Lyrics From Lockdown, a theatrical hip-hop and multimedia production written and performed by renowned artist and activist Bryonn Bain, plays the Apollo Theater August 29. The performance will simultaneously be streamed live to correctional facilities across the United States, and in Africa and Europe.
The piece follows a life changing encounter with law enforcement, in which Bain was wrongfully imprisoned during his second year at Harvard Law School. Once exonerated, he penned a Village Voice exposé titled “Walking While Black.” This piece evolved into Lyrics From Lockdown, which debuted at the National Black Theater in 2013, originally directed by Mei Ann Teo.
The Apollo Theater performance, directed by Gina Belafonte and executive produced by Harry Belafonte and Roger Lehecka, weaves together more than 40 voices, including California choirboy Nanon Williams, who was sentenced to Death Row in Texas at 17. The production combines hip-hop, theatre, spoken word poetry, comedy, calypso, and blues in order to expose the systemic injustice which has led to the United States incarcerating more people than any other country in the world.
Lyrics From Lockdown has received 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 an annual tour, where arts-based political education was brought to prisons in more than 25 states, including Sing Sing, Folsom, Rikers Island, D.C. Jail, and international engagements in Luzira (Uganda), Brixton, and Whitemoor (U.K.). More than 250 universities worldwide, including Juilliard, Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, and Oxford, have also participated in the program.
The live band features Jachary on bass, guitar, and beatbox; Joey “Cello Joe” Chang on beatbox and cello; Isaiah Gage on cello; and music direction by Tony 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.
The event is produced by Claudia Peña, Lisa Carnoy, Shamya Ullah, and four-time Tony Award Winner Dr. Ron Simons (Ain’t Too Proud, Jitney). Associate Producers are Rosie Rios and Cheryl Dennis. The project is a collaboration between the Centers for Justice at UCLA and Columbia University. Lyrics From Lockdown is presented by For Freedoms and is co-sponsored by Columbia University’s Office of Alumni Affairs and Office of the Dean of Students and Art for Justice Fund, a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.
The performance will be followed by a Town Hall discussion with Lee Walton, mother of Nanon Williams; K Bain, founder and executive director of Community Capacity Development, the nation’s leading community-based, anti-gun violence organization; Cheryl Wilkins, co-founder of Columbia University's 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 inspire civic engagement, moderated by Belafonte.