Dreaming Up New Roles for Performance 

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What ideas does your work focus on, and how did you go about developing the work?
Ardencie Hall-Karambé: A few years ago, I was looking for project to do with some students and decided it would be interesting to do a project involving the Civil Rights Movement but trying to stay away from the typical players in the events, so that the dominant voices were not those that we had heard before but the unsung heroes…Once there was a script it became only natural to turn it into a musical, considering how much music played an important part in the Civil Rights Movement…Luckily being brought up in the Black church and having many years of music under my belt as a singer, songwriter, and musician, the music selections came somewhat easier than the script itself. It felt only natural to include traditional Negro spirituals that I would update, rhythmically and lyrically, and create original music that spoke to the mood and tone of a particular scene.

Jesse Phillips-Fein: My piece, "own,Owned" is a response to what I see as our political situation after Obama's election…It feels to me like a historical moment of deep despair, where the incredible momentum that gathered around Obama has been deflated, and his slogan of 'hope and change' feels like a hollow advertising gimmick. I am curious about the significance of both pleasure and desire in this "post-Hope" context: What do we find ourselves wanting and how is this shaped by the matrix of social/cultural/political forces? What makes us feel good and what does it mean to feel good when the situation is so bad? Is there a way in which we are empowered by daily acts of choice, like the music we listen to, the clothes we wear, the people we sleep with, the food we eat? Or do these choices become distractions from more meaningful political choices? Is there a way they can be both? And what sort of exploration of play, pleasure, desire, choice, could open up our political imaginations?

Steven Gridley: One of our company members had a bunch of old cassettes stuffed in the back of his closet. He told us that he thought they contained interviews conducted shortly after September 11th but that he hadn't listened to them and they'd been sitting in his closet for the better part of 10 years. A friend of his had conducted the interviews but didn't know what to do with them so he gave them to him. I took a couple of the tapes and started listening to them. The interviews were stunning. They immediately transported me back to that time in NY. They felt like a time capsule, perfectly preserved, with all the imperfections and rawness street interviews recorded on cassette would have. I got the idea to try and recreate these interviews just as they appear on the tapes, to recreate the audio imperfections, the background noise, the confusion and numbness that many of the subjects were feeling.

Why is this project important for you right now?
Steven Gridley: [These tapes] show us a side of ourselves as New Yorkers that may of us have forgotten in the ten years that have passed. They show people trying to make sense of the world, to reclaim lower Manhattan, to bridge the gap between differing ideologies not just between people and nations but between ones own heart.

Ardencie Hall-Karambé: It became important to show [my students] why they should participate fully in society…The project became more important to me, as well, as I began to look at not just civil rights but the dwindling of rights of all people in this country; especially, as we have moved into the age of terrorism and how that terrorism has slowly but surely eaten away at people's rights. Whether it was freedom of speech, freedom to marry, freedom to serve one's country, or freedom to gather, the war on terrorism and the war of the right began to constrict and confine American lives in various ways. Thus, I realized, the civil rights of people were still being violated. I also began to understand how the Civil Rights Movement gave birth to the rights movements that happened after 1968; although the play does not address those directly, I believe that the ideas of Civil Rights Movement extends to universal civil rights for all.

What else will you be doing while you're visiting New York?

Aravind Enrique Adyanthaya: Aside from the show at the Festival, we will take the opportunity to do impromptu performances throughout the city during the company´s stay, exploring urban spaces, the rhythms and textures of life that are so rich and particular to New York.

(Photo: Valena David)

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