We initially started working together in 2011 at the Civilians. EllaRose was the Literary Associate, Jay was the Artistic Intern and Jordan was an associate artist of the company.
The first thing that happened when we got there was that Zuccotti Park got occupied, and a Let Me Ascertain You was happening. So Steve Cosson basically told us to go to the park and get some interviews and help organize some of the associate artists to get them to go to the park. So pretty much the first thing we did was put together a Let Me Ascertain You cabaret from material that we and a bunch of other Civilians artists had collected in Zuccotti Park. And we spent the rest of that year working on that project and other projects at the Civilians.
Since that time, Jay has gone on to direct new plays, and occasionally write plays. EllaRose writes musicals and plays, but she’s continued to work with the Civilians in one capacity or another. After being Literary Associate, she was the R&D Group coordinator for three years. This is her first year not actually being on staff.
We decided to work on this project because Jay wanted to do something about this group of anarcho-capitalists he’s friends with in New Hampshire. They live in a community called the Free State Project. Ella was interested in what’s going on with social movements organized around police power, from Black Lives Matter to variations on the Occupy movement. We saw that these two projects might be able to hang together, and so we submitted a pitch to the R&D Group. We wanted to work with Jordan, because historically the Civilians has sent actors out to conduct the interviews that they would be performing. We see tremendous value in that.
From left to right: Brandon James Gwinn, Cindy Cheung, Jorge Cordova, Jed Resnick, Abigail Bengson and Shaun Bengson rehearsing “Let Me Ascertain You: Anarchy!” Photo Credit: Jacey Erwin.
This always felt like a Civilians-type project to us, both because that’s where we met, and also because what we wanted to talk about really lent itself to the style and techniques we had learned at the Civilians. What’s happened, in the course of our investigation, is that we’ve actually expanded beyond just Black Lives Matter and the anarcho-capitalists in New Hampshire. We’ve really seen a value in talking to a diverse sample of people who are running up against police militarization, and what’s revealed itself to be especially interesting to us is this idea that there’s something wrong with the state. And a lot of people are identifying that, and the ways in which they’re choosing to respond to it are taking different forms. But at the core, the things that people are really upset about seem to be linked. At the heart of it, people share the same concerns. And for us, as people who generally believe in the need for a state, it’s been fascinating to find ourselves aligned with their concerns. It’s just that their solution is not to have a state.
We’ve arranged several trips up to New Hampshire, where we’ve gathered more material than we can use in our R&D project. When the opportunity to curate a Let Me Ascertain You cabaret presented itself in the fall, we knew we would have more than enough to build on. We didn’t want to do an exact replica of our R&D project, and with the help of the Field Research Team, we’ve put together a broader look at what it means to be an anarchist in the United States today. “Let Me Ascertain You: Anarchy!” complements our project, however, because people’s thoughts about the state are always going to be useful in juxtaposition with people who live in social movements that oppose or attempt to undo the state’s violence.
“Let Me Ascertain You: Anarchy!” plays Joe’s Pub tonight at 7 p.m. Buy tickets here.