After sitting down with Diamando Stratakos and Jason Lord-Surratt of Left Hip Productions, I have decided that this company totally rocks. I had never heard of them before, and now I’m completely obsessed with them (just in time for their upcoming festival, but more on that later). Their energy and mantra is so clean and idealistic, which makes so different from most theater companies I’ve been exposed to in New York. Their agenda is not about gaining exposure for themselves, but about creating work from artists they collaborate with. Through improvisation and short festivals, and often players switching roles (actors who write, directors who sing), they churn out fresh and relevant work, the best of which they develop further. This kind of process brings out the best in their community, which in turn betters the company as a whole. That selflessness is so brave and refreshing, and they’re definitely a company to watch.
Left Hip Productions all started with an injured hip. Stratakos, one of the company’s founders, injured her left hip, which resulted in some down time. Her friend and fellow company founder Lord-Surratt took advantage of her free time by roping her into some theater projects. Their first collaboration was on a project similar to a 24-hour playwriting festival, but included live music. They called it The Shotgun Theater Festival. Stratakos and Lord-Surratt had a really successful and enlightening experience with that festival, and they decided to start a company together. Their company would revolve around collaborating with different artists and musicians to create very bare bones projects, while cultivating a community for these artists to make connections in the New York theater scene. With fellow collaborators Bob Teague and Danika Wood, they created The Left Hip Productions, an appropriate name considering the injury that started it all, and the liberal and creative connotations didn’t hurt either.
Left Hip’s flagship production is the From The Hip theater festival. It’s a 48-hour festival where 80 artists - playwrights, actors, directors, and musicians - come together and create work loosely based on a certain theme. Through concentrated collaboration over two days, which involves guided improvisation exercises, multiple rewrites and a final performance for the company, From The Hip churns out original and fresh ideas, the best of which get developed further. It’s the perfect medium to juice the community and a window to what will eventually become bigger projects.
One of those bigger projects is the Hip Festival. Coming up this May, the group is having a weeklong festival of 18 different productions that will include a From the Hip festival and shows born of previous From the Hip festivals. The week will feature the best of the best. They will have an acoustic battle-of-the-bands, an art gallery, a cabaret, improv showcases, short and full length plays, panel discussions about their collaboration process, and a musical somehow related to previous From The Hip productions. The long term goal for the company and the festival is for these pieces to be picked up by producers or other companies who like what they saw, and who want to take them further. Now, this may be a similar dream for a thousand different New York companies, but what sets Left Hip apart is that their involvement ends with productions moving on. Left Hip’s involvement starts and stops with getting new works off their feet, and therefore can continue to provide that crucial opportunity for company after company, artist after artist. In the long-term, it’s good for the artists and it’s good for Left Hip. Furthermore, they are willing to start the development process for pretty much anything, because it doesn’t necessarily matter how much experience you have in a medium, it’s more about exploring the work. They are about more then just being artists; they are the vehicle.
At the end of our interview, I asked Diamando and Jason if there was one thing they could tell the New York Theater Community, what it would be. Diamando responsed, “Come see our shows, and come work with us. There is an opportunity within Left Hip Productions for anyone who wants to get into this game, from whatever skill set or level they are coming from, and we’re happy to have them. That’s what makes us stand apart. We want to use everyone.
The Hip Festival will take place May 16th through May 22nd at the Wings Theatre (154 Christopher Street) in Manhattan. Individual ticket prices will vary. The late night music series will be $10. From the Hip, Short Play series, Acoustic Battle of the Bands will all be $15, readings will be $5, and panel discussions will be free. There will also be a week long pass for $125. Online ticket sales will soon be available at www.lefthipproductions.com. The company is still taking submissions from actors, directors, and musicians whose work will be featured throughout the festival. If you’re interested in being a collaborator, email firstname.lastname@example.org for general submissions, and if you would like your music featured in the pre and post shows as well as sound cues, email email@example.com. Everyone who they work with gets an equal share of the profits. Be it five dollars or five hundred, that’s practically unheard of and pretty awesome. You can support Left Hip Productions by visiting www.lefthipproductions.com/donate.