The Civilians

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The Civilians
Formation 2001
Type Theatre group
Purpose Documentary Theater
  • Brooklyn, NY
Artistic director(s)
Steve Cosson
Notable members
Michael Friedman
Website The Civilians

The Civilians is an investigative theatre company in New York City founded in 2001 by Artistic Director Steve Cosson. The Civilians artists pursue their inquiries using interviews, community residencies, research, and other methods.[1] Working with a combination of journalism and art, The Civilians creates theatrical events that seek to promote an inquisitions of current issues.[2] The company has created seven original plays. According to Variety Magazine, The Civilians "travels far and wide researching a piece around a given subject, conducting interviews and comparing notes along the way, sometimes for years."[3]

Company history[edit]

Artistic Director Steve Cosson founded the company in 2001, with a multi-disciplinary group of artists including some fellow University of California-San Diego graduates, as “a breeding ground for new styles of collaboration”[4] Inspiration was taken from the British Joint Stock Theatre Company, Cosson having studied under director and Joint Stock member Les Waters at UCSD.[5] Cosson has said “I wanted to create a theatre that would engage with larger social, cultural, and political realities through the eyes of real, ordinary people, or 'civilians.'”[6] In keeping with this goal, the name of the company was derived from a vaudeville term for those not within the vaudeville community.[7]

Since its founding in 2001, The Civilians’ projects have been produced at venues throughout New York City, including The Public Theater, Joe's Pub, St. Ann's Warehouse, 59E59 Theaters, and the Vineyard Theatre, and at theaters nationally, including The Center Theatre Group (at the Mark Taper Forum), Studio Theatre, A.R.T., La Jolla Playhouse, HBO’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, and Actors Theatre of Louisville. Works by the company have also toured nationally and internationally to universities, arts presenters and festivals.

The Civilians made its UK debut with Gone Missing in 2004 at the Gate Theatre, and (I Am) Nobody’s Lunch was a Fringe First Award winner at the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, leading to a London production at the Soho Theatre. The Civilians’ commercial run of Gone Missing at the Barrow Street Theatre ran for seven months and was included in several Top 10 of 2007 lists in the New York press, including critic Charles Isherwood’s list in The New York Times.[8]

In addition to the successful productions, The Civilians’ work has been published in a number of formats. Gone Missing was published by Dramatists Play Service in 2009, following its inclusion in the publication of (I Am) Nobody’s Lunch by Oberon Books in 2007. In 2009, Playscripts, Inc. published an anthology of all of the Civilians' works to date, excluding This Beautiful City, which was still running at The Vineyard Theater. Additionally, an original cast recording of Gone Missing was released by Ghostlight Records in 2008.


According to The Civilians' website:

The artistic foundation of The Civilians is a group of Associate Artists including directors, writers, actors, designers, choreographers, and composers. Each year, the company invites several artists to join as new Associate Artists. The company realizes its projects through a network of collaborative partnerships. Many projects are developed with the support of partners including universities, institutional theaters and artist residency programs. Projects often tour to both performing arts presenters and regional theaters.[9]


Canard, Canard, Goose? (2002)[edit]

Canard, Canard, Goose? was the company’s first production, premiering in 2002 at HERE Arts Center in New York City. The play was devised and created by the company, directed by Steve Cosson, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman.[10] The play deals with "rumors of maltreated geese during the making of Fly Away Home, the sentimental 1996 Disney motion picture that featured Anna Paquin leading geese south in an ultra-light plane."[11] According to Time Out: New York, "The middle part of the show includes funny but affectionate impersonations of the eccentric and lonely folks who live in that remote hamlet. After two days of interviews, however, the group discovers that Fly Away Home was actually filmed in Ontario. Songs and silly dances are interspersed among the members' increasingly desperate updates on their deteriorating investigation."[11]

The Ladies (2004)[edit]

The Ladies was written by Anne Washburn and directed by Anne Kauffman, both Associate Artists of the company. The play presents the characters of Eva Peron, Imelda Marcos, Elena Ceausescu, and Jiang Qing, as well as the artists themselves. It premiered at Dixon Place in New York City in 2004.[citation needed]

Paris Commune (2004, 2008)[edit]

Paris Commune tells the story of the Parisian uprising of 1871, the first socialist rebellion in Europe. The piece was developed as a part of La Jolla Playhouse’s Page-to-Stage program in 2004,[12] and further expanded in 2008 as a part of the Public Lab Series Workshop at the Public Theater.[13] The piece is unique among The Civilians’ early repertoire in that it was not developed through first-person interviews with those directly affected by the topic of the play,[14] but rather through extensive historical research into the actualParis Commune that had its genesis in the 1871 rebellion.[12] The play was written by Steve Cosson and all of the music was written or adapted by Michael Friedman.[15]

(I am) Nobody’s Lunch (2006)[edit]

