The Conversation: Barbara Colaciello

Founder and Artist Director of Babs’lab 

Photograph by Tiffany Manning

Not many people can say they had a working relationship with Andy Warhol. In your late twenties you worked at his New York studio, The Factory, for six years as the advertising director of Interview magazine. How do you think that affected the you of today?

The me of today feels right at home at The CoRk Arts District surrounded by visual artists. In the ’70s, I lived with an artist and worked for Andy. Both environments were filled with paint, canvases, and people who were obsessed about process. I moved through a world at the epicenter of art, fashion, society and literature. My work for the past couple of decades, whether it be storytelling, directing, designing sets or coaching, reflects that period in my life where there was a hyper focus on daring, bold innovative actions by artists. It developed my eye. It changed the way I hear dialogue. Interview published nuanced conversations with such a mix of people and that is exactly what my focus is now at BABS’LAB.

First and foremost you are an artist and many in our community have been privileged enough to catch your one woman show, Life on the Diagonal, but you parlayed that passion into the roles of educator, coach, storyteller and director. Tell us about where you see all of this heading in the future.

My earliest theatre work in Jacksonville consisted of teaching the acting process and directing Al Letson’s plays. I was also performing original stories and songs at soirées at my home. Developing Life on the Diagonal provided me a vehicle to truly represent my voice. It allowed me to be courageous and exemplify how to share my story. And for the past ten years I have revised and performed it to reach a new audience. It serves to wake up and encourage others to tell their story. An important part of my work at BABS’LAB is to facilitate the development of original material and coach people on how to take to the stage and perform it. I’ve produced four original solo shows at my space. And more will come from amazing people in our community.

You host a monthly Story Slam in your space which is open to the public. There is a sense of mystery to the idea of a story night. You never know who will show up and what their story will be. Does that sense of mystery inspire something in you? 

Yes, it continually reminds me that we all carry incredible stories that, once heard, become tools for powerful transformation for both the storyteller and those in the room. But the whole business of a slam IS mysterious. It should scare the hell out of me … the not knowing if anyone is going to show up. Without the storytellers you have no content. And so my co-host, actor/poet David Girard and I get inventive about choosing the monthly theme. It must compel all kinds of people to craft a story or decide on the spot they are getting up. I am passionate about creating a space for this kind of exchange to happen. It’s all about trust … that no matter who is in the room, something magical will transpire. 

How important is it to you to give kids the opportunity to express themselves through stories?

Helping kids develop the ability to communicate their experiences with clarity, and confidence leads them to a more successful personal life and career. Utilizing the acting process teaches them how to emotionally invest in what they are saying. That’s a true super power in today’s world. For over fifteen years I’ve devised workshops for self exploration to help students find their authentic voice within a group dynamic. It’s glorious to watch the face of a young person light up, and have an aha moment right in front of you. This month, arts educator Hope McMath of Yellow House and I are co-teaching a unique two-week hands-on camp called Be The Art. It culminates with an art exhibit at Yellow House (which will be on display until July 26th) curated by the students and a performance at BABS’LAB. How cool is that?

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