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12 Summer Theater Festivals in New York City 2017

Summer in the city offers theater that is cheaper (often free), more cutting-edge and even more abundant than what you can see during the regular theater season — thanks largely to the perennial summer theater festivals. The shows are not necessarily better, of course, and finding the right ones for you can be intimidating, especially among the bigger festivals.

This is the sixth year I’m offering a run-down on New York’s most reliable summer theater festivals (2012,  20132014  2015 and 2016). Below is a list arranged more or less chronologically by the month in which the festival begins. (Several continue through the summer.)  Click on the festival titles below to be taken to their websites. It’s a good idea to check out their Twitter feeds as well.

MAY

Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks

Begun in 1996, this festival has consistently offered three new quality, cutting-edge plays each summer. This  is the 22nd annual Summerworks. @ClubbedThumb

The World My Mama Raised writtenby Ariel Stess, directed by Kip Fagan May 20 – May 30

Of Government, written by Alex Borinsky, directed by Jeremy Bloom June 5 – June 15

What The Constitution Means to Me, written by Heidi Schreck directed by Oliver Butler, June 21 – July 1

The New York Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park

Delacorte

Joseph Papp began Free Shakespeare in the Park in 1962 in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, which was built for that purpose. The two-play summer season usually only offers Shakespeare, but occasionally there will be a Sondheim or other modern classic.

Twitter: @PublicTheaterNY

Julius Caesar,  directed by Oscar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater,  with a large cast that includes  Nikki M. James,, Elizabeth Marvel, Corey Stoll and John Douglas Thompson May 23 to June 18.

A Midsummer’s Night Dream directed by by Lear deBessone, with a large cast that includes Annaleigh Ashford, De’Adre Aziza, Kyle Beltran, Danny Burstein, July 11 to August 18

JUNE

Ant Fest

Started by Ars Nova (most celebrated recently for originating Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812), Ant Fest is, according to the organizers, “four non-stop, throw-down weeks of live entertainment mayhem, featuring fresh material from the next wave of dynamic, indie-theater makers. All New Talent, all the time.”  June 5 to 29. Twitter: @arsnova

Planet Connections Theatre Festivity

New York’s premiere eco-friendly/socially conscious not-for-profit arts festival. Twitter: @PCTFNYC. This year’s festival runs from June 14 to July 9.

 

River to River Festival

Held in the downtown business district, this festival has only a handful of what can be called strictly theater pieces, but the hybrids are worth exploring, and all events are free.

Of particular interest this year: HARBORED, En Garde Arts’ new site-specific theatrical experience about immigration, featuring a cast of more than 50 performers. Immigration stories will also be gathered each day from passersby and incorporated into the script that night. June 22 to June 25, Winter Garden.

A MARVELOUS ORDER, a multimedia opera about the battle between city planning czar Robert Moses and civic reformer Jane Jacobs.

Twitter: used to be @R2RFestival, now their parent org, @LMCC  with hashtag !. This year’s festival runs from June 14 to June 25.

 

Ice Factory Festival

Twitter: @newohiotheatre This year the festival at New Ohio Theater runs from June 28 to August 12. Among the seven offerings are True Right, “A reimagining of Sam Shepard’s True West–featuring George and Jeb Bush, as played by two ethnic ladies”

JULY

Hot Festival 

The festival is billed as the longest-running LGBTQ festival in the world, now in its 26th year celebrating queer culture. At Dixon Place, July 5 to July 29.  @HotFestNYC. or @DixonPlace . This year, trans Sri-Lankan American comic D’Lo headlines the festival in “To T, or Not to T.”

Lincoln Center Festival 

This is not exclusively a theater festival, but always includes a couple of theater pieces, most often from overseas.

July 10 to July 30. Twitter: @LincolnCenter 

There are five offerings explicitly labeled theater this summer:

Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century by Improbable Theatre

While I Was Waiting by Mohammad Al Attar, portrait of Syria through one family. July 19–22

Yitzhak Rabin: Chronicle of an Assassination,Text by Amos Gitai and Marie-José Sanselme. July 19

Il N’est Pas Encore Minuit, by Compagnie XY July 19-22

To the End of the Land. The Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv / Ha’Bima National Theatre. July 24–27

New York Musical Festival

Some 300 new musicals have premiered at this festival (originally named the New York Musical Theater Festival) since 2004, including “Next to Normal,” “Altar Boyz” and “title of show”

Twitter: @nymf

This year’s festival runs July 10 to August 6, and features 22 full productions, as well as almost as many concerts and readings.

