Thursday, December 19, 2013

Meet the R&D: Jeanine Oleson

Jeanine Oleson, an artist in this year's R&D group, shares the process of her most recent investigative performance project. 

It’s been so great to be an R&D fellow in the past few months. I’ve learned a lot and admired my current fellows processes and work. I’ve felt like a bit of an outlier as a visual artist who also makes performance work, but I think I’m soaking up some of the craft that is so important to theater. I’m working on an experimental opera that will be performed in May at the New Museum.

A poster I made while looking for interview subjects

At first, the performance seemed like it would be partially constructed from interviews with cultural connoisseurs who have particular interest in their motivations, and then move this through a story about care for the external world and conditions of life. I spent time finding, interviewing and thinking about people who have no professionalized motivation and gain for their enthusiasm, but hold vast amounts of knowledge and love. (I’m still looking for people, so email if you know of anyone or ARE one of these people:

While I love this idea, I have come to realize (yet again) that this isn’t exactly how I work. I love the idea of enthusiasm for external objects as a queer lineage and quasi-Marxist discourse against the subject’s role on Capitalist imperatives, but this is not the actual way I can tell this story.  Instead, I have a huge pre-occupation with staging, objects used in performance to mimic or change the body, and found text. So I will write this blog post with videos, images, and references to my performance in an excited attempt to communicate what I’m excited about.


I began thinking about this idea after seeing a documentary about Fran Lebowitz a few years ago. She was talking about AIDS and the effect it had on cultural projects like the opera, dance, and music in New York. I don’t remember exactly what she said but the general sense was about how the amount of erudite gay men who died in the 1980s gouged the engaged audience that existed to remember and in some sense, hold the works of culture in an unofficial archive of their memory. I love that this was said by Lebowitz–it codifies the lives of people lost, and reminds me that culture is nothing without an audience that creates and archives with their attention and care.

            Lebowitz on our current audiences and the blind art collector. 

From these initial ideas about the interviews folding neatly into a script, my actual process has left me to examine how to move from paper to staging in ways that can engage the audiences I am considering.

One of the people I interviewed, Joe, an avid opera fan, explained how he first came to love singing. It was Mario Lanza in The Great Caruso – he said he went into the theater a child and came out a lover of the human voice. When I asked how it really affected him, he made a zone over his body from neck to mid-thigh and said, “here.”

I’m left to consider how to create a sonic space that can re-activate this zone for Joe!

Werner Schroeter was a queer, underground German filmmaker who was driven to make work based at least partially on his love and care for opera. His films are dense, visually amazing, and packed with so much detail and research, but become elegiac and absurd. I think of him as being somewhere between Jack Smith, Luis Buñuel, Antonin Artaud and Werner Herzog. In The Death of Maria Malibran, a performance-driven, over the top dramatic meditation on the tragic life of the 19th century opera diva opens into many more visual and aural spaces. Schroeter’s later film, Love’s Debris, brings together a group of well-known opera singers and actresses in a French villa for a documentary under the premise of what love means to each of them. Ultimately the film is about Schroeter’s love for each of them. It’s really touching to see him literally meeting and directing these objects of great love and obsession. There’s a scene where Anita Cerquetti arrives to the villa and he literally falls at her feet with joy and gratitude. Talk about a connoisseur.

Der Tod der Maria Malibran by Werner Schroeter (sorry, I could only find w/o subtitles)


Vocal chords

I’m interested in ‘voice’ as conveyor of meaning, subjective agency and musicality; and narratives like apocalypse, ethics, and a kind of epic intersectionality between these parts. I’m also interested in what forms sound and light emit from to create the staging and meanings, but am returned to the previous section’s idea of how what’s heard can alter someone. How can it alter them? Through the ecstasy of music and the human voice like in the case of Joe and Werner Schroeter? Also through hearing a truth that alters someone’s sense of the world and their place and role in it?

I’ve been trying to critically connect some of these ideas to Photo Requests from Solitary, a project I’ve been working on where we invite people, many who have been incarcerated in isolation for years, to request a photograph of anything in the world, real or imagined. We are working to match responses to the requests, asking artists/photographers to provide images for the written prompts. Through making images from someone’s voice and desire, an audience is willing and able to understand the ethical dimensions of individuals affected by this administrative violence of the State. It hopefully leads to an organic advocacy against this all too common practice. This is a project with Parsons The New School for Design (where I teach), Solitary Watch and Tamms Year Ten that is currently spreading to New York and California after it’s inception in Illinois’ notorious Tamms supermax that was closed at the beginning of this year. These requests and images are meant to provide advocacy and outreach for the organizations working to end solitary confinement by informing and creating an audience of dissent against this issue as well as all of the contingent issues of mass incarceration, ethical relations of citizens to the State, racial inequity, poverty, policy, etc.

