Wall Street Journal article on Mission Drift

A lovely article about the catastrophic capitalism of Mission Drift in the official newspaper of capitalists everywhere, The Wall Street Journal.  Here is a link to the WSJ website, but if for you non-subscribers the full text appears below:

Drifting Into American Myth

Drifting Into American Myth


Of all of the art inspired by the global economic crisis, perhaps none is as lusty and energetic as “Mission Drift,” the new musical by New York theater company the TEAM.

“Mission Drift” explores the ideas and economics of American capitalism through two interlocking stories that span nearly 400 years: that of an immortal teenage couple from Dutch New Netherland traversing time and space in the pursuit of progress, and that of a laid-off cocktail waitress in modern-day Las Vegas romanced by a cowboy figure who is actually part of a Native American tribe displaced by the creation of that city.

And did they mention it’s a musical? The centerpiece of “Mission Drift” is a 20-minute song, dance and action sequence that passes through three centuries of American history, connecting the characters in New Amsterdam and Las Vegas.

“That’s one of the things that defines the TEAM’s work: Often things are getting crashed into each other that have no business being together, and hopefully through the course of the play we make it make sense,” said Rachel Chavkin, the artistic director and one of six New York University alumni who founded the TEAM (which is short for Theatre of the Emerging American Moment) in 2004.

“Mission Drift,” the group’s seventh production, opens Sunday for a four-week run at the annual COIL theater festival at Performance Space 122 in the East Village, which co-commissioned the work with Culturgest in Lisbon, Portugal. The show made its premiere this summer in Europe, where it nabbed several awards at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

But bringing “Mission Drift” to New York, where the TEAM is based, has taken three years, some development twists and one financial crisis.

The company began writing the musical in the spring of 2008, with the intention of making a more fact-based work to explore “what defines American capitalism specifically, versus capitalism anywhere else,” Ms. Chavkin said. The group also wanted to incorporate the Western genre of cowboy novels and movies.

“We’re always looking at big conceptual questions but also different art forms or pieces of literature or movies we want to engage in some way,” she said. The TEAM’s last production, 2008’s “Architecting,” used the prism of “Gone With the Wind” to examine the ineffective reconstruction of post-Katrina New Orleans.

But as the TEAM convened to write “Mission Drift,” the financial crisis crashed down on its funding. The show was initially slated to launch in Edinburgh in 2010, but it was pushed to March 2011 at PS122, and then into 2012. But for a show about economics and its effect on culture, there was a silver lining.

“The economy collapsing in a big way was kind of the best possible thing to happen for the show, but also the worst possible thing to happen for the artists,” said TEAM member Brian Hastert. “What was a pretty condensed timeline for development became much longer. That was the underlying thing of the three-year development period: keeping our own feet to the fire when funding fell out from under us.”

It also led the company to shelve the fact-based approach in favor of myth-making and historical fiction. In the spring of 2009, Ms. Chavkin was introduced to “The Island at the Center of the World,” Russell Shorto’s account of 17th-century New Netherland. In the book, Mr. Shorto writes about two illiterate teenagers, Catalina Trico and Joris Rapalje, who were among the first European settlers in North America and parents to the first European baby born here; they are said to have upward of one million descendants in America. In “Mission Drift,” a fictionalized Catalina and Joris leave New Amsterdam and head west in pursuit of the American dream.

“Catalina and Joris gave us the opportunity to create our own kind of myth and explore what American capitalism is,” said Ms. King, who plays Catalina to Mr. Hastert’s Joris. “What would happen if we started in New Amsterdam and followed these characters in booms and busts across time and didn’t worry about the logistical problems of that in a story?”

“Mission Drift” is the TEAM’s first musical, but, in keeping with the company’s desire to engage different art forms, the songs aren’t necessarily narrative.

“The music functions almost as a beautiful space around the story and these moments of story that open up,” Ms. Chavkin said.

Composed by Heather Christian, the music is at times raucous and sly, at others mournful, fueled by gospel and blues. There are bugle calls and wild whoops and snatches of Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas.” Ms. Christian plays Miss Atomic, a showgirl Herodotus figure who narrates but also interacts with the other characters.

In writing for Joris and Catalina’s itinerant pursuit of the American dream—and the reality of recession for Las Vegans in 2008—she said she “wanted music to encapsulate this ecstasy and excitement of ‘next’ as well as the bereavement. That’s why it makes sense to make gospel music, even though it’s not dealing with religion or a direct relationship with God.”

