B O D Y editor Ben Williams interviewed playwright and director Tina Satter in New York on January 3, 2014. Tina’s newest play House of Dance runs again in New York this month as part of the COIL Festival. Read an excerpt from House of Dance in B O D Y.
B O D Y: You’ve got all these tours coming up.
Tina Satter: Well we have the little mini House of Dance run that’s next week–
B O D Y: Where is that?
Tina Satter: Same spot. Abrons. Same room. Thank god. We’re only doing 5 shows, which is great – I’m so glad. I saw today that a COIL show was opening tonight and I’m like oh my god I’m so glad I don’t have a show opening right now and running for 3 weeks. That was so intense last year. And I’m gonna do this Kitchen show in January 2015, and they’re giving us these work sessions in the space throughout the year. So I have another one of those in February, where we get to work in the space and they’ll give us tech support.
B O D Y: Are you in the big space or are you upstairs?
Tina Satter: Well the first time we did it we were in the gallery. Last time we were downstairs. I don’t know where we’ll be. I think we’re gonna do the show in the big space, but that gallery’s pretty cool.
B O D Y: The only thing I’ve seen there I think was–
Tina Satter: Mike [Iveson]’s?
B O D Y: Yeah. It was alright in there.
Tina Satter: Yeah the first time we were there we really liked it because they had those built-in walls, and I just wanted to have corners and stuff, but the downstairs space is obviously amazing. And then I have one of those Performing Garage residencies from the first round, in March. And I have this ongoing singing project with Erin Markey, Kristen Sieh, and Chris Giarmo that we’ve shown around the way for the last couple of years because we only have a little of it, called Ghost Rings. It’s a candy I made up that they eat. I wanted it to be fully sung, with Erin and Kristen, and Chris has made the songs. And then we have the next Seagull in mid-March. So I need to figure out how I’m gonna live, that’s a major thing that I need to to do. I’ve skated by this past 9 months on fees and unemployment.
B O D Y: How long have you been here doing this in New York?
Tina Satter: Since 2008. I started grad program in the fall of 2007 at Brooklyn College.
B O D Y: And where were you before that?
Tina Satter: I lived in Durango, Colorado for the year and a half before that. I lived in Portland, Oregon for 8 years, then I moved to New York for a year. Knew nothing really. I knew Brendan Regimbal in Portland, so he was like my one connection into the scene. And he was like you should she this company Radiohole, you should see Richard Maxwell. He was an intern for Foreman then. So that’s how I knew anything. so I would go see shows, but I didn’t know one person. I didn’t know Jess or Chris yet, and I kept seeing Mac’s name. I knew of Mac Wellman as a writer, and I kept seeing the Brooklyn College program in the bios of the shows that I liked, and I remember seeing Young Jean Lee listed as 25 To Watch Out For in TImeOut, but I had no other context, do you know what I mean? So I lived here for a year, but then I moved away to Durango, Colorado. Do you know where that is?
B O D Y: Colorado?
Tina Satter: Durango? It’s the Southwestern, in the mountains, but it’s like 20 miles from New Mexico, so it’s really close to the 4 Corners. So it’s a weird little mountain ski town.
B O D Y: Why were you there?
Tina Satter: My then boyfriend lived there. And I was there a year and a half, and while I was there I applied to Brooklyn College. And I got in, and I deferred twice. We lived in a trailer in a trailer park. He was a chef in the one fancy restaurant there. It was a crazy, weird divergence.
B O D Y: It doesn’t seem like a cultural center, of sorts.
Tina Satter: I had 4 jobs there, and I made $14,000 that year. I taught playwriting. I hadn’t even gone to playwriting school yet. I taught playwriting at the college.
B O D Y: That’s a good way to start–
Tina Satter: I know. I had taken one class here through the Gotham Writers’, and I just took the curriculum that we had done there, which was Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and other classics. But it was so fun. I did that job. I did PR for the ArTina Satter Center. I worked in a crazy dress shop where — I was not a very young person, but I was the youngest employee by 30 years. It was these 60 year old women and me catering to vacationers from Texas. And then–
B O D Y: So you were schooling yourself in playwriting. Because that’s what you do, right? You’re surrounded by source material.
Tina Satter: Oh my god it was so source material there.
