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The Aesthetic Fingerprint with Quinn Bauriedel of Pig Iron Theatre Company

From the Ground Up Episode #12

From the Ground Up

“There was no common language except the language of movement.”—Quinn Bauriedel

As Pig Iron Theatre Company heads into its twenty-fifth year, this interview with founder and co-artistic director Quinn Bauriedel demonstrates that it is the training and disciplines that they learned early on which continue to influence the work they do now — even as they learn how to put new administrative tasks and revenue streams into practice.

a group posing for a photo in a train station

The Pig Iron/UArts class of 2019 departs on their cross-country train trip. For five days they traveled across America, making stops in Chicago, Omaha, and San Francisco. Photo by John Chandler Hawthorne.

Jefferey Mosser: Dear artists, welcome to From the Ground Up. I am your host, Jeffrey Mosser. Today we’ve got an interview with Quinn Bauriedel, co-founder of the Pig Iron Theatre Company. This Philadelphia theatre is looking forward to its twenty-fifth year. I had the opportunity to train with Quinn, as well as some awesome guest artists, including Charlotte Ford at their winter intensive. This was maybe a year, or maybe two prior to their announcement that their school for advanced performance training had established an MFA and a certificate program in devised performance. Along with the University of the Arts, I made some really great connections at this training and there are some people that I’m still so proud to call friends. I met a director that frequently works with our interviewees from Flux Theatre Ensemble. Quinn outlines some really great details about his own influences form touring and training around the world. He also talks about how their works have matured over time, sometimes even outside of the hands of Pig Iron companies. This audio was recorded on 12 April 2018 and they had just completed their first MFA Amtrak Off the Rails trek across the country. Since this conversation they have completed yet another one. You catch Quinn and I talking very briefly here at the top. Okay folks, here we go. Enjoy.

Jeffrey: And uh, how are things? How have you been?

Quinn Bauriedel: Yeah everything is going pretty good. Very busy. Lots of projects in the air, balls in the air all of the rest.

Jeffrey: Yeah, yeah.

Quinn: It’s all quite interesting and there's good forward momentum on many different fronts so that's nice.

Jefferey: Yeah and you got to take your MFA team across the country.

Quinn: Yes, exactly. That was a great thing to do for a whole bunch of reasons. One to make a project about it but two to like stare out into infinity and just have a little deep breath for once.

Jeffrey: And you stopped and got to visit some folks all along the way, yeah?

Quinn: Yeah we ended up there were a bunch of plans that we had concocted for a few stops one in Pittsburgh, one in Chicago, one in Omaha. And I guess in the Bay Area where we ended. A lot of them fell through and a new plan emerged along the way. It was very... There serendipitous things that happened, there was spontaneity a lot of the time, there were some things, dreams that you have that four days in advance they fall apart. So it was a little scrambling putting things back together, but some of that was quite interesting to run by the seat of your pants in a place you've never been to.

Jefferey: Right? Yeah, hey, I don't know anybody in this town let's figure it out.

Quinn: Yeah basically. That was the Omaha story.

Jeffery: Oh yeah. Right on. Why don't we start with where you’re at right now with the... I'm really curious, since 2011 you've had this MFA in devised performance.

Quinn: So it was a complicated story I guess, which is that Pig Iron Theatre Company started the Pig Iron School in 2011. It was a state licensed school from Pennsylvania offering a diploma with a two year diploma program, and in 2015 we partnered with University of the Arts and transformed the two year certificate or diploma program into an MFA and we actually run both programs, the, [what we’re] now calling the certificate program, and the MFA. They're very intertwined in some components of the program. The MFA also adds on pedagogy and some other artistic courses like visual art and music and some electives and they also stay on for a final fifth semester so that's the kind of break down. So the MFA has been around since 2015.

Jeffrey: How did you start? How did you find yourselves creating a company?

Quinn: So I think many people we were messing around, fumbling around creating our own rules trying to make theatre that we enjoyed making and began to realize that other people enjoyed watching it. But we were breaking rules that we thought needed to be broken, we were making work in site specific ways, mostly out of need because the places were we could have it were not proper theatres, they were spaces that were either donated or very low cost, and so we were learning how to make plays in unusual found spaces that turned out to be really pleasurable to do so. And then I think it dawned on the company that there were... and this was proto-Pig Iron, this was when we were all in college together.

