- Theater Arts
“Froot is an evocative storyteller with a crazy, irrepressible imagination. As a result, his subtle and unexpected shifts between comedy and tragedy can be harrowing. Full-throttle laughter turns to dazed silence as Froot spins his audience with him into a dark vacuum. It is quite an achievement.” Jennifer Dunning The New York Times
As a kid, I loved listening to radio plays, from Rod Serling's The Zero Hour to The National Lampoon Radio Hour. Those shows allowed me to immerse myself in new worlds. Fast forward to 2014: I began working on Pang!, a project that brings together my love of theatrical storytelling and pursuit of social justice. Pang! aims to be kickass theater that prompts cross-class dialogue on poverty and hunger. It's an evening of three live radio plays based on oral histories of families living with hunger (or “food insecurity”) in Los Angeles, Cedar Rapids and Miami. Pang! is staged as if you are peering into a recording studio, watching a radio theater company perform a live broadcast. Actors and musicians inhabit a forest of microphones, voicing dozens of characters, creating sound effects, and accompanying the action with live cello, saxophone and singing. I am writing and directing the production in collaboration with an incredibly talented and attractive bunch of artists: composer Bob Een, sound designer Cricket Myers, lighting designer Chris Kuhl, performers Natalie Camunas, Donna Simone Johnson and Christopher Rivas, and dramaturg Bobby Gordon. We are thrilled to be partnering with 24th Street Theater (Los Angeles), Miami Light Project, Legion Arts (Cedar Rapids), and eight social service agencies serving low-income families. We are also indebted to Judith Scott, Sheetal Gandhi, Shoji Kameda, Paul Outlaw, and Julanne Chidi Hill for their creative contributions.
“I realize there’s so many out there that are hungry and on the streets and if [only] they [would] get that person like Dan who just reaches out to say, “Who are you, where have you been? What are you going through? Tell me your story.” He gave me the opportunity to see my life out in front of me from a whole different perspective and I was able to pick up a few of those pieces and start putting it all back together.” Angel, one of the narrators of Dan Froot and Dan Hurlin's Who's Hungry (2012).
In 2015-2016, my collaborators and I interviewed six diverse families in Pang!’s three cities. We interviewed each family twelve times over the course of eight months and then asked one family from each city to work with us on adapting their story into a short theater piece. While food insecurity is the doorway we walked through, each family is dealing with even more urgent issues. For instance: a single mom and her ten children are evicted from the Los Angeles home that has been in their family for over 65 years; a refugee family escapes war-torn Burundi and is resettled in Iowa, only to discover that a new set of ordeals await immigrants; and an eight-year-old boy's fantasies shine a ray of hope into a Miami community oppressed by violence. Working alongside these families over the past two years, we are so energized by the determination, love, and humor that fuels their resilience. We hope to amplify that energy in each family's home community and beyond.
We begin adapting these stories by sifting through hundreds of pages of interview transcripts, identifying themes and scenarios that speak to each family’s distinctive character. We then devise the script in consultation with participating families. Throughout the process, we conduct readings and built relationships with each family’s community in unique ways, from conducting storytelling workshops, to volunteering on community farms, to rehearsing with local church choirs.
Pang! is a conversation between artists and communities. The project gets us listening to and talking with each other about what it means to be poor in America. While the stories belong exclusively to their respective families, we as artists are charged with adapting those stories into theatrical form, and we do that in dynamic dialogue with the families themselves. Pang!’s moral framework is being forged by our relationships with the families and their communities.
In order to maximize Pang!’s impact, it’s crucial that the project begets a conversation among economically diverse audiences. Bringing such audiences together is challenging. How can we create a feeling of warm welcome and belonging for economically diverse groups? How can our performances be accessible in all ways for low-income audiences?
We believe the key to these challenges is ongoing, consistent, face-to-face, engagement with participating families and their communities. That’s why over the last two years we have been building partnerships with social service agencies in all three communities, and conducting story circles, workshops and readings with those partners’ constituents. In order to see this engagement through to the performance stage and beyond, I am asking for your help. Your donation toward our goal of raising $10,000 ensures that we can:
1) Increase our presence in each of the three communities. $3,000 would cover our troupe's costs for a few extra days in each location, in order to deepen our relationships with community members and partner organizations. It would enhance our ability to arrange subsidies for ticket, transportation and childcare costs for low-income audiences.
2) Bring it to Los Angeles! We are thrilled that Pang! is being co-commissioned and presented by Legion Arts and Miami Light Project through the National Performance Network. In order to share Pang! with Los Angeles audiences we need to take on all costs of presenting the work at 24th Street Theater ($7,000), which is around the corner from where the L.A. play is set.
Contributions above our minimum goal will allow us to work with a publicist to reach out to each community individually. In this way, we can engage communities continually, even when we’re not physically present.
The other day I was listening to the radio again, this time to an interview with the Rev. Dr. William Barber. He said that justice is the tangible outcome of love. Wow. I can only hope that hearing each other’s stories, well told, is one way we can move toward justice.
Thank you for considering a donation. Your gift in any amount will diversify Pang!’s audiences and thereby amplify its impact.
Pang! is a National Performance Network (NPN) Creation Fund Project co-commissioned by Legion Arts in partnership with Miami Light Project and NPN. This project is supported in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.
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