Nourishing Local Talent & Open to the World

This past year has been incredibly exciting for Performance Space 122, and we’ve seen many changes. Under the leadership of executive director Anne Dennin and artistic director Vallejo Gantner, the groundwork has been laid for an extended process of growth and transformation that will build on the organization’s 26-year history to take it to new levels leadership in the arts community.

Gantner has recently completed his first year, not only at P.S. 122, but also in New York, and it can be fairly said that he has taken the city by storm. Upon his arrival from the Dublin Fringe Festival in January 2005, he hit the ground running, meeting with the many, many artists in the extended P.S. 122 community and attending performances citywide at a pace seldom maintained by the most ardent theatergoer.

In short, artists now only saw him at their shows but also had a chance to talk to him and be affected by his energy and enthusiasm. Gantner’s boundless excitement, optimism, and vision have reinvigorated the community around P.S. 122 as well as its staff and audiences.

Central to his vision for P.S.122 is a commitment to collaborations between international and U.S. artists and to providing opportunities for New York artists to tour their work. Significantly, in Vallejo’s first season, Performance Space 122 presented two international festivals, “Act French” and “Nø5: Norway in New York,” offering New York audiences and artists a chance to see work that rarely comes to the city. As host to mid-size emerging artists, P.S. 122 became a social hub for local and visiting artists to meet, drink, chat, and consider future collaborations. In January, we launched a new winter festival, “Coil,” which was timed to coincide with the Arts Presenters conference. The festival featured Australian dance company BalletLab, local theater company National Theater of the United States of America, and local choreographers Adrienne Truscott and Saar Harari. This gave presenters from around the country and around the world the opportunity to see four touring companies performing entire pieces.

While we have progressed toward internationalism, we have not forsaken our commitment to supporting local artists as they grow, explore, and push the boundaries of their experience. A very exciting example of this is the upcoming production of Eileen Myles’ “HELL.” Myles, an internationally recognized poet, has been an important part of the downtown scene for many years. With “HELL,” she has partnered with composer Michael Webster to create a contemporary opera—a complex, groundbreaking, poetic, and political work that marks a whole new phase of her career. We are very much looking forward to introducing this new work by an established artist.

This spring will also see “Red Tide Blooming” by Taylor Mac, the first recipient of P.S. 122’s Ethyl Eichelberger award. While Taylor is legendary among downtown audiences for his cabaret and solo performances, “Red Tide Blooming” marks his first full-sized, evening-length spectacle featuring many of the stars of the downtown and club scene.

This year the excitement around our programming has been palpable. Our attendance has increased, our membership program has taken off, and local artists have been coming out in droves to find ways to get involved. The variety and quality of work on our stages has given New York audiences a chance to truly “see something different—all the time” and our increased social component—more parties, receptions, off-site events—has revitalized the community around us, bringing in new people and encouraging our long-time friends to return more frequently.

In addition to the progress we’ve made artistically, we are making great strides organizationally. With funding from the mayor and the City Council, P.S. 122 is about to embark on an unprecedented capital improvement project. Phase I, the total restoration of the façade, will begin in summer of 2006, with the removal of our scaffolding to follow in short order. We will go dark in August in order to re-fit our two theaters with entirely new lighting and sound equipment. When we begin our 2006-2007 season in mid- September we will be one of the most state-of-the-art houses downtown. And over the next five years we will be completely renovating the inside of our building and bringing it into the 21st century.

The 2006-2007 season will also see some exciting new international collaborations, chief among them is “B.A.i.T.—Buenos Aires in Translation.” Working with independent producer Shoshana Polanco and CUNY’s Frank Henschker, P.S. 122 has commissioned translations of plays by four of Argentina’s most important and innovative playwrights and matched them with local theater companies. The playwrights will visit New York in May to meet the companies and do readings, beginning a six-month period of collaboration that will culminate in world premiere English language presentations of the productions in November 2006.

The past year has been amazing in so many ways, not least of which is the enthusiasm of the audiences. It has been gratifying to see so many artists and audience members engaging in dialogue, sharing new experiences, and building community. It has also been heartening to see how many people are willing to take a chance on the unknown, who will come to see a performance and say, “I don’t know what that was, exactly, but it was amazing!” That’s the spirit we’ve been cultivating and we look forward to seeing it grow next year and long into the future.

Andy Horwitz is associate producer at Performance Space 122, a non-profit, multi-disciplinary arts center dedicated to finding, developing, and presenting new artistic creations from a diversity of cultures and points of view, and providing emerging and mid-career artists an environment that encourages exploration, innovation, and risk-taking.

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