Jefferey: Uh huh [affirmative].

Quinn: We were learning about some ensembles in other corners of the planet and we were learning about them in a theoretical way, and then trying to make sense of it in our own rehearsal process in projects that were mostly outside of the theatre department, but supported by the theatre department, but supported in a variety of different ways. And then I think it dawned on us that there places in the world where they had actually come up with a whole pedagogy of training around what is now called devising. So I left college and went to work at a theatre company in Minneapolis called Theatre de la Jeune Lune, and was tremendously inspired the way that they were approaching performance, the way the ensemble worked together, the way that they passed around the directing torch for different works, their new space that they were operating out of in Minnesota. There were four artistic directors at the time. And this was right when he college group of collaborators and friends decided to get back together to to do something beyond college, to get together to make a project that would be living out in the world outside of the college setting. And because I had just spent the time at Jeune Lune I began to understand the tiniest bit about producing and about marketing and fundraising and some of those things. And other members of the ensemble had some other ideas and background and internships and things like that that helped the company set out a goal and then figure out how to achieve that goal.

Jeffrey: Sure.

Quinn: So we found a donated space, we made our first project, we brought that to Edinburgh, Scotland and raised some money to take ourselves there. So the first thing that the company did was get out of the country—

Jeffrey: Wow.

Quinn: Meet people who were form every corner of the world making some really wild, interesting, sometimes terrible, sometimes incredible work in a manner that was maybe similar to way we were all working.

Jeffrey: Sure. So, you've toured—

Quinn: Then it also dawned on us that there was a school which the folks at Jeune Lune had all graduated from called Jacques Lecoq and I decided that I needed to go there after that year and after that first summer, so I enrolled at Lecoq and there I was encountering people from twenty-five different countries who were all very passionate and eager to work in an ensemble, to collaborate with one another, to learn about physicality and movement and the possibilities therein. There was no common language except the language of movement, and so that proved this amazing point was that this work can be quite international when it's not language based or language at the center of it. So that's a version of the origin story.

Jeffrey: Touring must have really opened up your eyes in terms of... I know you tour a lot.

Quinn: Yeah there was a real thrill, especially at that time, to getting out of your own little ecosystem which already loves you, and have to win audiences over who don't know you from Adam. And I think there’s a humongous learning curve when you're at Edinburgh because you're competing with 2,000 performances from all over the world and you have to make a name for yourself and you have to strategize about getting audiences there and all of that. But it also meant that the company could go see tons of work together so it built our own taste and our own conversation around other kinds of performance that was being made. And it did give us the desire to keep going. I think after that first summer we didn't have any bookings and nothing emerged out of it, although you can go to Edinburgh and use it as a marketplace. But we did try to go back the next year and then this began a longer process of realizing that we could create something in our home base, Philadelphia, and then not have it just have a run here but it could have a long life. And some projects have seven, eight, nine year touring life in a variety of different settings and festivals and places around the world, and then we've even revived them back in Philadelphia for a second run. So there's a feeling of having a repertoire of works. Not everything is built to tour and I get there have been moments in the company's story where we really built something that should never tour. It just seems impossible. A play with thirty people and it can't be performed in a stage, and it maxes out an audience at 120, so the finances just don't make any whit of sense.

Jeffrey: Sure.

Quinn: And yet that was a play that we've done three times, and it turns out that we've figured out the touring model for that particular show.

Jeffrey: Oh, wow.

Quinn: So there have been some interesting examples. And then there's been the suitcase shows, which are very easy to tour because they travel very well. And the quite complicated ones but that happen to have some support because they're based on a writer or they're based on a particular theme that interests folks who would want to support it.

Jeffrey: Regardless of touring or otherwise, do you start every process in sort of the same way now that you did then?

