Idea: Ninth Planet’s CONFERENCE is a public immersive theatre experience featuring rotating guest artists
Primary artistic medium: performance
Ninth Planet makes experimental theatre that centers people of color, women, queer and trans* people in Philadelphia. We believe that performance is a life-sustaining force for our community, and we are committed to making our work accessible by offering it for free or low-cost in neighborhood spaces. Our shows are designed to activate imagination, self-reflection, and a sense of adventure through the collision of dance, theatre, music, and installation. In 2022, we will begin exploring a new performance installation work called CONFERENCE which will draw on Co-Artistic Directors Nia Benjamin and Sam Tower’s personal experiences in the non-profit arts and culture sector. Sam Tower spent the last decade working as an organizer for an international performance arts conference while Nia Benjamin worked as an administrator for a prominent philanthropic foundation. As theatre directors and performers, Sam and Nia are eager to use public performance as a frame to unearth and critique the elitist and inaccessible conference circuit and the harm perpetuated by “purpose-driven” organizations on working class artists and the communities they intend to serve.
Individually, Nia (they/them) and Sam (she/her) bring years of experience as performers, directors, producers and cultural innovators. Nia Benjamin’s work focuses on examining the intersections between culture, identity, and media, rooted in the undoing of narratives that decentralize the importance of Black and Brown people within America’s larger cultural narrative. As an artist, their aim is to create accessible, challenging work that invites non-traditional audiences into performative and creative spaces. With an interest in finding new systems for generating devised work, their creative practice empowers teams to employ horizontal leadership models to upset patriarchal dynamics that exist within traditional artistic practices and alienate those who are historically marginalized. They have worked with Pig Iron Theater Company, Philadelphia Young Playwrights, University of the Arts, Headlong Performance Institute, Obvious Agency, Applied Mechanics, 1812 Productions, Shakespeare in Clark Park, Simpatico Theatre, New Paradise Laboratories, and Leeway Foundation, among others. Sam Tower has dedicated her career as a freelance director, arts administrator, and consultant to serving women, queer people, children and families with arts and culture programming. She is most passionate about staging new works, ensemble-driven process, performance for young people and families, and the power of live theatre to connect communities. She has received regional and national support for her work as a director and producer, including a 2017 Independence Fellowship in the Arts. She has worked with Applied Mechanics, Shakespeare in Clark Park, Mendelssohn Choir of Philadelphia, Bryn Mawr College, University of the Arts, Headlong Performance Institute, Simpatico Theatre, Arden Theatre, New Paradise Laboratories, Almanac, Live & In Color, TYA/USA, and International Performing Arts for Youth, among others.
CONFERENCE is a public multi-day, immersive theatre experience inspired by lead artists Sam Tower and Nia Benjamin’s many years working within non-profit environments. Facilitated by Ninth Planet, CONFERENCE is a critique of the non-profit industrial complex and its effects on artists, the environment, and our socio-economic climate in the United States.
As previous conference organizers and attendees, we’ve seen firsthand how conferences are anti-community. Conferences (especially in the arts and culture sector) are the arbiters for what and how opportunities, artistic programming, and cultural impact flows through cities and creative communities. Oftentimes these spaces are incredibly elitist and disconnected from the communities their organizers and funders intend to serve. Ninth Planet is busting open the frame of a traditional conference to offer our community access to various types of artistic programming often only relegated to the closed network of artistic and cultural gatekeepers.
Featuring a rotating cohort of guest artists who present small performances and workshops each day within the framework of CONFERENCE, Ninth Planet is giving our Philadelphia community of emerging and early-career performing artists a platform to publicly share their work in an alternative performance environment.
CONFERENCE is bucking the expectations and restrictions placed on our community of marginalized artists by engaging directly with the systems that we are all reliant on to create and produce our work.
Ninth Planet’s co-artistic directors position themselves as nefarious non-profit power couple Nina and Pam Powers, who are the hosts, funders, and “changemakers” behind CONFERENCE. Attendees (read: audiences) are ushered throughout the multi-day event by a cast of employees who are slowly deteriorating under the pressures of CONFERENCE.
Part-ritual, part-critique, part-absurdist performance festival, CONFERENCE takes audiences into the bleeding heart of the American Dream: the LED lights of an empty banquet hall, the droll powerpoints and panels of an ineffective think-tank, and insidious self-flagellation of an evening networking event.