I walked through the financial district on my way to rehearsal this morning. I was struck by the architecture of risk taking: massive overhangs supported by a thread, sharp angles so jaunty as to appear arrogant. I passed a sculpture of compacted cubes of destroyed auto parts hanging from the roof of a massive skyscraper. I think it resonates with a different meaning now, after the fragmenting of the American auto industry over the past few years, than perhaps the artist originally intended…
On Governor’s Island, we’re working to inject the draft of Mission Drift that we developed in Vegas with the sense of danger and unintended consequences I saw across the Hudson. Our goal is to fuse the violence and arrogance of the work we did in summer 2009 at the Almeida Theater in London with the epic sprawl that we discovered in Vegas. For those of you who saw our work-in-progress showing at the Ohio Theater’s final Ice Factory Festival this summer, the final show is going to be very different—but then again, we wouldn’t be the TEAM if we didn’t throw out three fully-formed versions of a play before coming up with the final product!
For any of you interested and in New York, we’re having two readings of the play next Thursday and Friday, November 4 and 5 at 2:45. You’ll have to RSVP (and catch the ferry) to come see, and seating is extremely limited so contact us soon! Full information is on the LMCC website. Hope to see you there!
We are happy to be back on the east coast following an extraordinary month for the company in the city of Las Vegas working on Mission Drift. This trip was amazing. We spent the majority of the month taking field trips to places like the Culinary Union offices, the Atomic Testing Museum (where we got a backstage tour with the curator and saw a nuke back-pack), to the Springs Preserve (an incredible facility dedicated to sustainable desert living), to a 60-year old pig farm in north Vegas (shockingly nestled between new housing developments who are now suing the farm’s owner for the stench), to the Neon Boneyard (an extensive collection of old signage). We then would return to the rehearsal room and create material through composition and movement assignments, and writing exercises. At the end of the month we presented two workshop presentations to individuals we met there and received feedback.
We strongly recommend purchasing in advance as seating is very limited and there are only four shows. Each will be followed with drinks and conversation, as this is a work in progress. We’re incredibly honored to be a part of the Festival again, after joyfully previewing Particularly in the Heartland there to sold-out houses in 2006 before heading to Edinburgh. As many of you know, the Ohio is very sadly closing after over 25 years of tremendous producing history. We hope you’ll celebrate it’s life by checking out this final Ice Factory Festival. More info on us and all the shows here: http://www.sohothinktank.org/SohoThinkTank-OhioTheatre51910.htm
NOW! An in-depth update on what we’ve been doing, with thoughts from all of us and images from the trip.
You may have read our facebook posts, perhaps you spoke or texted with one of us while there…
Any way you cut it, this month-long residency in Las Vegas – the first in our American Geographic series – was one of the most inspiring, tough, and productive periods the company has ever had. And we felt we owed you all a full explanation of what so many of you helped make possible with your support this year. So what follows are thoughts from each of us about different experiences we had, and some images to fill out the picture.
Rachel (director) on the show’s progress:
Holy crap. So I teach directing at NYU’s Playwrights Horizons Theater School, and I am always talk about “process,” and over the year the idea of “PROCESS” gains this mystical impervious-ness, like…yeah…it works. But I felt process during our time out there in a way I don’t think I ever have before. Days of absolute agony. And hours or even minutes that make it all worth while. It’s been like learning to trust the company (and myself in it) all over again, which has been both hard and a dream.
Here’s how I’d describe the show as of now: Mission Drift is a musical, told through a mixture of narrative storytelling, adventurous or violent transactions between characters, Elvis and lizard-like movement, and song, about Las Vegas. It envisions this American city – the nation’s fastest growing at the turn of the millennium and now an epicenter of the housing crisis and recession – as both a church to money, and a small town trying to survive unreasonable growth. The characters in Mission Drift are individuals tiny against a landscape of history that stretches from the New Amsterdam colony, where a young and ambitious married couple named Catalina and Joris are living, to a booming Las Vegas, where a newcomer waitress-from-Wisconsin named Joan watches the Frontier implode as the city makes way for more growth. And the characters are also gods in this landscape, spirits reincarnated who carry on the battle between creation and destruction, vision and delusion, development and desert; an entrepreneur and a prophet thru time. Over all this reigns Miss Atomic, based on the real Vegas pageants during the 1950’s that celebrated the above-ground testing happening 60 miles north of the city. Played by Heather Christian, Miss Atomic is a showman and a showgirl, seductive and frightening, a storyteller, a hunger pulsing within each of the characters.
