How to put the experience, creation, and witnessing of experimental theater into words? It’s not easy, which explains why it is such an innovative, textured, and vital art form. As a versatile theatermaker and educator in the city, Nicolás Noreña has often been at the forefront of this hard-to-define scene: he teaches at NYU’s ETW (Experimental Theatre Wing), is the artistic director of Brooklyn-based theater company The Million Underscores_ _, and is currently undertaking the herculean task of breathing new life into LAPA, a play written by the Russian absurdist Daniil Kharms in 1930.
All the while, Noreña builds community with his artists and plays with his husband (alongside other key collaborators). As his career will attest, no venue is too small and no story too untapped to be a transformative piece of theater — the most daring step on the audience’s part is to simply show up. And as Noreña testifies, there are myriad venues to frequent that support new work on our side of the East River. His is a career to follow to participate in some of the boldest theater being made today.
Greenpointers: You’re a multi-hyphenate creative and the artistic director of The Million Underscores_ _. Can you explain what this company values and creates?
Nicolás Noreña: Multi-hyphenate creative! I had to look that one up! (Laughs) I guess..? Technically I’ve never hyphenated I usually say I’m a theater maker. But yes that involves writing, scoring, directing, performing, producing, designing costumes, designing sets, and props building, and I think this is what gives our work a very specific identity — our full engagement with each aspects of performance.
The Million Underscores_ _ has grown over the years from our curiosity about how the different languages of performance and the languages of plastic visual composition interact. We make and perform our work with one foot in the theater and one foot in the visual arts, and that is fun because the visual arts have such deep, millennia-old, detailed conversations about the technicalities of art and the philosophy of what art is and what art can be that sometimes lack in the theater. But the theater has this living breathing thing between people as the material, and it has these spaces ran by communities that are very different from galleries, and have this ephemeral quality that make it so unnecessary and mysterious, so similar to life…so we have one foot on one and one foot on the other, but we come from the theater.
LAPA is our first show in which we are starting with a prewritten play, and this transformed the process from the very beginning.
You and your husband Timothy Scott often collaborate, as with this current project LAPA. I’m curious, if you don’t mind sharing, what it is like to work with your partner and what strengths you think each of you bring to the process?
Yes, Tim and I collaborate in different capacities, and with each project for The Million Underscores _ _ our way of collaborating changes. This piece we’re directing together which is as intense as it can get in collaboration. You know, working together is challenging and rewarding. I think it’s hard to keep the lines clear especially at home, our bedroom is our costume shop, prop storage, and sleeping area. Our car is filled with materials, more costumes, set pieces, etc. We go out on dinner dates while we plan rehearsal or design wings for the angels in this show. But we have fun doing this together!
Tim and I are very different and usually have nearly the opposite opinion about everything. So it’s always a process, we see one thing, then see the other and make compromises or find things neither of us imagined. I think particularly in this version where we direct together we try to see having different opinions as a way to make the world of the piece larger with more options of legibility.
I like very dramatic shapes and I’m pretty good with seeing a structure, setting the operative logics for a scene and coming up with ideas on the spot. Tim runs deeper and slower. He sees more subtlety, he’s better at directing the actors’ souls and making choices that are mysterious and strong. We’re directing this together because one day we showed up at home after buying the same book by Daniil Kharms. We had never heard of him before!
Daniil Kharms has a unique style. What has it been like to work with this text?
It’s been a wild ride we’re still on. Daniil Kharms said that he would like language to be so material that if it were to be thrown through a window it should shatter the glass. Now, how to perform that has been our question from day one. In LAPA we are attempting different ways of going at this question.
We are some times using both translations at once which is a very powerful way to make words very substantive (surprise!).
Some of the text is spoken live, some of the text is recorded in tape recorders held by the performers, some text is completely disembodied and just coming from the walls, some text is written in signs for the audience to read. So our version ofLAPA is in some way a journey of language, subject, and object.
We’re also working with an experimental violinist called Marija Kovačević who is scoring the text with noise and sounds and this has elevated the language to another operative level, it brings it closer to music, closer to sound.
There’s no one right path to make a living as an artist in New York. Can you talk about the jobs and opportunities you juggle in your career and what north star you keep in mind to bring inspiration to your work?
Well I think between Tim and I we’ve covered a wide area of jobs that have allowed us to continue working in the theater, including babysitting, retail, hospitality, farming, movie sets, and restaurants.
