Thursday, February 25, 2010

Conan McCarty On Becoming George W. Bush

Icarus Chronicles, continued…

Back in New York. I’ve got three weeks before rehearsals; and as I have run out of creative ways to avoid actually working on my role, I must buckle down and do some heavy lifting. Or I could just write this blog.

So, the question still stands: Who is this guy? Say what you will, he did manage to get himself elected President of the United States-- twice. So, how do I track him? My trip home was magnificent; and reacquainting myself with that wind swept place and those friendly, stubborn, hard working people reawakened many things for me, and that foundation will be a corner stone in my Dubya. But there is a lot more work to be done.

I know a few of Lee Blessing’s other plays, and I have always found his work to be as well crafted as this one is. It has been a joy to read and work on, and I sincerely hope we can do it justice in our production. It is funny, very smart, pretty dark here and there, and best of all, thought provoking. So…

Every actor has his own way into a play. At the risk of being pedagogic, here is a blueprint of what I look for, what I do when I come to a new script: Read the play a thousand times. Well, try to once a week. Note the verb, ’try.’ I am looking for hints, or impressions, as Stella Adler used to call them. Things that pop out at me as I read. What questions does the play give rise to? My parents were classical musicians; if this play is a symphony, where are the themes, counter melodies, harmonies? If it is a symphony, what instrument am I?

I studied at an acting conservatory in London as a young man; there was a teacher there who was rather dull and uninspiring, yet he managed to give a note of genius level once in class: ’If you’ve got twenty five actors doing the play Julius Caesar, and one actor doing the play Brutus; you’ve got trouble.’ How do I stay with Lee’s play and avoid doing the George W. Bush play?

What exactly is the ’sea’ in the title? I‘ve got an idea. We’ll see if it fits with what my collaborators bring.

This is the World Court at The Hague; what is the history there? Oddly enough, the Justice Department‘s decision not to file charges on John Yoo this past Friday led to a flurry of emails between me and my director, and he forwarded some things that will help me very much on that front.

Every play takes its audience on a journey. Along this journey there will, hopefully, be lessons learned, culminating in one giant AH-HA! Moment. Though I have read enough Anton Chekhov to agree with T. S. Elliot fans that ice would also suffice. As with any journey, a map is a really good idea, because you are headed to a specific point. But what kind of a map do you use on a play?

I am a member of the Actors’ Center Theatre Company in New York. Once a year we bring a brilliant Russian director, Vachislav Dolgachev, in from Moscow for an Anton Chekhov workshop. He has a wonderful script analysis technique that I always run scripts through before rehearsals start. Essentially, he believes that every story must have at least three events, initial, central, and main. This formula holds true for each scene in the play, each act, and the entire play.

The initial event is the spring for the story’s propulsion. Without it, the story doesn’t happen. It takes place before the curtain goes up, though it is discussed onstage. The central event is the highest expression of conflict in the play, act, or scene. It is generally in the center of the story, though not necessarily the geometrical center. My Russian friend says it lurks in what he calls ‘the golden center’ of the story, which is approximately two thirds of the way through. The main event is the last event of the story. It is the event to which the author writes. Without the main event, there is no understanding of the play.

Again, each act or scene will also have these three components, but it is the initial event of the first act which is also the initial event of the entire play. The central event of the whole piece should be in the last third or quarter of the play… we have nine scenes in ‘When We Go…’, which would make our central event in the fifth or sixth scene; the main event of the last act or scene is the main event of the play.

So I will spend some time reading the scenes over and over, trying to find these events. You’d be surprised how long it can take before I am reading for my Final Answer, but when you can line them up, you will find a great deal of weight has been lifted off your shoulders. They serve to ground you and your character to the play and the other characters, and they will set you on the right path for your trip.

That’s not to say this is the only way to crack open a play and its characters. I try to look at the play as many different ways as I can to see how much I can mine from the script. It certainly can be long and arduous work, but the better understanding the actors have of the play, the more will reach the audience experiencing it for the first time.

