Primary Profile: Einhorn Mentorship Award Recipient Kimberly Senior

This year at Spring Fling, we are presenting the Einhorn Mentorship Award to Kimberly Senior! You might remember Kimberly from earlier this season at Primary Stages as the director of Gospel According to… Discord or as the director of Disgraced on Broadway! You might also know her as one of our beloved teachers at Primary Stages ESPA. Check out the interview below to learn more about Kimberly and why we think she’s so deserving of this special honor:

Did you always want to be a director? How did you end up becoming one?
It’s an ever evolving process. I have always known I am a Maker and a Doer. Maybe I could have been an urban planner. Or a chef. Storytelling called to me at an early age, mainly as an audience member. The transformative power of stories, of histories unfolding, of futures being discovered has always had a profound effect. I am deeply curious as to how a disparate audience unites under this transformative magic and it has been a lifelong quest to understand this challenge and ultimately expand the relationship between the story and the audience it reaches. Being a director is the best fit for this hunger!

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What advice would you give to young directors?
Don’t rush! I have been doing this professionally for over twenty years and still am not even halfway through my career. Take time to be a HUMAN BEING. Fall in love. Take walks. Read books. Talk to your grandparents. All of this will inform your work as you go, too! Also, be kind. Always.

And there’s this Annie Dillard quote, which is about writing, but I think words to live by:

One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

Has teaching changed you as a person and/or director?
100%. I don’t even know how to begin to answer this question. When teaching I have to articulate what it is that I do often so unconsciously. And in this process of reiteration, I always discover something new. Teaching reminds me that not all of our brains are the same- what works for one student doesn’t always work for another. I love the challenge of finding the best way to communicate, which absolutely translates into my directing work and my life. Most importantly, teaching expands me. It is an innately generous place to be, and when I am teaching, I feel more ready to receive as a result. My students challenge and inspire me. You can’t skip any steps in a classroom. Any laboratory bound by the laws of curiosity is destined to advance and expand one’s thinking and one’s heart.

What has been your favorite class to teach at Primary Stages ESPA?
All of them! One of the great delights of teaching at ESPA is how genuinely game the staff and students are to try something new! It’s a constant collaboration. It’s another wonderful thing about teaching- the classroom is a safe place to explore and risk. I have had this approach with my classes. Dreaming big and digging deep is what ESPA is all about for me.

Interested in taking a class with Kimberly? You’re in luck! She is teaching two courses this summer at Primary Stages ESPA: an Acting Intensive and a Directing Workshop!

Is there anything in your career you still haven’t done but really want to do?
Everything.
Really.
There are so many stories to tell, so many places to tell them, so many people to make them with, so many more people with which to share them.
And I’m ready for a musical. 🙂


If you’d like to join us this year for Spring Fling, get your tickets here!

This year’s Spring Fling is a tasting party, featuring many different dishes and drinks from several restaurants in the West Village. Mark your calendars for Thursday, May 10th because proceeds from this event help us offer performances and talkbacks to over 1,600 NYC Public School students.

 

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Behind the Stacks: The St. Agnes Library

Sharon Washington grew up in the St. Agnes branch of the New York Public Library, but Feeding the Dragon covers just a tiny sliver of this century-old building. We decided to investigate the storied history of this literary establishment.

The Beginning

St. Agnes Theater

Photo from NYPL by Elizabeth Felicella

In 1893, the St. Agnes Chapel created a parish library now known as the St. Agnes Library.  Originally located on West 91st Street, the library contained a small collection of literature for the blind, in addition to the standard books of the time. The following year, the library was extended to accommodate the Upper West Side’s growing population. It changed its locations a few more times until it found its present home at 444 Amsterdam Avenue in 1906, as part of the New York Public Library system. The St. Agnes library is one of the original sixty-plus libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie, who allocated $5.2 million specifically for the construction of libraries in the city. Overall, Mr. Carnegie helped create 1,600 libraries in the United States, all built near schools, community centers, and other social organizations, as they were meant to become a central part of society.