 Fresh Fruit Festival

Celebrates LGBT culture. Twitter: @FreshFruitFest July 10-23

Midtown International Theater Festival

Twitter: @NYMITF July 15 to August 6.

August

Dream Up Festival

Twitter: @TNCinNYCAugust 27 – September 17 at Theater for a New Audience.

New York International Fringe Festival

The New York International Fringe Festival is celebrating its 21st year — by taking a hiatus. That’s right — there’s no New York Fringe this summer. @FringeNYC  Those of us who stay in New York every August in part to attend the Fringe may be looking for summer theater festivals outside NYC, (15 specific to the US in 2017)

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Time of Women Review: Belarus Free Theatre Vs. Tyranny

“Time of Women,” a play in the Under the Radar festival based on the true story of three women journalists and activists imprisoned by the Belarusian dictatorship for protesting the fraudulent presidential elections of 2010, differs from most of the previous works by the Belarus Free Theatre that I’ve seen in New York. There is no extensive dance-like movement or elaborate use of theatrical metaphor, as in such works as “Trash Cuisine,” which was presented at La MaMa in 2015. But in its own way, “Time of Women” is just as powerful, or even, given the timing, even more so.

Belarus Free Theatre was founded in 2005 in Belarus, a former part of the Soviet Union that is now widely viewed as the most repressive and backward nation in Europe. Many consider the members of Belarus Free Theatre to be heroes for standing up to the dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, whose regime arrested and eventually banned the troupe. Though the husband and wife founders Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada have been political refugees in England since 2011, they continue to oversee productions that have toured 42 countries – and that continue underground, in private apartments, in Belarus.

It was in Belarus in 2014 that “Time of Women” debuted, which may be why, in the 40-seat Shop Theater at the Tisch School of the Arts, the setting is a simple apartment, where the actresses depicting  Irina Khalip, Natalya Radina and Nasta Palazhanka gather for a holiday reunion. There is a Christmas tree near the couch. But the most prominent pieces of furniture in the apartment are a three-tiered bunk bed whose bottom “bed” is the floor, and an office desk. The bunk bed represents the prison where the women were confined, and their everyday activities – drying hair after a shower, baking a cake – mix uneasily with their recollection of their time imprisoned, which they relate (in Russian with English surtitles) but also relive, lying on the bed in a strained and strange light, unable to separate their past from the present, the living nightmare of the confinement with their daily waking life.

After a while, a young man passes through the apartment and sits at the desk. He is Orlov, the bureaucrat who interrogates them one by one, as he casually slurps instant noodles and tries both the carrot and stick approach – if they only sign a statement, they can be released instantly, and be back with their ailing mother or their husband, beaten up during a peaceful protest. If they don’t sign, their ovaries will rot in prison, and they will never be able to have children. At times, he sounds reasonable; at times, he yells in their faces, making ugly threats. But his paroxysm of angry shouting is nowhere as terrifying as the final, desperate scream by Nasta.

“Time of Women” feels like an accurate depiction of the surreal life under a capricious, power-hungry head of state, and Belarus Free Theatre offers a role model for creating art in the face of authoritarian opposition.

Time of Women was presented for six performances through January 15, 2017.

Written by Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada
Director Nicolai Khalezin

Cast: Maryia Sazonava (Iryna), Maryna Yurevich (Natalya), Yana Rusakevich (Nasta), Kiryl Kanstantsinau (Investigator)

 

 

Latin Standards Review: Lesbian Comic Marga Gomez, Like Her Father (without the mustache)

marga_gomez-latin-standards“Latin Standards,” which is Marga Gomez’s 12th solo show — and, she tells us, her “final farewell concert” — is a hilarious memoir, part of this year’s Under The Radar festival. “I’ve been under the radar for 30 years,” she says, after introducing herself as Cuban, Puerto Rican and lesbian: “I don’t want to surprise any out-of-towners….Mike Pence could be here.”

But more than a stand-up routine of topical humor, the show is a coming-of-age tale that pays touching tribute to her father, who went by the stage name Willy Chevalier. A singer, songwriter, impresario, and comedian, Chevalier (born Willy Gomez) was a fixture in the Latin nightclub circuit in New York of the 1950s and 60’s.

