Illinois Tour Dates
March 4, 7pm • McLean County Museum of History
200 North Main Street, Bloomington IL 61701
March 5, 6:30pm • Urbana Independent Media Center
202 South Broadway Ave, Urbana IL 61801
March 12, 7pm • Elastic Arts
3429 West Diversey Ave, Chicago IL 60647
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 panel presentation with scholars, activists, and artists. The Urbana program will include a presentation by the Writers of Oya from their writing workshop conducted by Ja Nelle and Kao.
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.
L’sGA Commissioned Artists 2023
Kao Ra Zen
Born Kenya Fulton, Kao Ra Zen hails from Chicago, Illinois. Much of Kao’s art practice involves creative writing, spoken word, music, video directing, and performance art, though he has also been involved in projects involving drawing, painting, acting, modeling, and dance. He has curated events and performed at many prominent venues throughout Chicago including Symphony Center, Links Hall, Dank Haus (German American Cultural Center), Subterranean, Alhambra Palace, and Elastic Arts. 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 would direct 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]
A J McClenon
Originally, I was born and raised in “DC proper,” and I now call Chicago my second home. In 2014 I received a Master of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Beforehand I received a Bachelor of Arts with a minor in creative writing from the University of Maryland, College Park, and I also studied at The New School. It has been a pleasure sharing work and performing in spaces like the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; LA Film Forum; Echo Park Film Center; Danspace Project; Woman Made Gallery; Roman Susan Gallery; Links Hall; National Museum of African American History & Culture; and Hyde Park Art Center.
Alongside my artistic experiences, I am passionate about teaching and community collaborations and I truly hope 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, I create 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. I am deeply invested in leveling the hierarchies of truth and using personal narrative to speak on political and cultural amnesia and their absurdities.
As an interdisciplinary artist, I consider all the ways that time can be expressed as a non-linear process mimicking the circular patterns of our actions and emotional vicissitudes; how past information lives within us and can be witnessed in the present-day experiences of our world. Therefore, there is no echelon order in the many ways that each medium comes to life through my process. Oftentimes my own writing (either autobiographical or science fiction) may appear in video work or collages. Other times, when language fails to communicate an experience, a feeling, a thing, then perhaps just a sound comes into place or an image alone. Sometimes my physical body feels an urgency to communicate directly to an audience, something that a drawing or an object can’t express, which is where performance comes into place. [photo by Eryka Dellenbach]
Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure
Poet, recycle/up-cycle artist, fashion designer, dancer, and aspiring bass player, 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 looks to share 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.
Davenport-Pleasure was born in Springfield, Illinois, and came from a military family. She joined the Urbana-Champaign community 24 years ago where is raising her three amazing kids, Aria, Ian, and Joshua. She currently works for the University of Illinois as an IT specialist for the College of ACES. The City of Urbana and the Urbana Arts & Culture Program recently announced that Ja Nelle would be the third Poet Laureate in Urbana’s history. [photo by Rachel Lauren Storm]
Willie “Prince Roc” Round
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. Music was in his family, at home, and in church. 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. He has also opened for Grammy Nominated Artist Ralph Colbert.
Round was the first person on either side of his family to attend college and graduate. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications – Broadcast Media from Central State University in Ohio. Access to strong, consistent, and effective mentorship made this possible. He taught videography at an alternative school on Chicago’s SW side.
Willie Round 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, in which Willie also performed. 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.
The impact of art partnered with mentorship has been transformative in Willie’s life. Round does extensive outreach in the North Lawndale neighborhood, where he grew up, and is a mental health professional and behavioral aid. He works to help people find positive and effective coping strategies for depression, addiction, anxiety, and PSTD, among others, and works to help people remove stress and give them a creative and social outlet. He has mentored inner-city youth as part of the College Mentoring Experience and as part of his own youth movement MUD LIFE (Motivating the Urban to be Determined). [photo by Kramer Photography]