As we’ve been preparing for our upcoming 40th Anniversary Gala, we’ve had fun looking through our archives, revisiting songs from our plays and reaching out to our extended network of friends, family and collaborators past and present. We’re looking forward to celebrating those relationships, our community, and the great plays we’ve built together. We’re also thinking about the future.
Over the next year we will be embarking on some significant projects including Burnished By Grief, a new play with music, written and composed by Ellen and directed by me; a national project developing unique, individual, community-engaged productions of Talking Band’s Marcellus Shale in communities affected by, or concerned with, fracking; and continuing our Performance Lab program.
People who have worked with Talking Band are familiar with our ensemble approach and process-driven aesthetic, the way we gather artists together for collaborative workshops and productions in a process that can span months or years rather than mere weeks. What makes this possible is our Performance Lab, an ongoing and evolving creative workshop where we cultivate the seeds of new plays and test new creative processes and methodologies. Work begun in the Performance Lab is allowed to evolve organically, with some ideas maturing into production as the company founders find it ready, while other ideas may have no ambition for public presentation, serving instead to educate and enrich the artists themselves as a form of ongoing training and collaborative research.
We believe our work demonstrates that there is something worth preserving and cultivating in this process. At a time when the theater is bowing more than ever to pressures of time and economy, we believe there is another way.
We are proud and honored to see how many of the artists who have worked with us in the Lab over the years have started their own companies or gone on to become accomplished, admired theater artists in their own right. The Performance Lab has become an important place for our own research and for providing a platform for early career theater artists to develop their skills.
This year in the Performance Lab, our experiments will focus on creating theater pieces devised from contemporary classical music and still photography. Right now we’re thinking about it in terms of “music/moving time” juxtaposed with “photography/still time”.
Choreographers often use music as their inspiration. And while playwrights sometimes refer to a piece of music that is important to a character, memory, or mood, the music generally remains incidental (i.e. a reference point or a soundtrack).
We are ultimately interested in a piece in which a chamber ensemble of musicians would be at the center of the work, and the story, imagery and action emanates from what they are playing. We are interested in exploring how the melodic, harmonic, and tempo shifts in the music either dictate the action or act as a counterpoint to it. In one sense this musical exploration would be an extension of our exploration of time: in this case the moving time of music.
For the “photography/still time” component we will be working with long-time collaborator photographer Suzanne Opton – as well as with images from other photographers – to examine the power in the contemplation of a still/stopped moment. What does this captured moment imply about the moments before it, and the moments to follow?
We’re also excited about a really new project, a unique “tour” of 2013’s play Marcellus Shale which tells the story of a community fractured by natural gas drilling. Rather than presenting “our” production of Marcellus Shale, we are connecting with community and producing partners in five communities around the country affected by natural gas drilling, and collaborating with them as they create their own interpretations of the play, using local artists and tailored to the needs and aesthetic of their community. In the process, we will train local artists in our unique methodology developed over 40 years, and create a national dialogue based on how these diverse communities engage with a single piece of theater.
Training local and emerging artists to create their own experimental versions of Marcellus Shale around the country is in many ways far more time consuming and risky than simply re-presenting a version of the play our company is now well-versed in. But we believe communities will engage with the play more deeply when they see themselves in the art, and their artists will be better served by creating the art as opposed to simply viewing it.
And finally, as if that weren’t enough, we’ll be producing Burnished By Grief in Spring 2016. It is still in development, but Ellen describes the play as “a sinister romantic comedy,” in which Tony Hudson, a seventy year old African American homeowner, decides to convert the basement of his Brooklyn home into a garden apartment, in order to help finance the purchase of a condo for his daughter, Blossom. His solid sense of himself becomes fractured when his generosity and vulnerability is exploited by a parasitic tenant and her intimidating boyfriend. The play’s five characters share a longing for a pocket of stillness, a relief from loneliness and the possibility of falling head over heels in love with their opposites. But they are set against each other in a city of scrambled energy and the overlapping realities of race, culture, and generations.
We are fortunate to have been able to do this work for 40 years, and we are excited by what the future holds. We’re still growing, learning and creating and hope to continue for many years to come. Your past support has made this possible; your support today will make possible the future.
Please join us on Monday, April 27th at the Ukrainian National Home Ballroom for our 40th Anniversary Gala to celebrate how far we’ve come and support us as we look to the future. If you can’t attend on the 27th, please consider making a donation. We’ve got a $14K match and your support now will make a real difference.
Thanks and see you soon!