Reporting: New Orleans 2019

In June 2019, we returned to New Orleans for the second phase of our work with the city for the Performing City Resilience project. In Phase One (2018, including a visit in March/April of that year), we had surveyed arts and hazard mitigation strategy and practices through interviews, site-visits and by attending events. We report on that work here and published initial findings in an open access article here. That article theorises the significance of ‘Situation Rooms’ in New Orleans, and considers how we might rethink the form, practice and designation of these places in New Orleans and in cities internationally.

Our objectives for Phase Two were to:

  • Disseminate ideas from the survey phase, principally those published in the article, to inform arts, resilience and hazard mitigation policy development in New Orleans.
  • Further develop our thinking on the ways in which performance can be useful to the creation of new and more critically nuanced understandings of city resilience, leading to new publications.


1. Changes to Emergency Preparedness and Hazard Mitigation strategies

As a direct result of our work, the City of New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (NOHSEP) is engaged on ‘a long-term path of embedding arts and cultural practices in our strategic planning’. This is being enacted through fundamental changes to NOHSEP’s long term strategic planning and policy-making processes. Steps taken to achieve this include recognising that:

  • Art and culture ‘should be appropriately represented in critical planning and policy’ 
  • Emergency ‘preparedness and resilience work can benefit from greater [engagement with] the arts’
  • ‘[E]mergency management … can also be understood through art and culture’ [1]

Other initiatives emerging from our research and work with stakeholders:

  • NOHSEP invited the Arts Council of New Orleans to review proposals for its Comprehensive Recovery Plan.
    • Successful urban development projects will now need to explicitly address arts and culture.
  • NOHSEP partnered with a local arts organization on a successful NEA grant application.

2. Innovations in city-wide arts planning

As a direct result of our work with the Arts Council of New Orleans, a cross-arts/culture committee has been established to allow city-wide planning of cultural strategy (particularly in relation to Mardi Gras). As the first formal city-wide arts and culture planning committee, this is a significant change in local practices and a major opportunity to establish structures for collaboration across and between arts stakeholders in the city.


To acknowledge Duggan and Andrews’ “significant contribution” to hazard mitigation in the City of New Orleans, NOHSEP made the award of Challenge Coins at a gathering of key City Hall stakeholders (2019).

The Arts Council have noted how they “valued the opportunity to think about new ways of working and new areas of practice with established and emerging partners in New Orleans” and that “the international perspective of the [PCR team] created a particular sense of opportunity, urgency and a new call to action.”

Meanwhile, the Southern Rep Theatre report that our work has “expanded [the] scope for our vision … represent[ing] a fundamental shift in our own understanding of the role of the arts in our city’s fabric”. And the Marigny Opera House commented that we “have done a remarkable job… manag[ing] to initiate dialogue among the performing arts community about identifying, developing and maintaining areas of resilience for the cultural community…. caus[ing] us to consider and reconsider our strategies.” [2]

Performing City Resilience: Workshop Programme 2019

In seeking to contribute to strategic development in the city, we offered a series of workshops with organisations and institutions in New Orleans, particularly those who would be able to cascade ideas to organisations/departments with which they worked. Workshops were developed to address specific findings from our 2018 survey about organisations, their aims and objectives, and pressing concerns.

City Hall

We developed this workshop in dialogue with the Hazard Mitigation Administrator (NOHSEP). Specifically, this enabled us to situate the workshop in the existing NOHSEP-led process of developing the City’s new five-year Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Workshop participants included:

  • Hazard Mitigation Administrator (NOHSEP)
  • Senior Hazard Mitigation Specialist (NOHSEP)
  • Programme Co-ordinator (NOHSEP)
  • Chief Landscape Architect (Parkways)
  • Deputy Director of City Planning
  • Commander of New Orleans Police Department
  • Principal Planner (City Planning)
  • Planning Co-ordinator (New Orleans Fire Department)
  • Assistant Planning Administrator (City Planning)
  • City Planner
  • Senior Advisor (Mayor’s Office)
  • Coastal Resilience Manager (Resilience Office)
  • Web Manager (Chief Administrative Office – IT)
  • Chief of Staff (Chief Administrative Office – Land Use)

Arts Council of New Orleans

In this workshop, we worked with Arts Council staff to identify the ways in which their existing practices might speak to and advance resilience strategy in New Orleans. In addressing challenges to arts practices in the city, we proposed a series of interventions that the Arts Council could make in their working practices. We facilitated the development of these ideas as they relate specifically to the urgent concerns and strategic aims and objects of the Arts Council. Our priority was to develop innovations that could implemented quickly and easily.


  • Executive Director
  • Deputy Director / Director of Place and Civic Design
  • Director Artist Services
  • Creative Director
  • Strategic Development Director

Site Visits 

Working with senior hazard mitigation officials and executive directors from the Arts Council, the Southern Rep Theatre and the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans, we facilitated a site-visit workshop at arts and cultural venues in the city (The Historic New Orleans Collection, Art of the City: Postmodern to Post-Katrina and Music Box Village). This was designed to situate and place into conversation the ways in which arts and city stakeholders understand, articulate and contribute to city resilience. Through a series of facilitated exercises, we revealed and invited reflection on common challenges, and discussed the ways in which cross-sector working might be deployed to address those challenges.

Community Engagement Events

In a series of gatherings, we shared our research on arts and resilience with arts and cultural stakeholders and community-members across the City, hosted at the Arts Council of New Orleans, the Southern Rep Theatre, and Treme’s Petit Jazz Museum. Through these events, we generated a body of comments and reflections on the challenges facing the city, and the ways that arts cultural practices and organisations are already in engaged in addressing these – in ways that might go unnoticed but that are, potentially, vital to the City’s future. This body of work was fed back to decision makers within City Hall and will be informing our forthcoming publications.


[1] Citations from Ryan Mast, Hazard Mitigation Administrator (NOHSEP) (2019), letter to directors (full correspondence available on request).

[2] Citations from Aimee Hayes (Southern Rep Theatre), Alphonse Smith (Arts Council New Orleans) and Dave Hurlbert (Marigny Opera House), letters/emails to directors (full correspondences available on request)

Publishing: ‘Situation Rooms…’

We are excited to announce that the first. academic publication from Performing City Resiliance is out:

‘Situation Rooms: Performing City Resiliance in New Orleans” (Stuart Andrews and Patrick Duggan)

The essay is available open access via (and attached below) – do please have a read and let us know what you think. We’re excited to be follow-up this work with another visit to the ever fascinating and beguiling New Orleans in June!