His daughter punctuates her stories with projected photographs of her family. There is her father, a Cuban charmer with a pencil mustache, an immaculate dresser who wore a pocket handkerchief and smoked with a cigarette holder. Next to him is Marga’s mother (whom she never names in the show but which an Internet search reveals as Margarita Estremera)  – the kind of person who, by the evidence of the photographs, used to be called a blonde bombshell; Marga describes her as “a dancer who wanted to be an actress and grew up poor in the slums of Puerto Rico.”

The title of the show refers to the Spanish-language songs that her father composed (“En Ultimo Escalon” and “De Mi Para Ti,” for example.) Rather than sing the songs, she introduces them, explaining how they came to be, and then, while we hear them via recording, she recites their lyrics in English.

People used to remark on how much the daughter resembled her father – “Willy Chevalier without the mustache” — and Gomez drives home the similarities with her parallel tale of her breaking in as a stand-up comic at a gay Latino drag bar in San Francisco called Esta Noche.

Esta Noche is no more – its New York equivalent, Esquelita, has also shut down — and we sense a parallel here, too, in her father’s struggles to keep going after the disappearance of the Latin nightclubs in New York. There are priceless scenes of Willy painstakingly teaching his young daughter how to make coffee –“Most important Marga: The cafe has to be Cafe Bustelo…Café El Pico is mierda” – and then of Willy making sure Marga wakes him up at the ungodly hour of noon so that he can make it to an audition as the spokesman for Café El Pico.

In “Latin Standards,” Marga Gomez offers nostalgia for what once was – and also for what may soon no longer be. “This is the first time I’ve gotten out of bed since November 8,” she says, before making pointing jokes about the threats of deportation.

Gomez says she will stop doing solo shows because “I think I might possibly have peaked in 1997 when I played Jane Edmunds in Sphere” – a movie role in which she received at least a good several seconds of screen time.

Once senses, though, that Margo might secretly be as optimistic and persistent as her father Willy, especially when she tells us: “Sign my mailing list so you never miss any of my future Final Farewell Concerts.”

 

willy-chevalier-and-wife

 

Latin Standards is on stage at the Public Theater through January 15.

Mata Hari and Secondary Dominance Reviews: Prototype Festival “Operas”

I once asked Luciano Pavarotti what “opera” means, a question that made him momentarily look lost. Opera in Italian literally means “work,” he replied, but you don’t need to define it. Farmers play opera to increase milk production, he told me. “Even cows understand opera.”

What would Pavarotti, and those milk cows, make of Prototype, which calls itself “the premier festival of opera-theatre and music-theatre”? Is that the same as opera? The festival, which runs through January 15, is in its fifth year, and is presenting seven full-length works. I went to two of them

 

Mata Hari

Click on any photo by Paula Court to see it enlarged

We first see Mata Hari in a French prison condemned to death for espionage. The most surprising aspect of her situation in this work is not that her jailer is a nun, Sister Leonide, who swears and smokes. It is that the title character, portrayed by Tina Mitchell, doesn’t sing. That seems unusual for an opera, which is what the creative team labels it, more or less: Composer Matt Marks calls “Mata Hari” in a program note “my first serious opera-theatre piece,” and Paul Peers, both the librettist and the director, writes that “my goal was to push the boundaries of the operatic form” (by which he means he includes “various technologies,” i.e. video.)

A non-singing Mata Hari makes sense thematically in their 90-minute work, since this “Mata Hari” offers a decidedly feminist spin on the woman most often depicted as a femme fatale — an exotic dancer and seductress turned cunning double agent. Here, she is a victim of the men in her life (hence, denied a voice.) We see her victimization from the opening, when the male characters, all dressed in identical military uniforms, strip her of her fanciful tiara and elegant dress, and leave her in nothing but a slip. (The image is striking, as are several other moments in the piece, primarily because of designer Lucrecia Briceno’s chiaroscuro lighting.)  Then in non-chronological flashbacks and in testimony before her interrogator, we learn of her abusive first marriage to a military captain who abandons her, and takes away their children, forcing her to take up dancing (and…mistressing?) to survive; the departure by the subsequent love of her life, the injured soldier Vadim; and the double-dealing and lechery of the French and German military men who recruit her. Treated abominably in prison, she reveals at the end a final and bitter long-ago betrayal.

