Who are you, and where are you from?
My name is Ebony Noelle Golden, and I am from Houston, Texas. My people are from rural Louisiana, around Shreveport, and rural texas, right on the border of Texas and Louisiana. That’s where I’m from. I’m also from Fort Worth, Texas, where my grandmother lives, and where my mother, who was born outside of Shreveport, was raised. My people are also from Marshall, Texas, and Dallas, Texas. I’m from people who work the land, I’m from farmers, and I’m from people who are very family-oriented, very passionate about family. I’m from an area of the country that gives a lot. A lot of things grow in rural Louisiana and in rural Texas. I’m from a big family. Although I’m my mother’s only child, I’m my father’s oldest of four, and my mother is one of seven, and her mother is one of eighteen. I’m from people who believe in big families. I am from an artist community, a creative community, that spans the globe, that spans those places that I am from. I most recently am from New York City, where I’ve been for nine years, and that’s significant for me, most of that time in Manhattan, and now recently, the South Bronx. I’ve spent significant amounts of time in Washington, DC, where I went to graduate school, I went to American. I lived in Cleveland Park. Another home for me is Durham, North Carolina. I’m from people who like to be close to the water, people who are deep thinkers, deep lovers, really people of faith. So that’s where I’m from.
What are you working on this week at SPACE?
I’m working on a piece that’s been in development for about three years now called 125th and Freedom. It is a durational, processional, public performance piece that travels down 125th street from river to river. It is a piece that explores the intersections of displacement, migration, home, and memory. It’s also a reimagining of 125th street as Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad. So looking at the shifting dynamics and Harlem, what’s happening, what was there, the legacy of Harlem, the cultural legacy of Harlem, in this political and cultural corridor, 125th street, as a way of thinking about freedom, and what’s at risk, and what’s at stake, and what’s in the way of having all of this shift and changing and growing of the contemporary Harlem moment, in relationship to or butting heads with the legacy of Harlem. So I’m looking at how multiple realities can exist at one time, and what really is a map to freedom. 125th and Freedom--I don’t know what it’s going to fully be yet. So this week is integral to me one, being able to get some rest. Because I work a lot and I don’t always work in theater and devised theater. I have a whole other piece to my life that requires a lot of work. So being here has been about rest, reading, research, and some writing. But really, a lot about just daydreaming. “Oh, so what if I do this, oh, so what if I do that,” and being present at conversations where people are talking about what they know as it relates to this topic, and what they’re working on, and it’s been really helpful, because I’ve gotten a lot of ideas. So I’ll be leaving with some research done, with a few poems written--the script is a series of ten poems--I’ll be leaving with the beginnings of a production document, which I really need, because this piece is a year away. It’ll be three weekends in September of 2017.
So you are the main generator of the piece?
Mmhmm, I have been. Short excerpts of the work have been commissioned by different organizations in New York who are excited about the work. The last one that I did was December, right before New Year’s 2015, at it was at Judson Church. We collaborated with a Russian folk band that played this beautiful traditional liturgical music, and it was so weird and strange and perfect, the juxtaposition of that to what the choreography and the words were. And so I’ve been in an exploratory space, and nothing is off limits yet. But yeah, I’m the main generator of the work, at this point I am the producer and the generator of content, the corraler of people, so I’ve been taking my time. But to get to where I want to be by September of next year, I am going to be needing to reach out and get some help. So taking it slow and easy, but steady.
As an artist, is there a trade or a medium that you identify most with?
My MFA is in poetry, and my undergraduate degree is in poetry, and I’ve spent a lot of time in the world of dance. It’s all kind of coalesced into this thing that I’m so glad exists called devised theater, and I think that’s where I live, mostly. Some folks assume that I have an MFA in either choreography or directing or acting, and I don’t, but I’ve always been in a theater community. I think the space of being in community with folks, and being able to generate content collectively is one that aligns with my social justice framework and mindset, as well as the way that the rest of my work happens. So devised, collaborative theater or performance is what I say my medium is. It allows me to write, to write music, to write poetry, to create choreography, and to not be limited by any kind of strict art form.
As you’ve been on the farm, is there a specific place that you’ve found yourself working in?
