Treehouse Shakers

Treehouse Shakers
Hatched, BAM Fisher, Hillman Studio

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Making New Work for The Very Young

Postcard Drawing & Design by Appolllo Bey
In two very short weeks, Treehouse Shakers will premiere our new work for the very young,
Olive & Pearl at the beautiful Flushing Town Hall in New York City. Olive & Pearl, is an idea that has been percolating within my creative brain for sometime, even before Hatched. Specifically made for the toddler and preschooler, Olive & Pearl follows the day in the life of a little girl Olive, and her grandmother Pearl, who live within a grassy, hillside knoll. Intimately staged, audiences sit within Granny’s home, and explore the primary feelings of what it means to be truly at home. Throughout their day the characters play, go on an imaginary journey to the moon, sing songs, and dance. Granny recants stories of her own childhood home, while sharing rhymes and poetry. Additional characters are portrayed through puppetry, layering further meanings of home: a robin in a nest, a fish in its bowl, and a mouse in its hole. An original and live music score by Anthony Rizzo, delicately plays underneath, combining traditional string instruments and melodies of Bluegrass, Irish Fiddle, and lullabies. The storytelling is both rich and inviting to be enjoyed not only by the very young, but also by their adult companions. We want Olive & Pearl to be a first experience of live theater, music, and dance, while at the same time giving young people the highest quality production of artistic work.
Olive & Pearl, Photo by Christopher Duggan
Through the writing, I have pointedly made a nod to the children's writers who have inspired me, as both a storyteller, and a writer. These inspirations include Margaret Wise Brown's simple poetry, the 1800's folktale rhymes of nurseries, and the familial connections of grandparents to their grandchildren that Tomie DePaola eloquently writes about. Never having lived close to either of my grandmothers, this story also stems from my own childhood fantasy, of the deep desire to be closer to the women I seldom saw throughout the years.

Margaret Wise Brown, my inspiration over the years
Emily Bunning, my business partner, and the choreographer of the piece, had a close relationship with her beautiful grandmother, Fan, which I also had the good fortune of knowing. She not only helped to raise Emily, but Fan's sister Susie, my surrogate grandmother, influenced us both to be artists early in life. Emily and I grew up together in Wyoming. By the age of six, we spent our Saturdays in art class at Susie's house, making pottery, eating lunch, playing games, and listening to stories of Susie's childhood on their family homestead. And even though I wrote the piece, and Emily created the dance, we seem to have merged our collective feelings of being loved and cared for and our deeper meaning of home. The performers, Katie Montoya and Miranda Wilson, have helped to further develop and layer this meaning, from their own influences, making the work richer in experience and depth. My hope is that the families in the audience, will feel this sense of home, happiness and well-being within the work, and leave with a greater feeling of joy and connection.

Olive & Pearl premieres
March 17 & 18, 2017 at
Flushing Town Hall

137-35 Northern Blvd.,
Flushing, NY 11354


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Good-Bye 2016

Is it really nearly the end of December?
2017 will be Treehouse Shakers' 20th Anniversary Season. Knowing this big anniversary is soon upon us, it has made me reflect on the incredible journey that brought us here.

Emily Bunning & Mara McEwin, Benefit Ailey Citigroup Theater, 2013
We began in 1997 with our first production, Dance of My Daughter. I wrote the play while still living in New Mexico, my first year out of college. The next year, I brought it to New York. I left it unpacked in a pile of cardboard boxes, which my then roommates and I, used as a make-shift coffee table, in our outdated Hell's Kitchen railroad apartment.

