Postcard from NYC - Meet the Directors

Co-director Hannah Wolf shares discoveries about the process of creating the second phase of EARTH (a play about people) with fellow directors Harry Poster and Jeremy Pickard

Could you speak a bit about your role as directors (and how there came to be a team of you?)

My role as co-director comes from a place of constantly changing, adapting to the needs of the project and rooms as they arise.  As one of the few members of the Phase 2 team who was creating with international teams in Phase 1, this process has been about finding the balance, between what the NYC ensemble is creating and what the Satellite Teams have made and where their interests lie. There are a lot of voices in the physical and virtual room for this show and directing this phase on some days is about marrying vision and on some days about marrying ideas and on some days about marrying voices and on most days it's a mix of those three. We're still figuring out what this project is, and this development process has been a huge step forward in uncovering the play. Is there a team of Hannah? I'm not sure about that, the Team of Hannah constantly shifts between directions I want to keep discovering and the directions that the event is going in. 

How have you worked with both the remote teams, and the participants of EARTH in NYC?
I was Team Leader for Romania for Phase one, where we took the Superhero Clubhouse guidelines for EARTH and created an hour long show based from that. We sent NYC one scene to use in their version for Phase 1 and we've used that same scene for Phase two, but in communication about changes, movement and thoughts. Phase two was about honing what had already been made. For Team China, they originally sent a video for phase 1, but have now scratched that and sent us an entire new scene and material to work with. This phase has been  very collaborative, for teams like China; Team China would propose something, we would discuss and edit the scene in the room, and send back a new proposal. And vice versa. 

What have you discovered about this blend of working remotely and together in the same space?
The internet is my best friend and time zones are my worst. It's been an interesting process, trying to contact people over email, messenger, international texting, youtube, skype and whatever other interfaces we can find. China often blocks google and gmail, so continuing the conversation with Team China has proven difficult, logistically. Trying to communicate dance, the feeling of the room and emotions through text and video (often with collaborators who speak English as a second language) means we have to find a new set of vocabulary.

How does the decentralized nature of the project and your roles as co-directors create opportunities and challenges?
The decentralized nature of this project is great and challenging. As a director, it's rare to get such an in depth look into another's process, to bounce ideas back and forth and back again and have every choice questioned. It's nice to get that constant feedback and it keeps me on my toes in the rehearsal process. It's challenging, because besides there being at least 3 voices in the room (not counting the 8+ playwrights), it took us a little to figure out what Phase 2 was about, what story we were trying to tell with this workshop and what holes there are in the story telling that we need to address. The beauty of this project is that the different aesthetics and scripts and movement made by so many diverse artists match the goal of the piece: it's a play about people and because of that, it's a bunch of very different plays, created by very different people, inside of our larger framing device. 

Postcard from Perth

Team Leader Christina Pickard shares discoveries from Australia 

Briefly introduce yourself. 

I am Christina Pickard, (slightly!) older sister of Jeremy, captain of Superhero Clubhouse. I lived in London, UK for over a decade before making the move to my husband's hometown of Perth, Western Australia in January 2013. I was an actress until my mid-20s but have spent the past 5-7 years as a wine writer/educator, focusing particularly on 'natural' wines made with little-to-no chemical intervention in the vineyards or winery. I have very much enjoyed working on Earth, particularly with my brother, my oldest artistic collaborator! It was nice not to talk/write about wine for once, and to get back to my 'creative roots'!

How did you approach the topic of overpopulation?
It's so easy to get bogged down by the sheer size of such a theme (both literally and metaphorically!) and to create some preachy diatribe on the impending doom of earth and its inhabitants. But Jer and I both felt it would be much more engaging to explore the smaller picture. Seeing as I am expecting my first baby in October, I focused on a very personal approach to this vast topic by covering issues like my hopes and fears about parenthood, inner conflicts about bringing yet another human into the world, along with the paradox of creation versus destruction taking place right on my own street thanks to rapid population growth. This more personal focus hopefully makes the scene easier to connect with as well as creating a microcosm reflecting the much bigger picture.
How did the impending arrival of your first child influence your thought process as you approached creating work for the piece?
I think it was the other way around! Creating this piece actually influenced my thoughts on having a child and forced me to think more about what's really happening. It may seem strange considering the physical changes all pregnant women go through, along with the acquiring of 'stuff' and the inevitable 'baby talk' that occurs around you, but it's all-too-easy to become disconnected with the reality that you are growing a human being inside you. So really, I have the piece to thank for helping better connect me with this crazy life-changing experience! 
What other themes or topics are you wrestling with?  
I try to remain as environmentally conscious in my daily life as I can, and so I am very aware the impact bringing another person into this world has in terms of consumption; the inevitable waste and energy usage that occurs in their wake as babies and toddlers, no matter how conscious you are to avoid it. I'm also aware that this adorable baby will grow up. I think as a culture we have a bit of puppy syndrome about children. Everyone wants a cute cuddly baby, but we forget they'll spent most of their lives as adults. And then what kind of mark will they make on this planet? I don't expect my daughter to change the world, but I do hope she will tread sensitively upon it and, even better, do some good for it.