Underlying issues to contemporary problems are discussed, but the TEAM does not purport to have answers. “One of the great things about this company is that they’re addressing the broader, philosophical questions we need to address,” said Vallejo Gantner, PS122’s artistic director. “All of the big questions, the ones that can’t be answered coherently—they’re right in that zeitgeist. They lay out a lot of the problems there, but they don’t tell us what we need to do.”

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A New Documentary about the making of Mission Drift

We are tremendously excited to announce that a new documentary which has followed the creation process for Mission Drift (its many MANY ups and downs) is now in the final stages of production. An amazing woman named Paulette Douglas traveled with us from New York to Las Vegas, from PS122 to our rehearsal studio in Brooklyn, from Portugal to Edinburgh, and she’s got it all. Us beginning work as the stock market collapsed. Choreography that has morphed over three years. Characters killed and resurrected.

It’s kind of wild, and I’m not sure any of us are emotionally ready to watch what has been the most intense learning process of our company’s life, but we are thrilled.

She’s doing fundraising for the film if you’re able to donate:

And here’s the website about the documentary:

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Iowa Residency

From Michael Rohd, Artistic Director of Sojourn Theatre – our partners on TOWN HALL (working title), our new work-in-progress:

It’s in the middle of the country, its (supposedly) purple, Field of Dreams is an ‘Iowa’ movie & its got some great Universities.  Its one of the only states I’ve not spent time working in, and it’s a long drive across.

That’s a good bit of what I knew going in.

This past week Bobby Bermea, Rebecca Martinez and myself from Sojourn Theatre joined Rachel and Frank (and stellar intern Carly) for a research trip on Town Hall.  We were hosted by University of Northern Iowa’s Oral Communication program and Sojourn friend Karen Mitchell of their faculty. We were also hosted, in other parts of the state, by TEAM friend Ryan West of West Music in Iowa City.

The residency was arranged so our two companies could have more time together, and so we could do prep work for our visit to the Iowa Caucuses. Which originally were scheduled for February 6…but Nevada moved.  And then New Hampshire moved.  So, like the next domino in a tightly packed set, Iowa moved.  To January 3.  Right during the tech period in NYC for The TEAM’s Mission Drift.

So this trip became important as research and also so that those of going back could work on the relationships that will allow the January time to be as productive as possible..

We taught classes, we interviewed individuals. We met with Democratic Caucus organizers who told us amazing stories from the 2008 caucuses, but also took us back through the years, all the way to the 1960 Caucus.  One of our interviewees has been helping run the Caucus since then, and was able to discuss changes he’s witnessed. For the better, and the not so better.

We were invited to the County Republican Headquarters where we held one of several interviews with individuals  who are at the heart of the Party in Iowa. These were especially valuable, as it can be so easy to take on this sort of project with lots of assumptions…people were generous with their time, candid and made it very clear that in January, we’d be welcomed at the UniDome for the largest Caucus event in the State- one where all 8 Republican candidates are expected to attend.

We also did some research at the Isle of Capri casino. Interviews. Observaton.  Oh- also winning.  We did some winning there.  $75 worth.  Which meant when Frank arrived that night to join us, we were able to all go out to Applebee’s for a meeting- and by meeting I mean a giant Ribs and Wings meal that was stellar, and almost paid for by our gambling loot.  We talked, we planned…and we ate barbecue.  God prep for our time in Kansas City, one of the nation’s barbecue capitols…

Speaking of Kansas City, mid-week, Rachel (and Carly) drove to Kansas City to speak at a new Works Fundraiser Kansas City Rep was hosting to help support their 2012-2013 season…which of course includes Town Hall.  Rachel, by all accounts and to no surprise, did a great job representing our show and making the case for New Work in general.  She drove 10 hours within a 20 hour span, and we were all grateful.

Worth noting- Those of us in Sojourn met Ryan West for the first time, and we felt pretty fortunate t meet such a smart, warm guy who is so obviously committed to both his home state of Iowa and the power of theatre to make meaningful contributions to civic life.

Also worth noting- every time our two companies get together, it feels like the fondness between us grows, great work happens, and I personally get more excited for the project, and more inspired by my new collaborators.  Every time.

We will be together in a few weeks in Kansas City for a research trip.  Between now and then, the work continues.  A return to Iowa follows, some time in DC.  And then more development in NYC.  As Rebecca said when we left, ‘ I want to keep going now- I’m ready now.’  Me too.

