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Nationally acclaimed works bring dialogue on race and identity to USF

International tour ensemble, Progress Theatre, is performing “The Burning’’ in Tampa at 3 pm Saturday afternoon, Feb. 21, 2015 at USF. The program will be followed by an interactive dialogue and reception with the artists and audience.  

An original work inspired by two horrific real-life African-American nightclub tragedies, decades and miles apart, is written in the innovative “neo-spiritual” aesthetic of Progress Theatre Founder, Director and Playwright Cristal Chanelle Truscott. 

Truscott’s development of neo-spiritualism – the term she uses for “work that engages African-American performance and tradition – from negro spirituals through blues, jazz, spoken word to the present” -- earned her the prestigious Doris Duke Impact Award last year. “The Burning’’ is an a’capella musical of original song, movement and dialogue rooted in African-American tradition.

“The Burning’’ imagines the social and political dynamics surrounding each of the tragic scenarios -- the Rhythm Night Club Fire of Natchez, MI (1940) and the E2 Club Stampede of Chicago, IL (2003) -- and how race, class, gender and generation play out in different ways. Truscott says she wanted to examine “the way we understand identity and community when it’s a matter of life and death.” 

Truscott, an African-American woman and Muslim, was invited to bring the performance to USF as part of USF and Art2Action’s THIS Bridge project. The project hosts national and international performance artists and events with the aim of enhancing understanding of Arab, Middle Eastern and Muslim cultures and identities, over the course of two years. 

“Truscott is an artist who can talk about those identities and the history of African-American Muslims in the country,” notes Arts2Action Founder Andrea Assaf.

This performance also bridges Black History Month with February’s lesser known celebration, Islam Awareness month. Assaf and Truscott both note that the date of the performance is also the 50th Anniversary of assassination of Malcolm X.

Truscott and the Progress Theatre will also participate in the USF Institute on Black Life "Race & Place" conference Friday, February 20th, which is free and open to the public. 

Read more articles by Kendra Langlie.

Kendra Langlie is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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