Where does the title Undesirable Elements come from?
Ping Chong is a visual artist as well as a theater artist. In 1992, he was making a visual arts installation at Artists Space in New York City. The installation was called A Facility for the Channeling and Containment of Undesirable Elements. Shortly before the opening, the curator, Carlos Gutierrez-Solana, asked Ping to make a performance piece to accompany it. Ping quickly gathered together a group of bi-lingual New Yorkers from different backgrounds and created a piece with them that explored what it meant to be “desirable” or “undesirable” in their cultures of origin. That last-minute performance piece, which performed in the visual arts installation itself, became the first Undesirable Elements production and when it was created in other cities, the name went with it.
Why do some productions have titles other than Undesirable Elements?
As Undesirable Elements became an ongoing series, we began using additional titles depending on the circumstances and nature of the production. Sometimes presenters or participants feel that the title Undesirable Elements may be alienating to the community, especially when the production is youth-focused. In those circumstances, an alternate title is used, such as Secret History, Children of War, Women of the Hill, etc. These productions are all under the umbrella of the Undesirable Elements series.
How do you find/choose the people who are in the show?
All Undesirable Elements productions are made in partnership with a local host organization in the community where the show is being produced. The host organizations are responsible for recruiting people who might be interested in sharing their personal stories on stage. The host puts the word out through their community and personal contacts (advertising in local papers or list-servs, putting up fliers in community centers, meeting with local leaders, etc), explaining that they are looking for participants. Often someone knows a friend of a friend of a friend who would make a great cast member and tells him/her about a project.
The only requirements for participants is that they have an interesting story they are willing to share publicly, they have an open mind towards other people’s experiences and cultural differences, and they have the time available for rehearsals and performances. Interested people are asked to complete a short survey about their backgrounds and then come in to meet with the Ping Chong + Company artistic team for a two-hour interview. After meeting with a broad group of people (usually 15-20), we select a diverse group whose stories resonate with each other and with the community issues being addressed in the production. This group is invited back for a second round of interviews. Then, 5-7 are selected to be in the show.
Are the stories true?
Yes. The stories are all the personal experiences of the people performing in the production.
Are the performers actors?
No, they are not. The performers are all individuals who live in the community where the production is taking place. Some of them have never been on stage or spoken publicly before, others do have previous performance experience. All of the performers are telling their own true stories about their own lives.
Who writes the scripts?
Ping Chong and/or his artistic collaborators – Sara Zatz, Talvin Wilks, and others – writes the scripts after extensive interviews with each performer. Some sections are direct quotes, others are theatricalized versions of events related in the interviews. Each performer has the opportunity to review the script, correct any errors, or request that information or experiences be removed if they are not comfortable discussing them publicly. The script goes through multiple drafts with extensive in-put from the cast members.
How can I bring an Undesirable Elements production to my community?
Contact us! Undesirable Elements can be brought to any community and can be structured around specific thematic issues or around more general issues of culture, identity, and difference facing a specific community. Contact Sara Zatz, Undesirable Elements Project Manager, to discuss how to make an Undesirable Elements project in your community.
I am an artist working in communities. How can I learn the Undesirable Elements methodology to apply it to my own work?
In 2011, Ping Chong + Company instituted an annual Summer Training Institute to share our methodology with artists, students, and community practitioners. Visit our Education/Training page for more information.
Do you offer school programs, workshops, or corporate presentations?
Yes! We have a school-based arts-in-education program and are an approved vendor to the New York City public schools. Please visit our Education/Training page for more information, and/or contact Christina Weakland.
We also offer workshops and corporate presentations. Please contact Sara Zatz.
I have a question that is not addressed here. What should I do?
Send Sara Zatz an e-mail. She will do her best to answer all questions about the Undesirable Elements project.