Lemon Andersen on stage at The Clarice Center
By Braden Hamelin
Tony award winning poet, spoken-word artist and actor Lemon Andersen returned to the stage on March 31, performing his one-man show, “When Aliens Fall from the Sky,” at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland (UMD).
Andersen’s new spoken-word piece is a set of poems that explore complicated nuances of the modern Latinix experience in the U.S. The performance capped a week-long creative venture that brought Andersen to the university, where he participated in a residency program and the university’s Visiting Artist Series, both of which are under the auspices of The Clarice.
The residency program allowed Andersen and his director, Elise Thoron, to spend focused time developing his work. Thoron also came from New York City to College Park for the residency and performance.
“They needed time to work on writing, because there were some sections that they just needed to focus in on continuity and really creating that thread,” said Jane Hirshberg, artistic planning director at The Clarice.
Andersen stepped away from the stage in 2016 to explore a number of dimensions of his art, and performing at The Clarice was his first opportunity in a number of years to test how his work would play to an audience. During his time off, Andersen took to the road a good deal; he focused on connecting with people he met along the way in an effort to inform his work. “When Aliens Fall from the Sky ” is the end product of his explorations, and the piece represents a new creative direction for Andersen. Previously, he largely explored his own life through his work; the scope of this new piece is more expansive.
Thoron said that Andersen was working on creating a Nuyorican character — a man hailing from New York City’s Puerto Rican community. Anderson based this character on his travels across the country and envisioned the man as the connective tissue among the various stories the character tells about different people.
“This is based on his Nuyorican nomad wandering and being at different open mics — and talking to people and stories that he hears as he travels,” Thoron said, referring to the inspiration behind his piece.
Andersen crafted poems for the performance that explore the perspectives of different characters, whom Thoron described as composites of people Andersen has met.
“The process is really kind of back and forth, and that Lemon will bring in an idea of a character and text, and then we’ll often do a character interview where I will get into character, and they’ll start asking that character questions,” Throron said. “And he starts answering and kind of moving and finding voice and exploring by my just asking questions.”
This dynamic with Thoron allows Andersen to bring his composite characters to life and create stories around them. As he portrays his characters and tells their stories on stage, Anderson readily showcases his Tony award winning skills. His remarkable versatility is evident as he spins thought-provoking reflections about the identity crisis in the country’s Latinix community. This struggle is an important issue for Anderson and a major focus of his work.
During his residency at The Clarice, Andersen visited several area schools to connect with students and talk about his work. A number of students from High Point High School attended Anderson’s performance. Hirschberg underscored that outreach is an essential element of the residency program at The Clarice.
“ [Andersen] also said that he really likes talking to young people, and he’s especially interested in talking to young Latino people and just to talk about his experience with them to learn more about their experiences,” she said.
Hirschberg added that Anderson’s work centered around the Latinix community was a key factor in her decision to offer him the residency. “I decided that the subject matter was really relevant, especially since we have such a very dense population of Latinos from a variety of countries living within a five-mile radius of campus,” she said.
Anderson’s show is set to premiere in New York in 2024. For more information about Anderson and his work, and to view his TED Talk, go to ted.com/speakers/lemon_andersen