Treehouse Shakers was born in Hell's Kitchen.
In 1997 Hell's Kitchen was still the place of drug lords, meth addicts, actors, and cross-dressing. Only a few blocks north of 42nd street, a street I refused to walk and would only ride the bus through. These were the days before Disney cleaned up. There were porn shops, strip clubs, and abandoned storefronts. There were hookers on corners, and drug sellers who whispered "candy" in our ears as we walked home from rehearsals. There were gangs of rats, people begging for money, and African goods sellers on every street corner. Broadway theaters, small non-profit theaters, and rehearsal studios, were our safe spaces. Young actors fresh out of college, well-known Broadway stars, song writers, conductors, musicians and dancers living a dream so big it had moved all of us out of small towns and into Hell's Kitchen. On most days it felt that the neighborhood's grime and history of crime, would devour us whole. Our dreams became our only lifeline.
Outside of Kissing Rock, 2002
(Bottom-Top) Emily Bunning, Mara McEwin, Lara Hayes-Giles & Karen Lee Pickett
In college I began to see myself as the Artistic Director of a theater company, and with the move, I had publicly placed this dream on my shirt for the entire world to challenge. Emily Bunning, who arrived as a modern dancer, and I, then roommates, spent countless hours dissecting the world in the Greek diner below our apartment. During one of our conversations, Treehouse Shakers emerged. We wanted to make original work, that blended modern dance and theater. We wanted to have the freedom to be the artists we envisioned, without the format of a traditional theater.

Our first show was Off-Off Broadway at The Ensemble Studio Theatre.
Dance of My Daughter opened in 1997. We packed the house, albeit small, close to nearly full every night. And that was enough to want to continue the company. In 1999 I helped co-create Nino Nada with Adam Koplan of Flying Carpet Theater, under the guise of Todo Con Nada. Nino Nada was a summer festival of work for young people. No one in New York City was doing anything quite like it. We held a rock concert at the Bowery Ballroom just for families that received a wonderful NY Times Review. Treehouse Shakers also made our first work for young people for the festival, Flying Through Rainbows, a story about the letter O finding her way through the alphabet. We created the piece using dancers, actors, shower curtains and lots of paint. We were a young company, without much, but a great review from the Weekend Section in the New York Times, which brought a base of loyal audience members, and more reviews. We were growing.
Flying Through Rainbows, 1999, Nino Nada Festival, NYC
Fourteen original shows later, six shows on a rotating tour around the U.S., countless arts residencies in schools, theaters, colleges. Incredible performers who have graced us with their talent, kindness, generosity and artistry. Wonderful donors, foundations, arts councils, board members, business supporters, and reviewers who have helped us grow. Audience members who return every year, schools, families, and little people we have watched grow with each new production. We have made work and created workshops for babies to adults. We have provided theater for young people and families who normally don't have the privilege of seeing a live performance. Our entire mission has been to continue to serve the young people in our lives through intelligent, creative, and high-quality work.
Hatched at BAM/Hillman Studio 2016
Young Audiences Watching Hatched, our play for the very young, at BAM/Hillman Studio, 2016
In human years, Treehouse Shakers is now a young adult. Not quite legal, but old enough to vote, and old enough to have had a few set backs. Treehouse has fallen in love, and had her heart broken, more than a few times. She is young enough to have a youthful drive but old enough to have a vision for the future. That drive and vision is still, twenty years later, an exciting place to be.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Election, Arts, and Healing

It's no secret, I am a political junkie. I always have been. I was raised in a household where we talked (sometimes yelled) politics around the dinner table, when driving to school, when visiting family. I am a child of free love parents. Of a father who took me to the anti-nuclear rallies, to stand in union picket lines, to work on local campaign elections. My uncle was a union leader and organizer. My dad and his brother were themselves raised on the picket line, traveling around the United States. My grandparents fought for unions, and the ideals of the union. We were the Irish American family that worshipped John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. I was taught that equality for all was a necessity in the prosperity of all people.

Get Out The Vote Campaign Ad (AIGA)
I was raised to do good. My earliest memories, even when my father was out of work, was of him paying for groceries for the people in line who didn't have enough for what was in their cart. We had less for dinner sometimes, so we could share with others. My mother, an artist, and a college professor, constantly took me to exhibitions of political artists, to artist lectures, performances, parties where the talk was always on how we, as a nation, progress. It is no wonder, I am always thinking and discussing the political climate and politics.

This election cycle has been brutal. The face of misogyny, racism, bigotry and sexism constantly rearing its ugly head. But the ugly part of humanity cannot, and will not win.

Daughter Making Signs at Hillary Campaign Office
I am focused on the election, and at the same time I am also focused on what will heal our country;
the arts. Art instills beauty, empathy, kindness, nurturing, intelligence. As the Artistic Director of Treehouse Shakers, I am proud of the work we create and our commitment to making sure every child has access to great art programming no matter their income.  All things the human race could use more of. And despite our small arts company, we have served thousands of young people all over the country. Our annual virtual auction will close in a few days. It has been lost in the noise of the election with fewer bidders and fewer donations than in years past. I will be happy once the election is over. I hope then, we can once again focus on doing good.

