PUSHING THEATRICAL BOUNDARIES
EMERGING AMERICA FESTIVAL IN ITS SECOND YEAR
John Andress is the Public programs Coordinator at the Institue of Contemporary Art/Boston, Ariane Barbanell is the Director of Special Projects at the American Repertory Theatre, and M. Bevin O'Gara is the Associate Producer at the Huntington Theatre Company. The interviewer, Sara Bookin-Weiner is an A.R.T. Institute dramaturgy student.
Sara Bookin-Weiner: What does Emerging America mean to you? What makes an emerging American artist?
John Andress: I think one aspect is multi-disciplinary work. What we're interested in is when artists put different elements together; does it change the genre? If you look at Jay Scheib's Bellona, playing at the ICA during the festival, in his work there are several different cameras with live feeds on the stage, and he uses these cameras as visual microphones rather than just scenic design. He also incorporates a lot of choreography. So is it dance? Is it theater? Is it a hybrid of the two? You can't put your finger on what it is. I think that's something compelling about emerging American performance.
Ariane Barbanell: We look to both the artist and the form. The A.R.T. is using OBERON as its festival venue again because of "club theater," an emerging American art form. We found so many people exploring multi-disciplinary theater through this club theater world, like Eddie Kim in his work Grand Theft Ovid. By playing video games live, he uses the characters in them to tell Ovid's myths. We're also all trying to celebrate local artists who are just beginning to make work and artists from the rest of the country whose work has yet to be seen by a Boston audience.
M. Bevin O'Gara: All three organizations look at this so differently. Part of our mission at the Huntington is to support playwrights. One way we do this is with the Huntington Playwriting Fellows program that's been around for eight yearsâ€”and now we're making an effort to incorporate those artists into Emerging America. And as the festival grows, the hope is that all three institutions will continue to re-evaluate their definition of "emerging."
SBW: What are some of the ways you've redefined "emerging" this year? How are you pushing those theatrical boundaries?
MBO: Last year the Huntington brought in pieces that had previous lives to give artists a chance to make adjustments and move their work forward. This year, with Ryan Landry's Psyched, he's crafting a show specifically for the festival but we're hoping to help him build something for the future. We're also exploring our audio plays more. Podcasts have become a huge medium for storytelling and marketing; they're like the mobile version of old time radio shows. We've commissioned eleven of our Playwriting Fellows to write audio plays inspired by specific locations in and around the three festival institutions. They can be listened to in the comfort of your own home, but the idea is to experience them at the specific location they're written for, allowing the listener to engage fully with their surroundings.
AB: Celebrating Boston as a cultural destination has also been part of the mission of the festival since its inception. Last year when we started the podcasts, we included audio plays, but also featured walking tours made by festival artists and regulars at the A.R.T., the Huntington, and the ICA.
MBO: And so many of them made you look at the area in a new way. Maybe opening your eyes up to the fact that art and theater are everywhere in this city.
SBW: What is going to draw people to check out each of these different institutions?
AB: The diversity of the whole weekend.
JA: Hopefully the audience will formulate their own ideas of how works connect. They can see the work upstairs at the ICA of queer photographer Catherine Opie, and then go to the Huntington's show and ask, "What does Ryan Landry think about gender? How do these things all relate to each other?"
MBO: Everyone can have their own personal experience, but the hope is our patrons will choose events that they are unsure about and find that they've enjoyed the experience. What's really exciting about the festival is the unexpected nature of it. It will surprise you, it will shock you, and it will excite you if you let it. It will be something you won't be able to experience ever again except on this weekend.
SBW: Why is Boston the place for this festival?
MBO: What has happened artistically in Boston over the last decade is incredible. More and more, it's becoming a home base for so many artists, a place to grow and to learn. A much bigger and much more exciting artistic community has sprung up. In a way, Boston is an artistically emerging American city.
AB: This city's theater and performance community is collaborative on an extraordinary level. This lends itself to making work together, presenting work together, celebrating each other's work, and bringing in other work for each other.
JA: On top of all that I really feel strongly that this festival can push Boston audiences to consider a broader definition of theater and performance.