Ep 5: Why Zoom Theater is Giving Us Life! (Feat: Taylor Reynolds)

Every week, culture critics Diep Tran and Jose Solís bring a POC perspective to the performing arts with their Token Theatre Friends podcast. The show can be found on SpotifyiTunes and Stitcher. You can listen to episodes from the previous version of the podcast here but to get new episodes, you will need to resubscribe to our new podcast feed (look for the all-red logo).

The Friends recorded on June 29. They open the show by talking about Zoom plays, what’s been working about them, what hasn’t been working, and things they’ve seen on Zoom that they love. Then they talk about two shows they’ve seen. First, To My Distant Love from On Site Opera, an opera done over the telephone (remember those?). Then they talk about a play they watched on BroadwayHD: Pipeline by Dominique Morisseau, about a Black mother who is worried about how her son is doing in school, and how the play really benefitted from multiple viewings.

This week’s guest is Taylor Reynolds, who is one of the artistic leaders of the Obie-winning Movement Theatre Company in New York City. She talks about how the company was created, to provide opportunities for young artists of color and what they’re doing now: giving love to designers who are out of work, and don’t have Zoom plays to keep them creative. Reynolds is also a director, whose work on Plano by Will Arbury blew both of the Friends’ minds when it played Off-Off Broadway last year. She also talks about how she wraps her head around super-weird theater.

Here are links to things that Friends talked about in this episode.

The episode transcript is below.

Diep: Hi, this is Diep Tran.

Jose: And I’m Jose Solis.

Diep: And we’re your Token Theatre friends. People who love theater so much that you know, it’s the only thing really keeping me positive these days. How and how are you feeling this week?

Jose: This week? Lemon, it’s Tuesday.

Diep: The reason I asked is because, you know, I feel like compared to other people responding to the news that Broadway’s not coming back until 2021, I feel like I’m taking it pretty well. You know, I feel like Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia, where everyone’s like, fucking freaking out and I’m just like, it’ll be okay.

Jose: It’ll be okay. Neither of us are like the biggest Broadway people.

Diep: Yeah. Today, we’re gonna start the top of the show talking about Zoom plays and in response to a poll that we put on our Patreon site. We asked if people wanted us to cover more one night only stuff and they said they do. And they also want us to comment on the trends in theater right now. So we are going to do that. And what is the biggest trend in theater? Zoom plays, and we’re talking about what we see has been working for us artistically. What doesn’t work, things that we’ve seen that we really love? So that’s the top of the show, and then what are we reviewing today?

Jose: Today we’re going to be discussing two shows. One’s a new quarantine show. We’re going to talk to you about a new show and a recorded show that’s being streamed. The new show It’s called To My Distant Love. It’s a very appropriate telephone opera. And then we’re going to be discussing Dominique Morisseau’s Pipeline, which is currently streaming for free on BroadwayHD.

Diep: Yes. And I don’t know how it’s still streaming for free because they said it was only gonna be up for a week. But you know what, I hope they don’t listen to this podcast and be like, Oh, shit, we gotta put this behind the the paywall again. And who are we interviewing today?

Jose: We’re going to be talking to director/theatre maker, Taylor Reynolds, who is one of the founders of the Movement Theatre Company, they are also doing really interesting work in quarantine. So basically, this show is about disproving all those people who say that theater is dead during the pandemic, because it’s not.

Diep: Mm hmm, exactly. And I think, you know, since we’re gonna start talking about zoom plays, I feel like there’s still a lot of skepticism around zoom plays, and I feel like it’s part of people’s—they assume the theater is going to come back within a reasonable amount of time. And everyone, we’re just gonna rip the band aid off for you right now, it’s not gonna happen until 2021. It’s not gonna happen until there’s a vaccine so that people can actually be backstage in close quarters without infecting each other. So until that happens—who knows when that’s going to happen because no one wants to wear a mask, and infection’s everywhere right now—we’re going to have to learn how to be happy with virtual theater. And Jose and I will teach you how to be happy with virtual theater because I feel like in the past few months, I’ve been really impressed with how quickly it’s developed. What are the things that you’ve seen that you loved artistically?

Jose: My favorite things that’s happening right now, for instance, is the New York Neo Futurists’ Hit Play podcast that they do twice a week on the weekends. And they’re doing this like really interesting combination of like, I’m gonna call them seismic radio plays, although they aren’t that but they’re the combination of like radio essays. One of my favorites was when one of the artists did a walking tour, listening to an Alabama Shakes album. I love that podcast because they’re doing so much. It’s adventurous. And although it’s very hard to listen to podcasts when we’re stuck home because there’s such a commuting thing, I listened to that podcast, I would say quasi-religiously because sometimes I forget, but then I binge it. It’s pretty short. And I mean, last week we had Raul Esparza and wasn’t his Tartuffe just like mind blowing?

Diep: Yes, it was. What I do with the Tartuffe was they had the same background for every—I don’t know how to like, it was like a set. It looks like a cartoon set. And then the screen look like a cartoon set. And then they had just people’s faces just plopped on top of the set. So it kind of looked like they were like, on top of the furniture. It looks like a video game, but like a really fun way.

Jose: It kind of looks like those, did you ever watch Futurama. Remember that people who only were like floating heads? But it was so cool, because at least we didn’t have to see people home in their sweatpants reading from a script. It was so inventive. And it was so bonkers, it made me think of like Australian movies like Moulin Rouge and like Mad Max, which are so bonkers that you’re like, how did anyone even dream of this? How that these people at Moliere in the Park, and the French Alliance of New York, like, what were they thinking? I would have loved to be in this meeting with her like, Raul, Samira [Wiley], you are going to be floating heads on top of like digital furniture. Can you imagine that?