(I Am) Nobody's Lunch premiered at 59E59 Theaters in New York City in 2006 and received its London premiere at the Soho Theatre later that same year.[16] An earlier draft of the piece was first performed in 2004 as PS 122 in New York City.[17] According to Charles Isherwood of The New York Times “How and why we come to believe what we believe is the large question being explored with a wink in this collage of material culled from interviews with an odd assortment of Americans, ranging from soldiers standing vigil at Grand Central Terminal to a fellow who believes his body is inhabited by a celestial being who has useful tips on dispelling the fog of fear that has enveloped the country since 9/11.”[18] The piece received a coveted Fringe First award at the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.[19] (I am) Nobody’s Lunch was written and directed by Steve Cosson based on interviews conducted by the cast, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman.[20]

Gone Missing (2007)[edit]

Gone Missing premiered in 2007 at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York City. It is composed of extensive interviews by the company, all focused on the idea of loss, in many of its myriad forms. According to The New York Times review of the production, "Underneath its wry surface lies a mournful acknowledgment of the transience of life’s pleasures, symbolized here by any number of cherished possessions that somehow fell into a black hole, leaving behind an aching void in the shape of a bit of jewelry, a PalmPilot or a stuffed animal. . . . Even the most mundane and functional items can be a source of strange comfort, a talisman of achievement, a thing to cling to when life gets you down,"[21] Gone Missing was written and directed by Steve Cosson based on interviews conducted by the company, with music and lyrics written by Michael Friedman, and additional text from "Interview with Dr. Palinurus" by Peter Morris.[22]

Shadow of Himself (2008)[edit]

Shadow of Himself was written in 2008 by playwright Neal Bell. He wrote the play by commission from The Civilians, with the support of The Public Theater and The Orchard Project, collaborating with the actors and taking inspiration from interviews done by the company.[23] The piece opened at the Access Theatre in New York City in January 2009, produced by Rabbit Hole Ensemble. The play is a retelling of the Gilgamesh Epic.[24]

This Beautiful City (2008)[edit]

This Beautiful City The Civilians’ first premiered the Actors Theatre of Louisville Humana Festival of New American Plays in March 2008, followed by runs at Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C. and Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, California, and a New York premiere at the Vineyard Theatre in winter 2009. The piece engaged with "the expansion of the Evangelical movement in Colorado Springs"[25] as well as the growing gulf between the secular and Evangelical communities. In addition to illustrating the daily interactions between the members of the community of Colorado Springs, the play also brings to the stage the fall of New Life Church founder Ted Haggard, the scandal about whom broke while the Civilians were in Colorado Springs already actively researching for the play.[26] The piece received nominations for Drama Desk,[27] Drama League,[28] and Lucille Lortel Awards.[29] This Beautiful City was written by Steve Cosson and Jim Lewis from interviews conducted by Associate Artists Emily Ackerman, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Brad Heberlee, Brandon Miller, Stephen Plunkett, and Alison Weller, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, and directed by Steve Cosson.[25]

Brooklyn at Eye Level (2008)[edit]

Brooklyn at Eye Level was the first phase of a creative investigation into the heart of neighborhood, community change, and development. The project was conceived in light of the Atlantic Yards Development Project and the quickly changing landscape of Brooklyn as a unique performance of theater, dance, and music created from interviews with the real life players in the story of Brooklyn.[30]

Brooklyn at Eye Level was produced by The Civilians in December 2008 at the Brooklyn Lyceum. It was directed by Steven Cosson.[31] It is the first phase of a larger exploration of urban development in Brooklyn.

You Better Sit Down: Tales from my Parents' Divorce (2009)[edit]

Crafted from interviews between the cast and their own parents, You Better Sit Down is an account of the parents' marriages and their subsequent divorces. It was directed and co-written by Anne Kauffman, with additional writing credit for Janice Paran and David Barlow as well as the actor/writers Matthew Maher, Caitlin Miller, Jennifer R. Morris, and Robbie Collier Sublett.

The show was first performed at Galapagos Art Space in December 2009.[32] The performances were filmed by Park Pictures, and the footage has been released in short clips with interactive content through The Civilians' partnership with WNYC.[33]

In The Footprint (2010)[edit]

In The Footprint, a play with music, is the culmination of the investigative work begun for Brooklyn at Eye Level. It was directed by Steve Cosson, with a book by Cosson and Jocelyn Clarke and music & lyrics by Michael Friedman. It premiered at the Irondale Center in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, in November 2010, to critical acclaim.[34] It had its Boston premiere in January 2011 at Emerson College's Paramount Center.[35]

Civilians artists gathered material about the controversial Atlantic Yards development project for several years, interviewing new and old residents, community activists, developers, politicians, and others.[36] By using the actual words of the players involved, In The Footprint aims to show all sides of this multifaceted issue and tries to examine how the conflicts erupted, where the process went wrong, what is at the heart of Brooklyn communities, and what can be learned from all parties in these debates.

