Automatic Arts grows with its first-ever residency program

New Automatic Arts artist-in-residence Sarah Knittel rehearses for a 2016 Nice and Fresh show. (Photo by Said Johnson.)

“For the artist, the challenge is you gotta do something new, and do something in a new way,” says Josh McIlvain, co-founder and artistic director of Automatic Arts.

Now, Automatic Arts is launching its new Artist-In-Residence program with performer and teaching artist Sarah Knittel. Besides appearing with Automatic Arts, she has worked with groups including Hella Fresh, Pig Iron Theatre Company, the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, and more.

The artist in residence will have a big hand in the Automatic Arts Nice and Fresh program, a series featuring pop-up performances of new theater, dance, and circus arts pieces 10 to 15 minutes long, presented by a rotating selection of companies. (Here’s our previous look at the series.)

Nice and Fresh aims to showcase completed short pieces, so that artists can continue to challenge themselves. McIlvain says it is important for artists to make new work continuously in order to avoid hanging on to the same ideas.

Act, write, direct, take over

“If you’re not exercising new ideas, then ultimately, your kind of art isn’t keeping up,” says McIlvain of keeping a busy schedule of new work.

McIlvain thought it would be interesting to see an actor’s progression over four months, while also building up the Automatic Arts team. When he reached out to her, Knittel was enthusiastic about the opportunity.

Knittel’s residency has already kicked off. She acted in the January 2017 Nice and Fresh, and she will be the host and perform short segue pieces for the Nice and Fresh coming up February 24 and 25. For the following show, she will write a piece and direct the program. At the end of her residency in the fall, Knittel will run her own Nice and Fresh show.

Don’t wait; create

The show has a unique setup. The program is hosted by local venues in Mount Airy and the surrounding area. The team treats each show as if it were a small concert: They bring lights and other equipment to the venue a few hours beforehand to set up, then break everything down and leave an hour after the event finishes. McIlvain touts the impromptu variety-show vibe. Each show even has its own soundtrack and a comedic introduction to set the tone of the night.

“The best way to get stuff out there is to create platforms, which is very doable,” says McIlvain.

McIlvain also sees the value in creating platforms for other artists: They shouldn’t just ask people to put on their work or wait to be invited to mount work, but instead create platforms for other people and for themselves.

Another goal of the new Artist-In-Residence program is to help Automatic Arts grow: “It helps expand from being a one-man-band operation [to] having a dedicated member of the company represent the company through their work.”

Seeking more resident artists

Artists who have worked with Automatic Arts in the past are not company members, so this program will help expand the group of artists who take ownership of their role in the company while serving as representatives for the group. According to McIlvain, having these kind of partnerships produces more work, which gives projects more visibility.

McIlvain urges individuals from across the region to come to Mount Airy to see future shows. He also encourages artists interested in future residencies to get in touch with him. Automatic Arts is seeking artists who have strong experience, are confident in their craft, and want to create more work.

The next Nice and Fresh, hosted by Sarah Knittel, is coming up on February 24 and 25 at Moving Arts of Mount Airy, 6819 Greene Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are just $7 at the door.