Diep: Yeah, and at some point you gotta get you’re gonna have to take off your pants and moon the camera and hopefully we get the angle right. We’re sorry you can’t watch it anymore, but it was an event.

Jose: Do we know if the Raul fans, which by the way, welcome to Token Theater Friends, Raul Esparza fans. We hope you stay for a while because we do more fun stuff for all of you Maybe we’ll have Raul back.

Diep: Yeah. exactly exactly like push him to come back to our show. I felt he could have talked to us for hours. Yeah, we’re just looking for connections right now, you know, connections in unexpected places. But what I really loved about the Moliere also was the fact that, like we said in the interview, people who could never have afforded to see Raul on stage because like you said, theater is expensive—it was a free show and all they have to do is like make a small donation to the theater company. And what’s been really reassuring about this time was people finally getting access to it. And I saw this wonderful tweet from someone who follows me on Twitter about how seeing these zoom performances is kind of keeping her mentally afloat, because it’s inspiring to see people still making work. The live theater may have gone elsewhere, but we are still here making stuff.

Jose: And the theater makers haven’t gone anywhere. It’s just so interesting because, like we’re also seeing right now, something that we kind of have been saying all for the time that we’ve been doing our show—which is that Broadway continues being the least adventurous. Yeah, inventive creative, like Broadway is such a dinosaur. It’s like such a dinosaur. Where are the Broadway stars? Like, why aren’t they coming up with things to do? I mean, I also don’t want to sound like I’m judging them because like, we’re all scared and it’s like a terrible time right now to, you know, to be a human in planet Earth. But, you know, how is it that Off Broadway and Off Broadway and experimental artists are doing so much? And the people that people pay the big bucks for, artists, you know, where are they?

Diep: I will say that Sing Street the musical, which did not get to open, they did do a concert version, at home concert version of Sing Street. And so you know, applause to everyone on that team for getting that music out there so people could see it. I do wish that it was still online so that we can link people to it. But we cannot. So maybe, you know, we will give you money, we will give you money if you keep the video up. But I do think it’s because you know, like off off Broadway, when you’re smaller, you’re more nimble and you’re able to just, you know, take an idea and just run with it instead of like having to go through like five different levels of producorial approval. I’m glad you mentioned that because one of the most inventive things I’ve seen and we were both working on it because we were closed captioning it for people, but it was this event from the Bronx Academy of Arts and dance called Desire: A Sankofa Dream by by by a black choreographer named Maria Bauman-Morales. And it was like a choreo-poem where people were actually dancing in front of the cameras, but also, like, there are times where you could just like it, this is probably the first time I saw the whole, like, zoom Breakout Room function where if you wanted you can go out into into another part of the play, and you’ll meet another character and she was like in a completely different setting. And so I really appreciated the ability to kind of try to have like that ambulatory immersive experience, even if we could actually move.

Jose: Why isn’t like Sleep No More doing something? It’s also like so refreshing. One of the things that I find really hard about having to watch a digital theater is that some you know, if I’m doing my computer or my iPad, I get distracted. And I want to check my email or Twitter. But if we’re like actually like, being asked to like, go to different rooms. And remember also, like, it was so cool that the dancers had, I think almost all the dancers had two camera angles. Mm hmm. And I was like, This is so cool.

Diep: Kinda like film, multiple camera angles, very important. But you can do dance, like you can use up space around you to actually perform. You’re not just limited to, you know, sitting in front of a screen. So I’m really excited to see how else people play with this. And I’m also really excited to see the just how quick everything’s getting put up like these, like, it think allows for like messier work to to be put up right now because it’s just such a low, low barrier at the moment. Mm hmm.

Jose: So my only complaint about it is not to the artists obviously, but to the people who, marketers basically, let us know far in advance when these things are happening because everything is announced, like, two hours before it starts.

Diep: Yeah, like I’m learning about this shit like, two days beforehand. And I’m sorry, Jose and I are creatures of, we’re regimented creatures. And so we plan our episodes a few days in advance and we’ve committed to that idea. And so it is very stressful to have to change things at the last minute and to text your partner and be like, hey, never mind, we’re not doing the show. We’re not talking about the show anymore. We’re gonna talk about this other show that you have to catch tonight. We don’t need any more stress in our lives right now. You know, we’re all stressed out. And this should be a fun thing that brings you all joy. But last minute invites do not spark joy.

Jose: Yeah, between fireworks, the cops running rampant. The government sucking and COVID. We certainly do not need any more stress.

Diep: Yeah. Oh, and I want to give a shout out to a play I saw that was un-produced before and it was like a world premiere. It was by Diana Oh, like one of our former guests. It was called My H8 Letter To The Gr8 American Theatre and it was a series of monologues or dialogues about how sucky the American theater is and it would have never gotten produced before this because the world was not ready and I’m hoping it comes back because I so wish you could have seen it Jose. It was really up your alley and really part of this conversation that we’re all having about how these institutions need to change and how they don’t. They don’t welcome people who want to be want to work outside the boxes.

Jose: And coincidentally, it sounds like we’re plugging this story. Coincidentally Mirirai Sithole’s Aye Defy organization that she launched, produced it and they were behind it, and we have an interview, a profile of her. She is so incredible. She’s in so much work right now. And hi Mirirai! We love you.

Diep: Yes, we have an interview with her on our website, Jose did it. And we’ll link to all the things that we talked about on the show notes on our website and on iTunes. My entreaty to people right now is just put up your plays, it’s not very hard right now. You know, go find me some money to pay the actors, but now’s the time to just try it out and see what happens. And then you might and then by time we come back, like you might have discovered like, this new medium of theater that’s more accessible to everyone, but just do it. Just do it. Just do the play now. Just do the play now and then figure out how to do musicals.