Essay: Duggan_Andrews_resilience



In October 2018, we presented some of our initial findings from New Orleans (2018) at the SALUS annual Healthy City Design international congress on ‘Equity and resilience: Creating healthy cities for all’.

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You can see our talk here:

A longer version of this paper is being published shortly by the journal Liminalities; we will provide a link to that once it’s out.

Returning (to New Orleans)

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We are delighted to announce that we have secured funding from the University of Surrey for a return research trip to New Orleans. In this second visit, our work will focus on developing interdisciplinary perspectives on performance, the arts and resilience in New Orleans that can be operationalised in both practice and policy. We will be working with artists, NOLA culture bearers, cultural organisations and stakeholders in city resilience.

We’d love to hear from anyone we met on our last visit, as well as anyone new who is interested in this work. We will be in New Orleans 1 – 12 June 2019. Contact information here.


Calling (for papers): ‘Staging the Wreckage’

Patrick is co-editing a special issue of the journal Performance Research (with Gianna Bouchard, University of Birmingham, UK), entitled ‘Staging the Wreckage’. The theme has many synergies with the work of Performing City Resilience, indeed Patrick will be writing on New Orleans in the issue, and so we are very please to include the CFP here:

Performance Research, Volume 24, Issue 5: Staging the Wreckage

Deadline: 27 August 2018. Issue Editors: Gianna Bouchard and Patrick Duggan

Imagine walking into a vast and chilly aeroplane hangar.

Imagine encountering a space that is so vast that your own body’s scale and fleshy fragility becomes strikingly apparent to you in startling contrast to the volume and metallic solidity of the room.

Imagine the chill of this space.

Imagine its enveloping, sparse, metal-and-concrete scenography.

Imagine entering this space in search of answers.

Imagine entering this space in search of answers about the death of a loved one.

Imagine entering this space in search of answers about the death of a loved one who has perished, unexplained, in a plane crash.

Imagine entering this space in search of answers about the death of a loved one who has died in an unexplained aeroplane crash, and seeing the wreckage of that crash laid out for your interrogation.

Imagine that wreckage being one of four or five staged in the same space.

Imagine the room abuzz with the activity of investigators and others mourning, picking over the wreckage in search of…

From the destruction of the Twin Towers in 2001, to the devastation of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, to the images of the current refugee crisis and recent terrorist atrocities, the early twenty-first century has witnessed increased media interest in showing all kinds of wreckage to a global audience. While these particular examples are captured in images of the debris and detritus of a catastrophe, there has also been a significant turn, particularly in the UK, to the descriptions and linguistic performances of emotional and psychological wreckage, from the victims of various high-profile sexual grooming and abuse cases, to survivors and witnesses of other events. Wreckage is also increasingly made available through the rise of television dramas that deal with violence and representations of its aftermath. Theatre also often calls on stagings of wreckage to show the labour of performance, the inevitable failure of representation and the disasters immanent in human relations. Companies such as Forced Entertainment and Societas Raffaello Sanzio deliberately and provocatively perform wreckage as an intrinsic part of their theatrical practice.

The calling forth of the wreckage in these moments, whether through personal narrative, the detritus of performance or the crumpled remains of the fuselage of an aircraft is a means of trying to deal with the calamity, a way of keeping it in memory and a deliberate staging of the evidence. Once the wreckage is revealed, the resultant ricocheting of images and affect across the media and society can have a significant impact, spurring public enquiries, prosecutions, policy revisions and other forms of reflection and memorial. The loss of control implicit in the wreckage is often partially recuperated through future-oriented control of its visibility and dissemination.

This issue of Performance Research invites a consideration of these wider social and cultural contexts, as well as to more explicitly theatrical examples. In thinking about increased demands for staging the wreckage and showing the products of catastrophe, we invite contributors to consider such things as an ethics of spectatorship in relation to the wreck, documentation of the wreckage, its theatrical and performative staging, the effect of wreckage and its potential for salvage and renewal. Essentially, this issue asks: what does the staging of wreckage do? The issue is concerned not so much with the initial event but with the trace of the thing and the way that that trace is staged or performed.

To which end, ‘staging the wreckage’ may refer to or be concerned with (but is not limited to):

·         re-presentation/aestheticization of the wreckage of objects, materials and bodies

·         absence of/and staged wreckage

·         controlled (access to) wreckages

·         impossible wreckage/impossible salvage

·         accident investigations: planes, cars, boats, trains and so forth

·         human wreckage

·         relationships

·         stages after the performance has ended

·         performances that represent wreckage

·         medical procedures and documentations of such

·         historical staging of wrecking

·         ecological disasters and environmental waste

·         nuclear fallout and its documentation

·         staging of high-profile resignations

·         the day after an election

·         illness

·         death and death rituals

·         war

·         bad museum curating

·         (domestic) arguments

·         performance and trauma

·         therapy

·         giving bad news to someone you love

·         giving bad news to someone you hardly know

·         trauma tourism

·         the creation of trauma/memorial sites

·         school nativity plays

·         spilt milk

·         computer viruses, technological collapse

·         being set up (for a crime you didn’t commit)

·         fact and fiction of crime scenes

·         stock market crashes and graphic depictions of that

·         detritus from a really good party

·         suicide

·         sporting wreckages

·         postmodernity and wreckage

·         modernity as wreckage (after Benjamin, for example)

·         wreckage and biography

·         redundancy

·         reality TV (including auditions)

·         symbolic presentations of wreckage

·         representations of wreckage in theatre, performance, live art

·         deliberate wreckage in performance (breaking/smashing the performance)

·         the wreckage of performance (corpsing, interruptions, technical failure)

·         corpses/dissected bodies/wounded bodies

·         dementia/degenerative illness/memory loss

·         the wreckage of democracy

We are inviting longer essays (from 4,000 to 6,000 words), shorter provocations (2,000 words) and artist pages (number of pages to be agreed with the editors).

Please send 300–400 word abstracts plus a 100 word bio for artists pages, critical essays, interviews, practice research essays or provocations that attend to (but are not limited to) any aspect of the above.


