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Reconnecting in Poughkeepsie

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Edison Diaz, Xavier Galva, Brittany K. Allen, Jaha Ferron Smith, Andrea Hiebler, and A.A. brenner sit around a table looking at the camera
Ed, Xavier, Brittany, Jahna, Nora, Andrea, and A.A.

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Along with summer Fridays and summer showers came our Summer writers retreat in partnership with New York Stage and Film. For over ten years, we have partnered with NYSAF to provide a retreat for writers away from the hustle and bustle of NYC. This idyllic retreat offers writers a nurturing creative space where they can forget the daily grind, enjoy nature, and give life and breath to their work. Participating in this one-week residency provides writers with a valuable opportunity to connect with The Lark community and to look at their projects with a fresh perspective. Last month, an intrepid team of writers (Brittany K. Allen, A.A. Brenner, Jahna Ferron-Smith, Xavier Galva, and Edison Ventura Mata Diaz) led by the fearless Lark Camp Counselor (and Director of Scouting and Submissions) Andrea Hiebler and Nora Brigid Monahan, ventured up to Poughkeepsie for a week-long retreat to work on their plays-in-process!

This particular journey up to Poughkeepsie had the added significance of being our first foray back into in-person artistic programming since the… well… you know what… And while the you-know-what certainly isn’t over, the incredible, adaptable team at NYSAF and Marist College gave us all a glimpse at what could be around the corner. While we’ve been amazed by all of the ways in which gathering community is possible even on zoom, this retreat was a reminder of the invaluable experience of just being in space with other people.

“My Catholic upbringing is going to show here, but I have always been deeply attached to ritual and how it can reveal both the constants and variations of life,” said Andrea Hiebler (Director of Scouting and Submissions, The Lark). Our NYSAF summer retreat has been one of those programs that provides a reliable snapshot of where an individual play, a specific group of writers, or even The Lark itself happens to be in process year after year.  Whether it's taking the MetroNorth up to Poughkeepsie or flying halfway around the world with playwrights, witnessing the shared navigation of everything from mundane matters of where to get lunch to the most momentous creative breakthroughs (or breakdowns) is the whole ball-of-wax for me.  The texture and depth of those types of bonds are what I desperately missed and am so overjoyed to have begun experiencing again."

Edison, Brittany, Xavier, Nora, and Andrea sitting against a white wall in a line
“We were so aware that it was almost two years since we came together in Poughkeepsie - and we knew everyone would be excited to gather but also carrying everything that had happened since the pandemic began,” said Chris Burney (Artistic Director, New York Stage and Film). “We urged everyone to go slow and really focus on being together as both artists and people. We were all experiencing something new, including a new relationship with Marist College. At the end of the meet-and-greet I reminded people that if we stopped right now and that we only had these moments together, the summer was a success. There was no destination - only the joy of coming together in this moment.”

Being able to have time to just be with other people, revel in the spontaneous, unstructured interstitial moments of collaboration and connection found between activities, and the afternoons of sharing (or not sharing) pages, reaffirmed truths we hold dear at The Lark: Process isn’t just first drafts and rewrites; it’s also taking a walk along the river. It’s group dinners in poorly lit corners of restaurants. It’s being told to Go. Take. A. Nap. And, yes, it’s sharing the NINE bottles of wine Nora brought, dammit! The value of the retreat was not measured in pages or new plays generated, but more significantly was found in being able to connect as an artistic community in ways that we haven’t fully been able to over the course of the past year and a half. 

Andrea, Nora, Xavier, and Ed standing under a roof during a downpour outside Marist College
“Restarting in-person process has ignited multiple things simultaneously: joy, laughter, exhaustion, anxiety, reflection, grief, love… and we’ve tried to create a space where we’re able to acknowledge and make space for all of those things and everything in between,” said Liz Carlson (Artistic Producer, New York Stage and Film). “This season is not just about the new stories in development. Moreso, it’s about being in relationship to one another and seeing one another again--in every sense of the word. We are so grateful for our community partners and for every individual who has contributed to our capacity to safely reassemble.” 

We are all still facing so many uncertainties in the world, in our communities, and in our lives. We aren’t sure what will come next, or how it’ll happen. But our time at the retreat reaffirmed that whatever comes next, adaptability, flexibility, and good partnerships are key to meeting both the challenges and the joys as they arise. This is a world in process, and as frustrating or scary as that can be sometimes, it’s also the thing we at The Lark know to embrace as a  community wholeheartedly. It’s almost like process is our thing or something... 

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