Is New York Over? - Adriana Rossetto

I’m writing from the airport where I’m about to fly out to Milan, my home-city. I spent the last 2 weeks vacating my room in Brooklyn and selling everything I had accumulated over the last 7 years I’ve lived in New York. My friends and the incredible community of artistic collaborators I have built around me found my latest move quite jarring and definite, but I have been procrastinating goodbyes and telling everyone “oh, don t worry, I’ll be back sooner than you think”. I was so busy doing it all, but now, as I sit waiting for my flight with a glass of wine at the terminal, I cannot help but think “is New York over?”

I came to New York chasing a dream as many of my international theatre friends, and over the past 3 or 4 years I’ve grown used to waves of “Goodbye to all that”s, many of which broke my heart as I observed my international community grow thinner and thinner until 2 or 3 friends and I became the last pillars of that initial artistic ensemble of friends. The reasons are always the same: struggling with immigration papers, struggling to pay rent, struggling to find a survival job, struggling to get cast in a project. The rising price of the game (the rising price of rent as well as of the emotional burden) has got me thinking: was New York always this hard or is the dream fading out?

Is New York over? No, New York is well and better than ever. That corporate New York, the New York of Hudson Yards and the progressive Disney-fication of the city,  that New York is doing really great. 

But for someone whose main fantasies of the city were Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and Patti Smith’s Just Kids, a generation of carefree artists exploding with life in the backdrop of a restless city, I wonder: has that New York ever existed for my generation? The New York where artists, not banks, were still somehow the lifeblood of the city, being afforded the possibility of working one job and still make art, possessing both the luxury of time andmoney as the career moves forward ever so slowly without burning out. Has that New York ever existed for me? 

New York feeds on ambition, a ruthless (and ever so wonderful) city in which nothing is ever enough, the collective common denominator being to always want more. And then our industry: an industry made of “thank you, next”s, in which everyone boogie-woogies to that eternal “you never know” beat, faithful only to that silent voice in the back of our heads that says: “maybe this time…”. Did I somehow miss that sweet spot where you get to do what you do because you are hungry for life and not because you have to get through this interminable to-do list in order to be successful

Is a life in the arts possible without burn out? Is a life in theatre possible outside of the evergrowing inhospitable grind of big cities like New York or London? 

What if we embraced the idea that rest, recovery, reflection and why not, even boredom, are an essential part of the progress towards a successful artistic life?

It's with these questions in mind that I fly out to Milan, and with the permanent bond I have with my artistic family, The Private Theatre, their support and love, I feel ecstatic and free. Together with them I will be looking into other (better and more sustainable) models to create theatre, also favoring a lifestyle more inducing to creativity. We're researching out-of-the-box solutions for producing theatre as well as looking into developmental processes that are more reflective of the global, digitally nomad and always interconnected world that excites us as an ensemble and that have been such a fundamental part of my life.

Yes, I'm a little scared, but I have found life's greatest treasures when I do what I fear. In fact I have found New York seven years ago just the same way. The Private Theatre is an adventurous group of collaborators, and we have often danced at the edge of our artistry, and as a proud member of the ensemble, I am ready to take that mission one step further. In the wonderful words of Private Theatre member Vieve Price, stay curious, certainty is overrated: I feel liberated to be, yet again, back to square one where I get to say “I don’t know” and navigate the incredible mess that makes this life so worth living.

If this offends you,leave - Chuk Obasi

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A couple years ago I was at a Summer fair with my family when I noticed a man walking by me wearing a t-shirt with an image of the American flag on it.  Under the flag were the words, “If this offends you, leave.”

In my mind, it’s not about the flag itself.  The flag is a piece of cloth with Stars and Stripes on it.  It’s about this country that the flag represents.
I know a lot of folks who love this country to death.  I know a lot of folks who love to point out the great many flaws of this country.  (I know some folks who can check both boxes, but nobody’s trynna hear that noise...)

The thing is, whether you are deeply critical of America or unconditionally in love with her, or anywhere in between, you are equally part of the fabric.  
Anyone remember last November when 20,000 employees of Google across the country (across the world, actually) walked out of their offices to protest sexual misconduct and other aspects of what had become a sense of company-wide non-inclusive workplace culture?

Could you imagine if any of the staff who did not walk out updated the Google home page to read “if these colorful letters offend you, then leave?”  
20,000 workers.  What would happen if they actually left for good?  Even besides the massive productivity void it would leave, think of the many other implications if that happened...

What actually happened in that case was Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, wrote an email to the protest organizers, part of which read, “I understand the anger and disappointment that many of you feel.  I feel it as well, and I am fully committed to making progress on an issue that has persisted for far too long in our society... and, yes,  here at Google, too.”