Democracy Now interview with Anthony Graves on solitary confinement

This extension beyond genre and traditional discipline is something that everyone in the Civilian’s R & D group is grappling with. Also in the art world where I’m usually situated, there is much discussion of engagement with social issues, but how is that actually happening? Who are we engaging and what do we want from these audiences?  It doesn’t always match up, and while I’m not saying my project will, I am at least interested to try.


In thinking through my process for the piece I’m developing, I realize part of it started with a trip and set of questions for a landscape. In June 2010, I was in Longyearbyen, Svalbard which is an Arctic archipelago north of Norway. It was a long trip to an island where the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is situated. I had originally thought of this as a symbol of institutional response to the perceived threat of an "end time" but through further research before my trip and interviews while I was there, I came to realize that it’s a completely flawed plan to actually provide seeds in a catastrophic situation, and paradoxically, the collection of seeds by an NGO funded largely by seed engineering companies is fraught with ethical issues. Also, while I was there, Norway and Russia signed treaties that basically allow the first large-scale off-shore oil drilling to begin, which is another important strategic part of this site. So, this new knowledge largely became my interest. Alongside the larger ethical issues of science, I began to see the landscape as not really yielding knowledge about the complexities of site. I found that my original ideas for working in this location weren’t that effective, so I adapted. I spent a lot of time meeting and talking with people on the island, who worked in the tourist industry, also scientists, and students at UNIS, the small research university. I also walked for miles every day (but was careful to avoid polar bears). I ended up also thinking about light and energy a lot with the sun perpetually overhead which ended up in later, related photographic work and even in the eye/light object for the project I’m currently developing (see below). I wrote a great deal and took a lot of photographs, none quite like what I thought I’d take in preparation, but that is what happens in experiencing something. It was only through actually going to Svalbard that I was able to have the complex thoughts and reactions as a means of sorting out ideas about apocalyptic thought, and connected neoliberal policies of assistance. What does it mean that seed companies are replacing heritage seeds with GMO crops is now sponsoring and storing those displaced seeds in a sealed vault?

In this image, you see the mountain that the Global Seed Vault is in, and on top is a series of satellites in an international security project.
 Image of Svalbard
For this piece, I’m building a set that is a mountain and cave, reversible, for use in the two-act experimental opera. I’m thinking of this as an internal and external space and working with a lot of paradoxical meanings like exploration/vulnerability, masculine/feminine, fiction/reality, epic/mundane, progress/prehistory, far/near sight. The mountain is based on the image above, and the cave is a re-imagining of Plato’s allegory of the cave.

Image representing Plato’s Republic
In Alain Badiou’s writing about Plato’s cave, it is called “the situation,” or maybe another way of saying a world formed by all representation as shadows on a wall. Within it, opinions are formed as lower case truths that are packaged into neat boxes of knowledge. It’s only when an ‘event’ or rupture occurs that a Truth or momentary glimpse at the form in light. This is a notion of the Real. What can create this type of fissure? What highly questionable notion of T/truth? I’m proposing the human voice is the wedge into this fissure, the objects in this piece represent the paradoxical nature of knowledge and that there are possibilities for World-making that extend beyond hierarchical traditions of narrative. (Wish me luck on this)

Paradoxes of Neoliberalism


Language doesn’t come first in shaping this work–space and objects become far more important in dictating the outcomes. It feels off to say objects form space, but they make the only sense of how and why I would occupy any time. Not to dismiss what I just said, I am much more interested in language that’s spoken and sung than in written words. I feel like a fraud when I write my “thoughts.” (Oh, irony!)

Other objects I’m building are an inversion of bodily function: an ear that is a brass instrument and an eye that projects light. I’m currently working with Chuck at The Brass Lab in what is turning out to be a can of exciting worms.

Maynard Ferguson on the horn

Eye As a Screen


In this image, I wanted to enact how banal it is to recognize terrible things happening and keep living, so I used my body in an obvious way to “black out” a portion of the landscape on Svalbard. I had no words for what I felt, only that creeping revelation of everything terrible being revealed by what’s been sitting in front of me for a while. I am now trying to find those words and reactions, and hope this piece can in some way work to bring some light to specific stories and the affect it can have on an audience.

Michelle Alexander on her experience of writing The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Diamanda Galas asks if you were a witness in Plague Mass

Thanks for sharing your process, Jeanine. For other posts about our R&D Group artists, please click HERE

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Holy Matrimony! Part I

We’re starting up a new series here at Let Me Ascertain You called “Holy Matrimony!" With DOMA getting taken down by the Supreme Court this past summer and with marriage equality spreading state by state, we thought it was a good time to look in our own Civiliansy way at that very special occasion – the wedding. For the past few months, our intrepid team of interviewers gathered stories from all over America for glimpses into weddings in a Vegas Wedding Chapel, a Courthouse in Louisiana, and even a Taco Bell in Normal, Illinois. Everything was recorded live at Joe’s Pub here in New York City.

