Introduction: An Introduction to the Introduction!
If this is your first time meeting us, hello, and if you already know us, hello again! One advantage of being a Plagiarist is that one is rarely presented with a blank page. This yawning abyss, the antagonist of a million stories of creative paralysis, the central metaphor for writer’s block – it’s not usually an issue for us. The problems we face are more to do with editing (digging through enormous piles of words and winnowing them down to something that can be presented in an evening) or interpretation (figuring out how a story can be most effectively told through theatre). So, our new blog is a wonderful opportunity for me to experience a new type of terror. Hooray! Anyway, I thought this would be an excellent time and place to tell our story, provide you with a little introduction to The Plagiarists.
Their Startling Origin: Coincidence… or FATE?!?!
Once a disparate group of unsuspecting theatre artists, the future Plagiarists gathered together with a simple goal: to put on a small, sweet play about young love that had never been produced here. But a mysterious conspiracy tore our dream from us (the publishing company pulled the rights in hopes that a larger company would premiere the show in Chicago). Rather than be defeated, we gathered more reinforcements, drew on previously unknown reserves of resolve and self-deprecation, and created our own work. That work was Living the Dream, an original semi-autobiographical comedy about being struggling artists in this new century: the bad plays, awkward auditions, dead end jobs, one's own clumsiness, naïveté, and doubt – a show for anyone who's ever pursued a dream and come up a bit short.
The success of the show made us want to continue to work together, but were in need of an organizing principle, a statement of purpose, a… mission statement. Then we encountered author Jonathan Lethem’s essay “The Ecstasy of Influence.” When we encountered this essay on cultural ownership and artistic influence, the resulting explosion forged a new theatre company, an expression of our experiences, ideas and ideals. We had become… THE PLAGIARISTS. Our mission: to steal from literature, visual art, history, and the culture at large to create new theatre that finds the familiar in the strange, the unique in the commonplace and ultimately enlarges the world.
*Early Feats: The First Days of… THE PLAGIARISTS! *
Our debut under our new identity was at Mary Arrchie’s Abbie Hoffmann Festival, where we performed the first installment of our *American Stage Sessions* series: *The Corsage, the Lamp, and the Quilt: A Closer Look At The Works Of Herzlichen Gluckwunsch Zum Geburtstag*, a hysterical and slightly mad exploration of the life and work of a fictional German absurdist playwright.
The same essay that inspired us to create the company led Jonathan Lethem to create The Promiscuous Materials Project, where his stories were made available to be adapted into short films and plays for a nominal fee. This seemed like a natural fit for us, so in July of 2008, we produced *The One About The Green Detective*, a one-act based on the Lethem story of the same name. Staged in the back room of a Roscoe Village bar, the show borrowed heavily from the style and structure of noir films and vintage detective radio shows, featuring live jazz and a foley artist. In October 2008, we premiered Promiscuous Stories, an ambitious full-length production based on Lethem’s stories, at The Athenaeum. We spent a year workshopping and editing more than twenty adaptations down to the final seven, for a show that featured made-up holidays, people becoming cartoons, catatonic sex, a dance number, a giant talking sitcom crab, and Orson Welles as the spirit of artistic vengeance.
We began our monthly salon series in May of 2009. Each salon featured a different company, artist, or theme, providing opportunities for workshopping, promotion, experiments, discussion, and performances by artists across the spectrum of experience and medium. One early salon was hosted by Chris Piatt and became the pilot for his successful live magazine and podcast, The Paper Machete. Other salons were curated by The New Colony, The Steppenwolf Visiting Company Initiative (XIII Pocket, Dog & Pony & Pavement Group), The Building Stage, Caffeine Theatre, Oracle Theatre, The Chicago Fringe Festival, Kevin O’Donnell, Carolyn Hoerdemann, Lights Out Theatre Company, The Harlotry & Necromancy Appreciation Society, and New Leaf Theatre. The salon series ended in September of 2012 after 40 successful salons. Also in 2009, we adapted the three *American Stage Sessions* pieces we had created at that point into one full-length play and premiered the full-length American Stage Sessions the Viaduct that October.
Our next major project was The Wreck of the Medusa, an epic examination of the worst naval disaster of the 19th century. Using firsthand accounts of the raft survivors, a 19th century musical based on the events, and Gericault’s famous painting, The Raft of the Medusa, the play examined the political, psychological, and cultural impact of the disaster on its survivors and its perpetrators. The play was workshopped in December of 2008 as part of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs’ INCUBATOR Program, and premiered at Angel Island in March of 2010. **
In The Groove: Seasonal Plagiarism!
In the fall of 2011, we started our first two-show season with *Caesura: A Butchery*, a mash-up of three millennia of drama and poetry, including Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Voltaire's Le Mort du Caesar, Eliot's *Murder in the Cathedral*, and several other texts (and even some songs). In January of 2012, we presented I Am Saying This Right Now, a 13-playwright collage of memoirs, recordings, found text, images, and memories inspired by the life and work of Tony Schwartz.
Last season opened with The Feast of Saint McGonagall, a celebration of the life and work of William McGonagall, widely considered the worst poet in the English language. We followed it in the spring with Matryoshka, a female-centered retelling of 1,001 Nights using tropes from 20th century pop culture.
We are now in the middle of our third two-show season, having just closed *King Ubu, a company-developed adaptation of Alfred Jarry’s classic *Ubu Roi. Our second show of this season will be War Song, a music-and-poetry-suffused look at race and the Civil War through the eyes of Christian Fleetwood, publisher, choirmaster, Sergeant in the 4th Regiment United States Colored Infantry, and winner of The Congressional Medal of Honor. Drawn from his speech, “The Negro As A Soldier,” as well as the words of Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman, War Song is about war, glory, despair, America, and the old flag; the stories we tell and the songs we sing about them.