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Remembering Joan Rivers

by John Killacky, Executive Director

Comedians Jason Lorber and Joan Rivers at the Flynn in April 2012.”

Comedians Jason Lorber and Joan Rivers at the Flynn in April 2012.

Two years ago, I was nervously waiting for Joan Rivers to arrive for rehearsal with local musicians the Flynn had hired as her musical back up.  I expected a feral tigress; instead I welcomed a kindly grandmother type, chicly dressed in black.

She got right down to work. Going through musical cues, the comedian told the band, “I really like you, but when the show starts I might not be so nice. Don’t take it personally.” At one point, she explained, “I will fall down and beg you to help me up, but don’t make a move. It’s funnier that way, and I like funny.”

Local comedian Jason Lorber had been invited to perform a short warm-up set.  After his sound check, Rivers told him, “Don’t worry if you bomb, the audience is here to see me.” Not the most reassuring praise for a fellow artist.

After the rehearsal, I handed Ms. Rivers her check in an envelope that she immediately opened.  “It’s the right amount, thank you,” she said with a smile and a wink.  This was an artist who knew her finances.

Hours later, her raspy, foul-mouthed brilliance came alive on stage.  My jaw dropped as she began her barrage of insults: telling the old people to leave, attacking the obese, and chiding the lesbians who didn’t love her as much as the gays. Nothing was off limits, and the audience at first seemed uncomfortable.

Within a few minutes, however, we relaxed as she goaded us to “Oh, grow up!” and laughed at things no one else would dare talk about in public. This brash idiosyncratic icon was in top form, demonstrating her life-long mantra, “Life is tough, so you better laugh at everything.”

After the performance, she had agreed to do a ‘Meet and Greet’ with Flynn supporters. Instructions were precise: visitors were to stand in line and Ms. Rivers would pose for photographs.  And that she did, smiling for each and every photo-op until the last person got their memento.

What an honor it was to present this legend. Fifty years ago she broke down the male bastion of comedy on mainstream television. Then, through personal tragedies and professional setbacks, she continually reinvented herself: day-time talk show host, shopping network maven, celebrity apprentice, reality show star, and red carpet fashionista.  “Can we talk?” was always her invitation as she tackled societal taboos with irrepressible chutzpah.

On her way out of the Flynn that evening, she turned to me and sweetly said, “Thank you for bringing me to your beautiful theatre.  Hope you will have me back.”

You are most welcome Joan Rivers. You were such a fierce artist, a comic genius with unstoppable determination. Thank you for all the laughter you allowed us.

This commentary first appeared on Vermont Public Radio.


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At the Intersection of Art and Disability

by John Killacky, Executive Director

The Flynn has a long-standing commitment to access and inclusion. In 2011, we received our second award from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters and the METLife Foundation for our work in accessibility and inclusivity for artists and audiences with disabilities. This year, the Surdna Foundation gave the Flynn a three-year grant to continue this kind of programming and outreach. The grant is augmented by support from The Gibney Family Foundation and Courtney and Victoria Buffum Family Foundation, as well as generous local foundations and individuals.

Marcus Roberts & The Modern Jazz Generation (MainStage, October 24)
Preeminent jazz pianist Marcus Roberts is in residence at the Flynn from October 20-24, which culminates in two performances with his 12-piece band, one for students and one for the general public. While in residence, Roberts visits multiple communities including Burlington’s Integrated Arts Academy and the University of Vermont Big Band. In addition to being a jazz genius, Roberts, blind since age five, has made extraordinary breakthroughs in the development of adaptive technology that enables blind composers to write complicated musical scores. The Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired is one of the Flynn’s community partners for the residency. Large Braille programs and audio descriptions are available at both the student and evening performances and an online study guide is available for teachers, parents, and homeschoolers.

Thodos Dance Chicago (Thursday, February 5)
As part of our Student Matinee Series, Thodos Dance Chicago performs its beautiful A Light in the Dark based on the lives of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. The Flynn is excited to give students a new way to look at The Miracle Worker—as a dance piece rather than a theater piece—and open lines of understanding about differently-abled populations and art-making. Planned residency activities include an onstage “touch tour” of the sets, props, and costumes for the visually impaired. Pre-show workshops are devised in collaboration with VSA Vermont and the UVM Deaf/Blind Project (part of the Vermont Sensory Access Project at the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion), to give audiences a stronger line into understanding both contemporary dance and the experience of having impaired sight and hearing. The performance is audio-described for the blind and visually impaired and interpreted in ASL for the deaf and hearing impaired. An online study guide is available as well.

“Schoolhouse Rock Live!” (Sunday, February 15)
This adaptation of the Emmy-winning ‘70s Saturday morning cartoon series is presented as an autism-friendly performance: the content remains the same,teacher nervous about his first day relaxes by watching TV, characters appear and show him how to win over his students using imagination and music. The Flynn worked with the artists in the touring company and the National Autism Theatre Initiative of Theatre Development Fund to learn how to create a supportive environment for audience members diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or other sensory issues. We also convened a local advisory group that chose this particular performance, and will work with us to spread the word statewide. This is an inclusive performance to which all family audiences are invited.

In FlynnSpace

Mat Fraser & Julie Atlas Muz: “The Freak and the Showgirl” (New date: Thursday, January 8)
Mat Fraser and his wife Julie Atlas Muz bring their provocative, adults only, burlesque spectacle The Freak and the Showgirl, asking us to leave political correctness at the door as they challenge perceptions on disability and the body. Born with a thalidomide syndrome of shortened limbs, Mat has long been a disability activist on stage and in film as an actor and musician. Their cabaret extravaganzas have been seen in London, Seattle, Holland, Portugal, Baltimore, Adelaide, Leeds, Liverpool, New York, and Key West.

Terry Galloway: “You Are My Sunshine” (Saturday, April 11)
Terry Galloway brings her autobiographical one-woman show, You Are My Sunshine, about her transition from deafness to suddenly being able to hear after receiving a cochlear implant. For decades, Galloway has been deaf activist and her performance art has been produced internationally. You Are My Sunshine explores the struggles and revelations of a person thrust into a new world of sound after 40 years of deafness. In addition to her performance, informal community gatherings are planned with the LGBT and deaf communities, and Galloway will do a reading from her bitingly humorous memoir Mean Little Deaf Queer.

