David Neumann and Marcella Murray for Advanced Beginner Group: Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed
General admission tickets from $10-$15. See details below.
Together on the set of a TV talk show, co-creators and Southern Futures at CPA Artists-in-Residence David Neumann and Marcella Murray perform a masterfully layered staged conversation by mixing parts of Charlie Rose’s 2000 interview with Octavia Butler with excerpts of their own years-long dialogue about race, alongside astronomical questions of scale and time, to make an unforgettable piece of devised theater. On a spaceship. With dances.
“For over three years [now 5 years], Neumann, a veteran director, choreographer and performer, and Murray, a young playwright, performer and puppeteer, have had an ongoing dialogue about race and life that they have shaped into Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed.The New York Times
Structured as a TV talk show, this theater piece features their raw conversation onstage, augmented by live video and bursts of dancing. They tackle their topics from a variety of perspectives and experiences in an effort to demonstrate the kind of frank and fearless, yet compassionate, interpersonal discourse that seems to be so elusive these days.”
Tickets available for $15. $10 UNC-Chapel Hill student tickets available with valid UNC One Card. Additional discounts available. Visit our FAQ page for details.
Save 20% on our four-performance, experimental dance series:
- Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company: What Problem? | October 28-29, 2022
- Bobbi Jene Smith: Broken Theater | November 11-12, 2022
- David Neumann and Marcella Murray for Advanced Beginner Group: Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed | November 18-19, 2022
- Emanuel Gat Dance: LOVETRAIN2020 | December 7, 2022
Main Floor, Section A Package: $82 (plus taxes and fees; save $20)
Premium Package: $94 (plus taxes and fees; save $23)
Visit tickets.carolinaperformingarts.org/packages for details.
- Runtime: 70 minutes + 30 minute talkback
- Intermission: n/a
- Special effects: This performance will include flickering lights.
- Additional information: Visit our FAQ page
Co-Created by David Neumann and Marcella Murray
- Hyung Seok Jeon
- Marcella Murray
- David Neumann
- Julius Powell
- Camellia Bayle-Spence
Sound Design and Lead Collaborator: Tei Blow
Video Design: Hyung Seok Jeon
Set and Prop Design: Chris Green
Lighting Design and Production Stage Management: Grace Gilmore
Assistant Stage Manager: Sarah Finn
Video Assistant: Camellia Bayle-Spence
Sound Operator: Eben Hoffer
Costume Design: Montana Blanco
Associate Costume Design: Jessica Crawford
Dramaturg: Melanie George
Original Song: Stew
Production Manager: Janet Clancy
Producer: Boo Froebel
ABG Administrative Director: Amanda Brandes
The January 2020 premiere of Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed was co-commissioned by Abrons Arts Center and the Chocolate Factory Theater, produced by Advanced Beginner Group, and associate-produced by Mabou Mines. The creation of Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed was made possible, in part, with support from the Marta Heflin Foundation, Axe-Houghton Foundation, the David and Leni Moore Foundation, and Mabou Mines, and by developmental residencies at Baryshnikov Arts Center, the Rauschenberg Residency/Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), MASS MoCA, multiple residencies at Abrons Arts Center, Mabou Mines, and MANCC / Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography at Florida State University.
Advanced Beginner Group is also grateful to the many individuals who supported the work and whose names may be found on www.advancedbeginnergroup.org
ARTIST NOTE FROM DAVID AND MARCELLA
In Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed, co-collaborators Marcella Murray and David Neumann, along with the entire advanced beginner group team, attempt to climb part way out of a tangle in order to look back at the strings.
In this theatrical conversation about conversations about race in America, it’s been crucial for us to allow as much nuance to exist as this event demands. We approach our work (and the work) with a series of questions, understanding that we are in a process that can be slow, difficult, sometimes enlightening, but always necessary. We approached one another as people inside a series of evolving processes: individual, familial, societal, etc. We walked into the brambles together, not knowing any better than anyone else what this path would ask of us, save for an essential level of attention and care.
This conversation started with language, but quickly evolved into the larger aesthetic; the fabric of how it’s been envisioned, practiced and articulated. It is found in the language, the bodies, the process, the clothes, the images, the sounds and in the surrounding space itself.
