The Talking Band

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The Talking Band
Formation1974; 48 years ago (1974)
TypeOff-Off-Broadway company
PurposeExperimental theatre
AffiliationsResident company of the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club

The Talking Band is an American Off-Off-Broadway theatre company specializing in experimental theatre, based in New York City, New York.

The company consists of a core group of artists: artistic director Paul Zimet; actor, writer and composer Ellen Maddow; and actor and director Tina Shepard. The Talking band has collaborated with numerous performers and artists including: Taylor Mac, Louise Smith, Marcus Gardley, and Lizzie Olesker.

The company is known for producing original works of theatre that combine music, language, and choreographed movement in unconventional ways to create unique audience perspective on a wide range of subject material. Since its founding, the group has produced 46 original plays, and has performed its plays at theatre venues around New York City and throughout the world.


The group was founded in 1974 by Maddow and Shepard and Zimet, along with Sybille Hayn, Mark Samuels, Margo Lee Sherman, Charles Stanley and Arthur Strimling. It has its roots in the work of The Open Theatre, where company members Maddow and Shepard and Zimet worked as core company members. The Open Theatre had been founded by director, actor and writer Joseph Chaikin, and after Chaikin disbanded The Open Theatre in 1973, Maddow, Shepard and Zimet joined with the other Talking Band founding members to start the new company. Along with starting The Talking Band, Zimet, Maddow and Shepard continued to perform with Chaikin as part of his new company The Winter Project.[1]


Its first production, The Kalevala – based on the Kalevala, a 19th-century work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Finnish and Karelian oral folklore and Finnish mythology[2] – featured music by Elizabeth Swados, and used minimal staging. The piece centred on the use of actor voices and the rhythms and melodies of the language. It received critical praise from The Village Voice, which said, "it is as if the almost formal sense of using the breath opens the performers to the depths of an innerness that is sometimes like Alice in its sense of wonder and sometimes like Dante in its terribleness".[3]

Its productions evolved over the years, incorporating poetry, dialog, and multi-media elements, alongside music and choreographed movement. The group's pieces have focused on a wide range of subjects, from the travails of a housewife, to Christianity and nuclear disarmament.

Critics have described the productions as creative and innovative, and American Theatre referred to it as " of the most exceptional but unsung theatre companies in the country".[4]

Notable productions include:[5]

  • The Kalevala (1975)
  • Worksong (1977)
  • Pedro Paramo (1979)
  • Hot Lunch Apostles (1983)
  • Betty and the Blenders (1987)
  • The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol (1987)
  • No Plays No Poetry (1988)
  • Party Time (1996)
  • Black Milk Quartet (1998)
  • Bitterroot (2001)
  • Star Messengers (2000)
  • Painted Snake in a Painted Chair (2003)
  • Delicious Rivers (2006, co-written with mathematician Marjorie Senechal)[6]
  • Panic! Euphoria! Blackout (2010), Imminence (2008)
  • The Walk Across America for Mother Earth (2011)

In 2006 four playwrights wrote a serial play, The Necklace, based on themes and structures that they would develop over a year's time. Ellen Maddow, in an interview in The Brooklyn Rail, says of the experience: "I’ve worked in collaborative theatre all my life but to work collaboratively with other playwrights is something unusual. It’s a kind of tug and pull of four different peoples minds and ways of thinking. And the ways you are pushed in a certain direction by someone else’s aesthetic is very interesting."[7]


Widely acknowledged by critics for its innovative productions throughout the company's history, it is a recipient of fifteen Obie Awards, off-off Broadway theatre's highest honor, including thirteen Obie Awards for its production of Painted Snake in a Painted Chair.

Company members[edit]

Founding members Maddow, Shepard and Zimet remain as core company members.

Ellen Maddow[edit]

Maddow has written, composed, and performed in most of group's works. She has written plays including Panic! Euphoria! Blackout, Flip Side (published in Plays and Playwrights 2010), Delicious Rivers, Painted Snake in a Painted Chair (Obie Award winner) and five pieces about the avant-garde housewife Betty Suffer. Maddow is a recipient of a McKnight Playwriting Fellowship, the Frederick Loewe Award in Musical Theatre, a NYFA Playwriting Fellowship, NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Program for Playwrights, New York People of the Year Award. She was a member of The Open Theater, and an alumnus of New Dramatists.

