Taylor Lhamon

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“Communal Spaces: a garden play festival” brings original, site-responsive theatre to northern Brooklyn. The Motor Company, in partnership with Brooklyn Queens Land Trust, invites audiences to explore their city through a walking tour of five premier outdoor plays. Attendance is free and all are welcome.

While the series has blossomed into an annual event, this project began as a bit of an experiment. “I started ‘Communal Spaces: a garden play festival’ in 2011 as an exercise in theater as public art, theater that you don’t have to ‘go to’ but instead can just come upon,” said Artistic Director Lillian Meredith. “I wanted to make theater that felt less rarified and more community-focused by using New York’s community gardens as the starting point for storytelling.”

Communal Spaces pushes the boundaries of traditional theatrical format, by inviting the greater New York Community into the conversation. Each garden is not merely a backdrop for the performance, but an integral role in the play’s storyline. The space itself acts as a character in the narrative, challenging audiences to recalibrate the relationship to their neighborhood.

“New York is full of public spaces where strangers congregate, we all have our particular relationships to seemingly mundane places we go to every day, but we rarely get to harness that into a collective experience.” Meredith details her goal, “I want to build a company that would provide space for New Yorkers to augment their relationship to their city and surroundings through storytelling and theatrical events meant for those quotidian environments.”

Over the centuries, theatre has evolved from a populist artform to an exclusive club, with ticket prices limiting audience demographics. The Motor Company is actively working to combat this system, by taking cost out of the artistic equation. “Ultimately, we want to make theater more accessible and we can do that in two ways: release the financial burden and release the institutional burden,” said Producing Director Jessica Schmidt. “Not only are our shows free of admission charges, but we present them in familiar spaces: gardens, bars, laundromats. We want people to feel comfortable.” 

This comfort is not solely associated with ticket price, but also location. While a typical theatre-goer knows what to expect at a Broadway venue, those less exposed to the artform may be hesitant to attend a formal play. The Motor Company offers a unique solution to this social disconnect. By creating a series of outdoor performances, in which attendees can travel between gardens at their leisure, they release the pressure of how audiences view theatre. 

“There tends to be a certain expectation of going to the theater. People might be worried about how they should dress, if they should react vocally, if they need to get up during the performance,” Schmidt said. “We hope that the work we do eliminates those worries and just lets people focus on the story that’s being told.”

Communal Spaces is free to attend, though donations are always appreciated. For more information go here.

Cover photo of “Through a Thing” by Molly Dektar.

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