The libretto and book are followed closely in the film, and are at the same time animated through the alternating scenographies, choreographies and stagings. The form is both historical and propositional. The cast includes AACM members Douglas Ewart, Ann Ward, Coco Elysses and Khari B., as well as artist William Pope L. and actors, dancers and vocalists from Chicago. Los Angeles-based artist Charles Gaines created supergraphics for the installation. These drawings are a scaled up version of his designs for the opera’s scenography, drawn with white chalk on black walls. The images create another alternate setting, one which houses a church organ and a surveillance room.
In some scenes the actors recite Lewis writings about the contribution of AACM’s African-American members to the history of the avant-garde, alternating with much more abstract, Beckett-sounding texts. Elsewhere, black and white scenes present exterior shots of locations where the AACM used to meet. As with most work by Sullivan, the narrative uses repetition of characters, movement, and in some cases texts. In this specific project the scenes’ rotation is conceived to create interest for viewers watching the piece for various lengths of time. The AACM is also known as a training program for young musicians, and the film follows Ann Ward as she teaches a group of students how to compose and improvise. The final scenes in the video concentrate on the social, political and cultural realities that inspired the evolution of the AACM as well as dilemmas around artistic creativity and mobility.
The film hopes to create a disparate field of forms and practices where the “polyphony of quoted voices” in the book can maneuver in the same spirit of decentralized authorship and artistic promiscuity.
The Afterword Dramaturgies are a series of works by Catherine Sullivan, created while working on the film Afterword Via Fantasia and the opera Afterword, by composer George Lewis. Sullivan is co-director of the opera and is conceiving of the costumes, choreography and mise en scène with director/composer Sean Griffin.
The drawings show select scenes from the opera in terms of choreography, costume, and setting. Each one is conceived as either a costume in itself, or as a space for Sullivan to think through the elements for an opera that has no fixed characters, but cast of six people who must embody multiple perspectives on the creative, social, ideological situation of the AACM. Each character is a hybrid of elements – memories, visions and also discourse and self-consciousness. The drawings are my attempt to imagine worlds for the libretto on forms which are analogous to bodies. The task of shaping images for this opera can be extremely overwhelming. I wanted to reveal my own autodidacticism, and my own novice status with respect to the task. Instead beginning with blank pages, I wanted to begin with surfaces that were in some way related to my own experience of making things and self fashioning. The dress patterns were used primarily by my mother to make clothes over the years and have a material basis in the era of the AACM. They also have structures which forced certain compositional questions and also the basis to imagine certain elements on costumes themselves.
The series of props in the exhibition is imagined for our contralto, Gwendolyn Brown. The box, “Peter’s Honey” is from the film, and is a replica of a prop from the set for Porgy and Bess. The piece is an assemblage or treatment of aesthetic elements for Gwendolyn, a character who is knowledgeable about, Egyptology, numerology, the church, manual labor, pool halls, opera, and MUSIC!