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Wooster Group to Present Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me

The new production is inspired by the Black American storytelling tradition of Toasts.

Kate Valk and Eric Berryman reunite for the Wooster Group production of Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me.
(© David Gordon)

The Wooster Group has announced a New York mounting of its newest production, Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me. The piece is an original work that explores a distinctive genre of Black American storytelling called Toasts, and reunites the core creative team behind the Group's 2017 production The B-Side: "Negro Folklore From Texas State Prisons," A Record Album Interpretation. Performances are set to run from September 16-October 8, at the Group's home, the Performing Garage, in New York City.

Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me is based on the 1976 LP Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me: Narrative Poetry From Black Oral Tradition, which contains a collection of Toasts recorded and edited by folklorist Bruce Jackson. Toasts are rhyming epic poems that tell fantastical and bawdy stories about legendary street heroes, such as Shine (the lone black man on the Titanic), Signifying Monkey, and Pimpin' Sam. Toasts were staples of urban life for decades, performed by and in groups of men, with each teller introducing his own verbal style and invention. The LP is one of the only archival recordings that survive of this long, rich strain of American folklore.

The production features performer Eric Berryman and is directed by Kate Valk, with production design by Elizabeth LeCompte, sound design by Eric Sluyter, and video design by Irfan Brkovic. The piece is set in a late night radio DJ studio where Berryman, as host, performs renditions of several classic Toasts from the album, which he contextualizes with commentary. He is accompanied by musician Jharis Yokley on drums – in an approach inspired by Pansori, a genre of Korean folk storytelling performed by a vocalist and a drummer.