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.
We hope you are safe and well as, four months into a pandemic, we all continue to soul-search and seek a better world. We at Theater in Asylum continue to read all we can, take stock of our mission and working practices, and try to grow.
We would like to applaud the work of organizations like WeSeeYouWAT and The Killroys in their work promoting equity and justice within the theater industry. There is so much to reevaluate and so many steps to be taken. We are grateful for the clarity they offer in the work that's been done and the work we still have ahead.
As many of you know, for the last few years Theater in Asylum has been developing a theatrical adapation of the Democratic Presidential debates. On Sunday, June 21, we presented The Debates 2020 live online. We also published a script (with over 600 footnotes citing our sources). We are so very proud of the work and hope it helped voters in anticipation of New York's primary on June 23. Over the years the piece transformed into a kind of time capsule of this campaign's soul searching. We are so proud of the piece and thrilled to share it with you.
For those of you who missed the live broadcast, it's now available to stream on YouTube. Below you'll find buttons taking you to the video, the script, and a list of organizations doing good work that our team compiled.
Thank you to the army of artists and supporters who made the piece possible, and thank you readers of this email for all your support of Theater in Asylum. We are so grateful for all that this community has accomplished and continues to fight for.
Safety, power, and love to you,
Paul, Katie, Kathryn, Hilarie, and Samantha
Theater in Asylum
Tonight, we are asking our audience to share the love with some incredible organizations doing good work. If you're in a position to, please consider making a donation to one of the organizations listed below. This list was compiled by the team that created The Debates 2020.
The Bail Project - designed to combat mass incarceration by disrupting the money bail system - one person at a time.
National Bail Out - a Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyer and activities building a community-based movement to support our folk and end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
Civil Rights Corps - challenges the money bail system, debtor’s prisons, privatized probation, and prosecutorial misconduct. ** Personally connected to our team
Communities United for Police Reform - working to end discriminatory policing in New York, they are advancing policies that protect the safety and rights of all New Yorkers to create true community safety.
Equal Justice Initiative - created by Bryan Stevenson, is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United State, to challenge racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.
Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration - relentlessly pursues strategies to close gaps in family and community wealth to ensure all families in Central Brooklyn are prosperous and healthy.
The Hope Program - empowers New York to build sustainable futures through comprehensive training, jobs, advancement and a lifelong career support.
Liberated Capital: A Decolonizing Wealth Fund: Liberated Capital gives through a reparations model that trusts and supports the leadership of those most impacted by historical and systemic racism.
National Domestic Worker's Alliance - NDWA works for respect, recognition, and inclusion in labor protections for domestic workers, the majority of whom are immigrants and women of color.
One Fair Wage Emergency Fund - Restaurant workers, gig workers and other hourly workers are facing unprecedented economic hardship from the coronavirus crisis.
PowHer New York - is a statewide network of individuals and organizations committed to accelerating economic equality for 10 million New York women and their families.
The Worker’s Lab: 100% of your donation will go to (gig and low-income contract) workers who have lost their income because they don't qualify for employer-based benefits.
The Hope Clinic for Women - independent abortion clinic in Illinois, my aunt is the lead OBGYN there. I know the money is used well. It gets women from ~10 states weekly.
RIP Medical Debt - You donate to buy people's medical debt so that they are released from it. Because of the Wall Street craziness, your money is worth 100x its amount or something! Verified by my activist friend.
INTERSECTION OF IMMIGRATION AND LGBTQ RIGHTS
Caribbean Equality Project - empowers and strengths the marginalized voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of Caribbean origin and descent through advocacy, community organizing, education, cultural, and social programming.
Immigration Equality - is the nation’s leading LBGTQ and HIV-positive immigrant rights organization. Through direct legal services, policy advocacy, and impact litigation, we advocate for immigrants and families facing discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status.
Trans Queer Pueblo - create community solutions to solve our basic needs of LGBT+ migrants of color. They cultivate the leadership of LGBT people and migrants of color to transform our needs into community power and fight for social justice for all.
