Each month (ish) for the next year, TEAM members are taking turns interviewing a fellow artist in the company. In our first post, Jess Almasy interviews Jake Margolin about joining the TEAM, meeting his husband, and making art about America.
Jess: pls state your name for the record: :)
Jake: Jacob Orion Margolin
when did you join the TEAM?
I joined the TEAM for Particularly in the Heartland which I think was 2005. I was in transit from somewhere (California maybe?) and because Rachel was in Edinburgh with Shocks and Give Up! Start Over! she let me stay at her place in Inwood. When she returned from Scotland we got to talking about the next TEAM project and I got involved.
what made you want to join?
The TEAM was a bunch of my best friends, and I was psyched to be included on a project that they were all working on.
what was your first TEAM project?
Officially I guess it was Particularly in the Heartland, although we created HOWL originally in college and that later became a TEAM piece. While I know that the TEAM started in 2004 with Shocks and Give Up! Start Over! (neither of which I was involved in) it has always felt to me like the company was a continuation of the work that many of us were doing together at NYU, specifically starting with HOWL which was our first foray into devising work collaboratively.
what was that like?
What was Heartland like? Well, one really big thing that happened with Heartland happened towards the end of the first development process. We were looking for a set designer and Rachel had seen a bunch of things that a guy named Nick Vaughan had been designing up at Columbia (where Rachel was going to grad school) and she invited him on to design Heartland. The first day that I walked into that basement rehearsal room at Shapiro Hall I was smitten, and Nick and I got married almost exactly two years later. It’s hard to remember how it felt making Heartland . . . I remember at times thinking that we were really coming up with something new and really touching the pulse of something, and I remember at times feeling like we were just barely keeping our heads above water and just kinda muddling through it all. There was an extraordinary hours long “open session” at a Chashama space – an abandoned bank in Queensboro Plaza – where such wonderful things were created like the Sarah Springer/Audience Q&A and a wild ship ride on rolling office chairs (the latter did not make it into the final production . . .)
And then the piece ran for a long time and we continued to develop it for years. There was staying in the Salvation Army Campus in London (which was actually very beautiful) and long bus rides with show laundry. There was extraordinary press in major newspapers which felt so edifying. There was the tour through the UK with such highs as spring-time in Kendall with lambs bopping around on pristine fields and such lows as the Peckham Lodge in London.
It was my first experience of being taken seriously as an artist by people who I didn’t know – both people like presenters and press as well as people like audience members who didn’t know me from Adam. And that was huge, and I suspect is a large part of why I have continued in the arts for the last decade.
why do most of the roles you play right now get named “Chris”? :)
Just to clarify a bit, the last few roles that I have created for the TEAM are named Chris. That started with Mission Drift – I think the point of that name was that it felt so normally American. Kind of like “Jake” or “Mike”. And then I’ve been trying to compartmentalize the various different strains of my work and to step back a bit and look at them as continuations of a line of inquiry. So my work with Nick (we make installation art together) has all been organized under the umbrella of “A Marriage . . . ” a series of installations that deal with how our same sex marriage fits into the iconography of the American Dream. And with the TEAM I wanted to start looking at all of the roles that I created for it as different attacks at the same question of “what is it to be an American right now” (which is of course basically the TEAM’s mission statement anyway) and specifically a continued exploration of “American Masculinity”. I also don’t think this fundamentally means anything – I am a dude making theater about America, so obviously everything I make in that context is an exploration of American Masculinity. So maybe this is just semantic, but I want to be looking at my contributions to the TEAM as a single body of work, and naming all the characters I make “Chris” feels like an overt way of doing that. I don’t think it really changes what I make any more than calling all of my visual art “A MARRIAGE” changes what I make there, but it provides a frame through with to look at all of that work. Maybe someday I’ll make a retrospective catalog of Chris. Like Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego, or something.
what is your interest in your independent career? what are you working on?
My independent career is making visual art with Nick – “visual” in a pretty broad sense in that it incorporates every media we can get our hands on and performance. In that work I’m increasing interested in how to be engaging directly with the subjects of the work. For example in A MARRIAGE: 1 (SUBURBIA), our installation at HERE last spring (that featured a series of stunning vignettes written by TEAM member and interviewer Jessica Almasy), we did a documentary style series of interviews with icons of the downtown queer performance world and teens involved in LGBTQ issues in which we had them talk about gay marriage, suburbia, nostalgia, and the mainstreaming of queer culture. I loved making that. When the show went to North Adams, MA in September we used 20 students at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in a day long performance action in which we read the 13 days of oral arguments from the California “Prop 8” case into clear plastic bags, capturing that breath in an enormous sculpture of text.
We’re currently working on A MARRIAGE: 2 (WEST-ER) which is all about the West and explores the gay history of the Wild West, a part of that history that I grew up knowing nothing about and through researching this show, am increasingly excited about. I didn’t know that the 19th century West was full of queers. I always bought into the hollywood version of the hetero cowboy. The first parts of A MARRIAGE: 2 (WEST-ER) will go up at the Invisible Dog Art Center in March and April of 2014.
how has working with the TEAM fed or factored into this work?
That’s a great question, and I don’t know the answer. Outside of my work with Nick, The TEAM has been the main place that I have worked creatively and thought about aesthetics and narrative and political art. So I can only assume that everything that I think artistically is formed in so many ways by my work with the TEAM. Practically, I know everything I know about the administrative side of the arts from the TEAM. And the support that we’ve gotten from TEAM members has been huge, and no small part of what has kept us making work. It is of course hard to distinguish what of that is “the TEAM” and what of that is that many of our best friends are members of the TEAM.
what makes you interested in the TEAM today?
I am so interested in how the company evolves as its members continue to pursue and excel at ventures outside of the TEAM. I am thrilled by how the process of making the plays changes as the members themselves change.
what do you consider your interest in America / making art about America?
I think I use the idea that I am making “art about America” as a way of acknowledging that my world view is particular to being an American. By which I just mean that everything I write or create is necessarily about America because that is my context. I think that similarly to how white people often mistake our interpretation of the world as the neutral or universal perception (relegating everyone else’s to minority identity politics or something) it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the American view of history or the current world is somehow the standard view. Everything I make is similarly through the lens of being a gay white man, not because I think it is better or anything, but because it is who I am. I’m reading Samantha Powers’ A PROBLEM FROM HELL about the American response (or lack thereof) to genocide in the world in the last hundred years. I am so struck by how much we continue to behave in the same way as a country. That fundamentally we don’t evolve much.
as you look back on the last ten years, how have you changed as an artist, or alternately how have you strengthened your committed ways of being, with or without knowing it?
I’m not sure that I am more committed in my ways of being now than I was 10 years ago. I have more, and deeper doubts about being an artist than I did 10 years ago.
One way that I have changed is that I think I’ve grown from really trying to do things “right” according to some perceived structure of what “good art” is to really trying to find my own voice and be true to my own agenda as an artist.
where do you see yourself in 3 years OR what would you be really happy to imagine?
I’m trying to become comfortable with the fact that my projections for what I’ll be doing in the future have proven consistently wrong. I hope that in 3 years I am proud of whatever I am doing and that it is adding some good to the world. I also hope I’m making a bit more money and have kids. But three years is really very soon. It takes three years for the TEAM to make a play. It takes three years for Nick and I to make an installation.
what have you learned from other TEAM members?
I think it is impossible to codify that into a single answer. It’s like wondering what I have learned from my family. Everything ranging from the mundane of learning how to create a computer file to the big things of learning how to function ethically in the world.