Monday, January 30, 2012

LITERARY CORNER: Mission Drift by the TEAM

Literary Corner is a series on the blog by Civilians' Literary Associate EllaRose Chary that focuses on investigative theater projects going on around the city, the country, and the world. As the institute for investigative theater, The Civilians is excited to connect with other groups working in this genre. If you're doing an investigative theater project, feel free to keep us in the loop by emailing: 

Last week I had the opportunity to see MISSION DRIFT, a non-traditional musical developed by The TEAM and presented as part of  P.S.122's COIL Festival. MISSION DRIFT is the story of American capitalism starting on a dock in Amsterdam in the 17th Century  and leading to Las Vegas in 2008. The score is a contemporary fusion of styles. The piece has received a lot of acclaim for its comic, yet poignant sensibility and engaging energy. What interests me, however, in relation to investigative theater is the way elements of fantasy and reality intermingle to create something that conveys down-to-Earth themes in a theatrical way.

According to press for the show, The TEAM spent a month in Las Vegas conducting interviews and doing research to help with the creation of this project. In some ways it's obvious how their research informed the work that ended up on stage. As revealed in this Culturebot interview with MISSION DRIFT's director, Rachel Chavkin, some of the sites the company visited in Las Vegas included The Neon Boneyard and The Atomic Testing Museum. One of the play's main characters volunteers at the Neon Boneyard and the details and sadness associated with this powerful image is one of the more successful elements of the play; especially when that character, Joan, lashes out one of the characters representing capitalism, saying that now victims of home foreclosure sleep in those remains. Similarly, one of the most satisfying parts of the show is the implosion sequence, which is connected imagistically to the atomic testing sequences - and the narrator character's name is Miss Atomic. In other ways, the direct correlation between investigation and text is less clear. For example, there isn't a single moment in the play that is clearly taken from an interview. Unlike in documentary theater, or other kinds of investigative theater that I've written about on the blog, or that we ourselves have done at The Civilians, all of the material taken from interviews as been woven into the play so that it is indistinguishable from the fictitious details about characters. As a result, you have two immortal characters who represent capitalism interacting with characters who have realistic stories, and it's possible that all of those characters are informed by interviews The TEAM did with people in Las Vegas, including everyone from Union Workers to tourists.

What I think is unique about MISSION DRIFT from an investigative perspective is that you don't know that it's investigative, but you can feel that it is. Obviously, that's a subjective response, but when watching it it was clear to me that themes, though conveyed through many layers of the fantastic, were grounded in a harsh reality. In some ways, that sensibility is one of the goals of investigative theater, and what distinguishes it from documentary film or news reporting.

You can still catch MISSION DRIFT as part of COIL, it's running through February 4th at The Connelly Theater, click here for more info.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Crime, Podcast Episode III

A lawyer from the Department of Justice who specializes in organized crime cases discusses how he got into his field and some of the criminal schemes he has come up against in the courtroom. He also talks about the reasons that people cooperate with the American legal system and the relationship between cooperation and culture. This interview is performed by Brandon Miller, and was recorded at Joe's Pub. Associate Artist Alix Lambert conducting this interview for her play Crime: USA, which is crafted from interviews with gang members, pawn shop owners, FBI agents, and more.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Meet the R&D: Mia Rovegno - A Housewarming Gift

Today's post is from Mia Rovegno, one of the playwrights in our R&D Group and the director of our most recent Occupy Wall Street cabaret at Joe's Pub earlier this month. The writers in the R&D Group are contributing posts that will give insight into their processes: what they're thinking about, what material they're working with, how their research is informing their writing. For more info about the R&D Group, Mia, or her project, please click here. And here is Mia's post!

Whether I like it or not, every project I work on is inevitably informed by whatever events happen to be swirling around my life at that moment. So I guess it’s not surprising that in the midst of writing a piece centered on American identity and the ways in which the dislocated and relocated search for a sense of “home”, I find my mind occupied by the insta-community that sprang to life on September 17th in Manhattan’s Liberty Square: The people of Occupy Wall Street.

