Pig Iron returns to stage with 10 performances of Love Unpunished, a hypnotic dance-theater piece about the moments just before the collapse of the World Trade Center, as part of the 2021 Philadelphia Fringe Festival, presented by FringeArts. Set on 20 feet of escape stairs, this mostly wordless hour-long piece asks audiences to contemplate the ordinariness and confusion of evacuees who wonder: Is this an emergency or is this a drill?
A Note from Director Dan Rothenberg and David Brick, Choreographer and Co-Director.
Where this play came from
Here are some fragments of memory.
I grew up in New York City, and my brother and parents still lived there in 2001. On September 11th, I was about to open a Pig Iron show, called ShutEye, at the Painted Bride on 2nd and Vine here in Philadelphia. I was supposed to do an interview on WXPN about the show. I was late and I took a taxi to get to West Philly. On the way there my mom called me from the West Side Highway. As she was driving south to work, a plane had hit the World Trade Center and she had seen the smoke and the flames.
At the radio studio, things were out of joint, in a slow motion panic/non-panic. Distracted, the host and the radio tech tried to set me up for the interview. It was oddly quiet in the building, and in those moments that many of us remember, how unreal they felt then, the host said, “Uh… I’m going to be right back… listen, can you just talk into the microphone, and answer the questions that you think I would ask you?” I agreed to try to do this. For 10 minutes I sat there, performing both sides of the interview, trailing off, feeling a little insane. I started to make odd noises and private jokes at the ends of my answers, as if to indicate, “this isn’t a real answer” - it was like I was talking to myself and hearing my own voice.
I poked out of the studio and said “Hello?” to an empty corridor. I found the staff collected on another floor of the building, looking at a small television, silent.
In 2003 I got to visit a friend of mine who was working for the Dutch foreign service in Ghana. At a market, I saw a “commemorative calendar” for the events of 9/11. What can this be? I thought. I had heard stories of people in other countries celebrating the collapse of the towers, though it seemed like almost all those stories were overblown, taken out of context, engineered to gin up the war effort. So I checked out the calendar, unsure if this was a memorial or a celebration. To my surprise, the calendar was a straightforward expression of grief, awe, and sorrow. It seemed that, even in a country thousands of miles away, a country whose history entwined with that of the United States in painful ways -- the sight of an office building collapsing and killing several thousand civilians caused grief, awoke empathy. I didn’t know it would be like that.
In 2005 I confessed to my collaborators that I had been haunted by this image in my head for years. I imagined people descending stairway after stairway: 40 flights, 50 flights, even 70 flights. I imagined them seeing firemen walking up the stairways. I imagined how little they could have known about what was happening, how in every evacuation there is a question: is this a drill? How much are we supposed to panic right now? I imagined the people going down making eye contact with the people going up. Then some people exit the building. Then the building collapses.
In the weeks following 9/11, skyscrapers around the world conducted evacuation drills, some for the first time. What had once been a pain in the ass that no sane person would take seriously, now it was an insult to take it lightly.
What about the title?
I’ve been coy about the title for a long time. I don’t know that my clarifications add anything to your own sense of what the title does.
Of course it is a riff in part on the old adage, “no good deed goes unpunished.” On Wikipedia, they even trace this idea back to Dante Aligheri, who wrote the Inferno. “”Love is the seed in you of every virtue, and of all acts deserving punishment.” Neither of these sayings scan neatly onto the world of emotions that arise when we consider 9/11, the people who died, the wars that followed. But I wanted to offer the words “love” and “punishment” as words that evoke the emotions underneath that image I described, that image from this play: people walking and then running down the stairs, firemen coming up.
