Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Pretty Filthy Podcast, Part VII

Big adult entertainment stars are featured in this week's episode, including performer and director Avy Scott played by Emily Rossell, POV director Dan Silver played by Greg Hildreth, and performer/director Kylie Ireland performed by Colleen Werthmann. We've also got the winning titles for Pornified Broadway, in which we asked the live audience at Joe's Pub to write down pornified names of Billy Elliot, Phantom of the Opera, and Mary Poppins. Plus Emily Rossell sings "First Contract Girl" by Michael Friedman. All monologues are from interviews conducted by our artists for Pretty Filthy, a new musical by Bess Wohl and Michael Friedman.

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


Friday, February 24, 2012

Occupy Your Mind - DIY Investigative Theater

This post is by Jay Stull, who participated in The Civilians' new Occupy Your Mind project, in which we are encouraging YOU to conduct your own interviews about the Occupy movement and create a performance from them. You then send us a video and we broadcast it to the world! Click HERE to view Jay's performance!

Last week I wanted to test a few premises of the Occupy Your Mind Project here at The Civilians. The Project sounds awesome: artists and non-artists alike, in conversation with people involved in the global Occupy movement, perform stories culled from those conversations and post videos of those performances on our website to share. People around the world grow increasingly interested; our idea goes "viral"; millions of interview-based performances are recorded and submitted; our website crashes, is rebuilt; Google blanches in fear; the world is united by art and tolerance. So yeah, it sounds really cool on paper. But I still had some secretly held misgivings about the viability of this work in all the different and varied performance spaces throughout the land. I mean, at The Civilians, the performances are great. Professional in every sense of the word. Great lighting and sound. Amazing artistic talent. Awesome venues. I began to wonder how much value was added by a strong production, value that we assumed wouldn't be necessary for (and knew may not be available to) everyone to do the work we envisioned. So I set out to see how these Occupy Your Mind monologues stood up in a room with only a handful of people, no theatrical lighting, and no mics; just folks connecting with a given material and an audience willing to listen to them speak.

Luckily, I had a ready-made group of willing, talented artists in the Winter Ensemble Class I'm taking at the LAByrinth theater. We'd been tasked with creating an ensemble-based work of theater of at least 20 minutes and for an audience of at least 20 people to be completed within the week. I knew that the Occupy Your Mind project contemplated the re-use of monologues already performed by artists and posted on the website, and I seized on this as a potential source text. I chose five monologues for six different cast members and we all divided up the duties of directing. With less than a week's notice, our only available space was a large recreation room in the apartment building of one member of the ensemble. We arrived two hours before the performance to run through the evening (which we had estimated would be roughly 60 minutes) for the first and last time. At that point, honestly, things looked grim. The room was darker than I had hoped. Our collective mechanical engineering skills failed for a time to figure out how to fully elevate the two music stands we had procured from friends of friends. The defunct sound system in the rec room was a barely audible conduit for the music we had intended to play interstitially throughout. Another tenant of the apartment, cradling a bowl of fruit salad and clutching a copy of The Lion King, made a competing bid for the room; management was called; a tense conversation took place just out of earshot. Meanwhile, a debaucherous 21st birthday party in the room next door threatened to drown out our mic-less performance with the thumping bass of a Britney Spears album (I kid you not, they were playing Britney Spears, who I had erroneously assumed died years ago). But we dispatched charismatic young actors to quell the thumping hysteria next door. We re-imagined the dark room as ready made for theater. We figured out the music stands, did away with our playlist, and maintained our hold on the room with an iron fist. We hoped - because it was all we could do at that point - that the monologues themselves and the work the actors had done to perform them would be sufficient to constitute an evening of theater. So the dust settled, the audience arrived, and we began to share these stories.

Here's the thing about these monologues: they have the peculiar ring of truth about them. And because they are at once both odd and specific, they are, to an audience, good theater. Without mics, music, lighting, or even a stage; without being off-book; without equity status, these monologues captivate. They are lived-in stories and, because they were told to us variously at protests, after a raid, after an arrest, they have in their very fiber the urgency and meaning of a good monologue. They take us somewhere and help us to connect to people we may suspect are strange or may have been taught are dangerous. But their stories reveal something else: that there is reason behind action and urgency behind reason. There was also, at least to me, a theatrical echo of the consensus method used in Zuccotti and elsewhere in the Occupy Movement, the "human mic" - a way of giving physical voice to the ideas of another. What is theater, I thought, if not a formalized, ancient tradition of the human microphone? We long to hear each others stories and, in this instance, the stories are most definitely, by themselves, enough. By way of experiment, I can say to you now: go interview, go edit a monologue and, without a penny to your name, find two listeners to perform. It hardly takes a "production", traditionally defined. What it does take is a willingness to listen, a curiosity about someone different from yourself, and the courage to become that person for at least four to seven minutes. And this, I can assure you from depths of a midtown apartment complex rec room, will most certainly be enough.