For past couple of months at The Civilians, we’ve been conducting and transcribing hours upon hours of interviews from various Occupy events to create what we hope can be a kind of living document of this unique historical moment. I’m all for the pursuit of defining more ways in which art and activism can collide in the American theater without having to pull out the self-congratulatory soapbox or the factoid-y power point presentation. And working with The Civilians is a refreshing reminder that it is indeed possible to pull this off. Artists can be topical AND entertaining! Audiences can feel feelings AND learn something! Not to mention that all of us actually are capable of humbly checking in with our humanity without self-flagellation or hoisting our politics onto some pedestal. Seriously. It’s possible.

Case in point: Last week I had the privilege of directing a fantastic group of actors in an evening of theater featuring the diverse, powerful stories of this leaderless movement in a different kind of forum: The Occupy Wall Street Cabaret at Joe’s Pub.

I admit it can sometimes feel awkward to do more documenting of the OWS movement than actual occupying itself, and I tend to find myself in a bit of a conundrum. I question what can feel like my peripheral, objective participation in this critical community effort. I wonder how my creative work can offer an effective contribution to this movement. I look for how my dialogue with this cultural moment might reach beyond creating a forum of validation and catharsis for people on the inside of the movement. I ask: How can the work be impactful to those on the outside—those who don’t feel inspired to occupy Zuccotti Park, who won’t drop everything to Occupy The Highway from NYC to DC, who won’t be photographed at the barricades linking arms in a human chain, risking possible arrest or injury? How might visibility and credibility outshine the demoralizing impact of denied constitutional rights and police brutality that can so elusively steal the focus from the myriad messages of the movement? So many questions! I don’t know the answers.

But maybe the answers can live somewhere in the act of holding a different kind of space for the vital immediacy of this movement. An intimate space of quiet and undivided attention. Of celebration and reflection. Confession and testimonial. Where voices are heard, amplified, and perhaps even underscored. Maybe it’s a space where a community gathers to wrestle with the layers of contradictions one always finds within any intelligent, articulate, political discourse. Or a space that values the ephemeral moments that tend to be forgotten, without a photograph or a youtube or a blog post to prove they ever happened in the first place. A space where artists offer themselves as conduits for these voices to be heard. A kind of artistic home, perhaps, that can shapeshift between being a tent in Zuccotti park, a living room in Omaha, a general assembly in West Palm Beach, or a candlelit cabaret table at Joe’s Pub.

I want to talk about one of the most inspiring threads of the Occupy Movement that shifted my paradigm of what I thought “home” could mean in America. I’m talking about Occupy Our Homes, a group fighting to renegotiate mortgages for homeowners facing eviction in homes at risk of foreclosure. Vacant, foreclosed homes have been reclaimed and occupied in an effort to popularize the idea of housing as a human right.  And this effort is spreading like wildfire, nationwide.

Below is an excerpt from an interview transcript performed at our OWS Cabaret, describing the experience of an NYC actor who joined forces with Occupy Our Homes:

“I went to the occupy homes yesterday in Brooklyn ... Occupy worked with a bunch of community groups from um from East New York.  Because East New York has the most foreclosures -- five times the amount of foreclosures than New York State has. It's – the, the bankers have gutted it. They have gutted that place.  I mean every other house is vacant.  So what OWS and these community groups did was, um, uh, get together, pick a family, pick a foreclosed home -- it wasn't their home, but it had stood empty for three years, and occupied it, went in with a crew of carpenters, people who were cleaning with this family, and ... had had them occupy the house.”

