On (stage) Violence

Our Performances, Theory

In April, several members of [redacted] Theater Company will perform in a production of Mercury Fur by Philip Ridley at Swarthmore College directed by me and starring Co-Artistic Director Swift Shuker as Lola, collaborator Tyler Elliott as Elliot, and collaborator Michaela Shuchman as the Duchess. I wrote this article as a reflection on the consequences of staging such an intense, unforgiving play. It was originally published in the December 2014 edition of the Swarthmore Review.


The Fall 2014 semester is an exciting time for Honors Theater majors, as we pick or finish our thesis projects. I spent the first half of the semester reading upwards of 10 plays a week to nail down what projects would be best for my Acting Thesis (a decision made by consensus with the director and three other students) and my Directing Thesis. This opportunity was the sole factor keeping me from transferring to NYU early in my freshman year when I realized I wanted to study theater. The play selection process has been long and grueling but ultimately fruitful, as I will direct one of my favorite plays of all time: Mercury Fur by Philip Ridley.

Mercury Fur was one of about a half-dozen plays which made my heart go wild on every page. They were very stylistically diverse, but l noticed a trend: in many of these plays, something horrific occurs. It wasn’t a surprising discovery, as I directed Titus Andronicus on the LPAC mainstage in Spring 2014; a great number of horrific acts occur over the course of the Shakespeare classic, and the body count is very high. Using violence as a tool in my artistic canvas is clearly something I’m interested in. But why?

I immediately dismissed the notion that I might be a closet psychopath or sadist. The Saw franchise made nearly $900 million worldwide and spanned four different directors, and surely not all of those creators and audience members were in it just to see people get hurt. Sarah Kane’s Blasted was at once called a “disgusting feast of filth” by The Daily Mail and “wonderful…controlled, meticulous, and brave” by The Independent as it played to full houses. What is it about violence and horror onstage that makes me and so many others run toward it like iron filings to a magnet?


Truth is of my biggest interests in theater. I’m fascinated by the suspension of disbelief that occurs when you enter a theater and what happens when you introduce epistemological truth – undeniable facts about reality, like an actor’s name – into the mix. What happens when you message someone on Facebook live in front of an audience? How is that experience different from watching an actor portray Willy Loman? These questions set my blood afire, but they only concern truth-as-knowable-fact.

There’s another dimension of truth that I call visceral truth. Visceral truth is pre-psychological, truer than fact. Facts are interpretable whereas visceral truth is not. Visceral truth is a feeling that occurs before you can think about it, or perhaps a bodily reaction that you are unaware of. It’s the bottom dropping out of you at the end of Frank Darabont’s The Mist. It’s the increased pitter patter of your heart when you realize you are, in fact, lost in an unfamiliar area. It’s the tingly body sensations when you watch a medical procedure that leaves little to the imagination. It’s the heightened awareness when you’re caught walking around Swarthmore’s campus holding someone’s hand for the first time. There are many other examples, but what’s striking about them is that visceral truth can be achieved through media we know is fiction as well as through real-life experiences, and it seems that the majority of the actions which reveal visceral truth are unpleasant in some way.

So, I’m drawn to some pretty nasty art because it fulfills this need for truth. Each form reaches for visceral truth via different means. Performance art keeps the violence real and often places it too close to us for comfort. Film violence’s special effects disgust us with the nearest approximation of reality money can buy. Greek stage violence remains out-of-sight offstage where our imaginations fill in the horror of the act and the revelation and reaction is more powerful than the act itself. Modern stage violence (at least in the in-yer-face theater tradition) confronts the viewer with the act – unquestionably fake or they couldn’t perform six times a week, yet the power and energy of live bodies reaches past the footlights and enters our pores.

