I’ve been lucky enough to spend pretty much the entire month of December with the TEAM. I couldn’t think of a better way to close out 2012. For me, the past few weeks have been a matter of juggling my involvement in two of the TEAM’s long term projects, Primer For a Failed Superpower and RoosevElvis.
This weekend, we closed a workshop of the TEAM’s Primer for a Failed Superpower, for which I was the stage manager. This incarnation of the show, however, was performed not by members of the TEAM, but by a group of kick-ass students at NYU’s Playwrights Horizons Theater School. Pieced together by duct tape and hardcore angst, the show ranged from a punk concert to a boxing match. The show sang with youthful abandon and stung with a sharp edge.
The freshness and vitality of this show was undeniable. Written by the group of third and fourth year students who were also its performers, the show exemplified a rich and sophisticated reckoning with the ethos of their generation. Quite simply, they effected an explosive performance, which truly serves as evidence of the unflappable hope and resilience of this generation. As an alumnus of PHTS, it was exciting to see this kind of work happening in my alma mater.
Very recently I went back into rehearsals for RoosevElvis, rehearsing at the TEAM’s space at ART NY. This show, for which I am the assistant director, centers on two of our country’s most worshipped paragons: Theodore Roosevelt and Elvis Presley. Among other things, it focuses on their iconic masculinity, on gendered and sexualized power dynamics, on greatness, and on the formation of a national hero.
With rehearsal topics ranging from tabloid accounts of Elvis’s sex life to Queer theory and discourse, from swinging pelvises to body suits with bound breasts, this week is already proving to be productive, surprising, and as momentous as these two male icons themselves. Kristen and Libby have continued to hit it out of the park, writing on their feet (or at the table) to compose material that plumbs the complexities of these two men and which complicates biographies often presented as singular narratives.
In this week of rehearsal, we’ve met a whole slew of new characters. Kristen, who plays Roosevelt, recently introduced us to John Muir, a renowned American naturalist who was one of Teddy’s closest and most influential friends. Kristen also at times plays Alice, Teddy’s first wife, who appears in chilling, dream-like capitulations of Teddy’s own desire and vulnerability. Libby, playing Elvis, has channeled new characters such as Priscilla Presley – Elvis’s first wife, and several fourteen year-old female characters – who occupied Elvis’s perverse sexual fascination. Additionally, Libby has continued to helm the character of Ann, a genderqueer slaughterhouse worker who invokes Elvis in the privacy of her own home.
And as I watch Kristin and Libby work with Rachel, Jake, and the rest of the team to carve out these narratives, it is apparent that the more light we are able to shed on these characters, the more any sense of definite border, clarity, or boundary seems to blur. That the once monolithic, fixed, masculine identities of both of these characters begin to melt, reducing a polarized view of power and gender to a utopian soup of fluidity and freedom. Teddy is both the body he built and the men who built him. Elvis is not simply man, but he is the multitudes of women he desired, the mother who loved him, and the woman, Libby King, who is embodying him for this performance. These monolithic men subsume contradiction, and become more than they are.
Truly, these guys are bigger than we ever could’ve guessed.
In the history of great question askers, Det. Columbo, that student that’s always hanging out with Socrates, The Sphinx, we at the The TEAM have come up with 3 quick, down and dirty questions that will help us in our quest to bring our shows to audiences and bring audiences to our shows. The only thing we need now is for you to answer them. And we really, really do need you.
If you have five minutes, fill out this survey. If you have 10 minutes, you could be extra thoughtful. If you have 15 minutes, you could spend 10 on the survey and then take 5 just for you. You earned it. And to sweeten the pot, by filling this out you could win a pair of tickets to our next rockin’ NYC benefit .
The TEAM is a lot older than we used to be. Time makes that true for everything, but it doesn’t make it less poignant.
When we started work on A Thousand Natural Shocks in 2005, we rehearsed at 10AM in the basement of a bar. It was sticky and dark and smelled the way a bar does when you are sober. We played the young people of Hamlet, inheriting a world of our fathers. We were still young enough to be precocious. I went to rehearse from 10-3, waited tables from 4-12, made enough to scrape by, and woke up ready for more.
We’ve grown up now. It’s not a bad thing. Time’s got to do its job, and all things must change. We pay ourselves now. We have proud accomplishments, but in our 30s we can no longer be the new babies on the block. We have things like an office and a board of directors now. Occasionally there are presents in our green rooms.