Quinn: No, and in fact, the maddening part of it, and the exciting part of it is that every project starts with some new seedlings and a new provocation, or a new push. And so there's a series of rewriting of the process each time. There are some things that are very consistent, like we often start with improvisation, we often try to find the spark before we decide on what direction we're gonna actually head. We try to not dream up an amazing idea that doesn't come from something that we have seen happen onstage, because then you can be very seduced by how it sounds or how you dream about it, and then often it's very challenging to put those dreams into action. So we try to start with something that really has a compelling hook for us, and then follow that in whatever direction or wherever that takes us. But there's exercises, there's new collaborators, there's new restraints, constraints on a project, there's a new center. Right now we're in a phase where were looking at different ways of having artistic leadership so it doesn't have to be a director-led process. We're looking at what happens if we have a choreographer lead a project. What happens if we have designers lead a project, what happens if we have actors lead a project. So we're exploring new ways of making decisions and who takes responsibility for moving the project forward.

Jeffrey: How do you get a designer to buy into the idea of making in this sort of devised fashion?

Quinn: Oh, it's so great when designers play along and when they're... we realized how essential it is to have designers around as much as possible. Unfortunately, the economics and the way that everyone's life has set up, there are all kinds of barriers for some of those collaborations. Which we find to be a bit of a bummer. But designers are responsible to be in tech, so the way that they schedule their lives is to have a lot of projects that are moving with a variety of different speeds, but they carve out the time to be in tech. We try to raise as much money as we can so that that's not the norm, so the designers, as I said, can be around as much as possible. We try to ensure that when they're there, they're not just sitting in the corner, but when we're inviting folks to write something, or to go off for a half an hour and compose a little sketch of something, that the designer is one of the collaborators so they're thinking about it from their vantage point and playing along. And then it develops a relationship both as creators between the performers and the designers and, in some cases the writer and director, that all of those people are generative. And we've had some bad experiences, I think, where the props arrive five days before the opening and the actor picks up the newspaper and it's the first time they've picked up the newspaper and they just don't feel as... it's not an object that they know in the same way as if they've worked for it with months and months and months and... I don't know, we care about those kinds of details. And so, having the materials as early as possible. We almost, I think we still call it tech, but we try to talk about tech as starting very early you know?

Jeffrey: Sure.

Quinn: That there could be seven or eight weeks of tech. Not necessarily always with lights, but certainly with sounds and with set objects, and set pieces and objects, costumes, those are all as important as the writing, we find, because we're writing with all of those paintbrushes.

Jeffrey: Writing is curious. Do you bring in a playwright frequently? Or do you just... Because I know you compose a lot based on the collaborations and improvs that you make.

Quinn: We are a company that primarily works with somebody that is a writer. And that has taken many different forms over the course of the company's history. I think there were times where there would be an improvisation, the writer would scribe everything that was said or would record it and would create scripts based on those improvisations, which the actors would then get scripts that are based on those improvs. We would read through it three or four times, then we would discard it and re-improvise and then there would be.... it was sort of an iterative process back and forth between the playwright and the actors. There's been times where we've done lots of improvisations. The writer just focuses all in, goes off for a night, writes based on their memory and their filter, and brings back a script that may resemble some of the things that were sparking in the rehearsal, and then we do a similar thing where we read through it and put it on its feet a few times, and then put it away, re-improvise so that some of the language is built into the mouths of the performers. We've tried also starting with texts, but the main idea is that we're not a company that takes a text and doesn't wrestle with it and turn it upside down before we're ready to perform. Just so that it never feels like it's somebody else's brain speaking through a different person's mouth and it really wants to feel like anything that comes out is coming out through the actor as if for the first time.

Jeffrey: Yeah, yeah.

Quinn: And I'm speaking a lot about, of writing in terms of language, but I think there's a similar kind of writing which is about gesture or tension or movement or entrances and exits. Like, all of those things we consider information, communication, and part of whatever piece it is we're working on.

Jeffrey: Text as information or text as gesture is a really appealing idea to me. That's really great. When you take the... I know you've done scripts as well, though, yes? The last, most recent thing I saw on your website was you did a version of Twelfth Night a while ago. So how do you grab onto Twelfth Night and say, okay we're gonna wrestle with this text and we're actually gonna try and turn this upside down and try and put our stamp on it.

