Dreaming about ‘Tomorrow’

Boom Arts 8: The New York ensemble The TEAM talks about "Tomorrow Will Be ...," its new, made-in-Portland show, playing Friday-Saturday

The three members of the New York theater ensemble the TEAM don’t call Tomorrow Will Be…, which they’ll present Friday and Saturday in Portland at Boom Arts, a show. “I feel weird calling it one thing,” says Zhailon Levingston. “A person who is looking for a one-sentence description might need to take a leap of faith.”

Tomorrow is also a switch in plans. Originally TEAM was going to present Primer for a Failed Superpower, an all-ages community concert featuring a multigenerational group of singers performing new arrangements of classic protest songs, for the last show of Boom Arts’ season. But early this year the company announced that TEAM would be presenting a new work, Tomorrow Will Be….

The “Tomorrow Will Be …” team, clockwise from top left: Zhailon Levingston, Orion Johnstone, Nehemiah Luckett, Ben Landsverk.

A motivating factor in the change was a visit that TEAM made to Portland in January for a pre-production meeting with collaborator Ben Landsverk. Landsverk works with Voices Unlimited, a community choir serving adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. At the time he also happened to be working on the Black Star Ball, a celebration for David Bowie at Star Bar.


BOOM ARTS: THE SEASON: 8


“After we landed he told us that one of the performers was not able to make it and he asked each of us to take one of the songs they were going to sing” at the Bowie show, says Nehemiah Luckett, who was assigned Under Pressure. “Before the show I was downtown singing to myself, and as I was walking I heard a woman next to me. I took off my headphones and she was singing with me. I thought that was cool. I continued around the theater and passed a gentleman who fist-bumped me as I passed.” Luckett came across a homeless shelter where two people were camped outside. As he finished the song, when Bowie and Freddie Mercury sing:

‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word

And love dares you to care for

The people on the edge of the night

And loves dares you to change our way of

Caring about ourselves

This is our last dance

This is ourselves

Under pressure

the two people burst into cheers. “I felt like Portland was trying to tell me something,” says Luckett. “There was this energy of people connecting to each other through song. It felt like a sign we were onto something important. It felt good to take that back to the performance venue. And represent all those people who didn’t have the means or funds to attend the show.”

After that there were intense months of planning as Primer gave way to Tomorrow Will Be…. “We wanted to honor the heart of Primer in a way that is responsive to the place of Portland and the community that Boom Arts has gathered,” says Orion Johnstone. “This project has always been rooted in the belief of singing together as a political tool for connecting across generations. Singing is not only about amplifying voices in volume but also in beauty and in power.”

Once the group landed in Portland the work to create Tomorrow Will Be… ramped up. TEAM began facilitating workshops all across the city. “We’re working with groups who are finding ways to imagine their future today in the midst of all the injustice of the world around us,” says Levingston. “Groups imagining new ways of being together. Not just surviving in the midst of the world but thriving.”

Meeting with youth from historically underrepresented groups is of central importance to TEAM. During the week leading up to the performances they’ve met with Sexual & Gender Minority Youth Resource Center (SMYRC), Voices Unlimited, and students from Lane Middle School and Roosevelt High School. “Part of what we’re doing is amplifying voices that don’t always get amplification,” says Levingston. “That’s part of our criteria for creating. Where does the microphone need to be? Where isn’t it?”

“How we make is as important as what we make,” says Johnstone. “The community workshops we’re doing this week are just as important as the events this weekend.” The creation of Primer, they added, had a similar ethos.

While the artists work on devising, the event has some hard and fast details. A timeline, created by TEAM and based on the community workshops this week, will be on display. It will feature a timeline of activism from 1950 to the year 3000. “We are showcasing the collective imagination of all the participants,” says Levingston. “And we will ask the audience to help us imagine a more liberated tomorrow.”

“So many answers to the question we have lie within us and our connections to other people and other communities,” says Luckett.

The events will feature local musical guests each night. The lineup includes Arietta Ward and Holcombe Waller (Friday) and Mic Crenshaw and Kasey Anderson (Saturday). Each night will also prominently feature Portland activists. Friday, May 10, will feature Teressa Raiford of Don’t Shoot PDX and Saturday, May 11, features Kayse Jama from Unite Oregon, S. Renee Mitchell from Creative Revolutionist, and youth from the I Am M.O.R.E initiative.

“It’s not just a performance that an audience shows up to and receives,” says Johnstone. “But they are also called upon and given opportunity to connect with activists and organizers.”

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Boom Arts concludes its season with performances of The TEAM’s Tomorrow Will Be … at 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 10-11, at The Old Church, 1422 S.W. 11th Ave., Portland. Ticket and production information here.

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TJ Acena has been covering Boom Arts’ 2018-19 season from inside and out for Oregon ArtsWatch. His previous pieces in the series:

  1. Boom Arts’ festive revolution. Embarking on a new season of theatrical celebration and social change.
  2. Boom Arts: Puppets from Kiev. From Ukraine, a 10-day dash of song, theater, puppetry and culture.
  3. Penny Arcade, back in town. Boom Arts brings the celebrated performance artist to town for the second time in a year with an old favorite and some new projects.
  4. Boom Arts: the executive chair. New executive director Kamla Hurst talks about planning, risk, and growth.
  5. Boom Arts: The halftime report. Acena looks back on the first half of the 2018-19 season and ahead to what’s still to come.
  6. Boom goes fishing with puppets. “Puppetry is a way of looking at acting,” Dominga Gutiérrez, co-founder of the Chilean troupe Silencio Blanca, tells Acena.
  7. Boom update: hold the choir. The presenting company and The TEAM announce a switch in plans.

 

 

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