Edinburgh Fringe 2016– LIMITED ENGAGEMENT! 15th - 18th August at Space Triplex (Venue 38), 13.40pm. 40 mins. 16+. Tickets £7 (full), £5 (concs), Under 18s £5.
New York’s Letter of Marque Theater Company brings Don’t Feed the Cats to EdFringe – giving voice to unreported casualties of war
By Phil Nerges, Vic Ruggiero, and Letter of Marque Theater Co with original live music by Vic Ruggiero of The Slackers
Letter of Marque Theater company from Brooklyn brings an emotionally whirling tale of life on the edge of the battlefield, based on the writer’s own experience as a civilian contractor on the front line.
‘They don’t hold parades back home for truck drivers and laundry ladies who die in the warzone. In fact, the companies don’t even have to report their deaths to the media. Hey, it’s a business, not the Bible’ – says Phil Nerges. Don’t Feed the Cats smashes live music by Vic Ruggiero (of The Slackers fame) with wartime writings and poetry.
Don’t Feed the Cats exposes the callous greed of war profiteers, the national complicity of inaction, and just how much humanity we are willing to give up for a good paying job. In the style of a live concept album, it is a 40-minute supernova of absurdity, horror and, of course, some very hungry felines!
What was the inspiration for this performance?
The first-hand account of former civilian contractor, Phil Nerges, and his collaboration with musician, Vic Ruggiero, inspired Letter of Marque Theater Company’s ensemble to develop a performance piece that would address the issue of public complicity in war profiteering. As a civilian contractor, Phil was sent into a warzone and used writing as a way of coping with the trauma of that experience.
Phil’s stories were written out of a need for healing and to give a voice to those workers who are dying anonymously. Upon returning to the United States, Phil found himself living among a community of artists in New Jersey. One of these artists, Vic Ruggiero, was so fascinated by Phil’s stories that they collaborated on an album of songs based on the tales from the warzone entitled: Don’t Feed The Cats in Iraq.
Letter of Marque collaborated with Phil and Vic in 2013 to create a performance piece based on the stories and songs. This piece has evolved into a punk-rock, Greek tragedy that follows the journey of Jason, a man searching for meaning in an extreme environment, as he finds humanity and his voice to speak out against corruption.
How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Letter of Marque Theater Company reached out to Phil Nerges and Vic Ruggiero to see if they would be interested in remounting a more developed iteration of the 2013 production of Don’t Feed the Cats in Iraq. Both were very excited to revisit this piece and so Letter of Marque enlisted their “lieutenant” designers and dramaturg along with Michael Toomey of the Humanist Project (a fellow Brooklyn-based theater company) to develop what is now being presented at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as Don’t Feed The Cats.
How did you become interested in making performance?
The essence of performance is storytelling. We, as theatre practitioners, come together and collaboratively tell a story. Artists respond to the world with a need for understanding. Through art we make sense of it all.
We are committed to giving a voice to those who have been silenced, overlooked and ignored. In adherence to our mission, Letter of Marque Theater Company seeks to reinstate art as a cultural necessity and use theatrical performance as a vehicle for social change.
Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
As a pan-disciplinary company, Letter of Marque’s three co-founder “captains” each brought their various skills and expertise on retreat with every intention of returning to Brooklyn with a fully functional text to play with.
While developing the narrative, we engaged in discussions about bureaucracy, social hierarchy and our need to respond artistically.
The textual elements for Don’t Feed The Cats were formed from vigorous script development with writer, Phil Nerges, and dramaturg, Lynde Rosario. For performance, the actors set about crafting a language in which to tell the story by translating ideas, physically, via ensemble improvisations.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
One of the reasons behind structuring our show as a Greek tragedy was to establish this piece as a universal human story to facilitate a collective catharsis. We show our audiences to themselves in the hope that they will recognize their own complicity and speak out where they see corruption silencing the people. The Greek Chorus enables a sense of community of individuals coming together with different voices to discuss and question.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
We took an ancient form, the structure of Greek tragedy, and applied it to a contemporary text with rock music. As opposed to a traditional play, Don’t Feed The Cats became more, concept album meets melodrama; highly emotional and highly connected to something genuine.
With a three-person cast of Nolan Kennedy, Scarlet Rivera, and Welland Scripps, embodying various roles, we incorporated stylistically heightened gestures to subtly distinguish between characters and designers, Steven Brenman and Emma Wykes Ruhig, provided symbolic signifiers to enhance the clarity of storytelling as the actors transform. While the ensemble builds the soundscape live, onstage, in service of the theatricality, Vic Ruggiero and the band create more of a nightclub feel to the space.
Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
We are a crew of artists who work within the tradition of ensemble-based theater; which is to say, a group of individuals dedicated to collaborative creation, committed to working together consistently to develop a distinctive body of work and practices. Our company functions as an ensemble to produce new, re-imagined theater that challenges the status quo.
Fringe first-timers Letter of Marque Theater Company are at the vanguard of the new American experimental theatre movement.
Through music, storytelling, text and scenic artistry, this young ensemble aim to challenge an apathetic status quo by offering approachable work at little or no cost to its audiences. From obscure Shakespeare works that speak directly of a modern rape culture to original plays about growing in and out of love, Letter of Marque sails the seas of social change to unify and empower this and future generations.
Letter of Marque Theater Co. will be performing for limited period at EdFringe between 15th - 18th August at Space Triplex (Venue 38), 13.40pm.
At Space Triplex (Venue 38) 15th - 18th August, 13.40pm. 40 mins. 16+. Tickets £7 (full), £5 (concs), Under 18s £5.
Book and lyrics by: Phil Nerges and Letter of Marque Theater Company
Music by: Vic Ruggiero
Produced by: Letter of Marque Theater Company
Director: Michael Toomey
Scenic Design: Steven Brenman
Costume Design: Emma Wykes Ruhlig
Dramaturgy: Lynde Rosario