In the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery
In association with the GRACE Gallery in Hardwick, next June the Flynn exhibits the work of artist and autism advocate Larry Bissonnette. A high fever at the age of two damaged his nervous system and he was institutionalized as a child, but now lives with his sister. Bissonnette has been drawing prolifically since the age of five. His work is exhibited nationally and internationally and is in the permanent collection of the Musée de l’Art Brut, Lausanne, Switzerland and in many private collections. He has been a featured presenter at many educational conferences and has written and spoken on the topics of autism, communication, and art. Three disability related films on the work of Larry Bissonnette, Mark Utter, and Gayleen Aiken will also be screened.

Universal Design for Learning
This season, the Flynn continues its work with VSA Vermont and Burlington City Arts providing professional development for teachers and teaching artists’ residencies at the Integrated Arts Academy in Burlington. A component of this training focuses on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles in relation to arts-integrated curriculum. UDL is a set of curriculum development principles that considers multiple learning styles in order to give all individuals equal opportunity to access learning in intentional and meaningful ways. These are particularly relevant for students with physical and cognitive disabilities.

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Dance at Bennington College: 80 Years of Moving Through

by John Killacky, Executive Director

Dance at Bennington College: 80 Years of Moving Through
An exhibition drawn from Bennington College’s archives
September 12 through November 29, 2014
Amy E. Tarrant Gallery at the Flynn Center

Martha Graham in lift with Erick Hawkins 8” x 10” Photographer unknown

Martha Graham in lift
with Erick Hawkins
8” x 10”
Photographer unknown

Dance enthusiasts claim that modern dance is America’s indigenous art form; jazz fans may disagree. Nevertheless, modern dance artists from this country continue to exert a profound aesthetic influence worldwide. Most remarkably, this genre found its first American home in Vermont at Bennington College. In 1934, the college created a center for the study of modern dance under the stewardship of Martha Hill. That summer, she invited Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, and Hanya Holm to teach, create, and perform.

This initial summer school, attended by 103 students, validated these choreographers and helped them develop their distinctive teaching technique and vocabulary. The Bennington School of the Dance was formally born. Other icons such as Sybil Shearer, Erick Hawkins, Bessie Schönberg, Merce Cunningham, José Limón, Ana Sokolow, Anna Halprin, and Alwin Nikolais soon visited Bennington. Louie Horst, Martha Graham’s music director, taught dance composition and New York Times critic John Martin helped students and faculty learn how to talk and write about this nascent art form. Without hyperbole, the case can be made that modern dance would not be where it is today without Bennington College.

In subsequent decades Sophie Maslow, Jack Moore, Steve Paxton, Remy Charlip, Harry Shephard, Min Tanaka, Eiko and Koma, Ulysses Dove, and many others visited, giving students access to the most creative dancemakers alive. Currently, the faculty includes Terry Creach, Dana Reitz, Susan Sgorbati, and Elena Demyanenko.

For the Flynn’s exhibition, historic photographs are drawn from Bennington’s archives that feature many of these figures in the development of American modern and post modern dance. Related to the exhibition are the following Talking Dance lectures in the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery:

Friday, September 12, 5:30 to 8 pm
Opening reception and discussion about the history of dance at Bennington with dance professors Dana Reitz and Terry Creach and Flynn Executive Director John Killacky.

Thursday, November 6 at 6 pm
Pre-performance discussion with Stowe-based choreographer Polly Motley and dancer Steve Paxton, whose solo piece Bound is performed by Jurij Konjar in FlynnSpace at 7:30 pm.

Friday, November 21 at 6:30 pm
Pre-performance conversation with Martha Graham Dance Company Artistic Director Janet Elber and Flynn Artistic Director Steve MacQueen.

For more information, visit the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery page.

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In the Queue

by Julia Rhoads & Leslie Danzig of Lucky Plush

Come to a free performance by dance group Lucky Plush of their new work-in-progress The Queue on Monday, August 18 at 6 pm. Get more info here.

Hello Flynn audience members!

We’re sitting here in the Flynn MainStage on a 10 minute break during our National Dance Project-supported production residency. We’re here to refine the design and staging of The Queue, which premiered in Chicago this past spring at Links Hall, and that begins touring throughout the US in September. The Queue is a dance-theater work that takes place in the communal spaces of a staged airport, where plots unfold and intersect, and characters become embroiled in each other’s lives. The Queue also features live music by The Claudettes, an amazing drum & piano duo that you can see live in Burlington on Sunday night at Red Square (7 pm . . . join us!).

We’re working on a section we call “Dispersal,” where the performers move through places like Hudson News, monitors, and the food court. We’re finally getting to realize an idea we had months ago before our Chicago premiere that involves an accelerating footwork pattern, which evokes the nonstop motion of an airport. Because of the small size of our premiere venue in Chicago, and limited lighting equipment, we weren’t able to successfully execute this idea for our opening, but are determined to make it work at the Flynn Center.

We work with a complex mix of technical dance, physical theater, and dialogue-driven scenes. A lot of our time is spent trying to achieve the perfect balance of layering and tacking between these forms. We spent all day yesterday tackling this one moment in the show where we have to get from a narrative scene into full-bodied, lush choreography. We tried a lot of approaches, and over dinner last night at El Cortijo (really good food!) we think we figured it out. Trying that out today as well.

We’re so excited, and we hope that you will join us on Monday evening at 6pm for an informal showing of The Queue. 

Break is over!

Warm regards,

Julia Rhoads & Leslie Danzig

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Movement is Healing

by Sara McMahon, Flynn Teaching Artist

This fall, FlynnArts offers Movement for Parkinson’s, a weekly class designed for people with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers to engage participants’ minds and bodies. Sign up for the class here.

Image courtesy of the Brooklyn Parkinson Group

Image courtesy of the Brooklyn Parkinson Group

My husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s just over two years ago. The impact on our lives has been instrumental in finding ways to support all the changes that have come our way.

I’ve been a movement educator and artist for over 35 years, and have always held a particular interest in neurological movement (developmental) patterns and improvisation. When we first learned of the diagnosis, I began to research existing movement classes for people with the disease. I immediately came across a Parkinson’s dance program at Keene State, and registered for an informational seminar. From there, I went on to train intensively in a special program developed in partnership by Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group. The physical therapists at Fletcher Allen’s Movement Disorders Center have also been incredibly supportive in my research. This current direction—teaching dance and movement to those with Parkinson’s—feels energizing, challenging, and rewarding.