Proposals: Monday 27 August 2018

First drafts: December 2018

Final drafts: February 2019

Publication: July/August 2019

Issue contacts:

All proposals, submissions and general enquiries should be sent direct to Performance Research at:

Issue-related enquiries should be directed to the issue editors:

Patrick Duggan (University of Surrey):

Gianna Bouchard (University of Birmingham):


General Guidelines for Submissions: 

•           Before submitting a proposal, we encourage you to visit our website ( ) and familiarize yourself with the journal.

•           Proposals will be accepted by email (Microsoft Word or Rich Text Format (RTF)). Proposals should not exceed one A4 side.

•           Please include your surname in the file name of the document you send.

•           Please include the issue title and issue number in the subject line of your email.

•           Submission of images and other visual material is welcome provided that all attachments do not exceed 5 MB, and there is a maximum of five images.

•           Submission of a proposal will be taken to imply that it presents original, unpublished work not under consideration for publication elsewhere.

•           If your proposal is accepted, you will be invited to submit an article in first draft by the deadline indicated above. On the final acceptance of a completed article you will be asked to sign an author agreement in order for your work to be published in Performance Research.


IMG_0070PD: We’ve been told to meet Laura [Paul] at ‘Orleans and North Rampart’, outside a bar called Voodoo Lounge. The bar’s red paint is sun bleached, its walls cracked and crumbling slightly. The bar seems friendly enough but we can’t see anyone that we can immediately identify as our ‘tour guide’ [2]. Waiting outside I become anxious about having missed Laura somehow. I’m also preoccupied thinking about how much of a donation we should give the organisation ( if and when she does take us to the area of the city most heavily devastated by Katrina and the subsequent levee breach on the Industrial Canal. I’m probably also a bit jet-lagged which doesn’t help.

After some minutes of furtively popping our heads around the door to see if we could identify Laura (what were we expecting, I wonder? Branded t-shirts, a sign with our names on it…), she comes out and asks if I’m ‘Peter’. After the initial awkwardness of correcting her on my name, we shake hands and do introductions whereupon Laura leads us to her car, a beaten-up, well used pick-up truck (a Toyota I think) and we climb in. I get in the front passenger seat. Stuart comments on our having been noticing the size of such cars, some so large the bonnets are at chin height on him. She seems confused by the comment and I wonder about the clash of cultures that it might signal; I suddenly feel that there is something decidedly British about small talk. I notice the seat is loose and that it slides back and forth on its fixings as we break and accelerate. I hope we won’t crash.

SA: For what seems a sizeable truck, I am struck by the small size of the side windows. They appear as portholes of a kind, the view outside marked by the frame of the interior. I feel enclosed, secure but separate from the places we pass. Laura begins by talking to us both but quickly talks more to Patrick. I find I spend time looking through the rear window, seeing houses, streets and empty plots through the neat lines that in frostier climates would heat the rear window. My gaze is less directed, my view is of left, right and the road behind, rather than entirely determined by the way ahead.

PD: Immediately after we get going, Laura invites us to a barbeque for volunteers that she is hosting at her home in the Lower Ninth that evening. It is a disarming invitation, one that I hadn’t been expecting. I find it awkward to know what to say; it seems a beautifully generous offer that is designed, as Laura says, to help us to understand the Lower Ninth better. But we only know the area by reputation and so, unsure of how we would get there – or back – and having commitments nearer our own ‘home’ for the trip we decline the offer. I wonder if it is a choice I will regret.

The day before the drive, we had been told that people in the city were ‘done with Katrina’, bored of talking about it. We mention this to Laura and her reaction suggests that it is an over simplification at best, and a profound articulation of privilege on the other: one can only be ‘done’ with it if one is no longer facing it. On the drive from the bar to the St Claude Avenue bridge over the Industrial Canal (some 3 stop-start miles), Laura is animated about her work and what brought her to the City: she is Canadian, we discover, and was a volunteer in the immediate aftermath of Katrina but never left. She tells us that this will be the most biased tour we could ever have. I’m glad of the disclaimer at the time but its importance recurs throughout the hour and 40 minutes we spend with her.

Laura’s (near) monologue is incredibly fast and she moves from one register or topic to another without pause or acknowledgement of the shift: complaining about some erratic driving in front of us merges with statistics about the city merges with politicised commentary on the tour or the city. I find myself concentrating very hard on trying to ‘tune in’. She ‘helps’ me by intermittently but frequently moving her hand from the steering wheel to tap me on the arm with the back of her hand. Later, after the tour has ended, I’m struck by how familiar this movement and touch was but also how insistent I found it in its breaking of my personal space and in physically punctuating the monologue on my body. It also made me acutely aware of being in the car.


SA: As tour groups go, this is small. I’d expected there might be more conversation, that there might be more down-time between particular stops. I find myself disconcerted by the lack of small talk, the lack of connection, of conversation. It became clear that this isn’t a place where we might have anything of particular value to say, it is about listening, being present, not negotiating, reflecting on and responding to the experience.  But, of course, offers tours and we’ve booked a tour, Laura is keen we discover the place, that’s the purpose of all this. Yet, it was odd trying to make sense of a place from inside a car. And, it was unsettling sharing the space of a car and remaining in the mode of a tour. As the tour continues, I am struck by the contrast between the relative ordinariness of sitting in a car and the enormity of events that have had such a significant and sustained effect on the places at which we stop, and those we pass by. I wonder what it would have been like to have stayed for a barbecue, and whether we might then have all slipped from the conventions of the tour, when we would not be looking at a place through windows, but there, in person, out for an evening. I begin to think that might be more difficult, that suddenly we would need to have words with which we might engage with people and place.


PD: Pulling up at the bridge, Laura barely nods towards the traffic jam evolving before us and to the bridge beyond saying that we are now encountering first-hand the ‘environmental racism’ that divides the Lower Ninth from the City. The bridge is up to let a ship along the canal and we have to wait. This can take up to 30 minutes, we’re told; and we’re asked to think about the implications of that in terms of emergency services getting to a crisis given none are based on the Lower Ninth side of the canal.