Of course, I’m presuming that the violence onstage is performed in a semi-realistic manner. Maybe there’s no blood, maybe there’s heaps of it, maybe the movements are a little too choreographed, but the actors are humans carrying out actions as we can imagine they would look in life for the most part. One way to deal with violence in a script is to stylize its presentation. By taking the action out of the realm of our reality, it becomes easier to digest (though perhaps harder to parse). Stylization can often lead to the Brechtian estrangement effect, giving audiences sufficient distance to analyze the play/event cognitively. However, that distance denies the onstage violence its power: shaking the audience out of its everyday cloud of middling emotion and hitting it with visceral truth. Each approach is valid, but they produce dramatically different audience states.


There is a great deal of psychological literature surrounding the notion that violence begets violence. Though no causal links have ever been made (a study of that sort would undoubtedly raise ethics questions), there is near-universal agreement: exposure to media violence is correlated with the likelihood of committing acts of actual violence in both the short and long term. According to meta-analyses, the correlation between violent acts and violent television is moderate at .31, and violent acts and violent video game playing is slightly lower at .25 (for perspective, number of cigarettes smoked vs. deaths from lung cancer is .69). In longitudinal studies of children, directionality showed that consuming violent media led to increased violent behavior but violent behavior did not lead to consuming more violent media. All things equal, since consuming violent media is clearly related to committing violent acts, how can anyone justify putting more staged violence into the world?

The studies analyzed in this discussion have some limitations with regards to onstage violence. To my knowledge, theater has never been included in any study on violence, likely because the average citizen does not see enough theater for it to be coded as strongly in memory as television or video games. Whereas these studies focus overwhelmingly on children, as the effect is most strong for young people, theater audiences are much much older. In the 2010-2011 Broadway season, the average age of a theatergoer was 44, with plays specifically bringing in an average age of 53. The likelihood of committing violence decreases sharply with age, with violent crime rates approaching zero around age 65. Of course, social learning through media consumption can still have an effect, but after the teenage years, the damage has been done so-to-speak, and these individuals do not make up the theatrical audience.

Of course, violence is not presented in a vacuum. The framing of violent acts can radically influence interpretability. Research is needed to determine whether it’s the framing of violence as neutral or positive that leads to violent behavior or if the mere presence has the main effect, but we can experience the effect with contemporary media. An extreme example might be that of Wanted vs. Fruitvale Station. In both, people are shot. Many more bullets are expended in Wanted, but the more significant difference is that Wanted makes guns and casual killing look cool. One might say it glorifies violence. In Fruitvale Station, the gunshot is an instant trigger for tears – if you’ve been paying attention and you have a semblance of a heart it leaps into your mouth. In Wanted, we want to see the curved bullet trick again and again – killing anyone who stands in its way. We know the gunshot is coming in Fruitvale Station, but we wish it wouldn’t. The artistic center of these movies is at least one act of violence, but the treatment of violence in each context colors the audience’s reaction to it considerably.


Unlike television, where one can simply flip to a channel where a simulated beating is occurring, theater activates the opting-in process for violent acts. Buying a ticket, standing in line, traveling to the play’s location, and picking a seat all require a potential audience member to say, “Yes, I would like to see this.” Plot synopses, reviews, and content/trigger warnings ensure that audience members know what they’re getting into, and allowing them to opt-out if they foresee any problem arising from the content. I would argue that this opt-in process makes theater, as a whole, one of the best forms of media/art for protecting its audience members from harm.

This being said, trigger warnings have the danger of rendering onstage violence completely useless. An audience member walking into a theater with a sign that says “This performance contains depictions of sexual assault” has that phrase lingering in their head for the whole performance. The level of dramatic tension rises, and they wonder whether the assault will happen there. It’s Chekhov’s gun – we wait for it to go off. Once the act begins, though, we can simply turn off and ignore it. We catalog it as fulfilling our expectations – no shock, no surprise. All dramatic power is lost. The presence of the act onstage is superfluous and excessive; it could be replaced with a card saying “the rape happens here”.