... My man...

This man at the Summer fair wearing this strongly-worded t-shirt seemed to be sending a message to people who are deeply critical of aspects of America.  The seemingly obvious target to me was Colin Kaepernick, who was in the midst of his protests during the national anthem at NFL games.  A lot of folks continue to think the flag offends him.  Or in other words, that America offends him. 

But the thing is, Kaepernick IS America.  We ALL are.  And like a remarkably successful global tech company, we will always be a work in progress.  But since we are ALL America, we all get a say. How can we do better?  How can we be better?

All of this is to say, I could have made a case to the man with the strongly-worded t-shirt at that Summer fair that the “flag” has apparently become offensive to him.

But I wouldn’t ask him to leave.

New Year's Evolutions - Evan T Cummings

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New Year’s resolutions have always struck me as a funny thing. The early days of a new year are a completely arbitrary time to assess your goals, behaviors, wishesand expectations. It’s winter. It’s cold. ….There’s too much good stuff on streaming to stay home and watch. 

This is the time you’re going to make sweeping declarations and major life shifts??
 It’s always seemed to me that small, deliberate adjustments and reassessments throughout the year, or even over a longer stretch, are the way to go. 
 As 2019 begins in earnest, The Private Theatre isn’t “resolving to….” do X, or “making major change” Y. But we are looking ahead towards the upcoming year – even our next few seasons – with excitement and anticipation. And it’s because we’ve been slowly building a better sense of ourselves as a company and have been gradually putting together productions, projects and initiatives that come from the ground up – from the foundation of who we are, or want to be.

In the recent few years, we’ve clarified our mission and added managing members to our fold. We’ve taken an honest look at where we’ve been – and we’ve collectively imagined where we hope to go. 

Our production that begins performances at HERE Arts Center in February, Rocco, Chelsea, Adriana, Sean, Claudia, Gianna, Alex is our first full production in New York in some time. It’s the result of development and incubation. It pulls from stories that first were shared in early workshops, in another era (even if that “era” was just a few years ago), but it also takes into account our present tumultuous time. 

As we further shape our programming, including future projects and education and development programs like The Shop, a few particulars have developed into the little goals we want to be part of the foundation of everything we do. They have to do with looking out: to the world around us, the stories and choices that shape our current moment, and the audiences that share in our work. And inward: to what’s important to us individually and as collaborators.

We’ve challenged ourselves to remain imaginatively committed to diversity, variety, inclusion in all the work we do. We aim to actively pursue artists for our productions and development that are reflective of the cultural, racial, geographic, and physical diversity of the world in which we live and create. And we want to take steps so that our audiences reflect that range too.

Our theatre won’t be alive, present, or important unless we continue reach out – to build and grow our community of artists and audience even more. Indeed, we have old friends and new to thank for reaching, then exceeding, our late-fall crowdfunding campaign goal. Still, we continue to ask: can we keep pushing ourselves towards a theatre that reflect a larger ‘us’?

 And then there’s the self-reflection. 

As I said above, I’m not one for declarative resolutions. 

I prefer questions and musings...

I wonder what colleagues I might meet in the next year that may become lifelong collaborators. And which ones in my life now might move on - to a new area of the country, or a new field.

I wonder what might change in the city where I live: Will my favorite bar or restaurant close? Will one or more of those last few theatre companies that are not wheelchair accessible find a way to provide access, or move to new spaces? Might a new record shop, or bookstore, actually open, or are they gone for good? And what will it say about me that I’m a theatre-maker in New York City and not Chicago, or Louisville, or London.

I ponder the ways that my friendships, or my relationship, might further connect me with something deeper in myself – push me to be a better artist. Will this be a year that is more transitional (readings and first drafts and further development) – or more foundational (a major fellowship or a production that makes waves)? What will change around me? And who are the people I choose to join me on the journey? 

No sweeping declarations or unattainable resolutions here.

I’d rather just let it all unfold. 

My Life in Theater is Relentless - So Why Do I Keep Doing It? - Libby Jensen

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From May through August this year I didn't really have a proper day off - Production Managing back to back shows all summer. As I look back through my calendar for those months I can recall the feeling of my head hitting the pillow exhausted, and almost immediately hearing my alarm going off, calling me back to load-in, or tech, or strike, or notes, or production meetings.

Creating a life working in theater for me often means overlapping freelance gigs - scheduling days within an inch of their lives, and then hiring an assistant (and paying them out of my own fee) when I realize I've cut it too close, and can't actually be in two (or three) places at once. I remember in the not-so-distant past having one short break in a sea of never-ending work, and deciding to spend that time going home, crying for a few minutes, and then going back to work. I just had to let out something - I was completely drained and needed to off-gas.

