Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever : World Premiere & Residency

This article was originally published on the Duke Performances blog

On average, Duke Performances commissions and premieres five projects each season. These range from new music compositions to evening-length multidisciplinary productions that go on to tour nationally, and sometimes internationally, following their premieres in Durham.

In early March, our 2019/2020 season came to an abrupt and unanticipated close, cut short by over twenty performances due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

But it went out on a high note, with the nine-day residency and world premiere run of singer-songwriter Leyla McCalla’s Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever — a searing, evocative, and timely meditation on Haitian-American identity and the importance of a free press capable of speaking truth to power. The project explores the legacy of Radio Haiti-Inter, Haiti’s first privately owned Creole-speaking radio station, and the assassination of its owner, Jean Dominique, in 2000.

A peek inside Leyla McCalla’s residency at Duke. Video by KidEthnic.

Over three years in the making, Breaking the Thermometer brought together a wide range of collaborators, including New Orleans-based director Kiyoko McCrae and Duke professor Laurent Dubois, who helped McCalla to shape this complex narrative into which her family history was interwoven. (McCalla comes from several generations of prominent Haitian and human rights activists.) And over the course of the nine-day residency, Duke Performances was thrilled to offer a number of engagements in collaboration with Duke Arts, including a public conversation with the artists, a workshop on African diasporic dance, and a full-scale audiovisual exhibit by Radio Haiti Project Archivist Laura Wagner — all free to the public — that allowed for much deeper engagement with the work and its source material.

This week, we’re delighted to share this new Duke Arts feature by Miriam Sauls highlighting the impact of the Breaking the Thermometer residency on Duke’s campus. We also invite you to explore the newly completed short documentary from filmmakers Saleem Reshamwala and John Laww (of KidEthnic), above, documenting the project and residency.

Stay tuned for more about upcoming Duke Performances commissions and other ongoing projects. We’re set to unveil several commissions and premieres for the coming 2020/2021 season — and we’ll be revamping our website this summer to showcase roughly 50 works that DP has commissioned over the past decade.

Brian Valentyn is Manager of Campus and Community Initiatives at Duke Performances.