How did your environment or location influence your work?   
Western Australia is quite a paradoxical place at the moment. It is the most isolated city on the planet and also the fastest growing in Australia. Its weather is glorious, as are its beaches. Its capitol city is clean, its trains efficient, and its economy booming. It's one of the only places in the developed world that still eats in season, thanks to its isolation, with local produce available year round (you can't get a peach in the winter, but they're gloriously flavoursome in the summer). 

The population growth has brought many positives, like a thriving music and arts scene, and an increasingly diverse and eclectic choice of restaurants and bars. Yet WA also faces a constant struggle to deal with the rapid influx of people moving to its shores, all wanting to live close to the coastline. After all, Australia is only habitable around its edges--no one wants to live in the desert, including the native animals and plants. And this is precisely the problem. As a state--and a country, because much of Australia is wrestling with similar issues--how do you protect your pristine and unique natural beauty while also providing people with houses, convenient highways to get them to those houses, and all of the other infrastructure needed to accommodate a growing population, not to mention the constant conundrum of water shortage? Unfortunately, particularly with the current government in place both in WA and in Australia, the environment does not seem to be a priority, and destruction in exchange for financial and personal short term gain is widespread and devastating. These things were all on my mind when working on the piece.

Share any of the discoveries you've made along the way. Has anything surprised you in the process?
In choosing to structure the scene as a letter to my future daughter, I surprised myself by discovering the depth of emotions I already had towards her. Plus I've gone away from the experience with a wonderful time capsule for her to open when she is grown. Bonus!

Postcard from Santiago

Team Leader Nadia Serantes shares discoveries from Chile

Briefly introduce yourself. 
My name is Nadia Serantes. I am Argentine, actress since childhood and have been working on environmental issues for a few years as well. I've found in Earth the perfect platform to put together my love for performance and my love for nature.
How did you approach the topic of overpopulation?
I moved to Chile a year ago. I've noticed that about 40% of the total population of this vast country lives in Santiago, and how that influences people and the city. Since my arrival here, I've been observing a lot. Observing behaviors, landscapes, traditions, culture, values, ways of thinking, the surroundings, the news. I've been meeting people and listening to their stories. All of this helped me with the project.
What other themes or topics are you wrestling with?
I’m also wrestling with air quality contamination and social inequality. I've been to talks in Santiago where these issues were addressed and discussed from different points of view. I believe they are of vital importance for the development of Chile. And I am also touching the issue of cultural tradition.
How did your environment or location influence your work?
Santiago is a beautiful city surrounded by mountains. In a clear day you can see the huge Andes from every corner. It is stunning. Because of its location among the mountains, the air doesn't circulate much (there are not many windy days) and contaminated particles in the air form a veil that sometimes doesn't let you see the mountains at all. It struck me that there is so much beauty in this world that sometimes we don’t see. But how important it is to know that it is there, even in the darkest days.
Share some of the discoveries you've made along the way (either about content or your devising methods). Has anything surprised you in the process?
I found co-director Harry Poster's guidance to be of great help on the work-in-progress. I've also enjoyed the enrichment of the back and forth, exploring the performers’ ideas while working with the text in NY. I truly felt that we were building this together, even though we are thousands of miles away.

Postcard from Governor's Island - EARTH Phase 2

Dramaturg Megan McClain shares details of EARTH (a play about people) as it moves through its second phase of development

EARTH (a play about people)

(a process)
(a global collaboration)
(a time capsule)
(a labor of love)

We've been working all year developing EARTH (a play about people). Our first public showing in June helped us focus our process, and now we are moving into Phase 2. Thanks to a generous Process Space Residency from the  Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, we will perform our second work-in-progress showing on Governor's Island on September 20th at 2pm in Building 110.

Co-director Jeremy Pickard explains the core questions we are investigating at this stage of development: 

1. What is the play, and how does it confront the ecological research? 

2. How do we collaborate with artists from afar? 

3. How can EARTH be a singular event with consistency of vision, aesthetic and narrative, despite so many “cooks in the kitchen”? 

By asking these questions, we are also exploring what it means to get along in the world, in the face of global limitations, environmental crises and a population not yet at its peak. 

