I know 2016 has been a challenging year for many of you. From political turmoil to the shocking deaths of many beloved celebrities; from the failure of our media to separate truth from fiction, and the increasingly polarized tenor of our national discussion around race, politics, economics and the environment, it's been a very tumultuous and explosive time. But it's also been a time of incredible change and possibility, from the rise of Bernie Sanders to the phenomenon of Hamilton, from global cooperation on climate issues to the activism of progressive young Americans. Personally, I'm frequently AWED by the incredible work so many artists and artistic institutions are engaging in each day across the country and around the world.
2016 was also a banner year for BrickaBrack, including the development of our Ensemble and our first public performances in New York. We began the year with a workshop of ON THE FLIP SIDE last January - continuing our exploration of interactive theatre drawn from and concerning universal human experiences.
We continued our work in the Spring with a workshop of THE HOPE FRIEZE, PART ONE - our most ambitious project ever undertaken.
And we concluded our work this year with our first fully-staged NY show, presenting the completed ON THE FLIP SIDE at HERE in September.
I want to personally thank all of you who've been involved in our work over the course of 2016. From artists to donors to audience members, the efforts of many collaborators have made this work possible - especially our BrickaBrack Ensemble Members, who have been central to the development of the company in 2016: Amy, DeLance, Clinton, Jamil, Niki, and Rachel.
At BrickaBrack, here's how we make work: We get into a room and we talk. We move. We write. We do exercises that spark our imaginations, around issues that resonate with us - and, we hope, you! - where each member of the Ensemble has the opportunity to shape the focus and intent of our material. From this process, pieces of theatre emerge.
I'm very excited to embark on the project we have before us, 52 PICKUP, and to bring its initial phase to our audiences in NY this Spring. To do so, we need your help. Our greatest expense by far, at this phase, is renting rehearsal and performance space. Presently, it costs us about $20/hr for rehearsal space - if we're able get it at a discount! To workshop a project, it takes somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 weeks at 12 hrs/week, or 96 hours. That's around $2,000, just for space alone.
Won't you consider being an instrumental part of our process of making new work and consider a tax-deductible donation to us today? There's still time to donate in 2016 through our portal at Fractured Atlas, our non-profit sponsor.
Thank you so much for all of your support. We truly couldn't be doing this work without you. If history is any indicator, art traditionally thrives under challenging circumstances. That is why I'm so looking forward to 2017 and the opportunity that lies ahead with you; I believe it will be a time of burgeoning artistic exploration, both from our company and the field in general.
Here's to an amazing 2017 together as artists, creators, and community makers!
BrickaBrack's Associate Artistic Director Amy Nielson sits down with Esther Van Zyl, Ensemble Member, to share stories in conjunction with our production of On the Flip Side. (Only one performance left, today at 2pm - Tickets Here!)
A: Some of the pieces in the show are incredibly personal, like “Vacant” for example - one of my favorite pieces, partly because of its genesis. It’s a wonderful collaboration. I remember brainstorming this piece for the January workshop just before you left to go back home to South Africa. We wanted a way to include you in the workshop, even though you were continents away - is that how we came up with the voicemail idea? Do you want to share a little bit about the backstory for this piece?
E: Yes, absolutely! I also love that this piece was created as a cross-continental collaboration for a show I couldn’t physically be in, but got to be a part of anyway. I remember I had actually improvised a monologue during one of our jams before I left last year, as if I was leaving a voicemail for my grandmother, whom I am named after. She had passed away and I had been unable to attend the funeral because I was in school in New York at the time. It was a huge loss for me not to be there with my family and to speak at the funeral, so I feel like when I got the opportunity to further refine this piece while I was home over Christmas holidays, it was like being able to give my gran a very personal last gift, in a way, to commemorate her life and the impact she’d made on mine. She always told me I was incredibly special, and that I was made for big things. And now, being able to be in the piece physically as well while listening to the voicemail – honestly it’s like getting to go to the funeral that I missed, in a way. It is very personal and intimate and I feel so grateful that I get to share such a special part of my life with audiences.
A: “New Zealand” is a personal piece for me. The postcard for the piece is the first bit of personal mail that I received upon moving to New York from California. So the card marks a very specific time in my life. It’s from my parents, who were on a bucket list trip to New Zealand. It was a bit of a crazy trip for them - they went just after the earthquake in Corpus Christi. They were supposed to travel by train, but most of the rails were damaged. So, they ended up having to rent a car and drive most of the trip. My mom was white-knuckled a lot of the time, and they had a very clean windshield. I’m very glad they were able to take that trip. It was a big adventure for them.
E: “A very clean windshield,” hahaha! I can relate, I STILL go for the wrong side of the car over here, even though I’ve been living in New York for almost two years now.
A: We are creatures of habit… In On the Flip Side, we have a piece called “What's your Alaska?” and it asks you to share a dream of yours - somewhere you’d like to be. Esther, what’s your Alaska?
