La MaMa Blogs: 6 Questions: Judith Sloan

Monday, February 1, 2016

6 Questions: Judith Sloan

Judith Sloan returns to The Club La MaMa in March 2016 with YO MISS! Transforming Trauma Into Art - a one-woman show with music where human rights meets hip-hop performing from March 4 - 13, 2016.

1. What was the original inspiration for YO MISS?
I originally produced radio and audio stories from my poetry about teaching in jails and working with undocumented teenagers and was performing in a studio behind a mic. A radio editor in Chicago at WBEZ said that they would make a good series. I wanted to get back to live performance after writing a book and reporting on and creating a lot of radio about new immigrants and refugees. It took a long time to figure out how to make it work on stage. I honestly just was compelled to keep writing and making art and I had no idea how it was going to work. I was desperate and aching to tell the stories and to find a way to bring attention to the youth program I was running in Queens. And I was dealing with PTSD from an accident and becoming more and more attuned to the ways some of the youth I was directing are dealing with PTSD from displacement and war. I wanted to find a way to have joy inside painful stories.

2. Where did the title YO MISS come from?
I am a practicing artist and an educator.  I am an adjunct professor at NYU (Gallatin School) and a visiting artist and teaching artist in the schools and sometimes in youth detention centers. All my college students call me Professor Sloan. Sometimes the kids in the public schools forget my name because I'm not there every single day. They call their other teachers Miss Sarah or Mr. John. They don't call me Miss Judith. In jails, they don't have time to remember my name because the workshops are so tightly controlled in the system and Miss is a sign of respect. So I just became "Miss." I figure at least they are calling me to get my attention.

3. How are you using sound, specifically midi-controls in the show?
I'm using three midi-controllers to play music compositions, soundscapes, my additional voices, and samples of dialogue I had with various people and playing that in real time. I originally was designing and arranging for radio in Protools so I could make very tightly constructed and edited musical and vocal arrangements. Two of the pieces from Yo Miss! won the Missouri Review National Audio Competition. It took me a long time to figure out how to perform the monologues and characters and to play the sounds at the same time and to learn to use Abelton Live in the way that would work for this show. I also have live musicians - viola and violin - playing over the full tracks so it is a combination and it feels and sounds like a full band. The trick was finding a way to use the midi-controllers in a way that allowed me to move around the stage so one is portable/wireless, one is a floor pedal, and one is a keyboard so I can play a few melody lines in the mix at times. I received a fellowship from NYFA (New York Foundation for the Arts) for Sound and it allowed me to get all the right computers, midi-controllers and work with a few engineers who helped me learn the technology so I could change and rearrange things on my own and make choices on stage. (Thanks to engineers Josh Valleau, Deep Singh, and Red Ukachukwu). 

4. What was the last good book you read?
I just finished Rita Moreno's memoir. She has a lot to say about the entertainment world about acting, love, life, and being Puerto Rican in Hollywood and about continually recreating herself.

5. Who has inspired you?
Kids who I have worked with. My teachers. The people who work at all the schools for new English speakers through the International High Schools. A lot of radio racantuers. Performers, musicians, filmmakers, dramaturgs and radio producers like Jad Abumrad and Sarah Koenig. Also Lily Tomlin, Morgan Jenness, John Leguezamo, Toshi Reagon, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Spike Lee, Rita Moreno, Warren Lehrer, the engineers I work with now. I was deeping insipired by French theatre maker Ariane Mnouchkine's piece that I saw in 2005 about refugees. I remember walking out of that seven hour piece feeling like I had to one day figure out how to make theater about the kids I was working with and I wanted to find a way to use multiple languages on stage so the audience could experience what I was experiencing in Queens, NY. 

6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you? 
I moved to New York City in 1990 and first performed at La MaMa in 1991. I was supposed to be performing in the Club but there was a show that started packing houses in the Club right before me and they extended it and La MaMa moved me to the first floor theater. The other performance was Blue Man Group! La MaMa presented three more shows of mine from 1991 to about 1996 or so and the last show I was developing there was based on a young deputy sheriff who blew the whistle on police brutality in Mississippi. Coincidentally  I'm briefly referencing that show (A Tattle Tale) in Yo Miss! because after that show moved to another theatre I co-produced a radio docudrama with Laura Sydell that aired on NPR and shortly after that in 1998, 1999 I was invited to perform in jails and schools. I continued performing in prisons and working in schools with immigrant and refugee teenagers but that's what happened. After about ten years of traveling around the United States with a museum exhibition, Crossing the BLVD (a project about new immigrants and refugees), I started coming back into working on theatre and performing. Coming back to La MaMa after all this time is coming back to a place that inspired so much of this journey. I have been in the audience at many shows in the past decade, so it's thrilling and an honor to be on the other side of the audience and to be on stage. La MaMa has changed and grown so much since I was performing here and it's exciting for me to work with such varied, vibrant and intergenerational team. Yo Miss! includes so many stories about coming up from nothing. Ellen Stewart started this theater from scratch. I am surrounded by the spirits of so many great artists who have performed and created work at La MaMa. La MaMa has always had a commitment to international productions and given that Yo Miss! is about living in a global village, I'm bringing a version of international stories to the stage through the lens of immigrants in New York. 

La MaMa presents
Transforming Trauma Into Art

Written, Performed & Live-Sound Engineered by Judith Sloan
Josh Henderson on violin and Andrew Griffin on viola (March 4-6)
Andrew Griffin on viola (March 11-13)
Dramaturgy by Morgan Jenness

March 4 - 13, 2016
Friday & Saturday @ 10pm; Sunday @ 6pm

The Club @ La MaMa
74A East 4th Street
(between Bowery & Second Avenue
New York, NY 10003

Tickets: $18 Adults; $13 Students/Seniors; ten tickets priced at $10 each are available for each performance, advance sales only.

For Tickets and Info: CLICK HERE

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