The Oregon Shakespeare Festival will present the world premiere of UniSon, a high-energy, multimedia, music-filled theatrical experience inspired by the poetry of beloved playwright August Wilson. Directed by Robert O’Hara and created by OSF ensemble-in-residence UNIVERSES, in association with Constanza Romero, UniSon will play in the Angus Bowmer Theatre April 23 – October 28, 2017, with preview performances on April 19, 21 and 22.
Granted access to Wilson’s poetry catalogue, UNIVERSES blends it into a mythically modern story of a dying poet who leaves a mysterious box to his apprentice, with strict instructions to destroy it. Curious, the apprentice opens it, releasing terrors that tormented the master throughout his life. This world premiere fuses poetry, theater, dance and music to explore the reconstruction of collective memory, blending UNIVERSES’ one-of-a-kind artistry with excerpts of Wilson’s poetry.
UniSon marks the return of OSF’s resident ensemble after their musical Party People—an American Revolutions commission that premiered at OSF in 2012—journeyed from Ashland to Berkeley Repertory Theatre to The Public Theater in New York. For this new musical, UNIVERSES’ Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, Steven Sapp and William Ruiz, a.k.a. Ninja have teamed up with co-composers Broken Chord and the critically acclaimed Toshi Reagon to craft the show’s mix of blues, hip-hop, R&B, classical music and jazz.
“It is a privilege to be in the presence of August Wilson’s words and to be able to find ourselves, and the inspiration for this play, within them,” UNIVERSES says. “We are deeply grateful to Constanza Romero, Robert O’Hara, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and our cast and creative team for joining us on this journey as we honor and explore some of the lesser-known art of one of the greatest playwrights to have ever blessed this planet.”
The cast of UniSon features Steven Sapp as Poet, Asia Mark as Apprentice, Christiana Clark as Terror #1: Seamstress, William Ruiz, a.k.a. Ninja as Terror #2: Butcher, Kevin Kenerly as Terror #3: Boxer, Rodney Gardiner as Terror #4: Black Smith, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp as Terror #5: Hunter, Yvette Monique Clark as Terror #6: Momma and Jonathan Luke Stevens as Terror #7: Solider. All performers play ensemble roles as well.
“I have been privileged to see UNIVERSES’ creative process, and can say it is truly unique,” says Constanza Romero, who is August Wilson’s widow and the executor of his estate. “I witnessed how they began to take flight into a fictionalized narrative from a poem by August entitled The Seven Terrors. From there, they continued to weave the poetry to fit the torturous landscape of a character, The Poet, who must confront the past and make peace with it before Death comes to claim him.”
Romero continues, “Issues of life and death have always been a central theme in August’s work. In their own style, UNIVERSES has tapped in to this ‘Wilsonian’ motif, but they have taken it to a brand new sphere, a world of dance, music, performance, spoken word and mystical theatricality. I have enjoyed myself greatly sitting through their rehearsals, humming along to a few of the songs, while they are enveloped in the process of invention. This discovery, this journey to the unknown is what I truly respect about UNIVERSES. And, I must say that if August were here with me at OSF, he would say he was proud to have inspired these artists to arrive at this brand new work, UniSon.”
Scenic design for UniSon is by Christopher Acebo, costume design is by Dede M. Ayite, lighting is by Alex Jainchill and video design is by Kaitlyn Pietras. Co-composers and vocal directors are UNIVERSES, Broken Chord and Toshi Reagon. Joan Herrington is dramaturg, Martine Kei Green-Rogers is assistant dramaturg, David Carey is voice and text director and U. Jonathan Toppo is fight director. Karl Alphonso is production stage manager and Moira Gleason is assistant stage manager.
The National Endowment for the Arts, Ed McCurtain and Jane Dryden, and Betty and Jack Schafer are Sponsors for UniSon. Partners are Cynthia Muss Lawrence, Nancy and Donald de Brier, Karen Easterbrook and Alex Sutton, and an Applegate anonymous donor. OSF’s 2017 season is sponsored by U.S. Bank.
Tickets for UniSon and other 2017 plays and events are available by visiting or calling the OSF Box Office at (800) 219-8161, or online at www.osfashland.org.
Founded by Angus Bowmer in 1935, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) has grown from a three-day festival of two plays to a nationally renowned theatre arts organization that presents an eight-month season of up to 11 plays that include works by Shakespeare as well as a mix of classics, musicals, and world-premiere plays and musicals. OSF’s play commissioning programs, which include American Revolutions: the United States History Cycle, have generated works that have been produced on Broadway, throughout the American regional theatre, and in high schools and community theatres across the country. The Festival draws attendance of more than 400,000 to approximately 800 performances every year and employs approximately 575 theatre professionals.
OSF invites and welcomes everyone, and believes the inclusion of diverse people, ideas, cultures and traditions enriches both our insights into the work we present on stage and our relationships with each other. OSF is committed to equity and diversity in all areas of our work and in our audiences.
OSF’s mission statement: “Inspired by Shakespeare’s work and the cultural richness of the United States, we reveal our collective humanity through illuminating interpretations of new and classic plays, deepened by the kaleidoscope of rotating repertory.”