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The Cultural Workhorse

By Edwin Torres

Hello Harriet, glad to join the blog-o-sphere. Looking forward to spilling secrets and divinity on words-works-wonders, many thanks to Travis Nichols for inviting me to the party. That being said, my first posting starts on a sad note, but a life note all the same.

Suzanne Fiol, the founder and artistic director of Issue Project Room, has died. Those words are still shocking to write, she had so much more to do, but she did in fact pass away on Monday, Oct. 5 2009, from cancer. Someone passes and memories of their action, their motion, the waves that have followed them to create their story hover. Suzanne’s immediate impact, her love for her daughter and her tireless devotion to the arts, performance, music, poetry…are what I hold onto. From its beginning as Issue Project Space in the East Village to its current home as Issue Project Room, to its future home in a renovated landmark theater in the artistic hotbed of downtown Brooklyn…Suzanne  infused her fierce belief in experimental culture as a spark for artists to bring change into the world. With a huge list of artists grateful for her hard work under and over the radar she created one of THE vital performance spaces in New York City.

You know, there’s a handful of pieces that fit into the center of everything that New York is about. That capture the frenetic fury of a million miles in one direction settling into a silent thread. Issue Space culminates in that under-buzzed-traveled-joining thanks to Suzanne. Meeting her at the original location on 6th St and Ave. B years ago, I was taken by her go-for-it attitude, the kind of drive that pioneers like Ellie Covan of Dixon Place, Ellen Stewart of La Mama, John Zorn of The Stone and a host of other New York City cultural icons embody in the self-less guise of the cultural workhorse.

The power of the word to circulate emotion functions on a deeper level than the same words do to stimulate the intellect. I bring this up because my intellect gets wrapped in the telling of story, the need to convey information as transformative, info that I assume will empower the brain. Meanwhile, the pure telling itself, the charged air that brings Suzanne’s name into consciousness, into the hearing of someone’s life…continues that life into its natural vortex, its conclusion to continue.

I’ve been writing a poem since the spring, that worked around a recurring refrain, almost a song, with each stanza falling into the same iambic. A mantra of sorts where everytime I’d say the stanza before, I’d come up with the new stanza…the rhythm of the lyric escalating the content. The poem is about the economy, about a character who used to have something and now has something else. A simple premise that works within the sing-song form. But something interesting happened, after months of traveling the city, living each day, repeating this mantra to get to the next stanza, like a pop song trapped in my head…people around me were being affected in ways I never imagined.

Probably happenstance, in an economic crisis, how much is truly out of your control? But one friend lost his job, another had family troubles…things I was writing about in the poem actually happened. And I wonder if months and months of stirring the air with what I thought was a clever capturing of today’s modern dilemna, became prophesy. And therefore if I start writing a new mantra to reverse the effects, would the word gods say…no, won’t work this time we know what you’re trying to do…all because I’m thinking it not doing it you see. More on this in future postings.

Anyway, I realized the importance of celebrating someone’s life by saying their name and thanking them outloud for the energy and faith to continue their work. Thank you Suzanne…that’s all, thank you!

Comments (4)

  • On October 6, 2009 at 5:00 pm julie patton wrote:

    That’s unbelievable news! Out of the blue, sad impossible blues. I recall Suzanne from my days at Antioch in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Can’t even say anything, keep hearing “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream (of) life…just a dream”
    Wake me up when it’s over… —J

  • On October 7, 2009 at 12:53 am Oscar wrote:

    Moving testimonial, Edwin. Thanks for sharing these memories.

  • On October 7, 2009 at 6:27 am Francisco Aragon wrote:

    Great to see (and hear) your voice, in particular, joining this chorus. I look forward to your posts and lament that your first one is a memorial, however celebratory.

  • On October 7, 2009 at 10:12 am Edwin Torres wrote:

    Yes, I look forward to joining the ride. And although this is sad, there’s a definite celebration here…something to tweak our risk-taking spirit.

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Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 by Edwin Torres.