In Conversation with Playwright Tristan André and Renowned Film Composer Michael Abels

This episode of the podcast is an exploration of two works inspired by two different historical figures, one of whom you may not know fully and one you may not have heard of at all. First, you may be familiar with James Baldwin for his essays, novels, or plays, or even his fiery debates or television appearances. But James Baldwin, or Jimmy as he is known to his community, is so much more than just a footnote or soundbite. In fact, he is the inspiration for playwright and performing artist Tristan Andre’s work They Do Not Know Harlem. In this multimedia piece, André tells me he summons the spirit of Baldwin in an effort to reconcile his own personal journey as a Black, queer artist and activist.

Next, we explore an opera inspired by the autobiography of a Muslim slave, Omar ibin Sayeed. The opera was co-commissioned and co-produced by the Spoleto Festival and Carolina Performing Arts at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and marks the first operatic work for acclaimed musician Rhiannon Giddens and renowned film composer Michael Abels (Get Out, Us, Nope). Abels tells me he’s wanted to write an opera for quite some time, so when Giddens approached him to collaborate, it didn’t take him long to say, “yes.”

Listen to “In Conversation with Playwright and Performing Artist Tristan Andre and Film Composer Michael Abels” on Spreaker.

The world premiere of They Do Not Know Harlem opens in previews March 1 at PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill. For more information visit

The North Carolina premiere of Omar runs February 25 – 26 at Carolina Performing Arts in Chapel Hill. For more information visit

For a complete calendar of Triangle theater events, visit our Event Calendar Page.

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