RECAP: LPTW THEATRE CONNECTIONS WITH HERE Arts Center
HERE Arts Center
October 20, 2020 @ 4 pm
Presented Virtually on Zoom
HERE Arts Center partnered with the League of Professional Theatre Women to discuss opportunities and partnerships. The program consisted of a panel from HERE leadership: Kristin Marting, HERE’s Founding Artistic Director; and Eleanor Kipping, Audience Activist. Representatives from LPTW were: Cindy Cooper, Theater Communications Coordinator; and Liz Amadio, Treasurer. Cindy moderated the Connection with a Q and A session afterward.
HERE builds an inclusive community that nurtures artists of all backgrounds as they disrupt conventional expectations to create innovative performances in theatre, dance, music, puppetry, media, and visual art. HERE has produced and presented over 1,200 original works, served over 15,000 artists, and welcomed over 1,000,000 audience members. HERE’s work and artists have received 16 OBIE Awards, 2 OBIE Grants, 4 NY Innovative Theatre Awards, 2 Bessie Awards, 2 Pulitzer Prizes, 6 Drama Desk nominations, 2 MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowships and most recently, 7 Tony nominations.
Summary of Questions from Cindy:
Cindy: Kristen and Eleanor, can you talk about what HERE has been doing last twenty-seven years? How do you keep doing it, especially in regards to digital platforms?
Kristin: I do it for the artists. We want a space for artistry to happen. We work with all disciplines: music, theater, dance, and puppetry. We value change. We are flexible and organic. We want to play a role in our and artists’ lives that are meaningful. Think about how we have the advantage of a small space–we’re only looking for a couple thousand to see it. With a digital space, our reach is much broader.
Eleanor: My title is Audience Activist. I’m the first to fill this position at HERE, which is pretty special. As for the situation on the marketing side, our first priority is with our Resident Artists. We implement community outreach with them, educational programs, and workshops before or after their productions. These virtual activities with our artists have increased due to the pandemic.
Kristin: With our Resident Artists program, we have about 10 to 12 artists with us for 2-4 years. Each Resident Artist is awarded $100,000, with $50,000 awarded in cash and $50,000 awarded for space services. Projects range from $120,000 on up with artists, and we help artists raise funds.
Cindy: How do you become a Resident Artist?
Kristin: We have an open call each year. However, we will not have a call this year because this year’s artists were not able complete their productions. We expect that next year we will be back to our open call.
Cindy: Could you describe your other programs?
Kristin: We have our Sublet Series, which is a self-producing opportunity at a subsidized rate. This has an application process. We were also have a presenting program that includes an opera and theatre festival. We present these six to eight projects in January. We also bring in international puppetry work trough our Dream Work program.
Cindy: What did you think when Covid hit?
Kristin: Initially, we were looking at how could still create a connecting place between audience and artists in a crisis. We were also very aware that every artist was out of work, and therefore we focused our efforts on raising money for artists. We let people know that we were paying artists instead of the money going to General Operations.
Cindy: What is the Covid-19 fund?
Kristin: The Covid-19 fund is a grant that you could apply for and you could be awarded funds for 12 weeks. We have other programs we started, and Eleanor can tell you a little more about them.
Eleanor: We have implemented a number of initiatives since Covid hit. For example, #stillHere is a hashtag we use to get updates from members of the community. We post short videos and photos on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. We have weekly updates. Friday @ 1, is similar, but could also include a reading or performance. This is a series for artists with whom we have deeper relationships. We also have Here At Home, a monthly screening series of full productions from our archive vault, Wednesdays at 7pm. And finally, we have Still Here IRL (In Real Life), which commissions artists to create work in a socially distanced format.
Kristin: We’ve paid over five hundred artists. For In Real Life, we’ll have 2-3 more in-person shows coming up. For example, we have an artist Gelsey Bell who is doing Walking In Covid, which is a walk through Greenwood cemeteries. Nine hundred people have already downloaded it. We also have Leimay, a performance at Astor place with artists in performing in big sandboxes with gasmasks.
Cindy: Did you have to get special permission?
Kristin: For Astor place in October, yes. We worked with the Mayor’s office
Cindy: How do you interface with the audience?
Eleanor: We use social media to get the word out. We have to make sure that everyone’s Wifi is working well.
Cindy: What about virtual programs, such as the opera?
Kristin: We are programming a spectrum of events. With regards to digital actor permissions, Equity has not been responsive. We have been doing digital premieres, works in progress, and artist talks.
Cindy: What’s coming up?
Kristin: We are working with Kamala Sankaram on Only You Will Recognize the Signal, a space opera appearing in digital form in April. This will be our first Zoom opera. We are working with lots of video, lots of upgrades. We feel that readings have gone stale.
Cindy: Both of you seem excited about work. What’s exciting you?
Eleanor: I’m on my toes all the time so I can’t get static. I have to troubleshoot technology every single time.
Kristin: When we were doing Home At Here, we were still in a space hungry for live performance, but now–six months in–we are all worn out with Zoom. We are trying to think of different ways to engage people.
Cindy: With 180,000 viewers, how does that change what you do?
Eleanor: For a single performance, that’s about 1,000, so it’s not all 180,000 people at once. Our audience engagement has jumped 231% since last year.
Cindy: What about premieres?
Kristin: We are premiering Herstory. This is about two women navigating death of someone important to them. They have suggested donations. All of the artists keep the proceeds. All digital premieres are on our website. Once you make a donation, you get a link to the show. In addition, we are premiering a puppetry version of The Blind by Maeterlink. This will include lots of audio for the soundscape. In December, we will premiere the International Puppetry Parlor.
