AHA! A House for Arts

S7 E5 | FULL EPISODE

AHA! | 705

Issues surrounding our health, the environment, and the truth fuel the artwork of Claudia McNulty. LUMBERYARD Executive and Artistic Director Adrienne Willis discusses why a space like LUMBERYARD is needed right now. Don't miss The Sea The Sea perform "A Thousand Years".

AIRED: August 11, 2021 | 0:26:46
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

(upbeat music)

- [Lara] Claudia McNulty tackles environmental issues

with her paintbrush.

Lumberyard executive director Adrienne Willis

reveals the relationship between performance art

and soft power in America.

And catch performance from The Sea The Sea.

It's all ahead on this episode of Aha, a House for Arts.

- [Announcer] Funding for Aha has been provided

by your contribution and by contributions

to the WMHT Venture Fund.

Contributors include the Leo Cox Beach

Philanthropic Foundation, Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

the Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation,

and the Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank,

we understand that the vitality of our communities

is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

(upbeat music)

Hi, I'm Lara Ayad, and this is Aha, a House for Arts.

A place for all things creative.

Let's send it right over to Matt Rogowicz

for today's field segment.

(upbeat music)

- I'm here in Climax, New York

at the studio of Claudia McNulty.

Follow me.

(upbeat music)

- I have spent a lot of time in here.

It's very self-indulgent, I think.

I do a lot of the murals here.

Like great big things that just take over this entire space.

That's what I'm most comfortable with is a big scale.

(upbeat music)

My parents lived together in New Jersey

in a nothing little town.

I was trying to think of what would be equated to here.

There's nothing I can think of.

I spent most of my time alone, which was fine with me.

And I did artwork all the time as a little child.

I just loved to paint and clay,

and I had a great book that I wore out that it was just full

of different ideas of things to do.

And I also loved animals and we had lots of box turtles.

If you remember the big things,

you can't even find them anymore.

I played with turtles and all kinds of animals.

My mother had found a baby squirrel.

It was like this big and pink.

And she brought it home and it lived in our living room.

And it grew up and it would carry,

leap across the furniture and get a Kleenex

and then leap back and then make a nest

in our encyclopedias.

And somehow my father put up with this.

And the squirrel lived with us until it bit my brother.

But it was still art and animals, that's what I did.

I do do people too, but it's more fun for me to do animals

and you have more leeway with it really.

There's so much involved with the people.

There's John Lennon, did you recognize him?

(upbeat music)

I went to art school, several of them,

and found that at the time, they were pretty useless,

but I met great people and had a wonderful experience.

I moved directly to New York.

I think my first job in New York was being an au pair.

I worked at Time Magazine.

A good friend of mine moved to New York.

We decided we'd make t-shirts and we started a business.

It just didn't end.

- [Matt] You've done a lot of different things.

- Oh yeah, ridiculous.

You name it, I probably did some of it somewhere.

Our business broke up.

I continued with my own business,

and she did too separately,

and I was again, very successful,

but I didn't want, this is not what I wanted to do.

I went back to house painting

and to really getting into my work.

The body of work that really interested me,

it's mostly about things that disturbed me

going on in the world.

It's sort of always been that way.

'Cause I've been going through all my old stuff

and I found, you know,

I never thought of myself as being sort of an activist

or whatever, but things always really bothered me.

And in high school I was out demonstrating

against the Vietnam war and, you know, lettuce workers.

And it was something you sort of did on the weekends.

And it's also a good way to meet boys,

but it was really about the politics.

And that's just stayed with me ever since.

Corporate takeover of everything,

our food supply, our health.

It's just my obsession with GMOs

and what was being done to the food supply

and my own health.

I had about 15 amalgam fillings,

which are the fillings with mercury in them.

So I started a search on that

and that got me into the whole chemistry of things

and just reading about more of it,

and just feeling so frustrated 'cause that,

and then fluoride was something I investigated.

I found anything that I decided to research

was I was getting a totally different story.

My only outlet really was to make pieces about it.

That was, you know, a way to talk about it

because there really wasn't much dialogue,

and I find that's still very much true today.

(orchestral music)

Porn corn is about GMOs.

GMO in corn particular.

