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BWW Special Feature: 99 and Under the Radar; Having the Nerve...

Welcome to 99 AND UNDER THE RADAR: A LOOK AT INDIE THEATER'S MOVERS AND SHAKERS, BroadwayWorld's new weekly series that showcases standout productions and production companies from the independent theater scene in New York City. Each week, independent producer Michael Roderick will be discussing the latest goings on in the theatrical wings, highlighting those with potentially bright futures. 

This Week's Topic: Having the "Nerve" to never "Settle"

The company The Nerve Tank has had many previous mentions on this column due to the ground breaking work that they do. There is rarely an opportunity to see something as thought provoking and experiential as one of The Nerve Tank's pieces. This column stated that they were ones to watch in 2010 and as the year winds down, they have certainly shown the public a lot. This week will cover their latest collaboration in which they take their talent for pushing the boundaries and apply it to the youth of tomorrow, with the help of the The Performance Project at the University Settlement. In this interview Artistic Director of Nerve Melanie Armer, Allison Fleminger and Samara Naeyemi discuss their collaboration.

99 : Can you tell us a little bit about the rehearsal you just came from?

Armer: I just got home from an amazing rehearsal. I was most particularly struck by how little is required to create the work together. Bringing the artists together and giving them a deadline and a place to perform is at the core of theater and these dual residencies give us exactly that with the added advantage of time in between the two events to gestate and re-consider the work and it's impact on an audience.

99: Can you talk a little bit about the origins of this collaboration. Who came to who? Is it a financial collaboration involving sharing costs? Is it more about space?

Fleminger: I originally encountered Nerve Tank in 2007 right at the time The Performance Project @ University Settlement was coming into being. They were performing at Dixon Place., I believe it was an apap showcase and I was invited by someone else on the bill. (Alethea Adsitt)
I was taken with Nerve Tank's work right away because it was so clearly derived out of play - truly collaborative play. Although the subject matter of the piece was dark and serious - the connection the performers had with the work was joyous. They were visibly empowered by their shared sense of connectedness, presence and their opportunity to create. I invited them to one of our salons and from there became a follower and fan of their work.

Nerve Tank is a collection of smart, skilled, curious, challenging and funny people who inspire others to see, hear,feel. think, dance, speak their minds, laugh and simply just pay attention.

Over the past couple of years - I have had the privilege of getting to know the Incubator Arts Project curators and I have great respect for their programming. I thought Nerve Tank would be a great match for them and encouraged them to go through the incubator's application process.

At the same time the Incubator and The Performance Project were brainstorming ways we could pool resources to serve artists in the creation their own work and support them in breaking of the box of making art just for other artists. I think both the incubator and the Performance Project want to encourage greater participation in creative acts for all. We want the people who grew up walking by our theaters every day to come inside and realize what is happening in there is relevant to the community as a whole.

99: Samara, anything to add?

Naeymi: The Incubator Arts Project grew out of the Incubator, a project of the Ontological-Hysteric  Theater. In 2010, the Ontological-Hysteric Theater announced that it would leave its permanent home, St. Mark's Church, and that the Incubator would take over the space and operate year-round. The residency program is one of many established since 1992 by the Ontological-Hysteric Theater in an effort to support emerging artists. The Residency Program as we know it today began in 2005 when the Ontological reorganized its emerging artists programming under the name Incubator. The Incubator Arts Project holds an open call for applications where artists present their ideas for a co-production with the Incubator, NerveTank applied to the residency program and was chosen by the team of 5 curators (Brendan Regimbal, Travis Just, Shannon Sindelar, Peter Ksander and myself) to be a part of our winter/spring season. Not only are they provided the space for the full production but they are given full staff support for press, artistic and development discussions and they are introduced to a community of their peers who are also performing in their season. Nerve Tank was especially appealing to the Incubator because of the relationship with University Settlement, with whom we co-present a salon series that discusses many of the challenges faced by our theatrical community. (first one this year is November 8th at University Setttlement- it will also be the first one that we live stream)

99: What about this partnership is exciting? Scary? Is this one of many?

