Winter Theater Festivals in New York 2016

WinterFestival2016logocollageA liberal has a respectful conversation with a white supremacist in “Confirmation,” while a feminist artist interviews ‘the Internet’s most infamous misogynist’ in “Tightrope Routines.”   In “Germinal,” four performers construct the world from scratch, while in “Dog Days,” a man dressed as a dog begs for food in a world that’s fallen apart.  These are some of the theater pieces in the more than dozen New York festivals this month.

January became the month for theater festivals in the city — more than at any time other than the summer – because of the presence of thousands of members of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters here each year for their convention. But with some of the festivals going back a dozen years, and new ones springing up all the time (2016 being no exception), they are now welcomed each year anew by local theatergoers, who are more than fine with the experimental, mixed-genre, multimedia approach and international flavor of much of the work. The cheaper ticket prices are nice too: Most are $25 or under; some are free.

Below are a selections of festival shows, organized chronologically by each festival’s starting date.

Coil Festival

January 5 – 17

Twitter feed: @PS122


Now in its 11th year, the  Performance Space 122 festival is offering 16 productions, only a few of which should probably be considered theater pieces as opposed to dance or music concerts or art installations. The artists hail from Australia, Austria, England, China, France, and Norway, as well as the United States, and their works are being presented in some dozen venues throughout the city while PS 122’s East Village home continues to be renovated.

Here is a PDF of the COIL 2016 brochure , which includes a calendar of performance times.


Chris Thorpe interviewed a British right-wing political activist and now re-creates those conversations to explore the psychological phenomenon of confirmation bias.  The show is directed by Rachel Chavkin, who is making her Broadway directorial debut later this year in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812


Go Forth

In seven vignettes inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead and by the sudden death of her own father from malaria,  Kaneza Schaal explores through performance and photographic installation both burial rites and “the intimate relationship between black people and death around the world.”

The Holler Sessions

Frank Boyd plays a radio dj obsessed with jazz.

Yesterday Tomorrow

Humans and computer algorithms work together to gradually break down the Beatles’ “Yesterday” and then reconstruct it as “Tomorrow” from the musical “Annie.”


Under the Radar

January 6 – 17

Twitter: @UTRFestival



The 12th annual festival at the Public features 18 works by artists from Chile, France, Belgium, Rwanda, and Japan, as well as the United States. A third of these are works-in-progress that are part of the second annual “Incoming” festival-within-the-festival by the Public’s Devised Theater Working Group.

Germinal. Defoort-Goerger -¬ Alain Rico-4


Starting on an empty stage, with a mix of visual art, theater, music, and sociology, four performers construct the world, along with its “laws of physics, philosophy, music, language, and social interaction.”

Samedi Detente

Samedi détente was a popular Saturday radio program in Rwanda.  Dorothée Munyaneza was 12 in 1994 during the Rwandan genocide.  Twenty years later, she invents her own Samedi détente. Accompanied by Ivorian dancer Nadia Beugré and French musician Alain Mahé, she returns to thememories of her childhood with music, movement…and testimony.


In Chile in 1987,  a group of young left-wing activists wearing ski masks to shield their identity from one another gather in a drab living room to receive paramilitary instruction aimed at overthrowing the military dictatorship.

The Institute of Memory (TIMe)

Featuring archival wire-tap transcriptions, the missives of communist spies, and MRI brain scans, The Institute of Memory (TIMe) conjures a portrait of director Lars Jan’s enigmatic father — a Cold War operative

The_Art_of_LUV_1-ROKE-photo by Maria Baranova-Tei Blow _ Sean McElroy_5513

The Art of Luv (Part 1: Eliot)

On May 23, 2014, Elliot Rodger killed 6 people and injured 13 in a rampage motivated by his lack of success with women. Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble (i.e. theater artists Sean McElroy and Tei Blow) responds with a multimedia lip-synched, ritual-performance piece using love stories found on old VHS videotapes.

Prototype Festival

January 6–17, 2016

Twitter: @Prototypefest


Billing itself as the “premiere festival of opera-theatre and music-theatre,” the Prototype Festival, now in its fourth year, will feature seven works.

Dog Days photo_by_James_Matthew_Daniel

Dog Days

a man in a homemade dog costume, who seems convinced he is a dog, begs for food from a family who has collapsed in a post-apocalyptic world.

