Working in the Theatre: Programming

[opening music] [onstage sounds] [Joseph Melillo] I think that I’m
the perfect audience member. I enter the theater tabula rasa, with no bias, I’m there to accept whatever the artists are doing and I’m open to the exploration. [background dialogue] The biggest challenge in making new work
is finding the resources to make the work the way that the originating artist wants to make it. The obvious financial resources,
human resources, physical resources like studio space, workshop space,
and technological resources. Those are the four needs
that artists have in making work and it’s very challenging for them to put
that all together to make a new work. The program within the context of
the Next Wave Festival is challenging just by the nature of it being contemporary, non-traditional, progressive, and innovative work not only from artists within our
own New York City community or the United States, but also
from the global community. These are discoveries for our audiences. People have never seen these works of art. There are all New York premieres
within the Next Wave Festival. [speaking in English and Spanish] [Liza McNulty] When I first took this job, I started thinking about what it means
to be a “gender-focused theater,” and then I started to think about what
it means to be an “identity-focused theater,” and I started to realize that there wasn’t
a single identity-focused theater that hadn’t actually had significant struggles, that hadn’t really had to fight for its place in a big way. I think people think when they hear a theater devoted to women and female-identified artists, they think the work is domestic, they think it’s not funny, they think it’s not entertaining, they think maybe it’s about a sad lady with a problem, and I think that there is work like that exists
that’s beautiful that I’ve produced and that I want to continue to produce, and then there’s all kinds of other work. That seems to me to be the biggest
difference and challenge in our programming. People think they know who we are, people think they know what we do, but they don’t. We make amazing work by amazing artists. They’re not women artists, they’re
not female-identified artists, at the end of the day they’re artists! The biggest challenge for this theater,
and I guarantee any theater is money I think the strength of my institution is that we’re nimble, we’re able to be responsive to our artists. We don’t have a lot of money,
but we have a great willingness and ability to shift to suit the work. Last fall, we did a play by
Sarah Ruhl called Dear Elizabeth, and Sarah and I talked about, well, A) what does this play need, what does this moment need, how do we tell this story in the best way possible, and we decided then we were going to present the play with a new cast every week. We just felt like that was the
way to put the focus on the text in the way that the play really required and a way to create a sense of event around the play. And that felt like we just sort of decided it and then we put it into motion because we’re small and we’re scrappy and we can figure it out. I’ve worked at larger institutions,
and there are so many strengths. There are so many exciting things about
having so many resources to bring to the table, but sometimes, it’s harder to
have that kind of nimbleness in response to an artist and an artist’s needs. [Melillo] Artistic programming here at BAM, is done with that science called research. The Internet has allowed me to
do a lot of research about artists and productions all over the country and the world that I’m interested in knowing if it’s possible to program for BAM’s artistic seasons. With the Next Wave Festival, I’m looking for progressive, innovative ideas regarding its content. [music] The production values have to be
of extraordinary level of sophistication [music] and it has to be successful. [McNulty] My process for choosing
plays is pretty instinctual. I think you have to have in your
head what’s good for the institution, you have to have in your head what’s good for the field, but at the end of the day if you don’t
in your gut deeply love a piece of work, you can’t and shouldn’t produce it. I really reject the idea of having a kind
of thematic control over the work. It seems to me that my role
is to show the spectrum of work. So, I suppose when I think about the season, I think about, “is there a really early career artist? Is there really an artist whose much further along, sort of further along in their career, more established? Is there diversity in the season?” So I suppose that’s the story I’m trying to tell rather than through the actual mechanism of the work, rather instead who are the artists and what’s interesting that they’re making right now. [Melillo] BAM is the oldest continually
operating performing arts center in the United States of America. The corporation goes back to 1861 when Brooklyn was a separate city. There was no bridges, no tunnels
between the island of Brooklyn and the island of Manhattan, and the men and women of that time
who lived in the city of Brooklyn wanted art and culture in their lives.
They built the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It opened in 1861 and was in Brooklyn Heights. That building was made out of wood
and regretfully burned down in 1904, and so we opened our doors
here at 30 Lafayette Avenue in 1908 and have been working consistently to present performing arts here at this location. In 1983, the man who was the president
and executive producer of BAM, Harvey Liechtenstein, had the concept of giving New York City its first
contemporary performing arts festival. He wanted to dedicate his institution to the creation of a contemporary performing arts festival. When Harvey hired me, he says, “Joe, I don’t want you to create an empire, I want the Next Wave Festival to be a living, organic part of the institution called BAM.” I was like any other producer being asked to come in and do a job, do a gig. I thought I was going to produce
one festival for the institution, and then we would finish, and then I go
up and look at another opportunity professionally, but Harvey said, “Oh no, no! We have the money to do three!” What evolved organically is that the Next Wave Festival came to be all of the artistic work that the
institution does in the autumn of each year. [music] [McNulty] WP Theatre was
formed in 1978 by Julia Miles. She was a producer at the
American Place Theatre at the time and it was right at the middle of the feminist movement and she started to look around and started to become aware that she was
making lots of work at the American Place Theatre but not very much of it was
written or directed by women and she started to do some snooping and found out that only six percent of the
work being done was by women. And so because Julia is a person
who makes things happen, she decided she was going to do something about it. She gathered a group of female identified
artists that she was really excited by: Kathleen Chalfant, Thorne,
Claudia Weill, Melanie Joseph… There were a number of people who
at the beginning gathered together because they just didn’t have a place to
develop their work, to make work, and Julia provided that home for them. [Melillo] In 1984, we assembled,
reconstructed, Einstein and the Beach, which I couldn’t do for the first Next Wave Festival in ’83, but I did deliver in 1984 for
the second Next Wave Festival BAM would always be interested if a great director was going to tackle an important work for the theater and it was a durational work of many hours. We would be the place where they would be interested in housing their work. [dialogue] In 1987, we opened The
Mahabharata at the Majestic Theatre. Peter Brook needed a theater for the production and it was because of The Mahabharata that we found the Majestic Theatre, which is now called the BAM Harvey Theater, and the interior of that theater has a unique design: it’s based upon Peter Brooks’s theatre in
Paris called the Bouffes du Nord. And so, there is no other theater in North
or South America like the Harvey Theater. [McNulty] When I first got this
job, I was up visiting friends, and completely randomly, a playwright
friend was also friends with those folks and came up to visit, and it’s a playwright
who I’ve always wanted to work with: Tanya Barfield. And she came up and she had this play that I’ve been really excited about called Bright Half Life and I walked with her around
the little pond on the property and I just turned to her and I said,
“How would you like to do a play?” And we did! And just the sort of
synchronicity of that moment to suddenly come back to this institution
that had meant so much to me throughout my career. To have this writer just happen
to come up to where I was, who’s a writer I’d always wanted to work with, who had a play that I’d always wanted to produce, and just be able to turn to her and go
“hey, let’s make something” feels to me like the biggest privilege of my job. I try to present work that’s in its most complete form. I try to serve the artists in that way so that they can
be presenting work that’s really ready for an audience, so that an audience can really receive it. I think audiences have an appetite. I think they have a bigger appetite
than folks give them credit for. I am always excited, but when this institution can… surprise people with what what they respond to. [music] [Melillo] My gratifying moment is
what everyone knows about me, is the opening night. When the curtain goes up on an
artistic work of this institution that I’ve made the choice, I’ve been
working with the team here at BAM to support that artist, to make the work happen, and we all work to make that opening night happen. [singing] [applause]


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