Five-time GRAMMY® winner Angélique Kidjo conjures a world of magical realism to tell the story of Yoruban deity Yemandja in a musical theatre work inspired by her ancestors, her family, and Africa’s resilience. Redolent of Greek tragedy, this Broad Stage co-commission illuminates by parable the consequences of robbing people of their culture. Yemandja is at once a family drama and historical thriller, infused with themes of love, betrayal, honor, free will, and the horrors and injustice of slavery.
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*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
**Member of the United Scenic Artists, the union representing scenic, costume, lighting, sound and projection designers in live performance.
Concept, Music, and Principal Angélique Kidjo (she/her)
Global pop star and five-time GRAMMY Award winner Angélique Kidjo is an international creative force. Yemandja represents Kidjo’s first foray into musical theater. Her striking voice, illuminating stage presence, and fluency in multiple cultures and languages have expanded her following across national borders. Kidjo has cross-pollinated the West African traditions of her childhood in Benin with elements of American R&B, funk, and jazz, as well as influences from Europe and Latin America. Kidjo received the prestigious 2015 Crystal Award given by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and the 2016 Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award. She has appeared in several films, and Kidjo has won Best Actress in a Supporting Role from the African Movie Academy Awards for her role in Nigerian director Kunle Afolayan’s The CEO. It’s no surprise that acting is also in her blood. Kidjo’s mother founded a theater company in Benin, and Kidjo made her stage debut at age six.
Director Cheryl Lynn Bruce (she/her)
Veteran director, writer, and performer Cheryl Lynn Bruce has staged productions for Victory Gardens Theatre, Teatro Vista Theatre Company, Illinois Humanities, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Columbia College, University of Illinois, Indiana University, DePaul University, and Creative Arts Foundation. Bruce developed and directed Sandra Delgado’s La Havana Madrid and Para, Graciela and Misty DeBerry’s Milkweed (both solo works), and Bruce has directed Before the Pop, Pop, Pop for Collaboraction’s inaugural citywide Peacebook Festival (2016). She also developed and directed Kerry James Marshall’s Bunraku-influenced urban comic Rythm Mastr for the Wexner Center for the Arts (2008). She won both the African American Arts and Black Theatre Alliance Best Direction Awards for From the Mississippi Delta, and earned a Joseph Jefferson nomination for her direction of Jitney, both Congo Square Theatre productions. Other recognitions include: the Illinois Public Humanities Award (2019); Robert Rauschenberg Residency (2015); a Yale Art Gallery residency (2013); and Jane Addams Hull House Woman of Valor Award (2010).
Concept and Music Jean Hebrail (he/him)
GRAMMY-award winning producer and composer Jean Hebrail has been Angélique Kidjo’s life partner and composer since her breakthrough album Logozo. After finishing a master’s degree in philosophy at the Sorbonne University in France, Hebrail met Kidjo at CIM (Centre D'informations Musicales), a jazz school in Paris, where he was studying bass. He served as Kidjo’s musical director and bass player for many years before focusing on arranging and composing most of her albums. Hebrail has also written many songs used in movies, commercials, and video games. Since 2002, he has been coordinating Kidjo’s charitable work with UNICEF, OXFAM, and other organizations.
Production Designer Kerry James Marshall (he/him)
Kerry James Marshall uses painting, sculptural installations, collage, video, and photography to comment on the history of black identity both in the United States and in Western art. He is well known for paintings that focus on black subjects historically excluded from the artistic canon, and he has explored issues of race and history through imagery ranging from abstraction to comics. Marshall was born in Alabama in 1955, and grew up in Watts, Los Angeles. He is a 1978 graduate of the Otis College of Art and Design and currently lives and works in Chicago. A major survey, Kerry James Marshall: MASTRY, was on view at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Met Breuer, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Other solo exhibitions have been at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., United States; the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen, Antwerp, Belgium; Antoni Tapies Foundation, Barcelona, Spain; and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte ReinaSofia, Madrid, Spain.
Book and Lyrics Naïma Hebrail Kidjo (she/her)
Naïma Hebrail Kidjo is Franco-Beninese actress and writer who grew up between Brooklyn and Paris. She has inhabited a wide range of roles on stages across the country, working at iconic theatres such as Williamstown Theatre Festival and Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Favorite credits include: Iseult et Tristan (IAMA Theatre Company and LaMama Experimental Theatre Club Square Circle Plays (Murmurs, Los Angeles and the Geffen Gallery at MOCA, Rachels (The Pussy Grabber Plays, Los Angeles), The Crucible (Steppenwolf Theatre), Rutherford’s Travels (Pegasus Theatre), and Dracula (Williamstown Theatre Festival). On-screen, she’s recurred as a paramedic on Chicago Med and PD, throughout seven combined seasons, and has acted in short films shot in Los Angeles and Paris. Kidjo is a graduate of the School at Steppenwolf and of Yale University, where her play Pixel Souls, an exploration of the intersection between photography and theatre, won the Berkeley College Arts Prize.