I am not advocating for the abolition of trigger warnings; theaters should protect their patrons. And theater makers should not sacrifice their vision for a potentially diminished dramatic effect. Trigger warnings could force theater makers to work harder and put more effort into crafting their work such that the audience forgets the warning and the act of violence has the desired effect. The violence ceases to be the centerpiece, and the pathways into and out of it become critical. Taking surprise and shock out of the equation focuses the dramaturgical spotlight onto why the act needs to be depicted onstage in the first place, with answers weaving a more complex web of meaning. By protecting the audience from triggering experiences, we also protect them from hastily-thought-out theater.


With recent productions of Cleansed, Jessica, and Titus Andronicus featuring graphic and disturbing violence, Swarthmore theater audiences might expect a certain level of filth and nastiness when attending an on-campus play. Mercury Fur, which features a party in which the guest desires to torture, sexually abuse, and kill a child with a meathook, definitely fits in with the aforementioned in-yer-face productions. The violence, however, is not the point. The play is about class conflict and the extremes one must go to in order to protect the people one loves the most. It’s about amazingly intricate familial relationships and what it really means to say that blood is thicker than water. It’s about the construction of memory. It’s about all the forms that love can take. There’s something about the power of the government over the people in there too (but I haven’t been able to make that theme sound eloquent yet). The play is incredibly complex, and the violence-centric plot is merely the backdrop that enables the exploration of these themes and drives the action forward.

In my Mercury Fur, the only violence we see is a protracted fistfight – in both my version and in Ridley’s. In Greek fashion, the extreme violence is kept ob skene (offstage). We hear a lot – probably too much – but ultimately, it’s our imagination that completes the act. The depiction of violence comes directly from ourselves – guided by the auditory landscape and entrances/exits of the production. Our imaginations are a million times more horrible than anything actors can create onstage. Of course, we don’t want to see it. But, in a world of horrors, closing our eyes is searching for an escape where there is none.

Mercury Fur is loaded with opportunities to reveal visceral truth. I continue to search for what can be done with visceral truth once it’s experienced. Is it enough to simply recognize it? Should it be commented on? Does it open the door for didacticism? These questions loom large for Mercury Fur.

Neither violence nor visceral truth is necessary or sufficient for a play to be good. But, violent plays and violent stagings of plays need to be given a chance. They can be more than filth. They can be more than shock value. They can do more than glorify and promote horrible actions. In the right hands, they have the potential to create an impactful theatrical experience. Look for Mercury Fur in April to prove it. And be sure to have someone to talk to afterward.

Taking a Detour: The Journey of Juniper Street

Juniper Street, Our Performances

Creating theater, as anyone who has ever made it understands, is an exercise in giving up control. I myself have incredible difficulties letting go, which is why I often have an overwhelming need to direct while I’m acting and a desire to act when I’m directing (perhaps why my recent discovery of solo performance feels so good!) Yet I’m also a firm believer that one should never blindly accept the first choice that is made or the first idea that arises – testing and experimentation is a necessary step in the process. Following this experimentation often leads productions into uncharted or previously unthought of territory; in the past for me this has meant turning a roving promenade-style production into a cabaret, among other things. Juniper Street, our upcoming Play/Feast/Sleepover/Party, was borne of such extreme twists and turns that I wanted to share its history, influences, and origins.


photo 1


I write as insider and outsider. My Co-Artistic Director Swift Shuker (who goes by gender-neutral pronouns, so look for the singular “they” further along) is directing the play and has led the creative process from the beginning. I can’t speak to their thought processes in following the path this production has taken, so as you see descriptions of their epiphanies and discoveries, know that the writing is coming from my conception of what happened, not the objectively correct one. I am also performing in Juniper Street, and I’ve done a large chunk of the producing work, so I have been along for the ride since its inception.


