Nicole Brooks and Jonathan McCrory
Karen Burthwright, Krystle Chance, Amanda DeFreitas, Saphire Demitro, Deidrey Francois, Nickeshia Garrick, Arinea Hermans, Tu Nokwe, Dana Jean Phoenix, Michelle Polak and Tringa Rexhepi
Number of Acts: 2
Number of Principals (Female): 8
Preferred Ensemble Size: 25
Total Cast Size: 33
The play requires an all female cast that ‘gender bends’ in required roles. Therefore women play the male roles as well.
Genre & Style:
Obeah Opera is a hand clapping, foot stomping, spirit lifting, magical musical sensation unlike any other opera before. Steeped in Black music, sung entirely a cappella by a powerful all-female cast, Obeah Opera reveals the story of the legendary Salem Witch Trials from the fascinating perspective of Caribbean slave women.
Obeah Opera was developed in Toronto, Canada in various workshops and presentations across a decade: b current’s rock.paper.sistahz Festival (2009-2011); Rhubarb Festival (2010); b current and Theatre Archipelago presentation (2012); Nightwood’s Groundswell Festival (2014); PAN AM/ParaPan American Games commission (2015); Fall for Dance North (2018); Luminato Festival Toronto commission (2019).
5 Things You Should Know
- The title of the work itself gives an indication of what and how the story is told: the word ‘Obeah’ means witchcraft in the Caribbean and the word ‘Opera’ means a play that is entirely sung. However, in Obeah Opera the word ‘Obeah’ is embraced as a positive term linked with the healing arts, natural medicinal knowledge, women’s power, the state and condition of being a wise woman. The play is completely sung a capella – thus making it technically an opera with no support of instrumentation and being irreverent to any specific genre or time period. It is a ground-breaking dramatic work using an array of different musical genres mainly found in what is termed ‘Black’ music such as spirituals, blues, jazz, gospel, traditional African, Caribbean Folk, Calypso, ska, R&B and reggae.
- Obeah Opera tells the story of the Salem witch trials differently than any other account of this historical event through the vantage point and perspective of Tutuba, a slave originally from Barbados who was the first accused and the catalyst of the Salem Witch Trials along with the other Caribbean slave women who also lived in the town. Tutuba’s perspective and storytelling throughout the piece is a fascinating one – a different kind of slave narrative, deeply rooted in revolution and female empowerment, something that is not usually associated with a Black woman especially one who lived in Salem in 1692, over a century prior to the popularized slave era of the 1800s in the Americas.
- The entire piece is played by an all-women cast – playing the power of story telling completely from a female perspective, moving completely away from accounting historical chain of events from the male/patriarchal gaze. Even though the story of Obeah Opera explores the plight of those enslaved, the Black experience goes beyond slavery. During this period of this recounted history, the play also portrays Black persons who were known as freewomen or freemen and demonstrates that enslaved Africans fought relentlessly for freedom through revolution against the enslavement paradigm.
- The world of Obeah Opera expands beyond the setting of a Puritan town in Salem, Massachusetts by including religions and music of Resistance from the Caribbean, Africa and the Diaspora. Staying true to the lens of Tutuba and the other Caribbean women who lived in Salem, the incorporation of specific cultural references from the Caribbean, namely Orisha spirituality and the Carnival arts, the foundation of the work uses Orisha deities and Carnival archetypes to represent each and every character in the play along with its rich music. Although this play is ten years in the making, a great reference point of the work is the recent smash television hit Love Craft Country which in similar fashion centers around the magic housed in BLACK.
- On the heels of a successful production in Toronto, Canada in 2019, the goal now is to have Obeah Opera to launch in America with a world premiere. Ideally, we would love to work with a non-profit and commercial producer to produce the show consecutively for a rolling premiere within the United States and aim for an eventual commercial run.