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Why Block Island?

August 5, 2015

Hello Friends,

First off I want to thank all of you who have already made generous contributions to our Kickstarter Campaign. We have a lot of big plans in the works, and you are helping to make them a reality.

By now you probably have a general idea of what the plan is, but let me lay it all out again:

We will be going to Block Island, which is a small island off the coast of Rhode Island. There, we will be devising an adaptation of Euripides’ The Bacchae in conversation with Emile Zola’s L’Assomior in order to investigate the relationship between communities and alcohol. I will be expanding on that second sentence in a future post, but let me take some time to explain that little bit about a little island in the middle of nowhere.

The idea of a retreat to Block Island is something that Rachel and I have been plotting for about a year now. The thought originated when I read a short essay on the website of the Galapagos Art Space explaining their decision to move to Detroit. In the Essay Executive Director Robert Elmes proposes a “well-functioning artistic ecosystem” must have three things: People, Space, and Time. He argues that New York has an abundance of people but lacks space and time. New York is missing these components because of the expense of space and amount of time artists needed to spend on other jobs. Simply put: The cost of living was too high.

I read this essay and immediately started to panic. I have a tendency to believe anything that I read for at least 30 minutes. In this time I fully dedicate myself to a life in line with the principals of said argument. I go through a whole career of it in my head and retire around minute 27. In the last three minutes I reflect on the expedited life and take what was useful back into my real life. 31 minutes after reading this essay I was feeling pretty bleak. I was already unsure of my decision to move to New York, I was lonely and it was cold. Just as a I was deciding between moving to Detroit, Philadelphia, or Edinburgh I poured myself a glass of wine and opened up the book that had most recently been blowing my mind: An Ideal Theater edited by Todd London and read about a man named Robert Poterfield.

Robert Poterfield was an actor working in New York in the 20s. He was not terribly talented, but got enough work because people liked him. In the early days of the Depression he was on a regional tour of Cyrano De Bergerac that had to end early due to lack of patrons. No one in these rural towns could afford to go to the theatre. The great crash of 1929 left them unable to sell their crops. This left them with no money, but an abundance of food. Poterfield thought of his poor and hungry actor friends back in New York and saw opportunity. Long story short, he created a theatre called The Barter Theater in Virginia, where local farmers could pay their way into a play with some chicken, vegetables, fruit or a whole goat for the whole family. He would bring actors from New York down to do the plays they were hungry to do. At the end of the show the cast would eat the box office. The playwrights back in NYC were paid in Virginia hams. Poterfield read the climate. He figured out that his community needed food and a place to live. More importantly, they needed to work. They needed to be making theatre.

That’s what we are trying to do. We want to make work. We can’t afford to pay actors adequately, but we can house them and feed them. We have this miraculously convenient Block Island access and we are going to use it so that we can make the work we need to make. It is our great hope that this is work that you all need to see.

This is not a new idea. It’s actually a very old idea. It’s used. It can work really well or it can fail, and I have to say it’s scary. I should say that it is not our plan to make a Block Island based theatre company. Nor are we trying to make a Brooklyn based company. It is our hope to continue to work Super-Geographically. This meaning that we will alter our location to fit the needs of the project at hand, and perform in the community that make sense for us. We are taking our work outside of The City in a way that will feed our work and our connection to the cities that we love. This project is trying to set a precedent about the way in which we interact with those cities in a way that neither deifies nor demonizes them. This excites us and we are ready to explore the world in this way.

Jonathan Taylor

Artistic Director


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