Our first project was never supposed to be Juniper Street. When we were forming [redacted], our initial plan was to produce a play called Household Objects, the idea for which came from a simple poll of our artists which asked, “What kind of show do you want to make?” I synthesized all the responses into the premise for this show – landing us both very close to and very far from Juniper Street from day one. The play took place in a house occupied by a group of artists. Several years ago, they lived and worked together in a foreign country and made some very exciting work. A variety of issues caused them to separate and move back to America. After several stagnant years in America, they decide to move to a house in Philadelphia and try to recreate the atmosphere so pervasive abroad. They begin work on a new play to premiere at the 2014 FringeArts Festival. However, they realize it won’t be ready in time and a series of conflicts adds tension to the house. When audience members show up expecting this new play (all advertisements would describe the play they intended to make – disingenuous advertising is one of my long-time interests), they are greeted with an apology and the news that the play is not ready. For the remainder of the day, audience members experience the very real space that is the house of these artists and they both witness and help re-create the magic of the new play and of making art.




We abandonded Household Objects before the first rehearsal. As a brand new company we wanted to start with as much momentum as we could, leading us to decide to produce The Real World Will Never Arrive, Swift’s Swarthmore College playwriting thesis about high school, suicide, and the realness of that experience. The play had some readings in Philadelphia, and we happened to have almost the exact cast breakdown with a few interested designers. Working with an existing, strong text took away some of the burden of creation.


We traveled to schools in Philadelphia to secure a classroom, library, or auditorium for a venue. The production wanted a nontraditional space; it wanted the hierarchies, formality, rigidity, and authority of high school to be immediately palpable. Despite getting a few leads, we decided against that production. The first recurring roadblock of this process reared its ugly head: cast members changed and dropped out. It wasn’t the right time to nail down a play with a set number of roles. Look for The Real World in the future.


Then, the inciting incident: Swift walked down Juniper Street in South Philly. After they described the experience to me I made it a point to check out that particular stretch of road, and I had a similar reaction. Swift described the sensation as this: it was as if they had lived on Juniper Street in a past life, or would someday live there in the future. It’s not the same sensation I have when I walk down Addison in Rittenhouse, where the quiet tree-lined streets lit by Christmas lights make me think gee, how great would it be to live here, everything would be easy and pretty and nice. It’s more resonant, more permanent, more spiritual than that. Swift told [redacted] of the experience and of the Penates, Roman household deities, and we decided to pursue a creation called Juniper Street.




Our early experiments featured a revolving door of artists – different minds and energies in the rehearsal space every day. We began with relatively abstract ideas: bringing in talismans against death, telling the story of the last time we felt at home, photographing places in Philadelphia that called out to us, creating plays and Internet performances about making home out of inhospitable places, and even creating ten-hour-long shows and performing the first hour. We generated an enormous amount of material, some which made a lasting impression and some which were forgotten instantly. After about a month of swimming in a pool of “home-ness”, it was time to focus down.


Redacted Rehearsal_14


Luckily, Swift has a gift for that sort of thing. They can see specific narratives in very abstract improvisations. It’s a skill I need to develop – I almost always go for the image first and hope someone else will see the story later. We performed a rather long improvisation using some of the prior vocabulary and voila, the first draft of the Juniper Street story was born.


It became clear during this stage that we needed to perform in an apartment. The audience should feel at home too, not just us. We could not accomplish that goal in a theater, at least not with the resources we have. Somewhere along the line we discussed the idea of serving the audience dinner. Gradually the idea of a sleepover arose, it having been a prior dream of Swift for another production. Informed by the 10-hour play improvisations and the early experiments on home, we realized that feeling at home takes time. You can’t just throw people in a room and make them sleep together, it’s a gradual process.


We worked on that version of the story for a bit – fleshing out its characters and figuring out the relationships. Swift wrote furiously when the rest of us weren’t writing with our bodies. Then, once more, there was a cast shakeup. We had to simplify. And the final narrative for Juniper Street solidified. Check out our page for more details.


juniper street postcard FRONT small-window


It’s been a long ride, but we’re finally ready to welcome you into our home. August 22, 23, 29, and 30 at 8:00pm. Pay whatever you want (but we recommend $20). Email redacted@redactedtheater.org for reservations, the address, and a donation link. I can’t wait to see you there.

