Treehouse Shakers

Treehouse Shakers
Hatched, BAM Fisher, Hillman Studio

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Work in Play: Creating For The Very Young

For the past two weeks we have been working at Flushing Town Hall (FTH) developing a new work for the very young, Olive & Pearl, for ages 2-5, through a very generous space grant. How I loved consecutively going to the same beautiful theater. Normally, we have performances at multiple theaters in between rehearsals, or arts in education residencies, and travel to many different places during the week. You can imagine the excitement of having two solid weeks at the same space, every day. And then top that routine with a very friendly, helpful, and nurturing staff. That combination, helped to formulate a productive two weeks.
Company Members Miranda Wilson & Katie Montoya, explore sounds and rhythms
Over the years our creative process has changed. In the beginning I traditionally wrote and developed the script ahead of the first rehearsal and then as a company we delved into it, exploring movement within the language. During Hatched, the performers and I created the piece together. I had a story skeleton, but not a script. During rehearsals we layered the story, created our puppets, and collaborated with music and dance. For Under the Tangle, Emily Bunning choreographed and directed the piece, and with a long development process, the company helped to layer the story.
With our newest piece, Emily and I have been discussing the vision of the piece for over 6 months. Olive & Pearl, is seeded from an idea that began peculating even before Hatched. Centered on the thematic elements of home, and what a home means, young audiences are invited into a cozy and gentle world, rich with sensory experiences. The story follows young Olive throughout her day, as she is lovingly taken care of by her Granny Pearl, and the adventures both real and imaginary that they embark upon. There is puppetry, original music, and one of our most visually appealing sets to date. 

String Dancing

From these two weeks of play, I have written a first drafted script that I was able to have the actors read and play with the language. We were able to ponder questions and ideas, and what we want our very young audiences to experience. Emily developed and played with movement phrases. And although we have much more layering to do, we have the beginnings of a wonderful new piece that I am looking forward to sharing.

Over the next year, we will be rehearsing, developing and showing different sections in development on audiences throughout New York. For those of you in Long Island and New York City, I hope you can join us for feedback at one of these first showings. Olive & Pearl will premiere for our 20th Anniversary Season in 2017.

About The Flushing Town Hall Space Grant:
Since 2009, Flushing Town Hall has offered Space Grants to emerging and mid-career artists who are developing or completing new work. Free use of the facility, such as the theatre, is available, with hard costs the responsibility of the artists. Space Grants have run from 1-6 weeks, depending on the artists' needs and facility availability. Choreographers, Puppeteers, Film Makers, Circus  Artists and Dancers have been awarded a Space Grant since 2009. Space Grant recipients are required to offer a culminating activity, such as a public performance, workshop or lec/dem. 

In conjunction with the space grant, Treehouse Shakers will return to Flushing Town Hall, October 18, 2015 for workshops and performances of Hatched.  Tickets in advance are encouraged. For more information check out Flushing Town Hall.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Village

I often like to say it takes a village to raise an artist, to raise an arts organization. In 1997 I co-founded Treehouse Shakers with collaborator, Emily Bunning. Since then it has taken a lot of village members, and many different villages, who have believed in us, and helped us to grow.
Coyote's Dance, in performance since 2006. Photo by Dan Ozminkowski
When we began, there was very little theater for young families in New York City. The theater that was presented was mostly based on out dated models. The most common model included the obligatory best-selling children's picture book, music, and actors who didn't really care about the child audience, but instead were paying their dues until they could move onto performing for adults. We were interested in creating exciting work for young people. In the beginning, much like we do now, we experimented with our work. Without a model of our own, we began to figure out what was our artistic model. We tried new things. We mixed modern dance into everything. We collaborated with other artists: musicians, painters, even therapists. We developed our own form of dance-theater. In the beginning we were supported by our friends. They gave us their bars for benefits, they brought in their bands and played our benefits, they showed up to our shows, clapping and smiling, buying our tickets. Soon we had the press, who brought in family audiences. Our village expanded. Those young families, our first audience members, became our next circle of supporters. They joined our board, spreading the word, and introducing us to new families. Most of these village members remain with us today. Over the years we have continued to expand our circle, growing our family.

