La MaMa Blogs: June 2022

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

6 Questions for Boxcutter Collective

Photo by Trudi Cohen

The Brooklyn-based Boxcutter Collective was formed by veterans of the world-famous Bread and Puppet Theater. They both make puppet shows to underthrow the rotten empire. Joe Therrien and Sam Wilson are two members of the collective, who will be performing four performances of The Divinity Supply Company this weekend in The Downstairs from June 30–July 2. Tickets can be purchased here.

1. What inspired you to create and perform this specific show, here and now?
Joe: Boxcutter had been planning to make a specifically Bread and Puppet/Boxcutter Collective collaborative puppet show since before the pandemic. Peter was very adamant that we not pre-plan our project, but that we get together and see what we make. A lot of the initial work was compositional, just taking Boxcutter puppets and Peter’s puppets and creating short tableau vivants with sound—no text initially. Then, as our brains started organizing and reorganizing short pieces of puppetry, meaning and content began to trickle in and make connections with other pieces, which then inspired new puppet sequences in a continuing cycle of inspiration and evolution. Boxcutter loves to write together, so we did many writing sessions over the course of the project, pieces of which were used, thrown-out, reused and reworked as the process unfolded.
Sam: We have been working on this show for a while and the show has evolved with the issues. Making puppet shows is a way that we process the political events of the moment. It is a way that I feel I can engage in the dialogue around specific issues. This show is a table or a sort of envelope to hold the items that we are thinking hard about, are deeply upset and confused by, and are keeping us up at night. It is a show, in part, about how we face this moment.
2. How does your work as part of the Boxcutter Collective impact and inform your other creative endeavors?
Joe: At this point, 90% of my creative endeavors fall under the umbrella of The Boxcutter Collective. When I am lucky enough to work with other groups, I try to bring Boxcutter’s spirit of joy and freedom in the creative process. It is an exhilarating feeling when we are all connected and our group brain approaches flow state, and there is playfulness and confidence as we barrel forward making a new show. It comes from trust and inspiration in each other, and I try to foster those feelings in all the projects I’m a part of. Boxcutter has also developed some timed writing exercises to create scripts for shows, and I’ve brought these exercises and variations to other groups to help structure some of their creative work, and it has been really interesting to see what from that process is useful or not to other groups.
Sam: Being a member of a collective feels like a huge gift to myself as an artist. I have support in different ways for anything I might want to try to do and as a result I say yes to more things.
3. What goes into building a show like The Divinity Supply Company?
Joe: The biggest factor, in my opinion, was the scheduling of everyone to get together in Vermont for multiple development periods and the added logistics we had to figure out to contend with Covid. Once we all got into the same room—it was paradise! At the Bread and Puppet farm, the resident company let us take over a beautiful indoor rehearsal space for multiple month long residences. Most of the development was during winter times, so one of us would get there extra early and start a fire in the wood stove and make coffee. Then we’d get together and decide what to start with, whether it be puppet experimentation, building, writing, or rehearsing. Peter would usually start the day with us, and then come back in the afternoon—sometimes with new paintings or writing inspired by what we had shown and talked about in the morning. It was a very fun back-and-forth and we threw a lot of spaghetti at the wall and many things were created that did not end up in this version of the show—but having a lot of uninterrupted time together to try things out was very important!
Sam: This show was developed over two residencies which were a year apart. There was work on it in between and a shorter version was performed. We don’t start from one place. We start with texts and ideas we are interested in one hand, visuals and puppets that speak to us in another hand, performance and movement themes in one foot, sound in the other foot and then there is also the ongoing discourse of the moment. All those different inputs come in and out of the process until they start to select each other and adhere together into something we can shape.
4. What should audiences expect from the performance?
Joe: Hmm… puppets? And cut-up cardboard boxes? And bread. Primary colors. Foolish and serious dances. Lots of live music. Endearingly-misguided salesmen. Hucksterism of the finest quality. Surprises! Celebrations of the totally obvious. Bad jokes. And the feeling that you aren’t alone in the madness!
Sam: Expect to leave with more questions than answers and some understanding that we are not alone.
5. What are your upcoming plans and performances?
Joe & Sam: After this show closes, some of us are headed to Glover, VT to be a part of Bread and Puppet’s summer company of puppeteers. Jason Hicks has some new puppet shows he will be performing with his Detroit co-conspirator, Lindsay McCaw through their project, Flying Cardboard Theater. Ali Dineen will be performing live music throughout the rest of the summer in the NYC area. She’s also continuing to work on Saint Joan, an evolving musical project about Joan of Arc, gender non-conforming patron saint of revolution. We will perform Divinity Supply Company again on October 7 at the Puppeteers of America’s festival happening in Coney Island and hope to tour it next year (if you have a theater that wants it, let us know!) Then, after the festival, we shift our focus to another new show we are making that received a Henson Artist Grant called Happyland! Now!! It’s a subversive episodic puppet spectacle rock-operetta we are creating in collaboration with The Jalopy Theater and School of Music in Red Hook, Brooklyn. We’ll perform some of it at the Brooklyn Folk Festival, and then premiere it in November at Jalopy. We are also working on a movie that Tom is directing and has been writing (details are under wraps at the moment). We plan on continuing our work with various grassroots and activist organizations, especially the “No North Brooklyn Pipeline” fight and Sane Energy. We’re also curating puppets on the Jalopy stage including an evening of shows called Cafe des Cheape Artistes in December. And, beyond that, there’s only a few dozen projects in various states of fermentation and fruition that we will be sharing throughout the year. Follow us on Instagram @boxcutter_collective or check out to stay up to date on what we are doing next.
6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you?
Joe: I am thrilled that this show gets to premiere at La MaMa! I’ve lived in NYC for 20 years and I have seen so many shows here. The history of this theater in fostering new work for so many years—including the early days of both Bread and Puppet (when it was just around the corner) and La MaMa—is so inspiring. I also appreciate La MaMa’s commitment to accessibility of theater to people who can not necessarily afford the crazy Broadway prices (the 10 tickets for $10 to every performance is amazing!) and the work that is being created and showcased here is coming from such a diverse group of people, many from populations that have historically been marginalized and kept out of the conversation. It’s an incredible and important institution and I’m honored to be a part of it.
Sam: I am thrilled to be a La MaMa! When I was growing up in Buffalo New York my parents worked in theater there. We would take trips to NYC to see shows (this was the late '80s and early '90’s). I remember seeing shows at La MaMa and learning that it was an important and exciting place for rule-breaking theater.

