By Kathryn Appleton
Learn more about our 10 year commemoration here
We were young. Hungry. Super ambitious. In need of accomplices.
With two full productions under our belt, we were looking for our next endeavor and someone to help us produce. We were extremely fortunate to be awarded a year-long residency at Horse Trade Theater, a small, longstanding East Village theatrical producing company, now known as FRIGID New York. During this residency, we produced three full-length shows in ten months--Revolution in 1, ¡Olé!, and #Coriolanus—as well as multiple cabarets and many fundraising events. Looking back now, it’s wild that we did it all!
It was at Horse Trade that we got our footing as a company. We learned how to produce multiple events at one time, we grew an audience and a following, we met people who would become some of our closest collaborators, and we became much more embedded in the East Village theater scene. We honed our creative process and laid the groundwork for the future of our company. We became closer (literally and figuratively) as a team, spending each Sunday evening together cramped in a tiny office at Horse Trade.
Horse Trade was the first of many organizations who would help drive our success and continued existence these past 10 years. Since our time at Horse Trade, we’ve worked with three other New York companies to present our work. In summer 2017, we partnered with Piper Theatre to present our new musical The Brontës at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn. Two years later, we worked with the Episcopal Actors’ Guild to present the world premiere production of Alice Pencavel’s Totally Wholesome Foods. Most recently, we partnered with the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center to present Willie Johnson’s Hephaestus in the Rough Draft Festival.
Theaters haven’t been the only organizations to open doors for us. Our fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas, has guided us in seeking grants and donations, while the Alliance of Resident Theaters New York (A.R.T./New York) made multiple grants (space and money) available to us. In fact, we were able to hire our first Community Engagement Manager through the support of the Nancy Quinn Fund, administered by A.R.T./New York.
In May 2017, we were so fortunate to find our home in a newly opened space called The Artist Co-op, putting an end to years of battling for tables (and quiet) in cafes around New York City. The Artist Co-op provided us with a cost-efficient co-working space where we could hold meetings, rehearsals, and... just do the work.
Producing theater takes time, space, money, patience, legal know-how, and… allies. We’re so grateful for all of the companies and friends who have allied with us and supported our work along the way. We’ve missed you, and we can’t wait to get back in the theater when it's safe to gather again.
By Katie Palmer
Learn more about our 10 year commemoration here
Paul and I met in 2006, before our freshman year classes even started at NYU. We quickly became close friends and frequent collaborators, but it was the project Paul proposed for senior year that turned us into forever collaborators and catalyzed the formation of our company.
While I was studying abroad in Florence, I got a message from Paul. It felt a bit random, but he was very excited and it couldn't wait. Paul began introducing me to his latest obsession: Vaslav Nijinsky. Nijinsky was a revolutionary choreographer working in Paris with the Ballet Russe in the early 1910s. He set the art world on fire with his revolutionarily primal and proto-modern choreography, and the reaction to his work is encapsulated in the riot that erupted during the premiere of his biggest work, The Rite of Spring. Alongside his trailblazing career, Nijinsky had tumultuous (and public) relationships with impresario Serge Diaghilev and dancer Romola Pulszky. His career was cut short in 1917, however, when he experienced a breakdown and subsequently spent the last 30 years of his life in and out of mental asylums. We were enamored with Nijinsky’s story and the diary he wrote while institutionalized. He had a difficult life, often imprisoned in an asylum. We wondered how we might be able to offer him another kind of asylum: safe haven for those with dangerous ideas, misunderstood at the time.
We began crafting a piece to tell that story with five marvelous dancer-actors who said yes to this wild, inventive ride. The piece had no words, and we sought to combine some of Nijinsky’s choreography with my own. Randall Benichak crafted an original score, combining excerpts of the music Nijinsky danced to (including The Rite of Spring, which was Paul’s ringtone for years). That first production featured a live chamber orchestra and was a fantasia of repetition, movement, and experimentation. We were breathless by the end of the process—not entirely sure of what we made, but knowing it was something exciting.
Come May 2010, we were freshly minted graduates hungry to get out into the world. We thought, let’s put on the show again—there was so much more of the story to tell. The single-act original piece became a three-act, with each act told from a different character’s point of view. Randall incorporated even more music from Nijinsky’s ballets and conducted an even bigger orchestra. We dreamed bigger and spent the summer manifesting those dreams. The production needed a no-nonsense big dreamer to step in and help manage the whole thing: enter Kathryn Appleton. Paul and Katie courted Kathryn with a pancake breakfast (which we did not make), and she was reckless enough to say yes to this ambition and talented enough to wrangle it. With the three of us shepherding the piece, we opened Nijinsky in Asylum in September 2010 at Steps on Broadway, a prominent dance studio on the Upper West Side.