I know to even mention love in the context of 9/11 suggests someone too naive to have an opinion about government policy decisions and military actions. And in 2006, it seemed that all news and opinion was filtered through one lens: are you for or against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? But my collaborators and I wanted to use a different lens, and ask if we were all skipping a step. Were we skipping the opportunity to stay with the grief and confusion and empathy that reverberated around the world as so many people, in so many countries, imagined people running down stairs of the tallest building? While it seemed imperative to carve out heroes and villains -- it seemed like a moral necessity to many people, myself included -- what were we to do with all this grief and bafflement, and with imagining all the love that ricocheted back and forth as people longed to save their families, save strangers, and were forced to wonder: who should be saved?
Is this a memorial?
I don’t think this will surprise you, but I bristle at the term “hero,” especially when referring to someone who has died. It’s not because I don’t value acts of sacrifice and bravery. I do. I just find that all the work that goes into dubbing someone a hero… to me it seems like a disservice to all the idiosyncratic, mundane particularities of a life. And it seems like this work we do - and we do it so much in America - to build up certain figures as heroes (as if the dead need our protection) - it’s just part of our ongoing national act of death-denial and chaos-avoidance. I’m as scared of death, and the death of my loved ones, as the next person. But I am searching for the provocations that let me live this life more fully, to find beauty in its mundanity and not so much in the grand narratives that give us comfort. Because those grand narratives get weaponized by political actors so quickly and so cynically -- with the most shocking example in my lifetime being the iconography of 9/11.
But I’m guilty too in this instance: after all, I’ve staged this piece first on the 5th anniversary and now the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Surely my goal is to “make people remember” and finally treat the topic with appropriate seriousness, right? Not exactly -- I think I wanted to make room for emotions that seem to arise unbidden, when we see bodies rushing in panic, when we hear the sound of skin slapping against the floor, when we reduce the palette so that we see that all walking is falling, and that part of love is just a life-force that pushes against gravity, heroically and with futility, all at once. I wanted to make a space for that.
In 2005 Pig Iron Theater company invited me to work on creating a piece with them that was set in the stairway of the World Trade Center before it collapsed. I initially turned the project down because I didn’t think I had anything meaningful to express about the events of that day. Mostly I was furious at the profound cynicism of our government and the way collective grief and horror was manipulated to start wars abroad and persecute people at home. However, Dan explained to me that this piece would be about something different. He had a vision of people evacuating from a skyscraper without knowing if the alarm was real or a drill. He imagined a brief window of time when people didn't know if they were involved in something ordinary or something else that was unknown and unimaginable. Dan’s starting point moved me. It opened up the possibility of re-examining 9/11 on a more humane scale, of facing grief, pain and confusion without contributing to an inflated nationalism. I said yes, I would give it a try and see how it went.
From this tentative beginning, working on Love Unpunished became one of the most meaningful artistic experiences of my life, and by the end I had become co-director and choreographer. I remain humbled by Pig Iron's embrace of my work on this piece as I tried to propose a performative vocabulary of vulnerability that asks the performers to sense panoramically even while falling uncontrollably; and to be decisive in action in the face of the unknown and of failure. Dan's genius for building mysteriously moving, complex poetics out of a dialectic of ordinary/ extraordinary has influenced me ever since. As did working with set designer Mimi Lien. Her exquisite set magically vibrates between the hyper-ordinary and the sublime, while subtly framing everything that happens on the stage such that space takes on a dimension of time: events resonate in their simultaneity as well as backwards and forwards in time as the repetitions mount.
Reimagining this work has been at times overwhelming as this extraordinarily sensitive cast and crew have gathered together. For most of us, this is the first time for this beloved kind of rehearsal intimacy since March 2020. We eased into it with a majority of people reporting that it felt both raw and thrilling to be in such close contact again. Gradually, as art can do, communion led to community which is the foundation of performing what I see as both a gentle and brutal work-- the performers opening their hearts each night, held by each other. And us, bystanders graced by their presence.
