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TBA Online: News & Features: November 2016

Art As Social Activism: The Legacy of Cultural Odyssey in 10 Iconic Photos

Tuesday, November 8, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: TBA Staff
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By Rotimi Agbabiaka

Each year, Theatre Bay Area presents its Legacy Awards to individuals and organizations that have made “extraordinary contributions to the Bay Area theatre community.” This year’s recipients include Idris Ackamoor and Rhodessa Jones, who are being honored for their work as Co-Artistic Directors of Cultural Odyssey, the internationally renowned, San Francisco-based performance company.

When Ackamoor founded Cultural Odyssey in 1979, he wanted to recreate the interdisciplinary, community-based artistic culture he’d observed during his travels to Africa. Jones joined the company as Co-Artistic Director in 1983 and together they created original productions that combined music, theatre and dance with a vision of “Art as Social Activism.”

Since its early days, Cultural Odyssey has toured their productions internationally, collaborated with acclaimed artists like Bill T. Jones, Keith Haring and Ntozake Shange, and provided community-based programs like The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women, which serves female inmates, ex-inmates, HIV positive women, and community participants.

To commemorate this latest recognition for Ackamoor and Jones - who have also received such accolades as a Bessie Award, an AUDELCO Award and a San Francisco Foundation Community Leadership Award, among others - here are ten iconic scenes from the company’s 37-year history.

1. Cultural Odyssey had its first big hit with 1983’s The Legend of Lily Overstreet, based on Jones’ experience as a peep-show dancer in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.

Photo courtesy of the Cultural Odyssey Archives.

2. A European critic described their performances as “One Thousand and One Ideas,” a moniker they subsequently used to name of one of their early productions.

Photo by Lorraine Capparell and Lars Speyer.

3. Their 1987 piece, I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine, was a take on Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship.

Photo by Lorraine Capparell and Lars Speyer.

4. Jones’s experience as Artist-In-Residence at the San Francisco City Jail, where she taught “aerobics” to the inmates, inspired the award-winning 1989 piece, Big Butt Girls, Hard-Headed Women, which she revived at the Praktika Theatre in Moscow in 2009.

Photo by Anton Belitsky.

5. Ackamoor appeared on a 1994 cover of Callboard, the theater monthly published by Theatre Bay Area to promote the SF African American Performance Art Festival.

Photo by Lorraine Capparell.

6.  Jones appeared in a 1999 Callboard profile of The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women, which uses performance to rehabilitate female inmates, HIV-positive women, and other members of the community.

Photo by Lorraine Capparell.

7. In 2009, the duo collaborated with choreographer Joanna Haigood, pictured here with Jones, to explore reparations for African-Americans in The Breach.

Photo by William H. Jones Jr.

8. Described as “party house party, part TV talk show, and part cabaret,” 2010’s The Love Project was a collaboration with playwright Pearl Cleage.

Photo courtesy of the Cultural Odyssey Archives.

9. To celebrate its 35th anniversary, Cultural Odyssey presented a showcase of new works. The promo image is from Suppositions On History, an earlier work.

Photo by Lorraine Capparell and Lars Speyer.

10. Jones leads a performance of Birthright with The Medea Project in 2015.

Photo by David Wilson.