In November 2007, Creative Time presented Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, a project by Paul Chan, co-produced by Creative Time with curator Nato Thompson and The Classical Theatre of Harlem with director Christopher McElroen, featuring New Orleans born actor Wendell Pierce, and in collaboration with New Orleans’ partners: University of New Orleans, Xavier University, Dillard University, NOCCA High School, Lusher High School, Frederic Douglass High School, John McDonough High School, Students at the Center, Neighborhood Story Project, The Porch, and Renaissance Project.
New Orleans is the setting for the 20th century’s most emblematic story of waiting. According to artist Paul Chan, “The longing for the new is a reminder of what is worth renewing. Seeing Godot embedded in the very fabric of the landscape of New Orleans was my way of re-imagining the empty roads, the debris, and, above all, the bleak silence as more than the expression of mere collapse. There is a terrible symmetry between the reality of New Orleans post-Katrina and the essence of this play, which expresses in stark eloquence the cruel and funny things people do while they wait: for help, for food, for tomorrow.”
Four free site-specific outdoor evening performances of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot took place over two weekends in November in two New Orleans neighborhoods — the middle of an intersection in the Lower Ninth Ward, and the front yard of an abandoned house in Gentilly.
Paul Chan has worked with New Orleanian artists, activists, and organizers to formalize the shape of the play and broaden the social scope of the project. Visiting New Orleans for the first time in November 2006, the artist was struck by the disquieting stillness: no hammer sounds banging in the distance, no construction crews yelling to one another, no cranes visible on the skyline. His immediate response to the city was to imagine an outdoor performance of Samuel Beckett’s legendary play, Waiting for Godot. “The longing for the new is a reminder of what is worth renewing. Seeing Godot embedded in the very fabric of the landscape of New Orleans was way of re-imaging the empty roads, the debris, and, above all, the bleak silence as more than the expression of mere collapse,” stated Chan. This production continues the presentation of the play in politically charged environments, including San Quentin prison (1957), a performance directed by Susan Sontag in war-torn Sarajevo (1993), and Classical Theatre of Harlem’s post-Katrina inspired production featuring New Orleans native Wendell Pierce in Harlem (2006).
As an arts organization that for 33 years has enlivened public space in NYC and challenged the notion of what art can be, Creative Time immediately signed on to present this project in New Orleans and launch its national program. “We traveled with Paul Chan to lay the groundwork with the goal to involve and benefit the local community in all facets of the production. Meetings were held with neighborhood groups and individuals to listen to concerns, learn from their insights, and adapt planning with their challenging advice,” stated Anne Pasternak, President and Artistic Director, Creative Time. “More than a play, the work is a socially engaged performance at the heart of a national crisis,” added Nato Thompson, Curator and Producer, Creative Time.
Video by Matt Wolf courtesy of Creative Time. To learn more visit creativetime.org.