Dance and movement classes provide so much for those with Parkinson’s. First is the benefit of coming together as a group and feeling accepted and validated, both for what one can do and what one is challenged to do. The classes help to stretch and strengthen muscles; improve motor skills, balance, and facial expressions; increase confidence, coordination, and energy; treat depression, enhance a sense of belonging, and build community.

Class begins with a warm-up and progresses to phrases, then to across-the-floor movements. Our initial warm-up takes place sitting on chairs in a circle: during this section, we begin with slow movement focusing on upper body flexibility and strengthening phrases. Next we focus on the feet, legs, and hips, followed by work on incorporating voice and facial expressions.  Then we move across the floor combining the movement elements we’ve worked on, again drawing on different dance styles. These activities are accompanied by a variety of musical styles that enhance the experience. We close our class in a circle with a calming and relaxing “cool down” sequence.

For all the challenges that participants face, the support in these groups is powerful, and many times I’ve been moved beyond words.  I too benefit from the class, as I feel both energized and humbled at the same time by the work. I’ve always believed that movement is healing.

SARA MCMAHON has been involved in the research, teaching, performing of movement as a form of artistic and personal development for the past 30 years. Her teaching approach draws from elements of Bartenieff Fundamentals, Body-Mind Centering, basic principles of anatomy and kinesiology, and improvisational and modern dance techniques. Sara McMahon is a professional movement performer and educator trained in the Dance for PD® method. Assistance and support is offered by Elizabeth Brody, Flynn Arts Faculty, and other trained professional dance and yoga instructors.

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A Shot Through the Art

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

“What I love about this organization is that it has many different faces, depending on who’s coming here”

During the year after John Killacky was hired in 2010 as executive director and CEO of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, earlier work he had done with his predecessor, founding director Andrea Rogers, came to fruition with a $500,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation.

The resulting $2.3 million campaign’s funds were slated to be used for projects such as enclosing the loading dock, which, when open in winter, sent the heating costs soaring; painting the floor and replacing rugs; painting walls; upgrading the lobby; and replacing the seats, which dated to 1946.

“The good news was, they gave us $500,000,” Killacky says, laughing; “the bad news was, they gave us $500,000.”

Worried about where the rest would come from, he sought input from longtime donors. “Bobby and Holly Miller are great. Bobby said, ‘What are you worried about?’ I said, ‘I’m the new guy in town. What if I fail?’ He said, ‘Well, John, you are new. You may fail. But be reassured this community will not let the Flynn fail.’

“We created the Take a Seat campaign without having a lot of money ahead of time, as a kind of grassroots campaign,” he says, “and one of the most remarkable things in my entire career happened.

“After the Free Press did an article about the squeaky seats that were going to be replaced, the front desk came to me with a hand-addressed envelope that said Director of Development, Flynn Center.” The typed message said, in part:

The lights went on for us when we read the article in the Free Press with the hilarious title “Let the de-squeaking begin.” We looked at one another and said, ‘This is a project we can really help move forward.’ It can happen now!

Enclosed was a bank check for $1 million.

“I cried!” he says. “I started obsessing about who it could be. Then I thought, These people want to be anonymous, and it could be anyone, even one of our volunteers. So I started being grateful to everyone who came in. I still don’t know who sent it.”

When he arrived to take the job, Killacky was quite familiar with the Flynn, having done several partnerships with the organization in the 1990s, when he was at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. When Killacky left Walker, the Flynn’s then artistic director, Philip Bither, took his position.

An old friend was also waiting to welcome him. At age 20, living in New York and needing a place to stay, he learned that a friend’s neighbor, a writer named Kathy Robinson, needed a nanny for her children. Killacky took the job. “When I moved to Vermont, a friend asked, ‘Did you get in touch with Kate Schubart yet?’ She was Kathy Robinson! And now I’m like a grandfather, because her daughter has a little baby.”

“I only know John through Kate,” says Schubart’s husband, Bill, an author, retired business owner, and Flynn member whose admiration is palpable. “One of the most wonderful things of John’s arrival at the Flynn has been his completely open and collaborative approach to culture. John sees it as the mission of the Flynn to lift everyone’s cultural boats. It’s not a control or power issue; his attitude is, How can we all do this together to make the arts stronger?”

The Flynn is one of Burlington’s largest employers: a $6.6 million organization that last year employed 264 people. “And that payroll was $2.1 million,” Killacky says. That includes 32 full-time staff plus part-timers: box office, stage hands, and over 70 teaching artists, he says, “teaching here at the Flynn but also at a number of schools.

“What I love about this organization is that it has many different faces, depending on who’s coming here,” he says.

Lyric Theatre Company spearheaded the purchase of the Flynn in 1981 to save it from the wrecking ball, says Syndi Zook, Lyric’s executive director. “We owned the Flynn for about six months and hired Andrea Rogers, then spun it off as its own nonprofit. John Killacky had big shoes to fill.

“I think that John has done an amazing job of keeping the Flynn feeling like it belongs to all of the original stakeholders and yet opening it up so that it belongs to everyone.”

“So we present the artists; people buy tickets, which I’m very grateful for,” Killacky says, “and we’re also home to the Vermont Symphony, Vermont Youth Orchestra, Vermont Stage Company, Lyric Theatre. Those other organizations’ audiences also call the Flynn home, which I’m just thrilled about.”

Gratitude: It crops up in just about every subject he addresses, not least when telling about the path that brought him here.

Killacky grew up on the South Side of Chicago, where his father and grandfather sold cattle at the Chicago Stockyards. “I was one of these kids who went on a school trip to the theater,” he says. “It was to see the Alvin Ailey Dance Company.

“I went home and said, ‘I want to be a modern dancer when I grow up.’ My mom and dad, with an Irish Catholic family and five kids, said, ‘What is a modern dancer?’ But God love them, they checked a phone book and found a modern dance studio.”

He became what he says was “a pretty good dancer,” and headed to New York for a summer internship with the Harkness Ballet, then to Winnipeg to perform professionally with Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers.

