Thursday, February 28, 2013

Monthly Media Roundup February, 2013

February sure felt like the shortest month of the year; we can't believe it's already practically March. Here's what we've been up to!

Featured Associate Artist: Michael Premo, Project Manager for In the Footprint and creator of Sandy Storyline
Meet the R&D: A post from playwright Carly Mensch about the research she was doing in Tanzania for her project about a former soccer star / teacher / soldier / Finnish N.G.O. worker / action hero / war photographer / street philosopher and self-described man of the bush who died suddenly and mysteriously
Meet the R&D: A post from director Mei Ann Teo about the investigative theater project that she worked on in China
Share Your Story about death, dying, or the after-life in NYC for a new project we're working on!

Bogotá Prison Pageant, Part III: Interviews from our investigation in the national women's prison in Bogotá, Colombia, where they host an annual beauty pageant for the incarcerated.
Occupy #S17, Part III and Part IV: Interviews and songs from our performance at Joe's Pub on the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street

Subscribe on iTunes HERE!

The Great Immensity Blog
Chalk It Up to the Sea Urchin: Sea urchins process CO2 and turn it into chalk... could be useful, huh!

Throwback Thursday:
And here's a photo from our Bogotá investigation in September of 2011 of the women in the prison during the annual beauty pageant - click HERE for more!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Occupy #S17, Part IV

Here are more of our interviews from the Occupy Wall Street movement, presenting interviews we’ve conducted with activists since the beginning at of it all at Zuccotti Park on September 17, 2011. We created an event at Joe’s Pub in NYC and invited theaters, schools, and other non-profits from around the country to join us in performing an Occupy anniversary show simultaneously the night of the 17th. Here are some performances from our show in NY, starting with our Associate Artist Colleen Werthmann back with more of Andrea Ciannevi discussing the trajectory of the movement. Next up is Associate Artist Maria Elena Ramirez who performs Sofia, a young protestor from Puerto Rico. To close this episode, we’re excited to have musical guests Sandra Velazquez and Maria Elena of the band Pistolera join us for their song "Cazador." Interviews for this podcast were conducted by Steven Cosson, Ian Daniel, Dan Domingues and the performances you just heard were directed by Mia Rovegno. Thanks for listening. Please subscribe, rate, and review!

Click HERE to watch videos from the event!


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Occupy #S17, The Podcast, Part III

Welcome to our third podcast episode commemorating the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. The Civilians conducted interviews with activists in the movement since its start last year at Zuccotti up to this one year anniversary on September 17, 2012 (referred to as #S17 in the Twitter-sphere). The first performance in this episode is by special Civilians guest-star David Cale of an interview with Carne Ross, a British Diplomat who gives us a different perspective on the movement. Next up is Jordan Mahome performing Radio Raheem (the man who inspired the character in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing), who helped start Paul Robeson Freedom School. To close this episode, join in from home or on the subway or wherever you are, as Mary Kate O’Neil and her band Gerry Giaimo, Robin Eaton, David Shuman, and Mia Theodoratus sing a rendition of John Lennon’s Power to the People. Interviews for this podcast were conducted by Adam Odsess-Rubin and Steven Cosson. The performances you just heard were directed by Mia Rovegno. Thanks for listening - subscribe, rate, and review us!

Click HERE to watch videos from the event!


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Share Your Story!

Remember that time we did a cabaret all about death? (If not, take a listen to our three podcast episodes from the performance: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3!) Well, the topic hasn't gone anywhere, and we're getting back into it. We're excited to announce the launch of a new interview-based project exploring the many aspects of the subject of death, dying, and after-life in New York. Our investigation will include a variety of spiritual, cultural, professional, and personal perceptions about death and dying as a universal human experience. We'll be working on a full-scale production using a large number of the collected interviews.

So we are currently speaking to many different people specifically in NY about their experiences with death and we are looking for your contribution. Are you now, or have you ever been, dead? Is your cool aunt a medium? Is there a ghost in your house? If you deal with death in your profession or if you have a surprising personal story about death, we would love to hear from you! The only requirement is that you live or work here or that your story relates somehow to life (and death) in NYC.

Please send us a brief summary of your story or shoot any questions you might have to and we'll be in touch about setting up an interview with you. As we are creating a verbatim theater piece, we would record and transcribe the interview; and you can absolutely choose to remain anonymous.

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

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Meet the R&D: Mei Ann Teo

This post is by R&D Group director, Mei Ann Teo about the piece of investigative theater that she created in China, working with students and members of the community (...civilians, in the vaudevillian sense). For more about her, click HERE!

