2020 was a year full of difficulty and loss, but also urgently-needed work and reflection. As a nation we impeached a president, witnessed and worked for an Uprising for Black Lives, elected a new president, hunkered down in unprecedented isolation, and lost far too many to a horrible virus. 2020 was so much.
As we eagerly approach 2021, we are thrilled and honored to announce Theater in Asylum’s plans for 2021. We reach to next year with hope, and as live theater becomes safe again, we plan to:
If you are in a position to donate, we humbly ask for your support of Theater in Asylum’s 2021 Season. We are so grateful for all that’s been made possible these past 10 years, and we look ahead to 2021 with eagerness and hope.
More Cold Readings, with more partnerships and special events
Since 2015, Theater in Asylum has gathered friends to read and discuss great plays once a month. As the pandemic sent us into our homes, we moved these gatherings online and began holding them weekly. Wednesday nights have become a cherished place not only for play reading but for processing these wild times. We plan to continue weekly readings online until it’s safe to gather in person again, and invite more guest facilitators to bring new plays and new ideas to the group.
The Debates 2021
The Debates 2021 will be our fourth iteration of The Debates. This year we turn to New York City’s Democratic primaries and the conversation over what we want our city to be. New Yorkers will soon elect a new mayor, comptroller, and many city council members.
We believe everyone should understand their electoral power, and we know theater is a potent tool to elucidate that power. As in past years, we’ll host a slew of events including watch parties, political analysis meetings, and finally, an original play about the election. We want not only to get out the vote, but also to empower the voter to engage in the electoral process with understanding and confidence. With our unique blend of mimicry, abstraction, and earnest curiosity, we seek to illuminate the candidates, the issues, and ourselves.
Nearly ten years ago, activists gathered in lower Manhattan to peacefully occupy Zuccotti Park and to declare opposition to an economic system clearly inadequate for the majority of Americans, the 99%. Occupy Wall Street galvanized people around the world and inspired hundreds of activist occupations, big and small, united in a call to radically rethink the economic order.
Playwright Andy Boyd hones in on Prescott, Arizona to follow five Occupiers in their efforts to change their town and the world. They broadly agree that the one percent is too powerful, but agreement breaks down as they search for specifics. Reaching consensus on what a better world looks like—and how to get there—is frequently frustrating and rarely glamorous. Never easy, but urgently necessary. On the 10th anniversary of the rallying cry heard round the world, we are thrilled to produce the prescient and hopeful play: Occupy Prescott.
We’re planning to host another cabaret, sharing our platform with artists in our community to workshop their new work. We will also continue to revise our mission statement and our company’s inner workings, as well as participating in anti-racism trainings through the League of Independent Theater.
We have big plans for 2021. If you are able, we would so appreciate your help in funding our next season. Thank you for your time, your support, and your love. We wish you and yours safety, good health, and a bright new year.
Thank you, thank you, thank you,
Paul, Katie, Kathryn, and Hilarie
Theater in Asylum
You surely know, but tomorrow is Election Day. Theater in Asylum has been committed to electoral politics for years, notably with The Debates. While many of you have voted early or absentee, for those of you who have not yet voted, tomorrow is your last opportunity this time around. If it is safe for you to do so, please, please vote. For New Yorkers, know that polls are open from 6am-9pm and you can find your poll site and preview your ballot here. For those outside New York, you can find everything you need at Vote.gov. You know already, but this election is so important.
After you've voted, we encourage you to take care of yourself and your neighbors. Check in with loved ones. Take this opportunity to join an activist organization or mutual aid group. Perhaps watch Boxcutter's hilarious and wonderful Judy for President or dig in to Mary Oliver's poetry. Perhaps write an old friend a letter. Write yourself a letter. This is a week to remember and we're going to need each other, and art, to interpret and process it all.
Theater in Asylum continues to meet regularly for reading, discussing, organizing, self- and co-educating, and brainstorming. If you're looking for some (online) community, please feel free to reach out to Paul, Katie, Hilarie, or Kathryn. And who knows what will happen, but perhaps we'll see you on the street. Wherever we see you next, please know that we wish you love and safety.
