Vision | Artistic Directors | Staff | Critical Response
Vision | Artistic Directors | Staff | Critical Response
Hailed as one of the foremost companies creating site-specific, immersive and experiential dance and theater, Third Rail Projects, led by Artistic Directors Zach Morris, Tom Pearson, and Jennine Willett, is dedicated to re-envisioning ways in which audiences engage with contemporary performance. They have made work in New York, nationally, and abroad since 2000. Their currently running, award-winning immersive hit Then She Fell, was named as one of the “Top Ten Shows of 2012” by Ben Brantley of The New York Times, and acclaimed as one of the best theater experiences of 2013 by Vogue.
In 2016, the company premiered four major works, all of which were met with massive critical and audience recognition: As Time Goes By in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sweet & Lucky with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Learning Curve with Albany Park Theater Project in Chicago, and The Grand Paradise, in Brooklyn which ran for 11 months and garnered rave reviews and Critic’s Picks from The New York Times and Time Out New York, among others.
The artistic directors and company work nationally on new immersive and site-specific projects and internationally through the newly launched Global Performance Studio (GPS), which combines Third Rail Projects’ creative and educational offerings through a program of cultural listening and exchange. Third Rail Projects has been the recipient of several prestigious awards, including two New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) Awards for Then She Fell (2013) and Vanishing Point (2008), and the artistic directors were recently named among the 100 most influential people in Brooklyn Culture by Brooklyn Magazine.
Fundamental to Third Rail Projects is the notion of re-imagining contexts for presenting contemporary work, as exemplified by a history of creating work sought after by avid dance and theater goers as well as underserved populations and those seeking unique experiences. Collaboration is integral to all of Third Rail Projects’ endeavors, both in the creative process as well as the intersection with each new site, community, and cultural landscape in which they work. This manifests in numerous points of inquiry and programmatic objectives that foster artistic exchange and shared practice across unique communities.
Zach Morris (Third Rail Projects Co-Artistic Director) is a Bessie Award-winning choreographer whose work includes site-specific performances, installation art, video and multi-media projects, and immersive performance environments. He is particularly interested in creating projects that place contemporary art and performance in non-traditional contexts.
Zach is fascinated by colliding dream-like, archetypal images with the pedestrian, highly personal realities of everyday life to create juxtapositions and metaphors that resonate on a fundamental, intuitive level and allow us access to more elusive but equally potent ways of understanding ourselves and our world. Critics have described his work as “visually stunning,” “wickedly clever,” and “hauntingly melancholy.” Others have said, “there is no escaping the feeling that you have been doing drugs for the past hour. Good drugs.”
Zach’s work has been seen internationally, at several theaters around the U.S. and at numerous venues in New York City including: Danspace Project, The Abrons Arts Center, Joe’s Pub, the South Street Seaport as part of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Sitelines Series, Dance Theater Workshop, La Mama E.T.C., University Settlement/ The New York Fringe Festival, Dixon Place, the Williamsburg Art Nexus, and The Merce Cunningham Studio. He is the recipient of a New York Dance and Performance Award for Creation/Choreography, the Henry Boettcher Award for Excellence in Directing, and the NYC Fringe Fest Award for Excellence in Choreography. Zach has been granted residencies or commissions from Abrons Arts Center, Danspace Project, The Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation, Dance Theater Workshop, Topaz Arts, La Mama, LMCC, the Swarthmore Project, Epiphany Theatre Company, and others.
Zach is an organizer and moderator of the NYC Dance Film Lab, and created the annual Steampunk Haunted House in New York City from 2009-2011. He has previously served as the Co-Creator and Co-Director of the Westbeth New Works Program; the National and International Programs Associate at Dance Theater Workshop; the Bartender at a number of questionable establishments; the Dance Program Coordinator at the LEVELS teen-center in Long Island; and as adjunct faculty for Florida State University. Zach has a BFA in Directing from Carnegie Mellon University.
Tom Pearson (Third Rail Projects Co-Artistic Director) is a Bessie award-winning director and choreographer working in a variety of media that includes interactive and immersive theater, contemporary dance, site-specific performance, film, visual art, and large-scale art installations. Each work introduces its own movement and/or visual vocabulary, defined by the parameters of the subject and performance environment. Through the lens of a movement-based vocabulary, he creates dense, evocative worlds that illuminate the transient and the transformational, using images abstracted from and coupled with everyday action. Paired with this is a fierce percussive abandon, often complimented by meditative nuance. Likewise, Pearson uses art installation to achieve rich, multi-dimensional environments, and site-specific explorations seek to mine public spaces for hidden meaning and to capture and engage unwary and unsuspecting passersby. Most recently, he is the co-creator of the popular touring work, Roadside Attraction and the immersive theater hits The Grand Paradise (2016), and Then She Fell, which was chosen as one of the top ten theater works of 2012 by Ben Brantley of The New York Times, and as best in theater for 2013 by Vogue Magazine, hailing it as “… haunting, hallucinatory, and profoundly intimate.” Then She Fell continues its run, surpassing 2,500 performances in early 2017.