Jose: Watch some stuff and stop saying theater’s paused ’cause it’s not, because it makes me very angry. Very sad.

Diep: Mm hmm. People are trying shit so fucking support that. Yes. Wow, we’re like cursing this one. I think it’s because I haven’t finished my coffee. I’m gonna have another sip while you intro To My Distant Love.

Jose: Okay, so our first review we experienced a phone opera called To My Distant Love and I wonder if me saying the following does anything to you? I miss you terribly, each day without you is like a day without breathing. I want to see your face. Oh my god, I can’t but okay. Okay, so.

Diep: Shit I’m single.

Jose: Let me try to like explain what this was because it’s very easy but I don’t why it’s it sounds like more complicated so anyway, To My Distant Love is an opera that happens over the phone and thing is, you’ve set up your ticket, you pay your ticket, you pick a date, and then your appointment date, you get a phone call. But before that you get some emails like telling you, you know what number they’re coming from and all that. And in this opera, you play a character, which is the most exciting part. So you are this person’s distant love. And when they call you, they give you this like, beautiful, like romantic speech. And then they sing Beethoven songs for you for about 30 minutes. And then you swoon and it’s over. So, so interesting to me, because we did it the same day, but we both had different singers, right? Mm hmm. Like I got a male opera singer, and I have this thing where I’m sure that I’ve talked about it here before, where I become like Meryl Streep when it’s like some immersive show. And when the man said like, how are you might love and I said, Why haven’t you called me? I was like, sold. I was like sold. I don’t know who this person is. I don’t know what they look like. And I haven’t been like really interested in seeing what they look like. But I was so impressed. He was talking about like taking me, remember that day that we went to the park and you drank all the wine. So apparently, every opera, I was a lush.

Diep: I mean, that’s not far from real life.

Jose: Unfortunately. But I was like, Yes, I remember. And I was like, remember how it fell on me? I was such a ham. But I was having so much fun.

Diep: Did they make you feel less single.

Jose: It made me feel more insane.

Diep: Oh my goodness. Well, so it’s only 20 minutes. It doesn’t take up too much of your time. And it’s produced by On Site Opera and they’ve actually extended it to August 9. And tickets are going fast. So you know, buy them now because it is a literal one on one experience and you will be asked to participate. If it makes you uncomfortable. Well, now’s the time to try things that make you uncomfortable. What I really love is that it feels like it’s kind of the living embodiment of that meme that was going around about what online dating is going to be like during COVID, which is like, there’s nothing, there’s gonna be nothing physical. So you’re gonna have to write me a love letter. And we’re going to go back to Jane Austen times, where we’re just trying to try to woo each other with our words. And so I felt like. And I had a female singer, so I felt like I was, she was wooing me with songs and asking me about my day. And you know what? I haven’t had anyone romantically asked me about my day for so long. I really miss it. You know?

Jose: I mean, if you pay me, I’ll call you every day and be like, how are you my love? Remember that night in Berlin? I’m gonna send you songs from Phantom of the Opera and from Cats.

Diep: I’ll take it but yeah, it feels like and, and the weird thing about it is even though it’s not like a live experience, like I felt like I was I was experiencing what theater is supposed to be, which is, you know, you’re making connections, across space through performance. And that’s why right now, like, you know, immersive experience like this is a great time to just try stuff out and see what happens because like, we’re all so isolated that anyone who wants to come and have a conversation with us and connect with us like it feels it feels like it feels like you haven’t eaten like in 1000 years like it just feels particular delicious right now.

Jose: Mm hmm. I also want to commend them because opera is one of those things that I have never been—

Diep: —in love with?

Jose: I haven’t like really experienced that much opera. And one of my favorite things about it was like you know, one of the reasons that opera still seems like so classist in a way is because it’s, you know, in Italian or German basically right? And I love that before the show starts they sent you, your distant love sent you translations of what he was kind of thinking, what what she was kind of thinking. I should have been, now that I think about it, I should have been like, liar Beethoven wrote that!

Diep: Thank you for not ruining the fantasy.

Jose: Yeah, no, but I mean, they sent you the translation. So it’s not like you can be like listening to this incredible singers perform and cleaning your kitchen, right? Assume that you have to be present and the fact that they send you the translations, and you are reading along well, the person singing German was so exciting. Like, I felt like I was, you know, I couldn’t like, I didn’t want to do anything. I wanted this to last the whole day, basically, although probably those singers can’t sing to me the whole day.

Diep: I mean, they’re professional, so probably they can. I will say the book was written by Monet Hurst-Mendoza. So yes, representing.

Jose: I don’t think I knew that. I love her. Wow.

Diep: Did you see how much research we put into before we go into these things?

Jose: But you know, I never read about shows. I always experienced them. We don’t have like programs anymore basically, I’ve never, you know, I usually read the programs in the way back home. So oh my God, that’s a lovely surprise. Hi, Monet.

Diep: Yeah, yeah, that time that you that you drank all the wine in the park. Those were her lines. That’s it. That’s the thing she thought that Jose would totally do. But what I will say is there’s a little moment where my recollection, the story that happened to us was you know, the time that we went to Scotland and I was wearing an outfit that she really loved and I was thinking you know what though I would really take this to the next level is if they send like a little questionnaire beforehand like an ad libs of like, you know, put in an outfit that you really like or put in like, like your favorite city in the world or something like really, really personalize it, like really draw me into the things that I love.

Jose: The exciting part about it also was that, it’s not like a full production of an opera. No one died, so.

