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Theatre Is Happening All Around You

Date: Sep 25, 2015
Site-specific theatre pioneer Anne Hamburger's new outdoor festival aims to turn passersby into active viewers


In the '80s and '90s, Anne Hamburger's theatre company, En Garde Arts, produced a string of shows with boundary-pushing artists such as Charles Mee, Anne Bogart, and Tina Landau that used NYC as their stage. During that time, En Garde racked up six OBIEs, two Drama Desk Awards, and countless rave reviews. But it disbanded in 1999 when Hamburger decamped for California, where she briefly served as the artistic director of San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse before becoming the executive vice president of Walt Disney Creative Entertainment, overseeing all major stage shows, parades, and spectacles for its amusement parks worldwide. After eight years with the House of Mouse, Hamburger had a crisis of creative conscience and decided to return to her experimental off-Off Broadway roots. She resurrected En Garde in 2014 with BASETRACK Live at BAM, a documentary theatre piece about the impact of war on veterans and their families. This October she's debuting BOSSS (Big Outdoor Site-Specific Stuff), a three-day outdoor theatre festival held in a five-block stretch of Hudson River Park with a strikingly eclectic mix of shows, like We Were Wild Once Episode 6: Talks With A Drunk, inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald's book On Booze; An Evening With Bina48 featuring a blind date with a socially intelligent robot; and a gaggle of pink-stroller-pushing men acting as MOMS. As we learned from our chat with the cutting-edge theatre stalwart, Hamburger is looking forward to "capturing the imagination" of people who specifically come to see the productions as well as folks who just happen to be passing by.

ET: What inspired you to create BOSSS?

AH: I wanted to see a new group of emerging artists create work for the outdoors. When art is outdoors and free, there is no barrier to entry. It can attract people who are interested in the particular artist, but it can also appeal to the guy who is riding his bicycle down the street or the mother who is walking her baby in a stroller. It can capture the imagination of all New Yorkers who gravitate toward green spaces and bump into art that they otherwise would not have seen.

ET: Do you think it is important to reach passersby who may not be regular theatregoers?

AH: Those people are magical to me. Art must be relevant to them and to society at large, not only in the issues that we take on in our work, but also in our modes of storytelling. The internet has changed the way we communicate information, how quickly it's communicated, and how experiential it is. Younger generations need to get excited about art.

ET: How important is it for you to mentor emerging artists?

AH: When I first began En Garde Arts in 1985, I was fresh out of Yale and struggling with all the challenges that any young artist contends with. The people who were mentors to me, including Joe Melillo, now BAM's executive producer, and Todd Haimes, artistic director at Roundabout Theatre Company, kept me going. It was so important for me to hear and receive their encouragement, and I wanted to be one of those people. We live in generational ghettos, and I feel like I can provide younger artists with the benefit of my experience, both creatively and personally. We meet together every two weeks so that they not only get to know me, but they get to know each other. It's been a fantastic experience for me, too, getting to know a whole host of really talented, young artists who have wonderful ideas. I am also growing as an artist and human being through this process.


ET: What advice did you give the participating BOSSS artists?

AH: I told them, "I want you to think big." An unfortunate thing about a lot of artists is that they are writing small and thinking small because they feel that is the only way they will ever get anything produced. Sarah Delappe's piece, MOMS, has 20 performers in it! Sam Alper's [Given the Present, the Future Does Not Depend on the Past] has 15. These works certainly have spectacle in the number of people involved. More than 100 artists are involved in this festival. En Garde Arts is also providing assistance with production elements, press, marketing, dramaturgical support, creative nurturing, and cultivation of a community.

ET: How did you help prep BOSSS participants to perform their work in Hudson River Park?

AH: Before the artists ever set pen to paper, I asked them to walk from 23rd to 28th Streets in the park to find a spot they fell in love with. Some of these pieces started with the site in mind, and others with a preexisting idea. I asked the artists to make it site-specific, how they could adapt the idea so that it made sense in the park. One of the artists, Lee Sunday Evans, was fascinated with a picture book about going back in time to a particular place. And by walking in the park, she found the perfect spot to do that piece [called This Place].

ET: After more than a decade in California working for the Walt Disney Company and others, you returned to NYC and resurrected En Garde Arts. What inspired you to do that and how do you see the future of the company?

AH: I really missed New York, and I missed doing art for art's sake. With the new En Garde Arts, I'm doing documentary theatre that features social impact at its core -- like BASETRACK Live, which was based on the story of a marine, Corporal A. J. Czubai, who had never even been to the theatre -- and I'm also doing site-specific work. They both have something in common: They bring people together who are not normally in conversation with one another. Looking back at my career, that is the unifying concept that all of my work has embraced.

BOSSS takes place Friday, October 23-Sunday, October 25* between 23rd and 28th Streets in Hudson River Park. Visit the BOSSS website for a comprehensive schedule of locations and shows, all of which are free.

* = BOSSS was originally scheduled for October 2-4 but was rescheduled due to Hurricane Joaquin.


Emily Travis is the Marketing Manager at TDF

Photos by Maria Baranova. Top image: MOMS by Sarah Delappe.