E: Hmmm. Ok. I have a beautiful cottage-like house – you know, with knick-knacks and quirky personal items decorating the entire place in a sort of artsy, organized chaos, like a Wes Anderson set – on the outskirts of a genuine-peopled town somewhere between the woods and the sea and an hour’s drive from the city. There is a fireplace, and perhaps a kid or two running around, and my family lives close by. My mom has her own bakeshop where she serves South African desserts and other delicacies. There are spare cottages where other friends/artists can come stay whenever they like, and we can dream up and make work together. I have my own front room overlooking the beach, where I sit and write and dream up ideas and work on projects/roles until they are ready to be brought to life in the real world, and then I hop a flight with my crew to New York or Italy or wherever the film/play/other event is meant to come to life. Preferably in various extraordinary locations all over the world! What’s your Alaska, Amy?
A: My Alaska has loosely been dubbed "The Goat Farm." I want a house with a barn. But the house is actually more like a B&B and there’s a black box theatre in the barn. I want it to be a visiting artist residence—a place for artists to get away and incubate ideas. The other layer of this thing is a communal/Agriturismo idea, where the place would be incredibly self-sufficient and everyone would help out around the chateau, or haus, or villa. (In my dream, it’s somewhere abroad. My mother would prefer something more domestic…) Milk a goat, collect eggs from the chickens, bake some bread, etc… It could expand into a larger idea with guest chefs and the like. I just want a place were all my friends can share their talents and we can make theatre (or dance, or performance, or art in general…) Our Alaskas are a little similar—maybe we should combine forces!
A: I know film has a special place in your artistic heart. And I think BrickaBrack has a similar sense of whimsy to your film making style. How do you think your personal history relates to BrickaBrack’s aesthetic?
E: Since I was five I have been taking drama classes in some form or another, and I remember even the first classes were very geared towards being inspired by something, an object or story, and then being given a little time and freedom as a group to create a short piece to show the class – which is kind of exactly how all the pieces for On The Flip Side had their genesis! South African theatre, in general, is very ensemble-driven, and there is a tendency towards telling stories with our entire actors’ instrument in several styles and coming up with creative solutions to telling incredible stories instead of building large sets and solving it with money. I also come from a strong movement and dance-based background. Lastly, my personal style as a creator tends towards quirky, magical realism, which I feel is a tone and element often present in the work BrickaBrack produces.
A: I really love the imagination element. There’s something so basic and pure about it—something that feels like it goes to the roots of theatre—to make something out of nothing, to create whole worlds out of the simplest elements, transforming them and transporting your audience. For me, that’s where my histories collide. I’m trained as a dancer and an actor. As I was training, most people would choose one or the other. But I wanted a place in between. That’s why I’m drawn to artists like Pina Bausch and Robert Wilson. I think all this variety of training and experience helps me be more articulate in my storytelling. I love how each of us have unique voices as artists that come together to tell these stories. That whole idea is really the spirit of BrickaBrack. What story might we tell next? And how will we do it? We could do anything…
A chat with Ensemble Member Clinton Powell and Guest Artist Kiebpoli Calnek during rehearsals for On the Flip Side.
K: Okay! I’m here with Clintonnnnn…
K: Powell. Why don’t I know your last name?! That’s so weird!
[Clinton and Kiebpoli have worked together several times, notably with Medicine Show Theatre.]
K: So, how did you get into the theatre?
C: The first show I did was in fourth grade. It was Mary Poppins. I was the first reporter who asked her if she had a word to describe how she felt before supercalifragilistic. And then I was also one of the bankers… Aaaand, I asked the teacher, I was like, “Well, which of the bankers is the really old banker?” And she was like, “We don’t have to do that.” I was like, “No! There has to be a really old banker!” (Both laugh.) So I did my own stage makeup in fourth grade and put lines on my forehead... Even in fourth grade I was a character actor.
K: Slash director.
C: Slash secret director. (They laugh again.) How did you get into theatre? This is a story I don’t know yet.
K: Ok, so I was a wee lass in middle school, and here in New York City and there was this drama teacher… and she was like, ‘Oh, you’ll never get into the School of Performing Arts’. And I was like, ‘OH YEAH?!?’ So I got my own monologue book and I figured out the monologue I was going to do and I memorized it and I auditioned for the School of Performing Arts and I got in and I did it.
C: Do you remember what that monologue was?
K: Yes! It was Tennessee Williams’ This Property is Condemned. “The sky sure is white. White as a clean piece of paper…” (Both laugh.) That was my favorite... I was like, wait, this is acting? You can say this poetry and, like, just pretend to see things that aren’t there and just be?
K: What drew you to BrickaBrack?
C: I was really drawn to BrickaBrack since they are an ensemble that uses Viewpoints. When I first came to NY I worked with a group called Synesthetic Theatre, and it’s been a long time since I worked with them, but that was kinda my artistic home when I first came to NY, so I was kind of wanting that Viewpoints/ensemble artistic home again… I enjoy the sense of community we have as an ensemble… We’re learning about each other as people. We work well together…
K: So, this is my first show with BrickaBrack [Kiebpoli joined BrickaBrack for this project on the invitation of Artistic Director GG - they’re colleagues from the Lincoln Center Directors Lab.]... but you did The Hope Frieze with BB. Do you happen to know why BrickaBrack uses audience participation?
C: Well, I don’t know what GG or Amy would say, but I find it interesting because we don’t normally view the world from one seat, with one perspective. We view the world many different ways and so I think changing audience perspective, or getting them involved in different ways in different pieces, helps make things more like how things are in real life. You know? How we have various perspectives on things.
