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Artist in Residence 2015: Don Nguyen on Spark & Echo

Artist in Residence 2015: Don Nguyen

By Don Nguyen Luke 22:14–48
About

 Don Nguyen shares the development of his new theater piece in his fourth post.

To follow the developmental process of Don's play read his firstsecond, and third posts as a 2015 Artist in Residence.

Details
Year
2015
Medium
Theatre
Artist Curated by
Spark+Echo Arts, Artist in Residence

Scripture

Luke 22:14–48

14 And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. 15 And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: 16 for I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. 17 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: 18 for I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. 19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. 20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. 21 But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table. 22 And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed! 23 And they began to inquire among themselves, which of them it was that should do this thing.

The Dispute about Greatness

24 And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. 25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. 26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. 27 For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.

28 Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. 29 And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; 30 that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

(Matthew 26.31-35; Mark 14.27-31; John 13.36-38)

31 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: 32 but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. 33 And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. 34 And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.

Purse, Scrip, and Sword

35 And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing. 36 Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. 37 For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end. 38 And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.

(Matthew 26.36-46; Mark 14.32-42)

39 And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. 40 And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. 41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, 42 saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done. 43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and said unto them, Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.

(Matthew 26.47-56; Mark 14.43-50; John 18.2-11)

47 And while he yet spake, behold a multitude, and he that was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them, and drew near unto Jesus to kiss him. 48 But Jesus said unto him, Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?

Artist
Don Nguyen

Don Nguyen

From the Artist

Hi, this is my fourth and final post (maybe) for my Spark and Echo artists residency. To recap, I chose Luke 22:14-48, which covers The Last Supper because it’s the ultimate dinner party.  I was attempting to create a communal evening of theatre, food, improvisation, and game playing based on these selected passages.  In my last post, I talked about the obstacles I was running into, my fear of finishing the project, and the direction I wanted to take it in.  After exploring different avenues and giving it a lot of thought, I’ve decided to pivot the theme of the project from The Last Supper to The First Supper.

The idea of the First Supper really intrigues me because we know so much about the events of the Last Supper, but we don’t know much, if anything, about the First Supper.  And in exploring the notion of the First Supper as a kind of origin story for the apostles, I started to dig deeper into each of their backgrounds.  It was then I reached out to Jonathon Roberts, Founder and Co-Executive director of Spark and Echo to discuss this new theme.  I wanted to know if there was anything mentioned in the new testament about this so called first supper.  Jonathon reached out to his colleague Pastor Timothy Bourman of Sure Foundation Lutheran Church for information, and I was struck deeply by what Pastor Bourman had to say about the relation of the last supper and the first supper:


“The last supper probably isn’t the best name for the Lord’s Supper.  It is really a continuation and a deepening of a fellowship that began at the beginning of time and will culminate in the wedding feast of the Lamb.  It is neither the first supper nor the last supper.”


“It is neither the first supper nor the last supper.”  This really crystallized thematically what I wanted my project to be about.  It was this comment that gave me “permission” to look beyond the apostles and into my own life and the people I know and allowed me to posit the notion of a  “First Supper” moment for all of us.

So what is a “First Supper” moment?  To me, it is a moment in your life when you’ve experienced something life changing, memorable, thought provoking, challenging, or illuminating; all while breaking bread with someone.  This someone could be your family, close friend, or a complete stranger.  This idea of everyone having a “First Supper” moment also helped me to figure out the audience participation aspect of my immersive theater project.  How was I going to engage with the audience in a way that would allow them to feel included?  Of course!  I’ll ask them to share their first supper moment with me.  And those personal moments for the audience would become the necessary seed used to grow the show organically into an evening of theatre.