Angel’s Bone

A couple nurse and then enslave two angels who were injured in the long journey back to earth. The opera “melds chamber music, theatre, punk rock, opera, cabaret, and electronics, exploring the dark effects and motivations behind modern-day slavery and the trafficking industry.”

The Good Swimmer

Heidi Rodewald, co-composer of Passing Strange, has written the score for this piece that recast “Antigone” as a team of young lifeguards on a beach during the Vietnam War. Librettist Donna Di Novelli has put together the song lyrics from found texts (historical quotations, defunct manuals.)

American Realness Festival

January 7-17, 2016

Twitter: @AmericanRealnes

American-Realness logo

Primarily a festival of dance now in its seventh  year at Abrons Arts Center, American Realness features 20 works. Many of the pieces shade into performance art — and isn’t performance art theater?

Erin Markey & Becca Blackwell - A Ride On The English Cream
Erin Markey & Becca Blackwell – A Ride On The English Cream

A Ride on The Irish Cream

Written and starring Erin Markey, this musical presents “the thrills and terrors of a relationship between Reagan (Markey), a vainglorious self-made girl, and Irish Cream (Becca Blackwell, her actual life partner), her family’s pontoon boat/horse. They are in love, but when their relationship is tested by dust ruffles, sex for money, severe T-storms, and a secret cellar, the only way to stay together is to remember all the parts of themselves their bodies tried to forget.”


“Part social commentary and part self-critique,” Jaamil Olawale Kosoko’s piece looks at “the erotic fear associated with the black male body” and features the “UK based model, performance artist, and night-life personality IMMA/MESS.”

The Exponential Festival

January 13 – January 30

Twitters: @Bricktheater @BushwickStarr @CloudCityb @TheSilentBarn


This is the first year of this festival, which makes two boasts, both of which motivated the organizers to found it in the first place: 1. All four of the venues/partners of the festival are in Brooklyn: The Brick, The Bushwick Starr, Cloud City, and Silent Barn. 2. Several (but not all) of the seven shows being presented at the festival had recent runs in New York – runs too short to accommodate everybody who wanted to see them.



At the Bushwick Starr, a “shaggy-dog folktale of the adventurous and long-lived “Mother”, a character based on strong, peculiar and compelling women from history. The outlandish poetic adventures of her youth include tales of riverboat piracy, a stint as a professional wrestler, lost days as a crack addict and being raised by a family of cows…”


Biter (Every Time I Turn Around)

A reprise from last year, now at the Silent Barn, this acclaimed exercise in fierce and comic anarchy and violence is really two plays, Biter, described as “a sincere slapstick gore-fest ” and then an abrupt shift into Every Time I Turn Around.

Sara Hylton

Toilet Fire

In a reprise of a (more or less) solo show, now at The Brick, Eliza Bent celebrates “the one thing that unites us all: our need to go. “Using the structure of an ancient religious ritual to talk about matters of digestion, philosophy, and faith, Toilet Fire, performed by Bent and Alaina Ferris, explodes with song and audience participation.” I’ll admit this description is off-putting, especially that “audience participation,” but it turned out to be less embarrassing than it sounds.

Circus Now

January 14- 16

Twitter: @CircusNowUSA



Circus acts from Canada, Sweden, England and the United States at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.

Special Effects Festival

January 15-17, 2016


Five of the 10 “experimental performance works” in the third year of this festival are grouped together under “Gray Spaces.” One of these is Happy To See You, in whichaudience members will act as subject and spectator as they are watched (and watch themselves being watched) by cameras, an audience and a drone.”

In Steve of Tomorrow , which uses video puppetry and toy theater, a sci-fi blogger gets visited by a time traveler from the future, but he turns out to be shlub.


Tightrope Routines is based on seven months of exchanges between Angela Washko and the author of books about how to pick up women.


January 15 – 24

“New voices in queer theater.” Each of the six evenings features a different “guest of of honor” — Kate Bornstein, Holly Hughes, Carmelita Tropicana, et al — and a couple of “guest squirts.”

The Fire This Time Festival

January 18 – February 6


Now in its seventh year, this festival is a a platform for new work by rising playwrights of African and African American descent


Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

Leave a Reply