2020 NYU Tisch Drama Grads Create First-of-its-kind Residency In Rural Indiana

New works will be performed outdoors in September.

By: Aug. 17, 2020

2020 NYU Tisch Drama Grads Create First-of-its-kind Residency In Rural Indiana

Faced with shuttered theaters nationwide and no job prospects in their field, seven recent graduates and two rising seniors from the New York University Tisch School of Drama gathered at a farm in rural Indiana for the creation of an all-new artist residency designed to give talented young actors, directors, and playwrights a safe place to keep creating in the age of COVID.

On August 1, the group converged on Indiana singer-songwriter Krista Detor's 40 acre property, The Hundredth Hill, in Bloomington, IN. Once tested and medically cleared, the residents quarantined together and began work immediately on two new works directed by Kyndall Sillanpaa and Scott Huffman. These, along with a staged reading generated by the seven other residents, will be performed outdoors at The Hundredth Hill in a safe, socially distant setting beginning in late September.

No theatre company in the country, from Broadway to small town children's theaters, has been able to adapt successfully to life under COVID-19. Attempts such as staging plays on Zoom, separating actors with dividers, and performing socially distant promenade-style shows have received lukewarm responses. The Hundredth Hill's Emerging Theater Artist Residency is currently one of the only, if not the only theatre company nationwide actively creating and rehearsing new, traditional live theatre. The artists hope the residency could serve as a model for how other companies nationwide could still produce safe and meaningful live performances.

Sillanpaa, a native of Fairfield, CA, spearheaded the project. The process started when her NYU Tisch senior show, a staging of Duncan MacMillan's People, Places & Things, was cancelled.

Finding herself shut out of New York and stuck in her childhood home after graduating into a world with no chances to create the forward-thinking, thought-provoking plays she's known for, she decided she wouldn't simply wait for a vaccine. Sillanpaa, with assistance from Detor and fellow NYU alum Sam McHale, spent the summer planning the residency, recruiting residents, and raising over $20,000.

"I left my senior year feeling so violently unsatisfied," she said. "And I had to watch as my friends were forced to make these half-hearted attempts at creating theatre on Zoom. I reject the idea that plays over Zoom are all we can do right now. We can do better. We can work smarter. We have the ability to make things that uphold our standards, that uphold the pillars of real theatre."