I then reached out to some of my friends and asked them to share their first supper moments with me.  I told them to not be literal in terms of a “supper.” It doesn’t have to be a feast or large gathering. It can be small and intimate.  As long as that moment was important to them.  I also wanted to keep it simple for them, so I asked of them only two things:

  1. A short sentence or two describing the moment
  2. List any food or drinks that you remember/stood out to you.

I provided an example from my own first supper moment:

“I was forced to go on a family trip to Oregon when I was 13 or 14.  One night we grilled fresh oysters that came in on the boat that day.  My dad cracked open a beer and shared it with me.  It was a moment I’ll never forget.” Food: Fresh oysters and a can of Budweiser. – Don Nguyen

Here are some “First Supper” moments that have been shared with me.  Some even provided photos:


“I was eight when my father’s union went on strike. His friend brought us a plate of cheese and meats.  As my father thanked him, I peered into the otherwise empty fridge gazing on it with awe. It dawned on me what it felt like to not have quite enough.”  Foods: Swiss and cheddar cheese. Cured meats.  Probably Hickory farms or some such. – Stella Fawn Ragsdale

“Having my first proper dinner with grandma. I obviously didn’t have the manners required so i pretended to fall asleep and my mom took the cue and removed me from the scrutiny.”  Foods: disgusting beets and cooked carrots… and some other things that were fine. – Dusty Brown

Don-Nguyen-AIR4th_debbe-green-beans-300x225“My wedding reception dinner.  That day was one of the happiest of my life.  And the meal included green bean casserole.  This is significant because green bean casserole is one of my absolute favorite things, but it’s not exactly "classy”.  Yet, my husband let me include it as one of the side dishes for our reception.  I think it represented us as a couple quite well – not very fancy, but comforting, enjoyable, and finding happiness in making each other happy.” Foods: Green Bean Casserole
– Deborah Krambeck

“In 1985 my Dad would pick me up early from Sunday school and we’d rush back to watch the Chicago Bears win 15 games and then ultimately the Super Bowl.” Foods: Microwaved Tyson chicken patty with mayonnaise on a bun. Still my favorite meal. – Aaron Levy

Don-Nguyen-AIR4th_chris-cragin-oneill-300x224.jpg

 “At the O’Neill Center, I had oysters and lobster for the first time at the clam bake we attended. And Dark and Stormys. And Don (co-writer) and I both declared that it was the fanciest meal either of us had ever had. And our cast was there, too, even though it was only supposed to be for the writers. And we all felt like we were in heaven.” Foods: Oysters, Lobster, Dark and Stormys – Chris Cragin Day

Eating without my family, but with my dog at the dining room table, while my parents were visiting my sister in the eating disorder ward of a hospital. it was a delicious frozen meal given to us by a friend.” Foods: a baked noodle dish, with cream sauce, chicken, peas and Parmesan cheese on top. Italian inspired. – Anonymous

“First time meeting the Mother of my first long-term boyfriend. She was a widow, he was an only child and somewhat of a Mama’s boy so pressure was high to get approval. She was treating us to her favorite restaurant: Farmer Brown’s Steakhouse. I knew she had a limited budget so I was conservative with what I ordered. The food was awful. I tried to push the food around on my plate to make it look like I had eaten more but she noticed and commented to the boyfriend later. I think she thought I was too good for the food. I just thought not ingesting it was better than ingesting and then regurgitating it back on the table. I so wanted to make a good impression. It was a no win.” Foods: Side of canned green beans, side of cold spaghetti, meat with gristle that I had to do the napkin spit into, baked potato that sat in the warmer too long – butter, salt and pepper dousing helped a little. – Anonymous

/uploads/general/Don-Nguyen-AIR4th_christina-thanksgiving-225x300.jpg

 “Thanksgiving, 2014.  My son, who hardly ever gets sick, ran a fever the night before Thanksgiving, so we had to cancel our plans to travel to see family.  My husband and I ran out at seven a.m. Thanksgiving morning to shop for groceries, and we whipped up a quick feast.” Foods: Cornish game hens (as there were no turkeys left to buy), mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, squash, corn, bread, cheese & crackers.  Served on our only-used-once-ever china! – Christina



 I love how just a handful of these “supper moments” captures an incredibly personal story with wide ranging themes of love, loss, and hope.

