A collaboration with Verbatim Performance Lab, the production features 10 actors who portray a cross-section of Americans to investigate the causes and extent of the current political divide.

Daniel Teutul, an actor with Verbatim Performance Lab, gestures in front of a microphone at a reading for NYU's Constitution Day.
Daniel Teutul performs at a reading for NYU's Constitution Day that featured material from the collection of interviews also used to create 'Whatever You Are, Be a Good One.' (Photo by Nora Lambert, NYU-TV)

Whatever you are, be a good one: A Portraits US Town Hall, the latest documentary theater offering from Verbatim Performance Lab, examines the country’s extreme political polarization through the words of real Americans. Using interview transcripts as its source, the production asks if the country is as divided as many think, if geography shapes our political views, and if our own biases prevent us from finding common ground. With the midterm elections just weeks away, it shines a timely spotlight on America’s civic discourse.

Whatever you are, be a good one will be performed Oct. 20-23 and 27-30 in the Pless Hall Black Box Theatre, 82 Washington Square East. The final four performances will be broadcast live by NYU-TV. 

Created by Joe Salvatore and Keith R. Huff, the production is based on 110 interviews conducted between October 2021 and August 2022. Artists-researchers from three university classes interviewed individuals of different ages, races, geographic regions, political affiliations and gender identities. The subjects were asked about their views of the polarization of the country and how to fix it. The interviews address a range of topics, including covid, vaccines, abortion, the war in Ukraine and Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings.   

Each interview was transcribed, and 50 were selected for editing and inclusion in the production. These interviews will be performed by 10 actors, many of different identities than the interview subjects.  

“Our theory is that audiences listen more carefully when they see and hear someone’s story coming from a different person’s body and then actually pay attention to what's being said and how it's being said. Their critical awareness is raised. And actors can investigate the lived experience of someone different from them to generate empathy for that person's experience,” said Salvatore, director of the Verbatim Performance Lab and a clinical professor of educational theatre. “All of this reveals assumptions and biases and upends expectations for audiences and actors, and that leads to dialogue about why. Which is the point.”

Each performance will be unique because the audience will randomly select the portraits to be performed. As the evening unfolds, the audience will be polled for their reactions to what they experience and the results will be shared at the discussion session that follows. After the run, the Lab will record all 50 portraits for an online archive.

“The only way through a polarized climate is to get people talking to each other, and that’s why this is an interactive experience,” Salvatore said. “So often an audience experiences a performance sitting in the dark and staying quiet. The polling and data collection are an invitation to enter into a dialogue about what came up for you as you hear these opinions from across the country and across a spectrum of personal positions.”

The Verbatim Performance Lab was born in 2017 and sits in the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. The Lab hosts performances and events for students, teachers and the community and conducts arts-based research using verbatim performance to investigate larger questions about society, culture, politics and the media.

Whatever you are, be a good one: A Portraits US Town Hall is produced by the Program in Educational Theatre in collaboration with the Verbatim Performance Lab, NYU-TV, NYU Libraries and the NYU John Brademas Center, with support from Global Research Initiatives, Office of the Provost.

Performances are at 8 p.m. Oct. 20-22 and 27-29 and 3 p.m. Oct. 23 and 30. Admission is $20, $10 for NYU faculty, staff and alumni and $5 for NYU students and senior citizens. Tickets are available online at tickets.nyu.edu, at the box office at 566 LaGuardia Place or by calling (212) 998-4941. Visit the event link to view the free, live-streamed broadcasts Oct. 27-30. 

All visitors aged one and older must provide proof of being fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 with an FDA-authorized or WHO-listed vaccine and a government-issued ID at the door. Vaccination documentation must be in English and include: Name, date of birth, date of doses and the vaccine manufacture for each dose.

 

Steinhardt’s Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions, founded in 1925, offers a supportive environment in which to explore disciplined and interdisciplinary endeavors in Music Performance, Composition, Music Business, Arts Administration, Music Technology, Music Therapy, Drama Therapy, and the Arts in Education (Educational Theatre, Music, and Dance). Together, students and faculty engage in professional, scholarly, and artistic practices that capture international attention and serve as models for progress.

Press Contact

Peggy McGlone
Peggy McGlone
(212) 998-6829