“And that’s when I realized that parties could be better.” I first met Linden Renz by the kitchen sink of The Marcy Hotel, a beloved Brooklyn after-hours venue. Linden had recently started a new kind of production company, one that partnered aerial silk performers with commercial clients, contortionist dancers with uptown bars. As Linden quietly, poignantly shared his aspirations for the New York event scene, it became clear that when he said “parties,” he meant experiences, and when he said “better,” he meant wholly transformative.
Months later, I join Linden and the aerialist who started it all, Seanna Sharpe, for morning meditation. Seanna sweeps glow-in-the-dark paint chips off the loft floor before gathering us to stretch.
“Remember the self,” Seanna leads, as I quickly change from tights to sweatpants behind the couch. With the cat Mr. Miyagi perched high above the disco ball, I breathe heavily in sumo squat.
We soon float to the kitchen, preparing eggs in the cloud by whipping whites with a cappuccino foamer and spreading lavender-infused goat cheese on hand-ripped portions of baguette. When Seanna and Linden first met, Linden sat her down and told her, “One day I will give you $10,000.” Seanna had been freelance performing at the time, finding her way through a world of flight after a childhood spent on goat farms and gypsy communes, an adolescence spent in Cuba and the circus. Linden was a visual artist focused on process, and the two of them envisioned collaborating on a project that would integrate art into performance, intent on manifesting a surreal visual fantasy.
Seanna was initially wary of Linden’s suggestions of financial support, but soon recognized that this new friend was not offering her the money, he was offering her work the money, and to dismiss the funding would be to dismiss her art. Seanna quickly brought Linden on with the caveat that he would serve as executive producer on her next show, Narcissa Starving.
They pulled the $20,000 show off on a $2,000 budget, choreographing 111 performers, designers and artists, and ultimately selling exactly 111 tickets. Seanna chops the asparagus in a flurry, her skin pulled taut across fluttering collarbones. “Aerial is about pain and high maintenance,” she says. Narcissa Starving was the sort of life-altering success that invokes her to speak of a subsequent panicked journey into the woods and an impulsive return to flying in the face of infrastructure.
Last year, Seanna ended up in prison after a bold performance dangling from the Williamsburg Bridge. “What they don’t realize,” she grins, “is that there is no difference between not falling 3 feet and not falling 300 feet.” Linden was out of the country at the time, but managed to help coordinate a bail-funding initiative via Twitter in less than one hour. It was a moment of trust unlike any Seanna knew, and it was time to create their company.
In an elegant ascent of paper headdresses and steel harnesses, Mad Sharp Productions has managed to work with the likes of The Roots and the Brooklyn Borough President. “The Olsens didn’t even show up to their own party,” Seanna laughs as she comes close to serving a ladle of eggs atop my notepad. Despite this success, Linden and Seanna have always considered the primary goals of the company to build community and challenge society. Lately, this spirit has translated to a renewed focus on education.
Seanna has spent summers teaching open classes in public parks, telling her multi-generational students to just “get up on the silk,” as cop cars gathered with duplicitous threats and unfulfilled tickets. For past shows, Linden and Seanna have invited local youths into the loft to build puppets and masks, feeding them off this same stovetop, and teaching them the tangible brushes of self worth. As dreams of full residency programs and more student shows tumble forth, the two continue to fill brightly-seasoned plates for sleepy-eyed performers who emerge from the mosaicked corners of the apartment.
Linden and Seanna are working on non-profit status for the educational division of the company, as they acknowledge, “How much energy can we put into nurturing a community versus sustaining ourselves?” But when they climb on top of each others’ words describing one 18-year-old ballerina, Foxbird, and how she used to cry every night and now she flies every day, it is clear that this is where their hearts lie.
“People are distracted by their own unhappiness,” Linden reflects. “If you put them in a good mood, they are more likely to be aware, to want to be kind.” I was invited into this loft and I stretched my limbs into puddles of light and I sustained my morning with fluffy yolks and I stuffed my bag with notes regarding the democracy of body movement, and I realize with palpitating valves that this company is feeding a family to feed a society.
Want to witness Mad Sharp Productions’ performance artists for yourself? Swing by their booth in the Fountain Art Fair, an exhibition of avant garde artwork at the 69th Regiment Armory from March 9-11, or check them out online. Their next full-length show will be debuting on April’s Friday the 13, including Foxbird herself, so stay in touch.
Michelle Traub is an editor for Etsy.