The TEAM has never been ironic, so it is with awkward honesty that I point out that our new show is about youth. Adolescence. Primer For a Failed Superpower is us writing a love letter to our children about what it was like to grow up with America as a Superpower. We are no longer exploring our own inheritance, but now preparing to give.
We spent two weeks this summer in London, at The National Theatre Studios. We picked up instruments for the first time and with great pride learned to play one song together. We explored ideas about parenting people and countries, honoring the past, constructing the present, and creating new forms in which to share our work. It was one the best experiences I’ve ever had with the company. I felt how sincerely we had grown in generosity of spirit and mind. I saw the incredible new work we were making, constantly striving to break into new forms and ideas.
And I mean, c’mon: I got paid to play pretend with my friends in a land across the ocean for a few weeks – what could be better?
We made some cool stuff, we showed it in Edinburgh, they gave us International Festival Whiskey in the greenroom. Now we’re going to show it here, in our home borough of Brooklyn. We’ve got 45 minutes of raw material we want to show you. We want to hear what you think: what images stick with you, what forms excite you. We want to know if you think what we think is exciting. We want to play our Fugazi cover for you. It’s a casual vibe, and there will be beer. Come join us:
Primer For a Failed Superpower – work in progress showing
Saturday October 20th, doors at 8, show at 8:30
At Jack: 505 ½ Waverly Ave, Brooklyn
Hang out afterwards.
Kristen and LIbby during band practice in Edinburgh, August, 2012
Brian, Kristen, Jess, and Jill during performance of A Thousand Natural Shocks, 2006
As a company we have traveled to 5 different countries (Canada, Ireland, The U.K., Portugal, Austria) to perform or develop work, as well as spending many weeks in various cities all over America. While we’re away from home and not rehearsing, teching, performing, seeing other shows in the festival, in production meetings, or getting lost on foreign streets, we often wind up blowing off our collective steam around a late night table and a game of some sort, cementing our reputation as the funnest company in the world. Here is a quick guide to games the TEAM plays, in case you ever stumble upon us in the back of a pub or the club car of a train and want to join in the fun.
The Settlers of Catan
Sharks. Catan sharks.
This game is the s***. No two ways about it. Originally brought to the company by Kristen Sieh, this game has been the source of tears of laughter and tears of rage since the TEAM began. We all have personalities that surface precisely between the time the island (board) is set up and the time the final road piece is put away, and they tend toward the creatively cut throat.
Settlers combines the capitalist fervor of trade and accumulation of Monopoly with the pathological need to control territory of Risk, creating an environment where a player fosters relationships with other players in order to effectively choke them out of the game in turns to come, all while spreading their personal civilizations across the island of Catan. And because it is a German board game there are lots of rules, though in between the rules there is enormous room for creative game play and deception.
One game can easily take three hours or more, so we try to begin our games before 11pm, although sometimes you just gotta play even if it’s late.
I recently described Euchre to an observer as a game mainly popular amongst midwesterners and the elderly. I was corrected by Frank, who specified it is really the midwestern elderly. No less fun.
Euchre is a card game that played with only the 9 through ace of each suit. When trump is announced, the jack of the trump suit becomes the highest card, followed by the off-suit jack, then the ace, king, and so on. The other suits maintain their usual card hierarchy with aces on top. Also, the off-suit jack sheds it’s original suit and temporarily becomes the suit of trump. Trump is reselected every hand. Perfectly straightforward.
It is a fast paced game that consists mainly of trash-talking and deal-stealing. No set up time, no break down time. Great for killing a few minutes with three friends.
A classic card game many of us had played, but brought to the TEAM in a formal capacity by Ian Lassiter during our Las Vegas residency in 2010. There are enough minor variations in game play and ways to mess up that everyone is always on their toes, ready to call out the mistakes of others.
Wii Bowling and Tennis
Another product of our Vegas time. Many of us made it to PRO status in one or both of these games. Unlike most of our other games, this would function as an early morning, pre-rehearsal warm up as often as an end-of-day wind-down. Once we discovered that you could achieve a sparkling, glittery bowling ball, everyone wanted one. And the only way to gain points in tennis was to play cooperatively as doubles partners (instead of head-to-head), so the average number of high fives conducted at the TEAM house rose dramatically over this period.
Actual Bowling and Tennis
Emotions run high during an evening at the lanes.