K: Oh I like that, thank you.
C: So, let’s talk about On the Flip Side a little bit. Since this is what we’re doing.
K: This is what we’re doing.
C: This is why we’re here.
K: You’re a very good interviewer, by the way.
C: Thank you. (“Interview voice”) How would you…
K: Oh, Lord.
C: What’s your elevator pitch, or how do you describe the show to people?
K: That’s a great question. Let’s see. Hey, Kiebpoli, what are you up to? Oh, I’m doing this show called On the Flip Side. It’s this ensemble piece generated from postcards that have actually been sent. And so we are exploring, I guess, the life of this postcard, or the journey of this postcard. Whether we’re taking our impetus from the image, or the emotions that it evokes in us or, you know, just some improv based on that. But there’s this really nice…oh, that’s a very long elevator. (Nervous laugh.)
C: That’s okay. It could be to the 50th floor.
K: What floor? Cancel! Cancel!
K: Ok, so…on a more personal note, what’s your secret vice, Clinton?
C: I watch the soap opera “Passions” on YouTube.
K: Whaaat?! I didn’t even know there were still soap operas anymore!
C: No. It’s off the air. It’s been off the air… That’s my secret vice… What’s yours?
K: (gasps) I can’t share that on public internet! ...What’s your favorite place in NYC?
C: Well, it’s probably where Times Scare NY is now. It used to be Show World… Because that’s where I met my husband David. I met him at an audition for a show and it was in that building. It’s kinda the place where it all started.
K: Show World? Isn’t that a porn…
C: Yeah it was, but they had rehearsal studios above.
K: Of course they did. I have one more question here. When or where were you the most happy?
C: Probably, City Hall, on March 21st, 2012.
C: But, no, I mean seriously though, for not ever thinking I was going to get married…
C: …would be allowed to get married.
C: …to finally be able to marry David.
K: To the person you love.
C: …after 13 years. It was on our 9th anniversary.
K: Oh My God! This story gets better and better.
C: I know it’s another cliche answer but that was truly a special day.
K: So you’re a romantic, we get that.
C: Yes. Thank you. One more postcard question! If you could send anyone, anyone, a postcard right now, who would you send it to?
K: Oh, my gosh! I would probably send it to my friend Joy in Taiwan and I would send it to her because, because I miss her! And I feel like postcards are just like this tender little moment in time you want to share with another person… Thank you, Clinton. I love this “interview voice.”
C: My interview voice?
K: Yes. How many minutes was that?
C: That was five.
K: That was only five minutes?
On the Flip Side runs September 14 - 17 at HERE.
An interview with Ensemble Members Jamil Chokachi and DeLance Minefee during rehearsals for On the Flip Side.
Jamil: What first interested you in BrickaBrack?
DeLance: I was brought to BrickaBrack by a friend of mine, Angela Nahigian; she understood my aesthetic, you know, she thought it might be something I would be interested in. I came to the first audition and then sat down with GG afterwards and decided this was perfect, this is exactly what I wanted to do... once I saw what the plan was, the mission, and I jumped right in.
J: What do you enjoy most about working with the BrickaBrack Ensemble?
D: I really love ensemble work. I like the give-and-take, and the trust that builds between artists when we're working together towards a common goal, the creativity when everybody's firing on all cylinders. I like group work... I started out as a jock playing lots of team sports, football and basketball, so I’ve always liked working with the team, there's something about…
J: The unity…
D: Yeah, the unity of it…
J: What's the most memorable postcard you've received?
D: The most memorable postcard... I don't get many; I don't have many people that send postcards. So I guess the most memorable one would be from the first agent... I had an agent send me a postcard when I first moved to Chicago. I had sent all of these mass mailings a couple weeks before I moved to Chicago - and to get the first card from someone interested in meeting me… I guess that was the most memorable card only because, I still have it! But it was just like one of those, "Thank you for submitting, we’re really interested in you…"
J: They don’t normally do that…(chuckle)
D: (chuckle) They don’t normally do that... My favorite card that I've ever received from a friend of mine... We went to college together, she's an amazing actress/director, and she just loves to write. She's very diligent about sending out postcards and stuff like that. She sent me a card when I first moved to New York; it was the first mail that I received in New York. She sent me many cards, but that one really made me realize "Oh, I have an address in New York City!"
J: Cool!… If you sent a postcard right now, to whom would you send it?
D: Hmm... Send a postcard to anyone? Living or dead? I would send a postcard to my mom, just cause, she's my mom and I haven't talked to her in a long time…… Living? I would send it to my best friend, Daniel McElderry, we called him "Pale Face" growing up. He and I were best friends and I always keep in touch with him…
J: Where was this?
D: Arkansas, he's still in Arkansas. He - although he's very creative - he went into plumbing and settled down with a family. He's still my best friend, but we just don't see each other, so I would send him a postcard: "Hey - what's up, how's the kids? From the Big City, waiting for you to come visit!" Yeah Dan McElderry a.k.a. "Pale Face"... (laughing)
J: (Laughing) What profession would you attempt if you had to get out of the entertainment business?
