Andrea Gibson is one of the most celebrated and influential poets of today. Their oeuvre includes work on topics from pressing contemporary social issues—the kind that make you scream—to gentle love poems. Gibson isn’t strictly poetry either; their new show, ‘Right Now, I Love You Forever’ on tour now, is being billed as a “multimedia, poetic story-telling experience”.
We got to talk to Gibson about everything from why right now is the perfect time for a performance about love to how gender identity informs their work.
College News: Your new show ‘Right Now, I Love You Forever’ has been in the works for a while. Can you tell us a little bit about it? And why is now the right time for it?
Andrea Gibson: The show was something I was wanting to do for a long time, but put on hold after the election of Trump because I needed some time to scream. Not to suggest that my screaming has stopped. It hasn’t. But alongside the screaming is always love, and there is never a wrong time for love.
CN: ‘Right Now, I Love You Forever’ is not strictly slam poetry, you’ve called it a “multimedia, poetic story-telling experience”. Can you give us an idea of what to expect? Why this format?
AG: The show is a collection of poems and stories and songs and film. It’s in some ways a live scrapbook of my heart’s life, and what I have learned throughout the mess and triumph of it all.
CN: What has it been like for you to put together this show in today’s political climate?
AG: It’s been a helpful reminder to presence my own, and everyone else’s tenderness, in whatever I create, and to keep touching back to the fierce softness of the human heart.
CN: You’ve written a lot about love, but you’ve also written a lot about important social and political issues. How do you see subjects, which seem to be getting more and more compartmentalized today, as related?
AG: All social and political issues are issues of love, or the lack thereof. How our hearts roll in intimate situations are how our hearts roll outwards into the world. It’s all connected. It all dominoes.
CN: We understand that you identify as queer and gender queer. How has this impacted your art?
AG: It predisposes me to being turned off my boxes and inclines each word I write to be something in search of freedom.
CN: What’s the best piece of writing advice you have for aspiring poets and writers?
AG: Read. A lot. If something moves you, learn how to articulate to yourself why it moves you. And if it doesn’t move you, do the same. Stay away from what you think, and stay close to what you feel. It’s not always about writing your heart out. Sometimes it’s about writing your heart IN.
CN: What do you hope to accomplish that you haven’t yet?
AG: I’m working to be braver in my writing. I’m working to be more willing to create art no one loves but me. I’m working to write what terrifies me to write. Safety is so repetitive. It’s wild how easy it is to be boring. I feel finished with anything that walks that road.
In the latest of what has been a series of astonishing developments surrounding the controversy concerning President Donald Trump’s phone call to the President to the Ukraine, the whistleblower complaint has now been released and it alleges White House interference in covering up the call.
What’s the background?
In mid-September, the House Intelligence Committee Chairman subpoenaed the Acting National Intelligence Director to hand over a whistleblower report. It was filed last month and was determined to be of “urgent concern.” The document was not handed over, raising eyebrows all around.
On September 18, The Washington Post reported on the document, saying that it had something to do with an unspecified “promise” Trump had made to a foreign head of state. At this point, it was not clear what the promise was and to whom it was made. President Trump responded accordingly.
….Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially “heavily populated” call. I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!
Details began to slowly trickle out. The Wall Street Journal reported that the whistleblower complaint alleged that Trump had pressured the Ukrainian President Zelensky “about eight times” to work with his personal attorney Rude Giuliani to look into matters surrounding Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, who had sat on the board of a natural gas company in the Ukraine.
Compounding the situation was the matter of millions of dollars of aid that the U.S. had failed to release to the Ukraine, leading some to suggest this was a true mafia-style shakedown of one world leader by another.
Following the breaking news, Trump went on record to deny that he had ever tried to bribe another country to interfere in a national election while at the same time unintentionally confirmed some aspects of the story—such as a call had taken place to the President of the Ukraine and Biden’s son had been discussed.
By Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that impeachment inquiries would begin, describing the President’s actions as a “betrayal of his oath of office.” On Wednesday, a transcript of the call had been released. And on Thursday, the whistleblower complaint was de-classified and published.
The whistleblower complaint
The whistleblower complaint, which as you may recall from last year—we mean last week—had been withheld even in light of a subpoena. It had also been withheld from Congress. Its release now is the latest in a series of incriminating revelations for the Trump administration.
