by Anne E. Johnson
The Wild Project is a venue in New York’s East Village, hosting theater, film, and other performance genres. It is also a community center of sorts, where artists and art-lovers of every stripe and style join to keep the light of self-expression burning in these dark times. On January 18, two days before the presidential inauguration, they hosted “Freedom of Art,” an evening of performances to benefit the New York Civil Liberties Union (the regional voice of the ACLU).
The atmosphere at the 89-seat theater was by turns defiant and joyful. Wild Project
artistic director Ana Mari de Quesada first introduced Pamela Zimmerman, Leadership Gifts Officer of the NYCLU. Zimmerman explained the importance of not only supporting, but also participating in her organization, which shares all contributions evenly with the national group.
After that sobering message, the real fun commenced. The evening’s MCs were the comedy duo Marie Faustin and Sydney Washington. These two women combined the perfect ratio of feistiness and friendliness — not to mention real enthusiasm — to guide us through the hefty program. The acts, all volunteering their time, were too numerous to detail completely here, and that in itself speaks volumes about how the arts community is rallying together. Here are a few highlights:
Two writers represented Poetic Theater Productions, both revealing outrage and determination from an African-American perspective. Ryan F. Johnson read from his work We Lost Ourselves, and Teniece Divya Johnson shared her poem Baltimore Is Burning.
Group theater works spanned a wide range of styles. Broken Box Mime Theater offered three touching vignettes. Two members of Cherry Picking performed And the Law Won. In this piece, Charlotte Rahn Lee’s insightful script laid bare the difficulty white liberals sometimes have in grasping the social issues facing African-Americans.
There was music in the mix, too. Composer and electric guitarist John King played his Requiem for Eric Garner, astonishing the crowd with his skill at live sampling and looping on a gadget he called the wacky box. (Co-MC Marie Faustin mined some comedy gold out of that phrase.) And in an understated, haunting voice, composer Eve Beglarian sang What Justic Looks Like, the true story of Esther Hobart Morris, who became a justice of the peace in 1870 in Wyoming.
Other performers included composer Paula Matthusen, comedian/writer Jill Pangallo, the Brooklyn Actors Troupe, composer Angela Di Carlo, cabaret performer Nicholas Gorham, composer Randy Gibson, and trombonist Will Lang.
“Freedom of Art” was a happening in the 1960s sense, giving performers the chance to explore, appreciate, encourage, support, and protect each other, their community, and the wider world. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of this spirit over the next few years.