We start this first podcast episode with a couple from own home turf, Brooklyn: Becca and Jon, portrayed by Jess Watkins and Trey Lyford. Then, Nedra McClyde plays Ashley, a bride in Michigan who gets into all the details about her wedding night (you might want to send the kids outside to play during that one). To close things out, we’ve got a song by Michael Friedman. This is “Little Match Girl,” a song that has nothing to do with Hans Christian Andersen. This one’s taken from an interview we did with supposedly the number one matchmaker to the rich and powerful here in New York.

Interviews for this podcast were conducted by Amina Henry, Talya Klein, and Jess Watkins. If you haven’t yet, please subscribe on iTunes to hear upcoming episodes in this “Holy Matrimony!” series.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Be The Death of Me, Part IV

This is our fourth and final episode of our Let Me Ascertain You: Be The Death of Me Series. These interviews are part of an ongoing investigation about death, dying and whatever comes after that. We talked to more than a hundred people so far, and many of these conversations centered on how we remember and how we memorialize those that we’ve lost. Maybe you’ve passed an entirely white bike chained up somewhere and wondered what it was. And maybe you guessed that it’s a memorial for a cyclist killed in that location. We talked to Jessie, one of the people who makes these public memorials. She’s one of the co-founders of the New York City Ghost Bike Project, performed here by actor Megan Stern. Jessie connected us to Lizi, a mother whose son was killed on his bike in Queens, performed by Indika Senanayake. And as our final piece in this series about endings, we have an actor performing an interview we did with another actor. To close, Brad Heberlee plays Everett. Interviews for this podcast were conducted by Elsa Carrette, Ian Daniel, and Leonie Ettinger. To get the latest about our next topic, be sure to subscribe!


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Be The Death of Me, Part III

Here’s episode three in our new podcast series Let Me Ascertain You: Be The Death of Me. What you’ll hear are excerpts from a larger ongoing project about life, death, and whatever happens after that. As part of this investigation, our team spoke to those who work every day in matters of life and death — people who spend their days in the places that witness the demise of our bodies. We’ve put three of those stories together for this episode. To kick things off, here’s actor Peter Friedman performing a man named Leonard: he’s a doctor of internal medicine. Then Danielle Davenport performs an interview we did with Sara, a child life specialist in the general pediatric unit at NYU Hospital. Keith Randolph Smith closes out this episode with his performance of Rocky, who is the co-founder of The Bedford-Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps, which it turns out is the nation’s first minority-run volunteer ambulance corps. Since 1988 the Bed-Stuy ambulance corps greatly improved emergency care in the Bed-Stuy community and to this day it continues to train young people and adults in life-saving skills. The interviews for this podcast were conducted by Micharne Cloughley, Dan Domingues and Meridith Friedman.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

INSIDE LOOK: Holy Matrimony

Fall might mean Pumpkin Spice Season in America, but at The Civilians, it’s been Wedding Fever. In celebration of the defeat of DOMA in the Supreme Court, we launched a full investigation into the many ways we marry in America. We culminate this celebration next Tuesday, November 12th, at Joe’s Pub, with a special Weddings edition of the Civilians’ popular Cabaret, “Let Me Ascertain You,” an evening of original songs and interviews about real (crazy) weddings we’re calling “Holy Matrimony”. Get Tickets HERE.

We’ve gathered interviews from all over our great country for glimpses of American Weddings, from a Vegas Wedding Chapel to a Catholic Church in Jersey, from a Courthouse in Louisiana to a Taco Bell in Normal, Illinois. We’ve got the profound to the profane, something borrowed, something blue, and everything in between. One of our featured couples, Stephen Mosher and Pat Dwyer, are the subject of a documentary called “Married and Counting”. You can check out their blog HERE.

As a special treat we’re sharing some of our favorite quotes from interviews that ended up on the cutting room floor, and some factoids about weddings in America from our research. Pour yourself a glass of Champagne (or imitation Champagne-style wine) and enjoy!