The complaint alleges that “senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced as is customary by the White House Situation Room.”
“This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired int he call,” reads the complaint, continuing later to say: “…there was already a discussion ongoing with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the President abuse his office for personal gain.”
Acting National Intelligence Director Jospeh Maguire, the same one who last week did not hand over the subpoenaed whistleblower report, called the complaint “unique and unprecedented” in an appearance before Congress on Thursday. He also said the whistleblower “acted in good faith.”
What happens now?
What happens next is truly anyone’s guess. To borrow from Maguire, the situation is “unprecedented.”
There are strikingly few cases of impeachment proceedings being launched in American history—just three, in fact: Andrew Johnson in 1868, Richard Nixon in 1973 and Bill Clinton in 1998. None of these events resulted in removal from office due to the impeachment. Nixon resigned before a vote could take place, and Johnson and Clinton were acquitted from all charges following a Senate trial and allowed to remain in office
The impeachment proceedings will be a long and drawn out event, likely contributing to further polarization in what was shaping up to be an extremely polarizing year anyway.
To begin with, a House committee, usually the Judiciary Committee or its subcommittee, will conduct an investigation to see if a federal official’s conduct warrants impeachment. According to the Constitution, impeachable offenses include, “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” How exactly to interpret that has been a source of vigorous debate throughout American history.
After the inquiries, the House Judiciary Committee will write up the articles of impeachment and then vote on whether to refer them to the House of Representatives. If approved, the articles will advance to the House floor where a simple majority of voting lawmakers if required to approve them.
Following a vote in the House, a trial in the Senate will take place where senators become jurors and the chief justice of the US Supreme Court presides. A supermajority, that is two-thirds of the vote, is required to remove a President from office. Control of the Senate is currently in the hands of the Republican Party, 53-45, so a vote removing Trump from office looks unlikely at this stage.
However, impeachment proceedings will be long, and there’s no telling what may happen by the end of them. Nixon’s impeachment proceedings lasted 184 days; for Clinton it was 127 days.
And just a reminder…
In the background, the 2020 election carries on. Nineteen democrats are still running for President, clamoring for attention and support as media coverage becomes increasingly crowded with more and more pressing issues. The first primary is on February 3, just 130 days from now.
The trade war is dragging on. The yield curve is inverting. Investors are fleeing to safety. Global growth is slowing. The stock market is dipping. The student debt crisis has incapacitated a generation of young people financially. And yes, Millennials and Gen Z are screwed.
The financial challenges facing young people in America have been widely reported on, but before you click away from yet another doom and gloom of the future story, it’s worth considering the facts.
Millennials and Gen Z carry over $1 trillion in student loan debt—that’s the GDP of the entire European Union—and there’s no sign of relief coming any time soon. This debt has saddled a generation that entered adolescence and adulthood following on of the worst global economic recessions in recent history. These are the first generations that are projected to be worse off than their parents.
And this is reflected in the choices that Millennials and Gen Zers are forced to make. Many are resigned to renting long term, unable to afford the first rung of the properly ladder: saving up a sizeable deposit. According to a recent survey of 3,000 young people, over half of Gen Z (57 percent) do not believe they will ever own significant assets. And 76 percent doubt they will inherit assets of any significant value from their parents.
These odds are altering the way young people define success. It’s less about the money and assets acquired and more by the way they live. Some 65 percent of Gen Z said in the same survey that they would donate part of their estates to charity, many of which focused on leaving money to organizations that combat climate change.
USA Will Guru, who conducted the survey, created an interactive map where you can view these results broken down across the U.S.:
There’s a lot that’s going to happen between now and the beginning of this year’s college basketball season, it seems almost premature to publish a top teams list. But we’re too excited to wait! Here’s who you should be keeping an eye on in 2019-20.
WHO’S GONE: Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Nick Ward
WHO’S BACK: Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Kyle Ahrens, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier
WHO’S COMING IN: Rocket Watts, Malik Hall, Julius Marble
On November 3, 2020, Americans will head to the polls and render their verdict on Donald Trump’s presidency. For many reasons, this election is looming larger than those in previous years—so much so that 25 individuals (23 Democrats and two Republicans) have announced their candidacy for president in 2020.
