As live, in-person theatre returns to the greatest city in the world, we're spotlighting the NYC theatre artists who make it all happen. Today's spotlight is on Katie Brook and Liza Birkenmeier, the playwright and director team behind ISLANDER: a verbatim piece that examines white male identity through the context of a losing NHL team.
What do you do in the theatre world?
KB: We are a writer/director team that reconfigures our process around each piece we make.
LB: We’ve devised work from real-life and fictional texts, and we’ve also worked in more traditional new play development.
What was the last live production you worked on before the theatre shutdown?
KB: It was the one we’re premiering this week! We were about to move ISLANDER into the theater when everything shut down last March. We’re picking up almost exactly where we left off now, and the piece will start previews on August 19th.
What was your quarantine hobby?
LB: Running (away.)
KB: Well, I made my first fiction podcast, The MS Phoenix Rising… more serious than a hobby, but still a passion project.
What was your first show back?
LB: I tried to see Botte di Ferro in Red Hook a couple of weeks ago. It would have been my first live show post-shutdown. It was rained out, which didn’t feel like a wonderful omen.
KB: Our show will be my first show back…! I’ve seen some live music, some outdoor stuff, but nothing in a theater yet.
What would you tell people to encourage them to come see ISLANDER?
LB: The piece has sharpened since we started the process in 2019, not because of our creative adjustments, but because of cultural context. It seems so starkly focused on the mediocre standards we’ve set for ourselves in a society largely ruled by white masculinity. It feels embarrassing and indicting to watch our anti-hero flounder, to keep trying to improve when he’s unable to see himself as anything but a “good guy.” It’s also hilarious for him to scramble in failure.
KB: Also, it’s as safe as it can be: HERE has done an excellent job with their Covid protocols, with audiences masked, vaccinated and at half-capacity, and we are all vaccinated too, of course.
What’s a new or returning show you’re not involved with that you’re excited to see?
LB: I’m excited to see anything with live performers, really. I’m excited to go to some concerts, to see and hear people, and to hear people responding.
What aspect of your job are you most excited to get back into?
LB: Generally, I think, just writing. When it seems possible to work with other people in a space, playwriting suddenly feels exciting. During the pandemic—for me—it felt bemusing or even awful to try to write a “scene.”
KB: For me, it’s simple: I’m excited to get back to working with people in a room.
ISLANDER runs August 19-September 4 at HERE (145 Sixth Avenue). For more information and to purchase tickets, visit: here.org/shows/islander/.