Little Island Announces Resident Artists

A long-term residency at Little Island will give the theatermakers Tina Landau, Michael McElroy and PigPen Theater Co., as well as the tap dancer and choreographer Ayodele Casel, the chance to build the new public park’s performance arts programming from the ground up.

The selected artists, announced on Wednesday, will craft, curate and perform for three seasons at the outdoor space, which is currently under construction in Hudson River Park near West 13th Street.

“They all share this sense of joy and adventure and a real passion for embracing the things that might be possible in this public space,” Trish Santini, the park’s executive director, said in an interview.

The residencies were planned before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, but the ongoing performing arts shutdown has lent them greater importance: Little Island plans to begin performances in late spring — before actors, dancers and musicians are likely able to return to the city’s indoor stages.

“There is a sense of urgency right now, — for artists to be able to do their work, to have a voice in shaping how that work manifests in a new public space,” Ms. Santini said.

The span, scope and level of artist involvement distinguish the Little Island residencies from some of their counterparts elsewhere. Not only will the artists direct and perform work, they will also cultivate relationships with the park’s community partners and organize festivals and others events over the course of multiple seasons.

It’s a chance that Mr. McElroy, an actor, music director and leader of the Broadway Inspirational Voices choir, is relishing.

“There’s an investment in artists and you can tell that because of the length of the residency,” he said. “It’s not a one-and-done. It allows me to dream big.”

His plans include creating new musical theater work, organizing a community-based initiative focused on the experience of the elderly and providing opportunities for other musicians and singer-songwriters.

The other three resident artists gravitate toward boundary-breaking work, as well.

Ms. Landau, the Tony-Award nominated director of “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical,” began her career making site-specific works with En Garde Arts, including “Orestes” at the Penn Yards and “Stonewall: Night Variations” on Pier 25 on the Hudson River.

Since 2005, Ms. Casel has been blending tap dance and storytelling to shed more light on the art form with her “Diary of a Tap Dancer” series. And PigPen, whose musical “The Tale of Despereaux” debuted the Old Globe Theater in 2019, is known for nimbly blending music, film and theater.

The resident artists have already begun to shape the park’s offerings. They recently helped review submissions from local performers looking to contribute to Little Island’s inaugural season. Selections will be announced this spring.

When it’s completed, Little Island will contain three open-air performance venues: a 700-seat amphitheater, a garden space for small-scale productions designed to accommodate 200 visitors and an open plaza that will host educational activities.

This flexibility will afford Ms. Landau, Mr. McElroy, Ms. Casel and PigPen’s seven members options for how to devise and present their work. It should also make safely staging performances easier while the pandemic remains unresolved.

Little Island has overcome several obstacles since it was announced in 2014.

Legal challenges and soaring costs led Barry Diller, the park’s sponsor, to temporarily scrap the venture in 2017. It was revived later that year after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo convinced its opponents to drop their lawsuits by agreeing to complete Hudson River Park and protect the local estuary.

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