The non-singing Mata Hari is also part of the composer’s eclectic musical approach, combining traditional arias both forceful and tender by classically trained singers (most notably Mary Mackenzie as the nun) with contemporary melodies by the jazz singer Tomas Cruz as Vadim, with a repertoire of avant-garde sounds from punk-rock to standard modern dissonance by the four-piece band (electric guitar, violin, piano and accordion)

I wish I could say all of this struck me as refreshingly innovative, but it would be easier to feel that way if Mata Hari hadn’t already been the subject of everything from Greta Garbo’s 1931 film (“Mata Hari”) to Paulo Coelho’s 2016 novel (“The Spy”)

 

Mati Hari is on stage at HERE through January 14.

 

 

Secondary Dominance

“Secondary Dominance” is a compelling example of my long-held belief that nearly any endeavor, no matter how awful it sounds in theory, can wind up wonderful if it’s done well enough by passionate, creative and talented people.

Sarah Small calls her piece a “multimedia concert in 13 micro movements.” It is an hour long, without a discernible plot or point, without even discernible words in English, and filled with enough familiar avant-garde tropes to keep your newly arrived hipster happy for months:

Lots and lots of videos — long shot video projections of mountains and waves, close-up videos of snakes and frogs, videos of naked people singing, including a really fat woman; and videos of the live performers as they perform in front of the screen.

An older couple posing for a series of tableaux-vivant typical of how young people view old people (in one the woman knits.)

A half-naked, bald bearded man in pancake makeup.

Three ballet dancers who sit down on the stage to take off their leg warmers and put on their ballet slippers.

Three other women attired alternatively in peasant dresses, bangles and flowers in their hair, or, like, Sarah Small herself, wearing comic hero style silver sneakers.

A clue to why this all works is in the title, which is a play on the phrase, secondary dominant, a musical term. The music is what matters in this piece, and the music is gorgeous. The combination of flute, cello, percussion, the harmonizing vocals, even the electronic sounds – music that, as the production puts it, “synthesizes genres from Balkan folk to contemporary chamber, industrial, renaissance, rock, rap, and punk” – is mesmerizing enough to justify (or at least excuse) all the visuals. It becomes a sonic adventure, a journey through dreamland.  I wouldn’t call “Secondary Dominance” the 21st century’s “Fantasia,” but that’s because the century is so young.

 

Secondary Dominance is on stage at HERE through January 14, 2017

Blueprint Specials Review: World War II Soldier Musicals, Entertaining Civilians At Last

In the first public performance of the four surviving musicals commissioned by the U.S. Army during World War II to boost morale among the troops, “Blueprint Specials” could not be more deftly staged, from the creation of a pop-up theater on the hangar of an actual World War II aircraft carrier (the Intrepid, now a museum) to the casting of both bona fide Broadway stars (Will Swenson, Laura Osnes) and active duty military officers and Armed Forces veterans.

Click on any photograph by Ryan Jensen to see it enlarged.

 

The production by the Waterwell theater company for the Under The Radar Festival, weaves together the four musicals – “About Face,” “Hi, Yank!,” “P.F.C. Mary Brown” and “OK, USA” – into what feels like a variety show, straight out of vaudeville, complete with a title card placed on an easel announcing each scene/skit/musical number, and a tone that ranges from wiseass to risqué, campy to cornball, hilarious to heartfelt. The 24 musical numbers include nine by Frank Loesser, who went on to create the musicals Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed Without Really Trying. But it’s as interesting to hear the five equally tuneful melodies by somebody named Ruby Jane Douglass, and wonder: Whatever happened to her? The choreography is styled after the original by Jose Limon, by current members of the Limon Dance Company.
In true G.I. tradition, the opening skit mocks the army, showing what it took to get the Army to put on the musicals, starting with their approval by General George Washington, who is promised it will be ready in a month (“Our songwriters have already finished the theme song: ‘You Gave Me A Thrill at Bunker Hill, When I Saw the Whites of Your Eyes, Baby’”), a promise made as well to Abraham Lincoln, and then to General John Pershing during World War I.
Osnes and Swenson are the principal characters for “PFC Mary Brown,” in which Swenson (Hair) portrays the god Jupiter, and Osnes (Cinderella) is Pallas Athena, who is so bored with life as a goddess, that she travels to Earth an joins the WACs (Women’s Army Corps, as explained in the helpful glossary in the back of the program.)
Quinn Mattfeld, who was in both “Pal Joey” and the latest “The Cherry Orchard” on Broadway, gives the stand-out Broadway performance as a comic character named Sad Sack. But Emily McAleese-Jergins is especially stirring in Loesser’s “Poor Lonely MP”; her bio lists her as on active duty and a vocalist for the West Point Band. Indeed, there was something unavoidably inspiring about the finale involving the entire 34-member cast, some dressed in street clothes to indicate they are civilians, and the others dressed in the uniforms of one of the four branches of the military represented on the stage.
The show is called Blueprint Specials because, as Waterwell explains, the shows, once created, were turned into “blueprints” for soldiers themselves to put on in the field. “The Army packaged and distributed them as a complete script, with score and orchestrations, scenic and costume drawings, and instructions for how to put on the show.”
Are these Blueprint Specials replicable now beyond the few performances of the theater festival? It would not surprise me at all if this soldiers show were given a promotion to Off-Broadway. What is even more likely to come out of this production is another smart theater company performing at the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum, which is big enough to be its own floating Theater Row.