B O D Y: That was one of the things I wanted to get at. Where does this stuff come from? Because other playwrights, for instance say Sibyl Kempson or Kristen Kosmas or even Julia Jarcho, play around a lot with source materials. Sibyl’s got a deadline tomorrow, and she’s so deep in all this research. Stacks and stacks and stacks of research. And Kosmas does research too, but I feel like when I read her stuff it’s more internalized. Like if Sibyl follows the source material – it leads her – then maybe Kosmas leads the material…. I don’t know if that’s true. That’s just my feeling.
Tina Satter: Yeah. I definitely have been using way less source material in the projects to date than either of those two do, knowing the little I know of each of their processes. So it’s more like the source material is totally my heart and brain. Because I started so late — I was out in the world for so long. It wasn’t like I started trying to make plays at 18 or 22. It was way later.
B O D Y: Well it’s not way later. It’s not like–
Tina Satter: –I’m 100.
B O D Y: Childbearing–
Tina Satter: No. But I think because I get these really weird — to be the — cause I — then I totally like — at least try to — or like blow it completely open, or I’m only taking one biographical strand and then going from, away from it or something. Or I’ve taken my weird memories, and they’re so messed up, I just take them from there. I think if I tried to do that at a younger point it could be really coy and yucky, but because I went back to stuff way later as my material, I feel like that’s why I can get away with it — it feels ok to be doing that, or it’s like why I return to it, you know.
B O D Y: That makes sense. I can see that. I’ve seen a lot of your shows: Pony Palace, Away Uniform, Seagull, and House of Dance…
Tina Satter: The other shows were Family and The Knockout Blow.
B O D Y: Where was Family?
Tina Satter: At the Incubator. It was still the Ontological, actually.
B O D Y: When?
Tina Satter: In 2009. That was our first really kind of got on the map a teeny teeny bit. Like the first time I worked with Erin or Emily [Davis] I didn’t even know them. They were totally just actors to me, or like whatever.
B O D Y: How did you know them?
Tina Satter: At that point I knew Jess and Chris.
B O D Y: Because you had seen them in other shows?
Tina Satter: There were these two sisters, and it was very very loosely based on my sister and myself. And they were like oh there’s this awesome girl Erin Markey. And I went and saw Erin do–
B O D Y: This is Jess [Barbagallo] and Chris saying this?
Tina Satter: Jess and Chris are both like you should talk to this girl Erin Markey, who they didn’t really know but had seen. And I went and saw Erin perform in a night of people doing solo stuff, and she did a version of the Carolee Schneemann piece where she came out in no pants, a Hawaiian shirt, pulled a scroll out of her vagina, and then instead of saying this feminist manifesto, sang “We Are the Lollipop Guild.” In a Lollipop Guild voice. And I was like oh my god yes this person is amazing.
So but then she came in and auditioned. I had her read and she was really good. And then Ems, we had done a reading of Away Uniform a couple years before, and Jess had been like oh there’s this — Jess didn’t even know Emily yet, but they had seen Ems in this piece and had been like there’s this girl who’s really good, we should see if she would do it. And then Ems came and read. And then when we were trying to get Family, an actress dropped out at the last minute and we were like oh yeah Emily Davis.
B O D Y: How did you meet Jess and Chris?
Tina Satter: Jess and I started grad school the same semester. But I knew nothing of Jess as an actor, at all. And then the first day in class Jess spoke. Her voice quality was so interesting. I’d made nothing at this point in my life, really. I didn’t even know Jess as an actor. It’s just this like really fascinating creature basically sitting there in class, really confident but also sitting in a weird scrunched up position. And I’m gonna apply to Short Form, and I know no one, so I’m like maybe this person in my class would say the things in it. And so I called or wrote Jess and was like I know we don’t even know each other, but would you, if I apply to this thing, could I say you’d be the actor. I don’t Jess as a performer really. And they’re like oh I’m in this show let’s talk about it after the show, and I’m expecting this total like weird, cause I’d seen the Hole and Incubator, and they tell me the address and I don’t even–I’m following this address, I’m so new in New York, and I go to, well now it’s New York Live Arts, but it’s Dance Theater Workshop, and I’m like oh this is pretty nice. And then it was The Other Here. It was this beautiful Big Dance show.
B O D Y: I saw that, yeah.