In the summer of 2012, I accepted an amazing invitation to make a documentary theatre piece in China, hosted by the IFCHINA Documentary Participatory Center and funded by the Asian Cultural council. Steeped in the rich history of Jiangxi province, the seat of the Cultural Revolution where the Long March began, I worked with international artists and translators from Singapore and the U.S. to make theatre with university students and community members with a wide range of age and experience. Together, in a short though intense month, we created a piece entitled Wo Men Zhi Yang Kai Shi: This is How We Begin - documentary theatre made from the fabric of their own life experiences and centered around the education and re-education of Chinese society. Perhaps “This is How We Begin” is synonymous with “This is How We Are Changed”; for in this process I was transformed and renewed.

Process: A breakthrough. The day started with a trust circle with Xiao Tuan Zhang, the leader of the Tea Pickers’ Troupe and the only one of the older performers who stuck with us. “The others are different animals from me”, he said. “They are mahjong animals – but me? I’m a performer.” Still – it’s not easy for him or us, and the truth is that our lives could not be more different. We’ve only read about the hardships he’s been through – he’s lived them. There are oceans of misunderstanding. We’re not sure when he’ll decide the work isn’t relevant to him and leave as well. Until.

Heng Mei chose to perform the moment she found out that her results were one mark away from getting her into university. She sat – completely distraught – staring at the number, as if it could change with her sure will. Actors entered as her friends. She ignored them. Another actor became her scolding mother who offered no compassion. Her head remained bowed. Then Xiao Tuan Zhang entered the scene as her grandfather. He approached her with his smile so gentle, and crouched next to her. He, only educated up to 5th grade, spoke to her in a soft voice that we could barely hear. But it is clear that she heard him as she turned to listen. We find out later that she doesn’t have a grandfather – perhaps this is the first moment she has experienced one. We continue with another’s story, working for about 20 minutes, and he interrupts, bringing it back to Heng Mei’s scene. Clearly it affected him. He tells her, in front of the group, how much he believed her and he’s amazed by what she did. His engagement with the work changes after that –though their life situations are completely different, he also understands utter disappointment and despair. I realize that the world is a better place because this happened. The generation gap is what we must fill to understand our history.

This scene doesn’t end up in the final performance. Many amazing scenes generated through the process of 4 weeks don’t – there’s just too much material. However, everything is in some way there – in the bodies of the performers, in the essence of the scenes. Nothing is wasted or lost.

One of my favorite scenes: The students are sitting for an exam, completely stressed out of their minds, and the examiner transforms into a character in his 60's. He looks at the students’ exams with wonder; he’s only had 5 years of school, and when he was 16, he had to learn farming. Behind him, the students transform into farmers, and he continues to tell us that he never had a chance to go to school, never had a chance to think about what else he could be besides a farmer. Never had the opportunity. He then notices what’s going on behind him and asks the students what they are doing - do they want this for their lives? They, with the toil on their brows, shake their heads. He says, “ Go, take your exams. Do well.” They transform back into students; their farming tools once again desks.

It’s not enough to just tell one story, but to tell many in order to truly understand the breadth of what has happened in a community. Not enough to complain about the education system – not enough to praise it. Not enough to talk about the brutal past, or dream for the brighter future. Progress demands us to investigate it all.

The Galvanizing Moment: I was sitting on stage with the actors – already so proud of them for their performances. The talk-back began, and we were asked the question, “ Why weren’t there any positive portrayals of rural education?” To my great happiness, the cast immediately took him on without any prompting from me. One of them gave the answer that makes documentary theatre bullet proof: “It’s true! We’re not making this up. It’s what they said, it’s what we lived. It’s TRUE.” Others defended the moments that they had in the play – asking him to reconsider his definitions of “positive” and “negative”. Their understanding of the process and the performance was astounding. This was THEIR show, made of THEIR stories, and they knew how to defend it better than anyone.

Another audience member stood up, a university professor who happened to come to a few workshops with us and also was a character in the play. Teacher Soong’s experience and articulation of the pressure of the education system really galvanized their voices. Through his participation he also understood the process from the inside, and through being an audience could experience the performance from the outside. He stood up and told us this: that these 4 weeks in which we created this work was worth more than 10 years of education.

I think about this show often, and of the cast. New memories surface, as they are too many to come all at once. Today, I remember the scene when the boy comes home from school one day to find his entire house reduced to rubble due to an earthquake. He searches around and then collapses, crying. He hears his family’s voice in whispers, saying, “Don’t worry, we are here with you.” I can still hear their voices – the gentle intonations and the care in which they spoke. They carried him then, and they carry me now.

Many thanks to Mei Ann Teo for sharing this experience with us!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Featured Associate Artist: Michael Premo

Meet our February Featured Associate Artist. Many thanks to Michael for participating! Click HERE to see our past Featured Associate Artists' answers to these questions.