I've always hated clowns,

and so I like to use them for a foil like that and circuses.

This one on the end that has deer and bats in it

and a target that's really about sort of Lyme disease.

I don't know what the bats really have to do

with Lyme disease,

but they fit in pretty well right now with the Corona thing

and being targeted.

That's how I feel.

I mean, my life was, has been, is changed by Lyme.

I have chronic Lyme, and to me,

it's more scary than COVID is.

It's easy I think for people to relate to

the suffering of animals then than to people, actually.

I mean, you put a picture of a sad puppy

and you get 50,000 likes on it.

It wasn't intentional that way,

but it's just I'm drawn to it and they're fun to draw.

My process is basically I sit in my chair,

and I look, and then I walk and I do a little bit.

And then I sit in my chair and I think the percentage

of time I'm sitting in my chair,

and I'm either loathing what I do

or think wow, that's not so bad and you're doing that.

- [Matt] Would you consider yourself

an environmental artist?

- Well, I am in that I really care about the environment,

but I'm not, there's some other people who do things

so much more seriously that are environmental artists.

You know, it's just a vehicle for me.

I wish that I could inspire people or just engage people

in some way to look at things more for themselves.

I think people just accept the way things are

and think that they can't do anything about it

or they believe, more like that,

they believe what they're told.

And the more I look into almost anything,

I find that's not the truth.

It's a whole different story.

- Adrienne Willis is the executive and artistic director

of lumberyard in Catskill, New York.

Lumberyard is a state-of-the-art facility dedicated

to providing performance artists with a space to rehearse

and perfect their work prior to a New York city premiere.

Why is a space like lumberyard so needed right now?

And what does the capital region gain

from supporting theater work downstate?

I speak with Adrienne to find out.

Adrienne, thank you so much for being on Aha.

It's such a pleasure having you.

- It's great to be here, thanks.

- So I understand that you've worked for a long time

directing, producing, and designing

for major theater companies like

Collective Unconscious in New York.

And now you're celebrating over a decade

as executive director of Lumberyard.

Congratulations on that milestone, that's fantastic.

- Thank you.

- Now tell us what is Lumberyard exactly?

I understand it's a space for technical rehearsal

for performance artists.

Am I right about that?

- Yes, that's correct.

In 2015, we purchased an abandoned

or actually an active lumberyard in Catskill

that was for sale.

It had been a lumberyard since the late 1800s.

And at the time we were looking for a space

that we could build the first of its kind in the US

that could be basically solely dedicated

to technical rehearsals,

meaning that time in the rehearsal process

where artists come together to integrate,

design and technology into the work

that eventually ends up on stages across the country.

And that time is so expensive that our hope was

if we could build a space dedicated

to that part of the rehearsal process,

we could achieve an economies of scale that would allow

for artists to do it at a lower price point,

which was desperately needed in the field.

- So could you step us through, Adrienne,

what exactly is technical rehearsal for those of us

who don't know much about it?

- Well, traditionally before, I'd say maybe 15,

even 10 years ago,

the traditional process for a theater piece

that you might see off-Broadway or in regional theater

would have been several weeks in a rehearsal studio,

mostly in Manhattan, which would have been, you know,

four walls, lights on, lights off,

where the choreographer, the director would be working

with the movements on stage

and working with the actors, with script analysis,

and that type of rehearsal.

And then everybody would come together

in the theater for a week.

And that's when the lighting designer and the sound designer

and the costume designers all come together with the actors

or whoever's performing if it's dancers or actors,

and you would have a week

to put all those elements together.

And sometimes it was less than that three days.

- Right, so it's like all the people

in technical production,

like doing the lighting, doing the sound,

they come in kind of towards the end, right?

- Right, and that was really the,

and it's still is in large part,

the scenario for script-based work.

So work that, as a playwright,

it's chosen from a literary office in a theater

and that's the traditional method

for a lot of script-based work.

And then the way that work was being made,

particularly in New York city, was shifting.

And there was a lot of devised theater

and performance arts, and there was a,

the future of the field really is melding forms.

- Right, so mixing dance with theater,

mixing, you know, theater with music

or whatever that may be.

- Right, and also incorporating design and technology

much earlier on in the process.