Dan Rothenberg (Concept and Direction)
Rothenberg is a Philadelphia-based director and creator of experimental performance. As co-founder and co-artistic director of Pig Iron Theatre Company, Dan has directed and co-created almost all of Pig Iron’s original performance works. Together with Quinn Bauriedel and Dito van Reigersberg, he received a Pew Fellowship in Performance Art (2002) and a USA Artists Knight Fellowship (2010). With Pig Iron, Rothenberg has directed and co-created more than 30 original works, including the OBIE-winning productions Hell Meets Henry Halfway (2005) and Chekhov Lizardbrain (2010).
David Brick (Choreographer and Co-Director)
Brick is Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Headlong Dance Theater, a platform for performance research and grassroots artist support, founded in Philadelphia in 1993. David collaborates broadly in making dance and participatory installations. Collaborators include Ishmael Houston Jones, Eiko Otake, Rosie Herrera, Dan Rothenberg, Maiko Matsushima, Mimi Lien, Keely Garfield and Reggie Wilson. Headlong’s work has been supported by Creative Capital, numerous NEA grants, and the MAP fund. He has been honored with a Bessie and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. His large-scale public art project The Quiet Circus (www.thequietcircus.com) - a collaboration with curator Mary Jane Jacob - was a weekly public performance that took place on an urban river site in Philadelphia over the course of a year and a half. His writings about art practice as a form of thinking and experience can be found on The Quiet Circus Blog. www.headlong.org / www.thequietcircus.com/blog
Mimi Lien (Set Designer)
Lien is a designer of sets and environments for theater, dance, and opera. She is a company member at Pig Iron Theatre Company, an artistic associate at the Civilians, resident designer at BalletTech, and co-founder of JACK, a performance/art space in Brooklyn. She was named a 2015 MacArthur Fellow, and is the first set designer ever to achieve this distinction. Selected theater designs include Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812 (Tony Award, Lortel Award, Hewes Design Award), An Octoroon (Drama Desk and Lortel nominations, Soho Rep/TFANA), Appropriate (LA Drama Critics Circle Award, Mark Taper Forum), John (Hewes Design Award, Signature Theatre), Preludes and The Oldest Boy (Lincoln Center), Stop Hitting Yourself (Rude Mechs/LCT3), Black Mountain Songs (BAM Next Wave), and Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music (St. Ann’s Warehouse) and A Period of Animate Existence (Pig Iron/FringeArts). Mimi’s designs for dance have been presented in the Netherlands, Russia, and Taiwan. Her installation/public art work includes Model Home, a commission for La Jolla Playhouse’s 2017 Without Walls Festival (WoW); 2x4 Tree, a kinetic sculpture created for the 2016 Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA).
Tyler Micoleau (Lighting Designer)
In the last twenty years Tyler has designed lighting for over 350 live productions including plays, dance, opera, multi-media performance, and puppetry. He received a 2018 Tony award for his design of the musical The Band’s Visit. Tyler’s past collaborations with Pig Iron include A Period of Animate Existence, Twelfth Night, Isabella and Love Unpunished. In the Philadelphia area Tyler's work has appeared at the Wilma Theater, Philadelphia Theatre Company, Kimmel Center, Curtis Opera, the Academy of Music, Delaware Theater Company and the Prince Music Theater, garnering him four Barrymore nominations. Tyler is grateful for the opportunity to revisit Love Unpunished as his first work post-pandemic
Oana Botez (Costume Designer)
Botez is a Princess Grace Recipient and NEA/TCG Career Development Program Recipient. Nominated for The Henry Hewes Design Awards, The Barrymore and Drammy Award. Oana walked away recipient of both The Barrymore and Drammy Award. Her designs have raised critical acclaim in New York’s BAM Next Wave, Bard SummerScape/Richard B.Fisher Center, Baryshnikov Arts Center, The David H. Koch Theater/Lincoln Center, Soho Rep, LCT3, The Public Theater, 59East59, La MaMa, The Kitchen, PS122, HERE Arts Center, The Joyce Theater, The Ontological-Hysteric Theater, BRIC Arts Media, Big Apple Circus/Lincoln Center, and The Classic Stage Company. Ms. Botez is a graduate of Bucharest Art Academy (Romania) and received an MFA in Design from NYU/Tisch School of the Arts. She was a major contributor for the first Romanian theater design catalogue, called Scenografica and has taught costume design at Colgate College, Brooklyn College, and MIT.
