The first play I saw at Bushwick Starr was The Ring Cycle Parts 1&2, a recontectualizing of Wagner‘s famous opera set in America in the eighties, seen through the lens of trickle-down economics and WWF wrestling. It was outrageously great, and even our friends visiting from Brussels were impressed. The next time I made it back was for Winter in the Woods, a series of vignettes around the theme of winter, which featured a spooky theremin player, a troupe dancing backward, women as swans, marionettes fighting their handlers, and so much more awesomeness.
Bushwick Starr provides a small, intimate theatre-going experience, where a handful of audience members sit on the floor, and you don’t even need to bring your glasses. They’re a nonprofit, doing innovative and locally focused work, giving artists and groups a forum to grow and experiment, with consistently high-quality creative results. This weekend (Aprli 22 & 23) is this year’s Big Green Theater Festival, an interactive environmental-education program focused on teaching kids about their environment and community in creative ways. Get your tickets already! But first, check out my interview with Sue, Bushwick Starr’s founder.
brooklyn spaces: Tell me a bit about the history of the space.
Sue: The Bushwick Starr began as a developmental space for the New York–based theater company Fovea Floods, Inc. Our company was looking for a large rehearsal space for a show we were producing at the (then) Ontological-Hysteric Theatre in the East Village, and when we found the loft in Bushwick, we fell in love. In 2004, we fully converted the space into a black-box venue while producing a large-scale theatrical run. And as the neighborhood of Bushwick began to transform into a thriving artistic nexus, we decided to open our doors to other artists. So it was really less of a decision to open up a theater in Bushwick, than it was a gradual transition from a private space to a public venue. We’ve grown into a thriving theatrical venue, a vital neighborhood arts center, and a destination for exciting and engaging performance.
brooklyn spaces: What have been some of your favorite shows?
Sue: One of our favorites was Pass Kontrol‘s New Hope City in the spring of 2010. It was an apocalyptic rock-opera / allegory set in the future of a New York–type city, created and conceived by a local Bushwick rock band. The show was an unexpected runaway hit, because it perfectly represented a reflection—a moment—of the Bushwick community spirit. It’s DIY, it’s cutting-edge, it’s full of promise and creativity, and it’s hopeful at its core. Another highlight was Half Straddle‘s In the Pony Palace / FOOTBALL in the spring of 2011. Half Straddle is an up-and-coming company in an exciting moment of growth. It’s always our goal to catch budding companies and offer them some valuable and productive time to develop their work, while giving them all of our support to get their work seen, and it’s extremely rewarding for us to be a part of that journey. We want to help companies put on a show, but we also want people to take notice of the work, and just generally get excited about something new—and they certainly did with Pony Palace. Our relationship with Half Straddle on this production was a great fit, and I think the fact that the run was sold out and we received so much press is a testament to both of us making the most of a special moment for our organizations, and working together to forge ahead.
brooklyn spaces: Is there an overarching theme or idea for the types of shows you put on?
Sue: We present new or developing work from primarily NYC-based experimental theater and dance artists. We like to work with groups that have a strong vision and something to say artistically. We also choose people who have established their voice and their audience but are still in a moment of growth, so that the support we offer them will have value and impact. If you look at our current season, you can get an idea of the type of work / artistic style we lean toward—Half Straddle, PL115, Witness Relocation, and 31 Down, all of which are making experimental, cutting-edge work.
brooklyn spaces: What is the space’s relationship with the neighborhood & community?
Sue: The Bushwick Starr is an organization defined by both our artists and our community. With this in mind, we have created annual offerings like The Bushwhack Series, a festival highlighting local talent; Band of Puppets Fest, a showcase of puppetry for families in our community; and the environmentally driven Big Green Theater Festival, which brings the youth of Bushwick directly in touch with professional theater. We are in the heart of Bushwick, and at the crossroads of our neighborhood’s unique culture, history, and community. We strive to unite these elements within an artistic forum and serve as a place where both artistic and community-based dialogue can be encouraged and explored.