Back in New York, he danced with the Theatre of the Open Eye. “What I saw was that I was a pretty good dancer in Chicago, but once I went to New York, I was an OK dancer, especially in the classical ballet world.”

He toured and performed a couple of years, then transitioned into administration, managing the dance companies of choreographers Laura Dean and Trisha Brown. Six years later, he left to run the Pepsico Summer Fair in Purchase, N.Y., for a couple of years, followed by two years leading the arts program at The Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia.

By then, Killacky had earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Hunter College. “It took me nine years, because I would take a semester, then go off and perform. I told people that you can only be a dancer or an athlete like that in your 20s, so if you really want to go for it, go for it.”

His next move, to Minneapolis to run the performing arts program at the Walker Arts Center, “was a fantastic job,” he says. “It was a contemporary museum and my job was to bring in contemporary artists.

“It was the 1990s, and the contemporary artists of that time were causing a ruckus.” He recalls his mother’s calling to ask what on earth he had done to get Rush Limbaugh talking about him for a half hour on television.

“It was a time when people were dying of AIDS,” he says, “and bodily fluids, and blood, were just so scary to people, and of course artists were in that mix having to think about those issues. It was what contemporary artists do, and I was at that nexus.”

After eight years in Minneapolis, he was recruited to run the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco. His life would take a radical shift before he left for San Francisco, when a tumor was found inside his spinal cord “at C2, up high,” he says.

Killacky left the hospital following surgery, paralyzed and not expected to walk again. “I had no sensation on my right side and no location on my left side. Even today, my brain doesn’t know I have a left side,” he says.

He realized, however, that when being moved from the bed to the wheelchair, he felt like he could almost stand up. In outpatient rehab, he asked for a mirror. “I said, ‘I think I can learn to stand up visually.’”

Told it was unlikely, he persisted. “I said, ‘When I was younger I was a dancer and practiced in a mirror to make it look good. Let me try.’” He credits his early work with mirrors for preparing his brain to help him walk.

“And after I stopped dancing, I became a runner and ran six marathons, so I knew if I could figure out the first step, I could do it. I still work on it with yoga and swimming and strengthening. I need a cane because my body still doesn’t know I have a left side.”

Killacky’s freest moments these days come from driving his pony cart at Windswept Farm in Williston, pulled by his Shetland pony, Pacific Raindrop.

“In riding a horse, you need two legs,” he says. “But when you’re driving a horse or pony, you work only through the long reins. So I don’t have my own legs, but I can run, can dance again in the world with this pony, and I just have a blast.”

Killacky says that, at 62, he’s happier than he’s ever been. He lives in South Burlington with his family: husband, Larry Connolly, who teaches creative writing at Champlain College, “the pony — our 400-pound daughter; a very hyper border collie named Zephyr; and a three-legged cat, Lana.

“What I love doing and have been blessed to do, is Vermont Public Radio commentaries — about six of those a year. I tend not to only speak about art stuff; horse stuff sometimes; other things. I love that opportunity to be a cultural citizen. I’m on the board of the Vermont Community Foundation, and the state Tax Department just asked me to be on the Vermont Tax Advisory Board.”

The subject of the Flynn is never far from his mind. Mentioning the 38,000 children who come to see performances at student matinees, he says, “This is my best moment because I was one of those kids. When I see them, especially the little ones whose heads are just above the seats, watching live theater, it’s so important to me, because it transforms those lives. It did mine, and it will others.”

This article appears in Business People Vermont.

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2014 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival: By the Numbers

The 2014 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival filled the community with music, from the waterfront to Church Street, from the Flynn Center to the downtown clubs and restaurants, played by performers ranging from local artists to internationally recognized superstars.

In 2014 we presented:

129 total events

111 free events, including 114 hours of free music
16 Free educational events, including films, meet-the artist sessions, performances and workshops

95 free Church Street Marketplace performances, including 55 VT school bands and 660 Vermont students

210 gigs for local and regional musicians through the

18 clubs and restaurants who participated as ‘Round Town Venues during the festival.

Maceo Parker 3 Madis Gras Indians Ray Vega Regina Carter Tony Bennett

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Broadway World Reviews FlynnArts’ Chilling “Carrie, the Musical”

by Erin McIntyre

This review appears on the Broadway World website.

FlynnArts Summer Youth Theater opened CARRIE, THE MUSICAL on Thursday, July 18 at Burlington’s FlynnSpace at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts.

Based on Stephen King‘s novel, CARRIE is a musical with a turbulent history. The 1984 New York City workshop and the 1988 Stratford-upon-Avon tryout met with mixed reviews, and the Broadway production flopped in May of 1988 after just a handful of performances.

2009 saw a major revamp of CARRIE by its creators, composerMichael Gore, lyricist Dean Pitchford, and bookwriter Lawrence D. Cohen, along with director Stafford Arima. The revision met with critical acclaim in a 2012 off-Broadway revival featuring Molly Ranson as Carrie White and Marin Mazzie as Margaret White. With the success of the re-imagined show, performance rights were made available and productions have sprung up across the country. The FlynnArts production marks the Vermont premiere of CARRIE, THE MUSICAL.

The storyline follows a group of high school students in the small town of Chamberlain, Maine. Carrie White, the awkward social outcast and daughter of religious zealot Margaret White, is taunted mercilessly by her peers. If you’ve read the Stephen King novel, you’ve got the gist of the plot – religious fanaticism, teenage rage, and eerie telekinetic powers collide, culminating in a prom night that turns tragic.

The fact that the FlynnArts production is a youth musical, with no cast member over the age of 19, is remarkably irrelevant. There are no weak links in this cast, and many of the young actors display near-professional ability.

Zoë Olson is riveting as the painfully shy Carrie White. Her journey from silent victimhood to empowerment is uncanny and terrifying, and Olson uses both voice and physicality to truly inhabit this role.

Cassidy Thompson’s portrayal of Carrie’s mother is extraordinary. It’s rare for a teenager to possess the maturity to be convincing in an adult role (particularly one as complicated as Margaret White), and Thompson doesn’t just manage it – she delivers a level of nuance that many seasoned adult actors never achieve.

