Ben Pryor talks about Festival TBD: Emergency Glitter

Ben Pryor talks about his new festival at Abrons Arts Center/Henry Street Settlement July 24 through 28

Time Out New York: There is Carlos Maria Romero and Juan Betancurth. What are they doing? 
Ben Pryor:
They’re the ones that don’t fit, in a way. They totally fit from an aesthetic and ideological point of view, but they’re not in the New York community. Carlos is originally from Bogotá and has been all over the place—he’s been dancing and making work, but has also curated stuff. I first met him at a festival in France in 2010. We’ve stayed in touch, and now he’s more based in the U.K and is trying to focus on his artistic practice. Carlos has done this project a couple of times; he works with a different collaborator, and it doesn’t actually get named until it happens. In the end, the piece will be called July 25th, Abrons Art Center, New York, New York, and every single audience member’s name will be listed. For me, it’s a very visual-art practice approach. And there’s a lot of visual-art strategies in what he’s doing in terms of looking at objects within sculpture and looking at the audience as object. I think he wants the audience to be doing stuff during the work. I’m not quite sure. It’s getting developed in the week and moments before the program happens. This is in the Playhouse, because they wanted to work with the machinery of the theater. Juan is a visual artist who deals with performance. They felt a certain alignment with each other. Juan is also from Bogotá, but has been in New York for a while and works a lot with Elastic City.

Time Out New York: Niall Jones and Emily Wexler will share a program. What are they working on?
Ben Pryor:
They’ve ended up being remarkably in sync. This was another one where I was like, “I don’t know what you’re working on, but I really like you, and I think you’ve been doing interesting stuff, and I want to see if there’s an opportunity that will support what you’re doing and also add to what this thing can be.” Emily is taking on sexual violence with women and objectification and is proposing to get rid of objectification altogether, which is pretty lofty, but great. And Niall is also dealing with the objectified self and self-identity within an active gaze of an other; he’s talking about sadness and grief, and I don’t know how that may manifest in the work, but they ended up in this place of dealing with the body and objectification.

Time Out New York: Were they fine with being put together on a program?
Ben Pryor:
Yeah, they, in fact, were really pleased about that.

Time Out New York: What about the others? 
Ben Pryor:
I had conversations with Gillian and Lauren: What is it we’re going to do? What are you making? How is this going to work? Lauren wrote a piece about what Gillian’s been working on for Bomb, so they were already in conversation about work. When I started talking to Gillian, I had had some ideas about who she could be paired with, and we had a discussion about it. It was a really open dialogue; it’s important to have their participation in shaping it in some ways so the whole thing is a conversation and the context is appropriate and reflective of who and where they are. I’d never done an exercise where I asked everybody to write stuff for the purposes of my marketing and so many of them had such similar answers to things. Everybody referenced RuPaul.

Time Out New York: Really?
Ben Pryor:
Yes. I think as a cultural phenomenon and figure—and also dealing with sexuality and gender—RuPaul is really resonant with people right now because of the success of Drag Race. I was like, Oh good—I’ve done a good job as a curator; everybody’s interested in similar things. And it was just amazing to see that demonstrated to me in their responses, which were all independent of each other. It was exciting and fun. I like RuPaul. As a point of reference for what this is? Super. There are some other things that might happen.

Time Out New York: Like what?
Ben Pryor:
There is this more club performance evening that will hopefully be at 11:30pm on Saturday in the Playhouse. I’ve been dragging my feet a little with this. There’s always been so much club performance in New York, and I always felt there should be more crossover between these worlds. The people doing this don’t ever know about anything happening in the contemporary performance world, and I think it has to do with a lack of any kind of information about it. It’s always been of interest to me to engage with the different programs. This is why I started doing Pussy Faggot! at Realness. Initially, I wanted to use the amphitheater at Abrons and have stuff happen outside and make that the beer garden. This was complicated in terms of sound permits that would only go until 9pm. And then getting a liquor license; I was like, I don’t want to be creating that context without alcohol—it kind of really needs it. I’m still trying to hash out the club-kid thing. Is this going to be okay even if it’s kind of terrible? The translation from a five-minute club context to putting something on a stage is a very big transition, and so I’m a little apprehensive, but that has always been a big part of what I want this thing to do. I have to at least try something.

Time Out New York: Is it drag? What is it?
Ben Pryor:
Ish, but not even. It’s kind of a literary-performance thing. And this is the thing: I don’t know how weighty it is in terms of material and concept or whatever, but it feels like something I have to do.

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