A Gender Bending Roadtrip Deep into the Heartland: The TEAMs RoosevElvis
The paradox of American masculinity, as told through the iconic personas of Teddy Roosevelt and Elvis Presley, explodes on stage and screen in RoosevElvis—the TEAM’s fiercely original multimedia production and their first show to premiere in the United States. The New York City-based group’s work is heightened and accessible, intelligent and fun. They make it all happen and they do it together.
Embodying the company name, each collaborator acts as actor, writer, and choreographer under the direction of Artistic Director Rachel Chavkin. The TEAM begins simply with an image and an idea, as they create provocative multimedia productions from the ground up, evolving the work according to the story’s demands. Through written word, imagery, dance, and improvisation, each TEAM member brings something personal to the story, as they develop an organic, emotionally connected piece of theater.
During a production of the TEAM’s Architechting, member Kristen Sieh became fascinated with Teddy Roosevelt. When fellow member Libby King’s newfound obsession with Elvis Presley impersonators surfaced during their production of Mission Drift, RoosevElvis was born.
RoosevElvis is a daring collision of film and theater, past and present; gender and sexuality set against the backdrop of America’s sweeping landscape—brimming with possibility. As the story unfolds, the abstract becomes an indelible piece of historical and personal narrative, guiding us through the modern day struggle of self-discovery, identity, and love. The piece breaks down the social constructs that permeate our consciousness and makes heightened gender theories accessible and relatable.
The story centers around an unlikely pairing. Ann, a 35-year-old meatpacker who lives in small town South Dakota, gets drawn to the provocative and feminine energy of Brenda. The two embark on a spontaneous road trip to the Badlands, drifting in and out of character, haunted by the ghosts of their idols, and embodying their masculine caricatures. Ann’s incarnation as Elvis Presley reflects an inner struggle to decipher and define herself: she is as beautiful and lost as the shifting scenery of the American Badlands that flashes on the big screen.
To create RoosevElvis, TEAM members told stories, improvised, and took copious notes, from which they slowly developed a framework. Then, a core ensemble embarked on a wild eight-day road trip from the Badlands to Graceland. The Wooster Group’s Andrew Schneider filmed the entire event starting in Rapid City, South Dakota and ending in Memphis, Tennessee. The goal of filming the road trip was both to portray life on the road—truck stops, tourist traps, ghost towns, off-ramp adventures, and greasy food joints—and to film footage for the show’s video component showing the actors at iconic locations, such as Mt. Rushmore and Graceland itself. The video is being shown online in conjunction with the play’s premiere.
I had the privilege of visiting a rehearsal and observing the TEAM’s faithful collaboration. Their dynamic storytelling technique contrasts the full physical life of the theatrical experience and the sedentary life of watching a movie, or driving across country in an R.V. Simultaneously, we watch a film and a live theater piece. Ann’s couch doubles as the front seat of the RV, while her rowing machine lets Elvis cruise in his Cadillac, and Teddy ride his faithful steed. Multiple monitors facing the audience offer one perspective while an on-stage projector invites us into another landscape, constantly showing us different behavior.
RoosevElvis is a singular example of how the TEAM is re-inventing contemporary storytelling through their collaborative process.
SHERRI EDEN BARBER is a freelance director and arts educator based in NYC.
RoosevElvis by the TEAM runs through November 3 at the Bushwick Starr. For tickets and further info, visit The Team Plays or call Ovation Tax at 866-811-4111.
ContributorSherri Eden Barber