Elephant Run District was founded in 2010 and in a relatively short time has cut a significant swath in the NYC indie theater community. (Read their creation story, which includes how they got their name, here.)
In addition to producing a number of excellent new plays, ERD ran a salon series (the “Stampede Labs”) that brought artists together to collaborate and also appreciate each others’ work; they’ve created an innovative podcast concept (where they record live performances of new plays); and founders Chris Harcum and Aimee Todoroff have exemplified the idea of good citizenship in various organizations (including serving as reviewers for nytheatre.com; read reviews by Chris and Aimee).
I first got to know Chris before ERD came into existence, as an actor in plays at Metropolitan Playhouse (Andre and Poe-Fest) and the Brick (Adventures of Caveman Robot). He was working primarily in his early days in NYC as a solo performer (his day job was as a teaching artist for NYC public schools). Our reviewers enjoyed his one-man shows in various summer festivals:
- Seth Duerr wrote of Chris’ 2003 FringeNYC show, Gotham Standards: “At once, powerful and insightful, Harcum’s show is a 75-minute solo tour-de-force that is something to be seen.”
- Matt Freeman saw Anhedonia Road at the 2004 Hell Festival at the Brick, saying it “sounds like Eric Bogosian running smack into The Wizard of Oz.”
- Richard Hinojosa praised Mahamudra at the 2005 Moral Values Festival at the Brick: “I enjoyed his descent into his own nightmare and I came away thinking about ways that I too judge myself and others too harshly.”
- And Kimberly Wadsworth began her rave review of Chris’ FringeNYC 2006 show this way: “About five minutes into Chris Harcum’s Some Kind Of Pink Breakfast, I realized that I have personally never been more of a target audience for a particular piece. “
My own experiences of Chris’ solo work have been just as satisfying. I admired American Badass (2008 FRIGID Festival) so much that I published it in Plays and Playwrights 2009. Then came Green (2011), Two Lovely Black Eyes (2013) and The Preservationist (2014, part of Metropolitan Playhouse’s East Side Stories series); with a tour-de-force performance as Moliere’s The Hypochondriac (which he co-adapted with Shira Gregory and Greg Tito) coming in between.
Green was the first of Chris’ plays directed by Aimee and presented by ERD. Since then they have been fairly constant collaborators. She directed his multi-actor play Rabbit Island (2012) and the latest ERD show, which opens today, Martin Denton, Martin Denton (there’s no modest way to say this, I’m afraid: yep, it’s a play about yours truly).
Now I haven’t told you what’s at the heart of Harcum/Todoroff/ERD work–what makes it tick, what makes it special. It is a deeply felt social conscience, a sense that as citizens of the world they have a duty to ask challenging questions and tilt at the occasional windmill while still engaging and (importantly) entertaining their audience. Green is a sci-fi play with strong environmental concerns behind it. Two Lovely Black Eyes considers issues of gun ownership and gun control. Aimee’s outdoor production of three short Brecht plays (a rare ERD foray into classic material) was all about social justice.
American Badass consists of a dozen monologues running the gamut of American society circa 2008; one particularly prescient one, spoken by a neoconservative leader at a college commencement, includes this line:
Okay. I’m sure the fine people at this university assign lots of good books to read. History and theory. That’s good. That’s important but it’s not as important as one thing. Winning.
The work of these folks at ERD is important, and it’s great that just about all of it is documented on Indie Theater Now and nytheatre.com. I encourage you to check it out and please comment about it here!