WOW is a collectively run, women and trans theater space on New York City’s Lower East Side. We work on a “sweat equity” system. That means that we put in time helping others produce their artistic visions and, in return, we earn the right to produce our own visions in the space, and be supported by the other members.
I’m a Type A person, so this kind of sharing wasn’t necessarily intuitive for me. There are a lot of undefined boundaries, a lot of unknowns, and that’s not an easy fit for me. But as a young performance-maker, the resources WOW offered were valuable enough for me to try it out.
My comfort level with sharing grew in hundreds of small ways during my first year at WOW. By sweating with these women — building sets for them, distributing promo postcards for them, collecting their money at the door, whatever it took — I got a lot of work done and earned a lot of equity. What I didn’t realize at the time was the value of the relationships I was creating.
That became clear to me about two years into my time at WOW.
CROSSWALK, one of the shows author Jen Abrams staged at WOW with Kristin ONeal. Photo credit: WOW Cafe & Theater.
I was doing my second show at WOW. I was in the middle of my load-in. That’s the day when you construct your set, hang your lights, arrange the seating, and generally get the space ready to perform your show. It’s a HUGE task, and the to-do list I posted on the wall was LONG. There were nine women in the theater, there for the sole purpose of supporting my show. The vibe was amazing. The music was great. We were dancing and laughing and painting and hanging lights.
And then I got sick. Whether it was something I ate or terror of the sheer enormity of the task, I can’t say; but I was suddenly and violently ill.
Disaster! There was a full day of work to do and nine women waiting for instruction from me, and I was incapacitated and sitting out on the fire escape.
Here’s what happened:
One woman spent two hours with me out on the fire escape. She got me water, she held my hair out of my face, she talked to me quietly.
Eight women stayed in the theater and hung my lights. Eight women painted my set, arranged the risers, plugged in the sound equipment. Eight women checked items off that list on the wall, one by one.
Two hours later, I felt a little better and came back into the theater to find that we were right on schedule. The sound worked. The lights were almost done. Dozens of tasks were checked off the list.
Nine women welcomed me back to the music and the dancing and the laughing. There was no disaster at all.
That’s when I knew the difference between sharing, which is wonderful, and Sharing, which is truly extraordinary. And that’s when I understood how much sharing it takes to really be able to Share.
Several of those women are still my closest friends. They’ll be aunties to my child someday. If I were ever hit by a car, those women would show up at the hospital right behind my parents and my wife.
On the strength of that experience, I co-founded OurGoods, a barter network for creative people. And I still make my artistic work at WOW to this day. I plan never to stop.
I don’t know much for certain, but I do know this: I will share, and Share, for the rest of my time on this earth. How could I not?
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After two months, 41 sharing stories, 1,158 votes, and an intense round of judging, the results of our Share or Die Storytelling Contest are in.
The second prize in the writing category went to artist Jen Abrams who, by staging performances with the help of others, learned the difference between sharing and Sharing.
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