Jay Stull is currently the artistic intern at The Civilians. Clips from the Occupy Your Mind performance described above can be found on Tumblr, and if you an interest in getting involved in the project itself, please visit our website at

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Pretty Filthy Podcast, Part VI

The legendary Axel Braun starts off this week's episode. Our interview with him inspired both this monologue, performed by Brad Heberlee, and the song "Squirting 101" in A Pretty Filthy Podcast: Part IV. This week also has Porn Charades, Round 2 (in which an audience member tries to act out a porn movie title and the cast and audience try to guess what it is), Kelly McCreary as Ms. Brown Sugar, and Lexy Fridell singing "ABC, 123" by Michael Friedman. The live performance took place at Joe's Pub. These interviews were conducted by our artists with real adult entertainment professionals for Pretty Filthy, a new musical by Bess Wohl and Michael Friedman.

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


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Crime, Part IV: The Forensic Psychologist

Extraordinary crime is the specialty of this interviewee, who has seen it all in 35 years as a practicing forensic psychologist. He is also a professor of criminal psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Tony-nominee Maria Dizzia performs this interview for our podcast this week, discussing topics such as sexual murders, crime scene behaviors, and the implications of this work in the court room. This interview was conducted for Crime, USA, a new play by our Associate Artist Alix Lambert, who also interviewed FBI agents, gang members, pawn shop owners, and more.

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


Friday, February 10, 2012

R&D Writing Group: Mid-Year Update

This post is by our R&D Coordinator, Annah Feinberg. For more information about the group, the writers, and the projects, please click here!

When selecting members for our R&D writers group, we primarily look for writers who think outside themselves. I have always understood investigative theater as a way to selflessly instigate the act of creating from the outside in. There are certain artists and writers who hone the craft of looking inside for inspiration, and others who hone the craft of looking out. I prefer the latter. I care deeply about context, and about how human behavior shapes our world. I am not usually drawn to plays that weigh primarily towards the articulation of feelings or action derived from angst. This artistic value of mine, which matches the priorities and goals of the Civilians, is where our process of creating the R&D writing community begins.

The five dynamic writers in the R&D group are selfless in their rigorous curiosity and on a constant hunt for fascination. They do not necessarily employ the interview-based development methods that the Civilians, but they all dive head first into the real world to craft their work. Research is the jumping-off point, the inspiration, and the primary reason for their artistic exploration.

Jackie Sibblies Drury and Jason are both using historical documents to crack open a particular moment in history. Jason is using the music of Shostakovich to structure a theatrical exploration of the relationship with that composer and Stalin during World War II, which opens up larger questions of the nature of private and public lives. Jackie is using the 19th century autobiography of Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole to examine the changing power dynamics within the healthcare system. Alix Lambert is continuing her extensive research on crime in America, using years worth of interviews from all over the country. The voices of the individuals she has conversed with throughout her travels, and their idiosyncratic perspectives of the world, are building towards a fascinating moralistic probe into the social norms many of us take for granted. Mia Rovegno is crafting a tornado-like tapestry of how we value home in America, through text pulled from Found Magazine and many other sources. Seen through chaotic but crystallized snapshots of diverse stories, Mia’s work is a reminder of the connections between our economic and personal realities. Heidi Schreck is delving into the social implications of group awareness training, using anecdotal evidence from people that have been through programs that utilize it. Through this, she is crafting painfully hilarious characters in order to understand this therapy’s place in the world.

I am incredibly excited about the shape that all five of the R&D projects are taking this year. The investigative brains of Jackie, Jason, Alix, Mia, and Heidi are pushing full speed ahead and expanding our definition of investigative theater. They continue to stretch outside themselves to generously share the stories of others. Keep an eye out for information about the R&D reading series in May; I can not wait to see where these writers’ investigations take them.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Porn Charades: A Pretty Filthy Podcast, Part V

This week's podcast episode, back in adult entertainment, features a recording of a game of porn charades in which one of our intrepid audience members was acting out a porn title and the cast members of the live evening at Joe's Pub were guessing. To get a visual sense of what was going on, here are some photos of the action. Plus this week, we have Aysan Celik as an adult entertainment performer and parent, Brandon Miller as male talent Bill Margold, and Michael Friedman singing his song "We Were Giants." This material is crafted from interviews with real people for the new musical PRETTY FILTHY, by Bess Wohl and Michael Friedman.

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


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Adult Entertainment 101: A Pretty Filthy Podcast, Part IV

Revealing some of the tricks of the trade and behind-the-scenes stories, this week's episode is back to our investigation about the adult entertainment industry. Associate Artist Alix Lambert performs an interview with adult entertainment performer Tabitha Stevens who discusses plastic surgery; Mia Barron plays an anonymous female talent; and Andrew Kober sings "Squirting 101" by Michael Friedman, a new song about female ejaculation from an interview with Axel Braun about his revolutionary techniques. 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 for Pretty Filthy, a new musical by Bess Wohl and Michael Friedman.

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