Theater has a time and a place, and getting people to be at that time and place can be a challenge—especially when it comes to getting New York audiences to come to Brooklyn.
Title:Point is the nine-year old resident theater company at The Silent Barn, a DIY music and performance venue in the heart of Bushwick. Their most recent production, Biter (Every Time I Turn Around), which ended its run on May 16, was performed in a small lofted space illuminated by a projector and two clip lights, as audience members sat in chairs scattered in front of the small stage. Here, away from Manhattan, it feels like theater is still a community, a unique element of joy bringing people together into creative endeavors.
In anticipation of Never Odd Or Even, their upcoming show at The Brick on September 6th, Title:Point is holding monthly SalON!s that attract “dancers, chefs, poets, storytellers, scientists and all sorts of interesting people." Eager to learn more, The Creators Project ventured into the Bushwick wilderness and met with Theresa Buchheister, Ryan William Downey and Scott Ries of Title:Point.
The Creators Project: How did you guys come together as a group? What were the desires behind that, and how did they evolve over time?
Theresa Buchheister: I started the company nine years ago with a woman named Samara Naeymi because I had written a play... I worked at The Drama Book Shop at the time and they had a black box theater there, which they would let us use whenever they were closed. So I wrote a play and directed it, and then [curator and producer, PhD] Morgan von Prelle Pecelli approached me and said something like, “I’ll give you $2,000 to write a new show to do in the Summer Series!” and I was like “What?”
I had to start a company in order to do it. So I was 23/24 and didn’t really know why or what, but I talked to Samara and we decided to do it. Our mission statement was stupid and our goals were unrealistic because we had no idea what we were going to do and where it was going to go—we just knew that we wanted to do this show, and then we kept making shows.
Ryan William Downey: We met seven years ago when Theresa was running the company. She had started a writing group and asked me to be a part of it, so very informally we started working together, seeing plays and movies together, and working with other writers. Theresa was developing a new play at that point, which developed for quite a long time—maybe two years—with lots of different processes which taught us a lot about what we wanted to do or not do. That show played at the Incubator and soon after we started talking and working in a more formal capacity.
Theresa Buchheister: We worked with a lot of friends and a lot of people that I liked... We could do things together and ideas just sparked and made things more interesting: We started recognizing patterns and we just wanted to keep on going. It was around that time when The Silent Barn had finally found a new spot, after having been shut down in the old space.
The year they closed down we were about to do a project in the space for Halloween. It was sort of a bummer because we were finding different types of spaces to do shows, and I had come to see Ryan’s band play and I thought, “This space is perfect for theater!”
So when they reopened they asked us if we still wanted to be involved. G. Lucas Crane, one of the founding members of the new Silent Barn, showed us around the empty and dark space to see what we thought, and that was really the point where we were like, “Let’s do this!”
Scott Ries: I moved to NYC three years ago from Buffalo, I was doing my MFA there, and Ryan just invited me to work on their next show, Salish. I got my MFA in video arts production and I do a lot of things with video and audio, but I have no background in theater at all... So I wondered how that was going to play out and then it totally worked: We all connected well and we trusted each other early on.
Ryan William Downey: I think that that’s one of Theresa strengths: the kind of environment she creates, Theresa has always been trusting of collaborators. It takes awhile to figure out the work frame and while we don’t have a defined ensemble, we have a group of collaborators we are very comfortable with. That’s been a big asset: We can bring people in and let people create and contribute their own input, and they are willing to take more chances because they feel like they own a little bit of the process.
Theresa Buchheister**:** Definitions are something with which we've always struggled, similar to our struggle with the task of writing a mission statement. Everything is always fluid. There are, however, certain things that define certain levels of responsibility... Financial liability is one aspect of it—me, Ryan and Scott pay rent at The Silent Barn—so to that extent, we are $Title:Point$, as well as generating the bulk of the creative ideas pushing forward into some kind of realization. Other ideas come at us from our collaborators and strangers and friends, all of the time... And we see what rises to the surface.
How did you come up with the name Title:Point?
Theresa Buchheister**:** Title:Point was one of those things that resulted from starting a company: I had to come up with a name for it, and notoriously I hate coming up with names for plays or characters or anything. But the way I named my plays, historically, was always a title, then a colon, then pretty explicitly the entire point of the play. So I figured, “That’s what it is, a title and a point, separated by a colon.”
Ryan William Downey: And the name of our venue (inside The Silent Barn) is “Vital Joint”
Can you speak about your residency at The Silent Barn and how that collaboration works?
Ryan William Downey**:** The Silent Barn is an all-ages, multidimensional, multidisciplinary, art, music, and whatever venue with live-in residents as well as artist residencies. We are in charge of curating theater, performative acts a little outside of the music world. That’s the proposal we took them: We are going to produce and develop work and also bring other artists that don’t ordinarily interact with DIY music venues. That’s kind of our role in it, and now we sort of created a sub-venue called Vital Joint, which is where our last show performed, and where we will continue to develop material.
You just closed your run of Biter (Every Time I Turn Around). How was the developmental process for this show?
