By Tammy Scileppi
Despite the many contributions that performing artists make to the city’s cultural vibrancy, the high cost of real estate, combined with the limited resources that many performers have at their disposal, can make finding suitable rehearsal or work spaces extremely difficult.
With that problem in mind, nonprofit Exploring the Metropolis (EtM) has come up with innovative workspace solutions. EtM’s efforts have created wider opportunities for artists and audiences in communities across the city, including Flushing and Jamaica.
A major part of those efforts is EtM’s Con Edison Composers’ Residency.
Matching a composer with a facility, the residency program, funded in part by Consolidate Edison, Inc., offers its participants up to 25 hours of free rehearsal and work space per week. Each composer teams up with the host facility to present a free, open-to-the-public program at the end of the residency. Creative spaces in such cultural facilities as Flushing Town Hall and the Queens Museum have been provided, with over $450,000 worth of rehearsal space and financial support awarded to more than 45 composers since EtM got its start in 2009.
Last month, the nonprofit announced five recipients of the 2016-17 EtM Con Edison Composers’ Residency. Each received a six-month residency in one of EtM’s partnering facilities, plus a $2,500 stipend. Two recipients are from Queens: Ridgewood resident Lea Bertucci, who will be at the Queens Museum, and Thai-born, Queens-based composer, writer and musician Tidtaya Sinutoke, who will be at Flushing Town Hall.
Bertucci, a sound artist, composer and performer, uses both acoustic and electronic instruments, and said she takes “an idiosyncratic approach to the amplification of woodwind instruments, creating organic yet electrified sonic interventions.” She said her music is “abstract in nature, as I have found that more complex ideas and feelings can be expressed without traditional structural, melodic and harmonic modes.”
She is interested in “the sonic and spatial expansion of acoustic instruments through multi-channel speaker systems, with an unconventional approach to the placement of each speaker in a space.”
During her residency at the Queens Museum, she will work on a piece for a 20-voice children’s choir and surround-sound electronics. “Through the process of developing this piece,” she said, “I will also be generating a series of shorter collages and making recordings at the Queens Museum.”
Prerana Reddy, the Queens Museum’s director of public programs and community engagement, said that Bertucci’s residency fits in well with the active environment the museum provides for artists of all mediums. “Our collaboration with Exploring the Metropolis allows us to welcome composers to join the visual artists already in our studio community,” she said.
Sinutoke’s work is composed mostly for musical theater.
“When people ask me about how did I begin my theater career, I often said it was fate,” Sinutoke, a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, said. “In Thailand at that time, theater was almost non-existent. I first discovered musical theatre when I saw a school production of ‘Grease.’ For me, it was the very first bite I’d tasted of musicals and I’ve loved them ever since.”
Growing up in two different cultures, Sinutoke said her main goal in writing is to express the meaning of identity. “When you live in two distinctive cultures, sometimes you identify yourself with both, and sometimes with neither of them. However, there is always a sense of home everywhere I go.”
During her residency, she will work on a musical titled “Hart Island Requiem” with her collaborator, Grammy Award winner Ty Defoe. Hart Island is the potters field in the Bronx, where an estimated one million people are buried.
“Flushing Town Hall is thrilled to host Tidtaya Sinutoke for her residency as a part of its partnership with EtM Con Edison Composers’ Residency,” Flushing Town Hall’s Executive and Artistic Director Ellen Kodadek said. “The emotional depth of Tidtaya’s compositions and her remarkable background make her a truly unique artist.”
EtM is also looking to expand its footprint in Queens beyond Flushing Town Hall and the Queens Museum. To help it do even more for local performing artists, the organization is seeking funding from the city Department of Cultural Affairs, which would facilitate expansion into such communities as the Rockaways, where a partnership is in the works with the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance for a residency in their newly renovated space.