Guest post by Julie Rada, Raymond C. Morales Post-MFA Fellow in the Department of Theatre
Founded in The Bronx, New York in 1995, the members of UNIVERSES came together in the urban poetry and music scene of downtown New York and have come to build a home for themselves in the landscape of the American theatre. I first encountered UNIVERSES in 2008 as a working performer in Colorado where UNIVERSES was visiting in a residency at Curious Theatre Company, developing a performance called The Denver Project. I had the pleasure in participating in one of their workshop weekends, helping to develop the project. I was inspired by their work. They were a visiting ensemble, but sought to connect with the city in a meaningful way, guiding a group of local artists in the creation of an original work of music, poetry, and movement. I observed that how they worked was connected to why they worked, deeply engaging with local issues, supporting the creative work of others, and demonstrating their own virtuosic skills in singing, composing, and crafting stories and songs.
As a company comprised of Puerto-Rican and African-American artists, UNIVERSES’ diversity is changing the face of the American theatre. Over two decades, UNIVERSES has performed at high-profile venues throughout the U.S., toured extensively worldwide, and has been honored with prestigious awards. UNIVERSES devises new musicals about powerful, humanistic topics such as the history of the Black Panthers and Young Lords movement in the U.S. (Party People) or the aftermath of Katrina (AmeriVille), treating each topic with critical insight that provides understanding while also revealing questions that complicate these histories and the human condition.
In this residency, University students will have the opportunity to create with UNIVERSES and peers on campus, gaining practical experience with the unique methods that UNIVERSES utilizes to generate their work. Participants will discover the intrinsic value in developing a “blueprint” of their own stories, connecting their personal narratives to historical events, and infuse them with rhythm, song, and poetry. As I look at how the regional and commercial theatre models are shifting, I believe that emerging 21st -century artists must generate their own work. UNIVERSES stands as an example of a small, classically-trained ensemble of self-made artists that is doing just that. Students will have the opportunity to ask questions of UNIVERSES and practice the skills the ensemble demonstrates in generating new material.
Then we will all get to see UNIVERSES in action! Students and the public will experience “Live from the Edge,” an evening that showcases the ensemble’s brand of fusion theater that tracks the evolution of their poetic language from childhood rhymes and community rituals, to poetry and theater, hip-hop and gospel. Watching high-caliber performance is innately beneficial and inspiring, particularly for aspiring performing artists. Performances by UNIVERSES are met with national critical acclaim and, from my own experiences seeing UNIVERSES live, I can attest to them as captivating and electric. UNIVERSES doesn’t disappoint in creating work that is hip, catchy, and thoughtful. I can’t wait to see them again.