Treehouse Shakers

Treehouse Shakers
Hatched, BAM Fisher, Hillman Studio

Friday, December 8, 2017

Meet Our Company Members: Ashley Chavonne

Ashley Chavonne (Center) Under the Tangle, photo by Christopher Duggan

As many of you know, Treehouse Shakers is currently celebrating our 20th Anniversary Season. 20 Years as a New York City arts company truly takes a village to survive. Over the next several months, I will be highlighting some of our current company members who make Treehouse Shakers the unique, beautiful and sustainable company that it is. This month, featuring Ashley Chavonne who has been a member of Treehouse Shakers since 2010. Ashley is featured in Under the Tangle as well as Coyote's Dance, Let's Talk About IT!, Animal Rhythms and Desert Travels. She will also be in our newest piece, The Boy Who Grew Flowers, which is set to open in 2019. 

Under the Tangle, Photo Credit Christopher Duggan (Featured Ashley Chavonne & Trey Coates-Mitchell

Tell us about yourself and how did you become a part of Treehouse Shakers? How long have you been with the company? What is your role(s) with the company?

I am a dancer turned actress with the company and have been a member for 7 years (I think…wow). I was introduced to the Treehouse Shakers by a former company member after a conversation we had at work. We both worked at a restaurant in the Meatpacking district. I was curious about a teaching residency she had and found out that it was through Treehouse Shakers, which led to a conversation about how they were looking for dancers. I attended an open rehearsal soon after and the rest is history.

What has been your favorite role to play?
Little Girl Lost, my character in Under The Tangle. It’s a challenging role because she evolves so much throughout the show. So much so, that I feel like three different girls in the show. There’s girl 1, who lives outside the labyrinth and is thrown into this strange place. Girl 2, who is trying to navigate this strange place with these other quite strange characters. And Girl 3, who has accepted her new surroundings and has learned to push through her fears to…well, you will just have to see the show.

Tell us about a special audience moment you’ve had as a performer.

My favorite on stage moment was during a performance of Under The Tangle. There is a moment where the little girl falls asleep in the middle of the labyrinth and her friend leaves her to rest. A very concerned audience member, sitting front and center, gasps as the Queen of the Lost approaches the little girl and loudly whispers, “Wake up…wake up!”

My favorite off stage moment happened after a performance in Cincinnati. As a woman and her daughter were leaving the theater, the little girl ran up to me to say, “You were my favorite on stage!” She pointed to her hand, holding it next to mine and said, “You’re my same skin tone.” It was a really special moment for the three of us. 
Under the Tangle, photo credit Christopher Duggan

What makes Treehouse Shakers work unique or different than other companies you have worked with?

The creative approach to the marriage of dance and theater. Also the expectations they have for the creative and intellectual capacity of young audiences are appropriate and admirable. The stories are brilliantly crafted without the messages being watered down or the lessons feeling contrived.

What does it mean to celebrate 20 years with Treehouse Shakers?

It means that for 20 years, there has been an understanding of the impact that early exposure to arts and culture can have on young minds and a generous outpour of support for it. To be a part and product of that mission is truly exciting!
Post-Show Coyote's Dance at Ailey Citigroup Theater

Anything Else You would like us to know?

I love Mara and Emily. They are two of the most creative, inspiring and encouraging women I know. Relentless in pursuit of creating quality art for young audiences and creating space for the company to be our best selves.

More About Ashley 
Ashley Chavonne was born and raised in Detroit, MI. She received her B.A. in Strategic Communication and B.F.A in dance from Ohio State University where she studied with such notable choreographers as Rennie Harris, Luam, and Sheryl Murakami. In addition to being a principal company member of Treehouse Shakers, she is also a dancer for SoulRebel Dance Company founded and directed by a former member of Rennie Harris Pure Movement. As a dancer with diverse training, hip-hop influences her movement choices across all genres.  She also performs with numerous other New York City choreographers and teaches around the city.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

It's Our Birthday! Treehouse Shakers Is Turning 20 Years Old

It's our birthday! Treehouse Shakers is having our 20th Birthday Party on November 4, 2017, and everyone is invited to celebrate. 

20 years ago, Treehouse Shakers was founded in New York City by myself and Emily Bunning. We grew up together in Wyoming, and as children often found ourselves inventing imaginative games, stories and dances, while spending most of our time outside amongst the arrowheads and desert rocks. When we were six, we began taking art classes with Emily’s great-aunt Susie.

Susan Young, our formidable art teacher
These art classes gave us a strong foundation in visual arts; we spent time painting, creating sculptures, and working on a potter’s wheel. For lunches, Susie would make lunch and we would spend the time deep in discussion about art, Wyoming and Susie’s childhood on their family homestead. As we grew older we spent our summers at performing arts camp, and eventually went onto college at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri to pursue our artistic passions. It was there, that we collaborated for the first time for a project I was creating for a Directing I class. I wanted to deconstruct poetry written by women, and incorporate movement within the poetry instead of blocking as the actors spoke.

Babies & Toddlers at our piece for ages 0-6, Hatched
Shortly after moving to New York City in 1997 we created our first piece together, Dance of My Daughter. Dance of My Daughter, written by Mara McEwin and Choreographed by Emily Bunning, which enjoyed a very successful two-week run at the Ensemble Theater, NYC. Since that first piece, we have made fourteen original shows, worked in countless schools, with arts in education residencies and workshops, and currently have 6 shows on a rotating tour.

