Last month, the Chairman of PS122’s Board, Ivan Martinez, took the time to write about his experiences as a participant in Choreography for Blackboards, which was presented last January as part of COIL 2012.
My name is Ivan Martinez and I’m the chairman of the board of Performance Space 122. I’ve been on the board since 1998. I was never an artist or performer and my involvement has been mostly to help support and manage the institution. This past January, for the first time ever, I was asked to be a performance – Michael Klien’s Choreography for Blackboards which was part of PS122’s COIL festival. I was honored to be asked, but also petrified at the prospect of performing in front of a paying audience. As part of the show, I wouldn’t have a PowerPoint presentation or the scripted set of charts that are part and parcel of my day job. This was new territory for me.
The show was a unique piece that had me and five other performers, many non-artists like myself, drawing on and moving around six large blackboards. There was some guidance and rules that defined the choreography’s five sections, but for the most part we were free to experiment with our markings and with our interaction with the space. The only hard rule was that we couldn’t come in with preconceived ideas of what you wanted to draw or do; it had to be spontaneous.
We rehearsed for several days in order to get the choreography’s structure right and to get us comfortable with chalkboards, the staging, and each other. I was able to see first-hand what went into the realization of an artistic vision, something that I had never been exposed to in such a direct manner. I was so taken by the thought and nuance that went into developing a piece of performance, some of which was informed by intangibles: mood, flow, chemistry, and the idiosyncrasies of movement and space.
The performance forced me to test the boundaries of my creativity. On the fly, I had to come up with something to populate my chalkboard. It should have been easy because there was no right or scripted answer, and in fact we were encouraged to experiment by drawing and erasing as many times as possible, but I still felt compelled to try to be interesting for the audience. I had a very hard time erasing my work, but that became liberating once I got used to it, and made me trust my creative reserves. The energy of not just creating, but having an audience experience that energy with you, was thrilling.
This experience really brought into focus why I love and support Performance Space 122. PS122 serves as a catalyst for creativity, innovation, and risk-taking in our culture that is increasingly being sanitized and marketed to. I can’t think of a more exciting time to be involved with PS122. With generous commitment from the City of New York, our home in the East Village is undergoing a spectacular and necessary renovation that will allow the theater to function as the cultural heart of the neighborhood and a base to influence art and performance across New York and globally. I’m excited also about the years PS122 will be out of the building, bringing performances all around the five boroughs, exposing new audiences to our brand of immersive experience. As unnerving as it was for me to step into the role of a performer, it’s a little intimidating for the organization to experiment with new ways of presenting work while out of its home, but that is true to PS122’s nature – taking risks and seeing opportunity where others don’t.
The energy of the staff, board, and supporters of PS122 during this period has been infectious, underlining the importance and uniqueness of this institution. I encourage anyone who values risk-taking and thought-provoking experiences to get involved – by seeing shows, donating, spreading the word, and if you are lucky and brave enough, to be part of a performance.