Since the abrupt cancellation of nearly all live events globally, it’s been encouraging to see how quickly people involved in the arts and entertainment communities have pivoted to recording, posting, and sharing work on social and streaming platforms. We’ve had livestreams of concerts, intimate performances (such as Rolling Stone‘s own “In My Room” series), and pseudo-variety shows cobbled together from people’s living rooms (and bathtubs).
But most of these have been palliative: A way for artists to share, emote, and connect while required to stay put. A group of more than 50 New York performers and creative tastemakers have taken that concept one step further: creating a subscription-based platform of short performance videos recorded by themselves to raise money to support other artists in financial need during the current crisis.
Launched last week, Trickle Up is a grassroots project spearheaded by playwright and performer Taylor Mac, whose new play, The Fre, was in previews at the Flea Theater in downtown Manhattan when it was forced to close. “I was overhearing some young people who all had survival jobs to be artists, and they had lost all their survival jobs,” he explains by phone from his home in the Berkshires. “Tons of people are living week to week, and now what are they going to do?”
The concept is simple, yet impressive: For $10 a month, subscribers have access to a catalog of homemade videos and exclusive clips by some of New York’s most prolific and provocative performers, creators that encompass burlesque performers as well as several Pulitzer Prize winners (Lynn Nottage, Suzan Lori-Parks, Annie Baker, Paula Vogel), MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipients (including Mac and puppeteer Basil Twist), and Tony winners. Each participating artist selects a beneficiary who will receive a $10,000 gift. The goal is to engage 10,000 subscribers and to help at least 120 artists.
“I guess I am an optimist, in the sense that I think the world is crap so the only option is to think about how it can be better,” Mac says. “I’m cynical — we’re all cynical — but we’re hopeful. Cynicism has a certain amount of hope in it — the only option is to try to make it better. My work has always been about gathering people together and making room together in a room, so I’m just thinking about this website as a room, and how we gather everyone together.”
The videos posted so far offer beautiful, intimate, and vulnerable perspectives on a diverse cross-section, many offering rare glimpses not only of their creative process but their living spaces. Penny Arcade gives a brief tour of her apartment, discusses losing Jonas Mekas and Taylor Mead and other countercultural “elders,” and shares her definition of “wisdom.” They can also cause whiplash if you’re not ready for the shift in tone and content. Singer and comedian Bridget Everett — looking appropriately wiped out — begins by earnestly singing her song “Wrap It Up, which eventually ends with its bawdy verses: “Wrap this pussy around these United States / Keep my country warm!” Then there’s playwright Lynn Nottage,’s contribution, a moving monologue titled “Pilgrims,” which is a “hopeful true story that arose from a dark moment” during 9/11.
“I think that the role of artists in society is to find creative ways to forge bonds, maintain and nurture the cultural narrative, and provide light even in the most impossible situations,” she tells Rolling Stone via email. “We, theater artists, are often taken for granted, undervalued for our efforts and contributions to the culture. But I am hopeful that now, at the very least, people recognize the vital role we play in bringing people together in spaces where they can laugh, cry, heal and experience life in a heightened and beautiful way.“
Mac is thrilled that they’ve been able to organize so quickly and efficiently and that they’ll raise money to help people struggling during this difficult time (they’ve already had a thousand subscribers), but he’s just as excited that it’s a collaborative art project.
“Scrolling through the material, I find it quite touching and larger than this just this emergency time,” Mac says. “It feels like this is a historical document; it’s shocking that our community hasn’t done something like it before. It’s what we always want to do with our art: change the world.”