The rapid rise to professional status as virtual bowlers led us to some abortive attempts at actual bowling. Our scores were low, but the joy ran high. As for Tennis, Libby and I seem to be the only ones who play in real life, and we are great at it. Coincidentally both of us have made it to finals of Wimbledon but neither of us have won. Something to strive for, I guess.
Most of us were tutored, personally, on how to play Blackjack by Max Rubin, world class blackjack player, card-counter, and bon vivant. With all the knowledge that he gave us, and the practicing we’ve done since then, we are all equipped to go to any casino in America, sit at any blackjack table, and lose all of our money about 40% slower than we would have otherwise. Although I am certainly always game for some additional study.
Suggestions for games we should try out while we’re abroad? Shout ’em out!
Several of us in the TEAM are practicing punk songs on our new instruments (guitars, so far, of various ilks). Rachel had mentioned spending an hour reading about the deaths of various rock stars, too young and too sad. Days prior, Kristen had said after watching a documentary on the post-core punk band Fugazi that she found frontman Ian Mackaye to have something of a Jesus-y quality, filled as he was with anger about the corruption he perceived in the world, but preaching (and practicing) a life of love and embracing others no matter our differences.
This all got me thinking. So here I present to you a little chart of the gruesome, too young deaths of people who led amazing lives, gave their all for what they believed in, and who still inspire men and women around the globe to this day. Intensely charismatic personalities, many of whom died away from home while spreading their message to the masses. The circumstances of their deaths are often poorly recorded and in dispute amongst the loyal followers. Rock Stars and Catholic Saints.
Kurt Cobain – Lead singer and songwriter for seminal 90’s band, Nirvana. Shot himself in the head with a shotgun. Member of the 27 Club.
St. Peter – Credited with founding the Catholic Church. Crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy enough to die in the same orientation as Jesus.
Buddy Holly – Died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959, taking all of music with him. He was 22 years old.
St. Thomas – “The doubter”, Thomas overcame his doubts and took his strengthened faith all the way to India, where he was rewarded with spears and fire.
Janis Joplin – Died of a heroine overdose at the age of 27, eerily hot on the heels of Jimi Hendrix, also 27, who died 16 days prior after taking a lot of sleeping pills and drowning in his own vomit. Joplin came in at number 28 in Rolling Stone‘s list of greatest singers of all time, and Hendrix was voted the top guitar player of all guitar players by the same magazine.
St. Paul – Tortured and beheaded by the Roman emperor Nero. Popularized the fad of “letter writing” that would last nearly two thousand years until the invention of the internet.
Elvis Presley – Contrary to popular belief, Elvis did not die on the toilet. He died on the bathroom floor next to the toilet. The autopsy showed a horrific cocktail of ten different prescription drugs in his system. His legacy lives on in countless impersonators, and in the entire city of Las Vegas.
James the Just – Jesus’ brother. He was thrown out of a high window of the temple in Jerusalem, survived, and then beaten to death with a club.
Michael Hutchence – Lead singer for INXS. Committed suicide in a way that very much resembled autoerotic asphyxiation.
St. Antipas – This one’s a bit complex. He was set inside a bronze sculpture of a bull and sealed in. Then a fire was lit beneath the bull sculpture that heated the metal so that St. Antipas was roasted. Maybe not complex, but needlessly ornate.
Sid Vicious – Overdosed on heroin after a really rough year. He was accused of murdering his girlfriend, did time in prison (for fighting with Patti Smith’s brother) and a mental hospital, and got clean from heroin. The heroin he OD’ed on had been a gift from his mother the day after he posted bail from Riker’s.
So as we practice our guitars and our irresistibly charismatic showmanship and messaging, we will be careful to avoid the fates of our predecessors. It is a dangerous world out there for idols.
I’m writing from the Apple store where they’re helping me organize my 105,000+ emails that I’ve never deleted or organized. Unsure what people mean when they say “archive”…
This morn we were back in rehearsals for RoosevElvis, our new duet featuring Libby and Kristen as Elvis and Theodore Roosevelt, respectively. We’re preparing to head to London on Saturday where we’ll be presenting a workshop of the evolving piece for SUPER early feedback. This process is always an awesome and painful one. We have spent a total of 2 weeks working on this, plus the hours each of us spends outside of the room doing research, and trying to fill our brains with ammunition to use on each other. On the plane to Seattle last week I watched Viva Las Vegas (nothing tops that Ann-Margaret dance – so so oh so weird), I’ve been reading Edmund Morris’ extraordinary trilogy about Teddy, found Libby a really good Elvis tee-shirt in Vancouver (overpriced and oh so worth it).