Moving forward, we've had a chance to let our remote groups revisit their material or create new pieces. We've been asking questions about quality of life and whether or not to procreate in a world of dwindling resources. We've been integrating the global and the personal. We've been looking at stats, and graphs, and connecting in 3 dimensions in the rehearsal room. We have also welcomed two new satellite collaborators into the fold from Chile and Denmark whose creations will sit alongside those from China, Japan, Australia, Romania, Greece, and the U.S.

Every day we journey across the water together on the ferry from Manhattan to rehearse on Governor's Island, united in purpose and creative spirit. New discoveries are made, ideas are tossed out, and somehow, the thing takes shape. We share personal stories and bring in experiences from our satellite teams. We leave tired, but rejuvenated as we leave one island, where no one lives, and in 8 minutes land on another island that is home to 1.6 million people. 


Our Phase 2 Team:

NYC Company 

Co-directed by Jeremy Pickard, Harry Poster & Hannah Wolf
Made and Performed by Nanda Abella, Sergio Botero, Jonathan Camuzeaux, William Cook, Janouke Goosen, Eben Hoffer, Yanghee Lee, Andrew Lindqvist, Bella MacDiarmid, Jeremy Pickard, Sophia Remolde, Leah Shelton, Sonia Villani
Written by Satellite Artists in collaboration with the NYC company
Dramaturgy by Megan McClain & Anne Zager
Original music by Jonathan Camuzeaux
Musical Arrangement by Janouke Goosen
Featured choreography by KatieRose McLaughlin
Lighting design by Bruce Steinberg
Sound design by Sarah Hughes
Design dramaturgy Solomon Weisbard
Production assistance by John Le

Satellite Artists

Per Bech Jensen (Idom Kirkeby, Denmark)
Tommy Dickie & collaborators (Los Angeles, USA) 
Tina Yotopoulou (Athens, Greece)
Christina Pickard (Perth, Australia)
Brian O'Neal & collaborators (Minneapolis, USA) 
Nadia Serantes (Santiago, Chile)
Toma Danila, Ioana Manciu & Horia Suru (Bucharest, Romania) 
Byron Yee & Lyrica Yin (Guangzhou, China)

Postcard from Tokyo

Team Leader Sophia Remolde shares discoveries from Japan


Briefly introduce yourself and your team. 

こんにちは。Sophia here: Team Leader for Japan. Team Japan includes: Miyu Leilani, Dominique Baron-Bonarjee, Jyana Browne, Tokyo Circus Ringmaster Yoshi, John J.A. Jannone, and The Night Bears (夜熊). We are all artists, performers, scholars, technologists, and nomads, in one form or another. You may even be a part of our team and not yet know it.

How did your team approach the topic of overpopulation?

We approached the topic mainly through the choice to be in Japan right now. We started by connecting with each other as human beings, sharing common and not-so-common ideas and ideals. We went out into Tokyo and outside of Tokyo. We went to festivals, performances, and parks. We ate taiyaki and takoyaki while sharing our struggles and our successes. We visited with family, met people who we thought were strangers, and discovered that things are stranger than we could have ever imagined. And we communicated with each other, A LOT. Influenced by philosophies of the Technological Singularity, Buddhism, and Butoh, we listened to the world around us, as we tried to articulate how we felt about it all.

In this race for technological advancement and honoring the natural cycles of life, we wondered: is there really a problem at all?

How did your environment or location influence your work?

Japan is an almost unbelievable place. It manages to retain such an ancient history, while also existing at the forefront of the new and absurd. It is one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world and people’s relationship to it (and thus each other) is really specific. 

One of the biggest influences on me is that the Japanese believe that everything has a 気 — otherwise known as ki, qi, or chi. However you want to write it or define it, it refers to the concept that all things have a 気. I feel like it is really hard to be in Japan and not sense its presence. So if every single thing has a spirit or energy, then what actually makes us different from one thing to the next? It made me start to listen to everything, to breathe with the world instead of trying to make something of it.

How did the other EARTH teams around the globe influence your work?

While I didn't necessarily understand in a cognitive way what the other EARTH teams were making, knowing that we were all in this together, all attempting to do something that might be good for our planet and our selves, gave me tremendous faith and trust in the process. Jeremy’s gentle guidelines provided both freedom and structure that created a really important balance in space. It allowed me to do the work without doing the work (something that the Western-influenced part of my brain sometimes struggles with). Through this process perhaps we started to understand what exactly the work is. And we’ll keep going and trying to figure it out in this way, or in another way. But either way, it will be together.