You will see a number of artists each somewhere along this path, whose shared desire to say the truth and hear the truth leads them to a more delicate space; one where words, thoughts, actions, and listening are equally valued. Can we maneuver towards healthier realms despite the ever-encroaching insistence of our white supremacist culture? Can we find truth together, despite where each person might be on this path? We hope so. And hope feels better when there’s some work already done. So here’s some work being done in front of us — incomplete for sure, but hopeful and resilient, like a fawn wobbling on new legs, like spring emerging from a dying planet, like the invention of a new language.
What can we do when our cultural contexts and familial histories bequeath us completely different vocabularies around race, gender, and power? How can we enter into this conversation in a way that actually serves both parties? I mean, really. What DO Black folks get out of this sort of thing besides teaching someone else something fundamental…again?
— Marcella Murray and David Neumann
some of our sources
- Octavia Butler
- Toni Morrison
- Dr. Jill Tarter
- Neil DeGrasse Tyson
- Richard Dawkins
- Astronaut Accounts
- Marcella Murray
- David Neumann
- Julius Powell
- Tei Blow
- The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond
- R&B from the 1980s
- Bill Bryson
In Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed, David Neumann, a veteran white choreographer (responsible, most recently, for “Hadestown”), and Marcella Murray, a young black playwright, stage a conversation about race. The piece grew out of real-life talks initiated by Murray when she was a graduate student at Sarah Lawrence, where Neumann was teaching, and the resulting work reflects those personal origins. But it also folds in astrophysics, dance, and sly humor, and confronts the difficulty of such discussions by introducing more questions than answers.”The New Yorker
ABOUT MARCELLA MURRAY
Marcella Murray (co-creator and performer) is a New York-based theater artist from Augusta, Georgia. She is a playwright, performer, collaborator, and puppeteer. Murray’s work is heavily inspired by the observed ways in which people tend to segregate and reconnect. Her work tends to focus on themes of identity within a community and (hopefully) forward momentum in the face of trauma.
MORE ABOUT MARCELLA MURRAY
Performances include The Slow Room, a piece directed by Annie Dorsen at Performance Space New York; a workshop of Ocean Filibuster which was co-created by the team Pearl D’Amour (Lisa D’Amour and Katie Pearl) with composer Sxip Shirey at Abrons Arts Center; the work-in-progress I Don’t Want to Interrupt You Guys, created in collaboration with Leonie Bell and Hyung Seok Jeon during RAP at Mabou Mines; New Mony created by Maria Camia at Dixon Place; and Shoot Don’t Talk at St. Ann’s Warehouse/Puppet Lab created by Andrew Murdock.
Along with David Neumann, Murray recently co-created Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed (Obie Special Citation for Creation and Performance) which opened at Abrons Arts Center in January of 2020, and Primer for an Impossible Conversation, a digital theater piece which premiered in 2021 at MCA Chicago. Murray is currently one of four curators of the Object Movement Puppetry Residency and Festival at Center West Park. She is also a 2022 Artist in Residence at LaMaMa ETC as well as a 2022 participant in the Experiments in Opera Writer’s Room.
ABOUT DAVID NEUMANN
David Neumann’s (co-creator, performer, and founder of Advanced Beginner Group) original work has been presented in New York at Performance Space New York, New York Live Arts, The Kitchen, Abrons Arts Center, Central Park SummerStage, Celebrate Brooklyn, Symphony Space, The Chocolate Factory, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. ABG has also performed at the Walker Art Center; Carolina Performing Arts at UNC Chapel Hill; MCA Chicago; Alverno College; MASS MoCA; The Fusebox Festival; The Ringling International Arts Festival, and the American Dance Institute/Lumberyard, among others.