The Blueprint Specials

Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum

i.e.

uss-intrepid-at-pier-86

Pier 86, West 46th Street & 12th Avenue
Adapted and Directed by Tom Ridgely
Originally conceived by The Special Services Division, Army Service Forces, 1944-45
Book principally by Arnold M. Auerbach
Original choreography by José Limón
Music Director Sonny Paladino
Choreography by Patrick McCollum
Scenic & Costume Design by Andrea Lauer
Lighting Design by Simon Cleveland
Sound Design by Josh Millican
Properties Supervisor Eitan Negri
Choreography for “Report from the Caribbean” and “Ballet” in the style of José Limón by Colin Connor and members of the Limón Dance Company
Cast includes: Laura Osnes (Cinderella, Bonnie and Clyde) and Will Swenson (Hair) are Quinn Mattfeld (The Cherry Orchard, Pal Joey), Jenny Florkowski (Wicked), Emily McAleese-Jergins (vocalist for the West Point Band), James Edward Becton (U.S. Army Veteran) and Waterwell ensemble members Hanna Cheek (The Pumpkin Pie Show) and Kevin Townley (The Talent Show). Additional casting includes U.S. Military veterans as well as Active Duty and Reserve Service Members: Brad Bong, Adrienne Brammer, Hugh Cha, Jennean Farmer, Sandra W. Lee, Nelly Saviñon, and Robert Soto; as well as civilian artists Mark Banik, Kate Berman, Lyndsey Brown,Taylor Crousore, Ethan Hardy, Kurt Hellerich, Melissa Rose Hirsch, Rich Hollman, Dea Julien, Erica Page, Eddie Rodriguez, Kelsey Shaw, Mandy Striph, and Jennifer Joan Thompson.
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Theater tickets: $25
Blueprint Specials is scheduled to run only through January 11.

The theater is in the back, behind this airplane.

The theater is in the back, behind this airplane.

Lula Del Ray Review: Manual Cinema Made on Stage Before Our Eyes

In this opening show at this year’s Under the Radar festival, a Chicago-based theater company with the completely apt name of Manual Cinema allows the audience at the Public Theater to watch a silent film about a lonely, star-gazing girl in the American Southwest of the 1950’s, and simultaneously to watch the making of that film.

The busy cast and crew of Manual Cinema employ the kind of overhead projectors familiar to anyone who has attended public school for a shadow puppet show that uses  cardboard cutouts, paper patterns, and two live actresses, to tell the story of Lula Del Ray. A teenager living alone with her mother in a trailer on a vast field of satellite dishes in the middle of the desert, Lula develops two obsessions – the possibility of space travel, and a country music duo she hears on her scratchy radio, the Baden Brothers.

 

After a fight with her mother, she runs away from home to the big city to find the Baden Brothers. There, she finds a telephone book in a phone booth (clear signs this is a fairy tale of olden times), and visits the address of every “Baden” in it, with no success. Finally, she sees a sign that they are performing at a concert venue. But the concert is sold out. So she goes to the roof, and enters the theater’s duct system, crawling through the tunnel until she spies her idols in their dressing room – discovering they are no more real than…the cardboard cutouts used to depict them. Despite the disappointment, “Lula Del Ray” ends happily, Lula’s other obsession paying off in the long run.