D: If I had to get out of the entertainment business? I think law. That was my initial idea in the first place, I really wanted to do criminal defense. But then I realized, those guys are just actors in a court room with someone's life at stake - and I'd rather not have someone's life at stake while I'm acting. I always thought that I wanted to be a teacher, but I teach some now and I don't know if I would do it knowing what I know now. Probably law, something that makes a lot of money; marketing. I feel - no - I know that if I were in any other field with the drive that I have, the accomplishments that I've made, if that translated to another profession, I would be at the top of my game. Anything where there's competition; I even thought about the military for a while. The hierarchy has always been a draw to me; I like climbing to the top. I like being the best.
J: Do you have a Travel Bucket List?
D: Oooh, Travel Bucket List! Japan is my number one place. When I was a kid Japan seemed like the furthest away from Arkansas. In my head that was the other side of the planet; so far removed from everything that I grew up knowing. I was intrigued by Japan's culture and their theater and cinema... I remember one of first movies that I really watched was this film series called Zatoichi - it's about this blind swordsman who travels from town to town, kind of a vagabond. Like one of those Westerns where the old ranger is walking around doing good but accepting no praise. I remember watching his acting, thinking, "Oh my gosh, to be blind..." Because he's not blind but he's acting like it, and his nuances really intrigued me. And there was some point where I had watched it so many times that I stopped reading the subtitles, and I knew it by the intonations. I don't know Japanese at all but I could just turn the subtitles off and watch the movie. It's always been a goal of mine to go to Japan. There was an essay contest when I was in high school to do a foreign exchange with Japan, to go over there and study for six months. I entered, and they told me that I was the only African-American to even apply. And it came down to me and one other person, and they really wanted to give it to me, but I had too many misspellings in my essay….
D: (Laughing) So Japan is still number one; Seoul number two; number three is probably Brazil. Number four is probably Amsterdam, maybe Switzerland...
J: I love Amsterdam…
D: Number five I guess would be South Africa. I've always liked South Africa... I've always been intrigued, the caste system and the politics - apartheid was a big awakening for me. I found it the same time I found Malcolm X. I'd like to go and study the culture as opposed to a vacation. Know what I mean? Japan is top though... Right before I got accepted into graduate school [DeLance attended the A.R.T. program at Harvard], I had applied to teach English in Japan. I had plans, I talked to the company and had it set up; and then I got the acceptance letter and I was like, "Well, I've got to go to grad school!"
J: No doubt…
D: But if I hadn't gotten into grad school, I would probably still be in Japan.
J: That’s crazy how life turns…
D: Just a complete divergence…
J: Okay, so, last one: If you could send a postcard to yourself right now, to a point in time in your past, to what age would you send it?...
J: And why? What would you advise?
D: Huh, wow….
J: Whether or not it would change anything or enhance anything...
D: Oh I'm pretty sure if I got a postcard from myself from the future I would definitely take heed… I'm a big believer in science fiction and if I got something from the future, it's time to listen! Umm... I think I would send a card back to freshman year of college and I would tell myself, "Transfer to a bigger school in undergrad." I went to Henderson State University, which was a great school. I loved the program and I everything that I got out of it, but I feel like I could've gotten a little bit more had I been at a bigger program in a bigger city. After I graduated, I had to take an extra step to figure out how to live in a city. I went to Chicago first and then came to New York. If I was going to college in Chicago, I feel like I could've skipped the step. But that's not saying I would want to relive my college years. I just think that if I had gone to a bigger school when I had the opportunity, then it might've given me more motivation to do more on my own. Yeah, send that postcard to a younger me in college!
On the Flip Side runs September 14 - 17 at HERE.
BB Ensemble Member Rachel Ritacco interviews Ensemble Member Nicole Cardoni about moving to NY, ensemble work, postcards, and snacks.
Rachel: Recording… Nicole Cardoni! AKA, Niki.
Niki: Mhmm. Single K.
R: Single K. So, uh, tell us a little bit about yourself.
N: Oh, gawd!
R: Where are you from?
N: I’m originally from Toronto, Ontario Canada. Otherwise known as America’s more beautiful cousin… Uhh, that’s all I’ve got for you.
R: That’s totally cool. And where did you train in theatre prior to joining BrickaBrack?
N: I’ve got this one! So, originally I was in Toronto and had no theatre training. I was doing some work there and felt like I was a non-legit actor, so I looked up online where Diane Keaton had trained, and it brought me to the Neighborhood Playhouse, School of Meisner, and then I submitted – it was very last minute, since school was starting in two and a half weeks. I gave them a call, I got accepted, and hopped on the Greyhound bus with two suitcases and move to New York Citaaayy.
R: Woooahh! That’s crayzaaay.
R: I like that story, cool. And what were your first impressions of New York?
N: Well, I had come and visited here, but it was always with girlfriends that really wanted to party, so I’m embarrassed to say that all I really knew was, like, the meatpacking district. (They both chuckle.) So yeah… Let’s edit that part out.
R (and fellow Ensemble Member, DeLance, who is also sitting on the stoop outside the theatre with them): Heheh.
N: So when I moved here, I stayed on a friend’s couch in Williamsburg for two weeks and then found another place in Williamsburg, and I’ve been a Brooklynite ever since.