Diep: Yeah, exactly. No one died and it was joyful. And not too long, because my thing my operas are always way too long.

Jose: Except the fact that our distant love left.

Diep: Yeah, yeah, she was trying to get off the phone. I felt like, wait, come back. Come back sing to me some more please. It’s like I’m so lonely.

Jose: It was a treat. I love that so much. So much fun.

Diep: So go get some tickets. They’re doing this until August 9, maybe they’ll do it further because we all need a love connection right now. The next show that we’re going to be talking about is Pipeline by Dominique Morisseau and you can watch it on Broadway HD. It was done at Lincoln Center. So this is a version that was, so this version that was filmed and actually when I saw it at Lincoln Center they actually had like multiple cameras set up. So this is why you need to watch shows multiple times. And I wish that we were able to because and theater wasn’t like so expensive or inaccessible because I got more out of this now than I did when I saw it two years ago. The story is about this mother named Nya. She’s a public school teacher in New York, I want to say New York City, and I think it’s New York City. And her son goes to private school, Upstate, and he’s gotten into a fight, and he might get expelled, and there might be charges pressed against him by the school because he pushed his teacher. And so it’s about the school-to-prison pipeline, but it’s also about the societal question of like, what do we do with young black men who have a lot of trauma and who the system doesn’t know how to handle it, and it reacts to it with violence and how do we, you know, save them? How do we talk to them, treat them, that kind of thing. And it’s one of those things where it’s not like an issue play where it bangs you over the head with, you know, the issue. It’s very much like a look at this specific circumstance and what it says about our system. Yes, it’s a circumstance but it’s also you’re also watching a story about how this family comes together and deals with, with this problem in their family. Like, that’s drama, that’s the American theater.

Jose: Absolutely. And also it’s about, you know, something that you and I have experienced. And we are very familiar with—it’s what happens when people of color are thrown into predominantly white spaces, where they’re probably, you know, like, desperate and harassed, and they deal with microaggressions. So, you know, it’s that whole thing about how are these institutions you know, like schools versus private institutions, ready to have, you know, students of color. But they’re predominantly white, and therefore white supremacists, and what that does to mental health of people of color because we’re both a little bit traumatized from our own experiences in predominantly white institutions.

Diep: Yeah, yeah. And that’s why like, I love watching the play now because even like two years ago, I didn’t really the language or just the distance to really see how being in predominantly white spaces, what affects you mentally and so you know, Dominique is like, she’s a truth teller. She’s a prophet. She sees things that none of us are able to see and gives us language that we don’t have. But like now that I’ve interrogated some of like, my own experiences like this, that’s what made the play like just more potent to me this time around. And we’re also having a conversation around, you know—

Jose: It’s so interesting. I was thinking about American Son and the contrast that we see and how this play, you know, Dominique’s writing is so humane. Yeah, the characters feel like real people, they don’t feel like they’re just like, you know, an after school special because they’re obviously not. Having seen the two, you know, in such close proximity, the contrast is like so like incredible, right? Like American Son is such a morality play basically and you know what happens. And Pipeline is one of those plays where you can imagine those characters like living before we get to the theater, after we leave the theater, or after return our streaming device. So I mean, not that we don’t know this already about Dominique because we love her. And we are also going to link to our episode that we did last year. But yeah, I would say you know, I didn’t remember this play as well, as I thought I did, and I was very happy that I got to experience it again.

Diep: It takes them micro, which is this family and what their personalities are like, the things that they love, the things that they dislike, their like bad habits and good habits and it uses that scenario to talk about bigger societal issues of how being in white society affects this Black family. So it’s not like a play about race, so to say, but it’s a play about how race affects this family. Which is like, there’s a difference because you know, we’re past the whole race, you know, I don’t see color part of our history. We’re now in a part where we talk about how and how over policing or how under resourced, how all of these things affects different communities differently and the play and what really blows our mind is like it’s 90 minutes but is so complex. Thankfully, it doesn’t give us answers for any of this because these issues are just so much more complex. And we’re trying to solve them right now via different steps. But the fact that she’s able to tackle all of those things, but not let it weigh down the play and let it keep us focused on these interpersonal dynamics is—that’s what makes this play like so good basically.

Jose: Yeah, and it’s so refreshing also to see how moving—oh my god the final scene. It’s so moving also, cuz we don’t often get to see, you know, Black mothers and sons together because usually in most plays that we get, the son’s dead or is in prison? So getting to see the dynamic, you know, oh, my God, that final scene, I’m thinking about it right now. Getting to see that dynamic is so refreshing. And it was so moving that I wish, obviously this show didn’t make it upstairs to the Vivian Beaumont. It should have been there.

Diep: Yeah, yeah. It goes back to, you just put people of color in the basement with, you know, 100 seats, but you don’t put them up where there’s actually Wi Fi with 500 people. No, no and this. Can we talk about Karen Pittman?

Jose: Oh, yes.

Diep: Yes, yes. Yes. What I really love is and you know, contrasts with American Son is like, she’s allowed to have dimensions that goes just beyond like, anger and pain. She jokes like she, she likes Jack Daniels. Like she’s actually given a personality. She’s not a symbol of anything. She’s an actual person. And what Karen does, and what I love about seeing this on film is the fact that I could see, I could I could see her reacting and I could see her the muscles in her face move, very minutely, depending on like, what she’s feeling or what she’s reacting to at the time in the way like, I couldn’t see that on stage, the changing of the medium actually enhanced the play for me. She comes across even more sensitive than she did on stage. And like she broke my heart on stage.

