HotHouse Intensive: Resonating with the Ensemble

Temple University Musical Theater BFA student José Raúl Mangual took part in a HotHouse Intensive this winter.  He documented the experience through daily reflections and photos to share as blog posts as we prepare for the Summer Intensive.

HotHouse Intensive Day 3 (3/1/18)

Today’s personally most captivating exercise was one in which four pairs: eight people, four and four on opposite sides, faced each other with evenly distributed space between each other. Based on my experience, (the exercises are wonderful in that there are multiple lessons to be learned, which makes post-discussion an especially fruitful experience) I would call this exercise one of projecting resonance.

Facing my partner, who also sat cross-legged across the room short-ways (I estimate eight to ten feet between us), my instructions were to vibrate his chest by resonating from my chest. Same with mouth to mouth and then head to head. I noted:

  • It was easier to resonate from a body part when I sent jolts of energy from it, similar to the pulse/punch of yesterday’s exercise.
  • The power of my deciding to resonate his body was enough. Beyond the doubt and the unfamiliarity of the exercise, I believe we are still animal enough to break our conditioned pedestrian-ism.
  • As time went on, the color scheme with in which I saw my partner began to change to one of dichromatic spectrums of blues and oranges. The texture I saw him in changed as well, similar to depictions of “tripping” in visual art.

HotHouse Intensive Day 4 (3/2/18)

Today, the end of Week One, we ended with the entire corporal sequence, beginning to end, with Justin only cuing via…well, I realize now that I don’t know the name for the cue-sound Justin makes. It seems to be initiated by a pulse of his diaphragm.

(José Raúl Mangual)

There were three total moments where I became so out of breath that I begin to consider whether I might pass out! It is worth noting, though, I never felt unsafe. No one held my mouth closed or reprimanded me. After fighting with everything I could, short of losing consciousness, I took a catch-breath or returned to my natural breathing pattern in those moments, rejoining the ensemble at my earliest possible breath. Justin said this might happen and that it was O.K.

I think it is important to note that, in moments I began to lose my breath with the group, closing my eyes only furthered my distance and weakened my relaxation. In today’s practice, I learned that investing my focus in the people around me – the soft focus/focus blur I’d discussed – gave me less to initiate, which seemed to use up less oxygen, which allowed me to breathe longer, which allowed me to longer stay with the ensemble’s communal breath, which allotted me more time to explore the breath in my body. Paradoxically, connecting with the ensemble allowed me to connect with myself.

Read the first HotHouse Intensive blog

HotHouse Intensive: Finding Voice

Temple University Musical Theater BFA student José Raúl Mangual took part in a HotHouse Intensive this winter.  He documented the experience through daily reflections and photos that will be shared as blog posts as we prepare for the Summer Intensive.

HotHouse Intensive Day 2 (2/28/18)

After today’s lunch break, Justin and Blanka talked to us about the training’s potential and design to release sounds which can be described as “primitive.”  They also spoke of the possibility for the training to unlock memories, both from our own lives and the lives of others. A sense of doubt came over me in regard to the idea of these discoveries.

When I say I became doubtful of this potential, I refer to what I understand to be doubt from the ego: I immediately felt doubtful of “my ability” to “do” the training “well enough” to procure such a result. This was not to me a doubt of the process, but a doubt of the self. Regardless, I assured myself (insisted) I could at least experiment with the exercises, in full dedication to abiding by the processes outlined for us.

(José Raúl Mangual)

After the above discussion, Blanka had us resonate (via phonation) into our cupped hands. Upon a few moments of experimenting with her demonstration of the exercise, Blanka directed us to experiment with asymmetry, noting the security of an symmetrical stance with evenly distributed weight. I believe my asymmetries were too external, too forced. There came a moment where I did settle into my body and allow the asymmetries and weight imbalances to arise instead of be produced, but I focused too much on being “correct” as opposed to doing what I would and permitting that to be enough for discovery to occur- more on this later.

The first exercise in this intensive to fully astound me was a focus on resonance: Everyone gets a partner. The vocalizer stands in front of the other partner, and the partner places their hands on various spots throughout the body: head, neck, torso, face, etc. The goal is to send vibrations to the hand of the partner, wherever it is placed. I felt inaccessibility to only one spot, and that was my stomach area, around and below the belly button. My partner’s hand had gone through chest, head, upper back, and areas in between with minimal difficulty in adapting to vibrate her hand.