Renovations
In October of 2007, a little over a hundred years after its opening, the St. Agnes branch closed for renovations for over two years. In February of 2010, it reopened, keeping many of its historical features with upgraded technological improvements. Originally designed by Babb, Cook, and Willard, the library has a Renaissance Revival facade and a beautiful staircase, both repaired to keep the original look. An accessible elevator was added in a way that maintained the beauty and age of the building. The basement (where Carnegie libraries housed their massive coal furnaces, including the one Sharon Washington’s father was employed to stoke) is now where you’ll find the library’s ongoing book sale. 

The St. Agnes Chapel

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Image from the Museum of the City of New York

If you know the Upper West Side, you might be asking yourself, where is this St. Agnes Chapel? Well, that is an interesting story all on its own. In June of 1892, the St. Agnes Chapel opened on West 92nd Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. It was built by the Parish of the Trinity Church to welcome those who were unable to make it to their main church downtown, with space to seat approximately 1,500 people.

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Image from the Museum of the City of New York

Its gorgeous design included mosaic decorations created by the Tiffany Glass Company, a beautiful organ, and a 185-foot high tower with one of the largest swinging bell peals in North America. By 1943, the Upper West Side neighborhood demographic had changed and there was no longer a need for the chapel, so it was closed and sold to Trinity School. The next year, Trinity School demolished the chapel and created an athletic field. Most New Yorkers don’t know that this Chapel even existed, but by carrying its name, the memory of the St. Agnes chapel lives on through the historic St. Agnes branch of the New York Public Library.

Listen Up: Music Inspired by Feeding the Dragon

Sharon Washington’s Feeding the Dragon is about her life growing up on the Upper West Side of New York City in the 1970s. Our production’s Sound Designer and Composer Lindsay Jones helped us compile this groovy playlist inspired by that era and Sharon’s memories.

 

Feeding the Dragon runs through April 27, 2018. For more info, please visit primarystages.org.

Suggested Reading: Feeding the Dragon

Growing up in the St. Agnes Branch of the New York Public Library instilled a lifelong passion for literature in Sharon Washington. Sharon shares her story in our production of her autobiographical solo show, Feeding the Dragon.  If you enjoyed Sharon’s tale, here are some of the books Sharon loves:

Some of Sharon’s Favorite Adult Books:

Some of Sharon’s Favorite Children’s Books:

Sharon mentions these books, and many more in her tale of growing up in the library, Feeding the Dragon. Performances run through April 27. Visit our website for tickets.

Washington Family Album

In Feeding the Dragon, Sharon Washington revisits her time growing up in an apartment on the top floor inside the St. Agnes Branch of the New York Public Library, where her father served as the building’s custodian. Take a look back at some of the family memories from her time growing up there.

Accompany Sharon on her trip down memory lane in our production of Feeding the Dragon, playing through April 27, 2018. Visit our website for tickets.

A Sneak Peak at Feeding the Dragon

IMG_1274In anticipation of our production of Sharon Washington’s autobiographical solo piece Feeding the Dragon, Sharon recently presented pieces of her work during special events at library branches around the city. Sharon’s first event was at the New York Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, where she performed an excerpt of her play and then answered questions posed by Casey Childs (Founder of Primary Stages) and members of the audience. Here’s a recap:

In Feeding the Dragon, Sharon recounts her experience growing up in the St. Agnes Branch of the NYPL on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where her father served as the building’s custodian. The St. Agnes branch is a historic Carnegie library, heated by coal during Sharon’s youth, and housed a hidden private apartment for the custodian and their family.

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While Sharon has considered telling her story for decades, it wasn’t until 2010 when she finally committed to writing her experience down on paper. At first, Sharon pictured writing a children’s book, but it ended up coming out as a memoir and when she read her work aloud, Feeding the Dragon was born. Although she does plan on turning her story into a book someday, she wanted to make sure her story was told this way first.

During the creation process for Feeding the Dragon, Sharon had to make a leap from being just an actor to also being a writer. While rehearsing, Sharon learned it was tough to be both at the same time. So while rehearsing the show, she often spends certain days from the perspective of a playwright, and others from that of an actor treating her play like she would any other production.