The story is in places lovely and funny and touching, but it is not the reason “Lula Del Ray” has traveled the festival circuit for five years. I’m not sure the story of “Lula Del Ray” would work as a regular film, surely not as a regular silent film, despite the delightful accompaniment by an array of sound effects, and an original score for guitar, cello, and percussion.

The essential charm of the show rests in the marvel of ingenuity on display, the rushing around of the actors and puppeteers and… overhead projector operators, to reproduce manually, on a simple screen placed on stage, the catalogue of modern film techniques – long shots of beautiful sunsets, extreme close-ups of Lula’s expressive face, panning, fade-outs, Dutch angles, tracking shots….Somebody at Manual Cinema clearly went to film school.

Lula Del Ray 

Under the Radar at the Public Theater

Conceived by Julia Miller
Based on original text by Brendan Hill
Designed and Directed by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, and Julia Miller
Original Sound Design by Kyle Vegter with Ben Kauffman
Original Score by Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman with Maren Celest, Michael Hilger, and Jacob Winchester
Puppeteers Lizi Breit, Sam Deutsch, Sarah Fornace (Lula del Ray), and Julia Miller (Lula’s Mother)
Music Performed by Maren Celest (Sounds, Vocals), Michael Hilger (Guitar, Percussion, Vocals), Kyle Vegter (Cello, Vocals), and Jacob Winchester (Guitar, Bass)
Running time: 75 minutes
Tickets: $25
Lula Del Ray runs through Saturday, January 14

Winter Theater Festivals in New York 2017

Broadway-style musicals commissioned during World War II by the U.S. Army and staged with current Broadway stars on an old aircraft carrier in the Hudson;  and a do-it-yourself spy thriller at the Brooklyn Museum.

An opera about Mata Hari; and a Latin disco multimedia dance piece about Medea.

An actual exercise class; and a Virtual Reality journey in which the theatergoer becomes the star on stage.

A play celebrating real-life heroines in a repressive European society, and several works signaling warning and resistance to the new U.S. president.

These are some of the theater pieces being presented at the New York theater festivals this month.

chicken2January 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, 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 selection of shows from each festival. The festivals are listed chronologically by the date that they start. Click on festival titles and each individual show title for more information.

COIL
January 3 to 22

Twitter feed: @PS122

coil-2017-logo

Here is a pdf of the Coil brochure, which includes a calendar of performance times.

Now in its 12th year, the Performance Space 122 festival is offering 12 productions from Australia, Belgium, the United Kingdom, but mostly New York City. Only four of the pieces are labeled theater, three of these hybrids with dance or film. But even the theater artists at this festival largely prefer the term performance art

cvrtain_web-feature-by-maria-baranova-640x295

Cvrtain
Though not considered theater, this ten-minute “interactive experience” may be a glimpse into the future of theater (or one of its futures, anyway.) Theatergoers put on Virtual Reality headset which place them center stage in a theater before an audience of thousands: “Every action produces a different reaction in your audience: thunderous applause…maybe booing.”

real-magic-hugo-glendinning

Real Magic
To the sound of looped applause and canned laughter, a group of performers take part in an impossible illusion — part mind-reading feat, part cabaret act, part chaotic game show — in which they are endlessly replaying the moment of defeat and the moment of hope.

ghettoblaster

Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster

Australian Nicola Gunn’s story of a man, a woman, a duck and a moral dilemma presents text, rhythmic soundscape and intense physical choreography.

La Medea

La Medea is a musical re-imagining of Euripides’ violent tragedy into a dance-theater performance and feature film á la Latin-disco-pop variety show. Directed, performed, filmed, edited and streamed in real time, the dark comedy comes to life not only as a live performance in Brooklyn but also as a feature film for audiences watching and interacting remotely around the world

UNDER THE RADAR
January 4 to 15

Twitter feed: @UTRFestival

under-the-radar-2017-logo

The 13th annual festival features 21 shows by artists from Belarus, France, Germany, Indonesia, Lebanon, and the UK, but mostly (16) from the U.S.
Five of these are works-in-progress that are part of the third annual “Incoming” festival-within-the-festival by the Public’s Devised Theater Working Group. Most of the shows take place at the Public Theater, the festival’s organizers, but a few are at NYU and the Brooklyn Museum.

timeofwomen

Time of Women
Jan 12-15
Belarus Free Theatre, acclaimed equally for their resistance to the authoritarian regime in their country and for stagecraft that is both cutting-edge and engrossing, presents the story of three women activists of Belarus who were all imprisoned at the time of the fraudulent presidential elections of 2010, celebrating their refusal to be silenced.

