Carnegie Mellon University
February 05, 2015

Center for the Arts in Society Selects "The Requiem for Rice" as Final Performance Initiative Project

By Shilo Rea / 412-268-6094                       

Edda Fields BlackEdda Fields-Black's "The Requiem for Rice," a modern take on "Verdi's Requiem," has been selected as the third and final project in Carnegie Mellon University's Center for the Arts in Society's (CAS) Performance Initiative.

Throughout the initiative, CAS is approaching the concept of performance as an expansive form, from the traditional relationship between an audience and an actor to the constructions of political protest, or how we frame our lives through social rituals, athletics, digital devices and everyday acts.

Fields-Black, associate professor of history in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, will use the project to bring the records, stories and lives of Africans enslaved on low country rice plantations to life.

"The Requiem for Rice project stood out for the innovative way an historian was examining her research and its potential for vibrant activities on campus and in Pittsburgh, as the three-year project develops. Edda's project takes calculated risks by merging the fields of drama, music and visual art with the humanities. It also explores the impact and workings of social power and the processes of social change, which is a stated aim of the Center for the Arts in Society," said James Duesing, CAS director.

Fields-Black said the Requiem for Rice will be a tribute to those who were enslaved, exploited and brutalized on South Carolina and Georgia rice plantations and who remain "unburied," "unmourned" and "unmarked." She said it will be a modern African-/African-American-inspired take on a classic requiem that will bring world-class African-American visual artists, classical musicians and actors to Pittsburgh and CMU for the development and performance of the piece. "In the words of Jonathan Green, I am 'over the moon' with excitement about being chosen by CAS for the performance initiative! CAS is a wonderful community and support system, which will facilitate bringing 'The Requiem for Rice' to fruition," Fields-Black said.

To begin, Fields-Black will first familiarize herself with the requiem genre.

"I am not shy about disclosing the fact that before a few months ago, I never dreamed that I would write a libretto! It's just not something that historians are taught in graduate school," she shared.

Next, Fields-Black will research primary sources, looking for enslaved people whose stories she can tell in the libretto.

"I am very grateful to Toni Carter, founder of Lowcountry Africana, a website dedicated to digitizing and archiving records from this era, and for partnering with me to help me comb through the voluminous, yet incredibly fragmented historical records," Fields-Black said.

Drama Professor Wendy Arons and English Professor Kristina Straub are leading the performance initiative. The other two projects are: "Performing Peace," directed by John Carson, head of the School of Art, and Jennifer Keating-Miller, associate director of undergraduate research and national fellowships and special faculty in the Department of English; and "Ghosts in the Machines," directed by Larry Shea, associate professor of drama.

CAS is a research center in the Dietrich College and College of Fine Arts that investigates the role of arts in societies.

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Related Article:
Center for the Arts in Society Launches Performance Initiative


Edda Fields-Black (pictured above), associate professor of history, will use the project — a modern take on "Verdi's Requiem" — to bring the records, stories and lives of Africans enslaved on low country rice plantations to life.