Thursday Spotlight: Meet The Brick’s New Artistic Director, Theresa Buchheister

Theresa, photo by Walter Wlodarczyk
Theresa Buchheister is a successful artist because she is a generous one; through multiple festivals and off-the-beaten-path venues, clandestine locales and dive hives, she has created myriad opportunities for creators of various stripes to express themselves and their craft. How fitting that she should rise to be The Brick’s new Artistic Director.
The Brick (579 Metropolitan Avenue) has long been a haven for comediennes, interpreters of classics, and everything in between. Now, Theresa — founder of the lauded and Brooklyn-based Exponential Festival — takes her vast producorial and artistic know-how to Williamsburg’s vital and ever-evolving destination for cutting-edge theatrical experience. Get to know this indefatigable artist in this week’s Thursday Spotlight!
Greenpointers: We cover artists in Greenpoint, Bushwick, and Williamsburg — but it’s certainly not uncommon for folks to move in and out of the boroughs. If memory serves, you’ve moved around quite a bit during your time in New York, but so much of your work has touched these neighborhoods, right?
Theresa Buchheister: Indeed. The first shows I did in the early 2000s were more in the East Village and LES, as that is where weird and wild stuff was still happening. But, as that started to really really change around 2008, I found myself more and more in Brooklyn doing shows in the backs of CC Rentals (as part of the Night Market), on boats on the Gowanus Canal (with Jeff Stark), and in DIY music venues (RIP Silent Barn, Secret Project Robot, Shea Stadium, soon The Glove), as well as lovely theatrical spaces, like The Brick.
Title:Point was a part of Silent Barn for almost four years, and that was the first home we ever had. It really taught us a lot about what is possible when you have even a little patch of land to build on. Vital Joint is in East Williamsburg and we started doing things there almost three years ago, which has also been a great home base, especially being on the same block as Panoply Performance Lab, now called Parallel.  There is a vibrance that comes from relentlessly working with artists of all practices and learning from them and also struggling to make things work  — I have dealt with more dead rats and sewage and toilets than I ever predicted I would.
I love Brooklyn. It is my home. It is where amazing people live and venues come and go. But we all still keep finding ways.

You started the Exponential Festival! What were your hopes when that festival was birthed years ago, and do you feel how it’s grown has met your expectations? Or changed them?
When I started Exponential five years ago I said repeatedly, “Let’s do it and if it sucks, never do it again.”
That took the pressure off and allowed us to figure things out on a rolling basis. I am in a constant state of post-mortem. There is no beginning or ending to it; it is where I always am, for Title:Point projects, for projects in spaces, for Exponential, for projects and spaces in Exponential, for ?!:New Works, for everything always. But while I am always in that state, I am also always making something new.
Exponential has grown in identity — we know more of who we are and what we are doing now, because we have allowed ourselves the time to come to understand Exponential as it relates to the artists and spaces and audiences. We are also able to offer new things because we finally did a little fundraising and got one grant. Yay!  So, now we have a fellowship artist for the first time — Lisa Fagan. And we are able to subsidize documentation. As our resources grow or fade, we will keep adjusting. It is what we do! It is easy to avoid feelings of disappointment or regret when you understand and value that nothing will stay the same forever.
Theresa, ever flanked by artists. Photo by Walter Wlodarczyk.
Can you describe your relationship to The Brick and how your new position came about?
I have been seeing shows at The Brick for over a decade. Some time after 2011 Michael asked me to join his curation team, which I did for a while. I am very opinionated, which was not to everyone’s taste. But, it formed a lasting friendship with Michael, for which I am incredibly grateful. Title:Point started doing shows in the space — Never Odd Or Even, Chroma Key, Post:Death, while Michael and I continued to talk about art and life and struggles with balance and burn out…  So many whiskeys and chats over the years. So, when Michael expressed a desire for the space to still exist but that he needed to step away and pursue his own art again, I said, “If I think of anyone, I will let you know.” I also encouraged him to write, which he did for a SalON! last August!  And it was fantastic!
But, then a few major things happened that made me wonder if I could/should be that person. December 2018 I told an employer no for the first time in years. It felt great to finally stand up for myself. Then, I got on a plane to Kansas, landed in Kansas City, my parents picked me up and we drove to Garden City to see my uncle David. He is a person who means a lot to me; as an artist who understood me when I was mad at the world for most of my young life, as a friend in adulthood with whom I could discuss anything, and as my uncle, who got a seven-month notice on life in June of 2018. We had been speaking on the phone more frequently, as it felt like a weird shitty gift to know that he was dying and that we could really express things about life and how important we are to each other in ways that you don’t get when death surprises you. So, I got to visit David and his wife, Kandee, in December. And I got this great sense of who I am and what I am doing in those moments, and I brought it back to Lawrence, KS with me, where I had a full on meltdown, and then to NY, where I jumped right into Exponential. All of those elements were like a tornado inside my skin — not being treated like garbage at work, Uncle David, life purpose, Exponential, artists in Brooklyn…
And then I felt compelled to ask Michael what he would think about me stepping into the role of Artistic Director at The Brick. So, we talked for a brief moment on the sidewalk outside of Northern Bell. And then, a million other things had to happen (and are still happening) to make this transition possible. I am as excited as I am terrified. But I am a Libra, so that makes sense.
What are some programming, curatorial, or artistic decisions you are looking to make when you assume your title come winter?
We are already pretty deep into curating 2020 and will be able to announce our season this fall. Stay tuned! It is exciting! We are also working with an amazing group of collaborators to do unique events that are not theatrical runs: dance, performance art, drag, gender f*ckery, comedy, film, music, parties. And! Working with my oldest friend and collaborator, Harrison David Rivers, to develop a program for playwrights writing fictional podcasts. The vibe will be very much a combination of a deep love of experimental theatre and DIY communities.
So much of an artists’ life is transient, but I’m wondering if you feel a greater sense of security or permanence given this new role at The Brick?
I hope I don’t have to go to Manhattan nearly as much. That is for sure.
As a theatermaker, producer, and jane of all trades, what kinds of stories do you like to tell/most enjoy experiencing?
I am sorta a janejack of all trades. You know? My personal tastes for what I MAKE are different than what I go see. I like so many things that are wildly different than what I would ever make. Helen Shaw once described Title:Point as “deeply strange,” which is fair. And The New York Times called us “plotless,” which is sometimes very accurate. There is always humor, always horror, always precision and impossibility.  We don’t ever do shows about romantic relationships. I personally find that to be incredibly boring. Another fitting Helen Shaw description — “Abbott and Costello wander onto a Richard Foreman set and get brutally murdered.” That was a specific comment about a specific show, but it is also our general vibe.
Our upcoming show, running the first two weeks of December at The Brick, is called Sleeping Car Porters. In it, I am Billy the Kid, Ryan William Downey is the Zodiac Killer, and we have an incredible cast and team of wackos who are bringing this tale of violent western masculinity to the stage in ways that are horrifying and confusing and enlightening.
But, seeing shows?  I love to be surprised.  I don’t like feeling like I figured it out within the first ten minutes. I don’t really care to see plays that have been done a million times, other than Hamlet. I love shows that reveal something about humanity or existence or that make me laugh… I even like a good deep cry at a show, to be honest.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I believe that spaces can exist in this crazy capitalist realm because of people. So, come be people in the space with us.

About Billy McEntee

Billy McEntee has been fortunate to work for arts non-profits in Boston, Denver, Berkeley, and now New York. His writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Vanity Fair, American Theatre, HowlRound, Observer, and others. He's usually getting wine at Dandelion or eating cookies at Archestratus.

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