Spring 2023: Digital Brochure

This spring, CPA invites you to rediscover, reengage, and reconnect with in-person arts experiences! This season’s lineup features an array of exciting performances, including classical and jazz concerts, drama exploring the human condition and the long-anticipated North Carolina premiere of Omar—the powerful new opera from Southern Futures Artist-in-Residence Rhiannon Giddens and acclaimed composer Michael Abels (“Nope,” “Get Out”).

From new works and partnerships to returning crowd-pleasers and collaborators, CPA’s spring programming celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and reminds us of art’s ability to drive vital conversations and spark joy. For a glimpse of what’s to come, check out the digital brochure below.

$10 student tickets available. 15% discount for UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC Health faculty/staff. 10% discount for active or retired military personnel and patrons 65 and older. Additional discounts available for select performances. Find discounts and other ticketing information here.

We look forward to seeing you in spring 2023 and beyond!

Catching up with Rhiannon Giddens

An illuminating afternoon with the Southern Futures Artist-in-Residence
Giddens sits behind a microphone, smiling, as she displays the pictures from her new book.
Photo by Taylor Barrett

It’s been a busy year for Rhiannon Giddens. Since finishing her propulsive new opera, Omar — set to make its North Carolina debut this spring — the Southern Futures Artist-in-Residence hasn’t stopped moving. The past few months have been especially hectic, with trips to New York, Los Angeles and Dublin, as well as other, more far-flung locations. Between these events, as well as the recent launch of her new children’s book, “Build a House,” moments of rest must have been hard to come by.

Fortunately, last week’s visit to Chapel Hill gave Giddens a chance to regroup and reconnect with her North Carolina roots. Though the schedule was predictably packed, she had the chance to meet with community members and Carolina Performing Arts staff to discuss opportunities for collaboration. Early in the week, she also spent some time diving into the Louis Round Wilson Library’s robust archives in search of new material.

Giddens’ trip culminated on Wednesday, October 19, when she stopped by Epilogue Books to promote her new children’s book. Seated before the audience, a banjo at her side, she read from “Build a House,” an alternately harrowing and uplifting story of a Black family’s resilience in the face of sorrow and dispossession. Paired with painter Monica Mikai’s striking illustrations, Giddens’ words ably captured the attention of both the children and the adults in attendance. And, as a special treat, Giddens performed her song of the same name, composed for the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth in collaboration with world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Giddens fields questions from the audience.
Photo by Taylor Barrett

After the reading and performance, Giddens stuck around to sign books and take questions from the audience. During the Q&A she spoke on a wide range of topics, from “Build a House” to her long journey through the music world, often with refreshing honesty.

“I didn’t pick up any instruments until I was 23,” she told the audience, when asked about her musical development. “I was bad for a while. That was helpful, I think. It’s good to break yourself down to the basics, good to be willing to suck.”

As one might expect, the audience was especially keen to hear about the the making of Omar. Giddens was open and authoritative on the subject. Again and again, she underlined the collaborative nature of the project, and she discussed the work of Michael Abels, her co-composer, in glowing terms. Though she admitted that composing an opera for the first time was a significant challenge, she said Abels eased much of this challenge, helping her to stick to a more structured process. In addition, she spoke of her thrill at the idea that the form might be more familiar than she’d initially expected. Only, in Omar, she said, “the whole orchestra is a banjo.”

Toward the end of the Q&A, Giddens took a moment to discuss Omar ibn Said, the opera’s historical inspiration. She was quick to note that, though the opera contains many elements pulled from ibn Said’s 1831 autobiography, it takes a greater interest in the enslaved West African scholar’s internal, spiritual journey than it does in bare biographical facts. She stressed the need for further exploration of ibn Said’s whole story, given its cross-cultural connections. “This story should be told from multiple vantage points,” she said. “Omar is just me trying to find one way — my way — through the story.”

Here’s hoping more artists of Giddens’ caliber take up the challenge.

Intersectional Theatre: Presenting a Bilingual Prince Hamlet

Our residency with Why Not Theatre spotlights their groundbreaking approach 
Dawn Jani Birley shares the story of her career and her unique perspective on the world of theatre.
Photo by Taylor Barrett

Ahead of this Friday’s performance of Prince Hamlet, Why Not Theatre joined Carolina Performing Arts for a week-long residency. This included an in-depth discussion with actor and American Sign Language (ASL) translator Dawn Jani Birley about the company’s intersectional approach to William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy.

Throughout the conversation with CPA and PlayMakers Repertory Company staff, Birley highlighted her conscious rebellion against the idea that mere inclusion should serve as a true end goal. For Birley, inclusion feels too limited, as it fails to encompass the full range of her capabilities. By contrast, an intersectional approach allows Birley and the rest of the company to explore the multiple dimensions of Shakespeare’s characters through new lenses of language, gender and ethnicity. In doing so, Why Not Theatre challenges traditional notions of who exactly gets to tell these stories. 

“I want to use my platform as an artist to break down the systemic barriers and open new avenues in the theatre. I hope work like this can be a part of that.” 

Dawn Jani Birley

Director Ravi Jain’s retelling shows us the world through the eyes of Horatio, Hamlet’s best friend, as portrayed by Birley. Within this framework, we come to understand that Horatio’s deafness is just one of many aspects that inform his perception of that world. Combining English and ASL, the production offers a bold reimagining aimed at hearing and Deaf audiences alike.

This week’s residency also included a public pre-performance discussion with director Vivienne Benesch and actor Tia James of PlayMakers Repertory Company, which will present its own take on the Bard’s famous play in January 2023. The primary topic of discussion stemmed from a common thread: Both productions will feature a woman in the lead role. Cast members spoke about these challenges and opportunities with refreshing candor, offering a rare inside look at the performances to come.

Why Not Theatre’s Prince Hamlet will be presented at Memorial Hall this Friday, October 7. The PlayMakers Repertory Company’s performance of Hamlet will run from January 25 through February 12. CPA audiences can save 20% with promo code DENMARK

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