Out of the Frame (2016) is an one-hour interactive reverie on Ophelia, the young girl portrayed in Natasha Trethewey’s poetry collection, Bellocq’s Ophelia (2002, Graywolf Press). Music and video are drawn from Everett’s 2008 opera, Ophelia’s Gaze for soprano, string quartet, and interactive audio-video.
The poetry is a narrative sequence in which viewers are asked to engage the imagined thoughts and perceptions of a young mixed-race prostitute in the Storyville section of 1912 New Orleans.
Ophelia is the imagined name of a prostitute photographed circa 1912 by E. J. Bellocq, later collected in the book, Storyville Portraits. A very white-skinned black woman—mulatto, quadroon or octoroon—she would have lived in one of few “colored” brothels such as Willie Piazza’s Basin Street Mansion or Lula White’s Mahogany Hall, which, according to the Blue Book, was known as the “Octoroon Club.”
Given her Shakespearean namesake, Ophelia is a dark and troubled heroine. There is a dissonance between Ophelia’s perception of herself and what she actually believes. She writes that she thinks of herself as a white woman, but she is incapable of denying her blackness. Ophelia desires to be someone she is not, and though no one else knows her secret, race haunts her.