Alliance for New Music Theatre has partnered with Mt Zion – Female Union Band Historic Memorial Park, Inc. for the creation of Voices of Zion, an original immersive music-theatre experience opening as a world premiere this May. They are offering the work to honor Dumbarton United Methodist Church in its 250th anniversary year and Mount Zion United Methodist Church, the area’s oldest African American congregation. Audiences are invited to dig deeper into some of the complex history of African American Georgetown.
Voices of Zion aims to give voice to the long-overlooked historic Black community through key figures, many of whom are buried in this UNESCO site of memory, a designated sacred site, and to shed light on both the Georgetown community and our country that have excluded the contributions and narratives of African Americans. In addition to the “traveling feast” of stories, music, and “procession,” Voices of Zion is a way of coming together for fellowship and conversation about the work still needed in this city and beyond for equity, justice, and healing.
Voices of Zion focuses on the 19th century history of Georgetown and layers the stories of several identified figures: Female Union Band Society (FUBS) leader Mary Burrell (whose monument keeps watch over the cemetery), Hannah Pope and her husband Alfred Pope (known for being one of 77 enslaved Blacks who attempted to escape to freedom in ‘The Pearl Affair,’) the astute Mary Beckett (who helped fund the Mount Zion Church,) “Black Mayor of Georgetown” Charles Turner, teacher and abolitionist Mary Billings, and a trio of Female Union Band members: Gracy Duckett, Matilda Cartwright, and Mother Nannie Diggs. Their stories illustrate the complexities of Georgetown history, a community comprised of enslaved and freed men and women, who at times were living, working, and worshipping together. The work also exposes the rifts within the Old Methodist Church – between abolitionists and segregationists, slave owners and those they enslaved, and between Union and Confederate sympathizers. The characters we’ve selected share a common goal: to see the cemeteries preserved as a monument to their lives and legacies, and a resting place of dignity. They shine a light on the urgency that black cemeteries face here and elsewhere, sacred ground that continues to be forgotten, lost, and desecrated through erosion and development plans.
This original work by composer Ronald “Trey” Walton and Librettist Jarrod Lee will celebrate its world premiere on Friday, May 6th. All performances in May will start at the historic cemeteries and feature an immersive music-theatre experience and “moveable feast,” including processional through Georgetown to Dumbarton Church, where more of the story unfolds. On-location performances take place in Georgetown throughout the month on Friday and Saturday evenings at 7 p.m., leading to a special final Memorial Day celebration at 2 p.m. on May 30th.
On-site performances start in the Mt. Zion & Female Union Band Society cemeteries (2501 Mill Rd NW. entrance off of Q & 27nd Streets,) with an introduction to the characters before the audience joins in a procession to Dumbarton UMC (3133 Dumbarton St NW) for Part II of the work where the orchestra and members of the two church choirs will join the ensemble. For this moveable feast, wear comfortable shoes for the cemetery and be prepared to walk through Georgetown for approximately 15 minutes. In case of inclement weather, all May performances will be held at Dumbarton UMC.