Tina Satter: And I was like the guy in it is really good, and everybody’s like yeah that’s Paul Lazar. But anyway I see this whole thing and Jess was really good in it — narrating it, wearing a suit, it had a fish video, Paul did this amazing weird little dance… But then with that project they wanted to edit some video and make some music, and Jess was like my friend Chris would probably help out. And then I met Chris.
B O D Y: That leads to my next question about the importance of having your people. Because downtown is totally tribal. And here you are forming your own tribe, right away. Was that something that just kind of happened, or did you plan… ?
Tina Satter: It happened. I mean I’d played team sports. So I think it felt like a really good awesome dynamic. And it was a way to not be doing it alone. I mean I knew I wanted to kind of be in control of all the situations instinctually, not just like power-hungry, but I know what I want to make. I’m not really looking too much for their–I mean I really rely on them, but it wasn’t like I was like you guys how do we make this. I kind of know how I want to make this. Then I felt like immediately after making projects together for about 6 months, I was like these people feel really good to have making it with me. And it feels so much safer than just being myself.
B O D Y: You knew you weren’t looking for a director.
Tina Satter: Yeah.
B O D Y: Because that’s a big difference between you and other writers.
Tina Satter: Yeah. Well I went to grad school at Reed College. I did a Master of Arts and Liberal Studies. And basically it’s like having a really awesome book club.
I took an amazing class in the James family. I took an amazing class in Dante’s Divine Comedy. But then I started taking undergrad theater classes, which is where I met Brendan Regimbal, and then for one of those classes I took undergrad directing. You could take a couple of undergrad classes, and there were no graduate theater classes, and I was like oh it’s interesting to be trying this stuff, this is the first time I’m trying these things. And then the teacher was like — we’re supposed to pick a play to direct for our final directing project. And I was like oh I think I’m just going to direct something of my own. And it was like in a really old-fashioned way, the teacher was like “Oh I don’t know if you wanna do that. It’s probably not the best idea. You’re gonna be too close to it. It’s really nice to have some perspective.” And I was like — and I’m not so young then — I’m late 20s but still kind of naive and I said “But I know exactly how I want it to go.” I was literally confused. I’m like “What do you mean? I know how basically every molecule of this feels. Why would I not control the… do it?”
B O D Y: I had a similar experience in my undergrad. I had studied for a year in the Czech Republic and had gotten really excited about experimental theater–
Tina Satter: Acting or just everything?
B O D Y: Kind of everything, but focusing on theater because the theater scene there was really great. And it was in this interesting transitional period between generations, and the experimental scene was really supported by the President. Literally. Vaclav Havel was funding experimental theaters. It was a pretty special situation. So I came back to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where I was still in school, and I was excited about doing my own thing. And immediately was advised not to do it. This is waste of time. Specifically my directing professor said “this is a waste of time, there are better things you could do for yourself” blah blah. And I ended up doing this thing, and he said “oh that was a great decision.” He was really happy to eat his words. But then immediately after that I ran into the problem of what else can I do. I really had to stretch the limits… I ended up raising money–
Tina Satter: You were in undergrad?
B O D Y: Yeah I was in school for 6 years. I don’t want to talk too much about myself here, but I know that feeling of running into the wall.
Tina Satter: Yeah, and it was organic, I feel, in how it happened. I didn’t even know any better.
B O D Y: Let’s jump ahead. Now that you have your people and you’ve worked with your people consistently — now you have a different kind of power. Because you know these people, and you can write for specific people. Do you find yourself doing that?
Tina Satter: Yeah, totally. In a murky way. Sometimes I have these people and I’m like ok what can we make that works with us. And sometimes it’s like I have this idea, then how do we put them in. The thing that’s most interesting to me lately is working against — I want to do more working against what I know of somebody. And not just playing to their strengths.
B O D Y: And yet you let Jess Barbagallo sing in front of a mirror Melissa Etheridge.
Tina Satter: Right.
B O D Y: Whose idea was that?
Tina Satter: Chris’s birthday party was karaoke. Jess got up. Obviously I’d been really close with Jess for a number of years, but I’d never seen this. Jess got up — Kate Scelsa was there — and sang “Come to My Window.” And it was one of those — air just stops going, and everyone was just — this is incredible right now. They were just so raw and pure in it. And in a really cheap way I’m like, once this show comes together I’m like Chris we’ve gotta put that — you know it had been months before and I was like I know this is cheap, but I really think this has to happen in the show. And Chris was like oh yeah. And Chris is really good about being “no,” and he’ll totally tell me, but he was like yeah I agree, it’s that — Then I was nervous we weren’t gonna get — you never get what happened then, but there is something about it, in a variety of ways, with a crazy, cool moment.
