How can the premiere of Ski End be just a week and a half away? After almost two years of work, how can we be so close to letting this thing loose upon the world? Does my inclination to indulge in nostalgia for the recent past before the show is even over make me...like...a...fascist? Should I avoid indulging in that nostalgia just in case? Is nostalgia even the right word? Am I just taking stock in a normal, healthy way? Hey…have we told you all how things are going lately? Well, things have changed a lot since last summer when we performed Ski End 1.0 at the Ice Factory. We've rehearsed at IRT, we've rehearsed at New York Theatre Workshop, we've rehearsed in our apartments, we've even rehearsed at Emilie and Alexandra's office. Now we're all set up in the former synagogue at Westbeth Artists Housing, where a group of three actual-real-life skater teens walked in on us flailing around the other day and struck terror (or joy? Can't tell the difference) into our hearts. Soon, though, we'll have to pack up and move into our final home for the show - the New Ohio Theatre. Our first preview is April 30th! Got it? And our last show is May 19th. That's a Friday. Don't forget!
So where do we stand right now? Well, Alexandra might be found late at night on a hot Sunday creating new elements for the set; Tara and Deepali might be cloistered away discussing new music; Jeff and Ben might be fabricating back-up skis because boy are we being rough with those things. Every night we come home to 50-100 alerts from Google Docs – the script is morphing and maturing like a living creature feeding on our energy at rehearsals. Questions asked on any given night might range from “how can I be a better person?” to “is this branch going to fall on my head?” And, so often, we hear the ominous answer “we’re going to have to take this to the ‘turgs” (dramaturgs, that is, Elliot and Lauren).
At times the temptation is to just keep rehearsing—forever. To replicate the deliberate “stuckness” the characters in the show choose. We’re safe in our lovely rehearsal space at Westbeth, bustling away and inventing games—why leave? But of course we have all of these questions; questions about how to manage the apocalyptic thoughts that bloom in our minds, and we can’t force the ‘turgs to answer everything. We have to ask an audience!
It's been illuminating for us, as theater-makers and humans, to be creating this piece in spite of (or in tandem with?) the current onslaught of bad news. How strange it's been for the development of this project to span such seemingly different eras. We felt our perspective on "apocalyptic thinking" shift from one of slightly disapproving removal to genuine empathy. Yes—it's ok to feel like chaos is tapping at the door. But then we have to decide...do we lock the door and hide in the bathroom? Or do we lock the door and climb out the bathroom window? Or is that a bad analogy? And when we escape chaos, do we finally understand its opposite —cosmos? Or would that understanding bring us too close to the blinding terror of the Sublime, plunging us back into chaos again? It's hard to be sure. That's why we need you, even more than we did this summer when things were different (or were they, really? Well the show was pretty different, that much is for sure!)
But most importantly, our teenage collaborators gave up time during their Spring Break to rehearse with us. We gotta honor that. Tickets dates and deets here! See you soon!
Thanks to some amazing support from our community of donors, we exceeded our telethon goal of raising $5,000, which put us well on our way to our year-end fundraising goal of $15,000. If you missed the telethon, you can still make a tax deductible donation be clicking here.
That $15,000 goal will fund Piehole for a whole year, including our Spring 2017 production of SKI END.
2016 was a marathon year of hard work and late nights for us, so it’s only fitting that our final act was a 24-hour live telethon during which we didn’t “nap” anywhere near as much as we optimistically told ourselves we would. Despite the fact that some of our natural rhythms have been thrown out of balance for the foreseeable future as a result, it was a deeply satisfying and affirming experience - and, as it turns out, an endurance performance that makes us feel truly proud! Particularly because trying to plan such an undertaking while simultaneously getting back into rehearsals for Ski End AND trying to understand how to be active participants in our faltering society was...not easy. Credit for carrying us over the finish line (or, let’s be honest, carrying us to the starting line in the first place) must go first and foremost to our dear friend Allen Riley, whose complex and sculptural live TV set-up has been inspiring us for a few years now. When Alexandra interviewed him during the second and third installations of the ‘thon, the whole event gained a sense of meaning and context that went way beyond raising money. Which is not to malign raising money, of course, because that’s what we were doing! And it worked! As I myself have learned during many a public radio pledge drive, people will pay if they see you workin' for it. Is your voice cracking from repeating the same number over and over again? Yeah, I’ll donate to that, absolutely! But of course there was more to it than that. There were times when we felt we were engaged in a public experiment, a brief way of life, in which many of you were actively participating...commenting, staying up later than you meant to, egging us on, watching us get looser and weirder. Even though it was only 24 hours, I’ll probably eventually remember it as a distinct period in my life where we all lived together in a super-secret-location somewhere in Brooklyn. And what happened during that wild era in the waning years of our youth? Almost too much to name! But here are some highlights (possibly out of order):
We got off to a thoughtful and invigorating start with old chums Sarah Campen, Bob Christensen, and Hannah Pepper-Cunningham. They were calling in from Juneau and New Orleans, respectively, and offered perspective on making art and theater not only way outside of New York, but in parts of the country that exist on the front lines of climate change.
