Jean Marie Keevins is a NYC-based writer, producer, puppet artist and designer. Her most recent play, Zwerge, based on the true story of a family of seven dwarves who survived the holocaust, has been the recipient of two Jim Henson Foundation Grants and a Puffin Foundation Grant. Co-written by Deborah Hertzberg and Spencer Lott, Zwerge was originally workshopped at The National Puppetry Conference while serving as Artist in Residence. Following a residency and sold out run at Dixon Place in NYC, Zwerge is now preparing for it’s final stage of development.
After a chance meeting at a fundraiser in 2012, Jean Marie Keevins and Sahr Ngaujah found that they were kindred spirits. A year later, Keevins’ passion for bringing the Elephant-Human conflict to the forefront of human consciousness led her to contact Ngaujah. It was during this first sit down that Keevins proposed the idea of writing a Hip-Hop/Afrobeat musical that compares the degradation of the urban jungle to that of the animal kingdom. Not only did Ngaujah enthusiastically sign on immediately, he confessed to being rather consumed by the topic as well. Soon enough, regular story meetings ensued. (A side note: In 2006, The New York Times Magazine published an article examining the elephant human conflict in a story call “An Elephant Crackup?”. Both artists had read this article, not knowing that the essence of it would eventually become the basis of new musical called Elephant in the Room).
In August and September of 2014, Jean Marie was the Playwright and Puppet Artist In Residence at the Nantucket Island School for Design & the Arts. She used this time, predominately, for the purpose of writing the first draft of Tusk, with no musical elements. Conducting countless hours of sociological, musical, visual and dramaturgical research on the subject at hand as well as the cultures surrounding it, Keevins was able to create an environment for herself steeped in the journey of the story. The residency concluded with an invaluable table reading of this first draft allowing Jean Marie to leave the island with a list of helpful and necessary critiques to be explored.
Once receiving the first treatment, followed by the first draft, Sahr got to work on the music. Since returning to NYC from Nantucket, Jean Marie has been developing the script and writing grants to secure funding for the project. Tusk was a finalists for a Creative Capital grant as a film. The pair has since resumed their exciting, forward-moving, and often painfully honest weekly story meetings in Brooklyn.
Both artists are ferociously dedicated theatermakers who know that the time for TUSK, the musical is now! Keevins and Ngaujah have been meeting weekly for months to build and define this work and feel that it is imperative that they be able to get it up on it’s feet to learn about what works and what doesn’t. They are currently working towards this goal in the hopes of presenting Tusk: The Concert in February, 2015.
WHY ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?
Because the human-elephant conflict is real. Young elephants are being left to their own devices throughout the world, as their mothers have been poached for ivory. The children witness the killing of their mothers and they naturally ban together and become defensive of their communities. Many become aggressive.
Throughout this country and beyond, kids are forming gangs. Why? Because they have little safety in their own homes and they find comfort in numbers. There is a sense of security when you are in a tribe. But what happens when your tribe is attacked? You fight. You find a new family.
This heartfelt story explores the bonds of family and the future of mankind and the animal kingdom through the lenses of animals seemingly wiser than we are.
Elephant in the Room(formerly called Tusk) is a concert-theater experience
that combines elements of film, puppetry, live music and theater. It investigates the breakdown of socializations using the
As a young female elephant comes of age, her family falls apart. Issues around wildlife poaching, displacement, and abandonment are explored through an original book and score. Told through the eyes of a young female calf and her rhino sister, Elephant in the Room draws parallels to conflicts inherent of human life.
Under the umbrella of her new production company, Little Shadow Productions, Jean Marie has created two
self-produced short films, was commissioned to create and perform the puppets for Wyatt Cenac’s (The Daily Show)
new Netflix special Brooklyn and serves as the producer for downtown theater icon, James Godwin.
She has built puppets for Avenue Q, Disney on Ice’s Finding Nemo, Baby Einstein, The Muppets, Johnny and the
Sprites as well as various Broadway shows. A reoccurring Guest Lecturer at New York University, Jean Marie holds a BA in Theater Studies with a concentration in the Puppet Arts from the University of Connecticut. Honing her training at the National Puppetry Conference, one of Jean Marie’s proudest accomplishments came when she joined the conference as staff. She now serves as the Associate Artistic Director of Conference as well as the Director of Participant Projects where she leads a mentoring program to create new short works of theatre. Jean Marie sits on the board of the international puppetry organization UNIMA-USA.
Sahr Ngaujah is a theater director and actor/musician of Sierra Leonean descent. He most recently starred on ABC’s Last Resort as “Julian Serratt” and enjoyed a reoccurring role on "The Black List". He began his career in theatre and has worked with the likes of Freddie Hendricks, Gerrit Timmers (Rotterdam), Falk Richter (Berlin), Del Hamilton and Tim Habeger (Atlanta), Walter Chakela (Johannesburg) and Made n da Shade/MC (Amsterdam).
Currently appearing in Athol Fugard's Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, Sahr has also maintained a presence in the
worlds of film. since the late 1990s, with appearances in The Signal, Stomp the Yard and Blood Done Sign My Name, among other films.
Sahr is a M.A. graduate of DASARTS in Amsterdam. He earned an Obie Award in 2009 for creating the role of Fela
Anikulapo-Kuti when Fela! premiered Off-Broadway at 37 Arts in 2008. He subsequently repeated his work on Broadway in 2009, as well as in London, where he received a 2011 Laurence Olivier Award nomination. He then lead the company for a special Nigerian engagement of the musical and a European/US Tour. Fela! earned 11 of the 12 possible Tony nominations, including for Sahr as Best Actor in a Leading Role. Among his other awards and recognitions for Best Actor in the musical: winning a 2012 Helen Hayes Award and 2012 Toronto Critics’ Award; plus receiving a 2009 Lucille Lortel Award and a 2009 Drama Desk Award. The Fela! Original Broadway Cast Recording lead by Sahr also received a 2010 Grammy nomination.
ABOUT THE MAKERS