Who’s Next: Michael Gardner, Artistic Director of The Brick — Trans Theatre Festival

Playbill Pride   Who’s Next: Michael Gardner, Artistic Director of The Brick — Trans Theatre Festival
As part of Playbill Pride 2016, we set our sights on the next generation of LGBTQ artists. Meet artistic director Michael Gardner.
Michael Gardner
Michael Gardner

Throughout the month of June, we will profile 16 LGBTQ artists whose work is changing the way we view gender, sexuality and life both onstage and off.

The Trans Theatre Festival

Among the hipster bars and trendy cafes of Williamsburg lies The Brick. The Brooklyn theatre has become a hotspot for cutting-edge work as well as a platform for marginalized voices. This year, co-founder and artistic director Michael Gardner has partnered with co-curators MJ Kaufman and Maybe Burke to launch the Trans Theatre Festival. The inaugural event is made up of plays, dance pieces, film and other media created by trans artists in celebration of their experiences.

“Right now, being trans is sort of ‘cool’ in the media,” says Kaufman. “There is a high visibility of a few specific trans stories and that makes it seem like trans identity is a new, hot thing. Actually trans people have always been here and are a huge and valuable part of theatre and art-making communities. This festival honors that.”

The festival offers a chance for trans artists to control their own stories and also gives them an opportunity to branch out beyond the oft-seen “transition narrative.” “Though that’s an important story to tell, it seems to be the only story that is being told,” says Burke. “I was much more interested in seeing other perspectives and other things about trans people’s lives.”

The festival’s mission is also to empower trans artists, who, as Kaufman points out, often lack basic access to the arts. “Because of transphobia, a lot of trans people face unemployment, homelessness and lack access to higher education. All of those things are what allow you to make art and be part of a creative community,” says Kaufman. “So many trans people start from a position of disadvantage.“ The festival runs June 7 through 26.

Michael Gardner, artistic director at The Brick

Earliest memory of theatre:
Seeing Sandy Duncan on Broadway as Peter Pan. I remember very distinctly thinking, “You can fly on wires and that’s okay? A woman can play a boy and that’s okay?” It was very eye opening to me, at 10, that theatre had its own rules and could create magic.

Who has been especially crucial in your creative development?
There is this wonderful Iranian theatre maker who died a few years ago called Assurbanipal Babbilla. He was a very cherished member of our theatre clique, an original voice and I learned a lot from him.

I wish the theatre had more…
Pretension. I think there’s too much biography in theatre and personal storytelling. I want to see more invention and risk-taking. I want to see people questioning the meaning of theatre. I like artifice and people who celebrate artifice; and the meaning of play, the way a child understands it.

An untapped talent ready to make it big:
Mac Rogers. He is a fantastic playwright and an amazing genre writer.

The next challenge I want to take on is:
As an artist I’m trying to have the courage of my convictions and take more risks. I have this bifurcated life where I am an artist director and an artist; sometimes the former takes over. That’s the challenge right in front of me: to remember that I am an artist.

Previously Revealed:
Who’s Next: Tarell Alvin McCraney, Playwright
Who’s Next: Roberta Colindrez, Actress
Who’s Next: Joshua Harmon, Playwright

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