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The Guggenheim's Works & Process series gives audiences insight into the creative process
The Guggenheim Museum is world-renowned for its visual art installations, but did you know it also showcases big names in the performing arts? The museum's Works & Process series, which takes place in its intimate Peter B. Lewis Theater on the lower level, is celebrating its 35th year of giving audiences an up-close look at new works in theatre, dance and music and the artists who created them.
What began in 1984 with two events has expanded impressively over the years. The program's spring lineup, which runs through April 29, features 15 different offerings, including commissioned premieres and sneak peeks at highly anticipated upcoming shows, such as Broadway's buzzy Be More Chill (January 21) and Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus (February 18).
Works & Process was founded (and for decades, hosted) by Mary Sharp Cronson, a passionate supporter of the arts who was on the Guggenheim's board. "She took a tour of the museum and saw this unused gem of a theatre," says her daughter-in-law, Caroline Cronson, who now serves as the series' producer and co-curator with general manager Duke Dang. Together they program an intriguing mix of participants to keep the performances and discussions lively in the almost-in-the-round, 285-seat venue.
"We try for a balance of music, dance and theatre," Cronson says. "We get a different audience for each one. We think it's important to highlight every aspect of the performing arts." Most events focus on new work, though occasionally the series will look back at a landmark piece, such as the upcoming 30th anniversary celebration of Jerome Robbins' Broadway (April 24-25). Since 2007, Works & Process has also presented an annual holiday run of Peter & the Wolf narrated by Isaac Mizrahi.
Increasingly, the series' reach includes performing arts institutions outside of New York City. "We like to give our audience an idea of what's happening around the country," Cronson says. "They may not get to learn about these works unless we show them." The current season offers a taste of upcoming productions at The Glimmerglass Festival upstate, Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, The Santa Fe Opera, and major ballet companies from Houston and Washington D.C.
Some Works & Process programs tie into Guggenheim exhibitions. "We have two shows coming up that are curatorial-driven," Cronson says. Triptych (Eyes of One on Another) (February 17), a new music-theatre piece inspired by the work of artist Robert Mapplethorpe, is presented in conjunction with the exhibit Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now. And the U.S. premiere of the chamber opera HILMA (April 15 and 16), about Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, complements Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future.
But what really sets Works & Process events apart are the conversations. Every program includes moderated discussions with the artists about their creative process. This spring, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Bruce Norris (January 28); Tony-winning composer Jeanine Tesori (February 11); Tony-winning actor Nathan Lane (February 18) and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage (March 22) will chat about their respective upcoming shows. So it's a rare and exciting opportunity to hear directly from these luminaries and sometimes meet them, too. (Participating artists often greet audiences during receptions in the rotunda.) And if you can't be in the room where it happens, you still get your shot: Every Works & Process event is taped and available to watch at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.
Susan Reiter regularly covers dance for TDF Stages.
Top image: The cast of Be More Chill, which is part of Works & Process. Photo by Maria Baranova.
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