New View: The Flight Deck

By Anna Shneiderman

July 1, 2014, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

In Dance spoke with Executive Director, Anna Shneiderman about Ragged Wing Ensemble’s new space, The Flight Deck.

What is The Flight Deck?

The Flight Deck is a collaborative arts space and performance venue in Downtown Oakland, where artists of all kinds and ages can work, play, collaborate, learn and thrive. The Flight Deck features a lobby/gallery, a 99 seat black box theater, a rehearsal studio and a co-working office for arts organizations and individuals. It is home to managing company Ragged Wing Ensemble, as well as a roster of other local theater, dance, improv and other performance companies and individuals. Beyond the bricks and mortar, The Flight Deck is, “a place for artists with purpose.”

What is the origin of the name?

The Flight Deck is a project conceived of and executed by the Bay Area theater company Ragged Wing Ensemble. The name came out of a collaborative effort among the members of the company riffing on the idea: a home for things that fly. The place is a launching point that serves as a hub for artists and art appreciators, of many backgrounds and styles. Our hope is that the name captures this sensibility both of the risk of flight and the groundedness of home. We want to convey imagination, creativity, connection, mystery, play, innovation and incubation.

When did the space open?

The staff and founders of the ensemble started actively planning [to open a space] around two years ago and The Flight Deck opened on June 6, 2014.

What influenced you to create the space?

Ragged Wing Ensemble has been nomadic for nine years. There are very few places we could afford to rent for our rehearsals and performances. So the idea first came out of our own needs and observations. We conducted a survey and found that we were not alone. We see the share model as key to making the project affordable. Additionally, Ragged Wing Ensemble has a value of collaboration in terms of how we make theater. It is importantto us to bring these principles and practices to a larger scale beyond our own actors and staff. We believe that the practice of true ensemble (collaborative art-making) is a radical act, having positive social repercussions beyond the rehearsal room, and we aim to bring this ethic into the cultivation of community at our new space. Each individual or organizational member will become part of a vibrant community, with a voice in governance and opportunities for connections and collaborations with other artists and groups.

Where are you located?

The Flight Deck is located in downtown Oakland, the City’s entertainment and business center. With the energy of Art Murmur and a vibrant and growing food, art, music and dance scene—as well as a rich history of arts and culture—Oakland is ripe for—and needs—an affordable, theatrical performance space that will contribute to the creative and local economy. We arealso excited to be neighbors with a wonderful restaurant called Township.

What activities do you offer/focus on?

The Flight Deck hosts seven resident companies for the 2014- 2015 season: Aluminous Collective (aluminous.org), Dana Lawton Dances (danalawtondances.org), Gritty City Repertory Youth Theatre (grittycityrep.org), Kabinet of Kuriosities (kabinetofkuriosities.com) Ragged Wing Ensemble (raggedwing. org), Lower Bottom Playaz (lowerbottomplayaz.com) and Virago Theatre Company (viragotheatre.org). We also offer co-working, performing artist and visual artist memberships in addition to a space rental program.

How do you envision the dance community using your space?

According to Dana Lawton, a dancer who is the founder of Dana Lawton Dances, one of the Resident Companies at The Flight Deck, “The East Bay dance scene has been a desert with regard to viable performances spaces since I arrived in 1995. So much so that local choreographers, Nina Haft, Randee Paufve, Abigail Hoisin and others who want their work shown locally have made dances in cemeteries, bars and small dance studio spaces. I believe The Flight Deck will create a vital dance-home for artists who want their work produced in a stage/professional setting.”

What excites you about the future of the space?

I am most curious about the unexpected sparking of ideas. We have talked to hundreds of people in the last six months leading up to our opening; dancers, clowns, actors, visual artists, graphic designers etc. New collaborations, dialogues and partnerships keep emerging from this. I am excited to see what happens after a year and into the future.

What event(s) will we find at your space this summer?

There are lots of things happening around August: Knights Of Revery will have a show up, we’re hosting the Rogue Artists Ensemble up from Southern California doing HYPERBOLE: bard, we’re trying to make a space for a very motivated high- school group to do Once More With Feeling (the Buffy musical) and Aluminous Collective opens The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. A full list of events is available on our website at theflightdeck.org.

What’s your favorite Bay Area institution (besides yourself, of course!)?

There are so many institutions we love and that we hope to work with as part of this project—too many to list (Lower Bottom Playaz, Just Theater, Teaching Artist Guild, Awesome Orchestra…). In terms of dance, Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley has been holding dance classes for over 50 years. Their Artist-in-Residence is the reason Dana Lawton Dances exists. Dana Lawton, “I teach there, take classes there, have met my dancing family there, and I know I am not alone.”

Current artistic obsession?

Ragged Wing’s current season is called Just Ripe. We are obsessed with artistic work that uncovers and exposes the juicy state of ripeness. What does it mean to come to fruition— as a body, an individual, a society? We look forward to sharing this with audiences throughout the year, culminating in our mainstage show, RedWolf, in Fall 2014.

If money was no object, what’s the big thing you plan to do?

First we would pay our staff more, go on a hiring spree and purchase the equipment that we are planning for in phase two of this project. But more importantly— we are indebted to volunteers and a great group of committed people, both inside our company and throughout Oakland and the Bay Area (and even a few nationally and internationally) who helped us make The Flight Deck a possibility—we would give back and say thank you. In addition to raises for everyone, we would offer greater discounts and scholarships to people who want to participateand we would expand both our artistic and community building work. As an example, we would like to create a program that uses theater, dance and storytelling as a way of civic participation, where art is a tool to investigate and think creatively about social, economic and political issues in our neighborhood.

Mission Statement: Ragged Wing Ensemble’s mission is to catalyze a deep cultural shift where artistic action is at the center of vital social change. We aim to connect artists and audiences through the ritual of live performance, exploring universal questions that span the ancient and contemporary. We engage in the study and practice of Ensemble, collaboratively creating new, interdisciplinary works and activating the next generation of artistically engaged citizens.

Learn more about The Flight Deck at theflightdeck.org.


Anna Shneiderman is committed to working at the intersection of theatre, education, social justice and social entrepreneurship. Her training includes work with Augusto Boal, Michael Rohd, SITI company, Jeffrey Bihr, The Dell’arte School, and ZenZenZo as well as a BA from the University of Chicago and a Masters in Teaching from UC Berkeley. Prior to founding Ragged Wing, she worked at Bread and Puppet, Redmoon Theatre, Steppenwolf and the Williamstown Theater Festival. As a teacher, she created, directed and grew the theater program at Envision Academy, a public, charter high school in Oakland and is the founder and director of the Ragged Wing Youth Ensemble as well as a current teaching artist for California Shakespeare Theater. Anna has participated in each of Ragged Wing’s professional and youth shows as a director, performer or producer, including creating the signature fall festival event. Both as an artist and as an organizational leader, Anna focuses on designing unique structures of collaboration that bring divergent voices into dialogue and create opportunities for connection.

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