Quinn: Yeah I guess just a little backstory to that which is, we had this residency at The Public Theater to work on Shakespeare, that was their idea. "let's get us some companies into The Public to see what they might do with Shakespeare." And we had never started with a script so it was... and that was a rule that we had set that was something that we wouldn't. But we also didn't want to not take this opportunity but they said you can chop it up, you can do it in a different language, you can do a wordless version of it. They were totally open to any interface we might have with the material. And that felt very appealing that they were game to let us explore. And there was no pressure on either side of things. There was no pressure for them to say we're gonna greenlight this and produce this, there was no pressure for us to say we're doing this as a company audition to get a gig at The Public. So we worked with Measure for Measure, and we tried it a dozen different ways and, interestingly, that research spawned four other projects that had nothing to do with Shakespeare but had everything to do with the themes of Measure for Measure. Eventually we did this project that we called Isabella, and it was only using text from Measure for Measure, but it was very chopped up. And we got rid of a bunch of characters and we had a whole conceit around it that it was set in a morgue, and a mortician who was this duke and he was animating these dead bodies using this old story, this spell, to become kind of a hero fantasy, and to rescue Isabella in the end. So we had had some experience with that. Very freeform, very trying to wrestle with Shakespeare. And then there was a moment when Twelfth Night became very appealing as an amazing play and I guess the company, we felt like "well, that's something that we've never done. And something that we don't quite know how to do. Let's test it out. Let's do a workshop on Shakespeare and drunkenness. And is it possible to just play around with character who are really sloppy with their words like a drunk and we don't need to be precious about hearing every last little thing and every last little joke. What we're more interested in is the state of drunkenness." In the play we also began to see all this melancholy, so wouldn't it be fun to play around with that state? So we came at it from almost like an acting curiosity. Why is it that some drunks onstage look very theatrical and kind of fake? And why is it that when you go out into a public space and you see a drunk, what's going on there? Can we bring that quality to the stage? So it was really driven by an acting question.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Quinn: And then we saw that in Twelfth Night there's just so much music and we had this idea, Dan Rothenburg had this idea that music could be the thing that makes you most sad when you want to feel really sad about yourself really miserable. And music could also be the thing that gets you going into a party atmosphere. And so music was the next launching point. Meanwhile we're playing around with "do we need to hear everything? Are the words the thing at the top of the pyramid, or can we make a piece which has all of these things in the soup?" So the piece ended up being Twelfth Night, straightforward, as much of the text as it felt we like needed. We called it Twelfth Night it had all of the characters, all of the joy and jokes and all of that. But it started as if we were starting from scratch just with one noun which was these words. But we didn't try to put them onto a pedestal and we tried I guess, to pretend this was a [inaudible 20:50:00] to like collaborate with Shakespeare. That it got under our skin. It felt like a project that could feel was our not... we're just doing Shakespeare.

Jeffrey: One last thing on the note of texts. I know that you have some published works out there. I know I have a collection of plays under the [Chekhov Lizardbrain] title for plays. How do you feel about other folks doing your plays or doing these scripts that you've generated? Also, is it a financial boon to have a text that you can sell?

