The award-winning theatrical hip-hop and multimedia production Lyrics From Lockdown, written and performed by renowned artist, writer, and activist Bryonn Bain, will play one historic performance to a live audience at the world-famous Apollo Theater in Harlem on Monday, August 29, beginning at 7 pm. The performance, directed by Gina Belafonte and executive produced by Harry Belafonte and Roger Lehecka, will feature a special simultaneous livestream, made available to more than a thousand incarcerated men, women, and youth in correctional facilities across the country and in prisons in Africa and Europe.
The groundbreaking multimedia theater production, exposing the unresolved contradictions of prisons and policing in America, weaves together over 40 voices, including California choirboy Nanon Williams, who was sentenced to death row in Texas at the age of seventeen, an immigrant family in Brooklyn, and a wrongfully incarcerated Harvard Law student, in an unforgettable one-man tour-de-force. Fusing hip-hop theater, spoken word poetry, comedy, calypso, and blues with a live band and video DJ, the show exposes systemic injustice in the nation that incarcerates more people than any other in the world.
Following life-altering encounters with police, Bryonn Bain was wrongfully imprisoned during his second year at Harvard Law School. Once exonerated, he put his pain on the page and penned the powerful Village Voice exposé called “Walking While Black.” His story was the most widely read piece in the newspaper’s history; it led to a 60 Minutes feature with Mike Wallace, which was seen by more than 20 million viewers, and planted the seeds for Lyrics From Lockdown. The solo show, originally directed by Mei Ann Teo, had its world premiere at the National Black Theater in 2013, with legendary artist and activist Harry Belafonte and Gina Belafonte as executive producers. It has since played to rave reviews across three continents, including a record-breaking sold-out run at Oscar winner Tim Robbins’ Actors’ Gang Theatre in Los Angeles, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in DC, and NYC’s Carnegie Hall, and won the LA Weekly and NAACP awards for Best Solo Performance.
Bain developed the show while working with Blackout Arts Collective, the grassroots organization he founded, through which he organized the annual Lyrics on Lockdown Tour, to bring arts-based political education behind bars. The program reached prisons in over 25 states, spawning performances, lectures, workshops, courses, conferences, and residencies at prisons including Sing Sing, Folsom, Rikers Island, DC Jail, Luzira (Uganda), and Brixton and Whitemoor (UK), in addition to over 250 universities worldwide, such as Juilliard, Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, and Oxford.
The production has garnered widespread attention from activists, theater artists, hip-hop pioneers, and the media. Harry Belafonte, who has championed the show for a decade, noted, “The world needs to see how Bryonn Bain’s Lyrics From Lockdown carries the tradition of joining art and activism as an instrument for justice – at a time when the prison system has our communities in crisis.”
Bain will be accompanied by a live band, featuring Jachary (bass, guitar, beatbox), Joey “Cello Joe” Chang (beatbox, cello), and Isaiah Gage (cello), with music direction by Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Kitt (Next to Normal; Jagged Little Pill). Emre Emergil is the video DJ, and the visual design team includes Jingqui Guan and Jazzmen Lee-Johnson
Following the live performance from the Apollo Theater – a collaboration between the Centers for Justice at UCLA and Columbia University, presented by For Freedoms and co-sponsored by Columbia University’s Office of Alumni Affairs, Office of the Dean of Students, and Art for Justice Fund (a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors) – will be a Town Hall discussion with Lee Walton (the mother of Nanon Williams), K Bain (founder and executive director of Community Capacity Development or CCD, the nation’s leading community-based anti-gun violence organization), Cheryl Wilkins (co-founder of the Columbia University Center for Justice), and Claudia Peña (co-director of the Center for Justice at UCLA and executive director of For Freedoms, a national arts organization working to model and to inspire civic engagement), moderated by director Gina Belafonte. Please note that this show includes explicit language and themes and is suitable for ages eleven and up.
Lyrics From Lockdown plays on Monday, August 29, 2022, at 7 pm (doors open at 6:00), at the Apollo Theater, 253 West 125th Street, NYC. For general admission tickets (priced at $25, plus fees), go online. Student rates are available by contacting the box office at (212) 531-5360. Masks are encouraged for all attendees while inside the theater.