Arts Watch: Ping Chong’s ‘Undesirable Elements Festival’ Comes to La Mama

Photo: Jamie Young/Arts Engage, Syracuse University

Internationally acclaimed theater director, playwright, video and installation artist Ping Chong brings his landmark Undesirable Elements Festival: Real People. Real Lives. Real Theater to La Mama for three weeks beginning on Thursday, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this compelling oral history theater series.

Known as a seminal figure in the interdisciplinary theater (also known as multi-media) community, Chong uses Undesirable Elements to explore issues of culture, difference, and community. Since its birth in 1992, as part of a visual art installation he was creating for Artist Space, he has created nearly 50 moving productions that have given voice to specific communities. To create each piece, local participants tell of their lives and experiences, often for the first time. Scripts are based on these interviews with these participants, who then tell their stories in the final production.

The opening production, two years in the making, is the New York City premiere of Cry for Peace: Voices from the Congo, created with refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who are seeking to rebuild community in their adopted home of Syracuse, NY.  Approximately 200 refugees from the DRC representing twelve different tribes—“victims and perpetrators” alike, now call Syracuse home. Together, they are working “to move past ethnic violence and seek reconciliation and understanding in their new lives in Syracuse.” Cry for Peace was commission by Syracuse University.

In addition to performances, the festival includes panel discussions—including this Saturday’s Congo Now discussion about the current situation in the Congo, live streams of performances, the screening of a new documentary, Secret Survivors: Using Theater to Break the Silence, and a workshop with Ping Chong + Company members where participants have the opportunity to learn methods of gathering stories within specific communities.

Undesirable Elements Festival: Real People. Real Lives. Real Theater / La Mama / October 18 – November 4 / prices vary

Cry for Peace: Voices from the Congo / October 18 – 21 / 7:30pm, 2:30pm /  $20, $15 (stu, sen)

Secret Survivors, featuring adult survivors of child sexual abuseOctober 25 – 28 /  7:30pm, 2:30pm / $20, $15 (stu, sen)

Inside/Out…voices from the disability community / November 1 – 4 / 7:30pm,  2:30pm / $20, $15 (stu, sen)

Special Events: 

Congo Now / October 20 / 4:30 – 6:00pm / Free

Secret Survivors: Using Theater To Break The Silence / 
Friday, October 26 / 3:00 – 6:00pm / Free

Social Practice and The Arts / Saturday, October 27 / 4:30 – 6:00pm / Free

UE Methodology Workshop / Monday, October 22 /  7:00 -9:00pm / $40 (includes one performance ticket)