MORE ABOUT DAVID NEUMANN
Neumann worked as a performer for many years alongside Mikhail Baryshnikov, Big Dance Theater, Doug Elkins, Doug Varone and Dancers, and Sally Silvers among many others. Recent non-ABG projects include: Tony-nominated Choreographer of Hadestown (Broadway / National Theater UK / New York Theatre Workshop); Swept Away (Berkeley Rep), Die Schweigsame Frau (Bard Summerscape); Stew’s The Total Bent (Public Theater); Futurity (Ars Nova / Soho Rep); An Octoroon (Soho Rep/Theater for a New Audience); directing Geoff Sobelle in The Object Lesson (BAM / New York Theatre Workshop); Hagoromo at BAM with Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto; and Movement Director/Choreographer for Noah Baumbach’s films Marriage Story and White Noise (based on the Don DeLillo novel). Neumann is currently professor of theater at Sarah Lawrence College.
Neumann’s most recent work with Advanced Beginner Group was the digital theater piece, Primer for an Impossible Conversation, premiered in 2021 at MCA Chicago and was made in collaboration with Marcella Murray and Tei Blow. Their previous work, Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed, received a 2020 Obie Award for creation and performance. In 2016 I Understand Everything Better received two NY Dance and Performance Bessie Awards, one for Outstanding Production and one for Outstanding Music Composition/Sound Design (Tei Blow). In 2016, Neumann was named the first performing artist in Residence at the SETI Institute and awarded a Robert Rauschenberg Residency. Over the years, Neumann has received three Bessie Awards, a Foundation for Contemporary Arts award, an Asian Cultural Council Fellowship (Noh immersive), residencies at MASS MoCA, ADI/Lumberyard, Baryshnikov Arts Center, Mabou Mines, MacDowell, White Oak, and MANCC, and support from the Rockefeller Foundation, Creative Capital, NYFA, and National Dance Project, among others. Neumann received a 2019 Chita Rivera Award for Outstanding Choreography of a Broadway Musical for Hadestown and, also for Hadestown, a 2019 Tony Award Nomination for Best Choreography.
ABOUT TEI BLOW
Tei Blow (co-creator, he/him) is a media designer and performer based in Brooklyn, New York. Tei works with sound, photography, video, and computers. His work has been featured at Hartford Stage, Dance Theater Workshop, PS122/PSNY, Lincoln Center Festival, The Roundabout, The Kitchen, BAM, The Public Theater, The Broad Stage, MCA Chicago, MFA Boston, Kate Werble Gallery, Baryshnikov Arts Center, The Roundabout, and The Wadsworth Atheneum. He is the recipient of a New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award for Outstanding Sound Design for David Neumann/Advanced Beginner Group’s I Understand Everything Better. Tei is one half of Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble, whose ongoing multipart series “The Art of Luv” is a recipient of the Creative Capital and Franklin Furnace Awards. teiblow.com
ABOUT ADVANCED BEGINNER GROUP (ABG)
Advanced Beginner Group (ABG) is a collection of artists across many disciplines and approaches that come together for specific performance projects such as Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed (winner Obie Award), Primer for an Impossible Conversation, I Understand Everything Better (winner, Bessie- Award), and Big Eater. Advanced Beginner Group makes work that is at its core an irrational response to our perceived place in the universe. Advanced Beginner Group makes performance pieces from scratch, bringing to word, action, and proximity a delighted embrace of our contradictory lives. Words and actions can only point to experience. The collection of artists actively attempts to create experiences that are difficult to describe. ABG’s most recent work Primer for an Impossible Conversation, a piece of digital theater, premiered in March 2021, co-commissioned by MCA Chicago and Union Theater at UW Madison. Previous to that, Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed premiered in January 2020 (OBIE Award), co-created by David Neumann and Marcella Murray, co-commissioned and co-presented by Abrons Arts Center and the Chocolate Factory Theater, and associate-produced by Mabou Mines. www.advancedbeginnergroup.org
Cast and Crew: Additional Bios
Hyung Seok Jeon (he/him) is a South Korean multi-disciplinary theatre artist based in NYC and Seoul. He incorporates movement, object manipulation and live-feed video to create performance pieces that often center around notions of self and self-reflection. His work has been shared at Baryshnikov Arts Center, Abrons Arts Center, MANCC, MASS MoCA, Mabou Mines Theatre, Chez Bushwick, Dixon Place. In 2019, he shared his recent solo work ‘Deep Out Agents’ at Gibney Double Plus program curated by Tei Blow. He was invited to perform in Baboo Liao’s ‘Mythology Upon the Table’ (2019, Shakespeare’s Wild Sisters Group, Taiwan). His recent solo performance ‘Untitled (return)’ (2022) was commissioned by Seoul Art Space Mullae BENXT residency. He is a recipient of a 2015 Fulbright graduate study award.
