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For its final production of the season, PlayMakers Repertory Company (PRC) as part of its PRC2 Second Stage Series presents a work that it has commissioned with Carolina Performing Arts, a work that is part of the centennial celebration of Stravinski’s The Rite of Spring. The resulting performance piece, Spring Training, is a world premiere written and performed by Universes, a quartet of voices based in New York, that weaves music, storytelling, and stagecraft to create a unique ensemble of characters that spring to life from jazz, poetry, and intricate rhythms.
There is an underlying current of music throughout Spring Training that is created entirely onstage by the voices of the quartet. A combination of jazz, hip-hop, and vocalise lends a pulse to the work, which chronicles the lives of four average American citizens, created by Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, William Ruiz aka Ninja, and Gamal Abdel Chasten. These four are the co-founders and core members of Universes, which came into being in 1993. Each one is a master of vocalization, creating characters, music, and fascinatin’ rhythms using only his or her voice. Spring Training is the third time Universes has performed at PRC. When the four voices commingle onstage, the result is a current, a river that gathers up the viewer and pushes him along in front of it; it is a journey we are happy to go on.
On this journey, Universes is directed by Chay Yew, the artistic director of Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago. Yew becomes the fifth voice of Universes, guiding and steering the current, focusing the creative juices of the quartet, and keeping them on course. Then, images begin to appear. The first is a Caribbean youth, living in Chicago. For most of his young life, everyone spoke Spanish. His family spoke Spanish, his friends spoke Spanish, and all the members of his neighborhood spoke Spanish. It was not until he reached school age that he learned he must speak English. English, he learns, is the language of the System, and we are all servants of the System. The love of this youth’s life was Vanessa. Vanessa was taken from him in a drive-by shooting. Because Vanessa was a photographer, he commits his own life to taking photographs. Then there is Trevor, a Black boy who has been persecuted most of his life because he is fat. He grows to an old age, still persecuted. Then a young Black girl, a teen who has just received her license. “I am 16 and I love to drive. Where are my friends? Where are my enemies? Everyone I knew – gone.” The young people presented here are steeped in Black poetry, centered on family. Mothers and fathers, dead and alive. Your moment of clarity, your Rite of Spring.
After the performance, the group gathers onstage to discuss the work with audience members. Since the work was commissioned by PRC and the Carolina Performing Arts, there was interest in what angle was taken in working on a piece with a jumping off point of The Rite of Spring. Characters were created using ritual and personal experience, and the idea that each section of a person’s life was a season. Each member of the group brought to the table many, many pages of notes and characterizations, which were culled and winnowed by the director and the group. There was a good deal of study and research into The Rite of Spring, in all its different versions and all its incredible dances. In creating these characters, the idea was to tell simple stories about simple people breaking barriers.
“What we do,” says Sapp, “is very rehearsed, but it allows for a lot of room — so every night is different. We all watch and listen. It keeps things fresh. It’s a live event.” This live event is an original, and totally unlike anything else seen on local stages. If you enjoy creativity and live performance, then Spring Training is for you.
Spring Training continues through Sunday, April 28. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.