B O D Y: From a directorial point of view, a director would say ok here’s a solo song — it’s off to the side–
Tina Satter: Yeah.
B O D Y: Facing away from the entire audience–
Tina Satter: Right.
B O D Y: In a mirror. And yet. I mean, I was really close to her, but there’s other stuff happening. But it was still–
Tina Satter: Cause then when it was in a late iteration, when I was trying to change it between the summer at Mass Live Arts and to here, I was like ok this idea that there’s a knife fight, and I’m like where can we put the knife fight where can we put the knife fight. The knife fight has to happen, like a montage, during “Come to My Window” because I wasn’t quite sure how “Come to My Window” was gonna work. And they both don’t work so then it was great to put those together.
B O D Y: As a comparison, working with John [Collins] in ERS, John totally leans on us, especially at the beginning, to generate stuff. Susie [Sokol] is obviously this fount of all kinds of material, but he leans on everybody. Really his job at the beginning is very dependent on us. I guess it depends on who you talk to. I guess sometimes we feel that we’re just sitting around waiting for him to make a decision, too, so there’s a lot of frustration. But how much of that happens? How much do you lean on people?
Tina Satter: I always have a text that’s written that we’re using. We’re never ever — I mean it might change along — but we’re never improvising text or moments. But depending on the show there may be a lot that we try to do to figure out as a group, but it’s more like how do we stage this, which is maybe what you’re talking about.
B O D Y: It’s more traditional. What you’re talking about is actually pretty straightforward, a conventional way to make theater.
Tina Satter: Yeah…. It used to be a time thing. We were making shows so fast, the first couple of shows. Like in 3 to 6 weeks from the first rehearsal through the run. So I would feel like we don’t have time to spend a couple hours “seeing what we got!” Those, especially, the script wouldn’t even change. We would rehearse what I had.
B O D Y: Having worked with Julia [Jarcho], it’s a similar thing. We made Grimly Handsome I felt overnight. It was basically 5 weeks. And I guess in that sense what’s avant garde is the writing… The directing is more straightforward. I guess John is more of an avant garde director in that sense because he’s asking the actors to generate stuff. But he also has a year and a half to rehearse.
Tina Satter: I do think that is part of it, to have the time. Because Seagull started out more like that — I mean we had a text, but we would just try a bunch of different setups really early on to even see what was there. I had no idea how we were gonna make a landscape of that. So the first things were making Susie and Becca [Blackwell] just stand really close together and say things. Really basic ideas.
B O D Y: Of the shows I’ve seen of yours, I think that piece is the most dreamy, and some people might say cryptic or inscrutable–
Tina Satter: Or insular, that was a term people used.
B O D Y: Which is a thing I’m a little amused and frustrated with — the way people respond to that kind of thing, especially Ben Brantley [chief theater critic for the NYTimes], who will go watch a Richard Foreman play and talk about how charming and how happily he’s ready to tolerate anything that happens, because it’s Richard Foreman. And yet if he sees that same–
Tina Satter: Approach–
B O D Y: Yeah — in a different setting, he’s a little more catty… I have a lot of mixed feelings about that. I have a lot of mixed feelings about the press.
Tina Satter: I totally do. I feel like I’m in a place that’s much better, too, having got totally completely personally slammed by Ben Brantley, which felt pretty awful at the time, I feel also thankful for it. Because here I am — still going! It doesn’t mean that anything is over, of course. And then it kind of levels everything…. I really felt thankful afterwards with some of that Seagull press, because it’s a good gauntlet to go through, an important thing to come through, and be like ok: show’s still here. I’m still here. As hard as it was in certain ways and ego-bruising. And I feel really protective of the people in the show, but it’s kind of crazy to try to moderate all that.
B O D Y: But in a way it’s a little less about them, in a situation where you’re the writer and the director. It’s all about you.