Name: Michael Premo
Year Joined The Civilians: hmmm around 2010, maybe 2009
What City You're Living In: Based in Brooklyn, NY

How did you first get involved with The Civilians?
My first Civilians show was The Atlantic Yards project. I coordinated the outreach and development for identifying and collecting the stories for the show. I also performed one of the interviews in the first iteration of the project we presented at the Brooklyn Lyceum.

Why has it been interesting to work with the investigative method?
I’m a multidisciplinary artist. I work in all kinds of mediums including photography, sound/audio, theater making (performing and devising), mixed media installations, etc. etc.

I’m obsessed with stories. It’s fascinating how we are all constantly constructing personal legends from our experiences. Its all a mix of how different people see the world, or ways in which we remember things. Some people remember dates and figures some gestures and emotions, and all those permutations of memory shape how stories are recounted and constructed.

The stories that almost never fail to surprise me are the ones that come from people who insist they have nothing to share. That moment of candid discovery that rolls from the process of honoring experience through listening is kind of like that moment of high stakes honesty that many artists, especially actors, spend their careers trying to craft or capture. Working in this way you get to experience that moment constantly.

What is the last project you worked on outside of The Civilians?/What are you currently working on?
Right now, I’m working on a collaborative project called Sandy Storyline ( Sandy Storyline is a participatory documentary project about Hurricane Sandy and efforts to recover and rebuild. Using audio, video, photography and text, Sandy Storyline is building a collective narrative of the storm and its aftermath. Stories are shared through an evolving web platform and we’re developing an interactive exhibition, site-specific installations and possibly a performance.

In my preferred way of working, we function like an ensemble. We operate with a core group of collaborators and a growing network of contributors. We started the project the week of the storm, and since then have collected a few hundred stories from a growing team of artists, media makers and community members. We’re looking for partners interested in collaborating on all aspects of the work including the exhibitions and live aspects of the project.

Anyone can contribute a photo, a memory, or any kind of story by calling a toll-free number or sending a text or picture message. We also invite submissions in the form of video, audio, photos, or writing at

We know lots of folks have cell phone pictures from the storm and the aftermath. We’re encouraging people to text those pictures with a note to and they’ll be archived as a citizen record of the storm. Even if you were sitting in your apartment playing Parcheesi with your friends, we want those pictures. Its all part of the story.

Sandy Storyline offers workshops or multi-session storytelling/media/documentation classes to any interested groups. We also invite educators to use the project in their classes or programs to offer a framework for students and community members to process the impact of the storm as well as what we could do differently or rebuild our neighborhoods stronger then they were before. All these considerations are especially salient given the environmental crisis of climate change and deepening economic inequality.

What artist has had the biggest impact on you?
whoa. big question. I have a friend who has a process for mapping the family tree of your art practice. That’d be fun to do sometime. I don’t think any one artist has had the most impact, but they’re some at the top of the list. at least today. ask me tomorrow and it’ll probably be a little different.

But in no particular order some at the top of the list include Miguel Pinero, Ed Bullins, Amiri Baraka, Tennessee Williams, Wole Soyinka, Athol Fugard, Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Universes, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Seen, Dali, Basquiat, Martha Cooper, Jamal Shabazz, Robert Frank, when i first started taking pictures i used to love looking at the photos of Henri Cartier-Bresson and that whole school of photojournalists and i dont know if he considered himself an artist, but Studs Terkel.

And then there’s a whole list of musicians that have had a huge impact on my practice.

What’s the last play you saw?
Last play I saw was an excerpt of a play in development by New Orleans based Mondo Bizarro called Cry You One. I’m not sure of the language they use to explain the work, but it’s an ode to shrinking coastlines, rising seas and an earth in crisis. I think the name comes from a cajun style of music, where a fiddler or musicians use the phase “let me cry you one.” It’s crafted with the musicality and style that is so unique to New Orleans. The piece was performed on a levee on the banks of a Bayou that borders the Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans. It was featured as part of the Network of Ensemble Theater’s Microfest: New Orleans. beautiful piece. Can’t wait to see how it develops.

What’s your favorite bad movie?
I love 80‘s screwball comedies and bad action movies, especially spy movies. James Bond is a great contribution to man kind. Best bad movie i saw recently was Terminator 2.

Do you like sports?
I don't really follow sports anymore. but i dig watching and playing sports. (although i dont really play much these days either.) but i’ll watch almost anything. football, soccer, especially live. except golf and cricket. i gave cricket a shot but i just don't get it. 7 day test match. really?

Question from Last Month’s Featured Associate Artist (actress Quincy Tyler Bernstine): 
If you didn't work in theater, what would you be doing career-wise?
Man, I wish I knew...I guess to make your life have as much meaning as possible. Whatever that means.

What question would you like us to ask our next Featured Associate Artist?
What would a rose smell like if it wasn’t called a rose?

Find out more about Michael and his work by visiting his website!

Many thanks to Michael for answering our questions!