, home and abroad, to be destroyed in the name of safety and security.

L’sGA : Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address considers whether Lincoln’s dream of equality has been realized and what the Gettysburg Address can possibly mean to each of us in today’s world.

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L’sGA Commissioned Artists and Notes

Ja Nelle Davenport-PleasureThe Score, Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure

The Score is an immersive interactive piece that takes you on a journey of one African American woman’s thoughts of living in the tumultuous times of Lincoln’s era. Facing the speech that was supposed to be free for all but left her and her people imprisoned mind body and spirit. You will walk beside me as we begin to shine a light on and settle the score that has left so many of us in the dark.

Poet, recycle/up-cycle artist, fashion designer, dancer, aspiring bass player, and Urbana Poet Laureate, Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure has immersed herself in the arts for more than three decades. She has engaged audiences throughout the United States and internationally and strives to help people of all ages to express themselves creatively through writing, spoken word, music, dance, and other art forms. She shares her gifts and passions with all in her community in hopes of building a brighter tomorrow.

Ja Nelle has written two books of poetry, a chapbook titled Eyes Open and her second Splitting 650. Her third book Breathe will be out this summer. She is a member of the Galaxy of Poets group that works to bring awareness and support to mental health through the art of words. She performs at Soul on Sunday, a group that enriches the poetry and music scene in Urbana. She joined forces with Urbana’s previous Poet Laureate, Ashanti Files to host workshops for the Writers of Oya, and performed alongside Will Reger, Urbana’s first Poet Laureate, in this year’s Central Illinois Rivers in Art and Poetry event. Davenport-Pleasure was selected as the 2020 Artist Ace Awards winner and also founded Cinderella/Cinderfella, a ballroom dance troupe for children. She has performed her poetry at SPEAK Café, Pygmalion, Iron Post, and many other events in Urbana. [photo by Rachel Lauren Storm]

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Kao Ra ZenAll the Pretty Little Horses, A J McClenon

All the Pretty Little Horses is a visual and sonic conversation about the expansion of oppression in the guise of a free state founded on free and inhumane labor and mass genocide. From the liminal and empty spaces of freedom that Black soldiers moved within while being classified as contraband to the estimated 1.2 million horses and mules that died during the U.S. Civil War, this work questions the hierarchical structures of humanness throughout the foundations of the western world within and beyond our own species. Who becomes less human in the fortification of expendable life?

Born and raised in “DC proper,” AJ McClenon now calls Chicago her second home. AJ’s work sets personal narratives alongside empirical data, leveling the hierarchies of truth. AJ holds a Master in Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, received a Bachelor of Arts with a minor in creative writing from the University of Maryland College Park, and also studied at Eugene Lang College. AJ has performed and shown work throughout the United States, at locations such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, Hyde Park Art Center, LA Film Forum, Links Hall, Steppenwolf, The Promontory, Woman Made Gallery, Echo Park Film Center, Chicago Filmmakers, National Museum of African American History & Culture, and Gallery 400. AJ is currently the co-director of Beauty Breaks, an intergenerational beauty and wellness workshop series for black people along the spectrum of femininity. AJ is also a co-founder of F4F, a domestic venue that cultivates a femme community, centers blackness, and expands upon understandings of what domestic space can be.

Alongside artistic experiences, AJ is passionate about teaching and community collaborations with the goal that all the memories and histories that are said to have “too many Black people,” are told and retold again. As a means to uphold these stories, AJ creates performances, installations, objects, sounds, visuals, and writings. These creations often revolve around an interest in water and aquatic life, escapism, Blackness, science, grief, US history, and the global future. AJ is deeply invested in leveling the hierarchies of truth and using personal narratives to speak on political and cultural amnesia and their absurdities. [photo by Eryka Dellenbach]

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Kao Ra ZenFATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS, Kao Ra Zen

FATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS is a spoken word and musical multimedia happening. Utilizing a piecemeal combination of poetry, song, audio samples, and video projection, Kao weaves through time and space to examine the past, present, and possible futures of the United States of America and the world at large. FATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS features set components created in collaboration with artist Penelope Thrasher and details histories of colonization, slavery, police brutality, war, and the ever-prevalent socio-economic disparities between Black and white Americans. This Hip-Hop-centric prophetic protest party with a touch of sci-fi flavor rebels against the powers that be to create a brave new world order.

