East Village’s ‘wild project’ looks to keep the arts going amid the pandemic

wild project gets serious with Elizabeth Koke, Ana Mari de Quesada, Dael Orlandersmith, Tanya Selvaratnam, Raffaele Mary and Heather Litteer
Photo by Bob Krasner

It’s safe to say that everyone is looking forward to the day when social distancing is a thing of the past and there’s some optimism that we will soon be going back to our favorite bars, concert halls and theaters. But if those spaces are going to be there when the smoke clears, they may need some help now.

Just one of the struggling venues in the East Village is wild project, an 89-seat theatre on East 3rd Street that describes its mission as devoted to “specific initiatives toward LGBTQIA+ and POC projects and the work of local East Village artists, to ensure that our nonprofit theatre sustains its roots in the community.”

Heather Litteer, an award-winning actress, writer and performance artist who has been part of the downtown performance scene for decades, has done her share to help out the venue and she’s determined to keep it going.

“I’ve helped produce shows there, worked the door, tended bar and cleaned the bathroom,” Litteer recounts.

Heather Litteer, producer of the benefit performance of WOeRD readers for wild project.Photo by Bob Krasner

When they announced a GoFundMe campaign, Litteer stepped up with an offer to produce a live streaming benefit featuring one of her own projects, WOeRD. An acronym for Women of Experience Reading Downtown, Litteer started the group as a response to an all-male group that was reading at the now-defunct Black and White bar.

While past readers have included Chi Chi Valenti, Jo Weldon, Pamela Sneed, Ada Calhoun, Pamela De Barres and Penny Arcade, Litteer has put together a diverse lineup for the upcoming show and given the women free rein to decide on their subject matter.

Dael Orlandersmith is a writer, actress and Pulitzer Prize finalist who notes that “the wild project is for those who need the place/space to work/grow — particularly those who are not in the mainstream.”

Viewers will have a chance to witness the creative process, as Orlandersmith notes that “the piece I’m doing is a work-in-progress, and sometimes I do add while reading. I often act in my own work. The theme is usually about outsiders.”

Elizabeth Koke, a writer, performer and organizer who is currently the Creative Director for Housing Works, has been in the audience and on stage at the wild project.

Koke describes the venue as “my neighborhood arts space where I can always count on something interesting happening. It’s a beautiful, intimate space with a talented and dedicated team that is open to innovation. I’ve witnessed works-in-progress and full productions across every genre imaginable – films, dance, story-telling, music, musicals! “

Artist, writer, Emmy-nominated and multiple Webby-winning producer Tanya Selvaratnam says that “the wild project embodies the spirit of the wild downtown community, which I am proud to be a part of.”

Selvaratnam will be “reading excerpts from my new book ‘Assume Nothing,’ about my experience with abuse by the former attorney general of New York State. Reading this work out loud is painful and emotional but also liberating.”

Raffaele Mary, who had her most visible presence in the East Village as the lead singer of the 80s glam metal band Cycle Sluts from Hell, has managed major nightclubs, go-go danced on bars, bartended endlessly and currently heads a music management company based in New York and London.

“I lived next door to the wild project for years and always loved the energy and creativity of the place — very warm and inviting to artists and patrons alike,” she says. “I chose a story from the far past. I had originally wanted to write something new incorporating all of the things we’ve been through over the last year, but I haven’t fully processed it all, so I decided it might be better to take the listener out of the present completely. “

Litteer will also be reading, but it’s going to be a surprise — possibly to her as well.

“True to form, I am still writing and editing, and I will be up until the moment I get on the mic on Sunday,” she confesses. “So I don’t know exactly what I will be reading, but I am very much continuing an old East Village tradition – make the flyer, then make the show!”

Producing Artistic Director Ana Mari de Quesada of wild project.Photo by Bob Krasner

Producing Artistic Director Ana Mari de Quesada will be there behind the scenes, hoping for the best for her theatre and the community.

“Wild Project places the utmost importance on engendering a climate that supports and cultivates artists who commit to artistic excellence,” she states. “The uniqueness of the wild project is our ‘mom-and-pop’ approach. Every artist is thought of as a family member and we want to help them succeed however we can. This is their home.”

More info on the wild project can be found at thewildproject.com.

Tickets for the March 14 WOeRD benefit performance at 7 p.m. are available here: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe.c/10643858

wild project gets somewhat less serious with Elizabeth Koke , Ana Mari de Quesada, Dael Orlandersmith, Tanya Selvaratnam, Raffaele Mary and Heather Litteer.Photo by Bob Krasner