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Listen to Jeremy O. Harris, André Holland, Corey Stoll, Estelle Parsons & More in THE MS PHOENIX RISING Podcast Mini-Series

Viral marketing, cruise ship culture, late capitalist angst, neocolonial tourism, secret romance, and more merge on a path whose destination is catastrophe.

Playwrights Horizons is presenting The MS Phoenix Rising, a serial dark comedy fiction podcast created by writer Trish Harnetiaux (Tin Cat Shoes, How to Get into Buildings) and director KATIE BROOK (Dr. Ride's American Beach House, How to Get Into Buildings), launching today (March 16). In this six-episode saga presented as part of Playwrights Horizons' celebrated Soundstage podcast, viral marketing, cruise ship culture, late capitalist angst, neocolonial tourism, secret romance, and Theater of the Absurd merge on a path whose destination is catastrophe.

Listen to the episodes below!

In six short weeks, the MS Phoenix Rising sets sail, marking the relaunch of the cruise ship industry after a prolonged shutdown. Urgent, budget-driven planning makes for a tense front office at Dane Cruising while they race to secure their place in history with fast marketing ideas and a reckless social campaign. Whose idea was it again to hype the "Christopher Columbus Route" through the Bahamas? Whatever. Tuck in as the team finds themselves in uncharted waters by deciding to revolutionize the concept of on-board entertainment by premiering an avant-garde theatre production of Ionesco's The Chairs.

The MS Phoenix Rising includes performances from Anthony Arkin, Jess Barbagallo, Eric Berryman, Susan Blommaert, Johnny Gasper, Adam Greenfield, Jeremy O. Harris, André Holland, Mateo Hurtado, Haruna Lee, April Matthis, Emily Cass McDonnell, Keilly McQuail, John-Andrew Morrison, Estelle Parsons, Katiana Rangel, Danielle Skraastad, Nidra Sous La Terre, Corey Stoll, Shannon Tyo, and Jacob A. Ware. The music is by Riley Thomas, the sound design and audio engineering are by Ben Williams, and casting is by Alaine Alldaffer and Lisa Donadio.

Wanting to heighten the distinct opportunistic timbre of the marketing and PR world to FYRE-Festival-esque extremes, Harnetiaux (who has worked in marketing and PR) teamed with Brook to conceive The MS Phoenix Rising as a podcast-then in 2019 workshopped it as a work of live theater. But when the pandemic hit, and Harnetiaux and Brook's respective projects at the time were canceled, they rerouted their creative energy toward this work that suddenly felt uncannily fitting in its originally-intended podcast form.

The idea for the podcast had always been the attempted return of the cruise industry following some event; now, cruises were suddenly the locus of infection-oriented news stories and a colossal symbol of the early pandemic era. They had also wanted, in part, to capture the marketing and PR world through the unsettling, disembodied realm of conference calls and voice messages; now a good portion of people's social and personal lives-not to mention, conveniently, theater-making-had moved into this format.

Harnetiaux describes, "Adapting the original script during the pandemic informed what it came to be, especially in our doubling down on the audio aspect-with so many conversations about Zoom fatigue and the ways communication has changed. We didn't just want the listener to be a fly on the wall; we wanted to have a more purposeful relationship to the audio medium pushing the narrative forward."

Says Brook, "This isn't something that would be better onstage. The first five episodes are all heard in calls or recordings or voicemails, so we're experiencing the story in an audio-only way that's also native to the media the characters are using. We recorded everyone remotely. If we were working with an actor who didn't have a good audio setup, that was fine-that quality is exactly how they would sound on these calls."

A constant reference in this work-The Chairs-surrounds an elderly couple in total isolation hosting a party filled to the brim with invisible guests, make-believing a vital social life in an atmosphere steeped with absence. This too felt all the more poignant, and unsettling to allude to right now. "When I first encountered The Chairs years ago, I'd never read anything like it. It blew my mind, and its combination of tragedy and comedy has always stuck with me," says Harnetiaux.

"And," adds Brook, "it's a really funny, terrible mistake for a cruise ship. But you certainly don't need to have read The Chairs to appreciate the podcast: unfortunately, none of the characters organizing the production at the cruise company have read it, either."

Playwrights Horizons Artistic Director Adam Greenfield says, "We are delighted to continue Soundstage with The MS Phoenix Rising, in all of its epic, excruciatingly funny, supremely awkward glory. This gem of scripted fiction exemplifies our hopes for the Soundstage project: to present works native to audio by the country's most adventurous playwrights and theatermakers-and Trish Harnetiaux and KATIE BROOK have assembled an extraordinary team of artists to realize their vision. We hope audiences will have as much fun listening to The MS Phoenix Rising as we have had making it. "

Playwrights Horizons' Soundstage podcast offers "world premieres from world-class playwrights without having to leave your home" (The New York Times). In it, acclaimed actors and award-winning directors, sound designers, and composers realize rich audio experiences in episodes 15-40 minutes in length.

Playwrights Horizons began production on Soundstage in 2019, motivated by the belief that playwrights are the great storytellers of our time, and inspired by the prospect of unleashing America's playwrights onto the fertile terrain of scripted content podcasting: a medium available to everyone, anywhere. Playwrights Horizons developed this podcast with the intention to release its first episodes in late 2020, but decided to launch it earlier-last Spring-to serve its audience, as New Yorkers and people around the globe entered our continuing era of social distancing.

The MS Phoenix Rising is a special release in the Soundstage feed, between the acclaimed, recently-completed first season and the second season slated for later this year. Season 1 included Prime: A Practical Breviary by Heather Christian (Episode 1); Gather by Robert O'Hara (Episode 2); Play for Any Two People by Jordan Harrison (Episode 3); Outtakes by Qui Nguyen (Episode 4); nightnight by Lucas Hnath (Episode 5); Boy Factory by Milo Cramer (Episode 6); and Edge of Night by Kirsten Childs (Episode 7). Season 2 will feature Eboni Booth, Agnes Borinsky, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, The Debate Society, Sarah Gancher, David Greenspan, Miranda Rose Hall, Dave Harris, Julia Izumi, Kit Yan & Melissa Li, Sheila Callaghan, and Tommy Pico.

Soundstage is available for free to listeners on all major podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher.


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