Kristen (performer) on our visit to the Springs Preserve:
The Springs Preserve is a beautiful natural history/ecology center that we visited during our first week in Las Vegas which focusses on two things: 1) educating people about the flora, fauna, geology, and weather of the particular part of the Mojave desert that has since become Las Vegas, and 2) educating and providing services for people who are interested in sustainable desert living. The Mojave only gets 4″ of rain a year, and yet the people who live here use a good deal more than that. The Preserve’s agenda seems to be to illuminate the ways in which people can bridge this gap by recycling water (yes, even toilet water), and limiting their water use (goodbye big green lawn, hello xeriscaping)! I spent a good deal of time in the Mojave as a child and a lot of those sights and smells are precious to me, so it was wonderful to spend a day learning more about what makes the desert tick, and hearing about the ways in which humans have learned to cope with the punishing heat and dryness of the region.
Libby (performer) on the Neon Museum:
the neon museum…oh boy. to me this is one of the most important museums that I’ve had the privilege of experiencing. I’m inspired by the folks who currently maintain the vision to make sure this particular history is preserved. these are people – historians- passionate about preservation kinda before everyone else understands the validity of the passion or the preservation…like they are finding dinosaur bones and people just don’t understand that yet.
basically, the neon museum does not yet exist…so what we visited was the “boneyard” this is what will eventually be the neon museum once all the funding and stuff is in place. the boneyard houses hundreds of pieces of neon relics. signs from the Sahara, the Golden Nugget… all these pieces of signs that once graced the Las Vegas skyline. within these pieces lives the history of Las Vegas and the history of America. it is car culture. it is the atomic age. it is the belief that building something unique enough, bright enough, and catchy enough in the desert will make you turn your car around. wonderful.
we live in a new age of advertisement and marketing and what we can learn from these signs from the past is that art did once exist in selling. there was care in the detail there was effort to make things beautiful and intriguing to the costumer and not to say that this does not exist now but there is something about the neon and the scale of these signs and the design behind them that makes these SIGNS so significant and beautiful and timeless.
Dave (production stage manager) on the Atomic Testing Museum:
From Jack Bauer to Fox News there’s always someone telling us to fear suitcase nukes, which I have always assumed to be pure and complete fiction. Then Karen, the curator at the Atomic Museum takes us into a back room and shows us a deactivated backpack nuke. While a bit larger than what one would imagine, there it was – a nuclear device designed by the US to be set off by only pair of soldiers who were told to set the timer and run. This was created over 40 years ago.
The Atomic Museum was filled with a combination of terrifying information, photos and artifacts and absurd near-comical propaganda and safety information. We saw Disney produced animations showing the limitless potential of atomic power and old science kits for kids that included actual uranium. These things were just around the corner from the images of the Bikini Kill test zone where an H bomb vaporized an entire island. We also saw the images and effects of open air testing in Nevada. Speaking to Leighton who worked on the test site for most of his life, one began to think it might not be so bad to see one more test to the North of Vegas over the skyline of the strip.
Ian (performer) on our talks with Culinary Union folks:
Over 36 million people visited Las Vegas last year—and somebody had to feed them. With over 60,000 members, Culinary Workers’ Union Local 226 provides over 90% of Las Vegas’ food and beverage service. It is the single largest union in Nevada. And while the numbers are impressive, what really struck us about the Union was the passion with which it fights for its workers. The Culinary 226 administrators we met, whether young or old, believe firmly that job security, home ownership, effective health care, and secure retirement plans are not the priveleges reserved solely for executives, but rather the necessary rights for all employed individuals. “Make sure that in the end the power goes to the workers!” one of the young administrators said after generously attending the Mission Drift workshop.