So why do I do it? Every day I wake up and choose this life because I fucking love it, man. A few weeks ago I was invited to speak to a group of young technical theater students and one of the leaders asked us to share why we do this work - and my answer came to me immediately: because I get to work with My People. I get to work with like-minded folks who care about the things I care about. Unlike any other job I've had, or group I've been around - there is an inherent sense of home that I feel when I'm with Theater People - and that sense of place is so addicting that I never want to leave. Sure I don't get along with every theater-maker, but to me, there is an invisible thread that runs through it all - that keeps me connected to this world in a visceral way. In any group of people putting on a show I can find my place, speak the language, feel seen and understood.

There is a common culture. A certain style of humor. A similar work-ethic. A willingness to try it again until we get it right. A queerness that doesn't necessarily have to do with who we sleep with, but rather a willingness to be sensitive, different, fluid, open, accepting, to work outside of social constructs. A comfort with discomfort. A preference for whiskey. A closet of black clothing. No one of us is all of these - but I would wager that many of us are many of these. And finding myself surrounded by these people is exciting, energizing, and provides a life-force necessary to create amazing theater. We all work so hard for something that is so fleeting and yet can matter so deeply to the core of humanity. For this art form - for these stories we want to tell - we will fight bitterly, will cry, bleed, lose sleep. We care SO MUCH. And for that I not only stick with it - but I crave waking up and getting to work.

CREATIVE FREEDOM - VIEVE R PRICE

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What conditions must exist to be creatively free?

Insight Artist & Managing Member Vieve has a conversation with workshop participant Angela about what allows her to have an "unapologetic flow of ideas."

VrP: What was your overall felt sense of The Shop?

AW: The Shop was an overall very exhilarating experience. I was familiar with John's [Gould Rubin] approach to devising, and I wanted to re-engage with that part of my creative practice. But I also walked away with a more confident sense of myself as an artist.

VrP: What was it specifically that enabled you to walk away with a more confident sense of yourself as an artist?

AW: I was reassured in my ability to be spontaneous, to create free of judgment. Being in a room with other artistic collaborators who were just as open and willing to dive in freely and accept whatever the results may be was so refreshing.

VrP: Ah, so spontaneity is important to you, as well as being in a room where you feel free from judgment. What happens for you when you are able to be spontaneous and judgment free?

ArW: I feel more open and willing to make choices, to communicate my thoughts and feelings more freely through movement or speech. I don't hold myself back or get in my own way.

VrP: And when you are willing to make choices, what happens for you as an artist- how does this affect how you see yourself as an artist?

ArW: My ideas flow more freely, I am more open to receive the things around me and transform that into artistic expression. There's something magical that happens for me when I'm in a room full of other artists - my mental/social censorship start to fade and I fall into an unapologetic flow of ideas. When I'm able to do that I feel validated as an artist. I'm reassured in my own ability to create.

VrP: Sooo good....”an unapologetic flow of ideas” is such an awesome way of describing it! Can you talk a bit about what happens when you are in a room where the other artist and collaborators are so willing to dive in freely and accept whatever results may occur? What does this do to your sense of yourself as an artist?

ArW: Depending on my relationship with the people there are two things that usually happen. If I'm comfortable enough with the people in the room, I have a tendency to take the lead, to suggest ideas, to attempt and spark something in others so they can actively participate. I try to find any common ground between the people in the room that can be a springboard. Or, if I don't know the people extremely well, and there are others who are very dead set on working a certain way - I will start to internalize. I'll just write in my sketchbook and close off from the process because I don't feel productive in that kind of setting. When others are less willing to be collaborative, it really brings down the whole experience for me. As an artist it feels forced, and inauthentic.

VrP: So, picking up on the latter part of your answer, if you start to internalize and close off from the process, and the process feels forced and inauthentic, this is a far cry from how you want to see your self - your authentic artist self. There is a gap between you as free and creative and authentic and you as closed off and internalizing rather than sharing. It sounds like a personal gap. Is that right?

ArW: Yeah absolutely. It can be a social gap as well depending on who's in the room with me. As a 5'3" younger woman it can be hard sometimes to feel like I have a valid voice in a room if older men are dominating the energy and creative process.

VrP: Right! It’s really not the way you want the process to go, someone dominating and taking over. As you said, if you know the other artist you do everything you can to spark something in them so that they can actively participate because to you, this is the authentic and good way to collaborate.

ArW: I think that's why I started to shift from acting to directing towards the latter half of my acting training! And in The Shop, the parts of the workshop that focused on self-producing let me know that I'm on the right track in my artistic career as well.