I’ve spent most of my time in my room, I’m in the Dorothy room. It’s very comfortable, and it’s the right size for me, and it’s cozy, and when I keep the curtains closed, it’s like a cocoon. I live in New York City, and it’s really good for my brain and for my body and for my spirit to be just be able to rest. I have a lifestyle that is such that I corral a lot of people. So the time to just be quiet...it took me a day really to rest before I could even start reading and writing and looking at maps. I had all of these grand plans of what I would use this time for, but I needed to recoup, and I think that having this type of space and this type of retreat and being able to just be wherever I want to be, it’s really a pleasure, so I’m full of gratitude for the Dorothy room, it’s really been a pleasure.
What would you say the next step is for 125th and Freedom?
I need to continue doing research, and that’ll be all fall. I also will be doing some interviews with ten people from Harlem who’ve been there for a while. By a while, I mean a generation or more. I want to talk to them about Harlem. All of the rest of the year is research, development, and production planning. And then in January, things will kind of shift gears, where I probably will produce a couple of weekend residencies with folks that I might want to work with and bring them together to look at the work, look at the writing, have some kind of art parties, and build some momentum around building a cast. I’ve gone back and forth because at first I thought, “oh well maybe I’ll have a cast of five, five to six typically works for me, no more than seven.” But then I was thinking, “maybe I’ll have a cast of twenty.” That’s very different, that is a very different type of project. At this point I don’t know how many folks it’ll be yet, but I do think that I’m gonna need more than five. So the rest of this year, August, September, October, November, December, is research and writing and production planning, outlining what 2017 will look like.
Do you have the ten people already selected?
No. There are people who’ve been in the three iterations, the one at Judson Church, the one at Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, and the one that was at Urban Garden Center. There are folks that have been kind of core to the work, but I don’t know. What I’m imagining is that we’ll do a few explorations early in the year, and then probably around June we will have some kind of a staged reading, and then we’ll go into rehearsals. And the rehearsals will be on the street, because this is actually going to happen on 125th street. So it’ll just depend on who has the time, who has the passion for the project, who has the follow through for the project, and who has the desire, so that’s what I’m mostly looking for as it relates to building a cast.
Have you done similar projects on the street?
I have. Most of my work is in public art performance, and that is for a variety of reasons. I really believe in performance for the people, and it’s something that happens for me when folks can’t afford it, or it’s inaccessible, or it’s in a space that they don’t know or are not comfortable with. The thing about 125th street is that people know 125th street, it is a public space. What I’m really interested in is that, as an aesthetic. Most of my work in recent years is in the public space, whether it is staging performance work on the street or story circles on the street, or street interventions, and that has been for almost the last decade.
Do you have any advice you would share with people who are interested in addressing accessibility in theater?
I can offer this. I often think about my grandmother and my nieces as being one of the generations that kind of bridges two generations. My nieces are all under the age of fifteen, and my grandmother is in her late eighties. Although there’s another generation between me and them, there is still a bridge that I think I am a part of helping to weave that connects these folks. What I will say about accessibility in theater is, think about who you really want in the room. Think about your family being the room. And if there is a way that your grandmother and grandfather or elders, and the children who are a generation or so under you, and if they can all be in the same room and understand the story and afford to be there, then we’re thinking about accessibility in a certain way. Now there are other ways to think about accessibility, but right now I think primarily I am focusing on who can afford to be in the room, who can afford this experience. Are we creating a space where our grandmothers and our great-granddaughters can all experience this art that we’re making? Would they want to be there, and can they afford to be there? It’s a serious thing. And there are people who I know who are working on that as their advocacy issue, that is what they work on, that is what they talk about, that is what they think about, accessibility meaning tickets are accessible. They’re talking about economics, but they’re also talking about the stories that are being told. Would my grandmother and my granddaughters all want to hear this story? And sometimes, you never really know if they want to hear it, but is it accessible economically, I don’t know how else to say it.
If you were a farm animal, which one would you be and why?
I think I would be a llama. I like their eyes. I think their eyes are really dreamy. And I like their dispositions. I think I was in New Jersey, and we were taking a long walk--was it llamas or alpacas? I don’t know, but if I remember correctly, they were just very cool, and communicative, and they have dreamy eyes. I think it’s between a llama and a goat. Goats I find hilarious, they have great comedic presence, but I’ll stick with the llama.