Jim Niesen (Additional historical notes, Prithi Kanakamedala)
Color Between the Lines was created as one third of “In Pursuit of Freedom,” a collaboration between the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Weeksville Heritage Center and the Irondale Ensemble Project. It tells the story of the Abolitionist struggle, and the unique contributions made by the people of Brooklyn. The project features three major exhibitions, one at each of the museums and at the Irondale Center--and an original play created by Irondale.
How do you take years of history and make it into a visceral experience—a vibrant, alive, compelling play? And how do you do it when there is no cast of leading characters in the original, raw material who dominate the story’s arc and instead the principal players number in the hundreds and are largely unknown except for brief accounts in the records of their times. We don’t know what they sounded like and often what they looked like. And for obvious reasons these people who took on an entire society at the risk of their own safety did not write a lot of stuff down.
You spend a lot of time going in circles and running down blind alleys.
And eventually you come up with something like the songs that hopefully you are now listening to. “Color Between the Lines” is not a documentary per se. Theatre is an art form. It is not journalism. It is metaphor. It plays with and against the historical narrative, data, and facts as it creates a work rooted in and true to its own point of view and artistic truth. It is the history plays of Shakespeare, the cavalry films of John Ford and the novels of Doctorow. At its best it is the reenactment of the great subconscious myths and yearnings that define the human spirit
We may not know what these everyday heroes who did so much sounded like. We don’t have detailed accounts of their conversations, letters or recordings of speeches. What we have tried to do is get at what was in their hearts. From the bare facts of their deeds we have tried to give their stories a voice. We took the accounts that spoke to us as individuals and translated these fragmentary details into songs—that we hope are visceral, alive and compelling. Each song was created by the same actors who sing them. They were often further polished and developed through the contributions of the entire ensemble and brought to full realization through the brilliance of musical director and arranger Nolan Kennedy.
The idea of this piece living on as a cast album/CD could never have been possible without the talent, ear and craftsmanship of the remarkable Nathan Rosenberg. Theatre is ephemeral, but thanks to Nathan we have something that keeps telling our stories.
Courageous and compelling
Huffington Post says:
It is already a pulsating and powerful production. While some of the vignettes were a little avant-garde for my taste, the music -- an eclectic mix of blues, country and contemporary rock – the physicality of the dancing, and the acting by this small, interracial cast were terrific and most of the pieces in the production were compelling.
They set out to tell these stories through song, and in their effort, they found a message that is still relevant today.