By Katie Palmer
Learn more about our 10 year commemoration here
While Nijinsky in Asylum was our first show, I have a theory that The Death/Memory Project, TIA’s first cabaret, is what made us an actual company with staying power.
The prompt was simple: create a piece that responds to the correlation of death and memory. TIA created what might be our favorite piece to date (or at least, we’ve forgotten so much of it that what is left holds the dearest place in our memory): “The Persistence of Annabel Lee,” inspired by the paintings “The Persistence of Time” and “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Time” by Salvador Dalí, and the poem “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allen Poe. It was an abstract movement piece with evocative music, an eerie choreographic style, and otherworldly costumes by Ramsey Scott.
We reached out with our prompt to every artist we knew—college friends, new friends, musicians—and they all came ready to play with beautiful short pieces. It was, like all things we do, wildly ambitious: 3-plus hours long, 20-some-odd acts, the room packed to the gills. It was an explosion of joy and community unlike anything I had experienced in theater before. I couldn’t believe we had brought together all these factions of our lives to make work on a single theme and ponder the art together.
We got such positive feedback, and we were really proud of ourselves. So we thought, we have to keep doing this. We have to keep making spaces for this work and this community.
My other theory is: things have to be really good the first time you try it in order for you to ever try doing it again.
We settled into this format and have produced 17 cabarets in 10 years. They have been a tremendous amount of work: wrangling—and inspiring—upwards of 50 artists for one-night-only events, securing venues, enticing audiences. We’ve performed in the back rooms of bars, on carpeted floors, and in beautiful theaters. We’ve had full houses and audiences of just ten. The themes have ranged from huge spiritual questions to granular political issues.
But the same core has been there every single time: people sharing, learning, and communing through art. The exuberance each cabaret brings is a feeling we will continue to chase time and time again.
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.