A Press of Our Own

If you're reading this, you're online, which means you're just a click away from the 53rd State -- the 53rd State Press, that is, a marvelous boutique press dedicated to publishing contemporary performance texts. Everyone with a stake in live art, from audience members to practitioners, should be heartened by this small but mighty endeavor.

"I was always the person who kept everyone's scripts from readings," 53rd State founder Karinne Keithley explained to me one raw afternoon last week at the Outpost cafe in Clinton Hill. "And I was backing away from performance personally, thinking of other ways a work could be completed. I started thinking about plays that came in boxes rather than were performed."

Keithley, who grew up in part in a tiny English village, is something of a present-day renaissance woman. Despite her "backing away" inclinations, she still makes her own work, most recently the sublimely delicate "Montgomery Park, or Opulence." She has performed with such all-stars as Big Dance Theater, Young Jean Lee and David Neumann.

And she makes beautiful little animated films. And she is getting a doctorate in English. And she is a member of the JOYCE CHO collective. She even sings and plays the ukulele. Really. And, of course, since 2007 she has published some of the most interesting artists working today, including two plays by Nature Theater of Oklahoma and, just last month, "When You Rise Up," performance texts by the choreographer Miguel Gutierrez. (Those P. Clubbers with book club aspirations in mind might as well just buy these books now...)

"I wanted to perform the function that a record label does," Keithley said of her one-woman press. "Not only make stuff available, but make an assertion about an intellectual context."

Say You Will (Kanye West at the scale of my household)

Watch the short video "Say You Will (Kanye West at the Scale of my Household)"


Her prices beat pretty much any record label -- and many a theater. $10 for Gutierrez or Keithley's own plays? $15 for Nature Theater? Yes, please.

For Keithley and many of her peers, these books aren't performance leftovers or how-to guides for future generations. Rather, they're part of a larger articulation of how a work might live in myriad, inter-related but independent ways.

"The idea of the playwright as a little god who creates a world -- I don't think people are writing texts now that do that," Keithley said. "For myself, I'm completely uninterested in determining a performance" through a script.

She then made reference to "Antigone," a play by Mac Wellman (one of her former teachers), which is simply a block of text.

"To me that's an ideal play because the performance is still its own event, and whoever makes the performance authors it. The text is just one element of that."

Karinne Keithley, a woman of many talents. Photo by Christy Pessagno
Karinne Keithley, a woman of many talents. Photo by Christy Pessagno