Bonnie Currie is perfect as Sue Snell, the one female student who treats Carrie with kindness. Sue is the primary witness to the horrid events that transpire on prom night, and her testimony guides the audience through the story. Currie does an especially fine job of navigating Sue’s struggle to find the balance between being popular and being kind.

Chiara Hollender is Chris Hargensen, Sue’s best friend and Carrie’s chief tormentor. Hollender’s portrayal is wonderfully devilish, and she also manages to find the character’s undercurrent of loneliness. Charlie Aldrich hits all the right comedic moments as the swaggering bad boy, Billy Nolan, and Adam Brewer is charming as Sue’s kind, level-headed boyfriend who agrees to take Carrie to the prom. Evan Cohen is hilarious as Mr. Stephens, the English teacher, and Olivia Christie delivers some lovely moments as Miss Gardner, Carrie’s sympathetic gym teacher.

The cast is vocally strong throughout, and the principals are backed by a fantastic-sounding group of supporting and ensemble characters, played by Audrey Teague, Pearl Guerriere, Kira Johnson, Seamus Buxton, Jackson Bisaccia, Max Chlumecky, Shea Dunlop, Zelda Ferris, Olivia Peltier, Maddy Smith, Arlo Cohen, Seth Jolles, Nathaniel Miller, and Alec Rutherford.

The staging is excellent, and lighting design (Jamien Lundy Forrest), costume design (Olivia Hern), and video/projection design (Dom Wood) are especially effective. The ensemble of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard is top-notch. This production clearly benefits from a skilled creative team, including directors Christina Weakland, Gina Fearn, and Danielle Sertz, and musical director Piero Bonamico. The team has worked with the cast to examine the elements of school culture at play in this plot, and an excerpt from the directors’ note in the program captures the heart of the story:

“Humiliation and ridicule are all too common elements of growing up in our society, and the implications range from damaged self-esteem that impacts lifelong relationships patterns, to full-scale horror, like the massacres at Columbine and Newtown. School shooting have, in fact, become a norm in America; there have been over 74 instances in the past 18 months alone, and bullying is linked to 7 out of 10 of these violent events. [...] We hope audiences (teen or not) will take away from CARRIE the inspiration to do better, to affirm each others’ humanity, to respect the dignity in each soul.”

Stafford Arima, director of the 2012 off-Broadway revival of CARRIE, spent a day with the FlynnArts cast, deepening their understanding of the piece. “The team at CARRIE in Burlington, Vermont have put together an impressive production [...] that tells this story with clarity, horror, and heart,” says Arima. “Congratulations to the entire cast, creative team, and musicians on a successful run.”

FlynnArts provides this age advisory for CARRIE, THE MUSICAL: Although bloody, Carrie is not actually gory. (The blood is a cruel prank meant to humiliate Carrie about the onset of her period.) Overall this is a tale of bullying and supernatural revenge (which will take an abstract form in this production – no gruesome violence.) Carrie’s mother also demonstrates an abusive parenting style that some children (and adults!) might find disturbing to experience in close proximity. That said, we think most youth aged 11+ can handle the content with a parent or guardian present to field questions, and the ultimate anti-bullying message of the piece is a vital one for middle- and high-schoolers to grasp.

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Behind the Scenes of “Carrie, The Musical”

The first FlynnArts theater production of the summer, Carrie, the Musical, premieres tomorrow, July 17 in FlynnSpace at 7 pm (TICKETS). The cast, crew, and director Christina Weakland are working feverishly to get every detail finalized by show time. We thought you’d enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at the production process via the memo below, sent to the crew by Christina in the wee hours of the morning.

The "Carrie" lighting and production team.

The “Carrie” lighting and production team.

Hi Team, updates and new items of importance.  Have bolded your names for important items, but please read through all.


1. Prom curtain frame looks like it will work, once eye bolt and hooks are set.  Unfortunately we discovered that the curtain cannot be onstage when the fire starts (projection focus issue), which means it needs to go sooner in destruction, possible right at the end of part 1/start of part 2.  May cause slight shift to destruction staging at start.  Danielle and I to discuss.

2. Five downstage curtains look great with projection.  They are drooping though,Jeff, the webbing does not seem to hold them out, would you to look at this and see if you have any ideas?  More velcro perhaps, or stiffening of some sort?  We hung a teaser to hide it, but can still see some of the worst droops. Danielle, we need to look at when those are struck by actors during fire sequence, let’s do that in a down moment tomorrow.

3. Rigging for end of destruction means cast must be very careful upstage of various wires.  Piero, band will need warning too, in general the area upstage of band is a danger zone for invisible tripping hazards of several different kinds.  

4. We need to figure out Billy’s rope rigging.  Simple, but one vs two ropes, do they stay or go, how they impact ensuing scenes, etc.  Danielle, let’s confer tomorrow - Cathie and I talked it through today but want to make sure thoughts make sense with your plans for those scenes.

5. Windows work incredibly well.  Thanks guys, and Gina, for figuring that out.

6. We need to look at the levitations.  Will try to do what we can on Sunday, Lesley let us know when you think those statues might come back.  Would love to have one, even unpainted on Monday, but don’t make a special trip.


1. Floor is fully laid and looks great, need to add the small corner pieces around the poles. Any of us can hammer those in when they arrive.  Jeff is planning to come in Monday or Tuesday morning at 8:45 or 9ish to line the floor with marker.

2. We tested the curtain frame today many many times.  Fell over at first.  Added weights on one side, still tipping, added weight on both sides and finessed placement of the string to pull, replaced the connector pipe with a smaller pipe and gaffed it in so that it neither caught and stuck like the original, nor fell out and bonked Carrie on the head.  Seem to have found a sweet spot where it is stable. However the weights look ugly on the base now.  If props folk and Jeff could confer on how to conceal the rigging of it, that would be lovely. Also we need to drill a hole for an eye-bolt on each side of it, at a specified height, and attach a hook to the tieline offstage so that tieline can be brought onstage and hooked FAST.  We looked at both scenarios at length (hooking onstage vs rigging offstage) and this one seems best for a variety of reasons.  If this could happen before Tuesday morning tech of act 2, this would be great.  Jeff/Tim/Michael, let us know what’s possible.  

3.  One wall of the prayer closet lifted entirely off the platform upon moving it, so prayer closet is currently un-pushable.  Jeff/Tim/Michael, will you let us know which of you can fix this, and when?  Ideally before the kids need to tech those transitions on Monday?  Also Jeff is going to do some aging and abstractifying of the outside walls, and add scratches to the inside walls. 