I currently teach at NYU in the Experimental Theater Wing, which I absolutely love but again it’s an adjunct position and that comes with its own challenges.
However, wether it’s babysitting or teaching at a university, I think my attitude towards these jobs has always been one of gratitude, giving thanks to these jobs for giving me enough money and time that I can maintain my curiosity alive in the studio, and have enough headspace to think about production etc.
It’s not easy, really making art is so much about making space for it in your life.
(Making space for art in my life, that is my North Star.)
The Million Underscores often presents at venues like The Brick, but fringier havens like The Brick have seemed to disappear over the years. Can you in any way eulogize the places you’ve worked, and sing the praises of companies/artist organizations audiences should support?
Well actually I disagree. After I graduated college in 2012 many spaces in downtown Manhattan closed. The Incubator, which used to be Richard Foreman’s Ontological closed to become an after school ballet studio, PS122 closed with promises of a future that played out quite differently… that was sad. As extremely early-career artists our only option then was Dixon Place (bless their souls!), and they’re still operating in downtown Manhattan!
The exodus of the experimental theater scene to Brooklyn has taken some years, but now I think there are some really solid venues in Brooklyn offering space for experimentation, performance, and community building. Beginning with the Brick; now under Theresa Buccheister’s artistic direction it is such a vital, vibrant, and diverse performance venue! There’s also Triskelion, Vital Joint, CPR in the neighborhood, JACK just moved to their new space, Target Margin Theater has an incredible gigantic theater in sunset park where we performed last Summer, Theater Mitu has a theater in Gowanus. And then of course there’s the Bushwick Starr that in some way paved the way for reviewers to take the L train. I think fringe spaces in Brooklyn are having some sort of renaissance, so we all need to support these spaces by going to see their shows, talking about them, chatting with people after, donating money or skills, making new shows for these spaces! This is what keep spaces and communities going!
Oh and of course, The Exponential Festival! It happens every winter and it is what connects all of these spaces. They have presented so many artists, we’ve been part of it twice! It really is very exciting what’s happening.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Come to see the show! We love meeting new people and chatting after the show over some beers. Some Kharms experts are coming and the conversation will be interesting!
In the spirit of improvisation and innovation, The Brick (579 Metropolitan Avenue) is hosting The Comedy Key Club. Not that kind of key club, but close: “The gist of it is pairing together comedians who have not worked together yet and challenging them to collaborate on and create 10 minutes of new scripted comedy,” event host and comedienne Amanda Xeller says.
This upcoming show — on Sunday, September 8th at 7:00 PM — boasts a roster of talent from Comedy Central, Just For Laughs, Adult Swim, “The Chris Gethard Show,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” IFC, from all over NYC, and two out-of-towners from Montreal:
Abby Salzberg + Rena Taylor
Becky Cumberland + Kyle Levenick
David Bluvband + Jackie Skinner
Laura Buchanan + Tim Platt
Matt Albani + Will Banfield
Hosts: Amanda Xeller + Richard Templeton
Tickets are $10, and more information can be found here. See the headshots for the comedians below!
Theresa Buchheisteris 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.
♦ Wave, Particle, Duplex by Studio SWINE. @ A/D/O (29 Norman Ave.), 10am, FREE, More Info * Pinball with Park Church Co-op @ Sunshine Laundromat (860 Manhattan Ave.), 6pm, FREE, pinball and happy hour, Buy Tix ♦ Secrets of Green-Wood /// Sexless Cocaine Saturday @ The Brick (579 Metropolitan Ave.), 8pm, $20, a shadow play with puppets, Buy Tix ♫ Kangaroo~eCOCOBOYS~Henry Something~Jovial Cacophony @ Muchmore’s (2 Havemeyer), 9pm, $7, Buy Tix