VrP: What is it about directing and making that shift? Is it about having more critical control over the process?

ArW: I found in directing I was getting more control, creative freedom, and I could use my strengths in organizing to actually create something. As opposed to replicating the ideas of someone else that I may or may not have actually engaged with. And being a trained actor I could easily communicate with the actors in the rehearsal room because I spoke their language.

VrP: Replicating someone else's ideas that you may not or know is something that is not appealing to you as an artist..?

ArW: Depends on the situation. I have to be passionate about the idea to want to dedicate time and energy into making it come to life. If someone else has an idea and I feel in my core that it's really something special and needs to be produced I am totally for it!

VrP: Yes! So finally, talk a bit about your hoped for future as an artist, as a director. You said that the self-producing part of the Shop enabled you to know that you are on the right path-what path is this?

ArW: Ahh, ok so this is a question I ask myself all the time. I'm currently working towards building up enough directing experience to apply for an MA/MFA directing program where I can actively and freely practice as an artist. But at the same time I'm the Executive Producer of a new theatre company in NYC where I actively utilize and develop my arts administration skills. So my hoped for future is that I can lead an artistic life where I can actively balance those two passions. Where I can collaborate with others to create socially conscious and thought provoking works, and also support Shellscrape Theatre Company shellscrapetheatrecompany.com. The Shop enabled me to recognize that I have the ability to create unapologetically, but that I'm also very in tune to the process of producing work in NYC (Fiscal sponsorship, applying for grants, fundraising tools, etc.) The Shop also reassured me that there are multi-hyphenate artists everywhere trying to do exactly what I want to do!

VrP: Huzzah to all of this!!!! Thank you so much, Angela!


FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS - Lena Gloria

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New York is often times described as a “concrete jungle” but for me, it’s my personal dreamland. Growing up, whenever I talked about my dreams with anyone, I always said, “One day, I’ll go to New York and put my name in lights.” I blame my mother for constantly playing the entire soundtrack of Phantom of the Opera since I was in her tummy.

I didn’t go for my dream right away. I went for the practical route of finishing high school, then college, then looking for a stable job. I was in my third year out of college, working and finding myself in a warm blanket of stability. It felt very stagnant. I couldn’t help but think fondly of New York from time to time. I didn’t feel like I would ever pursue the dream anymore because I was so scared of not climbing the work ladder at the same time as the people I graduated with.

One day, while I was again in my habit of thinking about New York, I found myself going to different acting school websites and reveling in what could have been. One thing led to another and I submitted a video audition just to see if I could get in. Two months later, several acting schools in New York invited me to audition for them live. I thought it couldn't hurt to give it a try.

I asked for leave from work and decided to go on a holiday trip to New York. I auditioned, got into several schools, and finally, I found myself staying. It all happened so fast and both my mother and I were shocked at the position I found myself in.

I remember walking through the streets of New York terrified as people would push and shove me out of their way. I found myself questioning my choices and breaking down at home alone. It all changed quickly though. I was exposed to so many vibrant people; their passion overwhelming and contagious. Their energy multiplied my own energy to pursue my dream more fully and my dreams got even bigger. The energy of this city is invigorating. I’m always surrounded by people who are pursuing ten dreams all at the same time. Now, not only do I want to act, but I want to write, direct, create, and devise all kinds of art.

It’s my third year in New York now and I have no regrets. For me, foregoing my stable life to pursue these dreams gives me so much meaning. Even though I may never achieve all of those dreams, the fact that I am able to pursue them is so rewarding for me. New York is really a great city because it allows people to dream and dream big. I find myself walking fast through the streets of New York because I am always excited to dream and create with the people I meet.


My present struggle with Turn Me Loose in Washington, DC - JOHN GOULD RUBIN

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I am now at Arena Stage in Washington, DC remounting Turn Me Loose, the play about Dick Gregory that The Private theatre helped develop and produce off-Broadway two years ago at The West Side Theater and last year at the Wallis Annenberg Center in LA and now here in DC at Arena Stage.  This is a project I created years ago as part of a larger, devised piece called ’68, about the year and the decade.

Mounting Turn Me Loose in DC has such powerful meaning as Dick Gregory made DC his home for many of the later years of his life. He was beloved throughout the city and greeted affectionately here by so many who recognized and knew him. So, Arena’s decision to mount the play here takes on a very special meaning.

But there is more. Dick Gregory passed away only a little more than a year ago. The memorial happened while we were rehearsing. He saw the events at Charlottesville from his hospital bed and was fully aware of the Trump era in his last months.

