A Sacred Connection

Feature in Issue 22-3 | Autumn 2010

The Sacred season at Chelsea Theatre this autumn features a special collaboration with PS122. Our man in New York, Robert Ayers, gives us the inside story on the legendary NYC performance venue’s GLOBAL vision.

Performance Space 122, or more usually PS122, is so called because it occupies an abandoned school house on Ninth Street in the heart of the East Village, and for those reading this who aren’t native New Yorkers, PS stands for Public School (the equivalent of State School in the UK), and 122 was the school’s number – all the schools have a number. PS was adopted to mean Performance Space – and PS122 has been a mainstay of the New York performance scene since it began presenting work in 1980.

Yes, this season marks its thirtieth anniversary. Its fortunes have waxed and waned in that time, as have those of radical performance here, but its heroic long-time artistic director Mark Russell (he worked there 1983-2004) kept it in the forefront of daring and provocative live practice. Mark was succeeded by the irrepressible Vallejo Gantner who has, if anything, further enlivened the place. Vallejo is an instinctive internationalist – as an Australian with a name like his is more or less obliged to be, I suppose – and their collaborations with Chelsea Theatre are the beginning of what he is calling PS122 GLOBAL, ‘a collaborative touring programme designed to create roving mini-festivals of New York City’s most important contemporary performance companies’. PS122 GLOBAL has been gestating for some time, really: they did a Norway in New York festival in 2005, and the next year there was BAIT – Buenos Aires in Translation, when they presented four Argentinean playwrights, their premiere translations, and their premiere US productions by New York City companies. Now though, Vallejo is convinced that the time has come to go official with his scheme for global partnerships, which he says ‘provides a viable and valuable two-way touring model for local and international companies, and spotlights a unique and vibrant cross-section of both PS122 and New York City’. Chelsea Theatre’s Sacred Season is first up, but there are ‘relevant and robust cultural exchanges and international collaborations’ with Bristol and Berlin in the pipeline, all ‘designed to provoke new ideas, dialogues, and opportunities,’ and you can’t say fairer than that, really.

For their collaboration with Chelsea, Vallejo and his team really have picked the brightest and best of contemporary American performance. First up is Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company’s Pullman, WA, which the company describe as ‘a play about what to do if you’re unhappy and everyone around you is kind of an asshole, including yourself.’ Next, there is Richard Maxwell & NYC Players’ remarkable piece Ads which led Ben Brantley in the New York Times to call Maxwell ‘one of the most innovative and essential artists to emerge from American experimental theater in the past decade’. Ads has no live action whatsoever; it is performed by projections. One of my dear friends at PS122, who has seen every production there since the dawn of time called it ‘one of my top ten eye-openers – not just in terms of love-love-loving a show but also in terms of what it means to be truly, rigorously and fearlessly formally innovative’. That same weekend Cupola Bobber offers Way Out West The Sea Whispered Me. Cupola Bobber are a pair of Chicagoans who have performed in London before and were International Artists in Residence at the Nuffield Theatre Lancaster in 2008, though any duo who are described as ‘like Laurel & Hardy channelling Gilbert & George’ are probably worth seeing more than once. Then to round up the New York invasion there’s Sara Juli’s The Money Conversation, a brilliant, uniquely American piece in which, as the New Yorker explained when it was first staged here, ‘over the course of the performances, she is giving away her entire savings (five thousand dollars) to members of the audience’. You probably don’t need to know any more than that, do you? Go see!

The fourth SACRED season at Chelsea Theatre runs 26 October to 20 November 2010 – a four-week programme of dynamic, innovative, contemporary performance. Chelsea Theatre is at World’s End Place, London SW10 0DR. Bookings: 020 7352 1967. See www.chelseatheatre.org.uk

Referenced Festivals
Referenced Venues

This article in the magazine

Issue 22-3
p. 16