In The Footprint appeared on several best of 2010 lists,[34] including those of The New Yorker[37] and Charles Isherwood of the New York Times[38]

The Great Immensity (2014)[edit]

The Great Immensity is a play with music that addresses the topic of the environment and the future of our planet. The play explores the themes of climate change, deforestation, and extinction in two distinct locations: Barro Colorado Island located in the Panama Canal and the city of Churchill, Manitoba in arctic Canada. Drawing on interviews with botanists, paleontologists, climatologists, indigenous community leaders, wilderness guides, and trappers, The Great Immensity gives voice to people whose stories make the reality of present crisis tangible and viscerally felt.

The Great Immensity had two work-in-progress showings at the Berlind Theatre as part of The Civilians' cross-departmental residency at Princeton University with the Princeton Environmental Institute and the Princeton Atelier at the University's Lewis Center for the Arts on April 17, 2010.[39] The Public Theater's New Work Now! Festival included a reading of The Great Immensity on May 12, 2010.[40]

The Great Immensity was produced in April 2014, and reviewed by Charles Isherwood for the New York Times.[41]

In development[edit]

Pretty Filthy[edit]

The Civilians is in the process of creating a musical about pornography. Artists in Las Vegas and the Cali valley are talking to directors, performers, and producers about the pornographic movie industry. The Civilians are investigating how people got into the industry, how stars rose to fame, and how technological advancements have affected the sustainability and commercial viability of the genre.

Pretty Filthy is in development through a commission from the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles. Bess Wohl is writing the book, Michael Friedman is writing the music and lyrics, and Steven Cosson is directing. Some of the interview material has been performed in cabarets at Joe's Pub in New York[42][43] and the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles.[44]

List of Associate Artists[edit]

  • Emily Ackerman
  • Ernest Adzentoivich
  • Jim Augustine
  • Damian Baldet
  • Sarah Beers
  • Neal Bell
  • Quincy Bernstine
  • Marsha Stephanie Blake
  • Catherine Bloch
  • Andy Boroson
  • Ian Brennan
  • Lucrecia Briceño
  • Kate Buddeke
  • Aysan Çelik
  • Andromache Chalfant
  • Jocelyn Clarke
  • Matthew Dellapina
  • Terence Dale
  • Maria Dizzia
  • Alexander Dodge
  • Marcus Doshi
  • Thomas Dunn
  • Michael Esper
  • Gibson Frazier
  • Lexy Fridell
  • Michael Friedman
  • Jordan Harrison
  • Brad Heberlee
  • Daoud Heidami
  • Nina Hellman
  • Richard Huntley
  • Takeshi Kata
  • Abigail Katz
  • Anne Kauffman
  • Karinne Keithley
  • Christina Kirk
  • Alix Lambert
  • Jim Lewis
  • Trey Lyford
  • Matthew Maher
  • Melanie Marnich
  • Brandon Miller
  • Caitlin Miller
  • Jennifer R. Morris
  • Josh Neufeld
  • Stephen Plunkett
  • Michael Premo
  • Shane Rettig
  • KJ Sanchez
  • Jenny Schwartz
  • Jeanine Serralles
  • Brian Sgambati
  • Jeremy Shamos
  • Robert Signom III
  • Robbie Sublett
  • Louisa Thompson
  • Kenneth Travis
  • Anne Washburn
  • Les Waters
  • Alison Weller
  • Colleen Werthmann
  • Sam Wright

Awards and recognition[edit]

The Civilians has received a number of accolades for their works. The company received The OBIE Grant in 2004,[45] The Edinburgh Fringe Festival Fringe First Award in 2006[19] for (I am) Nobody’s Lunch, and was nominated for Drama Desk,[27] Drama League,[28] and Lucille Lortel awards for This Beautiful City in 2009.[29]

The company has been reviewed positively by such publications as Time Out: New York,[46] The Village Voice,[47] The New York Times,[26] and many others.