“And she didn’t wanna be no white virgin bride. So she gone and had this dress made, this wedding dress made out of a kind of a peachy-orange? This big-ass orange-y dress. She had jewels all sewed on it and stuff. And we called it ‘The Great Pumpkin Dress’, ‘cause that’s what she looked like in that shit… And so the ceremony was getting ready to start, and they were playing the music, and e’rrybody was gettin’ lined up on the stairs outside the church, and I seen a tuxedo goin’ down the street! And I’m like, ‘who the hell is that leavin’ now?’ So by that time, he had got down to Plymouth Avenue, where he got ready to turn the corner, I could see who it was, and it was Charles! The groom! So I said, ‘Hellll no!’”
    --Pookie from Minneapolis, on her sister getting stood up at the altar

“So I tell the cab driver, ‘I’m very sorry, I have to change right here in the car.’ He was like ‘I will try to avert my eyes, I will change the rearview mirror so I will not look at you, I will not see your nakedness.’ And I was like, ‘Thanks.’ So as soon as he like takes the rearview mirror and like turns it, I start racing to get my wedding dress on and I’m like completely,100% naked trying to put on these tight little spanx. And he’s weaving through traffic and he gets to a dead end and he kind of starts to panic and he goes to reverse out of this random driveway that he went into, and he looks back and he forgets and I’m just like, ‘Aaahh!’ and he’s like, ‘Oh! I’m so sorry I broke my promise to you!’ And I’m just like, ‘It’s fine it’s fine, seriously this is like the least of my problems right now, whatever,’ and to like make light of it I was like, (flirty) ‘Well I’m not married yet...’ and that just made it like super awkward and he was quiet the whole time.”
     --Natalie from Seattle, on being late to her own wedding and having to change in the cab

“So at this other table, they’re like the skankiest looking group of people you’ve ever seen, like – You know when you think of like, ‘What does a Russian whore look like?’  That’s what was at that table, like – Totally in their tight outfits and the really bad bleached hair, and the guys who were with them were literally like, they, they had like tattoos that were literally like anchors, like old-school, like ‘SAILORS ON LEAVE.’  And so anyway music starts playing like they’re singing, and they’re all singing in Russian, like, bad American pop songs in Russian.  So we’re all dancing to like ‘Eye of the Tiger’ in Russian, at our wedding, it’s really classy, and so my dad gets up and he’s dancing and then the sailors and the whores. So like everybody’s having a really great time, we’re all doing great but like we’re all eating the same meal, which is a course, and then booze.  And then a course, and then booze.   And all of my Jewish in-laws are like, ‘No, can we have some seltzer?  We’re really, we don’t need any more vodka, we’re fine,’ and meanwhile my family, the Irish Catholics, are like, This place is GENIUS!’  They’re completely wasted.”
     --Kittson from NYC, on her Brighton Beach Nightclub Wedding

A Few Fun Wedding Factoids:

-- According to there are nearly 3,000 couples planning on getting married next Tuesday, November 12, 2013. That's 4 times the typical Tuesday in November!

--The average cost of a wedding in 2012 was $28,427. Manhattan couples spent the most money, with an average wedding in New York costing $76,678 average. The cheapest place was Alaska, where the average wedding cost $15,504 last year. Brides spent an average of $1,211 on their wedding dress, while grooms only had to shell out about $230 for their tuxes.

--The U.S. marriage rate is 31.1, or 31 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women, the lowest in the past century. That means for every 1,000 unmarried women in the U.S., 31 of those previously single women tied the knot in the last year. For comparison, in 1920, the national marriage rate was 92.3.

--New York City (Manhattan and Outer Boroughs) has the oldest brides (32 years), whereas West Texas has the youngest brides (24 years), on average.

--Brides in Ohio, Kansas and Minnesota are the most likely to register for wedding gifts.

--142: The number of days in 2008 that gay marriage was legal in California before voters banned it with Proposition 8. About 18,000: The number of gay couples that married in California during the 142-day-window when it was legal.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Be The Death of Me, Part II

We’re back with the second episode of Let Me Ascertain You: Be The Death of Me. For this Civilians' project we took a prismatic look into the end of life and talked with a cross-section of New Yorkers - ER nurses, priests, funeral directors, vampires, shamans, crime-scene cleaners, and many ordinary people dealing with the extraordinary experience of loss. In this episode we share three of those stories. Actors Gardiner Comfort, Jennifer Morris, and Jeremy Shamos perform.

The interviews for this podcast episode were conducted by Matt Dellapina, Meridith Friedman, and Donnetta Lavinia Grays. We encourage you to subscribe if you haven’t already, and if you’re feeling extra generous write us a review. It makes a big difference! Until next time.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Meet The R&D: Mary Kathryn Nagle

Mary Kathryn Nagle, a playwright in this years R&D group, recounts the process of her most recent investigative theatre project, Sliver of a Full Moon. The play was performed on October 14th by the Native American women who included their stories as victims of violence. For more information on the show, please click HERE.

Sometimes I have a hard time calling myself a playwright.  When I write, I don’t invent stories or characters.  I don’t search deep down into my creative soul to discover a story- I go out into my community and I listen.  And through the act of listening, I inevitably discover stories that must be told.  Stories that the world needs to hear, and that the community needs to share.  For a long time, I felt that made me a fake playwright.  All I do is listen to others, record their words, and then I cut and paste them into a format I find to be compelling.  I’m not really making up anything on my own.  What kind of a playwright does that?