Since beginning work on this play in 2009 I have grown to learn that our subject was more prescient than I had ever known; that he said things in the 60’s and 70’s that seem, in retrospect, almost eerily knowledgeable of our future. Through fasting to protest the Vietnam War, he discovered the market manipulations of the food industry, and then the medical industry. In these discoveries, he anticipated the rest of our awareness by at least a generation.

Dick Gregory anticipated the extreme disparity of wealth in our country and talked about it in the late 60’s. That was eerily prescient. And he understood racism as so much more than a correctable malady; but an historical legacy. And he was an activist in the truest sense of the word. He was eternally active – actually, and truly never inactive – and he sacrificed a phenomenally lucrative career to activism. Gave it up. Just threw it away. That is why he never became Bill Cosby or Richard Pryor, or Red Foxx. He never did a series. He traded his career for activism.

And so, as we progress in this endeavor, here in our nation’s capitol, I become more and more aware of my responsibility to make sure this work remains faithful to the legacy of the man who is its subject. And our writer, Gretchen Law, becomes more and more aware of her responsibility to make sure the material accounts for the times in which we live and, while not pandering to current events, assures our audience that this great man’s legacy continues as his life did, the job of leading us to a deeper understanding of our future.

So today, I find myself with a very particular task, one with unique obstacles – how to do a play about a hero; how to keep it updated, while preventing contemporary events from dominating. And while I am very much in the thrall of Dick Gregory, the more I’ve gotten to know him, the more I want to make sure this play lets the world know he was a seer. He saw the future. And the benefits of that insight are to be found much more in the depths of his understanding than in the mere magic of his prognostication. I hope there are people reading this that might be able to make it to the production. If you do, I am confident you will feel rewarded.


Oh, and by the way: Dick Gregory was a stand up comic, if you didn’t already know. He was (and the play is) phenomenally funny.

The Empowered Artist - Sarah Wharton

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I’ve been thinking a lot about power recently. Who has it, who doesn’t, how do you get it, what do you do with it, and why does it get abused so often? So much of our world, and certainly the entertainment industry, seems to be an endless power struggle - who’s on top? It’s a taking game. You have to seize power to win. It’s a selfish pursuit, and it permeates the way we do business with each other. Hollywood’s sleazeball reputation (which we now know to be terrifyingly accurate in the wake of #MeToo) has lead us to an ingrained sense of “don’t trust anyone. Put yourself first. Take the money and run.” But we’ve always known it’s damaging, right? It’s every parent’s nightmare that their kid wants to be an artist. Especially the parents who are artists themselves. Because they know just exactly how bad it is.

But it shouldn’t be. If we reposition our thinking about power in order to see it as something that is created rather than won, we can put ourselves in a power-collective, rather than a power-struggle. There is certainly no lack of power in the world. It is abundant and free! So there’s no need to fight over it so disastrously.

Instead of power, let’s talk about empowerment. Empowerment requires a gift. It’s the most glorious gift because upon giving it, you find yourself with more of the thing you gave in the first place. I’m sure this translates into economy, faith, relationships and myriad other modes of transactions in our lives, but I’d like to talk about what empowerment means an as artist.

Truthfully, when I made the decision to pursue acting as the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I was totally high on power. I had experienced what every newly zealous thespian does when first struck with the feeling of being in CONTROL. I had the power to make people laugh, cry, gasp, and maybe even question their own morals and life choices. But as I pursued acting and my passion for it further, I realized that the real magic of it was being able to relinquish all power within it. The saying “leave it all on the stage” refers to that special ability to give up the idea of control and instead turn yourself over to trust. It takes an enormous amount of skill and practice to be able to do it successfully, but it’s nothing short of magic when it happens.

So how do we translate the empowered dynamic between artist and audience to the process of making art? In other words - how do we empower ourselves in the business of art, not just in the creative elements of it?

The hard part is that there is not currently a system in place that supports a more holistic way of working as an artist. The hopeful part is that the current system is crumbling under its own problematics, opening up space for something new to emerge. The way forward right now is infuriatingly simple: Just Make Your Art. Make your art in the way that you want to make it. Don’t wait for permission or for someone else to do it. Be radically independent. Your uniqueness, your artistic vision, is your superpower.

That doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Gather the people that you want to. Form your own power collective. We’ve adopted this strategy within The Private Theatre and it’s fascinating to watch this new system and the work that comes from it evolve. As we move forward with producing theatrical experiences, performance pieces, and our artist workshop we hope to expand our collective, bringing other empowered artists into our community in order to learn from each other and share all of our creative gifts. I thoroughly believe that the more we share, give, support one another in our work, the more empowered we all become.