Jose: She’s phenomenal. I remember when I saw it. Ah, at Lincoln Center. And I remember thinking, and again I don’t read about the plays before I go see it. And when I started, I thought it was gonna be about you know, kind of like her being like this powerful like, you know, Dangerous Mind type woman. And it’s such a lovely family drama and I mean, yeah, that is American theater. I want that, I want to more plays about families, that don’t look like Arthur Miller families, Eugene O’Neill families. I want this, I want to have like, just more Pipeline.

Diep: Yeah. Yeah. And I really love like how it ends on a note of how we, I’m not gonna spoil it but ends on a note of like the son saying, like you can just treat me differently, to be more compassionate towards me. I don’t know if this is what Dominique is saying. But it’s kind of saying, for me, it’s kind of saying like how we create change, we just need to treat each other differently on a one-on-one level first, like change yourself before you can change the world. And that’s what’s so beautiful.

Jose: I like rewinded that scene like five times at least.

Diep: I’m taking notes about like, Oh my God, Dominique the language is so beautiful. And she compares people to like solar eclipses and things like that. And what I love is like, I can rewind this and be like, Okay, what exactly did they say? So I can write this down. ‘Cause it’s so beautiful.

Jose: It’s also such an economical thing. I mean, it’s not like, again, it doesn’t have like a bunch of like rotating sets and all that fancy stuff that people seem to like. It’s very simple. Like, I mean, I want to see this as a Zoom play.

Diep: Yeah, it could totally be a Zoom play because it’s mostly monologues and dialogue scenes. It’s it’s so stripped down, it could be performed anywhere.

Jose: I don’t want Pipeline done Moliere-style though.

Diep: We’re not doing cartoons. No floating heads.

Jose: No, give me all the raw drama.

Diep: Anyway, any closing thoughts on Pipeline?

Jose: See it if it’s still free. If it’s not free, sorry.

Diep: Yeah, if it’s not free Broadway HD has a seven day free trial. So go see it, support Dominique’s work. We need to see more of it after this is all over. Do you want to intro our guest?

Jose: So next up we’re going to talk to director Taylor Reynolds who is also one of the founders of the Movement Theatre, which a couple of years ago produced Aleshea Harris’s What to Send Up When It Goes Down, which again was like, that’s almost also like a could be a Zoom play right?

Diep: Any play can be a Zoom play. Yeah, y’all creative, just figure it out.

Jose: Alright, Taylor directed Plano and she’s just like, altogether, a freaking genius. So let’s go talk to her right now. Taylor, welcome to our show.

Taylor: Thank you. I’m very excited. I feel like we’re kind of in communication like pretty consistently cuz I just like you two are the main like, tweets that I read every day. I feel like I know like what’s going on a little bit, or at least like, what we’re all like yelling at on any given day.

Jose: Now you’re just going to make us blush. I’m so happy to have you on our show. And I want to ask like a million things at once. And I don’t even know where to start. So let’s just start with, what are you doing in quarantine? You’re always like working on so many things. Would you be comfortable talking about, you know, how that transition was, from having so many projects to then, you know, being home?

Taylor: So the transition was both very, actually very simple, because it was sort of, it was the kind of thing where it was like, Oh, right, well, there’s a pandemic, and like, yes, of course, you shut down whatever you need to do so that like, we don’t all die. I was having a very busy, busy March that was supposed to transition into a very busy rest of March and kind of into April. But it’s actually really interesting because I didn’t really have anything specifically lined up through the rest of the spring after Richard and Jane and Dick and Sally was supposed to open anyway. So the time leading up to everything shutting down the first week of March, I was doing an internal reading at P73 of one of Emma Goidel plays. And every day we were coming into the rehearsal room and we were a little bit like, Okay, well like maybe we’ll see, you know. Kind of waking up everyday and just expecting the “school is canceled don’t come” email. And so we managed to get through the like four or five days that we had of that and then I went straight into the Ars Nova reading for John J. Caswell, Jr’s play Wet Brain. John and i were like really excited to be working on this play. Like it was the first time that he was hearing it out loud with actors, I was really excited to be back at Ars Nova. But by that point, we were really feeling like, every day John was like, “I don’t know.” “John, we just need to make it to Friday and people like 20 people are gonna come like that’s fine, right? Like, we just need to get this reading done.” And then the Thursday of the 12th when everything shut down was a big day, because we came in the morning, and there was just a clear air of like something is going to happen. But I was just determined to be in my like, positive space because I was like, I’m supposed to start rehearsals for a show on Monday.

I had like tickets to see Endlings on Sunday. I was supposed to go to the Six opening night that night. It was like a whole thing. So like, we had rehearsal in the morning, I was like getting texts, but I wasn’t really looking at them because I was like I’m, you know, in rehearsal for this play. So like, do your job while you can. And then we went on our lunch break. And then I got a call from Playwrights Realm. And they were like, you know, we’re gonna have to cancel the production. And then I came back and then Ars Nova was like, “we’re going to finish rehearsal today, but that’s going to be it. We’re not going to do the reading tomorrow.” And so, you know, we were in the like, last two hours of our rehearsal, all theater people suddenly knowing that this was the last thing we were going to be doing for who knew how long. I left the Ars Nova building and I was like, in Columbus Circle, you know, and everybody’s like, walking around. I was like, “Everybody theater just shut down, what is happening?” And then I went home, and I’ve pretty much been home ever since.

Diep: I think we were all looking forward to the remounting of What to Send Up When It goes Down. It was supposed to happen. Like right now. Y’all did it in here and then in DC and Boston. For those for people who don’t know about about the Movement Theatre Company, can you tell us a little bit about how it was founded? Because from what I know, it’s not hierarchical. It’s very consensus building and it was founded by young people of color.

