Following My Artistic Gut

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One of the most complex things about being an artistic director (and there are many complex aspects to the position) is determining which artists and plays to program in our season. 

Quite simply, I am following my artistic gut.

But, if I unpack that idea for a moment, I am drawn to work that is muscular, ambitious, provocative and urgent. I am looking for work that will demand that an audience step into another person’s viewpoint, created by artists who need to be heard.  I am trying to honor the DNA of Rattlestick by finding work that is sweaty and complicated and tense and meaningful.

What does that mean these days when our country and our family structures and our community is in a seismic reconstitution of ideals based on power, privilege, race, and equity?  Where do I even begin to find work and artists that are speaking with artistry and urgency?

I was blown away when I saw Diana Oh as part of our New Songs Now series last summer. She was honest, funny, open, and insanely talented as a musician, performer, and writer.  She made me wake up. I then discovered she had a full-length piece entitled {mylingerieplay}, a where she explores what her relationship is to her body and the deep and complex dynamics that exist between men and women regarding sexuality and gender politics. She made me see the possibilities of what theater is and could be. She challenged my approach to race and to power and to gender.  And I loved her songs and her stories and her band.  I programmed her nearly on the spot.

Dael Orlandersmith was part of our newly-created Alumni Jam last September in which alumni writers are invited back to Rattlestick to display excerpts of new work. She presented an excerpt from Until the Flood, a response to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.  I was mesmerized when I saw the excerpt and subsequently blown away when I watched her do a full reading of the play.  She was so deeply courageous in her look into this community’s trauma, grief, and hatred while masterfully creating these flawed yet empathetic characters. And I have been wanting to find space to give to our alumni writers each year.  I am so very honored to have Dael back at Rattlestick. 

Nearly a year ago, Mashuq Mushtaq Deen presented Draw the Circle, as part of our F#CK!NG GOOD PLAYS FESTIVAL, curated by our Literary Team (Ngozi Ayanwu, Vered Hankin, Jessi Hill, David Mendizabal, Cori Thomas).   For 85 minutes, I watched Mashuq portray his parents, girlfriend, close friends and complete strangers grappling with his transition from female to male.  During a discussion that followed the performance, for which the entire audience stayed (which I have never experienced), I witnessed the very diverse audience have an incredibly thoughtful and honest conversation about gender transitions and family pressure.

So then I decided to program Until the Flood in rep with Draw the Circle, believing that the juxtaposition will allow audiences to compare societies and their reactions to racism and sexism to see both commonalities and differences.   

Middle Voice is our ambitious, diverse, and ambitious Apprentice Company that Lucy Thurber started in 2012.  There are 27 theatermakers, ages 18-30, who are committed to making exciting work.  (Victor Cervantes, Jr., our Associate Producer, is a member of Middle Voice.)  A priority this year is to make space for them.  Real space.  So, we are doing two workshop productions of their work, the first is Xavier Galva’s The Parlour, happening this week about the back room of a restaurant and the power dynamics, and the second is a revival of Arthur Laurent’s The Enclave, about a group of seemingly liberal friends who aren’t as liberal as they think they really are.  We are planning to tour The Enclave this year to hubs in Staten Island, Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn.

Of course we have other programs and initiatives but I will save the details of those for future blogs.  I appreciate you taking the time to listen to me share why we are making the work we are making these days.  I hope you will join me on this journey of listening and responding to our artists so theater can play a vital role in social change.




ProductionsDaniella Topol