What Do All Theater Companies With The Best COVID-19 Responses Have In Common?

Theater to the People: HOME is a series of theatre-making workshops that bring together people of different ages, languages, and cultures to respond to the political and economic challenges of immigration or gentrification.

Welcome 2020 Fellows Julia and Kate, please introduce yourselves!

Hi, I’m Kate. Hi, I’m Julia. We are the founders of Theatre to the people!

Tell me about Theater to the People and what do you love about the specific project you are bringing to Town Stages.

Julia: What I (we) love about TTTP is how it naturally gathers in the same space or – in these circumstances under the same cyber umbrella -people that weren’t related before this experience that we created. And it isn’t about where they are from or their social economical status. Every Monday we see each other at 7pm through ZOOM and they are not even facebook friends, sometimes in our social media we have people very similar than us with the same job and points of view. TTTP is exactly the opposite. They only have in common TTTP – and because of that they, we, listen to each other, we can share our similarities and differences, and we share our perspectives. Which can be very different, and that, is so good.

Kate: In our first two ensembles, we’ve worked with people in their early twenties to their sixties, people from a wide range of ethnic/racial identities, people who speak many languages (although we work mostly in English and Spanish), U.S. citizens and immigrants, men, women, trans/non-binary, people possessing vastly different economic resources (from folks living in shelters to folks that have vacation homes).  And we ask them to come together and play, build community and alliances, create, reflect on their own experiences/definitions of home, and brainstorm ways to represent (and possibly improve) social problems connected to home, like gentrification, immigration policy (what can a true sanctuary city really be?), and this time around, how we survive and thrive during COVID.

That is incredible. Now a serious question: If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Julia: Best physical actress ever. A master in video editing and stop motion. I would like to play the cello.

Kate: The ability to be fluent in every language on the planet… including the ability to communicate with animals.  And plants!  That all probably counts as more than one quality, right?

I’d be scared to hear what plants have to say. *vegetarian guilt*

And if you could go anywhere right now, where would you go? 

Julia: To visit my family in Argentina, being sure that I come back to NY.

Kate: Yeah, I think going to Seattle to see my parents, even though I was there within the past few months, would be high on the list right now.  I would like to just hug them.

I feel you, Julia. I saw that you are doing zoom workshops with your team, tell me how COVID-19 shifted your process and your discoveries during these turbulent times. 

Julia: The shift, as any other theater group, is in losing the common space. Kate and I very quickly had to rethink a new approach and exercises under a radical situation. Last Monday we wrote some poems about this theme of HOME  and one of the members said that her home is now a prison and an escape. The theme gives, most of the time, relief – but also a lot of tension and we are working on it. Most of us have the “bizarre” privilege to stay home, but some of the members of TTTP are essential workers – they are our channel to understand this situation in a broader way.

We shifted from live mode to zoom and that pushed us to incorporate a Google Drive where we can share thoughts, poems, and drawings. We are creating our own archives and that is wonderful. 

Kate: I wasn’t really sure that trying to devise and collaborate as an ensemble on ZOOM was going to work, especially considering how much physical work we usually do, but we’ve figured out working conditions (including a speaking order for each meeting), so we can play theater games (that would usually work in a circle, perhaps), or create group unison choreography/movement.  All of it takes longer than in person, but there’s been a lot of humor along the way (we’ve laughed a lot together!), and I’m proud of how much we’ve created under the circumstances: group poetry, movement pieces, and now we’re working on structured improvised scenes in pairs and groups of three, based on characters we’ve created from our COVID experiences.  We’re hoping to have our final “performance” for this second ensemble be a video compilation of our work instead of a performance.  And in the future, I think it would be really interesting to include some of those video pieces as a part of a live performance as well…

The real turning point for us is finding ways of handling adversity TOGETHER. We’ve kept going, we’ve found new ways of working, and the ensemble members have really helped each other cope, through collaboration.  It’s been truly inspiring, and I’m excited to see what we’ve created when we conclude this cycle of sessions on May 11th.  So many of the social issues we’d originally wanted to think about surrounding the issue of home–gentrification and immigration policy–are being exacerbated by COVID, so we’re all going to need to keep being strong and resilient, and I think creating community, with very diverse ensembles, through theater, can help us in the coming year as we figure out how the pandemic will change our world.