Born Kenya Fulton, Kao Ra Zen hails from Chicago, Illinois. His art practice includes creative writing, spoken word, music, video directing, and performance art. He has performed and exhibited artwork in Germany, performed at an Open Mic in Guatemala, and helped to install solar panels in El Salvador. In February 2020, Kao released his first official music video, “Morning in America”, a controversial work that would twice be removed from YouTube. Kao directed the debut music video, “Killing in the Name of Love” for longtime friend and creative collaborator, Dodo Mafioso, first released in April 2020. Following the murder of George Floyd, Kao teamed up with another Chicago Hip-Hop stalwart, Ness The God, to release the single and music video, “I’m Tired”, on the 4th of July, 2020. He is currently recording material for his solo debut album, ‘TIME of the SIGNS’, for indie Hip-Hop label, Culture Power 45; and working on music with his performance art/music troupe, The Ungovernables, for an EP tentatively titled: “SUMMER of LOVE”. He is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at Chicago State University. [photo by Javier Enriquez]

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Willie RoundL’sGA, Willie “Prince Roc” Round, as the gassed-masked politico

Willie “Prince Roc” Round is a playwright, songwriter and hip hop artist, actor, videographer. Without metaphor or hyperbole, theatre was key to rescuing him from homelessness and saving his life. He is dedicated to sharing this life-saving art form with others, using art and theatre as a means of expression and to authentically illustrate life on Chicago’s artistically exploited West Side. Much of his writing, poetry, and lyrics reflect the sign of the times within his community.

Born May 20, 1991, Willie Round III grew up in North Lawndale (known as the “Holy City”) on the West Side of Chicago, a region with high rates of violence and low household incomes. Willie had strong art influence and mentorship during his youth, which allowed him to buck the statistics and gain the trajectory his life has taken. Music was Round’s first artistic influence and form of stress relief and expression. He was raised by a single mother, with an incarcerated father, in a 3-bedroom apartment filled with 12 people. It was loud, crowded, and full of music. Round’s uncles were the hip hop group Do or Die. As a hip hop artist, Round has performed across the country and was the opening act for Grammy Award-winning artist Lil Wayne as well as Gucci Man, thanks to Ren of Go Boyz ENT.

Willie was first introduced to theatre by his now long-time collaborator, G. Riley Mills. At the time, Round was homeless. His play Broke Down Drone was produced in Collaboraction’s 2019 Peacebook Festival, and it ran in New York City Off-Broadway at the Chain Theater’s One-Act Festival in July 2021. Round wrote, created, and produced a short documentary for Collaboraction’s Peacebook Festival titled This is North Lawndale. After meeting playwright J. Nicole Brooks at Peacebook in 2019, Round made his theatre acting debut in 2020 in Lookingglass Theatre Company’s hit play Her Honor Jane Byrne written and directed by J. Nicole Brooks. [photo by Kramer Photography]

Kameron LockeNow that is a terrible thing…, Kameron Locke

L’sGA was conceptualized at a time when the words of Abraham Lincoln were but a squandered hope. It was important that I connect my art with activism for my approach to Salvatore Martirano’s enigmatic depiction of Lincoln’s unrealized words. I endeavored to visually and audibly express my and my community’s reality, and juxtapose this with a Malcolm X interview. I considered our present circumstances, a man stunted at a prepubescent development was elected and has remained chief leader amid constant controversy, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, bullying, and lies, and Black lives continue to be grossly and institutionally disregarded. I wanted to display the stunted progression of my country, this sweet land of Liberty. I used imagery I recorded throughout Berlin, Germany, images that I felt displayed our truly dystopian reality.

Kameron Locke (he/him) is a classical singer and research-based artist who expresses what he defines as the “facets of Blackness” through music, performance, and study. Locke navigates cultural, community, and academic spaces as a social justice-centered creative, artistic leader, producer, educator, and musicologist. From within these spaces, he reflects on representation and inclusion, and how to engage and solve challenges that bring equality to continuously evolving communities. Born and raised in Chicago, he recently emigrated to Berlin after a fulfilling stint in London. [photo by Michael Altenhenne]

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SPECIAL THANKS

L’sGA : Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address artists were commissioned by NON:op Open Opera Works.
The program is co-sponsored by the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts and the Epiphany Center for the Arts.

L’sGA is supported in part by a grant from the League of Chicago Theatres and ComEd, and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.