Category Archives: American Utopias

The Dystopian Consequences of Utopian Societies

Since the dawn of civilization, we as human beings have been assigned the seemingly impossible duty to create the ideal utopia. Our founding fathers wanted to present future generations with a nation founded on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but as our country ages, so do some of its original values. We now understand the extensive list of flaws in the nation’s original Constitution and since then have revamped to mold it into the current understanding of human-worth within modern society.  So what have we found? Mike Daisey shows us the commercialized attempts at a utopia: Disney World, Burning Man, etc., but what about the Everyman’s utopia? As in most scenarios, when we have nothing left, we rely on the teachings of literature and the arts as a form of escapism—specifically the genre of utopian fiction.

First used by Sir Thomas More in 1516, the word utopia derives from the Greek word “eutopos,” translating simply to “good place.” More’s work of fiction, A Truly Golden Little Book, No Less Beneficial Than Entertaining, of the Best State of a Republic, and of the New Island Utopia, otherwise known as A Fruitful and Pleasant Work of the Best State of a Public Weal, and of the New Isle Called Utopia, otherwise known as Utopia, is believed to be the first published piece of utopian fiction. The novel caused quite a stir during the 16th century because although some of the successful Utopian practices were comprehensible, More also demonstrated the ease of sac-religious institutions; divorce, euthanasia, and marriage within the parish. On top of that, More was also a devout member of the Catholic church—this did not go over well. Although Utopia has become less common in the world of academia, it is still viewed as the novel that really started it all, inspiring many of the utopian novels we read today.

blog photoMap found in Thomas More’s Utopia

The 1931 utopian fiction novel, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley has become a staple in high schools’ literature curriculum. Exploring a world compacted with reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and operant conditioning, Huxley paints a portrait in which the arts are almost non-existent. Instead, society is governed by science, technology, and manual labor. Before birth, embryos are assigned a caste and their lives follow the path laid out for them by the government. Freedom to choose your own life is gone, but what Huxley makes us question is the value of knowing the truth. Would you rather know what could be or continue your life in unknowing blindness?

Similar to Huxley, Suzanne Collins explores the same consequences of a genetically altered society in her 2008 trilogy, The Hunger Games—yet it is not studied in public schools. In a post-apocalyptic nation striving for order and progress, The Hunger Games displays the social stratification of predetermined castes when each year 24 children from 12 districts are placed in an arena and forced to fight to the death. The game is always televised as a reminder to the rest of the country that the Capitol holds all the power. It is no surprise that this attempt at a utopia quickly turns into chaos, disorder, and dystopia very quickly. But even with all of the violence and mature themes, The Hunger Games is still classified as a young adult novel.  In the last few years, Katniss Everdeen has become a pop culture icon of strength, skill, and bravery of the millennial generation and District 12 has become a common metaphor for poverty and oppression. There is even a Hunger Games inspired theme park in North Carolina where for four days you can learn archery or indulge in luxuries of the Capitol, all at your own risk of becoming Tribute.

So what is it about these works that draw us to them? Time and time again we see utopian fiction result in dystopia, yet it is a genre that thrives in our society. Are we trying to convince ourselves that we are capable of creating our own Utopia? Or perhaps we believe that through the power of text, action can be invoked? Each work shows us the dire consequences of such an attempt. Maybe what makes utopian fiction so enticing is that no one has yet to actually achieve it. Once we reach our utopia, then what?

– Emily Wilson, Communications Assistant

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You can do WHAT in the lobby?!

The word is getting out about our lobby experience for American Utopias. The design team’s goal was to create the look and feel of a camp at Burning Man as though it were conceived and built by Disney Imagineers. They also wanted to create an environment that had no factual, think-y data but instead to evoke feelings and emotions, and to stimulate the senses in a way that is playful, fun, and visceral, in order to prepare the audience for the work that follows. Here is a sneak peek:

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There’s even more to experience, but you’ll need to head on over to Woolly for American Utopias to find out what!

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“I Can Tell That We Are Going To Be Friends,” Maggie Smith

What’s your favorite TV show? Mad Men or Millionaire Matchmaker? GIRLS or Bad Girls Club? Downton Abbey or Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?

I find the teenage mothers on Teen Mom to be immature, UNrealistic (ironic, huh?) and incredibly annoying. However, I can easily escape into the aristocratic world of Downton Abbey, imagining being BFFs with the Dowager Countess of Grantham. I can’t even laugh at Honey Boo Boo because I find it so ridiculous. On the other hand, I identify with a lot of the struggles that Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna, and Jessa deal with on a weekly basis in the HBO hit GIRLS.