4. The chaos wall looks great.  We need to tweak placement of some items (raise door a tad, tweak the desk) to help the projections work.  We also need to add shades to the windows, partially open shades so we can still see that the windows are open, but to serve as projection surfaces. Measurements 25.5″ across by 22 down.  if anyone has something like this at home, the sooner we can get it the better.  (Hard to tech the video without being able to focus on the correct surface.)

5. Chairs – Soyo agreed to trade us 4 chairs so that we will have 11 completely the same, and the 12th is almost the same – same color, but slightly different back.  It’s fine, so we are good to go.  Lesley will make the trade on Wednesday evening.  Lesley will you also call to let Hans know the time?


1.  Prom photoshoot can happen Monday morning at 10 am.  Kerry or Olivia - please connect with kids via Facebook AND email yourselves on Sunday to make sure they have what you need.  Will work out a call schedule tomorrow for the Monday sound EQ check from 10-11:30, and this.  They can happen simultaneously but photoshoot has to be  completely silent.  We can use Flynn camera.  Richie, help remind me to  find camera charger tomorrow as it was low on batteries on Friday.   Jamien, we need to have a good light cue for the prom photoshoot ready for monday morning.

2. We also may need a photo of Carrie’s face, Tommy’s face, and Chris’s face for Epilogue. Let’s get that on Monday too Richie.

3. Video stuff is looking good, some kinks to work out with software that Dom and Richie are working on tonight, connected to making the images fit on the skewed angles of the chaos wall.  We are going to dry tech video tomorrow morning, and lights tomorrow afternoon through late night.

That’s all I can think of for now, but it’s late, I’m sure I’m forgetting something vital. Please reply with any concerns or unfinished items you have on your list that I have left off.

Thanks all – this is a great team effort.  Good work today.

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Meredith Monk on Fifty Years of Art Making

by John R. Killacky, Executive Director

In other cultures Meredith Monk would be called shaman, seer, healer; here we struggle to define her interdisciplinary prowess. Singer/composer, dancer/choreographer, actor/performer, director/playwright, visual artist/filmmaker — even together, these categories cannot capture her resplendent achievements.

She creates visceral excavations of abstracted gesture, sound, and tableau, inviting audiences to experience archetypal, transformative rituals. Distilling idiosyncratic movement, three-octave vocalizing, and luminous stage design to their unadorned essence, she collages these elements into transcultural dreamscapes.

From large-scale, multivenue events with a hundred-plus performers, to intimate pieces for solo voice and wine glass, as well as award-winning recordings and films, we journey through her clear-sightedness into a vision of redemption. Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with my friend and artist hero, now celebrating her fiftieth season of making work.

Meredith Monk performing "OnBehalf of Nature." Photo: Julieta Cervantes.

John Killacky   Fifty years ago when the postmodernists were deconstructing and stripping everyday action down to its essence, you emerged on the New York scene almost as a maximalist with your mixed-media work 16 Millimeter Earrings. Talk about those early years, your influences, and in particular that iconic work.

Meredith Monk   Making 16 Millimeter Earrings was a real breakthrough piece for me, because I had been trying to figure out ways of weaving together different perceptual modes. At first it was very much a personal imperative. As a child I had come from music, I had done movement, I had done theater, and it was a kind of intuitive way of integrating these strands or aspects of myself into one form that represented a totality. I realized early on that this way of putting things together was a holistic antidote to this fragmented world.

After I left Sarah Lawrence and came to New York, I was very interested in the syntax of cinema and was trying to figure out how to transfer that into live performance. 16 Millimeter Earrings was a culmination of a few years of working with those ideas, and it was the first piece that I used film in. It was also the first piece I did a real vocal track that went throughout the whole piece.

I was very influenced by what was going on in the visual arts world. I’d go to a lot of galleries, and I was in some of the late happenings. Working with materials in a very plastic way, using materials that are not usually used on stage, treating them in a very visual way, visual images and sculpture and color and painting, that’s what I was really trying for, a kind of painterly live performance form.

JK   In 1984 you said, “I work in between the cracks, where the voice starts dancing, where the body starts singing, where theater becomes cinema.” Given this framework, where and how does each new work begin?

MM   Each piece begins in a different place. It’s very unpredictable. Sometimes I’ll have a lot of music formed before I even go into rehearsal. With my most recent work, On Behalf of Nature, I had quite a bit of the music done and pretty well formed when I went into rehearsal. Then it was a matter of how you make a piece with images and movement that don’t cancel out the complexity of the music. The music probably is one of the most complex scores that I’ve written in the last few years, and I wanted the movement to be something that allowed you to also hear its complexity. That necessitated a kind of simplicity and purity of the images and movement.

With each piece, once you find what the question is, then you’re really on the road to discovering that piece. The impulse forimpermanence was the death of my partner. With mercy, a piece that I made in collaboration with Ann Hamilton, we were thinking about the difference between help and harm. We also asked, how do you make a sumptuous piece with very simple means?

You, as a maker of a piece, have to listen to what the piece needs.

JK   Your great-grandfather was a cantor in Russia. Your grandparents opened a music school in Harlem, and your mom was a radio singer.

MM   That’s right.

JK   Ancestry and personal mythology seem to play a central role in many of your works. Does your lineage influence the spiritual biographies you create for the stage?

MM   My grandfather was a concert singer, and my grandmother was a concert pianist first, and then they opened up a music conservatory in Harlem. On my father’s side were people that came from Poland and were woodworkers. My grandfather was a carpenter and opened a lumberyard, and my grandmother was like a salt-of-the-earth country girl from Poland. I remember her in her garden till the day she died.

Meredith Monk’s Songs of Ascension being performed in Ann Hamilton’s Tower. Photo by Babeth VanLoo.

Meredith Monk’s “Songs of Ascension” being performed in Ann Hamilton’s Tower. Photo by Babeth VanLoo.

Having musicians on my mother’s side gave me a voice and the richness of music in my life, a musicality that I was able to take for granted as a child. But mythically, I would say my father’s family, really that Eastern European shtetl existence, was something that was a fantasy of mine.

