Academic journal article TheatreForum

The Team

Academic journal article TheatreForum

The Team

Article excerpt

Few theatre companies scrutinize American mythology with the style, energy, and ingenuity of Brooklyn-based ensemble The TEAM. Their last production, Mission Drift, was about as American as it gets. This breakneck tour of American capitalism races through the promise of the New World and the wild romance of the frontier, charting a terrifying narrative of progress and growth that culminates in the neon spires of Las Vegas and the destructive beauty of the atomic bomb. Along the way, the company's colorful, patchwork aesthetic ropes in cowboys, cocktail waitresses, and a gold-clad Elvis, painting a shimmering portrait of a nation that echoes with cries of "bigger, better".

This distinctive focus on American identity, however, started out as something of an accident. After forming as a company in 2004, the group of NYU alumni were required to register a name and write a mission statement in order to become a non-profit organisation. The discovery that "The Team"-adopted from artistic director Rachel Chavkin's unusual nicknamewas already taken for tax purposes prompted a novel solution. The TEAM instead became an acronym and a statement of intent: Theatre of the Emerging American Moment. From this decision, a whole set of artistic interests presented themselves.

"It's kind of a fluke," admits founder member Kristen Sieh. As fellow TEAM member Jake Margolin explains, however, this mission statement serendipitously crystallised a set of previously unacknowledged preoccupations that connected the work the company was making. "I think it is a pretty accurate articulation of what this whole group of people were interested in," he says. "It was a continuation of interests that we all had going into the company, so I think it actually has been there from the onset." Chavkin, meanwhile, describes the process of writing the mission statement as "piecing together backwards how a company functions".

Today, although it is attempting to drop the acronym that started it all, the company continues to articulate its mission as making new work "about the experience of living in America today." The TEAM'S interest in exploring experiences of modern day America was also influenced, somewhat paradoxically, by taking their work abroad. Following their Edinburgh debut in 2005, much of the company's work has been shown in the UK and across Europe, forcing them to think about what it means to be American from an external perspective. "A lot of the concentration on it being American is because so much of our work has been done abroad," says Margolin. "I don't know whether, had we not been working in the UK at the time, we would have phrased it as 'what is it to be American?'"

As well as affecting their outlook on their home nation, The TEAM'S experience of working in the UK has had a significant impact on the company's development process and evolving aesthetic. Throughout its life, the company has been supported by a range of British institutions, including Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre, the National Theatre of Scotland and the Battersea Arts Centre in London. The latter's "scratch" model of works in progress has had a particular influence on The TEAM, who now rely on a workshop process of regular sharings to develop their shows. The support that the company received from the Battersea Arts Centre in the early stages of making Particularly in the Heartland, for example, opened up the possibility of an extended development process and led to longer gestation periods for their subsequent shows.

The style of The TEAM'S shows, meanwhile, has a subtly British flavor. Despite the consistent concern with America, the work in fact eschews many of the techniques used by other contemporary theatre companies based in the USA and particularly in The TEAM'S home city of New York, where irony prevails. In contrast, Sieh identifies in the company's shows a "kind of sweetness and a kind of earnestness" that has more in common with British theatre. …

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