Fear and Hope in Industry City: LABA Retreat recap

The 2018 LABA Fellowship ventured to Brooklyn’s Industry City for a day of study, wine tasting and ping-pong. Fellow Jon Adam Ross reflects on his experience.

I’m not scared to perform in front of large groups. I’m a very friendly, outgoing person who regularly makes conversation with strangers. And I already knew the day was going to be exhilarating. But when I got on the subway last Sunday morning, I could feel anxiety creeping in. My hands were shaky; my pits were sweating. And I still had an hour-long ride on the B train.

So why was I so nervous? Probably because I did my homework. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email, along with all the other 2017-2018 LABA fellows, introducing us to each other. And I went down the rabbit hole — videos, articles, excerpts, websites. These were wickedly talented cats who’d been up to no good, stirring the pot with their awesome art. I often feel like an imposter when I’m among artists I admire, and these people impressed me. I wanted to play with them, and I wanted them to want to play with me.

So I was nervous. And then I arrived at Industry City, a labyrinth of Brooklyn warehouses transformed into an ecosystem of studios, shops, and a ping-pong hall. (I couldn’t decide if the setting felt dystopian or utopian.) The group was already present, fully engaged in the foreplay of the day. I found the one remaining chair at the long table, feeling a bit like a jazz musician sitting in on a jam session and wondering when to jump in. My seat was next to Liel Liebowitz and across from Laura Newmark, and we got to talking. And our conversation joined all the other conversations, a cacophony of rhythms and riffs. The group could make a great jazz record.

In no time, I discovered how Brandon Woolf uses public space in his work. I was inspired to write rhythmic dialogue in the way Amy Handelsman uses words like a one-two punch. And I was stealing prompts from Jess Honovich to use in my own devising process. I learned about Occupy Museums and prosecco that ferments in the bottle.

In traditional theater, the artists meet together for the first time for the table read — we huddle around the table and read the play aloud. In devised theater, which is my medium, the first time we get together we just explore each other, instead of the script. That’s the closest I can come to describing what the LABA retreat felt like for me. We were trying each other on for size.

I don’t remember too much from the subway ride home. I was buzzed from the wine and from the text and from the feeling of having just opened ten new presents all at once. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed with the amount of administrative and logistical work I have to do to make my art possible that I struggle to focus on actually making plays. But my day at Industry City left me feeling certain that the next nine months of LABA are going to provide a blood transfusion for my artistic soul.

I hope I get pushed hard. I hope I discover new rabbit holes to get lost in. I hope I get addicted to creating with, learning from, playing with these new friends. Now I’m just nervous I’m gonna run out of time. And wine.