Why is that? Why can’t I watch TV just for entertainment purposes? Why can’t I just turn on the boob tube and zone out? I think it’s because I want to watch things that I can imagine — but don’t exist for me. My utopia. Utopia is a place with perfect qualities — that doesn’t exist.

Dystopia is an undesirable or frightening society. Nothing describes this idea to me more than living in a house with seven strangers — and having our lives taped. You couldn’t pay me enough to move to the Jersey Shore or compete on The Bachelor.

I love Mad Men because of the formal dress, the formal language, and the simpler times. You don’t see men walking around dressed head to toe like Don Draper and Roger Sterling. Women may stress about clothes — but aren’t expected to wear a dress/skirt every day and heels. I wish we did.

In my mind, Downton Abbey would be an amazing place to live. Someone else to help make my hair look perfect every day? Okay. Walking around on those gorgeous grounds with that perfect Labrador Retriever? Count me in. Calling lunch luncheon and having tea every day? Swoon.

Each of our ideas of utopias are relative. What works for me, doesn’t work for someone else. What is euphoric and relatable and realistic to me isn’t necessarily the same for you.

In American Utopias, Mike Daisey explores the ideas of three different utopias: Disney World, Burning Man, and Occupy Wall Street. Chances are the people who enjoy a character breakfast at Disney World don’t like sitting in a cuddle dome at Burning Man. Likewise, those of us who love The West Wing don’t enjoy Kourtney and Kim Take Miami.

– Robbie Champion, Claque member

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All Together Now: two hundred years of American public assembly

excerpted from the AMERICAN UTOPIAS playbill

Even before the Declaration of Independence, a public demonstration in Boston Harbor proved the political impact that could be unleashed by Americans taking nonviolent action together. In what became known as the Boston Tea Party of 1773, residents of the Colony of Massachusetts dumped a British shipment of tea into the harbor to protest the British Parliament’s Tea Act, which they believed amounted to taxation without representation. Parliament’s response was to end Massachusetts’ self-government and shut down Boston’s commerce; this helped inspire the First Continental Congress and, as tension between the colonies and the British Empire escalated, the start of the American Revolution in 1775. Since American independence was established, American law has shaped – and been shaped by – the power of public assembly.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the most common public protests in the US were strikes and labor demonstrations. Despite eruptions of violence, the efforts of nineteenth-century labor demonstrations culminated in the establishment of the Department of Labor and Commerce, and a Secretary of Labor in the President’s Cabinet, in 1903.

The beginning of the twentieth century also saw public assembly put to use by the women’s suffrage movement. Several organizations such as the Women’s Political Union imported the tactics of parades, street speakers, and pickets from the English women’s suffrage movement. It was not until after several large, some violent, protests did President Wilson declare his support for women’s suffrage, and the Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified in 1920.

The mid-twentieth century ushered in the Civil Rights Movement, which further demonstrated the power of peaceful protest to change American life and law. The efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, JR. and his colleagues to advocate for integration and racial equality paved the way for so many civil rights advances that his method of nonviolent protest inspired countless other movements around the world.

The power of public assembly and the delicate dance between demonstrators and the laws that regulate demonstrations continues into the twenty-first century. Legal battles recently flared again after the Occupy Wall Street movement began in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park in 2011, and quickly inspired parallel Occupy movements across the country.

For the full story, read the note in the American Utopias playbill.

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INTERN TAKEOVER- THE FINAL DAY

Not in the loop about the takeover? Get looped in here.

The down and dirty explanation: October 14th at 7:00pm Mike Daisey is coming to Woolly to do a benefit for the Interns. Drunk with power, the interns have taken over the Woolly blog. Here’s your final trio of hardworkin’ young Mammoths. Come support all the interns this Sunday!

Jordan Beck, Connectivity Assistant

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Jordan has outgrown the slugs & snails of youth. He is now made exclusively of puppy-dog tails.  

Where are you from?

Portland, OR is my home town. Land of hipsters and lumberjacks

What are you doing this year for Woolly?

I’m working in Woolly’s newest department:  Connectivity.

“What the hell is that?” you ask.

Short answer, Connectivity tries to answer several big questions:

  • What conversation is this piece of theatre trying to have?
  • Who in our community would bring engaging perspectives/be engaged by this conversation?
  • What about this moment in time makes this conversation important?

Woolly wants every person who comes through our doors to have an engaging experience – Connectivity is down in the trenches trying to make that happen.

Why Woolly?

