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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

 

Sara Zatz Ping Chong + Company's Sara Zatz Photo: Adam Nadel
In the rehearsal room are seven folding chairs with music stands in front of them, arranged in a semi-circle. A poster titled "Community Agreements" hangs on the wall. Seven young adult New Yorkers, in hoodies and caps, stand in the corner, waiting for the music for their entrance. Courtney, the stage manager, starts the sound cue, and one by one, Edwin, Syl, Monica, Porscha, De-Andra, Rafael and Mohammad walk onto the stage and take their seats. It's the opening of a run through of Undesirable Elements: Generation NYZ

"You're walking on stage for the very first time!" Sara Zatz, the co-director and co-writer says. "Take your time and really own the space. Don't rush it."

Owning the space, and owning your own story, is at the center of Ping Chong + Company's award-winning theatrical series, Undesirable Elements. Since 1992, the New York-based experimental theater company has created over 50 interview-based theater works that explore issues of culture and identity in specific communities. The basis of the script is in the participants' own words; stories gathered from intensive interviews are interwoven with historical research. While the form—the chairs in a semi-circle, the use of clapping as interludes—is in the same in each production, the results are always vastly different because of the nature of stories told. Sometimes the cast, who are non-professionals, are telling their stories for the very first time. 

For the 25th anniversary of Undesirable Elements, The New Victory Theater commissioned a show that tells the coming-of-age stories of New York City's diverse youth. The recruitment process took over a month: Sara Zatz and artistic collaborator Kirya Traber reached out to over 50 community organizations and schools in New York City, hoping to find 18-21 year olds from a wide range of backgrounds and neighborhoods, willing to share their experiences.

 

The Performers The performers of Generation NYZ, left to right: Edwin, Rafael, Mohammad, Monica, Porscha, De-Andra and Syl. Photo: Adam Nadel
Thirty people filled out the participant questionnaire, which included questions about personal background and reflections on living in New York. From these packets, Sara and Kirya invited 20 people in for individual two hour interviews. 

"We were thrilled to receive such an enthusiastic response to the call for participants," Sara said. "We knew we wanted the cast to reflect the kaleidoscope of experiences in New York City, and was especially mindful of finding stories across the five boroughs. Choosing the final ensemble was tough—we were originally thinking of a cast of five, but expanded to seven because we met so many amazing young people with important stories to tell." The company hopes to keep in touch with the young adults ultimately not selected, offering acting workshops and tickets to company performances. A few of their voices will also be included in a pre-show lobby installation that can be experienced during the show's run at The New Victory's smaller venue, The Duke on 42nd Street theater. 

There was excitement and some shyness when the cast of seven met each other for the first time. Between them, they know seven languages (including American Sign Language) and hail from all over the city, from East New York to the South Bronx. After a quick introduction excercise, Kirya sat everyone in a circle and asked the group to make a list of community agreements.

 

Ping Chong and the New Vic Ping Chong + Company in one of their first planning sessions with the New Vic
"Respect each other's boundaries," someone said. Sara wrote it on the poster in marker. 
"One voice, one mic."
"Be open, ask questions."

"Has anyone heard of the yellow zone?" Kirya said, after a pause. Everyone shook their head. She explained, "Green zone is those things you share easily with the world. Like your name, where you're from. Red zone is private stuff that you can't share with anyone. The yellow zone is a space with a bit of risk, things that you don't normally share that make you feel vulnerable." 

For a show that includes personal stories about serious issues like mental health, bullying, LGBTQ+ identity and homelessness, it was important to Kirya and Sara to form a safe, open environment. Before every rehearsal, they check in with the cast—how is everybody feeling? And the Community Agreement poster stays on the wall, which they review. Soon, the stories that the cast has shared with each other in intensive interviews and group conversations will be shared with the world at the Duke on 42nd Street.
 
Undesirable Elements Thumb From East New York to West Harlem and from the South Bronx to Far Rockaway, witness the jubilant victories, recent discord and distant dreams of coming of age in Undesirable Elements: Generation NYZ.

 
Posted by Beth Henderson

Watching a magician perform mind-blowing illusions is astounding, but have you ever wondered what it's like to work on a trick behind the scenes? Kim Hess helps Jason Bishop in Believe in Magic more than any audience could possibly know. We sat down with her to talk about what it's like to make the magic happen.

Kim HessThe most asked question when someone hears I'm a magician's assistant is, "Does he cut you in half?" Usually, people are surprised when I answer no. We (currently) do not have an illusion where I get cut in half, but I DO get impaled with swords. 

Most people think that my only job as a magician's assistant is performing onstage—getting cut in half, disappearing or appearing. The truth is that there is so much more to my job than what the audience sees. I am an accountant, a long-distance driver, a travel agent, a choreographer, a seamstress and more roles than would fit into this post. My favorite part is the sheer number of skills you must learn to perform.

The work of a magician's assistant is very hands on—we jump in and help with anything at the drop of a hat. Because I help load in the show, assemble the illusions and build the routines, I need to learn the tricks like the back of my hand and constantly be aware of my surroundings. If something unexpected happens, it makes it easier to change the routine on the fly (yup, that's happened more than once).

I'm always paying attention to the show. Even if I'm preparing the next illusion and I get the sense something is wrong, I'll drop what I'm doing and help. Growing up, I learned what's happening on stage is the most important thing. When I was young, I was a baton twirler and cheerleader, so when I met Jason it just clicked. I had the basic knowledge of how to move onstage and over the past few years, I continued to grow that muscle.

Being a baton twirler is a big help because you learn how to perform with others. One of the first lessons that stuck with me is the importance of making sure your toss is right for the other person before you worry about the baton you have to catch. It's similar to magic. In both, you have to make sure the setup is right so it doesn't cause difficulty later. This automatically builds trust with your partner! With Jason, I expect him to be at a specific spot or move in a certain way when he is supposed to, and vice versa. 

See Kim contort herself into impossible poses and toss glowing batons to the rafters in Jason Bishop: Believe in Magic!
 
Jason Bishop Thumb Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but this show is so delightful! Back by popular demand after last season's sold-out run, Jason Bishop returns with even more tricks (and wry one-liners) up his sleeve. Get your tickets to Jason Bishop: Believe in Magic today!

 
Posted by Beth Henderson
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