Jill (performer) on our visit to the Office of Cultural Affairs:
We met Nancy at the Office of Cultural Affairs, which was located in a historic schoolhouse, decorated with pictures of the building in older days: horses and wagon wheels in black and white. Nancy was a native Las Vegan, and told us of a childhood spent in swimming pools, riding horses, and houses with wagon wheels in the front yard. She loves her hometown, and feels hopeful for its future. Everything grew too fast, she said, we just didn’t have the structure to support it yet. I told her Las Vegas really did feel like a small town to me, and that made her happy. Matt (sound designer) on the Luxor:
I miss the Luxor. I hate that I miss the Luxor. It’s somehow more… dignified than, say, the Excalibur, while remaining just a shockingly artificial and generally alien. I think the “Magic Carpet Ride” attraction sums it up best, by shoehorning a Persian myth into the Luxor’s faux-Egyptian theme. Maybe it’s fitting that they’re going to strip out all of the “Egyptian” decoration and go full-on Ultra-Lounge. But still, at night, the sight of glittering black pyramid and the truly awesome beam of light it emits into the sky engendered warm feelings in me: a man-made star to steer by.
Jessica (performer) on the pig farm:
At the pig farm a very attractive man with startling blue eyes, like freshwater pools, and no teeth made my aquaintance: Jim. This is the name of my dad’s youngest brother who was killed when he was graduating high school and whenever I meet someone with this name, I take a special liking to him, a feeling of reincarnation and looking for sparks of someone. I definitely found it.
“Working on a cooling unit for us. (the workers.)” Jim’s a mechanic. “Pigs’ve got one, now we get one. Pigs come first.”
Jim’s worked there for 3 years. Sweet man. Overalls. Sport sandals with big thick white socks. 110 degrees that day. Five hot dog rolls in rows on the garage dirt floor. “Go feed the pigs then go back to the pond, throw some of these rolls in, fish’ll come up out of the water, sun shines right on ’em, 40 pounds.”
He warned us about the two geese – he calls the Three Amigos – and demoed how to wave them away with low slung Charleston arms. He said my name like it was crisp metal joints clinking into place teasingly over and over, “Jes si ca.” He had a wife but now he’s with a woman he can shack up with. “Does she also work in a farm?” “No,” he answers. “She works inside. In an office. You know, air conditioned.” And I wonder what it’s like to be a man among pigs. An outside man. With dirt all around finger nail beds that look perfectly manicured.
After walking through the pig slop bins, I felt all desire for bacon stripped away.
Brian (performer) on City Center:
The City Center is a mammoth consortium of several hotels, condo towers, spas, casinos, and a sparkly 21st century mall, now known as a “retail and entertainment district.” Pieces of the center opened in December 2009. It is enormous and surprisingly eco-friendly, with looming, very shiny towers built partially from the remains of the hotels that were imploded to make room for City Center. One anecdote related to us about its construction mentioned how, before it’s completion, some of the glass in one tower aligned to form a magnifying glass that focused the sun’s rays at a certain time of day so much that it melted a car stalled in traffic on the nearby interstate. To me, it greatly resembled a future Former World’s Fair Site, brimming with excitement about the “next thing”, but eventually abandoned when a better “next thing” came along. I had lines from Shelley’s poem running through my head as we walked around:
“And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. “
Ian (performer) on Big Elvis:
Elvis is one of the greatest icons of Las Vegas, and everyone loves a good Elvis impersonator. Unfortunately, as the Las Vegas strip continues to corporatize, the entertainment has become one large wash of multi-million dollar spectacle, forcing out the smaller acts, like impersonators. But there is one real, impersonator gem, and it’s not in the Cirque Elvis Tribute show. No, it’s in the classic styled Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall casino: BIG ELVIS. Peter Vallee has been Big Elvis for 15 years, through three different ownerships, at Bill’s. He is astounding. Without the help of surgery, he is down to 405lbs from 960lbs, and his beautiful and spot-on Elvis voice, which he has been using since the age of 13, carries out to the street through the open doors, drawing in passers by.