With that many names to keep track of, not to mention the issues, we’ve broken it down into an essential guide.
Why is everything so wild?
In an average year, maybe two or three people will run against each other for the party nomination for president. This year, there are 25 people in the running, with three that have already dropped out.
This election is about Trump. In 2016, the current President pulled off a mammoth political upset against Hillary Clinton, taking swing states such as Florida and North Carolina, while overcoming the supposed “blue wall” in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. This time the candidates are different, the issues are different and the electorate has changed. Everyone is watching with bated breath wondering, can Trump do it again?
While most attention is focused on the presidency, the general election will also determine control of Congress, state legislatures and governorships. Power in the Senate will be up for grabs, with 34 out of 100 seats up for election in 2020—about a third of those seats look competitive. Democrats will also try to defend their majority in the House of Representatives.
Who can vote?
There are more than 224 million people of voting age in the US. The 2020 electorate will be more diverse and younger than ever before, according to a January 2019 analysis from the Pew Research Center. Non-white voters will account for a third of eligible voters—their largest share ever—and one in 10 eligible voters will be from Gen Z (between ages 18 and 23).
In 2016, about 30 percent of Americans who were eligible to vote decided not to or were blocked; however, given the surge in turnout for the 2018 midterm elections, 2020 could see an expanded electorate. However, experts say voter suppression and gerrymandering may have hindered Democrats in 2018 and may continue to counter the effects of a more enthusiastic voting base.
Explain primaries to me
The primaries and caucuses are a series of contents in all 50 states plus Washington DC and outlying territories, by which the party selects its presidential nominee. The goal for candidates is to amass a majority of delegates whose job it is to nominate the candidate. In some states, delegates are awarded on a winner-take-all basis; other states split their delegates proportionally among top winners.
The goal for candidates is to win early-voting states and create name recognition and a sense of momentum. Sometimes the nominee emerges quickly, but the last two major Democratic primary contests, pitting Barack Obama against Clinton and then Sanders against Clinton, have lasted from the Iowa caucuses in January through late spring.
After the primaries, the two parties will hold their national conventions, at which they will officially designate their candidates. The conventions are a mix of political business, theater and party. The Democratic national convention is July 13-16, 2020, and the Republican convention is a month later, from August 24-27.
Then the race begins
The general election, the race for president that most voters think of, begins in earnest after the conventions when there are two clear candidates. This is when the candidates hit the campaign trail, unveil their running mates and step up to the national debate stage. For Trump, his work will also include the business of the presidency.
Then November 3 will come, votes will be cast and it will all come down to the electoral college.
September 12-13 Next democratic debates
February 3 Iowa caucuses kick off the primaries
March3 Super Tuesday
July 13-16 Democratic national convention
August 24-27 Republican national convention
November 3 Election day
Registering to vote
The deadlines to register to vote vary by state. Some states allow voters to register in person on election day, others set a deadline at as much as 30 days before election day.
Going to college is expensive—tuition, fees, room and board, text books, meal plans. Before you even step foot on campus, it’s likely that you’ve already shelled out thousands of dollars for the privilege.
That financial reality can leave the extra things, like making your new dorm room feel like home, feel out of reach. But there’s always a way to make your life a little nicer, even on the cheap. Read on for our top tips for outfitting your dorm on a budget.
Cheap is good; free is better
When it comes to decorations, don’t look down on hand-me-downs. Reconsider an old book shelf from your dad or a dusty wall-hanging from your mom. You can always paint wood furniture or cover outdated upholstery. And the adage “what’s old is new again” is still definitely true, especially when you have no money.
Before you buy anything (seriously, anything) ask around and see if someone has an extra microwave or mini-fridge or even extra hangers lying around.
Be crafty and make things yourself. Not only does this let you really personalize your new space in your new life, it also opens up opportunities for conversation. There’s nothing as satisfying as answering a compliment with “Thanks, I made it myself!”
Truly a budget-friendly option, you only need to spend a little bit on supplies, and then you can create anything from lampshades to curtains to your own artwork. Some other easy DIY ideas include enlarging one of your favorite photos to hand on the wall as a poster or using sidewalk chalk to create an indoor, temporary mural.
