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!


  1. Wonderful interview. Interesting person.

  2. Great interview, Premo! Hey, you should consider coming out to Bloomsburg for our FLOOD STORIES, TOO, our community-based show about our most recent flood. Created and directed by Jerry Stropnicky. Stories gathered by the ensemble. Cast of about 30 (ensemble plus community plus university students) plus a community choir. You can crash at my place! The show runs March 7-17.

  3. Thanks! And again, thanks to Premo for the great post. Laurie, if you're interested, let us know about your project; we have an "Investigative Theater Corner" on this blog and are always interested in being able to post about other investigative shows! Email for more info!