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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
One of the observations commonly made about the TEAM’s work is that there are a lot of ideas at play in our plays. A review of Mission Drift in Portugal’s Público called it “an intelligent, urgent, cerebral show”, which suits us just fine! After all, the mission of the company is to ‘dissect and celebrate the experience of living in America today’, and that experience is, as any waking American might tell you, a complex one. The job we are attempting to do is take what can seem like an inchoate mass of theoretical, historical, and editorial ideas, wrap our arms around them, root them in the hearts and pursuits of humans, add a dash or three of pizzazz for the stage and make it a play.
This is a post about the first part of the process (although it continues throughout, to be sure). For any TEAM project, once we have selected the larger intellectual/experiential sphere in which we’ll be partying for the next 1-3 years of development (i.e., “What’s the deal with American-style capitalism?”), we put ourselves through a kind of immersion therapy in and around that subject. So for Mission Drift we essentially had two arenas ripe for research: Economics and Westerns. We read classic texts of economic theories, we organized lectures on the finer points of the mortgage-backed securities crisis, watched documentaries about corporate influence and malfeasance, and listened to hundreds of hours of economics podcasts. And on the other hand we watched westerns! And read them. And read books about them. And histories of The West. And theories about the mythological underpinnings inherent in stories of “The West”. And so on. The shared bibliography of influences for Mission Drift contains dozens and dozens of essays, articles, books, and movies consumed by one, some, or all of us.
I know the classic axiom of writing is “write what you know”. And I get that I think. But for me half the fun of writing new theatre in this way is to tackle something truly huge and perhaps unknowable, learn as much as I can along the way, and then wrestle with what we find.
How much of what we read, watch, or otherwise absorb winds up in our play? Hmm, hard to say. The slightly cheeky answer is all of it, right? It’s all in there somewhere, in the bones of the people directing, designing, and performing. Can I point to the lines that were inspired by Cormac McCarthy or Adam Smith? Surprisingly sometimes yes, for instance the moment where Catalina renames Joris “The Wealth of Nations” is probably in some distant way related to Adam Smith, but a lot of times it’s just about giving us the confidence to weave a tighter dramatic fabric, and when we come across a tear know that there’s a lot more material around to look to.
And here’s a collage of a small number of titles from that bibliography that took an embarrassingly long time to photoshop together.
First things first, please note the jaw-dropping view from the tiny balcony behind one of our apartments in the Alfama neighborhood of Lisbon.
The view of the river from our back terrace in Lisbon.
Second, Lisbon has the most amazing sardines anywhere. Third, WE SOLD OUT OUR THREE DAY RUN AT CULTURGEST! Mission Drift is a go!
The audiences have been exceptionally gracious and wonderful here. The language barrier has not proven to be any impediment to these crowds. The folks who speak English as a second or third language have said that they followed very easily, and others indicated that the humanity of the story was plenty clear, but they always had the supertitles if they needed them.
The feedback from the audiences has been truly gratifying and inspiring. A woman thanked me after the show for the experience, and for giving her so much to think about. When I asked what kinds of things, she said we helped her understand something about America, about who America is in the world today. And there is of course the fantastic twist that has us performing a play about capitalism in a theatre that is housed entirely within a big, beautiful bank, the Caixa Geral.
And of course it just feels great to be finding the rhythm of these characters, these journeys, and this play. Musical. Play with music. We are learning more everyday about this thing that we’ve created. One more performance to go this evening, and then tomorrow we pack up and take the train to beautiful Coimbra!
More updates to come as our internet access hopefully improves at the next stop. And keep your eyes peeled for the future blog post detailing and photo-documenting the truly gourmet sardine experience.
The wait is over! The TEAM’s Mission Drift cast album is for sale and you can own it right from here. Use this widget to download songs individually, or better yet buy the entire album and get the 6th and 7th “album only” tracks thrown in. What better way to celebrate Independence Day than with brand new music from a hot American composer and the Theatre of the Emerging American Moment? No better way.
Having just finished our preview at ArtsEmerson, we’re kind of over the moon. We had a small invited audience, and the feedback was extraordinarily helpful. I know I heard one of the most profound and erudite comments we’ve ever received. Like so many conversations I’ve had before, this gentleman launched in saying “I loved so much about the work, but here’s my problem…” And then he articulated how the piece moved between three narrative levels: a concrete contemporary story, a historical saga, and legend. He said that he felt we had a major piece of text, in which a character tells a myth about two ancient gods, in the wrong place in the play. The moment in the play he was describing is a moment that’s been around for a year, and is beloved by the company, but we haven’t QUITE been able to wrestle it into place. And it was amazing to hear him describe it that way because suddenly this thing we’d been working with instinctively comes into focus on a conscious level. We’re now entering the last editing phase, continuing to trim, and continuing to shape the movement of the show. And then, LISBON. COIMBRA. EDINBURGH. SALZBURG.
Please donate, get yourself a copy of the Mission Drift Cast Album, and help us cross the finish line…
I suppose they call it a MegaBus because it’s allowing me to sit in a seat on it’s second story, laptop on my lap (plugged in and charging!), and connected to the internet so that I can write a blog posting. If that’s not Mega, then I assume there’s some other bus out there with a self-cleaning, heated-seat, solid gold toilet and if there is I look forward to pooping in it. Until then, this excellent MegaBus will serve as Libby, Rachel, Mikaal, Heather, Amber and I travel to Boston to join the rest of the Mission Drift team who made the trip yesterday – and prepare to tech and preview the show at Emerson University. We have spent the past three weeks and several hundred draft pages at our home space in Crown Heights chiseling the dialogue, crafting the scenes, dancing the dances and singing and re-singing the sweet, sweet songs. Tomorrow morning we will arrive on the set that the excellent folks at Emerson have built for us, and we will start to let the pretty pink snow fall. Then after our extra special one-night-only preview performance next week, we will pack the set up and slowboat it across the Atlantic so it will be there for us when we start our European tour in July.
The creation and gestation of Mission Drift has been a long and interesting one. Creating a play about capitalism and the American appetite during these particular years has left us no shortage of fascinating and pertinent real life stories to examine and bewildering research to pour through. This process has had its ups and downs for me, for us all, but when we finished our final run through of the show in Crown Heights last night before hitting the road today, I felt a kind of total-body inspiration from the experience and awe at my insanely talented collaborators. As I walked through Brooklyn, a matter of blocks from where Libby’s and my characters, Joris and Catalina Rapalje, lived 400 years ago, I had a feeling like we might really have hit something special here. And as I ride a MegaBus from the tip of New Amsterdam to the heart of New England, I am so grateful to be putting on a play that seeks to tell a story of America.