Warehouse stores, dollar stores, secondhand shops and yard sales are all good places to find useful items for your new home without shelling out a ton of cash. Furnishing your dorm with cheap things you’re not too attached to is imperative, since your life in college is temporary, and it’s unlikely you’ll end up taking everything you buy now on to the next stage of your life.
Another place you might be able to find what you’re looking for? The dump! We’re serious. If you want to give dumpster diving a try, look out for items that can be put in the washing machine at high heat to kill any germs or hosed down and possibly repainted.
Your dorm is a shared space, so it makes sense to share the cost of its decoration. Sit down with your roommate—or reach out via email if it’s before the semester begins—to see what they are comfortable with in terms of cost and decorations so you’re both on the same page.
Splitting the costs of bigger items, like a rug or a mini-fridge, gives both of your lives an upgrade at a price point you can afford.
One tip before agreeing to going halfsies: make a plan for who gets what when you inevitably move out. Maybe agree to buy out the other half of the mini-fridge or decide to take one of the shared items while your roommate gets the other. Agreeing on this ahead of time is a way to avoid potential future conflict.
Get creative with your art
When it comes to personalizing your space, one of the best ways is by decorating your walls. Adding some color and fun to the new cinderblock expanse you’re suddenly faced with can be easy and cheap. Look for inexpensive frames from somewhere like a dollar store or IKEA, and then search for cheap, downloadable wall art from websites like Etsy.
If you don’t have access to a high-quality printer or aren’t into the vibe of downloaded art, almost anything you put in a frame gets and automatic upgrade. Look for wrapping paper with a pattern you like and frame that, or spend some time making art out of magic markers. Whatever it is, your room will look great and your bank account will look great too.
After putting so much work into making your dorm a beautiful space, that last thing you want is for someone to break in and trash it. Or worse—steal your valuable belongings, like a laptop. Between 2010 and 2012, there were nearly 34,000 robberies in student residences across the nation.
To secure your down, consider installing a door or window alarm and insuring your valuable belongings. Always lock your doors and windows, make sure you know the guest policy in your dorm and put your valuables away when you’re not in the room.
Nothing makes a space feel like yours quite as much as having pictures all around you. An easy way to do this is to bring a bunch of your own printed photos, get some string and clothespins. Then hang the photos with the clothespins from the string. Simple, cheap and all you.
“It’s like someone gently waking you up out of a deep sleep,” says Wesley Schultz, guitarist and singer of The Lumineers. He’s talking about “Donna,” the first track on their new album, III.
What Schultz means is that the piano part—written by Jeremiah Fraites, his bandmate of over a decade—is haunting and beautiful, an eerie sign of the heartbreak that lies ahead on III.
This latest work by the stripped-down folk band dives into deeper and darker waters than their previous albums. III tells a poignant and troubling story about the effects of addiction on a family. The album is divided into three chapters, with each chapter focusing on a different generation of the family, starting with the grandmother Gloria Sparks, followed by the son Jimmy Sparks and the grandson Junior Sparks.
“[The album] just shows a really kind of heart-breaking look at trying to love addicts, trying to love somebody that really can’t help themselves,” says Fraites.
III was largely inspired by a family member of Schultz’s who was dealing with addiction, although Fraites’ family has also been touched by addiction—his brother passed away of a drug overdose 18 years ago. For both of them, working on the album became a deeply cathartic process.
“You know how people sing about heartbreak?” Schultz askes me. “Singing about stuff that’s very real or true but hurts, it tends to bring out something in people. I think going there and saying your darkest thoughts or confessing or saying something that you’re going through that a lot of people aren’t talking about, I think it’s something about art and music that’s very healing, it’s very cathartic.”
On the inspiration for III
As I listen to the first few tracks of III, I understand what Schultz meant about waking from a deep sleep—the melody is beautiful, but the story grips my attention. In true Lumineers style, the music is stripped down and uncomplicated, letting the mastery of their talent shine through; while the lyrics are a complex story that call for many more listens.
I ask Schultz what it was like to bring such a personal story to a large audience, especially one as heart-rending as this.
