Supporting creative work by women
Melissa Moschitto is the Founding Artistic Director of The Anthropologists. The company’s next piece No Man’s Land, a thought-provoking examination of systemic racism, opens in New York on November 18th.
Moschitto’s directing highlights include Mahalla (Jewish Plays Project, 2013 Berkshire Fringe), Another Place (Here), For the Love Of…(The Flamboyan/CSV), Give Us Bread (Milagro Theatre/CSV), Falling (4th Street Theatre) and The Columbus Project (KNF/Directors Company). Additional directing credits include: Daddy’s Black and Jewish by performance artist Lian Amaris (Nuyorican Poets Cafe), The Developer (Brooklyn Playwrights Collective) and Lola Got Bite (Gene Frankel). She holds a B.A. in Theater from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Moschitto spoke to Works by Women about devised theater, how having children affects her work and the best advice she ever received.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Why theater?
MELISSA MOSCHITTO: More and more I am realizing that it’s all about the communal, real-time experience. From an audience perspective, I love being in the room with a group of people, all about to share a live performance and the excitement of that consolidated energy. From a creator perspective, I love the juiciness of collaborating with a team of people, all trying to tell a story together. And tradition! My grandparents used to take me to the theater each year for my birthday so it’s always been a special thing to sit in a theater as the lights go down at the top of the show!
WBW: What is a production or performance that has left an indelible mark on you? And why?
MM: Compania Atalaya’s El Publico by Federico Garcia Lorca. I was so completely mesmerized by their tour de force performances, the sense of magic and the palpable staging. I had the sense, watching it, that the actors and director had tested out every possible variation of movement and voice before choosing which ones would craft their performance. It was so crisp. I can still see the flicker of a flame that concluded the opening monologue. At the time, I understood about 15% of the Spanish, but I was 100% mesmerized. I saw the production twice and then after I graduated college I was fortunate enough to go study with the company for several months as an apprentice director for Medea. They were a window into how an ensemble company could create visceral, exciting work; they changed the trajectory of my career!
WBW: Your company The Anthropologists is “dedicated to the collaborative creation of investigative theater that inspires action”. How can theater inspire action? Why is it a good art form for that?
MM: We believe that theater should serve an artistic function and a civic function. Theater allows us all – artists and audience – to better understand our place in the world. The play is about the storytelling: diving into a different world, getting lost in someone else’s journey. After the show comes the engagement. We want to do more than provoke thought; we want to provide resources for further investigation and ways to take action. That’s true for both the artists working on the project and the audience.
WBW: Tell me about the process of devising No Man’s Land.
MM: In June 2015, we held our first workshop which explored three, broad themes: money, culture/status and land. The material generated encouraged us to regroup in August 2015 for a deeper exploration of storytelling methods and theatrical genres, culminating in a first draft of the play.
In January, we dedicated a workshop to engaging with design ideas and visual storytelling with a group of actors and our set designer. We also dedicated time and space to very personal conversations about race and privilege and how that was intertwined with our identities as artists. In June, we were fortunate to be hosted at Dixon Place for a fully staged workshop and we had a great audience who provided excellent feedback. Then it was back to the drawing board with a script workshop via Skype and lots of dramaturgical meetings. We made many cuts and edits, did a pretty dramatic re-ordering of scenes in the play and now, finally, we’ve assembled the full team for the World Premiere!
No Man’s Land | Photo Credit: Victoria Medina Photography
WBW: What’s your approach for devising work?
MM: Our collaborative process uses a protracted development period to research, generate material, develop the script and workshop design ideas. Each play necessitates its own process but there are always two key ingredients: source material and a team of collaborating artists. Typically we begin with a group of actors though our goal is to get as many types of theater artists in the room as possible. Initial explorations are rooted in research and big themes. There’s a lot of rooting around in the dark for characters and an organizing structure. To develop the script we use improvisation, creative writing, movement-generated writing techniques and composition work. Much of this is a riff on the source material; sometimes we adhere very closely to the source material but other times we allow for a lot of artistic liberty and original writing. For us, it’s a give and take between text and movement though recently we’ve been inspired by Tectonic Theater Project‘s work and have started to incorporate a lot more composition work around visual or design elements. For every play that we develop, the process is broken up into multiple workshops, each with their own focus. We invite an audience into those as much as possible. No matter what the workshops entail, collaborating with a dramaturg is essential. Our motto is: revise! revise! revise!
WBW: Does having children change your perspective on theater and your work? Or the way you work?
MM: Oh gosh. Having kids has amplified everything. It’s more essential, more challenging, more terrifying, more difficult, more confounding and when it works, it’s so much more gratifying. I think it’s made me (at least sometimes) a little bit more able to roll with the punches. Like, when something goes wrong, you can’t dwell on it – you have to keep trucking. (I’ll have to ask my collaborators if they agree!) From an artistic director point of view, I’ve been learning how to delegate and pushing my ability to work more horizontally. The logistics of raising two young kids (mine are 4 and 2.5 years old) while being in production are not easy. As an artist, becoming a parent has made me even more aware of storytelling and what kinds of stories need to be heard. I am desperate for them to grow up in an era of inclusion and diversity, and I do think that’s happening across the performance art forms, which is exciting. Moving forward, I would like to include them more in my work, both during the development process and as audience members.
WBW: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
MM: I was 24 and debating whether or not to move to New York City. I considered staying in Providence, Rhode Island for another year, where I had been the literary intern for Trinity Rep. My mentor Craig Watson (the amazing Literary Manager at the time) said: “You can’t put your life in the refrigerator for a year. Move to New York!” And the rest is history.
No Man’s Land runs November 17 through December 11 at Theaterlab (357 W 36th Street | NYC). For more information, visit HERE.