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Virginia Tech residency and adventures

Now that Mission Drift is finished (or as we in the TEAM like to say – “finished” -) developing and is moving into the performance and presentation stage, we can turn more of our attention to a few irons we’ve got in the fire. The next such iron is Town Hall, a collaboration between the TEAM and a terrific company based out of Portland, Oregon called Sojourn Theatre. Sojourn specializes in theatrical events that couple excellent stagecraft with community engagement, and the few occasions we’ve been able to get our gangs into the same space at the same time have proven very fruitful and highly enjoyable. The idea for Town Hall came from the town hall meetings in August 2009 when health care was the hot topic and all of a sudden the debate became absolutely frenzied and people began bringing guns to public discussion forums. Not firing them, not even necessarily talking about them, just brandishing them in plain sight. As is their right to do. Town Hall will wrestle with how we make decisions in a democracy.

But more on Town Hall in future posts.

This post is about our adventures in southwest Virginia, where last week Rachel and I met up with Michael Rohd, the artistic director of Sojourn, for a 5 day residency.  We had a very full schedule, a tightly packed agenda of classes to teach, meetings to attend, rehearsals to hold and a workshop on devising to give, but somehow no idea what to expect.  We knew that we would be working closely with a group called Building Home composed of undergrad and grad theatre students at Virginia Tech and members of the Blacksburg community who don’t make theatre pieces, though I was admittedly confused about what they did do and what we would be doing with them.  And as is always the case when traveling to a new place to develop a brand new play, we just couldn’t know what we would learn until we learned it. This post is about some of the things we learned in Virginia.

First though, a breathtaking parenthetical. Something I didn’t learn per se but was thrilled to witness: We were nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains just in time for Peak Leaf Week. Such foliage! Sadly I didn’t have any sort of camera with me, a realization that broke my heart more with every damn beautiful tree we came across. So here is a photo of that area that I stole from the internet to give you an idea of what we walked out of our hotel into every day:

c'est beau, n'est pas?


Come on.  Come on!

And in this Bob Ross-ian setting, what did we learn? Well for starters Building Home arranged for us to sit in on several community meetings to see first hand a small group of folks wrestle to make plans and strategies and allocate resources for a whole community containing many different interests. All extremely exciting for Town Hall devo purposes, but less fit for the post which is about adventures.

The music, the music was adventurous. Two of the members of Building Home are local Old Time music prodigies. Old Time music is a cousin of Bluegrass music, but far less, um, popular. Somehow Old Time music has maintained a rich tradition in the Appalachian mountains but hasn’t grown past it’s regional roots. It often involves a fiddle and definitely utilizes the banjo (the banjo being the only instrument of any note that developed in America).

Anna and Elizabeth, our two incredible musicians-in-residence for the week, gave us our utterly unforgettable introduction to this music.  On our last night in town we took our rehearsal to Floyd, a small town about 45 minutes away from Blacksburg.  We kicked off the evening at Anna’s big beautiful farmhouse for a potluck dinner. The first room we entered was filled with the kinds of  stringed instruments used in making mountain music and several old Victrolas. We even stumbled across two wax-cylinder players, one of which said “Edison” on the side. Upon learning that I was allowed to play with this priceless relic of American and recording history, I joy-freaked out. And that is the state I maintained for the rest of the evening.

We had come to Floyd that night to witness the Old Time Music and Bluegrass Jamboree at the Floyd Country Store, but the most enlightening moment of music of the evening for me happened at the Pot Luck. Anna and Elizabeth introduced us to the cranky. Crankies are a form of musical story telling that I could describe here, but instead of bludgeoning the magic of the moment with a description that I don’t have the patience to try to find, here is a video that is worth 10,000 of my words. That is Elizabeth singing and Anna turning the crank.

Cranky One from Rachel Chavkin on Vimeo.

There was a second, equally breathtaking cranky on paper instead of cloth telling a story too sad to print here. After we had asked our fill of cranky questions and eaten our fill of beef stew, it was time to hop the short hop into town for the festivities. Before we even stepped foot into the Country Store, we squeezed into the capacity-crowd barber shop next door where there was a group of local musicians jamming. Anna and her fiddle popped down onto the couch and wordlessly joined the jam session with band members that appeared on average 2-3 times her age, and after a song or two she drafted Elizabeth to join.

Eventually we made our way next door. The Floyd Country Store is the first retail establishment that I’ve felt an emotional connection to in a long while. The totally inefficient layout, the clothes (Rachel hasn’t taken off the flannel shirt she purchased since), the ceramic butter dishes that say “never too much butter”, the pumpkin milkshakes and the CD’s of local recording artists.

Michael, Brian, Rachel, Leo, Carly

None of us knew how to dance the kind of dancing that happens at a hoedown like this, flatfoot dancing it’s called, but that in no way impeded our zeal.  And no one chided us for our incompetence, they grabbed our hands and dragged us out on the floor and gave us pointers as we went. Rachel’s main dance partner of the night was a farmer named Leo (pictured). As you could probably guess from the photo, Leo was a terrific and enthusiastic dancer who just happens to be in his 80’s. He made us all look slow. [The picture, L-R, Michael Rohd (Sojourn), me, Rachel, Leo, our fabulous intern Carly, and in the background is the band that almost gave me an asthma attack they were so much fun.]

