Driving While Black


Film adaptation will premiere on April 23rd, 2021

Composed by Susan Kander

Libretto by Roberta Gumbel

Starring Karen Slack

Directed and Choreographed by Du’Bois & Camry A’Keen of A’KEEN Brand

Driving While Black is a solo performed work constructed out of two interwoven strands, one personal, one external. In the central narrative, we meet the Mother: a baby is born to happy parents; she frets at the father to put the all-important car seat in the back seat of the car properly. From here on, she relates to the child first in its seat facing backward in the back of the car, then facing forward, then eventually the child sits next to her in the front seat on the passenger side. This is how Time is marked; the car is ever the center of their lives. The Mother scenes move forward in time from the beginning to the end of the piece. Threaded between these scenes, punctuating them, are telegraphic vignettes of contemporary news bulletins or personal stories introduced in spoken words. The Singer performs many characters relating to specific but generic events. These all describe, without comment, the dangerous world beyond the Mother’s control, and the increasing anxiety building up in her mind as her “beautiful brown boy” approaches manhood and his much-desired independence.

Soprano: Karen Slack, Hailed for possessing a voice of extraordinary beauty, a seamless legato and great dramatic depth, American soprano Karen Slack has appeared with the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera and San Francisco Opera. The 2018-2019 season saw her as Tosca with Opera Birmingham, Addie Parker in Yardbird with Arizona Opera, Sister Rose in Dead Man Walking with Atlanta Opera, Serena in Porgy and Bess with Fort Worth Opera, and her debut with Opera Theatre of St. Louis as Billie in Fire Shut Up in My Bones. The 2019-2020 season also included a series of recitals throughout the US including the Vilar Center for the Performing Arts in Vail, Colorado with pianist Joe Illick. Additionally, Ms. Slack portrayed a featured role as the Opera Diva in Tyler Perry’s movie and soundtrack For Colored Girls.

Conductor: Robert Wood founded UrbanArias in 2009. Under his guidance, the company has achieved national recognition as an innovator in the field of opera, and has produced over 25 contemporary works in Virginia, DC, and New York City, eleven of which were world premieres, and seven of which were UrbanArias commissions. He conducts all of UrbanArias’ productions. Highlights inlcude Glory Denied (Cipullo), The Roost (Migó/de los Santos – world premiere, UrbanArias commission), The Last American Hammer (Hilliard/Boresi – world premiere, UrbanArias commission), Paul’s Case (Spears/Walat – world premiere), Three Decembers (Heggie/Scheer), Blue Viola (Hilliard/Boresi – world premiere, UrbanArias commission), As One (Kaminsky/Campbell/Reed), After Life and Josephine (Cipullo – world premiere/UrbanArias commission), and Independence Eve (Boquiren/Neer – world premiere).

Cellist: Rosanna Butterfield, Praised for her “supple phrasing” and “singing tone” (South Florida Classical Review), Canadian cellist Rosanna Butterfield is a versatile performer and teaching artist. After studying with Judith Fraser at the Vancouver Academy of Music throughout high school, she earned her Bachelor of Music degree in 2012 at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music in Houston, Texas, under the tutelage of Norman Fischer. Rosanna has enjoyed a multifaceted career in the Washington, D.C. area, where she lives with her husband, violinist Foster Wang. She has performed with the Washington National Opera Orchestra, Inscape Chamber Orchestra, and Maryland Lyric Opera, and is on the faculty at the D.C. Youth Orchestra Program.

Percussionist: Eric Plewinski, is a member of the Grammy-nominated Inscape Chamber Orchestra. As an active freelance percussionist in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area, he has performed with such groups as the National Symphony, Richmond Symphony, Annapolis Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Virginia Symphony, Virginia Opera, Fort Worth Symphony, Charlottesville Opera Orchestra, Orlando Philharmonic, and Apollo Orchestra. Eric has participated in multiple summer festivals including the National Orchestral Institute and the AIMS Festival in Graz, Austria. Eric also serves as the Director of Percussion at Robinson Secondary School and West Springfield High School in Fairfax, Virginia.  Additionally, he teaches percussion at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.  Eric resides in Annapolis, Maryland with his wife.   Outside of music he enjoys stand-up paddleboarding as well as sailing the Chesapeake Bay on his vintage 1973 Bristol 30 sailboat.

Creative Team:

A’KEEN Brand

Director-Choreographer: Du’Bois A’Keen is a creative director, choreographer, producer, published author and filmmaker. He is the co-founder and creative director of A’KEEN BRAND; a modern creative agency and production company. A’KEEN Brands core principle is THINK. BE. LIVE…KEENLY! A’Keen’s choreographic and film work has been featured in the NY Times, Dance Magazine and Opera Wire. He is an IFP Screen Forward Lab Fellow for the 2017 cohort. In 2018 he Co- produced, Directed and performed for the award winning film anthology series CAMPFIRE POETRY MOVEMENT SERIES. He made his Operatic Debut as the Choreographer and Guest Artist of Charlie Parker’s YardBird with the Arizona Opera. He is a 2018 NYTV Featured Artist, 2019 choreographer and producer for FOX NETWORK’s DANCE SQUAD and 2020 guest Choreographer for OPERA on TAP. He can be seen on ALL ARTS TALKS and ALL ARTS AT HOME digital series.

Creative-Director: Camry A’Keen is co-founder of A’Keen Brand, and Researcher at NYU Center for Genomics and Systems Biology. Her fluidity as a creative and scientist yielded the opportunity to work with designers at Nike on creating performance wear convenient for young, seasoned and differently-abled people. She co-founded, The Tuesday Thing (T3), which is a community of professionals including artists, healthcare workers, college students, broadway stars, and wall street executives looking for connections in such a busy city that is New York. In recognition of these accomplishments manifested at the Annual True Beauty Conference where A’Keen was rewarded Woman to Watch in 2017. As the daughter of Tonya Taylor, CEO of Heritage Health Career Center and Infinity Healthcare Systems, she plans to continue building by infiltrating communities with such essential businesses that will ultimately add value to people of color through her family nonprofit, MCKany Group.