Greer Goff Mendy lives in what she calls three worlds: what was, what is, what will be. That is because this child of the Lower Nine – raised, educated and washed out of there – remembers life as it was before Katrina; knows what it is like now; and is planning for a better future. And she is doing that through her making-it-by-the-hardest, determined-to-keep-it-alive Tekrema Center for the Arts on Burgundy Street, one block off Caffin Avenue.
Housed in a former corner store that Greer purchased two months before the storm, it is definitely still a work in progress. The Center opened shortly after the storm with a Prospect 1 art installation, still visible on the walls of the second floor. Now serving young people from Lower Nine, as well as those from across the community, Greer offers a number of classes ranging from writing workshops to dance and visual arts.
Like all non-profits, it’s a struggle to keep such centers going and when asked how she does it, Greer admits with good humor, “I have no idea.” But somehow she does keep it going. This season, along with a group of talented performers, she will present the famous Harlem Renaissance writer, Langston Hughes’ gospel song play called Black Nativity. Because the audience for such a challenging piece far exceeds the capacity of her small center, it will be held at nearby All Saints Episcopal Church, 5500 St. Claude Avenue on Friday, Dec. 9 and Saturday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m.
Hughes’ famous work was first performed on Broadway in 1961, a time of great racial turmoil in the United States. And even though there was some controversy about the title (the talented African American dancer Alvin Ailey opted out because of that) it was a runaway hit and now is performed annually in most cities in America. Greer’s production will be a first for New Orleans.
Hughes wrote his work in such a way that the second act of this 90-minute high-energy Christmas show could be flexible to each community presenting it. For Greer, that means including “Changes,” a hip-hop song by the late rapper Tupaq lamenting the brutal life on the streets, the Aaron Neville version of the familiar gospel song “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” and the Isley Brothers’ version of another gospel favorite, “Harvest for the World.” It’s her interpretation of what’s happening in the world today, and she hopes her production will speak openly about that to young and old alike.
And while performing this musical masterpiece in a church is appropriate on the one hand, the venue can hardly live up to the original Broadway staging. But, no matter, Greer says. With professional talent like longtime New Orleans trumpeter Kid Merv, and newcomers like 21-year-old music director Senais Edwards and vocalist Lisa Cole that some in the community describe as a “divinely anointed worship artist” it will be a memorable event.
So, if you’re looking for a musical event that is a little different, a lot spirited, and bursting with amazing talent, plan on going to All Souls Episcopal Church, 5500 St. Claude Avenue on Friday, December 9 at 7 or Saturday, December 10. Tickets at the door are $15 for the general public; $10 for students and seniors.
Sharon Litwin, president of NolaVie, writes Culture Watch weekly.