And through the use of music and other devices, Shalwitz added, “the Civilians have an interest in almost making an entertainment out of the news.”
City desk, Cosson speaking
The new 70-minute show, which at this point is going by the name “Let Me Ascertain You: Occupy Wall Street,” is part of an ongoing series of evenings that the Civilians are staging at Joe’s Pub in the Public Theater; it takes place Oct. 28
, and if there are encouraging signs, Cosson says it might be refined or expanded.
As the protests gathered momentum this month in the compact, concrete park in Manhattan’s Financial District, Cosson sent word to the other Civilians for volunteers to go out and interview those participating in the demonstrations. There was no agenda, he said, except to portray compellingly what was happening — not so different from a city editor’s approach. The dozen “interviewing artists” were responsible for transcribing their conversations and submitting them to Cosson, who would then choose a diverse array of voices, edit the script and cast the speakers from among the actors who had gone out in the field.
“What I’m consciously trying to do is have enough variety so that there are multiple points of view,” he explained. “I will make it clear that the 10 people we’re going to see are not going to adequately represent a mass movement.”
The danger, of course, is that without some tension, some inherent provocation, the Civilians’ take on Occupy Wall Street could flatten the effect of the protest rather than amplify it. A political demonstration is by its nature theatrical, but often also narratively repetitious — not always the surest impetus for a rush to the box office.
Which was why McFadden — a trim 40-year-old with a scruffy beard who lives with his choreographer wife and young son in Brooklyn — was eager to avoid some of the usual protest suspects, the OWS representatives with their own well-rehearsed scripts, the legion of 20-somethings stretched out in sleeping bags and distributing fliers.
“Theatrically, the stuff that’s most interesting is not when you interview the mayor,” said McFadden, who performed in the Atlantic Yards piece and bears a passing resemblance to actor Edward Norton. “It’s when the car breaks down, and you interview the guy pumping the gas.”
She’s the one
As an actor who’s worked on stages across the country but still dreams of a reliable year-round paycheck, McFadden says he feels an affinity for the movement’s restiveness over the nation’s income inequality. But he gave away little of how he felt as he poked through the crowd, casually introducing himself and his mission to those he thought might be interesting, and saying something on the order of, “If you’d like, I’m happy to hear your story.”
He was, in a sense, conducting auditions himself, for a character that he might play. “I want a human being, not a soapbox,” he said. He paused to talk to a woman who was perched on a low-slung wall, but lost interest after she told him she was “sort of the Norma Rae of my neighborhood.”
Finally, with the late-afternoon sky darkening, McFadden spotted an elderly woman on the edge of the park, seated in a wheelchair and wearing what looked like a vintage military uniform. His eyes lit up. He swooped in and, finding her open to talking, pulled out his trusty recorder. She leaned over the device and whispered a long monologue, continuing even as the clouds opened up. And when after about 20 minutes she finished, McFadden looked up, completely satisfied.
“That was incredible,” McFadden said. “She held my hand and she wasn’t going to let go.” She was 93, he said, and talked about having wanted to be out there in the park for the young people. Pleased, the actor texted Cosson. He was eager to know if any other Civilian had already talked to her. Because this was a good get.
As the village of protesters put up their umbrellas and huddled under their tarps, McFadden considered his recorder. “There is,” he said, “three minutes of gold on here.”