Now there’s a beautiful definition of this thing called home: An impromptu community of strangers taking shifts to help occupy a house so a family can safely keep a roof over their heads. Below the interviewed party describes the most epic housewarming party one could ever imagine:

“There were probably about five, six hundred people there.  With signs, and banners, and and a brass band, and so we, we stopped at several houses on the way ... um, and the people would come out and talk to us. And say 'I'm in foreclosure.  I've been in foreclosure for two years.' And then they would tell their story, and we would people's mic it, you know. And then we arrived at our final destination.  With this family, people brought gifts, because, um, like one of the councilwomen said, she's like 'We brought house warming gifts cause that's what you do.  When you move in’.”

If you are interested to see what a housewarming like that looks like, I’ve included a link to a video of this amazing convergence in East New York:

This is another posting from with some great footage of the children discovering the huge crowd of supporters and the brass band outside their window:

In the R & D piece I’ve been developing, some characters have emerged that are no doubt inspired by the heavy amount of OWS dialoging that’s been happening. In one scene, Occupy The Highway cyclists and fulltime RVers meet and discover an unlikely kinship in their reclamation of the open road as their home. Whether I’m writing about ex-deadheads and anarchists sipping beers and arguing politics in an RV lot in Tucson, or a councilwoman bringing housewarming gifts to a family occupying a vacant house in East New York, I suppose I’ve only just begun to peel back the layers of what it means to try to find our way home in America today.

If you missed the OWS Cabaret, you can check out the video here!

Post by Mia Rovegno

Thursday, January 19, 2012

This Week in OCCUPY: Concrete Ideas and Occupy Your Mind

Thanks to everyone who came out and supported Let Me Ascertain You: Occupy Wall Street, Part II last Friday at Joe's Pub! We had another great round of performances by The Civilians associate artists and friends of touching and informative material collected from over 100 interviews by The Civilians Occupy "Street Team". If you missed the show (and the live stream) you can still watch it here. And, keep an eye on the podcast series for when this material comes out there.

Inspired by one of our interviewees Carey (performed by Greta Lee), we asked audience members at Joe's Pub to share their Concrete Ideas. Carey was frustrated by the criticism that the Occupy movement lacked "concrete ideas", so she brought a sign down to Zuccotti Park asking people to tweet at @OccupyIdeas #concreteideas, and they did! We also got a lot of great responses at the cabaret. Some of the more popular responses were tax the rich, tax breaks for low income people, and campaign finance reform. Our three favorites were:

1) Forgive the interest on my student loans! I'll be paying until I'm 80 at this rate.
2) Blow up Gitmo! (Evacuate first)
3) Sponsor/Fund Think tanks for youth - they have great ideas for the future!

We're going to be tweeting these concrete ideas and all of the ones suggested at the cabaret over the course of the next two weeks with the hash tag #concreteideas. Follow us on twitter, @Civilians, and tweet your concrete ideas at us!

One of the most exciting parts of the cabaret was the launching of the next phase of The Civilians' Occupy Project - Occupy Your Mind! OYM is a global, interactive project that allows everyone to participate in The Civilians unique approach to documenting this historic movement. Visit our website here for simple instructions on how to get involved, or to check out what other people are doing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Pretty Filthy Podcast Episode, Part III

True Blood's Sam Trammell portrays adult entertainment super-star Evan Stone; legendary performer Ginger Lynn introduces the monologue from our interview with her, performed by actress Kathryn Hahn (Hung, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days); and Rutina Wesley (True Blood) and Peter Porte perform the song "Applesauce" from the new musical Pretty Filthy by Michael Friedman and Bess Wohl. This material is from interviews conducted by Civilians artists with adult entertainment performers, directors, agents, and more in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. This performance was recorded at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.

This episode contains material that is not appropriate for children of 18 years or younger.


