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!

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