The TEAM went to Big Elvis one night, and Brian and I decided to take it in with cigars and brandies—“man night.” We watched Big Elvis take his wooden throne and fill the room with his immensely resonant and velvety, Elvis voice. We watched his sidekick dancers hype up the audience and move playfully to the music along side him. One in particular, Virgie, seemed a woman of true Vegas grit, and she joyfully danced with audience members and gave Big Elvis all of her focus and energy. There’s not a lot you can do for free in Vegas, but this is one of them. And it is awesome.
Well the time came in the show when Big Elvis needed the help of four, male audience members. Instantly, the female TEAM members began egging us on. Alert in our seats, Brian and I fumbled over our cigars and brandies, deciding whether or not to “man up” and volunteer. Just then, two middle-aged gentlemen walked up to the stage. Time was running out. A few more micro moments of indecisions passed, and, finally, we jointly made a move toward to stage. Big Elvis had his four. A Big Elvis helper, and later “musical guest,” handed us each an inflatable guitar, while Big Elvis explained that we would be competing for a mystery prize. The competition: who could have the most fun rocking out to “Viva Las Vegas.” A few moments later then song began, and hilarity ensued. All four of us started going wild, each antic topping the last and pushing the next. High kicks. Riling up the audience. Going back-to-back with Big Elvis. Hell, I even had a kick ass dance with Virgie. It was “man night” mayhem. And the audience loved it. The song ended and it came time for the clap-o-meter vote, but there was such a raucus for each contestant, that a four-way tie was declared. So we each walked away with “Thanks for Performing with Big Elvis” certificates and a burned CD of Big Elvis singing his hits. Brian and I returned to our seats, high-fiving our adoring fans as we passed. We sat back down, rekindled our cigars, clinked glasses, and enjoyed a good, and well deserved, laugh. It certainly wouldn’t have been so memorable a “man night” without a little egging from the TEAM ladies.
That’s what we have for you right now. There will be more stories told at the Ice Factory!
Hope to see you there, and thank you for reading.
Some things we’ve seen outside of the rehearsal room:
Casinos and missiles
Million dollar watches
The Grand Canyon (which is not in Las Vegas or NV)
and rain in the desert.
Some things we’ve done in the rehearsal room:
We’ve had a pool party.
We’ve dropped an atomic bomb on Jonathan Edwards, an 18th-century theologian
Ian has revealed that he can actually turn into a lizard on command.
Libby has eaten a mouthful of graham cracker crumbs from the floor
We’ve reenacted people we interviewed who work in the casinos
We’ve reenacted people we interviewed who play in the casinos
We’ve reenacted casinos themselves.
We’ve stomped, clapped, and sung “If you believe in Vegas, then you believe in God.”
All sorts of things have been done with laser eyes.
We’ve written over 150 pages of material. Today we’re starting a full push to tie together everything we’ve seen and written. Right now, everyone is sitting at tables scattered around the blackbox at UNLV. It’s very quiet, like a library. Well—a library with a very enthusiastic coffee maker gurgling on the side. We’ll see what comes out…
The house is still beautiful this morning. We’re trying to make the place our own. One of the first things everyone did was take pictures of the three foreclosure notices on the front door, as if each of us owning the image gave us some stake in the legally-limboed property we’re sleeping in. Continue reading →
We’ve been rehearsing for Heartland at ART’s Emerging America Festival. Watching the video of the piece from Toronto I was struck by how different we all look. I guess just younger, but also different somehow . . .
It is wonderful to be revisiting this play. The themes we were grappling with then seem just as relevant now as they did in 2005 – same war, same red state blue state divide (which Rachel Shukert who worked on Heartland in London at it’s earliest stages and who is from Omaha insisted back then was actually a urban/rural divide). Some of my lines as Bobby Kennedy have taken on a different meaning after the death of Edward.
We’ve changed the last lines of the Christmas Carol sequence. We’ve changed those lines literally every time we’ve put the play up, which feels fitting considering that the first part of Heartland that we ever put on its feet was the Christmas Carol section for Rachel’s Grad Directing class with Anne Bogart.
