By Nina Berman on February 21st, 2022
Member Spotlight: Apocalyptic Artists Ensemble
When schools were going remote and the live theater world came to a sudden halt, it felt like the end of the world. But it was also the catalyst for new ways to imagine theater art and arts education.
Apocalyptic Artists Ensemble was started in spring 2020 by theater artists and educators Brynne McManimie, Alice Renier, Peter Romano, and Kea Trevett. Their mission is “to keep live arts education vibrant and accessible to all by providing free high quality theater productions, workshops and programming to NYC schools and communities.”
They are currently fundraising and preparing for their 2022 educational season which will include free theater workshops for NYC schools and communities, plus a filmed adaptation of “Julius Caesar” designed for young audiences.
Apocalyptic Artists Ensemble shares with us the challenges and opportunities of teaching Shakespeare to NYC students, the partnerships and collaborations that have made their work possible, and how Fractured Atlas has supported them along the way.
Tell us about your work or project. What inspired it and how do you hope it will impact people?
The founding members of Apocalyptic Artists launched our Shakespeare Project in spring of 2020, in direct response to the devastating cuts made to NYC’s arts education budget in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unequal access to arts education, an essential service, is only exacerbated in moments of crisis. And it’s in such moments of crisis when the arts are most needed: to cultivate joy, to process trauma, to play, and to imagine a brighter future. Our goal with our initial workshops and productions was to bring joy and creativity into NYC’s virtual classrooms, and by passing on a tradition of theatrical storytelling to our students, to empower them to use these tools to tell their own stories.
Now in our second year, Apocalyptic continues to bring free arts programming and high quality productions to NYC schools and communities, encouraging a continued spirit of innovation, resourcefulness, and play as we empower our students to use theatrical principles to engage with classic texts, and tell new stories. Production for our second filmed adaptation of a Shakespeare play, a “Julius Caesar” for young audiences, began in November 2021, and we are transitioning to live professional theater workshops and in-person in the classroom.
“Julius Caesar” is one of the most commonly taught plays in American high schools. The film will be streamed to classrooms throughout the five boroughs of New York City, alongside live workshops designed to empower students to take ownership over Shakespeare’s body of work, and their voice as an artist. The film will also be streamed publicly in the spring, and made available to schools outside of the city, providing a fresh, truly American perspective on a revered classic playwright. Set in a dystopian New York City of the future, this contemporary take on a classic play is designed specifically with young audiences in mind, connecting Shakespeare’s tragedy to the political and cultural landscape of modern America. Casting will be as diverse as any New York neighborhood, and the script will be adapted to feature other prominent languages spoken throughout the city.
Describe the process you've taken to bring your project to life. What's been involved?
This filmed adaptation of “Julius Caesar” will be our second partnership with Astoria Performing Arts Center. APAC is co-producing the film, and providing their performance space as our primary shooting location. Our creative team includes Matthew Dunivan (Director of Photography), Justine Flora (Set Design), Xurui Wang (Costume Design), Jason Paul Tate (Fight Choreography), Aaron Keller (Casting), Paola Soto (Spanish Translation), and Ann McDonald (Dramaturgy). We have also forged a partnership with classrooms at Hunter & LaGuardia Community College to form our first ever Apprentice Company, part of a new educational initiative to bridge the gap between theater studies and the professional world. Our Apprentice Company will be featured in our filmed adaptation of “Julius Caesar” and those who are interested also have an opportunity to work behind the camera as assistants in various departments.
What have been your biggest challenges with this project or with your work?
As theater artists introducing Shakespeare to young people during a pandemic, our biggest challenge has also been our most exciting challenge, and a continual source of inspiration. How can we, as artists and educators, strive to adapt the magic and possibility of a live performance, and the principles of theatrical storytelling, to new mediums in a way that honors the traditions but embraces the present moment? And how can we, as Shakespeare performers and educators, responsibly and thoughtfully engage with classic texts in the classroom and in production?
For you, what is the relationship between art and social change? How does your work fit into that relationship?
Apocalyptic was founded on the belief that theater is activism in action. We believe theater education should promote art as civic engagement, and introduce students to an array of creative techniques and methodologies applicable to a diverse set of career paths and future disciplines to address issues in an evermore quickly changing world. We believe that arts programming in the classroom promotes literacy, innovative thinking, social emotional learning, community, imagination, playfulness and joy, and we believe all young people should have access to a quality arts education.
What has been most useful to you about your Fractured Atlas membership? Which tools, resources, or services have you taken advantage of?
Fractured Atlas has been an invaluable resource for us as a new company. Our Director of Development has found their fundraising tools and articles to be incredibly useful for advice and guidance writing development letters and communicating with our larger donors. Our support page has been a simple and user-friendly method for directing donors interested in providing general operating support between our fundraisers, and a professional interface for our larger donors to interact with, that lends us legitimacy as a new company.
What was your first big win with Fractured Atlas?
We successfully fundraised the $20k for our first feature film via our Fractured Atlas campaign!
What advice do you have for other artists or organizations using Fractured Atlas services? How can they get the most out of it?
Fractured Atlas has provided fast, personal support whenever we’ve reached out directly with an inquiry, their help center has answered so many of our fundraising questions, and provided terrific guidance as we’ve drafted important campaign and outreach letters and copy. Now that we are a 501(c)(3) fiscally sponsored organization, we are quick to communicate that any donation of funds or goods is tax-deductible! A huge asset!
Any upcoming events that people should know about? What's next for you that we should be keeping an eye out for?
We’re excited to screen “Julius Caesar” to NYC schools in the new year, and release it to the public in spring 2022!
You can follow Apocalyptic Artists Ensemble on their website, as well as Instagram and Facebook. To support their work in theater education, you can donate to their Fractured Atlas fundraising page.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.