Taking the shot: Basketball opera scores points against gun violence

Taking the shot: Basketball opera scores points against gun violence
Will Ehrenreich

This show is a courtside drama.

A sporty new opera will roll out on a basketball court in East Flatbush this weekend. “Bounce” centers on a high school basketball star who gets shot in the leg during a game at his local playground, and will take place at the courts at Paerdegat Park on June 25–27. The show has brought forward local high schoolers to sing alongside operatic professionals, play basketball, and tell a cautionary tale that many local kids can relate to, said one of those students.

“Kids are living these lives every day — those in gangs or with those kinds of people, we need to put an end to kind of stuff,” said Jacob Johnson, an aspiring actor at Northeastern Academy in East Flatbush. “Hopefully some kids come out and see what this play is about — it can motivate kids and adults who associate with those lifestyles to change and focus on what is best for the community and future.”

“Bounce” follows Ike “The Flight” Harris, a good kid and star athlete whose jealous teammate — either on purpose or by accident — gets him shot. Harris struggles to physically rebound from the injury, and to emotionally deal with being a literal target of jealousy, while his team faces off against a number of opponents.

The outcomes are staged, but the games are full of real action. Kids with the anti-violence group Gangsta’s Making Astronomical Community Changes play on Flight’s team, while students from the Business of Sports School in Manhattan make up the opposing squads. The players also sing — a challenging feat even for the classically trained vocalist who plays the main character.

“These are actual games we’re playing, it’s very ambitious to run around the full court and come back and sing operatically. I’ve never really had to do that before,” said Jonathan Kirkland, an opera singer who played basketball in his youth.

“Bounce” is aimed at young, at-risk teens, who typically do not spend a lot of their time at opera halls. Basketball players dribble to hip-hop and dance rhythms between each of the play’s “quarters,” and the classical belting Kirkland and others do uses relatable American English, according to the show’s director.

“This shouldn’t alienate the audience, they won’t say ‘Oh I’m at an opera, let’s get out of here,” said Grethe Barrett Holby said. “One thing that’s so great about [Kirkland] is that he’s classically trained in opera but can sing like it’s not opera at all. He sings like a god — but like a young American basketball player would sing.”

The performances at Paerdegat Park will help the team polish “Bounce” before it starts traveling. Performing at public courts around the country will bring the message directly to the young kids they want to reach, Holby said.

“There are basketball courts all over the country and we can perform wherever they are,” she said. “Basketball courts are like the modern town square — anyone can come and say ‘Hey let’s play one on one or two on two,’ even if they don’t know the other players.”

In addition to local students, Holby also cast some community leaders, including Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–East Flatbush), in supporting roles.

“Bounce” at the basketball courts at Paerdegat Park [E. 40th Street between Foster Avenue and Farragut Road in East Flatbush, (212) 639–9675, www.ardeaarts.com/bounce]. June 25–27 at 6 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Dennis Lynch at (718) 260–2508 or e-mail him at dlync[email protected]local.com.
Flight team: Jonathan Kirkland, who plays lead Ike “The Flight” Harris, talks with creative director Grethe Barrett Holby and tenor Todd Wilander, who plays Coach Ellis.
Will Ehrenreich