Friday, November 30, 2012

Monthly Media Roundup November, 2012

We know that November is the month of the Scorpio, but here at The Civilians, it's been a little bit of a Gemini month! We had the first public concert showing of Pretty Filthy at Joe's Pub; meanwhile, our Associate Artist Marsha Stephanie Blake has been hard at work with students at Brooklyn High School of the Arts on their new play (which has performances next Monday and Tuesday)! Plus, we actually had two different projects on television, one about Paris Commune and our environmental music videos were on 24 Hours of Reality on PBS featuring Al Gore! Anyway, lots going on this month; here's our media roundup for November:

Featured Associate Artist: Bess Wohl, playwright of Pretty Filthy
Updates from the Brooklyn High School of the Arts: The students are getting ready for their performances of the brand-new play they created, Why We Vote next Monday and Tuesday!
Meet the R&D: A post from our R&D Coordinator, EllaRose Chary about this year's R&D Group participants and projects
Porn Parodies: Updates about Pretty Filthy
Why do you vote? Intro to our Brooklyn High School of the Arts Investigative Theater Education Program

Bogotá Prison Pageant, Part I: Interviews from our investigation in the national women's prison in Bogotá, Colombia, where they host an annual beauty pageant for the incarcerated.
Death, Part III: Another story from Bogotá about a woman who had a near-death experience, plus Michael Friedman's song "Stars" from Gone Missing

Subscribe on iTunes HERE!

Paris Commune on TV: Here's an awesome feature about Paris Commune that was made for a CUNY TV show sponsored by the French Embassy! It's got interviews with Steve, Michael, and the performers, plus footage from the show!

The Great Immensity Blog
Feeling the Heat of Climate Change: about the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, happening right now!
Hurricane Sandy: exploring the conversations about climate change and the environmental crisis sparked by Sandy (plus ways to get involved in relief efforts)

Our super hottt cast for Pretty Filthy at Joe's Pub

Pretty Filthy at Joe's Pub

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bogotá Prison Pageant, Part I

The beauty pageant that takes place in the national women's prison in Bogotá, Colombia is the subject of this week's podcast episode. Steve Cosson spent a month visiting the prison during the lead up to the pageant, working with a group of Colombians, playwright José Rivera, and songwriter/musician Hector Buitrago of the Latin Grammy Award-winning band Aterciopelados. They interviewed the pageant's contestants, other inmates, and prison staff. In this podcast, you’ll get a chance to hear some of our raw interviews, which were translated into English and performed for the first time at the 92YTribeca in June of this year. Our first interview, performed by Vanessa Aspillaga, is with a woman serving time for being part of one of the various guerilla groups who are part of a long-standing armed conflict with right-wing paramilitaries. Next up is Carolina Ravassa playing an inmate who is incarcerated for her part in an attack on the presidential palace in Bogotá in 2002. The attack did not succeed in hitting then President Alvaro Uribe, though one missile overshot the palace and landed in the nearby neighborhood of El Cartucho, killing a number of people. To close this episode, our Associate Artist KJ Sanchez performs an inmate who, while she proclaims her innocence, was convicted of working for the paramilitaries through her political office. These interviews were conducted by Lorena Lopez and Alejandro Jaramillo. Thanks for listening - subscribe, rate, and review us!

Click HERE for our research photos from the pageant!


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Brooklyn High School of the Arts Performance Next Week!

The election is over, the votes have all been counted, and the presidential campaigns of Gov. Mitt Romney and Pres. Barack Obama have come to a halt. But in the auditorium of Brooklyn High School for the Arts, students are investigating peoples’ motivation for voting in a new performance created with Civilians teaching artist Marsha Stephanie Blake. Since the start of the school year, these high schoolers have been going around Brooklyn with cameras and audio recorders asking people, ‘why do you vote?’ and the answers they got back are now the fodder for a dynamic and probing show premiering December 3 and 4.

As the performance comes closer, Frank Proudfoot, the school’s drama teacher and the director of the show, instructs the students to project in the deep auditorium. Students hustle around as Proudfoot and Blake usher their actors stage left, and bring one ‘bored student’ character downstage to interrupt the action with his complaining. Those awaiting their turn on stage in the audience quickly finish their afternoon snacks and go over their lines to make sure they know them front to back. Others gather with their friends and scene partners to go over their bits in the hall, all while Blake talks to students onstage about developing characters. One sophomore asks Mr. Proudfoot, ‘Does my character have to be hoodish? My mom is going to be mad at me, even though I’m just acting.’ Mr. Proudfood laughs and says simply that she should try to stay truthful to the person she is portraying. The student thinks for a second and laughing, responds, ‘Ok. I’ll play her hoodish, but like, intelligent hoodish.’