We were shocked to realize we’d been chatting with them for about an hour when our next guests, Lauren Whitehead and Alec Duffy showed up, live and in-person! We hadn’t planned to interview them at the same time, but we were glad we did because their work dovetails so beautifully and now they’re going to get a cup of coffee!!
Our teenaged collaborators Kijani and Maite joined us and we got to catch up. Our temporary society felt a lot more like a real society when we got a little intergenerational conversation going. Maite performed a few pieces for us, and Kijani made the case for our fundraising effort. We’re so excited to spend more time with them in rehearsals! Also, Alexandra taught us how to draw a powerful horse.
International reinforcements starting appearing - Sina Heiss and her collaborator Marlene came all the way from Austria (maybe not just for the telethon, but still) and we talked about theater, politics, and the color green in Austria. Piehole collaborator Hye Young Chyun, in town from South Korea, appeared briefly and miraculously to deliver donuts.
Our friend Deepali Gupta, who wrote music for Ski End, sang original songs for us as we sat down to dinner. Maybe this would become part of the nightly ritual forever? Hopefully?? This was reality now, wasn’t it?
More friend reinforcements started appearing, and Matt Tong, stalwart Piehole ally, barely realized that he’d been manning the video station for hours. Jess Goldschmidt gave us a rousing performance of “what’s in the bag” (must be seen to be believed). Emily Friend Roberts, aka Erma Fiend, provided us with a makeup tutorial that turned Elliot into a glamourous melting mall elf for the next 16 hours. Maya Taylor provided us with a box of caffeine pills, two of which were promptly downed by Brendan Thomas Crowley, who would bravely carry us through the late night.
Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizzarro, in solidarity from California, had crab legs delivered to our super secret location. We devoured them for your viewing pleasure.
When Ski End ensemble member Ben Vigus starting juggling to the rhythm of Elliot’s perfect apple-chopping, we knew we were in for the long haul. It would not be the last time we saw the world through juggle-cam.
Brendan introduced us to the terrors of the night by telling a series of bone-chilling ghost stories. He also introduced us to the terrors of the present by promising to sing an improvised parody song entitled “Trump Says” to the tune of “Jane Says” for a donation of $50. Much to his chagrin, his challenge was met by devoted Telethon viewer Kevin McKenna.
The apple-chopping became part of an overnight pie-making ritual which briefly landed us in another dimension.
We settled into a quieter period - toasting our high school English teachers with a glass of traditional wassail, enjoying readings from Anne of Green Gables, Johnny Got His Gun, and Margaret Atwood’s Moral Disorder...all of which brought us treacherously close to the dark heart of total awareness in the moment. Some people took naps while others doubled down on a wakeful mania.
In the early hours, we began to hear from other parts of the world - our friend Blair told us what the dawn would be like from her vantage point in Brazil, and original Piehole-er Michelle Oing called us from Amsterdam. She was a lot more conscious than we were, and she pulled us through the darkest hour. We argued about onion rings. Just when Michelle could hold the lifeline no longer, Ski End ensemble member Emilie Soffe and her partner (and our pal) Jeff Doyle arrived on their way to the airport with a box of granola bars.
It was time for more intergenerational connection: Alexandra called her grandmother in Denmark. Granny gave us some advice. Later, her granddaughter would teach us all to draw a boat.
