What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Christine Jones and I grew up in Montreal. I’ve been living in New York City for the last 20-odd years.
Where did you get your education?
I did an undergraduate degree at Concordia University in Montreal and I did a graduate degree in Design at Tisch School of the Arts.
What project have you been working on at SPACE?
I am working on a project called Theatre for One, which is a portable performing arts space for one actor and one audience member. It’s a project that I’ve been working on for about 12 years, maybe more, maybe less. And I took this week to bring up Jenny Koons, the Associate Artistic Director, and Ayden, my project manager, to just try to do the kind of work that you never have time to do, which is create foundational ideas about what it is that supports the piece and the vision for the piece over the next few years. So it’s really just a time to kind of slow down and take stock and create the future.
When did you come up with this idea?
The idea I think came in 2002. I had an interest in sacred spaces and intimate experiences. I was at a wedding and for part of the ceremony a magician performed a magic trick and then afterwards during the reception he was walking around the party and he came up to me at one point and he did a magic trick right in front of me, with me in this incredibly intimate way and I found that experiencing magic in this very private moment so completely intoxicating that I sort of became obsessed with this idea of what happens when you distill moments that you normally experience publicly in a more private and intimate way and how does that heighten the potential for this kind of transformational moment to happen. So being a set designer I thought a lot about space and what space could do to enhance or increase the opportunities for those kinds of moments to happen so I had the idea of creating a theatre for one and right around that time New York Theatre Workshop was doing something called the Larson Lab Project so you could submit proposals for ideas. So I submitted a proposal for Theater For One and they accepted the proposal so I did a workshop of it there and I built a plywood box. I realized when I started thinking about Theater For One that there were other spaces that had this kind of intimate setting: Peep shows, picture booths, confessionals, your psychiatrists office, so I started going to the peep shows in Manhattan and I met the man who sort of builds the peep show booths and went to his shop and looked at his booths and went to confessionals and just sort of started studying that architectural form, and then I built this plywood box and did a weekend series of work with 3 different writers, and then from there over the years, it’s just continued to evolve – I was teaching at Juilliard and I did an atelier (another name for workshop), but I basically worked with 14 students over the course of a semester and built the next prototype of the booth, collaborating with low-tech architects to use Road Box technology to build this portable booth that from the outside looks like something you would transport music equipment in but when you open it and get inside it’s got a red velvet interior, its got lighting and sound, its really a miniature theatre. So that was the next version of the booth and I developed more material with the students and with one of my main collaborators Steve Chiffo – the magician that I met at this wedding who I continued to work with after that – and then we had it at Juilliard, I did a program there with the playwrights – I had it at the O’Neill writers festival – so all of this work, development development development, eventually led to doing a residency in Times Square which was sort of its first public iteration. It went very well. We were brought there by the Times Square Alliance for Public Art and then we did it again the following year at Times Square, we had it at Governors Island in Figment Arts Festival. And then we sort of just hit this plateau. The booth has been in storage and we are still trying to figure out how to support the ongoing development and production of work for this venue. Like I said, I built this space, but then – one of the jokes I have: Theater For One made by many – that actually to operate it, it’s actually like having a kind of miniature theater company, and I hadn’t really thought about building a theater company but more and more I have realized that I need to build a company around the booth, but then also the economic model of it is so ridiculous. It’s not possible for it to sustain itself through ticket sales, which is how a theatre company would normally sustain itself – so then does it become a public art project, so then you’re applying for grants, but then when you’re applying for grants – from an art perspective one of the things that we started to experience when we started to apply for grants was that it seemed like the project had already been done. You know when you have a theater you do a new season every year but the theater itself remains the same, but if you’re applying to do an arts project to them it seems like it’s just the same project, even though everything that might be happening in the booth itself is totally different, so it started to feel like it was difficult to get funding through that. So we talked about maybe having a situation where you could rent it out for parties or private events and that would support its public art mission. But we discovered that as small and portable as the booth is, it’s kind of not small and portable enough to maybe be doing private events. So it’s just sort of felt – like I’ve said – that we hit this plateau, and so recently I’ve kind of decided to re-investigate the project from different points of view and really see can I finally figure out the piece to the puzzle that sort of makes it all come together in a sustainable and repeatable way. So I went back to the architects and asked them to design an even smaller and more portable version that also will be more state-of-the-art in terms of the kind of technology that we have now, because even the first booth was built 10 years ago, but now we should be able to run it off an iPad with LED lights with a minimal but incredibly impactful sound system, so architecturally I’m looking at that and then Jenny Koons is someone who I’ve started working with recently and I feel like she brings the kind of experience that could be really helpful in terms of planning a vision for the future, so having time to work with her and just sort of continuing to look at – one of the things we’ve done this week was revise our mission statement, come up with the sketch of a 3- and a 5-year plan. So again, just sort of foundational work that hopefully will take it from the plateau to a place where it’s moving forward again.
