Photos of the 2009 workshop production of “Darger”.  Photo credit: Alex Miles Younger

About “Darger”Darger lg 11.6.09

Coal-burning fire place.  One small room.  More than 60 years inside.  Creating.  When artist Henry Darger died, he left behind complete works no one had ever seen or read: In The Rhealms of the Unreal.  The story of a Child Slave Rebellion.  A war to end all wars.  Seven warrior sisters.  One murdered child leader.  15,000 pages.  Over 300 paintings, murals and collages.

“Darger” explores Henry’s life and creative process (documented in his extensive journals), his writing (which includes fiction, popular culture, religious references), and his stunning visual world (collage, painting, manipulated images).  “Darger” is highly theatrical, exploring the themes central to Henry’s work: children’s rights, war, self-identity, heightened imagination, and a sense of deep play.

Our lens for this piece comes from our experience of discovering Henry’s worlds through transforming his written and 2-D creations into 3-D elements of theatrical language. Like many cultural myths, his work is about real people falling into a fictional world and returning altered. Questions around identity/self in fiction are the primary drivers for our investigation.

“Darger Conversations”

We’re taking the project outside of the confines of a traditional theatre setting and exploring the different opportunities to investigate Darger’s work. The end goal is an immersive theatrical event. First we want to have a series of “conversations” with artists to expand our storytelling of Darger, his life and work.

“Darger Conversations” include dialogue, research, composition, and collaboration between all of the participating artists. Project leaders Susan Ferrara and Jeremy Williams will facilitate these creative conversations. Susan and Jeremy initiated this collaborative project in the spring of 2009 which led to a workshop production in the fall of 2009. We collaborated with the American Folk Art Museum which holds the largest and most comprehensive collection of Darger’s visual work, writing, and personal effects. Brooke Anderson Davis was the curator at the time Her support gave us full access to the museum’s Darger collection which formed the basis of our first exploration. We teamed up with actor/creator Erin Layton, puppeteer/creator Cathy McCullough, and actor/musician/creator Michael Shattner to create and present the 2009 workshop. The workshop was met with great excitement from audiences, including the Folk Art Museum staff and board, and we realized that this project was much larger than we originally intended!

Jeremy and Susan have remained interested in bringing this project back and have been re-imagining how it is made as well as how it is presented to the public. This is a drastic re-imaging of this piece. While Henry worked in a tiny space, the worlds he created were beyond epic, and scale must enter our process. Our initial work with puppets, with Cathy McCullough, was focused on animating small objects. We found that this type of puppetry was just the beginning of theatricalizing Darger’s world and the scale must be increased. Additionally, projection, both moving and still images, need to be layered in; mirroring his sophisticated work with collage and manipulated image. We also have compositional questions around incorporating live video as a bridge between the literal and fictional worlds.

Collaborator Roster

Adrian GalvinBridget GabbeDaniel KrstyenDebra Disbrow
Erin DuerJake LasserJay RyanJoe Menino
Jon-Michael MillerKathy FermanKelly LehmanKyra Bowman
Liz StantonMelissa RikerMike FloydParker Leventar
Preston LeslieRichard PersonPreston LeslieRichard Person
Sevrin Anne Mason

Many questions around very provocative material: that is the “DARGER” project.  Interested in becoming a collaborator?  Learn more here: Call for Collaborators 

Creative Team

Susan Ferrara(Playwright/Performer) is an award-winning playwright and actor. Her plays include: BUZZ (2012 Winner, Reverie Productions Next Generation Playwriting Winner, 2012 New Dramatists Semi-Finalist, 2012 Hon Mention Jane Chambers Playwriting Contest), THE MACHINE (2011 New Dramatists Semi-Finalist, 2011 Global Age Finalist, 2010 Leah Ryan Emerging Writers Fund Finalist, 2009 O’Neill Semi-Finalist), SUICIDE ON PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE (member, terraNova Groundbreakers); BLIND (2013 Naked Angels Development, Tuesdays@9) and DARGER (co-created with Jeremy Williams), among many. As an actor, she was recently seen in Johnna Adams’ SANS MERCI (Flux Theare) and has performed at The Public Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Connelly Theatre among many other NYC and Regional companies. She can also be seen and heard on The Onion News Network and was lauded for her work on the award winning webseries THEN WE GOT HELP written and directed by Julie Ann Emery. She is a member of AEA, SAG/AFTRA, Dramatists Guild, Resonance Ensemble, and Convergences Theatre Collective.


Erin Layton – NYC theatre credits: MAGDALEN (New York City International Fringe Festival 2012 – one of nytheatre.com‘s Best of Fringe 2012, Santa Cruz Fringe Festival 2013); two-person adaptation of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (Off-Broadway, Off-Broadway Alliance Nominee), LET US GO THEN, YOU AND I (Undergroundzero Theatre Festival), WEIRD SISTERS (East Third Ensemble), PITCH (LaMaMa), TAURIS (The Wild Project), among others. Regional credits include CANDLES TO THE SUN (Actors Theatre of Louisville), SALTWATER (International Theatre Collective), THE GREEKS/HECUBA, THE RIVALS (St. Louis Shakespeare Company); guest performing artist with Long Island University’s Performing Arts Dept. in their productions of FIRES IN THE MIRROR, THE GLASS MENAGERIE and TWELFTH NIGHT (The Kumble Theater). She has facilitated workshops in Suzuki, Viewpoints and devising and has trained extensively with Ann Bogart’s SITI Company. Erin’s one woman play, MAGDALEN is published by Indie Theater Now in their Best of Fringe 2012 and Plays By Women Collection.