- Conan McCarty

Read past entries of the Icarus Chronicles: Parts I & II

Find out more about InterAct's World Premiere of Lee Blessing's WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

InterAct Named Best Political Theatre Company by Philly Weekly

Philadelphia Weekly named InterAct as Philly's "Best Power-to-the-People Theater Company" in their February 24, 2010 issue:

"The often-provocative InterAct Theatre Company produces plays that both question political authority and challenge audiences to revaluate their most deeply held beliefs. Easily the city’s best political theater, InterAct doesn’t produce plays that automatically trumpet the liberal point of view. Instead their shows typically express multiple perspectives, even those that may be considered radical, unpopular, dangerous or even (gasp!) conservative...."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

InterAct/Mural Arts Panel Discussion A Success!

The staff here at InterAct would like to extend a big "Thank You" to everyone who attended Monday night's CITIZENS IN ACTION - both to those who volunteered their time to sit on the panel as well as those who braved the weather to join us in the audience. And we'd like to say an especially big "Thanks" to...
Our hosting partner:

our event sponsor:

Moderated by senior WHYY reporter, Dave Davies, the panel consisted of (pictured left to right) Everett A. Gillison, Philadelphia Deputy Mayor for Pubic Safety; Ellen T. Greenlee, Chief Defender for the Defender Association of Philadelphia; Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter; Jane Golden, Executive Director of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program; and Seth Williams, Philadelphia's newly elected District Attorney. 

By all measures, the event was a huge success. The house was standing room only, the panelists were charasmatic and approachable, the audience was attentive and engaged, and the discussion was lively, enlightening, but most importantly, went well beyond standard, political rhetoric, maintaining a solution-oriented focus. 

Representing Philadelphia's leaders in the field of criminal justice, the panel discussed a multitude of issues regarding crime and the various factors feeding into criminal behavior, law enforcement and the judicial system, and correctional agencies and rehabilitation efforts. An audience Q&A led an already candid panel to even more thoughtful consideration of the complexities of the issues.

Especially pleasing for us here at InterAct was the fact that while many of InterAct's long-time subscribers came out and joined us for the evening, the audience was also filled with patrons that had never been to InterAct before. While our loyal supporters know they are welcome to voice their opinions, it didn't take long for the newcomers to stand up and offer theirs as well, and we were happy to welcome them into the conversation.

In the final analysis, there were a couple of main thoughts that we took away from the discussion. Most of us already know that any major change a society needs to make is not made overnight. And they usually don't happen with a single, big policy change. Instead, they happen with a series of incremental changes made (usually) in response to people from the community getting informed, getting involved, and making their opinions known... and then being willing to do whatever it might take to aid in a solution. We cannot rely solely on politians, law enforcement, the legal system, and incarceration for answers to reducing or eliminating crime, without also asking,''What can I and my neighbors do to help a solution along?" Forming or joining a neighborhood watch committee, as one example. Or volunteering for a program that promotes literary and/or reduces truancy in young people. Another option would be supporting - by donating to or helping fundraise for - organizations that have proven track records of working with at-risk youth (such as InterAct and Mural Arts - hint, hint), so that we can more often coordinate our efforts and maximize our impact - as was the case with Monday night's panel discussion.

Thanks again to everyone involved in making it a great night.


Here are a few pictures of NBC 10 News' story that ran on Monday night:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Conan McCarty On Becoming George W. Bush

Conan McCarty, who will be playing George W. Bush in WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA, has already begun his process of gearing up for the role. Playing one of the most iconic and polarizing characters in American politics - and a living person, at that... and not to mention actually creating a character for the World Premiere for a new Lee Blesing play, must surely be a daunting task for an actor. So, as Conan readies himself for the role of a lifetime, he has agreed to give InterAct audiences a peek into his process through a series of blog posts on The Word:

A Tale of Icarus, who flew beyond his reach…..

February 6, 2010, 8:15 a.m.: Newark International Airport. Flying home to Texas today. Final rest period before the Big Crunch of research and script analysis in preparation for my role as George W. Bush in Lee Blessing’s new play, ‘When We Go Upon the Sea,’ at InterAct Theatre April 9- May 9. Forecasts for the Big Blizzard of 2010 blanketed all the news channels yesterday, so I got here very early for my flight. So early I am now on a first name basis with every security guard and custodian in this wing of the airport. The full fury of the storm seems to have fallen on Philadelphia, my soon to be adopted home this spring, and points south, but there is enough swirling through the air here that flight delays are beginning to happen, and I am beginning to have dreadful feelings that it may take a very long time to get home.

