In April 2017, I created an audiovisual production entitled, "The Bronx is Burning: From Notorious Ashes to Underground Talents" as my senior capstone (a semester long project). The production included live performances, with multi-media qualities including lighting, sound and a video about The Bronx in the 70s. I used my skills and knowledge in lighting and sound through my learning in the Stagecraft course, my Spring 2016 semester away at Marlboro’s film program and my work as a Media Services assistant, to create a distinctive creative project.
I have a particular interest in performing arts and I wanted to explore the idea of translating a culture, mine in particular, of living in an inner city, through several art forms, including music, dance, poetry and physical art.
My ultimate goal was to critique and challenge stereotypes about urban communities, The Bronx in particular, including but limited to being filled with uneducated criminals, high school dropouts, unemployed individuals only collecting welfare and food-stamps It is clear that there are criminals, dropouts and ultimately individuals in need, but this isn’t what the Bronx is about.
I wanted to bring this to Colby-Sawyer College, my alma mater, because 1. I am from the Bronx so I have an instant connection to the topic and 2. Although there have been efforts in diversifying the college through the Progressive Scholarship, International students and a few cultural events, there isn’t much else. Colby-Sawyer mentioned their diversity in their catalog but lacked in truly providing an inclusive space for minorities.
To truly understand the gravity of the message that I portrayed in my production, it is essential to understand the history of The Bronx during the 70s and the 80s. During this time, New York City was at its lowest. We were going through a financial crisis, which led to layoffs of hundreds of city workers including firefighters. This led to the iconic term, “The Bronx is Burning,” because there were buildings constantly on fire, due to arsons and landlords wanting to collect insurance money: It was as if the government gave up on New York’s toughest ghettos, a coined term used for The Bronx, Harlem and Brownsville (Brooklyn). This time was classified as the urban decay or blight. In July 1977 there lighting hit Indian Point 3, a generating unit that was responsible for the entire city. The strikes led to a power outage of the entire city. Minutes after the darkness bestowed on Bronxites, looting began, leading to 1037 fires, 1616 damaged and/or looted stores and 3,776 arrests It was the only civil disturbance in NYC to encompass all 5 boroughs simultaneously. In this blackout the outrage of these communities found an outlet. In the BX in particular it catapulted hip-hop, after several people stole DJ sets that night. This is the essence of the Bronx, with crime, destruction and fires comes artistic escapism leading to underground creativity and talent in the finest form.
This is exactly what I wanted to explore in my production. the project consisted of three main pillars that I had to undertake.
I wanted to use the theater for a compilation of performances that combines, dance, singing and poetry into a theater show without a direct storyline or screenplay. All of the performances revolve around the Bronx culture that was influenced by the 70s. I looked to exhibit music from Bronx artists, or from NY artists from areas very similar to the Bronx especially during the time of tumultuous crime and destruction such as Harlem and Brooklyn. The entire soundtrack, pre-show, during show and post show are from New York’s toughest neighborhoods. All of the songs, with the exception of 1 were all released while I was growing up: these songs allowed us to escape in dance and lyrics: something we needed desperately.
I wrote my own poems inspired by Elizabeth Acevedo, and The Notorious B.I.G.
I created a video that briefly demonstrates The Bronx in the 70s and 80s, to give the audience background information in an entertaining manner
And finally, designed the stage plan to represent my community without being too literal. I included graffiti, shoes intertwined on a telephone wire and stairs.
Technical Vision: Lights and Sound
I wanted the lighting to reflect the growth of the Bronx. Throughout the production there is a progression of light from minimal to brighter tones to demonstrating this growth. The hues of the cyclorama were meant to be symbolic as well to reflect upon where the borough was to where it currently stands.
There was also an emphasis in the sound design of the production. The goal was to authentically depict the intensity of the Bronx by featuring city noises such as traffic, cars beeping and trains rumbling throughout the entire performance. These sounds were the undertones of the piece signifying that while in New London, NH (where Colby-Sawyer is located) this might just be annoying noise, to Bronxites the commonality of these sounds is just white noise. To create these sounds, I used some of my own recordings as well as royalty free sounds. I also used the following audio mixing applications to finalize the design: Wavepad, Adobe Audition and Final Cut Pro.
The final pillar was event management, which was the most stressful and difficult aspect throughout this entire journey.
I had to first hold auditions. The outcome was impressive as Diamond Williams, choreographer, held the auditions.
It didn’t just stop there though, I was basically the Liaison for the dancers and choreographer, making sure that dancers came to practice every week, I needed to book the dance space, and the theater for tech week. The hardest part was working around the schedules of other performances and tech weeks in the theater, including the "Almost, Main" production, Kearsarge Chorale, the dance club and dance class shows. I had to keep everyone up to date and send emails out with weekly updates. As the live production date drew closer, I reached out to my friend and graphic designer Karen Alcazar to create the promotional flyer (the first image of this page).
The hard work paid off as I was the winner of the 2017 Media Studies Capstone Award! If you would like to view the 30-minute production, click on the button below!