Crossing the bridge I’m struck by the vastness of this manmade waterway. Even from above it is a scale that dwarfs the architecture on either side of it, and while I do not know it yet (for it will be some days until I witness it for myself) – you have to look up at passing ships from the street level. We turn a hard right immediately we exit the bridge, the car pulling up to an abrupt stop. This is the area farthest from the Levee breach that devastated this area, so the part of the Lower Ninth least impacted (though still flooded). It’s now gentrifying quickly and I’m shocked to discover that there are even AirBnB properties in the neighbourhood (an issue of some contention in the city as a whole). Laura asks us to note the vernacular of the architecture, extoling the virtues of good, old design practices that enable homes to be cool in the ferocious heat of the summer.

We drive on, crumping over huge potholes, being shaken around the cab of the truck. Still at the southern end of the district, that area ‘least’ impacted by the flooding that was a consequence of the Industrial Canal levee breach, we pull up at a shell of a home destroyed by the flooding and subsequent neglect over time. It seems to me in need of tearing down and starting again: “we could fix that up easily, it’s actually in pretty good shape”, Laura says, before explaining that the barge board [3] inner skin of the house still looks strong. A few yards further on we pull up at an abandoned home, it looks in better condition but the orange ‘Katrina cross’ still marks it out as ‘blight’. We’ve already seen a number of houses in other parts of the city that have been done up but that have kept their cross. Laura explains how the X system works, with each quadrant containing specific information in an internationally agreed code and I’m relieved that no one died here [4]. I ask if it would be ‘deeply inappropriate’ to take a photo. Laughing, Laura ribs me for the phrase but says it would be fine before thanking me for asking. I don’t really understand why one wouldn’t ask, this was someone’s home.


We drive past two beautiful, ornate properties that we discover were built by a Steamboat captain called Doullut and designed to flood up to the first floor. I want to pause here and look more closely but we move on. We pause surrounded by (mostly) renovated houses with neat gardens and are asked to look around and remember the scene, and to look north along the 1.7 miles of Flood Street that is to our left. Later we will be asked to recall that moment, noting the extraordinary difference that 2 miles makes.

We swing right into property owned by the Port of New Orleans, a gravelly track leads up a short steep hill that we accelerate up. At the top we can see the Mississippi River and realise that we are on a river levee. A woman runs towards us along a dirt track at the top, I wonder where she has come from, how far she is planning to run, and how she is coping with the heat. After talking about the port a little, we accelerate back down the hill in reverse; the car moves unnecessarily fast in what is evidently a practiced manoeuvre but one that is unnerving nonetheless.

SA: I find myself looking back through the lines of the rear window. I become aware of lines on the land, the waterways that bisect the land, the high watermarks on houses. Laura stops to show us the industrial canal on her phone. It takes a while for her to load the map, but it’s clearly important. The canal is not natural, she explains, this isn’t the meandering way that water flows. As we pass houses, and the remains – or lack of remains – of houses, so she indicates the strategic decisions that are at play here, that led to the building of the canal, and the decisions that have followed Katrina. These streets feel a long way from the city, I wonder how many people visit the ward in their experience of the city, of how places away from the centre of a city are understood as being part of that city (and as being implicated in discussion with those central areas). We are seeing plans, decisions, structures, the work of recovery – and the limits of this work.


PD: We turn to face north and begin moving up through the district, Laura waves at everyone, a friendly and familiar greeting but I can’t work out who she actually knows and who she is just greeting because it is the friendly thing to do. We stop at her house and she calls to her dogs who stare at the car, seemingly ambivalent to our arrival. We drive on. Some blocks later, we approach a house that is being renovated, there are some teenagers smiling and chatting outside it and a coach a few meters further on. This is one of the houses that are in the process of doing-up. It’s nearly finished. As we approach, the car slows to a stop and Laura asks how the group outside are doing. A moment later, a man emerges from the front door and waves enthusiastically, asking if we’re stopping in to have a look. Laura beckons him over and he bounds down the front steps, along the path and up to the car. They chat and Laura explains she doesn’t have time to stop. They have just hung the kitchen cabinets. The house is nearly finished. We are not introduced which feels odd: there is an odd distancing effect enacted as the man clearly notices us but we aren’t afforded a chance to say hello. The result is that I find the encounter unsettling, as though I have been unwillingly made a voyeur. Or that I am on some kind of human safari. I feel my (white, male, middle class, educated) privilege heavily weigh in this encounter and although I am here for what I would consider legitimate (research, not tourist) reasons, I cannot help but feel I am participating in something ethically troubling. We drive away and I meekly mumble goodbye. I wonder who he was. I really wanted to see the house.

Driving further north we see an increasing number of empty plots, absences in the landscape where houses used to stand. Earlier in our trip we had interviewed someone who described the Lower Ninth as ‘a bit rural’, I wonder if this is what they meant. Of course, these lots are not really empty – they have been overtaken by nature in a curious sort of way. The boundary lines between properties are discernible, either marked out by some kind of fence or, more often, by the differentiation between one lot being mowed and cleared of debris, and another being wild, overgrown, and “given back” to nature in an eerie kind of way. This is a particular kind of staging of absence and wreckage, one that acknowledges the disparity in those who can make it back to the area to work on their plot and those who can’t. These are the traces of lives not (yet) recovered. We are told that the City insists lots are cleared or that they will reclaim the land. I remember Laura’s statement that this is the most ‘biased tour in the world’ and wonder if there isn’t a more complex, nuanced element to this statement. I feel guilty for doubting it.

There are no sidewalks (although there are corners of sidewalk at cross-roads). There are no streetlights. There are very few working fire hydrants. There are uncovered storm drains everywhere: they are at least two feet wide, 4 feet long and 5 feet deep. These cavernous, gaping mouths seem symptomatic of a broken bureaucracy. They are also violent in the threat that they pose to anyone using the streets. Some stretches of the road have been resurfaced, maybe twenty meters in length. There seems no logic to the repairs and they abut other bits of the road that are potholed, cracked, riven. The pickup truck is bounced and bucked remorselessly, my seat shifts back and forward violently throughout. Piles of construction debris and dumped domestic waste are often interrupting the flow of the road. Apparently people drive to the Lower Ninth to burn out cars. It feels like a place out of time and out of place, it is dislocated and isolated. But people smile and offer a wave as we pass. Across a clear stretch of greenery we spot a large and new building. It’s a high school; we don’t go to see it properly.

