BARP (Big Artistic Risk Project)
(Photos by Isaiah Tanenbaum. Pictured: Jason Paradine, Kristen Palmer, August Schulenburg, Will Lowry. Post by August Schulenburg)
How does a theatre company build artistic risk into its organizational structure?
Such a question might seem silly for an artist-driven ensemble that operates in a state of permanent financial risk like Flux. Yet as we enter our 6th year of making theatre, I can’t quite shake the feeling that we’ve become a little too good at what we do.
And we do a lot–from developing 50 to 60 new plays a year through Flux Sundays, Have Anothers, Food:Souls, ForePlays and 2-3 full productions; from managing our growing community through programs like SpeakEasy, the Annual Retreat and Friends of Flux–we have little time or energy to take on anything new, let alone a systemic rethinking of how we make theatre.
Yet without pushing ourselves beyond the comfortable familiar, our work will inevitably stagnate. I’ve seen this happen at theatres large and small, and the urgency crystalized for me while listening to Howard Shalwitz’s eloquent plea for theatres to step off the “assembly line” of play development. This is exceedingly hard to do, but not because the assembly line is broken, but because it works so well.
Enter the Big Artistic Risk Project, or BARP for short (side note: the inherent silliness of the acronym makes the risk of the venture seem somehow more doable…and it’s also just fun to say. BARP. The World According To BARP. I’ll resist going on.) The Big Artistic Risk Project is a creative process that will result in a theatrical event that is fundamentally different than anything we’ve done before, both in how it is made and how it is presented.
There are plenty of potential models out there to explore–devised, community-based, site-specific–and while none of these models are new, and individually we have some experience working with them, collectively we do not. I’m excited to see what happens when our traditional play-making process and core and aesthetic values collide with these different ways of making theatre.
But how? How do we bring those other ways of working and integrate them holistically into Flux?
I write this today on a bus on the way to Touchstone Theatre, a 22-year old ensemble theatre in Bethlehem, PA. Though several Flux creative partners have longstanding relationships with Touchstone (Bill George, one of their founders, also runs the Little Pond Arts Retreat that hosts Flux every summer), we have never collaborated directly, and Touchstone frequently works in ways outside of Flux’s process. Thanks to a NET/TEN Seed Grant from the Network of Ensemble Theaters, Flux will be observing Touchstone’s process in creating their devised, outdoor performance, The Odyssey Project.
Today, I will be observing the still-early stages of that process, where members of the Touchstone ensemble will be devising the material that will eventually take more definitive shape in rehearsals that we’ll observe in March. Then, Touchstone folks will attend our rep performances of Sans Merci and Honey Fist, to get a sense of Flux’s work.
Lots more on all of this anon…but for now, let the BARPing begin!
This project is made possible, in part, through a grant from the Network of Ensemble Theater’s Touring & Exchange Network (NET/TEN), supported by lead funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.