Cindy: How do you get involved in HERE as playwrights, producers, and directors?
Eleanor: Follow us on social media.
Kristin: We have rolling submissions. In our Sublet Series, we’re accepting submissions, but we’re not booking right now because we don’t know when we will be open. We can allow filming, but no live performances right now. We are looking at a number of reopening scenarios: in April, June or September. I’m not comfortable having people in the theater at reduced capacity–you’re in a dark theater for two hours. If there are antigen tests that take 10-15 minutes for results, we can see having people in the theater. We want to open safe and responsibly. We are considering installation performances, where there will be no live performers, and people will only be in the theater for 15 minutes.
We have a 30-page reopening plan. You can see it here: https://sites.google.com/here.org/here-comprehensive-reopening/reopening
Cindy: Are you accepting works/videos created elsewhere?
Kristin: You can look at our community posts and see what other people have done to get an idea. However, we are pushing what we’re premiering. So, yes, if we have space. You can contact me and we’ll talk. If it’s a go, we’ll pay you.
Liz Amadio then moderated the Q and A Session:
Liz: What kind of work do you respond to?
Kristin: We focus on work relevant to this time, contemporary work–no revivals–unless it’s in the spirit of HERE. That’s what we’re interested in. Fifty percent of our work is done by women. Our work is reflective of the city, the ideals of our city. We value multidisciplinary work. We are not looking for traditional work. We also are interested in work that is thinking differently about the form.
Liz: Do you have that same blend in mind with the Sublet Series?
Kristin: Yes. Our curatorial filter goes across all genres. The Resident Artists program is for mid-career artists who have a body of work and want to work on a new project.
Liz: Do you feel that this Covid experience is giving us a new theater language? Do you have any interest in continuing virtual programming after?
Eleanor: Virtual programming is not going away any time soon. Internet is now a utility and we can work in the comfort of our homes and get things done.
Kristin: We will be looking at how does it influence back into the live form, and how that makes them change their thinking.
Liz: Is there anything positive from these changes in theater programming?
Kristin: End-person performances have been really positive. Some of the digital performances have done that, but not all. Dixon Place has connected artists to friends, but across the board there’s this same depth or breadth. Everyone is thinking through their process at this time. Finding the right folks for an artist at any time is a skillset.
Liz: What’s your scope with 180,000 viewers within the last six months? Do you see that as something that will expand your footprint in real life?
Eleanor: I think it’s going to be a mix of both. It’s a strategy of retaining audiences in virtual spaces. Highlighting accessibility. We offer so much free programming right now. Doing it through social media is also a different strategy. But eventually people will come back to New York and they’ll bring their audiences with them. You lose some, you win some.
Liz: What are your feelings on creating Covid specific site theater?
Kristin: I think there’s a bunch of people doing avant-garde, especially Dixon Place, so there’s a spectrum of people doing it. Governor’s Island is starting up after a lull in the summer.
Liz: Are there obstacles with Equity?
Kristin: Part of a group of Artistic Directors is having conversations during Covid. Some contracts are Equity, some are SAG. There are problems with this, and there is a problem paying people because of the confusion. Until this is resolved, we’ve been doing projects that don’t require Equity Actors – puppetry, opera. Or using nonequity actors. If you are an equity member, speak to your rep and tell them what a problem is it for you.
Liz: How do you define a mid-career artist?
Kristin: We look at how long you’ve been out of graduate school. We look for an artist who’s appropriate–we’re looking to catalyze an artist who’s gotten some commissions, but not for all their work. We’re trying to get them to the next stage. We look for multidisciplinary work–risk taking, trying to make it work. You can look at our Residency Page: https://here.org/programs/harp/
Liz: Are you accepting headshots/resumes?
Kristin: I will meet with anyone who wants to meet with me.
Liz: Are you accepting submissions for live theater or virtual projects?
Kristin: We’re all fully programmed, but if there’s opening then we’ll look for virtual for April.
Cindy: As we close, what gets you up in the morning?
Kristin: Artists get me up. We want to see their ideas and what they are thinking about–their influence and vision.
Cindy: Any words of wisdom?
Eleanor: Continue to create, get up everyday and keep making, we know that this is all temporary.
Kristin: We’re trying to do something different. I’ve been doing theater for 30 years, but they’re talking about things I don’t understand. It keeps you fresh because there’s a learning curve. We want to keep creating and see something new to think about.
Eleanor: Things are forever changed, and you can easily fall behind.
Our videos can be found here (not to be confused with paid premieres): https://www.facebook.com/hereartscenter/videos/?ref=page_internal
Many of our live streams can be found at http://www.bit.ly/HERElive
Recap by LPTW Member Suzanne Willett
HERE Arts Center
Kristin Marting, HERE’s Founding Artistic Director
Kristin is a director of hybrid work based in NYC. As Artistic Director, she cultivates artists and programs all events for two performance spaces for an annual audience of 30,000. She co-created and co-curates HARP, HERE’s Artist Residency Program. She has constructed 30 works for the stage (9 original hybrid works, 7 opera-theatre and music-theatre works, 9 adaptations of novels & short stories and 5 classic plays), most recently Looking at You with Kamala Sankaram and Rob Handel. Other recent projects include Silent Voices at BAM, IDIOT with Robert Lyons; Bombay Rickey, an opera cabaret also in Prototype; Trade Practices, an immersive theatrical experience where the audience determines value.
Eleanor Kipping, Audience Activist
Eleanor is an artist, performer, Yorkipoo mom, and coffee lover from Maine. When she’s not activating audiences HERE she can be found at the dog park with Little Dog Daisy.
Links to Recaps on Prior Theatre Connections events