In the stories of Brer Rabbit, the reader follows the energetic, cottontail character through a series of adventures and lessons. Brer Rabbit (loosely translated as “brother rabbit”), is a trickster bunny who lives in a briar patch and succeeds by his wits rather than physical strength, by manipulating authority and sometimes bending social mores, often in scenarios where he is at a great disadvantage.
Well, the story of Brer Rabbit will be reimagined, recast and retold as an opera, January 22-23, at BRIC House in Fort Greene, as one of a handful events taking place at the media and arts center during its gentrification series.
The stories of Brer Rabbit are believed to have origins in Ghana and are identical to the West African tales of his cousin, “Anansi the Spider,” which were passed down to American slaves through an oral tradition that speaks to the skill, wisdom and ability to hide certain aspects of culture within speech.
Brer Rabbit The Opera: A Funky Meditation On Gentrification (Work-in-Progress), is the brainchild of creative artist Aisha Cousins, writer and musician Greg Tate and Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber, who together were the 2014–2015 winners of Fireworks, BRIC’s residency and commission program.
Cousins is also the founder of the Brer Rabbit Community Day Celebrations in Bed-Stuy, an event she started in 2011 that takes place during Easter, when kids are invited to a play space for arts and crafts and, of course, to hear the ancient Brer Rabbit stories, as well as participate in exercises that push their imaginations.
Cousins said that while talking and interviewing people last summer for the current project, one of the things that came up repeatedly from those who knew about Brer Rabbit was how much they loved hearing the stories as children, told to them by their grandparents, aunts, uncles and other elders.
“We mostly met folks from the Caribbean who talked about how, as adults, they now deeply value the life lessons family members taught them through those stories, and how they wished those values were more prevalent today,” said Cousins.
So Brer Rabbit will be hopping into Brooklyn a little early (before Easter) this year!
Where does the funky meditation on gentrification come in? Well, explained Cousins, the briar patch is often seen by outsiders as a thorny, uncomfortable place. But in the stories, the briar patch is Brer Rabbit’s home, a safe haven where he retreats and evades most of his detractors.
So what is viewed as one person’s den may be another’s danger. And so goes the set up for a conversation on gentrification, ownership, perception, comfort… and change.
Cousins said it was Tate’s idea to flip the entire story into an opera, as a way to stretch creatively. And for the music, they brought in the legendary Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber– a band Tate founded with bassist Jared Michael Nickerson in 1999.
“We wound up talking about this by having one of the opera’s main characters, Undre, the cool marketer, be a person who has missed out on these stories and their life lessons.
“Our story starts with him being thrust into the Briar Patch, which is a community that is steeped in them. A lot of the opera is him trying to understand the culture and him finding himself in predicaments where he has to question the values that he is currently living his life by.”
Brer Rabbit The Opera: A Funky Meditation On Gentrification is an exploration of tricksterism, techno-animism and urban survival that tackles the modern dilemma of gentrification. The opera will merge music, performance art and community engagement while reflecting on the life lessons our respective Briar Patches have taught us.
Tickets for both shows of Brer Rabbit The Opera: A Funky Meditation On Gentrification are $15 in advance, $18 at the door. To purchase tickets, go here.