When it came to that area below my belly button, the best I could do was create as low-frequency a note I could on an “ah” vowel. At the lowest, I was vibrating around an inch or two below my sternum. The method that worked for me to vibrate that area of the torso was to pulse out sound in short, forced pulses in a way that felt like I had a child punching the walls of my stomach from the inside. With this, I could feel my vibration lowering in my body. I kept the punches, feeling progress, until the sound began to almost split in two – maybe it was quickly vibrating in between two, low pitches. Insisting upon lowering my vibration further so that I could complete the objective of resonating into my partner’s hand, I felt stirring at several points in my body, over the course of a short several seconds.

It felt as though I had some fluttering originate in my spine behind my belly button. That fluttering quickly traveled up my spine to my head, and then back down to the area behind the belly button and even lower, so that I was now teetering on vibrating my partner’s hand. My pitch lowered, as if to mirror the now extreme depth of vibration in my body. I could feel the tingling activation between my eyes which arises when I am close to crying. I realized I was going to cry. In retrospect, I wonder if that sensation of something traveling up my spine was my mind beginning to interject in the release of emotion, at which point I decided to permit myself to release, hence the feeling of traveling down and even lower. I believe I had to allow myself to open up (insist) in order to vibrate my partner’s hand, previously unaware I was locked or guarded in such a way. After I became able to vibrate my partner’s hand, tears began to form in my eyes. I was now able to maintain the vibration into her hand physically, but my voice developed a new freedom. With every punch into her hand, my voice rose in pitch while still somehow faithful to such a low physical vibration. The tears started to fall, and I went from crying to sobbing to what I would imagine is the equivalent of keening. My mind jumped to two particular images, each pertaining to the same aspect of trauma/extreme sadness in my life, but I cannot say for sure whether this was in tandem with the emotional release, or whether this was my mind trying to tie an experience to the physical sensations I was experiencing in order to justify them.

Justin Jain, HotHouse Company member and Intensive Co-Instructor (José Raúl Mangual)

I didn’t know until both weeks of the intensive had passed, but this was a moment in which I met myself and insisted upon further discovery. It proves that these discoveries are innate within us. Much like the deconstructive process of the work in the HotHouse, these exercises all can be seen as a way of stripping the layers: years of resistance and socially forged armor to free the unique animal in each of us. If any human commits to the exercises shared in this HotHouse intensive, there will be moments of discovery of the self.

The reason I have been dappling “insistence” throughout certain moments is because it was a concept introduced to us by Justin and revisited by both Justin and Blanka, and it is present often throughout the process of education (therefore, the process of life, no?). This concept is multifaceted in its meaning and application to so high a degree that it alone can be justified as an entire ideology. Opportunities for insistence are present in nearly every moment of growth, as well as their inverse: moments of resistance- insistence upon safety. To insist is to fight for, but the concept of insistence seems to be most fruitful when applied to moments of inner resistance. If you begin to resist, choose to insist.

A beauty of insistence in relation to the corporal sequence is its physical practice of a physical/mental/spiritual concept. If we insist upon surrendering to the ensemble during a moment of laborious, even scary lack of breath, we can practice reproducing that physical battle in our minds in a moment of resistance of a vice whose “victory” over us we believe would be detrimental, regressive.

Read the first HotHouse Intensive blog


HotHouse Intensive: Corporal Sequence

The HotHouse Intensive is a deep dive into the acting methodologies of Blanka Zizka and the Wilma HotHouse Company.  HotHouse practice is grounded in the Method of Theodoros Terzopoulos and focuses on fostering embodied acting through exercises that draw actors out of their heads and into their bodies.  For information on our Summer Intensive, click here.

Temple University Musical Theater BFA student José Raúl Mangual took part in a HotHouse Intensive this winter. He documented the experience through daily reflections and photos that will be shared as blog posts as we prepare for the Summer Intensive.

HotHouse Intensive Day 1 (2/27/18)

First day!

“We just had our introduction to the Corporal Sequence. I feel…eager to learn and explore the method…once I am familiar, of course.”

We started the day with the Corporal Sequence. Justin Jain, HotHouse ensemble member, co-instructor for this intensive and leader of this exercise has trained in Greece with Theodoros Terzopoulos himself. The sequence begins with all members of the ensemble standing in a circle with individual feet together and parallel, knees bent, and hands across the diaphragm: back of hands facing the circle and thumbs touching, bridging the belly button and forming a downward-pointing triangle. Our breath was to be sent to that triangle on every inhale, and every exhale originated from that same space.