IMG_1277To this day, Sharon frequents libraries often. Whenever she goes out of town to a new city, one of the first places she visits is the local library. Growing up in a library is an experience that has stayed with her and Feeding the Dragon examines her love of literature and how it has shaped the rest of her life.

Feeding the Dragon plays from March 21 – April 27, 2018. For more info, please visit primarystages.org.

What Defines a Home: Announcing our 2018/19 Season

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A note from Andrew Leynse, Artistic Director:

For the past few seasons, the Primary Stages family has been exploring what it means to be a true home for our artists and our patrons. At the same time, the very question of where and what we each call ‘home’ has become a front-and-center debate, locally and abroad. What defines a home? Where do we feel most at home? We hope our new season will answer some of those questions.

FINAL FOLLIES
Three One-Act Plays written by A.R. Gurney
Directed by David Saint
Join us as we bid farewell to a beloved member of the Primary Stages family and one of the most prolific playwrights of the 20th century with FINAL FOLLIES, a uniquely curated selection of three one-act plays by master writer A.R. Gurney. The plays specifically chosen for this special engagement include: The Love Course, an observation of the culminating meeting of an undergraduate romantic literature course, co-taught by two of academia’s most eccentric professors; The Rape of Bunny Stuntz, an enigmatic story of an overburdened woman anxiously trying to keep her personal life from the throes of chaos while leading a rowdy community meeting; and the titular Final Folliesthe last chapter in Gurney’s oeuvre of short plays examining WASP life in America, about a forlorn Manhattanite searching for the key to adulthood in the most truly, and literally, adult place imaginable. (September-October 2018)

DOWNSTAIRS
Written by Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt
Theresa Rebeck, one of the country’s most acclaimed and widely-produced playwrights, returns to Primary Stages with the gripping new family drama, DOWNSTAIRS. This thrilling production will star real-life siblings Tyne and Tim Daly, who will be appearing together for the first time on the New York stage. In Downstairs, Teddy is a bit lost and has found himself staying in his older sister Irene’s unfinished basement, which has infuriated her husband Gerry (played by John Procaccino). As Irene and Teddy struggle with this less-than-ideal living arrangement, they quickly find themselves grappling with the burden of their family’s troublesome history. While trying to mend the past, the pair unearths a foreboding danger threatening to break the perilously thin bonds holding them together. (November-December 2018)

GOD SAID THIS
Written by Leah Nanako Winkler
Directed by Morgan Gould
Proudly developed during award-winning playwright Leah Nanako Winkler’s tenure as part of the Primary Stages Dorothy Strelsin New American Writers Group, GOD SAID THIS is a provocative and surprisingly funny new drama about five Kentuckians facing mortality in very different ways. With her mom undergoing chemotherapy, Hiro, a NYC transplant, returns home to Kentucky after years away, struggling to let go of the demons she inherited. Sophie, her born-again Christian sister, confronts her faith while tackling inevitable adversity. James, their recovering alcoholic father, wants to repair his fractured relationship with his daughters. And John, an old classmate and thirty-something single dad, worries about leaving a lasting legacy for his only son. Wry and bittersweet, GOD SAID THIS is a portrait of five Godless and God-loving people finding that their struggles bring them together in unexpected ways. GOD SAID THIS will have its world premiere at the Actors Theatre of Louisville in February 2018. (January-February 2019)

LITTLE WOMEN
Written by Kate Hamill
Based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott
Directed by Sarna Lapine
In the spring, Primary Stages will welcome back Kate Hamill, playwright and star of our hit production of Pride and Prejudice, with her fresh new take on Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel of love and duty, LITTLE WOMEN. Jo March doesn’t want to be like other girls; in fact, she’s not even sure that she wants to be a girl. Jo is ambitious, rough around the edges, headstrong, and yearns for a future she can’t yet articulate. As the nation is torn apart by civil war, Jo and her sisters struggle with what it means to grow up. Gender roles, political beliefs, poverty, and even love itself threaten to break family ties, as the March sisters try to reconcile their identities with society’s demands. How do you stay true to yourself when the world wants you to become a perfect little woman? (May-June 2019)

Join the family and discover your Off-Broadway home: Subscribe to our 2018/19 season.