The most amazing part about writing these sorts of plays is that you never know where the story will take you.  You start with something you want to investigate, something you don’t understand.  And you ask questions.  And after you take account of all of the answers that come back to you, you realize the story you’re telling is a story you could never have imagined yourself.

Most recently, when I sat down to conduct interviews for Sliver of a Full Moon, I thought the piece I was writing would just be a series of monologues that I cut and pasted together from the transcripts of the interviews I conducted.  When I was asked to conduct these interviews, I had no idea where the story would eventually end up.

It was February 2013, and tribal leaders from several different American Indian Nations were in Washington, D.C., lobbying for the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”).  More specifically, they were asking the United States Congress to pass a bill that would recognize the inherent sovereignty of American Indian tribes to prosecute non-natives who come onto tribal lands and commit acts of domestic abuse against Native women.

In 1978, the United States Supreme Court declared that Indian tribes no longer have jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes on reservations.  Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Oliphant, Native women were hit the hardest.  Native women are more likely to become victims of violent crimes such as sexual assault and domestic violence than any other race—and yet 88% of the perpetrators of these crimes against Native women are non-native.  So when the Supreme Court stripped tribal governments of their ability to prosecute non-natives, tribal governments lost their ability to protect Native women in their own homes.

    Press coverage for Mary Kathryn's play Sliver of a Full Moon 
It was February 2013 and I had come to DC not to lobby or help with the effort of VAWA, but rather, to socialize with some friends, and suddenly, in the middle of dinner, I was facing some important questions:

How can we share the stories of our Native women survivors?

Can you interview them?

Can you write a play?

My answer was YES.  I was honored to take on this task.  And  in the middle of dinner, our plan became clear.  We would interview a group of survivors, and their stories would be transformed into a series of monologues that would become a play- and then we would take the play directly to Congress.  We would perform the monologues of their stories in DC for the entire government to hear.   How could Congress deny tribal governments the right to protect Native women after hearing their stories?

But the thing about this form of art is that, as a “playwright,” you have no control.  You start out taking interviews with one thought in mind, and six weeks later you realize you’re involved in a project that is larger than life and taking you in a completely opposite direction. 

Two days before I was scheduled to take my first interview, I received a text message from my friend.  “VAWA passed!!!!”

What?!   No one thought that would happen! 

The whole purpose behind taking these interviews and writing this play was to help the effort in getting VAWA passed—because everyone agreed the House would vote against it!  Now that VAWA has passed with the tribal jurisdiction provision in it, what’s the point of writing this play? 

After much discussion, we decided to go forward with the interviews.  As I listened to their stories, their words, I realized this play was not what I thought it was.

The women I was interviewing weren’t just survivors.  They were warriors.  They didn’t just survive the violence that was inflicted upon them—they took their experiences, their stories of survival, and they started a grassroots movement to change the law at the national level.  All of them had been involved in change at their local level, and now the result was change at a national level.  A change that restored a portion of their tribes’ pre-1978 sovereignty to protect them in their own homes. 

Suddenly I realized that the play I was writing wasn’t about the violence that had happened to these women.  No—this play was about their success in changing the law so that what happened to them would never happen to their daughters.  Or their grandchildren.

This past Monday October 14, we held a reading of Sliver of a Full Moon.  The women warriors who I interviewed played themselves in the play—they read their stories for all to hear.   I am honored to have worked with some incredible women: Lisa Brunner (White Earth Ojibwe); Diane Millich (Southern Ute); and Billie Jo Rich (Eastern Band Cherokee).

Representative Tom Cole and the woman interviewed for the project.

And although there were monologues of survival in the play, the majority of the play covered the true story of Native women warriors, as well as tribal leaders, who used their stories and their life experiences to achieve one of the greatest victories American Indians have ever seen since 1492. 

Having recently joined the Civilians R&D Group, I have learned that this kind of theater is known as “investigative theater.”  I love that.  I love that we have a title for the kind of sacred story telling we Natives have been doing for hundreds of years.   I am very much looking forward to this year with my fellow collaborators in the R&D Group.   If my experience doing investigative theater with the R&D Group is anything like the investigate theater I’ve done in the past, I know it will change my life.
President Barack Obama,survivor and actress Diane Millich and Vice President Joe Biden                    
Thanks for sharing your process, Mary Kathryn. For other posts about our R&D Group artists, please click HERE

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Be The Death of Me, Part I

We’re starting up a new series here at Let Me Ascertain You taken from a couple of live events we did recently about death. The show called Be The Death of Me is about facing that final curtain and maybe what lies on the other side. A small army of artists spent six months interviewing all sorts of people here in New York City. A cast of 33 brilliant actors performed these pieces at the Irondale Center in our home neighborhood of Fort Greene Brooklyn. And over the next few episodes, we’re going to share some of these stories with you.