So now you might see the set designers

and the lighting designers and sound designers

in the room from the very start.

And that means that the traditional rehearsal spaces

that are just plain boxes with lights up and lights down

really no longer serve that process,

and choreographers and directors are always

really pushing to find space

where they can work with their designers,

But it is very expensive because

if you're not gonna come to a place

that's dedicated for it like Lumberyard,

then you have to rent out a theater,

you have to find a warehouse that you can load in the lights

and the set and have the opportunity

to work with technology.

A lot of universities are thankfully offering this

and you can go to a university,

but you often have to work around students' schedules.

So it was, before we started this,

we did a study of the field to see what was really

the biggest roadblock for new work to get made.

And this was one of the recurring themes

that every artist who was making work spoke about.

- Right, so Lumberyard then provides this kind of vital,

rare resource for performance artists.

I'm just curious to know on a larger level,

is this type of practice of rehearsal

and that sort of traditional format you talk about,

is that something you see commonly

just in the United States,

do you see that in other countries,

and what does it look like, say globally,

when people want to do technical rehearsals,

does it work differently?

- It does.

I mean, everything is driven by costs.

So the biggest barrier to artists being able to take risks

and realize their visions is cost.

And in some countries or in other areas of the world,

there's a lot more support for the performing arts

and you see innovation in the arts funded more.

So if you go to areas like Berlin or Tel Aviv,

or I mean, even Shanghai or other cities

where the artists have years

to work in the space to develop their work,

it's just a very different process.

And it's almost not even comparable

to what we have here because for an artist,

unless they're able to build their own space somewhere,

they don't have that access.

And if they do, it's because they have access

to considerable resources which are few and far between.

- Yeah, Adrienne, that's such an interesting point.

And I'm wondering, you know,

tell us a little bit too about some of your background,

because you have a background as a creator

and not just as an administrator.

And I'm wondering your years of experience

doing the designing and the production

and the directing side of things.

Do you think that those experiences have fed into your role

now as executive director at Lumberyard?

And if so, how?

- Definitely.

I think, well ever since,

even when I was in college as an undergrad,

I was hired by the theater department

to oversee the technical rehearsals

for the student and faculty productions,

because I understood in that moment,

when everything comes together

that there is a way for it to happen more seamlessly

that allows for experimentation without, you know,

going over the cost or going over budget.

And it was always a really exciting part

of the rehearsal process for me.

And I was also particularly excited when I was able to work

with directors who were able to really create a world

for the piece to live in which meant that lights

and sound and design were all incorporated

very early on and considered.

And they weren't last minute add-ons.

And I think my experience being able to work

with directors who work like that

or working with theaters who were able to focus

on making work in that way was,

it was almost kind of ahead of its time

and knowing and being able to understand the direction

that the field was going in.

- So noticing these huge shifts in that whole entire field.

- Yes, and we still haven't figured out how to support that

and build the infrastructures for that.

Because so many institutions that exist

to support artists right now are older,

and they haven't really had the chance to adapt

to the changing, you know, the forums and the fields.

They just haven't had the opportunity to,

and philanthropy, which is,

private philanthropy is the main source of funding

for so many nonprofit performing artists,

and they haven't made the shift either.

- Right.

It's making me think, Adrienne, you know,

you're talking about even

philanthropic foundations, for instance.

They are technically plugged into

the performing arts on some level,

I'm kind of wanting to step back a little bit farther

and think bigger picture even about, you know,

some Americans might see what performance artists do

as something that doesn't have like a lot of consequence

or that it's separate from society.

And I'm wondering on a larger level,

why is it so important to enable the performance arts

like say through resources

that Lumberyard provides or whatnot?

You know, how is it important for people,

those of us who maybe don't make art ourselves?

- I talk so much about how important the performing arts are

in the community level, particularly where we're located,

but on a larger level,

there is definitely a disconnect between

what the performing arts was meant to reflect for us

as a country.

And there's so much emphasis on different sources

of American power throughout the world.

There's hard power, which is, you know,

traditionally military and economics,

but then there's the soft power,

which has always been diplomacy and culture.

And I think that, I mean,

film and television in the US has always been

a great product for culture and our soft power,

but in terms of live performance,

I really think there's a disconnect

between the American way, the American spirit,

the spirit of innovation and breaking boundaries

and trying new technologies.