Postcard from Guangzhou

Team Leader Byron Yee shares discoveries from China

Briefly introduce yourself and your team. 

Byron Yee is a 5th generation American Born Chinese (ABC) who is currently living and working in China with the goals of learning Chinese and finding his roots. He graduated from Western Washington University with a double major in Theatre Arts and Business Administration. In his spare time he enjoys running, dancing, and playing various instruments.

Lyrica Yin was born in the Jiangxi province of China and is currently living in Guangzhou and pursuing her BA in English Education. In the future, Lyrica hope to further pursue her dream of becoming a dancer.

How did your team approach the topic of overpopulation?

This is obviously a very serious issue in China which can be observed on several levels. In daily life, the major cities are extremely crowded; taking public transportation involves a lot of pushing and being pushed due to huge crowds. Housing is also affected, both in terms of cost of housing and also size/space. The 1 Child Policy is still in effect, although slowly being relaxed recently. This law greatly affects family planning and further inflates the high favoritism towards having male babies (vs. females).

What other themes or topics are you wrestling with?

Food Security is a huge topic in China right now. Not only is there a shortage of vital resources, such as drinking water, but contamination/disease is also a very serious problem throughout the country. And to some extent, some food contamination is unavoidable  While it is a problem in all countries (even in the USA), the situation is very serious in China.

How did your environment or location influence your work?

As China's economy continues to grow at around 8% GDP growth per year, this has drastic side effects on the environment. The government recently revised its "growth and development at all costs" philosophy because they're finally seeing the awful effects of such rapid industrialization and development. Issues such as air quality, water, pollution, etc. are so overwhelming, it's sometimes just better to accept or ignore it, rather than try to solve such a complex problem.

Share some of the discoveries you've made along the way. Has anything surprised you in the process?

Throughout our process, the focus has always been on telling a truthful, clear, and honest story. It's proven to be very challenging to share/present such complex issues and problems in a simple and clear way. We also have struggled with generalizing all of China into our story (i.e. "all of China is this way" "China is very polluted and ugly"). So our goal was to present the story about Lyrica and Byron in China, and the struggles and decisions that many young couple in China are experiencing.

Postcard from NYC

Team Leader Jeremy Pickard shares discoveries from New York

Briefly introduce yourself and your team. 

My name is Jeremy Pickard. I'm the captain of Superhero Clubhouse, the primary curator of EARTH, and a NYC Team Leader. My team is made up of a dozen NYC artists of various backgrounds and specialities: clowns, musicians, dancers, a Croatian climate scientist, a French environmental policy expert, and more.

How did your team approach the topic of overpopulation?

Although we've been generating lots of material, our primary project is a series of individual "time capsules" set within the container of Beethoven's Fifth. Each performer is filling each instrument line with movement, text, and images that represent their personal relationship to overpopulation in this present moment of their lives. We're using Beethoven's Fifth both because it is as relentless as NYC, and also because it allows us to deconstruct a familiar global icon in order to look at it with greater scrutiny and respect. Similarly, for us to look at global population, we must delicately deconstruct elements of our lives and culture that we take for granted. 

We're also writing phone conversations between our present selves and our hypothetical future great-grandchildren, in order to support a hypothesis that quality of life is relative. 

How did your environment or location influence your work?

Regarding our terrior: NYC is always a microcosm of global conversations, but how NYC confronts its own population growth offers a powerful lens through which to examine the problems and solutions associated with too many people. Riding the subway at rush hour, hailing a cab in the rain, finding an apartment, trying to get into a popular bar or concert... There's no escaping the millions of people densely packed into small areas. It feels like the city would implode with any more people, yet multitudes continue to flock here, forcing the city to adapt. 

The arrangements we make in order to not run into/kill each other are ingenious, but precarious. For many of my teammates, just getting through a day in NYC is like surviving a gauntlet. We've attempted to include this feeling of living in an impossible, relentless, overpopulated place, and then added to it the consideration of how our lives-- and the city's life-- would need to change if we all had children. 

How did your the other EARTH teams around the globe influence your work?

Regarding stealing from other teams: after learning about Byron and Lyrica's plan to film their video project in a tiny bathroom, treating it as if it were their entire apartment, my team made "yoga mat apartment tours", imagining how they might practically live in a home that was no wider or longer than a yoga mat. 

Postcard from Bucharest - A Short History of a Dot

Team Leader Hannah Wolf discusses Team Bucharest's work-in-progress showing of material generated for EARTH (a play about people).

