IN Series and Theater Alliance unite to celebrate the poet June Jordan

'Her work imagines a future where Black people live well, where love and politics intermix, and where all people can coexist with harmony, justice, and equality.'

IN Series and Theater Alliance’s co-production of John Adams’s musical I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, previously scheduled to open this month, had to be postponed due to the COVID pandemic. In its place, the companies jointly announced, will be a brand-new production celebrating the life of the poet and activist June Jordan, who wrote the libretto for Ceiling/Sky.

“June Jordan was the reason I was drawn to I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky,” said Theater Alliance Producing Artistic Director Raymond O. Caldwell, who was slated to direct the musical and now leads this new production. “While we are disappointed to not bring that show to audiences this spring, we are excited to instead put June Jordan herself in the spotlight — through an evening of her poetry, essays, songs, and revolutionary ideas.”

The new work, called Poetry for the People: The June Jordan Experience, has been developed in collaboration with acclaimed pianist Adrienne Torf, June Jordan’s partner both personally and professionally, who is now the key keeper of her legacy. The performance will bring together words, images, and music in a dynamic exploration of Jordan’s activism, poetry, and personal life.

“June Jordan is a name that everyone should know, like Alice Walker or Audre Lorde. Her work imagines a future where Black people live well, where love and politics intermix, and where all people can coexist with harmony, justice, and equality,” said Caldwell.

The Poetry for the People cast will include Lisa Buch, Sophia Early, Ezinne Elele, Shana Oshiro, Llogan Peters, and Anna Shafer, with a special appearance by Adrienne Torf.

Poetry for the People: The June Jordan Experience will run March 16 to 27, 2022, presented by IN Series and Theater Alliance performing in the Black Box at Anacostia Arts Center, 1231 Good Hope Road SE, Washington, DC. Tickets ($40–$60; student, senior, military $30) are available online or by calling 202-241-2539. For each performance, ten seats will be reserved for walk-up Radical Neighboring Name-Your-Own-Price tickets.

COVID Safety: Proof of vaccination is required to attend this performance. Within the Anacostia Arts Center and throughout the performance, all patrons will be asked to keep masks on.

One of the most widely published and highly acclaimed Jamaican American writers of her generation, poet, playwright and essayist June Jordan was known for her fierce commitment to human rights and political activism. Over a career that produced 27 volumes of poems, essays, libretti, and work for children, Jordan engaged the fundamental struggles of her era: for civil rights, women’s rights, and sexual freedom. Jordan’s poetry is known for its immediacy and accessibility as well as its interest in identity and the representation of personal, lived experience — her poetry is often deeply autobiographical. Jordan’s work also frequently imagines a radical, globalized notion of solidarity among the world’s marginalized and oppressed.

Jordan uses conversational, often vernacular English to address topics ranging from family, bisexuality, political oppression, racial identity and racial inequality, and memory. Regarded as one of the key figures in the mid-century American social, political and artistic milieu, Jordan also taught at many of the country’s most prestigious universities including Yale, State University of New York–Stony Brook, and the University of California–Berkeley, where she founded Poetry for the People. Her honors and awards included fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Council on the Arts, and the New York Foundation for the Arts, a Rockefeller Foundation grant, and the National Association of Black Journalists Award. She is the author of the libretto for I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, which will be co-produced by IN Series and Theater Alliance next season.

Adrienne Torf and poet, activist and teacher June Jordan were artistic collaborators for 19 years until Jordan’s passing in 2002. Together they wrote numerous works for performance by themselves as a duo, by ensembles, and, with their full-length stage musical/documentary opera Bang Bang Uber Alles, by a cast of eight plus an orchestra. Torf’s recordings include “June Jordan and Adrienne Torf Collaboration: Selected Works, 1983–2000,” two solo albums of original compositions for piano and synthesizers, “Brooklyn From the Roof” and “Two Hands Open,” and more than a dozen commercially released albums by Holly Near, Cris Williamson, Meg Christian, Ferron, Kay Gardner, and others. Torf also serves as a finance consultant and board member for numerous nonprofit organizations.

IN Series collaborates with diverse local artists and nonprofit organizations, performing in small, intimate, sometimes unusual venues — from GALA Hispanic Theatre to the abandoned Boiler Plant — commissioning fresh English adaptations, and breathing new life into rarely heard pieces. Think Verdi’s Othello in repertory with Toni Morrison’s Desdemona, music by Nina Simone, and a community art installation as the set design. Affordable ticket prices and free community events and outreach programs include Q&As with artists and creative teams and educational programs for thousands of DC schoolchildren. A four-year artist fellowship program designed by and for exceptional Black singing artists supports them on the road to becoming opera industry leaders. A new INVISION streaming service provides free digital access to present and past programming anywhere in the world. IN Series makes a once-elite art form relevant, accessible, powerful.

Theater Alliance develops, produces, and presents socially conscious, thought-provoking work that fully engages our community in active dialogue. As the resident theater company of the Anacostia Playhouse since 2013, Theater Alliance is proud to produce professional, award-winning work in Anacostia. Through our work, Theater Alliance hopes to create an audience laboratory where the myriad perspectives of DC are face-to-face, confronting issues and tackling difficult questions that affect our diverse community. Locally, Theater Alliance has twice been a finalist for the Mayor’s Arts Award; featured in the Greater Washington Catalogue for Philanthropy; received the Capitol Hill Community Foundation’s Keller Award for making significant, ongoing contributions to the life of the community; and awarded the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ UPSTART Grant for capacity building. Nationally, we have received the American Theatre Wing’s National Theater Company Grant as well as become a member of Theatre Communications Group and the National New Play Network. Theater Alliance has received 95 Helen Hayes Award nominations and 22 Helen Hayes Awards.

Poetry for the People: The June Jordan Experience is made possible through the support of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, the Billy Rose Foundation, the Revada Foundation, the Share Fund, Dallas Morse Coors, the Angell Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The co-producers also gratefully recognize the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Celtino Foundation, the Dimick Foundation, Eugene Lang, Reva and David Logan, and M&T Bank. Season 19 at Theater Alliance is generously sponsored by David and Jean Heilman Grier.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here