"For five years I have been writing books: I can say that I have done so with pleasure, but I have finished. Through writing I have attained what I was seeking. What will guide me, as something learned, is not what I have lived, but the tone in which I tell of it. Not the anecdotes, but the work of art. Not my life, but the interpretation of it."
– From The Thief's Journal by Jean Genet
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Our project takes its structure from Genet's time spent in communities of men — prison, the army, bars, etc.
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Michael Lopez (background), Steven Rishard (center), and Kenejuan Bentley during a movement sequence.
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Michael Lopez with a microphone, working with text.
Katie Taber, seen with wings, embodied various aspects of Genet's major theme of “saintliness.” Here she whispers bits of secret, sexual text to our invited audience.
Orlando Pabotoy, as Genet, sits at a typewriter in a small cement room off from the main section of the warehouse. The audience came and went, with music and choreography woven into his intimate performance.
The Genet Project (working title)
Program Information    Cast

A New Work Based on the Early Life and Writings of Jean Genet

Directed by Joanna Settle

Work-in-Progress Showing
March 2002, New York

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During our development workshop (all photos seen here are from this showing), the floor has been wet down while we work on a sequence focused on one of Genet's major themes: reflection and image.

About the Text:

Jean Genet, the illegitimate son of a Parisian prostitute, was born on October 19, 1910, and abandoned seven months later. He subsisted as a ward of the state until the age of thirteen, after which he ventured into a life of crime and adventure. From ages 15 - 18, Genet spent an impressionable period at the Mettray Penitentiary, where the inmates enforced a code of love, honor, gesture, and justice, and where his sexual awakening occurred. Upon his release, he traveled to Syria with the foreign legion before deserting, and survived by petty theft, begging, and homosexual prostitution. This period, particularly his time in Spain, became the basis for his early memoir, The Thief's Journal.

While in prison at age 32, Genet wrote Our Lady of the Flowers. The handwritten manuscript was smuggled from his cell and eventually came to the attention of Sartre and Cocteau, who lobbied passionately for a pardon of his life sentence. More than forty intellectuals and artists lobbied the French government on Genet's behalf, resulting in his release from prison.

Genet went on to write five novels and a number of celebrated plays, including The Maids, The Blacks, The Balcony, and The Screens. In later life, he championed the causes of the Black Panthers in the United States and Palestinian soldiers in Jordan and Lebanon. His final work, Prisoner of Love, is a record of his time spent with these two groups. Jean Genet died April 15, 1986, in a hotel room in the same working class neighborhood where he had been abandoned 75 years earlier. He is buried in Morocco.

We are struck repeatedly by Genet's images of transformation, the tenderness with which he writes of genuinely brutal experiences, and the rigor of his belief in the exuisite beauty of the criminal world.  Raw materials for The Genet Project include the above writings, interviews, and personal letters, as well as original text written by Joanna Settle.

Progress So Far:

The Genet project began as an adaptation of Genet’s novel The Thief’s Journal. The company read the novel aloud over the course of 4 days, and decided to move forward into development.

In early 2002, Chashama invited Division 13 Productions into residency in support of the project, donating the ground floor of a city block-wide warehouse on 57th street (at the West Side Highway). 12 actors and a five-person design team spent five weeks in this raw, industrial space.

We installed a sound system, with D13 artistic associate Mike Frank serving as a live sound designer/DJ for the entire rehearsal period. Rehearsals were spent pouring over Genet’s letters, plays, and in particular The Thief’s Journal in pursuit of his narrative sensibility. At the end of this residency, D13 held a free invitation-only showing and a reception, attended by roughly 100 people.

Later that spring, Settle (along with Managing Director Katie Taber and Artistic Associate David Divita, serving as translator) spent a two-week residency in the archives of Genet in Paris through cooperation with l'Institut Mémoires de l'Édition Contemporaine (L'IMEC).  Settle further traveled to meet with Genet scholars, and visited both the Mettray Penitentiary and Genet's tiny hometown of Alligny-en-Morvan.

As a result of this revelatory research period, the project has been expanded from an adaptation of a single novel into a new work based on Genet's early life and writings. Dramaturg Celise Kalke (Court Theatre, Chicago) has signed on to the project, and the play currently exists as a collection of research material and rough outlines of scenes.

Sadly, the 57th street location is now under demolition, and no longer available for public use. We continue to seek a similarly evocative setting and the resources to continue our work on The Genet Project.

The next steps needed are a script development phase followed by (or concurrent with) continued rehearsals with actors and designers. If you are interested in helping to support or further this work, please contact Artistic Director Joanna Settle at


Kenajuan Bentley
Jeremy Catland
Anne DeAcetis
Michael Lopez
Orlando Pabotoy
Jesse J. Perez
Carlos Ponton
Steven Rishard
Katie Taber

Development cast also includes:

Youssef Kerkour
Miriam Laube
Kameron Steele
Program Information:

Scenic and Costume Design: Andrew Lieberman
Lighting Design: Gwen Grossman
Sound Design: Mike Frank
Choreography: David Nuemann
Stage Manager: Rebecca Zuber
Dramaturgy: Nathan Guisinger, Rachel Sledd, Emily Stone