Who: Emily Shooltz
Outside: Ars Nova
Ars Nova has earned a reputation for developing groundbreaking new work that defies the boundaries of traditional theatre—think Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, which the company debuted Off-Broadway four years before it hit Broadway’s Imperial Theatre this past fall.
Since its founding in 2002, the organization has continued to showcase emerging artists with fresh voices and produce innovative new theatre. Last week, Ars Nova paired with WP Theater to present Rachel Bonds’ new play with music, Sundown, Yellow Moon, which opened Off-Broadway to critical acclaim. Emily Shooltz, who has been the associate artistic director at the non-profit for nearly ten years now, opens up about staying original, how they support emerging artists, and the secret behind finding those weird, “diamond-in-the-rough” ideas.
Ars Nova is known for developing work that’s out-of-the-box. How does that impact your job?
It makes our [with artistic director Jason Eagan] job very hard because we’re constantly looking for the things we haven’t seen before, or the people who are at the forefront of what live entertainment means in 2017. We’re looking for potential—that weird idea that’s a diamond in the rough—or an artist who’s very early in their career and is trying to make something that we don’t know how to make. Those are signs that we’re onto something that feels right.
Take our fall show, KPOP, which is a large-scale immersive K-pop musical staged throughout a New York building with a large cast and creative team. That’s really what we exist to do. To be the place where artists come with their crazy ideas. To be innovative.
Explain the process from development to production for an Ars Nova show.
We produce such a variety of work and there isn’t one set path that a show takes. We’re a little bit unique in that all of our mainstage programming, for the most part, is homegrown—so it’s coming either out of a commission, a resident artist program, or our annual summer festival, ANT Fest. We’re primarily a developmental space so anything that we’re giving a full production has gone through many, or at least a couple of our developmental programs along the way—and much of the work that we develop ends up on other stages.
In the case of Sundown, Yellow Moon, the journey began when we met Rachel Bonds as a member of our emerging writers group, which is a two-year program with 12 writers. We fell in love with her writing and were able to commission her through a partnership with Manhattan Theatre Club. We paired her with director Annie Kauffman and the play went through several readings and workshops. Afterward, we held onto her play; we loved it so much and felt like we were the right people to produce it.
Speaking of Sundown and KPOP, this upcoming season is very musically-driven. Was that intentional?
Our mission statement is to support early careers in theatre, music, and comedy—with a special interest in where those things intersect. We’re always excited about unusual collaborations and a lot of the work we develop has music as a common thread.
How does being an associate artistic director reward you in a different way than being a producer?
I came on board before Ars Nova was an institution and was just making the transition to not-for-profit—when Jason [Eagan] and founders [Jon and Jenny Steingart] were really working to figure out what they wanted it to be and what kind of artists they wanted to serve. So the amazing part of my almost-ten years, has been being a part of building something and defining our identity. I am fortunate to feel like my voice is heard in those conversations, and I find it really inspiring to work in a place where the best idea rises to the top.
Bonds’ Sundown, Yellow Moon, a play with songs by indie-folk duo The Bengsons, plays at the McGinn/Cazale (WP Theater), located at 2162 Broadway at 76th Street, and is scheduled to run through April 1. The story follows two twin sisters, played by Eboni Booth and Lilli Cooper, who return to their home town to find their father in a crisis. Tickets to the world premiere can be purchased by visiting arsnovanyc.com, wptheater.org, or by calling (212) 352-3101.