Biographical theater about artists tends to have a built-in audience of fans. This may be doubly true when the artist in question dies young.
Enter 2 the Left: A Tribute to the Life of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, a one-woman multimedia show that explores the life, philosophy and work of Lopes through dance, multimedia visuals and performance. The piece, 10 years in the making, runs August 2–11 (preview August 1) at Synchronicity Theatre in Midtown. Lopes (1971–2002) died in a car accident in Honduras at age 30.
2 the Left was written by Kerisse Hutchinson, who plays Lopes. Hutchinson was raised in Queens, New York, graduated magna cum laude from Towson University in Maryland and trained at the Ailey School in New York. Her credits include the feature film August the First, the hip-hop musical Honey Bo and the Goldmine and the SyFy channel’s Rise of the Zombies.
In Hutchinson’s script, Lopes has begun to worry about her artistic legacy, particularly in light of cryptic premonitions that, unbeknown to her, hint at her fate.
Lopes walks the audience through her life — her complicated relationships inside and outside her family, her time with the hip-hop trio TLC, her solo career and her multiple trips to Honduras. We see how she sees her art, her career, her sexuality and her spirituality in what director Thomas W. Jones II describes as having an intimate interaction with an icon.
Hutchinson, for whom 2 the Left is both a producing and writing debut, was inspired to research the artist’s life after repeatedly hearing that they looked alike. She discovered she had a lot in common with the genre-blending performer.
“I was intrigued by her as an artist,” says Hutchinson, “even more than the music I loved and would sing along to with my sister.” Thus began two years of research, two years of writing and, ultimately, contact with Lopes’ family and friends. Hutchinson also visited Lopes’ beloved Honduras with the singer’s brother Ronald.
Lopes’ family members, friends and coworkers were invited to the first reading of 2 the Left in 2017 at the Mask Center in Little Five Points.
The piece became an official A-list selection for the 2017 National Black Theatre Festival Readers’ Theatre in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and was an official selection for the 2019 Borderlight International Theatre Festival in Cleveland. It was produced in 2018 as part of Synchronicity’s Stripped Bare Incubator Project. This iteration is not part of Synchronicity’s season, but the company — which emphasizes bold, female-driven theater — is hosting the run.
Most of the music in 2 the Left comes from Lopes’ solo album Supernova (2001), although some TLC work is featured. Supernova, released internationally but never in the United States, digs more deeply into the artist’s life and philosophy. 2 the Left hopes to emulate that.
The show is also peppered with “Left Eye-isms,” bits of Lopes’ views on love, spirituality and death — which she came to see as a transition rather than an ending.
By having Lopes tell her own story in 2 the Left, Hutchinson hopes to illuminate what it means for an artist who sees music as a conduit for a message and not just a product to sell. “Right now I feel that there’s a power that art has that I feel is being lost trying to . . . be at the top of the Billboards,” Hutchinson says.
“If my art can stir somebody else’s art, there’s no bigger blessing to me,” she says. “If I can stir people, that’s what I would like.”