Dramaturg Yana Landowne, director Kristin Marting, and video artist Tal Yarden (along with writers Robert Lyons  and Qui Nguyen and designers Oana Botez, Chris Kuhl, Clint Ramos, and Jane Shaw) have created LUSH VALLEY, a live art participatory performance that chases the elusive idea of the American Dream. Created with a diverse ensemble of collaborators, LUSH VALLEY uses dance, music, text, online technologies & video to explore how the Dream shapes & twists our imaginations.  LUSH VALLEY is interactive, bringing together artists & community members via interviews, think tanks, social-networking forums, public art actions, & live performance. The performance began in April 2010 with our first think tank & premiered on September 11, 2011 at HERE. We are currently planning an American tour leading up to the 2012 election.

America was founded as a home for difference. And yet there currently is a disturbing trend towards intolerance, divisiveness, anger & exclusion. The recent reactionary changes in immigration laws, the renewed attacks on the gay community, the ever-expanding schism between conservatives & liberals, & the foundering of the hope that Obama offered all have fueled us to examine what it means to be American right now as individuals & as members of this diverse nation. With LUSH VALLEY, we’re trying to reconnect to a sense of shared purpose, to journey to a common ground & to reclaim a home for difference.

LUSH VALLEY is a highly participatory, inclusive work in which audiences will use their personal sense of adventure & decision-making to navigate through our American Dream “themes” park. The 2-hour event includes participatory activities (video interviews, audience demographics collected & shared nightly, citizenship tests & real-time video word clouds of audience texts); intimate monologues delivered to only 2-3 audience members at a time; full cast sequences where the entire audience is gathered for historical hallucinations like a Civil War re-enactment, or a super hero showdown; & dance sequences derived from plebian office behavior and hiphop culture.

LUSH VALLEY was developed through a very open, public collaboration with our larger community, who helps define our project through online dialogue (through our blog and Facebook), in-person community think tanks, video interviews & public art actions. We integrated this engaged & diverse community’s ideas into our performance score as well as incorporating new audience ideas nightly. We  make use of audience participation in real-time by incorporating live feedback through person-to-person interaction, texting, Flickr,  & on-site kiosks.

Our artist collaborators are from varied backgrounds (African-American, Japanese, Filipino, Israeli, Latino, Caucasian, & Native American) & aesthetics (dance, theatre, visual art) to ensure that we include a multiplicity of perspectives. Our performers are Marc Bovino, Karyn deYoung, Matthew Lewis, Irene Longshore, Rudy Mungaray, Mariana Newhard, Abigail Ramsay, Suzi Takahashi, Dax Valdes and Reed Whitney. By relying on the personal stories of our diverse artists & audiences as source material, we create a vibrant patchwork that encompasses the breadth & complexity of what it is to be American in a deeply personal way.

LUSH VALLEY strips away the assumptions of the American Dream that we have consciously & unconsciously embraced for generations in order to uncover the foundation upon which our country’s mythic ideals are based. We started with 8 concepts that are at the core of the Dream: Equality, Freedom, Happiness, Opportunity, Community, Ambition, Hope & Honor. Our ensemble of designers, writers, & performers use these loaded ideas as the basis for this  performance event. We are actively working with a wide array of source material in literature, drama, architecture, art, critical theory, economics & sociology. Our most important sources were novelist John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy for structure & Studs Terkel’s work on the American Dream for interview techniques. To create this work,  we  held 9 think tanks (on Ambition, Freedom, Equality, Happiness, Hope, Honor, Opportunity & Community); developed material on retreat at the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis, Voice and Vision at Bard, and NACL in the Catskills; held a participatory session at CUNY’s PRELUDE; a workshop at Baruch College; conducted two art actions, PICKET DREAMS (where we invited 1,000 passers-by to each paint their personal American dream onto a picket & add it to a growing white picket fence of 1,000 American dreams) and IDENTITY POLITICS (where 800 people voted on LUSH VALLEY’s national identity). We also presented workshop performances at HERE throughout our development process and  premiered  at HERE on September 11, 2011. We are currently planning an American tour leading up to the 2012 election.

LUSH VALLEY digs into the current mutations of the American Dream in order to take the pulse of our contemporary culture. By combining dialogue between artists & community members with integrated text, video & music, we aim to uncover an American Dream that people can embrace & rediscover that home for difference.

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