I must note the novelty (relative to American culture) and intrigue of, as an approximation of Justin’s words, “allowing breath to fill down past the belly button into the perineum, genitals, anus.” I see the Corporal Sequence as a biome of discovery, at risk of sounding extravagant. The movements are varying degrees of natural, ranging from seemingly primordial human to contemporary human movement.

Blanka Zizka and HotHouse Intensive students (José Raúl Mangual)

One of the primary focuses of the practice includes connecting to the ensemble. Instead of trying to understand how I would connect to the ensemble, I decided (- insisted, as I would later come to understand -) upon simply moving in tandem with the ensemble. The manifestation of this insistence was connecting via soft focus – a focus-blur, like a camera, as if looking either very close to my face or very far away. (I speak conceptually; I am uncertain as to which, if either.) From this experience onward, (except for moments of insecurity where I would question the validity of this discovery) I knew I was connected to the ensemble. Not everyone was connected to each other, with varying degrees of “disconnection”, and in these moments I defaulted to either defer to Justin, co-leader of the intensive and unspoken “leader” of the corporal sequence, (one goal of the training is to breathe, move, start, and stop across the ensemble as one entity) or to enter a milieu between the tempo extremes. These adaptations to the “imperfections” of the ensemble arose subconsciously, out of pure necessity for and insistence upon uniformity of tempo.

I ended the first day feeling lighter on my feet and longer in my spine; unencumbered. From a physical diagnostic, I imagine the feeling came from:

  • Breathing in a manner more conducive to oxygenation
  • Focused, intensive release of unnecessary muscular tension
  • Focus on efficiency of movement (muscular activation)

Click here to read more about José Raúl Mangual

Explore and be a part of the Wilma’s HotHouse Summer Intensive this June.

OPEN STAGES: An Interview with Playwright Christopher Chen

Wilma’s Resident Dramaturg and Literary Manager, Walter Bilderback sat down with playwright Christopher Chen to chat about his career and the world premiere of his new play Passage at the Wilma Theater.  

Walter Bilderback: Let’s start with a general introduction: where are you from? What led you to become a playwright?

Christopher Chen: I was born and raised in San Francisco. I always knew I wanted to be an artist of some kind, and after dabbling in fiction, poetry, music composition, music performance, filmmaking and theater directing, I finally found my medium in playwriting, which to me is a union of all the aforementioned disciplines. I love the way it is a medium of almost endless possibility. I can push far into my literary impulses while grappling with social issues with as much emotional and intellectual intensity as I can. And I can also be the instigator of huge theatrical spectacle. To sit down with pen and paper and let my imagination run with all these artistic extremes is thrilling.

W: You’re known for creating plays of ideas that are emotionally gripping and that “pull the rug out from under the audience’s feet.” (Each play also engage different ideas and pull different rugs.)  I remember reading Caught for the first time and discovering that each scene changed my perception of both the style of the play and what the “story” was. A Bay Area critic has created the hashtag #ChenMindFuck. You seem to distrust conventional narrative as a way to address your concerns: could you talk about that?

C: As an artist, a consumer of art and as a person, I’m interested in being challenged, in having my perception shifted. Upending conventional story structure is a tool for this. I don’t inherently distrust conventional narrative. I am, however, interested in interrogating the ways by which thought and point of view are constructed, and how we trap ourselves– by outside imposition and on our own allowance– inside these constructions. With this interrogation I often find myself turning convention over, since constructing stories for plays is related to how we construct stories for ourselves in the real world. This play, Passage, doesn’t exactly employ the same kinds of extreme rug pulls I’ve used in the past, but it has the same spirit. It is a minimalist fable that upends convention by removing all explicit markers of time and place, so that discussions of race and power that are otherwise familiar to the current discourse are presented in a disarmingly uprooted context. The goal of this familiar/unfamiliar dynamic is to have the audience lean into the dialogue perhaps more than they’re used to, making them engage and question their own internal wrestlings with the issues as they are watching. I want to activate the audience in such a way that they’re forced to bring fifty percent of the content– their own thinking– to the table in real time to complete the experience.

Rug-pulling play CAUGHT (InterAct Theatre Company production). Photo by Kate Raines.

W: You describe Passage as “a fantasia inspired by A Passage to India.” Tell us a little about your interest in Forster and how he relates to today.