Next Steps

Now that I’ve identified the ever important “seed” for the evening, we need to water it a bit.  I imagine the evening will go like this:

      RSVP and Prep

  1. After a guest rsvp’s online, they are asked to share their “first supper” moment with the option of listing it with their name or “anonymous” and sharing any photos related to their moment.
  2. Guests can read other “first supper” moments and photos for inspiration and personal curiosity.
  3. Only twelve guests are allowed at each show.
  4. A special menu will be created based off of the foods and drinks listed in everyone’s first supper moment.  The menu doesn’t have to get literal with the items listed, it merely needs to recreate the essence of it.  What will be interesting here is to find any connections between each guest’s list of food items.
  5. A group of 4-5 performers made up of actors and musicians skilled in improvisation will conceptualize a skeleton show based on these first supper moments.


          The Garden Show

  6. When guests arrive to the First Supper, they are greeted with a garden show which consists of light mingling and music, either live or a playlist made up especially for the guests.
  7. During the garden show, three “first supper” moments will be performed and can consist of a monologue, scene, improvised scene, song, dance, call and response, visual art, etc.  We should be open to trying any form.  Each “first supper” moment performed should last no longer than two to three minutes, with a maximum of ten minutes for each performance “act.”


          Breaking Bread

  8. Everyone in the room will literally break bread.  The guests will then be seated.  The dinner table can be different for each show and it doesn’t have to be one long table.  It can be anything, as long as the performer’s playing space is immersed within the dining space.
  9. Three more “first supper” moments are performed


    The First Course

  10. Performers will serve the guests the first course, which is starter dish consisting of soup or salad.  Performers can mingle and actively listen to the guests conversations at this time and mentally file anything that is said which can be used for later improv.


    The Second Course

  11. Three more “first supper” moments are performed.
  12. The second course is served, which is the main dish.
  13. Again, performers can mingle and listen attentively to the conversations.


          The Third Course

  14. Dessert and coffee is served.
  15. The final three “first supper” moments are performed.
  16. The chef comes out and talks to the audience about how their “first supper” moments inspired the evening’s menu.
  17. The performers present a special song written for the evening, made up of all the stories shared that night.
  18. We end the night with a spoken coda:
    1. “Thank you for breaking bread with us tonight, and sharing your stories.  They are gifts we will cherish forever and we hope each of you will cherish them as well.  And as we part ways tonight, remember that we all began as strangers, but we will part as friends, and the stories we’ve shared with each other we hope will prove that tonight’s supper was neither the first nor the last.  Goodnight.

Here are some rough sketches of possible dining/performance seating layouts:

First Supper Seating Layouts

Final Thoughts

I really do feel like I’ve made a breakthrough with my process.  Unfortunately it took me all this time to get to this point.  But what’s great about being an artist in residence is that that’s exactly what I needed to crack open this idea: time.  I want to continue exploring this idea and once the holidays are over, to really get it on it’s feet with an audience.  This was something I had hoped to do before this post, but it was difficult inviting an audience and performers to something that didn’t have a clear foundation to build off of.  But now I feel like I really have something interesting to work with.  Look for an update in early 2016!

Biography

Don Nguyen was born in Saigon, Vietnam, grew up in Nebraska, and now currently resides in New York City.  As a playwright, Don has written several full-length plays including: SOUND, a sign language play which was a finalist for the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and was previously developed at The Playwrights Realm.  Don’s first full-length play RED FLAMBOYANT was developed at the Ojai Playwrights Conference and was both a finalist for the Bay Area Playwrights Festival as well as the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference.  THE MAN FROM SAIGON has been developed at Naked Angels and was a NYSAF Founders Award recipient.  THE COMMENCEMENT OF WILLIAM TAN was developed at New York Stage and Film and was a finalist for the Bay Area Playwrights Festival.  Don was also recently one of 48 playwrights commissioned for The Flea Theater’s 5 1/2 hour epic production of The Mysteries, directed by Ed Iskander, which was a stage adaptation of the Bible.  Don is a proud member of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab, a member of the inaugural Emerging Writers Group at the Public Theater in New York and served five years as artistic director for The Shelterbelt Theatre.  Don is also a frequent volunteer for the 52nd Street Project.

Website: thenuge.com

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