In Ashley Bryan’s beloved and award-winning storybook Beautiful Blackbird, the one black-feathered bird in the forest is the envy of all the other birds. They beg him for more black — and thus more beauty — on their own feathers, even as the blackbird tries to teach them that true beauty lies within. Beautiful Blackbird is renowned Maine artist and writer Bryan’s adaptation of a traditional Zambian fable, which he illustrated with vibrant cut-paper images. Now Beautiful Blackbird leaps to the stage, in a new performance by the Theater Ensemble of Color, under the direction of Artistic Director René Goddess Johnson, and in collaboration with the Portland Museum of Art and Portland Ovations Offstage. 

Beautiful Blackbird runs at the PMA for one week only, in conjunction with and celebration of the PMA’s Bryan show, Painter and Poet: The Art of Ashley Bryan. Performed by a multigenerational cast of TEoC artists, including Veeva Banga, Evadne Bryan-Perkins, and 11-year-old Anna Clark, this adaptation of Bryan’s story of understanding, self-love, and the hazards of appropriation also features original art by Daniel Minter and an original score by Eugene H. Russell IV, which will be performed live by a band comprised of musicians Rodney Mashia on guitar, Aaron Seglin playing djembe, David McDonough on percussion, and Jimmy McGirr on bass. (Phoenix editor Nick Schroeder is a TEoC affiliate producer of the production).

The 95-year-old Bryan, who makes his home and art on Little Cranberry Island, is the author of over 40 children’s books about love, freedom, and heritage. He has illustrated Black American spirituals, African riddle-poems, and the poems of Langston Hughes. He has made sublime puppets out of spoons and flotsam from the sea. His work’s artistry is monumental, and its sense of joy is radical. This collaboration offers a not-to-be-missed opportunity to see his work both on the walls of the PMA and enacted on its stage by the ever more vital and inventive TEoC. 

Beautiful Blackbird runs mornings at 11 am October 19-21. The show is free to the public, but tickets are required, and you should order early to get a seat Sunday (the Friday and Saturday shows are already sold out). An additional performance, for school groups, is slated for USM’s Hannaford Hall at 10 am on October 22 (and is also sold out). 

Beautiful Blackbird by Theater Ensemble of Color | Written by Ashley Bryan; adapted by Theroun D'arcy Patterson & Donya Washington; original score by Eugene H. Russell IV | Produced by Portland Museum of Art and Portland Ovations Offstage | Oct 19-21 | 11 am | At Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Sq | Oct 22 | 10 am | SOLD OUT |


Megan writes about theater, books, and film, and is reviews editor of "The Café Review". Her poetry collection "Booker's Point" was awarded the 2017 Maine Book Award and the Vassar Miller Prize.

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