Friday, January 13, 2012


Literary Corner is a series on the blog by Civilians' Literary Associate EllaRose Chary that focuses on investigative theater projects going on around the city, the country, and the world. As the institute for investigative theater, The Civilians is excited to connect with other groups working in this genre. If you're doing an investigative theater project, feel free to keep us in the loop by emailing:

ALEXIS.  A GREEK TRAGEDY is a show by Italian theater company Motus, and is being co-presented by The Public Theater and La MaMa as part of the Under The Radar Festival. Billed as a piece of "documentary theater", ALEXIS is an interesting approach to investigative theater that mixes real events, interviews, and classical theatrical storytelling. In 2008, a 15 year old boy "became an icon of rebellion" after being killed by a police officer. The Motus production weaves stories and actual documentary film that they took while in Athens from the activist movement reacting to this event (and other elements of Greece's system) with some of the themes, characters, and plot points in Sophocle's classic Greek tragedy ANTIGONE, in an effort that ends up connecting past to present and fiction to reality. The result is an energetic piece of theater that explores the state of political unrest present in the modern world (as exemplified, in part, by the Occupy movement which has taken hold internationally).

What's cool about this piece in particular is not just that it's investigative, but also the way that the investigative elements interact with completely traditional modes of theater. On a spectrum that includes classical theater created thousands of years ago and contemporary theater based on events that are still in newspaper headlines, ANTIGONE and investigative theater would seem to be at opposite ends. However, Motus has found a way to blend these elements in a way that allows each to draw from and gain meaning from the other. Despite calling itself "documentary" and using filmic elements, this interaction actually allows ALEXIS to highlight what makes investigative theater distinct from other modes of journalistic storytelling like documentary film. The truth of the interpretation comes not only from filtering events through an artistic lens, but also from using the most classical model of theaterical storytelling.

Visit the Under The Radar Festival website to find out when you can catch ALEXIS. A GREEK TRAGEDY before it closes.

If you're interested in the Civilians' work related to the Occupy Movement, check out the livestream of tonight's sold out cabaret at Joe's Pub.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

OCCUPY: Inside The Movement - POC Caucus

The Civilians are just one day away from re-occupying Joe's Pub with Let Me Ascertain You: Occupy Wall Street, Part II! Tickets have been going fast, but you can still get them here. If you're not in the area or you can't make the show, we will be live streaming here - so tune in!

If you've been following the blog, you know we're featuring material from our over 100 interviews with people of varying involvement in the movement on January 13th at 9:30 PM at Joe's Pub. And you also know that there was no way we could fit all of the great stories we collected into one hour. So - we're using the blog as a way to showcase some of the other great material we have in our Occupy archive, material that you won't find at Joe's Pub on Friday, or anywhere else (yet!).

One Civilians artist interviewed Manissa Maharawal, who you might have seen in New York Magazine talking with Eliot Spitzer. Among other things, Manissa is involved with the People of Color Caucus in the movement. Here she tells a story of what happened when she and a group of her friends were at their first GA, and the organizers were getting ready to issue one of the movement's first public statements:

"I mean we're excited about this thing, but this is going to be like the document coming from the movement, then ... it can't .. we're - we're all saying that it can't go out saying that ‘We. Are. All. One. Race. Human Race.  Formerly divided by race class gender religion.’  Right?  Like, we know what they're going for, but like ... that's ignoring all sorts of like real problems.  That come up in society, but also like come up in activist worlds all the time.  And that reproduce themselves because we ignore them.  Right?  And so like, we said it, and they're like 'ok ok, email us about it' and we were like ... 'No.  Like we want this changed right now.' You know?  And so ... like the process kept happening, and then they were like are their any blocks?  And ... my friend and I looked at each other, and she was like 'Block.'   And I was like, but like -- if you've been in like consensus crowds that are just like ... blocking is not like something you do because you feel like it. You know?  It's like no one's stopping this whole process.  It cannot move forward unless you take up my concern.  You know, it's like a really, like it's a big deal.   It takes like a l-- it's mad responsibility.  And I was like I can't believe I'm gonna like stand here in front of like hundreds of people ... and block this thing.  And it's like ... you know, it's like Everyone's Gonna Hate Me.  (laughing) You know? Like literally. And I was like, well, I've got my friends who are like with me, and other people around us had been like listening to our conversation, and we just felt like literally like, the whole like, we wanted to make the point, because we felt like if everyone just got the point we were trying to make? They would be like, oh, yeah, totally.  You know?  And we just hadn't had, we felt like we hadn't had a chance to like explain ourselves properly because they're really trying to push this thing through, so I blocked it."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

