The Wooster Group Announces Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me
Last Edit: Official_Press_Release 01:20 pm EST 11/29/23
Posted by: Official_Press_Release 01:01 pm EST 11/29/23


(New York, NY) — The Wooster Group announces the premiere of Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me, an original work for theater that explores a distinctive genre of Black American storytelling called Toasts. Featuring performer Eric Berryman, the piece is directed by Kate Valk, with production design by Elizabeth LeCompte and sound design by Eric Sluyter. This is the core creative team from the Group's 2017 production The B-Side: "Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons," A Record Album Interpretation. For Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me, the team is joined by musician Jharis Yokley and lighting designer Marika Kent. Performances will take place January 11-February 3, 2024, at the Group's home, The Performing Garage, in New York City.

Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me is based on the 1976 LP Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me: Narrative Poetry from Black Oral Tradition, which contains a collection of Toasts recorded and edited by folklorist Bruce Jackson. Toasts are rhyming epic poems that tell fantastical and bawdy stories about legendary street heroes, such as Shine (the lone black man on the Titanic), Signifying Monkey, and Pimpin' Sam. Toasts were staples of urban life for decades, performed by and in groups of men, with each teller introducing his own verbal style and invention. The LP is one of the only archival recordings that survive of this long, rich strain of American folklore.

Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me is set in a late-night radio DJ studio where Berryman, as host, performs renditions of several classic Toasts from the album, which he contextualizes with reflections on Black male identity. He is accompanied by Yokley on drums. This production builds on The Wooster Group's techniques for animating archival material, bringing the past into the present of live theater. In particular, the Group has a long practice of using record albums both as artifacts and as organizing principles for creating performances, beginning with Nayatt School (1978), Hula (1981), L.S.D. (...Just The High Points…) (1986), and, more recently, Early Shaker Spirituals: A Record Album Interpretation (2014), and The B-Side, based on another LP recorded by Bruce Jackson.

The full ensemble for Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me includes: Irfan Brkovic (video design), Andrew Maillet and Yudam Hyung Seok Jeon (additional video), Michaela Murphy (assistant director), Tavish Miller (technical director), Bona Lee (production manager), Monika Wunderer (general manager), Maya Davis (associate producer), and Cynthia Hedstrom (producer).

The Wooster Group, led by founding member and director Elizabeth LeCompte, is a pioneer of experimental theater.

Established in 1975, the Group has created more than 50 theater and dance works, over 20 media pieces, and one Ribbon Cutting Ceremony. Theater productions include: Rumstick Road (1977), L.S.D. (... Just the High Points ...) (1984), Brace Up! (1991), The Hairy Ape (1996), House/Lights (1999), To You, the Birdie! (Phèdre) (2002), Hamlet (2006), the opera La Didone (2008), Vieux Carré (2009), The Room (2015), The Town Hall Affair (2017), A Pink Chair (In Place of a Fake Antique) (2018), and The Mother (2021), all directed by LeCompte, and Early Shaker Spirituals (2014) and The B-Side: Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons (2017), both record album interpretations, directed by founding member and associate director Kate Valk. The Group's work has been included in museum and gallery shows internationally, among them three Whitney Biennials, a commission for the opening of the new Whitney Museum building, and two productions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The Group's next New York performances will be Symphony of Rats, co-directed by LeCompte and Vak and based on a play by Richard Foreman. Symphony of Rats will open at The Performing Garage in spring 2024.

Eric Berryman is a Baltimore born, Brooklyn-based actor who is involved in work that he believes his great-grandmother would dig. He collaborated with The Wooster Group on The B-Side: "Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons" for which he received a Drama Desk Nomination. On stage he was last seen in Primary Trust at the Roundabout (Audelco Award Winner, Best Featured Actor) and in Scene Partners at the Vineyard Theatre. On screen he was last seen in the final season of the hit TV show Atlanta (FX), Episode 8-The Goof Who Sat by the Door, portraying "short lived Disney CEO" Thomas Washington. Other Select Theatrical Credits: Toni Stone (Roundabout); Detroit Red (ArtsEmerson-Elliot Norton Award); Private (Mosaic Theater); Alien/Nation (Williamstown Theatre Festival); Moby Dick, A Musical Reckoning (A.R.T.); and Steel Hammer (SITI Company). Recent Film/TV credits: Godfather of Harlem (Epix/MGM+), Ramy (HULU), Bonding, Marriage Story (Netflix); "Evil" (Paramount+); Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Empathy Inc (Amazon); and Motherless Brooklyn. Training: The Baltimore School for the Arts; BFA: Carnegie Mellon University.

Jharis Yokley is a rising star drummer, producer and songwriter whose work spans the hip-hop, jazz, R&B and rock scenes. A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Yokley graduated from Berklee College of Music, studying under jazz greats Terri Lynne Carrington and Danilo Pérez. An in-demand drummer, he has performed with artists such as Solange, Chance the Rapper, Ani DiFranco, Sleigh Bells, José James and DJ Premier.

Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me was co-commissioned by and developed in part during a residency at Texas Performing Arts at the University of Texas at Austin.

Development of Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me was supported by: the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature; the National Endowment for the Arts; Antonia & David Belt; and Tom Shapiro.

Major support for The Wooster Group is provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council; Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation; Rita Ackermann and Hauser & Wirth; The Howard Gilman Foundation; MacMillan Family Foundation; Fan Fox & Leslie R. Samuels Foundation; Select Equity Group Foundation; Shubert Foundation; and The Wooster Group's Director's Circle: Antonia & David Belt, Paul Cassidy & Vernon Evenson, Christine Larsen & Vincent Dopulos, Alan Mark & Jeffrey Fraenkel, Frances McDormand, Robyn Mewshaw, Catherine Orentreich (Orentreich Family Foundation), Tom Shapiro, and Wendy vanden Heuvel.

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