A new theater piece by performance group Temporary Distortion wants to get at what it is like to be an NYPD cop. Newyorkland — which the Voice reviewed this past week — presents video footage alongside four actors onstage to create a pastiche of scenes that attempt to give the audience a sense of what police officers encounter as they go about their often disturbing jobs. Runnin’ Scared talked with the co-creators to see how the New York of today had a role in their work.
Even though stylistic inspiration was drawn from 1970s movies, the co-creators — Queens-based artists director Kenneth Collins and video designer William Cusick — said they decided to make it set in present day New York, where much of the film footage was shot on location. The actors playing NYPD cops onstage wear the force’s contemporary dark blue uniforms, Cusick said, adding later that there is also an attempt in the piece “to abstract the era so that it would not be pinned down to any one time.”
Though Collins and Cusick drew on a wide range of sources including familial experience (members of Collins’ family are Jersey cops), NYPD officers’ memoirs, films and documentaries, the two were also influenced by current headlines.
When we spoke on Friday, Cusick referred to news stories that were reported while they were working on the show. One, which he said was “particularly unsettling” to look at from the perspective of the police officer, was the summertime murder of Leiby Kletzky in Brooklyn. As another example, Cusick recalled how when the show was in rehearsal police saved a man from committing suicide off the Williamsburg Bridge.
“Throughout the two year process of developing the piece and researching the piece, I would constantly email Kenneth links to different articles that were happening and sometimes they made it into the show,” Cusick told Runnin’ Scared Friday. “There are specific mentions in some of the dialogue that does that reference some contemporary events, but in a very abstract way, again it’s meant to be poetic.”
Newyorkland runs through Feb. 4 at the Baryshnikov Arts Center.