Name: Garrett Allen
Current City: Brooklyn, NY
Hometown: Johannesburg, South Africa / Bellevue, WA
Currently reading: Mark Ravenhill Play Anthology
Currently listening to: Solange - A Seat at the Table and “Time” by Sevdaliza
A little about yourself, where you are from, and what you do.
My name is Garrett Allen and I am pretty weird, all over the place person - but that’s what I love to be. I am a director and artist recently transplanted to New York. Which translates to director, artist, and whatever else I can do to make money and survive. I love to immerse myself in producing and consuming arts and culture whether that be going to film festivals or scouring the dark corners of the web for performance documentation or anything else that catches my interest. I am a person that loves to experience. I try to go about each day trying, learning, and exploring in any way possible. Fortunately, New York is the perfect place to surround yourself with crazy amounts of stimuli!
I never really know how to answer where I am “from”. I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but moved to South Africa soon after I was born where I lived for 9 years. I then spent a year on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts before moving to the Seattle, WA area. So technically I “grew up” in South Africa while spending most of my education years in Washington - two very different places.
Has your background played any role in your current artistic expression?
Absolutely. I honestly think most artist’s backgrounds play some kind of role in their individual expression. I really believe you could say that it is impossible for your experience to not play a part in how you produce work and see the world, artist or not. Though I can’t specifically point to a play I directed and say “this is where me going to an international school in South Africa is playing a role”; however, I do believe that having lived and travelled to many different places growing up did change how I perceive what's around me. I had to do a lot of adapting and changing, experiencing and re-experiencing, and that has contributed to how multidimensional my work aims to be.
How does directing and theater affect the world? How does it affect you?
I fully believe in the power of theatre and art to transform. Anne Bogart describes artists as articulators in the face of flux. I won’t say that going to a play will cure cancer or create world peace, but I will say that it has the ability to create an experience that, even if only for a couple hours, can alter/change/shift/challenge. I am very much still finding my own voice and articulation, but some of my most transformative moments of life have been in the theatre. There is a reason that theatre and live performance has existed for so long and that is because of the magic of collective experiencing.
You studied Cognitive Neuroscience and Evolutionary Psychology on top of a secondary concentration in Theater, Dance, and Media. How did those two seemingly different principles of study play into each other in terms of what you do now, and what you hope to do in the future?
My two areas of study are incredibly intertwined in what I do now. I do see the theater as psychology especially as it relates to conscious and unconscious experience. Much of the reason for the two seemingly different areas of study was because of actively discovering what my passion was in college. I entered school thinking that I would want to go into medicine and slowly realized that it was not the path for me. I was doing theater extracurricularly at the time and it became clear that I was pushing that to the side when that was what got me up in the morning. At the time there was no theater major at Harvard, but I was always interested in the mind so I shifted my studies closer to psychology. It became clearer while taking classes in both simultaneously how connected they were. Lots of my work has dealt directly with psychological themes, but one can also even look at the the foundations of the theater (acting, perception, created experience, watching and feeling, etc) all connected to the mind. Aside from the direct subject matter, my works aims to focus on the unique ability of theatre to create truly visceral engagement through live experience. In working towards combatting audience passivity, I have thought a lot about how people perceive, feel, understand, etc which is all related to the mind.
Most memorable Harvard experience?
I had a lot of memorable experiences at Harvard that it is very hard to narrow down! A memory I will never forget is the opening night of the first show I directed, STRANGER by Craig Lucas. I had worked on a lot of shows and done a lot of things on campus, but they were always under someone else. One of the hardest parts of being a director is that it is so personal to put something of yours out into the world. Kind of like birthing a baby. I was incredibly anxious and profusely sweating as I saw the house fill up and the lights go down. This was something that I did, Garrett Allen. I realized as the lights went down that first time that, no matter how it was received, I fully created something and was actually proud of myself, as self deprecating as I usually was. I believed in myself, my abilities, and my future as an artist. My mom was able to come from Washington to see the show and that was the first time she I felt her genuinely believe that this is something I could do with my life.
How is/was your time working on Orpheus in the Berkshires with Savia, what is the play about and when and where can we go see it?
Working on Orpheus in the Berkshires with Laura Savia was an enlightening experience. The show was created as part of a community engagement initiative from Williamstown Theatre Festival. The festival had always existed as a semi-separate entity from the area that it was actually hosted and this was a move to change that. Laura Savia and playwright Lucy Thurber spent many months of workshops, visits, and partnerships with Berkshire organizations to create this play specifically written by, for, and with the community. We worked with over 70 local residents, from children to grandparents, alongside actors from the festival to create something absolutely magical. Though grueling as an assistant, the process was absolutely worthwhile and inspiring. This was one of the ways that the theatre has the ability to transform - by building and engaging community.
Who is someone you would consider a creative influence for you?
Oh wow… I have so many creative influences and the list gets longer and longer each day. Most recently, I have been very fascinated with the works of artist Ryan Trecartin, fashion collectives Fecal Matter and Hood By Air, and director Romeo Castellucci (among many other people).
What is the oddest thing you find inspiration in?
As many of my friends and collaborators know, I find inspiration in a lot of unusual/weird things. My two current oddest inspirations are trash and serial killers. I am finding a lot of beauty and intrigue in the trash of New York. My many different jobs bring me all over the city and, because there is so much waste, there is often lots of trash around the streets. The different tableaus that plastic bags and coffee cups and broken tvs can have on the side of the street naturally sometimes makes me speechless. So if you see me taking pictures of trash, that’s why. And serial killers have always been a big interest of mine mostly from a psychological lens. I am especially interested in empathy and its dysfunction in most of the individuals that have been able to be closely studied. Empathy and lack of empathy is something that I am trying to explore in my work, especially in video and performance.
Favorite subject or person to watch, read, or study?
I love to learn! You already know that I like psychology, but I love to learn new things. I know that doesn’t really answer the question fully. However, I definitely go through phases of being incredibly obsessed about one thing/person/topic/event and will stay fixated on it for weeks. But if I had a day free tomorrow with nothing to do I would watch films all day.
How would you describe your style? What’s the oldest piece of clothing you own?
I always wonder how people would describe my style. I don’t think I have a set style at the moment as I fluctuate really wildly based on how I am feeling. Sometimes I will go for a bold look, including clashing patterns and color, etc. While other times I will just throw on a pair of black jeans and a black oversized sweatshirt and “blend in”. People tell me that they don’t think I want to be in a box, which I think is true. I like the freedom to change and adapts and transforms. The oldest piece of clothing I own is definitely a shirt I sleep in that my dad got for free at a conference many years ago. I apply a lot of sentimental energy to random objects and just have had this large shirt for so many years and so many places that I can’t seem to part with it.
Which projects are you working on, or plan on working on in the future?
I am currently in the beginning stages of developing a performance/theatre piece about digital self harm as well as editing and planning multiple video projects. In November, as an assistant director and stage manager, I will be touring with Orbiting Human Circus’ The Janitor which is a live extension of a fictional podcast recently released. In the spring, I will be assistant directing Richard Maxwell’s Samara at Soho Rep. directed by Sarah Benson.
Keep up with my work or just be my friend by checking my website (www.garrettcallen.com)