Bringing The Arts To Everyone
These days, in NYC, we can’t give a Broadway performance a “Standing O.” Our experience has changed. We clap out the window every night for essential workers and first responders. It’s different. Life during the Covid pandemic is a ongoing cycle of uncertainty, anxiety, loss, fear, and even conflict. We know who the traditional heroes are and we owe them everything.
Yet, a light has also been shined on another level of hero- the people who bring us an escape. These are the artists, the ones who have stepped onto a dark stage (or more likely, created a bright stage in their home) to perform. They believe the show always goes on.
For over two months, Bold has been highlighting many stories in our #YouAreNotCancelled series. Today, we bring you an interview with Dirty Laundry Theatre, “a New York City-based theatre production company, founded by Israeli- Americans artists seeking to bridge the gap between various NYC cultures by shedding a new light on personal narratives not typically represented in popular culture.”
Dirty Laundry Theatre has set an standard for inclusivity and accessibility. They have recently showcased those values as they adapted their play, “BORDERS” to an online experience. The performances have garnered incredible accolades, and inclusion on Time Out New York’s list of Best Theatre To Stream.
Bold recently caught up with Dirty Laundry Theatre (remotely, of course!) to explore art, representation, diversity, identity, and being Bold!
Maera D Hagage, Founding Artistic Director
Avigail Bryger, Associate Artistic Director
Ron Orlovsky, Director of Outreach
Jo (Joanne) Hu, Director of Production
Esther Levy, Director of Latin America Relations
BOLD MAGAZINE: Dirty Laundry Theatre promotes everything that we at Bold love- inclusivity, diversity and the power of telling our own stories, even the hard ones. Can you tell us a bit more about your mission?
Maera: Absolutely; DLT started as a deep need to connect and share with our fellow humans. You can look at it as the naive, frustrated child inside of me not understanding ‘what can’t we all just be friends’ and drive the adult me to do something about it. For me, human connection is the goal and theatre is the way. At DLT, we all come from different cultural backgrounds and we strongly believe in the power of personally experienced theatre to change people’s lives and hearts. Experiencing the stories we choose to stage educates our audience and opens them to other cultures and different points of view, as these stories highlight the common ground we all, humans, can relate to. That led us to think of our core value: if our goal is to reach as many people as we can, across the various cultures of NYC (and now days as we go virtual- the world), Diversity and inclusivity are already in core of our mission and we better practice what we preach! So we don’t only aim to reach a diverse audience, but also work very hard to set an example in our company of what we’d like others to follow.
Jo: DLT does not only show diversity within the company, our work is extremely transformable. Even though a story like BORDERS is about two people stuck between Lebanon and Jerusalem- it’s a microcosm that emulates any human relationships challenged by cultural division. To me, DLT’s mission is to create an environment that reminds us we’re connected in the most fundamental way.
BM: You also value accessibility of theater, and giving back to the community. How do you accomplish that?
Maera: When we started to dive into what it means to tell the stories we choose to all humans, we bump into the well known perception that theatre is a luxury of privilege. Although NYC has a very affordable vibrant indie-theatre scene, this perception is partially true. The reality is not only that not everyone can afford a ticket to the theatre, but because of the ‘luxury’ perception, people give up on the thought of going to the theatre even as an option.
The desire to make the theatre accessible to all audiences, led us to decide to dedicate at least 10% of all our tickets to underprivileged NYC communities- hoping to give them a unique experience without worrying about costs or any prejudice.
Furthermore- Since COVID hit and we decided to make our current play BORDER to a FREE virtual experience, we make the effort to invite various communities to see the play from their homes, and since we’re asking for donations and want to support the NYC community during this difficult time, we’re dedicating a percentage of all donations to the Bed-Stuy volunteer ambulance corps.
Ron: In Judaism there is something that is called “Tithe”. Tithe is basically sharing 10% of your production with people in need. As we are producing art, we are committed to share 10% of our tickets with communities that would find it hard buying a ticket to our show, in every independent run.
As we are running our virtual experience for free now, we are committed to donate 10% of any donation donated through our GoFundMe campaign while we are running the virtual show. At this time, due to the very specific situation, we have decided to donate our Tithe to ‘Bed-stuy Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
BM: Your livestream of “Borders” was done so beautifully. I’d love to hear about the adaptation process.
Maera: Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is this virtual experience. It sounds somewhat a cliche; but we started with exploring, trying and exploring and trying various creative concepts and technologies this play could possibly work, not only in the virtual space, but also in quarantined environment; when the actors now need to be their own camera, lighting and make-up person, each in his own apartment and the director and his assistant operating the show from a third location- I have nothing but admiration to this amazing team that rose up to the challenge and made this show not only possible, but in uncompromisable quality that makes it one of the best theatre to see right now (TimeOut NYC)!
Ron: First of all, thank you! As soon as we realized we are not going to be able to perform in the Stonewall Inn, it was clear to us we are not going to sit and wait. We had to see if we can make it work in a way that will do justice with the piece and with theater. As we are a theatre company- the performance has to be LIVE. Just like in theatre.
Since we have been working for a long time now, our amazing actors, Eli Schoenfeld and Adrian Rifat, were already very familiar with the piece and the characters. Eli and Adrian got the jist of it all really fast, with Michael R. Piazza Directions. Michael dived into the world of streaming platforms and built a whole world around the actors’ performance That is all LIVE. Just like in a TV control room, we are controlling all the transitions and sounds from my apartment in Brooklyn, while each actor is at his own place.
I believe that this adaptation allowed us to find a whole lot to work with, and to take with us back to the stage whenever that happens.
Jo: Though Maera thought otherwise, Mike really preferred to do a virtual version of the show when theatres and bars were shut down. I also think the hardest part for everyone is having to deal with the Internet. While trying to juggle with how to frame the show, it’s almost always a battle with the streaming speed. It’s actually harder to do a show at home for 3 hours in front of the screen than in a theatre or bar. Our bones start to crack just by moving a little after 3 hours. We take screen breaks too, but it’s just not the same when your focus is on a 13” screen for 3 hours straight every rehearsal. On top of that, most of the time, during rehearsal, Mike and Ron is blind to what the audience sees. Which, it’s very different to how you’d run a theater show. And you always need someone outside, to keep the show in line.
Avigail: As mentioned before, it wasn’t a wham bam thank you mam process, but it really was working well with the play’s already given world. If in an alternate reality you would ask in this interview about the stage version, you’d ask how we adopted the texts to the stage. I mean, we did break our heads back over how to do an emoji on stage, and that wasn’t easy either (and that’s an understatement)! How did we eventually do it, you ask? Well, you just gotta wait for the next staged show.
BM: We’re all missing out on important moments and communal, cultural celebrations during this time. The NYC Israeli Day Parade has been cancelled, along with the Pride Parade and Puerto Rican Day Parade. What do you think are the effects of missing such events?
Avigail: Due to current events, it’s only understood that they’ve been canceled. It surely saddens me- however, these essential celebrations remind us of the power of community. I don’t think that that is our only testament to our strength. I think these times invite us to investigate what community actually means. We can now recalibrate and create new communal experiences, sourced in our current needs; a healthy community shouldnt be based solely on big events . These events are to celebrate and showcase our efforts, honor our actions, and reinforce our mission and values. But that is just the cherry on top. A strong community is built by the day to day actions we take and endeavors we make to tend to our people’s needs. It is built on solidarity. I think it’s up to us to commemorate these big and important moments and translate them into a lower scale enterprise. You can now see so many great new initiatives of individuals and companies to take matters to their own hands, creating new platforms and spaces to form an online community. It’s really uplifting! For example, as the arts are taking a huge hit and many performers and artists have lost the way to showcase their work, new platforms are emerging. For instance, we are now collaborating with two really cool online platforms; BORDERS is now broadcasting in The Social Distancing Festival, a festival that features world-wide artists from all genres. BORDERS is also featured on kapsel.space, a Zurich-based 24/7 Arts Broadcasting channel. These people created the platforms because they saw the need that is emerging in the artists community. They’re doing it out of solidarity and care. We are so excited to work with these wonderful people, and we thank them for making our community stronger.
Esther: I think we are all missing these celebrations a great deal. On the one hand we get to really think about why we go there every year, to any of the parades, the history and why we celebrate and why we support them by being present. I do think when we ever do open bigger spaces little by little, it will create great unity in the people around you; maybe this time you’ll talk to the person sitting two seats next to you in the theatre, and maybe both of you will have won a friend, whereas before you would have just enjoyed the theatre, gone out to dance in the parade and then come back having successfully avoided making contact with anybody you didn’t knowI think all this will change once spaces reopen little by little. We will be more grateful for such an opportunity on the production, and audience end of any event. Our team looks forward to it!
BM: We’ve seen people relying on the arts a lot during this time. What have been some of your favorite projects/fundraisers/virtual performances?
Esther: BORDERS! We have adapted ourselves to the Covid times and have streamed successfully our performances with our all star team of Actors, Eli M Schoenfeld, Adrian Rifat, Michael R, Piazza our Director, Joanne Au our Stage Manager, Ron Orlovsky our Assistant Director, the Playwright Nimrod Danishman and Maera Hagage for bringing us all together and making the magic happen! We still have many shows up our sleeves for you! One of them will be interactive with the audience: Warm Family.”