Julius Powell / Julie J is a New York City based performer, writer, and drag artist. They have performed in various theaters in New York City including Ensemble Studio Theater, TADA Theater, The Dixon Place, The Secret Theater, Hudson Guild Theater, and The Acorn Theater (Off-Broadway) and Abrons Arts Center. Internationally they have performed at Spazio ZUT!, La Mama Umbria, and in the 2019 Prague Fringe Festival. Julius’ created work focuses on cultural insertion, relationships between history and identity, and the tactics of escape utilized by marginalized bodies. They are currently developing work that combines drag performance, dance, and experimental modes of storytelling. They are a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and have studied at Upright Citizens Brigade and La Mama Umbria’s Directors Symposium. In January 2021 their episodic drag show FAULTY DEFENSE MECHANISMS premiered in the digital ether, or in layman’s terms, on YouTube. More information on their work can be found at juliejnyc.com and on various social media platforms @juliej.nyc
Chris Green is a Brooklyn-based designer, director, and performer. His theatrical and installation works have been presented over the past 20 years both nationally and internationally in venues including Lincoln Center, New York City Center, St. Anne’s Warehouse, Goethe Institute (Delhi), National Geographic Museum, La Jolla Playhouse, Teatro del Lago (Chile), and BAM Harvey among others. Honors include Creative Capital (2009), MacDowell Fellowship (2012), LMCC Process Space Grant (2013), and numerous grants for puppetry from the Jim Henson Foundation. Since 2005, his design studio Chris Green Kinetics has received Awards of Excellence from the American Association of Museums and Themed Entertainment Association, a PR News’ Nonprofit Award for Advocacy, and a Regional Design Award from the American Institute of Architects. Commissions include Stravinsky’s Firebird for ten puppeteers and full orchestra, Hagoromo directed by David Michalek with choreography by David Neumann and featuring the International Contemporary Ensemble; and, This Is Hunger, a traveling multi-media installation featuring stories of hunger in America housed in a triple-expanding tractor-trailer. www.chrisgreenkinetics.com
janet d clancy (tech director/scrap lumber whisperer) is enjoying this experience immensely. She hopes that you will as well. Also, the next time you use a plastic or styrofoam beverage container, think about the fact that it will last longer on this earth than you will. Get a thermos. And vote.
Grace Gilmore is a designer and theatre maker currently based in Brooklyn. Grace has designed lighting at MASSMoCA (Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed), Ensemble Studio Theatre (Marathon, Young Bloods Gala), The Kaye Playhouse, MANCC (Movement piece by David Neumann), and Prague Fringe Festival (In The Woods Where The Men Work). She has stage managed at MassMoca, Mabou Mines, NY Winterfest, and assistant Stage Managed at The Cathedral of the Divine in NYC (Paul Winter’s Solstice). She holds her MFA in Theater from Sarah Lawrence College.
Sarah Finn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia artist who creates live performance, video and film, seen internationally at the 2019 Prague Fringe Festival and the Ponderosa Tanzland Festival in Stolzenhagen, Germany; in the U.S at the 2020 Philadelphia Fringe (FringeArts), in NYC at The Tank, Hudson Guild Theater, Cloud City, Movement Research, The Brick, Mabou Mines and Dixon Place. Finn is a 2022-2023 Object Movement Artist-in-Residence at Center at West Park, and a 2022 Fresh Ground Pepper BRB Artist-in-Residence. Past residencies include Barn Arts Collective (2018, 2019) and The Cannery (2019). Finn trained at Ecole Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris, France and got my BA from Sarah Lawrence College. www.sarahkfinn.com @sarah.k.finn
Camellia Bayle-Spence (she/her) is a projection designer and digital artist based in NY. She has designed for many off-broadway shows in NYC, one abroad in the Prague Fringe Festival, and collaborates with the Advanced Beginner Group. She holds an MA in Child Development from Sarah Lawrence College.
