Paul Chan’s “Waiting for Godot in New Orleans”

October 29th, 2007 by Josh Neufeld  

This weekend and next, artist Paul Chan (in collaboration with Creative Time and a slew of NOLA partners) is staging Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in two site-specific New Orleans neighborhoods—the middle of an intersection in the Lower Ninth Ward, and the front yard of an abandoned house in Gentilly:

November 2 & 3, N. Roman St. & Forstall St., Lower Ninth Ward, 7:00 PM
November 9 & 10, Robert E. Lee Blvd. & Pratt Dr., Gentilly, 7:00 PM

The play is directed by Chrisopher McElroen (with artistic direction by Chan), and features performers (including Wendell Pierce, from HBO’s The Wire) based in NOLA, found through open auditions, working with actors from the Classical Theatre of Harlem. The production features live music by The Big 9 Social and Pleasure Club, ReBirth Brass Band, The Pinettes Brass Band, and Salty Dog.

According to 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.”

For the past nine months, 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, Chan 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.

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).

If you live in New Orleans—or have any way of getting there this weekend or next—don’t miss this opportunity to experience the play in this unique presentation.

2 Responses

  1. Joe Cary

    wow, Paul Chan is amazing! Not only is he bringing
    the arts back to a devastated part of town, he is
    taking time out from his personal work and is
    working with the community and schools to foster
    the performing and visual arts in the city which
    is has such a rich history of the same. Kudos to all who worked so hard on this project…

  2. josh

    Today’s New York Times‘ Arts & Leisure section has a nice wrap-up (written by Holland Cotter) of the NOLA “Godot” project.

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