(Photo: Katy Rubin. Pictured: Amjad Saleem)
I’ve been working on the TCG Global Connections grant in Bradford, Yorkshire, for eight days now, and some big new ideas have begun to emerge, inspired by Mind the Gap and the various other British artists with whom I’ve come in contact.
One: Positivity. Mind the Gap has a grip on working from its strengths, both organizationally and artistically. I already touched on this in the last post, speaking of the culture of gratitude, but I see even more clearly now: we spend so much time in NYC, I feel, worrying about what we are lacking in terms of resources and infrastructure, but from MTG’s perspective, we will always be lacking, so why dwell on it? Inherent in their mission is this directive: focus on our abilities, not our disabilities.
Two: Space Hacking. This weekend I attended, with the Artistic Director and Associate Artistic Director of Mind the Gap, the Compass Symposium on Live Art in Leeds. Also in attendance were performance artists, art practitioners of every other discipline, architects, designers and researchers. We participated in live performances and four participatory dialogues entitled the Politics of Access, Sensing the City, Intentions and Unintentions and Intimacy and Generosity. There were some exciting and new ideas; at other moments, the talk lapsed into that vague speaking-about-art-but-saying-very-little conference mode. But I felt very forgiving in this foreign place, and eager to bring the conversation back to practicalities; more on the generosity of travel later. One presentation and discussion had me totally jazzed—an American, Bradley Garrett, doing his PhD at a London University on “space hacking,” inspired by Urban Explorers. The Urban Explorers (a crew to which he belongs) climbs onto and into abandoned buildings, construction sites, etc, and takes staged photos of themselves in these off-limits spaces, as a kind of performance. I started to think about the homeless actors I work with in New York and how they know so many secret spaces in the city that our audiences have never experienced—living in subway tunnels, on rooftops, in basements, on church steps, etc. And I thought: we’re usually making our plays based on stories of discrimination—but what if we also explored all those hidden interactions with the city that take place when other New Yorkers are safely in bed? What if we invited our audiences to experience that world, as a new way to build solidarity? We could create the homeless guide to NYC (a map that’s available along with the subway and bus maps) or an installation or just a scene in our next play. These actors are urban explorers not by choice but by necessity.
Three: The Generous Lens. I experience a strange (and welcome) pattern when observing and participating in art far away from my home base: the harsher critic in me, perhaps the one with something to prove, disappears. I view every performance as a gift, sometimes flawed but definitely made with good and interesting intentions. He’s got a radio orchestra going on in the museum! She’s baking cakes inspired by passers-by and their cake memories! I feel like a child discovering the artist’s ideas from a blank slate. Is it the case of the (often unconsciously) competitive artist who, when traveling, can root for all artists unabashedly? How can I maintain the generous and supportive lens that I apply to my international colleagues’ work, when I’m at home? More to come…
Katy Rubin, Founding Artistic Director of Theatre of the Oppressed NYC, has facilitated the creation of Forum Theatre performances in New York with homeless adults; LGBT homeless youth; people living with HIV/AIDS; and recent immigrants; and has both trained and developed theatre in Brazil, India, and Nicaragua.
The Global Connections program was designed by TCG and is funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Learn more here.