Treehouse Shakers

Treehouse Shakers
Hatched, BAM Fisher, Hillman Studio

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Role of A Company Member: Sarah Young

This week's post is by longtime company member, and our wonderful Education Coordinator, Sarah Young. Sarah, originally from Wisconsin, received her BFA at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, with an International Arts minor. Sarah is the founder of Flying Art, an international exchange of art among youth, that continues to link young artists throughout the USA and worldwide. She has been a company member of Treehouse Shakers' since 2003. Complete Bio

Treehouse Shakers has become my family. This isn’t an exaggeration. They were one of the reasons that I originally decided to move to New York City. In 2003, while I was an intern at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, I met Lisa Neidermeyer, a former Treehouse Shakers company member. When she learned that I was interested in dance and youth education, she put me in touch with Emily Bunning, who invited me to a rehearsal. That rehearsal was reason enough to locate to New York.

Our first Treehouse Shakers’ rehearsals were at Awkward Studio in downtown Manhattan, which earned it's name for the uneven, broken wooden floor and the smells of Indian food that would waft up from the restaurant below. In those early days, I'd often get on the wrong train and was constantly apologizing for showing up late to rehearsal. Somehow, they kept letting me come back.

I have always appreciated the caring, relaxed, rehearsal environment and admire the way  Emily and Mara collaborate with each other and the other performers. They create a space where it is comfortable to joke, gossip and vent, but we still manage to develop dance-plays that are thoughtfully designed. Each one of our productions is engaging and enjoyable for us to perform, while being well suited for our young audiences.

Company on tour in Arizona 2005; L-R: Sarah Young, Stephanie Angelil, Mara McEwin, Kristy Kuhn, Karen Oughtred, Emily Bunning
Front: Roderick L. Jackson

Treehouse Shakers has performed just about everywhere during the nearly ten years that I've been with the company: from grand, beautiful theaters, to overcrowded street festivals. One of the more memorable experiences was performing Animal Rhythms three times a day in an outdoor festival in Jacksonville, Florida. I was wearing the furry, woolen jackal costume and it was unbearably hot. Needless to say, the costume was redesigned shortly after those performances. Another time, one of the actors had an unexpected emergency, and I, who had never done the actor’s part, filled in her role. Being a last-minute decision, I didn't have time to be nervous. It was an exciting opportunity to act out the characters that I had performed only as a dancer so many times before; it is now one of our favorite Treehouse Shakers' stories to recount.
Sarah (in her original Jackal costume) post-performance of Animal Rhythms dancing with young audience members; Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival.

From 2003 through 2008, I learned roles in Animal Rhythms and Desert Travels; I was a part of the development of Coyote's Dance, Lost Arroyos, Undercovers, and the beginnings of Let's Talk About IT! Over the years, I had watched performers and collaborators rotate in and out of the company. After several years in the company, it was time for me to leave too. I needed to experience life in ways that I couldn't in NYC. In September 2008, I left to serve in the Peace Corps in Morocco. I went knowing that I could return to the Treehouse Shakers when I completed my service.
Coyote's Dance: Wyoming Tour 2006. L-R; Sarah Young, Kristy Kuhn & Emily Bunning

Two years later, after having a rich and meaningful experience in Morocco, I came back. I returned with a renewed sense of commitment and appreciation to the company – and so I promptly elbowed my way back into rehearsals and snatched back my rightful roles!

But I also recognized that my roles had changed. I wasn't the youngest one in rehearsal as I once had been. The newer company members didn't even know who I was, and the company had continued to grow and change while I was gone. Mara invited me to be a part of Hatched, our newest production, which was an unexpected foray into the world of theater for toddlers. I started to gain a broader sense of what we've all been accomplishing. After fifteen years, Treehouse Shakers has become a thing of its own. It's not a specific company member or one particular show. Clearly, it exists because of the devotion of Emily and Mara, but it has developed in such a way that all of its history and all of our commitment has contributed to its identity. We've reached thousands of kids over hundreds of performances, and meanwhile we've been through marriages, divorces, new babies and lots and lots of laughs and shared memories.
Sarah with Lamby from Hatched: Life on the Farm, Long Island Children's Museum, 2012
I feel privileged that Emily and Mara have begun to share with me a few of the responsibilities of managing the company. Okay, maybe most administrative tasks aren't thrilling, but I value the opportunity to witness how they work. They are clever, good-humored and extremely hardworking. I've learned a lot from them.

Recently, we started discussing the possibility of bringing the Treehouse Shakers to my hometown of Beloit, Wisconsin. That means a lot to me. It would be a truly special way for me to give back to my community and to inspire the youth there. After all, the Treehouse Shakers is one reason that I left my hometown; it's only right that it helps to bring me back!

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