'Be[Longing]' Takes It To The Community

Aaron Jafferis Byron Au Yong

Aaron Jafferis Byron Au Yong

“We’re in the thick of things now,” says Aaron Jafferis on the phone during a break in rehearsals in Miami for yet another production of [Be]longing, the community-rooted music-theater piece that will be re-envisioned for New Haven during the International Festival of Arts & Ideas. The show is being presented in association with Long Wharf Theatre, where it will be presented Saturday and Sunday, June 17 and 18.

The New Haven-based performance artist-poet-writer created the work, described as a “theatrical oratorio,” with composer Byron Au Yong, his collaborator for the intimate opera Stuck Elevator, which played at the festival several years ago.

But this time out the two are not bringing a ready-made work to town, but rather are working with the local community for the “performance event,” which will feature locally cast singers, beat-boxers, hip-hop artists, and choruses performing original material and “reflecting our society’s collective emergence from large-scale tragedies.”

The multi-act piece are “reflections surrounding the Virginia Tech and Newtown killings,” but told from a local perspective and featuring about 35 to 40 performers, half adult, half young people.

“Many of the songs and raps are based on interviews with local people who have been affected by gun violence, including survivors and families of victims,” says Jafferis, whose previous works includes Howe to BreakKingdom, and No Lie; he was also part of the Cornerstone Theater’s production of the community-centric work, The Good Person of New Haven at Long Wharf theater in 2001.

The idea of the piece began following the shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech when Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at the school, shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others before killing himself.