Walk with us. Experience this new work and all its dimensions.
By Lauren Campbell, Vice President of Community Engagement & Education
The Strathmore stage has never seen a work quite like Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, coming this April. Co-presented with Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, this fully staged opera has a thrilling musical score that draws inspiration from 200 years of African American music. Created by Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon and based on the Parable novels by Butler, the show tells the story of Lauren Olamina and her community, who fight to survive in dire circumstances. Along with Woolly, we are proud to present this bold, timely work. It is the centerpiece of our season and we hope everyone will have the chance to see it.
All that you touch, you change. All that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change.
“Being able to play a part in bringing Toshi’s and Bernice’s opera adaptation of this extraordinary work to our region is important for Strathmore,” said Monica Jeffries Hazangeles, Strathmore’s President and CEO. “Offering conversations and productions inspired by this historically significant work aligns directly with our artistic mission of offering Strathmore as a venue for discovery and a canvas for expression.”
In our first co-presentation, Strathmore and Woolly are delighted to be joining together to present this work.
“I’m thrilled to join forces and unite our audiences to witness this visceral and mesmerizing new operatic work that beautifully reveals Butler’s stunningly prophetic insights on the future of American civilization,” said Maria Manuela Goyanes, Woolly’s Artistic Director.
OCTAVIA BUTLER AND THE PARABLE NOVELS
The performance is based on two novels, The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents by Butler, a legendary American writer and thinker in the genre of Afrofuturism. Butler’s writing career spanned from the 1970s to the early 2000s, but her prophetic writings were ahead of her time. In the Parable novels, she imagines a dystopian America spanning the years of 2024–2090 where climate change and eroding democracy have rendered most people desperately poor while the wealthy hoard food, money, education, and security. The protagonist, Olamina, is a 16-year-old young woman who carefully observes this brutal world and creates a vision for a new way to guide her people to navigate their troubled lives. A series of devastating losses shape her path as she leads her community through peril and teaches them her vision. With a thrilling plot and compelling characters, the story explores themes that have never been more timely—how community can provide safety amid chaos, the possibility and limitations of a singular leader’s vision, family as a source of both love and pain, and so much more.
While Butler’s writing has been a revered part of American literature for decades, there has recently been a huge resurgence of interest in her work. Since the election of 2016, interpretations of her writing have exploded and there are several major movie and television projects in the works, including a feature film of Parable of the Sower, graphic novels, social media accounts, webinars, and podcasts.
The intense energy around Butler’s work makes this a perfect time for Strathmore and Woolly to co-present the stage adaptation of Parable of the Sower. You won’t be able to look away as Olamina leads her people through gut-wrenching danger and uses love, care, shrewd strategy, and sometimes violence to protect her community and build toward her vision of the future. An ensemble of actors and a powerhouse funk/rock band, led by Reagon, deliver unforgettable impact with thirty original anthems.
GO DEEPER—PARABLE PATH AND FELLOWSHIP
Strathmore, Woolly, and Reagon are all committed to offering pathways to get closer to what’s on stage. In the months leading up to the performances, as well as the weekend of the shows, there will be lectures, conversations with the artists, and resource guides to give you a chance to dive into the many fascinating elements of Reagon’s and Butler’s work. We call this the “Parable Path.”
While nothing in the world of Parable is simple, one theme shines brightly—that we have to keep going, keep being creative and keep taking care of each other, no matter how hard things are or how scary the world gets. Butler, Olamina, Reagon, Johnson Reagon—all these women, fictional and real, put their energy and brilliance into telling the truth—connecting with others, and building a better world. In that spirit, we are launching a program as part of the Parable Path that will empower young people to use their artistry for positive change. The new Arts and Social Justice Fellowship for high schoolers launches in February, inspired by the themes of Parable and the genius of the women who created it. The first class of fellows will study Butler’s legacy, Reagon and Johnson Reagon’s musical interpretation, and different ways that artist-activists can use their voices to create change. The fellowship is for 14–18-year-olds at any artistic skill level, and students will get financial and production support to develop their own creative projects. The program represents Strathmore’s commitment to building deep relationships and lifelong skills in the arts for young people. We dream for it to grow every year into a vibrant network of alumni and students who are changing the world together through their artistry.
The Arts and Social Justice Fellowship is made possible with generous support from the Dr. Allen A.B. Herman Fund, which was established by Dr. Herman’s widow, Strathmore Board member Deborah M. Smith, and their family and friends.
Parable of the Sower offers unforgettable inspiration in a troubled time—as a thrilling evening of music and drama, a launching pad for young artist-activists, and a chance for us to reflect on what kind of world and community we want to build. I hope you’ll join me on the Parable Path!