Most people, it stands to reason, have some fear of dying - but not everyone does. As you’ll hear in this episode, some are planning on doing what no man or woman has done before: escape it altogether. Stephen Plunkett performs Father Sebastiaan, a local vampyre and fangsmith. Mia Katigbak performs an interview we did with a medium named Therese. Matt Dellapina performs our interview with Futurist/Techno-Philospher Gray Scott.

Interviews for this podcast were conducted by EllaRose Chary, Ian Daniel, and Leonie Ettinger. If you haven’t yet, please make sure you've subscribed so you can hear upcoming episodes in this Be The Death of Me series.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Meet our 2013-14 R&D Group

Here's a post from our R&D Group Coordinator, EllaRose Chary introducing the new 2013-14 R&D Group. 

The Civilians 2013-14 R and D Group is up and running. We have our largest group ever this year, and the lines between the traditional roles of writer and director have started to blur with this unique group. In previous years, most of our writers and directors have come to the group separately, getting paired up for the reading series later in the season. This year, half of our projects are being created by collaborative teams of writers, directors and project creators from day one.

This year’s artists are a mix of familiar Civilians faces and new folks we’re excited to get to know. Associate Artist Robbie Sublett joins the group as a writer with his interview based project East 4th Street, which looks into a mysterious death in the small Texas town he was raised in. Director/choreographer Sam Pinkleton joins the group fresh off of choreographing The Civilians commissioned hit MR. BURNS at Playwrights Horizons. He is teaming up with writer Maggie-Kate Coleman and composer Erato A. Kremmyda to develop a multidisciplinary musical theater project anchored by the character of Marie Curie that explores the forces of radiation and love. Writer Sean E. Cunningham, a collaborator of Civilians Associate Artist and founding member Michael Friedman, is going to be working on a new play that investigates how Peruvian companies are attempting popularize the liquor pisco in the United States market. Tommy Smith, who has worked with Artistic Director Steve Cosson in the past, comes to the group with his collaborator, director Teddy Bergman. They will be working on a piece about NFL players who move from being sportsmen to criminals, and the possible connections between them. Mary Kathryn Nagle will be working on a play about climate change and community (a favorite Civilians topic), and Riti Sachdeva will be looking into the ways that racism, misogyny, economics and violence trigger symptoms and effect recovery of mental disorders.

We’re also excited about the R and D group’s first foray into more experimental projects with the inclusion of interdisciplinary artist Jeanine Oleson, who will be working on a performance and exhibition about connoisseurship in a neoliberal culture increasingly alienated from affective enthusiasm. Experimental theater artists Juliana Francis-Kelly and Tony Torn also join the group to work on a more traditionally structured theater  piece called THE REENACTORS that is a darkly comic exploration of stories in art – who gets to tell them? Why are they important? How do they get told?

We have 3 additional directors joining the group, who will attend meetings and participate in the dramaturgical process for all of the pieces. They each will direct one of the projects in the reading series in May. Morgan Gould, Melissa Crespo, and Michael Liebenluft all come to us with varied experience with and training in investigative theater. However, their work shares the common themes of questioning and collaboration that are vital to Civilians’ style projects. We know that they will be dynamic and instructive voices in the room over the next year.

As Steve and I went through the nearly 150 R and D Group applications this year, we were struck by the variety and creativity of the proposals. Within this spectrum of ideas, we found a theme emerging between the projects that we were drawn to. These 8 pieces, while vast in scope and diverse in investigative method, are linked in that they each ask fundamental questions about the relationship between politics and the arts. Whether it’s directly questioning this relationship, making art rooted in political questions, or examining the machinations behind drinking culture and professional sports, all of these projects advance theater as an engine of artistic and social innovation.

I can’t wait to see how our talented artists tackle this complex and exciting subject matter over the next nine months. Keep an eye on the Civilians blog for our monthly R and D posts where you’ll get to hear directly from the writers about their projects and other investigations they’re working on. Also, check out their full bios and project descriptions HERE

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Let Me Ascertain You: LGBTQ All Out! Part IV

Check out our fourth and final episode of our "Let Me Ascertain You: LGBTQ All Out!" podcast series. This was recorded live at the Barrow Street Theater in NY where actors performed various real people we interviewed about their experiences related to sexuality and gender. One of our special guest performers that night was Laverne Cox who stars in the TV show "Orange Is the New Black." She performs an interview we did with a staff member at Housing Works which is a NYC non-profit healing community of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. (

Then Mike Brun and Alyse Louis perform "Barricade" another song by Robin Eaton and Jill Sobule from our upcoming musical Times Square that will feature music from Robin and Jill with book by Tony-nominated writer Jim Lewis about two teenage runaway lesbians who form an underground punk band in 1980s seedy Times Square!

