Boston-based theater artist and activist Ilana M. Brownstein is Director of New Work at Company One, the city’s “theatre for the people” occupying the “intersection of art and social change.” She also teaches at Boston University and is a freelance dramaturg. She’s additionally a wife and parent trying to strike the perfect balance between creative output and quality family time. In this de Wolfe Questionnaire for The Marbury Project, she talks about life as an introvert, the myriad artists she admires and she takes us to task over our gendered questions.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
The solitude of a lake, a cabin, a mountain, trees and no wifi.
What is your greatest fear?
The so-slow-we-didn’t-notice-it dissolution of democracy and civil society, which in turn normalizes white supremacy. Oh wait…
Which level of government is most pertinent in your occupation?
Every single level: as an activist and artist, the well-being and empowerment of the community is of paramount importance, from big-G Government down to the smallest local offices.
What living person do you most admire?
Roxane Gay, for speaking so plainly and powerfully, though we certainly do not deserve her.
What historical figure do you most admire?
I don’t know how to choose between Aphra Behn and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, who were both terrific badasses, artists, thinkers and a takers of no bullshit — they dreamed of new futures while contained in systems designed to break them.
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your greatest achievement?
The tremendous impact that my students and former students are making in the world.
What is the most overrated virtue?
What quality do you most like in a man?
I reject the implied binary of this question.
What quality do you most like in a woman?
Ditto above. The quality I most like in any person is empathy.
What words or phrases do you overuse?
Let’s circle back around to that…
What or who was the greatest love of your life?
My husband and toddler — who are at the center of everything.
When or where were/are you happiest?
When I’ve found that incredibly elusive period of creative flow that allows me to be in deep relationship to my home life and my rehearsal work without sacrificing one to the other.
What talent would you most like to have?
I’d love to play the guitar (I’ve been stuck at the ukulele stage for years).
What is your most marked characteristic?
My desire to create active spaces where people of differing experiences or opinions can engage in true dialogue.
Where would you most like to live?
Right where I am — urban enough for all the cultural and culinary resources I could desire, but a very short drive from being able to assume my secret identity as a country mouse.
What do you most value in your friends?
What profession other than your own would you like to try?
Urban farmer and craft cocktailer.
Who are you currently following in:
Books: Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jeanette Winterson, Claudia Rankine, Neil Gaiman, China Mieville.
Visual: Kara Walker, Mark Bradford.
Music: I am always and forever a Philip Glass fan, and I love avant-garde jazz from Ken Vandermark and Dave Douglas. But nostalgia is strong and I just re-bought Bel Biv DeVoe’s greatest hits.
Theater: Lauren Yee, Aditi Kapil, Young Jean Lee, Josh Wilder, Idris Goodwin, Annalisa Dias, Kirsten Greenidge — too many to name them all!
Other: Ijeoma Oluo and the media platform called The Establishment — if you’re not reading this yet, get on it.
Who is your hero/heroine in fiction?
That’s gotta be a toss-up between Antigone and Medea — one for her unwavering commitment to her ethic in the face of unreasonable punishment, and the other for her incandescent rage as a woman and refugee.
What is your greatest regret?
That I didn’t pursue a career as a director, largely because I could find no female role models, and at the time I believed what I had been taught: that it was a male profession, women were unlikely to succeed, and that the intense misogyny I encountered as an early-career artist was an unchangeable status quo.
What excites you in your own creative practice?
The ways in which citizenship and civic engagement are inextricable from the art I make and the processes I make it in.
Where is your “third place”?
As an introvert in an extroverted profession: anywhere I am totally alone and answerable to no one, for at least a few hours.
What is your motto?