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Skin Horse Theater Brings the Interstellar to the Stage in New Orleans

Posted: Thursday, April 17th, 2014 at 8:39 pm in News

by Anna Henschel

Skin Horse Theater "Nocturnes (I-III)

photo by Jessica Chevis

In the spring of 2008, in the Campus Center at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, five juniors (three theater majors, a Gender and Sexuality Studies major, and a religion major) formally agreed that upon graduation from college they would move to a city that was not New York and start a theater company. A year later, in August 2009, with one original work under its belt (created partly to fulfill the theater senior project requirement) Skin Horse Theater’s Curiouser: An Historical Inaccuracy was accepted by the New Orleans Fringe Festival. The rest, as they say, is history.

Six years later, Nocturnes (I-III), a symphonic exploration of humanity’s relationship with space, has been our most challenging and most rewarding work to date. The five members of Skin Horse have always strived to experiment and devise collaboratively to bring big ideas to the stage. With each project, we challenge ourselves with both practical and creative goals, often articulated as questions, that guide our devising and creative process. With its premiere in 2013, Nocturnes became the most recent product of this process.

We first imagined Nocturnes three years ago, during a brainstorming session on future original works. Two broad themes emerged as the ideas on which we wanted to base our next projects. The first, dubbed Horror Play, was an exploration of whether theater has the ability to scare the way that film does. Was it possible? We did our research (mostly by watching The Shining, Night of the Living Dead, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and everything in between) and created SARAH for the 2011 New Orleans Fringe Festival that, to our delight, elicited screams from audience members at the climax and was reported to have contributed to at least two nightmares.

The other product of that brainstorming session was known for much of its life as Space Play. Born out of a fascination with the night sky and inspired by everyone from Jack Parsons to Gil Scott Heron, we took more than two years to explore how to show outer space on stage. From almost the beginning, Space Play existed in three parts, providing three perspectives on humanity’s relationship with the cosmos: a view from the ground, life in outer space, and the cosmos itself. In our devising process we played with these perspectives and how each contributed to the overall arc.

As part of Skin Horse’s devising practice, we are intentional about not assigning roles (stage manager, director, light designer, actor, etc.) for the first few months. This gives us the opportunity to create as peers, each taking turns leading rehearsal. Once the play begins to take shape, we discuss who is interested in what responsibilities and move forward from there. During these early stages of devising we try to bring to the table every idea, text, film, material, image, sound, website, or other media that excites us, whether seemingly related or not. Patterns in fabric, sources of light, songs from the 1930s, YouTube videos, and math lectures all become part of our conversation.

We devised, rehearsed, and experimented with Space Play for six months before having a work-in-progress showing at the Contemporary Arts Center in May 2013. The feedback from the active NOLA theater community was both supportive and helpfully critical. We went into summer giving the piece space to breathe and to figure out what we needed from it, and it from us.

We picked up the mantle again in August, with performance dates set for four weekends in November. With the help of our incredible cast (Shannon Flaherty, Matt Standley, Rebecca Elizabeth Hollingsworth and Owen Ever), we pushed our ideas further for each of the three acts. Now called Nocturnes (I-III), the first act showed the history, culture, and context for humanity’s perceptions of the cosmos. The act was framed by the transcript of preparations for Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight, and then explored poets and songwriters alongside political speeches, the writings of Carl Sagan, and a job posting from an asteroid mining company. Act II imagined life in a space station and explored how to show zero gravity on stage. The result was part narrative, part dance, and almost silent throughout. Finally, in Act III, we drew inspiration from theatre artist Romeo Castelucci and visual artist James Turrell, among others, and strove to explore our ultimate challenge:  could outer space be depicted on stage? Challenge met.

Nocturnes began and ended with a man, standing alone on a platform, who looks up and finds solace in the stars. We found this connection to the viewer, inspired by Olaf Stapledon’s novel Star Maker, to be a clear entry point for our audiences, as well as a way to leave and bring ourselves back to Earth.

Nocturnes (I-III) opened November 7, 2013 and ran for four weeks, through the 2013 New Orleans Fringe Festival, at a repurposed warehouse on St. Claude Avenue, part of a fledgling arts district in New Orleans. The sound, capturing everything from the ambient noise of a space station to the cosmos itself, was designed by Brendan Connelly, the lights were designed by Skin Horse member Evan Spigelman, and the sets of the train station, mission control, and space station were designed and built by Phil Cramer. Nocturnes won two Big Easy Awards: Best Original Work (Devised) and Best Lighting Design.