To close out this special podcast series, Stephen Plunkett performs an inteview he did for our show This Beautiful City about Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs has a number of military bases and this interview was done a number of years ago before the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell."

Interviews for this podcast were conducted by Stephen Plunkett and Dan Domingues. Be sure to subscribe to The Civilians’ “Let Me Ascertain You” iTunes channel to stay in the loop about other amazing stories from our investigations.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Let Me Ascertain You: LGBTQ All Out! Part III

Up next is our third podcast of our series "Let Me Ascertain You: LGBTQ All Out!" dedicated to sexuality and gender. For this episode, we've got another interview from a staffer at the Rainbow Heights Club in Brooklyn, an advocacy program for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender emotional recovery and wellness. You can learn more about them at Samira Wiley performs Danee live in New York City at the Barrow Street Theater.

Then, our next performance comes from an interview we did a couple years ago as part of our research for writer Neal Bell's play, Shadow of Himself Actors Matt Maher, Brian Sgambati and Maria Dizzia drove down to rural Pennsylvania to visit Harold and Bob in their home that has number of cages upstairs, locked cells downstairs and something of a small prison camp outside. At the time they were all empty. Matt Maher plays Harold and Brad Heberlee plays Bob.

Since we started this LGBTQ series, we did a concert of the show Times Square by Jill Sobule & Robin Eaton and Jim Lewis. It's a show about two girls who fall in love and discover themselves. To close out the podcast, we share a song for Nicky, one of the two girls at the center of the story. Nicky's a streetwise butch girl and in this song "Cigarette Burn" she's trying out a new song onstage at the Pussycat Palace in the heart of sleazy Times Square. It's sung here by the extraordinary Jill Sobule.

Interviews for this podcast were conducted by Donnetta Lavinia Grays and Matt Maher.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Let Me Ascertain You: LGBTQ All Out! Part II

We’re back with the second episode of Let Me Ascertain You: LGBTQ All Out recorded live at the Barrow Street Theater; actors perform various real people we interviewed about their experiences related to sexuality and gender. One of the groups who helped us out on this show was the Theater of the Oppressed NYC, they have an awesome theater troupe for queer homeless youth. We talked to Vincent, one of their troupe members, and in this episode you’ll hear Jax Jackson perform that interview. Then actor Pedro Pascal performs an interview we did with a man named Mark, and to close out this episode composer Michael Friedman sings an original song of his called “Horrible Seders” and it’s about playwright Tony Kushner. The interviews for this podcast were conducted by Ian Daniel and Dan Domingues.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Let Me Ascertain You: LGBTQ All Out! Part I

Let Me Ascertain You is back! And we've got a whole new topic for you that we're calling "LGBTQ All Out!" It's all about those who have battled for, celebrated and championed their sexual orientation and gender identity. We dig into the personal stories, struggles and triumphs of a group of individuals in the LGBTQ community. Here, our Associate Artists and special guests perform interviews that we conducted recently. This podcast was recorded live at Barrow Street Theater in NYC.

In this episode you’ll hear actor Paul Stovall perform an interview we did with Randy who works at a great organization here in Brooklyn called the Rainbow Heights Club. Check out their website: Then actor Blair Baker performs Tarina, an interview we did several years ago back when we were creating our show about the city of Colorado Springs. To close things out, we’ve got a song from TIMES SQUARE. It’s a musical based on the early 80’s movie. The story is about two girls from opposite sides of the tracks, they meet, they fall in love, they form a band called the Sleez Sisters all set in the untamed Times Square of the 1970’s. Songs are by the amazing team of Jill Sobule and Robin Eaton, and here’s one of them. This is “Last Kiss” performed by Alyse Alan Louis with Mike Brun on guitar. Interviews for this podcast were conducted by Dan Domingues and Alison Weller.


Thursday, July 18, 2013


As a toast to the defeat of DOMA, we're launching a new interview-based project exploring the surprising, funny, remarkable and wild side of WEDDINGS in America.  Our investigation will include interviews from all demographics, cultures and sexual-orientations with real-life couples, wedding guests, vendors, officiants and others about the most astounding events ever encountered at weddings.

We are looking for your contribution. If you have outrageous TRUE wedding stories from anywhere in the U.S., we would love to hear from you!   Are you a mail-order bride?  Were you married as teens or really late in life?  Were you married via a vending machine?  Did you set fire to your wedding in order to get out of it?   We want to hear any and all things jaw-dropping.