Tina Satter: Well yeah, but I always felt this thing, and I think it’s an important thing, I was like I can’t believe these people are even doing my work. I’d be trying to make every section, every step of the process really amazing, and then I was like oh they’re happy to be here too. But you feel so vulnerable, and now they’re part of this thing — this “bad” show that they’ve spent a year and a half on, you know what I mean? That would be in the darkest moments of doubt about it. But then I’m the one who’s like “Ms. Satter, Ms. Satter tried this — it didn’t work” and you guys, for better or for worse, weren’t even mentioned. Which I also found frustrating because I actually thought, and not to put too much into Seagull and its review because whatever — as weird and as flat as that show was, I thought there was pretty amazing acting happening in it, that was then dismissed when my approach was dismissed.
B O D Y: Was that the first show that Brantley reviewed of yours?
Tina Satter: Yeah.
B O D Y: That’s another thing that’s frustrating. Because I remember when he reviewed Radiohole for the first time. He didn’t mention the fact that he had never seen any of their shows before, and kind of came in with this backhanded thing about oh isn’t it goofy and sloppy and doesn’t it look like the Wooster Group.
Tina Satter: He didn’t have any context–
B O D Y: For someone who’s in a position of that kind of power, which again it’s not really power because you’re gonna keep touring–
Tina Satter: But in certain plays that are actually commercial there’s some power in that.
B O D Y: Yes. It’s more power I guess for conventional theater, if, for instance, you’re on Broadway. And you need to put that review in front of this theater, literally, to sell tickets. But it’s kind of like the economy: it doesn’t matter if the economy is in a recession, with the arts it always sucks.
Tina Satter: That’s what was so weird about that time. I remember some friends who just didn’t like Seagull, we got this really bad review. But it was sold out, pretty soon it was going to tour. So it was actually really confusing to me too. I was like what are the stakes of this whole stupid thing? Having to put that away was also part of it.
B O D Y: If it’s a pan by Isherwood, then you know you’ve achieved something. A catty dismissal from Brantley feels a little mushy.
Tina Satter: Yeah because then he gave a nice review to House of Dance which also felt equally as mushy. Do you know what I mean?
B O D Y: Because he uses words like “charming” and “warm-hearted,” and that’s not the kind of thing I think of when I see your shows.
Tina Satter: Yeah.
B O D Y: And here we are at the beginning of a new year, I had just finished looking at all the fucking lists of everyone’s best. And it’s a list by: middle-aged gay white man, middle-aged gay white man, slightly younger gay white man…
Tina Satter: Probably gay white man.
B O D Y: A straight white man. I don’t think any women. And I think that’s about the dynamics of it. In a way I’m glad that Helen Shaw, for instance, didn’t do a list because it seems beneath her. I think she’s too good a writer.
Tina Satter: I think she’s very smart, yes.
B O D Y: Or even Claudia La Rocco.
Tina Satter: I think Claudia did something for ArtForum. But any art writing is contextualized differently I think than any theater in those mainstream publications.
B O D Y: I was talking to Lizzie Simon a while back about an article. You know she writes for the Wall Street Journal, which no one really reads for the Arts section, so she has kind of free reign which I think is exciting, and she’s trying out things. But she wanted to write this piece about celebrity casting — if you had to recast these celebrities who are in these current Broadway plays, who would you pick. And I kind of disagree with the whole thing. I feel like celebrity Broadway is its own universe. It’s not even Broadway. Celebrity Off-Broadway is legitimate, but celebrity Broadway doesn’t exist I feel for any other purpose than to further a celebrity’s career in the movies.
Tina Satter: You know Lucy Taylor, who is the understudy for that Pinter play — I saw her a couple weeks before the holidays, and I was like how is that whole thing? And she was saying the play, the Pinter, is so incredible. And all she can think is she would love to see these Pinter plays with Jim Fletcher and Jess. That kind of approach to these texts.
B O D Y: Yeah. That was one of the things I said to Lizzie. There are no new ideas. At all. The only thing that comes out of it is Tennessee Williams, Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett — things that are tried-and-true from 60 years ago.
Tina Satter: Right.
B O D Y: Broadway, away from “Hollywood Broadway,” has, every now and then, a new play. But celebrity Broadway–
Tina Satter: It’s just trafficking the same thing.
B O D Y: …well anyway. New Year’s Rant. But to tie that in, it seems strange to me that the person who reviews Scarlett Johansson and Daniel Craig is the person who swoops down to review Half Straddle, Radiohole, Elevator Repair Service.
