Jessica Schmidt

The Motor Company
Communal Spaces: a garden play festival
Artistic Discipline: Theater
Category: Brooklyn Arts Fund
Grant Year: 2020
Location: Bedford-Stuyvesant

The Motor Company is devoted to creating and producing theater that is accessible and community-oriented. Their mission is to heighten the individual’s relationship to our city and surroundings by using public spaces as the impetus for story-telling and theatrical events.

Communal Spaces is presented annually by The Motor Company, led by Artistic Director Lillian Meredith and Producing Director Jessica Schmidt. Lillian Meredith curates the festival by choosing a lead artist for each garden. Each lead artist develops their project as they see fit while adhering to the festival's structure of honoring the garden's space, its history, and its surrounding neighborhood and community members.

The project gives artists a chance to work in a setting outside of traditional theater. Artists are encouraged to engage with gardeners and local community members to inform their pieces, and they get to work in medium that does not have a fixed setting. The spaces are affected by weather, traffic, construction, and daylight, just to name a few fixtures. The project also expands to audiences beyond traditional theatergoers and serves local communities who have a chance to see art happening in familiar spaces. Local community groups engage with the project and passersby on the sidewalk during performances get a chance to spontaneously engage.

Communal Spaces is an annual festival of new, short plays presented in community gardens. It is rooted in the idea that a space for theater can be much more than just a backdrop or a venue. If theater is presented in familiar, community-oriented spaces, audiences' relationships to that space can augment their experiences, and The Motor Company hopes that it also heightens their relationships to their community and surroundings.

2020 will be the tenth year of presenting this festival. There will be four gardens chosen in Central Brooklyn, all within walking distance of each other. The festival will take place every Saturday and Sunday for three weekends in September. Start times between gardens are staggered so that audiences have a chance to see all four plays in one day if they choose.

In an era where people can acknowledge that there is a growing disconnect between people and their surroundings - especially in a city that is rapidly moving and changing - it is important that people create work that draws awareness to surroundings and offers a platform for discourse on how they can become or stay connected to what is happening around us. Communal Spaces helps New Yorkers notice who and what share spaces.