What has the reaction been like?
It comes down to the reaction of the individual. It’s that one person in the booth in that moment. And I think I began the project with a kind of hypothetical or experimental question: If you distill the relationship between the actor and the audience member do you increase the likelihood for an impactful meaningful exchange? And I think we have found more often than not – yes. That you actually can, by putting the actor into such close proximity with the audience member and equalizing the relationship between the two, it does sort of electrify the connection between them. A lot of what we found was eye contact. Actually being engaged in sustained eye contact with each other during the sharing of this work, of this story, adds a kind of resonance to the story being told. It’s not a rule, it just sort of happens. The audience becomes so much more aware of the necessity of their presence. As an audience member you’re less likely to sit back and wait to see whether you should give your full attention. You’re much more likely to give your full attention. And if you’re making that investment, that mutual investment, again, it just heightens the experience that’s happening between the two of them.
How have you been spending your time here?
Amazingly, I was able to bring my kids with me. So I’ve been spending my time – we usually work for about 3 hours in the morning and we’ve set ourselves a list of goals. Jenny and I at the beginning of the week set ourselves a list of objectives: mission statement, sketch of what a first season would be, revised budget. We also met with one of the directors who’s worked with us before to talk about what his involvement could be in the future we have producers coming tomorrow so that we can at the end of this week present to them all the work we have been doing to see if that feels in line with what they might be willing to support moving forward. So it’s been very task oriented. We sort of do two three-hour sessions a day and then I revert to my role as mom!
What’s coming up next for you?
I go back to some of my freelance work. So I have a project at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the fall that I’m getting ready for and I’m working as a creative director as well for a corporate event, which I’ve never done before. So I go back to my freelance career and my role as mom – summertime role as mom.
Where is your favorite place to work here at SPACE?
Either the back corner porch with the desk overlooking the bowling green, but also in bed at night, after the kids go to sleep, I work for an hour sitting in the bed on my laptop. And I just love the feeling of these rooms. The furniture – it just feels like there’s an age and history to the furniture that’s nice to be around. And we just had a meeting in the parlor and that was great, too.
If you were reincarnated as a farm animal what animal would you be and why?
Ummm…not a duck! It is dirty and smelly where those guys live. I would be one of the cats owning the farm. Because they do.
Christine’s sons, Pilot and Ever
What has been your favorite part about being on the farm?
Pilot: Corn Hole!
Ever: CORN HOLE!
What’s your daily schedule here?
Ever: Feeding ducks and basically playing.
Pilot: It depends on the day. Usually in the morning we wake up at 7:30 and feed the ducks.
Ever: I have to wake up and walk all the way over to the cage and it was raining this morning.
Pilot: I didn’t. I was in bed. But today was a day where we helped Payam and Jessica –
Ever: Hold lights… We love going swimming too. We like the lake and the paddleboat.
What has been your favorite meal?
Pilot: The pasta and meatballs last night. I also liked the zucchini.
Ever: For breakfast I also liked the biscuits and the duck eggs. I had TWO!
Pilot: I didn’t eat it. That grosses me out.
What have you guys been doing at night?
Ever: Eating chocolate!
Pilot: Corn hole and catching fire flies.
Ever: Yeah that was so fun! I caught like 2 at a time and put them in jars!
Pilot: Also we put flashlights in the holes of the corn hole boards and on the bottom corners so you could get a sense of where to throw the bags.
Interviewed by Michael Calciano.