Aesthetically Speaking: Natalie Hurdle

This week’s interview is with Natalie Hurdle, co-founder of Strange Bedfellows Theatre here in Chicago, a new company just putting down roots in the city. I’m excited to see what productions come next. Thanks for sharing, Natalie!

What is your name and city of residence?
My name is Natalie Hurdle and I live in Chicago.

What medium do you work in?
I work in the theatre–I am a co-founder and ensemble member of Strange Bedfellows Theatre, and I also work at Piven Theatre Workshop.

How often do you work on your art–is it a full-time endeavor or something you work on in your spare time?
That’s an interesting question to answer as a young artist–as Strange Bedfellows continues to grow, I hope that one day it can be my one and only job. In the meantime, I work in arts management at Piven to pay my bills and learn how to run my own theatre company. Even when I’m not actively in rehearsals or meetings, I feel I’m learning and preparing and garnering new resources for my work.

Fire Island by Strange Bedfellows

Natlie Hurdle and Jen Westervelt in Strange Bedfellows' "Fire Island"

How does art fit into your life, in general? Is it something you think about and talk about every day, or every week, or only in certain situations, etc.?
Art drives my life. It’s a constant thread in my heart and mind. Almost everything I experience ends up informing my work in one way or another. Every day, artists make the decision to keep creating–a decision that can require considerable compromises and sacrifices when it comes to personal relationships, financial security, and all the other messes in life.

On the other hand, I think to be a great artist, you need to have a life outside of art, otherwise you have nothing new to bring to what you create. Your art is richer and fuller when you step outside of your art bubble and splash around in the world and bump into other people. And there are definitely nights when I have a beer with a friend to talk about anything BUT theatre. We all need time to rejuvenate–making art can be exhausting.

When you start on a piece, what kind of end result do you have in mind? Does it get performed or published, put in a permanent form or is it more temporary?
Theatre isn’t theatre if it isn’t shared with an audience–the performers and sets and sound and lights are only half of the equation. The reaction of each different audience changes the show so incredibly. I love how I can see a performance of the same play with the same actors in the same place ten different times and the makeup of the audience alchemically alters the show. One of the things I love about theatre is how very temporary it is. That performance for that audience will never be repeated again, no matter how long the production runs. And you can’t capture the experience.

What goals do you set in relation to your art, both short- and long-term? Is it something you hope to make money doing, or is it something you want to keep uncommercialized? Does the term “sell-out” hold meaning for you or do you see the art/commerce relationship as a necessary one?
I would love to be bringing more money in as an artist so I can put more time and money back into my art. Art is valuable; I see no reason to refuse payment for making it. I don’t believe that I have a super commercial bent as a theatre artist, but finding ways to reach and engage a new audience is something I think theatre artists in particular should be thinking about–and creatively.

Fire Island by Strange Bedfellows

Brooks Applegate and Derrick Marshall in Strange Bedfellows' "Fire Island"

What role does collaboration with others play in your art, if any?
Strange Bedfellows is a very collaborative company. I think the work we do together is stronger and more interesting because it is made by dissimilar people with unique strengths and ideas and a common goal. Strange Bedfellows indeed.

How conscious are you of your artistic influences? Who are your artistic influences?
Very conscious. I read a lot; I see a lot of theatre; and when I feel stuck and uninspired, I go back to the artists who remind me of my passion. Anne Bogart, Paula Vogel, Sarah Ruhl, Mary Louise Parker, not to mention my great teachers–Joan Herrington, Mark Liermann, Jim Daniels, Elizabeth Terrel, and the list goes on.

Since this is a travel blog, how does travel relate to or affect your art? (Themes in what you produce, road trips to perform your music, thoughts on what happens to your painting when you ship it across the country to a customer, etc.)
When I was sixteen, I had the unreal experience of performing at the International Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, the largest theatre festival in the world. That sealed the deal for me as an artist. I wanted to make theatre and engage with theatre and connect with other theatre artists and lovers of theatre for the rest of my life. Learning from artists of other backgrounds and cultures and examining the changing contexts in which theatre is made fascinates me. I would love to travel more to do all of that. For now, Chicago is our home base, and I imagine it will be for a long time. Who knows, though?

And finally, a right-brain question: If your art was a map, what would it be a map of?
A map of empathy. A map of magic.

If you are looking for any other information on Strange Bedfellows Theatre, check out our website.

Photos by Daniel Halden Fitzpatrick.

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