Tom has received commissions to create original work by Danspace Project; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation; Arts Brookfield; and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC), among others. Additionally, his work has been presented in New York by Dance Theater Workshop (DTW); La Mama E.T.C.; the National Museum of the American Indian; Dixon Place; with The Thunderbird Indian Dancers at Theater for the New City; The New York International Fringe Festival; and Dance New Amsterdam, to name a few. Tom has been supported with residencies from LMCC; Arts Brookfield, the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center; DTW; Topaz Arts; Epiphany Theater Company; and Swarthmore College. He has received the Ford Foundation’s IllumiNation Grant (2009) from the Museum of the American Indian, and is the recipient of two New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) awards for Vanishing Point (2008) and Then She Fell (2013), and an award for excellence in choreography from the Present Company.
Tom helms the international programs for Third Rail Projects and is Director of the Global Performance Studio, and works with artist populations in a variety of international communities to develop innovative site-specific and immersive works and to share creative methods. He received his MA in Performance Studies from New York University/Tisch School of the Arts, and his BFA in Dance and BA in Literature from Florida State University. He has taught as a faculty member and guest artist at the Florida School of the Arts; as a movement instructor for Opera Workshop at LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts (through New York City Opera’s Arts-in-Education program); as the Dance Program Coordinator at the Award-winning LEVELS teen center in Long Island; through master classes at Swarthmore College, through Town Hall Foundation Arts-in-Education, for the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation, through CEC Artslink and the Trust for Mutual Understanding in Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, and Russia, and in a variety of other programs. He teaches his own methods and those of Third Rail Projects through ongoing company workshops. He has also served as an adjunct faculty member of the Florida State University Dance Department from 2009–2013, teaching a choreography lab (with Zach Morris and Jennine Willett) for the FSU in NYC program under the direction of Sally Sommer.
Tom’s writings on performance have been published in Dance Magazine, Dance Spirit, Time Out New York Kids, online as Editor for the Public Theater’s Native Theater Journal and the former New York Dance Journal, and as an interviewer for NYU’s Hemispheric Institute; his photos have appeared in The New York Times and others; and his creative writing has received both the Cody Harris Allen and Kingsbury Fellowship awards from Florida State University. In addition to his work and writings in the contemporary arts, Tom also participates in traditional American Indian events as a dancer and singer; is a PADI certified Scuba Diver, and an amateur botanist who has worked for and holds a Certificate in Horticulture from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Jennine Willett (Third Rail Projects Co-Artistic Director) is a Bessie-Award winning choreographer, director, performer, writer, and educator. Her work has taken shape in many forms including staged dance works, site-specific performances that reframe and transform public spaces, and immersive experiences — where the edges between performer and audience are blurred and the narrative is experienced from inside of the story itself. She looks for ways to transport audiences to another time and place and to connect through relatable life experiences, from the poignant to the pathetic, the wry to the downright silly.
Along with Zach Morris and Tom Pearson, Jennine is a co-creator of the immersive theater hits The Grand Paradise, and Then She Fell, voted one of the top ten shows of 2012 by The New York Times. Most recently, she led a two-year collaboration between Third Rail Projects and Chicago’s Albany Park Theater Project, culminating in the summer premiere of Learning Curve, an immersive journey into a Chicago public high school. Performed by 31 youth artists, Learning Curve is currently in an extended run until December and has been called “an altogether wondrous, one-of-a-kind, ‘immersive’ masterwork,” by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Other creations alongside Tom Pearson and Zach Morris include Roadside Attraction, a traveling time-capsule created for a vintage 70s era pop-up camper and six performers, and Midnight Madness 2015, where they collaborated with the event producers to craft a large scale ‘performance puzzle’ composed of a series of immersive scenes, all containing embedded clues and discovered by players in seven secret locations across Manhattan.
Jennine leads Third Rail Projects’ education initiatives and teaches in-house and private workshops that share the methods and skills that come into play when creating and performing in various formats. Her courses attract artists of all disciplines and she creates a learning environment that encourages experimentation and collaboration, both of which are an integral part of Third Rail’s work. She has offered workshops, courses, and lectures for numerous academic institutions and arts organizations, such as Rutgers University, Hunter College, The Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University, Primary Stages Einhorn School of Performing Arts, Materials for the Arts, and Columbia Teachers’ College. She has served as an adjunct faculty member at Swarthmore College and Florida State University, and most recently as a Visiting Artist at Princeton University in the Atelier program.
Jennine holds an MFA degree from Florida State University in Performance and Choreography. After graduation, she moved to Poland to join the Silesian Dance Theater, where she taught extensively throughout the country and began presenting her own solo works. In 2000, she moved to New York and soon after, co-founded what would become Third Rail Projects. She lives in Larchmont, NY with her husband Paul Millman, and her two children.