When the legendary Paper Magazine editor-in-chief Kim Hastreiter first introduced me to The Citizens Band creative director Sarah Sophie Flicker in 2008—just before Sarah Sophie took to the stage for an awe-inspiring performance at The Box in New York City—I reckon my fellow dinnermates were unaware of the massive willpower I wielded so as to withhold my inner fangirl and string together a semi-coherent sentence (no doubt, of adulation) in a desperate attempt to avoid embarrassing my editors. It was not until a year later, while shooting the Fall 2009 Rachel Antonoff lookbook alongside Sarah Sophie and Alia Shawkat, that I finally had a proper opportunity to unfetter my admiration for Sarah Sophie’s artistry and advocacy. Through various events thereafter, we have bonded over our aligned politics and mutual love for Chris Matthews and all things fantastical; it has genuinely been an honor to develop a friendship with Sarah Sophie, one of my heroes and role models. Over coffee this past week, it was a delight to pose three quick questions to the extraordinary performer, aerialist, editor-at-large, designer, filmmaker (alongside her co-directing partner Maximilla Lukacs), writer (with insightful columns at HelloGiggles and Rookie), wife (director Jesse Peretz is her lucky husband), and mother par excellence.
Julia Frakes: First and foremost, how do you define success?
Sarah Sophie Flicker: Oh geez, that’s a tough one. I’m still struggling with my own definition of success to this day. I suppose that before I had kids, I would have defined it along the lines of my work and how my work was received. Generally, I feel lucky enough to have put out work that is a true reflection of my inspiration and paradigm… and I recognize that this is a real privilege. As an artist you must consider not only the quality and truth of your work, but also basic survival. These two things can come into real conflict… the ability to make a living as an artist is another privilege that we sometimes take for granted. Having children has allowed me to put things into perspective, to be gentler on myself and what I perceive as a success. My work is just as important to me now because it feeds my happiness and my ability to be a fulfilled parent; however, I neither push myself as hard as I used to, nor punish myself as much as I once did. I suppose my family’s happiness and wellbeing are my greatest sources of pride and success, as well as the primary inspirations in my work!
The Citizens Band photographed by Salvatore Gaetano.
Julia: Who would be included on your ultimate on-stage dream team?
Sarah Sophie: Another great source of pride and happiness for me is derived from my cohorts in The Citizens Band. Collaborations are notoriously difficult; they force us to put aside our egos, share credit, and listen to one another. This tends to rub against the human grain. That said, I believe that the highest form of human functioning involves how well we can connect to each other and honor this connection to society—as well as within our more personal relationships. So, I must say that my on-stage dream team already exists: We are group of about twenty-two performers and musicians who have managed to work rather dreamily together for nine years. I am hugely amazed and proud of this. If I could add some folks to the existing mix a few of them would be Charlie Chaplin, Cud Cherries, Sophie Tucker, Odetta, Django Reinhart, Maurice Sendak (I don’t know what he would do on stage—I just loved that man!—maybe set design?), Gene Kelly, Josephine Baker, Joni Mitchell, Eleanor Roosevelt (I’m sure she would find something amazing to perform), Sergei Diaghilev (in fact, the whole of The Ballets Russes), Helen Kane, Fannie Brice, Diane Keaton, Bob Fosse, and James Baldwin (couldn’t he write the shows?). Oh whoa, I could go on and on, really, I could. That litany merely included my performance picks. I am certain that if you gave my directing partner Maximilla and me the choice of film people, we would craft an equally long and abstract list. Also, our ultimate on-stage dream team would include a few people who have already graced the stage with The Citizens Band, including Zooey Deschanel, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Eugene Hutz, and Cyndi Lauper… And yet, that barely scratches the surface of all the current artists with whom I would love to work.
Mother-daughter love, photo by Jesse Peretz
Julia: What was your childhood like and how did your adolescence impact your creeds about style, politics, art, and life? Which of these lessons do you most earnestly hope to impart upon your beautiful children before they reach adulthood?
Sarah Sophie: Good question. I was born in Copenhagen, Denmark and moved to the United States around age five. I am an only child which was, in some ways, a big part of my childhood and impacted who I have become. I spent a lot of time creating fantasy worlds and stories whereupon I would lose myself. My mother is Danish and very politically progressive. My father is a ‘good New Jersey Jew’ who also has a very left-of-center political philosophy. They were always active in politics, which no doubt informed my evolution as well. My parents were very social and loved jazz, theater, dance and the circus. Because I was an only child, I just went along with them to all these adult places and saw incredible performance and art; I wanted this life for myself and began ballet and theater at a very young age. My early exposure to these worlds and the support from my parents to partake in them was absolutely wonderful for my growth. Ultimately, now that I have kids, I chalk a lot of who we ultimately become quite simply: we are just as we were upon birth. We are who we are. By staring into the eyes of a merely-minutes-old baby, you can immediately feel who they really are. Both my kids are very different and were born with these wildly different and specific personalities intact. I don’t have any hard or fast creeds, I just try to tap into what inspires me and immerse myself and my surroundings with whatever that may be. There is so much I want to impart on my children. But most importantly: I want them to be themselves. This sounds simple but as a parent there is a strong urge to fight your children’s battles, to mold them into the type of person you wish them to be, to step in when things are in any way scary, hard, overwhelming, or challenging. It is very difficult to stand by and just let them flourish on their own into who they are born to be. I have to restrain myself daily, but I truly believe that it is my job to love them as hard as I can without getting in the way of allowing them to explore, fail, and succeed; I just want them to feel loved and supported while free to become whoever they want to be.
Still from Karen Elson’s “The Truth is in the Dirt” directed by Maximilla Lukacs and Sarah Sophie Flicker.
Top Image: Portrait with wreath by Yelena Yemchuk.