Quinn: It's not a financial boon or at least not yet. We had to make our piece... the plays were made by people who then performed them, and we had to make our piece, at some point, with the fact that a seven person play that goes on a two week tour and then has a three stop and then goes on another one week tour then a month off and then four weeks... like a schedule like that does not always allow every single one of those people to go on every single one of those tours. So we had to begin to decide if we wanted to not go on tour unless almost everybody who created it was in it, or if there was a quorum of the original cast, could we think about recasting some parts? And I think we decided that in some cases there was an actor who just, we couldn't do the pay without this person, or we could do it without this person and we could think about recasting. And once we started that, we began to realize that there are ways to keep the integrity of a piece as intact as possible and not have to give up what we think are good opportunities. And we also shouldn't make somebody in the ensemble feel bad because they have a ten week job that means they can't do the one week tour, when all of those things were in the mix of trying not to feel stressed out about saying no to Pig Iron or saying yes to some other opportunity. And then at that point, then, we had the opportunity to publish some scripts and I think when the plays were very close when they were first created in the first couple of years, you feel that this is your little baby and you just want to keep performing it and learning about it and work on every little last nuance of the project, but at some point you can let it go and take light in the fact that it might be out in the world or it means something to others outside of the ensemble and that somebody might choose to do one of the pays. And that has happened a couple of times. It has not happened in any major way. I think there was a production, and it's mostly college productions, but there's been a production or two of Hell Meets Henry Halfway, there's been a production or two of The Lucia Joyce Cabaret. And then we did Gentlemen Volunteers, which was a play that had been in the repertoire for a long, long time, and finally we stopped performing it for ten years, and we brought it back for the twentieth anniversary of Pig Iron and now that we had the school, we had people that were trained to make a play like this, we remade it with a younger cast. And that new cast went out on tour and that felt, I think for everybody, terrific. Exactly the way that that should continue, that the play can continue to breathe and have a life, but it doesn't need to be the original cast. But it took us a while to come around to that. Yeah, there's a tension between the premiere and everything that you pour into that and a group that has made something over one, two, three, four, sometimes five years.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Quinn: And handing it off, it's not always that easy. And in some cases, somebody who's an acrobat, who plays saxophone, who can pull off that they're living in San Diego, whatever the ingredients are that are very tailor-made by the person who's created the part, it's hard to just shove somebody else in and make it feel authentic.

Jeffrey: A minute ago you talked about how you observed multiple directors, people rotating directorships, and Pig Iron has had a co-director partnership for a long time, since the beginning really as I understand. What is the benefit of having that? And what are maybe some of the pitfalls that you maybe don't anticipate by having that?

Quinn: Yeah I mean it is, I guess, an unusual thing. We were luckily all very close friends in college, in fact, Dito was my college roommate for four years. So there was a closeness and we actually, in college, almost never auditioned for the same plays because we didn't want to compete for parts, so in the evenings, we would come back after he was rehearsing something, I was rehearsing something, and we would just share notes about what happened, what the process was like. And that, in retrospect, was the beginning of digging in to how the sausage is made. And in the very beginning there were seven who founded the company and there were a few in that early group who wanted to go off and do something else after, son then the next project there were five, and then there was four, and eventually it settled as three. And I think Dan, Dito, and I, we complimented one another very well and I guess we had all of the normal tensions of that kind of marriage, but in the end of the day there was always an exciting thing that we got to do, and I think we all felt very excited and in a special seat to be able to do creative work. And all of the administration and management of the company was at the service of the whole thing, which was very clear. And it was an artistry of our company and we knew enough about how to run some of these administrations at first that we could pull it off. And then, of course, we later learned that there are people who are just ten times better and more passionate about it than we are, and so we began to have the ability to hire some people to take the company in a bigger direction. I had this mentor relationship with Jeune Lune and saw how they had managed it and I thought it was special. You go to work and you have a vivid conversation, not just with yourself in your own mind, but back and forth. And somehow that meant that you could launch a really dumb idea and somebody wouldn't just shoot it down, they would say "Hm..." puzzled around it. And there was enough devil's advocate and enough cheerleading that the better ideas can rise to the surface. And we also recognized that we couldn't collaborate equally on every aspect of the company and so there was a division of labor and a very clear understanding of roles that at a particular moment Dito would be handling the fundraising, and we would all grouply look into it, but he would take responsibility for it. I did the finance and education and I would take responsibility for that and production of the marketing and would sign off on that. And that meant that we weren't just always in each other's business, we kind of owned a part of the company.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Quinn: And I think we also began to understand how a rehearsal could function well where there wasn't one person dictating to everybody, but there was a way that decisions got made and we were on board with that. And if I were to characterize it, there are people who lead the cross at different moments, and it's different people. The performers, hand in hand with the director, launch a lot of things, and the performers see what holds and they take those ideas really far and you amass lots of material, and you built flesh to the ideas and the strongest ones rise to the surface. And that was the point, we called it hinge, where everything shifts, and we need to get rid of a lot of things and edit things down and simplify and look at the arc of the entire thing. And I would say that's when the director and the writer begin to grab the reigns and lead everybody towards the opening. And then, in a way, back in the actors' hands and begin to understand the play really from the inside. And to sharpen it. And then I would say it's a nice back and forth between the people who are watching it and the people who are inside of it, trying to understand it from both perspectives. It can be thought of from the audience and the performance side of things.