Costume Designer Mary Jane Marcasiano (she/her)
Mary Jane Marcasiano is the president of her eponymous design company in New York City. Since 1978, she has designed clothing and accessories under her brand and other prestigious fashion companies. She is the recipient of the Cartier, DuPont, Cutty Sark, and Wool Knit Fashion Awards and a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Marcasiano has designed costumes for DanceBrazil, the New York City Ballet, RythMEK at Jacob's Pillow, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, and Michael Thomas Lab. Since 2010, Marcasiano has designed the costumes for GRAMMY award-winning singer Angélique Kidjo, including her PBS Special Angélique Kidjo and Friends: Spirit Rising. Marcasiano's costume work includes the short film Ate Quando, the award-winning feature film by Bruno Barreto Reaching for the Moon, and Barreto's period HBO miniseries The American Guest. Marcasiano designed the costumes for the theatre piece Collaboration Warhol and Basquiat. Marcasiano has produced several films in Brazil: Ginga, Reaching for the Moon, Alair Gomes, and in the United States she has produced a documentary film on Jack Lenor Larsen (2016). She is the programmer for Cinema Tropical's Music+Film series and the founder of their Brazilian film initiatives Janeiro in New York and Veredas in conjunction with Film Lincoln Center. In 2007, Marcasiano created the Made With Love Project, a global nonprofit initiative dedicated to raising funds and awareness for NGOs aiding women and children in need in Brazil, Africa, and Haiti. She is a graduate of Parsons School of Design and The New School, and in 2019 she received a Master's Degree from New York University Gallatin focusing on the intersection of art, nonprofits, and social change.
Lighting Designer Kathy A. Perkins (she/her)
Kathy A. Perkins has designed productions throughout the United States and internationally at such venues as Berkeley Repertory, Arena Stage, St. Louis Black Repertory, Baltimore Center Stage, Yale Repertory, Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Manhattan Theatre Club, and the Grahamstown Festival in South Africa. She has designed various dance festivals including Dance Africa at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). As a practicing scholar, she has traveled throughout Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia. A recipient of several research and design awards, including a Fulbright Research Award, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and an NAACP Image Award. She is editor/co-editor of seven theatre publications focusing on women from Africa and the Diaspora. Perkins is Professor Emerita at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a member of USA829.
Projection Designer Rasean Davonte Johnson (he/him)
Rasean Davonte Johnson is a video artist and designer of projections for theatre, film, and installations. Theatre work includes collaborations with numerous institutions including Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Manual Cinema, Chicago Opera Theatre, Long Wharf Theatre, ArtsEmerson, the McCarter Theatre Center, Yale Repertory Theatre, The Studio Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Alliance Theatre, Berkshire Theatre Group, Everyman Theatre, The Ningbo Song and Dance Company, Yale Opera, Teatro Vista, B-Floor Theatre, The Hypocrites, and many more. In addition to design for theatre he has also worked on several installations including personal works such as Living Sculpture as part of LUX: Ideas through Light at the Beinecke Rare Books Library, and Juniper Ascending at Yale University, and collaborative works including The Ballad of Lula Del Ray 2.0 with Manual Cinema at the Logan Arts Center, Convergence: A mad tea pARTy at the Yale Art Gallery, and Passenger featured at the University of Chicago and the Bridgeport Film Festival. He received his MFA from the Yale School of Drama in Design as a student in the projection program, and has lectured at Yale University, Columbia College, and Depaul University.
Choreographer Beatrice Capote (she/her)
Beatrice Capote is a Cuban American professional contemporary dancer/ choreographer/teacher. She trained at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and has performed for prestigious choreographers such as Matthew Rushing, Darrell Moultrie, Antonio Brown Dance, INSPIRIT, a dance company, The Wells Performance Project, Areytos Performance Works, and A.I.M by Kyle Abraham to name a few. She received her A.A. from University of North Carolina School of the Arts and BA and MFA from Montclair State University focusing on Afro-Cuban dance forms. Her choreography uses contemporary and Afro-Cuban folklore dance mediums to define her movement while highlighting Orisha narratives. She has developed solo choreographic works; “Reyita”, The Life of a Black Cuban Woman in the Twentieth Century, and her most recent Yemaya: Rebirthing to Existence. She is an Associate Professor at Indiana University and is in her 7th season with Tony nominated choreographer Camille A. Brown and Dancers Company. Ms. Capote has served as the choreographer for Citrus, a choreopoem play at Northern Stages and The Wedding Band Musical at Montclair State University. She is thrilled to be a part of the creative team as the choreographer for Yemandja! Website: Beatricecapote.com, Instagram: @b_capote.