OCCUPY: Inside The Movement

Let Me Ascertain You: Occupy Wall Street, Part II is happening this Friday! Tickets for the event are going fast, but can still join us on January 13, 2012 at 9:30 PM at Joe's Pub by clicking here for tickets. The Civilians will be bringing you material collected by our artists in over 100 interviews, featuring people with a variety of viewpoints and levels of involvement with the Occupy movement.

In anticipation of the cabaret, we're posting some of the interesting material we got that didn't make it into the cabaret,  right here on the blog!

This excerpt is from a German oncologist talking about how he got involved with Occupy:

"And so the day the occupation start I thought this uh by chance I was at Grand Central and I saw many young people with backpacks and sleeping bags, which is not totally usual for Grand Central, and I was wondering what was up.  And uh then you know I do not know why I uh two days later or so, on the internet, saw one of the live streams where they had a General Assembly and this was for me I said Wow! This is like being home.  Because they were using exactly the same methods of consensus building that we had used in the 80s for our non-violent blockades.  Look uh clearly there were people involved who have the same background I have, who have the same ideas.  And this led to that then uh on the first Wednesday so it started Saturday, Wednesday after was the first time when I was at uh downtown with Occupy Wall Street.  Again this incredible feeling.  Like time travel, you know, as if uh, look, '84, '83 to now, as if there would not be a gap in between in a way.  And then that Wednesday I decided that I would participate, that I would give one day per week.  Because look, with my flexible schedule, uh, and I decided that it would be Wednesday because that's in the middle of the week when other working people normally cannot do it, that this would be my day to be there, and so essentially since then every Wednesday I'm downtown."

Podcast: Atlantic Yards, Part III

This week's episode is from our interviews about Atlantic Yards, the complicated and controversial development in Brooklyn at the site where the new Barclay's stadium is currently being constructed. We hear from some of the key players on both sides of the fight, passionately discussing topics like gentrification, what makes a neighborhood, change, affordable housing, and more. This week features Jennifer R. Morris as a member of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn; Heather Alicia Simms as Bertha Lewis, the head of ACORN; and Joaquin Torres as Saul Zarzana, a union member who supports the project; and Joaquin Torres leading the cast in "The Neighborhood Song" by Michael Friedman.


Monday, January 9, 2012

OCCUPY: Inside the Movement - Interoccupy

Let Me Ascertain You: Occupy Wall Street is back with Part II, on January 13, 2012 at 9:30 PM at Joe's Pub (tickets here)!

Civilians artists conducted over 100 interviews, but the cabaret is only an hour! Which means we have a lot of great material that we can't perform on the 13th. So, we're featuring exclusive material here on the blog that you won't find at Joe's Pub on Friday, from interviews conducted with a range of people connected to the heart of the movement. 

Here are excerpts from an interview with one of the first organizers of Interoccupy, which she describes as:

"But, um, Interoccupy, basically, what it’s trying to do- and it is doing this - is um, setting up a place for the occupations across the country to talk to each other and collaborate on projects- whatever… whether that be direct actions or more policy kind of things, you know um, demands, that kind of stuff."

And here she talks about one of the big questions post-raid - is Occupy more than just Zuccotti Park?

