In this interview with Extended Play, members of the original cast of "This Beautiful City" talk about the show's origins, Michael Friedman's legacy and the bittersweet experience of recording the new album.
Earlier this month, we celebrated our first birthday at Extended Play. Today, we are taking stock of the stories we’ve shared about investigative theater happening around the world. We recently spoke to a few of the artists we covered this year to see what’s new. Below, check out links to a few notable Extended Play articles from this past year, followed by updates from the artists.
In early October, we interviewed the Yes Men, the activist performance duo fronted by Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos. The week we published our conversation, at Politicon, these political pranksters welcomed “Edward Snowden” to his first in-person appearance in the US — well, sort of. The duo brought a Snowden look-alike onstage after announcing that President Obama had pardoned the notorious CIA whistle blower. Then, for Halloween they haunted Ft. Detrick, Maryland, as ghosts of the victims of biological waste contamination. Later, Andy (a.k.a. Jacques) wrote a piece about their Greenpeace in Greenland trip in Rolling Stone magazine. And most recently, in January, the Yes Men “defense and security consultant” introduced a solution to terrorism at European Parliament. Finally, although they tend not to talk about target issues before the reveal phase of projects, they are nearly ready to reveal their hand in a project code-named #TrumpForPresident.
In November, we published a commentary Nilaja wrote about performing her latest solo show, “Pike St.,” in her native Lower East Side. She received rave reviews for the piece, which ran at the Abrons Arts Center in November and December 2015, and is currently planning a national and international tour of it with Epic Theatre Ensemble. She continues to teach in NYC and will be directing the Urban Youth Theatre’s Spring production at the Abrons, where she took her first art classes.
Last April, we spoke to director Katie Pearl about the Milton Project, which PearlDamour — her company with playwright Lisa D’Amour — has been working on for the past few years. Having already mounted one production in Milton, North Carolina, they are actively working on projects in other Miltons across the U.S. Here’s what they have to say about the project’s current status:
“We’re deep into working with Milton-Freewater, Oregon, on the project there. Our show will happen in June, on the stage of the high school. We worked with the city of Milton-Freewater and received an Our Town grant from the N.E.A. to expand our impact there, so actually our Milton performance is now couched within a larger city-wide project called “Talk, Play, Dream — Hablar, Jugar, Soñar.” It’s a year and half of bilingual creative and cultural programming to encourage the Anglo and Latino communities in Milton-Freewater to share experiences and dream together about the future of their town.
“The reason our focus is bilingual is because the population of Milton-Freewater is split almost equally between Anglos and Hispanics — who mostly come from the same area in Mexico — and a good portion of the Mexican community is monolingual. So, similar to how our goal in Milton, North Carolina was to create an experience that could be shared by the white and African American communities, we’re working to create arts-based events to be shared by the two communities here. To that end, we’re adapting our script to be a totally bilingual experience, and have been working with a native Spanish speaker professor, as well as with a team of high school students, to be our experts in regards to local references and language in the script.
“On the other side of the country, we’re also continuing planning and grant-writing work with a local cohort in Milton, Massachusetts, to start bringing the project there. They’re going to declare “Sky Over Milton — Our Community Reflected” as a town theme next year. That’s where we’re looking after Oregon.”
One of the first articles we published on Extended Play was an interview with playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle, whose play “Sliver of a Full Moon” arose from interviews with Native women who have survived abuse. The piece was performed at the United Nations in 2014 and continues to spread its message to communities across the country. Here, in Nagle’s words, is an update on where “Full Moon” is going, and what’s next for her:
“A lot has happened with “Sliver of a Full Moon” since we last talked! Since we spoke, the play has visited several law schools, including Yale Law School and Harvard. And this April 22, we will present the play at N.Y.U. Law School. Taking the play to Law Schools has brought about a whole new discussion, which I find to be quite thrilling! Most law students do not study the 19th Century Supreme Court cases that created the Court’s 21st Century federal Indian law jurisprudence today. So it has been interesting to see the moment when they discover that the Supreme Court’s stripping of tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians is based on a 19th Century framework that is inherently prejudicial and problematic.
