by Sarah Petrea Schultz, artwork by Erin Sharkey
On Friday, April 26th, Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower: The Concert Version took the O’Shaughnessy stage as the latest installment in St. Catherine University’s Women of Substance series. This sci-fi folk opera interpretation of Butler’s 1993 Afrofuturist novel was created by Toshi Reagon and her mother Bernice Johnson Reagon. In preparation for the event, Toshi has been leading a Parable-themed initiative on the St. Kate’s campus and throughout the greater twin cities community. Students, faculty, administrators, and community members dove into the work through discussions, readings, and more. These themes of inclusion and engagement played a large role in Friday’s performance.
Toshi performed as one of three Talents, along with Helga Davis and Kenita Miller. She spoke directly to the audience multiple times during the event. These moments broke up the action and refocused the audience. Toshi struck a tone that was both polished and conversational. Davis and Miller encouraged audience connection brilliantly as well, playing out and pulling everyone along with them into the dystopian but not inconceivable world of Parable.
Karma Mayet gripped the audience completely as Cory Olamina. After their family’s safety is jeopardized, Cory sings to her husband in an emotionally wrought and incredibly powerful number. Mayet made each repeating strain of her song different, every line overflowed with conviction.
Tattiana Aqeel as Cory’s daughter Lauren Olamina also captivated the audience. Lauren sings a heartrending song after her father goes missing. Aqeel began the song in a grounded, middle voice. With each return to the chorus, she climbed higher, adding more vocal skips, leaps, and swoops.
After a driving penultimate number extolling change as the only lasting truth, the cast formed a semicircle and Toshi lead the audience in singing the final chorus, “The sower went out to sow her seed.” After an exceptionally impactful performance, the audience left with the words of Lauren Olamina winding through their minds:
All that you touch you Change.
All that you Change Changes you.
The only lasting truth is Change.
God is Change.