We come to the other end of Flood Street. Unlike the southerly end, the scene here is one of abandonment. Scrub has grown up on what would once have been the places where homes stood. The area would clearly have been well populated. It feels lonely now, haunted by the regular and rectangular outlines of plots of land where families once lived. A little further to the west, we arrive at the very edge of the district. Marked out by a sloping grass verge, atop of which is a tall, hash, sharp line of dark grey wall that parallels the street below. The Industrial Canal and its new levee wall. We are dwarfed by the architecture, made small by its height and length. We pause under the wall, at right angles to it. This is where the most catastrophic breach of the levee system in the city took place during Katrina. I’m struck by how much the looming architecture of the levee wall makes me think of being inside a prison [5]. There is one, fairly large house to our left, its front porch addresses the levee. Stuart asks how people who live looking out at it feel. ‘Safe’, Laura says.


We drive along the levee for a few hundred meters before turning off to find our way towards a bridge back over the canal and towards the city centre. We’ve been in the Lower Ninth for about 90 minutes. We have not passed a single café, restaurant, or grocery store. Apparently a ‘drug store’ has recently opened near a bridge across the Canal. As we cross the bridge, I start to feel a bit broken by the experience. I want to be very quiet and to be with my own thoughts but I try to listen diligently to the information being imparted. We drive past what I later learn is an ‘evacuspot’ [6].

We pull up, back outside the Voodoo Lounge and get out of the truck. There is an awkward moment where we try to negotiate the handover of our contribution for the tour, neither of us really too sure of how this works. We hand over the money. Laura thanks us for our interest in seeing the Lower Ninth and in her organisation’s work. It seems a generous acknowledgement, after all it was she who has shown us around. I am exhausted and overwhelmed. I cannot process the experience nor describe to Stuart how I am feeling (about and in light of it). We head into the French Quarter and it seems a million miles from where we have just been. I find that I am fairly shaken up but I can’t quite work out why. Talking about it the next morning I find it similarly unnerved. I know that I will write about it.

NOTES (relating to PD’s entries)

[1] I am in the process of developing an academic essay that, in part, explores the experience of this ‘tour’, it will be published in a special edition of Performance Research entitled ‘Staging the Wreckage’ (24:4, Summer 2019).

[2] I use scare quotes here because while this is a tour, it isn’t a commercial one. Indeed, Laura later tells us that the ‘Hurricane Katrina Tour’ run by Grey Line (and other commercial tours) is no longer permitted to go into the Lower Ninth and that the only way to see it as a ‘tour’ is with a Non-profit organisation like hers.

[3] See:

[4] See:

[5] In Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker’s wonderful book Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, Lydia Pelot-Hobbs presents a short essay entitled ‘Of Levees and Prisons’ which outlines the connections and parallels between the history of the development of the levee and penal systems across Louisiana and in New Orleans itself.

[6] See: (somewhat troublingly, these figures are often referred to as ‘evacumen’)




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Having recently returned from conducting research in New Orleans, our first case study city for the Performing City Resilience project, we reflect here on key elements of that research and point to follow-up work.


In preparation for this field research trip and our broader Performing City Resilience project, we met with

Bristol City Council:

Chief Resilience Officer

Head of Culture

Head of Civil Protection Unit


Belfast City Council:

Senior Consultant (Smart Cities Team)

European Officer.


100 Resilient Cities

Programme Manager: Europe and the Middle East

City Solutions Manager

In each instance, there was great support for the project and recognition that it had the potential to fill a gap in current thinking and practice internationally.


New Orleans

As a city that has now ‘bounced back’ from disaster (a ‘shock’), New Orleans (NOLA) is now a thriving, diverse, and culturally expansive city but one that faces significant and ongoing social, political and environmental challenges (‘stresses’) – as such, it is a key city in understanding how cultural practices contribute to performing city resilience. It is, of course, impossible to capture the complexity of resilience, both as it relates to arts practices and more broadly to the particular geo-politics of NOLA. Thus, in visiting the city, our intention was not to try to flatten this complexity, nor to suggest a ubiquitous approach to performance as productive to discourses and policies of resilience. Rather, we sought to experience and reflect on some of the city’s complex arts scene(s) to see if and how they might contribute positively to a re-articulation of resilience that includes arts practices as well as infrastructure and disaster recovery narratives.

Over the course of the research trip we met with members of the city’s arts, city planning and government, and commercial communities to begin to develop a network of practitioners working in resilience in the context of future proofing NOLA to environmental and socio-political ‘stresses and shocks’. We also carried out a survey of arts activity taking place in NOLA at the time of the visit.


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Meetings and Interviews

  • Neil Barclay, Director and CEO, Contemporary Arts Centre
  • David Hurlbert, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Marigny Opera House and Director of The Marigny Opera Ballet
  • Laura Paul, Executive Director,
  • Nick Slie, performer, producer, cultural organiser, and co-director of Mondo Bizarro.
  • Maxwell Williams, Artistic Director, and James Lanius, Production Manager, Le Petit Theatre.
  • Shannon Flaherty and Chris Kaminstein, Co-Artistic Directors, Goat in the Road Productions
  • Aimee Hayes, Producing Artistic Director, Southern Rep.
  • Arts Council New Orleans:
    • Heidi Schmalbach, President and CEO,
    • Jocelyn Reynolds, Director of Artist Services
    • Alphonse Smith, Director of Place and Civic Design
    • Lindsey Glatz, Director of Marketing and Communications, and Director of Luna Fête
    • Laura Dean-Shapiro, Strategic Development Officer
  • Doug MacCash, Arts Correspondent, Times –Picayune/
  • Ryan Mast, Director of Resilience and Sustainability and Hazard Mitigation Administrator, Mayor’s Office, New Orleans Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness
  • Andrew Larimer, Co-founder of NOLA Project, independent director, and Chief Creative Officer at Fat Happy Media.
  • Delaney Martin, Co-founder and Artistic Director, New Orleans Airlift
  • Glauco Adorno, local freelance curator.
  • Justin Maxwell, playwright and Assistant Professor, University of New Orleans.
  • Victor Holtcamp, Associate Professor, Tulane University
  • Members of Mardi Gras krewes


Forthcoming Interviews

  • Tommye Myrick, writer, producer, director and restaurant-owner
  • Denise Frazier, Assistant Director of the New Orleans Centre for the Gulf South (Tulane University), performer and musician.

