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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
January 17, 2018

The Music of Generation NYZ

 
The first thing you notice at Undesirable Elements: Generation NYZ is the playlist greeting you as you take your seat. From the beginning, you know that this will be an entirely unique experience. Although each of the seven members of the cast has lived through incredibly different circumstances, the one thread that binds them is their love of music. Four of the performers, Monica, Edwin, Syl and Mohammad share the songs that inspire them the most. 
 

Monica Victoria Tatacoya Castañeda

Monica"Sorry Not Sorry" by Demi Lovato makes me feel unapologetic about being me. In a world where you are shunned for not conforming to what society wants from you, it’s important to be confident in yourself.

"Secreto de Amor" by Joan Sebastian has been my favorite since I was a child. I don’t even remember how old I was when I first heard it. At first, I loved it because it just sounded so nice. Now, I'm drawn to it because it brings back memories of much simpler times. It calms me down. 

"Praying" by Kesha makes me feel hopeful. There are people who come into your life who try to destroy who you are. "Praying" gives me that sense of hope that comes when you see a new sunrise in the horizon, the hope that you will come out better because of what you went through. 

Music is very important to me. There are some things that words alone can’t express or offer. Music gives me those things I need. Simple words can’t offer comfort when I need it or always express how I'm feeling. Music is that one thing that touches everyone. It speaks to each person in a unique way. 

Edwin Aguila

Edwin"Text Me, Call Me (I'll Be There For You)" by Jabir Farooq. This is my own song! It means so much to me because it shows how much I've grown. When I started recording this in 2016, I became more willing to take risks and put myself out there.

"1-800-273-8255" by Logic. This song by Logic is one that means a lot to me since I’ve dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts. I wish I had this song while I was dealing with my personal demons. 

"NY State of Mind" by Nas depicts the reality of my New York and paints a vivid picture through the lyrics.

Music is very important to me. It saved my life! It allows me to find an outlet for my feelings. It also allows me to heal and escape reality for a bit.

Syl Egerton

Syl"Claire de Lune" by Claude Debussy is a piece of classical music. It's probably the most beautiful, bittersweet and heart-wrenching pieces I've ever heard. I feel like it encapsulates the slight sadness I can always feel at the bottom of my stomach. At the same time, it's so calming, it lets you work through that tinge of sadness at you own pace. I like setting it to loop, lying down and listening to it as long as I need.

"Intro: Never Mind" by BTS is a song I listen to when I need to get motivated. It has lyrics that just make me want to run faster, work harder and be stronger in general. I play it when I need to smash out a paper, and just generally when I'm feeling bogged down and sluggish and need a kick.

"I Will Be King" by the Hoosiers is a weird one. It's simultaneously celebratory and slightly creepy. I like those types of songs and relate to the lyrics of this particular one a lot. The Hoosiers tell a lot of stories with their music and I just love the way they sound. 

Music is unbelievably important to me, I never leave the house without my headphones, otherwise I lose my mind. I have a playlist for every mood so my taste is all over the place. I love things from heavy rock to classical music to rap. Music is just something that makes me feel really good and helps reassure me that things will be okay. I get easily overwhelmed by thoughts, sometimes random or bad, and music helps me tune them out so I can focus or reach a goal. It's thanks to music and singing that I've been able to build up my confidence and speak in public or in front of an audience. 

Mohammad Murtaza

Mohammad"Love Never Felt so Good" by Michael Jackson makes me feel like dancing with someone. It's a song that puts you in a good mood at any time and makes you wanna get up on your feet. The first time I ever heard it was in middle school when my friend played it for me. He knew Michael Jackson was one of my favorite artists, and was surprised when I didn’t know the song. 

"Crayon" by G Dragon makes me wanna go crazy and hypes me up. I feel like partying every time I hear it. The first time I heard it was also in middle school, after my best friend had shown me a song that G Dragon's group Big Bang had put out called "Fantastic Baby." I was entranced by their swagger and electronic pop/hip-hop feeling. So I searched them up, found "Crayon," and instantly liked it.

"Return of Simba" by J Cole makes me feel like a G, like I’m tough and confident. I first heard it when I was a sophomore in high school. I thought his vibe was dope and that he was a good artist, so I searched him up online and found all his songs. I loved it all, but "Return of Simba" was such a good "come up" song and I really love it.

Music is very important to me. It's my first form of self expression. It's been an outlet for me, a way to find myself and a way to join a community. The feeling you get from appreciating an artist’s work and finding out someone else does too is indescribable. As an aspiring artist as well, I write a lot of music and find myself looking to my favorite and most respected artists for inspiration. 

Photos: Alexis Buatti-Ramos
 
 

 
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