And now it’s on to Boston! (where I’ll probably get tomato-ed for my Bobby Kennedy accent)
the flight was smooth. and the set and costumes made it across on their boat.
we arrived in glasgow last week and set up digs at our favorite stone house on charlotte street. it was raining but spirits were warm. we had both a travel and and the next day off – a first for the TEAM. we have toured enough now to know that going to the grocery store first thing is a necessity.
i stayed on the top floor in a flat i have before. it is all pink and old and i love it. i have had the pleasure of having ms lana lesley as my roomie and we are cohabiting famously.we have grand coffee talks.
having the day off to recover from the let jag made a big difference in the quality of our health and of getting to work the next day. it was wonderful to be back at the Arches and walk by the rehearsal rooms where many characters in this play were born. we got to see clem and davey and rosa – who was 2 weeks old when we last met her and is now 15 months and quite the buddha baby. we played settlers of catan and busted out the famous grouse. our shows had full audiences of enthusiastic people, and many young students. we closed on halloween afternoon, and jackie and lj threw us a fab dinner party that night. i often refer to champagne as bubbles, but now i know here it is called fizz. and we had us some fizz.
lana had her first performances as margaret mitchell and she was wonderful. on the second night, i slipped on a coat and spilled an entire tray of drinks on jake. she won the prize for best onstage adlib during this ruckus. ” i wish we had drinks”
we flew to london on nov 1 and we delighted to find that our flats here have internet. it’s the little things, people. a french press and internet do a lot for me.the gals are staying in two little but clean and beautifully decorated studios. the gents are upstairs in a loft straight out of the real world, complete with taxidermied animal heads, a wooden stove and bean bag chairs.
we are playing at the Barbican here, which is a big step for us and a dream come true. we are in the small theatre in the basement, and it’s a perfect place for the show. i get to enter a separate building labeled stagedoor and it’s a fancy feeling. there is even a cafeteria for the people working there. again, the little things.
the shows have been great, and the audiences full and receptive. during our talk back night, there were several people who were fans of the show and had seen it in edinburgh last summer! also people who had seen heartland! hearing people speak so intelligently about our work is incredibly humbling and inspiring.
we have a week more of shows here and then to lisbon. we have a few days off there before we start work, which is very exciting. i have heard nothing but good things about this city.
for now, i am enjoying london and its beautiful markets – ah, the cheese! the flowers! the friends! the show!
We’re off to our first day of Tech at the Barbican in London! Glasgow was excellent – all sold out runs full of really excited university students who felt that our work was really speaking to what they want to be making in the art world. It was so much fun to be back with our friends at the National Theatre of Scotland and at the Arches!
In London we are staying in the hippest loft and apartments imaginable in a rad neighborhood called Hoxton, right in the middle of everything, and a 15 minute walk from the theater. And the theater . . . wow. It is just beautiful and staffed by wonderful people. It truly felt like we were part of the theater community here when Libby and Frank recognized the man who works the Stage Door Desk as a performer who had put up a Scratch of one of his plays the same night that we first presented a Scratch of Architecting!
what? the orchard project. a residency in the catskills where the TEAM got to work on the script of THE AMERICAN CAPITALISM PROJECT all day long in a red barn. all meals were provided, and wine at night. we slept in a brown house by a creek that turned into a raging root beer river when it rained. evenings were spent falling in love with the rude mechs, playing games, dancing, and making merriment.
who? jake margolin, rachel, matty, tater, libby, kristen, brian, and i were the TEAM members able to go. it was amazing to have sir brian hastert back the room after a several year absense caused by his attendence at the yale school of drama. frank boyd was on a journey across the country and jess, nick, jake h, and songbird heather christian were unable to attend. although i missed them all dearly, it was interesting and beneficial to work on a new script without some of the performers. in a collaborative process, i’m always thinking about the ego. my ego, and those dozen others in the room. it’s been a beautiful struggle over the years to balance the importance of the play as the whole, the experience of the audience, and a bunch of actor egos who want to play challenging amazing roles. because we were missing two key performers, the focus was strongly on making the play as a whole. we always write for all characters, but this week we also traded parts freely and did a reading where jake played heather, brian played frank, and i played jessie. i felt more like a playwright than i ever have, and it was a good feeling.