Jeffrey: On your website you list your company members as well as your artistic associates, et cetera. Are they all considered part of the ensemble? Do you say they are ensemble members? And however that plays out, are they all able to pitch the next idea or somehow contribute to the next process?

Quinn: Like everything, it's evolved. there was a long chapter with three artistic directors, co-artistic directors, and five to seven company members. And that was very a clear delineation of what the responsibilities of each group were and that group of eight or nine or ten would be considered the company. And yes, we would have company meetings, and we would have company training and the ideas that came out of the company meetings would filter up to the artistic directors who would decide and carve out some rehearsal time to test things out. And we had this period in the company called the island, which is just R & D, where we just don't put pressure onto deciding we're gonna greenlight something. We don't put pressure on anything except to launch an idea and see how it takes hold in a room. And sometimes that's just trying out a collaborator or sometimes that's... I have this hunch about a thing but I don't know where it's gonna go, can we take two days and test it out? but sometimes there's a really compelling thing that takes shapes with more than just the person who brought the idea. Then it begins to attract momentum from the company. And those are usually the project who will come back and do another workshop specifically on that and begin to fundraise and begin to conceive of how this might evolve into a premiere. And it's intuitive, it's not parliamentary in the sense that everyone gets a chance to pitch and then votes are taken or anything like that. It really is intuitive in the sense of the group recognizing that there's key excitement around something. And I guess there's a pragmatic aspect, too, which is an idea that's just gonna cost a million dollars, it may not be feasible, or it may take seven years to get going so we need to work at it a little slower or we need to have a big donor to get it going or something like that, but primarily it's driven by the artists. Then there were a lot of company members to be jammed into like, have their own companies, or have their own projects outside of Pig Iron, or want to go over to something else, and so there was a period where people were in the company and doing other exciting things and we needed to figure out what the next iteration of company membership is. And so now it's a little different from what it used to be. It's a three year agreement that we're gonna make a relationship that doesn't have an endless duration. It's not open-ended forever. We're gonna work together closely and be in close proximity for three years, and then at that point we'll reassess if we wanna keep going for three years. Or I you wanna take two years off and then come back.

Jeffrey: Mhm. [affirmative]

Quinn: It means that there's a little less clutching of people and it means that people know what they're in for in a little more clear way, and maybe that will be that they'll be in a bunch of islands and some workshops of new things and then eventually to new works. Maybe they'll play one kind of role within the collaboration in one project and a different kind of role in the next project but they'll be part of an ongoing conversation within that company. It's a smaller group now, and in a way we're piloting this new idea about company membership at this next phase of the life cycle of the company.

Jeffrey: Yeah. Do you pay everyone who's involved on the project? Even the rehearsals, even in the island area?

Quinn: Yes. So there's a big budget for the island because it's often one or two or three weeks long and yeah everybody gets paid to be part of it. And there's a company member rate.

Jeffrey: Rate. Got it.

Quinn: For a rehearsal week or an island week or a performance week.

Jeffrey: When you're trying to fundraise for this sort of R & D that you have, how do you talk about it to a grant or a foundation that might be able to give you funding for this rehearsal process that you don't know what the R & D is going to turn into?

