With the election of America’s first African American President, Rhodessa Jones and Idris Ackamoor, two prominent artistic voices in American race and gender politics for the past thirty years, make a timely return to the La Mama stage. While pundits crank out sanitized narratives of multi-culturalism and gender equality in sweeping gestures, Jones and Ackamoor track a decidedly personal political history of this country through the romantic, professional, political, and sexual relationships that have guided them through decades of conflict and struggle. Part house party, part TV talk show, and part cabaret, The Love Project is an interactive experience that testifies to the network of human relations that define our times.
The Love Project represents the collaboration of four distinguished artists. Long-time creative partners and one-time romantic cohorts, Ackamoor and Jones have collaborated for most of their lives in performance, music, dance, and education. For the Love Project, they have partnered with Pearl Cleage, acclaimed author of What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, and her husband Zaron Burnett Jr., writer and director of the Just Us Theater Company in Atlanta. These four artists, working together and separately across the country since the late 70s, converged upon this single project to reflect on how various kinds of love—romantic, familial, racial, platonic, spiritual, and sexual—have shaped their careers and political context.
The project first appeared as a work in progress at the National Black Theater Festival to the delight of a sold-out audience. It has continued to evolve since then, shifting in response to the context of its presentation. As Ackamoor and Jones preside, they depend on audience members to enrich the experience with their own songs and narratives, creating what Ackamoor describes as a “Chorus of Love”. Jones underlines these ambitions, remarking: “My deepest fantasy is that The Love Project is a cabaret piece that encourages a public forum—an evening of words, music, and movement that can expand to include live performance in the moment.” Harriet Schiffer-Scott directs The Love Project. Jones and Ackamoor are particularly enthusiastic about returning to New York and La Mama E.T.C. after years of absence.
While The Love Project is their first truly interactive work, Ackamoor and Jones have sparked animated conversations and awards at La Mama for many years. At the Women’s Theater Festival in 1997, they presented The Legend of Lily Overstreet, Jones’ comedic lamentation on her days as a peep show dancer. The work captured La Mama audiences with its hilarious audacity, while posing serious questions about race and sexuality. Their take on Ike and Tina Turner, I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine had the Village Voice saying “American Gothic…Excellent performances!” Their performance at Aaron Davis Hall in Harlem had the New York Times saying, “The material shimmered with intelligence, wit and humanity”. Jones’ Piece de Resistance, “Big But Girls, Hard-Headed Women” garnered the duo a BESSIE AWARD for the 1992-93 theater season. Ackamoor’s show “Shoehorn!” garnered the La Mama Production “Best Musical”, “Best Actor in a Musical”, and “Best Director for a Musical” at the 23rd Annual AULDELCO Awards in 1995. Ackamoor and Jones are masters of transporting audiences out of their daily lives in order to provide greater critical perspective upon them. Jones has gained international notoriety for developing original theater within prisons as part of her Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women, allowing inmates to reflect upon their incarceration. Jones and Ackamoor have been collaborating since the late 1970’s. Ackamoor had just founded the San Francisco based performance ensemble Cultural Odyssey and Jones had recently finished the early versions of Lily Overstreet. The two artists merged their endeavors, developing a repertoire of highly acclaimed works under the auspices of Cultural Odyssey over the next thirty years. “Cultural Odyssey Dazzles! Jones and Ackamoor make sense of life by making beautiful music of the human experience,” proclaims the San Diego Tribune.