When I was working on the solo for Education of the Girlchild, I think I was calling up the memory of that grandmother. Having come from an Eastern European Jewish background, making Quarry was also deeply meaningful. I could project myself into what it would be like to be taken away, so it had another layer of meaning. And with Book of Days, I realized nobody I knew of had really done anything about the Jewish community in the Middle Ages.

JK   I’ve seen your work in opera houses, alternative spaces, cathedrals, abandoned buildings, museums, outdoor sculpture parks, and your own loft. How important does site play in the development of your works?

MM   I was one of the early people working with what’s now called “site-specific performance,” and I’ve always loved the dialogue that you have between the space and you. A lot of the times when I’m working in a space, I’ll go in there and sit for a long while and feel what that space is telling me.

I love displacing expectations, and I love changing scale: from working in my loft with that kind of close-up, very intimate performing to something like the Guggenheim which, just by the size and the particularities of the space, invites you to make an epic kind of piece.

JK   You’ve collaborated with theater artist Ping Chong, visual artist Ann Hamilton, and scenic artist Yoshio Yabara, among others, as well as members of your ensemble. Early on, you even wrote a rock song with Don Preston of The Mothers of Invention. Can you talk about your collaborative process?

MM   Each situation is very different. Ping and I were together at the time we were making Paris. It was very much a piece about using our lives as a kind of myth. I remember calling him and saying, “It would be really nice to do a piece about Paris.” The experience there for the first time had been evocative and inspiring for us both.

In a good collaboration, both people let go of their territory to make a third thing that neither one can make alone. In Paris, I really limited my vocal music aspect. Ping did not include audiovisual elements the way that he did in his own work — so we came to something that was very new.

With Ann Hamilton in mercy, it was very much the same thing. One of the reasons I wanted to work with Ann was to renew my energy in terms of the visual aspects. I had been concentrating so much on music and was getting bored with my visual ideas. Even though I usually create a video component for my music-theater pieces, it seemed right that Ann would make the video for mercy. I obviously did the music, and we pretty much conceptually started from scratch together. In Songs of Ascension, I had more or less completed the overall form, and then Ann came in and added her video component.

JK   In much of your work, central characters are visionaries, healers, and spiritual practitioners. Your portrayal of the madwoman soothsayer in Book of Days is yet another extraordinary figure in your pantheon of unforgettable characters, from Joan of Arc in Vessel, the woman in different life stages in Education of the Girlchild, the feverish child in Quarry, the intrepid truth seeker in ATLAS, and your Buster Keaton-esque persona in Volcano Songs. What do you see is the role of artist in society today?

MM   There are basically two kinds of artists. One is a mirror of the particular time that artist lives in. The other is more the way that I think about things, which is a more timeless kind of idea of very fundamental energies and cycles of human behavior and things that recur. We are sensitive, and we stand a little bit away from the world, enough to respond to it, but at the same time we offer an alternative.

What I’m trying to do is to offer an experience, a direct experience in the very distracted world that we’re living in, which might not be so easy. It’s very hard for us to let go of our devices and distractions, and the nakedness of the present is, for many people, very painful. The stillness, the not being entertained, and just the being in the present is not that easy, but I think that that’s what I’m trying to do in my work — to offer a situation where audience members could actually let go of the distractions, let go of the mental narrator, let go of the restlessness for a certain period of time.

JK   In two of your major film works, Book of Days and Ellis Island, time goes backward and forward throughout, and color is introduced ever so slightly into a few scenes. Why the juxtaposition of time and color in these works?

MM   I love dealing with time as a sculptural element, compressing it and extending it. This idea of simultaneous time is something I do a lot in my work.

Color as the present and black and white as the past was a visual metaphor that I started working with in Ellis Island in the early eighties. It was a way of juxtaposing one reality with another. I used black and white as the past because I was very influenced by the photographs of immigrants in the turn of the century, Lewis Hine’s, for example.

And with Book of Days, I decided to stay with that same idea. I let the Middle Ages be shot in black and white, and the color sections represent our present time. There are a few gradations in Book of Days where there’s just a little bit of saturation to get a kind of in-between world.

JK   When you were fifty you wrote, “I think the hardest aspect of having done something for a long time is the sense of carrying around a lot of baggage that has to be discarded to be able to begin again.” Now twenty years later is that burden even heavier? How do you begin and begin ever anew to create?

MM   I’m terrified at the start of every piece, flailing about trying to find a clue. Beginning anew is a very hard thing. I did something interesting in On Behalf of Nature, which is quite different for me. I started playing through some of my old music notebooks where I notate raw ideas and selected a phrase or a measure or just a little piece of material that seemed interesting to me now but at the time I was not able to develop.

I was ready then to revisit some of these fragments, and I started realizing that the process was very much a theme of On Behalf of Nature, which was to not waste anything but to recycle all the elements in one way or another. That’s a way of beginning anew, but it’s also a kind of circling around to the past to make something present.

JK   In the last two decades you have created profoundly moving internal works: The Politics of Quiet, mercy, impermanence, and Songs of Ascension. These seemed a shift from earlier narrative-infused works. Do you see it that way, and why the shift?

MM   The music has gotten more and more complex, and I’ve been more consciously aware of trying to create sacred space as an antidote to this world we’re living in. I feel like I don’t have so much time left on the planet, and I really want to do something that might be helpful or useful for people to connect to their lives. Music itself and movement — this experience speaks louder than narrative — it goes directly into the bloodstream of the audience.

JK   You have been a student of Buddhism for many years, even singing for the Dalai Lama. How has this study influenced your work?

MM   When I began teaching at Naropa in the seventies, I first connected with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and I started realizing that some of my aesthetic principles were very connected to fundamental Buddhist principles, like silence, stillness, flexible time, presence. I became more and more interested in Buddhism, and then years later, I started a formal practice. I’m not sure how much it’s influenced my artwork, but my aspiration of what it is to be an artist has become much more conscious.

JK   In doing research for this conversation, I came upon a dialogue you did with Bruce Nauman at the Walker Art Center in 1994 talking about horses and what they taught you. Any lessons there applied in your work?

MM   If I’m teaching, sometimes I use riding or horse metaphors. They’re very useful. For example: not anticipating, being just in the moment. If you’re going over a jump on a horse and you anticipate, then you actually throw the balance of the horse off. If you lay back and you’re holding on so tight that you’re afraid, then you’re left behind, and it’s really hard on the horse’s mouth.

