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a line drawing in pen of Gladys Bentley performing at a piano with a microphone in their face.

First Friday: Songs From If This Be Sin, a Musical by Kirya Traber & Sissi Liu

Friday, Feb 2, 2024


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If This Be Sin is a new musical based on the life of the fat, Black, and butch Harlem Renaissance entertainer, Gladys Bentley. The show is a raucous ride from her infamous performances in Harlem’s most notable clubs in the 1930s to her eventual path to conformity as a “good christian wife” in Los Angeles in the 1950s. This 30-minute presentation will feature three songs from the musical in development, performed by Shari Gill and Denise Manning. It will be followed by a short discussion of the work with co-creators, Kirya Traber and Sissi Liu.

Kirya Traber is a writer, performer, and cultural organizer. She was a 2021 Hermitage Artist Retreat Fellow, New York Stage and Film’s 2020 Founders Award recipient, and Lincoln Center’s lead Community Artist in Residence from 2015–2020. Her collaborative work with Ping Chong + Company, Undesirable Elements: Generation NYZ, was a NYTimes Critics Pick in 2018. She received a NY Emmy Nomination in 2018 for her work on First Person PBS. Her plays include the play-with-music Both My Grandfathers (workshop production, Lincoln Center in 2015), Ready or Not (formerly Lucky development reading, NYSAF 2020), and the musical If This Be Sin (development workshops at Hi-ARTS and the Kennedy Center 2021). Her debut novel, based on the play Ready or Not, will be published by Dutton Books. Throughout her ambitious artistic career, Kirya continuously advocates for social change. More at kiryatraber.com

Dr. Sissi Liu is a composer-lyricist and dramaturg whose work has been seen on the stages of the Carnegie Hall, the Juilliard School, and Times Square Alliance, among others. She is a Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) certified designer. Her writings on musical theatre appear in leading academic journals such as Studies in Musical Theatre, Theatre Topics, Performance Research, as well as several edited volumes. She holds a PhD in Theatre and Performance from The Graduate Center, City University of New York, and has taught at CUNY colleges and Brown University. She is currently a Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ. Her book, Designturgy: the Drama of Design, will be published by Bloomsbury. Her alter ego, Lusi Erling, is a painter. More at sissiliu.net.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY,  Shari Gill (Gladys Bentley) has been performing as long as she can remember. Her show credits include “Officer Barrel/Miss Pennywise” in Urinetown, “Ronette” in Little Shop of Horrors, “Gary Coleman” in Avenue Q, “Madame Thenardier (us)” in Le Miserable, “BJ” in Smokey Joe’s Cafe, “Mama Noah” in Children of Eden, “Motormouth Maybelle” in Hairspray, and “Maria” in Porgy & Bess (the musical/concert version), “Harriette V. Moore” in the play Fearless, and is currently performing in mainly the NY area.

Denise Manning (Erica) AKA @TheHalfPintLegend is a New-York City-based Actor-vist, Comedian, and Musician. Denise was a 2023 Drama Desk Nominee for Outstanding Lead Performance as Amani in AMANI written by A.K. Payne & directed by Josiah Davis. She was co-composer, performer and member of the producing team on the 2023 Capital Emmy Award-Winning PBS documentary The InHEIRitance Project and her narrative performance in the short film The Roll Call: The Roots to Strange Fruit earned her a 2023 New York Emmy nomination. Of her favorite credits she includes:  NYT Critic’s Pick World Premiere and tour of What to Send Up When It Goes Down written by Aleshea Harris & directed by Whitney White. For more: check out Denisemichellemanning.com

Accessibility Note: Masks and clear masks are available free of charge at the museum. Assistive listening devices and stools are available. ASL (American Sign Language) interpretation or a CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) is available upon request. Please contact access@posterhouse.org or (914) 295-2387 to request interpretation services and to address any other accessibility needs. For other event related questions, please contact info@posterhouse.org