Taylor: Yeah. So in 2007, a group of recent NYU grads and NYU students of color met in the Astor Place Starbucks, It’s such folklore. And essentially formed a collective because there are people who were identifying, “I’m really more like multidisciplinary artist.” You know, so they were like, “Oh, well, I have a degree in acting, but I really want to explore writing.” But you know, in 2007 it was, I mean, it’s kind of the same but also like a little better now. But you know, in 2007 it’s really like, you can play the drug dealer online order or you can like write the text for the drug dealer. So it was founded on the idea that artists of color could come together and create their own spaces and allow for the exploration of various artistrys. And the company went through at different different producing models in its first few years. I think when they initially started, there was more of a traditional model of you know, artistic director and marketing director and all these various titles, and then about five years into the company’s existence.

And they were doing like strategic planning sessions where they were like, well, this model of, you know, hierarchy doesn’t really work for us or we were looking for something different. And then essentially, the person was like, Well, why don’t you just make your own model? Like, Oh, right, you can just do that, because there are no rules in theatre. And so the model that we’ve had since then is the producing artistic leadership model. So there are currently five of us who run the company, collaboratively. So that means we’re making all of the decisions collectively, you know, from like, big top tier decisions, like what artists to support, what plays to produce, all of that down to like me making an e-blast and sending it to everybody and be like, read this. Over the last like two years, we’ve started to expand our staff positions or more specific, like task-oriented positions so that we can separate or like step away a little bit from doing so much of the every day that takes our energy and capacity away from being able to kind of dream bigger and focus more on the leadership part of our title, rather than the line-producing part of it.

Diep: And I’m sure the Obie Awards helped with capacity building.

Taylor: It did. But also we’re still, we I mean, at least I am still like, Oh, right. Like we won it. We got an Obie that’s so cool. I think it’s still, we have to like when we’re updating our bio and everything, we still have to be like, no put Obie in there. Like that’s the first thing people should see. Like, that’s the point of it. But you know, I have the certificate in my apartment. And you know, take care of it. But it’s just like in my closet.

Jose: One of the things that we were talking about earlier was how angry like almost like irrationally I’ve been getting that people who keep saying that theater is dead or theater is past. And I’m like, No, you’re just not looking outside of Broadway. I see you and I see so many artists and you haven’t stopped working. And right now, with Movement Theatre Company, you have, it’s Move Design by, right?

Taylor: It’s 1Move: Designed By. Yeah, I know. It’s o long, all of our titles for the entire 13 years we’ve existed, all of our titles are just always so long.

Jose: You’re commissioning pieces from designers, and you’re gonna do several movements like this, and you have one right now, right? And I was like, these are all so freaking brilliant and like crazy in a really good way. They’re so bonkers. And I love seeing how you know, how adventurous and how original and how inventive all the work that so many people are doing right now. And I would love for you to talk a little bit about this movement. And then there’s going to be another movement later and how this came about.

Diep: And designers aren’t getting a lot of love right now.

Taylor: When the when theater first shut down. The Movement, we had a meeting that first Monday, one of the first things that we talked about was really just like how we were doing as people because that’s the most important and then also just a weekly check in about how we wanted to use our voice and use our platform during the pandemic, because, you know, the first week after theater shut down, there were artists individually putting things out. There were theater companies were just like throwing things out and like making digital content. But we really just didn’t have the emotional, physical or like mental capacity to really do any of that. And we didn’t want to just put things out into the space, out into the digital space, unless we knew that it was going to have a purpose, and that it was going to fulfill us in some kind of way or fulfill the artists that we were working with. So as our conversations were progressing, we were starting to feel like we wanted to do something.

And we noticed that a lot of the content was either playwright driven or actor driven, which like makes sense, because you know, you can write a thing, email it, somebody can say it, put a camera up and then like you did it, you made art, which is awesome. But, you know, there was not really a public representation for the other aspects of theater workers, you know, of like, directors, stage managers, producers, and designers, and also just through our check ins of, you know, reaching out to folks seeing how they’re doing. We were hearing a lot specifically that immigrant designers were having many issues with, just kind of are at a standstill, you know, because they’re on F1 or O1 visas visas that are work based and you know, that you have to prove consistently that you’re like an extraordinary artist that deserve to be working in the United States of America. So the entire industry shut down. And suddenly there’s nothing that you can do, because it’s also not necessarily just like, Oh, well, I’ll go out and get a different job. You know, it has to be specific to the work that you stated that you were coming to the US to do. And also, so what we really wanted to do is just give the designers a platform just to work to prove that they were still working.

And on top of that, we also just wanted to provide a space for designers to process the pandemic through their art and through their work. And then we also paid them and gave them a budget, because we wanted to make sure that you know, again, all human people needing money, who don’t have jobs. And also making sure that the weight of finding or providing their own kind of like creative materials wasn’t just on them. Because like, if you want to buy, you know, like certain light that costs $25, but like you don’t even have $25, then you’re not gonna be able to make the art that you were hoping to make. So we did all that. And we also were introduced to a lot of new designer through co-curators, Clint Ramos and Cha See, who were like, super passionate and helpful in just getting the word out about the first round of 1Move. And some of the designers were designers we’d work with either individually or together at the Movement, but they’re all so incredible. And so now we’re gearing up for the second round of 1Move, which is going to be focused on all Black designers, which is really exciting. And our co curators for that are Dede Ayite, Stacey Derosier and Paul Tazewell, so it’s like a dope ass group! And so those videos will be launched in mid July. And then past that the Movement is taking a sabbatical in August, which I suggested because I’m exhausted at being alive.

