Making Art in 2017: Tina Satter on Ghost Rings
Company: Half Straddle
Show in 2017 Festival: Ghost Rings
Past Festival shows: In the Pony Palace/FOOTBALL
FringeArts: Tell us about your show.
Tina Satter: When I started Ghost Rings I had this very early writing of two girls discussing banal and existential questions. In this very early draft they each had an animal that operated as their “Private Inner Being”—one girl had a deer and the other had a seal—but I wanted to play with the idea that these weren’t actually cute, cuddly animals. They were kind of crass, and direct, and not necessarily mean, but didn’t always offer great advice. They sort of actually operated like “mean girls.” The deer in particular even wanted to talk about sex and stuff.
At the same time Half Straddle composer, Chris Giarmo, and I had been discussing doing a project that really focused on singing. We always have original music, scores, and often songs in our shows, and usually these are performed by a mix of untrained and trained singers. Chris had recently expressed that he wanted to experiment with making music out of our collaboration that was more challenging and really required very, very good singers to do it and I loved that challenge and idea. From the beginning, we were like, “Maybe it’s a fully sung-through piece?” but didn’t have any idea what that would mean for us. We also knew from the beginning we wanted to work on it with Erin Markey who has an incredible voice and stage presence, and we’d been collaborating with her for a while at that point. At the time I knew of the actor Kristen Sieh, who’s outstanding, but I didn’t know she was a singer. Then sometime in 2012 I saw her in a show where she sang and she suddenly seemed like the perfect person to play opposite Erin.
Meanwhile, I was honing and refining the writing between these two characters, then called Samantha and Kristen, and their Private Inner Beings (Seal-y and Deer). In the writing they had become these best friends who also have a deep romantic connection. As they grow one truly wants to have a baby with the other so she sets this intention that she is pregnant and it comes true. At the same I was going through all this stuff with my actual sister who I’d always been super close to, but there were pretty intense things she was going through and we were estranged. I couldn’t help putting really direct and personal writing about my sister in the show. It made sense in a way since I would be onstage drumming anyway.
So, I was working on how to make those two distinct aspects of text work together—and then I remembered that when we were really little my sister and I had a “band” with a friend—a fake band obviously, but for a moment in time we took it really seriously. That became this really perfect through-line for Ghost Rings—to re-create a band now as an adult and artist to frame these memories and new stories.
Questions I was thinking of as I made this: What does “romance” mean when considered in more dynamic, non-heteronormative ways? When someone you love is alive, but gone, where do you put that feeling, those questions, all that sadness, hope, and futility? Also, how do you hold the memories and feelings that are missing one half of what holds them up? And, what if the person missing has the same skin and hair and genes as you? What if I just flip the script literally and put this almost rom-com conversation of mistaken pregnancy happening between two women? What if your adolescent best friend or best sibling or person you were so close to you didn’t know where they began and you ended was who you actually moved into the future with? What can families look like that are all female?
FringeArts: How have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year?
Tina Satter: I have been digging deep into questions of what can I do with my artistic platform: Who should be seen? What does it mean to make work in this moment of American life? How can I take my position as a white middle-class person—and all the privilege that comes with—and still be a meaningful artist and member of all my communities? Someone who organically and truly takes all I don’t know and all I have and moves forward in a way that feels equal to the necessity I felt in my previous work—pushing for female-identified and queer identities, storytelling, subversion of hetero-patriarchal social and theatrical paradigms—and go further with who and what is told and shown?
To that end, with a commission I received from The Kitchen for a show in March 2017, I didn’t make a show but instead did open rehearsals and created this beautiful installation and space. The bulk of the project—which was called Here I Go, pt. 2 of You—was two-weeks of free public lectures from teenagers, artists, and public intellectuals, ranging from Claudia Rankine and Sarah Schulman, to Janee Ojaiko and Isaiah Quinones (two teenagers from the Bronx just starting their art careers and owning publicly their identities), as well as people like playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins, writer and actor Jess Barbagallo, trans activist and performer Cecilia Gentili, and so many other wonderful people that it felt very important to listen to right now and hear their questions and desires, and concerns, and hopes.
FringeArts: Tell us about an instance from 2017 when your interaction with art provided some much needed solace or refuge from outside troubles.
Tina Satter: Making Here I Go, pt. 2 of You felt very hard and vulnerable. It did not operate as a solace or refuge at all, but it did feel like it provided a kind of edgy balm that was super necessary, like actually making a cut in my skin, my work, and the goals of my company to push further into what our interactions with art can and should do now. Unanswered, but then the questions are the work. The shows and colloquies are a shared space of considering all the unknown and all that is possible.
Sept. 8-9 @ Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St