“Artists, poets, bards, storytellers, have always been society’s emotional and spiritual healers. At times like this it feels especially important to me to use my creativity to remind people of their own humanness and our shared humanity.” – Caryl Butterley
It is always a pleasure to converse with my friend and co-conspirator Caryl Butterley. There is never a shortage of wisdom that pours forth. Normally, we would gather in the livingroom of Yellow House or on the front porch of her sister’s home, but for right now we are physcially distancing as she shelters at home with her mom and stepfather. This dynamic powerhouse of a woman is an essential part of Yellow House’s work, yet it is a tiny piece of what she does in this world. She is a director of theater, graphic artist, photographer, storyteller, and someone who is compassionate about building community through the arts.
I knew Caryl first through her stage work here in Jacksonville, after her many years working in NYC. Although I can’t remember the first play of hers that I experienced (probably a production by The 5 & Dime Theatre), I can tell you that the most recent, a staged reading of the Revolutionists at Babs’ Lab was simply superb. Her focus on under-told stories of powerful women and her commitment to excellence and diversity on stage are simpatico with our mission. I also admire her propensity for collaboration, which has impacted cultural organizations large and small, including The 5 & Dime Theatre, Museum of Science and History, Cummer Museum, and many others.
Caryl has been a force at Yellow House as a graphic designer and constant advisor. From before our day one, she has taken the branding developed by Brunet | Garcia Advertising and kept it moving forward. The majority of our exhibition graphics and our web presence are created by Caryl…always on the mark as she thoughtfully interprets the energy and story of each exhibition. Her most recent contribution to our offerings came about due to the pandemic. The virtual tour of our current show Magic, Mirth, and Mortality: Musings on Black Motherhood could not have happened without her. (Looking to hire someone to help you with your branding or website? I highly recommend Caryl!)
A visual artist in her own right, Caryl tells stories through her photographs and occasionally lets her feelings be known through more personal design projects. We were excited to include Caryl’s work (pictured here) in last year’s SUFFRAGE exhibition, highlighting graphic artists who had something to say about the issues driving the midterm elections.
As I sit with each artist’s responses in this HOUSE CALL series, I am finding that there is a complex relationship between artists, of all genres, to this time of pandemic. The ability to produce plays, exhibit art, and gather people together has come, mostly, to a halt. Yet, for some it is a time of reflection, planning, creating new work, or resting in order to continue resisting. This brief interview with Caryl speaks to this tension and the possibilities of this moment. Big love to Caryl and her generous spirit!
How has this time changed, informed, motivated, or hindered your relationship to art?
I am first and foremost a creature of the theatre, which I love specifically for it being a shared experience – live and in the same space – between artists and audience. Aspects of that (acting, writing) can be brought online but, by definition it is no longer theatre, and I deeply miss that right now both as a director and as a patron. Just when I need that kind of communion most it is not there for me. I know there will be a time when we can gather together again and tell each other our stories, but for now it’s been hard having that taken away.
As you know, I have been asking a lot of people about the concept of radical love in the context of the Covid19 pandemic. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of the need for people to become active in healing our brokenness. Does that concept resonate with you? Do you think artists and the art they create have a role to play in this healing?
It is so interesting you bring this up because I am really, really struggling right now with the amount of white-hot rage I feel. And Dr. King’s words on radical love have been at the forefront of my thoughts, not only for how I personally can transform that anger into a powerful soul force, but also how we, as a society, can use it as a means of moving forward. One of my mentors was fond of saying “Theatre reminds us who we are” and I think that’s true on a very profound level. Artists, poets, bards, storytellers, have always been society’s emotional and spiritual healers. At times like this it feels especially important to me to use my creativity to remind people of their own humanness and our shared humanity. That’s where love begins.
What art is bringing you life during this time?
Old school New Orleans jazz. It has been lifting my spirits like nothing else can right now. And I’ve also been surprised to rediscover an interest in classical music. Chopin’s Nocturnes have become a must listen to at the end of a difficult day.
Have you found the motivation or time to create while in isolation?
I had a dream about a year ago. I was in a barren landscape, alone, continuously walking, stopping only for a short rest each night, heading towards a place of shelter on the horizon that seemed to change how close or distant it was. As harsh as that scenario sounds, I felt great peace in that dream, and it has stayed with me as a place to go in my mind when I need solace. Lately it’s been floating in my head again and I think it represents how I process difficult things. That I need to first be in an internal meditative place to understand what I’m struggling with and find a measure of clarity before I can then outwardly express it artistically. I created an image of my dreamscape to remind myself that it’s okay to go inward and be with my own thoughts for awhile, however long it takes, rather than trying to force creative expression or an end result right away. To appreciate and find serenity in the journey rather than focusing on the destination.
Director, graphic artist, photographer, storyteller
www.actorscollective.com | www.carylbutterley.com
www.facebook.com/caryl.butterley | www.instagram.com/caryl.pics/
And check out her most recent work for Yellow House here https://yellowhouseart.org/virtual/
About the HOUSE CALL Series
Yellow House is checking in with the artists, writers, performers, and activists who have filled our space with their works and voices. During a time of crisis, creatives are faced with the same challenges, anxieties, and opportunities as most of us, yet they can offer unique perspectives on how to adjust, evolve, and understand. As observers and empaths, they can help us see ourselves and the world around us more fully. And in all honesty, I just wanted to know how our people are doing during this time of threat from virus, social distancing, continued work, and adaptation. One aspect of community care is to check in our neighbors and we are doing it the way we know how, through a series of intimate glimpses into lives authentically shared.
Interviewed by Hope McMath