Diep: Quote of the century right there.

Taylor: I just I’m grateful for it like but I’m just also exhausted. So then once we come back from that, we’ll see where the world is, where designers are. And just consider if we want to continue 1Move. But we also are interested in expanding it, like the initial idea for 1Move actually came a few years ago. So the first time that we did it, we put together a musician, a poet and a singer in a room for like, three, three hours or something like that. And it was, we gave them a prompt in response to it. It was like in 2016. So it was like right after Trump was elected. And so we were like, respond to that. And so that translated really well and to be able, being able to give designers this sort of platform to just respond to whatever is happening in our world, that is effective. Whether that’s, you know, COVID-19 or the like global uprising against anti-Blackness and racism, or, you know, like murder hornets, like 2020’s really giving, like artistic fodder.

Jose: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about you know, when the Black Lives Matter protest started, and I was about the fact that, and I’m not kidding, that after going to What to Send Up, was actually the very first time, and granted it’s so late, but it was the very first time then I was aware that you know, I am a part of this also, like, I am involved in this also like, what am I doing, like, you know, why am I not doing anything? And I was very grateful to that experience because it opened my eyes in a way that I feel that, for many people, you know, they’re opening their eyes right now. So I was very grateful to, to that show specifically. And now thinking about what you’re doing right now with the designers, for your companies to where you are literally using art to save people’s lives. And I don’t know where I’m going with this. But it’s something that I keep thinking about, you know, after, after going through the 15 shorts that you have right now. And you know, it’s people who are using creativity, and you’re giving them the opportunity to spend their visas and all that and save their lives in a way and the effect also that what Send Up has had everywhere that it’s been, you’re saving lives and when you sit around, you’re not going, “Oh we’re gonna teach people something and we’re gonna save lives.” And yet you are and I wonder how as an artist, who’s also by default I would say an activist, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about where those two meet and how they intersect.

Taylor: Yeah, thank you. Thank you so much. That’s like a nice reminder to hear it from other people. Because I think like, we talked about it a lot, but we’re always like, “we’re not doing enough.” You know, we’re like, oh, no, we don’t want to do it like wrong, because there’s always this, I think, there’s like a thing of like, hoping that the intent matches the impact. So I think for us at the Movement, we are very much identifying as a social justice organization just as much as we identify as a theater company. And we’re, of course, still figuring out like, what that means and what that balance is and what the representation of our voices just out in the world. Which I think is a continuous you know, like company-long, life-long experiment and journey. But we just realized that it, just in the things that like we, as people are passionate about, and the things that we were interested in, and artists we were interested in working with as part of our company, we’re just more focused on creating change and transformation with the work they were doing. And like, that doesn’t mean that it you know, can’t just be a two person play where like people are talking on a park bench, but it just means that, you know, there’s something underlying or overt that is going to push and engage audiences to start conversations, but also hopefully to just take action.

Even if that action is like Googling racism, you know, not doing the work of like if you know, just find out a little bit, you know, like figure out what pronouns are, what the different pronouns are, and why people use them and don’t put that work on anybody other than Google because so many people have done it. With What to Send Up, even with our previous production of And She Would Stand Like This by Harrison David Rivers—that production featured Black trans women on stage and putting them in lead roles. And even with Look Upon Our Lowliness, which was also written by Harrison, putting, you know, like nine gay men, most of whom are of color on stage and just letting them live their fullest, most emotional lives, just like creating these statements that are like, if you’re paying attention. And like representation without it being like, pandering to white people. Honestly, I think a lot of our work is successful because it’s not really pandering to anyone, but it’s not made for the white gaze, it’s not made for an audience that would like, feel great under like a white supremacist structure, you know?

And that’s not necessarily just white people that’s like, there are plenty of people of all intersecting identities who just want to go and see a play, or like a musical, you know, they just want to see The Music Man. Like The Music Man shouldn’t be on Broadway and it’s upsetting. But, so I think like our work and like our acknowledgement that we are both a social justice organization and a theater company is really our guiding light when we’re talking to artists. I think it’s part of the reason why we operate in the way that we do because so many social justice organizations, you know, they may have like an executive director or like one specific leader who’s like handling fundraising, mostly, you know, but a lot of that work is community based, and communally based. And it’s not just about one person going out and being like, this is my voice. These are my ideas, you know, but it’s about like, uplifting the community and like, honestly, like, uplifting all of us so that we can, like, destroy these terrible systems that we all exist within.

Diep: And that’s the thing I’ve always loved about the Movement and the work. It’s the fact that you all created something because what you needed wasn’t within the systems that were present. I have a lot of conversations with leaders of theaters for people of identities that aren’t white, there’s always a common theme that comes up of why are we trying to change these white institutions instead of supporting the institutions that have been doing the work in these communities that already exist? And so when you think about the future of the American theater, if you’re able to think about it, do you think right now we’ve been focusing on the wrong thing and trying to fix it, rather than just like let’s just destroy everything and start a new thing?

Taylor: I think it’s a little bit of both. That question makes me think about when all of these like different theaters were putting out their like “we love Black people” statement. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to phrase it like that. Although it’s like just like cool you know, like some theaters that I know and support put out really heartfelt statements. Some theaters put out like really, what I thought were like well written statements where I was like, Yeah, but I didn’t like expect you to say this, like honestly like you’re, you know, you know you’re not like overtly against like, Black people but also like you don’t support them. And like that’s chill, you do what you do, you know? I honestly like don’t want you to produce this Black person’s play cuz you’ll just ruin it and then I’ll just be mad so like, it’s fine.

