New Opera Showcases its Promise at the Blue Room with Funding from Opera America

Nedra Dixon (from the artist)

Eight women of color gather to tell stories of racism and wonder if healing is possible.

A town hall, a college forum, a broadcast platform, a podcast? No, it’s a locally created stage musical.

Pamela Baskin-Watson (photo by Lafiya Watson Ramerez, Bad Chick Studio)

“A God • Sib’s Tale: A Folk Opera” was written by Nedra Dixon, actress/director/writer, and Pamela Baskin-Watson, composer/musician/writer. Both women had extensive New York experience before becoming Kansas City icons. “A God • Sib’s Tale: A Folk Opera” is the first production of Black Repertory Theatre KC’s ARC: New Works Program, which aims to support local playwrights with original works “bending toward justice.” The piece was chosen for funding (one of two winners out of 38 proposals) by OPERA America’s IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access) grants program. In “Broadway World,” Cerise Jacobs of the sponsoring foundation described Dixon and Baskin-Watson as “brilliant artists of the global majority.”

“A God • Sib’s Tale: A Folk Opera” takes place in 1957 in rural Ohio. The young wife of the most prominent townsman has given birth to a biracial baby — shown some “cocoa in her mother’s milk.” The church missionary women, aged 20 to 70, know there’s “a whole lot of trouble starting to brew.” After all, “those two wrongs make a baby.” The women’s individual personalities and life experiences run the gamut: One had a father killed by white men, another had a white father “passing” for Black. Others struggle with abandonment, alcoholism, a jilting. But other members of the group boast a promising nursing future, a happy marriage, a successful husband. They end up agreeing on a plan to protect mother and baby, even as crashing, glass-breaking and a fire can be heard outside their door.

The $12,500 OPERA America IDEA award made possible a workshop reading on Saturday, Jan. 8, at The Blue Room. A full crowd (COVID-limited) watched and marveled as local actresses Karen Wright, Amber A. McKinnon, Elaine Watson, LaTeesha Jackson, Allison Jones, Paulette Spaulding, Keshana Cook and Bri Woods, directed by Damron Russell, enacted the drama believably and heartbreakingly and hit every song note. Some of them had been instrumental in the development of the work.

The music encompasses gospel, musical theater and opera, with a bit of jazz. The songs are crystalline. “Small Town,” “I’m Here to Save the Lord,” “Loneliness,” “Colored Girls/Each Other’s Hair,” “Baby – Precious Baby” and “I’m Going to Let the Lord Lead Me” compellingly underscore the storyline and the way the women are constantly “straddling a tightrope.”

Particularly relevant and agonizing is the wail of one mother whose son hasn’t come home. “Come home to me safe, my love. Bring me my son.” The dream of all the women is to “not have to wonder if you’ll make it home at the end of the day.” White people keep “wreaking havoc on us” and “storms keep coming.”

But the women are also determined. “Change is long overdue.” By the play’s last moments, the women acknowledge that “people are scared of what they don’t understand,” and what we must all strive for is to see the world “through the eyes of a child.” The white father’s daughter describes him: “His color was love.”

“God-sib” comes from Old English and refers to a godparent, a sponsor at childbirth, or a close friend. There’s also a connection with the word “gossip.” Both terms are so fitting for the connection of the eight women. They accept their duty; they will protect the child.

We know Dixon and Baskin-Watson primarily as dazzling actor and accompanist. They now take the stage as star playwrights/producers. Their work will also be featured in “Opera America Magazine,” its social media platforms and at the organization’s forum and conference. And, we hope, as a full production in Kansas City.

Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith is an impassioned supporter of local performances of all types, who welcomes the  opportunity to promote them to KC Studio readers.

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