If you or someone you know has a good story, shoot it our way to We'll be in touch!

We are looking forward to hearing from you! Thanks so much!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

INSIDE LOOK: "Be The Death of Me" Investigation: Futurist Gray Scott

Our Project Director Ian Daniel interviewed Gray Scott, a futurist/neuro-technology-philosopher, as part of our broad investigation into death, dying, and the afterlife in NY for an installation performance "Be The Death of Me" on June 28th and 29th at the Irondale Center in Ft. Greene Brooklyn.  Details HERE.

Gray is also the editorial director of SERIOUS the online futurist philosophy, technology and consciousness magazine produced by his media company SERIOUS WONDER MEDIA based in NYC.

Learn more about Gray's work HERE.

Check out some excerpts from Gray's interview:

Uploading your consciousness is going to happen.  Everyone is uploading every single moment of their life, like what they had for breakfast, on social networks. That's the first stage of uploading consciousness.

I do think there will be consciousness factories so that just like on your cloud server you will back up your consciousness, however, we will do it more like a brain to computer interface--like a headband you wear.  And every day you download everything that happened to you in your computer and it all just goes into this cloud, and if you’re in a car accident or die of old age, they can replicate that consciousness into a machine.  You literally just jump from body to a machine without a separation.

I think what we are going to see in the future is an organism that is part machine and part organic.  So you could take your stems cells and literally grow a brain.  And if we could learn how to upload our consciousness into the substrate of an organic brain then we have a whole other scenario--even if our physical body dies, that consciousness goes on forever as long as the machine works.  You still have to maintain the machine but if we can capture that essence of who you are, who I am, then we potentially could live forever, and we could go anywhere in the universe.  We don’t need to breathe, a machine doesn’t need to breathe.  As long as you have a power source and we can do that with solar, as long as you’re plugged into a star, we’re talking. You could choose to leave earth and go explore deep space for eternity as long as you’re close enough to a star for energy.

Isn't the drive to create artificial intelligence, isn't it a cry against death?  I don't want to die so I'm going to create an artificial representation of myself in case I do.  I mean it's a very deep psychological process.  

Personally, I'm greedy and I want to live forever. I do. Because it's heartbreaking and inefficient to only live 80 years.  It’s such a short time, I feel cheated.  All of the work that you do throughout your life, all the preparation that you do for your intelligence, for your body. Think about how many times you go to the gym or think about how many meals you've cooked for yourself and just to have that swept away in one moment.  That bothers me.

Thanks so much to Gray and Ian for sharing. To hear more of Gray's interview come to "Be The Death of Me" June 28/29.

To read other excerpts from our investigation for "Be The Death of Me" go HERE.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

INSIDE LOOK: "Be The Death of Me" Investigation: Psychic Medium

Our R&D Group Coordinator, EllaRose Chary, interviewed Therese Relucio, a New York based Certified Psychic Medium (Intuitive Consultant).  Learn more about Therese's work HERE, and also be sure to check out her development group HERE.  
This interview is part of our broad investigation into death, dying, and the afterlife in NY for an installation performance "Be The Death of Me" on June 28th and 29th at the Irondale in Ft. Greene Brooklyn. Details HERE!

Therese Relucio
Check out some excerpts of Therese's interview below:

I remember seeing my first spirit when I was three years old. I was actually born in the Philippines, but I remember seeing it - I was still in the Philippines at the time and I remember seeing a male spirit outside of my window on my second floor so I know that it was definitely a spirit. And I pointed it out and I remember nobody else being able to see the same spirit, so from then, from that first memory, I remember seeing a lot of other spirits coming through. 

I was not scared until probably about 9 or 10 when I started seeing, um, a spirit that was laying in bed with me, a male spirit that was laying in bed with me, smiling at me all the time and I would see him for probably a year, two years straight no matter what house I lived in. Um, yeah, and it was scary only because he was smiling at me and not saying anything. It was a little bit creepy, but um, as it turns out, as I got older, I realized that that was my spirit guide.

Yeah, so a spirit guide, I say spirit because you know, uh, depending on what you want to call it—you could call it ghost if you want—but a spirit is just basically a soul that is not in, that is discarded, meaning not in—not in a physical body.  So they're not human, they're not in a physical form. But a spirit guide, you can relate it to something, some people say a guardian angel, you know, someone that is there to protect you to guide you. That's what a spirit guide is. They guide you towards your direction, towards your life's purpose.

I mean really I've always believed that we're on earth to learn things. So earth is like a boarding school for our souls. When we die and when we pass, we're just going back to where we came from. That's it. There’s nothing unnatural about it, it's just a euphoric process and we go back to where we came from. 

Thanks so much to Therese and Ella for sharing. 

To read other excerpts from our investigation for "Be The Death of Me" go HERE