Home is Lubbock, Texas. While there I am renting a car and driving 120 miles to Midland, where I will visit the Boyhood Home of George W. Bush, which will give me an excellent opportunity to stand and walk in places he did and see a portion of the world from his point of view. Which will make this trip research. Which will make the plane ticket tax deductible.

So. George Walker Bush, 43rd President of the United States of America. Or “Dubya,” as I shall refer to him in this blog. How to play this guy? My first acting teacher in New York was the legendary Stella Adler, and from her I learned that the word ‘theatre’ is of Greek origin, and means ‘the see-ing place;’ a place where we ‘see’ ourselves and hopefully come to a better understanding of who we are. That is where I start from.

There are a lot of traps any actor playing an historical character can fall into. My job is to avoid as many as possible and present, without judgment, a man, flawed as all of us are. The first and biggest trap in this role for me is Politicizing the Part. In real life, Dubya actually led to my political awakening. Since I had reached voting age, my involvement had been limited to watching a presidential debate or two and going to the booth on Election Day. From 2004 onwards I have been an active canvasser for the Democratic Party, raising money on the streets of New York, working phone banks, making trips into nearby swing states. On Election Day 2008, I was up and in line to vote before 6:00 am, and then my friends Scott Sowers and Mallory Catlett drove with me down to Chester, PA., a suburb of Philadelphia. We knocked on 262 doors in a ’Get Out the Vote’ effort before returning to New York that evening to watch the returns.

Which makes this role VERY interesting to play. I believe the invasion of Iraq was a Blunder of Colossal Proportions, but by opening night, I must absolutely believe that ’removing Saddam was the right decision early in my presidency; it is the right decision now; and it will be the right decision ever.’ That is a word for word quote from Dubya on March 12, 2008. I might point out now that opening night is April 14th, the 98th anniversary of the night the Titanic hit the iceberg.

So, again, how to play this guy? There is a theatrical saying that you must love your character. Hmmmm. Well, I once heard a very fine actor say, ‘I don’t think you have to love your character. I think you have to love acting.’ I’ll go with that.

We are actually boarding now. Only 25 minutes late. This flight might not be so bad, after all.

Icarus Chronicles, continued…

February 9, 2010: Today I drove to Dubya’s boyhood home in Midland, 120 miles to the south. In West Texas, we drive that far for lunch. Which I had at the Midland Dairy Queen.

My home, Lubbock, is ‘the Hub of the Plains,’ the Rome to which all West Texan roads lead. Tallest building in Lubbock is the Great Plains Life Building, which at 19 stories towers more than twice as high as the next tallest structure in town. You have 360 degrees of horizon in these parts, guaranteed. Surrounding Lubbock are such places as Tahoka, Lamesa, Spur, Plainview, Muleshoe (in the center town there is a bronze statue of… yes, a mule), Palo Duro Canyon, and the Four Sixes Ranch out by Guthrie (named for the hand that won the ranch in a poker game long ago). These smaller communities survive on a little cotton, some farming, maybe some cattle…. and oil.

Lots and lots of oil in the Permian Basin, deep underground beneath Midland and her sister city, Odessa. Innumerable banks break the horizon as you near the city, testimony to the riches underneath. Fortunes lie there for the ‘can-do’ man to make. There is a sense of conquering the elements. It is the Texan lore and experience of self reliance. These promises of black gold brought the Bush family west from Connecticut in 1948 when Dubya was a wee scamp. Bush 41 made his fortune in oil before going into politics, and Dubya tried to follow him and make one himself… and tried… and tried… and tried…

So I eventually passed a sign: ’Welcome to Midland, Texas, Hometown of President George W. and Laura Bush.’ (At this point I felt a little like Frodo Baggins slipping into Mordor to destroy the Ring.) The Boyhood Home was built in 1939; an unassuming, very functional three bedroom house with a folding ironing board fixed into a cupboard on the wall. There is the roster of Dubya’s little league team hanging on the wall, plenty of period pieces donated by friends and fans or purchased on E-Bay, picture exhibits and of course guided tours; it was the home of two presidents, a governor of Florida, and a First Lady, after all. This is also the home his younger sister Robin lived in before she passed away from leukemia at age four. After the Historic Site was established, Dubya visited only once; after he left office, and I stood in the spot where he had his picture taken to see if there were any residual vibrations around. All in all, I don’t think the house itself was the source of any great discovery. For me it was the drive over, looking at the land dotted with jack pumps (which actually exist all over Texas, but not as many as there are out in these parts); a reminder of the way of life and the people who chose to live in this place.

