Interview with Lisa Steindler
Jamie Gahlon: What are the technical residencies at Z Space? And what made you start offering them?
Lisa Steindler: Our technical residencies subsidize artists’ use of our theater, lights, sound system, tech and artistic staff, and our entire facility to develop their concepts and work at a crucial stage in the creative process. Because development is such a core tenet of the Z Space mission, we wanted to explore innovative ways of utilizing our space. We were looking around the field wondering, “How can we help facilitate and raise the quality of the work that’s out there? How can we support organizations, projects, and artists get to where they want to go?” The technical residency was framed around that need. There was a lot of discussion with artists and other organizations that develop new work—we really wanted to know, “How can we support our community? How can we garner all the resources that we have in our organization and give time to artists in our space?” We wanted to create a space that allowed artists to take real risks and be vulnerable and adventure into unknown territories. That’s how it was born. The technical residencies are designed to provide artists an opportunity to experiment with various designs and elements of technology. The residency allows artists the time they need to integrate these components into production. We recognized that performers, organizations, and theater-makers needed more time in a full-production environment prior to opening, without the pressure of tech, previews, and opening night. In the United States, I think there’s a collapsed model—we push the most complicated technical and staging decisions to tech week, which doesn’t allow for adequate experimentation or exploration of ideas. So we decided to create one-to-five week residencies (depending on the need) for projects requiring uninterrupted time in a space that provides full technical staff support and extended project management. We give each project as much additional developmental resources as possible. If they want to bring in an audience at some point in the process, we’ll help facilitate that.
Jamie: When did you first start offering these kinds of residencies?
Lisa: We launched the first one in June of 2011 with seed money from the NEA and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Jamie: Can you give a specific example of a technical residency and how it worked?
Lisa: Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s project, red, black & GREEN: a blues had a five-week residency with us last year. During the first two weeks, all of the designers were in the room. They built some of the set in Chicago and then shipped it here, and then finished the build in our space. The set, designed by Theaster Gates, was quite complicated and involved creating moveable houses. Director Michael Garcés came up from LA and they all used the time to figure out how this integral set was going to function and how the performers would inhabit these houses. Videos and cameras inside the set added to the intricacies, technically speaking. We had a technical director on site for forty hours. We brought in some crew, they used our administrative offices as needed for copying scripts and such, and they had free rein of the space. It was their home; they walked in, and made it their home. Marc was still in the process of writing, so I think it was helpful for him to be creatively thinking in the largeness of the space, while having the set on stage and collaborators in the room. The project was realized during that time. At the end of the two weeks, they went away, the set was stored, and the team had time to reflect and Marc finished working on the script. About four months later they all came back for three more weeks and continued the process. They built out the light plot, the soundscape, finished off the set, and essentially walked from Z Space into Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), where the show premiered. It was much less expensive to technically build the project out at Z Space because Yerba Buena has union contracts to contend with and a tight schedule. I don’t know how they would have done it otherwise. This was a real success story for all of us.
Jamie: Can you give another example of a technical residency that was modeled differently?
Lisa: The Big Art Group had a month-long residency at the Headlands where they started their project by interviewing San Francisco activists and artists. They ultimately used these interviews as source material for the show. Later, they returned and spent about a week and a half with us at Z Space. They taught classes opening up their process to the public, which gave local artists the opportunity to see how another group works. We premiered the site-specific show, The People: San Francisco, outdoors on the street in front of Z Space in partnership with YBCA. We’ve got another technical residency coming up this spring with Sarah Wilson, a local composer, who is working with a dance company called Catch Me Bird out of Los Angeles. This project is in partnership with The de Young Museum here in San Francisco. Sarah and Catch Me Bird will come into Z Space for three weeks. The show has some aerial work so they can make great use of the height and the grandness of our space. Havi