OPPS #ONSCENE with Jonathan Burwell from Abingdon Theatre Company's The Carolyn Halpert Artist-In-Residence Program

Tell us about yourself:

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I grew up in Houston, Texas, and started doing theatre when I was in middle school by accident - I got assigned to a speech class and after the first assignment the teacher asked me to join the after school club.

I am an actor that loves working with creative people. Even when I’m not acting in a project I love to support creative people any way I can. I love working with those that sometimes get counted out, overlooked or under-appreciated. 

Recently I finished a project I co produced called Muliebrity: The Condition of Being A Woman at a downtown venue called Duane Park. It was an all female stand up comedy show that was a great success. We raised some money for the ACLU. I’m really proud of what our team did that night. I’m looking forward to producing more events like this in future. 

I also have worked as an actor for the Metropolitan Opera company over the past decade and have worked with some  inspiring and thought provoking directors like Peter Sellars, Sir David McVicar, Tom Cairns, and Stephen Wadsworth. In the fall, I’ll be part of the company’s new production of Porgy and Bess, the first time the company has staged it in nearly 30 years!

Tell us about your experiences as an artist-in-residence with Abingdon Theatre Company’s The Carolyn Halpert Artist-in-Residence Program:

Anne-Marie Pietersma and Jonathan Burwell

Anne-Marie Pietersma and Jonathan Burwell

The Carolyn Halpert Artist-in-Residence Program at Abingdon Theatre Company is a year long residency that has a mission to nurture new works. The residency is accessible to anyone. Abingdon is a small company so it feels like family. Everyone elevates and supports each other. There is no cost involved in applying. 

This season my follow artist resident, Anne-Marie, helped cultivate a new reading series called Around the Table at Abingdon. The artistic director had the idea to read new works in a casual and collaborative way. It has really been beneficial to actors and writers. Some people know each other and some are meeting people for the first time. After reading a play, everyone joins in a spirit filled conversation about the work and questions can be asked and answered about the work.  

What are the benefits and challenges of being an artist in NYC nowadays?

I believe the benefits of being an artist in New York at this moment is how supportive most people are. With social media other artists have become extremely accessible and seem to be very helpful and game to give advice and guidance to other artists. For all of the flaws of the digital age, I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised about how much encouragement and support fellow artists, especially in theatre, have been. 

The main challenge of being an artist is the challenge that has always been the greatest obstacle for artists: Financial stability and resources to produce the work the way you envision it. 

What would you say to people who think theatre isn’t for them?

As I have gotten older I have realized that sometimes theatre really isn’t for everyone. I wouldn’t want to challenge or not accept someone saying that. Some people don’t like to read, some people don’t like to hike, and others don’t find joy in cooking. What would make me pause is if someone based that view on only one experience. When people go into a theatre they are bringing in the “baggage” of their real life. That can easily impact how you digest theatre. A friend of mine, who is a great artist, once said to me “if someone is sleeping during a performance, I accept that that is what they needed.” 

What would you change about New York City theatre to make it more accessible for young people?

I think a lot of young people, actually a lot of people in general think there is nothing affordable. Some productions and companies do have to charge a lot. It would be nice if that could change. But the great thing is New York City also has a lot of free and inexpensive theatre too. Supporting smaller companies and lower priced theatre is imperative to the art form.