My college mentor Brian Desmond was the artistic director of WSC in Arlington, Virginia. He told me what a vibrant theatre scene DC had, and recommended I look into it for my post graduate plans. Woolly’s mission really spoke to me. I’m very passionate about theatre as vessel for discussion, and drawing us into ourselves, our families, and our communities. I see my values reflected in Woolly’s mission. When they called, I answered.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

To find meaningful work in my life. To choose happiness over comfort. Maybe get some sleep.

Fun Fact!? 

In my immediate family I have 8 ELCA Lutheran Pastors. Needless to say, I identify as an agnostic.

Omar IngramAssistant to the Production Manager

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Omar’s got some serious swag. He recently insulated his house with swag, and got swag poisoning. We were all very worried.

Where are you from?

I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, but I just finished Howard University in May with a BFA in Theatre Arts concentrating in Musical Theatre and a minor in Theatre Administration.

What are you doing this year for Woolly?

I’m the Assistant to the Production Manager this year. I am assisting with getting productions ready, also assisting with Artist Relations.

Why Woolly?

I chose Woolly because I wasn’t ready to leave DC just yet and I enjoy the shows that Woolly puts on as well as the mission statement.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

My mom just asked me this and I responded that I want to conquer the world. I would love to tour internationally as a performer and/or in a management capacity (company or stage). Part of me also wants to be a stylist or a model. I really want to be creative and enjoy everything that I do in life.

Fun Fact!?

Hmm… A fun fact? Since May I’ve worked with George Faison, the original Broadway choreographer for the Wiz, and Jennifer Holliday, the original Effie White in Dreamgirls.

Kelly Garvis, Assistant to the Managing Director 

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As one can see from this picture, Kelly is a total gangster.

Where are you from?

I am from Bowie, MD.  A city in the suburbs of Maryland.  I did my undergrad at the University of Maryland, College Park in Theatre.

What are you doing this year for Woolly?

I am working as the Assistant to the Managing Director.

Why Woolly?

Why not Woolly?  I have been a fan of Woolly for a couple years now.  I really enjoy the new work that Woolly does.  I enjoy the new play process from the beginning thoughts of what a play can be to the end with a fully realized production and all the steps in between.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

My hope to is have Jeff’s job one day.  On a more serious note, I hope to eventually become a managing director of a company.  I think ideally, if I had the right artistic director, I would like to start my own theatre company.

Fun Fact? (You have an answer to this one)

My first show was The Three Piggy Opera.  I was 6 years old and played the Straw Pig.

The First Performance of American Utopias: An Intern Benefit will be October 14th at 7:00pm for one night only at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. For tickets click here, email Tickets@Woollymammoth.net or call the box office at 202-393-3939. All the proceeds from the evening will go to support Woolly Mammoth’s Internship Program, which helps early career artists make the transition from school to the professional theatre.#InternUtopia

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INTERN TAKE OVER DAY 3

Not in the loop about the takeover? Get looped in here.

The down and dirty explanation: October 14th at 7:00pm Mike Daisey is coming to Woolly to do a benefit for the Interns. Drunk with power, the interns have taken over the Woolly blog. Every day this week come here to learn about a new trio of hardworkin’ young Mammoths.

Jecamiah Ybanez, Assistant to the Artistic Director

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JECAMIAH used ARTSMASH! It’s super effective!

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in South Texas. I spent most of my life in a small rural town called Poteet, just south of San Antonio.

What are you doing this year for Woolly?

I am the Assistant to the Artistic Director. It is a very unique opportunity that provides a peak into several different aspect of the organization, from the artistic leadership, to development and funding, to marketing and connectivity.

Why Woolly?

I believe that theatre should have an impact on our society. That it should ask us to look at ourselves, our choices, and the world we live in and have created. Woolly has been doing this kind of theatre for over 30 years now. That alone speaks for it’s self. How do I create theatre that is topical, entertaining, and be successful as a theatre practitioner? If anyone is going to have insight on those answers, it’s Woolly.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

I plan on going to grad school to get my MFA in Directing and maybe again for Art Administration. I would like to have my own theatre company one day or be the artistic director for a company that I believe in.

Fun Fact!?

I’ve never owned a TV

Ashley Promisel, Lighting Assistant

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Ashley rows an imaginary boat towards a brighter tomorrow.

Where are you from?

I am from Manassas, VA born and raised!

What are you doing this year for Woolly?

As the current Lighting Intern at Woolly, I have the good fortune of working with the lighting designers, namely the fantastic Colin K. Bills, as their assistant. During strikes, load-ins and tech, I help Ann Allan, the Master Electrician, in any way I can. I absolutely love my job!

Why Woolly?