Melanie George is a dance educator, choreographer, scholar, and certified movement analyst. She is the founder and director of Jazz Is… Dance Project, and Dramaturg and Audience Educator at Lumberyard. As an institutional and freelance dramaturg, she works closely with internationally recognized contemporary performing artists in the incubation of new works for the stage. Melanie has contributed to projects by Kimberly Bartosik/daela, Raja Feather Kelly, Susan Marshall & Company, Kathy Westwater, Machine Dazzle, and Urban Bush Women among others. Current projects include new works by Helen Simoneau Danse, Caleb Teicher & Company, and Hope Boykin Dance. A highly sought after teacher and choreographer of the neo-jazz aesthetic, Melanie is a featured contributor in the upcoming documentary on the history of jazz dance, Transmission: Roots to Branches, and a contributing jazz dance scholar to the Jacob’s Pillow Archives.
Stew is the leader of Stew & The Negro Problem. Book, Lyrics, Co-Composer: Passing Strange: Tony: Best Book, two-time 2007 Obie: Best New Theater Piece and Best Ensemble; The Total Bent (Public Theater), Mosquito Net (NYU/Abu Dhabi); Notes of a Native Song (Harlem Stage, Curran Theater); Wagner/Max/Wagner (Kennedy Center); Family Album (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Chicago Omnibus (Museum of Contemporary Art); California Analog (UCLA); Song Factory (University of Wisconsin/Madison); Making It (St. Ann’s Warehouse); Brooklyn Omnibus (Brooklyn Academy of Music). Film: Spike Lee’s Passing Strange. TV: co-composer (with Heidi Rodewald) of “Gary Come Home” for SpongeBob SquarePants. Stew is a Sundance Institute Alum and teaches “Church” at Sarah Lawrence College in the New Musical Theater Lab. He performed in Voices at Lincoln Center Atrium.
Montana Levi Blanco is a costume designer from Albuquerque, New Mexico. His grandmother, a lampshade artisan, inspired an early love of fabric, color, and beauty. Montana is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (BM Oboe Performance), Oberlin College (BA History), Brown University (MA Public Humanities), and the Yale School of Drama (MFA Design). Prior to attending Yale, he was the Robert L. Tobin Curatorial Intern at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas. For more information about Montana’s designs on and off Broadway: www.montanaleviblanco.com
Jessica Crawford is a costume designer from New York City. She received her BFA in Theater Design & Technology at Syracuse University. Recent design credits include the New Ohio Theater’s production of LORDES and Egg & Spoon’s production of Crave. Previous associate designs include Fefu & Her Friends at TFANA, GIRLS at Yale Rep, Ain’t No Mo at The Public Theater, Daddy at The New Group, and Fabulations at Signature Theater. This coming spring Crawford will be designing two unnamed dance pieces for Julliard’s 2020 senior production. jessicatcrawford.com
Boo Froebel is an independent producer, curator & creative consultant, currently general manager for Tamizdat; consultant for Bloomberg Philanthropies’ AIM/Arts Innovation & Management program; and producer for David Neumann & Marcella Murray’s projects for Advanced Beginner Group (Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed (2020 OBIE Award) and Primer for an Impossible Conversation.
Previously, Froebel served as producer of Lincoln Center Festival and The Onassis Festival; Senior associate producer of the NYCFREE Festival at Little Island; executive producer of the Imagine Festival of Arts, Issues & Ideas (OBIE Award); curator/producer of live art at The Whitney Museum; and artistic director of Galapagos Art Space (OBIE Award). Froebel has nominated, evaluated, and served on panels for foundations and cultural councils including Creative Capital, the CalArts Alpert Award, US Artists International, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the Lambent Foundation, the French Cultural Services, and the MAP Fund. She is a member of The Blacksmiths collective, and sits on the boards of Movement Research and The Poetry Project.
Eben Hoffer creates independent work and designs widely for other makers. He is stage director and lighting designer for Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble, and founder and choreographer of Tugboat Collective. His compositions with tei blow have toured nationally and internationally with Big Dance Theater, David Neumann, and others. He designs and programs interactive installations and gadgets. He occasionally directs choirs. www.ebenhoffer.com