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Playwrights Horizons Announces Public Art Series Featuring Work by Jilly Ballistic

In collaboration with Avram Finkelstein and David Zinn, Playwrights reimagines its dormant building as a site for exploration and disruption.

Playwrights Horizons Announces Public Art Series Featuring Work by Jilly Ballistic

Playwrights Horizons today announced a new rotating public art series to be displayed on the front of the company's 42nd Street building, beginning on January 19, 2021, with new work by street and subway artist Jilly Ballistic. This initiative, conceived and organized by artist, activist, and writer Avram Finkelstein and two-time Tony-winning set and costume designer David Zinn (Playwrights: Hir, The Flick, Circle MIrror Transformation), amplifies the aims shared by visual artists and theater-makers to pursue social transformation and disrupt our routine patterns to reawaken our awareness. In its first months, it will include six-week-long installations from Ken Gonzales-Day, Dread Scott, and more to be announced. The series inaugurates Playwrights Horizons' recently announced Lighthouse Project, an eclectic series that, through performances, installations, and events, aims to stretch the definition of playwriting and how a theater building can be used.

A founder of the Silence=Death Project, Finkelstein channeled the potency of public art to create unflinching, awareness-building imagery in 1980s New York amidst government apathy during the AIDS epidemic. In 2020, as COVID-19 began to swell across New York, the pandemic intersected with the racial justice movement to underscore the pressing necessity of transformation in all levels of American society. As Broadway remains dark and much of Midtown Manhattan now lies unused, Finkelstein saw the potential of a large-scale public art project, using now-dormant buildings in the commercialized center of New York to promote storytelling, and conversations about class, race, gender, and income inequality. When he brought the initial idea to David Zinn, with whom he shared a long history in Act Up, the theater designer-who has won Tonys for his scenic design for The Humans and Spongebob the Musical-recommended teaming with Playwrights Horizons based on their expansive history of theatrical playfulness and invention and their current engagement with pressing questions about the future of theater. Playwrights Horizons also happens to sit on 42nd Street, offering an all-day audience of pedestrians and drivers.

Playwrights Horizons Artistic Director Adam Greenfield says, "This year, this theater is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary under remarkably strange circumstances: a global pandemic, a historical reckoning, and a constitutional crisis. In this moment, we want to rediscover the ways our building can be used, to expand the range of artists and disciplines we present, to create a culture of inquiry that pervades the entire building, inside and out, so that genuine artistic innovation can be met with genuine openness. Fortunately, Avram and David brought their idea to Playwrights Horizons: to use the frontage of our theater, depressingly silent during these times, as a platform to engage with the city through public art. It's an uncannily great match for the intention of our Lighthouse project, which was created to invite new angles from which artists and audiences can engage with our building, breathing new life into our institution as we chart our course forward."

"We wanted to make work that rushes headlong into the questions of the day," says Finkelstein, "and makes constructive use of dormant facades to create a transient street museum for New Yorkers, to remind the city of its buoyancy and originality and help flex our imaginations as a city at this pivot point."

Says Zinn, "I know a lot of things are happening quietly inside of theaters to meet both this racial and economic moment, but I also feel like theaters have a moral responsibility to communicate to the world outside the building. What we're making is a vehicle for communication-for this need for our buildings to speak for this moment."

The inaugural work by Jilly Ballistic very literally considers American currency and the value capitalism places on a life as it counts Covid-19 deaths weekly, speaking to how this pandemic has cast a light on economic instability and the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on communities of color.

Says Zinn, "The artists we've reached out to create imagery that has both a powerful artistry and a graphic clarity about it. The message may sit in your brain and marinate but the image is immediately graspable, and can communicate with the traffic happening outside the building. Jilly's piece in particular addresses this moment with weight and a sense of political irony that is heartbreaking, and it's responsive to current events in a very immediate way."

Finkelstein says of Playwrights Horizons, "This space has such a storied past in terms of theatrical experimentation and vanguarding talent, and Adam Greenfield immediately got the potential of this project. From our first conversations, he was so capacious in his conceptualization of what it actually meant to be a theater at this moment, and it just snowballed from there. Playwrights Horizons is living up to its reputation as risk takers."

In addition to this new public art series, Lighthouse will include collaborations with groundbreaking performance groups citywide, offering live events, digital events, print pieces, workshops and concerts: a list that will grow over time, as the theater seeks to expand the use of its building by an ever-growing range of artists. Beyond the installation series, the program's initial offerings will include collaborations with dance-theater-media company Raja Feather Kelly | the feath3r theory, podcast play company The Parsnip Ship, and playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

Playwrights Horizons Associate Artistic Director Natasha Sinha says, "With the Lighthouse Project's public art series, we hope to prompt an array of conversations about our world's underlying realities, which will help us envision what could come next. I'm proud to step into Playwrights Horizons with the launch of this initiative and these thrilling visual artists."

In conjunction with the public art series, Playwrights Horizons sets the Lighthouse Project in motion with two online conversations, both designed to examine the function of theater in our culture, and to frame the organization's new initiative. The first, Lighthouse Talk: Theater and Society, takes place January 14 at 7 PM ET; for this event, Natasha Sinha will moderate a lively inquiry into the origins of theater itself, asking the role of a theater in society. She will be joined by Pulitzer-winning playwright Michael R. Jackson, playwright/performer Heather Raffo, Artistic Director of the famous Cornerstone Theater in Los Angeles Michael John Garcés, and another to-be-announced guest. The second, Lighthouse Talk: Public Art / Public Space, takes place January 21 at 7 PM ET, with Adam Greenfield in conversation with Jilly Ballistic and Avram Finklestein. They will discuss the driving ideas of Ballistic's newest piece, created to inaugurate Playwrights Horizons' new program, and to examine the meaning of public art and public space. All free digital events will stream here, in addition to the Playwrights Facebook page. Audience members can register here to receive reminders from the staff and to submit questions for each panel in advance.


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