Prelude14: A Curator’s Perspective
I’ve started this post many times, a bit at odds with my pre-festival decision to sum up Prelude2014 on Culturebot as a curator. I don’t, exactly, have the greatest faith in that word—curator—and try to avoid the implied power that comes with its wildly varying definitions. I favor collaborative models in my own work, and thus came to Prelude2014 with a kind of question about what curation really is, and how it functions in what is, essentially, a community festival. I asked Frank if it would be ok for me to find this answer with three other artists, and to my great fortune he agreed. I knew we were on to something good when early on in my conversations with Chloe, Jackie, and Sarah Rose, we started talking about the etymology of curate – curatus, to care.
This would have many implications for the festival as a whole, including the rather insane idea to cook chili for 60 people. But most of all what it would do is leave space – very important space – for broader, wilder things: feelings. Once care was thrown into the ring, a desire to investigate intimacy, endurance, and honesty followed. We hated feelings. No, we loved them. What did they mean? Were we talking about art, or ourselves as art makers? Of course, we were talking about both. Could feelings operate in the realm of facts at Prelude2014? I.e.: Could intimacy be just as useful a framework as, say, dance theater? The only way to know was to ask artists to self-identify, and see what came of it.
So we asked for artists to choose their own areas of discussion along these non-themes (Care, Intimacy, Honesty, Endurance/Loss), then we tried to discuss impossibly broad subjects in emotional ways. We asked ourselves, and our community how do you care for yourselves. We wrote letters, wrestled with our own death drives. Everybody knew what these words meant, nobody knew what they meant for performance. And then vice versa. Somebody threw out that maybe honesty meant authenticity. Someone else threw out the idea that it was impossible to be fully honest in the making of a work. Mac Wellman told us he was deeply suspicious of honesty. The conversation was difficult, but two weeks later I’m still thinking about and talking to people about honesty in performance. Which is a kind of success.
And then, something magical happened on the C-level—those drab, classroom spaces bathed in fluorescent light. The workshops, which we thought would be interesting to at least try, ended up embodying our greatest hopes for Prelude2014: Artists from the community, in a room, wrestling with their own processes and learning new ones, making work. Making real work. In the playwriting workshop alone,16 completely incredible 2 minute “plays” were created, each so different and wonderful that if I had $$$ I’d just stage them all in a row like that, forever.
I was—remain—moved by everything I saw: the vision of each featured artist, the facility with which each artist spun gold from the flax of institutional (and heavily restricted) spaces, their generosity and yes, care. While I’m on that topic, I should state all together that Prelude’s continued existence is nothing short of a miracle. The Prelude production team, volunteers, and Segal Center staff who pull it off every year ought to be sainted, if not deified outright. It takes a particular kind of care, a particular kind of *wonderful* person to navigate the byzantine negotiations required for one thin Shure SM57, only to up the ante and request permission for dogs, treadmills, and five cubic feet of smelly cabbage.
This was my fourth Prelude, though my first as a curator. They’ve all been incredible, but 2014 will always be the one that felt good. I don’t have the dimensions on that feeling, but know that it resides somewhere to the left of curation, in a place that’s a bit more collaborative, participatory, unwieldy. I felt it really coalesce around hour five of preparing the 48 quarts of chili that we curators would go on to share, pre-festival with the Prelude artists and production team. Chopping onions, making wine labels, stamping napkins because it felt—feels—good to care about this community. It’s a worthwhile thing, to build in an artistic license to talk about something emotional as well as critical, about the things that drive us to make. To remind us all of the value of learning how to do something new.
Allison Lyman is the Artistic Producer at The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center (CUNY), where she annually co-curates more than 30 programs on international theatre and performance. As a dramaturg/producer, her past work includes productions with The Foundry Theatre, New York City Players, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Meghan Finn, Ben Gassman, Corina Copp, and Trish Harnetiaux. In 2012, she founded Teeth of Tooth Atelier, which creatively builds new work across a variety of media. Upcoming work includes One Month Revival in collaboration with Moe Yousuf, and an adaptation of Enrique Vila-Matas’ Never Any End to Paris with Eduardo Lago. MFA Brooklyn College. www.teethoftooth.com