NOV 20, 2023
An open rehearsal showcasing The Fire Ensemble’s collaborative ways of working

About this Program

As part of the ethos of The Fire Ensemble, creative director Troy Anthony imagines a way of working that is transferable—from artist to artist, community to community. In Sparks!, a special open rehearsal for The Fire Ensemble’s choir community, Anthony welcomes guest artists Sean M. Starowitz, Gogo Yema (professionally known as Jillian Walker), Jaime Cepero, and John-Michael Lyles to highlight selections from collaborative works in progress, alongside selections of his own works in development.

Sparks! follows full-scale workshop productions and readings presented over the past two years as part of The Fire Ensemble’s incubation at The Shed. This open rehearsal peels back the layers of the creative process even further to the earliest stages of a project’s development, revealing the collaborative chemistry that determines the trajectory of new artworks.

Participating Artists

Artist Jaime Cepero looks directly at us in a portrait posed against a stone wall. An Afrolatino person, they wear a purple cap over short locs and a colorful floral print shirt. They have a contented look on their face.
Jaime Cepero
Artist John-Michael Lyles looks directly at us in a portrait where we see him from the chest up. He is a black man with short locs falling over his forehead. He wears an unbuttoned white shirt and is cast in dramatic pink and purple light.
John-Michael Lyles
Artist Sean Starowitz, a white man with wavy brown hair, sits with his shoulders hunched and his hands brought together supporting his chin. He smiles and wears a blue sweatshirt.
Sean M. Starowitz
Jillian Walker, a Black woman, looks at us in a black and white portrait. She is seen from the side turning her head to look at us. Her locs fall over the right side of her face and she wears a long white duster.
Jillian Walker :: Gogo Yema
Jaime Cepero

Jaime Cepero (they/he) is an Afrolatino queer nonbinary actor, writer, and award-winning activist, most well known for playing the conniving Ellis Boyd in NBC’s musical drama cult favorite SMASH from executive producer Steven Spielberg. Other select credits include, on TV: Connecting… (NBC), Mess (HereTV/Amazon); on film: Daddy, Dating My Mother, Jess, I Am Michael, The Game Plan; in theater: Porgy & Bess (75th Anniversary National Tour), Night Of The Living Dead: The Musical! (Off-Broadway & cast recording), Excorcistic: The Musical (Off-Broadway), Hair (Claude; Dallas Theater Center), Godspell (Judas; ACT Connecticut), Jesus Christ Superstar: Gospel! (Simon; Alliance Theater), and Choir Boy (u/s Pharrus/David; Geffen Playhouse).

As a writer, Cepero is an alum of the Write It Out! Playwriting Program at National Queer Theater and the Devised Theater Working Group artist residency at The Public Theater. Their songwriting has been featured in The Musicals of Tomorrow on Broadway Podcast Network, the Times Square City Songwriting Competition (2x Semi Finalist), and the New York Theater Barn Choreography Lab at Baryshnikov Arts Center. Cepero’s organizing and community engagement work on the 2020 March On Broadway won two Gold Anthem Awards from the Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Follow on Instagram: @Papimagic, @francoisandtherebels

John-Michael Lyles
John-Michael Lyles is a New York–based, Texas-raised, multi-hyphenate creative. As an Obie-winning actor, he recently achieved his Broadway debut in the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning musical A Strange Loop. At NYC’s Barrow Street, he performed in the Pulitzer Prize–winning play The Flick and played Tobias in the critically acclaimed Sweeney Todd. The New York Times lauded his “hauntingly simple performance” in the NY City Center Encores production of 1776. He’s also been seen Off-Broadway in This Ain’t No Disco, Big River, Brooklynite, and Jasper In Deadland. His film debut was alongside Alec Baldwin in Blind, and he’s guest starred in The Other Two, Chicago PD, and NCIS: New Orleans. Regionally, he played Dickon in CTG’s The Secret Garden, originated the role of Toby in Bliss at the 5th Avenue, co-starred in Second City’s production of The Art of Falling, and was deemed a “fleet and winning phenom on stage” in the Guthrie’s Choir Boy. As a Vivace Award–winning composer/lyricist/librettist, he’s been commissioned by 5th Avenue Theater’s Raise Your Voice program, and he’s currently co-writing a new musical, Shoot for the Moon, with prestigious support from Rhinebeck Writer’s Retreat, MTF Makers Cohort 2, and Dramatist Guild Fellows Class of ’21. He also wrote additional music for Second Stage’s We’re Gonna Die Follow:, @johnmichael_lyles
Sean M. Starowitz

Sean M. Starowitz has worked in a variety of community-based contexts, spanning more than a decade of socially engaged art practice. He uses archival research and public memory as material to reframe our current understanding of natural history and political imaginaries.

