There are so many facets to Elena Parasco that it’s almost impossible to introduce her. Her short film, downtowngirlsbball, a look at an all-girls Chinatown basketball league, has become an underground hit, while her day-to-day work as a creative director, video director, photographer and all-round multihyphenate aims to recontextualize art forms and support equality. If reading that leaves you feeling impressed, envious or inspired, join the club.
Parasco is a native New Yorker, which may explain her admirable self-assuredness; she’s ballsy but endearing, inclusive but just a little out of reach. Raised in Long Island, she spent summers in her father’s native Greece before majoring in cognitive science and psychology at Wesleyan, a liberal arts college in Connecticut. “I moved back in with my parents, and I was like, ‘OK, I have a Bachelor of Arts degree and we’re in a recession, and I don’t really know what I want to do,’” she recounts. “I wanted to work, to live in Brooklyn, to have my own place – and so I just worked up to it.” She guessed the email address of Jeffrey Deitch of Deitch Projects and offered to intern. A few weeks later, she was sanding the walls of the Hole Gallery on Bowery, and within two years, she was an assistant director.
Her first film project was a music video for the band of a mutual friend – a casual pitch that was met – as is so often the case – with “sure, just do it”. That led to various other side hustles, before she launched happyokay, an “immersive art happening” that was a turning point in her life. “I just kept saying, ‘rid yourself of fear, rid yourself of fear!’"
“Even just saying those words really ripped open this space in my head that I didn't really know that I had,” she explains. “I’m a very extroverted person, but my mind plays out in an introverted way.” Parasco talks with a candour beyond her 28 years.
We ask if she ever feels pressure to perform – to be all things to everyone – and she laughs: “I wish that I was this free spirit, I really do. Because I don’t control many things in my life, creatively, I like to flow, but still retain a certain degree of control,” she reasons. “I’ve been dealing with a lot of pressure from a very young age, and it’s really trained me.”
The boundaries between reality and escapism are blurred for Parasco – what you see is what you get – something that can be an affliction for creatives as it means there’s no off-switch, no separation between work and play, life and projects.
“I try to meditate,” she says, “but the one thing I’ve found to be relaxing is travel.” Others may find solace in ownership and consumption, but Parasco’s version of letting go is through experience. “When I travel, I tune out and just hear the different languages. Even if I don't understand what they’re saying, I just tune out and start thinking about other ideas and thoughts and start writing.” Allowing her mind to wander in turn allows her to grow.
“I have a lot of high expectations for myself and the one thing I’ve been trying to be mindful of is having zero, and being like, ‘If I don’t do anything this year, it’s OK. You’re living, you’re alive, you’re breathing, you’re doing good.’ That’s enough.” Finding release can be the difficult part, and that’s where basketball comes into play. “I was definitely looking for a relief,” she says. “Yoga was doing a lot for me, but it wasn’t letting out all that extra energy.”
The Downtown Girls Basketball League takes over Chinatown’s Seward Park every Tuesday evening, and for Parasco, it’s a time when everyone comes into their own:
“Everyone's on their own plane there's no bad blood, there's no judgment. There's no thoughts of tomorrow. It's literal presence.”