Angela Kariotis

“NPN was in the delivery room when Stretch Marks was born.”

by Angela Kariotis

When spoken word/performer Angela Kariotis won a commission from the National Performance Network, she intended to use the money to complete her modern take-off of Homer’s “The Odyssey,” giving it a female protagonist. She had written a portion of it while she was pregnant, fully intending to return to it once she was through the blur of those early months of Motherhood…. With her performance deadline looming however, she did discover she lacked interest. With the birth of Evangelina Phedora, now 2-1/2, her desire to rework Homer simply went missing. “I became exceedingly bored with rewriting Homer. Homer doesn’t need me,” she said. Instead, she switched gears to write about what was on her mind – issues about birth, childhood and parenthood.
~ excerpt from “Hip Hop Mama: Angela Kariotis tackles issues of new parenthood,” by Kathleen O’Brien, The Star-Ledger, 11/13/2010

The experience described above could’ve been panic-inducing. However my creative dexterity was safe, in that I was working with the National Performance Network. I understood that I was commissioned to create a new work, not so much a specific work. If I had been tied to create a re-imagining of The Odyssey, I wouldn’t have been able to complete the work. There was tension with that subject matter, compounded with ‘past’ and my very new ‘present’ experience of being a parent. However, NPN favors the artist. Most organizations, and art lovers too, favor the art but aren’t very kind to their artists. With this nurturing but unparalleled freedom, I created my third solo show Stretch Marks, a show about “giving birth and being born.” It is important work and there’s nothing like it.

This performance resonates with a variety of demographics. I’m not surprised. After all, we were all born once. We all have parents to varying degrees. Some of us will have children. Everything happens by people. So, if we can treat children better and consider our origins, it will make a lasting impact. If we want to save people, we have to help mothers, parents. It is serious and seriously funny. And if I weren’t working within the National Performance Network it probably wouldn’t have happened.

Along with NPN, the other two commissioners for me were Legion Arts in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. These are the folks whose support helped me create Stretch Marks, my newest and most important solo show. My working relationship with Legion Arts, an NPN Partner, began in 2004 when I sent them a cold submission. I pitched my first show and the relationship grew from there. This is now my third time working with Legion Arts.

NPN is process oriented, not product oriented. The Creation Fund has a favoring time span: I had three years (!). Initially I collected data for the first two. The final year I reserved for creating the work, finishing drafts, editing, staging and performance. The documenting of the work took me very little time. It was a quick labor! However, a lot had to happen, gentle gestation, before I was able to get to that birthing moment.

The Creation Fund does NOT stipulate how the money must/can be spent. As an artist operating within the hip-hop aesthetic, I’m used to working with very little. I’m a minimalist. However, since becoming a parent, it’s not about me anymore. With the Creation Fund Award, I was able to pay for childcare so I could write, hire a director, travel, and rent rehearsal space. The Creation Fund enabled me to develop my work without sacrificng the integrity of the work or caring conditions for my child. I continued my artistry during a critical period. I had no successful models of artist-mothers to access. Stretch Marks is a very real way of attempting to merge my worlds, to write about a lived experience (and other universal themes), thus eliminating furious tension or imbalance. I’m a better artist and a better parent because of it.

Also, I had very specific deadlines because I knew part of the deal was to perform the work at the two commissioning organizations – at UT-Austin and at Legion Arts. I was not only creating the work but I also had committed engagements to present the work. These are real tangible goals. I’ve received other fellowships but the relationship ended with the granting of the award. But with NPN, I knew I had career development opportunities and performance dates. I have a relationship with NPN, especially with the commissioners of Stretch Marks. These folks know the entire trajectory of my career and have seen me to this point. John Herbert and Mel Andringa of Legion Arts have showed me massive support without which I couldn’t have arrived to where I am now. I performed all three of my solo shows at their center and have worked within that community. It is the nature of NPN and subsequently the NPN Partners, to invest in artists for the long term. It’s about relationships.

In terms of longevity, Stretch Marks is generating new theatergoers as well as attracting ticket subscribers. There are folks organizing to see the show who’ve never seen a play before. I’m furthering my commitment to be an artist who works with and from within the community by developing residency work concerning maternal health and infant psychology. NPN was in the delivery room when Stretch Marks was born.

January 2011

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