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.

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