The H.E.A.T. COLLECTIVE Dream

I want a space for performance, community events (rituals, town halls, Sunday Dinners etc.) as well as for our workshops and ongoing classes. I want this space to be a welcoming creative center for all who enter. This is a space audiences, students and visitors can be provoked, inspired, nurtured and restored. I want the space to be a solid home for H.E.A.T. so I am looking to lease or buy a building or part of a building to create a place where people can come and feel it’s their oasis.

New York City, my long-term home doesn’t really work, despite all its glory for two reasons: 1) the cost of real estate, 2) the glutted theatre environment.

So, I set off on a city search that has taken up this whole year.

Asking “Where?” Where can the H.E.A.T. Collective have optimum IMPACT?

I decided to base my sense of H.E.A.T. home potential on gut feelings after visits and meetings as well as solid research into local resources, and 8 criteria:

1.     Theatre presence

2.     Liberal/activist presence

3.     University presence

4.     Quality of life (access to nature, weather, etc.)

5.     Friends and colleagues already present

6.     Local arts funding

7.     Potential audience and students

8.     Affordable real estate

I was also grappling with historical homelessness

Sing to me of the man muse,

The man of twists and turns,

driven time and again off course,

once he had plundered the hallowed heights of troy,

many cities of men he saw and learned their minds.

Many pains he suffered heartsick

on the open sea

fighting to save his life

and bring his comrades home

launch out on his story Muse,

daughter of Zeus,

start from where you will,

sing for our time too.

Homer, The Odyssey

I have lived and/or worked in San Francisco, London, New York City, Minneapolis, Boston, Boulder, Basra, Beirut, Cairo, Tel Aviv, Ramallah, and small towns in Upstate New York and Western Massachusetts.

In my travels through domestic and international conflict zones, I have had specific demographics that call to me, but have not had a homeland that requires my direct artistic or intellectual involvement. Friends and colleagues of mine have been pulled toward their roots in Egypt, Peru, or Romania, or have developed specific life-long specialties with prison populations, developmentally disabled children, LGBTQ youth, homeless teens in Seattle, poor women in Northern Ireland.  Soyini Madison acknowledges that her repeated trips for research and performance development in Ghana were motivated by her “Diaspora citizenship as an African American woman finding home between two geographies of belonging- the United States and West Africa”.  Magdelena Kazubowski-Houston returned to her native Poland to research and create theatre with Roma women near her hometown. These two women’s heritages led them directly to a Where of art and service.             

            I begin H.E.A.T. workshops with Sociometry, an exercise derived from Psychodrama, in which participants are asked to stand in chosen floor patterns in response to key questions regarding their associations to ideas, feelings and situations. The first exercise asks questions about geography. Using the floor as a global map, I ask participants to find their place of birth and/or upbringing I tell participants “to find the place you come from”. This stirs up an interesting mix of confusion and self-reflection. They ask me, “Do you mean where I was born? Or raised? Or live now? Or….” I let them grapple with the questions, and geographical negotiations about East, West, North and South, as well as continent size. I then ask them to find the place they most want to work, visit, or live and the map shifts. Some stay at the point of home base, others travel across the room to a distant land. As participants make their floor maps, they are become aware and able to express feelings about their relationship to the question where?

Later in my workshop I ask participants what impact they want their work to have on others (for example do they want to educate, provoke, inspire, entertain etc.). I write every word they call out on a blank piece of paper – depending on the size and the disposition of the group there are sometimes ten words/pieces of paper and sometimes upwards of fifty. I lay each word on the floor and finally the group places a foot, hand, or finger on every word that means something to their personal/professional mission. More negotiation occurs- if someone is standing on a word one person wants she/he has to place a hand on that person so that the group becomes interconnected- we see the commonalities and the points of departure. People then write down their own list of words and that becomes the “what” they are working with during the workshop. What has never been my issue. I have always known the what of the work. That is how the H.E.A.T. Collective was born, from the crossroads of my four passions. For some people the what is the quest, for me it has always been the where.

I am hunting for a place where even though there may be conflict and hardship, but where (at least in terms of H.E.A.T.’s  ability to successfully deliver vibrant art as an agency of change) there isn’t any trouble. “Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto?”, Dorothy wondered in the MGM movie The Wizard of Oz.   I grew up in OZ.

 “A short while back the door flung wide/ We all saw good luck on the other side./ The door blew shut, but here's the deal/ Dreams are lies, it's the dreaming that's real.” Bob Weir

I grew up in San Francisco.

In the 1960’s.  

On Ashbury Street. Between Haight and Waller.

The grown ups chose the life, I just inherited it

They smoked it dropped it,  danced it, screamed it, sang it

wrote about it. “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”

I took that test in elementary school.

          By the time I got to high school I was a bad girl. Once after getting in very big trouble, the principal threatened me with expulsion. But instead of getting ousted, I got a little note on my locker that said:

“Jessica, You seem to have a flair for the dramatic. Would you please work with Peggy and Ulysses after school on their scene for Guys and Dolls? Sincerely Mrs. McTernan”

Because of that note from the drama teacher (I never understood how she knew my name. I never even took a class with her, and my self-esteem was much too low to audition for a play)  I eventually found my way to an improvisational theatre for “Troubled Teens”  where I found out that I could make people laugh.  Being useful to an audience was a revelation. That note placed me solidly in the theatre, and the theatre saved my life. I ended up sailing to the island of Manhattan, where I have been mainly rooted ever since.

Where could I ever go from here, a city which has always seemed to me like the center of the universe. I started by digging into cyber lists (“The 10 Best creative cities,” “The 20 Best cities for artists”, etc.) I made a travel plan:

Re-visiting Old Homes:

A.    San Francisco-Oakland

B.    Los Angeles

C.     Hudson Valley, NY (Kingston, Hudson)

D.    Pioneer Valley, MA (Northampton)

E.     Seattle

F.     London

 

And New Cities

G.    Ashville, NC

H.    Baltimore

I.      Philadelphia

J.      New Orleans

K.     Albuquerque - Sante Fe

L.     Dublin, Ire

M.   Galway, Ire

N.    Glasgow, UK

O.    Edinburgh, UK

P.     Bristol, UK

Q.    Liverpool- Manchester, UK

R.    Southampton, UK

 

I made five city-search trips this year:

1.     California, New Mexico (The West)

2.     New Orleans, Ashville (The South)

3.     Baltimore, Philadelphia (The Mid Atlantic)

4.     Hudson Valley Towns (NY)

5.     Ireland and UK

I have also taken into account  the non-English speaking cities in which I often work:

Amsterdam

Rotterdam

Prague

Brno

Brussels

 

And more cities on the lists:

San Rafael, CA

Bolinas, CA

Berkeley, CA

Sebastopol, CA

Santa Cruz, CA

Red Bank, NJ

Larchmont, NY

Croton, NY

Port Jefferson, NY

Nashville, TN

Austin, TX

Minneapolis, MN

Bennington, VT.

Brighton, UK

Of the places I have researched and visited there are many pros and cons. Over the next few weeks I will go place by place with photographs and impressions.

The Plan is to:

1.     Choose three

2.     Have more visits of those three places (with real estate and funding research on the ground)

3.     Begin writing grants and sourcing funders

4.     Continue staffing administrative and artistic positions

5.     Create a five- year plan: seasons and a budget and plan for opening day

PLEASE send comments, thoughts, ideas, experiences, impressions, tips, or contacts to: Jessica.litwak@gmail.com.

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