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AUDIO: This Sweaty City: Why do we live here?

Here's the next guest blog in a three part series from "This Sweaty City" (last week's was written by Will Bowling, and the one before that features Episode One of the Serial Podcast) written by TSC co-creator Shannon Flaherty. Shannon interviewed cast members about why they live in New Orleans, and what it's like to make work and be a part of the theater community in this town. 

SNEAK PEAK: 'Bicycle Bird' by Aurora Nealand, an original song written for the soundtrack of Episode Two:  

“This Sweaty City”, Goat in the Road’s podcast series, is a thinly veiled magical realist version of New Orleans. The three writers of the series (myself, Chris Kaminstein, and Will Bowling), all originally hail from other places (New Hampshire, Philadelphia, Chicago), but have lived in New Orleans for about five years. It’s safe to say we’ve “fallen in love” with the city. And I don’t think we’re the only ones.

Behind the scenes, recording episode two: (from left): Kyle Sheehan, Dylan Hunter, Andy Vaught, Chris Kaminstein, Aurora Nealand.

Behind the scenes, recording episode two: (from left): Kyle Sheehan, Dylan Hunter, Andy Vaught, Chris Kaminstein, Aurora Nealand.

But why do we love it? What is so great about this place?

To investigate this question in relation to the downtown theatre scene, I asked artists involved in “This Sweaty City” why each of them chooses to live in New Orleans and make work here. During the interviews, I realized that the circumstances of folks’ arrivals to New Orleans ranged greatly -- they’re from here, they moved to work on a project, moved here for education, moved back after a long time away, moved here for a job, or moved here for something new. But the common thread is that these artists have stayed in New Orleans and make their art here. From their perspective, here’s why:

1. The COMMUNITY

Almost everyone mentioned the people they work with as the main reason they’re here.

The word collaboration -- meaning folks working on projects together across companies and disciplines, being willing to share materials and information, being supportive rather then competitive -- came up over and over again. Kyle Sheehan mentioned the “energy” that characterizes the artistic community; Andy Vaught credited this community as leading to a sense of improvisation and DIY, and Peter J Bowling stated that the existence of community makes it possible to create art with close to nothing.

"Collaboration” has become a part of the script people use when they talk about theatre. However, for artists in New Orleans, I think it is more than a buzz word; the frequent mention of it during the interviews points to the fact that many artists in New Orleans feel that they belong to something larger than themselves, a community, and that this community has embarked on an important artistic mission together that feels like it is full of exciting possibilities.

Listen: Aurora Nealand discusses why she lives in New Orleans.

2. The FODDER

When I interviewed Chris Kaminstein, he posited that in order for artists to output work, they must have some input that sparks their creativity.

Listen: Chris Kaminstein discusses why New Orleans is a great city for artists looking for inspiration.

Another point most of the interviewees agreed on is that New Orleans gives people stuff to work with. Why and how? In the words of the artists, in New Orleans, there is…

“Lack of separation between life and art.” - Aurora Nealand

“Quality cultural human input. People here are amazing and interesting and compassionate and generous and wild and strange.” - Chris Kaminstein

“Space for inspiration.” - Dylan Hunter

“A similarity to scenes that existed in downtown New York.” - Todd D’Amour

“Je ne sais quoi about the city that is conducive to art making.” - Peter J Bowling

And, one of my favorites:

“It’s a different city than anywhere else in the country… people come down here because they think that they can create something that is truly theirs in a way that they can’t do anywhere else.” - Andy Vaught

Listen: Hear Andy Vaught discuss being from New Orleans and his experience missing the city.

3. The POSSIBILITY of making a living

Another frequently mentioned theme was how possible it is to live in New Orleans and make a living as an artist. A few folks mentioned the word “affordable;” Francesca McKenzie stated that she is able to do all the work she wants “and not run around crazy all the time”.

Veronica Russell’s phrase sums it all up:

“I can make a living, albeit meager, at doing what I’m doing on my own terms”.

Listen: Veronica Russell breaks down why she lives in New Orleans and not Venice.

This is neither an exhaustive list, nor is it a random sampling of New Orleans residents. However these reasons -- community, fodder, and possibility -- might be crucial to the quality of life of the artistic practitioners across scenes in the City.

One main distinction I noticed during the interviews was that between artists who were here before Katrina and those folks who arrived after the storm. For those who had come before, this fact -- of their nativeness to New Orleans -- also seemed at the core of their artistic tie to the City. To close, here’s a quote from Todd D’Amour, one of the cast members who is a New Orleans native:

“It’s important to have people who know how to and want to tell stories about their experience in New Orleans and the change that is occurring in New Orleans and to try and keep a certain sanctity or sacredness about the New Orleans that was… that there was a New Orleans that was different from the New Orleans that exists now. I think that’s one of the most important parts of being an artist in New Orleans.”

Check back next Wednesday for Chris Kaminstein's analysis of This Sweaty City and how it represents the 20- somethings in today's New Orleans. 

Goat in the Road Productions is a New Orleans-based performance ensemble dedicated to the production of original and invigorating new works of theater, dance, performance art, and educational programming. Last May, Goat made its foray into the audio world with Episode One of a 12-part performance+podcast series. On November 22 and 23, the group will perform Episode Two at Luthjen's Dance Hall located on the corner of Marigny and Chartres streets as part of the 2013 New Orleans Fringe Festival.