Students at Hatched, NYC Photo Credit, Christopher Duggan
Can You Make A Difference Today?
Check Out Our Virtual Auction, so we can continue to serve young people through the arts.
Thank you.
Treehouse Shakers' 20th Anniversary Virtual Auction

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Summertime Living

Sunset Watch in Fire Island, New York

At the beginning of the summer I created a bucket list for my family. Things to accomplish, enjoy, and experience. With my daughter home from school, I work hard at balancing her activities with getting in my Treehouse Shakers' work load. Even though it's summer, grants still have to be written, contracts signed, rehearsals attended, and performances still take place. But like most mothers, I want to make sure that summertime has long and lasting happy memories for my family.

Summertime Selfies

Our Summertime Bucket List:
  • Visit the Beach
  • Lemon Ice King of Corona
  • Enjoy An Unexpected Adventure in NYC
  • Swimming Lessons
  • Have A Sleep Over 
  • Go Bike Riding
  • Create Project At Local Pottery Studio
  • Take Sewing Classes
Project from the Local Pottery Studio

I added a few just for myself 
  • Make a Challenging Meal From A Cookbook
  • Catch Up on My Book List
  • Visit the Museums
  • Watch The Sunset
  • Work in My Garden
Walking onto the Beach
And although summer is not yet over, we've done a pretty good job with our lists and even added onto them. The fall is fast approaching. Treehouse Shakers has a busy calendar of performances, rehearsals, touring, school residencies and even finishing making our new show, Olive & Pearl. For now, I am content making summer memories, that we can savor long into the winter months.

*Photo Credits, Mara McEwin, iPhone6


Monday, March 14, 2016

The Changing Artistic Landscape

With so much happening in the world, it almost seems unfair to talk about the plight of the artist in New York City. And yet, artists in New York City are facing a real estate struggle. Artists, as a whole, have made NYC a cultural capital, which has brought in millions of dollars in tourism every year. We fill the theaters, the galleries, the schools, the streets, with art. We create jobs. We help to nurture neighborhoods into thriving communities. We give to our community, we create for our community, we bring passion to our communities. We spend countless hours working on our crafts, painstakingly trying to survive an overpriced city. We live here because it is more connected and easier to be an artist than any other city in the U.S. We are surrounded by other artists we can collaborate with, there is a large talent pool to hire from, and overall, we are supported by the general population.

Sunset in Long Island City, Queens
And yet, for as long as I've lived in New York City, artists have been pushed out of their neighborhoods.

Lower East Side.
Chelsea.
SoHo.
Williamsburg.
Red Hook.
Dumbo.
Hell's Kitchen.
Fort Hamilton.

The list goes on and on.

And to be fair this story of change, is the story of NYC. The old is torn down for the new. The poor are pushed out for the rich. The artists move. And the neighborhoods change. And then the pulse of the neighborhood itself, the very heartbeat, disappears.

Green Space. The Building itself is a converted Silk Factory Building.
Long Island City, Queens, is now the place to live. New buildings on every corner, construction trucks blocking the smaller roads. It is a traffic clogging headache. In terms of development, it is one of the busiest neighborhoods in all of New York City, according to data from the Long Island City Partnership.  So, it was not the biggest shocker when Green Space, the studio we have been rehearsing at for the past ten years in Long Island City, increased in rent by 70% this year. The choreographer and Artistic Director that manages the studio, Valerie Green of Dance Entropy, negotiated the rent to an increase of 44%. Which is still a substantive amount. Most of the companies who rent space at Green Space, are dance companies, and have small shoestring budgets. They have already chosen Green Space for its affordability. And space. Treehouse Shakers left Manhattan's overpriced rehearsal spaces; without storage, with noise streaming into every rehearsal wall; for this beautiful light-filled space. When we moved to Green Space, it was a bit farther out, across from the refineries, but completely worth the extra walk from the subway. It still is.

The Refinery Across from our Rehearsal Space
For now, Treehouse Shakers continue to rehearse here. Nervous about where we will be creating in a year from now. Green Space will need to have a big increase in revenue in order to keep the studio doors open. Once again, we are feeling the strain of being an arts organization in New York City.