♦ Drawing Brooklyn Presents: Figure Drawing and Pizza! @ 1oo Bogart (100 Bogart St.), 6:30pm, $15, Buy Tix # I AM A FILIPINO: Dinner with Nicole Ponseca and Miguel Trinidad @ Archestratus (160 Huron St.) 7pm, $50, Buy Tix ♦ Ceremonial Tattoo Artist Lecture with Huitzomitl @ Sacred Arts Research Center (107 Green St. #G55), 7pm, FREE, For the first time in New York, Huitzomitl, a Mexica Ceremonial artist, is going to share his research and practice of traditional tattoo, More Info ☺ Franny and Not Zooey Present A Comedy Show About Comedy @ Pete’s Candy Store (709 Lorimer St.), 7pm, FREE, More InfoContinue reading →
♫ MUNYA, Hideout, Pueblo @ Zone One Elsewhere (599 Johnson Ave.), 7pm, $10-12, Buy Tix * A Wild West Murder Mystery Experience @ Brooklyn Bazaar (150 Greenpoint Ave.), 8pm, $25, an 1870 whodunnit, Buy Tix ♫ Mother of Mars, Phyllis & Aristotle, Chuck Bettis @ Magick City (37 Box St.), 8pm, $10, Buy Tix ♫ Ilegal Wednesday: 2 Katies DJ Night @ Our Wicked Lady (153 Morgan Ave), 9pm, FREE, More Info
♦ Wave. Particle. Duplex. by Studio SWINE Public Opening @ A/D/O (29 Norman.), 6pm, FREE, More Info ♫ Japanese Breakfast @ Brooklyn Steel (319 Frost St.) 7pm, $23, Buy Tix ♦ Art Hole’s First Birthday Party! @ Art Hole at Rubulad (Bushwick), 7:30pm, $15-20, Figure Drawing, Buy Tix ♫ Wonderwheel Recordings 15 in NYC w/ El Búho, Nickodemus & more @ The Good Room (98 Meserole Ave.), 9pm, $10-15, Buy TixContinue reading →
Full disclosure: Mary Houlihan and I used to carpool. The guest star on “Difficult People” and I would be shuttled to Brookside Middle School by my neighbor’s mom, but it was always a mystery whether or not Mary would join us on a given school day. Hers was the last house on our carpool journey, and — after a few car honks — Mary emerged, or didn’t. I was always grateful for the mornings she did. Even then, she had a stupefyingly offbeat wit — generous but dry, subdued but bonkers. Chipper as we were bitter with her tardiness, Mary would enter the car and chime, “Good morning, friends.”
We once shared a commute; we now share a neighborhood. Houlihan embodies the best parts of Greenpoint in her life and career — she builds community, as with her Three Chickies musical improv series, and maintains a signature self-awareness, even as careers (and neighborhoods) change. I’m happy to have caught up and discussed the comedy scene with the sly wizard behind “Learn To Paint With Mary Houlihan!“.
Greenpointers: How long have you been in Greenpoint?
Mary Houlihan: About six years. When I first moved here I lived off the Myrtle/Willoughby G stop in Bed-Stuy, then I moved to a big building that flooded in Hurricane Sandy after living there for just a month. Then I moved in with my parents in New Jersey. Then I moved to a green house off Calyer Street, then I lived near Grandma Roses, and now I’m in my current location. I’ve moved a lot.
The neighborhood’s treated you well?
It’s treated me well, me likely. It’s quiet. It’s hidden but not insane.
♦ The Pantsuit Party: The September Issue @ Muchmore’s (2 Havemeyer St.), 6pm, FREE, donations encouraged, THML theater company hosts a night of networking, cocktails, guest presentations and a chance to show your stuff during the open mic portion More Info
^ Big Words, Etc: A Reading & Fundraiser for Raices @ 61 Local (61 Bergen St.), 6pm, $5 suggested, More Info ♦ Design & Research Seminar: On Peers, Superpowers and Cyborgs. @ A/D/O (29 Norman Avenue), 6:30pm, $10, Featuring Neil Harbisson, a Cyborg Artist who listens to colors through an antenna implanted in his skull, Buy Tix * Trivia Night 1 Year Anniversary!!!! @ Archestratus Books and Foods (160 Huron St.), 8pm, FREE, Join our News Editor for Trivia! Tonight’s game marks a year of Trivia at Archestratus! Win food, drinks, cookies, or a full meal and bragging rights! More Info
