TMT Associated Artist: William Burke

Ugo Chukwu in PIONEERS!#Goforth

Ugo Chukwu in PIONEERS!#Goforth

I wrote a play that suspends actors from the ceiling. There’s a reason for it, beyond being really cool, I promise. The metaphor is a tad obvious. We are youth…trapped…screaming to be heard…to be relevant. Initially I just saw them floating. Then Carolyn Mraz (another TMT Associated Artist) suggested a net over the audience because they could move and we could basically create a stage from above. Caged animals are more interesting than immobile ones. Things like this work for my writing. My text has relentless tendencies and can be a test of endurance for the actors and audience alike and the ability to knock the observer off balance and help them to watch and listen in a radically different way is important. It’s a bold design idea. It’s fearless. BUT then you have to do it. The follow through. The Target Margin element of making it happen. Of looking at all angles/angels (This is a reference to my play.) Then the anxiety sets in. Once the possibility of putting live bodies over other live bodies in a space that is not designed for these things you realize that you have to be afraid of everything. It becomes about fear and perfection. David always talks about fulfilling what you want. But he encourages you to embrace your limitations and see what you can do within that. And out of that comes a theater of practicality combined with risk and determination. Things are stripped down but there is still the pressure and a necessity to be bold. To dig down and call in all the favors and long spirited bar conversations and panicked last minute space visits in order to fight against the small budget and limited time and see if you can gather a group of “fearless” individuals and make a piece of theater by shear force of will. “Force of will” can and should be an aesthetic. It doesn’t have to be the muscular squeezing of an idea, or loose cannon-esque banging against a wall, just a focused and determined and possible irrational confident surge of a trajectory to achieve a large scale yet simple idea that will levitate (literally) the play to a new height so an audience can look at something differently. Oratory stimulation is exciting. Visual stimulation very satisfying. Tactile stimulation although rare in theater can be awesome. The combination of all three is a laborious and delicate enterprise but when achieved is a gratifying and unifying gift to an audience.

Nikki Calonge and Zoe Geltman in PIONEERS!#goforth

Nikki Calonge and Zoe Geltman in PIONEERS!#goforth

When I sat down to write a play about youth and aging and the choices and successes and failures that shape us as glorious yet continuously rotting pieces highly effective but frustrating meat I knew I needed “gamers.” Some of whom I collect from the trenches of the Target Margin Labs. Others were calculated guesses. We rehearse in living rooms or basements. Or in rehearsal room on our bellies since there is no such thing as a rehearsal net. We design from a relaxed but urgent seat of all our pants mode. As I construct a play I try to stay in a mode where I write hard so we can play hard and that can hopefully translate into performance. “Force of Will” plays have to be built. The structure committed to and the words arranged in a way that doesn’t depend on linear story telling but an emotional trajectory that will propel us through an experience. The room has to be considered, the way people walk in. How thick is the air? It is hot or cold? Does the audience have a choice of seating? And do they need accessories so that they can get through the performance without damaging their clothes and how drunk should they be? We can look at it as a circle of performance that expands to include the audience throughout the piece. That they are not left off the hook. That they aren’t participating in a traditional sense but they are invited to breathe with the rhythm of the experience.

In the end, we rally. We have to. There has to be a counterbalance. There should be something for every mood and view. There are plenty of plays out there operating in a more controlled setting but sometimes you have to walk out of the confines of set seating and and take the space that is available to you and try to breathe life into your thoughts and be fearless and deal with the ramifications of the fear that comes to you and accept that you will be kept up at night hoping no one ends up hurt but take solace in the fact you have a “fearless” group of people around who won’t let you or your words fall and that you have an audience that is starting to enjoy being off balance and that will move forward in a way and push against the thorny walls of limitation and make choices with a battle cry in your head and pull our theater up by shear “Force of Will”. Or in other words. LET’S DO THIS!


William is a playwright and director living in Brooklyn. He studied playwriting at Brooklyn College, curates The Starr Reading Series at the Bushwick Starr and is a Target Margin Associated Artist. For more about William and his work visit

His new play PIONEERS#goforth runs at JACK through April 9th. Tickets are available HERE.

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