Thursday, February 18, 2016

My Hometown: Green River, Wyoming


Where I grew up, the high desert mountains of Wyoming, I was shaped by the landscape, the freedom of being outdoors, and imagination. As a child I would play for hours outside; making homes for my dolls within the sagebrush, bringing blue-bellied lizards home as playmates, skipping rocks along the Green River, collecting arrowheads and fossils. This world, this safety of nature, raised me. The imprints of those Palisade mountains, the solitude, the howling winds, have made me. 
Green River, Wyoming : Blue Skies & Palisade Mountains
This month, Treehouse Shakers held its 12th Wyoming tour, sponsored by Sweetwater County BOCES. Under the Tangle performed in Green River, my hometown, and the company also led arts in education workshops with students from elementary elementary schools in Sweetwater County, Green River High School, and Western Wyoming Community College. Although, I didn't join the company this year, due to other commitments, it didn't stop me from contemplating growing up in this world, and missing it dearly. 
Treehouse Shakers' Production Under the Tangle (Photo Credit, Christopher Duggan)
Palisades and the Green River (Photo Credit, Florence Alfano McEwin)
Green River is a small, idyllic railroad town. With a population of a little more than 12,000, the town is surrounded by beautiful palisade mountains. Known for its Trona mines, which creates baking soda and glass, and for being the starting point for John Wesley Powell's expeditions, the town itself is fairly quiet, and everyone knows one another. 

When Treehouse Shakers works with the students in Wyoming, our company members always remark at the openness that the children possess. Like the land itself, people are wide-open, independent and curious. Even though I've lived in New York City longer than anywhere else, I am proud to have been raised in Green River. It is truly a pleasure to return to this welcoming community and give back to the place that raised me.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Happy New Year!








Happy New Year from Treehouse Shakers! 2015 was a wonderful year for Treehouse Shakers. We celebrated our 18th performance season (Wow). We also had a wonderful year full of touring, facilitating school residencies, performances and exciting awards. Most recently, Treehouse Shakers was selected as roster artists for New York State Presenters Network, a distinguished honor that will increase our touring for the 2016-2017 Season. We have also been selected as the recipients of the CUNY DanceInitiative for the work of Under theTangle at BMCC’s Tribeca Performing Arts Center this December. FlushingTown Hall in Queens awarded us with a space grant for the creation of our new work for the very young, Olive and Pearl. We are also proud of the prestigious New York Emmy won by Alex & The Kaleidoscope television show, in which Treehouse Shakers created and performed the dance segments. What an extraordinary year!
Ashley Ervin, Miranda wilson & Katie Montoya in Under the Tangle, Photo by Dan Ozminkowski
Now that it is the new year, we are gearing up for the Brooklyn premiere of Under the Tangle at the beautiful BAM/Fisher January 21-24, 2016. The work is being presented as the culmination to the BAM PDP that Treehouse participated in for 2014-2015. After a full fall of touring the work, I love witnessing Under the Tangle's artistic evolution. With each new run, Emily Bunning, the creator and choreographer, adds another level of artistic excellence to the show. This is one of those pieces that feels incredibly nourishing for our children's aesthetics. I applaud Emily and our beautiful company members for their dedication and hard work to this piece (and to the overall vision of our company). If you are in the New York City area over the performance run, I truly hope you will come to see this wonderful work, either by yourself, or as a family. Performance details below.

 Miranda Wilson & Ashley Chavonne in Under the Tangle, Photo by Dan Ozminkowski
Here's to a wonderful 2016. May this year bring much creativity, love and happiness to your lives.

When:                         January 21 & 22, 2016 @ 11AM
                                     January 23 & 24, 2016 @ 1PM
Where:                        BAM Fisher (Fishman Space)
                                     321 Ashland Place
                                     Brooklyn, NY 11217

Reservations, Tickets
& Info:                          $20-$35 Group Rates Available
                                       bam.org/underthetangle16
                                       718.636.4100 Ext. 1
                                       treehouseshakers.com
Under the Tangle is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York Legislature and Individual Contributions to Treehouse Shakers. This event is presented by Treehouse Shakers. Regular BAM house and ticketing policies may not apply.