Naeymi: It is always scary to present artists that are independently produced. I think that Chance and Melanie are great people to work with and that's what makes it so exciting. At the Incubator we have a very full roster of artists that we are invested in and each relationship is very different as we try to really take artists to another level. There is always that moment when you start the relationship where you kind of gauge how the experience is going to go. When they came in for their first meeting with me, their artistic excitement and generosity, their drive and dedication was palpable- these are the kind of meetings that make what we do less scary and more exciting.

Armer: You mention "scary" and "exciting" as separate ideas. I have to say that to me they are deeply tied. Not that they are the same, but I often find myself most inspired by the moments in rehearsal when I experience fear. The company is pretty fearless, and pushing all of us to the edges of creative inspiration can be very uncomfortable, but it is only by standing at the very edge of the cliff that one can see the beauty that lies all around, and by leaping from the cliff one discovers flight.

Fleminger: I love work that makes me say, "I want to play with those people." , "I want to figure out how their games unfold." "I want to make something too" . " The artists that inspire this response are the artists I want to bring into the University Settlement community. Because as we all know - people of all ages learn and grow through their play and people of all ages feel empowered when they have the tools and opportunity to express themselves.

99: Do you feel that there is a cross section between the audience of the venue and the company presenting? Nerve has worked out of Brooklyn for some time now, why the switch to Manhattan?

Armer: After a two year residency in Brooklyn spent creating 3 shows developing the company aesthetic and building a roster of talented performers and designers we have recently attracted the notice of several Manhattan presenters. "Pitch! (or something sexy)" was developed for the Tank on 45th street this past summer and we are looking forward to presenting "The Attendants" later in 2011 in lower Manhattan. Being a site-responsive company, the opportunity to be in a variety of locations is extremely inspiring to the work.

99: How connected is all of this to the Indie Theatre scene? Are you finding support from the Independent theatre community? Is there support from the Neighborhood community?

Naeymi: Absolutely. The Incubator really tries to promote the strength of the independent theater community and the communication between artists in that community. We host events for our artists to meet each other, we run the salons with University Settlement to give them a forum to discuss current pressing issues and we try as much as possible to put artists in touch with each other to resource share or just bounce ideas off of.

Fleminger: The more the indie theater scene engages in community building participatory events the more we will be able to identify and articulate why experimental theater is important to people beyond the scene.

99: Describe in detail the project itself. How long will it run? How long has it been in development? Any interesting tid bits or facts about the creation of the work?

Armer: Opal is an overlapping performance text for five voices that explores memory and role play in a fractured family dynamic. Certain archetypes emerge: Mother, Father, Son, Daughter. The piece is staged as a dissonant chamber music, with each speaker representing a distinct physical and vocal instrument. It incorporates modulated voice, choreographed movement, and a minimalist design aesthetic. There will be just one "unplugged" public performance at the University Settlement before the 2 week run in the last week of April and the first week of May 2011 at teh Incubator Arts Project For the University Settlement presentation we first read the script aloud September 8th. We have met 2-3 times per week since then and will continue to do so until November 13th. We will take some time out for the holidays and begin meeting again early in the year bringing our design team more deeply into he process. The Nerve Tank uses a collaborative process to generate the work we do. This fall I've been taking master classes in Laban movement and Butoh dance so these influence tend to creep in to the process. We generally start by reading the text and developing a gestural vocabulary to get to the heart of the work, then follow images and ideas that realte to the ideas we have discovered by reading the work. In this piece we are focusing especially on the musicality of the language, referring often to the musical vocabulary for inspiration.

Fleminger: Next Friday Nerve Tank will make theater with young people at our Teen Center, the Door. The following Friday the young people with attend Nerve Tank's dress rehearsal and have the opportunity to reflect on both experiences.

I hope our teens take away the following:

You can make something out of nothing
You don't need answers you need questions
Right and wrong is just a framework - there are many others.
Challenging our assumptions and perceptions is hard work but it is fun.
An artist is just a person with something to say and someone committed to the struggle to communicate with their community and beyond.

And if they do take a few of these things away - I think they will begin to realize that the barrier between people who call themselves artists and who who do not perceive themselves to be artists is not so fixed and that we have a lot of resources to offer each other.

99: Thanks for taking the time to chat. All the best with the show!

These types of collaborations are what build the foundation for strong arts programs and support in the future. To find out more about The Performance Project and to purchase tickets, go here.

Read more of Michael's insights at


From This Author - Michael Roderick