If you’re reading this, I’m betting you’ve already heard of Pipeline Theatre Company. Duh. And I’m betting you’ve seen at least one of the many fantastic shows they’ve produced these past 10 years. Myself, I’ve taken part creatively in two of them – so far. (Folk Wandering and The Gray Man, for those of you keeping track at home. Oh, and my cornet also had a star turn in the 2016 workshop performance of Playing Hot.)
Ok, so anyway, that Pipeline show you saw. I’ll bet that was probably some unique theater. You’ve been to theater shows before, sure, but there was something special at that Pipeline show you caught, wasn’t there? Maybe it was even the stage itself that was unusual: a church in north Brooklyn, a slinky speakeasy just off Houston. Perhaps it was in a theater, but the set design was something you’d never seen before: tenement apartments almost floating in an inky black expanse, or an ancient, mythical land in a hermetic high-rise office space.
And I’ll bet the cast was virtuosic. Funny. Mesmerizing. I’ll bet the storylines were unpredictable, yet truthful. Supernatural, but somehow human. I would bet you left the show full of feelings and questions and ideas. Maybe you felt like the unique, boundary-pushing, near impossible things you saw were what got you reflecting so deeply as you left.
Theater is the collaborative art. Good, productive, moving theater is achieved via collaboration, and proper collaboration requires placing a high value on process. And make no mistake, it’s very easy for productions to become results-oriented as opposed to process-oriented. Fans get vocal; contemporary trends that don’t really fit your work are tempting to follow; and of course, seats need butts. Collaboration is the much harder choice. There’s more uncertainty. There’s less control. But the truth is that when Process & Collaboration are valued higher than the product, it’s a safe bet that artists end up making their best work.
These values are something Pipeline has consistently upheld, and it’s a philosophy that is practiced all the way at the top of the organization. Ari Schrier & Natalie Gershtein – Artistic and Producing Artistic Directors of Pipeline, respectively – are not only strong entrepreneurs, strong women, strong theater minds, they’re also such strong collaborators. Every time I’ve worked with them, they have invited me to dream big. Unconditionally. And whenever my fellow artists and I have shared dreams, they talked about “how” the dreams could be realized, not “whether.” They helped create productive, driven, diverse teams for all the lighting adjustments, costume fittings, budget meetings, emails, rehearsals, philosophical debates, literal heavy lifting, emotional heavy lifting, hammering, sawing, choreography brush-ups, conversations over lunch, late night roundtables, all-nighter sewing sessions, frantic cab rides, and years of developmental workshops. They offered more questions than orders. Time and time again, in the face of uncertainty, Ari & Nat have worked to maximize collaboration and process: they bet on the artists over the content, on means rather than ends, on journey over destination. And time and time again, Pipeline as a company has delivered great theater to New York City.
Now it’s our turn to bet on Ari & Nat. To bet on Pipeline. It’s quite a special time to be making theater, and Pipeline is positioned to produce better and deeper work than ever. Is that a future I’m rooting for? You bet.
Top Photo by Sasha Arutyunova.
Bottom Photo by Suzi Sadler from Folk Wandering (2018).