Beginning in January and running through March, Pivot Arts is launching a really exciting new program – one designed to give some of Chicago’s most innovative theater artists the time and space they need to try new things, experiment, collaborate and dream. As someone who has been working in the field of new work development for over a decade – much of that time in Chicago – I’m excited to see not only what the artists who participate in this inaugural program dream up – but also how the process that Pivot Arts creates can help shape the kind of theater and performance Chicago audiences can expect to see on our stages and in our communities for years to come.

The thing that drew me to Pivot Arts was Julieanne and Katy’s vision of creating a space in Chicago for work that blurs boundaries – is it opera? Is it dance? Is it theater? Is it all of the above?  While much of the work I’ve collaborated on and helped to support has been much more text-based — originating from the single vision and voice of a playwright – I’ve also had the pleasure of working with artists like Anne Bogart and the SITI Company, or the ensemble company Universes – artists who develop texts collaboratively, and depend as much on the visual and physical spectacle or on the use of music and movement as they do on language to tell a story.

This kind of work is exciting for audiences and for the artists who create it – it challenges everyone to reach to the edges of their knowledge and beyond, and to let go of preconceived notions of how art is made and what belongs in the same room – or on the same stage – together. But a huge part of the challenge in creating this kind of work, and this is something I’ve seen and grappled with first hand, is practical. If you need a composer, actors, a director, a choreographer, a writer and a costume designer all in the same room just to start working on a new play, it can make it a lot harder – and a lot more expensive —  to begin then if you just need a single writer and his or her laptop. It is particularly challenging because the investment – in bringing together the right combination of artists and providing them with space and resources to work – needs to be made early in the process; often before anyone knows what the project will look like or how it will develop. As a result of these – and other – challenges, few opportunities exist for the development of company-devised work and other pieces that blur our understanding of genre and form.

By creating this new incubator program – with the generous support of Loyola University – Pivot Arts is taking a step towards addressing that problem; giving space, time and support to artists who are taking on the challenge of working in new ways. In its first year, the incubator will support the development of three brand new projects, all wildly different, but all hugely ambitious and exciting.  From a brand new opera about Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon church, to a company-created piece inspired by the relationship between a young philanthropist and an aging German composer, to a music theater piece about Greece that merges the ancient with the contemporary, each piece promises to be unique in how it is created and who is in the room to make it happen.  By forging a space for these artists to take risks early in the creation process, Pivot Arts is helping to nurture work that some day – soon, or a ways down the road – will give Chicago audiences an experience unlike anything they’ve ever seen or heard before – and I can’t wait to be there to witness it.

Tanya Palmer is the Director of New Play Development at the Goodman Theatre and an artistic associate of Pivot Arts.