Attracted by the entrepreneurial potential created by The Gold Rush, educated African Americans flocked to San Francisco from the East Coast in the 1800’s. They created a thriving community with its own newspaper. Some became owners and proprietors of exclusive shops and others acquired significant real estate holdings. Then, one day in 1858, in response to discriminatory laws, half of San Francisco’s Black population boarded a chartered ship and sailed away to Victoria Island in Canada. Sailing Away evokes this unique chapter in San Francisco’s history.
The production was an installation featuring a series of choreographies performed at designated locations within a mile stretch of San Francisco’s Market Street. The dancers depicted eight prominent historical characters who lived and worked in the area, including the indomitable Mary Ellen Pleasant, an entrepreneur who used her fortune to further the abolitionist movement, and publisher/entrepreneur Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, a devoted abolitionist, participant in the Underground Railroad, and friend of Frederick Douglass. Sailing Away featured gorgeous historically accurate costumes and specially designed props. The production was performed in cycles which repeated over 4 hours. A printed newspaper detailing the history was distributed by the Newsboy character to the assembled audiences.
Joanna Haigood was inspired to create Sailing Away by the current crisis of African American outmigration from San Francisco due to rising rents and property values.
The world premiere of Sailing Away was presented as part of the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Art of Market Street Temporary Projects Program.
Conceived and Directed by Joanna Haigood
Props Design: Wayne Campbell
Costume Design: Callie Floor
Dramaturg: Kim Euell
Paintings: Dieter Tremp, Eric Karpeles and Michael Sell
Byb Chanel, Tristan Cunningham, Antoine Hunter, Robert Henry Johnson, Jetta Martin, Travis Rowland, Shakiri, Raissa Simpson, Amara Tabor Smith, Matthew Wickett
Funders / Commissioners
Commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Art on Market Street Temporary Projects Program
2012 performance presented with generous support from the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund / Grants for the Arts, Wells Fargo Foundation, California Historical Society, Bayview Opera House, and Museum of African Diaspora
Premiere Location Market Street, San Francisco, CA
2012 in partnership with California Historical Society
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