A Time For Everything – the fringe/fringe Festival


As you’ve hopefully heard by now, we are launching our first ensemble-created piece, Juniper Street, this August. Originally we were going to present the piece as part of the FringeArts Neighborhood Fringe Festival. However, we realized that, as a newborn company with a miniscule budget, registering for the Festival would provide poor return on investment.


We are mounting our show in the weeks immediately preceding the Festival in what we call the fringe/fringe Festival, spearheading the launch of a new platform to promote young and new artists creating original work. We would like to return to the roots of what Fringe once meant – encouraging artistic leaps outside of the mainstream theater organizations for little to no cost to the artist. There is no more Live Arts Festival for the Philadelphia Fringe to be on the fringe of; the new names “Presented Fringe” and “Neighborhood Fringe” claim that every show is Fringe. If everything is Fringe, nothing is.


Free. fringe/fringe costs nothing for artists to participate, and we do not take any percentage of box office sales. We recognize that young and new artists do not have the same financial resources as more established groups. To encourage artistic risk-taking, we try to minimize financial risk and maximize exposure. Artists must cross-promote the festival and/or other fringe/fringe shows in their own marketing. The inaugural festival is funded by the participating companies.


Equal. fringe/fringe promotes all artists equally, no matter the scale of the project or clout of the artist. We want to amplify new voices while strengthening existing ones.


Accessible. All fringe/fringe shows are Pay What You Can. We encourage audience membership from all walks of life. Financial circumstances should not prevent people from experiencing art. Artists can suggest donations of any amount, but nobody is to be turned away due to lack of funds.


Are you trying to take down FringeArts? Not at all! We love FringeArts and think it does wonderful things for the city, its artists, and its arts scene. It just isn’t right for us and it probably isn’t right for other companies too. We want to piggyback off of its momentum to give companies that can’t afford its cost a chance to show their work without worrying about going into debt. We want to lower the stress on the artists and encourage even more artistic output. We want to put the Fringe back in FringeArts.


Bad investment? Where’s the math? At its lowest, FringeArts registration is $275. We knew our show Juniper Street was likely going to be performed in an apartment, limiting audiences to ten or fifteen. We also knew that we would have a fairly low number of performances since many of us are current students and scheduling is difficult. With ticket prices hovering around $10 and $15, to break even on the Fringe Guide investment we would need at least half of our audience members to choose to see our show from the Guide (without an ad).


This is a nearly impossible task for newly-formed and young companies. The name recognition isn’t there, so most of your audience will be friends and people they know. Word-of-mouth and personal networking are the real drivers of ticket sales for companies that can’t afford full-page ads in the Fringe Guide. Swift Shuker ([redacted] Co-Artistic Director and director of Juniper Street) wrote and produced a show, XY Scheherazade, in the 2013 FringeArts Festival. They even bought a 1/8-page ad in the guide ($230 for the 2014 Festival). Approximately 8-10 people showed up over the course of the run because they had seen the show in the guide. At $15 a pop, that’s a net loss of at least $355. Even if they hadn’t gotten an ad, the show would not have broken even.


Of course, Fringe registration nets you more than just a few lines in the Guide. FringeArts has a great reputation beyond the city. The administrative team behind the scenes is awesome, and FringeArts provides great press resources. You get a sandwich board. You get a box office (though they keep 10%). You get a membership and Artist Rush – the ability to see any show for $5 if you show up 5 minutes beforehand. These resources are wonderful, but there are alternative solutions without spending $300, and that’s what fringe/fringe wants to do.


How exactly do you plan on doing that? We can form a network of young companies and pool our resources to provide everything the FringeArts Festival can provide for no cost to the artists. We can market our shows together, show them to each other for discounts, and devise the most effective box office strategy for us. We won’t charge for registration or take any percentage of box office sales. Everything will be promoted equally, not privileging any show over any other.


What does FringeArts think? Well, we don’t know. We’ve passed the message on to them but have not yet heard a response. fringe/fringe is not in opposition to FringeArts. It is a new platform, seeking to move in concert with FringeArts to promote young companies in this city. As the movement grows, we look forward to working with FringeArts to establish how best to be Fringe in Philadelphia.


fringe/fringe is accepting submissions from artists until July 20th. Email info@fringefringe.com to join us.


