The New York-based Civilians, whose works include the musical hit Gone Missing and the recent Paris Commune, was founded in 2001 by Artistic Director Steven Cosson. The renowned company develops original projects inspired from investigations into real life, using artistic and documentary methods. The resulting shows are boldly theatrical, often incorporating cabaret, dance and musical theater. By drawing on these popular entertainment traditions, the company is able to tackle complex ideas and express them in a broadly accessible form. The Civilians’ 7 original shows have been presented by numerous regional theatres, arts festivals and a range of venues that include La Jolla Playhouse, The Public Theater, A.R.T., HBO’s US Comedy Festival, the Humana Festival, London’s Soho Theatre, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (Fringe First Award, 2006) and other venues worldwide. Upcoming projects include a production of their newest work This Beautiful City, a new play with music that details the explosion of America’s evangelical Christian movement at New York’s Vineyard Theatre in early 2009. The artistic foundation of The Civilians is a multidisciplinary group of over 50 Associate Artists who generate ideas and collaborate on the development of new work. For more information visit www.thecivilians.org.

For this upcoming project the company will bring artists together with community residents and youth to investigate the rapidly changing face of Brooklyn, centering on the Atlantic Yards project. Using a creative process grounded in interaction with the community, The Civilians will lead an in-depth, long-term investigation. Along with the investigation, the project will also support a series of artist-led workshops for community youth and senior groups inspired by the material and research gathered by the investigating artists. The material from the investigation and workshops will feed a laboratory performance comprised of artists and community members. Other possible outcomes of the project include, a radio program, published materials covering a wide range of issues, and ultimately the creation of an original work of theater for later production at major venues in NY and beyond. The specific design of these outcomes is deliberately left open-ended; the whole point of the process is to make discoveries from an engagement with the issues in their actuality, and to then let these discoveries direct the process, form and content of the artistic work.

Led by director Steve Cosson, a team of professional actors will work with urban planning students and local youth to conduct interviews and make observations in order to form an analysis of the current social ecology of Brooklyn. This November, the artists will immerse themselves in the neighborhoods adjacent to Atlantic Yards. They will conduct interviews, participate in community life, observe public space, residences and businesses, and gain an intimate understanding of what makes up this part of the city. The outcome will be a wealth of theatrical material—behavior, relationships, conversations ranging from public events to a discussion at a beauty salon, as well as insight into how buildings, services, public space and economic issues shape the life of a neighborhood.

At the same time, Brooklyn at Eye Level will facilitate a number of collaborative workshops connecting artists to local groups of residents and youth, drawing on the research gained through the investigation to create expressions of how their neighborhood works and how they can participate in changes that affect their everyday lives. The participating artists include emerging and established playwrights, performance poets, choreographers, hip hop musicians and others. The goal of the workshops is to help local residents express their understandings of these neighborhoods. Each workshop will meet for several sessions, with the artists employing various techniques to facilitate the participants’ creativity, drawing on both their own experience and the material gathered in the investigation phase. Click here for more information.

Elliott Sclar
Professor of Urban Planning and International Affairs
Director, The Earth Institute

Stacey A. Sutton
Assistant Professor of Urban Planning
Columbia University

Tom Angotti
Center for Community Planning and Development
Hunter College

James Levy
Hofstra University

Michelle de la Uz
Executive Director
Fifth Avenue Committee

Jonathan Lethem

Darrell McNeill
Associate Producer
Music Programming
Brooklyn Academy of Music