We've lost that in the performing arts

because there's such a barrier to be able to achieve that

because it's so expensive.

And we haven't been able to build the support structures

to allow artists to truly innovate.

And even been at Lumberyard,

we produced a white paper to talk about this problem

a year ago where we said that American artistic innovation

was in crisis.

And I think as a field,

we need to find ways to work together to support this

so that it's not just the companies that have been around

for 40 years and have access

to considerable amounts of funding,

it's also a young artist who wants to start, you know,

right out the gate and start working in a way

that reflects the field and the direction of the field.

- Right, right.

Those are great points, Adrienne.

And tell us a bit about what's been going on now

at Lumberyard or any kinds of programs or residencies

that may be coming up in the near future.

- So we've been, we made a decision during COVID.

We used to have summer seasons where artists would come

to us and show the work that they were premiering

in New York in the fall, in the city in the fall,

they would do it with us in the summer

and they would get a week or two weeks

where they could get the work ready and have access

to technical rehearsals.

When the pandemic started,

it became clear to us that we couldn't do both.

We couldn't have public performances

and have technical rehearsals simultaneously

and still keep a safe building with health protocols.

So we redesigned elements of the building

because we have housing for,

we have 13 bedrooms onsite

and we have the large performance space

so that it was a safe place for artists

to come back to work.

And there were a lot of bubble,

they called them bubble residencies throughout the country

where artists could come together

to a remote location and work.

But there weren't any that allowed you to work

with design and technology and really work

on the technical aspects.

So in December 2020,

we were able to open for these rehearsals

and week after week, we have had artists in there working

on the technical aspects of their show

and they've been with their designers.

And it's been great to see

that level of work beginning again.

When I walked in the other day,

it was great to just see a room filled with designers

and artists in another room rehearsing

while there was a group of designers in the theater.

And that's what made me feel like

we were getting closer to coming back.

- Right, things were still cooking in the pot, right?

That's a good feeling. - Exactly.

When we've had artists who are working on works

that are gonna be touring internationally.

We've have artists come in that have works

that are going to be premiering in New York,

hopefully in the fall or the spring.

So things are starting to get ready.

- [Lara] That's fantastic.

- Yeah, it's been a consistent stream because the need

for technical rehearsals in a safe environment

is greater now today than it ever has been.

- Adrienne, thank you so much for being on a House for Arts.

It's such a pleasure chatting with you.

- [Adrienne] Oh, thank you, it was great.

- Please welcome The Sea The Sea.

(soft music)

♪ We've been waiting ♪

♪ Putting our pennies in a jar ♪

♪ We've been hoping ♪

♪ That we'd be exactly where we are ♪

♪ We've been here and out there ♪

♪ Paying every due and every fine ♪

♪ And we find ourselves out where it's still ♪

♪ Been this quiet every night ♪

♪ For a thousand years ♪

♪ We could stay here 'till it's like ♪

♪ We've disappeared ♪

♪ But we are here, we are listening ♪

♪ We've been wondering ♪

♪ Tying all our keys to a kite ♪

♪ We've been laughing ♪

♪ Walking with our flickering flashlights ♪

♪ Inside, out wide ♪

♪ At the top of every ladder that we climb ♪

♪ We find ourselves out where it's still ♪

♪ Been this quiet every night ♪

♪ For a thousand years ♪

♪ We could stay here 'till it's like ♪

♪ We've disappeared ♪

♪ But we are here, we are listening ♪

(heartfelt music)

♪ Been this quiet every night ♪

♪ For a thousand years ♪

♪ We could stay here 'till it's like ♪

♪ We've disappeared ♪

♪ But we are here ♪

♪ We are here ♪

♪ We are listening ♪

- Thanks for joining us.

For more arts, visit wmht.org/aha

and be sure to connect with WMHT on social.

I'm Lara Ayad, thanks for watching.

(upbeat music)

- [Announcer] Funding for Aha has been provided

by your contribution and by contributions

to the WMHT Venture Fund.

Contributors include the Leo Cox Beach

Philanthropic foundation, Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

the Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation,

and the Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank, we understand that the vitality

of our communities is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

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