<< Back

This article originally appeared in NYU Arts Digest No.6 Fall 2017, pages 18-19

Expect to see plenty of international and immersive works at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts this year. Featuring more than 100 performances, the center’s 2017–2018 season is the first programmed by its new director, Jay Wegman, who has a reputation for adventurous lineups. A native of Minnesota, Wegman studied dramaturgy and theology at Yale before going on to head Abrons Arts Center, the Lower East Side performance and visual arts venue, where he curated a daring mix of multidisciplinary art—theater, film, dance, music, and multimedia—in collaboration with some of the world’s best-known artists over a 10-year run, garnering both an Obie Award and Bessie Award in the process. On the eve of his inaugural season on campus, Wegman spoke with NYU Arts Digest about his new post as well as his ambitious plans to reach diverse audiences and artists.

Lil Buck and Jon Boogz take the stage on April 13 and 14 for Love Heals All Woulds, which addresses social issues through movement artistry

Lil Buck and Jon Boogz take the stage on April 13 and 14 for Love Heals All Woulds, which addresses social issues through movement artistry

What most excites you about your new position at Skirball?

I’m excited about many things, especially the chance to reconsider the purpose of a performing arts center that’s rooted within a world-renowned research university. I’ve come to see Skirball as NYU’s largest classroom. Our season is our syllabus, and each production is an opportunity to introduce students and the broader world to new ideas, new forms, new encounters—much like any other classroom. To that end, we’ve commissioned NYU faculty to author “Indefinite Articles” to contextualize each production; we’ve compiled a reading list for each of them as well. Our redesigned website has discussion boards and digital humanities downloads. And we’ll also have virtual artist office hours with many of the season’s artists.

At Abrons, you had a 300-seat playhouse as well as two theaters, an amphitheater, and gallery. How are you adapting to your new home, which has a relatively simple space?

NYU Skirball is your standard proscenium theater [that seats 860], but with an excellent audience rake that makes for ideal viewing, especially for dance. There’s not much flexibility with the space, but we’re playing around with it. For Aunts Dance Party, the performances take place backstage in the dressing rooms, the rehearsal rooms, and hallways, concluding with a dance party in the lobby. The Hypocrites’ production of Pirates of Penzance is performed promenade-style with the audience joining the actors on stage. And ICE: The Whisper Opera takes place entirely within a small white cube on stage; only 48 people will be able to see it at a time.

Berlin arts collective Gob Squad presents a mixed media performance of War and Peace beginning March 28.

Berlin arts collective Gob Squad presents a mixed media performance of War and Peace beginning March 28.

Is there an overarching theme to the season?

I was inspired by President Hamilton’s call to “let all voices
 be heard,” and as such, we are striving to present and support artists who are creating interesting, challenging, and important work; artists who are underrepresented on New York City stages; and artists who resist aesthetic and/or generic norms. One theme is resistance, be it social, political, or aesthetic. For instance, Mette Ingvartsen’s 7 Pleasures is a dance work that confronts the audience with 12 naked bodies. DJ Spooky’s Rebirth of a Nation subverts the racist narrative of D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation by recontextualizing and re-sounding the 1915 silent “classic.” Adrienne Truscott reclaims and subverts the narrative ownership of rape with her ironic Asking for It. Gob Squad’s War and Peace is responding to life lived under neoliberalism within the Western Hemisphere. Chile’s Teatro La Re-Sentida’s production of The Dictatorship of Coolness is drawn from Moliere’s The Misanthrope and responds to the misconceptions and follies of art created within an aesthetics of resistance. It’s important to think of each production as one part of a larger conversation. 

When you were at Abrons, you tried “to create a vibrant home for artists—a place of safety and experimentation, where the process is prized over product.” How do you measure success?

Success is subjective here. Good reviews, certainly. But for me, the greatest success would be for audiences, especially NYU students, to have a performance reorient the way they encounter the world, if only for the time they’re in their seats.

—Craigh Barboza