Photo by Amelia Castillo

La MaMa presents

June 30 – July 2, 2022

The Downstairs
66 East 4th Street, basement
New York, NY 10003

Thursday at 8PM
Friday at 8PM
Saturday at 3PM
Saturday at 8PM


Adults: $25 in advance; $30 day of show
Students/Seniors: $20 in advance; $25 day of show

Monday, June 27, 2022

Remembering Ernest Abuba


We are devastated by the passing of Ernest Abuba, an award-winning actor, director, playwright, performance artist, and teacher whose career spanned over 50 years and who appeared in 100 productions of stage, film, and television.

Ernest Abuba had a deep history here at La MaMa. He and Tisa Chang co-founded Pan Asian Repertory Theatre in 1977 at La MaMa after performing a bilingual adaptation of A Midsummers Night’s Dream for Ellen Stewart. Abuba was also involved with the Third World Institute of Theatre Art Studies (TWITAS) and Native American Theatre Ensemble (NATE), as well as on the board of directors of resident company H.T. Chen & Dancers. The first Asian American to play Sakini in Teahouse of the August Moon and the first Asian American as Macbeth in Shogun Macbeth, he paved the way for Asian Americans in theatre and the arts. His work with Pan Asian Rep, the first and largest professional Asian American theatre company in the U.S., has nurtured thousands of artists and contributed greatly to Asian American and theatre history.

Production photo from A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Tisa Chang and produced at La MaMa in 1974

Pan Asian Repertory Theatre in An American Story at La MaMa in 1980

A portrait of Artaud by Ernest Abuba hanging at the entrance to Ellen Stewart's home

Production photo from Lear Rex at La MaMa in 1998

Photo of Shigeko Suga and Ernest Abuba in Accade Domani at La MaMa in 2003

Photo of Ernest Abuba in Pacific Overtures

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Remembering H.T. Chen

Photo by David Drebin

We are mourning the loss of H.T. Chen, a beloved La MaMa artist who formed the innovative modern dance company H.T. Chen & Dancers in 1978 and established Chen Dance Center in 1979.

Born in Shanghai and raised in Taiwan, Chen worked for several years at La MaMa as an actor, dancer, and choreographer with the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre before turning to presenting his own work. A leading choreographer and performer, Chen was also an arts advocate who served the Asian-American community and the New York City dance community. His work has made a lasting impact on La MaMa’s history and the field of dance, and our thoughts go out to his family, friends, and community of artists. H.T. Chen was a dear friend to La MaMa. His loss is deeply felt.

Photo by Carol Rosegg of dancers (L-R) Hsin-Ya Hou, H.T. Chen (seated), Dian Dong, Fumiko Rose, Dagmar Spain, Rome Quezada, and Jennifer Bishop