This interactive, multi-media ebook is a vivid, amusing chronicle of Underground Railway Theater's (URT) touring years (1978-2001). VIDEO-EXCERPTS from several URT PRODUCTIONS ARE ACCESSIBLE TO READERS thru hyperlinks, including COLOR SHADOW-PUPPET BALLETS choreographed to classic LEONARD BERNSTEIN RECORDINGS OF "THE FIREBIRD" AND "TILL EULENSPIEGEL'S MERRY PRANKS." Penned by URT's Founding Artistic Director, Wes Sanders and Current Artistic Director, Debra Wise, this ebook is described by JULIE TAYMOR as "a testament to the unbridled experimentation and success [URT has] achieved in this rare art form. I was an early collaborator of theirs."
The book begins with the company's origins in the U.S. theater-scene of the 1970s, parachuting the reader into the middle of a rehearsal with the experimental ensemble "Kraken," with such collaborators as Ms. Taymor, Bill Irwin, Sharon Ott and Herbert Blau. The book goes on to describe URT's innovative combinations of puppetry, acting and music during the troupe's touring years––the first 25 (the group has now clocked 40)––diving from time to time into detail about the company's process for devising plays and its evolution as an interracial ensemble with each new production--including shadow-puppet collaborations with American orchestras like The Boston Symphony and The Cleveland Orchestra. The text is lavishly illustrated with 100 photos of rehearsals, performances, puppets, posters and designs . Sidebars throughout provide colorful, often humorous, commentary from the perspectives of URT's actors, writers and producers.
The co-founders of URT describe the process by which the ensemble has used research and improvisation to devise both its wholly original actor-plays & its puppet-spectacles to classical music, picking up along the way many colorful stories, such as (1) the artist-residency in Tblisi, Georgia, when the Berlin Wall was about to be torn down and (2) field-research in a Sanctuary caravan taking Central American refugees to churches throughout the U.S. The theater-group's history is painted against the backdrop of its socio-political landscape, because URT is a troupe which––in addition to its innovations in integrating puppetry and music with acting––has always engaged robustly with the issues of its times.
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About the Author
Wes Sanders performed a variety of roles in Chicago, Boston and New York theaters (Equity from 1966) while completing his doctoral work in Drama at Northwestern University (Ph.D., 1969). He served as Associate Professor of Theater & English at Oberlin College, 1967-78, directing 17 productions from Euripides to Beckett. Wes resigned (with tenure) from Oberlin, to start Underground Railway Theater (URT) with partner Debra Wise (1978). He served as Founding Artistic Director of the troupe for 20 years––acting, directing, singing, making and performing puppets, playwriting and teaching art-residencies. The company built its own theater in 2008 (Cambridge, Mass.) and will celebrate 40 years of continuous production in 2018. Wes resigned from the staff of URT in 1998 to work on climate-change full-time. He lives in Denver.