R (who is also a Brooklynite): Oh yeeeaahh.
DeLance (who is also a Brooklynite): Yeah, Brooklyn!
R: That’s right, we’ve got a Brooklyn crew right here! So, what first got you interested in working with BrickaBrack?
N: I really liked how I had never been part of an ensemble company before. Quite honestly, in the audition, when GG had asked “What is your experience with a ensemble work?” I didn’t even know what that meant. So I kind of just assumed that it would be – actually, exactly what this is! A group of artists getting together on a weekly basis to exchange creative ideas and impulses, and see what happens, and what develops from there, and just a safe place to work out new pieces. And when that, in fact, was what BrickaBrack was about, and has been for the last year for me, I feel like I’ve found the right home. And here’s Amy, ladies and gentleman!
R: Amy! Give it up, hey hey! She’s got nice pants.
(There is a pause while they greet Amy, BB Associate AD.)
R: Continuing on! What is the most memorable postcard you've ever sent to someone, or received?
N: Hmm, I think my favorite postcard that I’ve ever sent was… I did a lot of traveling right after college – well, Canadians would call it University – so I sent a BUNCH of them. So, my brother always wanted to do this big backpacking trip, and he had kind of planted that seed in my head. And then he got busy with life, and wasn’t able to do his backpacking trip.
R: Ah, LIFE.
N: So I just made sure I sent him a postcard from each country that I went to. And he kept them all, and I think there were about fifteen postcards in total. But the one that I knew he would like the most – and I’m not a very good gift giver – but it was a postcard that had a piece of the Berlin Wall on it. Yeah, I think that one meant the most to him. Which then, in turn, meant the most to me.
R: That’s really sweet. And if you could send a postcard to anyone right now, to whom would you send it?
N: Hmm, that’s a good question.
R: Thanks, I wrote it myself.
N: Hahah, I don’t know! It’s so hard, because I want to send a postcard to somebody that I haven’t connected to in a long time, so that they would get it in the mail and be very surprised and excited to receive it. But I actually think, after doing this project (On the Flip Side), I want to start sending postcards on a regular basis to my grandparents. I just think people are excited when they get their mail – they get to see an image of something. And my grandparents get excited when I call them, so I wonder what they would feel if they were getting postcards on a regular basis.
R: Yeah, that’s true. It really gives you a little boost in your day when you get something in the mail. Hmm, should I ask a silly question?
N: Go for it.
R: Ok… Nicole Cardoni: what is your favorite snack…
N: Oh, gawd! Ok, when I’m really sad, I will eat a Snickers.
R: Ooh, mood snacks.
N: Mhmm. And when I need something… So I’m thinking, like, snacks that I would just get waiting for the subway that’s not coming.
I would get Lays Potato Chips, with a regular amount of salt.
R: Ok. No ridges?
N: No, no ridges. And then, I would get… pizza. Pizza’s always muh comfort food.
R: Comfort snacks. Very well said. Very New York of you.
Come see Niki & Rachel in On the Flip Side at HERE, Sept 14-17!
Associate Artistic Director Amy Nielson interviews Artistic Director Gabriel Grilli about the origins of the company, ensemble work, and developing current project On the Flip Side.
Amy: Ok, is this thing working? Here we go! Why did you start BrickaBrack?
GG: I started the company because I wanted to create an ensemble that was making the sort of work that I wasn’t seeing being done. And now that the company is in New York, it’s becoming more of the kind of ensemble I wanted it to be all along, which is a group that works together every week, training, developing new ideas for theatre projects, and building a common vocabulary and methodology.
Amy: Do you have a favorite piece in the BrickaBrack canon?
GG: Mmmm… I don’t know if I have a favorite piece. This is actually… No one’s ever asked me this before, so it’s kind of funny to think about.
Amy: Is it like asking a parent which child is their favorite?
GG: Yeah, a little bit. I mean, definitely, Stalking Christopher Walken is close to my heart because it’s what launched the company, and it was a huge success.
(A pause to fix the dictation program… The dictation program autocorrects something to “Beverly.” Amy names her computer Beverly.)
Amy: New line, Beverly.
GG: Beverly! Why won’t you listen to us, Beverly?
(There is a better internet connection in the kitchen.)
GG: I'm excited about us continuing to develop The Hope Frieze, which we started earlier this year, because it's such a gigantic project… It's cool to see even one part of it come to fruition [it is conceived as a four-part work] after I have been kicking the idea around for 16, 17 years… I don’t know if it makes it my favorite, but it's something really unique and special.
Amy: I’m also very excited about The Hope Frieze project because of the scope of it, and the perspective of it - seeing the changes that happen over the 20th century, and also seeing what hasn't changed even though we might feel like a lot has changed… How history repeats itself, I guess… So, speaking of history, tell us a little about your training and how it applies to BrickaBrack.