Peace, power, and love to you,
Paul Bedard, Katie Palmer, Kathryn Appleton, and Hilarie Spangler
By Paul Bedard
Learn more about our 10 year commemoration here
The Debates has been, by far, our biggest project. It’s been through many iterations, encompassing dozens of public events, hundreds of people, and nearly a thousand footnotes in the published scripts.
The project began in Ithaca, NY, where I was serving as a Drama League Directing Fellow at the Hangar Theatre. It was Summer 2015: Obama was president, Bernie Sanders was a relative unknown, and our current clown-in-chief was still a harmless sideshow. The 2016 presidential campaign was just beginning in earnest, and I was curious to explore previous presidential debates. With an eager company of young actors, I began digging into excerpts of the infamous 1960 presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. We sought to explore what was specific to the very first televised debate, the debate that literally invented the genre. During this exploration, however, we discovered that the process—analyzing a debate transcript, having different people “try on” the candidates, and experimenting with candidates’ projected images—was more compelling and empowering than the show we initially set out to make. By the time my fellowship ended and I returned to New York, the Kennedy/Nixon idea was scrapped and we dove full steam ahead into what became The Debates 2016.
Between October 2015 and April 2016, we presented nine Watch Parties and Political Analysis Meetings; expanded our team of actors and researchers; and presented six distinct workshops, clarifying our newfound process along the way. By the time the field of candidates had dwindled to Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, we had a show we were proud of. We presented The Debates 2016: Democratic Primary Edition in New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, before each state’s primary, and the response was thrilling. NY City Lens wrote, "Not only was The Debates… about politics. It was politics." The Hartford Courant wrote, "[The Debates] was the way to spend the nervous hours before voting... Forthright, in-your-face, up-to-the-minute..."
That September, we began the process again with the general election. We watched and analyzed the debates, crafted a script and performed at the beloved Under St. Marks theater the night before Hillary Clinton’s assured victory. And… we all know how that election turned out. We learned, however, that our Debates work is strongest when it shines a light on challenging questions and complicated candidates. The problem with the 2016 general election was that, for our community, the decision was crystal clear. The notion of stepping into that particular Republican nominee’s shoes and words, with empathy, was just… not possible for us.
We believe there is an audience for a Debates show that includes our 45th president, and a company who can make it, but Theater in Asylum is not it. We do our best work when there is a diversity of political opinion in the room and when there’s something to debate. With the general election, we didn’t have those things. The choice was clear for our community, and this led to a production that didn’t expose choices or the debate we assumed was needed.
In the last four years, the country has changed in ways we never thought imaginable. The urgency around the 2020 election couldn’t be higher, and when the Democratic primary debates started in June 2019, it was clear that we needed to mount another Debates show. The Debates 2020 roared with excitement, following over 20 candidates with 12 Watch Parties, 10 Political Analysis Meetings, 5 Cabarets, and a much-needed debate about the candidates and issues. We had political diversity in the room, with a left contingent split between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and a moderate contingent that split and shifted throughout the year. When the pandemic struck and the production was cancelled, we were again at a loss. What do we do with this work?
With the country facing both a raging virus and an urgent reckoning with race, we moved online and reframed much of the show. The Debates 2020 performed on Zoom just before New York’s rescheduled primary on June 21, 2020, and while the race for the Democratic nomination was largely already decided, the piece bloomed and provoked an incredible conversation about our country that reverberated in our community for weeks. Who were we and who are we, really, as a country? What does it mean to rally behind a candidate –– which parts of their and your own identity are you connecting to? And which parts are you disconnecting from?
I am immensely proud of The Debates and the team who followed its evolving raison d'être. I’m so grateful to these people for their bravery and curiosity. Our scripts are still online, available to all. I don’t know how they’ll age and I'll be curious to revisit them in a few months or a few years, after we’ve hopefully begun healing and growing as a nation. I know that the work we did on the 2016 and 2020 primary contests was relevant and useful to the team and our community. I look forward, with hope, to future debates and the chance to ask again: who are we, and who do we want to be?
Theater in Asylum (TIA) is a New York-based theater company founded in 2010 to challenge and empower our community. TIA joyfully pursues a rigorous research and an ensemble-driven approach to theater-making. We create performances to investigate our past, interpret our present, and imagine our future. We prize space to process, space to question—asylum—for ourselves and our community. Core programs include original productions; themed cabarets to present new work from our community; and Cold Readings to read and discuss published plays.
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