Blessed Unrest

About Blessed Unrest

Blessed Unrest is a physical theatre ensemble that has been creating dynamic, disciplined, and exuberant new works for the stage in NYC and touring internationally since 1999. We devise original pieces and reconstruct established texts through collaborative processes with our diverse ensemble of artists. We build original bilingual plays with partner companies from across the globe, performing in New York and on international tours. We teach our methods of physical theatre and devising to university students across the country and internationally through workshops and residencies.

We have performed at New York Theatre Workshop Next Door, Public Theater, P.S. 122, New Ohio Theatre, Baruch Performing Arts Center, Interart Theatre, NYU’s Loewe Theatre, Columbia University, Manhattan School of Music, San Francisco’s Exit Theatre, Emelin Theatre in Westchester, and on international tours in Western Europe and the Balkans. We have staged thirty-two full productions in New York (nineteen world premieres), including original devised plays, adaptations of classics, and stagings of established scripts. See our past productions here.

Body: Anatomies of Being Body: Anatomies of Being. Photo by Alan Roche

Awards

Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival
2019 Commendation for Distinguished Leadership

Secondo Theaterfestival (Zurich, Switzerland)
2016 First Prize

League of Professional Theatre Women
2011 Lucille Lortel Award to Jessica Burr in recognition of her work as a director and the body of work Blessed Unrest has created under her leadership

New York Innovative Theatre Awards

  • Outstanding Premiere Production of a Play (2018) for The Snow Queen
  • Caffe Cino Fellowship Award (2014) for consistent production of outstanding work
  • Outstanding Choreography/Movement (2013) to Jessica Burr and Sonia Villani for Eurydice’s Dream
  • Outstanding Stage Manager (2010) to company member Jaimie Van Dyke
  • Outstanding Production of a Play (2008) for Burn, Crave, Hold
  • Honored with 17 total nominations including for Outstanding Ensemble, Director, and Original Script

The Snow Queen The Snow Queen. Photo by Maria Barianova

Ensemble & Method

Blessed Unrest is and has always been a diverse ensemble of artists with strong core leadership. Ensemble collaboration is at the heart of everything we do. We believe that devising theatre through ensemble collaboration is a model of listening, respect, cooperation, and productivity that the world desperately needs right now. We devise original work (building plays without starting from a script) through processes that dig into a burning question, are driven by a specific event or subject matter, or follow the inspiration of our artists. This leads us down unexpected and thrilling paths, especially when the people in the room have very different life experiences. Our ensemble includes artists of varying racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, gender identities, those who originate from all over the globe, for whom English is a second language, and those with disabilities. Many of us have been working together consistently for over a decade.

We believe that complex, smart, physically driven theatre can move and inspire a wide audience. We define physical theatre as storytelling that is independent of text, and that uses dance and movement as modes of communication. Our plays always tell stories, we just don’t rely solely on text to do it. Even when staging fully scripted plays, our work is physically dynamic and infused with non-verbal communication. We devise original plays, reinvent classical texts (deconstructing, adapting, or translating them from their original language), adapt non-theatrical text, and occasionally stage scripted contemporary plays that open doors into worlds we could not have seen ourselves.

Blessed Unrest is led by Artistic Director Jessica Burr and Managing Director Matt Opatrny, both co-founders of the company in 1999. If you are an artist interested in working with Blessed Unrest, please contact us.

Refuge Refuge, created with Teatri Oda, co-presented with Baruch Performing Arts Center. Photo by Maria Barianova

Training & Educational Outreach

At Blessed Unrest we train together as an ensemble and see value in working with the same artists over the long term. In training (3- or 4-hour sessions held throughout the year) we practice physical theatre and devising modalities including Viewpoints, Suzuki, modern dance, Grotowski, Butoh, Lecoq, and methods of our own creation. Training provides a space for us to grow as individual artists and as an ensemble when not in rehearsal for a show. As individuals, we learn and practice physical theatre techniques and work on conditioning, strength, and flexibility. As an ensemble, we build and refine our common vocabulary and experiment with our process of creating new work. Training is a space to stretch the boundaries of what we do; to try, fail, and try again in a supportive environment of our trusted peers. Sessions always include a fair amount of sweat and laughter, and often moments of mind-blowing inspiration. We cast our productions from the Training Ensemble ensuring that we have worked with each other and have a shared aesthetic framework before we commit to creating a play together.

We teach our methods of physical theatre and devising to students and organizations across the country and internationally, passing on the tools we’ve honed and drawing inspiration from the next generation of theatre makers. You can see much more on that here.

Lying Lying. Photo by Alan Roche

International

We believe that artistic collaboration has the power to break down cultural barriers and build international bridges, and therefore pursue international exchange and partnerships. We have been collaborating with Teatri Oda (Prishtina, Kosovo) since 2005, creating original, bilingual (English/Albanian) plays and performing in NYC (the first ever US/Kosovar theatre collaboration in the US) and on several tours through the Balkans and Western Europe.

Partnerships

Blessed Unrest pursues partnerships and residencies for the development and presentation of our work. We were invited to perform in New York Theatre Workshop’s inaugural Next Door Series, a curated season in their newly renovated black box venue. We have co-produced with Baruch Performing Arts Center and New Ohio Theatre, including a two-year Archive Residency with New Ohio and IRT. We developed our adaptation of The Snow Queen for family audiences in a New Victory Theater LabWorks residency, and we were the resident company at the Interart Theatre for over a decade.

Refuge Refuge, created with Teatri Oda, co-presented with Baruch Performing Arts Center. Photo by Maria Barianova

Our Name

We believe that a state of energizing discomfort can be powerful creative fuel. We regularly take on projects that seem impossible, and together we dive into the abyss. We strive to stay open, aware, and breathing in the midst of physical extremity and creative crisis. We seek out places where we feel off-balance and insecure, terrified even, and we press on.

The original inspiration for our name came from a letter that choreographer Martha Graham wrote to Agnes DeMille:

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist in any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, or how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.

No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

Eurydice's Dream Eurydice’s Dream. Photo by Alan Roche

Support

In 1999 we scraped together $180 to found Blessed Unrest, and we have always made a lot with a little. Like most non-profit theatres, ticket sales cover only 1/4 to 1/3 of a show’s expenses, and we often develop our work for years before showing it. Our funding comes from a coalition of individuals, foundations, government agencies, and corporations. Our single largest source of funding comes from our team of individual donors, with a median giving level of $100. Add your support here, and thank you!

Our work has been funded by: U.S. Department of State/Embassy in Kosovo, New York State Council on the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Kosovo Ministry of Culture, SHS Foundation, Ruth and Hal Launders Charitable Trust, Lortel Foundation, Mellon Foundation, Trust for Mutual Understanding, CEC ArtsLink, Puffin Foundation, TCG/International Theatre Institute, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, A.R.T./New York (Nancy Quinn Fund, Bel Geddes, and Creative Space grants), and by contributions from individual donors.

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