GG: Yeah, so, when I first trained as an undergraduate, I was doing acting, and dance, and singing, and I was mainly doing traditional theater - although, the very first piece that I wrote was a project called The Invisible People that was a dance theatre adaptation of a John Boorman film from 1986 - so I clearly always had the idea in my brain that I was going to do something different. I don't know what the roots of it were, but my mom told me this story about how when I was 10, I held an Easter pageant in our neighbor's backyard - or, I guess it spanned a couple different yards… I went around to people's houses and... we took all the furniture outside and created a bunch of different environments. And there was a - I didn't even remember this, and I didn't believe that it happened - my mom showed me a program from it that I had made, which was crazy. And I had actually cast the whole neighborhood in different parts.
GG (cont'd): So I guess, even early on, I was looking at the theatre as a means to bring communities together and to take place in unconventional structures and in unconventional ways. I have no idea where I got this idea when I was a kid. I don't know how interactive it was, but it was a play that was outside and that travelled from space to space... It's funny that I'm sort of doing the same thing that I was doing when I was 10 years old. But probably the biggest part of my education came in moving to New York and seeing theatre pieces here by artists like Robert LePage, who I very much emulate. And other artists; Julie Taymor, Robert Wilson, Anne Bogart, Steven Berkoff, Mary Zimmerman. These are all people that I was exposed to when I came here. And then dance artists like Pina Bausch, Susan Marshall, Big Dance Theatre, Netherlands Dance Theatre, DV8 - these are all companies that I started to see really blurring the lines between what was theater and what was dance. All of that contributed to the development of my aesthetic which was sort of happening many years before I started BrickaBrack. And here we are today...
Amy: I’m personally very happy you moved the company to New York, because now I can join in the fun. (Laughs.) What do you enjoy most about working with the BrickaBrack Ensemble?
GG: The thing that I enjoy most is watching an idea come from nowhere, then emerge and develop into something very different and unexpected than its initial proposal. So, for instance, I don't often remember who initiated certain ideas - Clinton [a BrickaBrack Ensemble member] was telling me that, during The Hope Frieze, he had been the one who proposed the whole thing take place at a meeting. Then that became a huge frame for the project. I hadn’t even realized he had made the proposal, so I love when the idea of ensemble actualizes in that specific and concrete way. I love when projects come together with different people's ideas, or different things that people are doing, and those things somehow blend to form something that's a greater creation than any one person could possibly come up with on their own. I think that's what I've always loved about theater and that's what I love most about working as an ensemble.
Amy: I agree, group potential is very exciting. The final product is much more rich and complex than something created solo. We’ve definitely shared the creative journey with On the Flip Side. How would you describe this piece?
GG: On the Flip Side is a project about “the postcard” - the postcard as a device to trigger memory, and also as a sort of poetic window into a place and time… If you think about postcards, fewer people are sending them, right? Because it used to be, if you went to another country, it was too expensive to call somebody while you were there. It was sort of a memento that I traveled internationally and I sent home a postcard to say, “Hey, I'm here, and I made it here, and we're having a great time…” And then the person at home got that postcard and was thinking of you, and maybe thinking, “It's so cool. I'm looking at this window into another place…” But postcards are also ubiquitous, in that they're not just about travel, they’re also about experiences. If you go to the museum, there are often postcard images that you can purchase, which are replications of pieces in the museum.
Amy: Yeah, a huge part of my postcard collection is this- - from museums. They were not only memories of my visit, but memories of the work - usually pieces that really struck me. It was the only way I could keep it and remember it…
GG: So, yeah, these mnemonic devices trigger your memory of the original experience. I'm interested in postcards in a few different ways. One is just the personal relationship that each postcard has to the receiver, which I think is very compelling, and probably most of us - well, we had a performer in the workshop who had never received a postcard before - but most of us have received postcards. Most of us have saved certain ones that have meant something to us, so we kept it. Maybe we pinned it up on our wall or put it up on our refrigerator. The images themselves are very powerful and very triggering. And then, the text on the other side, “on the flip side”, if you will, and its relationship to the image, is also really interesting in our culture. And it's something that's going away as fewer people send postcards. So I thought it would be interesting to examine and explore what could come out of looking at postcards, the relationship between the image and text, who was getting them, who was sending them, the places that they came from or went to, what the event of you receiving these cards triggered... and so, we have, as a company, looked at the cards that we have collected over the years. I have a giant collection that spans like - I don't know - over 25 years of collecting cards now. So that triggers a lot of really powerful memories, and I think there's a lot of theatrical value in looking at those moments. There are things that would have been lost if I hadn't held onto these postcards. I wouldn't remember certain moments in life because, you know, the ocean of memories… they would just get lost in... But then these postcards have the capacity to really trigger a really specific place and time, and take you back there. They're very concrete in a way that an email will never be. You know, there's something about holding that physical device, which captures and brings forward a memory, a moment, and that's very unique. It’s tactile in a way that all of our electronic communications can never be.
Amy: Tell me about a memorable postcard you’ve received.