Tina Satter: They’re different idioms.
B O D Y: And Brantley’s not as bad as Isherwood, but they all make references to television or movies.
Tina Satter: Right.
B O D Y: That this is the only comparison – the language of comparison…
Tina Satter: Even in the House of Dance review, Brantley uses the tv show Dancing With the Stars—
B O D Y: And Flashdance. I guess that’s because they feel that that’s how they have to communicate to their readers. Because they feel that their readers will come in and be confused, or I don’t know. I remember I was talking to Paul Lazar a while back, and he was saying how important it was that Liz LeCompte kicked out the press from The Performing Garage all those years ago, and how we’re still reaping the benefits from that. I feel like maybe that should happen again? Because, as you said, it kind of doesn’t matter.
Tina Satter: It doesn’t.
B O D Y: Whether anyone reviews the show.
Tina Satter: It’s a weird vacuum. On the one hand, do we need to have these things around it that mean it’s important? But I don’t think we need that framework. I remember talking to Rich [Maxwell], who had his own trajectory with the press obviously. Around the Seagull time I had a meeting with him and Lindsay [Hockaday], and I had just gotten the bad Brantley review. And that wasn’t even on his radar. He said, “I think we’re post-press.” In terms of making work.
But what I am genuinely excited about is discourse. Like this thing, B O D Y. I was really into the concept, whether people think it was good or not, that thing that Paul did with Karinne [Keithley]–
B O D Y: The pamphlet. Occasional #1.
Tina Satter: Discourse. Everything we’ve discussed – we know the regular reviews are not really going there. Maybe the Helen Shaw ones. But real discourse that’s not a review, but just why people make something. The way you have ArtForum maybe. I think Jeff Jones — those emails he writes–
B O D Y: Are some of the most important things you’ll read.
Tina Satter: Because he brings in the past knowledge, or knows what they’re trying. And those just happen to go to who he sends them to, or maybe just you after your show. But I do think discourse is really interesting and valuable, maybe some of the manifestos, but I’m really into that sort of thing. Panels are sometimes weird. But I like the other stuff beyond the show and beyond just a review, some of the intellectual discourse around it.
B O D Y: Like this. Sitting down to take the time to talk about things.
Tina Satter: Because what’s the point otherwise, in a way, if these aren’t things we’re putting out into the world to talk about our ideas. I don’t know.
B O D Y: I don’t know.
Tina Satter: I was really excited about some of the stuff in Paul’s book.
B O D Y: I was too. Because as I said earlier, downtown theater is this kind of community theater, very tribal, and in Paul’s book you get to see how people feel who have worked here for 20 years or so.
Tina Satter: I also think it’s valuable for younger theater-makers.
B O D Y: Or just selfishly.
Tina Satter: Yeah!
B O D Y: Yeah.
To go back a bit about something you said earlier — you said that now that you’re older, not 18 or whatever, that that allows you this distance to write about drawing from personal experience. Having seen a few of your plays, that seems to be the core. Maybe these childish attitudes about other people, childish relationships, deep — mysteriously deep — feelings of guilt or love and acceptance.
Tina Satter: Yeah that adolescent level. I’m interested in that level of guilt, desire, and that kind of love that comes from a family unit that’s so weird and complicated. And when you’re figuring out that yeah you might actually hate someone, but love them. Or someone might not understand you at all but you love that. That’s your original figuring-out how complicated love is, actually, is your fucked up family, right?
B O D Y: Yeah and it forms your relationship to the world. Do I love this person? Or do I hate them? And is there a difference?
Tina Satter: Right, and you’re trying to communicate. You want someone to understand you. That’s another thing that I’m interested in, and that’s really adolescent too: you don’t really understand who you are, but you’re trying to see if any of the flares you are putting out into the world anyone else gets. And yeah — I see one corner of you I also get.
B O D Y: That’s good. That’s a really interesting idea of flares–
Tina Satter: That you might not really know that you’re controlling.
B O D Y: And that’s what we in the audience see. We’re watching signal flares. And critics can say that that’s being cryptic or whatever, but that’s what it is.
Tina Satter: It was already cryptic in the first place.
B O D Y: It’s removed, because you’re watching the effects of it.