We also have invitations to correspond with a number of people who attended the event at CAC, and will be following these up shortly.

Version 3

Site-visits and Performances

  • Le Petit Theatre (French Quarter)
  • Crescent Park
  • Marigny Opera House (Marigny Bywater)
  • Southern Rep Theatre (Seventh Ward, venue under construction)
  • Fritzel’s (French Quarter, music venue)
  • Lower Ninth Ward ( tour)
  • Second Line viewing (Frenchman Street)
  • Easter Parade (Jackson Square)
  • The Stranger Disease, Madame John’s Legacy (site-specific, immersive performance, Louisiana State Museum)
  • From These Roots, Music Box Village (site-specific music and dance, Marigny Bywater)
  • Emergency Operations Centre, NOLA Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness
  • Why Is Everything A Rag, Jockum Nordström, CAC
  • Lee Circle (CBD, site of monument removal, 2017, General Robert E Lee)
  • Industrial Canal (site of major levee breach during Katrina)
  • Congo Square, Louis Armstrong Park (Treme-Lafitte)
  • Markets: Auction House (Warehouse), St. Roch (South 7thWard), French Quarter Market.
  • Lafayette Cemetery (Faubourg)
  • See also ‘Walking’ for discussion of the city as site (31-3-18 blog entry,


Public-facing Activities

From the beginning of this project, we have been convinced by the value and importance of engaging with key city stakeholders as a core activity within the research process. During this fieldwork, we hosted a public conversation about our project and about the city and its arts and culture. Leading up to this, we published a number of blog entries that reflected our emerging understandings of city, and our work in it.

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The Arts and City Resilience, public workshop-discussion, Contemporary Arts Centre (CAC)

In this workshop-discussion, we presented initial findings from interviews, performance attendance, site visits and observations of the city, before opening up to a wider discussion of those findings with the audience.

At the end of the meeting, we invited participants to offer reflections on the following points, in writing:

  1. What one thing will you take away from this event?
  2. What one action will you take as a result of the event?
  3. What would you like to tell us?

Responses to these questions, together with an audio recording of the event, will inform our analysis and resulting publications, they will also form part of an impact exhibition we are designing (see below). Information on attendees and feedback from the event is listed below.

 Blog Entries (

We developed a strategy for blog entries that arose from initial observations in the city, which embeds various kinds of practice as key drivers of each blog entry. We created six blog entries (‘Landing’, ‘Listening’, ‘Eating’, ‘Walking’, ‘Noticing’, ‘Asking’; c.3200 words, performative reflections, academic writing, photo essay). The next two blog entries will be ‘Reporting’ and ‘Gathering’.


Project Impact

We are beginning to chart the impact of this project on arts and city professionals in and beyond New Orleans. Recently,

  • We were invited to do a podcast with Parksify ( We will be doing a follow-up interview in the coming weeks.


  • Performing City Resilience and, in particular, the work in New Orleans, was featured on the On TAP podcast (and website), hosted by Sarah Bay-Cheng, Pannill Camp, and Harvey Young. Camp described the work as

‘a really fascinating project designed to understand how arts practice contributes to resilience of cities… it sounds like a great project’ (Pannill Camp, On TAP022, April 2018).


  • 32 people signed up for the CAC event, including artists, directors of arts organisations, city government officials, curators, and commercial stakeholders – and included residents of and visitors to the city.

Participants to this event noted the following key things:

  1. There is no shared language with which to have conversations in and about the arts in the city; relatedly, there had been, until this event, no identified space or opportunity for open, non-instrumentalised meetings on arts and culture in the city.
  2. We were the first people to facilitate a meeting that raised questions about the cultural and socio-political function of the arts in New Orleans, as they relate to resilience challenges – and that this was identified in the meeting as a needed and welcome intervention.
  3. Our perspective as international outsiders was welcome and useful in helping local stakeholders identify what ‘work’ their practice or institution was doing.
  4. There were people in the room who had not met each other and that there was a commitment to continue the conversation after we had left.


Next Steps

  1. Conference paper reflecting on our time in New Orleans, needs identified by city stakeholders, and findings from the field research:
  2. A joint-authored, interdisciplinary article contextualising our research in relation to extant resilience theory, performance studies and our work in New Orleans. This will directly respond to requests by interviewees and members of the CAC event audience for meaningful ways to bridge the gaps between arts practices and city resilience planning.
  3. Drawing specifically on our time in New Orleans, we intend to publish a joint-authored article explicating research practices for understanding and engaging with with a specific city, using performance analysis, interview material, resilience theory, and observations of places and practices of the city.


If you attended the event at CAC, if you’re interested in this project, or its emerging activities and findings, do please contact us for more information.





Version 3

Today we are holding an event at the Contemporary Arts Centre in New Orleans. We’re going to offer some very tentative thoughts about our time in the city, have a conversation, and ask people to make their own reflections on the event and what they’ve taken from it.

We are asking:

  • What one thing will you take away from this event?
  • What one action will you take as a result of the event?
  • What would you like to tell us?


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Over the last eight days, we’ve been meeting with various arts practitioners, arts organisations and their staff, and other city stakeholders, and seen some performance practices that are happening in the city at the moment. We’ve been asking all of the people that we’ve met a series of questions that we think are relevant to the broader concerns of Performing City Resilience. These have included asking about the city’s: challenges, arts infrastructure, audiences, collaborations, engagement with the arts as a social, political or cultural concern, artists’ understanding of their position in the ways the city thinks about itself.

From these conversations, some of the things we have noticed have been to do with the centrality of cultural practices as part of the city’s fundamental understanding of itself, that different spaces and companies have different audiences but that many of these spaces and companies are directly engaged with increasing diversity in these audiences. That there are multiple inequities that divide, for example, across race, class, economics, and one’s time in the city. Allied to this, the city has challenging infrastructure, and faces changing environmental conditions (both ecological and in terms of ‘recovery’ and ‘reconstruction’). Despite these, people dance in the streets, spend a year crafting costumes for a single event, and music is everywhere. That eating together is important. That artists are profoundly engaged in thinking about the challenges that the city faces, as well as the joys of living here, in with and through their work. This is often implicit and deeply embedded in their work rather than an explicit ‘mission’.