That’s very close to what it’s like to perform — you’re really trying to be completely on axis, neither projecting out nor pulling in, but just being very centered. I still ride, and it’s something that has been a wonderful part of my life.

JK   In the last decade, you received orchestral commissions from St. Louis, New World, and San Francisco Symphonies, as well as Kronos Quartet, Western Wind Vocal Ensemble, Los Angeles Master Chorale, and other groups. Is your working process different for these than when you are working and collaborating with your own ensemble?

MM   When I’m working with an orchestra, I have to have a full score ready for them to play, whereas with my ensemble, it’s much more hands-on, an organic kind of process. I can really work through material with the ensemble, and we learn the music in our bones. I still prefer to work with my ensemble because I like to work slowly. I love the intensive rehearsal process. I love how over the years a piece can keep on changing.

Once you set a score, you can change it, but it’s difficult, and in the orchestral world, they just don’t have that many rehearsals. It’s because of the expense of the rehearsal process, so you might get one or two readings or rehearsals before they have to perform, and that’s hard for me. This music is something that’s very physical and also has a kind of momentum. You really have to play it for a while to understand the way the energy works in the piece.

That’s not to say that I’m not very grateful for working with orchestral groups because this is how I’m learning. I’m so excited to learn the possibilities of the instruments, and I’m a person who loves to learn. I went to Sarah Lawrence. If we learned one thing, it was the joy of learning. I hope I’ll be learning for the rest of my life. I’ve always thought of the voice as an instrument, and now I’m trying to think about the instruments as voices.

JK   Beginning this fall, you will be composer in residence at Carnegie Hall, and many of your compositions will be featured in a number of concerts over the season. Who will be performing?

MM   Ursula Oppens and Bruce Brubaker, two fantastic pianists, will play a concert of my piano music off-site at (Le) Poisson Rouge on my birthday in November. This will also celebrate the release of the CD Piano Songs on ECM Records.

St. Louis Symphony will be performing WEAVE, a New York premiere. It’s very exciting for me that people in New York will hear it — a piece for chamber orchestra, chorus, and two vocal soloists from my ensemble, Katie Geissinger and Theo Bleckmann.

The American Composers Orchestra will perform Night, which is also for chamber orchestra and eight of my singers. I’m being commissioned by Carnegie to write a piece for Ensemble ACJW, a group of young preprofessional instrumentalists. And then I’m doing an evening called Meredith Monk & Friends, which will include everybody from Jessye Norman to John Zorn performing my work. We’ll conclude with a concert featuring my Vocal Ensemble.

JK   At seventy-one years old, do you feel finally that you are getting your due recognition as a composer?

MM   It’s a wonderful exciting time for me to have the music heard. My way of working is very different. I think it’s been hard for the classical music world to realize there are alternative ways of making music, but that seems to be changing.

I love to think my music has as many values of folk music and jazz as classical music. I want the flexibility of jazz, and I want the honesty of folk music in my music, but it’s very exciting for me to be in this context.

JK   What other projects can we look forward to as you celebrate your fiftieth season of making art?

MM   We are doing the New York premiere of On Behalf of Nature at BAM. I’m very much looking forward to that, and I’m right in the process of beginning to work on an installation of Songs of Ascension. I’m going to work with my friend Paul Krajniak, who was the director of the Discovery World Museum in Milwaukee. When we performed Songs of Ascension in 2008 in Ann Hamilton’s tower at Steve Oliver’s ranch in Sonoma, California, Dyanna Taylor filmed it with three cameras, including one from overhead on a crane. It was such beautiful filming from different angles of our performances in Ann’s eight-story tower, and we recorded twenty-four tracks of music. I’ve been planning an installation to convey that experience, and I am just beginning to work on it.

JK   You’ve been blessed throughout your career with commissions, grants, fellowships, and artist residencies. Any advice for grantmakers?

MM   Trust the artist — we’re very dependable. It’s a strange myth that artists are these crazy kind of unpredictable people. Funders should also trust what they love; that way they will always support the right people.

I’ve been fortunate enough to receive the Guggenheim, USA Artists, and the Duke. All of those awards have had that level of trust. In the old days we were supported very much by the NEA and NYSCA. In my life, the MacArthur was extremely important; it actually changed my life because I had the freedom to use it in any way I felt was right. New Music USA has also been a wonderful help, and the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation has given consistent support that I’m grateful for.

A lot of funders give to institutions and then think it’s going to filter down to the artist, instead of trusting that the artist knows how to use that money. It doesn’t always filter down to the artist. All of us have worked for so many years, and we always, always come through. You can trust that it’s going to happen.

To make something, you have to be a deep-sea diver. You can have fear at the beginning, but then ultimately when curiosity takes over — at least this happens for me — then my fear goes away little by little because I get really interested in what I’ve discovered. We’re the R & D branch of the world, doing research and development all the time just to make an artwork. Making an artwork itself is a political statement in the world that we’re living in.

JK   New York and the art world seems a very different place than when you first began performing and creating in the early 1960s. What do you tell young emerging artists about how to sustain themselves and their careers?

MM   Follow your dream, and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. We never thought we were going to make a living from this, so we were doing this out of love. We supported ourselves by doing jobs that were not that difficult: I modeled for artists and taught music and dance classes for children. My rent was seventy-five dollars a month. I could live alone.

The young people I know that are really wonderful artists are just keeping their heads above water — being scrappy and inventive. Because there’s not much money in the art world, it’s coming back more to a kind of grassroots way of thinking about art.

When I first came to New York, there was a community of like-minded artists, even though there was a lot of diversity in the way they manifested. The “downtown scene” of artists coming from all different mediums was trying to find new ways of doing things. We all knew each other, and that was a support structure. Whereas now, it’s a little bit more dispersed, and it’s hard to find out who your community is. It’s also harder to be connected to history. It is very important that you know what came before you.

So, it’s more challenging, but if you really follow your path step-by-step and you don’t let anyone get in the way of what you dream, something will happen one way or another. It’s a matter of following your own path with as much honesty and integrity as you can muster.

This interview appears in GIA Reader, Vol 25, No 2 (Summer 2014).

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