Olive & Pearl, Our Newest Work for ages 2-5
We are thrilled to have experienced this adventurous 20 year journey as a company, and look forward to continuing to grow as a company, have an impact on the field of Theater for Young Audiences, and inspire young people through the arts. Please join us to celebrate this exciting company milestone.

When: Saturday, November 4, 2017

Where: BAM/Fisher
             321 Ashland Place
             Brooklyn, NY 11215

Tickets & Info:

This event is presented by Treehouse Shakers. BAM house and ticketing policies, including BAM membership benefits, may not apply. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Our 20th Anniversary Celebration

20th Anniversary Invite, Created by Appolllo Bey
On April 27, 2017, Treehouse Shakers celebrated our 20th Anniversary. We held a benefit at The Sixth Floor Loft in NYC and filled the space with supporters, teachers, executive directors, headmasters, friends, family, and company members. We also had the wonderful privilege to honor three outstanding organizations and people, all of whom have believed in the power of the arts for young people, believed in the importance of placing our resources with young people, and who have believed in Treehouse Shakers.

Brooklyn Kindergarten Society & James Matison
Thirteen years ago we partnered with an organization called Brooklyn Kindergarten Society (BKS). This is an organization that has dedicated itself to providing high quality early childhood education to children from low-income families for the last 125 years. They have six early childhood learning centers located in public housing in Brooklyn. Thirteen years ago, we invited these students and teachers to see our performances, through Treehouse Shakers’ then beginning subsidized ticket program. Many of these students were not only seeing their first performance, they were also leaving their Brooklyn neighborhood for the very first time. I’ll never forget, these students asking us if we lived in the theater, were we all sisters, and did we know that when you leave Brooklyn you have to take a bridge, OVER water. To this day we continue to partner with BKS, and it is still just as exciting as it was that very first time, for all of us, when BKS is in our audience.
Executive Director, James Matison of Brooklyn Kindergarten Society with John Anselmi,
Treehouse Shakers' Board Member
Margaret Murtagh, Director of Reformed Church Nursery School
At Reformed Church Nursery School classes are purposely kept small. The teachers are kind, friendly, intelligent and passionate. The arts are everywhere; there is music, dance, art, storytelling, creative drama, cooking and puppet making. The students are engaged, full of wonder, delight and thought. The woman who leads this school is unlike any school director or headmaster. Everyday, she sits, laughs and eats with her teachers at lunchtime. Her door is always open, bustling with parents, teachers and school staff. This is a school that the moment you walk into it, you don’t want to leave. It is a place of joy and incredible learning that is nourished in a way that has made this school a leader in education. We are so happy to have honored the director of Reformed Church Nursery School, Margaret Murtagh. And thank her for her continued partnership with Treehouse Shakers.

Margaret Murtagh, Director of Reformed Church Nursery School (Center), surrounded by the teachers and staff of RCNS

Ellen Kodadek, Executive & Artistic Director, Flushing Town Hall

And lastly, our 20-year journey has taken us to Ellen Kodadek, the Artistic & Executive Director of Flushing Town Hall, a beautiful historic theater that sits in the middle of bustling Flushing, Queens, a densely Asian neighborhood, in the most diverse borough in the world. Ellen curates work that reflects her global audiences. Ellen provides a wide variety of arts that are incredibly thoughtful, powerful and enjoyable. I often marvel at her ability to work with her community, local council members, government agencies and community leaders as she creates inspiring, sometimes challenging, and thought-provoking artistic programming. Ellen is an advocate for the arts, AND she is a leader in helping and supporting artists, giving generous space grants for developing new work. She nurtures artists through her space, but she also nurtures artists every day in conversation, love, and her own generous spirit. Over the years, Ellen has programmed our work, including Hatched numerous times, and has also given us a very generous space grant for the development and premiere of our new piece for the very young, Olive & Pearl.

Left to Right: Mara McEwin, Ellen Kodadek (Flushing Town Hall) & Emily Bunning (Treehouse Shakers' Co-Founder)

Check Out Our 20th Anniversary Video
Created by Nel Shelby Productions

Thank you to everyone who made this year's event, one to forever remember, and mark this exceptional time in our company's history.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Olive & Pearl Premieres For 20th Anniversary Season

We are happy to share some of our wonderful photos from our sold-out performance run of
Olive & Pearl at BAM/Fisher in Brooklyn. We had incredible feedback from parents, teachers and most importantly our very young audiences.

Katie Montoya (Olive) and Miranda Noelle Wilson (Granny)
Olive & Pearl
Photos By Christopher Duggan
"The children were enchanted. They were completely inside the story, and so enjoyed participating. The story of the grandmother and child is such a part of our students' Russian culture, they loved coming back to the classroom to write about their grandparents."
Julia Morris, Kindergarten Teacher, NYC

"Beautiful set, wonderful acting and story, perfect pace for my 2 year old son to follow along. Lots of familiar rituals of home, that thoroughly held our son's attention. Please make more of your wonderful 0-5 performances."
Parent of 2 Year Old, Brooklyn

Thank you to everyone who made our 20th Anniversary Season, a big and wonderful hit for our youngest members.

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