Coffee, breakfast, the crossword, nearly dropping the camera on Elliot’s dog Keira while we tried to feed her. The crossword was a true group effort, as our loyal viewers began to awaken bright and early on a Saturday morning. After having played the master of the night and telling one more horrifying ghost story, Brendan finally collapsed. Later we would see his sweet sleeping face up close and personal.
Maite, up earlier than I ever was on a Saturday morning at 17, re-joined us and helped Elliot finish the pie of the night.
Chana Porter, co-founder of the Octavia Project, arrived with her collaborator Chandanie Hiralal - a young fantasy writer who read us an excerpt from a novel she wrote as a teenager. By that point things had reached the fantastical at multiple levels.
Bahar Behbahani called in to tell us that donating to Piehole helped her find her wallet. Seemed like a solid endorsement to us!
Kathryn Wallem, original Piehole with a depth of fundraising knowledge, arrived to lead us in some stretches and teach everyone the lost art of the check. Surprisingly informative!
Matt Tong re-appeared with a reprisal of “What’s in the Bag.” The Bag contained coffee jelly and caffeinated gum!
WE MADE OUR GOAL! After an explosion of emotion, we realized we still had a couple more hours to go, so there was nothing for it but to settle into a game of Scrabble while Elliot read from Moby Dick.
We could tell the sun was shining. The donations kept rolling in. The tree was lit. Finally it was time to emerge into the daylight, renewed and buoyed by the lifetime we all lived together between those walls for those 24 hours. I don’t know about anyone else, but I personally have no memory of the following week. All I saw was the support and solidarity represented in our Winter Wonderland Donorama Diorama, where tiny anthropomorphic avatars for our donors formed our ideal town.
This month, Piehole is doing a development workshop of Ski End at IRT Theatre in the West Village as part of our Archive Residency.
The first day of our rehearsal was scheduled for the day after Election Day.
We had assumed we would be celebrating the end of a stressful and painful election, that we would have broken a glass ceiling, and that we could return to the privileged position of our usual levels of activism. Lately, our attentions had been on deeper systemic issues in our country, that are difficult to unpack and address, like systemic racism and money in politics. But when Trump won, we were suddenly overwhelmed by so much existing and potential devastation, that we initially couldn’t fathom where to place our feelings or to direct our attention. Suddenly, we had to protest his hateful language, his corrupt history, his racist cabinet appointments, his climate-change-denying stance, the list goes on. He has flooded the channels with abominations, and it's hard to know where to begin. Needless to say, we entered rehearsal Day 1 on Wednesday with a lot of new information and feelings to process. I can’t say that we were all solidly in the “art matters now more than ever” camp, though there was some feeling of that...or even that we were all sure that this was “exactly what I need to be doing right now.” But here’s a run-down of what we did in that rehearsal and how it may have helped us:
If you’ve seen our work, you know that Piehole works to create space for multiplicity, complexity, surprise and delight. The whole enterprise is about shifting and expanding perspectives, our own and our audience's. So as we challenge ourselves to work through all of this, we aim to translate this process into a thought-provoking journey for our audience.
For me, being in rehearsals for Ski End right now feels right somehow. It is a privilege to be able to carve out space in our lives to come together as a group of people who are all dedicated to understanding and reflecting something that feels true about the world, while posing questions to an audience through our work. Spending TIME with ideas and events, crafting a synthesis of different viewpoints, feels like an essential alternative to the instantaneous spewing of thoughts and feelings that social media inspires in us. The latter certainly serves a purpose, but on its own it can really make you lose your center. Returning to Ski End rehearsals has helped me feel more centered, which makes smaller actions like regularly contacting Congress members, much easier and clearer.
Although I'm skeptical of the phrase "now more than ever," it's exciting to feel the urgency of the work we're making, and it's making me impatient to share it with our community. But for now, we'll keep working on it because we're not done yet!
Raising money is hard. Partying is also hard, in the sense that it is something we do hard. You know, when we’ve had enough sleep the night before. Before we were Piehole, we were just the last people to leave the party you didn’t invite us to. In honor of this legacy, and to advocate for a fundraising model that suggests we exchange entertainment and memories for your generous donations, we are throwing our third ever Piehole fundraiser party! If you were lucky enough to have been hanging out with us on one of the best nights of our collective lives, you might have been at our last party: “Hole Up: A Piehole Social.” We cozied up into the church basement of our New England-y dreams, and watched our favorite New England bands magically transported into the bodies of our favorite local New York bands. We danced and danced and ruined some fine vintage dresses with whipped cream pies.