GG: The postcard that springs to mind first is one that we actually ended up making a piece with, which was a card that I got not through the mail, but from a machine that had a human being inside - a postcard machine that this artist had made that was at the opening of an art hotel in San Francisco. It was shortly after I moved there, so looking at that card really takes me back to that moment in my life: I had just moved to San Francisco... I was really looking to connect with new people... I don't even know how I found out about this party... But I went to this party, and I got this postcard. And I've kept it to this day. It is a very unique card because it's a photograph that was hand-stitched onto a card that the artist made. It had information about her on the back. This was like, 8 years ago now, and no - it's longer, it's 9. I tried to hunt down the artist when we were making this piece, but her email no longer worked. So there's that, and then just going through my old postcards, a lot of them are for shows that I saw, or didn't make it to see, or they’re some of the first shows that we've done as BrickaBrack. Some of the older things are things that my first girlfriend sent me, which are very very powerful mnemonic triggers. And they would take me back to where we were... different phases of our relationship... so that's a very powerful thing as well.
Amy: So much power… Something that postcards do is connect people, right? From long distances. I think as performers and theatre-makers, we’re always looking for points of connection, or ways to communicate and connect. How do you see BrickaBrack doing that?
GG: In some way, I ask myself this question all the time - because I ask myself why I'm making theater as opposed to any other art form. With On the Flip Side, if we have a great run, 200 people will see the show, you know. [Come see the show!] But, of course, 200 people can see something you put online, if it catches fire, in ten seconds - or less. It's easy to get 200 views on something in another format, so I do think there's something about theater in particular. I recently read, in a Lincoln Center magazine, an article discussing theatre in terms of its scale, which is something I had thought about, of course, but I hadn't really thought about it this exact way. It was, I'm a human being and I'm in a room with other human beings and they're at the same scale as me. I mean, even if you're at the Met [opera house], in this giant space, you know, the people are people... There is something about being in the same room with other human beings, telling stories, that goes back to the roots of storytelling and the roots of theater - as people gathered around a fireplace at night telling stories. But I think it touches something really vital, and necessary, in all of us. And some of us are, I think, desensitized to that, because we experience so much media through virtual channels, through television screens, on phones, that in our world it’s increasingly becoming less and less common for you to actually be face-to-face with someone, and have a conversation, and be in the same space with them… But theatre is like an antidote, to me, for the increasing disconnect that we experience through a lot of other mediums in our society. So, in terms of building community, certainly, we’re trying to do that by structuring the Ensemble as an ensemble, rather than the way that most conventional theatre works, where there may be artists that you work with over time, on a project-by-project basis. But with ensemble, the idea is that we’re working together all the time, we're training together and developing a vocabulary, a shorthand, and a level of trust and communication that you can't get when you're just working in conventional projects. A lot of the time, when you start a company, the first people that populate it, of course, are artists and their immediate contacts, and I would hope that as we expand, we are drawing more audience from the general population, people who are not theatre artists - that we develop a following of people who are hungry for the work that we do, and the way that it is interactive, and the way that, you know, the audience is involved in the work in a different way than it is in conventional theater. So that’s a very rambling answer to the question, but basically, we build these little circles, like Venn diagrams, and as the company progresses, we hope that those circles overlap more and more. So there are all these potential circles to add to that community. What’s cool is the world and the interwebs now gives us the opportunity to reach people in far places and to have them be a part of our community - but there's no replacement for actually being in the room when the theater event is happening. The ephemeral nature of that is sort of irreplaceable.
Amy: We do ask more of our audience than the usual theatrical performance, challenging the traditional dynamic for more of a dialogue. Can you talk a little about why it is such a cornerstone of our work?
GG: We're always looking for ways that we can include the audience in the event, and make the theater piece a little bit more of a back-and-forth than a one-way conversation. What’s cool about On the Flip Side, is each of the short pieces allows for a totally different actor/audience relationship, and it gives us a sort of maximum capacity to really play with that. Even when we make a more conventional piece of theatre, like The Hope Frieze, which is a story told in a specific time and place, we were still looking for ways to make that experience interactive, and to involve the audience in ways that maybe challenge their comfort level at times. But then, I think that makes the event much more fun and engaging as a whole. We want to make theater that can only be experienced live!
Amy: If you could send a postcard to anyone, who would it be?
GG: I guess, I don't know... When I hear that question, it makes me think, “Who would most be delighted receiving a postcard specifically from me?” So I don't know... As I mentioned, one of our workshop performers, Garrett, had never received a postcard before, which was shocking to me. That made such an impression on me. He was going out of town shortly after we did the workshop of On the Flip Side, so I sent a postcard to where he was going, so that he would receive it when he arrived at the theater in Atlanta. And that was really cool - just the idea of knowing that this is the first postcard that this person ever received in their life. That was super cool… It felt like a unique opportunity… If I think about who would most like to receive a postcard from me, I don't know, my brother, maybe? My parents, who just moved across the country to California? I don't know. But I think it would be better if I could send it to somebody who really wasn't expecting it, who I have never sent a postcard to before. But then, how would I have that person's address? A lot of people, we don't even know their physical addresses anymore…
Amy: We don’t even know their phone numbers.
GG: Right, yeah, right. We definitely don't know a lot of people's phone numbers. So, yeah, that is actually a much harder question that it seems to be. I'll just leave it at that.
On the Flip Side runs September 14 - 17 at HERE.
It summertime, and a lot of new stuff is afoot with BrickaBrack!
After our presentation of The Hope Frieze in May, we've taken significant steps with the structure of the company and our commitment as a group going forward.
