I see theater as a practice for civic life, and make work at the intersection of performance and participation. When I tell stories, they are often about doomed forms of idealism. I am interested in the unintended transformations that become possible when the things we've planned fail.
PLAYS IN PERFORMANCE
EXPERIMENTS IN PARTICIPATION
commissioned by Playwrights Horizons set design by Parker Lutz premieres 2023
What would it mean to be in it together? To really be all in it, together? Aren't we all already all in it together? All in the same way? Or are we?
A Song of Songs
presented by Jeremy O. Harris and The Bushwick Starr in collaboration with El Puente and in association with Clubbed Thumb
Noel Allain at The Bushwick Starr asked me if I wanted to develop a piece in collaboration with El Puente, a community organization in South Williamsburg that's been doing work for forty years around environment, justice, housing, and health care, with an emphasis on the arts as a tool for social transformation. I said yes.
The result was a performance and ritual -- a riff on the Biblical Song of Songs, which explored the intersection of love and grief. It was also a series of relationships, and experiments in co-learning. Collaborator JL Umipig led me, director Machel Ross, and a group of eight brilliant young artists and El Puente alums in an extended series of workshops on grief, which ran parallel to rehearsals. The result was a gorgeous zine, as well as audio pieces that became part of the fabric of the show. Elements of our set were created by Los Muralistas, a mural-painting collective in residence at El Puente.
directed by Machel Ross photos by Luke Ohlson
Working Group for a New Spirit
Early in the pandemic, I wanted to find a way to think, talk, be together -- feel our way into orienting ourselves. I asked the Bushwick Starr if they'd be willing to support the project. We did two 8-session rounds in spring 2020, and a more extended version in the fall, in which I asked three guest artists to co-create sessions with me.
Guest artists were Katherine Agyemaa Agard, Eyad Houssami, and Rebeca Medina.
"With the aid of guided meditations, creative writing, and group discussions, the collective brought together regulars of the New York downtown theater scene to process an uncertain time by studying an eclectic mixture of texts. The syllabus ranged from ancient Jewish sources to bell hooks’s All About Love (2000), Fanny Howe’s “Bewilderment” (2003), and Nina Simone’s “22nd Century” (1971). Under Borinsky’s facilitation, it progressed through a cycle, considering the themes of Turning, Breaking, Loving, Making, Grieving, Shifting, Nothing, and, finally, (Re)turning. "The second iteration of the Working Group took a different approach, completing an in-depth read of the Song of Songs from the Hebrew Bible over eight sessions in May. On one day, to accompany the day’s text, participants were each tasked with bringing in a devotional object and held an impromptu show and tell, filled with childhood stuffed animals, original poems, and good luck charms. On another day, people read aloud the biblical love poem while, concurrently, participants typed out memories of romantic trysts in the Zoom chat. These weren’t exactly stuffy college lectures."
The full archive of the Working Group is online here.
Brief Chronicle, Books 6-8
published by 3 Hole Press (2016) produced by i am a slow tide
"Agnes Borinsky writes very light, very weird comedies that cut unexpectedly sharp. They’re full of droll twentysomething ennui: Actors get bored and change roles; the texts’ dry tone is the sound of a humorous shrug. But Borinsky, who has a degree in permaculture, is actually writing about environmental and existential collapse... In Borinskyland, any identity’s shawl can easily slip off the shoulders; there’s a shimmer of many things being true at once. The production is simultaneously joyful and devastated, and the way forward out of crisis is proposed as both action and inaction." (Full review here.)
directed by Gus Heagerty photos by Maria Baranova
Ding Dong It's the Ocean
A play that is one long scene, the unfolding of a party. A play about a theater company trying to make a play about the Ocean. A play about what happens unexpectedly when what we think we are trying to do falls apart.
written for and in collaboration with Rady&Bloom produced at JACK, with the support of the HERE Arts Residency Program conceived by Jeremy Bloom & Brian Rady directed by Jeremy Bloom music by Joe White
2015 Clubbed Thumb Biennial Commission produced and developed by Clubbed Thumb directed by Jeremy Bloom
"You know you're in for something extraordinary when even the turn-off-your-phone announcement is wonderful. Before Alex Borinsky's school-pageant-styled Of Government begins, we're plied with cookies and pie—each, we are assured, P.T.A.-made. There's lively preshow accompaniment played by Ms. Marjorie Blain (Beth Griffith), a beaming pianist so lacy and insubstantial she might have been crocheted. Then, channeling the sweetness of your favorite kindergarten music teacher, Ms. Marjorie asks us to participate in a little call-and-response. “Who's got a body?” she sings. “I've got a body!” we respond on cue. “Who's got a cellphone?” We all duck and rustle in our bags...
"Borinsky can write like blazes... But all this hilarity does not disguise the fury at the show's core. (“Who's got rage?” is another of Ms. Marjorie's questions.) A hint at its origins is right in the title. Everything that goes wrong in Of Government can be traced to some systemic failure, some way in which the U.S. fails its people. Barb’s school is closing down because of a bureaucratic mix-up; Tawny's meltdown is tied to our grotesque healthcare system. The cuddly school-auditorium vibe of the beginning returns at the end, but this time its point is sharp. If we want to fix the things we've seen, we need to organize on the local level. We need to start baking those pies."
"Me, I see a point in this play’s amiable restlessness, or I think I do. It’s something to do with both the insecurity and serendipity of the way we live now. And the meandering flow of the plot feels appropriate for the beginning of the silly season, when thoughts turn to fantasies of flight and contemplation of the ruts we’re stuck in.
“Of Government has the appeal of one of those wayward trips to nowhere people find themselves craving when the weather turns warm, preferably in an open convertible at lazy speeds. You sit back as the scenery changes, sometimes quite unexpectedly, and get to meet a whole lot of interesting strangers along the way — in this case, what is surely the most likably idiosyncratic assortment of women gathered on a New York stage."
I spent a year as artist in residence at University Settlement, a longstanding community organization on the Lower East Side. I led free weekly dance classes, as a way of exploring what it might look like to learn together what we don't already know. At the end of that year, I commissioned twenty artists to develop an interactive performance with me -- something that could capture some of the tools and discoveries we'd arrived at in the course of the dancing. "In theatre, not every show asks something of its audience. But I wonder, given the lack of transparency I find in the discipline, if we even know how. When have you seen a show that outlines: here is what we are going to do and here is what we will ask.
"As a testament to this, I dread audience interaction, but while watching Weird Classrooms I gladly sat in a circle, raised my hand, and covered myself in flour. When the entire audience becomes the stage, there is no spotlight on anyone. Weird Classrooms made me feel hope for a kind of theatre that asks for something. For theatre that has actual civic possibilities."
Weird Classrooms was created by Chuey Aparicio, Jordan Baum, Agnes Borinsky, Patrick Costello, Corinne Donly, Mitchell Dose, Ryan Gedrich, Anne Haney, Daniel Lupo, Masrah Ensemble (Beirut), Carol Santiago Medina, Michelle Navis, Bryce Payne, Brian Rady, Hazel Sharhan, Kassandra Sparks, Chris Tyler, Jing Xu, and others. The project was initiated by Agnes Borinsky as 2016-2017 Artist-in-Residence with the Performance Project at University Settlement and produced by Ryan Gedrich. Presented by Rustchuk Farm and the Performance Project at University Settlement, with the support of the Center for Reproductive Labor.
Spoke the Hub. Directed & designed by the author.
Solo and Dance Performances
Since 2015 or so, I've had a solo improvisatory dance performance. I've made probably a dozen short pieces, performed here and there, inconsistently documented. They live in abjection, somewhere between queer performance and audience participation.