Skin Horse Theater is a partner in NPN’s Local Network.

EmcArts: Proposals for New Rounds of Innovation Labs

Posted: Thursday, April 17th, 2014 at 7:23 pm in Opportunities

EmcArts is pleased to partner with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) to deliver two more rounds of its pioneering Innovation Labs program to eight participating organizations from across the country in 2014 and 2015. These rounds are funded by a generous $1.58 million grant from DDCF.

Round 9 of the Innovation Lab for the Performing Arts:  Nonprofit producing and presenting organizations in theater, modern or contemporary dance, and jazz (including college – based presenters) are eligible to apply.

Round 2 of the Innovation Lab for Arts Development Agencies:  This program is specifically for organizations that do not produce or present the performing arts, but rather provide services in support of the ongoing development of an arts discipline, its organizations and practitioners, or of a particular area of arts activities – collectively called arts development agencies.

Both Lab Rounds will run in parallel from July 2014 through April 2016, with up to four organizations participating in each Lab. Proposals will be accepted through Friday, May 30, 2014.

Download and read more:

American Dance Abroad: Rapid Response

Posted: Thursday, April 17th, 2014 at 6:40 pm in Opportunities

Do you have an invitation to dance abroad?  American Dance Abroad, which provides services and resources to U.S.- based artists engaged in international exchange, have announced a project to provide support to U.S. artists with international invitations.

Rapid Response is a quick-turnaround assistance program to support transit costs for U.S. dance artists in response to international invitations. Unlike other programs, assistance can be applied to choreographic or teaching residencies as well as performances. Requests for support will be reviewed monthly. Requests received by the 15th of each month (EDT) will have a decision by the end of the same month.

Find out more here.


E-Newsletter / March 2014

Posted: Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 at 3:41 pm in E-Newsletters

E-Newsletter / February 2014

Posted: Friday, February 21st, 2014 at 12:21 pm in E-Newsletters

E-Newsletter / January 2014

Posted: Thursday, January 30th, 2014 at 2:40 pm in E-Newsletters

E-Newsletter / December 2013

Posted: Friday, December 20th, 2013 at 12:19 pm in E-Newsletters

Fellowship Program from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Posted: Thursday, December 19th, 2013 at 5:23 pm in Opportunities

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has a long history of supporting emerging and existing leaders. Fellowships have, over the years, been one of our most effective tools for realizing the belief that leadership is a critical tool for individual development, community-grounded leadership and broader societal change. It is with great pride that we announce the Community Leadership Network, a new program that constitutes a renewed commitment to leadership development.

This fellowship is rooted in WKKF’s mission of supporting vulnerable children and their families, with a focus on racial equity and community and civic engagement. In alignment with our grantmaking strategies, a total of 100 fellows will be equitably selected from our U.S. priority places—Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans—and will do their work there. Another 20 fellows will be selected from outside the priority places and will function as a national cohort whose work will focus on racial healing and equity.

It is our hope that this fellowship program is able to nurture and inspire developing or established leaders, helping them to become transformative change agents in their communities, guiding vulnerable children and their families toward optimal health and well-being, access to good food, academic achievement and financial security.

This three-year program focuses on strengthening the skills and competencies of our fellows, as well as promoting the direct application of knowledge and skills to community-based projects. We are looking for fellows who, as passionate voices in their communities, feel a deep urge to balance personal growth with meaningful contributions to the community.

Please take the time to learn more about the WKKF Community Leadership Network and share it with your friends and colleagues. The foundation is looking for a broad array of emerging and established leaders, a balance of individuals who are known and unknown to WKKF, both visible and invisible leaders and those who embody a diversity of perspective. We’re accepting applications online at through Friday, Jan. 10 at 11:59 p.m.

We’re thrilled at the prospect of what this new group of fellows will achieve on behalf of children and their communities.


Sterling K. Speirn
President and CEO
Dr. Gail C. Christopher
Vice President – Program Strategy

Want more details about the WKKF Community Leadership Network fellowship?

Download our frequently asked questions.

Ready to apply?

Submit your application online.

Dates to remember

Jan. 10, 2014 – Applications due
February 2014 – Interviews with prospective fellows
March 2014 – Fellows announced
April 2014 – First class meeting

E-Newsletter / November 2013

Posted: Wednesday, November 13th, 2013 at 11:59 am in E-Newsletters

E-Newsletter / October 2013

Posted: Monday, October 28th, 2013 at 1:40 pm in E-Newsletters

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