That was almost two years ago, and while it’s true that trying to have fun during an election year can seem emotionally risky, we’re gonna do it again. We’re gonna party. And we want you to come. Actually, let’s be honest - we need you to come. We won’t have fun without you. I mean, no pressure but...come hang out with us in our teen center/ski lodge/romantic novel!!!! Why is it a teen center/ski lodge/romantic novel? What do those three things have to do with each other? Hopefully we’ll raise enough moolah at the party to finish the show so we can all find out! In the mean time, we can tell you a couple of things it means:
1. It means a bunch of adult-somethings will give in to their primal teen-something urges and present us with FRANKEN-TEEN COVER BANDS! Unholy monsters of angst, hormones, and teen idols: Lesley Gore in the style of The Runaways (RUNAWAY GORE!), Minor Threat in the style of The Violent Femmes (VIOLENT THREAT!), and Hanson in the style of Sam Cooke (HANSAM COOKE!), performed by inimitable Sam Cooke tributionist Ronald Peet. All the indecision and noise you thought you’d grow out of but never did!!
2. It means you will be guided through the evening by Ikechukwu Ufomadu (of Ike at Night) and Brendan Thomas Crowley, Byronic comedic icons, who might award you PRIZES PRIZES PRIZES for top-notch party behavior.
3. It means your favorite 7-train journey through sexual majesty, L’Amour Bleu, will be doing something they said would be “on theme” and I’m worried.
4. It means spiritual advisor Jess Goldschmidt will be creating a special I’m Okay You’re Okay haven for your teenage soul.
5. It means that we will dance like the weird kids in school right up until our curfew!
6. It means you will have the opportunity to bid on PRIZES PRIZES PRIZES in our famous raffle! Yes, some lucky bastard WILL get to attack us with pies again! And yes, we will have beautiful handmade jewelry, art, pottery, a wine tour voucher (yeah we're not such slobs afterall) and more!!
7. It means you can honor the greatest fundraising tradition of them all, YE OLDE BAKE SALE!
8. It means you can just lounge around after a tough day on the slopes and talk to your friends if you want. Relax, man!
All of this will go down at BEAM center, which is the kind of place we all wish we’d been able to go to as kids. Let’s do this, dudes. Let’s escape to the mountains and be free again!!! These are the details:
SATURDAY MARCH 26
at BEAM CENTER
60 Sackett St. (Carroll Gardens)
$15 - $25, whatever feels doable
This is the facebook event where you can access more details and invite everyone you know! https://www.facebook.com/events/1219250634769281/
Here are some of the fine folks who have made generous donations to our raffle:
and, as mentioned, more!
Say it with me now: PARTYPARTYPARTYPARTYPARTYPARTYPARTYPARTYPARTYPARTYPARTYPARTYPARTY!!!
Oh, and here is our magnificent flyer, on an original Ski End print by Lilah Freedland:
The year is drawing to a close, and as with every other year, it's like "what the f#@k is going on?!"
But despite the uncertainty and the worry --as with every year --Piehole has countless blessings to be thankful for, and that must be celebrated!
2015 was an incredibly fruitful year for us, from Old Paper Houses at the Irondale, to the sold out run of Hand Foot Fizzle Face at JACK, to the recent explorations of our newest project Ski End (working title). What has meant the most through all our growth and success has been the deepening of bonds with our community of supporters, friends, and family. You stoked our creative fires by sharing valuable feedback, donating essential funds, and showing up again and again to make something special happen. We are so lifted, supported, and inspired by you. Thank you!
But you know what? Let's get a little more specific...
As 2015 winds down, we're endlessly thankful for Jessie Renee Hopkins, Benoit Johnson, Emilie Soffe and Ben Vigus, and the countless hours they spent --as writers, performers and collaborators --throwing themselves wholeheartedly into a creative abyss and wrangling with all the stuff that was there... all while being some of the nicest, funniest people you'll ever get to spend time with.
