15 Commitments (+ Counting) and the Context For Them
Note: THIS IS A LIVING DOCUMENT AND IT WILL CONTINUE TO GROW AND CHANGE.
The events of this past week, and this past spring, which pile upon the raw sedimentary layers upon layers of violence done to Black people in America since 1619, are devastating for this company of artists, in addition to the country.
WELCOME: I want to say at the outset that I would be honored to share this with artists and audiences of color broadly, and Black artists and audiences specifically (and to hear thoughts in return!)…and/but also I hope my Black colleagues are prioritizing taking care of themselves and their loved ones today, and being cared for in return. These thoughts and commitments have ended up primarily directed at white colleagues. The TEAM was founded in 2004 by 6 white artists, and I believe our history of perpetuating systems of white supremacy and our subsequent work to address that unacceptable reality, and to decolonize ourselves and this company, are likely all-too-familiar to many colleagues, ensembles and institutions. My hope is this is of practical use to them.
Enormous gratitude to those colleagues & collaborators, Black and POC, and white, who have helped me shape this.
CONTEXT (feel free to jump ahead to commitments): I am writing this as the Artistic Director of the TEAM, an ensemble founded in 2004 with the goal of making work about American history, mythology, and the present moment. We acknowledge that collective liberation is not a state, but an ongoing struggle to do better, be more just, interrogate our practices and assumptions, and be willing to make regular changes to how we do things in the face of what we find we’re doing well or poorly. We believe that racial diversity is inseparable from and core to excellence. We are now deconstructing our company’s membership structure, and figuring out how to re-constitute ourselves collectively. We are a collaborative writing ensemble, that creates via a consensus-driven process rooted in the belief that the total might be greater than the sum of its parts – so it REALLY matters who is in the room.
I am also writing this as a freelance director who works to create spaces that are not simply inclusive, but pro artists of color, and in particular pro-Black.
In the coming days, some of the artists who have worked with the TEAM may also write-down/film thoughts that we will post – we want to amplify those collaborators who may want to speak, but we also don’t want any of our collaborators of color, and Black-identifying collaborators in particular, to be called upon to do any labor that it is incumbent upon white artists to do.
The TEAM is now making a new work called Reconstruction, which involves over 25 artists writing/making/performing/designing, about half of whom are white-identifying (ie “people who have come to be known as white”) and half of whom are artists of color, most of whom are Black-identifying with either African American or Caribbean American heritage. For Reconstruction, we are focused on the question of intimacy, which for brevity’s sake I will here define broadly as a deep and shared understanding of ALL that makes up a given interaction between humans in America, including all those sedimentary layers of racism and violence I referenced above. We’re interested in intimacy, and IF and HOW it might be possible – between people of color, between Black people, between white people, and between a white person and a Black person – in an America that has been and remains lethally anti-Black.
To work on this piece:
We have taken anti-racism workshops as a company, and have hired a facilitator (herself a person of color) who is providing guidance as a “process chaplain” through the intensely demanding process for our new work, Reconstruction.
We have tried to ensure that whiteness is de-centered as much as possible in a room still led by a white director, and I would say we have often failed at this point. Though authorship is truly shared quite equally in a TEAM work, in the past my taste has been a kind of final decider, and that feels inappropriate for this piece…
We have invented and participated in rituals of healing and mourning and exorcisms.
To continue work on this piece, and to continue forging a truly pro-Black arts space I propose we commit to:
Commission a Black scholar to track our process from here forward, and ensure her independence in witnessing, analyzing, and critiquing both what is successful and unsuccessful about our attempt to create a pro-Black arts space within a white-led institution. We will make her writing available to the wider field, with the goal that it will be of use to other institutions and ensembles.
Interrogate our pay structure and discuss what Reparations mean for the TEAM specifically. We have always paid everyone collaborating on a show the same as a company, which I think has tremendous merit. But also we have come up against the fact that the emotional labor of this work is particularly draining on the artists of color and Black-identifying artists in the room. How should we meet this? Should they get paid more? Should we allocate additional funds to be donated to a social justice organization(s) determined by the artists of color so that their added emotional labor is tied directly to funding that is meaningful to them? For discussion.
