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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

New Victory LabWorks was launched in 2012 to bolster the landscape of theater for young audiences created in the United States. We envisioned nurturing the creation of new work by providing New York City-based artists with dedicated rehearsal space in our New 42nd Street Studios and dramaturgical guidance, and then watching the companies soar. We hoped that one day works developed in the LabWorks program would return home and land in a New Victory Theater season. Christina Gelsone and Seth Bloom, aka the Acrobuffos, were LabWorks artists in 2014-15. Since then, the Acrobuffos and their beautiful airborne spectacle have, indeed, soared, bringing Air Play to audiences across the U.S. and around the world. We couldn't be more pleased that Air Play is the first show developed as part of New Victory LabWorks to be programmed for The New Victory stage, and we can't wait to see how the other exciting projects developed in LabWorks take off. 

Olga Putilina
Artistic Programming Associate
 

We were standing on the huge stage of the Palace Theatre in Cleveland's Playhouse Square. Seth and I had just turned on our circle of twelve fans and thrown in a single red umbrella when it flew beyond our reach, then kept flying, up, up and further up, far over the theater lights hanging at 50 feet.

 

Big Balloons     Photo: Florence Montmare
"Uh-oh," said Seth, "We need to call The New Victory Theater. This is a problem."

We knew our props would fly, we just didn't know quite how high. We had been working for months with Daniel Wurtzel, an air sculptor from Brooklyn, who had invented breathtakingly beautiful art out of a ring of fans with fabric swirling above it. He's a big deal—his sculptures are installed in museums all over the world. Check him out here. With Daniel, we were busy making new sculptures unique for the show we were building—a collaboration between him, a kinetic sculptor, and us, the clowns. (Yes, really, we're professional non-verbal, world-traveling clowns, even though we don't wear makeup.)

The problem was that we were soon supposed to begin three weeks of rehearsal as part of New Victory LabWorks, a program that fosters the creation of new work for young and family audiences. The rehearsal space had an 18-foot ceiling. Our umbrellas were dilly-dallying without a care in the world at 55 feet. Oops.

We called the New Vic. "We're so sorry," said Seth, "The show got too big." We kept saying "the show" because at this point, we still didn't have a title. Plus, we still weren't sure just what "the show" was going to be… other than big. Really big.

"We won't fit in your space, even though it's such a generous opportunity. Please give our spot to another artist. We'll have to find somewhere else to rehearse."

Now, what you must understand is, The New Victory is not a place you just turn down. You have to be crazy to not accept help from a theater with such a rich history of bringing modern circus and innovative family theater to the heart of Times Square. Crazy… or just too big. Our "little" show had grown into a giant cyclone on stage with a will of its own. To our horror, it wasn't just the umbrellas soaring above our height limit. Our long fabrics wafted up and got stuck in the lights, our balloons drifted past the curtains and our packing peanuts decided to live up in the rafters. Our favorite large prop, a billowy, gentle piece of fabric, inflated into a massive white monster. (We now call it "Moby." Literar-ily.)

 

Christina, Seth and Moby Christina, Seth and Moby in rehearsal

"Send me a video," Jonathan, the New Vic's then-Assistant Director of Artistic Programming, said, and we did. "Oh," he said, "That IS big." We sat in silence for a moment, not sure what to say. Before we could apologize, he said, "Give me a week, let me see what we can do."

We kept working. We figured out how to tame our fabrics (except for Moby, he's still a bit feral), we invented a system to control every fan wirelessly, we searched for advanced theater computer programs to handle the cues we needed, we rewrote our comedy, we special-ordered balloons from Italy, we borrowed some temporary costumes, the stagehands made us a template ground cloth to measure our fans and we took as many pictures and videos as we could. It was a big week.

At the end of the week, Jonathan got back to us. "Good news," he said. "We are able to move you into The New Victory Theater to rehearse." We looked at each other. Did he just say…? "We have a week before The New Victory Theater season starts when you could work with our stage crew. Plus, you can bring in your lighting designer." Due to the unexpected scale of our show, we were the first, and so far only, LabWorks artists to be able to experiment outside the New 42nd Street Studios and on the New Vic's historic stage.
 

 

Snow     Photo: Florence Montmare
This happened in 2014. After that, the team working on our show kept having big career milestones. Daniel Wurtzel's air sculptures really took off—he was featured at the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, in Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna, on Broadway's Finding Neverland and now he regularly works with directors like Julie Taymor, Robert Lepage and Diane Paulus. West Hyler, our director, has, since then, directed for Cirque du Soleil's Paramour, Big Apple Circus, won prestigious awards and has even written, directed and produced his own show, Georama. Our lighting designer, Jeanne Koenig, was installing The Lion King all over the world. And Seth and I? We were still performing internationally with our show Waterbombs! The whole time, we all kept diving back into rehearsal, finagling our calendars, and working on "the show," which found its name that fateful week in Cleveland—Air Play.

It was nice to have a title, but the road wasn't over. We kept rehearsing at Flushing Town Hall in Queens, our first rehearsal "home." We were lucky enough to get another big theater, Zoellner Arts Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to give us space. Cleveland's Playhouse Square (a connection made for us by Mary Rose Lloyd, the New Vic's Director of Artistic Programming) gave us another grant, and gave Air Play its public premiere in October of 2015.

