American Theater Company (ATC) presents the third world premiere in its 30th Anniversary season: The Project(s), a documentary play about the history of public housing in Chicago, April 24-May 24, 2015. Conceived, co-written and directed by ATC Artistic Director PJ Paparelli and co-written by Joshua Jaeger, The Project(s) innovatively combines documentary theater with a cappella music, body percussion and stepping to create a provocative examination of the successes and failures of public housing that poses the question, "What is America's responsibility to its poor?" Single tickets for The Project(s) range from $38-$48 and are now on sale at the Buy Tickets link or call the box office at 773-409-4125.
From 2010 until 2014, Paparelli conducted over 100 interviews with scholars, historians, and former and current residents of Chicago's public housing, including Cabrini-Green, Robert Taylor Homes, Wentworth Gardens and Ida B. Wells Homes. The Project(s) interweaves verbatim material with a cappella music, body percussion, and stepping with choreography by Jakari Sherman, artistic director of Washington, DC-based Step Afrika!, the nation's only professional dance company devoted to stepping. Paparelli previously conceived, co-wrote, and directed the critically-acclaimed documentary play columbinus that premiered its third act at ATC, toured to ArtsEmerson in Boston in 2013, and has been produced around the country and internationally.
"The Project(s) is the story of Chicago," says Paparelli. "My hope is to shatter the misconceptions about public housing by taking a hard look at what happened from both the planning side and from the residents' point of view. I have met the most extraordinary people on this journey and am honored to share their stories of hope, resilience, and resistance, especially during this time of racial turbulence across our nation."
The Project(s) received two development opportunities at the Orchard Project, a national new play development retreat in New York; a Jentel Artist Residency in Wyoming, and a MacArthur International Connections Fund grant, through which Paparelli travelled to the United Kingdom to workshop the play at Citizens Theatre in Glasgow and the Lyric Hammersmith in London, in addition to interviewing public housing residents and city officials in Scotland. ATC also partnered with Howard University in Washington, DC, for a five-week workshop integrating stepping and body percussion.
The Project(s) is free to all former and current residents of Public Housing. If interested, please call the box office on 773.409.4125
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Letter from PJDear Friends,
Welcome to American Theater Company and the world premiere of The Project(s).
Shortly after I arrived at American Theater Company, the organization had a great desire to diversify. That experience led to substantial changes in the organization including a commitment to developing multicultural work about a wider definition of the American experience. Derrick Saunders, the former Artistic Director of Congo Square Theatre Company, and I had several meetings about the type of work our generation of artistic leaders should be producing. Instead of continually producing European classics or the same classic plays from the African-American cannon, Derrick spoke of the desire to nurture and develop new multicultural stories from deep within our community. These would be the plays that trickle across American colleges and high schools and inspire young multicultural artists to see themselves and their experiences on center stage. I left that meeting with a charge for ATC that led to premiering plays like Welcome to Arroyo’s by Kristoffer Diaz, Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar, and this season’s, The Royale by Marco Ramirez.
At the same time, the Chicago Community Trust approached me with the idea of developing a play on Chicago’s public housing. While fascinated, I was nervous. I thought, “Maybe I shouldn’t be the one to write this.” I wasn’t born in Chicago and this story was predominantly an African American one; perhaps it should have an African American writer. But I remembered Derrick’s words…and as I started researching this complex topic, I realized that race and class should not continue to scare us back into our separate and familiar tracks, nor should it dictate what stories we tell and who tells them. I was just afraid. And I needed to get over it.
For the last five years, my co-writer, Joshua Jaeger, and I conducted over 100 interviews with scholars, city officials, and former & current residents of public housing. Through the support of artistic residencies here and aboard, we were able to shape these interviews into what you will see when you attend the performance. My collaborator Jakari Sherman and I developed a theatrical aesthetic of sound and movement inspired by the music from these housing developments and African American dance forms like stepping. Our goal was to create an evening that tells the story of Chicago’s public housing from both outside and deep inside of these American communities.
This play defines community. Over the last five years, an army of collaborators participated in its development. Many dedicated individuals gave so much time and talent to see this play to fruition. I want to particularly thank the vision of Susanne Connors and the generosity of the Chicago Community Trust who believed in this project from the very beginning. I am grateful to our partner organizations that provided residencies and support including the Orchard Project, Jentel Artist Residency Program, Citizens Theatre Company in Scotland, the Lyric Hammersmith in London, Howard University Department of Theatre Arts, Sheridan College & the Wyoming Theater Festival, the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation and the many individual donors in the ATC community especially Larry and Susanne Broutman and Bruce and Joyce Chelberg. All of you made this idea into a reality.
Most of all, I want to thank the residents who opened their hearts and homes to us. This piece is dedicated to them. We hope that what you see here tonight will inspire you to learn more about the history of these developments and the thousands of families who lived in them. Take a moment, strike up a conversation, and be open to change. We can learn so much from each other.
Sit back. Take a breath. Clear your mind. And let us take you on a journey deep inside of the heart of Chicago. I’m so glad you are here.
Your Artistic Director,
buzzWBEZ Morning Shift sat down with PJ Paparelli and Joshua Jaeger, co-writers of "The Project(s)," to discuss the process of developing the show and the history of public housing in Chicago.
"It started pre-WWII. Many of the residents were working-class white Chicagoans, who had low-paying jobs. And that sort of evolved. When you look at one housing project in particular, the Trumbull Homes, when there was talk of integrating those with African-American residents, there was a riot."
American Theatre magazine sits down with Artistic Director PJ Paparelli for an exclusive preview of "The Project(s)." Read more about the history of public housing and the process of developing a documentary play.
“We have probably over 3,000 pages of transcripts from over 100 interviews,” Paparelli notes. “What was challenging was making sure we had a balance of voices. We didn’t go in thinking, ‘This is the story we’re going to tell.’ That had to emerge out of these interviews. You really have to trust the process.”