C: And actually I would say the piece is a response to his work instead, because it is a contemporary work that is meant to be in dialogue with it across time. The dialogue centers around his themes of human connection across great divides– economic, societal, racial– and how these themes have evolved, morphed, and remain unresolved in our present day. It is also a piece that is in a more personal dialogue with him stylistically. A Passage to India was a formative book for me when I first read it in high school, and remains a key influence on my writing to this day. What I really respond to is the book’s scale. The book examines a big sociopolitical issue across a wide spectrum of the epic and the intimate: From intimate conversations between friends, to the geological formations of the earth as seen from the sky. Forster uses pattern and metaphor in incredibly seamless ways, finding genuinely organic links between the spiritual and the political. I’ve tried to maintain a similar macro-lens ethos myself in all of my plays, including this one. For me, the parallel of America today to the British Raj is that you have one place with completely separate realities existing for different people, with power discrepancies at play that make these differences unbridgeable. Colonialism was an evil proposition that was normalized in the Western mind at the time, along with its accompanying, reprehensible power dynamics. Similar power dynamics exist in America today between groups that, again, are  experiencing completely separate realities simultaneously. So one thing I wanted to do with this piece was to respond to Forster by directly linking colonialism to modern day racism, in the name of giving the systemic nature of today’s racism a different kind of historical parallel.

W: One of the first things that strikes a reader of Passage is that the characters are identified not by name but by letter – B, Q, F, for example – and a note says “Race, Gender and sexuality are fluid.” Talk to us a little about your decision to do this.

C: The goals of this are twofold. First, it is about disruption. The experiment of this play is to get at foundational human dynamics at play within a situation of extreme power imbalance. We carry a lot of baggage and preconceptions when thinking about who has power and who doesn’t in America, and so with this piece I wanted to see what would happen if we shed a lot of these traditional markers in order to isolate the specific problem of individual perception within the equation. By encouraging fluidity and diversity across a number of different variables, the idea is to let a greater degree of humanity within characters come forth as they push against a fundamentally imbalanced power structure. Second, I purposefully wanted to create a minimalist fable that was wide open to diverse collaborators, so that the piece could be performed in different communities with different contexts. (Hence the two locations are Country X and Country Y.) My hope is that each group that takes this play on will make it resonate in ways specific to them. You will find that this production will land in a very specific way based on the casting within this group. And that is the point. Once specific bodies inhabit the roles, the play becomes specific. In the same way that interpreters find different resonances in Shakespeare and Greek tragedies across time and place, I purposefully sought to write a play that was elastic and foundational enough to be taken and molded and owned by different persons across time and place too.

W: You were able to be with us in December for a workshop with the cast. What was that experience like for you as a writer? What most excites you going into rehearsal?

C: It is safe to say I have never had a text engaged with in this manner before. Through a series of innovative exercises focusing on putting the text of the play immediately and directly into the bodies and voices of the actors (as opposed to psychoanalytic table work), I was able to experience my play anew. The HotHouse process is deliberate, rigorous and, quite frankly, astonishing. Sentence for sentence, word for word, they uprooted layers of humanism and poetic truth to the characters I didn’t know were there. Their work brought forth the central nervous system of the play in such an unexpected way that I found myself shifting my perspective of how theater should be practiced. I’m looking forward to diving into rehearsals with this group of amazing artists. I’ve developed a deep respect for each person involved, and am grateful beyond words that they chose to engage with my work.

Passage begins at The Wilma Theater on April 18 and runs through May 13. To purchase your tickets call the Wilma Box Office at 215-546-7824 or go online at

Photo of Christopher Chen by Sasha Arutyunova. Photo of the Wilma HotHouse Company by David Sarrafian.

Musical Influences

Stew had a passion for music from a young age. Between singing gospel at church and joining an R&B band at 14, his influences span every genre, from Gospel to Pink Floyd. Stew said in an interview with Wilma Dramaturg Walter Bilderback, “I mean what would people say if I told them that the Partridge Family was probably the single biggest influence on me becoming a professional musician? That doesn’t fit the standard narrative but I’d like to mention it.”

While abroad in Berlin in the 1980s, he played with a mixed-media art group The Wonderful Guise. Stew categorizes his work with The Negro Problem as “Afro-Baroque Cabaret,” a term all his own. This diversity of taste clearly influenced the music in Passing Strange.






Content courtesy of The Wilma Theater’s Passing Strange Education Guide.


Stew and Heidi’s band The Negro Problem was the band in the original production of Passing Strange. Because of this close musical and personal relationship, the band is an integral part of the show; they answer the call-and-response of the Narrator and interject with song and dialogue. The band is a character itself, telling the story along with the actors.