Love and art,
[redacted] Theater Company & fringe/fringe


The Playground Project (www.thepgp.com)
The Phenomenal Animals (www.phenomenalanimals.com)
She is a Problem (www.sheisaproblem.com)

Earnestness #2 and Deserving Attention From Strangers

Earnestness #2, Our Performances

I admit it, calling Earnestness #2 [redacted]’s first production is a little far-fetched.


Okay, it’s completely far-fetched.


Earnestness #2 is 100% me. I’m not portraying any characters, the content is my life in the present tense, and I am the only person you will interact with during the show. I have had few collaborators, all of which are outside [redacted], as this piece was shown first at Swarthmore College for a showcase of a class taught by Alex Torra of Pig Iron and Team Sunshine fame. I never thought I’d be a solo performer, but thanks to the wonderful folks at the SoLow Fest, I’m inspired to make something every year from this year onward.


In preparing for presenting the piece, I realized something pretty heavy. I’ve never performed in front of total strangers before.


Sure, I’m only 20 years old, but I’ve acted in or directed almost twice as many theater productions as my age. Earnestness #2 is my first performance in Philadelphia, but what surprises, excites, and scares me more than anything is the possibility of performing in front of an audience made entirely of people I don’t know. Every prior audience included at least my father, my mother, close friends, or at least figures I knew from around school. I find myself asking, “Why in the world do I alone deserve the attention of total strangers?”


I’m convinced this question must be in the mind of all solo performers. As Alex and my class talked about so frequently, the performer is always the subject in solo performance. This is most clear in performance art and autobiographical solo performance. Yet even in multi-character proscenium solo performance, fiction or nonfiction, the adage holds true. Anna Deveare Smith the person is inescapable in her performances despite attempting to transform completely into other people. Solo performances aren’t plays because of something found in the performer.


In the Earnestness series, I want to both use myself as a conduit for audience experience as well as engineering audience participation to achieve collective catharsis. Earnestness #1, which I subtitle “An Exorcism of Shame”, did so through live music, feet-washing, and a dangerous and scary soul-bearing on my part. When I decided to morph the original piece into a series of short performances, I realized that each one should have honesty, an element, a persistence, and a destruction in addition to focusing on the visceral and mental experiences of the audience. Earnestness #2 could perhaps be subtitled “A Connection In Spite of Judgment”.


Earnestness #2 came out of a strong, surprising desire I had to meet someone new. I had just gone through a period of deep loneliness and I was starting to become sure of myself again. It was a time when I wasn’t sure if I deserved a connection with anyone, even those I knew and loved. When I accepted that I did in fact matter as an individual, I became overwhelmed with a need to meet new people. Even if I never saw them again, I just wanted to have conversations with total strangers and maybe, just maybe, become friends with them. However, I’ve always been very bad at approaching people, no matter our relationship. Even placing a phone call to family members is incredibly difficult for me. Creating Earnestness #2 was an attempt to reconcile my need for connection and my inability to fulfill it.


Truth is one of the most important elements of a performance for me as a theatermaker. I’m deeply interested in disingenuous advertising as a way of breaking audience expectation, but I’m also interested in the opposite end of the spectrum. Earnestness #2 explores that latter side. Though the piece does not hide its meticulously constructed nature, I seek to be completely honest within that structure. It’s a really difficult goal to accomplish, and it’s terrifying. What’s more, the parts of the piece that require the most honesty are partially controlled by the audience. And to make matters more complicated, the aforementioned persistence happens as a direct result of this honesty – the performance extends beyond the bounds of the space. It’s scary as hell.


So why do I deserve your attention? Because I’m willing to risk myself for you. Because you can trust me. Because what we will experience together will be real. Because we all suffer the same fears, rushes to judgment, and trust issues at some point in our lives. Because sometimes you need a push. You are that push for me, and I am that push for you.


