There’s been rather a lot of turnover in theater management currently. Some have been drummed out of their jobs. Others have give up to do one thing else within the arts. Many have retired.
Daniella Topol, the inventive director of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and a career-long theater director, is leaving to change into a nurse.
The uncommon transfer arrives at a pivotal time for Rattlestick, a small Off Broadway firm that, along with rejuvenating following the lengthy pandemic shutdown, is about to embark on a much-needed renovation of its cozy however imperfect West Village residence, situated in a Nineteenth-century church parish home.
Topol, 47, has been main Rattlestick since 2016, succeeding David Van Asselt, who co-founded the corporate. Just earlier than assuming the management place, she directed at Rattlestick a manufacturing of “Ironbound” by Martyna Majok, who went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for “Cost of Living.”
Three years later, one other manufacturing Topol directed at Rattlestick altered her trajectory. While engaged on “Novenas for a Lost Hospital,” a play that each chronicled and mourned the demise of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village as patrons moved from location to location linked to the story, she consulted with nurses and nursing college students, and one thing sparked.
“A seed was planted and then we continued forward — a pandemic happened six months after that, and there was a lot of reflection around, ‘Where are we as a field?’ ‘Where are we as a city?’ ‘Where are we as a country?’ ‘Where are we going?’ ‘What role do we play or not play?’ ‘How do I as white woman hold power and privilege?’ ‘How don’t I?’ ‘Where do I fit in a constellation in a way that is productive?’” she mentioned. “I have been doing, obviously, a lot of reflection about my own personal life, and meaningful and challenging experiences that I have had, on a very personal level, and many of them have centered inside of maternal care complexities, and so it sort of felt like it was aligning with the stars.”
She mentioned she just isn’t certain precisely what she needs to do as a nurse, however she plans to remain in New York, and mentioned that maternal well being and start fairness — a time period used to explain efforts to cut back racial and sophistication inequities for brand new moms and their infants — have change into specific pursuits, intensified by the overturning of Roe v. Wade. “I’ve been pregnant many times — I’ve had a late-term loss, early term losses, and I have a child,” mentioned Topol, who lives in Brooklyn together with her husband and 10-year-old daughter. “I feel like it’s a way to hold the loss and let that help inform my next steps on a very personal level.”
So now, whereas getting ready to direct a closing play for Rattlestick this fall and dealing on different theater tasks, she is taking prerequisite programs and volunteering at a hospital; Rattlestick is starting a seek for her successor, and he or she hopes that she is going to overlap with that individual after which go away someday subsequent yr, earlier than beginning nursing college subsequent summer time or fall.
“I’ve only been a theater person,” she mentioned. “Here I am, I’m waking up at 4:30 a.m. to study science and memorize muscles and bones and I’m dissecting a pig. It’s all kinds of things I never thought I would do.”
Topol mentioned there have been different components as properly. She mentioned that she has thought of “how long should anybody stay in any kind of leadership position,” and that the civil rights unrest of 2020 had intensified that considering: “Part of the reckoning was about who is running companies, where does power lay, and how much power sharing is there — defining what the trajectory of the field is.”
“There are other wonderful artists who can take over Rattlestick and do a beautiful job leading it and imagine things I haven’t been able to imagine,” she added.
As the paths of Topol and Rattlestick diverge, she’s taken with highlighting the theater’s survival and progress, and its dedication to a clean transition.
The firm, based in 1994, is small — its annual prepandemic funds was $1.2 million, of which 80 % was raised from foundations and donors — however has persistently attracted consideration for its formidable work, together with not solely Majok’s early play, but in addition work by Annie Baker, Samuel D. Hunter, Dael Orlandersmith and Heidi Schreck. The theater describes its mission, partly, as prompting “social change,” and far of its programming displays that; its first post-shutdown play was “Ni Mi Madre,” a much-praised autobiographical examination of tradition and sexuality by Arturo Luís Soria, whom the theater has now commissioned to write down a follow-up.
“What I’ve loved about Rattlestick is we’re small and scrappy and authentic and take chances and aren’t burdened by huge institutional issues of massive unaffordable space — we’re like a motorcycle, not a cruise ship,” Topol mentioned. “You don’t get the luxury of the cruise ship — you get the scrappy ride of the motorcycle — but you get the flexibility to be able to twist and turn as things go.”
Topol mentioned she feels snug leaving partly as a result of the theater now has a completely financed plan to redo its efficiency area, which it rents harmoniously from St. John’s in the Village, an Episcopal church. The theater area, the place it has been situated since 1999, has had two critical challenges: The solely option to get there’s to climb a slim stairway, which implies the theater just isn’t accessible to those that can’t navigate these stairs; and the one means to make use of the toilet is to traverse the stage.
Rattlestick has now raised the $4 million — about half from town — to finance a mission that can, at its most elementary, add an elevator and patron loos, however may also modernize the doorway and the theater itself by relocating the entrance door, including a field workplace and a small foyer, and eradicating the raised stage in order that the efficiency and seating areas are versatile, in addition to accessible. The theater will be capable of seat as much as 93 individuals — about the identical because it does now. “It’s not ‘bigger is better,’” Topol mentioned. “It feels like we are really right-sized for the work that we are doing.”
The renovation will permit Rattlestick to remain within the West Village, which has change into a really dear space, however is the neighborhood the place the theater has lengthy been situated and is set to stay. Rattlestick additionally shares a rehearsal area on Gansevoort Street with three different theater organizations. “It is critical to maintain places for artists in our neighborhoods,” mentioned the renovation’s architect, Marta Sanders.
Construction, Topol hopes, will start subsequent summer time, pending metropolis approval, and would final a yr; throughout building, the theater would current work at different places. The theater is continuous to boost cash for programming and operations.
The chairman of the theater’s board, Jeff Thamkittikasem, acknowledged shock at Topol’s transfer, however mentioned he had change into supportive.
“When I first heard about it, I tried to talk her out of it, but my mom is a nurse, and at some point it switched for me and I saw that connection about wanting to care for others in a much more direct, physical way,” he mentioned. “I was shocked, but also, as I thought about it, I saw where there was a connection with who she was.”
Thamkittikasem mentioned the group is wholesome and that the board has retained a search agency to search for Topol’s successor. He added, “Rattlestick is in a very strong place since Daniella took over — we’re stronger financially, we have good connections to foundations and funders, we have an active board and a solid staff, and our reputation has grown.”