What Happens When Local Goes National?

Photo: Robert Altman, courtesy of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 2018

Photo: Robert Altman, courtesy of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 2018

A couple of days ago, we did our first “tech stumble-through” of our next play, Dael Orlandersmith’s UNTIL THE FLOOD, which explores the impact of the shooting of Michael Brown in August 2014 on the residents of that area. The “tech stumble-through” was Dael’s first pass at doing the show with lights, sound, costumes, projections before our first audience joined us 2 days later. Afterwards, the creative team circled up to discuss how it went and what changes might make it a more cohesive and effective performance. As they analyzed the timing of moments and sections, they started delving into the question of tone. That is when the discussion got really interesting!

When Dael, director Neel Keller, and this design team first created this show, they presented it at St. Louis Rep (who commissioned the piece) in 2016. Dael and Neel often talk about how, for that initial production, just a year after the shooting, they were surrounded by audiences steeped in “Ferguson fatigue.”. Emotionally exhausted, many were reluctant to get pulled back into this gaping wound on their town and community. The creative team knew they had to approach the St. Louis production with a gentleness, respecting the sensitivity of the emotional terrain of this community. They were able to create an environment with a particular tone into which the local community felt welcome and safe to watch a piece deeply personal to them.

It is nearly four years later now. Buried alongside Michael Brown by now are Walter Scott, Akai Gurley, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Tony Terrell Robinson Jr. and many others.

So, now in 2018, in winter’s deep freeze, what tone should these storytellers take in New York with UNTIL THE FLOOD? After its run in NY, the creative team will head to Milwaukee, Chicago and many other cities around the country. How does a local theater piece go national? How should this local theater piece go national?

Dael’s writing and acting portray a deep and complex range of characters who live within close proximity to the shooting. They hold very specific opinions on race and community. How does a NYC audience (what does a NYC audience even mean?) meet this material? The choice of music - be it melodic or dissonant - the choice of lighting – be it harsh or soft – the choice of projections – be it sharp or grainy – the choice of rhythm between pieces – be it long and meditative or short and arresting – can deeply shape the tone. This is the power of theater – watch as this very talented creative team wrestles with these questions during previews as they observe to how NYC listens to UNTIL THE FLOOD.

This creative, moving juncture is the essence of Rattlestick.

UNTIL THE FLOOD is playing now thru Feb 18!