Since then, Air Play has flown us all over the world, literally. We've performed on five continents, including an opera house surrounded by active volcanoes in Chile, across the river from Big Ben in London, with cockatoos and giant fruit bats flying right outside the theater door in Australia and having tickets scalped for our sold-out show in Shanghai. 

Seth and ChristinaAnd now, a few years later, we're back at The New Victory Theater, performing Air Play at home in New York City for the first time. Put on your seatbelts, it's gonna be a wild ride.

P.S. Please don't feed Moby.

Christina Gelsone works with her husband, Seth Bloom, as the Acrobuffos. Since becoming clown partners in 2006, they have created five shows together, competed in international circus festivals, performed in over 20 countries, juggled on Late Show with David Letterman, headlined at the Big Apple Circus, and were featured in The New York Times. Their websites are airplayshow.com and acrobuffos.com.
 
Posted by Beth Henderson
Written by Kali DiPippo, Assistant Director of Artistic Programming

"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." — Winston Churchill

 

LabWorks
Photo: Alexis Buatti-Ramos
I can't help but think of these words when a season of New Victory LabWorks comes to a close. It is a time to debrief and reflect, but also ask: what next? Each year, The New Victory has the pleasure of supporting a handful of New York City-based artists creating work for young audiences as part of our LabWorks program. Taking place primarily at the New 42nd Street Studios, these artists hunker down over the course of a year—some with just the seed of an idea, others with a script, and many somewhere in between—to write, plan and experiment. These eclectic artists test out ideas, keep some, scrap others, and by the end, make great strides toward creating work for young audiences and families.

Over the past year, I've watched these artists develop these works (some from just the glimmer of an idea) into presentations for a live audience. The residencies are a vital and inspiring stop on each company's path to a full production. In fact, one of the reasons we started LabWorks was to increase the presence of work for young audiences by American artists. The idea that we could (and indeed are beginning to) see pieces developed by LabWorks Artists at national and international festivals, showcases and venues is thrilling. To come back to Churchill's words, LabWorks is only the beginning.

But before we leave this particular beginning, let's take a look back at some reflections from a few of the 2015-16 LabWorks Artists, in their own words:

    

LabWorks
The Village of Vale in the midst of an open rehearsal. Photo: Alexis Buatti-Ramos
"There is an unfortunate irony that the theater we make for adults (or anyone, really) is called a 'play,' and yet play is often the very thing that it is lacking. Allowing myself the freedom to work in a world that was more fun, that was high-spirited, but that also had to retain a sense of structure and a kind of rationality resonated deeply with me and is something I will not soon forget."
— Jason Gray Platt, Bird Brain

    

"The chance to be part of LabWorks really made us think of ourselves as an 'us'—as a company that has its own aesthetic and process and, we hope, trajectory—and I'm grateful for that."
— Jonathan Karpinos, The Village of Vale

"Within the program there are a range of opportunities to build and expand your network, learn and grow business skills to ensure sustainability, and receive artistic mentorship and feedback from some of the most respected people involved with theater for young audiences."
— Rachel Sullivan & Liz Parker, Layer the Walls

"The open rehearsals were incredibly helpful to us, especially at the place we found ourselves in developmentally at the end of our residency. We needed to get these ideas up and in front of eyes and ears and we have had such valuable feedback from those showings that it's reinvigorated our writing and given us such useful intel that will help guide our process going forward."
— Joseph Varca, The Village of Vale

"Artistically, we learned where the audiences are connecting to our stories and characters, where more information is needed, what is confusing, what is working with form and content, what is lacking and what people are craving. We've never opened up a show to share with an audience at this phase of development, and that in itself was a learning experience. While it was vulnerable to open the doors at this point in the process, it was ultimately rewarding and will allow us to create a stronger piece."
— Rachel Sullivan & Liz Parker, Layer the Walls

 

LabWorks
Layer the Walls in their open rehearsal. Photo: Alexis Buatti-Ramos
"My first instinct would be to keep [LabWorks] a secret so that no one else would find out about it and I'd be able to be part of it again and again ad infinitum. :) But, if pressed, I'd describe it as a fantastic opportunity to develop a show for young audiences, learn more about making theater for young audiences and become part of a community of people who make theater for young audiences."
— Jonathan Karpinos, The Village of Vale

"I had a blast. I felt fully supported by the theater and the staff throughout the process. Considering the program is only a few years into its life it already feels very smoothly run and well-organized. I'll miss you guys!"
— Jason Gray Platt, Bird Brain
 
 
Kali DiPippo ​Kali DiPippo, Assistant Director of Artistic Programming, oversees New Victory LabWorks, a program designed to foster the creation of new works for family audiences and provide New York City-based artists with professional development opportunities. Formerly a stage manager, Kali turned her sights to family audiences after a serendipitous stint in Education at Hampstead Theatre in London and has worked in varying capacities with Roundabout Theatre Company, MCC Theater Youth Company, Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre and the Kitchen Theatre Company. Kali received her BA in Drama from Ithaca College and her MA in Educational Theater from NYU. 

 
Posted by Beth Henderson