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The Shed Will Open Its 2020 Season with the World Premiere of Claudia Rankine's New Play HELP

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The Shed Will Open Its 2020 Season with the World Premiere of Claudia Rankine's New Play HELP

Help, a new play examining white male privilege by acclaimed author and poet Claudia Rankine (Citizen: An American Lyric, The White Card) and directed by Obie Award-winner Taibi Magar (Is God Is, Soho Rep), makes its world premiere and launches The Shed's 2020 season on March 10 with performances through April 5 (previews begin Tuesday, March 10 and opening night is Saturday, March 21). Commissioned by The Shed and performed in its Griffin Theater, Help stars Roslyn Ruff (Theater: Fairview; Film: Marriage Story; TV: Divorce, Pose).

A new play, Help consciously centers whiteness in order to address, engage, and ultimately confront it. The Narrator (Ruff) recounts Rankine's real-life conversations with white men about their privilege that take place in transitional spaces like airports. The stories unfold through a set of monologues and staged scenarios, with Ruff supported by a cast of 19 white male actors and dancers. With intentional and thought-provoking words, music, and movement, Help brings to life Rankine's encounters in her travels and in everyday life that have gone right, wrong, or led to further discussion and contemplation.

"Help is more or less a monologue. It is the anatomy of multiple conversations that I have had with white men over the course of a line of inquiry where I asked them about their privilege. It is an attempt to think about those conversations, to think about myself in those conversations, and to think about those questions in the world," said Claudia Rankine, writer. "These conversations help me understand why it's so frustrating to speak about white privilege. I'm not thinking about privilege as tied to economics and money, but that seems to be how white people think about it. Privilege to me is about the ability to live a life without being surveilled, without being stalked, without feeling as if you're being questioned at any turn."

Rankine's body of work, for which she has been awarded MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships, crosses lyric poetry and prose essay to navigate questions of race, healthcare, loneliness, and what it means for a life to matter in American society today.

The newly commissioned script derives from Rankine's deep inquiry and ongoing investigation into white male privilege, elements of which were shared in her New York Times Magazine essay, "I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked" (July 17, 2019).

"Help is a conversation about whiteness," said Taibi Magar, director. "Whiteness has long had the privilege of being a 'neutral baseline.' However, when you examine the history and present state of whiteness, it is anything but neutral. The piece is an investigation of the history of whiteness through to its present state, as observed from the indispensable perspective of a Black woman."

Help includes movement choreography by Shamel Pitts, set design by Mimi Lien, costume design by Dede Ayite, lighting design by John Torres, sound design by Mikaal Sulaiman, and original music composition by Jerome Ellis, along with Casey Llewellyn, dramaturg.

"It is our honor to commission one of America's most renowned poets, Claudia Rankine, to write a new play and open The Shed's 2020 season, with Taibi Magar directing and Roslyn Ruff giving voice to this dramatic monologue," said Alex Poots, Artistic Director and CEO of The Shed. "Help takes a necessary look at what it means to exist in America today through the lenses of race, identity, and social interaction. I'm deeply appreciative of Claudia's intentional examination of white male privilege in this critical work and the dedication throughout her career to addressing these issues."

"Claudia Rankine has written Help in order to demystify the social constructs of race and whiteness," said Tamara McCaw, Chief Civic Program Officer. "Claudia's play deliberately brings the audience into the conversation about how we see ourselves and others. Claudia places the responsibility of carrying this urgent conversation forward specifically on white men in the audience, asking them to take a deep look inward about what it truly means to exist within one's privilege."

Ticket Information

Preview performances of Help are March 10 - 15 and 17 - 20. Help open March 21 and continues through April 5 with performances at 7:30 pm Tuesdays through Saturdays and Sundays at 3 pm. Running time is approximately 80 minutes with no intermission and limited late seating. Tickets start at $35 and are available at theshed.org or by calling (646) 455-3494.


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