“I think if you keep too much of a distance in how you’re talking about something—in other words if you’re not vulnerable or putting yourself out there, you’re not really telling the story, you’re not really painting the accurate picture,” he says. “I think initially I was trying to keep a distance between me and that person in the story, but as time wore on it became obvious that it would be a wasted opportunity to actually draw attention to something important. And if I don’t acknowledge that it’s part of my life, how do I expect people to acknowledge that either?”
“It’s kind of like if there’s something in your family, and then you are ashamed by it and you feel like it reflects on you and you don’t want to talk about it, then it becomes this problem that’s also like a secret, and it’s a heavier and heavier burden,” he adds. “I’m happy I did it because I’ve seen afterwards that a lot of people have said a lot of things in a short period of time of how they’ve witnessed this.”
When I ask Fraites, he says: “These lyrics, these videos, us talking about [addiction] in any way shape or form, sort of sheds some light on it or maybe gets people to talk about it and say, ‘oh maybe I do have a problem, maybe I can look for the signs, and help other people.’
“You know we never want to be preachy, and we’re not perfect people.
“But it was something that was real in both of our lives and it feels really sincere and genuine to be talking about it through the medium of this album as a whole.”
On those incredible videos
Adding another layer to the story, the band will release a music video for each song, directed by Kevin Phillips. Several have already come out, depicting the story from the first chapter of the album, and the visuals are stunning.
Schultz and Fraites discovered Phillips’ work on the film Super Dark and knew immediately that he could capture the tone of their new album.
“We knew that we has this album that was a lot darker than previous Lumineers albums, we knew that the subject matter was darker than previous Lumineers lyrics, and I think we wanted to make sure that the videos didn’t look too clean or glossed over with perfect looking model actors and actresses. We really wanted to make it feel authentic and sincere,” said Fraites.
Releasing a series of narrative music videos for every song on an album isn’t a traditional way of doing things, and the band initially had trouble getting the label on board with their plan. “We got a lot of pushback at first,” said Schultz. “And we decided to do it ourselves, and then they eventually got on board and really supported it…
“But I think if you really pour yourself and your resources into something like this it’s always worth doing you never look back and regret it.”
The response has already been overwhelming for the band, with fans reaching out with stories of their own.
On not being pigeonholed
The songs on III seem far away from “Ho Hey,” the sunny hit that launched the band into the mainstream several years ago, or their other upbeat songs, but it’s not, Schultz says.
“I think if you actually go back and go listen to the first album or the second, I can give you many, many examples of what we were singing about and why that was actually pretty dark,” he clarifies for me, when I ask. “I just think this is the first time we’ve maybe made that in music…it just sounds darker.”
The Lumineers are commonly compared to other folk bands, like Mumford & Sons, but Schultz is on record saying that comparison isn’t fair. He elaborates about why he thinks putting artists into categories doesn’t help anyone.
“If someone said to you, you’re this type of writer, I think your initial reaction would be to say don’t pigeon-hole me into this—I’m more dynamic than what you’re saying I am.”
On playing together for over a decade
Fraites and Schultz have been playing together since 2005, when they got their start in Ramsey, New Jersey. They now live in Denver—both are married now and both welcomed baby boys a year ago.
I’m curious about what it’s like to have such a long-standing and close working relationship, especially through all the change, from days of working tirelessly to make rent in NYC to being successful enough to play at the Obama White House twice.
“I feel like more the key ingredient to our relationship is that we’ve been able to not change the writing process,” reflected Fraites.
“When we first started out, we just wanted to write music together, we just needed a piano, some drums, a guitar… I think with album two we did a really good job of still figuring out a way to write music the way we’ve always done, and with this album it was the same thing. It’s a really kind of boring process.” (The band got together at a cabin in the Catskills to write III.)
“Ironically success was one of the most traumatic and difficult things to deal with,” Fraites tells me.
Schultz echoes this sentiment: “Sometimes the success of something actually throws people into a strange or destructive state of mind. And when you’re busy trying and failing, or trying but not having a ton of success, it tends to bring people together.”
“We want to write songs in a certain way,” Schultz adds. “We try to collaborate in this very honest way—like we cut a part or we cut a song—both of us know it’s because we think it’s the best thing for the song, and not for one of our egos.”
The process is clearly working for them.
III comes out on September 13 and is available for pre-order now.
