BOSTON Â- The second season of international theatre programming by ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage continues with the Boston premiere of Ameriville. A collision of storytelling, spoken word and the infectious rhythms of jazz, gospel and hip hop, Ameriville redefines the concept of musical theatre. Performances take place March 13 Â- 18, 2012 at the Paramount Center Mainstage (559 Washington Street, in BostonÂ’s Theatre District). Tickets, from $25 Â- $75, are on sale now at www.artsemerson.org or by phone at (617) 824-8400.

Using Hurricane Katrina as a jumping off point, Ameriville is a highly entertaining fusion of hip-hop, poetry, flamenco, standup comedy, music and spoken word. Universes weaves this electrifying theatrical exploration of race, class, poverty, immigration and political awareness into a great adventure about what it means to be American. The viscerally energetic and diverse young team Universes puts the state of the union under the microscope and into the microphone, spinning exquisite harmonies and beatboxing. They examine our country through the lens of Katrina and her aftermath. A modern-day variety show, the piece branches out from stories of post-Katrina New Orleans to the rest of the United States, giving voice to disenfranchised groups and articulating not just the difficulties, but also the underlying strength within America.

Universes (Gamal Abdel Chasten, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, William Ruiz aka Ninja and Steven Sapp) didnÂ’t set out to write a play about Hurricane Katrina. The ensembleÂ’s earlier work, including the hit Slanguage, was more local in its scope, exploring the rhythms, voices and landscapes of its membersÂ’ New York neighborhoods, with a unique fusion of poetry, theatre, jazz, hip-hop, down-home blues and Spanish boleros. With Ameriville, they pan out to examine not only New Orleans, but the country at large. According to co-founder, writer and performer Steven Sapp, the project has been in the works since before the storm hit. «After Slanguage, we started to tour a lot,» Sapp explains. «We went all around the country, and the more we saw, the bigger our new pieces became. Because what we were looking at was bigger. In the beginning, we werenÂ’t even trying to write a new piece. Our initial thought was to look at the state that the country was in, this fear about everything. We were interested in exploring the history of fear in America. And then Katrina happened.»

On one level, Ameriville serves as a reminder to the rest of the nation. «WeÂ’re a selective country in terms of what we remember,» says Sapp. «Since Katrina, weÂ’ve had forest fires in California and floods in Iowa. ItÂ’s like flipping the channel: we move on. But if you go down to New Orleans now, six years later, there are sections that look like it just happened. ItÂ’s chilling.» The play also seeks to expose deeply ingrained social inequities that existed before the levees toppled, but which came to national attention only in the stormÂ’s wake.

Years after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast, our memory betrays us. The storm drowned thousands of city residents in their bedrooms and attics, forced more than one million to flee for safety, and put 80% of New Orleans under water. But its images have receded from the covers of our morning newspapers. News of levee breaches and rooftop rescues no longer confronts us when we turn on the television. The barrage of disturbing revelations–shoddy engineering, bad science, decades of irresponsible policy converging in a lethal, man-made maelstrom–has subsided. The country has moved on. But for the displaced New Orleans residents still living in FEMA trailers or scattered across America, the storm continues. Today the per capita murder rate in New Orleans is the highest in the nation. The Road Home Program, designed to compensate Louisiana homeowners affected by Katrina and Rita, has failed to address the state’s severe housing shortage. Many fear that rebuilding efforts will margi

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