The inimitable energy and beating heart of the city that never sleeps is exposed in Nocturnal: Portrait of a New York Night in Nine Movements starring the Pangaea Performance Ensemble and directed by Laura Tesman, assistant professor of theater.
Employing a dozen actors portraying multiple characters in a 90-minute stretch, Nocturnal takes its inspiration in part from Nightshift NYC, a look at the men and women who keep their nose to the grindstone while the bridge and tunnel crowd gets some much-needed rest. Nightshift was co-authored by Russell Sharman, associate professor of anthropology and archaeology.
Tesman arrived at Brooklyn College in 2008 after a teaching stint at the University of Colorado. As a member of multiple theater companies who has participated in more than 40 projects, Tesman found the unique creative process that led to the creation of Nocturnal a good fit for her. The initial spark came from a production of Derek Walcott’s Ti-Jean and His Brothers, which Tesman directed. Captivated by the cast, she was determined to retain the players.
“I had some really talented, dedicated people who would enjoy the very strenuous process of creating something from scratch, and decided in fall 2010 to teach a class on devising a collaborative creation,” she says.
Thus, Nocturnal was born, with its tight-knit cast featuring veterans of Ti-Jean. “In that first semester, we began to develop bits of material — a monologue, a scene, an improvisation,” Tesman explains, citing Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty among the works “used as inspiration and templates for what could be done.” As the idea grew, so did the ambition of the project. The workshops began coalescing into something more cohesive.
“It was a pastiche of different people and experiences; little mini-stories and the idea of the night,” Tesman says. “If you go out at night, you have all these little mini-experiences that accumulate into something bigger than the individual moments.”
The ensemble cast resisted the idea of a single main character, instead working to spotlight the many personalities, nationalities and professions whose stories intersect in the course of the play. The cast also conceived the scenery and costumes, and selected the music that underscores Nocturnal, a lively soundtrack of the wee hours of the morning.
To tell its many stories, Nocturnal utilizes a decidedly offbeat approach — reverse chronology, opening with the final scene and then circling back to the very beginning. Tesman notes some initial resistance to this decision, saying the solution really lay in “figuring out how to tell each story, what each story was, and how they intertwined.” Along the way, the viewer sees lives intersect and stories unfold. A healthy mix of drama and comedy, Nocturnal drew additional interest when the play was accepted to be part of the 16th Annual New York International Fringe Festival. A Kickstarter campaign aimed at covering the cost of costumes, set and transportation drew more than $1,800, significantly more than the initial $1,200 goal. The Office of Diversity and Equity Programs, under the guidance of director Natalie Mason-Kinsey, also contributed funds to cover the festival’s participation fee.
Set to premiere at the New Ohio Theatre on Aug. 16, Nocturnal has all the right elements of an engaging, emotionally compelling piece of work.