The Amazon rainforest has been burning at a record rate, and—is it just me?—we only found out about it yesterday on Instagram. For some reason, the shockingly large blaze has been left out of the mainstream media and discussions about global warming this summer. Here’s everything you need to know about the fire and how you can help.
State of emergency
Brazil declared a state of emergency over the rising number of fires in the region earlier this month. So far this year, almost 73,000 fires have been detected in Brazil—an 83 percent increase from 2018 and the highest number on record since 2013.
The fires are largely linked to people clearing out the land for farming or ranching, specifically for cattle to meet the world’s demand for beef. However, it’s made possible this year by the dry conditions. The Amazon rainforest is typically wet and humid; however, this year it’s been warmer and drier than usual.
How big is the fire?
You can see the smoke from space. The European Union Earth Observation Program’s Sentinel satellites captures images of “significant amounts of smoke” over the Amazon. And the skies darkened over San Paulo, Brazil, on Monday afternoon after winds carried smoke from about 1,700 miles away.
Effects of damage to the Amazon go far beyond Brazil and its neighbors. The area’s rainforest generates more than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen and 10 percent of the world’s known biodiversity. The Amazon is referred to as “the lungs of the planet” and plays a major role in regulating the climate. The world would drastically change if the rainforest were to disappear, impacting everything from farming to the water we drink.
What can be done?
If you’re a bystander, watching images of the devastation fill your social media feeds and wondering what you can do to help, there are a number of organisations doing work to save the rainforest.
Donate to the Rainforest Trust to help buy land in the rainforest. Since 1988, the organization has saved over 23 million acres and counting.
Donate to Amazon Watch, an organization that protects the rainforest, defends indigenous rights and works to address climate change.
Donate to the Amazon Conservation Team, which works to fight climate change, protect the Amazon and empower indigenous peoples.
Consider changing your search engine to Ecosia.org, which plants a tree for every 45 searches you run. Also consider cutting back on or completely eliminating beef from your diet, which will impact the companies that have been setting the fires.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the patron saint of millennial representation, put a voice to modern-day fears back in March when she suggested that some young Americans are concerned about having children because of the threat that climate change could post to future generations.
“Our planet is going to hit disaster if we don’t turn this ship around … there’s scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult,” Ocasio-Cortez said on Instagram Live. “And even if you don’t have kids, there are still children here in the world, and we have a moral obligation to leave a better world for them.”
Those thoughts were echoed again this week, this time by Prince Harry in an interview with the renowned anthropologist Jane Goodall. In the conversation for British Vogue, the Duke of Sussex said that he and Meghan would have “two maximum!” when discussing how many children the royal couple planned on having. The question came about when Harry and Goodall were talking about the environmental deterioration of the planet.
A poll by Business Insider found that nearly 30 percent of Americans agree that a couple should consider the negative and potentially life-threatening effects of climate change when deciding whether or not to have children. The same poll found that roughly 40 percent disagreed with environmental considerations when it comes to family planning, and the remainder of respondents had no opinion.
The study wasn’t perfect, it was conducted over SurveyMonkey Audience by the publication, suggesting that everyone who participated opted in of their own accord. However, it reveals some interesting trends in the thinking about climate change and living a happy life.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it revealed a correlation between age and consideration of the environment. Young people are much more likely to take climate change into account when deciding whether to have children or how many, and older Americans were less likely to agree.
Notably, almost half of respondents older than 60 said the environment should not be a factor in the decision to have kids. Of course, the over-60 population aren’t having any more kids, but are likely pressuring their own children for grandchildren.
It remains to be seen how this current trend in thinking about the population will affect us. A CDC report showed that the birth rate in the US fell to its lowest level in the last 32 years in 2018.
After Harry told Goodall his offspring would be a maximum of two, he said that he always thought the planet was “borrowed,” and that as evolved as humans are supposed to be, “we should be able to leave something better behind for the next generation.”
As “I’m Every Woman” starts playing, three women dressed in head-to-toe blue spandex bodysuits tumble out from behind a curtain. They are the Cocoon Central Dance Team, they are performing their new show Garden Party and with it they are pushing the frontiers of both dance and comedy.
“Thank you, Ohio!” they yell with a bow after the end of their number to the audience in London that is watching the show during it’s two-week run at the Soho Theatre.
