“Once upon a time I tried to explain everything that I do to people at parties,” says Tanya Marquardt. “After years of watching most people’s eyes glaze over, I now say that I am a writer and a performer. But if they inquire further they find out that I dance, choreograph, direct, make theatre, work collaboratively, write memoir and plays and, and, and….”
Tanya’s work and career has indeed been a series of beautiful ampersands. She’s studied theater, dance, and writing; she’s done a show in IKEA and has a memoir, Stray, coming out from Little A—and that’s just scratching the surface. In nearly twenty years of working as an artist, Tanya has acquired a lot of wisdom about navigating the thrilling and torturous roads of the art world (after reading her interview, I’m inspired to apply to about 500x more grants than I currently do). We also share the same incredible agent, Erin Hosier. Here, she talks about liminality in art, the financial shock of moving from Canada to NYC, and the freedom of self-producing. Enjoy!
What led you to study theater, then dance, then creative writing? How do your various skill sets intersect?
Theatre was really my first love, and I wanted to be an actress. For my undergraduate degree I went to Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, which is a program that emphasizes interdisciplinary collaboration, ensemble, and self-producing. From day one of my professional training I was collaborating with filmmakers and dancers, musicians and visual artists, and we were encouraged by the faculty to make work that mixed forms together. And I found that I loved that space between art forms and wanted my art to exist where things were risky, at times problematic, and difficult to define. And this training and interest led to me wanting to train in other art practices, eventually getting a dance certification and then an MFA in Creative Writing at Hunter College.
I feel like there is this tendency, and I think it’s present in all fields, towards definition, a snappy quip, a soundbite, a tagline that we want from artists and makers to orient ourselves to their work. I want to defy that. I welcome failure, and confusion and being undefinable. It means that sometimes my work feels very strong, and other times it roams around in a mess, but it feels real to me, closer to my life and the way I want to express myself. And also, I think liminality opens up potential meanings for the viewer or the reader, even if it comes from experiencing an uncomfortable performance or piece of writing. I also take that liminality into the process, and am continually defining the space where my skills intersect, overlap, smash against each other and meld. Sometimes the relationship is very clear, like the relationship between playwriting and memoir writing, and sometimes the relationship takes time to work itself out, like the relationship between dancing and writing. It’s exciting to live in that space, I recommend it.
What draws you to doing so many different things?
To be honest, I am not completely sure what draws me to so many different artistic expressions. Even when I was a little kid I was making up shows and writing and dancing around for my parents. So I think part of it is a natural interest, an inclination towards being an art maker. But also, I find that the deeper I work on a theme or the more I uncover about a story, the original form needs to shift so that I can discover more about the work. So a piece that starts as fiction may end up as a dance, and then a year later be a play that I then turn into a short work of nonfiction, and round and round and round. This way I can dig and find depth, which is one of the things I am interested in as an artist. So in that way my process is prismatic, it wants to shed light on all the angles. Continue reading →