Dramaturg Iyvon E. (she/her)
Iyvon E. is an award-winning Nigerian-American creative producer, dramaturg, and company manager hailing from Brooklyn. She is the Artistic Director of The Parsnip Ship, a radio-play series and platform amplifying underproduced playwrights via audio theater. In addition, she is the Director of Artistic Programs at Signature Theatre (New York, United States). She is a recipient of the Fulbright International Scholarship and Gilman International Scholarship (both to Italy) and the recipient of the 2019 Mark O’Donnell Prize. Iyvon is a Women’s Project 2020 - 2022 Producers Lab member and an Affiliate Dramaturg with Beehive Dramaturgy Studio. She received a B.A. from Brandeis University and an M.A. from Baruch College, City University of New York, in Arts Administration. She is so thankful to the wonderful Yemandja team for this experience. @iamiyvon @theparsnipshipNY
Sound Designer Kumi Ishizawa (she/her)
Kumi Ishizawa is delighted to join Yemandja as sound designer and engineer. Her portfolio includes works such as The Devil You Know, Angels of Swedenborg, and Undesirable Element Festival by Ping Chong and Company. Other projects include Pass the Blutwurst, Bitte by John Kelly, Stopped Bridge of Dreams by John Jesurun, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Sweeney Todd, and Psycho Beach Party by Piper Theater Production. She was the tour sound engineer of Sell/Buy Date by Sarah Jones, and she was the video system designer of Bitch! Faghag! Whore! by Penny Arcade.
Music Director, Conductor, and Keyboards John Samorian (he/him)
John Samorian has been a professional musician for 35 years (he’s older than he looks). He has performed with over 20 Broadway productions and International tours, including A Bronx Tale, the revivals of Little Shop of Horrors, Sweet Charity with Christina Applegate, and Grease on Broadway, and as the Musical Director of the first national tour of Jersey Boys and The Book of Mormon in Chicago. He has worked with such notable groups as Blood, Sweat, and Tears, as well as his own groups throughout Europe, Asia, South America, Canada, and across the United States. John has also received both a B.A. and a master’s degree in jazz education and performance. He has released a CD of original jazz vocals entitled Out On A Limb, available on iTunes. More information about John can be found at www.johnsamorian.com.
Sensitivity Specialist Ann C. James (she/they)
Ann C. James has an extensive career in international stage direction and theatre education spanning over three decades. James recently made her debut as the first Black Intimacy Coordinator of Broadway for Antoinette Nwandu’s Pass Over. James is an expert in the burgeoning industry of intimacy direction and institutional consent culture for national arts organizations. In addition to her Broadway credit, she served as Intimacy Director and Sensitivity Specialist for the provocative Off-Broadway productions of Moises Kaufman’s Seven Deadly Sins by Tectonic Theatre Project and Seize the King produced by Classical Theatre of Harlem. On the West Coast, James provides consultation and intimacy coordination for the television and film industry most recently working with Rashida Jones, Mark Wahlberg, Issa Rae, Will Ferrell, and Cynthia Enrivo. Her intimacy work has featured James as an expert voice for Theatre Communications Group, HowlRound, the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation, and Lincoln Center’s Directors Lab West. Her company, Intimacy Coordinators of Color, has partnerships with ArtsEquity, TimesUp, and A.R.T./New York. James is in the second year of her studies as America's first MFA in Performance Pedagogy with an emphasis in Afrocentric Intimacy Pedagogy at Loyola Marymount University.
Makeup Designer Beckie Kravetz
Casting Andrea Zee (she/her)
Upcoming projects: Where The Wild Things Are (Off-Broadway), A Delicate Balance (Off-Broadway), Rent (Portland Center Stage). Off-Broadway and New York City: Golden Shield (Manhattan Theatre Club), Neurosis, Syncing Ink, Elf (Madison Square Garden), New York Stage and Film, American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union, Dramatists Guild Foundation. National Tours: Yemandja, The Sound of Music, Bullets Over Broadway, Elf, and Finding Neverland. Regional: Portland Center Stage, 5th Avenue Theatre, Florida Studio Theatre, Arrow Rock Lyceum, Alley Theater, and Theatre Under the Stars. Credits as Casting Associate include Broadway: Chicago, The Great Comet of 1812, On The Town, and Pippin. National Tours: Anastasia, Fiddler on the Roof, and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. Film/TV: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix), Y: The Last Man (FX), and Blue’s Clues & You! (Nickelodeon). Commercials: Comcast, and Grammarly. Thank you for supporting live theater. Website: www.zee-casting.com.