The city has a rich and plural arts scene, that has the potential to contribute to resilience thinking for itself, in relationship to formalised processes of resilience at city government level, and from this, inform more nuanced understandings of resilience internationally. However, there is no unified language to facilitate this potential and perhaps this is where our project has something to offer. In the coming months, we will be working on blogs that reflect on our trip here, as well as academic publishing that theorises our findings in more concrete ways.

For now, we are looking forward to our event at the Contemporary Arts Centre at 6pm tomorrow ( and, hopefully, to facilitating an interesting and timely conversation about Performing City Resilience with makers, spectators, resilience professionals, residents from and visitors to New Orleans.


Very quickly after getting here, we realised we were going to have to traverse the city repeatedly to get to the meetings we had organised and to attend the buildings that are most relevant to the project. We have chosen to do this on foot, walking significant distances across different areas of the city, observing changing landscapes, atmospheres, and incidental moments of everyday performance. This isn’t ‘walking performance’ per se but has become something more useful to our thinking than just being about getting places. In part this is because it has allowed us to engage in a small way with what Ana Paulina Lee calls New Orleans’ complex ‘memoryscapes, the spatial and material dimensions of cultural memory’ (2017: 72) that are in conversation with the city’s rich and diverse performance and cultural histories.

From second lines to busking, marching bands to street poets, walking tours to Mardis Gras parades, New Orleans is a city that is at least in part defined by performances that take place in the streets. In this context, we have found walking in those streets to be important in revealing something about the city and its performances. Walking has enabled us to attend to the incidental and the serendipitous, to the performances that we’ve noticed happening around us, both formal aesthetic practices and those that are more part of the everyday.

The photos below document some of our time spent walking.


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PD: In their essay ‘Making Groceries: Leadership, free spaces and narratives of meaning in post-Katrina New Orleans’ (2013), Menck and Couto argue that food can act as a ‘visceral representation of belonging’ (p. 424), that is, it can come both to define a place and be a profound means with which we construct, enact and experience ‘home’ through everyday practices.  In the first few days of our being in the city the fundamental importance of food has been reiterated time and again by the people we have been speaking with. It has become apparent that eating, making, and sharing food is considered an essential part of the cultural identity of the city and its people. Indeed, the importance of food has become a refrain in all of the meetings we’ve had so far.


Maxwell Williams, the Artistic Director of Le Petit Theatre, spoke of food as a means through which one is welcomed to the city. An outsider to the city he came here for the job rather than the ‘outsider’ position being problematic he encountered people who said, in his words, ‘Welcome! Ya want something to eat?’.


Our own encounter with this mode of welcome and generosity came just two minutes into meeting Laura Paul from the non-profit organization Having arranged to be shown around their rebuilding efforts in the Lower Ninth ward of the city, we met Laura at the Voodoo Lounge on North Rampart Street. After climbing into her well-used pick-up truck and offering initial introductions, Laura turned to us to say she was hosting a BBQ at her house in the Lower Ninth for volunteers of the organization and some locals that evening and would we like to come? We’d be very welcome and, she said, it would ‘continue our education’ on the Lower Ninth.


For James Carville (ctd. in Menck and Couto), food in New Orleans is about ‘love, lust, art, taste and diversity’ (p. 419) and, for Menck and Couto, ‘food spaces, like farmers markets, restaurants, cafes and bars’ do ‘emotional work because they reinforce local cultural food traditions, feeding both the body and the soul.’ (p. 425). This was reinforced when we met David Hurlbert, who runs the Marigny Opera House, as he pointed out that people ‘expect food’ if they are attending an event, and he later waxed lyrical about the culinary heritage of the city and the centrality of food to living, working and visiting it. His enthusiasm for red beans and rice guided our lunch choice that afternoon.


On the first full day here we went to the Contemporary Art Centre to introduce ourselves to Neil Barclay (the executive director) and talk through the event we are running there at the end of our trip. He gave generously of his time and energy in engaging with the ideas of the project. As an early encounter in the city, it was exciting to explore the potential of the event to open up new conversation on arts, the city and its challenges with him. And we were struck by his comment that while the arts practitioners of the city (especially at an institutional level) know each other and support one another, they don’t necessarily talk collectively about concerns they have in, for, and with the city. It seemed to open up the potential for our work here to contribute something, however small.

But how best to do this? We came in with a plan to present work, to ask for respondents, to facilitate a workshop-type event. Neil mentioned it’d be good to gather around a glass of wine and some food, and when we said we hadn’t arranged for food he immediately insisted this was a necessity and that he’d be happy for CAC to provide it. Beyond the generosity of this offer, the inclusion of food changes the dynamic of the event. It makes it more collegiate, more social, more embodied and, crucially, we realized it returned us to focusing on discussion. Eating has changed how we will run the event: made it more useful, less about us and more about a conversation about ideas.

What has become clear since landing is that eating is fundamental to the city’s identity.


SA: We’re at St. Roch Market, on St Claude Avenue. It is an old, single-storey building, with a high metal and glass roof, held up by central pillars. There are stalls down the long sides of the interior and tables and chairs in the centre: high wooden tables with stools, plastic tables and chairs at either end. We had gone there for coffee, sitting outside in the heat of the day. As time passes, the building begins to fill a little, there are families, people in suits who may work locally, soldiers in fatigues, one at least eating alone. This, it appears, is a popular place. It’s also racially mixed, there are a range of ages. I chat to a mother and daughter outside, asking about where we should leave our coffee mugs, they ask about our accents, we comment on the day.

We wander between stalls, reading the large menus printed on signboards above each one, and looking at the food laid out on counters. As we pass, people seem in good humour, there are friendly family conversations, people stroll easily from stalls to tables. There may be tourists here, and others for whom this place is unfamiliar, but the suits and fatigues suggest this is a place used and known by people from the city, if not from near neighbourhoods.

We order a ‘sampler’: shrimp and grits, red beans and rice, crawfish poutine. Standing reading the menu, Patrick remembers David Hurlbert’s comment about the importance of food, specifically red rice and beans, to the city. It seems appropriate we try this for ourselves. It’s the first meal where I stop to attend to the ingredients, where I send an inexpertly taken photo home. The crawfish melt in the mouth (a wondrous sensation that I have a day or so later with braised beef cheeks at Sylvain, on Chartres Street).

