FORCE! an opera in three acts

98 3Arts supporters
$7,531 raised of $5,000 goal
0 Days 0:00:00 LEFT
Funded on December 12, 2020
    • 151% contributed

FORCE! an opera in three acts is the story of a group of women and femmes of color waiting to get into a prison and escape a memory-erasing mold. The opera follows archetypal characters found in the liminal space between the visitation room and the parking lot of any prison or jail, personified with names such as: Rage of the World, Who Knows, Down’n Batter’d, and Sorrowful Aimless Love, etc. This project explores what kind of relationships bloom in the shadow of the prison, imagining a strange sisterhood with the power to disintegrate walls. The opera’s cast and crew are entirely BIPOC-identified and majority queer, trans, and/or gender-nonconforming. Making experimental performance work about the feminist potential of the ante-prison with such a cast is not only critical, but powerfully healing. By exploring sound, movement, and dreams with one another we put into practice the free world we have dreamt of. As librettist, choreographer, and director, my goal is to raise funds for collaborator fees and production costs that will result in a video installation (summer 2021) followed by a live premiere (fall 2021).

About This Project

After three years of teaching dance at Stateville Prison in Illinois and frequent visits with a friend at San Quentin Prison, I found myself reflecting on the relationships of women in the waiting areas. Loved ones are forced into a complex intimacy that is both tied and always resistant to the institution. I began to consider the waiting room—a sociopolitical Black femme space, as theorized by Simone Leigh and others—as a homosocial third space of care, rage, and discomfort in the queer tradition. In conversations with political scientist Cathy Cohen, it occurred to me that all the drama worthy of a good telenovela or classic opera unfolds in a single day within the life of a prison waiting room. Because prisons by nature are improvisational spaces (rules change on a whim, as do efforts to spurn them), I knew this would be no traditional opus. It would need to be a punk opera made in collaboration with highly skilled improvisors of color; queer, trans, and gender non-conforming artists; women and femmes.

As I wrote the libretto, I realized that it was not only a story of those women, but also of my own feelings when I’m in the waiting room. I needed to make characters representative of aspects of the collective energy of that space. The more I tracked my experience in the waiting room, the more I realized that the opera could not be without the ever-present energies of the prison guard and the people we visitors have come to see. It was therefore important to create characters who exist only by way of sound and light, or whose voices are embedded in objects like security cameras – always-present characters without bodies.

Last summer, I formed a ragtag band of queer, trans, femme, Black, and Brown artists during the Creative Exchange Lab at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art. I tried a public version of this jam session in the fall at the Graham Foundation. I saw that the work was also about healing through play, spontaneous creation, and joy. The opera’s cast and crew (the “constellation”) came together, entirely BIPOC-identified and majority queer, trans, and/or gender-nonconforming: Angel Bat Dawid, Jenn Po’Chop Freeman, shawné michaelain holloway, Zach Nicol, Ayanna Woods, Jas Mendoza, Daniella Pruitt, Tramaine Parker, and Phillip Armstrong.

I entered 2020 with a residency at the University of Chicago’s Arts + Public Life to begin playing with the cast and finishing the libretto. With residencies at the Graham Foundation and Saint Benedict the African Catholic Church, we are slated to complete production of a video installation for FORCE! in summer 2021, and as a live performance by fall of that year. During the pandemic, producing a live work is an unsteady process without a clear roadmap. But FORCE! must be made. Thank you for donating, for believing in this work, and for joining with me and the constellation as we dream new worlds together.

Thank yous

Contribute any amount or choose from the levels below.

  • $15
    Social media shout-out ($15.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $30
    Above + your name thanked in credits and program ($30.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $50
    Above + a sneak peek into our creative process with a pre-recorded studio visit ($50.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $100
    Above + audio recording of original score once it becomes available ($85.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $250
    Above + signed copy of original libretto ($215.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $500
    Above + invitation to live studio visit and opportunity to chat with creators ($465.00 is tax deductible.)

Anna Martine Whitehead

HMS Fund Awardee

Anna Martine Whitehead does performances. She has been presented by venues including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago; San José Museum of Art; Velocity Dance Center; Chicago Cultural Center; Links Hall; AUNTS; and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. She …

View Anna Martine Whitehead's profile
  • Update 1: FORCE! dancers welcome in all souls
    Posted on November 01, 2020


    Jenn Freeman, Martine, Martine's partner Landen, Zach, and Jasmine Mendoza as Auntie

    One thing we had to agree upon when the pandemic hit was how we wanted to be together as dancers. In April we shifted to Zoom rehearsals, which were generative in the sense that we did lots of watching, reading, and dreaming together we might not have made space for otherwise. But while FORCE! is a dream of other worlds, the piece itself is very physical -- lots of pushing, pulling, holding each other up and back. So the dancers made a decision in June to form a pod together. This meant that we would get tested biweekly, stay in continuous conversation with one another about our risk level, and know that risky behavior would need to be immediately disclosed to the group. Aka, try out some radical consent. 

    It has not been easy, but it has paid off. We get to rehearse together without masks and we get to hug and learn about one another's bodies in a way that feels like deep medicine these days. And last night we got to celebrate Halloween together! Having the dancers of FORCE! over for falafel, shwarma, whiskey sours, and full-moon-gazing is just one of the ways we let this practice be a force for transformative intimacy with one another.

    From my house to yours: Happy Dia de los Muertos, All Saints, All Souls, and Halloween!

