Filming “Great Performances at the Met: Fire Shut Up in My Bones” on PBS

One of the highlights of the 16th season of Great performances at the Met to PBS East Fire locked in my bones. Adapted from the 2014 memoir of the same name by journalist Charles M. Blow, the show chronicles Charles’ upbringing in the South and how he was affected in his adult life by childhood sexual abuse by a member of the family. “I only saw him once in St. Louis and once in New York,” Charles M. Blow revealed during a ATC press conference to promote the filmed performance. “It’s not something a person who’s been through this stuff can stay in. I don’t think it’s healthy to stay there… The only reason I wrote about it was that i thought it would be useful for other people who might be going through the same things and i owed this to the world because only i could write what happened to me but i had to dig something up who was buried to be able to do so.

(Courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera)

Created in 2019 in Saint-Louis, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Peter Gelb, explained why he had sought this project. “During our long hiatus, when the Met was closed for 18 months, we gave a lot of thought to how best to serve our audiences and the art form in the future. We made the decision, of course, to produce Fire locked in my bones several years earlier, but we were determined, with our return, to pack our program with more new works and more new experiences that would be much more meaningful and relevant to a modern audience. This is the way the Met should go.

During the development of the show, Charles M. Blow participated in a creative boot camp with Grammy-winning composer Terence Blanchard. “It personalized everything because it gave us a glimpse of the story,” the composer explained, adding that he connected to the story as a Louisiana native. “Reading him is one thing, but hearing the rhythm of his voice and the inflections and accents and all those things really started to bring him to life.” Also at the boot camp was librettist (opera writer) Kasi Lemmons. “Kasi is a very detailed person, and I felt sorry for Charles because wherever Charles walked, Kasi was two steps behind him with a pad and pencil, taking notes. It was a great process because I knew everyone was 150% invested in the process of telling the story, because not only is it a powerful story and it’s Charles’ personal story, but it’s important that a lot of people hear it. I wanted to make history because Charles, his life as a successful journalist and writer is testament to his strength in going through something like this. I think telling that story with him and being able to do interviews could be a lightning rod of hope for a lot of people who are going through those same or similar situations.

“I got a lot of information about Charles that wasn’t necessarily in the memoirs,” Kasi Lemmons revealed. “I asked him a lot of questions and followed him with a pencil and a notepad. And that was really just the beginning of a deeper understanding. And then I kind of took it out on my own and tried to structure a booklet, which I had no experience with, but I kind of looked at it like I’d write a screenplay, almost, or a play, and I looked at acting and poetry, then started doing workshops with Terence.

From page to stage to screen, Great performances at the Met present Fire locked in my bonestheir first production by a black composer, tonight at 9/8c on your local PBS station.

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