Thomas Burns Scully
Dramatic Adventure Theatre are not your average downtown theatre group. While many are happy to constantly re-stage Odets, or perform the nth Manhattan rendition of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, DAT take a different approach. They do what their name suggests, they go out in to the world and have an adventure. They gather together a group of actors in New York, and then ship them off to somewhere breathtakingly abroad. Whilst off around the world they teach theatre workshops, participate in community projects, talk to the locals, and generally immerse themselves in the culture and storytelling of that place. When they’re done, they come back to New York, and they coalesce those experiences in to theatre performances. Their most notable piece of work was 2013’s ‘A Girl Without Wings’, a play derived from the folk-tales of the Andes. ‘Wings’ received universal critical acclaim, including a rave review from the New York Times. Their current offering ‘Tu a Teraz: Here and Now’ is a coalescing of experiences had in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, chiefly with the Roma “Gypsy” communities. It’s a fascinating insight.
The form the evening takes is essentially a clowder of one-act plays. Whilst in Eastern Europe, the DAT Team was divided in to four groups that all worked individually to create short pieces out of their experience. One of the four explored the Roma persecution and experimentation at Auschwitz, another told a surreal allegory of a town surrounded by sunflowers. The other two were the actors’ direct and explicit processing of what they had done and felt whilst running theatre workshops in Slovakia. All of them spoke to a general theme of “We know we don’t know”, and the emotional bewilderment of a first drink from the Pierian spring. In fact, this is what I found most interesting about the evening.
All of what I saw was competent, interesting and insightful black-box theatre. Not every insight was wholly new (the desensitization of Nazi doctors and prison wardens is not exactly virgin territory) and some of the theatrical devices were definitely well-worn territory, but ‘Tu a Teraz’ is incredibly compelling viewing. What gives DAT its marks of distinction as a theatre concept, is also what marks them out as theatre producers: the real-life element. These are not school children who read a Wikipedia article about poor people and then devised a movement piece to draw attention to their bake-sale. These are adults who went in to the unknown and came back changed. This evening of theatre is them trying to make sense of that change in themselves. Much of it resembles a support group for those dealing with a feeling of overwhelming ineffectuality. I couldn’t help but empathize. I’ve been in their shoes.
I grew up in the Middle-East and travelled a lot as a child and teenager. I can by no means claim to have lived a hard-knock life, I absolutely haven’t. I’m also definitely not a professional philanthropist, but if you travel enough you will see things you can’t un-see. Things that you don’t quite know how to process. Joseph Stalin observed that a million deaths is statistics, while one is a tragedy. For all his unfettered evil, he could certainly be perceptive chap. As humans we can’t process things emotionally, we can’t understand a human tragedy until it is literally staring us in the face. To suddenly have impersonal sympathy turned in to real empathy is overwhelming, and the enormity of it often makes us feel powerless. That is what I chiefly saw at DAT yesterday. Amid all their excellent exploration of culture, history, and people, were actors dealing with the effects of acute sensitization, and the difficulty of making sense of it all. Isn’t that exactly the kind of experience the theatre is for?
Dramatic Adventure Theatre has been running for nine years. The ACTion Expeditions that produced ‘Tu a Teraz: Here and Now’ have been a cornerstone of their enterprise all that time. The people at DAT are just flat-out good people. Some of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure to meet in the New York theatre landscape. There’s this idea of narcissism that floats through downtown theatre sometimes. You’ve probably met those actors and directors that have high-flown ideas about art and expression and have never been within Uber-ing distance of a sense of humor. DAT are the antithesis of that. They are a consistent reminder that human connection is not just a concept Stanislavsky invented to get laid. It is a belief and an action that can sit at the heart of everything you do. It can take you on to the stage, and to the farthest reaches of the globe. Besides that it’s just a nice thing to do. You have to love them for it, because it shines through in all their work.
‘Tu a Teraz: Here and Now’ runs through August 16th at the Iati Theatre (64 E4th Street).
Show schedule and tickets available at: http://actionfest.brownpapertickets.com
Tickets are $18 online, $20 at the door
To learn more about Dramatic Adventure Theatre, or to get involved in what they do, visit
This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded in Time Out NY and the New York Times, and his writing has been performed on three continents. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man.
Follow him on Facebook (as Thomas Burns Scully), and on Twitter (@ThomasDBS)