With the expert teaching skills and care of Proudfoot and Blake, these students have risen to the occasion to put on an exciting and thought-provoking Civilians performance. With a song from Michael Friedman, this show on why people vote touches on themes of democracy, race, youth, and citizenship, and reminds us that not only is it important to be an informed voter, but it is equally important to understand our fellow Americans, and how we can work together to create a better world for all, especially our youngest.

Thanks to Adam Odsess-Rubin for writing this post for us. And we hope you'll join us next Monday or Tuesday for the show - $10 at the door! See you then!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Featured Associate Artist: Bess Wohl

Meet our Featured Associate Artist for November! Bess Wohl is the playwright of Pretty Filthy, which just had an incredible concert performance at Joe's Pub. Congrats to Bess on an awesome show! And without further ado... Bess Wohl!

Name: Bess Wohl
Year Joined The Civilians: 2009
Where you're from: Brooklyn, NY
What City You're Living In: New York, NY

How did you first get involved with The Civilians? 
Steve and I met at Williamstown Theatre Festival, where he was directing THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE by William Saroyan. I acted in the play, playing a hooker with a heart of gold. (Typecast!) Michael Friedman did the music for the play, and also played the piano onstage. For some reason I can't remember, he was painted orange from head to toe. Like Ernie.

What have you done with us, both in terms of investigating and performing? 
I spent time in California interviewing porn stars and visiting porn sets for the creation of our musical about the Adult Entertainment Industry, PRETTY FILTHY, for which I've also written the book. We also went to the AVN Awards in Las Vegas, and the Adult Expo there. We met porn stars, went to parties and saw a new prototype of a porn robot. Needless to say it was all very illuminating!

Tell us about something that surprised you, either in an interview, in using the investigative method, or in a rehearsal process. 
I was honestly surprised during our time interviewing people in the Adult Entertainment Industry at how friendly everyone was to us. I'm not sure what my expectations were-- but they didn't know us at all, and they warmly welcomed us onto their sets and into some very-- ahem-- intimate moments and situations. They were always lovely and helpful, much more so than lots of people I've encountered in other more "legit" businesses.

Why has it been interesting to work in this way?
As a writer, I find it very challenging to write about a world I don't know. The investigative process gives us a deep understanding of unfamiliar worlds, Also, truth is always stranger than fiction, and the real things people say have the most poetry to them. The challenge is to take that reality and craft it into something that also functions as a work of art.

What is the last project you worked on outside of The Civilians?
I've been working on a bunch of TV and film projects-- just wrote a movie for Paramount and am writing a TV pilot for USA. I also was just up at Hartford Stage for their BRAND: New festival with my new play, AMERICAN HERO.

What artist has had the biggest impact on you? 
There are so so so many, but to pick one.... I'd go with the poet, Frank O'Hara. I love the natural, improvised quality of his work. The musicality of his language. The freedom he found in the form. The feeling of spontaneity and life that infuses his poems. The humor and surprise of them. The honesty and open-heartedness. I'm always trying to capture those qualities in my own work. I just love love love Frank O'Hara.

What’s the last play you saw?
I saw David Henry Hwang's GOLDEN CHILD at the Signature. It was so theatrical and fascinating and beautifully done. Go see it!

What’s your favorite bad movie?
Top Gun! And it's not bad. It's awesome. My ego is still writing checks my body can't cash.

Do you like sports?
I'm obsessed with baseball. The 1986 Mets changed my life. Lenny Dykstra aka "Nails" was my first love. Keith Hernandez, Mookie, Gary Carter, Daryl, Doctor K... Those guys were rock stars.

Question from Last Month’s Featured Associate Artist, Marsha Stephanie Blake
How many times has Michael Friedman made you cry in rehearsal?
Michael has never made me cry! But give it time... I'm sure it will happen someday.

What question would you like us to ask our next Featured Associate Artist?
What's the meaning of life?

Bess Wohl with Michael Friedman

Friday, November 16, 2012

R&D Group: Meet the 2012-13 R&D Group

Here's a post from our R&D Group Coordinator, EllaRose Chary!

I’m very excited to be taking over as coordinator for this year’s R&D Group. We are including directors in the group again this year (a change from last year), so we have a dynamic assembly of 5 directors and 7 writers. The projects we have are incredibly diverse in scope and research method, but all hinge on the kind of questions that make Civilians style projects unique. We have two Civilians Associate Artists participating this year, writers Emily Ackerman and Matt Dellapina; writer Carly Mensch and director Jess Chayes also have long time connections to the organization. Mia Rovegno returns to the group with a new writing project, and we also have a number of talented artists we’re exciting to be working with for the first time. Another first is that we have two musical projects being developed in the R&D Group, César Alvarez’s musical The Universe is a Small Hat and Madeleine George’s play with music.