♦ Art Opening: Simon Linnert @ Brouwerij Lane (78 Greenpoint Ave.) 7pm, FREE, Photography. More Info ♫ Best Worst Talent Show! @ The House of Yes (2 Wyckoff Avenue) 7pm, FREE, More Info ♦ Art Hole Presents: Femme du Soir @ Rubulad (Location w/ RSVP), 7:30pm, $10, Enjoy some drinks and get your doodle on with a live figure model, more infoContinue reading →
# Pasta Fresca Plate @ Archestratus (160 Huron St.), 7pm, $20, RSVP ☺Funhouse Comedy@ Pete’s Candy Store (709 Lorimer), 8pm, FREE, More info ♫ On Rotation Wednesdays @ Rose Gold (96 Morgan Ave), 10pm, FREE,Wednesdays in May crews from record shops around the city bring their collections and curate the sounds of the evening. More Info
♦ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with a Brandy Alexander @ Videology (308 Bedford Ave.), 6:45pm, $24, Buy Tix ♦ The Art Party @ House of Vans (25 Franklin St.), 7pm, $50, Buy Tix ♦ Screening of Saving Jamaica Bay @Kings County Brewers Collective (381 Troutman St), 7pm, FREE, A documentary screening hosted by Kingsland Wildflowers, More Info ♦ Art Opening: Not Enough Blood @ Brouwerij Lane (78 Greenpoint Ave), 7pm, FREE, Original Art by Andy Fletcher, More Info ☺ LOLOLpalooza @ Threes (113 Franklin St.), 8pm, $5, Music Comedy acts will range from folk punk to freestyle hiphop to piano torch songs, More Info ♦ Not an Ending at All @ Triskelion Arts (106 Calyer), 8pm, $18, An evening-length work which explores the homes we build for the spirits that haunt us, Buy TixContinue reading →
♫ Fonema Consort // Charmaine Lee, solo @Arete Venue and Gallery (67 West St. #103), 7:30pm, $10,Chicago-based ensemble Fonema Consort will perform four new works for electronics, two voices, clarinet and trombone, Buy Tix ♫ Bit Brigade performs “The Legend of Zelda”, Double Ferrari, Cheap Dinosaurs @St. Vitus (1120 Manhattan Ave.), 7:30pm, $12-15, Buy Tix * Trivia Night @Archestratus (160 Huron St.), 8pm, FREE, Join our News Editor for Trivia at Archestratus! There will be food! There will be beer! Get your game on RSVP ♫ Los Perros/The Stance/Les Frappes (Sweden) + MORE! @ Brooklyn Bazaar (150 Greenpoint Avenue), 8pm, $8, More Info
♦ Talking Trash screening @City Reliquary (370 Metropolitan Ave), 6pm, $5, Throwing out the Big Apple, More Info ♫ Open Mic Night @New Women Space (188 Woodpoint Road) 7pm, $10, New Women Space’s first community open mic Buy Tix ☺ The Mess @The Brick (579 Metropolitan Avenue), 8pm, $10, part solo show, part variety show part of Brooklyn Comedy Collective, More Info ♫ Hard Pass, Mean Girls (TX), Granddad (MN), Fear Not Ourselves Alone @Brooklyn Bazaar (150 Greenpoint Ave.), 8pm, $10, RSVP
♫ Minus the Bear @ Warsaw (261 Driggs Ave), 8pm, $30, Buy TixContinue reading →
^Letters in the Dirt @The Brick (579 Metropolitan Avenue), 7pm, $20, This play places its audience face-to-face with the insightful Aiyana Jones— a seven-year-old girl fatally shot by police in 2010 during a botched raid in Detroit, now a symbol within the Movement for Black Lives. Buy Tix ♫ Full Frontal Female Fronted @Our Wicked Lady (153 Morgan Ave) 8pm, $5, Buy Tix
♫ Grand St. Stompers: 20s Jazz @Radegast (113 N 3rd St.), 9pm, FREE, Grab some German food & drink and join the quintet for dancing, listening, and hanging, More Info ☺ Freshly Baked: Cookies and Comedy @ The Knitting Factory (361 Metropolitan Avenue), 9pm, FREE, rotating lineup, surprise special guests and homemade baked goods, More Info
* Economic Development Committee Mtg — Community Board 1 @ CB1 District Office (435 Graham Avenue), 6:30pm, FREE, More Info
* Cacao Ceremony & Reiki Experience @Anima Mundi Herbals (35 Noble Street), 7pm, $40, Are you ready to cultivate a deep loving sensation within your heart? Are you ready to deepen your loving relationship with yourself and others? Buy Tix
# Pasta Fresca Plate! @Archestratus (160 Huron St.), 7pm, $20,Archestratus is very excited to kick off a new weekly dinner gathering! A relaxed evening of fresh, homemade pasta from a pasta-making Chef + Friend of Archie’s, RSVP
♫ Abraham Brody & Trys Keturiose: Ancestors @National Sawdust (80 N 6th St.), 7pm, $20, Buy tix
♫ PULP FICTION LIVE performed by The Last Nites @ The Knitting Factory (361 Metropolitan Avenue), 8pm, $12-15, Buy TixContinue reading →