Playwright/songwriter November Christine talks to reviewer Jamie Rosler at The Reviews Hub USA about 1968, her music video tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black Lives Matter movement.
I read that you have a degree in Cellular Biology and Molecular Genetics. How did you go from there to musical theatre?
Ever since grade school, I loved science–still do! Between Cell Bio and Physics classes, I spent all my time on creative pursuits. I arranged music for my collegiate a cappella group. I became the Chief Editor of the literary magazine. By the time I graduated, I knew that my real passion was in the arts. So I did a complete one-eighty and went back to school for music. I took theatre as an elective and, well, the rest is history.
1968 is from your award-winning show Legacy, A Musical Indictment about the life and work of Martin Luther, instigator of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther King, Jr. plays a pivotal role in that production. What role did his legacy play for you, growing up in the United States, and what pushed you to tell this story in that format?
As a kid, Martin Luther King seemed like this mythical, Jesus-like figure who could do no wrong. It wasn’t until I got older that I learned about Martin Luther the man; a living, breathing person who struggled like anyone else. I liked that version of MLK. I could relate to him. That’s the Martin Luther King I wanted to portray in Legacy.
The opening lyrics in 1968 refers to the “far away land called America” and the fact that MLK “lost his life at the hands of a land called America.” It’s a powerful rebuke to the distancing from the true history of our nation and the place that that history holds in our present.
I’m glad that came through in the lyrics. In 1968 I use storytelling to guide the listener out of the romanticized version of MLK’s story and into the visceral and immediate reality of today’s ongoing Civil Rights movement.
The video (which is beautifully done and moving on its own) showcases the parallel between the Civil Rights movement peak of the 1960s and last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests against police-inflicted violence. Do you think we’ve made progress in the last half-decade?
I really want to say yes. But progress is rarely linear, and power dynamics in America are too complex for a simple yes or no. I think a lot of people were lulled into a false sense of security when Barack Obama was elected President. It became a symbol of how far we had come as a nation. However, it also fueled a blindness to the systemic racism that was still very much alive and well in America. I will say that there seems to be an “awakening” that has occurred recently. The stillness forced on us by the pandemic has allowed us to finally see–and respond to–the ugliness that hides under the surface of our society.
There is a definite note of optimism among the unfortunate realities depicted in song and on screen. What gives you hope and keeps you looking forward to a brighter future?
You can’t be an activist without hope that things can change for the better. Knowing that I’m following in the footsteps of writers like Ida B. Wells, Zora Neale Hurston, and more recently, Amanda Gorman gives me hope. Watching my little niece grow up, knowing that she’ll have opportunities and role models I only dreamed of at her age–that gives me hope.
Finally, can you tell us a little bit about the artists you collaborated with–Nic Ryan, The Overlook Quartet and others–as well as Campaign Zero, the organization you promote at the end of the video?
Nic Ryan is a longtime friend I met during my early days as a playwright. He played President Barack Obama in my first musical, MIRROR, MIRROR. When I wrote Legacy, I reached out to Nic because I knew he was excellent at portraying historical characters. I was so grateful that he took time out of his Broadway schedule to play Martin Luther King in the New York Musical Festival production of Legacy. Naturally, I reached out to him to reprise the role when we recorded the video last summer. I came across The Overlook Quartet on Instagram. They’re a string quartet that formed last summer in support of the Black Lives Matter, and they specifically play music by black composers. I was excited to use the 1968 video to raise awareness for Campaign Zero, an organization that has done some amazing work to implement policy changes to end police violence and hold law enforcement accountable.
Thank you so much. We can’t wait to see and support what you do next! Stay safe, be well, and thank you.
1968 | A Tribute to Change can be found on YouTube.
Photo Credit: Kampfire PR