My personal hot take is like, yes, destroy everything. Unseat all of the like Gregorian mammoths but I’m like you know if they want to keep existing, if there is a space because honestly, there are some audience members who I don’t want to come see my work cuz like it’s not for you, you’re not gonna have a good time. It’s fine, like there’s a lot of stuff that like I don’t go see it because I’m like that’s not for me. So like why would I go and then I spent this money and took a seat from somebody who wanted to be there. I think that there needs to be systemic change. Absolutely. If the traditional sense of theater is to continue at all. But I’m also like, not interested in that. Like, I don’t really care. I don’t really honestly care what Broadway does. Just like stop taking money. That’s what I care about that they do. Other than that, I’m like, just don’t like actively hurt people. So stop taking money from smaller organizations that could really use it. And like produce, you know, produce The Music Man if you want. I’m not going but I think that where I’m interested is in the sort of like, mid-range smaller companies, that are already, like making the change, that are already more flexible because they likely have smaller staff. So I think that in becoming more like radicalized or at least just more openly anti racist and anti transphobic and like, anti homophobic, there is space to welcome emerging artists of like all identities, ages, whatever, and like to give the opportunity of like, we don’t know if this is gonna work, and that’s okay.

But the goal is not like, Oh, I hope people like enjoy this or like, I hope people like remember this forever. It’s like, no, the goal is to come and engage with what’s happening on stage, the goal is to come and be transformed in some way, whether that’s the planting of a seed, and then like a year later, you know, a global uprising happens and they’re like, I remember when I saw What to Send Up When It Goes Down because it was in the New York Times. And at the time, I thought, What a nice play and now I’m like, Oh shit, what they were saying in the play was correct!

I’m really more interested and invested in the, like, middle layer and like lower layers of small theaters and artists who are interested in producing their work individually or on their own. Just because I think there’s more space for actual conversation, you know, bringing the artists into the conversation of what is it that you’re looking to do with this piece? What do you need in order to make this piece what you truly envision. Whereas like, I think it’s just like I as an artist, thinking about like, going into a larger institution would hope for that and want that. But also as producer, I fully understand that you know, if you have a budget of like, Playwrights Horizons and like the Public, you can want to talk all you want, but it’s a different structure because they’re just so many different people. Whereas if you have five people running in your company who are all present in the room, whether you want them there or not, we’re just like, what’s up? What do you need? We got it. Okay. Let’s go.

Jose: I want to ask you something that I asked you last year: Plano, how? How? I was like, this is the most like mind-blowing thing in the world. And, you know, you read the script. And then how, like, how?

Taylor: Yeah, well, I mean, you know, it helps when you have a brilliant, beautiful, wonderful human person. Pulitzer Prize finalist playwright, Will Arbury. Who is just one of my favorite people of all time forever. And so, um, yeah, I still like honestly have no idea. Like I have a very specific idea of how it happened and also like no idea, you know. I think it really helped that when we started, Will and I started collaborating on it together—or like we were paired together when I was doing the Clubbed Thumb Directing Fellowship in 2017. And so I think like through this kind of low stakes, high stakes fellowship, we got to know each other really well. And we got to just kind of like, dive into the world of this play. And then at the time, it was only like a 45 minute version, it hadn’t been developed into the full length play yet. And so when Clubbed Thumb said they were going to produce the full play for SummerWorks, we already had this great foundation from the fellowship. And we had like brilliant actors like Ryan King, Crystal Finn and Miriam Silverman all came over from the fellowship into the productions. And they’re also just like brilliant, like every person we had in the show was also just like, brilliant. So that was also really helpful.

It was having like a bunch of like, smart people who loved this play so freakin much. We were just like, okay, it takes nine brains to put together these two lines, and we still don’t quite know what’s happening. But we’re just gonna say that this is what’s happening. And then if it feels crazy, we’ll go back and try something else. It was just really useful to have a team that was like, willing to do the impossible work of trying to make any sense out of a thing that is designed to not make sense. And then also, like my favorite phrase just became like, “it is what it is, you know, like, there’s a, there’s a faceless ghost on stage. I don’t know why he’s there. I don’t know what he represents, maybe something, maybe nothing, but he’s there.” And having a team that was just most of the time willing to be like, Okay. And our design team was just like, so incredible. You know, we made a man disappear in the floor, like we made like, like the passage of time just like appear and disappear—nothing made any sense. And so we were just like, okay, the more the lean into things not making any sense, the better off we’ll all be. And it’s the only way we were able to sleep at night.

I’m very much a collaborative director. You know, there are some directors who walk in and are like, “this is my vision, everybody stand there, go over there, shut up, say the line just like this.” That’s not how I work. And so I think it’s for, really directing—and this is probably why, like, also love working at the Movement so much is like—because it’s about the collective. There is the, you know, like, selfish, independent part of me that likes being able to make the final decision based on what I’m seeing on stage or hearing or what have you. My opinion and taste because I don’t like anything, but also I love everything, you know—I’m like, if I’m feeling good, or if I’m having questions, or if I’m like, understanding what’s happening, then I know that like, I’m a good, I’m a good gauge. I trust my compass more than I trust other people’s compass. So that’s why I have to be the director. But I’m also like, everybody’s saying what they have to say. And I’m like, Cool, thank you for your comments.

Jose: I love that. Can you let our wiewers and our listeners know where to find everything you’re doing right now?

Taylor: Yeah, so you can go to the MovementTheatreCompany.org. And you can find out, you can see all the round one, 1Move videos there and round two will be posted there in mid to late July. And then my website which doesn’t have much on it right now, other than like a link to Black Lives Matter. But my website is IamTaylorReynolds.com. And if you want to follow me on Twitter, you can find me @ReynaldoTaylor.

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