Why the geography lesson? Will Ferrell pointed out that no one else in the family has a Texan accent, not even Jeb, who was born there. Dubya lost his first political race in 1978 and swore after the loss that he’d never be ‘out-Texaned’ again. It’s a major clue into who he is; or rather, who he portrays himself to be. Not only did he say that Osama Bin-Laden was ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive,’ he also commented that Sir Winston Churchill ’seemed like a Texan to me.’ Maybe Texas is a good place to start. In fact, as I recall Dubya saying at the 2004 Republican Convention, ‘Some people say that I have a swagger. In Texas, we call it walking,’ I am pretty sure it is.

PS: My favorite story of the Texas Rangers: Early in the last century , there was a riot in Galveston over cotton prices, or some other vital issue at the time, and the mayor cabled the Texas Ranger office in nearby Houston for help. He received an answer, ‘Meet the 5:15 train.’ At the station, the mayor was dismayed to see one Texas Ranger step off the train. ‘There is a riot in my city,’ he complained, ‘and they send one Ranger?’ The Ranger replied, ‘There’s one riot.’

-Conan McCarty

Find out more about InterAct's World Premiere of Lee Blessing's WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA

Friday, February 12, 2010

Listen to "Down On Me," featured in BLACK PEARL SINGS!

Leading up to InterAct's production of Frank Higgins' BLACK PEARL SINGS!, beginning performances in May, we'll be posting several songs that are featured in the play. This first song is "Down On Me" as recorded by the lengendary jaz/blues singer/songwriter, Odetta. It was originally released on her 1959 album "My Eyes Have Seen," but is currently available on her 2006 release, "Best of the Vanguard Years."

In BLACK PEARL SINGS!, Alberta 'Pearl' Johnson opens the play singing "Down On Me," capturing the attention of Susannah Mullally, a musicologist with the Library of Congress, and leading to their initial introduction...

Watch Ford's Theatre's Trailer for BLACK PEARL SINGS!

Tickets for InterAct's Philadelphia premiere production of BLACK PEARL SINGS! are on sale now.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Check Out the Ford's Theatre Trailer for BLACK PEARL SINGS!

Check out this trailer that Ford's Theatre (Washington, DC) produced to promote their production of BLACK PEARL SINGS! by Frank Higgins, which opened their 2009/2010 season last fall. Directed by Jennifer L. Nelson, the play featured Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins as Pearl and Erika Rolfsrud as Susannah.

InterAct will close its current season with the Philadelphia premiere of BLACK PEARL SINGS!, featuring C. Kelly Wright and Catherine Slusar, from May 28 - June 27, 2010. Featuring beautiful, live, a capella renditions of little-known American folk songs, BLACK PEARL SINGS! chronicles a powerful story of being a woman in a man's world, being Black in a White world, and fighting for one's soul in a world where anyone can become a commodity. Find out more here.

This is definitely one show that is not to be missed...

Video Shot and edited by Christopher Hunter.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Meet the Cast of WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA

InterAct is pleased to announce the cast for its World Premiere production of WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA by Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Lee Blessing, which begins performances Friday, April 4.

Commissioned by InterAct in 2008 through its 20/20 New Play Commission program, WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA takes a fictionalized look at George W. Bush on the night before he is to go on trial for international war crimes at The Hague. While certainly not a love letter about Bush, WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA is also not the bash-fest one might assume, either. In his classic style, Lee Blessing has written a thoughtful and introspective look at the mind and heart of a man trying to reconcile his personal beliefs, his presidential decisions, and his tarnished public image.