“We have also been invited to present the play in Santa Fe in March and Stanford Law School in May. This past January we took the play to the Three Affiliated Tribes in New Town, North Dakota. Numerous individuals in the audience stood up and thanked the women and men in our cast for sharing their stories of survival and for stopping the silence that surrounds domestic violence in our communities. The presentation was very emotional and clearly very impactful.
“My next project is actually a commission for Arena Stage. I am researching and writing a play that compares the modern day fight to restore and preserve tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit crimes of violence against Indian women on tribal lands with the fight my grandfathers undertook on behalf of Cherokee Nation in the 1830s, when they took the Cherokee Nation’s case up to the United States Supreme Court and won the right to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over non-Indians on Cherokee lands. I have been researching primary sources such as their letters and their attorneys’ memoranda, as they are all kept at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It has turned into a very exciting project that also appears to be very timely, given the challenges we now face in the Supreme Court, where non-Indians want to challenge the constitutionality of tribal jurisdiction over tribal lands.”
In June, we spoke to directors Tamilla Woodard and Ana Margineanu about PopUp Theatrics, the artistic partnership they share with playwright Peca Stefan. The trio creates what they call “immersive, site-specific, site-impacting theatrical events in dynamic collaborations with artists worldwide.” We caught up with Tamilla and Ana recently to see what’s happening with PopUp in the coming months. Here’s what they had to say:
“‘Broken City’ has been a way for us to explore a theatrical lineage and also to continue to test certain boundaries of the performer-spectator relationship right in the center of this live, large, beautifully unpredictable and ultimately untamable venue called the streets of New York City! With ‘Broken City — Wall Street,’ we will wrap up a three-year journey we started in 2014 with a show that takes place near and around Wall Street. We are in the middle of the research phase and are blown away at every turn by the rich stories contained on every magnificent corner of the financial district. And this year we have invited Sign Dance Collective, two dance theater artists from London, as part of this collaboration. The physical language that they bring to performance will help us deepen our practice of creating an immensity of theatricality beside real life. Come check us out in August!”
Tamilla Woodard is also artistic director for the Working Theater’s “Five Boroughs/One City” initiative, which pairs five writer-director teams to “create a piece of theater rooted in a neighborhood in each of the five boroughs of New York City by engaging a specific community as both source and resource in the creative process.” The Bronx piece is being created by Dan Hoyle, who we interviewed this past December, and is working with Tamilla to bring his play “The Block” to life.
“I am crazy excited about getting Dan Hoyle’s new play, “The Block,” into rehearsals this spring. It will be the first production of the Five Boroughs/One City initiative. Its been a pleasure to be the Artistic Director and to be charged with supporting the creation of new works and the creation of new artistic partnerships. I’m still amazed by the Working Theater’s commitment to the scope of the initiative, to the artists and to the communities. Dan and I have been working like mad these past many months, with incredible actors in the room helping us hear and shape the play. We think it’s beautiful and funny and sad. Its feels like an aural and visual snapshot. The play is really trying to capture the energy of one particular block, and the people who have called it home their entire lives. Dan put in a lot of leg work in the community, made a lot of friends and has taken really good care of those stories as he’s shaped this play inspired by the incredible characters he’s met these last 18 months. So, you know, come see it!”
And Dan is equally enthusiastic:
“Tamilla Woodard, who’s directing the piece, is a master theater ninja, and she has been throwing blow gun darts at lines and giving me nunchuks to chop at narrative. We now have a story that centers around a main protagonist, Dontrell, and how he negotiates a return to “The Block.” All the characters are trying to move up one small station in life, and we see how they do and don’t from an intimate perspective. We did a segment at the readings of the ten minute plays of my Theaterworks! students at Pregones Theater in the South Bronx in January, and the audience was roaring with laughter. The show is 50 percent funnier and 50 percent deeper and still very true to the South Bronx. We are excited!”
We’ve had a great time this past year delving into investigative, immersive and interactive theater. As we head into 2016, we’re planning more features, podcast interviews with your favorite artists, and online extensions of the Civilians productions on stage. Thank you for taking the journey with us so far, and if you’re new to Extended Play, welcome! Scroll back through what we’ve done, and look forward to what’s to come.