We knew almost immediately after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that we wanted to create a piece about the experiences. To fill in the gaps that the media didn’t cover. To personalize what became repetitive coverage and information. To preserve our culture, our tradition, our home. We needed to harness our chaotic thoughts and emotions that left us all feeling angry, afraid, sad, uncertain, misunderstood, and on and on.
But where to begin? The events were epic in nature. Each of us had numerous personal stories. Then it came to me, we would use a 24 HOUR PLAY inspired process to force decisions to be made and to give us focus; only it would become the 22 Day Process. So in January of 2006 we put out a call for artists from all disciplines. We interviewed/auditioned over 40 artists and most participated from March 31-April 21, 2006. The first weekend the writers pulled the names of actors, dancers, choreographers, and musicians. We only had a couple of designers, but their FEMA tarp and shingles remain a part of the unit set. The writers also pulled a prop (all symbols of Louisiana). As a guide for creating a timeline they pulled one of the following words: before, during, after, now, later, prologue, epilogue and through-line. Like the 24 HOUR PLAY process, the eight short plays were performed 24 hours later.
This was only the beginning. During the following week we continued to rehearse and layer on the soundscape, pulling from FEMA PSA’s, Ray Nagen radio interviews, etc. We sent out a call for stories about euthanasia and insurance nightmares. Sharon Chester who saw the piece during week one submitted a piece—our collaboration had grown to include audience members. Weekend number two was open to the public with the new material. During week three we worked on integrating the music and dance more fully. Once again we opened the process to the public. Week four was about pruning. Cutting the material that we knew wasn’t working and tightening up what we could in that amount of time in order to share again with the public.
The process was raw and fast, but already we could see that it was working. SUSTAINED WINDS was becoming a full-length piece and the response from Lafayette and New Orleans audience members was tremendous. They wanted their stories to be told. The episodes created isolated snapshots of lives connected by historic events.
Next we incubated the piece for about four months, and started meeting again with a streamlined touring cast. There were some minor rewrites, but our biggest challenge was to tighten up the transitions, and to make sure we were telling stories that only we could tell as Louisiana Natives and Residents.
Today, our thoughts and emotions aren’t as chaotic as they were in the beginning. This ensemble has supported each other and helped each other to heal. We were brought together for something bigger than ourselves: a multi-disciplined group of artists, who work together, create together and have fun and play together. We’re not slick, we’re always a little rough around the edges, but we’re always real. We continue with SUSTAINED WINDS because, to quote the play, Katrina came “to wake us up, knock us out, and shake us down.” And not just ‘us’ on the Gulf Coast, but U.S.—all of us. And we are falling asleep again, more interested in the bull **** of young Hollywood that anything else, or so it sometimes seems. We want people to remember “the tragedy in life is not when things are broken; the tragedy is when they are not put back together again.” And because we love Louisiana, even with her flaws, we’re trying in our own small way to put her back together again.
Amy Waguespack, Director & Dramaturg
Bambi deVille Engeran
Amy Waguespack Director & Dramaturg
Chad Trahan Costume Design
Brandon Louviere Video Op
John Finley Light Op
Toby Rodriguez Photography/Poster
Harold Trantham Stage Manager
M. A. Urness
Alyce Morgan Wise