Quinn: Yeah man, I guess we use a lot of... we borrow from other industries, we talk about science and how science spends time in the laboratory testing things out, some of which may lead to amazing research, and some may lead to a dead end. But you would never say don't fund it if it's gonna lead to a dead end because you don't know what's gonna be a dead end and what's gonna produce the most incredible research. So part of a scientist's job is to look out into the dark, and part of the artist's job is to do the same thing. So we try to make the case for that, but we can't just be deciding we're gonna do something and then five weeks later we're gonna have a masterpiece. We have a masterpiece, we have to fail, we have to not put pressure onto the final product before it's ready to have that kind of pressure. We need to explore, we need to go down a rabbit hole and realize it's a dead end. If we're really gonna say we're making original, unique, theatrical creations that are gonna impact the audiences and the field, then we have to have this R & D time. So we make that case and there are some who don't get it, and there are some who begin to get involved or watch one of these processes at the very beginning and then two years later they see where that idea emerged. And I think that can be quite an interest for some people in that, in the process itself. We've built it into some larger grants, it is a hard thing to fundraise because you don't get to take your donors through an opening night, you can bring them into the sweaty rehearsal room and show them stuff that doesn't look quite as polished or finished or even structure yet. But, you know, I think we've luckily been doing the island long enough that we can point to the way that it has led to a variety of projects and what would have happened had we not had the island around. And I guess in Philadelphia there's some funds right now that understand that there's a kind of ecosystem of funding. There's some funders that just want to fund the production, there's some funders that actually want to fund the longevity of the company, there's some that want to fund things that are not sexy at al, like healthcare. And there's some funders that want to fund R & D and seedling projects, recognizing that there's somebody that will take those seedling projects into the final stage. So, it's interesting to watch the funders kind of figure out where they want to situate themselves with you in that pipeline.

Jeffrey: You don't have to get into the numbers, but could you give me a percentage of what your earned versus contributed income looks like?

Quinn: I think when we, before we had the school, it was probably about seventy percent contributed, thirty percent earned. And maybe sometimes even like eighty-twenty. And that's more similar to how dance companies look, I think, although they may even be higher percentages contributed. With the education program now, the school, it's much closer to fifty-fifty.

Jeffrey: Okay. that must take an extraordinary amount of pressure off.

Quinn: I don't know about an extraordinary amount of pressure 'cause then as the company grows the ambitions grow, and we just did this project with I think close to eighty performers, and it had five symphonic movements, and it had a design that was just out of hand and out of control, so it's just... there's bigger dreams, bigger things that we want to achieve. It does... I think when funders look at a twenty-three year old company as opposed to an eight year old company or a fifty year old company, there's a maturity I guess that that resembles, there's stable, diverse income streams that will allow the company to sustain itself over time. And I think that to have that at this point in our life cycle is probably a good thing.

Jeffrey: Yeah. Do you own your spaces?

Quinn: We lease our spaces.

Jeffrey: Okay. Do you have any full-time administrators or a full-time staff member that you have on your team?

Quinn: Yes, so there was a moment when, I'm not sure exactly when, but let's say four or five years into the company where we just felt like we couldn't move forward without a half-time person paying the taxes and doing some of the administrative work because we were just overstretched, until we brought in a half-time person and reconfigured the budget to make that make sense. And then we realized that it was more than a half-time job, that it was a full-time job, so we figured out, again, how to rearrange some resources and bring in a full-time person who is really a managing director partner with the artistic directors handling a lot of the things that had outgrown us. And I think we still collaborated and had our hands in it but somebody who's dedicated to think about those issues of the company. Then we grew a little bit and were able to bring on a development person and then we grew a little bit more and were able to bring on a full time production manager. So now we have a managing director, general manager, an office manager, production manager and assistant production manager, development director, and a digital marketing coordinator. So the staff has grown quite a lot and I think at this point everyone, as we continue to max out everyone's capacity because there's just a lot of things going on. With the school there's a lot more activity and there's a lot more things with the relationship with the university, with the students, with registration, with payment, all of those things that we need the staff to handle. And quite large projects that have a long run up time. And we also have space that we lease but we need to oversee it and so there's a facilities component to a couple of those jobs.

Jeffrey: Yeah. Were you, as co-artistic directors, taking a salary when you were also starting to give that half time salary position a salary?

