People’s Light Associate Producer and Director of New Works Lisa Portes Discusses New Project, The Kiln

Starting today, People’s Light in Malvern, PA will host six artists as they work on their own new art and share them with the Malvern community. Called The Kiln, this inaugural new works lab will take place April 4 to April 15 and features projects from Daphne Rubin-Vega, Seema Sueko, Lisa Ramirez, Steve H. Broadnax III, Estafanía Fadul, and Carey Perloff. People Light’s Associate Producer and Director of New Works Lisa Portes talks about the collaborative artists and actors featured in The Kiln and what audiences can expect from this new concept at the theatre.

Q: Where did the idea of The Kiln come from, and why do you feel People’s Light is the ideal place to host this program?
A: When Zak Berkman (People’s Light Producing Artistic Director) asked me to join the People’s Light team, one of the things he hoped I would produce was a new play festival. As a producer and director, I have a long track record of championing new plays, so it seemed a natural fit. One thing I’ve been observing is the way the American theatre is shifting. We are seeing the rise of many more multi-hyphenate artists: actor-writers, generative directors, and writer-dancers. With new work springing from new sources, we wanted to create an artist-centered developmental space to support makers of all backgrounds. People’s Light has a long history of developing new work and creating a home for artists through our New Play Frontiers program, Music Theatre Innovation Initiative, and Resident Company. Our farmhouse campus in beautiful Malvern – with its quiet, multiple spaces, and dedicated staff– seemed the perfect place to fire up the Kiln!

Q: What qualifications were you looking for in artists who wanted to participate in The Kiln?
A: We were looking specifically for innovative, multi-hyphenate artists who are pushing the field. For example, director and consensus organizer Seema Sueko recently created a piece called imagine a U.S. without racism for Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, which she created from interviews with 100 people of all political and cultural backgrounds across the nation. Estefanía Fadul, a member of the Leadership Circle for the Center for Performance and Civic Practice, seeks to deploy the tools we use for artmaking to transform governmental and community-based systems. Lisa Ramirez, our newest New Play Frontiers commissioned writer, melds dance and theatre to raise awareness about addiction, internalized racism, and workers’ rights. Steve H. Broadnax, the III, a former People’s Light New Play Frontiers commissioned writer, tells stories to explore and destigmatize Black queerness. Longtime Artistic Director of American Conservatory Theatre, Carey Perloff, seeks to find a theatrical container for the buried story of a Jewish boy kidnapped by the Pope and the incomparable Daphne Rubin-Vega explores memoir theatre with Grammy-nominated musician Will Wells. In some way, each artist involved in the Kiln breaks new ground and changes the game.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the New Works program and what you do as Director?
A: The Kiln will take place over two weeks – the first week (April 4 to 8), we will host Lisa Ramirez, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Seema Sueko; the second (April 10 to 15), Steve H. Broadnax, III, Estefanía Fadul, and Carey Perloff. Each artist is bringing one or two supporting collaborators with them (directors, choreographers, composers, dramaturgs, lyricists), and most will be working with a cast of incredible actors. Essentially, over the course of five days, we will hole our lead artists up in a rehearsal room with their collaborators, make sure they are fed, have what they need – sticky notes, keyboards, plenty of paper, headphones – and give them space and time to develop their pieces. We are also believers in building an artistic community. People’s Light will host a number of events that create the opportunity for the artists on our campus to enjoy one another’s company and brilliance! Finally, at the end of each week, we will host sharings for each project, during which the artists will share their pieces, in whatever larval state they are in, with one another and our community.

My role as producer of The Kiln has been to work with People’s Light Artistic Leadership to conceive of the exact kind of developmental space we want to create, identify the artists, invite them to Malvern, and work with our incredible staff to make it all possible!

Q: In what ways is The Kiln considered an interactive experience?
A: While the Kiln is an artist-focused experience, audiences are a crucial part of developing new work. At the end of each week, we open up the space to our subscribers and community partners for the artists to get a sense of how their work lands with audiences. We will hold talk-backs after most sharings to allow audiences to engage with the artists about their work and vice-versa!

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from this program?
A: I hope audiences gain a window into the artistic process. Each piece of theatre an audience member has ever seen started with an artist or group of artists holed up in a space trying to figure out how to make an idea or impulse in their heads take flight in real space and time. We hope to provide our community with a glimpse into that early, wild moment.

Q: Do you have any thoughts yet on how The Kiln will evolve and what might be new or different to the program for 2024?
A: Well, I think we need to get Kiln 2023 wrapped first! But I imagine we’ll want to expand the timeframe to include more artists and create more space for Pennsylvanian artists. The larger Philadelphia theatre community is one of the most innovative communities of multi-hyphenate makers in the country! Once we finish our Kiln 2023 journey, we’ll know what worked, what didn’t, and what more we’d like to do to launch ground-breaking work for the American theatre.

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