Always present the finished work Reconstruction in tandem with a significant anti-racism workshop for the community (at least a weekend long)…We will also discuss whether it’s better this workshop precede or follow the production.
Ensure meaningful racial diversity in our audiences, with a focus on Black audiences, and think as deeply about the design and dramaturgy of the audience, as we do about the piece itself. Beyond ensuring affordable tickets, and guaranteeing that no one will be turned away for lack of funds, examples we will look at include the “Black Outs” that were such a beautiful, vibrant part of Jeremy O. Harris’ Slave Play, and the equity Taylor Mac and Niegel Smith and team built into the audience re-arrangements during 24-Hour Decade.
We will also discuss how to ensure impact on our white audiences, because I want Reconstruction to be of use in bringing change, which includes instigating
Develop a new company structure, including potentially abolishing or radically re-conceiving the idea of “membership.” We’ll develop a model that is collectively envisioned by our artistic community and representative of the racial make-up of the country that it’s our mission to interrogate, with an emphasis on equity and amplifying previously underrepresented voices.
Additionally, in my freelance theater life I have committed and/or do commit to:
I will ensure that no one is the only one of “themselves” in the room – whether that’s a trans or Black artist, or an artist with a disability (and of course, thankfully, NONE of us are ONE THING!). I will also ensure this type of determination remains nuanced and is not left to my white-gaze alone, because that leads to assumptions and erasure all too often of multi-racial artists and light-skinned artists of color. I will also not lose sight of the intense reality of colorism in America (and globally). ALL of this must be thoughtfully factored into every decision made about staffing and casting.
I will invite people to bring their WHOLE selves to any room I lead, allowing the artist to determine their boundaries in the room.
I will ensure that every creative team I help assemble has genuine racial diversity.
I will ensure that every cast I help assemble has genuine racial diversity.
I will use my highly privileged platform as both a white woman and a successful director with a high degree of visibility to advocate for equity with clarity, without sentiment, and with real practicality.
I will not use the word “diversity” in a sloppy or coded manner, but instead be explicit when I am talking about racial diversity (vs. age diversity, economic diversity, gender diversity, etc). Further I will be clear and cognizant of whether I mean artists of color broadly, or Black-identifying artists specifically, etc.
I will not accept jobs that I feel are better held by an artist of color, which includes frank discussions with writers about their goals and values. This does not mean not working with writers of color or helping to tell stories about characters and communities of color, by any means. But I commit to being fit for and engaging in transparent conversations about what I can and cannot bring to a project.
I will support my white colleagues with both love and clarity, as we begin or continue deepening their practice of decolonization.
If I fail, I will acknowledge that failure and continue forward.
Thank you for reading. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me with any thoughts, critiques, or questions. Rachelchavkin@gmail.com.
Each month (ish) for the next year, TEAM members are taking turns interviewing a fellow artist in the company. In this month’s post, Brian Hastert joins Matt Hubbs in the kitchen for an interview about chili, too much bourbon, and devising and designing soundscapes for the TEAM.
Matt Hubbs and Brian Hastert
BH: So, Matthew Michael Hubbs. Can I call you Matty?
MH: You may.
Does anybody not call you Matty?
A lot of the people outside of the TEAM don’t call me Matty. That is a nickname that was given to me by a stage manager, whose name is Cat Domiano, that was picked up by Darron L. West very recently afterwards. And now everybody in New York calls me Matty. But yes it’s strange the rooms in which I am not known as Matty.
I haven’t ever heard you…not Matty. What does your family call you?
My mom claims that she used to call me Matty but I think she’s retconning the whole event.
Fair enough. So you grew up in –
So… on a scale from 1 to 10 how Kentucky are you?
That’s a very leading question –
I strenuously object.
Louisville, Kentucky operates almost like an independent city-state within the greater Kentucky area. So, after I left Louisville I probably picked up a number of Kentucky affectations – country ham, sweet tea, those sorts of things – that I didn’t really revel in while I was home but once I left I realized I missed, or I missed the idea of home and filled them with these things. I am very fond of bourbon so I guess that counts for something.
So how long have you been the official chef of the TEAM?
Well I think I share that title with Tater now.
One of the two official chefs of the TEAM.
