1. Art

For 17 Years This Nonprofit Theater Company Has Helped Launch Careers Of Oscar And Pulitzer Prize Nominees

Artists long to write, create and share their work with the world. Who can relate to Claude Monet who reportedly said, “I had so much fire in me and so many plans.”

But for many, the big question is how? Especially now. How can I present my work when I have no money nor Rolodex of contacts?

Enter The Tank. For the past 17 years this nonprofit arts center has been a go to spot for emerging artists to experiment and share their work. The Off-Off-Broadway performance Petri disk nurtures artists of all disciplines serving as presenter and producer for theater, comedy, dance, film, music, puppetry, and storytelling.

At its core The Tank remains fiercely devoted to breaking down economic barriers to creating work that often prevents or deters artists from creating. Because more often than not money creates the deciding factor how and what work is birthed. “The Tank seeks to provide as many free resources as possible,” says the non profit theater’s managing producer, Danielle King. “Artists don’t just arrive at a Hamilton,” adds The Tank’s longtime artistic director Meghan Finn. “They need a place to cut their teeth and develop their craft for years. We make that affordable for 2,500 artists annually.”

In fact, The Tank provides artists with all the tools they need including rehearsal space, performance space, technical inventory, Box Office and Front of House staffing, marketing and promotional support. The assistance also extends to stipends and box office splits. “We insist on being a place where artists can come with their ambitious, often scary or vulnerable ideas and we say ‘YES!,’” says King.

Just some of the artists who have worked at The Tank include Tony-nominated director Alex Timbers, Reggie Watts, who is currently on The Late Late Show with James Corden, Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Amy Herzog and Lucy Alibar, whose one-act play Juicy and Delicious premiered at The Tank and was adapted to be the Oscar-nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild. “Our former dance curator Tiffany Rea-Fisher is now the Artistic Director of Elisa Monte Dance and is leading the way on the Movement for Black Lives within the dance community,” says Finn.

Since the Pause The Tank’s physical theater in the heart of midtown on 36th Street has been vacant. However, that hasn’t stopped the the Tank from continuing to nurture dozens of artists in the virtual realm. “When we closed our doors on March 13, Tank staff and artists immediately created CyberTank as a weekly gathering space that is publicly shared,” says King. “The idea at first was to gather and share short work in response to a question or theme, often helping us grapple with this sudden pause and isolation of quarantine. We also opened up ideas about theatricality and who, how, where and when work is made and shared.”

The CyberTank Variety Show features artists around the world who share new work curated by a new host each week. Some of the variety show themes have centered around being silly, mental heath, the great outdoors, pride and choosing community over despair.

But even beyond the Variety Show, CyberTank has expanded to present a variety of virtual programming. “So many artists have found unique ways to utilize our virtual platform,” says Finn. There are web series, online puppet shows, poetry hours, improv jams, live streamed comedy specials and sketch shows. As Finn observes, “It has really been the artists coming to us like they would any project and making something new and surprising.”

Jeryl Brunner: How has The Tank been devoted to supporting emerging artists?

Meghan Finn: It has been integral to our mission to support emerging artists since day one. We are one of the last venues in New York that a young artist can access when arriving to the City. They can have their work presented, and leave with money in their pockets. It is this space we occupy that makes us integral to the cultural vibrancy of New York.

Danielle King: One of the reasons I find The Tank to be so special is that in addition to the 1,000 performances we present and produce each year, the 36,000 audience members we welcome, and the 2,500 artists we support, it is a community arts space each and every day. Tank artists use every corner of the space for rehearsals, meetings, writing space, networking, or just as a respite from the frenetic pace of Midtown Manhattan. It is so important that The Tank be a space where emerging artists feel seen, heard, and valued as generative artists.

Brunner: What are some of your favorite Tank success stories?

Finn: The Daily Show writer and Performer X-Mayo produced Who Made The Potato Salad?. The hit sketch comedy show at The Tank featured all BIPOC comedians. X-Mayo credits her getting a manager and launching her career with the opportunity to present her work and the work of others at The Tank. We are very proud of that show and serving comedians of color in New York through various programming. In 2017, The Tank produced an incredible production of Hottentotted by Charly Evon Simpson directed by Colette Robert and has supported the duo on other project development. The team went on to the Off-Broadway hit production of Charly’s play Behind the Sheet at Ensemble Studio Theatre in 2019.

Brunner: If artists are interested in working with The Tank can they apply via your website?

King: Yes, please! Right now we are still accepting submissions for our annual Pride Fest, which is happening virtually on CyberTank this year through July 19. We’ll soon be putting out calls for submissions for our other summer Festivals, Lady Fest and TrashFest. Anyone interested in making work and sharing work for the CyberTank platform outside of these Festivals can send us an email at [email protected] with information about the work or idea for the work and ideally a short “concept test” video so that we can better understand how you might tell your story, navigating the rectangular frame of a computer screen.

Brunner: What should people know about applying?

Finn: We are looking for big ideas and only new work. We are interested how you can bring your artistry to the limitation of virtual performance, your vision on liveness within the frame of a computer screen—how you uniquely can speak to audiences experiencing your work from their living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens and give them a sense of connection and immediacy.

Brunner: Can you share more about how the Tank removes economic barriers for new artists to present work?

King: For a city like New York to remain so vibrant, it is vital that we constantly be nurturing artists to make sure they can make a home here and do the work they want to do. This is especially true for those artists newer to the field. Emerging artists need opportunities to hone their voice, practice and grow their craft, and to experiment – all without the economic restrictions and pressures. And, they need a platform to share their work as often as their current practice or the work requires. It is so difficult to be an independent artist in New York City, and I am continually driven by a fear of whose voice is being silenced and who leaves the arts because the resources and opportunities weren’t available to them. The Tank is one of the few spaces in the city left that is devoted to emerging artists, especially at the scale of serving 2,500 artists a year.

Finn: For performing artists in New York, if you want to present your performance work, we are usually talking about thousands of dollars in rental of space. That is the first expense before you pay yourself or your collaborators a dime. At The Tank, we take that cost, the highest line item in any budget, and eliminate it for emerging artists. They can then spend any fundraised money on the work, paying collaborators, paying for the hard costs of production like design budgets. On top of this we provide hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, free marketing, front of house services, technical support, publicity. We give them the chance to move their work to the next level. It’s transformative.

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