WILMINGTON — A new season of performances and community programming have been announced through UNCW’s Office of the Arts. With it comes a new title: “Kenan Auditorium Presents.”
Formerly known as “UNCW Presents,” the name change was intentional, according to officials.
“The previous series name was a little too ambiguous and didn’t always call attention to the venue itself,” director of arts engagement Fidias Reyes said.
For over 50 years, the 1,000-seat theater, built in 1970, was one of the first arts spaces to bring culturally diverse productions to the area. Kenan has seen the talent of Maya Angelou, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, and Rhiannon Giddens, among others throughout the years.
Come fall 2022, the new season opens with comedian and actor Damon Wayans, best known in the early ‘90s for his work on “In Living Color” — a sketch show that ran Wednesdays on Fox and won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series. At the time, many said it rivaled NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” (Wayans had a year-long stint on “SNL” in the ‘80s).
“It created a platform for a primarily African American cast at a time when sketch shows included mostly white comedians,” Reyes said.
The show was produced by Damon and Keenan Ivory Wayans, and also included family members Kim and Marlon. It featured star power in each sketch, as well as within its musical acts down to its Fly Girls dance troupe.
“Damon Wayans created unforgettable characters, such as Homey D. Clown, and helped to launch the careers of stars like Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey, and Jennifer Lopez,” Reyes said.
In curating the season, Reyes said she took into account the variety of artistic mediums Kenan welcomes annually — music, theater, dance and comedy. While scoring big names — the indelible satirist David Sedaris will return for a third time in November to read from his books and entertain with his sardonic wit — it also highlights artists in other stages of their careers.
“We prioritize artists that further our mission to provide rich and in-depth outreach and engagement activities to our campus and the broader community,” Reyes said.
In 2022, Reyes said she has secured residencies, workshops and other community opportunities that adhere to the theme “Above and Beyond.”
“These outreach initiatives take the cultural experience above and beyond the stage and offer participants a more intimate look at the art form and the creative process,” she said.
North Carolina actor, playwright, and director Mike Wiley has planned an artist-in-residence and performance of “One Nobel Journey.” Founder of Mike Wiley Productions, he produces shows that are educational in nature and bring to life African American history.
“One Nobel Journey” tackles the innerworkings of the slave trade, in particular following the story of Henry “Box” Brown who escapes to freedom by hiding in a small crate as cargo.
“This production manages to celebrate human resilience while recounting the stories of characters who make desperate leaps to pursue their freedom,” Reyes described.
Wiley will perform the show at the beginning of 2023. Days before the performance, on Jan. 19 and 20, he will host workshops about the production.
“Mr. Wiley’s residency is an opportunity for the community to take a deeper dive into the physical, emotional, and mental repercussions of slavery,” Reyes said.
Reyes purposefully wanted the content of the season to create broader conversations in regards to social justice issues. The goal, she said, is “creating a space where our community can gather as artists and activists.”
Workshops are also planned next year for “Kenan Auditorium Presents” dance performances: Gaspard & Dancers, Chicago Dance Crash and Ballet Hispanico.
Chicago Dance Crash will take the stage in October. it has been a long-time coming, according to Reyes, as the troupe — a Black Theatre Alliance Award winner for choreography — postponed twice due to Covid-19. Reyes calls the group’s contemporary street dance and breakdancing “gritty.”
Complementary to the Chicago Dance Crash show, the UNCW Office of the Arts is developing a Hip Hop Collective, supported by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts.
“[It’s] designed to reach our youth through the art form of hip hop — which includes breakdancing — and will feature a community resiliency model training to address trauma,” she said.
Other projects of the 2022-2023 season include the NEA Big Read activities to promote literacy. Yaa Gyasi’s novel “Homegoing” has been chosen as the text to guide community conversations and arts events. The book follows familial stories of slaves from Africa transported to the antebellum South.
Planned are panel discussions — some of which will tie to the Wilmington Massacre of 1898 — as well as films from the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers, shown in partnership with Jengo’s Playhouse.
An Indigenous Public Art Reveal also is among the lineup to honor Native American Heritage Month in November.
Subscriptions to the new season are open now; the lineup can be found here.
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