Quinn: You know I... we always paid ourselves as artists, like we did anyone that we were hiring, and I think that was something that we did very early on. We had a tiny grant from the state of Pennsylvania, but it meant that the project with the earned income of the tickets we could pay people... we were kind of excited to be able to guarantee at the time a hundred dollars for [inaudible 41:09] or something like that. And we also knew that if we had said we were gonna do a hundred now, then the next... we can't go backwards. So in the next iteration we need to think and re-manage to go up to a hundred fifty per. So that's always been a big thing and I think there was a time when we kind of felt like the administrative work was what we did in order to support ourselves as artists and maybe we would pay a small stipend for the administration, but not a full salary or anything. Then we got, Dan, Dito, and I received a huge fellowship, and we were one of the first collaborations to get it, which was awesome. It also meant that we, rather than get three fellowships, we split one for the three of us. But it was just enough to bump us up from pulling all of these week-long artistic jobs into something that could be considered a fifty-two week per year salary with some fellowship money supporting that and some Pig Iron money. So that was a moment when, again, we couldn't go backwards, so we were communicating to barely full-time artistic salary that encompassed the artistic work and the administrative work. And that was about 2002.

Jeffrey: What is the greatest hurdle that you're looking at right now? What is the one thing that you wish you could remove that would make the life of Pig Iron easier?

Quinn: Well, we're about to, we're starting to think about the twenty-fifth anniversary, we're starting to think about what's the next big idea or next big thing that we can rally some support around. I do that the, that having some, and I'm not sure if I want to use this word, endowment, but having some kind of fund that we can hold for additional scholarship support for students, for some ramping up of our facilities with different kinds of equipment, and some support for projects where we don't... where we want to have, let's say, a collaborator in the room that is, you know, that we're really excited about, but for whatever reason, there's just not that fifty thousand dollars of funding to bring that person aboard. Like if we had, if that could be removed as a question, I think that would make us all breathe a little bit easier.

Jeffrey: Yeah. Quinn, I'm gonna throw us into the lightning round, so don't spend a whole lot of time thinking of these answers. Though, I admit that a couple of them might be... have stumped me if I had to look at them myself. But what's your favorite kind of transportation?

Quinn: Train.

Jeffrey: What's your favorite kind of salutation?

Quinn: Howdy.

Jeffrey: Favorite exclamation?

Quinn: Bonkers.

Jeffrey: What does ensemble mean to you?

Quinn: Group of people listening to one another.

Jeffrey: What would you be doing if you weren't doing theatre?

Quinn: Architecture.

Jeffrey: Ooh. What's the opposite of Pig Iron?

Quinn: Butterflies and rainbows.

Jeffrey: And what's your favorite kind of ice cream?

Quinn: Mint chocolate chip.

Jeffrey: Ah, you know, I am finding that so many people love mint chocolate chip. And I've only had a few that didn't. But it's where it's at.

Quinn: It's also like, the one that's right on the tip of my tongue.

Jeffrey: [Laughs] Yeah. Right? Very cool. Anything else you didn't get to say but would like to?

Quinn: This was fun! You got into so many interesting things. No, I mean, obviously there's so maybe different directions that this can go but I hope it was useful for you.

Jeffrey: Absolutely! Thank you so much for your time. And all the best, and I hope to get back and check y'all out again sometime soon.

Quinn: Yeah, come visit! Alright. Good luck with the program.

Jeffrey: Yeah! Say hi to...


Jeffrey: This conversation ties back to the one we had with Lindsay Puckett about how you have to aim for the best possible outcome in your grant, understanding that the sciences do have a language to use for grant applications already. Masterpieces are made not decided, right? Like, the idea that we have to work on something, really work on it, we don't just get to say "you know what? I'm gonna make a masterpiece today." You have to work on the work, I love that idea of the island where ideas just get to ruminate until they're ready and just the fact that they bring donors in to watch underdeveloped work, or even a series of ideas is really awesome to me. I am just a huge fan of transparency if you haven't already noticed, That's all we've got for today. As always, please reach out with you inquiries on Facebook or Twitter @FTGUPod, or email us at [email protected]. Thanks, folks, and we'll see you next time on From The Ground Up.

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Thoughts from the curator

From the Ground Up is here to ask questions about ensemble-based creation. Who’s doing it? How is it practiced? Are they paid? Are they able to thrive? We’re also examining that word: Ensemble. What does it mean? There is no roadmap, format, prescription, description, or rubber stamp to the way ensemble-based work is made from place to place and process to process. This podcast interviews companies from around the country on how they make and pay for the art. If you have questions about where to begin or what to do next with your own company, stay tuned.

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