Ryan William Downey**:** So last year we did a show that was called Everything of Any Value, and it was a collaboratively written show that was based on old Futurist texts. We used them as a reference to start writing and make our own production, with six of us contributing very short scripts, and then weaving them together into one semi-cohesive arc. It ended up being a very exciting process, a new way of working. From that process, one of the writers, Spencer Thomas Campbell, submitted a scene that was way too long—almost 20 pages. But we liked it so much that we wanted to expand it into a full production for the following year.
We finished the production we were working on, and then went into isolated development: Spencer was just working the script, and during that time I started writing a different script called Biter that we were creating to get wheels moving on different ideas, which is a common practice for us. We had no expectations for where “Biter” would develop. And then we found that Spencer ‘s play and my play were speaking to each other, so we decided to employ this framing device where Spencer’s play could exist within mine.
We used it as an opportunity to establish a Title:Point universe. A unified world that was more expansive, and transcends all of our productions. A door from one play opens and reveals another play inside the Title:Point world already in motion. We picture all of our plays happening at the same time. They’ve all had elements of this, but this production called back specifically to earlier productions of ours and helped us define our aesthetic in a new way.
So, Spencer and I wrote our respective scripts isolated, and then Spencer, Theresa, and I got together throughout the year to talk about it, and develop the themes and ideas of both pieces with the larger work in mind. Spencer is a prodigious talent. You can’t hope to turn off that fountain. The script was 90 pages long when we started rehearsing, and by the end we cut 30 or 40 pages. It ended up being just under 60 pages, and then we folded in the cast and lost our minds.
Title:Point is opening a new show in September. What’s the process for this play?
Ryan William Downey: This next show emerged from an idea from our childhood, when Scott and I were 10 years old. Last year, we applied for the Pilot Balloon Artist Residency in Lawrence, KS, with Rubber Repertory, a theater group established in Austin, TX. They established this great program where artists come throughout the year for a week or so to work on a project. Our project was Never Odd or Even, which is a show that is thematically built around palindromes. So we drove down there and spent the week and wrote this play and did a reading/small performance there, with lights and projections. We just worked on it all day in this disorienting week of ideas, crunched it down and wrote the script. We are doing it at the Brick Theater in Brooklyn in September.
**Theresa Buchheister: **—From the 6th to the 19th. This was also developed in ways that were completely unpredictable: Pilot Balloon was a door that we walked through because we had an idea, and if we had’t had an idea we wouldn’t have walked through that door. But Scott wanted to do this play which the three of us would write, and we were like, “Okay!” We added to a shared document for a year before actually going to Kansas: We had piles and piles of ideas based on this constraint-based idea prompted by Scott, and I really got into the idea of physical constraints, astral projection and sensory deprivation... And we added stuff based on that.
Ryan William Downey: You can start chasing any idea down the wormhole and it reveals itself in the most incredible ways and in ways that you couldn’t possibly anticipate. That’s what so fascinating about the process: We start with something, and it seems academic, and then…
Scott Reis: I’ve been wanting to write this since I was 9 years old! I loved those four words—never odd or even—and I was like: I’m going to write a movie that is the same thing forward that is backwards. How you do that? I have no idea. And I didn’t do it until now. We just thought of every way we could read things palidromically and some of them make sense and some of them don’t, some of them are academic, some of them are funny, some are truly stupid.
Can you speak about what it’s like to do theater in Brooklyn?
Ryan William Downey: We’ve been climbing a mountain as we are trying to do traditional theater in weird spaces. The challenge has been getting people from Manhattan, from the established theatre world, to think differently about it and come out, and it’s gotten easier, but we’ve been at it for years. Lots of people in Brooklyn want to see theatre but they don’t know how to access it, and they don’t want to spend the money. Manhattan has been successful in fully alienating and pricing-out the Brooklyn audience. We want to be accessible.
Theresa Buchheister: And in Brooklyn, people don’t know what’s in the neighborhood, you know, there are a million reasons and people really need just one not to come out... And then there are even theater people that just don’t consider it theater because it’s not theater with a grid, and that’s so silly. It’s an MFA-driven downtown scene right now which makes you feel like you need a grid, and a sound board, and a black box, and theater chairs in order for it to be theater and that’s not true. Theater can happen in a variety of spaces and in order for us to come up with truly interesting and exciting and creative ideas, people need to move through the idea of careers, degrees, getting into Lincoln Center and doing all of this proper theater, because there’s nothing proper about it. If you want to do it and you have ideas, then make it happen; and then eventually over time you find the people that mind-meld and create with you. Being held up by all of these other stupid things, that's for somebody else. That’s for making toothpaste and commodities and stuff you can sell over and over, and that’s not theater, and that’s why theater is awesome.
With the SalON!, there are dancers, chefs, poets, storytellers, scientists and all sorts of interesting people, and this great audience that gets to actively watch and listen to all of these ideas. The Silent Barn has been great because it’s a truly supportive and active community, not-at-all competitive: they're just like, “Yeah, make it happen!” And it's great to be a part of it!
Click here to learn more about Title:Point.