A few weeks later, after the rush of it all, Paul and I met with a few others at our favorite bar, Dempsey’s (RIP), to dream of what could come next. Nijinsky in Asylum was such a success, and we loved working together. We were teeming with ideas for shows. “We should do this again,” we thought. Everyone nodded in agreement, but questions arose about all that would need to happen for us to do it again. “Well, if we were to do this again, we would need a name.” What to call ourselves, the makers of Nijinsky in Asylum? The notion of asylum as a kind of safety, a place to put the world on pause in order to explore ideas, captivated us. In a flash I said, “Theater in Asylum.” It just… felt… perfect. 10 years later and here we are!
We are thrilled and honored to reach this milestone, and grateful for the conversations, rehearsals, donations, volunteer hours, and heartfelt performances that made it possible.
We founded the company to “provide asylum to characters and subjects in need. With ensemble-driven performance we investigate to inspire curiosity, empathy, and action.” In our first 10 years we’ve offered asylum to artists like Vaslav Nijinsky, Federico García Lorca, and the Brontë sisters, as well as to subjects like revolution and democratic debate. We’ve offered our stage to guest artists at our cabarets, and our love of play-reading to our community in our Cold Reading series. We’ve traveled to Chicago and Prague, and performed at theaters all over New York City.
When we decided to formally organize as a company, we set out to create a space to play, explore, and learn with friends and collaborators who challenge and inspire us. We cannot thank you and this vibrant community enough for all the work and growth you’ve made possible.
10 years after our first piece––Nijinsky in Asylum––premiered, we pause to reflect on our past and imagine our future. We hope you enjoy this retrospective and are as eager for what’s next as we are. Onwards!
Peace, power, and love to you,
Paul Bedard, Katie Palmer, Kathryn Appleton, and Hilarie Spangler
Thank you to everyone who made this milestone possible.
Thank you to our friends, families, and supporters who were there at the beginning, including the Appletons, Andrew Balmer, the Bedards, Judy “Cuz” Berger, Bailey Carr, Mark Costello, Rick Fudge, Kate Gazzaniga, Elizabeth Hess, Marilyn Lawson, Maggie Low, Eric Mercado, the Palmers, Greg Redlawsk, Jacob Marx Rice, Mandy Robbins, Abby Schreer, Bessie Taliaferro, Valeska von Schirmeister, Stephanie Warren, and the Wohlers.
Thank you to those early and frequent collaborators Frankie Alicea, Laura Aristovulos, Jessie Atkinson, Christian Avíla, Ariella Axelbank, Jake Beckhard, Adrian Bridges, Theresa Burns, Matt Clemons, Kelly Colburn, Calandra Daby, Christopher DeSantis, Nadia Diamond, Lawrence Dreyfuss, Yonit Friedman, Amanda Ghosh, Linnea Gregg, Arielle Hader, Kara Hankard, Gethsemane Herron-Coward, Willie Johnson, Meghan Kennedy, Samantha Keogh, Esther Yumi Ko, Jacob Lasser, Amelia Lembeck, Julia Levine, Diana Levy, Sofia Lund, Andrea Marks, Hogan McLaughlin, the Miliones, Makha Mthembu, Lucy Myrtue, Patricia Noonan, Ben Otto, Lizzy Palmer, Russell Peck, Alice Pencavel, Katie Polin, Zac Porter, Jonelle Robinson, Ramsey Scott, Zach Stephens, Dani Stompor, Blake Sugarman, Lucas Tahiruzzaman Syed, Jen Tash, Slats Toole, Alison Walter, Kelly Webb, Ran Xia, and Sarah Ziegler.
Thank you Theater in Asylum company members, past and present, who have defined the work and culture of the company: Randall Benichak, Samantha Keogh, Jacob Lasser, Hilarie Spangler, and Dan Stearns.
Thank you to the Playwrights Horizons Theater School for bringing us together and prompting our very first piece. Thank you to Erez Ziv and everyone at the Horse Trade Theater Group for taking a chance on us and pushing us to become a company. Thank you to Piper Theatre, The Episcopal Actors’ Guild, the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, and all the groups who have given us opportunities since.
Thank you to the League of Independent Theater, Fractured Atlas, A.R.T./New York, and The Artist Co-op for supporting and advocating for us.
Thank you to everyone who has worked on or attended a Theater in Asylum project. We are so grateful for the love and support and ideas and energy you give. You make this company.
Theater in Asylum (TIA) is a New York-based theater company founded in 2010 to joyfully pursues a theater of learning, empathy, and growth. With rigorous research and an ensemble-driven approach, we create performances to investigate our past, interpret our present, and imagine our future. We strive to offer space to question, space to process –asylum– for theater and conversation that challenges and empowers ourselves and our community.
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