Andrew Dinwiddie, Caleb Hammons, and Jeff Larson are the curators of CATCH, a New York–based monthly performance series that features some of the most exciting artists working in theater, dance, performance art, and everything in between. Veterans of the series include performance artist Taylor Mac, theater company Elevator Repair Service, and playwright Sibyl Kempson, as well as countless other notable creators. Now in its 11th year, CATCH continues to be an important and singular part of the New York City performance community, providing a boozy, informal opportunity to see consistently good-quality work — a perfect storm of high- and lowbrow. In advance of their show for this year’s COIL Festival, Dinwiddie, Hammons, and Larson sat down to talk with me about CATCH’s evolution, living as an artist in New York, and how to maintain an inclusive, joyful, community-focused energy in the midst of a linear and career-oriented arts climate.
* * *
Emma Wiseman: How did CATCH start?
Andrew Dinwiddie: Jenny Seastone-Stern started CATCH in 2003 as an emerging artist show at the old Galapagos. When Galapagos closed [in Williamsburg], we made a decision to continue the show elsewhere and we’ve been itinerant ever since. There was a period when our main home was the Bushwick Starr. Starr Street Projects was another place, run by Jules de Balincourt and managed by Andrea Merkx.
EW: You’re all artists yourselves — can you talk about how you came to collaborate with each other?
AD: We all went to ETW, the Experimental Theatre Wing at NYU, and collaborated on dance theater projects before we worked together on CATCH. So, our relationship started from a collaborative artistic relationship. Caleb pretty quickly out of college decided that he wanted to focus on producing.
Caleb Hammons: That’s how I got involved, because Annie-B Parson was giving us our senior year ‘what do you all want to do when you get out of here?’ thing, and we had had a conversation about producing and curating, which was a new concept to me at that time. She suggested that I help Jeff and Andrew with CATCH.
Jeff Larson: There was an opportunity for CATCH to be a place for different artistic worlds to meet, for other people and for audiences, the way they were meeting in us. So, when Andrew and I took it on it was a really big thing, to bring these somewhat disparate artists and communities together in a way that feels substantial — like there’s an actual dialogue, and it’s not a variety show; that it’s community building in some way.
EW: Where do you go to find CATCH artists, or do they come to you? Do you actively seek out people who are outside the “downtown theater” community?
JL: We’re always looking to stay fresh in our curating, and we know how important it is to expand our sense of the types of artists we’re presenting — and, more importantly, that we’re reaching out to younger artists, who view CATCH as an opportunity in a different way than artists we’ve known for much longer, that are more established themselves.
EW: How do those opportunities differ?
AD: CATCH started as an emerging artist show, and when Jeff and I started doing it we felt it would be a good mix, that having those different levels would improve what each of those types of artists were contributing to the show. An emerging artist would say, ‘I’m on a bill with this person; my show has to be something really good.’ And established people, who have more facility with their craft, see it as not such a big deal and will take a bigger risk.
JL: We get a lot of submissions now and don’t have a formal process for dealing with that, in part because we don’t view the series as that sort of thing; we do our best to keep the definition a little hazy, because we want it to be able to shift. It’s a funny thing for someone to ask to be a part of the show if they haven’t seen the show before. A big part of it is how you would fit into a CATCH context.
AD: A trend that seems to be on the increase in the show is an interest in artists thinking about crafting an audience experience more than they’re thinking about crafting something for the audience to watch.
CH: But I think the essence of that is what CATCH has always done. CATCH has always been just as much about crafting an experience for the audience as about the show.
AD: Right. Because it’s just as much about the drinking beer and hanging out.
CH: I think a lot of it is not necessarily an aesthetic thing but a response to conditions — especially the younger artists we work with are more willing to do away with the idea that to create something meaningful you need a black box or a proscenium. You can do it anywhere.
EW: I actually didn’t know that the first CATCH was at Galapagos, but I did want to ask you about their move to Detroit.
JL: Yeah, we haven’t actually all talked about that yet. It doesn’t surprise me that Robert [Elmes] would do that; it actually makes a lot of sense. It’s interesting just knowing him and what he was trying to do to make a for-profit model work in the city.
AD: He’s an entrepreneur. It makes me wonder about nonprofit organizations that have missions and are unable to continue to achieve their missions in New York City for that reason — the price of real estate — why they haven’t done the same thing.
CH: You can’t conflate business with mission, because they’re two very different things. It’s one thing to make a business plan to move to another city, but if you’re a nonprofit and you’ve been around the city for years, I think it’s safe to say that your mission emerged out of some kind of need. It remains to be seen what function Galapagos is going to serve in Detroit.
EW: It’s interesting as a statement for the people still in New York, especially because there’s a lot of anxiety and conversation these days about how difficult it is to live here as an artist.
CH: If someone is going to move to another city because they feel like ‘I’ve done something really well in a place where it is no longer viable for me to do it; let me take it somewhere else where it is viable for me to do it,’ I think what gets forgotten a lot is that there are people already there who are doing that too. And have been there for longer and have been working to build and create the foundation so that you can come there and be successful.
AD: I think people in the rest of the country are all very happy where they are, and the artists are very happy where they are, but I think they desire what we have here, which is an amazing abundance of great art to see and make with other people. I think there will continue to be a huge draw to New York City.
CH: The criticism I hear a lot is that New York is no longer a place to make work, but just a place to consume and show and exist within a marketplace. CATCH is in its 11th year now, and if we were ever asked how long we were going to do this — we’re going to keep doing this as long as it’s useful and people keep coming and artists keep wanting to participate in it.
AD: And we can stomach it.
CH: So, that to me is proof enough that there’s still a vibrant and wonderful community of people figuring out how to make work, when the resources are so scarce.
EW: Let’s talk about the upcoming CATCH show, which is your second collaboration with the COIL Festival.
EW: It sounds like you really didn’t want to do it.
JL: Last year we didn’t really want to dip our toes into the January APAP [Association of Performing Arts Presenters] conference madness without it being on our own terms.
AD: We didn’t want to be perceived with that lens, and we didn’t want to take this community-building thing we’ve been doing and turn it into a commercial selling tool. Right? That’s why we didn’t want to do it.
JL: Right, and we didn’t want to do just a late night party.
AD: Last year we had simultaneous performances on two floors of the Invisible Dog. It was our 10th birthday show and we expected it to be big, but it was way huger than we expected.
CH: Almost 400 people.
AD: So we’re doing it again, and we’re leaving it unclear who the “they” and the “we” are in the title sentence.
JL: One thing that’s great about this show is that there are several artists who are very long-term CATCH artists. We tried to balance it between people who could give a shit about APAP and people who are looking for an opportunity.
AD: I also think it’s worth mentioning our show on March 14 and 15 at Abrons Arts Center. It’s CATCH 66, so we’re doing a Route 66 show, featuring artists who are from Route 66. We’ll be doing it in two different theaters at Abrons, and the audience will travel from one to the other. And we have free beer. Always free beer.