also falling under the question mark of WHO is the other people at the OP that week. is that a sentence? it is to me! the TEAM met dean for the first time, and he did not forget the tequila. we were happy and warm fuzzied to see ari, jake, and andrew again. we met this year’s core company- a team of apprentices in or fresh out of college. micheline was our rehearsal assistant and she was oh so valuable. she can also shake it on the dance floor. one night, the core company put on the most amazing cabaret i will ever see. i was genuinely moved by their sheer joy of performing, and fearlessness. i want to bottle that fearlessness and chug it.
the TEAM was lucky enough to be at the OP the same week as the Rude Mechanicals outta austin, texas. we had met some of them before, and had in fact been in Galway, Ireland at the same time, but never spent quiality time. well, people, it was love at first sight. our energies were so on the same page. the minute kirk spoon fed me some family meal that looked like it was going to be black beans and rice but was in fact some kind of wheatberry apple brown betty cold stuff, i knew it was ON. we played wiffle ball with mixed teams our first night, and the trash talking was truly creative. their spirit was infectious and delicious mixed with ours. it was really eye opening and exciting for me to see that people are making good work, and recognized good work OUT of new york. this city is wearing on me. the rude mechs have been around for 15 years and they are still going strong – and they have houses and stuff. that is so cool. i want that. we agreed to trade me for thomas in a semi joke that i hope will come true. micheline and andrew thought it was true and almost changed my bus ticket. i do want to work with you, thomas, so we will have to come up with a solution to that. maybe the trading just doesn’t happen at the same time.
work? we got about twenty pages of AMCAP written, which was RAD and totally necessary, since we are off to London in two weeks. We have development time at the Almeida, and showings at the end of this time. the vibe does not seem to be casual showing, and we are working with a choreographer there and so it was important for us to have some script to bring over. we got to listen to and participate in two readings – Leila and Louis’s – playwrights up at the OP. we saw some songs and dance from the rude mech’s piece I’ve Never Been So Happy. we did a reading of our script and got some good feedback.
games we played: euchre, wiffle ball, capture the flag, settlers of catan, and mafia.
there was also a prom. and we danced a lot.
and we made a bonfire and ate smores.
dear mom and dad i love summer camp please send me back next year i will get lots of work done and play very hard. i miss everyone so much already! there were fireflies and it was magical and i loved it. i loved it!
I almost spelled the name of the location correctly without looking (this title is correct – at least, from an Irish woman!)
So I am learning quickly what a glorious thing an artists’ retreat is. Wishing I was a playwright to get to do these more often! Tonight we had left-overs from lunch for dinner and just gathered and talked and of course that is still continuing on in the kitchen. I shared wine with the three “facilitators” (master artist folks) at one end of the table and was lucky enough to just hear stories of these wild pieces unlike anything I have ever encountered in America. I don’t know if that’s going on in the visual art or dance worlds and I just don’t know about it, but these works sound (and look – we got to watch video from this unbelievable archive one of the facilitators has with him) so incredible – simple. Elegant. Talked about Lone Twin. Jerome Bel. Inspiring.
Tomorrow Jess and I begin work on THE AMERICAN CAPITALISM PROJECT – my hope is to get a bunch of writing assignments out to the company in preparation for our upcoming workshop at the BRICLab in April.
In a bus from Dublin, 2 hours to Tyrone Guthrie’s estate, by way of London and New Orleans. Hearing we’ll be jumping another (bloody) hour ahead next week. Sleepstrewn through a highway bus astride cowflecked Irish country patch. Rachel is reading Marx.
The Irish gent across the aisle is speaking about clever insanity in the form of a megalomaniac to make something political happen – anything political can happen – in the wake of the political collapse. He is talking about personal power being transferred to the state and cheap labor and immigrants and whatever might be the next religion.
Last week, in New Orleans, we saw Brad Pitt’s green houses staggerring with sober Easter exhaustion through the still very vacant, and abandoned , now fields, of the lower ninth. We shoveled a back yard of glass shards, concrete bricks, and clay, and removed pigeon shot and complete bird carcasses stripped of meat, ensconced in their own fecal dust, from the walls.
Many people have not painted over the now political graffiti on the pastel dinosaur exteriors of their dying homes: dog food, SPCA, dog in back, 14 09, 0 (bodies), home- this was home.