You can’t really be an open vessel in this process. And you also fill up REALLY fast. So two weeks into this. And btw this was a work that really started as two solo performances for these two ladies, and then I was describing them to Taylor Mac, and he grouped them together with a smile and said, “Two women in fatsuits.” And then there was one. And clearly Elvis and Teddy are two American MEN, both large (at later points in life), both famous, KINGS of their worlds. But honestly it was hard to say beyond that why these two.
And yet as is often the case, what’s mushy in the abstract gets grounded and explodes quickly in the rehearsal room. It’s why the vast majority of the TEAM’s resources go towards time together. Teddy in Kristen’s artistry begins to form as this invincible, conniving, brilliant, irrepresable nature freak who wants to both worship and kill and own all he sees – part imperialist, part rapturous young man, part prudish Victorian idealist. Libby brought her interest in this country’s mass food production (meat plants, corn subsidies, omnivores’ dilemmas), her love for the radio and the culture of listening to radio, and it’s all doubling up to form this dense, emotional knot of Elvis/Elivs obsessed/constipation/trans/lost-and-found beauty. Jake Margolin – whose excitingly working as Associate Director on this (in addition to performing in 2 other shows) as the TEAM keeps growing and shifting in a heartfelt (if occasionally clumsy!) attempt to serve our growing and shifting company members – is doing some fucking amazing writing. And I’m finding layers I never expected as I think about Teddy as this awe-some and frightening epitome of conservative male imagery, and Elvis as this hybrid-being (his music co-opted, stole from, and blended race; his whole being blended the sexes and helped blow up this absurd idea of binary gender structures) that scared the shit out of the dominant culture…
Likely little or none of this will yet be articulate or present in the workshop we present in London next week at the Almeida. But the hunches keep us going. And I’m excited for this journey (which is gonna take us to the Badlands, Graceland, and hopefully lots of motels in between).
Just a quick note and a couple pics to say RoosevElvis rehearsals have begun at the Bushwick Starr in Brooklyn. Kristen, Libby, Jake M., Matt, Tater Dave, and I have been working in the beautiful upstairs room since Thursday. Nick was with us on the first day gathering images. Our assistant director Kevin Hourigan has been gathering footage of eccentric exercises for Teddy, and Starr assistants Rachel and Eileen have been transcribing the work Kristen and Libby are doing.
There’s a lot we still don’t know about the two men. We’ve watched a number of Elvis documentaries (best thus far was Elvis ’56). Now onto Love Me Tender. Workshop is Monday June 4th. Then London…
The TEAM is proud to announce our Spring 2012 Online Auction via Bidding for Good!
You could win a week at a beach house, a ski-getaway only 90 min from NYC, a day with a professional designer re-envisioning your home and wardrobe (plus a gift card), or a couple stunning pieces of visual art.
It’s gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight: Come eat and drink like Elvis, play poker, dance, and support the development of 5 new works, including: RoosevElvis, Primer for a Failed Superpower, and Waiting for You on the Corner of […]
TICKETS: $100 – MVP
Best Bang for Your Buck
Include a pre-party dinner plus wine at hot LES restaurant, The Fat Radish
(“You’d be a regular if you could.”—NY Times)
PLUS Unlimited drinks and snacks at the party itself
$50 – TEAM Player
A Fantastic Way to Show Your Support
Unlimited drinks and snacks at the party
A limited number of $30 tickets are available for students and artists.
Doors open at 8pm
MVP dinner begins at 6:30pm
SPLURGING ENCOURAGED! We need your support. There will also be plenty of chances to give (big & small) during the party.
What do the National Theatre (London), the Edinburgh International Festival, Kansas City Repertory, and Brooklyn’s Bushwick Starr have to do with each other?
They’re all a part of the TEAM’s 2012-2013 activities!!!
The TEAM is Jess [Almasy], Frank [Boyd], Rachel [Chavkin], Stephanie [Douglass], Jill [Frutkin], Brian [Hastert], Jake [Heinrichs], Matt [Hubbs], Libby [King], Nate [Koch], Jake [Margolin], Dave [Polato], Kristen [Sieh], and Nick [Vaughan]