Daniella Topol of Rattlestick Theater’s New Call: Nurse

Recently, there is a lot of turnover in the theater leadership. Some have been fired from their jobs. Others have quit their jobs to do something else in art. Many people are retired.

Daniella Topol, artistic director of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and longtime theater director in the profession, is leaving to become a nurse.

The unusual move comes at a pivotal time for Rattlestick, a small Off Broadway company that, in addition to rejuvenating its shutdown following the pandemic, is also preparing to embark on a much-needed renovation of its home. its cozy but imperfect West Village home, located in a 19th-century church rectory.

Topol, 47, has led Rattlestick since 2016, succeeding David Van Asselt, the company’s co-founder. Right before taking the lead, she directed Rattlestick to produce.”Ironbound“By Martyna Majok, who won the Pulitzer Prize for “Cost of Living”.

Three years later, another Topol product targeting Rattlestick changed her trajectory. While working on “Novenas for a lost hospital,“A play that both recounts and mourns the demise of St. Vincent in Greenwich Village as patrons move from location to location relevant to the story, she consults with nurses and nursing students, and something happens. spark.

“A seed was planted and then we kept moving forward – a pandemic hit six months later, and there were a lot of reflections around, ‘Where are we like a field? ?’ ‘Where are we as a city?’ ‘Where are we as a nation?’ ‘Where we are going?’ ‘What role do we play or don’t play?’ ‘How do I as a white woman hold power and privilege?’ “How not me?” “Where do I fit into a constellation in an effective way?” she said. “Obviously I have been thinking a lot about my own personal life, as well as the meaningful and challenging experiences I have had, on a very personal level, and many of them. focuses within the intricacies of maternal care, and so it aligns with the stars. “

She says she’s not sure exactly what she wants to do as a nurse, but she plans to stay in New York and says maternal health and birth equity – a term used to describe efforts to reduce racial and class inequalities for new mothers and their infants – has become of particular concern, intensified by the overturn of Roe v. Wade. “I was pregnant many times – I had a late miscarriage, I died early, and I had a baby,” said Topol, who lives in Brooklyn with her husband and 10-year-old daughter. “I feel it’s a way to contain the loss and let that help inform my next steps on a very personal level.”

So now, while preparing to direct the final play for Rattlestick this fall and work on other theatrical projects, she is taking prerequisite courses and volunteering at a hospital; Rattlestick is starting to look for a successor and she hopes that she will match that person and then leave next year, before starting nursing school next summer or fall.

“I’m just a person in the theater,” she said. “Here I am, I wake up at 4:30 a.m. doing science and memorizing muscles and bones and I am dissecting a pig. Those are all things that I never thought I would do.”

There are other factors, Topol said. She says she’s been thinking about “how long anyone should be in any leadership position,” and that the civil rights unrest in 2020 has fueled that thinking: “Part of it. part of the calculation is about who is running the companies, where the power lies, and how much power is shared there – determining what the trajectory of the field is. “

“There are other great artists that can take over Rattlestick and do a great job leading it and imagining things I couldn’t have imagined,” she added.

As Topol and Rattlestick’s paths diverged, she was interested in highlighting the existence and growth of the theater, as well as its commitment to a smooth transition.

The company was founded in 1994, small in size – its pre-pandemic annual budget was $1.2 million, of which 80% was raised from funds and donors – but has consistently attracted attention for his ambitious work, which included not only Majok’s early play but also the work of Annie Baker, Samuel D. Hunter, Dael Orlando and Heidi Schreck. The theater describes its mission in part as promoting “social change” and much of its programming reflects that; its first play after shutdown is “Ni Mi Madre“A critically acclaimed autobiography on culture and sexuality by Arturo Luís Soria, whom the theater has now commissioned to continue writing.

“What I like about Rattlestick is that we are small and slim, authentic and opportunistic and unburdened by the big institutional problems of large spaces that can’t be afforded – we are,” Topol said. like a motorcycle, not a cruise ship. “You don’t get the luxury of a cruise ship – you get the dingy motorcycling feel – but you get the flexibility to be able to twist and turn as things go.”

Topol said she feels comfortable leaving in part because the theater now has fully funded plans to remake its performance space, which it leases harmoniously from St. John’s in the Village, an Episcopal church. The theater space, where it’s been housed since 1999, has had two serious challenges: The only way to get there is to climb a narrow flight of stairs, which means the theater is inaccessible to those unable to walk. through those stairs; and the only way to use the bathroom is through the stage.

Rattlestick has now raised $4 million — about half from the city — to fund a project that will, at its most basic, add an elevator and bathroom for patrons, but will also be modern improved the entrance and theater by relocating the front door, adding a box office and a small lobby, and removing the raised stage so that the performance and seating areas were flexible and accessible. The theater will have a capacity of up to 93 people – equivalent to the present. “It’s not ‘bigger is better,'” Topol said. “It feels like we’re really the right size for the job we’re doing.”

The renovation will allow Rattlestick to stay in the West Village, which has become a very expensive area, but is the neighborhood where the theater has long been located and is identified as still standing. Rattlestick also shares rehearsal space on Gansevoort Street with three other theater organizations. “It is important to maintain venues for artists in our neighborhood,” said architect of the renovation, Marta Sanders.

Topol hopes construction will begin next summer, pending city approval, and will last a year; During construction, the theater will present work at other locations. The theater is continuing to raise money for programming and operations.

The theater’s board chairman, Jeff Thamkittikasem, acknowledged surprise at Topol’s move, but said he was supportive.

“When I first heard about it, I tried to tell her away from it, but my mother is a nurse, and at some point it turned to me and I saw that connection. is to want to take care of others in a more direct, physical way. way,” he said. “I was shocked, but when I think about it, I see a connection to the person she is.”

Thamkittikasem said the organization is doing well and the board has retained a search company to look for a successor to Topol. He added, “Rattlestick is in a very strong position since Daniella took over – we are stronger financially, we have a good relationship with organizations and sponsors, we have a active board and a solid staff, and our reputation has grown.”

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