American Director Paul Bargetto talking to Cristina Modreanu about Theater & Community

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Community & Theater. We don’t associate these two so much in our culture, so I’m trying to understand from people like you involved in these kinds of projects why is it important to put community and theater together?

– Difficult to take those apart.  I am talking about my community, which goes by many names – downtown, experimental, avant-garde – sometimes even off-off Broadway, but people get into this area of doing theater because they want to do a certain type of theater and they don’t feel artistically fulfilled doing conventional theater, Broadway or regional theater – those are more or less commercial oriented. So, people start to get involved because they have a dream of the avant-garde. But once you get inside this type of theater there is so little funding for it, that people get burned out or give up, OR they form communities in order to survive. For the most part communities sustain us in a more spiritual sense, because none of us have any money, but it’s a sense of solidarity that we really need, we feel we are not alone. So I would say that people get into it first for artistic reasons and then they discover these values of solidarity in community. I think ultimately you can’t do this kind of work without it, because it’s too hard and society doesn’t really care. And I’m giving this example of Connie’s avant-garde restaurant, because I was involved in it and the show it’s an expression of community involvement, you serve a meal, bring the audience into the performance and it is very interactive – all these being things already done in the avant-garde before – but there is also this underlined sense of building a community beyond the artistic one. It’s trying to involve a larger community and have a mission beside just being art: there’s issues of sustainability, local food, things that are part of the show and are touching on another political and social thing by being there literary, like the plate you’re eating of it’s a recyclable one, the food is grown on a local farm and performers talk about it – so this is an expansion of the community to parts of society that we wouldn’t “normally” be connected to at all. And this is only one example.

Can you give one more example?

– Yes, there is the festival that I am involved with, Underground Zero Festival, which also comes out of the downtown, avant-garde community. We are probably about 50 companies and maybe 300 – up to 500 artists – I am talking about a specific part of the avant-garde, not the off-off Broadway per se which is much bigger. But I am talking about the local teams working in the Village or in Brooklyn, they share a similar story: in general they want to form an ensemble even though it’s very difficult and a lot of these ensembles are formed immediately after graduation. People fall in love with each other, they work together in school and they want to stay together

How long do they usually resist in staying together?

– I would say the life cycle of one of these ensembles is typically of 5 years. That said, there are some which are very successful and they are still together long after this time. Like Elevator Repair Service or Wooster Group – it’s the same people and they are doing this together for a long time. Those are the famous ones, but there are others as well, enough good companies here now and a few great ones that it’s getting interesting, it’s a kind of movement. And it’s based on the same concept of very small ensembles, which have a non-profit organization behind and of course we are all applying for the same founds and resources which are extremely limited. So what’s happened is that it reached a critical mass and now it’s a crisis, so some started to say we cannot do this anymore. I can’t do this until I’m 50! And there isn’t really anywhere for all this work to go, except abroad. And this is where the most successful of them are going. So Nature Theater of Oklahoma for example, very successful right now, who was in Avignon this year, or others who work for Edinburgh Festival and other festivals all year round, without even bother to come back to US – there is a whole model. Or eventually maybe they come back, but who knows?

So what I did was starting organizing this yearly festival in New York four years ago, inviting guests companies, on a presenting platform. And the same people started to come again and again over the years. It’s turned into a place for resident companies – it’s crazy that we all have independent ensembles and we are applying for the same funding, we have no power as small groups, maybe it’s a good idea to use this Festival as a structure to make a community. So we bring 10 companies now, the artists are able to do the work they do, we can apply for all of them and we can hit for big funding that otherwise we wouldn’t dare to apply for. The other reality is that so much of the avant-garde is dominated by people who have private wealth, a significant source that allowed them to do what they did. And then also we’re on top of a legacy that was built in the 60’s and 70’s to the 80’s when New York was a cheap town to live in. Those days are gone.

Regizorul american Paul Bargetto, director al New York Undergroundzero Festival propune la Bucuresti THE FLYING SANDBOX o scoala pentru antrenamentul actorului (18 – 24 Februarie , sala Laborator, Teatrul Bulandra).