Kristin Marting, the founding artistic director of HERE, wanted to make something clear in announcing her departure from the avant-garde Off Off Broadway theater after 30 years.
“I’m not retiring,” she said in an interview last week.
“I’ve had my opportunity as a white woman leader to put my stamp and perspective on HERE and on the work that we do,” she said. “So it just feels like the right time for me to make space for what that new vision is.”
Exactly what that new vision will be is unclear for now: a successor will be named at a later date and Marting, 56, will program one final season before stepping down next June.
HERE, a genre-bending arts center that commissions, produces and presents the work of multidisciplinary artists, was founded in 1993 when Marting and three colleagues (Tim Maner, Barbara Busackino and Randy Rollison) sought a permanent home for their company of young directors, the Tiny Mythic Theater Company.
They teamed up with Home for Contemporary Theater and Art and found a 13,000-square-foot raw space, borrowed a bunch of money, recruited volunteers to help build it out and rented a Ferris wheel for their opening performance.
“We were just crazy ambitious, naïve, and we were just like, we’re going for it,” she said.
The hustle paid off. HERE has not only managed to survive economic downturns, but in 2005, after renting for more than a decade, HERE also bought its space — a former mattress store-turned storage facility south of Houston Street and west of Avenue of the Americas.
The arts center, which operates as a company, producer and incubator in addition to being a rental house, has presented critically adored hits, including “The Vagina Monologues” by Eve Ensler, now known as V; Taylor Mac’s “The Lily’s Revenge”; Young Jean Lee’s “Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven”; and Basil Twist’s “Symphonie Fantastique.”
“Risk-taking is at the center of our curatorial process,” Marting said, “it has always been at the core of what we’re doing and hasn’t changed in any way.”
During Marting’s tenure, HERE co-founded the experimental opera-focused Prototype Festival with Beth Morrison Projects, and Marting will remain a co-curator of that festival. She also started a residency program, which offers mentorship, financial backing and other support to theater, dance, music, puppetry, visual art and new media artists. In recent years, HERE has also created a self-care fund for workers whose disciplines are not covered by unions, instituted a five-day workweek (the theater industry standard is six), and implemented an eight-hour workday for technical rehearsals (referred to as “10 out of 12s” for traditionally 12-hour days with two hours off, contractually permitted by the Actors’ Equity Association).
For Marting’s final season, HERE will present a lineup of women-led productions: Normandy Sherwood’s “Psychic Self Defense” (Sept. 12-30), a work of object-theater-puppetry in which a curtain is repeatedly lowered and raised; Heather Christian’s “Terce” (Jan. 10 to Feb. 4), a religious mass with a chorus of 36 women singing rock, gospel and a cappella harmonies; and Nia Witherspoon’s “Priestess of Twerk” (April 3-27), a performance work contemplating bodily autonomy.
What’s next for Marting, a multidisciplinary artist herself? She plans to continue directing (including an interactive opera about a modern-day Joan of Arc), and to “say yes more than I’ve been able to,” she said.
As for her legacy, Marting said she hopes to leave behind “a philosophy that is about artists at the center of the process.”
“If artists are given what they think they need to make their best work, they’ll make their best work,” she said. “They can tell us best what their work needs to be magical.”
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