Troy Herion (Original Composition)
Herion is an Emmy-winning composer for film, theater, dance, and experimental arts. His orchestral and electronic music has been performed at Carnegie Hall, screened in major film festivals including Sundance, Toronto, Tribeca, and SXSW, broadcast on PBS and MTV, and streamed on Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu. Commissions include the ballet Archiva for choreographer Matthew Neenan and The Pennsylvania Ballet and A Period of Animate Existence, for Pig Iron Theatre Co. featuring 100 performers including the Grammy-winning Crossing Choir, and a sentient halal cart.
Deborah Stein (Consulting Playwright)
Deborah Stein is a playwright, director, and collaborative theatre maker. Her play Marginal Loss premiered at the Actors Theatre of Louisville Humana Festival in 2018. Other recent projects include The Wholehearted (world premiere at the Kirk Douglas/Center Theatre Group and La Jolla Playhouse) and Chimera (Under the Radar; Gate Theatre in London; Drama Desk nominee for Best Solo Performance). Deborah’s other plays include God Save Gertrude (Theatre @ Boston Court; Workhaus Collective), Wallflower (Stages Rep), and Natasha and the Coat (Minnesota Jewish Theatre). She is the director and co-creator, with Keith Wallace, of The Bitter Game, a commission from La Jolla Playhouse which Ben Brantley called “a sharp reminder of the power of live theatre” in The New York Times. Deborah has worked extensively with some of the country’s leading devised theatre makers including Joseph Chaikin, Dominique Serrand, Lear deBessonet, and most frequently the Pig Iron Theatre Company. Her writing has been published in Theatre Forum, Play: A Journal of Plays, and The Best American Poetry. Currently on faculty at UC San Diego, she is a proud alumna of New Dramatists and current member of the LA Writers Workshop and The Playwrights Union.
Hinako Arao (Performer-Creator)
Arao is a full time climate activist working for International Environmental NGO 350.org. She was born and raised in Japan, started traveling at the age of 17, lived in Argentina, UK and the USA. She is a graduate from Temple University School of Communication and Theater, where she studied acting. She was an associate artist of Pig Iron Theater Company and co-created Love Unpunished, Pay Up, 365 Days/365 Plays, Welcome to Yuba City, Come to My Fiesta, It's Going to Be Awesome OK?, and Cankerblossom. She is currently living in Kamakura, Japan, and is very grateful to be back in Philadelphia with Pig Iron for this memorable piece in her life. Instagram: @hinakoarao
Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel (Performer-Creator)
Bauriedel is a co-founder and Co-Artistic Director of Pig Iron Theatre Company, as well as Program Director of Pig Iron School. Since 1995, Quinn has been one of the leading artists with the company, co-creating many of the company's 30+ original works of theatre and touring them to venues and festivals in Brazil, Germany, Scotland, England, Romania, Poland, Peru, Italy, Ukraine, Lithuania and Ireland, among others. Additionally, Quinn and Pig Iron regularly present their work in New York City and have toured throughout the States including engagements in San Francisco, Washington, DC, Princeton, Providence, Cambridge, Atlanta, Tampa, Logan (Utah), among others. He has directed, designed and performed with the company since its inception.
Jordan Deal (Performer-Creator)
Deal is a multi-dimensional energy worker and interdisciplinary practitioner born and raised in Philadelphia, where they currently reside. Deal bridges sculpture, performance, video + film, painting, drawing, writing, and poetry to create interactive performance installations and wearable sculpture. They have performed and exhibited work in various galleries and DIY spaces such as at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery (2021), Grizzly/Grizzly: In Dialogue (2020), the Children of Sirius performance festival at Vox Populi (2019), the House of Sirius at Da Vinci Art Alliance (2019), and Vox Populi performance series (2018), amongst others. Deal was recently a 2021 fellow at the Headlong Performance Institute in Philadelphia where they produced and created ETERNAL DEPARTURES INTO///DREAMLAND: Divine impressions of an illuminated kiss, a performance and film screening of work they developed throughout the Spring.
