Posted on:September 6, 2012
Sue Kessler – Executive Director
When was The Bushwick Starr founded and by whom?
The organization was founded in 2007 by myself, and our Artistic Director, Noel Allain.
Where in Brooklyn are you located?
Who is your primary audience?
Our programming is geared towards a diverse audience set. There’s the artistic communities of Bushwick, Brooklyn, and NYC—a dynamic, multi-talented group, generally in their 20s-to-40s, who reflect the diverse backgrounds and ethnicities of the greater metropolitan area. Of equal importance are the programs we offer that attract a broader community in Bushwick, which includes families that have been in this neighborhood for generations. As The Bushwick Starr’s reputation has grown, so has the attendance of our events by New York’ general audience of Off-Off Broadway theatergoers from all five NYC boroughs.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of running an arts organization in Brooklyn?
Balancing our artistic growth with our organizational growth. Working with artists and putting on shows is the fun part. It comes naturally to us. But it’s an on-going learning process to keep our organization healthy behind the scenes, so we don’t end up overextending ourselves. Focusing on development, human resources, and fundraising is just as important as the work we produce, as it will lead to continued growth and longevity. But it’s definitely a challenge to keep all the engines running at top speed.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of running an arts organization in Brooklyn?
Introducing new artists to new audiences. We support artists who are creating new and important performance work, and who are rigorous in their art. By giving these talented artists valuable resources such as time and space to create, they are able to make ground-breaking work that is truly uninhibited. This is the art that is important, because this is the art that is new, challenging, and refreshingly unique. It’s extremely rewarding to us to be able to support the path of new work and present it to audiences all around the city. Another thing that comes to mind is our relationship with our community. The Bushwick Starr stands in the heart of Bushwick, and at the crossroads of our neighborhood’s unique culture, history, and community. Our performance space strives to unite these elements within an artistic forum and serve as a place where both artistic and community based dialogue can be encouraged and explored. With this in mind, we have created annual offerings like Puppets + Poets, a showcase of puppetry and spoken word for families in our community, and the environmentally driven Big Green Theater that brings the youth of Bushwick directly in touch with the professional world of theater. It is very rewarding to collaborate with our community on these special projects, and grow neighborhood connections by offering unique community-driven arts initiatives to our local schools and families.
What do you see as the biggest issues facing the arts community today?
Funding! It may sound obvious, but I believe it is truly the biggest obstacle facing arts communities. Support for arts organizations (particularly small ones) is very tenuous. Trying to build something that’s important and that has sustainability is very challenging, to say the least, when funding sources are unstable or deficient.
Do you have any major events, projects or expansions on the horizon?
The first Main Stage show of our 2012-13 Season is The Debate Society’s Blood Play, which runs the whole month of October (10/3-10/27). We are thrilled to be presenting this lauded company (we both won Obie’s this past May!), and the show will be fantastic. The company did a private reading of the script this summer while they were in residence at our theater developing the piece—and I will just say, it's marvelous. Dark, funny, creepy, and a fantastic cast. We’re very excited.
Also, in the last year we expanded our theater facility by taking on a brand new rehearsal space directly above our Main Stage. This additional real estate allows us to offer our presented artists more time and space for rehearsals as they develop new work, plus room for a small administrative office, more storage, and a proper dressing room among many other benefits. The “Starr Annex”, as we’re calling it, also affords us the flexibility to be able to extend our main stage shows downstairs without having to compromise other artist's rehearsal processes--in other words, we will be able to stagger artists working upstairs and downstairs, which will allow everyone more time and space to create. We will also be able to use the Annex as an additional event space for things such as private pre/post-show gatherings. There are still capital improvements to be made on the space to ensure it is as comfortable as possible for our artists, and we are working towards making those improvements (i.e., installing a small sound and lighting inventory, a kitchenette, etc.).