Treehouse Shakers

Treehouse Shakers
Hatched, BAM Fisher, Hillman Studio

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left it unpacked in a pile of cardboard boxes, which my then roommates and I, used as a make-shift coffee table, in our outdated Hell's Kitchen railroad apartment.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.