Makoto Hirano (Performer-Creator)
Hirano is a Philadelphia-based choreographer and theatre artist. His award-winning, original performance projects have been presented nationally in numerous venues and festivals including Off-Broadway at the National Asian American Theatre Festival (NYC), DanceTruck (Atlanta, GA), Ringling Museum (Sarasota, FL), and Yale University (CT). As a freelance collaborating performer, Hirano has originated over 20 roles, with highlights that include projects with Bill Irwin, Pig Iron Theatre Company, Nichole Canuso Dance Company, and Thaddeus Phillips/Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental. Hirano is a founding member and current advisor to the arts collective PAPA (Philly Asian Performing Artists); co-founder of installation art duo Gatto+Hirano; co-founder of Team Sunshine Performance Corporation, where he is a creator, producer, performer, administrator, and choreographer (2018 Barrymore-Award nomination for Outstanding Choreography for ¡BIENVENIDOS BLANCOS! OR WELCOME WHITE PEOPLE!). From 2007-2014 Hirano was a Facilitator with Philly/Baltimore/South Carolina-based professional development program Artists U. A former U.S. Marine, Hirano earned his BFA in dance at Temple University.
Jenna Horton (Performer-Creator)
Horton is a performance artist vibrating somewhere between the ordinary and the absurd. She grew up as a white American in Denver, CO in the 90s, and moved to Philadelphia, PA in 2009, where she has been for over a decade. Some past collaborations include: Jenna Horton Live On Zoom with Neofuturist Kurt Chiang, Annie Wilson’s Lovertits, Team Sunshine’s ¡Bienvenidos Blancos! or Welcome White People! and The Sincerity Project ‘14 & ‘16, SwimPony’s The End, Headlong’s The Quiet Circus, The Berserker Residents' The Giant Squid, and Polyglot’s Ants and Paper Planet. She has acted for companies including Lightning Rod Special, EgoPo, Applied Mechanics, Shakespeare in Clark Park, Theatre Ariel, Inis Nua, and Nature Theatre of Oklahoma. She leads one of Hidden City's most popular tours, "Subterranean Philly: What Lies Beneath." She makes sculptures from trash, is an alumna of Brown University and Headlong Performance Institute, and a former writer for thINKingDance. www.jennahorton.com
Jaime Maseda (Performer-Creator)
Maseda is a Barrymore-nominated actor and artist based in Philadelphia, PA. He is one half of No Face Performance Group, a collaborative partnership with NYC-based artist Iris McCloughan. Jaime has also performed/created with Pig Iron, Arden Theatre, People’s Light, Azuka Theatre, Lightning Rod Special, Mel Krodman & Kelly Bond, Miguel Gutierrez, Magda & Chelsea, George & Co., and Alex Torra.
Wendy Staton (Performer-Creator)
Staton is honored to reprise her role from the original production of Love Unpunished. A native Philadelphian, she is thrilled to return to the stage in her beloved hometown, especially during this return to live performances. Past Philadelphia credits include the Arden (La Bête and Our Town), Swim Pony (Lady M and Survive!), Live Arts (Jerome Bel's the show must go on), DE Shakespeare Festival (Romeo and Juliet), Shakespeare in Clark Park (The Winter's Tale, Comedy of Errors, and Romeo and Juliet), Applied Mechanics (Camera Blanca), and New City Stage (Miss Witherspoon, night, mother). She has been a resident performer at the National Constitution Center’s “Freedom Rising”. Currently, she can often be seen on QVC as a beauty and fashion model. It's good to be back with the Piggies!