Starowitz served as the assistant director of the arts for the City of Bloomington, Indiana. During this time, he directed the 1% for the Arts program and managed cultural grants on behalf of the city. Prior to his work in local government, he was the artist-in-residence at the Farm To Market Bread Company in Kansas City and is a graduate of the Interdisciplinary Arts program at the Kansas City Art Institute.

In 2023, Starowitz received his MFA in sculpture from the Tyler School of Art and Architecture. He currently lives and works in Philadelphia and spends his summers teaching at the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts in Lexington, Kentucky.

Jillian Walker :: Gogo Yema

Jillian Walker :: Gogo Yema is a multidimensional artist (composer, playwright, performer, vocalist, dramaturg), diviner, healer, teacher, and Sangoma Priestess. She is a guide of Ancestral healing, spirituality and creative consciousness through multiple dimensions, back and forward generationally across timelines, bloodlines, and legacy. With her spiritual practice as the central portal, she has created and supported over a decade of art in the fields of theater and performance, music, film, television, as well as throughout the academy, in healing spaces, women’s circles, prisons, places of worship, and sacred spaces at and across the oceans.

She blesses the honor of her lineages through performance and practice. Her most acclaimed work, SKiNFoLK: An American Show (The Bushwick Starr/National Black Theatre: NY Times Critics Pick, Kilroys List, Lilly Award) is published by 53rd State Press. Her other plays and projects have received numerous honors and include Songs of Speculation (JACK, 2020: Third Coast Audio Unbound Award) and Sarah’s Salt. (Winner Columbia@Roundabout, Bay Area Playwrights Festival Finalist, Relentless Award honorable mention). Her latest onstage script(ure), The Whitney Album, appeared in Soho Rep’s ’22 – ’23 season. One of Gogo’s favorite descriptions of her onstage work comes from poet and prophet Alexis Pauline Gumbs, who described her Joe’s Pub concert Blue Ink as “Transformational, Black feminist, ancestral-portal-opening, love-centered musical work.”

With her multifaceted training and education in traditional academic spaces (BA: The University of Michigan; MFA: Columbia University) and ancient Afro-indigenous traditions (Chief teachers, Makhosi Himi Gogo Thule Ngane, Queen Baba Solstice Kha Ekhaya Esima, Makhosi Foundation), Jillian :: Gogo holds a unique combination of intellectual curiosity, spiritual rigor, and an incredible capacity for deep listening and collaboration with people, built and natural worlds, time/space, Ancestors, and all of the unseen.

Some of Gogo’s favorite collaborations include: writing/performing and serving as process director with The TEAM (Reconstructing), creating Move, Meditate, Make with Libby King, holding prompt-based performance classes with the students at The University of Washington and Harvard, holding circle with the women in Nisha Moodley’s Soul of Leadership, and sitting in prayer, song, and healing space with her spiritual family at the Makhosi Foundation.

BLK GRK (or, hiding in plain sight), a multiversal, poetic film exploration of the history of Black Greek letter organizations, is a deep upcoming collaboration with co-conceivers Rachel Chavkin and Eric Berryman and has expanded Jillian into its screenwriter, composer, and star, alongside Eric Berryman. Gogo is also deepening in collaboration with fellow artists, culture-shifters, and devoted leaders as the founding artist and studio mother of her own sacred healing house, Legasea, opening its doors in the fall of 2023.

From a heartspace that flows out of The Love of the Ancestors, she continues to incite and inspire sublime new forms of art, structures, and communal systems that break the brutal boundaries of the colonial imagination.

More about The Fire Ensemble

The Fire Ensemble, formed in 2021, is an organization that creates revolutionary new work rooted in music, ritual, and revelation by gathering through choirs that foster intergenerational healing and collective liberation.

During free, weekly rehearsals, people from different backgrounds and identities come together to explore the power of our individual voices to make music collectively. Though the invitation to participate in collective liberation is open to all, The Fire Ensemble is committed to centering BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.

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An intergenerational choir community dedicated to using song and ritual as tools for collective liberation centering BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ folx
In The Works

Thank you to our partners

The Fire Ensemble is supported by

The creation of new work at The Shed is generously supported by the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Commissioning Fund and the Shed Commissioners. Major support for live productions at The Shed is provided by the Charina Endowment Fund, with additional support from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

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