I want to take this opportunity on the blog to introduce the group members and their projects. Furthermore, I think these projects are all getting at similar ideas, in wholly unique ways.

Our five directors are Jess Chayes, Snehal Desai, David Mendizabal, Gina Rattan, and Mei Ann Teo. You can find their full bios on our website here. These directors are characterized by the fact that they do work that is often both investigative and collaborative. When we refer to work as investigative at The Civilians, we mean pieces that come from inquiries into the most vital questions of the present. R&D Group directors are often present in the room as our writers work out not only the writing of their plays, but also their methodologies of research. The experience these directors bring ranges from traditional Broadway to ensemble based companies. I’m looking forward to what they will bring to both the discussions throughout the year and to the readings next May.

Our seven writers come from many corners of the theater world and their projects utilize a variety of research and investigative techniques that they will use explore topics that include the scientific and the historical.

Emily Ackerman’s piece is exploring revenge, an emotion that is entirely based on perception, but which has very concrete applications in the world. Alvarez’s sci-fi musical deals with the sheer improbability of existence. Matt Dellapina is asking a historical question of what might have been, by looking into what followed in the life of the criminal Barabbas, after he was spared by public vote in place of Jesus. Madeleine George, a decorated playwright and founding member of 13P, is investigating a story based on a decades long-research project in Minnesota regarding a group of school teacher nuns and the onset of dementia – her play wonders about the distance between critical thinking and the mystery of the infinite. Carly Mensch is using interviews taken with a Tanzanian man whose larger than life story may or may not be too fascinating to be true. Mia Rovegno’s Afflicted is inspired by the mystery of the twitching girls of Le Roy, NY. A. Zell Williams’ piece explores how people’s views on racial identity impact their views of childrearing, and wonders about the line between punishment and abuse. To learn more about these fantastic artists and what they have to say about their pieces, visit our website here.

Despite the diversity of the subject matter our writers are tackling, I am struck by a similarity in the works.  All of our artists, in their own ways, are tackling themes of how we approach reality, and from that basis asking questions about the nature of truth. The nature of truth telling is not a new question for the Civilians, our critically acclaimed piece (I Am) Nobody’s Lunch dealt with that idea. However, as our cultural and political landscape evolve, it seems to be an evolving and central American tension – highlighted by this year’s election cycle – how do we sort reality from fantasy? What do we believe, both within ourselves and from the outside world?

I am looking forward to getting to know these pieces and these writers more as we head into this year of R&D. This is a very interesting group, and I can’t wait to see what they produce!

Many thanks to EllaRose Chary for this post. We'll have more updates for you from these fabulous Group members, so stay tuned!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pretty Filthy: A Concert Performance at Joe's Pub

We're so excited for our concert performance of Pretty Filthy on Monday! We've been working on this show since 2009, when our artists first went out to the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles (sometimes referred to as "Porn Valley") and to the AVN Awards in Las Vegas (sometimes referred to as "The Oscars of Porn"). This presentation on Monday is of the fictional story written by Bess Wohl with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman. Keep in mind that the project is still in development, so the performers will be on-book, no sets, no costumes (well, they'll be wearing clothes! just not designed by a costume designer). The story is inspired by all the interviews that our artists were doing. Want to hear them? We've got recordings of performances of some of the verbatim material available on our podcast! Check out the PRETTY FILTHY EPISODES to take a listen! (And be sure to subscribe, rate, and review us!)

One thing that we've been thinking about is Porn Parodies. Our artists were on set to observe the filming of Star Trek XXX directed by Axel Braun (with the subtitle May the Farce be with You), and porn parodies are also a presence in the show.

We want to know: What do you think the next porn parody should be, and what should it be called? Here are a few to get you started: The XXXorcist, Call of Booty: Modern Whorefare... you get the idea. We know that there are already tons of parodies out there, so don't worry if it's already been done.

And get your tickets to PRETTY FILTHY at Joe's Pub HERE!

Star Trek XXX

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Why do you vote?

Post by Artistic Intern Adam Odsess-Rubin

Why do people vote?  This is the subject of investigation for a group of roughly 30 high schoolers working with The Civilians at Brooklyn High School for the Arts in the middle of an important election season.  With actress and Civilians Associate Artist Marsha Stephanie Blake and drama teacher Frank Proudfoot at the helm, this theater class has become a hotbed of theatrical creation.  Over the past few months, students have been interviewing family, friends, and community members about the upcoming election, and discovering what electoral politics mean to them.  Casting is done, the script is almost finished, and the students are ready for their spotlight.  By stepping into the shoes of others, they are not only learning about politics, but coming to better understand the community around them.

