It is a tumultuous time to be a member of the theater world. With plenty of artists out of work and theaters facing economic problems that have left many of them in an uncertain blackout, it’s hard to imagine how a new theater company could pop into existence and thrive in this climate.
And yet, enter Clockmaker Arts.
According to the creators of the group, Elizabeth Seldin and Evie Hammer-Lester, they could not have picked a better time to jump into the ring.
“When the stay at home order came we initially were panicking, but then we realized that it put our theater company on an even playing field,” Hammer-Lester said. “As a virtual company, we were allowed the same time and space as other theater companies to do whatever we wanted because now everyone is on the same level.”
With a new approach on how to run a community of theatre artists that has emerged from problems within current performing arts circles, Clockmaker Arts is founded on new ideas that are core values to the creators.
“In a lot of theaters, we are expected to be perfect,” Seldin said. “But we aren’t perfect beings, we are human beings. Which is why our founding value is the idea of ‘human first.’”
Seldin, a graduate of the Ithaca College Theatre Arts program, has spent her whole life in the theater both onstage and off. Most recently, she penned the show: What Haunts You, the introductory piece for their debut season and the kick-starter of their Dawn of the Clockmaker Arts week of events running August 1-8, which includes a virtual concert, discussions with the founders and a “sponsors-only” virtual garden party. Clockmaker Arts is a vessel for new content and in addition to What Haunts You, they are developing a musical, a new play, and creating a weekly storytelling podcast that focuses on themes of healing and coping with the past.
While Seldin has made a name for herself in the theater community, she soon discovered that the culture surrounding many of its demanding practices did not mesh well with her own needs.
“A lot of theater is you work until you cry, and I have panic disorder, which is a very human thing—I’m not shy about it,” she said. “And having severe anxiety made it so that I couldn’t do theater in a traditional way and that was unacceptable in my eyes. It’s not acceptable for anyone to not do something they love just because it’s not traditionally done that way.”
With this practice in mind, she connected with Hammer-Lester, another theater artist with ties to Ithaca, and Clockmaker Arts was born.
“Our concept arose from how we see what’s happening in theater, and we see how we want to work,” Hammer-Lester said. “I was an assistant director, but I realized that this world was not how I wanted my life to look, nor was it really a way that my life could work for me.”
With many theater artists coming forward through social media campaigns about the truth of how they have been treated and underpaid by theaters around the country, Seldin and Hammer-Lester are trying to rectify that culture in any way they can. According to them, the company’s name comes from many different ideas including paganism and astrology and even inspiration from local buildings. But it seems to have the deepest personal origins in their philosophy of art.
“Clockmakers take the intangible—time—and make it tangible with the creation of clocks,” Seldin said. “It’s this root-to-rise philosophy. Our roots are in trauma and in the reality of difficult situations. And the rising part is the transformation into art.”
What Haunts You deals with these themes and is described as an exploration in trauma, love, partnership, and our relationship to the unknown. The play was an international effort with actors streaming in from Sweden, Ireland, NYC, and Ithaca to participate.
“What I’ve heard from the cast is that this is giving them a space to connect,” said Hammer-Lester, who will be directing the show for the second time after its world premiere at the Kitchen Theatre in December 2019. “No one is getting the opportunity to do what they love right now, but this is giving us all a different space to do that work and that’s really special.”
With a cast of five that included: Sylvie Yntema, Adam Stålhammar, Muireann Ni Raghallaigh, Carley Robinson, and Tyler Gardella, What Haunts You acted as a unique viewing experience that invited the audience into a space that is reminiscent of the past practices of live theater.
“Until the world can open up again, we’re finding different ways to connect,” Seldin said. “We had people from Ireland and Sweden that were acting together in a love story and that is still connection. So it’s not lost; it’s just giving us time to reevaluate and come back healthier than we left.”
Considering the recent misconduct allegations in the Ithaca theater community that have played out on social media, Clockmaker is prioritizing the implementation of multiple safe space liaisons to ensure the well-being and safety of their cast and crew.
“The question that’s asked is how to establish trust in theater when there’s all these new people coming through,” Hammer-Lester said. “I know that I’m a trustworthy person, but someone new doesn’t know that. So how do we make sure there are enough of these people in place so that they know that trust is present throughout the company?”
While they currently are small, the group is actively looking for ways to expand their community ties and have people in charge that reflect their values and initiatives of inclusivity.
“Stories are how we understand the world,” Seldin said. “They’re how we process things and it’s how we connect with each other. We’re taking that idea behind storytelling and infusing that connection, that community, into everything we do. And as we grow, it’s our hope that we can continue conversations about how we can, not just give back to the community, but also help change the tide in a way that will be healing for our community.
For more information, check out their website: clockmakerarts.com.