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

By KIMBERLY CHOU

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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