Theater to the People on Zoom

YES. I will drink that! What’s your favorite cocktail?

Julia: Cinzano vermouth.

Kate: We’ve been digging Cynar Negronis around my house this week.

*sips my very basic gin and orange tea on ice because I don’t have soda*

What is motivating you to keep doing your work? 

Julia: Love and human connection. It sounds cheesy and simple but is true.Unprecedented amount of love. Love for others, for the theater and myself. This is the way I chose to define myself 20 years ago, as a theater maker. I can’t do it right now and that is something that I grieve every day, but it’s also the way that I feel most alive. 

It’s the channel that allows me to communicate better with others.  It is substantial and I feel like I am playing tag with COVID-19.  Even If I need to be isolated, even if I can´t be in a theater or surrounded by other people I won´t let COVID tag me and make me lose something that is so relevant in my life. And I’m going to metamorphose the form of the theater and change direction as many times as necessary to save it. I check every day if my family and friends are doing well and then I give them space if they need it. Every Monday we have a check-in section in TTTP where everyone can share how they feel and, personally, I posted in my Facebook a few weeks ago a list of 12 Emergency Grants and Funds for Artists and I keep uploading it with helpful information.

Kate: Julia has been a huge inspiration to me as we’ve weathered this storm, and our TTTP ensemble members.  I wasn’t sure, at first, if everyone would hold on and show up for these ZOOM sessions, and it’s been so motivating to see everyone each week and read through what they’re contributing to the Google Drive.  Everyone is suffering, each for their own reasons, and our shared reason, but we’re all trying to use creative practice to get through this.  And that keeps me going.  The best way we can help each other right now is to offer space to listen–to the fears, worries, sadness, loss AND what’s giving us hope, both the negative and the positive–and then to be generous, whether that’s by creating together, making each other laugh, offering resources, brainstorming solutions, offering a shoulder to cry on.  Whatever the other person needs in that moment.

Team Theater to the People, hard at work.

I love that. Do you have animals?

Julia: Kate, my dear…

Kate: I have three cats and a dog, and they all love Julia!  But especially my dog, Bagpipe.  I try to love all my furry friends equally, but the dog is probably nudging the cats out of first place, these days… he’s such a good cuddler.  Very comforting.

Have you been the one cooking or cleaning up after a meal during quarantine?

Julia: Cooking.

Kate: Definitely cooking, although my partner is doing  a lot more cooking for us than I am recently, so I’m trying to do a good job or cleaning up.

Favorite thing you have watched online this week?

Julia: Dínamo (Timbre 4, by Claudio Tolcachir, Lautaro Perotti y Melisa Hermida) Peter Brook’s Master Class.

Kate: I  really enjoyed “Cheer,” a documentary series on Netflix about a cheerleading squad from Navarro College in Texas.  I know nothing about cheerleading…it looks really intense! 

I am obsessed with Peter Brook´s Master Class and I wish “cheer” was an Olympic sport. 

What is the best way for our readers to find out more?

We have an Instagram account that is very active @theaterttpeople

Our Facebook page is Theater to the People and our website http://www.theatertothepeople.com/

It’s been truly inspiring to learn about your work. I am so excited for you and your team

Oh – I almost forgot to answer the header! What do companies with the best responses to crisis have in common? Its women leaders like you.

Town Stages is an event space in Tribeca advancing equity for arts, hospitality, civic and social justice workers. We build Places of Assembly in New York City that transform the face of leadership on our stages and screens – one story, one song, one endeavor at a time.

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