  1. ^ Grode, Eric. “Big Ideas, Small Stages,” New York Magazine (November 30, 2008).
  2. ^ Eisler, Garrett. “Social Work,” Stage Directions (September 8, 2008).
  3. ^ Thielman, Sam. “Civilians Take Unique Approach,” Variety (March 28, 2008).
  4. ^ Estvanik, Nicole. "The Civilians What do You Believe?" American Theatre Magazine (December 2004).
  5. ^ LaBelle, Devon. "The Civilians"
  6. ^ Bowen, Kirsten. "The Civilians Have a Few Questions for YOU!" American Repertory Theater (April, 2006).
  7. ^ Eisler, Garrett. "Social Work" Stage Directions (September 2008).
  8. ^ Hernandez, Ernio. "Best In Show: August, Dividing the Estate and Gypsy Top 2007 "Best of" Lists," Playbill (January 4, 2008.)
  9. ^ "The Company," The Civilians' official website.
  10. ^ Cosson, Steven. "Canard, Canard, Goose?." The Civilians. Ed. Steven Cosson. New York: Playscripts, Inc, 2008.
  11. ^ a b Cote, David. “Reviews: Canard, Canard, Goose?” Time Out New York (February 7, 2008).
  12. ^ a b de Poyen, Jennifer. “Rebels with a Cause,” San Diego Union-Tribune (July 30, 2006).
  13. ^ English, Sandy. “A Turn Toward History We Need: Paris Commune at the Public Theater in New York” World Socialist website (June 4, 2008).
  14. ^ Fark, Bill. "Playhouse Workshops New Musical on 19th Century French Commune," North County Times (July 22, 2004).
  15. ^ Cosson, Steven. "Paris Commune." The Civilians. Ed. Steven Cosson. (New York: Playscripts, Inc, 2008).
  16. ^ The Civilians: An Anthology of Six Plays (Playscripts, Inc., 2009)
  17. ^ Zinoman, Jason. “They Feel a Homeland Security Song Coming On,” The New York Times (January 29, 2006).
  18. ^ Isherwood, Charles. “A Funny and Sad Look at Facts, Myths and Spin,” The New York Times (January 23, 2006).
  19. ^ a b Eaton, Andrew. “Equals Among Firsts,” The Scotsman (August 11, 2006).
  20. ^ Cosson, Steven. (I am) Nobody's Lunch. The Civilians. Ed. Steven Cosson. (New York: Playscripts, Inc, 2008).
  21. ^ Isherwood, Charles. “Checking the Lost and Found of Life,” The New York Times (June 27, 2007).
  22. ^ Cosson, Steven. "Gone Missing." The Civilians. Ed. Steven Cosson. (New York: Playscripts, Inc, 2008.).
  23. ^ Bell, Neal. "Shadow of Himself" The Civilians. Ed. Steven Cosson. (New York: Playscripts, Inc, 2008.).
  24. ^ Genzlinger, Neil. "Two Friends Start a Journey, but One Will Not Return," The New York Times (January 23, 2009).
  25. ^ a b This Beautiful City at the Vineyard Theatre website.
  26. ^ a b Soloski, Alexis. "One Troupe’s Heartland Pilgrimage, " The New York Times (January 28, 2009).
  27. ^ a b Drama Desk Nominations Press Release 2009
  28. ^ a b, 2008-2009 75th Annual Drama League Nominations Announced, April 21, 2009
  29. ^ a b Lucille Lortel Nominees 2009
  30. ^ Aronson, Isaac-Davy and Alison Lichter. "Brooklyn Neighborhood Acts Out On Development Plan."
  31. ^ Archived July 20, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  32. ^ Flavorpill Events - The Civilians present You Better Sit Down: Tales from My Parents' Divorce
  33. ^ WNYC presents This Weeks Divorce Tales by The Civilians
  34. ^ a b Press for In The Footprint at
  35. ^ Boston Globe, In ‘Footprint,’ it’s big business vs. the people, January 22, 2011
  36. ^ New York Times, When News Events Are Retold Onstage, December 7, 2010
  37. ^ Lyon, Shauna. Top Off-Broadway (And Off-Off-Off-Broadway) Theatre of 2010 (DECEMBER 17, 2010)
  38. ^ Isherwood, Charles. "Bright Fodder for Future Revivals" (December 16, 2010)
  39. ^ Peters, Carol. "Art and Science Collaboration Produced Work-in-Progress on Climate Change." PEI News (Spring/Summer 2010).
  40. ^ New Work Now! Readings 2010
  41. ^ Isherwood, Charles (April 24, 2014). "Climate Change Onstage: Singing of the Extinction of Fauna". The New York Times. Mr. Cosson’s text is pocked with speeches about the urgent necessity of mending man’s rapacious ways. While sincerely felt and factually indisputable, these nevertheless feel like sermons we’ve all heard many times before. What’s truly enticing in The Great Immensity is hearing such sentiments expressed in the vivifying context of musical numbers. 
  42. ^ - The Civilians explore the Porn Industry in a Cabaret at Joe's Pub
  43. ^ - The Civilians: Let Me Ascertain You
  44. ^ - PHOTO FLASH: Mia Barron, Emily Swallow, Sam Trammell, Steven Weber, et al. at A Pretty Filthy Evening
  45. ^ Village Voice, New York Obies Theater Award 2004
  46. ^ Cote, David. “Culture Report: Gatekeepers, ” Time Out New York (April 2, 2008).
  47. ^ Ng, David. Land of the Lost (Jul 3 2007)

External links[edit]