"It's a battle of economics, politics, and then just like social... Social.  Living.  Social justice..  And then, and then you have the camp, it's like you have the site itself.  It starts to become its own world, and its own politics, and you know.  And then, it's like well, what do we care more about?  Do we care more about the camp?  Or do we care more about what the camp represents, like, on a philosophical level.  I, I think that there's a lot of value to having a physical place where people went.  I mean there was a reason why tourists went down there, you know what I'm saying?  It's not just to look at the animals in the zoo, although that was probably some of it, but I think also, it was like, I know that I could go down there, and have conversation with a perfect stranger.  And they might be crazy, but most- a lot of times they weren't.  You know what I mean?  You could have actual exchanges with people, and I don't remember that happening at any other time in the city.  And I've been here for 20 years.  It doesn't happen.So I feel like that in and of itself is a huge success, you know, and, and... then it caught on in such a gigantic way.   It's like everywhere, like, every country, there's one of these things happening.  It's actually pretty hopeful."

Friday, January 6, 2012


A lot has happened in the Occupy movement since The Civilians occupied Joe's Pub on October 28th, 2011. And so - get ready for round 2! Let Me Ascertain You: Occupy Wall Street is back at Joe's Pub on January 13, 2012 at 9:30 PM with a whole new round of interviews from across the Occupy spectrum. For the past few months we've had interviewers out in the streets (and parks and plazas and public atria) of New York City getting the stories of over 100 protesters. The aftermath of  the Zuccotti Park raid? We were there. December 6th Occupy Home Foreclosures? We were there. Occupy Broadway? We were there! (And not just to perform.) Check past blog posts for highlights from those events and many others.

We've also been working our way inside the movement, to get the stories of people who have been organizing and strategizing day in and day out - to hear not only what's been going on, but also to find out their opinions and predictions on the future of Occupy.

In order to gear up for the 2nd installment of Let Me Ascertain You: Occupy Wall Street at Joe's Pub on January 13th, 2012 (tickets here) we're featuring material from people who've had a key role in the development of the movement. These excerpts are CIVILIANS BLOG EXCLUSIVES from material that we won't have time to feature in the cabaret. So, keep an eye on the blog and get ready for January 13th!

Mary Notari was fired from her job for pretending to be a spokesperson for the Bloomberg administration at at protest event, as part of Yes Men performance (watch that video here). She told The Civilians about her experience:

"What ended up happening with the way the media responded to it was wholly unexpected as well. I don't think we expected it to make much of a splash. Because it just seemed too ridiculous for anyone to take it seriously at all. But apparently not. Because the point of the action was never to fool the media. It was never to fool anyone, except maybe the police, and maybe Bloomberg. But like, it was just supposed to be a satire, like, oh look at this ridiculous, these ridiculously contradictory things. Like, I don't think at any point, we really expected people to be fooled by it. And honestly, on the ground, people weren't. For like, maybe 15 minutes, people were like, 'What is this?' Like, really? But then all it took was someone texting Stu Loesser, and him saying, 'No. I don't know—there's no one by that name.'

Stu Loesser is the, um, press secretary for the Bloomberg administration. He tweeted—and this is of course why he's press secretary. Tweeting's such an art, and I haven't mastered it yet. Um, he just—on Sunday afternoon that we did it, he said, 'I'm going into the train. For the next hour, please no one impersonate any members of my staff.'"

Keep an eye on The Civilians Blog for more exclusive excerpts from over 100 interviews. And get your tickets for Let Me Ascertain You: Occupy Wall Street, Part II on January 13th!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Crime, Part II: The FBI

Ever wonder what it's like to be in the FBI? This week features performances of interviews with two retired FBI agents conducted by our Associate Artist, Alix Lambert, for her play Crime: USA. The agents talk about how they entered their line of work, being a female agent, the mafia, what their jobs are like on a day-to-day basis, plus other stories and observations about serving on the force. The episode is performed by Maria Dizzia and Matthew Maher, and was recorded at Joe's Pub. The interviews were conducted as part of Alix Lambert's investigation into crime in America, which has included interviews with gang members, pawn shop owners, FBI agents, and more.