Performer of the Week: Treehouse Shakers

Photos by Christopher Duggan

Since 2009, Flushing Town Hall has offered Space Grants to emerging and mid-career artists who are developing or completing new work. Free use of the facility, such as the theatre, is available, with hard costs the responsibility of the artists. Space Grants have run from one to six weeks, depending on the artists’ needs and facility availability.

Since 2009, we’ve awards Space Grants to Choreographers, Puppeteers, Film Makers, Circus Artists and Dancers, and all recipients are required to offer a culminating activity, such as a public performance, workshop or lecture or demonstration.

Our latest Space Grant has been provided to the wonderful Treehouse Shakers, a New York City-based dance and theater company. We invited co-founder Mara McEwin, who is the Artistic Director, to tell you about the origin of Treehouse Shakers.

(And, if you want your little ones to enjoy one of their captivating performances, Treehouse Shakers will be presenting “Hatched” at Flushing Town Hall on Sunday, October 18. “Hatched” Is a tale for the youngest of audiences (six and under) that involves delightful visuals, music, puppets and the exploration of baby animals on a farm. Tickets are available to the performance and workshop.)

The Village

By Mara McEwinTPAcHatched2014

I often like to say it takes a village to raise an artist, to raise an arts organization. In 1997, I co-founded Treehouse Shakers with collaborator, Emily Bunning. Since then, it has taken a lot of village members, and many different villages, who have believed in us, and helped us to grow.

When we began, there was very little theater for young families in New York City. The theater that was presented was mostly based on outdated models. The most common model included the obligatory best-selling children’s picture book, music, and actors who didn’t really care about the child audience, but instead were paying their dues until they could move onto performing for adults.

We were interested in creating exciting work for young people. In the beginning, much like we do now, we experimented with our work. Without a model of our own, we began to figure out what was our artistic model. We tried new things. We mixed modern dance into everything. We collaborated with other artists: musicians, painters, even therapists. We developed our own form of dance-theater.

In the beginning, we were supported by our friends. They gave us their bars for benefits; they brought in their bands and played our benefits; they showed up to our shows, clapping and smiling, buying our tickets. Soon we had the press, who brought in family audiences. Our village expanded.

Those young families, our first audience members, became our next circle of supporters. They joined our board, spreading the word, and introducing us to new families. Most of these village members remain with us today. Over the years we have continued to expand our circle, growing our family.

hatched trio at egg for blogOne of these family members is Flushing Town Hall’s, Artistic and Executive Director, Ellen Kodadek. We met Ellen after she booked Animal Rhythms, our show based on African folktales, into her First Night Series in Binghampton, New York, 12 years ago. The First Night Series included diverse and wonderful artists. When Ellen moved to Flushing Town Hall, Treehouse Shakers was invited to perform Hatched, our piece for the very young. In fact, Ellen was one of the first theater presenters to truly get behind our intimate work for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. To this day, she is inquisitive about what we are making, and loves listening to the process and the inspiration. She truly supports artists.

Flushing Town Hall is an extraordinary place. Located in the heart of Flushing, Queens, in a densely Asian neighborhood, in the most diverse borough in the world, the programming perfectly reflects this global audience. Flushing Town Hall provides a wide variety of arts that is incredibly thoughtful, powerful and enjoyable.

I often marvel at the inspiring, sometimes challenging, and thought-provoking artistic programming. It is one of my favorite theaters to attend as an audience member, to bring my own family, and also one of the most welcoming and supportive theaters to work as an artist, thanks to Ellen’s incredible kindness and the welcoming of her colleagues.

Beginning on September 14, 2015, Treehouse Shakers has generously been given a Space Grant by Flushing Town Hall. This Space Grant allows us the opportunity to play, explore, and begin the development on a new experiential piece for the very young, Olive & Pearl (ages 2-5).

It is the opportunity to work in a beautiful and inspiring space, without having to worry about the expenses. Although we are being slightly mum about the new work, we already have performance inquiries for when the piece is ready. We will begin touring in 2017, in time for our company’s 20th Anniversary.

Over the course of the next year, we will be documenting the creation of Olive & Pearl. As artists, and as a company, it is people like Ellen, and theaters like Flushing Town Hall, who have helped us to survive, succeed, and grow. Flushing Town Hall has become a wonderful part of our Treehouse Shakers’ artistic journey.

We are truly appreciative of the village’s support.

(And, in conjunction with the Space Grant, Treehouse Shakers will return to Flushing Town Hall, October 18, 2015 for workshops and performances of “Hatched”. Tickets in advance are encouraged. For more information check out, Flushing Town Hall.)




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