In the Romanian version, A SHORT HISTORY OF A DOT, we were driven by the rituals that surround birth, life, and death. This is a very religious and superstitious country, steeped in old rituals passed down through generations. We looked specifically at the gap between two couples, one from the village and one the town, one that could make a decision about having children and one that could not, one couple that felt like it needed to help the other. We also explored the time capsules in terms of the questions "Where am I from?" "What do I want to leave for the future?" and "What can I actually leave right now?" 

It was a fantastic working experience, I had a great group of actors who were willing to jump into the unknown with me. We had to find many compromises, but everyone was always willing to play with the questions and explore. We're all very proud of the piece that we made and are now looking towards the future with this project. 

Postcard from L.A.

Team Leader Tommy Dickie shares discoveries from California

Briefly introduce yourself and your team. 

Team L.A. is comprised of Tommy Dickie, Hannah Chodos, Neel Tiruviluamala, Kristopher Lencowski, Lindsey Ford, Cameron Oro, and Brian Nocella - six actors and one math teacher!

How did your environment or location influence your work?

I will begin by saying that Team LA was influenced by the environment & location of LA in this primary way:  something in the water & air here makes us all flaky and anti-active (the opposite of pro-active; or would that be con-active?).

How did your team approach the topic of overpopulation?

The most feasible way to get people's bodies and minds together is to have a dinner party - coincidentally one of my favorite things to do ever.  And that is how we approached the topic of overpopulation: by discussing it over vegan bean casserole and chicken. We also discussed what we find fascinating about our planet, what makes LA environmentally unique, and what we might include to represent US personally in a time capsule shot into space.


Postcard from Minneapolis

Team Leader Brian O'Neal shares discoveries from Minnesota

Briefly introduce yourself and your team. 
I'm Brian O'Neal, a satellite member of SHC living and working in Minneapolis.
Working on EARTH with me so far have been: Amber Bjork, Joy Dolo, Katie Kaufmann, Kelsey McMahon, Larissa Shea, Heather Stone, and Mark Benzel. The Team has been a bit different each time we meet.  

How did your team approach the topic of overpopulation?
The scene we've created has focused on scarcity of resources as a result of overpopulation - specifically a very Minnesotan concern, did we  make enough food for the birthday party? As the world gets more crowded, will we have enough time to really see each other? 

What other themes or topics are you wrestling with?
The other reasons why people do or don't decide to have children, How the climate in Minnesota influences our day to day life, What is uniquely Minnesotan (what is our "terroir") 

How did your environment or location influence your work?
We've had an unusually harsh winter, which is saying something given the average winter in Minnesota can be brutal. This has made for a pervasive feeling of isolation and remoteness. It also has created a kind of nesting effect - or a sense that 'we have each other' first and foremost. That feeling was a seed for the dance piece in our scene. 

Share some of the discoveries you've made along the way. Has anything surprised you in the process?
It's easier at the beginning of the process to imagine the final product than it is at the midpoint. We're still figuring out where the scene will ultimately go. We've been working with an odd model of rotating performers and collaborators, so each workshop has had a very different feel so far. The unique personnel for each workshop has made the piece bear the fingerprints of many people at once, without shutting out anyone's input.   

Postcard from Bucharest

Team Leader Hannah Wolf shares discoveries from Romania.

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Briefly introduce yourself and your team. 

Ioanida Costache(USA/Sound Design), Toma Danila (Romanian), Stefan Huluba (Romanian), Ioana Florentina Manciu (Romanian), Bogdan Nechifor (Romanian), Camelia Pintilie (Romanian), Horia Suru (Romanian/Co-director) si Hannah Wolf (USA/Co-director).

How did your team approach the topic of overpopulation?

We talked a lot about the economic gap, which is especially prominent in Romania, how children are used on the farm in the countryside, how resources aren't available etc... We also explored the idea of "What's one more" mentality and how that relates to the personal vs. global aspect of the question of the piece, the big picture vs. little picture.  Romania is rich in rituals surrounding birth, marriage and death, and we're looking at how and if these rituals will continue. 

What other themes or topics are you wrestling with?

Time capsules, where we come from, what we want to leave, what we're actually leaving. The things that make us and the story that it tells. What things would you put in a bottle and shake up to make Romania? 

How did your environment or location influence your work?

The play is completely about Romania, from the jokes to the beer. We played a lot with the rituals of Romania/Romanians, the food, the characters. 

Share some of the discoveries you've made along the way (either about content or your devising methods). Has anything surprised you in the process?

This entire process was new for everyone, so discoveries were a daily thing. Most of the actors hadn't worked in a devised process, I was working in a new language, with actors who had a different training background, the list could go on and on. This process was about forging new ground, asking what happens next?, in terms of the content and our process, jumping off the deep end and discovering together.