It’s hard to describe Cocoon Central Dance Team, but we’re going to try.
They call themselves a choreographed dance-comedy act, which is accurate although doesn’t depict the full range of what their performances entail. Yes, it’s dancing and comedy—but it’s also a sketch show. It has the vibe of a funny movie you make in your bedroom with your high school best friends just for yourselves. It’s a performance about a too real and also very exaggerated friendship. It seems like it would be ironic, but it’s wholesomely earnest.
And it’s also really good dancing. This shouldn’t be surprising, given that the women behind it, Sunita Mani, Tallie Medel and Eleanore Pienta, are all professionals performers. They have backgrounds in dance and are comedians and actors who have been at it for a while. But when you hear “dance-comedy act” the first reaction is that the dancing must be a joke, so the professionalism of their choreography delights as much as their humor.
“Dancing well is a priority,” Pienta says, “What’s funny is not that it’s bad dancing but the juxtaposition of moves and our (facial) physicality. I think all three of us have really high standards when it comes to what we put in the world, so we will ruminate on an 8-count for a whole rehearsal.
“WHAT WORKS?!??!?!? WHAT’S FUNNIER!??!?!? It’s all been a very organic ride.”
Mani, Medel and Pienta became friends during their freshman year at Emerson College in Boston—an institution of comedy that has produced the likes of Jay Leno, David Cross and Jennifer Coolidge.
“I loved dancing with Eleanore and Sunita at parties because they dance like me: big physicality,” Medel says. “We ran in concentric circles in the Emerson comedy scene and ended up forming a troupe with friends.”
Cocoon started a few years after that when they moved to New York and shared an apartment in Brooklyn.
“That was our way of keeping busy and optimistic in our Sunset Park apartment,” Medel says about their origin. “Our friends (one of whom is now my husband) asked us to bring pieces regularly to their Brooklyn variety show The Moon, and we just kept going.”
“We then became the house dancers and then booked gigs from there. The rest is history,” Pienta says.
“And herstory,” Mani adds.
“I loved dancing with Eleanore and Sunita at parties because they dance like me: big physicality.”
Garden Party, their show currently running in London, was created specifically for this tour, although it includes some of their favorite choreography, like their dance to Beyoncé’s “Love on Top.”
“We wanted to create a new narrative for the Soho Theatre,” Medel says. “We started moving toward a story where Cocoon ends up separated and working in office positions [and] we could reunite at the end of the show. We also needed to challenge ourselves as writers to see whether we could tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. Getting to this point was like pulling teeth but we had to see whether we could follow a classic structure.”
Pienta adds: “We basically had one month where we were going to be together in the same city, so we re-contextualized established dances of ours and built a narrative around it.”
Garden Party is funny and absurd, while managing to hit some resonant notes about friendship. At a moment when media is starting to pay attention to stories about female friendship, Cocoon’s show, invoking the energy of Oprah and Beyoncé, feels like a relevant contribution.
After their London tour, Mani, Medel and Pienta want to bring the show back to New York for another run. They’d also love to tour their hometowns at some point—Eleanore is from Valatie, NY, Sunita is from Dickson, TN, and Medel is from Ketchikan, AK.
These days, it’s hard to find the time to sync schedules. Mani is a regular on the Netflix series GLOW, and Medel and Pienta have their own burgeoning careers in comedy and film that take them all in different directions.
“The one thing I know for certain, is that there is this film idea we’ve been kicking around for five, six years that I would love for us to make,” Pienta says. “Because of our schedules, a film actually feels the most feasible.”
Cocoon already has a film out, Snowy Bing Bongs: Across the North Star Combat Zone, which they made with Alex Fischer and Rachel Wolther. The film came out in 2017 and was a hit, particularly among the comedy world.
Whatever comes next (“I would love to do a 50th anniversary show in 2059,” says Medel), Cocoon—so named because of the protective nature a cocoon provides to what’s in it—will continue to be an outlet for the trio.
“Sunita and Eleanore are the wisest, funniest, most generous artists with whom you can work,” Medel says.
Mani adds: “Cocoon is a dream come true! We have lived an organic adventure as a dance comedy trio and our path reveals itself as we sashay away.”