I sat down for informal interviews with some of the students last week, where we discussed voting, the project, and what their vision would be if they were President of the United States.

When asked whether high schoolers should be able to vote, the responses were surprisingly split. For the affirmative one student eloquently said, “I think we should vote. I think we should be able to vote because we’re still humans. We’re still people, we have our say. Four years from now we gonna be in college, so I want to have my say on what goes on in four years.” Other students worried that teens weren’t responsible enough. “Even in my class, teenagers are too easily manipulated. In my drama class, once one person says something, it’s like ‘you’re right, you’re right, you’re right.’ They don’t have the mindset to vote.”

Despite reservations though, many seemed to know exactly what they would do if they were elected into the oval office.  Answers ranged from banning homework to increasing funding for special education programs, but most agreed with this student, who said, “My vision is that everyone would be an equal.  There’d be no need for no lower class, and middle class and higher class.  Everyone would be treated and handled the same.” Others took the duty of presidency more lightly, with one student declaring, “I’d put my feet up on the desk haha.”

Finally, I asked them how they felt about The Civilians and Marsha Stephanie Blake coming in to help them create this production , which is set to go up December 3 and 4 in their gymnasium. One student noted, “I just got interested in politics. Like in 2008, our teacher made us be interested in it. Now I’m starting to get interested again…. I think it’s good cause we get to show how others think. People in the audience get to see how others think …They can relate.” Another spoke to an interview she conducted, saying, “I’ve learned a lot more about voting and interviewing people. I saw a lot of new views on issues I never thought about before, and something that really stuck with me is that someone I interviewed, someone random, someone in the street- they said that sometimes when we think of the President, we think that they’re superheroes, that they’re Superman, that they can do whatever they want. They’re still human, and we all make mistakes.” One student spoke to the empowerment he felt, explaining, “I’m going to be honest, at first I did not like [the project]. But after I saw different interviews, and I saw things come together, and I saw how it was going to play out, I found it really interesting. In this school, we’re used to doing Shakespeare and classical plays, we never get a chance to actually speak our voice. So I think this is very interesting, cause we got aspects of our voice and adults’ voices. …. People are more active than they were when The Civilians wasn’t here.”

So we want to know: Why do you vote? Share with us in the comments!

And here's an awesome video from our program with the Brooklyn High School of the Arts last year, for which they conducted interviews about the 1960's!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Monthly Media Roundup October, 2012

A lot happened this month! Paris Commune had its sold-out run at BAM, and we are so proud of the show and the incredible artists who made it happen. Here's our recap of media that we posted this month; enjoy!

Featured Associate Artist: Marsha Stephanie Blake
Meet the R&D - A post by R&D Group artist Mia Rovegno about her experience in the 2011-12 Group!
Literary Corner: We Were There - A write-up about David Lawson's new piece of investigative theater that is based on interviews with veterans

Paris Commune: A Podcast Discussion featuring NYU professor Kristin Ross discussing the actual Paris Commune and its relationship to social space
Occupy Your Mind, Part III The third part of our performance at Judson Church, including an interview with Reverend Billy and the guy who invented the Occupy Bat Signal

Death, Part III - An incredible monologue from an interview with a woman incarcerated in the national Colombian women's prison who had a near death experience performed by Jeanine Serralles 

Subscribe on iTunes HERE!

Occupy Your Mind: Daniel as Billy at Sarah Lawrence College
Occupy Your Mind: Colleen Werthmann as Andrea at Joe's Pub
Occupy Your Mind: Laura as Andrea at Sarah Lawrence College
Occupy Your Mind: Matt sings "Down by the Riverside" at Sarah Lawrence College

Paris Commune Production Photos   
Occupy Your Mind Photo of the Occupy show at University of Cincinnati

Nina Hellman, Jeanine Serralles, Kate Buddeke, and Aysan Celik in Paris Commune at BAM

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Death, Part III

Here is our last episode about death, featuring an interview performed in a cabaret at Joe's Pub last season. Jeanine Serralles performs an incarcerated woman in the national women's prison in Bogotá, Colombia describing a near-death experience. This interview, conducted by Lorena Lopez, is part of a larger project about the annual beauty pageant that happens in the prison. We wrap up this week's episode with the song "Stars" by Michael Friedman from our show Gone Missing, performed by Matt Dellapina, Emily Ackerman, Daniel Jenkins, and Emily Rossell, accompanied by Kris Kukel. Thanks for listening - subscribe, rate, and review us!