Kyle Vincent Terry (Performer-Creator)
Terry is proud to be born and raised in Chicago, IL. He received his MFA from the Brown/Trinity Rep Consortium and served as a founding company member and Artistic Director of Chicago Dance Crash. He was also a member of the company Instruments of Movement and has performed with Momenta, Visual Artist Nick Cave; Concert Dance, Inc, AKBco, and various dance companies around the Country. He toured internationally with Catharsis Productions and the interactive show Sex Signals. He’s set works on Joel Hall Dance Chicago and choreography credits include Chicago Tap Theatre, Brown/Trinity, Collaboraction, the Moses Brown School. Recent theatre credits include: Othello(New York Theatre Workshop); Man in The Ring(Huntington); Black Dick(The O’Neill Center); A Christmas Carol(Trinity Rep). Recent tv/film credits: Gotham(FOX); Elementary(CBS); SMILF(Showtime); Blindspot(NBC); Tommy(CBS); For Life(ABC); Halston(Netflix).
Dito van Reigersberg (Performer-Creator)
Van Reigersberg is a co-founder of Pig Iron Theatre Company and has performed in almost all of Pig Iron’s original productions since 1995, including the OBIE winners Hell Meets Henry Halfway and Chekov Lizardbrain. He has also created and performed with Headlong, Bearded Ladies, Azuka, Mauckingbird, Arden, 1812 Productions, The Civilians, Rude Mechs, and Nichole Canuso Dance Company. Dito’s alter-ego Martha Graham Cracker is famously ‘the tallest, hairiest drag queen in the world.” She has performed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, L’Etage, the Wilma Theatre, Oberon, Afterglow, and Joe’s Pub. Martha recently unveiled an original song cycle about her dream of leaving showbiz to become a librarian, Lashed But Not Leashed; the soundtrack is out and available now on all platforms.
Morgan Charéce (Performer-Creator Swing)
Charéce is an actor, director, teaching artist,yoga enthusiast, and divine creator from Philadelphia. She received her M.F.A in Theatre from the University of Alabama in May 2018 where she taught for two and a half years. Upon graduation she co-founded the Sankofa Theatre Ensemble, a devised movement theatre ensemble based out of HBCU Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. After earning her M.F.A., she had the honor of receiving the Allen Lee Hughes fellowship at Arena Stage where she served as the Education and School Programs Fellow in the Community Engagement department. During her fellowship she served as a teaching artist, researcher and director, where she further developed her skills. Morgan Charéce is committed to opening and creating sacred spaces for descendants of the African Diaspora and to tell stories on their own terms. She deeply believes that rest, ease and play are integral parts of the creative process as well as it being the key to Resilience and Revolution. Instagram morgan_ the_ magnificent
Sohrab Haghverdi (Performer-Creator Swing)
Haghverdi is an artist from Tehran, Iran. He began his devising career (without really knowing it's devising) in high school when he was living in Tehran. Then he took a real acting class about 6 months before him and his family had to leave Iran. During that time, he understood that acting is something he wants to do forever! So, when he arrived in the US, he didn't know much English but decided to learn a monologue to audition for an Acting school in Colorado. Much to his surprise (although not really, cause he knew he was a good actor) he got in. 4 years later he had a Bachelor's degree and an even deeper passion for performance. So he took a trip to New York to check out some grad schools and came upon Pig Iron's MFA program. He then understood that Physical Theatre gives him life. He came to Philly, studied at Pig Iron, endured becoming a clown during the pandemic and now he is understudying for Love Unpunished; the show he fell in love with when he was researching Pig Iron's repertory. Check out Sohrab's website! Sohrabh.com
Major support for this project has been provided to the Pig Iron Theatre company by The William J. Cooper Foundation, Swarthmore College, Independence Foundation, and Puffin Foundation West. Original support for Love Unpunished was provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Philadelphia.