We got the chance to perform with so many mega talented actors this year. The time, effort, patience and creativity they offered us didn't just make our shows shine on stage, but created a wonderfully charged rehearsal room, where chances were taken and discoveries made. Thank you to the incomparable Marcia Brannock, Nora Fox, Emily Jon Mitchell, Stacey Karen Robinson, and Joshua David Robinson.
We're thankful for the incredible artists and designers we've worked with this year, each of whom is an alchemist bringing so much of themselves to our work, uncovering secrets and surprises we never would have found ourselves... ahem... Krit Robinson, Lea Bertucci, Rebecca Breheney, Mike Costagliola, Nikki Delhomme, Deepali Gupta, Eileen Meny, Paul Piekarz, Matt Romein, Jason Sigal, Masha Tsimring, Joseph Wolfslau, and Serena Wong.
Thank you to our producers! Maddy Bersin and Katie Naka, you lightened our administrative work-load so we could focus on what was happening on stage. You brought our work to wider audiences. You put out bad fires and started good ones, and you are just awesome to be around. Thank you!
And, of course, none of this would be possible without the tireless, generous work of our stage managers and tech staffers. Mikenzie Ames, Matt Carrington, Kelsey Kennedy, Victoria Rulle and Hannah Spratt, thank you!
And to all the musicians, fortune tellers, DJs and poets who leant their talents to the Old Paper Houses post-show post-utopian hangout zone, thank you for making our dreams come true!
We're thankful for the production assistance and mentorship of New York Theatre Workshop, and our a residency at The Drama League. Both of these establishments created warm and welcoming spaces for us to test out ideas, make mistakes, and score some terrific victories.
Time and again, the New York Theater Workshop offered us mentorship, invaluable critique and that white whale of independent theater: space. Each of the three productions we've worked on this year was heavily supported by this generous establishment.
Thank you also to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council! Being part of the Workspace Residency has been a game-changer for us. Every day, we head to our very own studio overlooking what feels like all of New York City, and --in between Mad Men impressions --we count our lucky stars for this opportunity. More on that here.
We're thankful to the lovely, dedicated staff of The Irondale Center who helped us stage our most ambitious production to date (as well as about a million other events). And we're immensely thankful to Alec Duffy at JACK theater for his support and faith, and for lending us a giant tent.
We are also tremendously thankful to the New Ohio Theater and IRT Theater for giving us the honor of being participants in the 2016-17 New Ohio/IRT Archive Residency. For the next two years, the New Ohio and IRT will provide us with administrative and financial support, workshop space, and a presentation in the 2016 Ice Factory Festival. In the Spring of 2017 the residency will culminate in a four week run as part of the New Ohio Mainstage Season. We are unbelievably grateful for this opportunity, and excited for the relationship we are about to build.
This year we continued our practice of hosting Piehole gyms --theatrical workout sessions where we get to meet new artists, performers get to stretch their muscles without being tied to a production, and as an ensemble we get to work out ideas and generate potential content. We are so thankful to the dedicated, game, and endlessly creative artists who joined us for these gyms in 2015: Patrick Harrison, Djaka Souare, Hye Young Chyun, Rachel Wohlander, Jessica Goldschmidt and Emily Hartford.
We ventured into a lot of hitherto uncharted water in 2015. In trying to become fluent in everything from legalese to exposure, we benefitted from the advice and support of several Piehole mentors. We are so thankful for the time, wisdom and kindness they've shared with us: Jonah Bokaer, Siobhan Burke, Linda Chapman, Roger T Danforth, Peter Durwood, Melanie Joseph, Andrew Kircher, Mimi Lien, Robert Lyons, Kristin Marting, Jim Nicola, Gabriel Shanks, Risa Shoup and Ariana Smart Truman.
And a great big "thanks" to the peers who have come to our work-in-progress showings and offered us their time as well as their thoughtful, invaluable feedback. Thank you Elena Araoz, Jeff Augustine, Max Bean, Lileana Blain-Cruz, Oona Curley, Tanya Desai, Jeff Doyle, Sanaz Ghajarrahimi, Lucy Kaminsky, Mark Lanham, Martyna Majok, Aaron Malkin, Brian Otano, Jonathan Payne, Allen Riley, Miriam Rosalky, Eva von Schweinitz, Amy Shire, Efrem Sidi-Shire, Rachel Silverman, Kathryn Wallem, Will Walsh and Nicole Watson.
