American theatre company the TEAM is bringing its show Mission Drift to the National Theatre’s new pop up venue The Shed this June. Skyping across the globe, performers Brian Hastert and Ian Lassiter told me about why Mission Drift will strike a chord with audiences wherever they are in the world.
“The show has two concurrent storylines that you follow; one of them is a couple of Dutch teenagers in 1624, you follow them as they go from Amsterdam to New Amsterdam and then sweep across the country over the next 400 years, building and destroying what they built along the way until they get to Las Vegas,” says Hastert, explaining his half of the story. Lassiter’s story follows “the other couple, native Las Vegans who are in the middle of the housing market crash, and I play a dusty cowboy named Chris who is having his lands taken away, and has to figure out what moves to make in a town that’s becoming a deserted desert town.”
The TEAM spent a month in Las Vegas in June 2010 and Ian tells me how “having the fabric of the town and meeting everybody so we didn’t feel like we were just visiting really informed the soundscape that would eventually become the music of the show. We would go explore some area of Vegas then come back and Heather Christian [the composer] would write music about it, and we’d write scenes about it, and we’d fuse those together and that was the benchmark for creating the piece.”
Mission Drift is devised by the company and exemplifies the TEAM’s principal of ‘devising within a democracy’. “Democracy is a really problematic form of government because it’s really hard for a lot of people to try to say something and contribute to the direction of where you’re going, either on a national or local level, or in a group of people trying to make a play,” says Hastert. “We bring things in that excite us as much as possible and we see where other people want to jump on board, and where we want to jump on board with what the other people bring in. And while we are a democratic process in that way we do have a kind of overlord who is our artistic director, who at the end of the day edits things. There’s stuff that may seem exciting but is a bit of a distraction from the trajectory so she says ‘we’re going to move in this way’, so everybody kind of re-orients themselves and says, ‘so now then new democracy is over here, how can I contribute to that?’ It’s this constant back and forth.”
Lassiter joined the TEAM in 2010 to help finish Mission Drift and “chose to join because of how the TEAM creates. There’s a very fine balance to try to negotiate, you have to be absolutely passionate about your ideas and equally you have to be as ready to let them go for the greater good.” Hastert calls this “killing babies. You work hours on creating something and it’s great, and it works, and then suddenly one day you realise it doesn’t work in what we’ve made so you’ve got to slit the baby’s throat and bury it. But then a year later some of those babies may come back to life, it’s a weirdly emotional thing. Ian comes with that sense of play where you can jump in and say yes, and it’s a hard quality to find in performers.”
Hastert understandably doesn’t like the connotations of the term ‘musical’: “there’s a point where a characters’ feelings become so huge that all of a sudden just talking doesn’t do it, so they have to burst into song to convey what they’re really feeling; that’s like the theory behind musicals, and that’s not how the music functions here. It’s more like when the world expands to breaking point or changes shape, Heather explodes into song and changes the shape of the world for us all of a sudden.” Lassiter hopes audiences see “that not all musicals have to function the same way,” with Mission Drift, “it breaks straight play and musical moulds and I love that we’re not only playing with themes of capitalism but theatre form itself.”
I questioned whether the plot of Mission Drift was America-centric, to which Lassiter replied, “it’s not centric, definitely the larger theme is how America’s capitalism is effecting global capitalism, but we’ve played in many places now and I think that’s a theme that’s universally interesting.” Hastert continues, “whilst we designed the play around a very American personality type, beneath that is the desire to expand, to grow and accumulate, and to push your own boundaries, and that’s something that’s defined America in a major way, but it’s something that a lot of national identities around the world share. I think people tend to come into this play with a very strong relationship to the themes, either you kind of worship at the altar of the market gods or you hate it, and my hope is that the audience will identify in some emotionally resonant way with the other half of the equation.”
I’m excited about Mission Drift because of the TEAM’s mission statement. Hastert explains that the way the TEAM work is to “start with way too many ideas to possibly fit into the show, and figure out a way to possibly wrap those ideas in human hearts and hides and gives them a journey, so ideas are something you can actually care about because you can see the effect they have on the human spirit. We try to put those spirits through as much difficulty as we can and then turn it into a story.” That and, “it’s an epic story that’s 400 years in the making set to an incredible blues gospel soundtrack, I couldn’t imagine what you wouldn’t want to see in there!” It’s even got lizard ballet – that’s something you’ll have to see to work it out.
Mission Drift is playing at The Shed from 5-28 June. For more information and tickets: www.nationaltheatre.org/shows/mission-drift.