Primer for a Failed Super Power

Introducing PRIMER–the documentary

A little over a year ago, the TEAM produced Primer for a Failed Superpower – a concert featuring a massive multigenerational cover band of 32 teenagers, 30-somethings, and people 60+, celebrating protest music and activism from the past and present. We played two shows at Roulette. The room was sweaty and packed, and spirits were high. And the process was even more special, with deep conversations about generations and inheritance, race and religion and economics and gender and sexual identity.

Our dream was and is that Primer was both something we made, and something that others could remake. To that end, we commissioned filmmakers to produce a short documentary about the process and culminating performance. Camilo Quiroz and Ellpetha Tsvikos were with us nearly every step of the way and created this short film that captures what happened and hopefully can serve as a tool for others in the future.

– Rachel


BTW: we’re bringing PRIMER to Portland in 2019!!! Please help us get there with a gift for the end of year. We’d love to share this work with more people.

Coverage of Primer for a Failed Superpower



“…the conviction in the voices could not have been louder or clearer.”
New York Times

“Behind the Scenes of Primer for a Failed Superpower”
The Interval

“For Teen Activists, What Good Is a Protest Song?”
New Yorker Radio Hour

“Protest Songs Take Center Stage In Primer
The Leonard Lopate Show

Want to learn more about Primer for a Failed Superpower?

Visit the Primer website.

Help us bring Primer to Brooklyn next month!

Rehearsals for Primer begin in a month! We have a little more fundraising left to do and we need your help.

We’ve received extraordinary support from Creative Capital, the Jerome Foundation, the NEA, NYSCA, and other institutional supporters. And thanks to one exceedingly generous donor, EVERY DOLLAR YOU GIVE TO THIS CAMPAIGN WILL BE MATCHED.

Support Now

Your donation will go toward:

  • a living wage for our performers and collaborators
  • providing childcare during rehearsals for our artists
  • renting sound equipment and the beautiful auditorium at Roulette
  • providing food and refreshments to feed our multigenerational band
  • filming a high-quality short film about the making of the show

Hitting our $10k goal = $20k raised for the project = our budget gap is closed.

Save the Date: Primer for a Failed Superpower is coming to Brooklyn in August!

Primer for a Failed Superpower

August 22 + 23
Roulette – Brooklyn

Protest songs from across the generations.
Teens. The TEAM. Baby Boomers. 

Primer for a Failed Superpower is an all-ages community concert featuring a multi-generational ensemble of teens, the TEAM, and Baby Boomers performing new arrangements of iconic protest songs–songs that have celebrated and questioned what it means to be an American throughout our country’s past and present.

We’ve commissioned an amazing and diverse group of composers to create the set list–including Heather Christian (Mission Drift), Justin Ellington (Fetch Clay Make Man), Stephanie Ryan Johnstone (I’ll Never Love Again), Amy León (Something Melancholy), Martha Redbone and Aaron Whitby (Bone Hill), Stew and Heidi Rodewald (Passing Strange), and Yva Las Vegass (I Was Born In A Place Of Sunshine And The Smell Of Ripe Mangoes).

Please save the date to join us for performances in August! Tickets will go on sale in July.

One Night Only: Primer for a Failed Superpower on June 8

Primer populist party flyer

Featuring: The TEAM, Gowanus Music Club, and special guests

Doors 7pm – Show 8pm

Join us for a one-night-only sneak peek of our work-in-development PRIMER FOR A FAILED SUPERPOWER.

We’ll kick the night off with a teenage rock band from the Gowanus Music Club, followed by new protest songs created for PRIMER by Heather Christian, Justin Ellington, and Stephanie Ryan Johnstone, performed by the TEAM and a multigenerational band of special guests.

Stay after for a silent auction, button and zine-making station, and grilled cheese.

Bring your ID, bring your dancing shoes, bring your niece and your grandmother. We want to celebrate with you.

Cover $10

Supporter: $35, includes your first drink on us

VIP: $100, includes reserved seating and open bar

Littlefield: 622 Degraw St. Brooklyn, NY (map)


This event is ages 21+


Tune In: Primer on Mayfest Radio!


We’re excited to announce our first foray into podcasting, thanks to the fine folks at Mayfest, one of the UK’s most exciting festivals of contemporary theatre.

Starting Friday morning (at or around 8:50am) and streaming through the duration of the festival, you can hear snippets of songs and stories recorded during our most recent workshop of Primer for a Failed Superpower

Listen now!


Photo by Em Watson.

We’re auditioning! If you’re 65 or older…

We’re auditioning people aged 65+ for a developmental workshop of our latest project, Primer For a Failed Superpower, a theatrical concert event.

The final piece, slated for 2016 in New York, will feature a multigenerational cover band of TEAM ensemble members, teenagers and elders playing songs of social/political outrage, intercut with movement and candid conversation between 3 generations about personal and national power.

We Are Seeking:

Community-minded citizens ages 65+ with an interest in collaboration and performing. Musical ability is a plus, opinions and the willingness to creatively express them is a must. 

  • Performance experience, musical capability
  • Willingness and ability to perform and contribute autobiographical material
  • The ability to generate collaborative material (including spoken and written material as well as movement/choreography)
  • Diversity of experience in living and relating to our country

Workshop Dates
The workshop will take place April 5-18, 2015 in Brooklyn, with daily rehearsals for the senior ensemble from 2pm to 5pm. The workshop will conclude with a public presentation of the work-in-progress on April 18. Some schedule flexibility is possible—please be sure to include any schedule conflicts for the workshop dates in your email to schedule an audition.

The workshop will be unpaid, but a travel stipend will be provided to all participants.


To schedule an audition, please email with “Primer Auditions” in the subject heading, and include your full name and contact information. A representative of the company will be in touch with you to schedule an appointment. 

To audition, please prepare the following:

1) Choose a song that feels like your America to bring to your audition. We will be able to play cds, mp3 files, YouTube videos, or plug our speakers into a headphone jack on most phones, laptops, or an iPod/Pad.

2) Fill in the blanks, and be prepared to speak the text for us:

When I was born, I was ______________.
I grew to view my country as a __________________.
I heard this song: _________________________
Which made me feel like _________________________.
I wondered what I could do to change that.
All around me, I see _____________________.
I want you to ___________________________.
I sing because ___________________________.
Then play (either yourself with an instrument, or a recording) or sing us your song from the first activity.

Please also bring with you a resume of relevant performance experience, or a brief bio about yourself, and a recent picture.

A note from our assistant director, end of year in the TEAM room

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.

Occasional Green Room Gifts, and Other Perks of Aging

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

Rockers and Saints

Old dogs learning new tricks.

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.

The TEAM on Instagram
Something is wrong.
Instagram token error.