Process

The TEAM’s Spring 2012 Benefit Auction is LIVE!

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.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK IT OUT AND BID: Bidding for Good

And best of all, every bid supports the life and work of the TEAM artists.

The TEAM on NPR!

During the final week of the Mission Drift run in New York City, Heather Christian and I went over to the NPR Studios. We were both extremely excited, but Heather can testify to the fact that my face almost shattered I was so giddy. With eyes wide we followed Margot Adler as she gave us a tour of the studio. Almost everyone was out to lunch, but it didn’t matter. I saw the desk of Robert Krulwich.  And we even waved at Zoe Chace and Chana Joffe-Walt from Planet Money.

We sat down with Margot and discussed the work, which she’d seen previously.

CLICK HERE to listen to the awesome story that she put together.

-Rachel

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?

See?

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.

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!

bh

Brian interviews Libby, Las Vegas, early June 2010

Libby interviews Brian, Las Vegas, early June 2010

Libby and Brian at the Grand Canyon

 

Mission Drift homework

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.

bh