Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower: the Opera
Updated: Oct 20, 2022
Adapted by Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon
This is Octavia E. Butler's story about a young Black woman establishing a new religion as the world around her elects to a manmade apocalypse.
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Toshi Reagon cast me as Lauren Olamina. It’s a milestone for me. All my life of dance and acting classes and choir rehearsals and then picking up the guitar at 19 to learn to write my own songs with it, has lead to this moment. We’re telling a story that centers a Black woman’s narrative, her impeccable vision, her power, her persistence, and her persuasion.
"Parable of the Sower, set in 2024 and published in 1993, presciently grapples with many of the same issues we face today—global warming, corporate influence over government, a destabilized economy, water scarcity, food scarcity, the privatization of social services, homelessness, public safety, a return of long forgotten diseases and the profit-making machine that runs the medical industry."
Parable of the Sower in song, sound and imagery is FIRE. I was on fire when I spent that week with the cast and orchestra and production team. Fire. Together. I burned. Almost burned a hole right through my chest. Stamped down only by the need to complete the task. I tried not to over-excite at being there. I made it! This was the largest professional undertaking I've made so far, and I honestly cannot imagine a more fitting cause for it. Use clout to spread messages of empowerment. Each university that Parable visits incorporates the book into their Lit programs. This is an author for us; she wrote Black women in to the future, into science-fiction, and so, into fantasy. We exist (DUH)!
I don’t look like how Octavia E. Butler describes Lauren- a deep brown skinned woman, tall and broad, not particularly pretty- but I certainly have her spirit pressing ever toward a new life on Earth. Though my dream is not to literally reach the stars, as is Lauren’s, my stars- my heaven- is to reach a better community culture with Nature and all the creatures of it, including us. God is change, says Lauren. I believe Nature is change, and Nature is God.
“As the Universe shapes God
Darkness gives shape to the Light
As Light shapes the Darkness
Death gives shape to Life
As Life gives shape to Death
The Universe and God
Share this wholeness
Each defining the Other”
What we do matters. We change and shape our destiny with action. We cannot stave off hard times, but we can blunt the knife of its blow. With togetherness. It’s my one true religion, Nature being the church of togetherness. We can only survive in collaboration with one another and with the Earth. I have not been disheartened by law/decision-makers’/politicians’/business “developers'” propensity to rape and pillage our shared natural resources, though I do sometimes feel a hopelessness for humanity that I cannot ignore. I know that my Earth, our home, will live without us should we elect to destroy ourselves. Elect.
Toshi is a luminary. In sitting with her at a big table surrounded by other cast and orchestra members I saw her again- a light that she carries everywhere like it carries her, actually. She can’t put it down. She wouldn’t. I’m reminded now of the book, Divine Horsemen by Maya Deren. To be possessed by a divine entity is to ride the Spirit like a horseman. You must be fit, you must be present, you must be also released of your pride. Toshi does that. This is a big show, such a huge undertaking. It’s long and there are a lot of words to the songs and it takes A LOT of energy to perform, to enact, to ride it. It’s truly, in a large sense, a call to action. It’s not easy to know we could elect to kill ourselves, that we nearly will. Then we still have to encourage a fight, and not a fight against change, but against being enslaved by it.