By Katie Palmer
Learn more about our 10 year commemoration here
By 2015 Paul and I had created five original shows. Being the lead creative forces behind shows was exhausting! But it was also limiting the stories we could tell and how we could tell them. Relatedly, I had always wanted to write a musical. I had performed in them for twenty years and I wanted to add my voice to this canon I loved so much. And I found the most incredible partners to write it with, who I knew were special right away. You know those spark moments when you just know the event or the person is important? Meeting Lucas Tahiruzzaman Syed and then Sarah Ziegler was just like that.
The idea for creating a show around the Brontë sisters was Lucas’ idea. At the very end of a 2-hour lunch at AppleJack Diner on Broadway and 55th Street, after Lucas had pitched every idea he’d ever had for a musical, he tossed out “What about Charlotte and Emily Brontë, who wrote Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights?” It was a giant lightbulb moment: here were misunderstood artistic geniuses who railed against their society to prove their worth—the perfect TIA subjects.
We met with Sarah a few weeks later at a Starbucks in Tribeca, and the rest is history. Well, the rest was actually an incredible amount of research, drafting, workshopping, and dreaming. Lucas composed, Sarah wrote the lyrics, and the three of us collaborated on the book. The process culminated in a glorious three-night run outdoors, behind the Old Stone House in Park Slope, Brooklyn. While there are many things to be proud of from that production, I think I am most proud of how mesmerizing the experience of the show was: the simple set, evocative costumes, bold lighting outdoors, top-notch orchestra, and stunning performances against a backdrop of an 18th century house on a magical New York summer night. It doesn’t get any better than that.
At this time, Paul was also expanding his crew of collaborators, finding himself drawn to the political and the zany. After directing a few shows by the incredible playwright Alice Pencavel, the perfect show arose for a Theater in Asylum collaboration: Totally Wholesome Foods. The piece, a satire about well-meaning Brooklynites who face a choice between their “woke” values and their livelihoods, won a residency to be produced at the Episcopal Actors’ Guild. It was our first out-right comedy and our first production where neither Paul nor I had a writing credit, and the show was utterly, totally awesome.
Earlier this year, we collaborated with another playwright, the amazing Willie Johnson. Anyone who knows Willie can tell you that he brings playfulness, deep rigor, and a political emphasis to his work. He studies the theories behind his work and Hephaestus was no exception. Epic in scale, the piece wove multiple Greek myths together, exploring ancient and modern notions of work, beauty, class, and dis/ability. With an incredible team of actors and designers, and the support of the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, we shared three exciting performances of Hephaestus just before New York City shut down in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
We are so grateful to these collaborating lead artists for entrusting us with their stories and expanding the scope of what a TIA show could be. Thank you for your inspiration, generosity, and passion.
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.
Photos by Ryan Prado, LPAC/Rough Draft Festival. See the full set here.
Theater in Asylum (TIA) is a New York-based theater company founded in 2010 to challenge and empower our community. TIA joyfully pursues a rigorous research and an ensemble-driven approach to theater-making. We create performances to investigate our past, interpret our present, and imagine our future. We prize space to process, space to question—asylum—for ourselves and our community. Core programs include original productions; themed cabarets to present new work from our community; and Cold Readings to read and discuss published plays.
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