Principally, there are now 7 core members of the BrickaBrack Ensemble: Amy, DeLance, GG, Clinton, Niki, Jamil & Rachel. This core group is committed to developing the company over time, meeting weekly for Jams (where we do exercises, artistic/administrative development, and generate material), and serving on our core committees: Fundraising, Marketing, Project & Partnerships, and Logistics.
Our larger network of collaborators is now called "Les Amis" -- friends of BrickaBrack. This group includes alumni who have worked on BB projects and have an ongoing relationship with the company. Its our go-to group when we're seeking collaborators to join us on new pieces. You can see more about all the wonderful people who contribute to BrickaBrack here.
Over the coming months, we'll be profiling our Ensemble Members so you can get to know them!
Thanks for reading :)
BrickaBrack is happy to announce that Dennis, star of Stalking Christopher Walken & Daffodil: A Play on Happiness, has returned from exile.
When BrickaBrack moved to NY from San Francisco last year, Dennis was sadly left behind. "He didn't want to fly unless he could be the captain," says BrickaBrack's Artistic Director GG, "He was a ship's captain, so now he thinks he can drive anything. Of course we wanted him to join us, but ultimately he chose this other path."
That other path was living in a storage unit in San Francisco for the past year. "The past year has prepared me specifically for working on The Hope Frieze with the NY BrickaBrack Ensemble. My living conditions were incredibly similar to what a gulag was probably like. I had no food or water, and was stuck in a cold, dark place during the entire ordeal. Basically, I now know what it feels like to be a victim of Stalin's. Ok, yes, it was San Francisco, and I never feared being shot, or forced to dig ditches in a typhus-ridden landscape of frost and death, but it still felt like Siberia to me. Probably if I wasn't already blue, I would have turned blue."
Now that Dennis has returned to civilization, he is considering changing his middle name to Lenin. "I just like the sound of it. Dennis Lenin has a certain ring. A certain... je ne sais quoi. That's French, I learned that in Daffodil. You could put them together to make one name. DeLenin. Then I'd have a dope handle, like DeLance, who's in BrickaBrack too. If I was at a party, people would be like, "DeLenin's in da house, yo!" So I'm exploring that option. Also I'm a big fan of John Lenin. I mean, is there anything better than "Imagine?" - Besides cupcakes, of course? Haha. No seriously. I love cupcakes. Or anything I can eat with my one functioning hand. Anyway. Vladimir Lenin had a beard, too, just like me." It is unknown what Dennis' last name is.
"We're just glad to have him back, and to benefit from his unique perspective in building this piece about artists during the Russian Revolution. I'm sure he'll wear a wonderfully appropriate new hat in The Hope Frieze." added GG.
Hi Faithful BB Blog Readers!
Today marks a significant day for us as we embark on the research/development phase of The Hope Frieze Pt. 1.
The lead artists on this project will be Ensemble Members GG, Amy, Brian, Natalia, Niki, and Rita. We also will have significant contributions from artists new to BB who are joining us for the process, Clinton, Nick, Spencer, Tyler and Emily. We are aiming to present the project as an open studio work in progress in early May (6, 7, 8); currently seeking a space.
My hope is that with this phase of the project, we will develop a structure and document the process, giving us significant material to use in grant applications and towards seeking funding to take the piece to the next level.
We've never attempted a project of this scope before, and frankly, its a little daunting. But this work, and the subjects that it covers, couldn't be more applicable towards our current condition as human beings and artists. I was chilled at the parallels between this article below, written just a few weeks ago, and the Stalinist horrors of the 30s I have been researching:
Ultimately though, the Hope Frieze is about hope, art, women, and change - and the belief that our society is making progress towards a future where beauty triumphs over brutality. Things are changing SO FAST in the 21st century!
In this process we'll explore:
I look forward to embarking on this journey with you!
BrickaBrack has announced the appointment of Ensemble Member Amy Nielson to the newly created position of Associate Artistic Director. A performer, director, choreographer, and costumer, Amy hails from Utah and came to NY four years ago via the Bay Area, where she met BrickaBrack's Artistic Director, Gabriel Grilli.
Grilli notes, "Amy has been a long-term supporter of BrickaBrack since our founding, and a dear friend of mine for many years now. She was instrumental in helping to establish the company in NY, and her capacity to lead, artistic curiosity, and commitment are second to none. In our rehearsals and workshops, Amy exhibits a plethora of skills and areas of expertise which I'm still discovering. For instance, I'd known her for years before learning that she was a docent at SF MOMA. I had no idea the extent of her knowledge and passion for visual art - it's crazy! She has an insatiable hunger for learning. Amy's been a company leader since we moved to NYC, and this position in actuality simply reflects the extent of her involvement with BrickaBrack. We're so fortunate to have her with us on this journey.”
Nielson's role as Associate Artistic Director will involve helping coordinate artistic initiatives (including Ensemble work & long term planning), building relationships with artists/collaborators, leading specific artistic projects/explorations, and developing partnerships/residencies/company expansion opportunities.
"I am so grateful to have found a creative home with BrickaBrack." says Nielson, "I knew from its inception that this company would be a place for artists to engage, explore and entertain. We need more theatre like this. I'm looking forward to what Brickabrack will contribute to the New York community and beyond."
Musings by the BrickaBrack Ensemble