Hatched audience members at BMCC's Tribeca Performing Arts Center, NYC
One of these family members is Flushing Town Hall's, Artistic and Executive Director, Ellen Kodadek. We met Ellen after she booked Animal Rhythms, our show which includes two African folktales, into her First Night Series in Binghampton, New York, twelve years ago. The First Night Series included diverse and wonderful artists. When Ellen moved to Flushing Town Hall in Queens, Treehouse Shakers had the pleasure of performing our piece for the very young, Hatched. In fact, Ellen was one of the first theater presenters to truly get behind this work for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. To this day, she is inquisitive about what we are making, and loves listening to the process and the inspiration. She truly supports artists.
Hatched by Mara McEwin, a Piece for babies. Photographer Christopher Duggan

Flushing Town Hall is an extraordinary place. Located in the heart of Flushing, Queens, in a densely Asian neighborhood, in the most diverse borough in the world, the programming perfectly reflects this global audience. Flushing Town Hall provides a wide variety of arts that is incredibly thoughtful, powerful and enjoyable. I often marvel at the inspiring, sometimes challenging, and thought-provoking artistic programming. It is one of my favorite theaters to attend as an audience member, to bring my own family, and also one of the most welcoming and supportive theaters to work as an artist, thanks to Ellen’s incredible kindness and the welcoming of her colleagues.

Beginning on September 14, 2015 Treehouse Shakers has generously been given a space grant by Flushing Town Hall. This space grant allows us the opportunity to play, explore, and begin the development on a new experiential piece for the very young, Olive & Pearl (ages 2-5.) It is the opportunity to work in a beautiful and inspiring space, without having to worry about the expenses. Although we are being slightly mum about the new work, we already have performance inquiries for when the piece is ready. We will begin touring in 2017, in time for our company's 20th Anniversary. Over the year, we will be documenting the creation of the new work. As artists, as a company, it is people like Ellen, theaters like Flushing Town Hall, who have helped us continue to survive, succeed, and grow. Flushing Town Hall has become a wonderful part of our Treehouse Shakers' artistic journey. We are truly appreciative of the village's support.

About The Space Grant:
Since 2009, Flushing Town Hall has offered Space Grants to emerging and mid-career artists who are developing or completing new work. Free use of the facility, such as the theatre, is available, with hard costs the responsibility of the artists. Space Grants have run from 1-6 weeks, depending on the artists' needs and facility availability. Choreographers, Puppeteers, Film Makers, Circus  Artists and Dancers have been awarded a Space Grant since 2009. Space Grant recipients are required to offer a culminating activity, such as a public performance, workshop or lec/dem. 

In conjunction with the space grant, Treehouse Shakers will return to Flushing Town Hall, October 18, 2015 for workshops and performances of Hatched.  Tickets in advance are encouraged. For more information check out Flushing Town Hall.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Summer Bucket List

From My Summer Sunset Watch

For the past few months, life has been a whirlwind. But then it always is, especially with a life in the arts. I am happy to say that Treehouse Shakers finished our NYC season, tours, our BAM PDP, and tied up our school residencies. We held our annual benefit and celebrated 18 years of making work.

My daughter performed her dance recital, finished school, and celebrated her birthday (a small production unto itself.) Mixed into that was my birthday, Father's Day, our wedding anniversary, Mother's Day, and a trip to Montreal for IPAY's (International Performing Arts for Youth) annual board meeting.

So now that summer is actually here. I am ready for the summer life. I am ready to truly repair.
My Favorite Viewing Spot 
My Summer To Do List 
Watch the Sunset
Spend Time with My Family
Go to the Beach
Cook out of a New Cookbook
Take Naps
Go on A Picnic

Some of my garden beauties ready for their close up

Treehouse has an exhilarating Fall ahead. We have performances of Hatched scheduled at the Historic Flushing Town Hall, as well as Under the Tangle at both Queens Theatre in the Park and BMCC's Tribeca Performing Arts Center in Manhattan. We have numerous school residencies, a space grant with Flushing Town Hall to begin work on our very newest piece, and lots of special events to host our performances at BAM Fisher in January. I am thankful for the work, and the wonderful support of the Treehouse Shakers' family.

