As NYU Skirball's Director of Engagement, I believe strongly in supporting student access to the arts. My own experiences of encountering transformative art as a student have continued to meaningfully influence my work with NYU Skirball - and in fact, one such experience was in my first encounter with Eiko Otake, a spring 2022 NYU Skirball artist. The opportunity to share Eiko Otake's work with students here at NYU Skirball now is incredibly exciting – and even more so after being unable to share live performance for so long. What new worlds will these performances open for students?
I first saw Eiko & Koma perform during my first year of college, as part of my introductory courses in the theatre department at UCLA. I viscerally remember that experience, sitting in the back row of the orchestra and immersed in that particular hushed, dim warmth of an audience, shoulder to shoulder with strangers. The show – "When Nights Were Dark" – was barely more than an hour but felt endless – the textures of the set as it slowly rotated, the incredible stillness and focus of the performers, the intensity of the audiences' attention, all set in a diffuse hum of voices. The venue was about the same size as NYU Skirball but the experience was so intimate that in my memory, even from the back row, the stage is close enough to touch.
Leaving the theatre, I was exhausted. I felt as if I had experienced something too big for my understanding, an opening into a different kind of performance than I had ever encountered. I knew I loved theatre, and I knew that there was something available to me there as a queer teenager that I hadn't found anywhere else – but the experience of seeing Eiko perform helped me to start understanding the possibilities of live performance and the arts even more expansively. I couldn't articulate yet what was happening onstage, but I knew that I needed to see it, to talk to people about it, to spend time thinking and writing about it in class and in rehearsal rooms, to learn more about the histories, contexts, and traditions the artists were connected to – and also the ways they were moving beyond tradition and expectation, to make something new.
It's oversimplifying to say that seeing that performance led to my graduate studies and my work at NYU Skirball, but the experience of seeing a dozen curated shows as part of my first year of study – across a range of genres and traditions, from Eiko & Koma to Rennie Harris to Romeo Castellucci – helped to put me on that path. It's not oversimplifying to say that I'm sure I would not have been able to afford to see any of those works without the discounted & free tickets available to me as a student. With your support, we will be able to offer students the opportunity to encounter such transformative works. I urge you to check out our campaign video to hear more from recent NYU graduates and consider giving in support of the Stage Pass Fund.
J de Leon
Director of Engagement, NYU Skirball
PhD, Performance Studies, 2016
Tisch School of the Arts
MFA, Creative Writing, 2021
Graduate School of Arts and Science
Image by Ian Douglas