Avigail: I’m a huge sucker for improv theatre. Both participating and watching, it’s always fun, new and exciting. About a week ago I was introduced by a friend to Social Distancing Improv. They are truly one of the coolest projects I’ve encountered ! Everyday they live stream Improv via zoom on Insta, so fun, such talented actors. On the same topic, I’ve been participating in an Israeli improv initiative called ImprovZoom! It’s quite the challenge but rewarding just as much. They do it completely voluntarily and it’s awesome to make people you’ve never met nor might never meet laugh and vice versa. I love how artists become entrepreneurs in times of crisis (and actually vice versa haha!).”
BM: There are so many conversations and debates being had now about patriotism and diversity. How do you consider concepts like patriotism?
Maera: For one- I don’t think the two contradict at all. I was born in the US, and raised in Israel; one of the only countries in the world, which very similar to the US, was and is based on immigrants right from the start. People came from all over to build this country, and the diversity is what makes it powerful and beautiful. Unfortunately prejudices and fear of the unfamiliar is part of our human nature that is very easy to fall into. If we look at the Irish and Italian population 100 years ago, we see them in a similar position to where Americans of Latin decent are today.
When it comes to American patriotism- in my mind, as long as you’re respecting and supporting this country, contributing to its economical, cultural, educational and internal strength, you’re a patriot. It doesn’t mean you see no wrongs, but it does means you work to make it better.
Esther : Our vision and team is made up from universal values and therefore universal patriotism. We strive to create experiences that will share different stories and cultures, and show how we all deal with the same dirt we want to wash off.
Ron:: Our theater strives to celebrate and bring to light different cultures. We had the chance to workshop a future project “Warm Family”, the show is about the family experience, we focused on an Israeli family but we’ve come to realize by showing it to an audience how similar family is all over the world. When we talked to people after the show everyone was very proud to tell how their family is the same as the one we portrayed. It’s pride like that in one’s culture and family that really show patriotism in my opinion.
Jo: While DLT celebrates everyone’s pride of their nationality, it also recognizes that we are more than where we come from. WARM FAMILY is a multicultural show, even when it’s an Israeli family. We are so much more than just our own culture. We behave and live the same type of lives together everyday. We just may not be able to see it, because we’re so far apart from each other. And because we refuse to see beyond the borders.
BM: We always end with this question. What makes you Bold?
Esther: Our team is composed by a group of individuals who want to share with you unique stores in a unique way, who want to inspire you to be free, to feel more united with people you might have thought you were so different from. We are bold because we adapt, even in pandemic. We are bold because our core values as a company are unshakeable. We are a diverse, accessible and fair theatre.
Ron: I think what makes us bold is that we are not willing to compromise. Not about our values and not about the quality of our product. When we started to work on the BORDERS adaptation, it was 100% clear we are not going to go through with that, if it is not going to be at least as interesting as the staged version. Fortunately, after a lot of hard work, we are proud to share this experience with as wider audience as we possibly can!
Jo: What makes Dirty Laundry BOLD Are the people in the company. This company is unlike any other theater company out there. They care, and they care a lot. During Covid, our Artistic Director, Maera decided To continue payment with the artists. And let me just emphasize this: NO ONE else is doing that. They make things right when it’s supposed to be right. They make things happen when it should happen. This company has a spirit that a lot of artists wish to have, but may not have the privilege to possess. The company members don’t care for anything but the reward of delivering a message. This company makes theater actually a real experience.
Avigail: IT WAS FOUNDED BY ISRAELIS! Haha! No, I’m kidding (sorta). I think we’re a bunch of individuals who wholeheartedly believe in their mission. We do it for the sake of doing it because it needs to be done, rather than to get something from it (i.e. money, reputation or whatnot). I think it’s a very wholesome and important approach when you create art. You do it because you believe in your ideas and want to see if they work. You don’t ask for permission, you go and do it, you create the reality you want to see. I mean, didn’t Benjamin Franklin went outside with a kite on a rainstorm just to see what it does? There wasn’t anything “productive” about it, some would even argue foolish. But, well, I’m writing on my Mac right now so I think that turned out great. Boiling it down, I’m a very go-big-or-go-home kinda person; when I met Maera, we both knew we were two peas in a pod. Now? Dirty Laundry Theatre is one of those huge peas you see in WholeFoods, since we’re like 9 peas in the same pod.
Maera: Whoah..tough question. I would call out three things; being Israeli and daring to ask and act, truly believing in what I do and willing to risk a lot for it and community of amazing people around me, who run and sweat with me and lift me up when I fall. Three years ago, Dirty Laundry Theatre was just a thought, and Idea. The fact that its now a very much reality still amazes me and it would have never happen without those who are running with me.