As we interview artists in New Orleans, they talk to us about food. One interviewee easily elides ‘welcome’ and ‘food’ as if they are one and the same. They speak of the importance of food to the South and to this city. If we are to talk about artistic practice in New Orleans, then we need talk about the food that, artists tell us, again and again, is so critical to life in the city. Of course, this is complex. Writing in 2007, and based on his interviews with tourism professionals, Kevin Fox Gotham comments that ‘food, music and history constitute the “holy trinity” of New Orleans tourism that unites the diverse cultural attributes of the city into a set of easily recognized and evocative themes’ (Fox Graham, 2007, p. 834). While Fox Graham suggests this message promotes the city, it also serves to ‘minimize the uncertainty of urban reality’ (Fox Graham, 2007, p. 834). As tourists, of a kind, we are at risk of reading this elision of art and food through city marketing strategies. Yet, sitting in the market, an hour or so after talking to Hurlbert, and a fairly short walk from the Opera House, we’re aware that there is work to be done on eating and arts practice in New Orleans, work that may be daily practice in the city but that is outside any perceived ‘trinity’ and too little discussed as a critical element of arts practice in the city.





PD: We’re told it’s really not that hot but not being used to it, we walk to the river to welcome the breeze and escape from the heat and humidity. The sound of the Mississippi is a relaxing distraction from the clamour of the city behind me, in spite of its aggressive swells and ripping currents.

Being in the Crescent City to research the relation of performance to the city has made me focus on the way the city performs itself, so to speak, more than I have previously (I have been here twice before, in 2013 and 2016). Walking through the city across the last few days, I have been struck by how different the noises of New Orleans are from those of London. Of course they share sounds of people and traffic but the machines that navigate New Orleans are different to London, and the focus of the noise of the people we have encountered seems different too.

The soundscape of the city is punctuated by the wail of sirens, by the invasive claxon of fairground organ music from Steamboat Natchez, by the horns of trains and ships.

I had forgotten how loudly the streetcars clang and clatter.


SA: As we walk through the city, we begin to make a series of audio recordings. These are tentative steps, we are beginning a practice here, a method of attending to a city. We begin, aware of the importance of both purpose and accident. There are sounds that we seek out, the horn sounded on boats on the river, a bustling market, an apparently empty street, music spilling out of bars as we pass, and our feet on the changing surfaces of the city. In other recordings, we have less purpose, we begin uncertain of what we will find.

In one early recording, we’re on Bourbon Street, there’s a live band on the street just ahead of us. We press record, and continue walking down the street. As we walk, I am acutely aware of listening to the sounds of the street: the sound of the band as we near, pass by and cross the street, and the quiet once we leave the Street.

The following day, we are at the river, standing at railings, watching boats navigate the curve of the river, the crescent that gives the Crescent City its name. This time, I am recording with headphones, listening for audio levels, and hearing, with augmented clarity, the steady thrum of the engines the lapping of waves that grower louder in the wake of each passing boat. There are three, perhaps four cyclists who stop at the railing for a time and, later, cycle in what seem indolent circles in an empty industrial hanger. They ring the high cycle bells a few times, there are snatches of conversation, but it’s not possible to hear the words.

Through these sounds, we begin to sense the work on the river, work with and against the current of the river. A man walks by, greets us and stops a while to talk. He pilots a boat at Baton Rouge. He points out the turn of the boats on the water, the effort the pilots make to stop each one heading into the side of the river, right where we stand. I listen again to the lapping of waves, struck by the weight of each against the edge, to which we stand.

I become aware that, as we record, so we attend to the sounds of a place, in ways that I find continue long after we stop a recording. To think about recording becomes an act of listening, of wondering about the openness and selection of what we collect, of wondering how we will come to understand these walks in the days ahead and in moment of listening back, listening again, listening to the city both here and, afterwards, from afar.





SA: As we descend, through the window of the plane, it appears there is more water than land. I find I am uncertain of appropriate terms for water, whether we are looking out on lakes, rivers or pools, and whether the distinctions between water and land are settled or shifting. On this, my first experience of landing in New Orleans, I am achingly aware of water.

Later, walking along Bourbon Street, I feel I am out of place here, out of step with the tempo of the street. There are bars that open onto the street and we begin to need to weave around the people gathered at doors, moving from pavement to the road. During Mardi Gras, Patrick explains, the street can be full. At such times, walking becomes a  slow art, each step hard won. We meet friends of Patrick’s at the end of a narrow bar. It is reassuring to meet with people who live in this city, who knows its ways. They reflect on their selection of this place, and their sense that we might need somewhere in which to orient ourselves. We order Sazeracks, a drink that is of this city. The taste of aniseed is stronger than I’d anticipated, although it will be a day or so before I admit this.

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PD: The last half hour of the ten hour flight follows the Mississippi before turning east to fly in to New Orleans across part of Lake Pontchartrain. Coming in to land, water is everywhere.

I find it almost impossible to sleep on planes and I’m weary from the flight. My skin feels slightly greasy from the recycled air and my body feels heavy from sitting for so long. The pilot and a crew member smile and nod goodbye and it’s a relief to be stepping through the door of the plane into a wall of warmth and humidity from the Louisiana evening.

Walking down the long corridor towards immigration, I’m aware of a school party chattering and of the mixture of excitement, fatigue, and nervousness that seems to spread among the passengers. The flight crew press their way through the crowd to join a dedicated line and I wish I’d remembered to dress in a BA uniform.

The line switches back on itself a few times. A wall mounted television plays a single ‘welcome to New Orleans’ tourist advert on loop that marks out the time maddeningly. As we get closer to the front of the queue we are able to see the border control operation unfold ahead and I’m struck by the differences in the guards’ behaviour between the domestic and international lines. I see a performance of racial profiling.

The taxi driver pretends to know where our apartment is but it’s evident from his hurried phone call that he doesn’t. I wonder what language he is speaking.

It’s a relief to take a short walk and the city feels familiar although it is strange to occupy the ‘insider’ role as I point out places and landmarks I remember to Stuart. Bourbon Street bustles with life and intoxication, tackiness and colour. The sweet-sour of the Sazerack’s orange liquid hits my tongue and feels like a hammer blow. The time difference catches up with me on the first sip.