In The Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards

Written and Directed by Steve Cosson
Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman

Greg McFadden, Billy Eugene Jones and Colleen Werthmann in In The Footprint. Photo by Michael Nagel for the NYTimes.

BOTTOM LINE: An investigative theatre piece that tautly coasts through the past couple years of neighborhood debate regarding The Atlantic Yards Project in Brooklyn.  

Brooklyn, in addition to rivaling Chicago for the spot of third largest city in the country if it were to secede from New York City, is a culturally and ethnically diverse borough that sports the hopeful motto "In Unity There is Strength." Generally, neighbors cohesively co-habitate despite a constant morphing of the borough, although certain hot-button issues do occasionally shake things up.  

So it goes with The Atlantic Yards Project, the contentious construction venture that will result in a massive, multi-billion dollar sporting arena smack in the middle of an already very bustling part of Brooklyn. In The Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards, the new play by The Civilians, is a documentary-style theatre performance based on interviews with residents from the affected neighborhoods. Pieced together through short scenes and songs, In The Footprint is a valiant attempt to illuminate the issues The Atlantic Yards Project has unearthed in this particular cross-section of Brooklyn.  

Currently underway at the meeting point of Fort Greene and Prospect Heights in, The Atlantic Yards Project has been causing quite a stir since its inception. The Civilians jauntily guide the audience over nearly three years of varying resident opinions, both outcry and support, following the evolution of the project's initial attempts to making the entire thing simply a "sports issue" to the present day where demolition has cleared away blocks of homes to make way for the relocation of the New Jersey Nets (or soon to be Brooklyn Nets?  How about the Brooklyn Ballers?). Fast-paced with several crescendo moments, The Civilians' retell the story through a handful of neighborhood characters, as well as figurehead politicians, using basketballs as talking heads, handling the matter of big business' abuse of eminent domain and government turning a blind eye, while also illuminating how quickly and inevitably neighborhood disputes arise with this kind of "progress." 

Since the project is a polarizing matter unto itself, In The Footprint captures many of the additional peripheral issues that the Atlantic Yards project arouses, as well. Launching right into the topic of gentrification and neighborhood-issue appropriation, audience members are confronted with the inherent racial stereotypes, on both sides, of such issues. Despite being a timely topic within Brooklyn and other boroughs, gentrification rarely gets discussed in any kind of open manner, and The Civilians commendably broach the topic.  

The Civilians themselves are likably casual in presentation and in their open engagement with the audience. Clad in plain clothes, accented with Brooklyn t-shirts, the actors ably and nonchalantly create a community meeting-like performance. The cacophonous church interior of the Irondale Center coupled with a sparse set and audience risers facing one another on either end of the stage also aids this effect. The Civilians are correct in their unspoken assertion that such issues affect audience members from any community and certainly transcend The Atlantic Yards Project. 

Smartly put together and enjoyable for Brooklyn and non-Brooklyn residents alike, The Civilians' exploration is worth seeing regardless of previous exposure to the topic. The question could be posed, however, as to why now, when construction is well underway, is the performance thought to be at its most pertinent. Presently serving to depressingly reiterate the fact that big business has won out in this particular instance, the performance would do well to revive once the stadium is completed, lest we forget the tale too quickly.  

In an attempt to both broaden the theatre-going pool and encourage local residents to see the performance, The Civilians are offering discounted neighborhood nights for Brooklynites, as well as a rigorous talkback schedule with city council members and residents. More information can be found here:

(In The Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards plays at the Irondale Center, 85 South Oxford Street at Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn, through December 11, 2010. Performances are Tuesdays at 8pm through Saturdays at 8pm.  Added performances: November 29 at 7pm, December 4 at 2pm and December 6 at 7pm. Tickets are $35 ($20 for Students) and are available at or by calling 866.811.4111.)