LGBTQ SERVICE ORGANIZATION
The Marsha P Johnson Institute - protects and defends the human rights of BLACK transgender people. They do this by organizing, advocating, creating an intentional community to heal, developing transformative leadership, and promoting our collective power.
Sage - the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults.
Asian-Pacific Environmental Network - building the power of Asian immigrant and refugee communities on the frontlines of fighting big polluters.
The Conscious Kid - an education, research, and policy organization dedicated to equity and promoting positive racial identity development in youth.
Emergent Fund - focuses on grassroots organizing and power building in communities of color who are facing injustice based on racial, ethnic, religious and other forms of discrimination.
Immigrant Rights fund or Racial Equity Fund within the BK Community Fund - a flexible source of support for the Foundation’s strategic initiatives, grantmaking, and leadership activities.
North Star Fund - a social justice fund that supports grassroots organizing led by communities of color building power in New York City and the Hudson Valley.
Survived and Punished - organizes to de-criminalize efforts to survive domestic and sexual violence, support and free criminalized survivors, and abolish gender violence, policing, prisons, and deportations.
SUPPORTING BLACK COMMUNITIES
Black Feminist Susu - resource Black feminist leaders, organizations, and movements for transformative change.
The Loveland Foundation (Therapy Fund): financial assistance for Black women and girls seeking therapy in the U.S.
THEATER ORGANIZATIONS AND INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCES
Black Feast - a creation of Black narrative and an offering to Black lineage, bringing together guests and artistic to share an intimate and sensory four-course meal. ** Personally connected to our team
Junebug Productions - based in New Orleans, emerged from the Free Southern Theater in 1980 with a mission to create and support artistic works that question and confront inequitable conditions that have historically impacted the African American community.
viBe Theater Experience - provides girls, young women, and non binary youth of color in New York City with free, high quality artistic, leadership and academic opportunities.
VOTING RIGHTS and POLITICAL LEADERSHIP
Blue Future - aims to develop and sustain a pipeline for young progressive leaders
Fair Fight - created by Stacey Abrams, they promote fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourage voter participation in elections, and educate voters about elections and their voting rights.
The Debates 2020
Sunday, June 21st, 2020
Music & Poetry Preshow at 7:30pm EDT
Main Performance at 8pm EDT
Featuring Christian Ávila, Danny Bradley, Christopher DeSantis, Nadia Diamond, Ali Dineen, Amanda Ghosh, Kara Hankard, Addison Jenkins, Brandon Otis, Zac Porter, and Sully Ross
Music and poetry preshow featuring
Ali Dineen & Marlee Miller!
This moment continues to test the soul of our nation. We hope you are all safe and know how much you matter. We at Theater in Asylum are continuing to reflect and trying to grow.
We previously emailed you to say that our Debates presentation would be on Friday, June 19th. Soon after announcing, we realized that the date we picked is also Juneteenth, our nation's second Independence Day, commemorating the emancipation of Black people in the United States. We are sorry for the oversight and out of respect for Juneteenth, we are rescheduling our performance. We encourage our audience to learn more about Juneteenth here and here.
Our rescheduled date, will be the evening of Father's Day, Sunday, June 21st. A musical preshow featuring Ali Dineen will begin at 7:30pm, followed by the main event at 8pm. We are so proud of the show and hope you will join us.
The last thing today is that we'd like to remind New Yorkers that there is an election coming up! The election is Tuesday, June 23rd, and all New Yorkers are entitled to an absentee ballot, which must be requested by June 16th (that's on Tuesday!). You can request an absentee ballot here. Our full voter guide is here.
The Debates 2020
Sunday, June 21st, 2020
Musical Preshow at 7:30pm EDT
Main Performance at 8pm EDT
Safety, power, and love to you,
Paul, Katie, Kathryn, Hilarie, and Samantha
Theater in Asylum
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.
Copyright © 2020 THEATER IN ASYLUM. All rights reserved.