Editor’s note: On occasion, BTD shifts their blog’s attention to the self produced companies, DIY projects, and emerging artists that make up the next generation of theatre. This month, we focus on The Syndicate, an ensemble theater company that produces new plays by women, queer, and trans artists.
This year’s Pride festivities brought with it a first for Chicago: The Syndicate‘s First Read, a staged reading series centered around the work of trans*, queer, and nonbinary theatre artists. After a successful run in New York last year, the international ensemble theatre company turned their attentions to the lively queer community in Chicago for a second round. I sat down with The Syndicate Co-Artistic Director Elle Riley-Condit to reflect on her experience over the whirlwind of a week.
BTD: In your own words, describe what First Read is.
Riley-Condit: First Read is a new play readings series that centers trans* and non-binary theater artists. It is part new play development workshop, part community building event, and part Queer celebration.
BTD: Describe a moment that has stayed with you since the week closed.
Riley-Condit: Each of the readings have moments that have stayed with me. Singing Happy Birthday to Gavin before the reading of their play prefer not to answer, or other. The heartbeat clapping that the audience at Quemado held while Airos and Lucas gave a beautiful land acknowledgment, tribute to Pulse, and to the trans lives we’ve lost this year, especially trans women of color. Sitting with June in the talk back after Ashana (A Native Play) and dreaming with them and the audience about what questions the play still wanted to answer. The joy and surprise of the characters in Dig breaking into howling during one of the scenes, the way that made the audience lean forward and really got at the root of what Theo is working on in the play.
I am reminded that the moments that stay with us when we get into a room together to create something very often transcend the language of the thing. In the end, a great theatrical experience might start with the text of a story, but it’s the bodies in the room, the context and community those bodies carry and create, and the way a moment is shared in real time that make theater memorable. I was reminded during First Read that we work so hard on the plays themselves because of all the other things that happen when we say words out loud with each other.
BTD: Is there anything you learned over the course of the event?
Riley-Condit: Like a million things! I learned more about how The Syndicate can co-create space, how we can give everyone enough time to make this the event that we want it to be if we really plan for it. Of course, we are already dreaming about next year. For 2020, I want to give even more space to the healing elements, the community building elements, the affinity space elements. We are always saying in theater that we don’t have enough time, we are sacrificing people’s basic needs for the sake of productivity. But we can do it all. We just have to plan the time to rehearse the play AND talk and sing and dance and eat and share and learn and grieve and celebrate. We have to be very clear about how we as a group are going to approach the time we have to make all those different things possible. But as silly as it sounds I’m excited to keep working on the scheduling of it all, based on what we learned this go round. I’m excited to keep figuring out how we can do more and still care for everyone.
BTD: First Read included two community conversations to discuss ideal creative spaces for trans* and non-binary artists. What is one technique that you’re looking forward to implementing in your own work moving forward?
Riley-Condit: I learned so much from our facilitator Elon Sloan, both in terms of the information they were sharing and the way they shared it. They are an amazing facilitator for learning about trans* inclusion in any space and everyone should hire them!
Reflecting on what I took away specifically, for myself and The Syndicate, I was reminded that I have to keep things simple. The Syndicate and I sometimes catch ourselves making big complicated plans really quickly, when what we need to do is stop and listen. I can’t think or dream my way into inclusion. It’s active, it’s a practice. And I learned a lot in the First Read week about things I take for granted as an ally or a co-struggler, things that are ingrained in me that I consider common sense, but that are still not common practice for many theater companies and creators. As a cis person making theater, doing something as simple as offering my pronouns and encouraging other cis theater makers to default to sharing theirs and making space for everyone to do so- that seems really basic to me, but it’s not. That’s the level we have to start on, cis people can call in other cis people to take responsibility for what we want the new “normal” to be. It should be normal to not assume anyone’s pronouns, it should be normal to share and use the correct ones for each person and for those to be able to change. That’s a really basic start, but it’s a start. I think I can do more to encourage that and other efforts with other cis people who have leadership roles in the industry. I am excited to keep the conversation going. We are working on a living document that will offer resources and a network of folx who are interested in this work, and we’re dreaming up ways that we can reconvene and expand on the gatherings we had in months to come to stay accountable and keep growing. So stay tuned for that!
For more information on The Syndicate, visit wearethesyndicate.com.