    Update 2: FORCE! demos and rehearsal sneak peaks
    Posted on November 09, 2020


    Thank you to everyone who has helped us into our next phase of fundraising! Now we're shooting for the stars -- a stretch goal of $12,500 total to support bringing in a videographer and sound tech for an extended period, and continue to pay performers through the shoot in 2021. Won't you tell your friends and neighbors?

    In the meantime, I've been working with our composers (Angel Bat Dawid, Ayanna Woods, shawné michaelain holloway, and Phillip Armstrong) as we score the libretto. This is a type of beautiful alchemy: A process of bringing concept and language to the team of composers, who then work collectively to sonically build character, narrative, and tone. After each session, the composers create demos and scores as guides for the vocalists and musicians. I then take this to the dancers, who use the in-development sounds as a roadmap for devising movement and character.

    Pretty wild, huh? To get a little sneak peek into the process, check out a limited-time video here:

    Thank you again. It's amazing that we can do this work -- and we're doing it with all of you.



    Update 3: Last day to shout it out!
    Posted on December 11, 2020


    mind map for FORCE!

    We're almost to the end, everyone! 44 days ago we began our crowdfunding effort to raise $5,000 for FORCE! an opera in three acts.
    We surpassed our goal within a week and a half.
    Wow, you all. Wow. I don't have enough thank yous.
    And now, we have just one day left to shoot for the moon: Will you help us get to $12,500 by Saturday night by letting five friends know about this work? 
    If a few dozen friends gave $100-250, we could make the stretch. 
    If ten friends felt flush and donated at the highest amount of $500, we'd be home free.
    We can work together to make sure an accomplished team of Black and Brown women and femmes has space and time to dream big -- as big as it takes to make a surrealist opera about the other side of the prison wall.

    Thank you -- each of you -- infinitely for your ongoing support,

    Martine and the cast of FORCE!

    Update 4: THANK YOU
    Posted on December 13, 2020


    To everyone who has supported this work to get us here:

    Thank you.

    With your help, FORCE! an opera in three acts raised $7,711. We hit our goal of $5,000 for performers and were able to stretch our goal to accommodate production work further down the line. Now, we are better positioned to ensure:

    *cast members get paid for missed rehearsals or extended schedules as a result of Covid

    *we can offer a competitive fee to sound techs and film crews

    *we can get to the work of imagining future other-worlds without financial stress

    I can't wait to share sneak-peeks, librettos, a future film and a live show with you all. For now, please accept my deepest gratitude. It feels so good to know we are doing this together. See you soon...




    • Thank you to the following for contributing to 3Arts with the recommendation that we support this project.

    • Mesha Arant

    • James Pike

    • Jordan Martins

    • Kareem Khubchandani

    • Tess Landon

    • Kristan Kennedy

    • Elena Ailes

    • ilana faust

    • Stephen Fiehn

    • Roman Susan Art Foundation NFP

    • Zachary Whittenburg

    • Adrienne Skye Roberts

    • Cauleen Smith

    • Gabrielle Civil

    • Julieanne Ehre

    • Sophie Allen

    • Llewelynn Fletcher

    • Marjani Forte-Saunders

    • Jake Collings

    • Munira Lokhandwala

    • J'Sun Howard

    • Aaron Wolfson

    • L F

    • Latham Zearfoss

    • Roya Amirsoleymani

    • Allie Hankins

    • Brian Ashby

    • Ginger Farley

    • Karen Gentemann

    • Sarah Ross

    • Anonymous Supporter

    • Hannah Helfner

    • Alexander Hayashi

    • Anonymous Supporter

    • Ricardo Adame

    • Dana Rochman

    • Christina Gomez

    • Huong Ngo

    • Tempestt Hazel

    • Tomeka Reid

    • Maria Gaspar

    • Takahiro Yamamoto

    • Helen Barrios

    • Hannah Hussey

    • Jamie Hayes

    • Courtney Mackedanz

    • Jonathan Meyer

    • Matthew Sherbach

    • r r

    • Keith Hennessy

    • Tana Luger

    • Emily Winter

    • Christine Shallenberg

    • Suzanne Hitchman

    • Sampada Aranke

    • Tara Betts

    • Bryan Saner

    • Jefferson Pinder

    • Anonymous Supporter

    • Aymar Jean

    • Jina Valentine

    • Ann Nicol

    • Kinneret Alexander

    • Eliza Myrie

    • Amelia charter

    • Elsa Barkley Brown

    • Deborah Rosenfelt

    • A.Lynn Bolles

    • Keyierra Collins

    • Chris Walker

    • Jane Jerardi

    • Nora Sharp

    • Joshua Goldsmith

    • alyah baker

    • Milka Djordjevich

    • Kirsten Leenaars

    • Marcela Torres

    • Ralph Pugay

    • erin kilmurray

    • Emi Kane

    • marguerite hemmings

    • Anonymous Supporter

    • Alexis Kassim

    • Rami George

    • L. Lamar Wilson

    • erica meiners

    • Anonymous Supporter

    • R V

    • ayo Ohs

    • shannon stewart

    • Brett Swinney

    • Pavithra Vasudevan

    • Phoebe Woerner

    • Shantha Chelliah

    • Ranu Mukherjee

    • Alice Kim

    • Michael Renaud

    • sune Woods

make it work


3AP Presenting Partner:

  Joyce Logo

 Additional support provided by: 

Department of Cultural Affairs logo  Illinois Arts Council