Jess Applebaum (associate member)
Jess Applebaum is a dramaturg, creative producer, scholar, activist, and the literary manager for One Year Lease Theater Company. She specializes in devised, ensemble-based performance practices. In spring 2015, she and colleague Katalin Trencsényi curated the Dance Dramaturgy Research in Action Workshop with choreographer Arie Davidson for Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas. In May 2014 she presented "Dramaturg for Hire: Contextual Dramaturgy for a Global (St)age" at the conference Alternative Dramaturgies of the New Millennium in Tangiers, Morocco; she also has curated and led discussion on devised performance dramaturgy at LMDA's annual conference. Jess is published in several theater journals and has an article, "Finding the Hyphenate—Embodying Dramaturgy," published in The Routledge Companion to Dramaturgy (ed. Magda Romanska, 2014). She holds a master’s degree in performance studies from NYU and an MFA in dramaturgy from Columbia University.
How I explain dramaturgy to my extended family/high school friends/civilians:
Dramaturgy is something that we all do and is not limited to the performing arts. It's the act of putting one's ideas or theories into practice. It's about thinking of the big picture and placing our tiny (or large) actions into its context. In theater, dramaturgy happens when a playwright is creating the precise form and structure to support her story and characters. In dance, dramaturgy happens when the choreographer shapes movement and bodies to the particular architecture of a space or to a specific sound composition. In everyday life, dramaturgy happens when grassroots organizers create campaigns to energize and engage specific communities around a particular issue. So, we all practice dramaturgy. The logical next question becomes, well then, what do you as a dramaturg do? This becomes a bit more challenging because the specifics of my practice change with every collaboration. But when it comes down to the essential core of my practice, my job is to follow the multiple strands that go into the creation of the performance—to be the person who has an intimate knowledge of the project but can also see how the piece (be it play, production, dance) is communicating and to relay that (through observation and questions) to the generative artists in the room. Sometimes (in devising) I am that generative person as well. And there the work becomes exciting because I'm working hard to deeply experience the material through embodying it and knowing when/how to step outside it so that I can maintain a constructive, objective relationship to structure and context.
Most interesting non-theater job I've done:
I'm thinking back on my life and realizing that the jobs that I have done overlap and are in the administrative world. They're probably not very interesting but have been essential in the process of getting documentaries made or helping dance companies tour. I suppose the most interesting non-theater job would still be related to theater. When I graduated from Vassar College I was interning for American Masters on a documentary on Joe Papp. I was asked to PA a shoot in Brooklyn. Gem Cohen was the cinematographer. He was going to capture some B-roll that would give color to Joe's teenage years and splice that in. One of Joe's jobs was working at a kosher slaughterhouse. This rabbi who was head of the Brooklyn Polar Bear Club picked us up in his car (a limo from the late '80s that had no air-conditioning). He took us, his two corgis (presents from the queen of England) and our equipment into Brooklyn, where we stopped to get the live chickens he was going to slaughter and a bag of doves that we was going to release in a ceremony honoring Joe's life and the chicken's sacrifice for the film. Now, the corgis were in the front seat with the rabbi and Caroline, the AP of the shoot. So the chicken and the birds had to go in the back where I sat with the two other PAs on the shoot (both of whom were vegetarian and beginning to realize the complexity of the situation they were in). Realizing that it would be unkind for my two coworkers to engage with the animals, I volunteered to be their handler until we got to the slaughterhouse. Of course, what I didn't share with anyone was my irrational fear of birds. So as we drove further into Brooklyn to get to the slaughter house, my color and demeanor became consistently erratic. Somehow, I survived. The shoot happened. I'm not sure the footage ever made it into the documentary... but that was certainly one of the most exciting workdays I've ever had. At least, in some ways it was less adventurous that working in the shoe department of Strawbridge and Clothier during Christmastime. There I can talk about dealing with animals.
A great book I read recently:
My friends laugh at me because a lot of books that I read are related to dramaturgy and performance. I need to find and finish Carolyn Browne's Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham. Not only does Brown paint a vivid picture of what it was like to work with Cunningham, she offers great insight to the history of touring and to the reception of his choreography across America and around the world. The last novel I finished was Jesse Ball's A Cure for Suicide. He could very well be my favorite contemporary author. The beauty of his sentences resides in their utter simplicity. His plots and characters always seem to say yes and journey forward into the unknown. The space he creates on the page for the reader's imagination, the intimate voice you hear while turning the pages of his books ... I'm a big fan.
Three recent theater shows that I loved (but wasn’t involved in):Geoff Sobelle's HOME at Next Wave, Jérôme Bel's Gala at Skirball Center, Jillian Walker's SKiNFoLK: An American Show at Ars Nova
A nostalgic theater experience from childhood/adolescence:
There are so many ways to answer this question. Right now, what immediately comes to mind is seeing Angels in America Parts 1 & 2 as one big marathon with my parents and brother when it first toured to Philadelphia. I would love to be young again and find the very first contemporary play that would shift my perspective on what theater can be and how its content can affect the world.
Favorite script-reading/artist meeting spot:
A really great, quiet community dive would be fantastic. They're more difficult to come by these days. Wherever it is—there has to be great natural light, good energy from the people around us, and some food or drink that will open our sense and impulses.