The first company meal I cooked was probably Heartland, Edinburgh. I don’t think I cooked for you guys… that’s not true. Remember when Rachel got the concussion the first Edinburgh?
We were walking towards a brunch that I was making for the TEAM.
Oh yeah! Do you remember what you made?
I know that there were some kind of hash brown… Probably a big egg scramble. What I do remember is everybody then went to take a nap ‘cause we were re-teching… Shocks that morning?
We did something crazy crazy early in the morning.
We walked home, Rachel brained herself…(laughter) We ate breakfast, and then when everybody went and took a nap, I stayed up. And on the kitchen table was a third of a bottle of Scotch and a full french press of coffee and I decided that that was how I was going to spend the next four hours of my life was finishing both of those things. Watching a movie and I can’t remember what movie it was.
The boys enjoying Las Vegas during theTEAM’s residency for Mission Drift
Do you remember how many eggs we had to eat during Heartland in Edinburgh? ‘Cause we were blowing six, er, how many eggs for every show? Like a dozen eggs for every –
Uh, we hadn’t pared it back by Edinburgh. So that first Edinburgh I think we were going through eight or nine blown eggs a show.
Our cholesterol must have been sky high.
Yeeeah. But our coats were lustrous.
And here, tonight, you’re making a chili.
Um, yes, we are making a chili as part of our participation in The Mad One’s chili cook-off extravaganza fundraiser.
You wanna talk me through your chili recipe for tonight?
This one’s pretty simple. You start by browning six pounds of mostly wild boar. You deglaze that pot with six beers – and then you add, you know, some home made chili powder, some masa harina, thirty-two ounces of salsa, some chipotle peppers and adobo sauce and chili paste, some cumin. Some salt.
Is it spicy?
It is smoky, with a hint of spice, but I would not say it is a hot chili.
Could I eat it?
I’m hoping so. But I will never again underestimate your sensitivity to capsaicin.
It would be at your peril for sure.
Actually at yours.
Well, you’re the one who’s gonna have to take me to the ER when I break out weeping. In addition to being one of the two official chefs of the TEAM, you’re also our… sound man? I mean, sound ‘designer’ sounds too explicit. I think you’re more than that.
I feel that I get to explore what it means to be a sound designer more in a TEAM room than I get to in any of the other rooms I’m in.
Oh! How do you mean?
Uh, Oh! (laughter) The ability to go through almost every step of my process as a designer while being in a room with you guys – rather than separating, you know having a research component and a dramaturgical component happen at home, and then meeting the text and the performers in the room much, much later down the line. Being able to work while both the text is being created and while the characters are being built, and being able to do my development and story-writing at the same time that you guys are and that we all are collaboratively, allows me to sort of explore all of the possibilities of sound design. Which can be restraint. Which can be any number of things.
Do you have a memory of any particular victories, or like a stroke of inspiration that came from being able to design live in the process that brought you an idea that would have been harder to come by in a more traditional process?
Process-wise I remember, because I was so new to the company still, when we started working on Heartland. I really – I don’t think I’d known you guys a full year ‘cause I came in sort of late on the Thousand Natural Shocks process – but I remember when it came time to score, um, the shooting star scene for instance. That was a moment that had been slowly building probably over a couple of weeks, just as we’d been looking for that moment where Robert connected to you and Libby and… Jill? Who’s in the shooting star scene?
It’s Libby and Jill… I don’t think I’m in that scene.
Yeah. Kristen might be in it. No you and Kristen are asleep. Anyways, that was one of those moments where I was able to pull that – I think that was a David Grubbs track – where I sort of just knew because I had seen the interpersonal building up and structurally knowing where we were at the very end of 4th of July and in this sort of beautiful nighttime scene. So moments like that where I’ve been able to try a lot of things in a particular context and be able to meet that moment. Working with Jake on the ballad of Franklin Delmore MacKinley [for Architecting] was also pretty astounding. I remember Jake came over to the apartment when I lived with Tater, and we had dinner and sat around and just listened to a lot of music… starting in the south in gospel/blues/funk/hip-hop, and tracing American music through the south in that same arc as Reconstruction. And knowing that he was beginning to map out this movement sequence and being able to really dig in to actually do the research with both the person who was going to perform the material, and also choreograph it. Jake was able to build both the movement vocabulary and sort of craft the narrative around it while we were tracing music through the whole thing, starting from, you know, old Alan Lomax recordings from, you know, the early 1900’s maybe even late 1800’s all the way up through hip-hop. And being able to trace that arc with him and sort of tie that narrative all together.