For today though, I am ready to cross off another To Do on my Summer Bucket List.

*Photos Credits Mara McEwin, iPhone6

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hatched Returns to New York City

Hatched postcard design by Appolllo Bey, photo credit by Christopher Duggan
In May, Hatched will return to NYC. I am thrilled at the continued success of this piece; how it continues to grow, gain notoriety, and engage the youngest of audience members. We have also noticed many repeat families in the audience every year.

The anticipation of a cracking egg. From left to right Miranda Wilson, Trey Mitchell & Katie Montoya
I love our newer publicity shots, by Christopher Duggan. His photography completely captures the happiness, joy, and delight that this work brings to the youngest of audience members.

I love the joy of this baby's face, and on our wonderful performer, Katie Montoya.
For Hatched, I wanted to break the fourth wall, and give our wee audiences the ability to wander, interact, and engage with the piece. I am always disheartened when I see a play for young people and the teachers are shushing, the parents are telling their children to be still, and young audiences are expected to watch silently like an adult (which isn't fun as an adult either.) I truly believe, as artists, we need to make work that engages on every level. This first theatrical experience should be one of complete enjoyment, interaction, and heart.

I love this quote from one of our audience members, “Wonderful! And she could move and interact during the show so I didn’t have to worry about shushing her. We both thoroughly enjoyed it!”-Juliet Brown, NYC parent & Child Age 3

If you are in the New York City area, I hope you will join us for Hatched. It is great for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Be sure to bring your camera; there are a lot of great moments to capture.

Treehouse Shakers' Presents Hatched
Conceived & Directed by Mara McEwin
Original Live Music By Anthony Rizzo
Puppets & Costumes by Patti Gilstrap
Lighting By Dan Ozminkowski
Set Design by Lauren Rockman

When:: May 1 & 2, 2015 @ 11 am
BAM (Fisher Building)
Hillman Studio
321 Ashland Pl. Brooklyn, NY 11217

When:: May 8, 2015 @ 11 am
The Ailey Studio Theater
405 W. 55th St., (Corner of 9th Ave.)
New York, NY 10019


For inquiries and large groups:: 212-715-1914 or

Monday, March 2, 2015

Under the Tangle: A Review by Alex Greenberg

In Under the Tangle, audiences accompany a young orphan on her journey through a mysterious and spellbinding labyrinth. Using dance and stagecraft to tell her story, Emily Bunning, co-founder of the Treehouse Shakers, boldly reinvents the fairytale genre. She tells a visually driven tale of love and self-discovery that will charm and entertain the entire family.
Ashley Chavonne, as the orphan. Photo credit by Dan Ozminkowski.
While eight-and-up usually suggests content that is too mature for infants and too puerile for adults, Under the Tangle is a show with multiple lenses; one can choose to explore the symbolism and social complexities that permeate the storyline or one can simply sit back, engage the senses, and be drawn into the magic of the labyrinth. What is more, both experiences are equally rewarding.
Trey Mitchell as the Bird-Boy, photo by Cherylynn Tsushima
As the lights dim to a soft orange, we watch the orphan’s parents dance away into a fire. The sound of crackling flames in the background and the orphan’s wistful dance introduce us into the mind of director, Emily Bunning. We watch as the orphan, performed by the incredible Ashley Chavonne, falls into a deep slumber and awakens moments later in a forest, seemingly alone. As she begins to explore this new and strange landscape, the orphan comes across a jaunty bird, played by Trey Mitchell. The actors masterfully embody the affectionate relationship between the two; the orphan, scared and shy, and the bird, eager to have a new friend in his life.