The cast of WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA will feature:

Conan McCarty (as George W. Bush) makes his InterAct Theatre debut in WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA. In New York, Mr. McCarty has appeared on Broadway in MACBETH with Christopher Plummer and Glenda Jackson, and A FEW GOOD MEN; and Off-Broadway in DARK RAPTURE, ROUNDING THIRD, BEYOND THERAPY, his own DROWNING IN LOCH NESS, and LAKE WATER with EST's Youngblood Program. Regionally, he has appeared in plays by Shakespeare, Shaw, Shepard, Chekhov, Athol Fugard, Steve Martin, Brendan Behan, John Steinbeck, Brian Friel, and J.M. Barrie at such notable theatres as Actors' Theatre of Louisville, Center Stage, The Old Globe, City Theatre, Arizona Theatre Company, George Street Playhouse, Cleveland Playhouse, Pioneer Theater Company, and various nooks and crannies across the nation. Television audiences will remember him from "The Closer," "Nurse Jackie," "Rescue Me," and all members of the "Law & Order" family.

Kim Carson (as Anna Lisa) makes here InterAct Theatre debut in WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA, but many theatre goers will recognize her from the many roles she's played in the Philadelphia area. Most recently, she played Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ at Media Theatre, as well as reprising her 2008 Barrymnore Award-winning role in Azuka's HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH. Other favorite credits include: GREY GARDENS at Philadelphia Theatre Co.; CINDERELLA and SIX SHARACTERS... at Peoples Light and Theatre Co.; and SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM at Walnut Street. She has also worked at Arden Theatre Co., New Jersey Rep, and Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival.

Peter Schmitz (as Peit) will be instantly recognizable to InterAct audiences as the soft-spoken yet unscrupulous movie director, Julius, in last season's JIHAD JONES & THE KALASHNIKOV BABES. Other recent credits include roles at Walnut Street Theatre (including HAIRSPRAY and LES MISERABLES), the Arden Theatre (THE DINOSAUR MUSICAL and WINESBURG, OHIO) and Act II Playhouse (ALMOST, MAINE). He has also worked at the Guthrie Theatre, the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre, and the Penumbra Theatre, the Yale Repertory Theatre, the Shakespeare Theatre in D.C., the Portland Stage Company in Maine, Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo, and the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. In New York, he has played on Broadway (MY FAIR LADY), off-Broadway, and in off-off Broadway (Suzan-Lori Parks’ IMPERCEPTIBLE MUTABILITIES IN THE THIRD KINGDOM). Peter's on-camera credits include the Oscar-winning Coen Brothers’ movie Fargo.

Tickets for WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA are Available Now

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Blog Post from CITY OF NUMBERS Playwright/Performer Sean Christopher Lewis

So, two weeks in and two weeks left to go...

It's been a total experience coming back to Philly with CITY OF NUMBERS- ups and downs... It's been strange in terms of coming to a place you once lived, walking around the places that you used to know, seeing people you once hung out with everyday. There's a ghostly-ness to that. It's unsettling in its own right.

Touring theater is not easy. And solo theater is even harder. You're by yourself, by design and all the good and bad that happens you basically have to sort through on your own. There is something to be missed about having cast mates nearby to make a joke with, get a beer with- to have community with. I think many of us who get into theater do it for that reason- community.

My hope was to have that with the audience. They are basically your acting partner in a show like this and the audiences have been wonderful: word of mouth, numerous twitter, facebook and blog posts, lengthy talk back sessions and emails thanking me. That's been amazing. Last night we had a girl from Deborah Block's theater class at Temple who said: "I didn't like plays before this class and I heard this was a one man show and I didn't want to go but this was amazing. And I'm so glad I did." This may seem self congratulatory at first- but I share it for a specific reason: this is why you do plays. This is why you share them.

A few nights ago a woman I mention in the piece named Meg Guerrerio- a close friend of a victim discussed in the play came and stayed for the talk back and said: "thank you." In a week or so I should be going into her school near Kensington to move some desks out of the way and do the piece for her students. A group out of Constitution High invited me in the other day and it was fantastic to do the show for them and then work with those students as well... kids from areas that I talk about in the piece- kids who don't ever see the verbatim story of their neighborhoods on stage.

We've had sold out houses which is wonderful. We've had a few great reviews, a few mixed and a few antagonistic and that's always, well, not disappointing but a reality.

You know artists never want to talk about the bad reviews (the good ones we're usually cool with! lol) but the bad are important too. If only to remind you about the process of this career. When I chose this route it wasn't for fame (and clearly not for fortune) but more specifically for the pursuit of a more honest and realized self. Heady right? I liked that as a craftsman you continued to grow in your work and that each piece led to the next. And crafting art, as we know, has no grading scale. Basically, the same show the girl from Temple loves is the same one a critic attacks and is the same show still that another few critics in Ohio and NYC loved.

In the end if you believe anything that anyone says- you believe it all.

So, you are again, left with yourself.

I can say quite honestly the piece is the best and most challenging thing I have done. As a performer the run has been a gift. I've seen myself grow within the piece- all the muscles of an actor developing under the stress of no net- my writing continuously informed by the thoughtful and lively discussion afterwards.

I'm thinking now this is probably not the blog post I was expected to write! I'm sure it'll be a bit of "don't write about that!" But I see this really as an open letter to people who want to do what I'm doing. I mean that's how I learned: by reading about Bogosion and Spalding Gray, devouring interviews and dreaming of working in that tradition. I learned from how they dealt with being loved and being reviled (often for the same show in the very same city) and saw their strength and determination as something worth emulating.

And this run has been an experience in that. So, fruitful and eye opening. Like I said- a true gift. Yet, it's important to talk about the realities of what we go through when we live a life like this.

So, if somewhere there is someone reading this- manuscript, performance piece or anything else in their mind- I urge that young writer out there chiseling at their own masterpiece to be strong. Some people will love what you do. Some people will hate it. Some have more public voices than others but in the end you will be left with you. And the things you have made. People come through and review you every night when the show ends and they clap or they come up to discuss the work with you.

And it is work to remember. A task building towards something greater.

And on that note- thank you Philadelphia- you've been an incredible host.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

CITY OF NUMBERS In the News & On the Web

Check out some of the media coverage that has appeared about CITY OF NUMBERS:

... Culled from interviews with Graterford prison lifers who paint murals as a way to communicate with the outside world, [CITY OF NUMBERS] pulls in multiple perspectives, mixing the voices of perpetrators with those of media pundits, law enforcement, and loved ones left behind.

The questions are many, the answers are few. Should we judge 15-, 16-, 17-year-old killers as simply murderers who should be locked up forever? Should we view them as redeemable people even though they've committed murder?

And the most vexing question: What can one person do to help solve the problem of violence in our midst? ...

Philadelphia Daily News, Christine Fisher
Philly's Felons: One-Man Show Offers Unique Perspectives On Violent Crime In The City

... After interviewing lifers at Graterford Prison, talking with victims of crime, and observing the city and its politics, Lewis came to know Philadelphia as a city struggling with violent crime and the fear it generates. The play he wrote and stars in, "City of Numbers, mixtape of a city," captures the complexity of this urban issue.

... "City of Numbers," which opened last week, is a joint venture between the Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program and InterAct Theatre Company, and is the centerpiece of a month-long celebration of the transformative power of art as a tool for social justice. ...

Courier-Post, Sally Friedman
... [Playwright Sean Christopher Lewis'] purpose in creating this unusual production, one in which the voices of about 30 characters are heard solely through Sean Lewis' own voice in his one-man show, is to re-examine Philadelphia's daunting crime statistics through the lens of arts education.

"I wanted to listen in to the inmates for their perspective, to hear from the people of various city neighborhoods for theirs, and also really to explore inner city violence and its roots," Lewis explains.

..."I want people to feel a personal stake. I want this play to open important conversations about crime, about punishment, and about the way we live our lives." ...

Philadelphia City Paper, A.D. Amorosi
"It's the city that I see daily — a city that struggles but also overcomes." So says Jane Golden, director of Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program, which for the past three years has developed a Restorative Justice program encouraging prison inmates to create large-scale community art. It's that gentle notion of rising above, of the healing power of creativity, that sparked Golden's first conversation with InterAct Theatre Co. boss Seth Rozin in 2008. Their mission: Partner up on a play that tells these prisoners' stories. Their method: Interview "life-term" inmates at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford and to use those chats for a theater piece that details the experience of the sorrowful and the saved. ...

The Augustinian Spiritual Health Center Blog, Fr. Paul Morrisey, O.S.A.

