Greetings SPACE Readership!
My name is Matthew Strother and I’m the Artistic Director of THE JAM Theater Collective, which I co-founded earlier this year with seven actors, one designer, and a filmmaker. We devise play through “jamming.” Much like the jazz musician riffs on a theme to create music, we improvise on text to create theater.
Last spring, I pitched my idea for an original JAM production to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland (glazing over the fact that said production did not yet exist). Much to my delight and horror we were accepted. This gave my freshly minted company just over two months to devise (a) a unique way of working together and (b) a polished play from that process. Without putting too fine a point on it, what we needed was some space, and lots of it. Physical space. Creative space. Temporal Space. Spacey Space. So when the lovely Emily Simoness (Executive Director of SPACE) invited THE JAM up to Ryder Farm for the weekend, I jumped at the opportunity.
Two weeks later on a sunny June morn, we gathered at Grand Central, muffins and croissants in hand, and piled into a Metro North rail car. One hour later and a world away from Manhattan, THE JAM rolled up the drive into what I can only describe as New York State’s answer to the Garden of Eden.
The next 72 hours went something like this: rehearse, fall in love with the farm house, rehearse, play Frisbee, rehearse, fall in love with the grounds, rehearse, stroll through the veggie patch, rehearse, lounge under the trees and jam on the guitar, rehearse, indulge in delicious barbeque cook out, rehearse, indulge in beer-soaked campfire song-fest, go to bed, wake up, repeat.
From the outside the weekend looked intense, but to all those who partook it felt like vacation. SPACE made it so easy to strike a natural balance between rehearsal and leisure. Instead of scheduling our creativity into condensed sixty-minute GETSTUFFDONENOW blocks, we worked until we weren’t productive and played until we wanted to work. Before long, the lines between work and play had blurred completely, and we were laughing our way through group-writing sessions in the Gazebo or discussing the implications of a plot twist while tossing the Frisbee.
SPACE at Ryder Farm could not be more aptly named. It gives artists the freedom to delve deep into projects; to spend time with themselves and bond with one another; to foster a shared sense of purpose; to push new ideas to the margins and beyond. I’m talking about all the things that are hard to talk about precisely because they can’t be measured. The intangibles that - if we’re honest with ourselves – are the reason we all got into this mad business in the first place.
Looking back over the summer, it’s easy to pinpoint the moment that THE JAM transformed from a rag tag collection of individuals into a bonafide theater collective:our Weekend Retreat at SPACE. I can’t wait to go back.