Close Encounters with The Civilians

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Duke students have several first-hand opportunities to engage with Obie award-winning theater artists The Civilians this month.  The Civilians, a Brooklyn-based investigative theater company, begin the first installment of a unique three-part residency with performances of their latest piece of work, The Undertaking, on September 29, 30 and October 1.  The Undertaking, which uses transcripts of actual conversations with shamans, morticians, philosophers, and mystics as the script, just premiered at the BAM Next Wave Festival and stops at Duke before traveling to Paris as part of the Brooklyn-Paris Exchange.

As they load in and rehearse the show, company members will also visit undergraduate classes, including Jules Odendahl-James' The Artist As Social Critic, Jehanne Gheith's Medical Ethics, Aging & End of Life Care, and Madeleine Lambert's The Theater Today.  The variety of courses speaks to the many threads that The Civilians pull together in their work. They create each original piece in a collaborative process based on personal interviews with "civilians" on topics that resonate with the group as deeply intriguing.  These topics have ranged from the porn industry (their 2015 musical Pretty Filthy) to a revolutionary historic event (2012's Paris Commune) to this year's offering of The Undertaking, “a playful and profound 21st-century take on the classic trip to the underworld,” according their website

Tickets to the performances are selling out but students in Theater Studies and Documentary Studies can do their own investigating into The Civilians’ process during an open forum with director Steve Cosson on Friday, September 30 at 1:30p in Sheafer Theater.  The conversation, moderated by director Jules Odendahl-James, will also delve into the ethical questions presented in the creation of documentary theater.