CastYemandja Angélique Kidjo
Omolola Briana Brooks*
Olajuwon Michael de Souza*
Adefola / Princess Naguézé April Nixon*
General Loko George L Brown*
Mr. DeSalta John Carlin*
Orò Frank Lawson*
Babalao / Lanre / Olujimi Kendrick Marion
Abeni / Oni / Abiona Hallie Chapman*
Monifa / Folade Rheaume Crenshaw*
Stage Manager Violet Tafari*
Music Director, Conductor, and Keyboards John Samorian
Music and Audio
Guitar Dominic James
Bass Michael Olatuja
Percussion Magatte Sow
Assistant Music Director Jake Eisner
Music Supervisor Darryl Archibald
Executive Producer Xtina Parks. Produced by THE OFFICE performing arts + film.
Co-commissioned by MASS MoCA, ArtsEmerson, The Broad Stage at Santa Monica College, Brown Arts Institute, Cal Performances, Ruth and Stephen Hendel, Holland Festival, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Yale Schwarzman Center.
THE OFFICE is grateful for the support of the W.L.S. Spencer Foundation.
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
Program NotesNOTES ON CULTURAL CONTEXT
The orishas are spirits that play a key role in the Yoruba religion of West Africa and several religions of the African diaspora that derive from it, such as Cuban and Puerto Rican Santería and Brazilian Candomblé. They are also venerated by the Edo of southeastern Nigeria; the Ewe of Ghana, Benin, and Togo; and the Fon of Benin (who refer to them as voduns). An orisha may be said to arise when a divine power to command and make things happen converges with a natural force, a deified ancestor, and an object that witnesses and supports that convergence and alignment. An orisha, therefore, is a complex multidimensional unity linking people, objects, and powers. The story of Yemandja explores the relationship between two orishas: Yemandja and Oro.
Yemandja is the Goddess of water and healing, and is honored throughout West Africa and the Caribbean as the mother of the sea and the moon. She is the keeper of the female mysteries and a guardian of women. She aids in the conception of children and their birth, protecting and blessing infants until they hit puberty. She is a healing goddess, showing compassion and kindness to those in need.
The word Orò means fierceness, tempest, or provocation, and Orò himself appears to be personified executive power whose approach is always preceded by a roaring wind and whirring sound. In precolonial times the Orò cult performed legislative, executive and judicial functions in Yoruba society. Orò is known as the Yoruba deity of bullroarers and justice. Orò executed criminals, could exile persons out of town (or sold them into slavery), and cleansed the community of witchcraft.
Depending on the region and country, the spelling of Yemandja’s name differs between Yemandja, Yemoja, Yemaya, and other slight variations.
By Naïma Hebrail Kidjo
A river does not flow and forget its source.
Yemandja was born from a deeply personal place: hearing my mother’s childhood stories of growing up in Benin. There, the mythical and the mystical were intertwined with the modern. Her youth in Africa always struck me as bright: filled with life, community, tradition, and music. This was a contrast to my upbringing between France and America, where mysticality was “primitive” and the individual was paramount.
This piece is my attempt to reconcile all the worlds I grew up between, and all of the worlds within. To build my own bridge in order to help you build your own. Because no matter your background you also contain dualities — even simply by virtue of being the child of two different people. So, through words and song, we hope to take you on a journey both outside of yourself and within yourself. The destination? Healing and a more open heart.
What are the ramifications of fostering fear, of responding to hatred with even more hatred? What does it mean that our modern thriving economies are built on the slave trade and slave labor — both historical and in new forms of modern slavery? Who does war, pain, and division really benefit? What is the impact when we think only of short-term gains when long term harm is inevitable? These are all big questions posed by this piece.
My aim is not to rewrite history, minimize the importance of accountability, or simplify the complexities of the human experience but, instead, to remind us that individuality placed above community is not a sustainable solution. We may be separated by miles of beliefs, mountains of appearances, oceans of hurt, but since the dawn of the human race we have all been intertwined genetically, historically, and spiritually. All the divisions have been our own making. So when the world feels too big, Yemandja is a reminder that we are all linked and that we have all the power to change the world with empathy, be it through small everyday kindness, or grand heroic acts of humanity.
A river does not flow and forget its source.
Actions have consequences.