I’m performing Earnestness #2 at Headlong Studios (1170 S. Broad St) June 20th at 7pm and 8pm, as well as June 21st at 1pm, 2pm, 7pm, and 8pm. The performance lasts no more than 30 minutes. Space is limited so reserve tickets by emailing redacted@redactedtheater.org. Tickets are Pay What You Can, $5 recommended.


While you’re at it, check out the other SoLow Fest performances here.


I hope I am able to connect with all of you soon.

Creating the American Theatrical Renaissance

American Theatrical Renaissance

With this pen, I thee entice.


With our bodies and voices we restore theater’s power in society. Theater can befriend. Theater can teach. Theater can express. Theater can stop. Theater can be. Theater can destroy. Theater can move.  Theater can do all this and more, and it has been too long relegated to diversionary status. For too long theater artists have had to check the “Entertainment” box when asked for careers on official forms. Theater artists are often entertainers, but that is too simple a label for us. We are intellectuals. We are aestheticians. We are community-makers. It is our duty to reify the power of art and artists that has been historically present.


It’s time for an American Theatrical Renaissance.


We are not pursuing this goal alone. Many theater companies and individual artists make work in ways that signal a dedication to art as a powerful societal force. Though I haven’t toured the world, this seems especially true in cities like Philadelphia, where collaborative creation is the norm rather than the exception. In Philadelphia, theater and community go hand in hand. The examples are numerous. Shakespeare in Clark Park brings together audiences from all walks of life to experience fresh versions of the classics. The SoLow Festival fills the city with experimental solo performance at no cost to artists and guarantees no audience member gets turned away. The Wilma and the Wyncote Foundation’s new WynTix program attempts to solve the accessibility problems of the regional theater model. Even the FringeArts Festival (which is not without problems – [redacted] is subverting it with its upcoming production Juniper Street, more on that later) brings in artists from around the world to envelop the city with theater. Philadelphia is our Florence, the epicenter for the nationwide earthquake.


Swarthmore College, then, is the Humanist Academy for [redacted]’s members. We are mostly Swarthmore students or graduates, with a few artists folded in from elsewhere met through training programs and other endeavors. When I first discovered I wanted to study theater in my freshman year, I almost transferred to NYU. I found it idiotic that I would continue pursuing my dream at an institution that offered little formalized training. There aren’t even any voice classes at Swarthmore. Yet, my professors and peers always pushed me to go deeper into the work, to take nothing for granted, to experiment and examine the greater contexts our art exists in. I discovered that there was no greater place to study and practice theater. The artists I’ve worked with at Swarthmore, professors and students, are my biggest inspirations. Knowing there are numerous other schools in the area turning out dedicated artists gives me great confidence in the future.


Swarthmore’s Theater Department turns out an exceptional number of talented directors. In forming [redacted], I knew this was an advantage. Many of the best theater companies in the world have a single director. In our neck of the woods, look at New Paradise Laboratories, Swim Pony Performing Arts (helmed by a Swarthmore grad), and Pig Iron Theatre Company (who also came out of Swarthmore) as three such examples. These groups create some truly remarkable, truly unique pieces of theater. We, however, have several directors in our company, and we will each take the helm of productions as we continue to work. [redacted] Theater Company approaches each piece as a blank slate. One piece may center around proscenium physical theater, while the next is experienced entirely online. We are united by a focus on collaboration and the mission of creating powerful experiences, compromised by nothing. The American Theatrical Renaissance has no style. We want to be in dialogue with other artists as well as ourselves.


In the short-term, we’re cooking up two pieces to give to Philadelphia as housewarming gifts. The first, Earnestness #2, will be premiering in the SoLow Festival. Conceived, created, and performed by me. The second, Juniper Street, launches at the end of August in what we’re calling the FringeFRINGE Movement. More on both of these endeavors later.


da Vinci said it best: “Blinding ignorance does mislead us. O! Wretched mortals, open your eyes!” On the count of three.


One. Two.




Much love and art,