And in addition to working with the TEAM, you are a prolific freelance, uh, sound man.
I get around. That’s true.
And you’re about to go somewhere shortly –
I’m heading off soon for San Diego to work on a production of J.B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways at The Old Globe theater. I don’t believe the play’s ever been done in the United States. I believe it was written in the late ‘30s in Britain, as sort of a direct response of the intervening years between the end of the first world war and the onset of the second world war. Um, it’s kind of a great, well-written play in an old fashioned style that I’m looking forward to working on – I work almost exclusively on new plays. By an amazing stroke of luck in my life that seems to be the work I get to do which is pretty fantastic. So to work on not only an extant play but something that is in its own way a period piece is a very… different process.
It’s almost kind of a new play because it’s not been done in memory.
Yes, but – not being able to – not having both the privilege or the influence of the playwright in the room, and not crafting the piece for the first time just changes the way you look at everything. On an extant play you can cross out all the stage directions when you read it. Whereas on a new play, I believe the job we have as creators is different. It is to try to illustrate what the playwright’s trying to convey on the page. Whereas I feel like with a play that has been done it’s more a step of translation rather than illustration.
I was trying to think of my favorite Matty Hubbs memory. I think it was in our… we were in Edinburgh, I think it was Shocks… No, it was Heartland. I remember the kitchen. You made your famous Bananas –
Ah, the Bananas Foster –
The Bananas Foster dish.
This was – This was the infamous night.
That was that night!
This was Steve Cramer and I.
Yes! And there was… much rejoicing.
If I remember correctly, and let me say that I may not because I believe I was drunk and/or hungover for the next two days, um, there were three different types of pasta. There were two washtubs of salad. We had 20 people over for dinner. And like, when you don’t have bowls enough you wash out the washtubs and that’s what you mix your salad in. But I remember hearing from you guys a week later, as you were eating through the copious amounts of leftovers that I had left you, I believe it was Kristen and Jake Margolin had had some of that Bananas Foster on pound cake for breakfast before a performance, and had possibly been impaired by the amount of bourbon that was still in the Bananas Foster.
It was an incredible experience. And then just to watch you and Jake and Steve Cramer, like, canoodle over Scotch for the whole evening. I didn’t have the stamina to hang, I wish I did. It was one of those moments where I was like “I wish I was, like, a tougher dude. I would hang out with these guys for the rest of my life. But as it is, it’s about 1:30 in the morning and I’m pretty much done.” But I think you guys lasted… the neighbors hated us because you guys were up chatting so late and your voices reverberated off of the courtyard.
Well, the windows were open because it was after 2:00 in the kitchen –
Oh! That was that rule.
There were an amount of smokers and an amount of non-smokers in the company. And it was a third floor? Fourth floor walk up? Of pretty treacherous stone stairs that were very uneven. Um, so after a point the smokers in the company couldn’t be bothered to go all the way downstairs to have a cigarette, especially when you’re hanging out and drinking Scotch with your fine, Australian ex-boxer friend. Um, so after a certain point at night you were allowed to smoke in the kitchen with the window open. But yes, the entire courtyard got to hear us because –
The windows were open.
But that is, perhaps, I mean, that’s my favorite Matty Hubbs memory. And ranks high on the list of favorite all time memories, that’s for sure.
Possibly an even greater Matty Hubbs memory came during our residency in Las Vegas. One morning just after dawn, on our way to the Grand Canyon, we drove the hoover dam. The incredible Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge loomed over our heads. And coming through the speakers was a soundtrack for the journey selected precisely for the occasion by our sound man. It was the Gorillaz album Plastic Beach. Truly an expert choice for such a majestic moment.
Each month (ish) for the next year, TEAM members are taking turns interviewing a fellow artist in the company. In this month’s post, Kristen Sieh interviews Jill Frutkin about teaching, collaborating with theTEAM, and her music.
Photo Credit: Emily Watson
KS: I’m sitting with Jill Frutkin, one of the founding members of the TEAM, at Schillers Liquor Bar, where Jill used to work.
JF: For many years off and on.
How many years did you work here, Jill?
Oh my god, I don’t even know. 4 or 5. I’ve got friends that still work here and I enjoy coming here very much
Where do you work now when you’re not making theater with The TEAM?
I teach in a public school in district 75 in Brooklyn. District 75 are the schools for kids with severe and profound disabilities. My students all have a diagnosis of autism.
What did you do today?
I taught all day from 7am to 3pm. Yesterday was a very eventful day, so although I’m usually very disciplined with my kids, I will totally admit we had a slightly slacker day today. We played some (educational) games… I bought them Gummy Bears. I don’t usually do food rewards, but they were so good yesterday I bought them Gummy Bears. Everybody loves a Gummy Bear.
How long have you been at this school?
This is my second year.
And give us a basic run-down of how you ended up there.
When I was a little girl I wanted to be three things: a ballerina, an author, and a teacher.
I spent a lot of time as a performer, and I’ve always been a writer, so I thought the next step was to try to be a teacher. So I decided to apply to the New York City Teaching Fellows program because it’s a free masters and also a chance to start working immediately. It’s a pretty sweet deal. They pay for your masters and then your first year you’re getting a salary, which is something I’ve never made before in my life. I was like, “I’m going to know what my paycheck is and when it’s coming? That’s amazing!” I guess another part of the answer is that I had done a lot of work with the TEAM and I felt really good about being an actress, and I loved what I was doing but I felt like I needed something else in my life. I felt like the only thing I knew how to do was to be a performer. I wanted to go back to school and to use a different part of my brain. And also, more than anything, I wanted stability. I felt like I needed a nice place to live and I needed to be able to go to the doctor, and I needed to have vacations, and I needed to know that I would have Christmas off.
What has it been like taking this time off from acting being your main focus?
It’s been really hard. It was a total identity shift to do something else. Doing The Fellows program obviously made it hard for me to perform as much. And it changed my social life, too, because I have to wake up really early. The fact that we’re here right now having dinner at, like, 7:30 and we’re going to see a show at 9:30… I’m gonna pay for it tomorrow when I’m dealing with children at 8 in the morning. [laughter] Anyway, I told myself I’d do this for a couple years and then if I hated it, I could always go back to what I did before. Right now I’m in a flexible place of not being really sure what I want to do next. I do really miss being an actress.
Before becoming an NYC Teaching Fellow, you spent a little time in Austin, TX with the Rude Mechs, blending your interests in performance, writing, and teaching. Talk a bit about that.
After the TEAM went to Vegas to develop Mission Drift, I went to Austin. We had met the Rude Mechs at the Orchard Project the year before, and Lana Lesley let me stay in her spare room for a week. The Rude Mechs had an educational branch to their company called Grrl Action, which is an autobiographical writing and performance workshop for adolescent girls. I said, dude, get me in on this, this program is awesome. I’m terribly paraphrasing this, but there are studies that show autobiographical work, like diary work or writing about yourself, actually helps to overcome depression and other horrible things that adolescent girls are prone to. So I helped with this workshop. They let me sit in and help and play and learn. The girls were awesome and I felt really happy and alive. And by a weird coincidence, one of the women, Meg, who was a Rude Mech and worked and lived there, and helped run Grrl Action, was actually leaving Austin and was moving to Western Massachusetts, which is where my family is from, so I ended up going home to Massachusetts, and Meg and I raised money and did a pilot program of Grrl Action on the East Coast. It was an amazing experience that lead to me applying for the Fellows program.
So, Jill you’re still working with The TEAM on one of the projects that’s in early stages of development right now, Primer for a Failed Superpower. You were in London with us at the National Theatre Studio where we started work on it. What is interesting you about this piece, and what is compelling you as an artist these days?