And it just so happened that on this particular night a group of Afghanistan war vets on a perpetual anti-war bicycle tour of the south were in attendance. They had already played a set (they’re also a traveling bluegrass band!) that I regrettably missed, but the owner of the country store made sure to grab me for an introduction with the head of the group later in the night. His name is Jacob, he had long hair tied in a ponytail, a fair number of tattoos, was barefoot, and had served three tours in Afghanistan as a paratrooper. He was quietly charismatic and wildly articulate, and he mostly spoke about healing vets and opening a space to talk about war. You can follow their journey here, buy their CD or lend your support in any way you’d like. And if you’re in a town when the stop through, go visit. They are doing wonderful work and are not to be missed.

We were among the last to leave that night as is our way (The TEAM: ’til the end of the party!), and we hit the highway at 6:30 the next morning in what would be a 12-hour door-t0-door road trip home. The residencies for Town Hall will take TEAM and Sojourn members to Kansas City, Iowa, and Washington DC in the coming weeks, all of which promise to be exciting and hold their own adventures – particularly the Iowa Republican Caucus in early January – but the words of a woman I met at the end of the week in Shawsville, VA ring in my mind.  Her name is Ruby and she is a 90-year-old life long Virginian. After she and I bonded over coffee and donuts for an hour at an early morning meeting and we were saying our goodbyes, she held my arm and said, “Y’all come back now”. That, Ruby, is a fine idea.

In case you missed this…

An amazing short video created by Montblanc about the TEAM’s Mission Drift at the Salzburg Festival.

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Thoughts on the 10th

I am writing this listening to the music of Heather Christian (Mission Drift composer), which anyways always has me emotional. And of course the week has been hard and thinking and not thinking and not and sometimes also thinking about it. Between amidst and around things, in the shower, listening to NPR. I’m in the buzz panic of editing the Mission Drift DVD to send out, envisioning the life I hope the production will have, envisioning…

I’m not a big blogger, but I suppose I wanted my thoughts about the day, anniversary, to also be tied to the company – our company – which is my muscle. The main way that I am in the world. I do only speak for myself here though.

I am longing now to be in the west village closet that was our apartment in 2001, to be with the friends who moved in with us for a week because we lived on west 10th street and they lived over the bridges in far Brooklyn far Queens and we lived on 10th street and they’d come in for class and everyone sort of showed up for class and some sort of walked out away into Washington Square Park or somewhere else, and some sat wondering about blood banks and whether to donate. All these people with so much blood in their veins and no one to take it.

It’s very strange to watch things fall down that aren’t supposed to fall down.

And to then and now be so at a loss for words that language goes flat. And so you sit watching the television. Or, at least, I sat watching the television with the friendfamily that had moved in – getting that sort of feeling you get when all inner systems shut down and you’re just working, but this was the opposite of work.

This was stop. All look in one direction.

That – the feeling of all looking in one direction – feels far now. The TEAM has just begun zygote thinking about a new work we’re calling Primer for a Failed Superpower. Right now I’m thinking about it as a way to prepare my brain (and whoever else shares my inability) to envision a world in which America isn’t a superpower, much less the superpower. It’ll also be a love letter to our children (not that anyone is gestating yet, so far as I know) about what it was like to grow up in the 1980’s.

I’m thinking of sitting on a friend so that he didn’t punch in the face of a professor who said we deserved it. I’m thinking of Jon Stewart angry on the television, and realizing I wasn’t angry and suddenly unsure of whether I’d ever had an actual opinion in my whole life.

Wanting to make work that stops. Wanting to make work that moves. A bubbling under the skin and no where to put it. Eyes that itch and can’t sleep because the television is on and there might be news, so you watch.

Writing to say I am present, here, and thinking about it today.


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Dispatches from the British Press

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a fast and furious, crowded and amazing haboob of theatre and live performance of all varieties.  There are, literally, 2,500 acts ranging from stand-up comedy to modern dance, bagpipe rock groups to sword swallowers.  And of course, theatre ranging from highly compelling nearly wordless solo shows to (several) productions of Nunsense The Musical to Shakespeare and everything in between.