... This is not a just [sic] sob-sister story about the basic humanity of prison inmates. Voices of victims cry out too. Victims often in the same world as those who harm them – ghetto worlds where children grow up on the street and learn to fight to stay alive. Sections of the city – some black, some white, some Hispanic – where a common poverty creates the environment for selling drugs to make a living. Selling bodies too. Selling souls if the devil offers you the right price.

... This play shows the “numbers” racked up each year in Philly of the murdered and the murderers. It is powerful when it gets inside the heads and hearts of those who are in prison for these crimes. Thugs? Brutal inhuman bastards? Heartless killers? More like you and me than we would think. The cry of the victims through the mouths of their survivors, pierce one’s heart as well. ..., Samantha Clarke
Sean Christopher Lewis' and InterAct's Exploration for Something More

... Lewis envisions community and artist-based efforts to create a dialogue between despairing neighborhoods and the city at large that aren’t necessarily about the state bailing them out. Instead, it’s about the citizens and what we as people can do for one another by providing a voice and ensuring communication.

Across the board, Lewis demands the value of collaboration and the importance of the individual to create and stimulate communication through the arts. When asked what he feared was the greatest challenge and biggest disappointment in the arts today (“The reliance on other people to do it for you.”) it paralleled what he felt was the greatest worldly problem: “Apathy. We’ve seen in all the great movements: change happens on the individual level. But so many people think that [they] can’t do anything about the great issues of our time, believe it’s too big, that it’s for politicians, or they have enough on their plate already, but it’s amazing what happens when you believe in something. When you fight for something.” ..., Rachel Dukeman
City Of Numbers: A Philadelphia Story

... The City of Philadelphia has a unique, successful program that has placed art in the lives of its residents – all of its residents. From prison cells to the Avenue of the Arts, the Mural Arts Program has made in impact on the way Philadelphians see our own neighborhoods and our neighbors. And now, through an exciting partnership with InterAct Theatre Company, has developed a series of programs to shed light on our Philadelphia crime, Philadelphia neighborhoods, paintings on the walls and citizens that live behind walls.

... [CITY OF NUMBERS] is full of personal narratives that are strewn together to poke holes in our city’s justice system –pointing blame for failing citizens on ‘both sides of the walls’ at everything from poverty to racism to police to parenting skills, without focusing on one fault as the root or solution. ...'s MyCommunity Suburbs Blog, Stephanie Weaver

The city of Philadelphia has the largest number of mural displays in the United States. Each mural is more than just a giant painting; it often depicts a story from its creature or holds a message for its audience. ... The murals of Philadelphia are the city’s soul. They carry the stories of people long gone, and allow future generations a glimpse into the city’s past. Playwright Sean Christopher Lewis understands all of the tales that murals tell and has collaborated with the City of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Project to create a screenplay based on them. ...

Rep Radio Podcast: An interview with playwright & performer Sean Christopher Lewis and director Matt Slaybaugh
"...This is great! This is the best... the absolute - hands down - best Rep Radio interview I've ever done. I love it..." - Jennifer MacMillan

Get your tickets to InterAct's CITY OF NUMBERS today!

Monday, February 1, 2010

InterAct & Mural Arts Hosts Free Discussion Featuring Mayor Nutter

On Monday, February 15, at 7:00 p.m., InterAct Theatre Company and the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program will host City of Numbers: CITIZENS IN ACTION, a free panel discussion examining the issue of crime in Philadelphia. Panelists include:
  • Michael Nutter, Mayor, City of Philadelphia
  • Everett Gillison, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, City of Philadelphia
  • Jane Golden, Executive Director, City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program
  • Ellen T. Greenlee, Chief Defender, Defender Association of Philadelphia
  • Seth Williams, District Attorney, City of Philadelphia
  • Moderated by Dave Davies, Senior Reporter, WHYY
Generously sponsored by:

Featuring multiple perspectives from top-level officials working in the fields of criminal justice and crime prevention, Citizens In Action will offer an in-depth look at the issues of crime and the various factors feeding into criminal behavior, law enforcement and the judicial system, and correctional agencies and rehabilitation efforts. Held on the Mainstage of The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, the discussion will be free and open to the public.
Reservations are requested and can be made by calling InterAct’s box office at 215.568.8079.