Harlem’s Apollo Theater is probably America’s most crucial venue for the sharing of black music, performance, and experience, a space from which some of the country’s best art and social commentary is disseminated. Now, the New York Times reports that the theater will be adding Ta-Nehisi Coates to the catalog of artists who’ve come through its doors. In April 2018, a multimedia adaptation of Between the World and Me — the author’s 2015 letter about blackness in both today’s America and throughout its bleak history of racialized brutality, penned to his teenage son (and ultimately millions of readers) — will be performed at the theater.
According to the Times, the performance will consist of portions of the National Book Award-winning volume being read aloud (Coates himself may appear in the performance — or may just offer guidance), while other, more anecdotal segments will be acted out by performers. The program will also include video projections, and a score by composer/jazz pianist Jason Moran (who scored Ava DuVernay’s Selma and 13th) will run through the project. The show will be directed by the Apollo’s own executive producer, Kamilah Forbes — whom Coates befriended at Howard University, and who was recently one of the speakers at the 2016 Festival Albertine, which Coates curated. (Forbes joined the Apollo in 2016, after she co-founded and artistic directed Hi-ARTS — previously the Hip Hop Theater Festival.)
Between the World and Me details the life and grapples with the political implications of the brutal death of Prince Jones, who attended college with Forbes and Coates, and who was shot in the back six times and killed by a police officer while unarmed in 2000. Forbes told the Times:
It was hard for me to read the book — because of my personal connection, but even just broader. Prince was a huge tragedy and loss to us all. Now we’re living in a world where we’re fearing. I think about my brothers, my nephews, my husband, and I fear for their lives. So it’s an even bigger discussion.
From the way Forbes describes it, it sounds like this show will be something of a living, evolving organism: each night will be different, and will even include different people onstage, from “everyday folks to celebrity voices.” It sounds very much in keeping Forbes’s intent, as she told Ebony last October, to see that the venue “constantly stay ahead and ensure that the legends of today continue to see the Apollo as a home and a haven — a place for creation, not just as a venue but to take a risk.”