Monday, September 22, 2008

Civilian action

The Civilians, who created the delightful Off Broadway musical Gone Missing (pictured), are taking on an entirely different subject for their next production: Gentrification in Brooklyn, with an emphasis on the Atlantic Yards project/fiasco taking shape in my backyard. (I've said before that I'd love to see something like Chicago's Millennium Park rise from its all-but-ashes, but my gut tells me all we'll get from it are empty lots and building remnants left from its clearing). According to the press release, "Brooklyn at Eye Level will examine the surge of development in Brooklyn, with a specific focus on the controversial Atlantic Yards project and its effect on the surrounding communities of Fort Greene, Boreum Hill (us, in the would-be "BAM Cultural District"), Downtown Brooklyn, Crown Heights, Park Slope and Prospect Heights."

It gets better. "Beginning in late October, a team of professional actors, led by (artistic director Steven) Cosson, will begin immersing themselves in these neighborhoods and conducting interviews with residents, business owners, politicians and civic organizations. They will collect information everywhere, from public events to beauty salons, developing insights into how buildings, services, public space and economic issues shape the ecology of the neighborhood around us. Civilians artists will participate in neighborhood life, observing public space, exploring community and gaining an intimate understanding of what has endeared generations to an area affectionately dubbed Brownstone Brooklyn.

Brooklyn at Eye Level will also incorporate a series of Artistic Labs bringing artists and community members together to creatively explore these changing neighborhoods. The Labs include playwright Lucy Thurber working with local youth at the Atlantic Terminal Community Center, a dance Lab led by the Brooklyn-based and critically-acclaimed dance company Urban Bush Women and a music Lab led by Civilians composer Michael Friedman, working closely with a group of Brooklyn musicians.

The Labs and the community investigation will culminate in a week of public performances at the Brooklyn Lyceum December 4-7, 2008 featuring professional actors, musicians and dancers as well as local residents. Following the December shows, the company will use the material gathered in the fall to develop a new full-length work of theater as well as online content and several future programs to be announced.

'Though the focus will be the Atlantic Yards project, we hope to delve deeply into the issues of development, eminent domain and community on a broad level, looking at changes in many neighborhoods and how they affects people’s lives on an intimate level,” explained Cosson. 'We are excited to begin this new theatrical experiment so close to home and are looking forward to seeing what this project reveals about our city and ourselves.'

The New York-based Civilians, whose other works include the musical hit Gone Missing and their recent Paris Commune, was founded in 2001 by Cosson. The renowned company develops original projects inspired from investigations into real life, using methods that combine documentary and artistic practices. The Civilians’ seven original shows have been presented by numerous arts festivals and a range of venues that include La Jolla Playhouse, The Public Theater, A.R.T., HBO’s US Comedy Festival, the Humana Festival, London’s Soho Theatre, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (Fringe First Award, 2006) and other venues worldwide.

In addition to Brooklyn at Eye Level, The Civilians are deeply involved in their newest work, This Beautiful City, a play with music that details the explosion of America’s evangelical Christian movement. Major productions are scheduled for Los Angeles’ Center Theater Group this month (Kirk Douglas Theatre, September 21 – October 26, 2008) and New York City’s Vineyard Theatre in early 2009.

For more information, visit"

So, neighbors, if you spot a Civilian among you, don't hesitate to do your civic duty and assist in this intriguing production.

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