Tina Satter: And to me that’s so real. That’s actually realistic.
B O D Y: I mean I guess in one way it’s kind of a shadows-on-the-cave-wall, or something like that, but in another way it makes me think of something that William Forsythe said when the Wooster Group was working on Poor Theater. And he was talking about people who are interested in this kind of dance — and who watches this? And he’s like well there are people who, you know, watch raindrops fall down a window pane. And either you can watch that kind of thing or you can’t. There’s this kind of chaos and abstraction to it.
Tina Satter: I always want to put these really tiny things on the stage. And Andreea [Mincic] as an intelligent set designer is always like no one is gonna see that tiny pink purse on the back plinth. But if one person sees it, then maybe it will be an awesome stage picture for them if they’re like wait, is that a pink purse on the back?
B O D Y: Which is another thing that Richard Foreman might do. Richard Foreman would have a pink purse, with a baby’s head sticking out of it, somewhere in the back.
Tina Satter: And I love that. And obviously a bunch of us like that. Because if I go into something and see that weird corner, that is so thrilling to me.
B O D Y: It allows you to discover it on your own.
Tina Satter: My favorite moment in Vision Disturbance was this way that Jay Smith turns. And his shoulder — that turn gesture — sort of encapsulated the whole play to me. I can’t explain it. Him in that play at that moment — I get all the feeling of this whole show.
And when Frank Boyd saw the Seagull, whom I had just gotten to know right after the Seagull, and whom I think is kind of amazing–
B O D Y: He’s a good guy.
Tina Satter: He was like oh god I really loved that corduroy pocket on Jess’s outfit — this where I felt like he and I got each other. On Jess’s outfit there was this corduroy pocket and that was like the whole show to me. And I was like I know exactly what you mean, that one texture could be the show.
B O D Y: Well you know he sells vintage clothing, too.
Tina Satter: I didn’t know that. So he has an eye for it.
B O D Y: He’s able to take these kinds of artistic impulses and turn them into capitalism. (laughing) So he’s really figured it out.
Tina Satter: That’s something that I need to be doing more of. I’m doing the opposite of that.
B O D Y: And now you’ve got all these tours coming up. This will be a different stage for you, and your people, because now the group is going to be traveling together. A lot. And that changes people.
Tina Satter: Yeah I feel like I’ve been lucky having become friends with Susie and people, because I feel like I would have thought I was totally crazy and the worst person leading a company ever. That we were the most dysfunctional group of people ever, if I hadn’t heard stories from a slightly similar model.
B O D Y: Oh no.
Tina Satter: But really, I thought we’re the worst people ever, and then I realized oh no this is just the thing.
B O D Y: Well, there’s no limit. You can always be even worse. (laughing) But you guys will be fine because you’re not too big. It’s a small group.
Tina Satter: I like a small group – but I thought you meant not too big… As much as I want to have success so that this is sustainable, I like being underdog-ish. Sibyl and I were talking about that, for ourselves, as makers.
B O D Y: Gatz had that for a long time. That’s what created Gatz, which is kind of weird to think of now because it was the highliner of so many other festivals, but the first 4 years or so, no one was really sure. And we’d think that after every tour, now, it’s gonna be easier, now this show has proved itself… oh no, we have to do it again…. And just to clarify, House of Dance is technically not a Half Straddle production?
Tina Satter: No.
B O D Y: It’s your people just produced by the New York City Players.
Tina Satter: It’s produced by New York City Players, and we’re kind of a small producer of it, but then it gets all — for technical reasons. But it’s not a Half Straddle show…. I did feel excited to work with having a more male idea of the show. Originally I wanted to use 4 males.
B O D Y: Really?
Tina Satter: Yeah. Jess as a male. And then I couldn’t find quite the right person to be the Brendan character, and then I thought of Lizzy because Lizzy has this male energy, in a really female way. And I thought ok that still meets my original idea, kind of.
— Ben Williams
Read more by Tina Slatter:
Tina’s newest play House of Dance runs again in New York this month as part of the COIL Festival. Read an excerpt in B O D Y.
Her play Seagull (Thinking of You) tours to France and Croatia this spring. More info here.
She has a new book of plays recently published by 53rd State Press. Buy a copy here.
And you can read more by Tina, and many other downtown artists, in 53rd State’s new Occasional #1.