Cathy McCullough (Puppet Designer/Creator) Originally from St. Louis, Cathy moved to Chicago to study at the Art Institute of Chicago, and Columbia College. After receiving her BFA in Photography, she worked as the Director of in House Photography for a local corporation, and ultimately went on to work as a freelance photographer. During this time, Cathy also began working to pursue her first love, Puppetry. A class in mask performance introduced her to Blair Thomas and Jim Lasko, Founders of Redmoon Theater Chicago, and their willingness to allow her to be as involved as she could, began her professional journey into puppetry. Eventually, she became a company member, building and performing with them, and was honored to have worked as assistant director on their version of Frankenstein. Cathy then began designing and building for other theater companies, and creating new works of her own. The O’Neill Puppetry Conference was an important next step for her because it allowed her to meet puppeteers from all over the United States, and exposed her to styles of puppetry she had not seen before.

In 1997, Cathy was honored to have received an UNIMA Scholarship to study at the Institut International de la Marionette in Charleville Mezieres, France. Cathy studied with Joseph Svboda, Lezek Madzik, and Claire Heggen during her time there.

Cathy’s work has been seen at Lifeline Theater, Steppenwolf Theater, Prop Theater, and The Chicago Park District. Her puppetry performances have been seen in New York at Here Theatre, Don’t Tell Mama, Surf Reality, the O’Neill Theater Center, and the Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater. Cathy has been a puppeteer for television on “The Book of Pooh”, and “Between the Lions” on PBS. Cathy also worked for Three years as creative partner with Martin P. Robinson for the Puppet Anarchy section of the O’Neill Puppetry Conference, and with Pam Arciero as Artistic Associate for the conference.

In April of 2002, Cathy completed her first full length puppet piece entitled FACETS in partial fulfillment of her MFA in Puppetry from the University of Connecticut.

Cathy has been worked as a freelance craftsperson and puppeteer in New York, on Little Shop of Horrors, The Frogs, Dora The Explorer Live, Blues Room, and Oobi and Friends.

Melissa Negro (Associate Producer).  Born and raised in Philadelphia, Melissa has lived in Edinburgh, Montpellier and London; she currently lives and works in New York. After completing her BA in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, Melissa decided that the written word, while deeply beloved, was not enough. She is still instinctually drawn to a good story, but equally moved to tear it apart. Simultaneously enthralled and bored with things like character, plot and narrative sense, Melissa recently turned to performance as a sort of formal playground. She completed her MA in Theatre and Performance at Queen Mary, University of London in 2012.


Following in the ornately bejewelled sandals of a grandmother who is obsessed with the sparkly, Melissa seems to have inherited her magpie-like tendencies genetically. It is her goal to bring the glittering things she so loves into performance with her other love, literature, to ask life’s most pertinent questions. Accordingly, she is particularly interested in producing work that plays in the tension between the serious and the spectacular.


Melissa is interested in breaking down boundaries wherever they occur and considering performance from all angles. She loves a good, old-fashioned play, but she is equally drawn to more experimental, interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary modes of performance. Above all, as a producer, as a critic, and as a spectator, Melissa believes it is important to consider each work on its own specific terms.

Michael Shattner is a 2013 IT Award Nominee for his performance as Sir Pompey Martext in Kevin Brewer’s ISLAND with NY Shakespeare Exchange. Most recently, he appeared as Gower, Antiochus, Simonides and Bolt in NYSX’s PERICLES, for which he also composed and performed his own original music on the cello. Favorite past roles include: Queen Margaret (HENRY VI Parts 1, 2 & 3), Nicia (THE MANDRAKE), Touchstone (AS YOU LIKE IT), Stefano (THE TEMPEST), Neal Tilden (THE 1940s RADIO HOUR), Carl (LONELY PLANET), Adam (THE COMPLEAT WRKS OF WLLM SHKSPR (ABRIDGED)), and the title role in SCAPINO. An avid cellist, Michael is a founding member of the anarchy String Quartet. He plays in the New Amsterdam and Queer Urban orchestras, and in the pit for various musicals around NYC.



Jeremy Williams (Director/Creator)

is a director, choreographer, and playmaker. Working with a highly theatrical sensibility, Williams creates within a large range of genres and styles through compelling storytelling, heightened sensory entertainment, and a great love for old fashioned showmanship centered around powerful physical performance.

As a director and choreographer he has staged traditional plays, musicals, and concert dance in New York, regional theatre, and for universities. He is a frequent director/choreographer for the NYC-based Phoenix Theatre Ensemble. Plays/musicals include The Stronger, Facing Death, The Pariah (Strindberg), Albert’s Bridge, “M” is for Moon Among Other Things (Stoppard); Rumplestiltskin, Little Red, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Toymaker’s Apprentice (Menino/Mandel). Additional credits: Medea, Handler, and Miss Saigon. Williams choreography has also been performed by Vanessa DeMornay at National Entertainer of the Year (2010 winner) and Miss Gay USofA as well as other cabaret and performance artists in NYC and around the US.