I think a better question is “Why NOT Woolly?” This company supports new and upcoming art that pushes the limit! Not only do these shows that come through here challenge the audiences, they challenge the cast and crew to come up with creative ways to tell the story. I would describe the shows I’ve been exposed to here as transformative.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

My goal in life is to do what Howard Shalwitz has done: build a strong theatre company from the ground up and having it not only survive, but thrive! I want to push the limits on theatre while exposing it to those who have no idea what they are missing. Just like the works that pass through theaters around the world, I want to help the art form of theatre to expand, grow and transform, no matter how small my contribution may be in the scheme of things. Short term goals mainly consist of doing well here at Woolly, and being able to support myself as a lighting designer.

Fun Fact!?

I run on Positive energy.

Stacey Sulko, Marketing and Communications Assistant

Through the magic of photo editing Stacey doesn’t look stressed out.

Where are you from?

I am based in DC… for now.

What are you doing this year for Woolly?

I’m the Marketing and Communications Assistant here at Woolly Mammoth.

Why Woolly?

I chose Woolly for a number of reasons but mainly for the passion they has for the type of work they do. I love pieces of theatre that make you think. When I walk out of a play with a new insight on the world, I feel fulfilled  That is what theatre should be in my eyes. A new lens at which to see the world through and create understanding for all by it.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

I would like to carry my dreams out to LA. I’d like to ultimately take my vision and transfer it to the film world. I also want to live in Paris for a good chunk of my life but that’s for completely different reasons.

Fun Fact!? 

I’m majorly obsessed with cats.

The First Performance of American Utopias: An Intern Benefit will be October 14th at 7:00pm for one night only at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. For tickets click here, email Tickets@Woollymammoth.net or call the box office at 202-393-3939. All the proceeds from the evening will go to support Woolly Mammoth’s Internship Program, which helps early career artists make the transition from school to the professional theatre.#InternUtopi

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INTERN TAKEOVER DAY 2

Not in the loop about the takeover? Get looped in here.

The down and dirty explanation: October 14th at 7:00pm Mike Daisey is coming to Woolly to do a benefit for the Interns. Drunk with power, the interns have taken over the Woolly blog. Every day this week come here to learn about a new pair of hardworkin’ young Mammoths.

Emily Cauthorne: Development Assistant

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moments after this photo was taken, two laser-beams erupted from the tips of Emily’s thumbs.

Where are you from?

I am from Midlothian, Virginia.

What are you doing this year for Woolly?

I am currently working as the Development Assistant/Intern. I will be assisting our team in the evolution of our Free the Beast Campaign, special events throughout the year, and working closely alongside of our patrons!

Why Woolly?

I chose Woolly for its commitment to promoting up-and-coming artists and taking risks on new works.

Over the course of this year, I will be learning the operations and skill sets pertaining to a field that is entirely new to me.  I have consistently been pursuing arts management at a collegiate level and, with this internship, will be branching out to a different side of theatre management.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

My immediate goal/hope is to understand Tessitura (Woolly’s very powerful database system), which is fairly essential to do my job. I digress. Though I have mostly been working in theatre administration, I still hope to pursue performance down the road. After Woolly, my semi-planned out, long term goal is to move to L.A.!

Until then, I will be tackling this crazy, Woolly ride over the next year!

Fun Fact!?

I’m ambidextrous!

Sam Lahne: Literary Assistant 

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Sam Lahne: the littlest ninja

Where are you from?

Silver Spring, MD.

What are you doing this year for Woolly?

I am the Literary Assistant.

Why Woolly?

I haven’t shaved for a while.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

My hopes and dreams fall into two major categories:

HOPES

Be a playwright.

Get some of my plays produced.

Go to graduate school.

Teach.

And write more plays.

And maybe a novel.

No poetry though.

And some essays.

Also be a dramaturg and translator.

Make a life in the theatre and keep writing and reading and thinking and enjoying the experience of live performance.

and

DREAMS

There’s the one where I’m a pro soccer player.

Or that one where I fly.

Or where I get rich but wake up before I can buy anything.

Or where this guy named Freddy keeps trying to kill me with his knifeclaws.

Or  the one where there are all these melting eyes and a guy uses giant scissors to cut one of the eyes open. Then I’m at the edge of a roof with skis on my feet and I fall off, but there’s a guy with no face holding a melting wagon wheel and I’m running down a pyramid with a giant shadow following me.

Fun Fact?! 

A =  π r 2

The First Performance of American Utopias: An Intern Benefit will be October 14th at 7:00pm for one night only at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. For tickets click here, email Tickets@Woollymammoth.net or call the box office at 202-393-3939. All the proceeds from the evening will go to support Woolly Mammoth’s Internship Program, which helps early career artists make the transition from school to the professional theatre.#InternUtopia

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