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Catching Up With Artem Yatsunov – One Catches Light Festival

by Karen Tortora-Lee on January 28, 2016

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BROOKLYN GYPSOESBrooklyn Gypsies is proud to present the first annual One Catches Light Festival, celebrating the new work of extraordinary NYC-based solo performers. For three nights — starting tonight — three solo artists in the Brooklyn Gypsies family will share a bill: Colie McClellan with Arethusa Speaks, Bay Bryan with Growing Into My Beard and Nick E Finn with Last Hipster in Brooklyn.

I got a chance to chat with Artem Yatsunov who is the Director and Producer of Growing Into My Beard. He’s also the General Manager of the Brooklyn Gypsies, so it’s great to be able to talk with him about this festival!

I first saw Artem’s work at UNDER St. Marks when he directed The Virology back in 2012. I was immediately drawn to his directing style and impressed with his talents. A few years later in 2014 I reviewed Basic Help which wowed me again. Artem is a Ukrainian-born, Brooklyn-based theatre director and storyteller who has been directing non-stop since graduating from Montclair State University in 2008. For Growing Into My Beard he’s collaborating with writer, performer and composer Bay Bryan. Bay is a Colorado-born, Scotland-trained, and Manhattan-based storyteller and singer-songwriter. Currently Bay is splitting his time between touring, Growing into My Beard, and recording his debut album, “Varied Shapes and Sharp Angles.”

Growing Into My Beard is the coming out and coming of age story of a ginger kid from Colorado, growing into his own and falling in love – real love – for the first time. A hilarious and partially improvised evening, the show is told through stories, live music, and Beyoncé dance. Throughout the evening Bay addresses his long distance, long-time committed relationship. He isn’t married, yet but in light of the new Marriage Equality Bill, marriage is now some actual, real shit that Bay will possibly have to consider. Growing Into My Beard is a timely celebration of all things queer.

Sounds great!  Let’s get this interview going!!

Hi Artem! Tonight the  One Catches Light Festival will be kicking off for 3 days in Brooklyn. What’s this festival all about?
Artem: Hi Karen! One Catches Light Festival is a celebration of NYC solo works! This is the first annual festival for the Brooklyn Gypsies who are about to start touring around the country. So this is a very home-based homage to the voices of NY and to the local artists who inspire the company. The three featured solo-works showcase a wide variety of topics: gentrification and hipsters, domestic violence against women, and then of course we have our coming-out story celebrating all things queer. (With explicit ginger content! Leave Nana at home!)

Growing Into My Beard  is “written, performed and lived by my dear pal and collaborator Bay Bryan”. Tell me about the experience of actually directing someone performing a recreation of their own life.
Artem: Ha! It’s very very amusing, and Bay and I have been working on this since last April – from inception, through the writing, and now through five different productions of this show. So we have a very deep commitment to the story. But it never fails to be really funny, and weird, for me to have to say things like, “Oh, that thing that really happened to you, that moment in your life you just described – yeah, that’s not really all that interesting. Let’s skip it!” Bay is a trooper, bless him.

Growing Into MyBeard has been making the rounds – Queerly Fest at Horse Trade, Minnesota Fringe, FringeArts in Philly. Are you getting different reactions in different cities?
Artem: It’s been awesome to bring Growing Into My Beard to so many different crowds. In NYC there is always a lot of friends and fans in the audience who instantly get the inside jokes and the snarky asides. So we were curious how people would react on tour, we wanted to know if it could earn that sense of kinship with strangers. It’s been a humbling response! In Minneapolis people just wanted to keep talking and talking about the show after, and they wept and got really into the performance! Philly was just like a party, every day. I cannot say enough great things about the LGBTQ scene is in Philadelphia – TABU Bar and Philly AIDS Thrift Store were our fave venues to play! It felt like in Philly people really wanted to witness queer stories and to share them.

Has the show changed much as it travels along? Or has the script been pretty much set since day one?
Artem: Yes – a ton. I feel like it changes a little every night. However, in Philly we had this like audience story-telling concept in the show where Bay would turn to the spectators at certain points to ask about their stories of love and coming out. And those were true “WOAH” moments! Because people wanted to share. I think that the coming-out narratives are so incredible and are such a unique part of queer identity and culture. I can’t think of a better way to put it than I feel privileged to be doing this show and to be witness to how it sparks a dialogue about queer acceptance.

beardYou’ve directed some great ensemble work, you’re very good at rhythm and pacing. What’s the difference between directing a cast vs. directing a solo-show?
Artem: A solo show really is always an act of ultimate exposure – the entire time the audience is asking themselves the question, “Do I like being in the same room with this person for an hour?” That’s a strange pressure for a performer. It forces an artist to reconsider what kind of a story teller they are at the core. It’s like in clowning they teach you to discover your essence – are you a sarcastic clown that splats pies in people’s faces, or are you the sad clown who gets pie-faced? Solo shows are like that, too: there’s no hiding your authentic self. With this show, I felt that sense of exposure immediately because this is Bay’s real life and we’re creating a fantasy around real events of his life. This play is equal parts a vibrant live experience and an intimate search for closure.

Where do you hope to take this show next? Do you see it going on and on?
Artem: I’ve got some plans to take it to a cabaret space, but I’m not sure where, yet. We’re thinking of taking it to Bay’s home town of Golden, Colorado at some point. I’d love to do it in the back room of a bar: some joint with a whiskey stained creaky old piano that Bay could play, and then do a pirouette on top of.

There are solo shows aplenty in this community. What makes the solo shows of the One Catches Light Festival different, special, worth seeing?light
Artem: Each show in the line-up is spectacular and totally different. Brooklyn Gypsies have curated this festival specifically to speak to some of this community’ issues: gentrification is terrible real and present and happening right now all over Brooklyn; domestic violence and sexual attacks on women are right now on the forefront of every American individual; and queer acceptance and the Marriage Equality bill are perhaps the most revolutionary American cultural milestones of this century – and gosh darn in, I think we ought to celebrate it!

Bonus question! Tell me something unrelated to this show. The mic is yours!
Artem: Do this at a party, or – wherever: pretend you’re chewing gum, make eye contact with a total stranger across the room, and without taking your eyes off that person, just start twerking. HARD. See where that takes your night. If you need a crash-course on how to execute that maneuver correctly come see Growing Into My Beard at Brooklyn GypsiesOne Catches Light Festival! Let the ginger-swan Bay Bryan school ya!

Ahh, Artem, as always – such a joy to be able to chat with you.  The festival sounds amazing and I know you’ll have butts in all the seats!

For the rest of you – get yourself down to the One Catches Light Festival — starting TONIGHT FOLKS!!!


One Catches Light Festival
Tickets: $15 per play or $20 for all three shows in one night
January 28 2016 7-10PM
January 29 2016 7-10PM
January 30 2016 7-10PM
7pm- Arethusa Speaks
830pm- Last Hipster In Brooklyn
10pm- Growing Into My Beard
7pm- Last Hipster In Brooklyn
830pm- Growing into my Beard
10pm- Arethusa Speaks
7pm- Growing into my Beard
830pm- Arethusa Speaks
10pm- Last Hipster In Brooklyn

Artem Yatsunov is currently working on a solo show about Americanized immigrants dealing with conflicts in their native lands. If you’re interested in collaborating, Artem is always looking for new artists, actors and playwrights to work with – contact Artem at

Bay Bryan is very excited to share Growing into My Beard with you, after having toured it at the Queerly, Minnesota Fringe, and Philly Fringe Festivals! For more info check out Bay’s website

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