I very rarely do this, in fact I think I have never done this on this blog, but I'm going to make a pitch here for why you should help two artists/producers, John Clancy and Nancy Walsh, who were seminal in making a whole downtown NYC theater scene explode into consciousness in the 1990s and 2000s.
They were two of the people, along with Elena Holy, who formed The Present Company in the 1990s. At first they worked out of a space in Hell's Kitchen, but in the late-90s, after having launched the first FringeNYC festival (which is now a NYC institution run by the indefatigable Elena Holy), they decided they needed a theater space so bought what had basically been a garage/crack den on Stanton Street and converted it into The Present Company Theatorium. This was a crazy idea built on little more than a dream, when the Lower East Side was still dangerous, especially East of Essex. This now seems like a joke, I know, but believe me back in the 90s, it was not overrun by expensive widgit shops and artisanal cafes.
They made it work, just…and at a certain point it stopped working as a space, but the Fringe kept going and John and Nan decided in 2001 (right before 9/11) to do more independent producing and Elena held down The Present Company fort, eventually transitioning to offices in midtown with other artists and focusing primarily on FringeNYC.
OK, so those are the base facts. But why help John and Nan now? Well, here's why I did (and versions of my story can be told by many other artists who they nurtured at crucial times in their creative careers).
Back in the same 1990s, I was transitioning from running a theater company to doing my own exploratory work in a lab with some brave actors from that company (Fred Backus, Chris Campbell, Renee Bucciarelli and Dan Berkey primarily). I was paying for space to do this, having no idea where this work was going, all of us following impulses like so many human divining rods. Enter John Clancy. He decides to pop by and see this lab. Originally, we had rented space at the old Present Company and he'd seen some of the work we had done with Monkey Wrench Theater. So we knew each other.
He sits watching a lab wherein I think we were exploring the idea of the gender grid. This meant somehow creating scenarios about gender and following them wherever they went. Sometimes these workshops got very weird and conflicts arose between all of us that were in relation to the work but also each other. The idea of the 'grid' is the rules of the room, so we were tapping into stuff that was pretty deep at times. Like I said, I had no idea where this was going.
John watched one of these workshops and got very excited by it, because he's like that, fearless - likes stuff that's alive. He said, why don't you guys come over and work in our new space? For free.
So, just like that, we had free rehearsal space in NYC. This is rare and invaluable. Granted the space was the back room of a dank theater space where sometimes we had to choose between heat or light because the electrics were so bad, and the idea of lying on the carpet was - well - probably not very wise. But, we had space. And more than that: we had the confidence of a peer. We went from exploring on our own to exploring within the context of a larger community.
John, Nan and Elena then accepted my proposal to direct a show, Gorky's Wife written by a friend of mine, Greek playwright, Elena Penga. They produced this show. In the course of that experience, we all made plenty of mistakes, it was one of those 'learning experiences' you wish you didn't have to have. But in the midst of it, John once again proved himself the mensch that he is. First, we lost an actor right before opening and John, summer stock vet that he was, memorized the role overnight and performed in the play. Consequently, he also helped us deal with the issue of the large rat that kept popping up in the dressing room and once even on stage (only in NYC: diva rats).
After this show, we all sat down to talk about what went wrong. This conversation alone was a minor miracle (because it was civilized and constructive not blamey and weird). We all had stuff to answer for and we all knew it In the midst of that conversation, John turned to me and said: write down what it is you really want to do and give it to me. We'll see what we can do.
What I wrote in response to that request in 1999 remained my mission statement for many years, was the centerpiece of my PhD thesis in 2009 and the mission of Apocryphal Theatre. It is still a guiding document today. Though I am in a deep period of introspection, having such a specific document is valuable even if it shifts because it points to where I've been and may go. The larger point is: from a pretty crappy situation, John requested something of me that has been invaluable.
The lab went on to show experiments at the Theatorium, we taught workshops at FringeNYC, one of which led to my being asked to teach in London at Chisenhale Dance Space in 2000 - which led eventually to my being in London for 8 years, running a theater company, doing a PhD, etc.
But wait there's more…In the midst of the 1990s period, I wrote a text. Something I wasn't sure what it was, but that became Word to Your Mama (my first stage text). I had never written a professional stage text before and was directing it for the briefly incarnated yet wondrous Screaming Venus Kallisti Festival. I had no idea what I was doing. (Translation: I was very scared and very happy - these are Always the times I'm happiest and usually do my best work but at the time am terrified.) We were having a great time. I was working with Nicole Higgins, Kate Ward and Monica Sirignano, while we stumbled through how to make this into something that could go on stage.
Before anyone saw it, I asked John to come to a dress rehearsal. The first run through had been painful and slow and I was nervous about what he would see. I became very ill the night before with food poisoning (or fear depending on your POV) and could not make it to that rehearsal. My ADs (Carolyn Raship and Julie Blumenthal) were there to lead the run through. I was suffering on the sofa, unable to move my body when the phone rang. I let the answering machine get it (remember: old fashioned answering machines?!) and heard John's voice talking about how great he thought the piece was and how it should be in the Fringe and just babbling goodness on the phone. (John and I share this enthusiasm gene: when loving something, we really love it - and yes the opposite also applies.)
Perhaps needless to say, I suddenly felt much better, rose from my bed and walked and we had a great run of the show, both at Kallisti in midtown and downtown during FringeNYC 2000. The play was published by Martin Denton his New York Theatre Experience series in Plays & Playwrights 2001. John has since selected it for a syllabus called Indie Theater 101, which is or will be available soon on indietheaternow.com.
I have not mentioned Nan here, but she is equally important. She was somehow always there, with a supportive word, or helping out by acting in a reading of a new piece. Her presence is essential as an actor and human being. She is grounding, has a wicked and wonderful sense of humor and a no BS New England sensibility. We all spent ages in their apartment in the Lower East Side either plotting new theater schemes, shooting the shit, suffering through the 2000 election or mourning 9/11.
Their apartment on the Lower East Side. This apartment has been a focal point for many people to crash, hang, get their support or just fucking freak out. And it is this apartment they are in danger of losing. For the first time I remember ever, John and Nan are asking for help, and it is to keep this apartment.
They have given and given for years, even as Nan has struggled (with astonishing resilience) since 2002 with brain tumors. They have brought their own and others' work to Edinburgh, produced countless shows downtown and started numerous helpful organizations to promote the whole downtown theater community.
But even more than that: they are human beings, who have shared their human-ness with so many. Now it's time to give back or if you don't know them, pay it forward.
I urge you to help them in their campaign by clicking here: Indiegogo
Welcome to my blog..
"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty
When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.
I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.
As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.
I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with having written a rough draft of a new book and some other projects.
Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.
For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani
Recently, I started a website Our Grandmothers, Our Selves, which has stories about many people's grandmothers. Please check it out. I will be blogging there, too, now.