Thank you to Miranda Thomas, Charlie Shackleton, Ann, Gertrude and Glenn Suokko for hosting us in the dreamy foothills of Vermont --and for literally giving us shelter from the storm. The space you gave us in your homes (and in the mill) allowed us to start development on our first **Brand New** show in 2.5 years, and the kindness and artistic dedication you demonstrate has been a source of endless inspiration. More on this incredible experience here.
And finally, thank you to our families and loved ones. You are the ones who make all this possible. Thank you for everything!
For the last two summers, Piehole spent time in a semi-moldy, flood-damaged, abandoned ski shop in Bridgewater, Vermont which contained dead birds, a make-shift skate ramp made from a piece of plywood propped on a broken TV set, and a whole lot of inspiring cubby holes. We became obsessed with this space, and the potential it held for our next show. For the past two months, Piehole has been working in an unused level of a skyscraper in Lower Manhattan, with a fallen-from-glory feel (big windows, stunning views, caving ceilings, and strange bursts of wires vomiting from various holes in the floor). These spaces have invaded our imaginations and influenced everything we’ve been making, both consciously and unconsciously.
When I think about the work we’ve developed so far through the lens of these spaces, I keep returning to a nostalgic way of thinking: the glory, ambition and success that once existed in these spaces versus the ruins of now seemingly useless excesses. It’s odd to feel nostalgia over something you don’t really care about (i.e. skiing and banking). Our emotional relationship to these spaces has shaped our investigation of how people project emotions onto spaces.
Without getting into the logic or the history of what led us to which source materials, I’ll just list our mishmash of sources: the ski shop, Romantic landscapes drawn from paintings and literatures, specifically Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, along with our own thinking about our teenage selves, and what teenagers are like. We hit the rehearsal room with our ideas, discussions, and research, and worked feverishly toward the unknown. Our process culminated with a presentation of material to some trusty artist friends who gave us invaluable feedback.
It’s funny to look back at this exploratory workshop and try to sum up what we created: Our actors discussed what it takes to be a positive force in the world, while trading off emotions and outdoor activities in an elaborate juggling act. We tried performing indoor emotions, outdoor emotions, and outer space emotions. We investigated what in the Universe it would feel like to try to turn emotions into objects that we can slot in and out, or look at for a long time without context. We conjured Nature in both dumb and beautiful ways. We collapsed emotions onto nature, drawing inspiration from the Romantic movement. We maximized our use of a fog machine. and made up songs about the healing effects of Alpine climes. We were trapped in an abandoned sporting goods store, which was scary until it wasn’t, until it was again, but in a way that felt full of potential.
That’s a big run down of a lot of play we made really fast. A lot will change and some surprising aspects of what we made will emerge and develop. And looking ahead, we’re excited to round up some more teenagers to work with in our February workshop at the IRT space above the New Ohio, as part of the Archive Residency program. With teens, Romantic imagery, and feelings together in one space, we’re excited to continue our attempt to reach the edges of emotions as we climb to the edge of a cliff, in a great big Frankenstein journey to the edge of the Earth.
Our basements, closets, corners, and drawers are filled to capacity. 8 years of accumulated cardboard, wooden frames and platforms, puppets and embroidery hoops - with many of us having moved from apartment to apartment with an unbelievable pile of painted illustration board in tow - all of which is nothing compared to the effort of coordinating the creation of all these wandering objects. We've always been into "stuff," but where to house, assemble, and play with it has always been a struggle. Rehearsal spaces are wonderful, but they serve so many different people - storing a village of small cardboard houses in any of them would be, well, rude. For years we've fantasized - what if we had a dedicated space where we could have meetings, get on our feet and rehearse, AND store and create the objects that are so important to our work? We came close, once, when Jeff had a small shared studio space in 2009. We couldn't really rehearse there (which didn't stop us from trying) but we could craft and talk. Ever since that taste of the dream we've wanted more. Here are Tara and Allison discussing snacks and dreams on the fire escape of that building, overlooking a pit:
Ah, living and creating in Brooklyn in the late aughts. That's all well and good, but now, finally, we're ready for the big time. Here we are continuing that same conversation on the 30th floor of an office building in Lower Manhattan!
