Emory Report
April 10, 2006
Volume 58, Number 26


Emory Report homepage  

April 10 , 2006
Universes brings urban theater, word riffs to campus,
April 17 & 19

by nancy condon

Coming to campus April 17 & 19 will be Universes, an ensemble of multi-disciplined writers and performers who fuse poetry, theater, jazz, hip-hop, politics, downhome blues and Spanish boleros to create moving, challenging and entertaining theatrical works.

The boundary-breaking, urban troupe of five performers will present two original productions, sponsored by Theater Emory. “Live from the Edge,” a free performance, takes place April 17 at 7 p.m. on McDonough Field. Two nights later, on April 19, the group will perform “Eyewitness Blues” at 7 p.m. in the Schwartz Center’s Emerson Concert Hall (tickets $15; $12 for faculty, staff and discount groups; $6 for students).

“Theater Emory is excited to bring this kind of original programming to the University,” said Theater Emory Managing Director Rosalind Staib. “Universes is a young, hip, innovative company that will have a direct connection to Emory students because they speak the same language.”

The free, open-air performance of “Live From the Edge” on McDonough Field is designed to make Universes more accessible to students. “The format is going to be interesting and enticing,” Staib said, “and the performance isn’t a traditional story. Rather, it blends different performance areas into one, speaking to enthusiasts of the written word, of the spoken word, of song, of dance and of acting—and to those who just enjoy listening to urban pop music.”

“Live from the Edge” showcases elements of Universes’ critically acclaimed hit show “Slanguage” in a “best of” evening that tracks the evolution of the group’s poetic language: from childhood rhymes and community rituals to poetry and theater, hip-hop and gospel—complete with references to the Spanish revolutionary poet Federico Garcia Lorca, the Beat poets and even Dr. Seuss.

“Eyewitness Blues” is a tale of the creative life that would be recognized by artists anywhere. Written and performed by two of the troupe’s original members, Mildred Ruiz and Steven Sapp, and directed by Chay Yew, it is the story of Junior McCullough (played by Sapp), a hard-luck horn player from the ghetto. As Junior takes a breath, his muse (played by Ruiz) materializes to give him inspiration, and in that single instant his life unfolds in a series of provocative vignettes told through a stirring mix of jazz, flamenco, blues and poetry, intended to create a jazz-infused portrait of artists and the vibrant culture, traditions and personal experience they bring to their work.

Formed in 1996 by the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City, Universes currently consists of founders Sapp, Ruiz and Gamal Abdel Chasten, with the newest members, the one-name Ninja and Marlyn Matias. Varying in age, ethnic background and experience, each member brings a different style to create five collaborating “universes.”

The ensemble has two bases, one at the New World Theater and the other at their own UniverseCity Theater Network in the Bronx. Recent work includes “Slanguage,” on which “Live from the Edge” is based; “Rhythmicity: Flipping the Script,” featured at Actors Theater of Louisville’s 2003 Humana Festival; and “Eyewitness Blues,” commissioned by Dance Theater Workshop and New York Theatre Workshop.

Universes’ performances are made possible by the Flora Glenn Candler Fund and Emory Coca-Cola Artists-in-Residence Series. For tickets or information, call 404-727-5050 or go to www.arts.emory.edu.