What Could We Build, or Is the Future Already Behind Us?


Real estate preoccupies theater makers—and everyone else in this city—for good reason. Where can artists afford to live in an obscenely expensive metro area? If they’re pushed to the geographical margins—and they often are–where can they rehearse, hold shows, or even just hang out and be together? Given the economic exigencies and divides, how can their work contribute meaningfully to the communities around them? What would it take for performance—the immaterial act, the ephemeral form—not only to survive in New York’s glass-and-concrete thickets, but maybe even to transform the capital-obsessed place where it lodges so precariously?

For PRELUDE 2015, we wanted to start by thinking about architecture in two ways. First, we’ve asked artistic leaders of New York’s newest theater buildings to present their plans. Why are these structures going up? What’s the idea behind their design? How will they contribute to the urban ecology, and what opportunities will they offer to artists and audiences?

Second, we’ve invited a handful of hometown theater makers to imagine ideal architectures for future performance: anything from a building to a technology, a public assembly, or any other kind of structure. They will present their projects live, and we’ll exhibit them throughout the festival in the Elebash lobby.

But the future isn’t just about buildings. Architecture means infrastructure, and some artists have begun to imagine material realities in the digital realm. For others, futurism takes the form of Afro-Futurism, representing the black body in fictional, sci-fi pop-culture spaces in response to social upheaval. Still other performance makers emphasize rather than transcend today’s political darkness, putting bodies directly on the line. Another strategy for finding an alternative to our speeded-up, over-mediatized lives comes from creative visions of nature as a fragile refuge. Aside from these observable tendencies, we also just want to celebrate the new–previewing upcoming projects, introducing new forms and new names.

Of course, while we fret about lost utopian visions, the future already got started. Buildings get torn down and go up. Venues get sold and shut, discovered and created. Audiences for some forms vanish; new approaches summon different spectators. Every one of our collaborations lays down invisible structures, tracks that pave the way to the next attempt; theater is a history of social architectures, and the past determines the future.

We know the present situation: a city dominated by commerce where culture easily becomes another commodity. But what future can we imagine for creating, producing and presenting theater? What does our ideal look like? We want to play around with utopia; the no-place that beckons in our imaginations. Perhaps by sharing our playful ideas we can find a piece of it. Maybe we can plant a few new seeds. But most of all, we want to enjoy and listen to each other.

– Antje Oegel & Tom Sellar