That's right, we've finally made it!! Have we sold out? Cashed in? Gotten involved in a pyramid scheme? No! We are incredibly grateful to announce that we are part of LMCC's 2015/2016 Workspace program. That means that we, along with a diverse community of other artists, are haunting an unused floor of an office building under the guidance of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. We have our own studio, space to rehearse, and the tremendous honor of making work alongside (and in conversation with) the other participants in the program. We've already started meeting in our office (and enjoying the power of being among the blessed few who don't have to wear suits in this building):
We'll be here until June - just heading on down to the Financial District to write on the windows with chalk markers and decorate the walls with inspiration (Romantic landscape paintings? Tiger Beat pin-ups? We'll have to see!) If anyone would like to point us towards particular haunted spots in this oldest part of fair Manhatto, we'll be receptive to the advice. In the mean time, we'll be dealing with the emotional implications of getting something we've longed for all these years - the opportunity to unite the disparate parts of our practice in one place. But don't worry - we'll never forget our roots:
Ah, the recent past. The recent past of two weeks ago; the slightly less but still essentially recent past of a year before that; the comparatively recent past of Hurricane Irene (the beginning of a fearful awakening here in the Northeast); the less recent but still modern past of textile mills in Vermont - I could go on.
But about what?
Piehole's (annual?) retreat to Vermont. That's what. We struck the Hand Foot Fizzle Face set, haphazardly stuffed a car with sleeping bags, snacks, and witch hats, and set off for a week of reflection, research, and mysteries. As is our custom, we were light on the official "planning" side of things.
After a satisfying but ominously damp night of camping, we returned to the "Ski End" in the old Bridgewater, Vermont mill - the site of some surprisingly generative work this time last year. It became the jumping-off point for what we hope will become our next piece. It had not changed. At all. Still empty; still in shambles; maybe a little moldier. What does it mean to encounter a place that you found unexpectedly inspirational and discover that it holds no magic powers? That it's so deeply, melancholically, static? Maybe that's part of the point. We tried out some video experiments to learn more about the space:
And we worried about the curiously beautiful decomposition of last year's dead birds - what were we breathing?
This revisiting of last year's muse raised a lot of questions for us - as did the rain pouring down back at our campsite. The former we'll be exploring for the next year; the latter was solved by a generous offer from a chance encounter. Thanks to the great generosity of Gertrude, Ann, and Glen, Vermont natives and friends of the Shackletons (our hosts for the final leg of the retreat), we stayed in this wonderful witch cabin up in the hills:
Our hosts were kind enough to share bits of their lives with us, both through their work as artists and craftspeople, and also through stories and snapshots running back through the recent past, the not-so-recent past, and the past-past, all intertwined with the history of the mill and the legacies of Woodstock and Bridgewater. We went to a museum to learn more:
So expect some musings about the relationship between captains of industry, environmentalism, and certain kinds of voice-overs. In our open-hearted exhaustion different facts and threads began to oscillate in and out of meaning; every spare moment was devoted to solving puzzles and jumbling them again. That is, aside from the vast expanses of time we spent cooking and eating:
As the week bled into the weekend we entered the warm bosom of the Shackleton homestead, where we gratefully let others take over the cooking. We spent the extra time discovering different spots in the woods and fields to plop down and do a Bernadette Mayer writing exercise, or to bring up a new question about the Ski End and its history (or someone's history, at least). More trips to the Ski End ensued; more chances to walk in the woods and talk with the gathering crowd of artists/people-with-a-creative-practice/right-good-thinkers/adorable dogs.
And so, after one night in a tent, two nights in a magick cabin, and four nights in a barn with approximately 30 other people, we called it a week. A week of hard work that can't be held in anyone's hand; of fewer-than-usual injuries; of worrisome sleepiness, hot dogs, and whiskey. Oh, and the past - and, I guess, the present, of course and...well, I mean you'll see - the future. Our thanks to Wink and Charlie, to Wink's mother who stayed on this plane just long enough to bless the event and whose legacy was felt by all, to Elliot (yes, it was an inside job) and Sophie, to the people who shared their stories with us, and finally to the teens who can't help but build a makeshift skate ramp with a broken tv and a plank of wood in all the abandoned spaces of America. A toast to all. Happy belated 4th of July.
Cover image by Carol Rosegg.