Today we’d like to introduce you to Janielle Kastner.
Janielle, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I started writing for the stage as an actor in theatre school, where I was underwhelmed with the contemporary monologues available for women. Somehow every monologue I read one semester was either: a righteously indignant girlfriend wielding a morally correct argument, a sexy lady who wanted to seduce you, a past-tense story recollecting trauma, or some combo of the three. How boring to be simply good, sexy, or broken – I wanted words that would let me be messy and winsome and confident and wrong and heroic and violent, maybe even at the same time, so I started writing those monologues myself. Soon my writing outpaced my acting; I began capturing voices and situations that required more (and better!) actors than myself, so my monologues evolved into plays. It took me a minute to realize that I was a writer. I was afraid to presume something so big about myself. I thought someone else had to tell me “hey you’re a writer”, and in the meantime I was just someone who tried to capture every lonely thing she noticed about the world with words. Luckily, one night someone off-handedly introduced me to their colleague “Oh hey, this is Janielle she’s a good writer”, and I smiled and shook their hand. Secondhand confirmation did the trick. Thank god I’ve gotten over that. In recent years I’ve freely picked up whatever artistic role or title will help me best say what I mean to say (performance-deviser, teacher, public installation artist, podcaster) not by asking for permission, but by simply doing the work. The chattering voices of identity crises and imposter syndrome grow quieter and less interesting once I’m actively doing the work.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
As of right now, I’ve decided my medium is just about anything with words. Because it is so hard to make a play happen live, if there’s any other gesture that will capture what I mean, I go for it. Which means any play I write can only be a play – inherently theatrical, live and risky, or in some way demanding the immediacy of bodies breathing together in a shared space. For the intimacy of self-exploration and memoir I’ve turned to podcasting. Right now, I’m working on Untitled Dad Project, a years-long investigation of the grieving process by way of the creative process that will be out later this year. I turn to installation work, projection and video, when I’d rather not be “a voice for the voiceless” and instead just pass the microphone, facilitate an experience that lets someone speak for themselves.
Most of my non-play work still centers largely around women and their words. I am less interested in telling women how powerful they are, I prefer instead to create channels that facilitate women’s unfettered power. With MAY I, that meant projecting young women’s words large-scale onto sky-scrapers and city objects. I devised a solo-performance called Free Blessings for Women that required looking women in the eyes and speaking something I believe is already true about them. Recently I partnered with Haley Nelson and the Women Galore team to produce an unconventional festival where female-identifying artists channeled the voices and power of ancient goddesses, offered advice and a gift, and expected you to receive it. As a culture we’re getting better at making content about women, but I like to make projects that activate and even necessitate women’s power. You don’t know you’re powerful when someone tells you you’re a #girlboss or sells you Dove products, you know you’re powerful when you autonomously exercise your own power. Oftentimes my feminist work, because it operates from a place of confidence and hope, is relegated to niceness, positivity, fun girly quirk – a gesture akin to “free hugs”! That’s always baffled me. I think it is radical.
The through-line of all my work is the desperate desire to connect, to see each other, to find some kind of dignity. At its best, my work operates from a place of tenderness, a lonely reach, an honesty about our isolation and an attempt to find our way back to each other. Whenever I try to write from a place that costs a little less – a voice of righteous indignation, cynicism, punching down at something I think is dumb, I find my words shrivel up. Whenever I try and write optimistically, upbeat, a cheerful “wouldn’t this be nice!”, my words fall flat. Instead, I like to bring it back to my body and make work that comes from my nerve endings – what actually scares me, not what I think should scare me. What do I actually long for, not what I think I should long for. The bravest artists I know implicate themselves in their work, are right in the middle of it at their eye-line, instead of cynically punching down or blissfully looking up.
One small thing I find useful about the otherwise devastating political and social moment we’re in is that it’s laid bare what’s truly awful about humanity. Here it is: our hypocrisy is exposed, our worst fears about each other can be confirmed. Despair has become obvious. Cynicism is no longer clever, it’s de facto – so now what? My heroes are the people who stare into the abyss, let it stare right back, and then go make something.
Have things improved for artists? What should cities do to empower artists?
In my experience, Dallas offers a tremendous amount of creative blank space to any artist who wants to try something new and is willing to take the initiative to rally their own team. Cultivating a city where artists can continue making things from scratch requires a couple things, most of which have to do with mitigating risk: Keeping the cost of living low so we can spend more time trying things (My reasonable rent allows me to spend most of my time making things!
It also makes my NY playwright friends change colors, we’ve had to stop talking about it); Access to small-to-mid-sized independent grants (Most of my favorite, high-risk, high-reward work this year was funded largely by OCA Special Assistance grants and Dallas Cultural Centers. But I mourn the loss of several very cool pieces that did not get funded); and institutional support from larger organizations whose infrastructure and veteran art-makers would make new, local work better (I would love to live in a city where mid-sized art institutions had access to funding specifically designated to making new work with local artist. New work is an institutional risk, and I’d love there to be more room to create messy, new, locally grown things.)
To me it feels like no matter how you’re living your life as an artist, there’s some way to feel like a fraud (especially when it comes to cash-flow). I’ve had a full-time corporate job and money to spare and felt like a fraud for only making art on the evenings and weekends I could muster it. I’ve been a freelance artist and felt like a fraud for a whole day going by and no art being made. I’ve had wonderful career opportunities with grant money and nice paychecks and big deadlines all align on the same two weeks, and felt like a fraud because I stretched too thinly and didn’t do any one project well enough. I have friends who live off of their partner’s or parent’s ample income, who feel like frauds as artists because they aren’t connected enough to “the struggle”. My hope is that everyone finds some way of living that allows them to make the things they want to make as soon as they can make them.
As for me, I’ve made Dallas my creative home for the past five years because I’ve been fortunate enough to consistently find or make projects with people I want to make them with, each opportunity increasingly larger, scarier, or riskier than the last.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
I am in the trenches right now, and I’d forgotten what this feels like. Quietly and steadily just doing the work on a few commissions and projects that won’t see the light of day for a minute or two. In the meantime, some of my plays can be found on New Play Exchange, and any upcoming readings or workshops or theatrical happenings in unconventional venues will make their way onto janiellekastner.com. That creative non-fiction podcast called Untitled Dad Project will be out later this year.
- Website: http://www.janiellekastner.com/
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jkastner/?hl=en
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/janiellekastner
Johnny Rutledge; Evan Michael Woods; Zack Huggins;