I feel passionate about collaboration. I think what we do together is better than what we do alone. When we started Primer, I was really interested in video work, and that remains something I’m super interested in doing. As an artist overall, I’m interested in the simple stuff. I like a good story. I wanna cry, I wanna laugh. I wanna make people laugh and cry, and I want to help people to get lost in somebody else’s story. Whether it’s Grey’s Anatomy or something amazing at BAM, I wanna get lost in somebody else’s story. I want to give the audience something. I often think about this time when I hung out with Taylor Mac in a bathroom at the Battersea Arts Centre in London while he was getting ready to perform. He was putting on all his makeup and eyelashes and sequins. And it took a long time. And he said something like, “I want the audience to know I spent this many hours getting ready. I want them to know that I spent all this time doing that for them.” And I think about that all the time. Taylor is an inspiring artist to me in many ways, because when I watch him work it makes me feel OK to feel like an outsider. Or it makes me celebrate being awkward or being wrong sometimes. I mean we’re all just weird kids, man. Who are becoming weird grown-ups.
In the little bits of Primer we began working on at The National, you and Jessie [Almasy] did a bunch of writing around a couple of teenage girls named Viral and Cable. They feel related to what you’re talking about, the awkwardness of discovering yourself.
Yeah. I’m still really interested in those girls.
You’ve always had interest in film and in photography. What got you interested in that?
It just happened that at NYU a lot of film kids lived on my floor in the dorm. I never did any plays while I was studying theater at NYU because I always had a job. When they were auditioning for all the plays at school, they were like, “what’s your availability?” and I could never come to rehearsal so I could never be in any plays. So my film-maker friends all wrote movies for me to be in. It was so awesome, because they were writing interesting fun things for me, and we filmed them whenever we could, and we made all this cool art together. And actually that company, Blatantly Subtle, was the first collective I was a part of.
The stuff we were doing with Primer in London was an awesome collaboration between Jess and I. She was the writer and the director and I was the actress and the camera person. I was shooting myself on Photo Booth, just holding my laptop in front of my face and it was so much fun and I loved doing that. I love that medium.
Give me a quick run-down of how you started working with the TEAM.
Jessie Almasy was my best friend in college. I met her my second day in New York City. I had been making a movie with Blatantly Subtle and I remember I was living right over there on Essex with Will Hunter [now The TEAM’s board president], and Jessie called me and said Rachel Chavkin is directing a play, you wanna audition? And I almost said no because I hadn’t slept in days, but I dragged myself to it. I ended up playing Wanda June in this production of Kurt Vonnegut’s Happy Birthday Wanda June. Brian [Hastert] was also in that… you were the costume designer! And after that Rachel decided that she wanted to start a company and she asked you and me and Brian and Jess to do A Thousand Natural Shocks.
And the rest is hist’ry.
A Thousand Natural Shocks
So, this other question that I have for you is about songwriting. Did you start really thinking about songwriting as something you wanted to do when you and Frank [Boyd] started working on songs together for Architecting?
Well Frank started writing songs. We were touring Heartland in Dublin and I remember watching that Neil Young movie, Heart of Gold, and Frank started writing songs. I helped with some of the lyrics and then I sang them in the show. It was such an awesomely joyful collaboration, that work with Frank. I was so excited to explore a new medium.
And now you and a friend of yours are writing songs together.
One day I wrote some stuff, I write poems, songs are poems to me, and I sent him some poems and he turned them into songs and we started really working on them together. And the songs we made were really good! And so we started actually working together regularly. We have a songwriting Saturday every other week. We spend like 12 hours in our little bat-cave and we write a song.
and you have a record out.
Yeah, we made a whole album. We recorded it this summer and I produced it. It’s the neatest thing I’ve ever done. It’s a really tender record. I’m really proud of it.
Do you think you’ll perform any of your own songs any time soon?
Not out of the question.
Any other thoughts you’d like to share about working with the TEAM?
It’s totally extraordinary to have such a family. When we went on our retreat the other weekend it totally felt like an extension of the holidays, like seeing your family. Getting together and eating and drinking and playing and talking and working together, it’s my family. We’re so lucky to have the community that we do. I love everybody and I hate everybody and I get frustrated by this and by that, but it’s really family, and we are so lucky. And our company is almost ten years old! I mean, I’ve known many of you since we were 18 years old. And we’re 33 now, and that is extraordinary. I am so grateful to have such a family.