For the casual Fringe attendee, it can be daunting.  More than likely, it feels, the show with the catchy title and interesting postcard graphics that you’re considering seeing this afternoon because they’re aggressively papering the house in an effort to convince reviewers that it is already popular and well liked so get on the right side of history–is going to be a painful way to spend a seemingly endless hour and ten minutes. But there are gems out there.  You know there are.  You have friends who have seen them.  Or you’ve heard about them in the international press, or perhaps even caught one in it’s post-Fringe afterlife courtesy of a gem-hunting theatre producer.  But where are they?  They could be anywhere.

And thus there arose such a demand for reviews and other wheat-from-chaff sorting mechanisms that a reasonably well covered show running the duration of the festival might walk away from Edinburgh with a dozen or two published opinions of their hard work.  Because there are in fact dozens of organizations, newspapers, magazines, websites, bloggers, leaflets, etc., who are in the business of trying to help a choice-weary public fill their afternoons with fringe fair.  But now, of course, instead of having 2,500 shows to choose from, the casual observer may have 10,000 reviews to sort through.  If only there was some further level of filtration, some triple-distilled extra-smooth way of learning what, at the end of the doggone day, is worth seeing…

Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me, your humble TEAM blog, to be of service:

Mission Drift review in London’s Daily Telegraph

Mission Drift review in London’s The Guardian

Mission Drift review in Scotland’s (Glasgow’s) The Herald (MD starts five paragraphs down)

If you are hungry for more reviews of Mission Drift or other Fringe fare, the printing presses and the internets are your oysters.  More postings and filtrations will live here as they come in, and of course there is always the “Press” section of this very website with a perhaps more complete list of things people have written.

Happy Hunting!

the TEAM

Blast from the (recent) past!

When we were in Las Vegas last summer, Libby and I conducted a short series of interviews – with each other – about our experiences there.  The idea was to do this periodically so that we could have a running commentary of the evolution of our impressions over the month that we were there.  And also to upload them to the internet in some form so that people could track our tomfoolery along with us.  In listening to them now, a few salient points emerge:

  •  We don’t really know what a podcast is.
  •  Podcasts are fun.  We will need to do more of these.
  •  Both of us, separately and on different days, ate corn dogs.

And with no further ado, please enjoy the first three TEAM podcasts!


Brian interviews Libby, Las Vegas, early June 2010

Libby interviews Brian, Las Vegas, early June 2010

Libby and Brian at the Grand Canyon


Sardines: A First

I have had many firsts working with the group of misfits commonly known as The TEAM. I broke another person’s bone for the first time in a TEAM rehearsal.  I performed as a professional actor on an international stage for the first time with The TEAM.  And then we went to Las Vegas for a month together and I conquered a number of personal firsts including: my first visit to Las Vegas!, my first trip to a casino, my first time gambling for higher stakes than nickel-ante kitchen table poker, my first (and only) can of FourLoko,  my first non-ironic uttering of “it’s hot, but it’s a dry heat”, and my first visit to a strip club (The Library, it was called. It contained shockingly few librarians sexy or otherwise), as well as a few other firsts that I shan’t mention here due to the limits of propriety/legality.

And now as promised, here is the Sardine Post: the photo- and video-documented experience of a boy who grew up 18 years landlocked sampling his first ever tin of sardines.

This is not a cigarette shop. It's a seafood-in-cans shop.

Sardines! Octopus! Tuna! Mussels! All in tins and ready to eat!

Given the stakes of this adventure, I knew it was important to give myself every advantage.  The sardines were purchased at a sardine specialty shop in what appears to be the sardine capital of the world—Lisbon, Portugal.

After exploring the various styles of tinned sardines – smoked!; with lemon!; with tomato!; with spicy tomato! – I decided on a pack of whole sardines nestled in good old dependable olive oil.  Once purchased, the guardians of sardine culture carefully wrapped my new prize in a lovely themed paper and tied it off with a bow.  They did this not because a gift, but as if to suggest that any opportunity to enjoy sardines or other ugly tinned aquatic life was in itself a gift, an occasion to be celebrated by eating some sardines.

Sardines in their native habitat, a gift-wrapped tin.

Libby also had some knowledge to lend, a recent initiate into the world of sardine enjoyment herself. On the big day, she assembled for me all the necessary accoutrements – freshly sliced bread, a metric ton of lemon slices for squeezing atop the slimy bastards, and a small pile of sea salt in case there wasn’t enough ocean left in their fishy little bodies.

The result?  Aside from one mid-chew surprise, thumbs up all around.  But don’t take my word for it from the calm, cold light of the day after.  Please enjoy this new and improved video, artfully shot and sound mixed by Mikaal Sulaiman, in the living room of our flat in Edinburgh.


Sardines! w/ music! from Brian Hastert on Vimeo.