Germinal Theatre and the Women of New Georges, NY

February 9, 2011 § 1 Comment

Sarah Cameron Sunde directs "Diary of a Teenage Girl"

February 11th marks the debut of a new series at The Cornelia Street Café, The New Georges’ Trunk Show, featuring the work of New Georges, the downtown theatre company long known for its edgy, original work, and for the strong relationships it’s fostered with some of New York’s most important theatre artists.  We recently had the chance to talk with Susan Bernfield and Sarah Cameron Sunde, New Georges’ artistic director and associate director, respectively, about the company’s history, how they work, and what we can expect to see on our stage on the 11th.

Tell us a little about how New Georges started, and what its mission statement is.

Susan: Basically we produce and develop unusual, ambitious, highly theatrical plays by adventurous artists (who are women), and support those artists in a variety of ways.  (We put the women thing in parentheses cause first and foremost it has to be about the work.) Like lots of people, I formed a theater company right out of drama school (I was an actor). And we incorporated and did a few shows and then, again like lots of people, it kind of fizzled out. A few months later I took a commercial class (as in, for actors who want to be in commercials) which happened to have only women in it. An ongoing conversation started happening there about going in to audition for nothing but stupid bimbo parts, stupid other-stereotype parts… So I hooked up with a few people from that class, offering that first company’s incorporation and bank account, and we decided we wanted to do something about women. We weren’t sure what, though — maybe produce plays by women, then maybe there’d be better roles for us?

But then I couldn’t FIND any plays by women! I’d go to the Drama Book Shop and comb the shelves, couldn’t find a thing. So I thought, well, there must be women like me, who care about the kinds of things I do, who wanna write plays, so how do you find those people?  I had no experience with new plays whatsoever, it was a completely different idea of theater than what I’d grown up with or thought I’d ever do.  I’d never met a playwright in my life, could barely conceive of it. Now I am one.  And a lot of the resources for new plays or even the focus on new plays that there is now, I’m not sure it all existed then — or it did, but not in the same way and certainly not in a way I had access to. But very soon I realized that producing new work and getting to know the people who made new work was the most creative, most interesting, most obvious path. Of course the company and its mission have evolved a lot since then, and so have I.

New Georges is famous for its homebase: “The Room” – a rehearsal and performance space, where new plays and projects are brought to life. Can you talk about the process of creating theatre there?

Sarah: Sure! The Room is basically just that…a nice neutral space to create theater in. We’ve got blue “mondo flooring” that’s ok to be barefoot on, green acoustic panels so that we don’t hear every word of the rehearsal next door, and we’re very proud of our big floor-to-ceiling windows, because natural light is very important for creativity – and sometimes, you know, the most inspiring is to watch the business men and women across 8th Ave go about their days. No joke!

Every process is different, so The Room is changeable to suit our artists’ needs. We like to challenge our peeps by giving them space in The Room to develop whatever they want to develop. We find that this allows the artists to be free and create their best work!  Sometimes having “a room of one’s own” is all one needs to get the creative juices flowing…

Susan:  And by making our primary space a workspace, I think we put some extra emphasis on the fact that the best way to make plays is in 3-D – not just to read them out loud, but to get them on their feet!

New Georges has been around since the early nineties. I’m curious how you feel the theatrical landscape has changed in New York over the years?

Susan:  I think it’s changed a LOT.  As I say above, there seems to be a very different awareness of new plays, many many more opportunities to make and to see them, on all levels.  Ironically, at the same time as the audience has by all accounts diminished!  But there’s a much broader range of outlets for a variety of work – festivals and play development opportunities have proliferated, there’s no time of year nowadays where there isn’t plenty to see, used to be there was some down time.  I think one of the reasons is that people start earlier.  They seem to have very different theater experiences in college than we had, much earlier exposure to new plays and the people who make them, and they enter the professional world already very clear, at least it seems to me, about what they want to do and how they want to do it.  And the Internet of course has made it much easier, I think, to disseminate information about shows and opportunities, so that’s changed the way the theater as a community operates, as well.   It used to be like I felt I knew, or knew of, or COULD know, all the women playwrights, for example.  Now – no way.  Just so many of everybody.  Which amazes and inspires me.

What can we expect to see at The Cornelia Street Café on the 11th?

Sarah:  A surprise! We’re calling our series the New Georges’ TRUNK SHOW because it’ll be an eclectic mix of material.  We’ve challenged our artists to think outside the box. There will be old stuff and new stuff flying out of that ol’ trunk. You can expect experimentation, new collaborations, and some of our all time favorite performers! There will be music, maybe some dancing, testing of big ideas and intimate moments. Most of all it will be fun, fun, and more fun!  We hope to see you there!

How about in the coming months? Anything new projects you want to preview for us?

Susan:  We’re having a very unusual season, we’ve kind of exploded what we usually do in order to jumpstart the development of a bunch of new plays.  We like to do big fat crazy impossible plays, but we weren’t really reading as many of those as we’d like.  So we started this thing called THE GERM PROJECT; we commissioned four playwrights we’d known a long time but had never produced to write new plays of “scope and adventure,” dream plays, unproduceable plays.  To challenge us as producers, that’s what we told ‘em.  We paired the playwrights with directors, and have asked them to make their development processes “collaboration-driven,” rather than text-driven, in order to focus on the theatricality of each project as much as anything else.   Then in June and July at 3LD Art & Technology Center, we’re going to produce 20 minutes of each of the four plays as a single evening of theater.  We’ve asked the collaborators to try and pick the 20 minutes they think would be the most difficult to stage, or the most difficult technically….  After that, we’ll keep developing the plays and over time, we hope, produce the full-length versions.  The artists have really embraced the idea, and the plays are pretty exciting!  We actually have a blog where people can read more about the process, it’s http://www.thegermproject.wordpress.com.  And of course you can find out more about it on our website, http://www.newgeorges.org.  Follow the GERM!

Joshua Rebell is a playwright and Spoken Word Curator at the Cornelia Street Cafe. He is also fluent in Jazz and speaks several dialects of LA. Eager readers, speakers and performers can show love and petition him for stagetime at jazzrebell@earthlink.net

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