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ASU MainStage premieres renowned playwright Charles Mee's 'soot and spit'

March 22, 2013

The ASU School of Theatre and Film in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts continues its groundbreaking MainStage season of provocative and innovative work with a world premiere by renowned playwright Charles Mee.

"soot and spit," directed by New York artist Kim Weild, brings together deaf and cognitively challenged actors to illuminate the life of 20th century artist James Castle. This complex work will include original music and dance from ASU alumni and faculty and will feature a partnership with the Detour Company Theatre, the Phoenix-based troupe that provides performance opportunities for adults with developmental challenges. Robert DeMayo, a deaf actor from Philadelphia will perform the lead role.

“We want the community to attend our shows and to expect great work but we also want them to come away thinking about things,” said Jacob Pinholster, artistic director of MainStage and director of the ASU School of Theatre and Film and interim director of the ASU School of Dance. 'soot and spit' is a prime example of what I hope to accomplish as artistic director. It is a world premiere by a nationally-renowned playwright, directed by a distinguished visiting artist. It includes people from the deaf and disabled communities as well as artists from across the Valley. It is the type of project we hope creates a dialogue with the greater community about the role of the arts and how they function in our lives and what that means.”

Pinholster envisions the production taking on a life of its own after its ASU run with productions in larger venues across the country. “This is part of my vision for the ASU School of Theatre and Film: to be an incubator for upcoming talent and work.”

The director of "soot and spit," Kim Weild, says: “ASU is one of the only places we could produce a play like this. The training students are getting here from the experiential and educational points of view is visionary. "soot and spit" requires strong collaborators, people who are willing to unpack the script and who will work and bring their ideas to the table. ASU, from a media perspective, is one of the few university theatre departments to do this as well. Hopefully, we will continue to work on this and it will have a future life.”

Weild has a longstanding relationship with Mee that dates back to 2000 and has collaborated with him on several works including the 2010 ASU MainStage production of "Big Love." “Charles lays down the gauntlet in his plays,” she said. “His work demands that all involved, from the director, actors, designers and choreographer, be creative artists. Everyone must bring themselves fully to the work. I was terrified when I first read it and yet I was compelled by it, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I have a deaf brother so there are things within the script that I inherently understood and while it is about James Castle it is also deeply personal for me.”

In the MainStage production, there are three performers from the Detour Co. with Down syndrome and a fourth with cognitive challenges. “Working with these actors has given us a unique perspective,” Weild said. “The grace, joy and presence with which the Detour actors approach the work, the way they embody the truth and moment to moment work and community with the rest of the cast, is teaching us all about acting and changing everyone. ASU has made that possible. It has given us the time and the space to take on such a complex endeavor and that is rare. It gives us the opportunity to go deeper into the piece, to create a very unique world. We are all incredibly excited to share "soot and spit" with everyone. It is going to be a great show.”

James Castle, 1899-1977, was born and lived his life in Garden Valley, Idaho. He was born profoundly deaf and it is not known to what extent he could read, write or use sign language. He had no formal artistic training and created from found objects such as papers salvaged from common packaging and mail in addition to food containers of all types. He made his own ink by mixing soot collected from his wood-burning stove with saliva and applied it using tools such as sharpened sticks. His drawings sensitively depict interiors, buildings, animals, landscapes and people based on his family's rural Garden Valley homestead as well as the architecture and landscapes of the places he lived and visited. He also created and bound books containing drawings, patterns and calendars. Major institutions have collected his works. The Philadelphia Museum of Art organized a retrospective of Castle's work, which toured nationally in 2008 and 2009. Castle's work entered the international arena with a major exhibition in Madrid, Spain, at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofa in 2011.

Charles Mee is an American playwright, historian and author known for his collage-like style of playwriting. Born in Evanston, Ill., in 1938, Mee contracted polio at the age of 14. His memoir, A Nearly Normal Life (1999) tells how that event informed the rest of his life. His early career involved working as a political activist in the 1960s and ‘70s, and later writing a range of highly regarded historical and political works, including "Meeting at Potsdam" (1975), about the 1945 Potsdam Conference, which was chosen as a main selection of the Literary Guild and was adapted for film and television. He went on to write other books on summit diplomacy, international power sharing, and American history, including "The End of Order: Versailles 1919" (1980); "The Marshall Plan: The Launching of Pax Americana" (1987); "The Genius of the People" (1987), about the 1787 Constitutional Convention and "A Visit to Haldeman and Other States of Mind" (1976). His works for the stage include comedies, romances, explorations of 20th century American history and culture, interpretations of literature and music and his "Lives of the Artists" series, of which "soot and spit" is included. He is the resident playwright of the theatre ensemble SITI Company, for whom he wrote "Orestes," "bobrauschenbergamerica," "Hotel Cassiopeia," "Under Construction," and "soot and spit."

Kim Weild is a Manhattan-based theater director who specializes in new plays, re-imagined classics and devised work. She describes her work as ensemble-based and deeply collaborative. In 2010, Weild founded WeildWorks with the inaugural production of Mee’s "Fetes de la Nuit," which went on to be nominated for a Drama Desk Award and seven New York Innovative Theatre Awards, including Outstanding Director. Weild is the recipient of a Kennedy Center Directing Fellowship, a Park Avenue Armory Artist residency, a Shubert Fellowship and other noted awards and honors.

The performances are at 7:30 p.m., April 5-6 and 11-13 and 2 p.m., April 14, at the Paul V. Galvin Playhouse, 51 E. 10th St., ASU Tempe campus. For information about parking, visit: The April 5-6 and 12-13 performances are American Sign Language (ASL) interpreted. All shows are captioned and the space is wheelchair accessible. Tickets are $8-$16; seniors, ASU faculty, staff and students receive special rates. Herberger students attend for free but must reserve tickets in advance. Special discounts for groups available. For tickets, contact the Herberger Institute box office, 480.965.6447 or visit tickets. For more information about the ASU School of Theatre and Film visit, Facebook and YouTube.