The Wilma’s Passing Strange band was not a group before this project. Since Stew went through the original Passing Strange process with his band, he knew that to make it musically successful, the four musicians for the Wilma’s Passing Strange would have to become a band. So they had band practice: the four musicians have been practicing with Stew and Heidi since September. Once Stew thought they were ready, the band needed a gig. On December 11th, 2017, the Wilma’s Passing Strange band had a rock concert in Good Karma Café. An audience of Passing Strange super fans, Wilma patrons, and University of the Arts students together to rock out with Stew and the new Passing Strange band.

MUSIC DIRECTOR AND PIANIST AMANDA MORTON hails from Albany, NY. Amanda has a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre from Ithaca College. Amanda is a Senior Lecturer at University of the Arts.

DRUMMER BEN DIAMOND hails from San Diego, CA and got his B.A. in Music from Haverford College. Ben is a freelance teacher, musician, and composer working in Philadelphia.

BASS GUITARIST ELLYN HEALD is a musician and actress currently residing in Brooklyn, NY. Ellyn received her M.A. from London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts for Classical Acting.

GUITARIST JAKE HAGER is a Philadelphia-based musician and music teacher, both playing in pit orchestras and his own bands. He worked with Stew back in 2015, accompanying him for a piece at University of the Arts.

Content courtesy of The Wilma Theater’s Passing Strange Education Guide.

PASSING STRANGE: Production History/ Location, Location, Location



Stew maps out Youth’s travels to find “The Real” through song. Explaining his personal experiences influencing Passing Strange, Stew says, “It’s a 46 year-old guy looking back at the things that he did and the values he had in his 20s, sort of when you’re making that decision to really be an artist,” (NPR, 2007). The journey of Stew is documented in his music: the church of suburban LA; the funky, psychedelic life of Amsterdam; and the militarized, radical world of Berlin.

Content courtesy of The Wilma Theater’s Passing Strange Education Guide.


In 1997, Stew formed a band, The Negro Problem. Heidi Rodewald joined the group in 1999 and became Stew’s frequent collaborator. Stew said in an interview with Spike Lee: “It started on a club stage in front of about 150 people playing songs. Public Theater, downtown New York, was interested. They thought it might be a play. I wasn’t sure if it would… but I knew it could be something.” After that, a piece following a young African-American traveling through Europe called Travelogue was work shopped first at Berkeley Repertory and later Sundance Theater Lab. Through those workshops, it became the Passing Strange we know today, opening Off-Broadway at the Public Theater in 2007 and at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway in 2008. It ran for 165 performance and Stew won a Tony Award for Best Book. In 2008, Spike Lee made Passing Strange: The Movie, a documentary recording of the original production.

Lindsay Smiling, Savannah L. Jackson, Stew, Anthony Martinez-Briggs, and Kimberly S. Fairbanks at Opening Night of Passing Strange. Photo by Kristin Finger.

Passing Strange isn’t what you would call a standard Broadway musical; it’s a “rock musical.” In an NPR interview, Stew said: “The goal being to bring the actual music that one hears in a club to the stage — not through some kind of theatrical musical-theater filter. ‘Rock’ musical — that term ‘rock’ should really be in quotations, right? Because it’s not really rock music that anyone who likes rock music would actually listen to.”

In 2016, Alyssa Rosenberg wrote an article in The Washington Post likening Passing Strange to the Broadway smash-hit Hamilton. “Even eight years after its premiere, [Passing Strange] feels like a musical sent from
the future to challenge the expectations for what a black Broadway show might be like… It’s high time Hamilton-lovers and anyone else who cares about weird, smart, highly personal art rediscover Passing Strange.” Ten years after its Broadway premiere, the Wilma is ready to rediscover Passing Strange.


In the fall of 2014, Joanna Settle directed the Wilma’s production of Rapture, Blister, Burn. Joanna and Stew had collaborated on projects previously, so Stew was a natural choice to compose the original music for the production. Through Rapture, Blister, Burn, Wilma Artistic Director Blanka Zizka and Stew became collaborators. For the 2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival, the Wilma produced Stew and Heidi’s piece Notes of a Native Song. Stew also translated and arranged the protest songs for the Wilma’s world premiere production of Adapt! in 2017. After years of collaborations, the Wilma is thrilled to produce the first major revival of Passing Strange.


