America In Play

2009 Festival

Our study of early American comedies led to our interest in A Glance at New York, a play written by Benjamin Baker in 1848. We were drawn to the play’s protagonist, George-a greenhorn, who gets taken by the New York con artists Mike and Jake the moment he steps off the boat. We were interested in the growth of the Jonathan character and were excited by the city-country parallels that we began exploring last season. We also continued to be interested in the concept of the guidebook as literature. (A Glance at New York was also the name of a popular guidebook of the period.) Our ultimate goal was to “stuff” yet-to-be-written material into a cut version of the original play, basically creating our own theatrical mashup.

As our meetings progressed, we examined early American performance and entertainment-everything from the Chautauqua Circuit to PT Barnum’s American Museum to vaudeville. We studied the history of the Lower East Side. In order to understand Mose the Fireman, Baker’s most famous character (and a character that the rowdy audiences of the time recognized as one of their own), we read up on the Bowery B’hoys. We decided to use vaudeville as a structure.

More meetings brought on more work: we wrote new scenes, songs and speeches for characters in the original play and created new characters-such as the Great Houdini and Google Girl-that would journey through our plays with them. Many of us wrote guidebook monologues, about our first day of seeing New York, and so we explored what it was like to be a modern greenhorn in New York City. We performed our own stories as part of the show we made.

When the stock market tanked in the middle of our exploration, things got really interesting. Credit default swaps replaced the original play’s bad banknotes and new con men joined Jake and Mike. Our feelings about the economy quickly found their way into our new work.

We broke up into two groups and decided to see what would happen when each group mixed its own material with the original text. Ultimately we ended up with two very different plays for our Work & Show evenings at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center.

The first reading, A Second Glance, by Alexis Clements, Kimberly del Busto, Adam Gwon, David Johnston, Molly B. Rice, DeLora Whitney, conceived and directed by Lynn M. Thomson took place Monday, March 26th at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center.

It was followed on March 23rd by Stealing Glances, by Kevin Cummines, Laura Eason, Rob Hartmann, Laura Henry, Andrea Lepcio, and Kate McLeod, conceived and directed by Lynn M. Thomson, also at TPAC.

Our year culminated in a third reading at the Tenement Museum, where we created a third piece that combined scenes and songs from A Second Glance and Stealing Glances with historical information and narrative about the original play and the characters that inspired us.