Which came first–the chicken or the egg? For Hatch Arts Collective, it all started with a play and installation piece called Chickens.
Chickens premiered in Lawrenceville’s now-defunct FE Gallery in June 2011. The play’s cast of four women moved symbolically back and forth between their roles as people in the house and their portrayal of chickens pecking around in the grassy yard, depicting poignant scenes of family tension, relationship problems, and gay identity.
Providing an artful depiction of the complexities surrounding human—and chicken—behavior, Chickens was the first theater production created by Hatch Arts Collective. When the show premiered, all three performances sold out. “That is unheard of for a first show,” says Emily Swora, an Arts Administrator and performer who assisted Hatch with fundraising. “People are interested in what they’re doing.”
Hatch Arts Collective was founded by Adil Mansoor, Paul Kruse, and Nicole Shero in 2012 when they officially decided to collaborate on theater and performance productions. The collective has since created a number of workshops and productions including two full-length plays, Chickens and Walldogs (which I previewed for City Paper).
They share impressively active ideas about what Hatch means. “Making. Making a lot. Always making things,” says Shero about Hatch’s goal. Kruse, too, explains, “Our goal for this organization is to always be making something with it or we go away.”
As a collective, Hatch is very interested in fostering a non-hierarchical atmosphere for creating art. The three founding members rely on their particular strengths—Kruse is a playwright, Mansoor is a director, and Shero is a producer—but a key aspect of Hatch is their focus on collaboration between artists to create material relevant to their communities.
Under the 31th Street Bridge on a rainy Saturday afternoon, three actors performed Driftless, Hatch’s second theatrical production. A musician, Alaina Dopico, sat on a blanket spread across the ground nearby, occasionally strumming tunes on her ukulele during pauses in the play. The play’s dialogue included themes and texts related to tax codes, Catholic mass, environmental activism, and fracking.
Their recent project, Reasonable Assurance, brought together artists, adjuncts, and undergrads over the course of a month to create a devised theater piece related to student debts, adjunct professorship, and university leadership.
Some back-story: Hatch Arts Collective literally hatched out of Chickens. When the group first started working on the play, they realized how difficult it would be to produce a play without being an organization. They needed a name to write on grant applications; they needed a way to describe their work on resumes; as freelancers with complicated tax returns it seemed daunting to add a shared project to their bank accounts. Their focus on collaboration also made the group initially resistant to the idea of becoming an organization. However, the vision for Hatch started to form. “Hatch tried so hard to not be a thing,” says Mansoor. “You just can’t get money for that.”
The group named themselves Hatch, became an LLC (limited liability corporation), and opened a bank account. They set the stage for collaborating across art forms while producing Chickens. The production included Nick Liadis, the installation artist who designed the set, and Beth Glick, a visual artist who provided graphic design for the play’s print materials. Glick also played the role of Tom, a 30-year-old man seeking commitment with his partner while navigating complicated family ties.
“I could relate to the character I played—as an artist, as a young adult figuring out how to live your life, wanting stability,” explains Glick. She received similar feedback from audience members. “One guy came up to me afterwards and was like, ‘I am your character,’” she says. “It’s cool to see people recognizing their own struggles and issues in my portrayal.”
Kruse, who has been the primary writer for Hatch’s plays, finds community connection central to his writing process. “There’s something really poignant about approaching issues that I have a personal investment in, and that I can talk about, that are also related to the communities that I’m in,” says Kruse.
It’s clear to those involved with Hatch that the group’s process of rehearsing and preparing for a production is central to what sets them apart among theater groups. “I’ve worked with other arts organizations that are all about the product,” says Swora. “Hatch tends to be very process-oriented and about the whole person.” She thinks this makes the people participating in Hatch productions more invested than she has experienced in other performance settings.
Mansoor’s directing style is essential to this dynamic. For him, the role of director includes empowering artists by giving them a scene to work on and then leaving the room for them to figure it out. “Cool stuff happens when no one is watching,” he says. “The knowledge is in the room and the people at the table—you brought them to the table because you love them and trust them.”
Hatch definitely makes cool stuff happen by meshing together personal, political, and artistic concepts in a way that’s bright and relevant. And they have big goals: “I would really dream that we can get to a place where our audience is a cross-section of Pittsburgh communities,” says Mansoor. “Locating art as a site for conversation can radically change communities.”