Using the Queen's sleeves to create the labyrinth. Photo Credit by Cherylynn Tsushima
The two characters dance and twirl each other all the way into the depths of the woods. It is here that the mysterious woman in green, performed by Miranda Wilson, awaits with her two underlings (Ashley Ervin and Katie Montoya) for the orphan’s arrival. A visual triumph of the show, the underlings unravel their leader’s long, vine-like sleeves into what becomes a boundless labyrinth. They persuade the orphan to enter and everything changes. Suddenly, Emily Bunning’s creation becomes electrified. We follow the orphan and the bird in their frantic journey to make it out of the maze as they battle the forces trying to separate them. Combining modern dance and ballet with innovative costumes and stage design, Emily Bunning expands the two-dimensional stage into it’s a world of its own.
The Treehouse Shakers remind us that when we lose a loved one, we need not feel lost ourselves. When we are forced to say goodbye to those we care about, they do not fall into darkness, but remain as a light and guide within our hearts. Come with your kids and get a front row seat to the artistic triumph called Under the Tangle.
About Alex Greenberg

Alex Greenberg is a 16-year old aspiring poet. His work has been published or accepted for publication in over 20 literary journals, such as: Grist, The Cortland Review, Spinning Jenny, Able Muse, and decomP, among others. He was the recipient of the 2014 46er prize from the Adirondack Review and the 2014 Critical Pass Review Junior Poets Prize. Additionally, he is a four-time runner-up in the Cape Farwell Poetry Challenges, a Foyle Young Poet of 2012 and 2013, and a recipient of a gold key from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. He loves tennis, ping-pong, and the Zagat food guide. You can find out more about Alex at his website:  

Under the Tangle Credits:
Conceived, Choreographed, and Directed by: Emily Bunning
Performers: Ashley Chavonne, Ashley Ervin, Katie Montoya, Trey Mitchell, Miranda Wilson
Costume by: Patti Gilstrap
Lighting by: Dan Ozminkowski
Music by: Martyn Axe
Set Design by: Ioannis Sochorakis
To Read More About Treehouse Shakers, Check Out our Website

Monday, January 12, 2015

Under the Tangle: Making Work With Deeper Meaning

When Emily Bunning first presented the idea of Under the Tangle, the story of a lost girl who becomes trapped and ensnarled into a mysterious labyrinth, I was immediately fascinated. The world in Under the Tangle is a land unknown, completely invented by Bunning’s imagination. With each new character, new crook in the path, new adventure that is waiting, our audience is given a visual surprise. This world she has created, is infused with loneliness, abandonment and overwhelming feelings of being lost. It is an emotional landscape that most children, at some point in their lives, can relate. In presenting work that deals with these larger life feelings, we expose our audiences to work that will help them navigate their own feelings in the outside world. It is empowering for young people to experience the main heroine’s ability to find her way out of the dark and twisted path and eventually on a journey of self-discovery and freedom.
Under the Tangle, Photo Credit Cherylynn Tshushima
Under the Tangle was chosen specifically to focus on ages 8-13. Since the heroine is a young adolescent girl, we want the piece to be a metaphor for adolescence itself. The journey through finding and discovering oneself, where one is often met with fierce obstacles and problems, is often times the story of adolescence. We have found a true need for work geared towards this age. 
Under the Tangle, Photo Credit Cherylynn Tshushima
I am proud of the direction Under the Tangle has taken, and the work that has shaped this extraordinary piece. Bunning’s sense of artistry, visual aesthetics and her mastery of choreographic phrases, is truly mesmerizing and powerful. I applaud Bunning in her vision and unparalleled ability to relate to her audiences, while fulfilling her own artistic aspirations and artistic goals. I am truly looking forward to having our New York City audiences experience the work this February. I hope you will join us!

Under The Tangle
Let the Mystery Begin
For ages 8+
Conceived and Choreographed by Emily Bunning

When: February 5 & 6, 2015 @ 11 am
            February 8, 2015 @ 1 Pm
Where: The Ailey Citigroup Theater-Joan Weill Center for Dance
             405 W. 55th St. (Corner of 9th Ave)
             New York, NY 10019
To Purchase Tickets:
For Group Rates & Schools: