A Q&A with Ars Nova’s Jeremy Blocker
By Doug Strassler
Now in its sixth year, ANT Fest, Ars Nova’s summer festival celebrating “All New talent,” ups the ante in terms of diversity and programming. Ars Nova managing director Jeremy Blocker spoke with NYP about the festival.
NYP: How was the idea for ANT Fest first created? How has it evolved since 2008?
JB: As Ars Nova grew in the first few years, an eclectic and impressive community of artists with great ideas formed around the company. It became very easy to envision an Ars Nova that worked with these same talented artists over and over again. Ars Nova was founded to serve emerging artists, to provide a platform for the next wave of talent, and while it may have been tempting to keep working within the same network, Artistic Director Jason Eagan recognized that for the company to really be what it wanted to be, there had to be a way for new artists to join the family on a regular basis. ANT Fest was created to provide that opportunity and to make sure that we kept finding the wildest, most intriguing and inspiring emerging artists out there.
To make sure we weren’t limiting ourselves, the litmus test for the Fest was: if you can do it live on stage, you can be in ANT Fest. Six years later, we have seen close to 200 wildly different and inventive new works from hundreds and hundreds of artists. Through ANT Fest, we have discovered artists, ideas, and projects that have become important parts of the Ars Nova family and season. This fall, for the first time, we will be producing a full production of a show that first came to us through ANT Fest, a piece created specifically for the festival called Eager to Lose.
Some of the particulars of ANT Fest have changed over the years, and Ars Nova’s artistic team is constantly looking to make sure the Fest is doing all that it can for our artists, but generally speaking, the founding impulse and structure remain very much intact.
NYP: How do you find the talent on display at ANT Fest?
JB: Every year, we put out an open call for submissions. There’s an application form and projects come in at all different stages of development – from a great idea to an unfinished script to a full proposal for the production including design sketches. The submissions come from all different corners: people who’ve just seen a flyer, some who have attended past Fests, friends and colleagues of Ars Nova artists, newly formed theater companies, artists who have played other parts of the country and are eager to do a show in NYC.
NYP: How do you determine which performers from each genre – comedy, theater, etc – to spotlight each year, and how many do you try to choose?
JB: We don’t have a set number of slots for each genre, but try and select a diverse mix of shows representing comedy, music, theater and everything in between for the Fest, all based on artistic merit. Our artistic team works with a review committee made up of artists from previous ANT Fests, along with a variety of other Ars Nova artists, to aid in the selection process and help us find the most well-rounded four-week lineup possible.
NYP: What do you love about the variety of performers – and performances – on display this year?
JB: Everything. All year, Ars Nova is working with theater-makers, comedians, and musicians in different combinations and capacities. We’re developing a musical one week and putting together a reading the next week as we get ready for our monthly variety show, Showgasm, and a full production of our latest burlesque theatrical hybrid the next. ANT Fest is all that excitement packed into one month and topped with a healthy helping of discovery – audiences discovering new artists, artists discovering new collaborators, and all of this energy giving birth to exciting new ideas.
NYP: Can you talk a bit about what Showgasm entails?
JB: Showgasm is Ars Nova’s monthly variety show hosted by John Early, one of Ars Nova’s Artists-in-Residence. Each evening is different and can include stand up, burlesque, music, sketch comedy, magic, aerial acts, drag performance, all kinds of good stuff. During ANT Fest, Showgasm happens every week instead of just once a month – everything’s bigger at Ars Nova in June. Every Thursday night, the shows include a variety of acts from artists in the Fest and alumni alongside Showgasm‘s usual mix of fun.
NYP: What makes ANT Fest so special and different from other summer festivals around the city?
JB: There are a lot of things that make it different, but the biggest difference is the eclectic nature of festival. It’s a chance to spotlight all kinds of artists, from acrobats to folk singers to magicians, sharing one stage and feeding off of each other’s energy. It’s really a rare and beautiful thing. As crazy as it is, it’s also incredibly energizing to experience. Even if you only come out for one show, that energy permeates the experience.
Ars Nova’s 6th Annual ANT Fest runs through June 29. For more information, go to www.arsnovanyc.com .
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