This year, I kicked off the fall performance season in the basement of Hart Bar at Dance in Bushwick’s one-year celebration. Dance in Bushwick (DiB), founded by Joanna Futral, aims to provide a platform for dance and performance artists living or working in the neighborhood. Futral works closely with her husband, Casey Kreher, who serves as technical director.
Hosted by queer nightlife performer Vic Sin, the program featured work by Rayne Raney, Benjamin Campbell, Melani De Guzman, Rachel Mckinstry, and Dance to the People. The evening began with a literal splash as Rayne Raney undulated and flailed in an inflatable swimming pool. As one could imagine, Raney’s piece drenched the basement, and Futral, Kreher, and the staff of Hart Bar rushed to mop and set up fans to dry off the floor. Vic Sin performed next with a hilarious opening monologue in which he joked about getting electrocuted by his microphone chord as he traversed the wet concrete in stilettos.
DIY events like this feel novel in a neighborhood whose art spaces feel increasingly more slick, and I found myself reflecting on how a piece as impractical as Raney’s might get curtailed in a more formal theatrical setting, especially on a shared bill. In fact, many of the pieces had elaborate props and sets that demanded setting up and breaking down: Dance to the People’s The Tampon Piece featured giant tampons and a toilet prop. Campbell painted live in his performance. De Guzman was joined by Sarah Favinger on the upright bass, and Rachel Mckinstry enlisted her own lighting designer, Andy Dickerson, to light her piece with a spotlight and a blue water bottle.
This spirit of artistic permission struck me and I wondered about the structures of support that made it possible. I sat down with Futral to discuss her first year of DiB and her intentions for its future.
Doug LeCours (Rail): What compelled you to start DiB?
Joanna Futral: DiB started out as an Instagram handle to promote people making work in the neighborhood, and when that gained traction, I decided to start producing shows and reaching out to venues and artists that I knew lived in the neighborhood. Our first show was last September at Hart Bar.
I’ve always been fascinated with the back-stage aspect of performance. My parents are in production—my mom is a stage manager and my dad is a production manager. As a dancer, I would often find myself helping out with the show end, noticing things that needed to be done. I was always saying, “hey, we have to market the show or else people aren’t going to come.”
Rail: Right. “Hey, this isn’t really my job, but can I step in here because I can do it better than you?”
Futral: Exactly. Since moving to New York and even before that, that’s been a part of my personality.
About a year and a half ago, I tore my ACL. So I was already thinking about the L train shutting down, already thinking about the fact that I was immobile and stuck in Bushwick forever. I love Bushwick, but what am I going to do if I can’t dance or go to shows? My husband always worked in Bushwick at bars and breweries, and it made me think: let’s just make the work here. Let’s build a really awesome community right here.
Rail: What do you feel like DiB offers that’s missing?
Futral: I think we just offer more. It feels like there are a few performance opportunities that are givens when you first move here. You sign up for Open Performance at Movement Research, you show at Triskelion, and they’re wonderful and supportive but what’s next if you can’t get a commission at The Chocolate Factory? A lot of artists self produce but not everyone can afford that. So I think we offer something in between.
Right now we offer three distinct events: Dance in Bushwick (the model we used for the anniversary event); Experiment in Bushwick, which is a little bit more casual and off-the-cuff, and Meet in Bushwick, a panel and meet-and-greet series focusing on collaboration.
Rail: I felt such a spirit of permission at the show—both from DiB and the staff at Hart Bar. They seemed so happy to help clean up and set up the fans after Rayne’s performance.
Futral: The guy that helped, David Cabanero, is the owner, and a dancer too. He was actually in the show last year.
Rail: That’s amazing. I almost forgot I was in New York during the show; it feels less and less possible to make this kind of event happen here. Bushwick wants to think of itself as this DIY haven, but there’s a growing professionalization of that sensibility. This felt like a more pure manifestation of a DIY sensibility.
Futral: Thank you.
Rail: How do you choose artists?
Futral: I often use Instagram to find artists and hosts for events. I’m always looking for artists who don’t have a ton of visibility in the field but who I know that if I give them a platform—
Rail: They’ll kill it.
Futral: Exactly. I’m working on expanding my network, too. As someone with a background in modern and downtown dance, I’m aware I have a white-centric network and I’m trying to combat that, so that’s an ongoing effort. Instagram itself can also be a barrier especially because I don’t speak Spanish and we’re talking about Bushwick, a predominantly Dominican and Puerto-Rican neighborhood.
Rail: One year in, can you reflect on your successes and failures? Hopes and dreams for year two?
Futral: I just want to pay artists more.
Rail: How do you fund DiB now?
Futral: Door sales are the only funding we have right now and we try to give as much of that as we can to the artists. Some venues have donated space to us, which helps. We just applied for our first grant, so fingers crossed on that.
Rail: Do you have another event in the works?
Futral: We have an event coming up at Wyckoff Manor on November 2nd. It’s a partnership with CreateART and Venn Bushwick, a property management company. They’re hoping to revamp their model for open houses to include performances.
Rail: Great. I’ll be there!