Tina Shepard[edit]

Shepard is an Obie Award-winning actor and teacher at New York University She has performed in most of the group's productions and has also worked with a number of other companies and artists including Chaikin, Anne Bogart, Target Margin, Buran Theatre, and Theater of a Two-Headed Calf. Shows with Chaikin include The Serpent (1969 Obie Award), Terminal, Nightwalk, Electra, The Seagull, Tourists and Refugees (1982 Obie Award), and Trespassing. Her shows with Bogart include No Plays, No Poetry (1988 Obie Award), American Vaudeville, and Orestes. Shepard has taught acting, directing, voice and movement at Princeton University, Williams College, Smith College and NYU's Experimental Theatre Wing. With her students she has directed fifteen shows, most of them developed collaboratively with the ensemble.

Paul Zimet[edit]

Zimet is a writer, director and actor, and is the group's artistic director. He has directed over thirty-five original works for the company, including the following plays which he wrote: New Islands Archipelago, Imminence, Belize, The Parrot, Star Messengers, Bitterroot, Party Time, Black Milk Quartet and New Cities. He received an Obie Award for his direction of Painted Snake in a Painted Chair, and three Obie Awards for his work with The Open Theatre and The Winter Project. He is a recipient of the 2008 NewYorkTheatre.Com People of the Year award; The Frederick Loewe Award in Musical Theater; and a Playwrights' Center National McKnight Fellowship. He is an alumnus of the New Dramatists.

Creative process[edit]

The group uses a collaborative creative process that incorporates the approaches and aesthetics of artists in a variety of media and arts fields. Throughout its history, it has collaborated with influential artists from a range of backgrounds, including composers Swados, Peter Gordon and "Blue" Gene Tyranny; designers Julie Taymor, Theodora Skipitares, Janie Geiser, Nic Ularu, Carol Mullins, Kiki Smith, and Anna Kiraly; writer and performance artist Taylor Mac; and magician Peter Samelson.

The Performance Lab[edit]

In 1996, the group created The Performance Lab, establishing a more formal structure for their collaborative development process. This has led to collaboration with young artists and guest artists to explore new creative directions and integrate new perspectives. Since 1996, the group has produced seventeen shows through The Performance Lab.

The Talking Band and La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club[edit]

The group is a resident company at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club[8] – an off-Broadway theatre located on East 4th Street in the East Village of New York City's Manhattan borough – where it has produced and performed many of its plays. The group's first production at La MaMa was Pedro Paramo in 1979.

It has also performed at many of New York City's leading off-off Broadway theater venues, including HERE, Performance Space 122, 3LD Art & Technology Center, Theatre for the New City, The Ohio Theater, Dance Theater Workshop and Dixon Place.

The group has also performed extensively internationally, including The Roundhouse in London, England; The American Center in Paris, France; The Music Gallery in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; the Kovcheg Theater in Moscow, Russia; the Teatro La Batuta in Santiago, Chile; and the National Theatre Bucharest in Bucharest, Romania.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Russell, Donn. Avant Guardian: 1965–1990 – A Theater Foundation Director's 25 Years Off Broadway. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Dorrance Publishing Co. OCLC 39192810.
  2. ^ Asplund, Anneli; Mettom, Sirkka-Liisa (October 2000). "Kalevala: The Finnish National Epic". Retrieved August 15, 2010.
  3. ^ The Kalevala Show Page. The Talking Band.
  4. ^ (October 2008). "Falling Light". American Theatre.
  5. ^ Talking Band Production List. The Talking Band.
  6. ^ Midgette, Anne (January 24, 2006), "Theatre Review, Delicious Rivers: A Post Office With Attitude", The New York Times
  7. ^ Babb, Roger (May 2006). "In Dialogue: Talking Band's The Necklace: A serial mystery in eight episodes". The Brooklyn Rail.
  8. ^ La MaMa Staff & Board. La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club.
  9. ^ Talking Band Timeline. The Talking Band.

External links[edit]