Stew (Co-Creator)
Mark Stewart (born August 16, 1961) is an American singer-songwriter and playwright. He was born in Los Angeles and grew up heavily involved in the Baptist church. He briefly moved to New York in 1982 for the growing punk rock movement before heading to Europe. He lived in Amsterdam and Berlin for five years each before returning to LA in his late 20s. Nowadays, he is most often known by his stage name, Stew. Stew wrote the book and lyrics for Passing Strange. Stew also co-wrote the music with Heidi Rodewald and
starred in the original production as the Narrator. Between his personal and musical influences, the DNA of Passing Strange comes straight from Stew’s life.

“It’s what I like to call autobiographical fiction, in that every single thing that’s happening on the stage, I can point to something in my life, some kind of corollary…”
-Stew, NPR, 2008

Heidi Rodewald (Co-Composer and Bass Player)
Heidi Rodewald is a singer, composer, arranger, and music producer from Los Angeles, California. Heidi joined Stew’s band The Negro Problem as the bassist in 1999. After almost a decade of collaboration, Heidi and Stew cocomposed all of the music for Passing Strange.

“I’m a girl in a rock band — I never expected to be doing this.”
-Heidi Rodewald, NPR, 2008

Heidi and Stew have co-composed three other musicals together: Family Album (2013), a story of a middle-aged rock ‘n’ roller reflecting on the choices he’s made; Notes of a Native Song (2015), a musical homage to James Baldwin; and The Total Bent (2016), a story about a young musical prodigy coming of age in the music industry. Stew said to Fresh Air in 2008, “I know what this means to Heidi’s family, they’ve done theater…And the idea that Heidi is the one person in the family who decided to join punk rock bands rather than, you know, be an actress and now suddenly she’s the one on Broadway. It’s like a fairy tale. It’s too much.”


Content courtesy of The Wilma Theater’s Passing Strange Education Guide.


by Walter Bilderback

“My story being done, . . .
She swore, in faith ‘twas strange, ‘twas passing strange.”
Othello, Act One, Scene 3

James Baldwin in Paris, 1949

Passing Strange is, first and foremost, a coming of age story. Although it shares some moments with Stew’s real life, it is not autobiographical. It’s a musical, but perhaps more accurately a “performance art musical,” if that’s a category. The story follows Youth, from his 1970s adolescence in a South Central LA that doesn’t conform to popular stereotypes, to young adulthood in Amsterdam and West Berlin. There are two central relationships for Youth: one with his mother and another, metatheatrical, one with the Narrator.

Passing Strange also tells a story of an America, which as Youth says, “can’t handle freaky Negros.” As it did for his historical forebears Josephine Baker, “King James Baldwin,” and Jimi Hendrix (plus numerous others), Europe offers Youth an opportunity to create his idiosyncratic art in a way that seems unavailable at home. In conversations with Stew, a theme that recurs is the stereotyping of Black experience. “I mean what would people say if I told them that The Partridge Family was probably the single biggest influence on me becoming a professional musician? That doesn’t fit the standard narrative but I’d like to mention it.”

In the standard narrative, I’d quote James Baldwin here. Although Baldwin is endlessly quotable I’ll go to “Brother Al Camus” instead for a couple observations. “With rebellion, awareness is born,” Camus wrote. Anticipating Youth’s punk rebellion, he also wrote, “I may not have been sure about what really did interest me, but I was absolutely sure about what didn’t.”

But let’s quote Baldwin anyway, on his reasons for going to Paris (and then Istanbul). “Perhaps, as we say in America, I wanted to find myself. This is an interesting phrase, not current as far as I know in the language of any other people, which certainly does not mean what it says but betrays a nagging suspicion that something has been misplaced. I think now that if I had had any intimation that the self I was going to find would turn out to be only the same self from which I had spent so much time in flight, I would have stayed at home. But, again, I think I knew at the very bottom of my heart, exactly what I was doing when I took the boat for France.”

Like Othello’s story, Stew and Heidi’s play is “passing strange.” But it is also about “passing strange.” As the critic and producer Scott Miller notes, Youth is passing through the cities in the play. Miller adds: “But passing has so many other meanings. When it comes to African Americans, passing usually means being light-skinned enough to live as a white person, but here Stew turns that upside down when Franklin introduces the idea of ‘black folks passing for black folks’ – not just passing but passing strange – which then underlines certain moments throughout the rest of the show when the Youth does indeed ‘pass’ for being black. And this definition also suggests the show’s central theme of the masks that all these characters wear to hide from the world.”

Which raises another question: In what ways are each of us “passing strange?”