Organs of State: Internet Performance and Beyond

Organs of State is a performance company that makes big ideas tangible and human, and shares them with its audience by staging whole, performative, participatory events. Although at the core it is performance arts, they’re building a home for experimenting artists and audiences of all stripes.

We spoke with artistic director Guy Yedwab about how Organs of State creates their cutting-edge work, and how Fractured Atlas has figured into their artistic process.

What is your company’s “origin story?”
Organs started in 2009 as a loose band of theatermakers around an initial project based on the short stories of Franz Kafka - all of them. We had members from a variety of different training methods and parts of the world, and we decided that we wanted to create a home for people who wanted to dive into these ideas, regardless of their background as an artist or an audience member.

Every year, we have a “new” origin story because we get together twice a year to discuss the mission, the company, and the work, and we refine who we are and what we do based on the experiences of the previous six months.

Does your company have a “typical” way of creating performances? In other words, could you tell me about your artistic process?
The artistic process varies by who is helming a particular piece of work – we focus on original work, and so we often come up with coming up with original processes for developing the work. Most of the time, we’re devising the original work as a company We start with a question that we’re interested in tackling, and some source texts to research from, and that’s where we start a devising process from. We create small moments of work based on small assignments and exercises, and we start to build up a vocabulary of performance moments that we can draw from. Once we have a store of these moments, we can start to weave them together as a single event.

In parallel, we’re also developing the aspects around the production. When we say we strive for “whole” events, what we means is that we’re working for events where

Except when it doesn’t happen like that. After all, it’s an experiment!

Your Fractured Atlas profile lists you as “Theatre,” but I see a lot of multi-arts language on your website. Would you call yourselves a theatre company? Why/why not?
The “theatre” tag is a little old: I’d say we see ourselves as more of a performance company. When we started in 2009, we just did theater, but since then our members and our audience have shown a real hunger for experimenting with the performative side of a number of different disciplines: video/media, stage combat, fine arts, and (most recently) internet performance. We still focus on what’s performative about these media - how we can use these things in an active way to tell a story, drive conversation about the big ideas, and create whole events that people can get wrapped up in.

Internet performance – can you tell me a bit more about that?
Well, we’re still figuring that out, as we’re still in our first internet performance venture. For this project, we’re creating lives of people on the internet. We create social media lives, they have social media accounts, and as they’re experiencing the events of the project they’re responding it in real time. Our director has a concept of the trails that emerge on the internet, but it also turns into a kind of treasure map – a party leads to Facebook leads to YouTube leads to a Wikipedia article leads back to Facebook.

I see that you are currently in your “Eulogy Season.” Where did this idea come from - forming a season around the concept of Eulogies? Do you think you will continue to center your seasons around a theme in the future?
There’s a number of reasons that the themed season came about, all sort of converging at the same time. From a practical side, we were looking for a way to tighten up our voice as a company - since we make work of so many different kinds and in different ways, it can be hard to get a unified sense of who we are and what we do, so the overarching voice that is our company can be heard. It also gives us a direction, North Star to plot our course by as we make decisions. And artistically, it knits the stories together, to make them reflective of a bigger idea, something that our loyal Citizens can track as they follow from show to show.

The Eulogy was on my mind because 2011 started with the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, and there was a slow march of eulogies and remembrances and retrospective, so it was on my mind: Why do we do tell these stories, who gets to tell thm, what makes a “good” or “helpful” eulogy, etc.

I think we’ve gotten a good response, so we’ll be doing more work around themes. After our last Eulogy piece in April, Américana Passover, we’ll be already at work on development of the 2012 season, “What the State Provides,” revisiting the social contract, why we have governments, what we can or can’t expect from it, etc. Unless something weird happens, I think that’s the big question behind this upcoming election:

I hear that you’ve been making good use of our newly revamped NYC Performing Arts Spaces. Could you tell me about how Spaces has been helpful to you?
We’ve found some great spaces during the last three years of searching for space with NYC Performing Art Spaces. Our approach to finding space is that we’re not just looking for a theater with a certain amount of space, we’re looking for a space that creates the world of our work; so one show had us searching for a tight loft space, another has us looking for a clean event space to hold a memorial service in. Sometimes it’s a theater, and sometimes it’s not.

NYC Performing Arts Spaces helps us quickly come up with a pretty long shortlist of spaces to visit, so we can be really choosy about the space we’re taking, so that it’s more than just a space, it’s part of our whole, performative event.

The first time I produced anything outside a university, I had a cast of 18 or so and a movement focus, so when we started looking for rehearsal spaces, we realized we couldn’t have just any rehearsal space - we needed something 20 by 20, or larger. I was surprised when I went to the site how easy it was to find that exact size listed. When we looked for performance venues, we knew what we didn’t want a proscenium, so we started looking for 99 seat theatres listed as flexible, but quickly learned that visually and aesthetically there’s a lot of difference. We visited a lot of spaces and discovered the Paradise Factory. What really stuck out about the Paradise Factory was it wasn’t just a black box; this space had exposed brick walls and windows and it created a lot of environment and helped us create the show. We try to find a space that accomplishes part of the work we’re doing.

Since NYC Performing Arts Spaces has been updated, I found that the user interface was nicer and I appreciate the time Fractured Atlas is taking to make things look nice and clean. The move towards making bookings on the actual website is great. One of the complications with making work is always people’s availability – our actors get their work schedule a week in advance, so we can’t book rehearsal space until a week in advance. It takes up a lot of my time to get everyone’s schedule, then to start calling rehearsal spaces – it can be really time consuming. Before online booking, I was doing a lot of clicking and phone calls, and now I can spend a lot less time on that and more time producing. It’s also become a lot clearer when venues are out of business, because that happens!

How has your membership with Fractured Atlas helped you?
Even more than I expected when I first signed up! Services we use include:

- Fiscal Sponsorship allows us to meet between 20-50% of our shows’ budgets, particularly with the integration with IndieGoGo that helps us raise a broad base of small donations

- We simply can’t do business with theaters without the General Liability insurance, and the Volunteer Accident insurance helped us keep a sense of safety when our last show included 23 actors fighting with swords…

- Around 1/2 of our shows have been in space we’ve found through NYCPaSpaces.org

- we use our discounted ZipCar account pretty regularly for getting our stuff where it needs to go.

- Fractured Atlas got us in touch with a special Chase banker that got us the checking, savings, and credit card accounts that our companies use.

What’s next for Organs of State?

We just wrapped up the second performance in our Eulogy series, In Memoriam, a piece that tries to grapple with how we tell a story about loss online. You can learn more about the project at it’s wiki ( http://inmemoriam.organsofstate.org ) which was the center staging point for all the information about the project.

After that, the “What the State Provides” season and… who knows what else!

Images from John Kurzynowski’s Hamlet at the Paradise Factory:


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