Blueprint Specials

Jan 6-11

Laura Osnes and Will Swenson will star in short musicals by the likes of composer Frank Loesser and choreographer José Limón that will be seen for the first time since World War II, when they were commissioned by the U.S. Army to boost morale. They will be presented on the hangar of the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, a former aircraft carrier.

marga_gomez-latin-standards

Latin Standards
Jan 11-15
Marga Gomez’s new solo piece revisiting the triumphs and demons of her father Willy Chevalier: comedian, producer, songwriter, Cafe El Pico spokesperson, and prominent figure in the golden era of New York’s Latino variety shows. (Marga Gomez will also be performing in La MaMa’s Squirts; see below.)

thefever-utr

The Fever 

Performed in complete collaboration with the audience, this world-premiere production examines how we assemble, organize and care for the bodies around us

Lula Del Rey
Jan 4-14
Combining puppetry, cinematic techniques, and live country music, Manual Cinema tells the story of lonely adolescent girl living on the outskirts of a vast satellite field who runs away from home and into a world of danger, deception, and disappointment.

topsecret_

Top Secret International (State 1)
“an immersive installation piece where audiences will explore the Brooklyn Museum’s Egyptian wing”

THE EXPONENTIAL FESTIVAL
January 4 to 31

Twitter feed: @exponentialfest

exponential-festival-logo

The second year of this festival has grown…exponentially. Last year, there were seven shows in four venues in Brooklyn. This year, they are 25 shows in eight Brooklyn venues.

The Last Class: A Jazzercise Play

“Jazzercize is out. Zumba is in. But instructor Kelsea Wiggan is not going down without a fight.” An actual exercise class, but only a select few members of the audience get to exercise, if they want. The rest get to sit in seats (a treat in experimental theater these days.) Written and starring Megan Hill at Chez Bushwick.

[Porto]

A newcomer shakes things up at a neighborhood bar facing gentrification. A new play by Kate Benson (“A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes”) at Bushwick Starr

germany-1933

Germany 1933
Inspired by the campaign season, the company named Saints of an Unnamed Country, the play “takes place inside a VR world where men chat endlessly with computer programs. These testers reveal their deepest desires to a naive chatbot eager to please. But once a bug at a virtual pizza party reveals the political affiliations of the testers, their digital haven succumbs to the noise of the outside world.” (I didn’t understand this description either.) Performance at The Glove.

 

The Loon

Witness Relocation’s “all new, evening length, knock-down-drag-out, dance/theatre show based in part on “Voices of the Loon” (an educational record released by the Audubon Society in 1980); the work of sociologist Erving Goffman; “At Home” – Bill Bryson’s study of the history of domestic life; party games; and what happens when the festivities go very late into the night/next morning.” Performances at Jack.

Blankland

Boom Bat Gesture performance group presents a mashup of kiddie shows and horror films,  “an immersive environment for an intimate audience of 15” at Vital Joint.

AMERICAN REALNESS
January 5 to 12

Twitter feed: @AmericanRealnes

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Fifteen works, primarily dance, although many are more accurately described as performance art. (Most are more productively sampled via video than described with words.)

Ghost Rings

 

The Planet Eaters: Seconds

This is a Musical

Adult Documentary

Five performers share their real and imagined histories.

 

 

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Carrying Capacity

Mx. Oops / Wendell Cooper performs a multimedia ritual using sound meditation, urban dance, video projection, and rap, within an installation by sculptor Jasmine Murrell;

PROTOTYPE FESTIVAL
January 5 to 15

Twitter feed: @PROTOTYPEfest

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The fifth annual festival presents seven new musicals/indie chamber opera, plus “Out of Bounds,” free performances of three short works in public spaces.

anatomy-theater

anatomy theater

“Inspired by actual medical texts from the 17th and 18th century, anatomy theater follows the progression of a convicted murderess from her confession to execution, to denouncement, and finally to dissection, including an anatomy lesson for curious onlookers”

Breaking the Waves

“Based on the film by Lars Von Trier, Breaking the Waves tells the story of Bess, a religious young woman deeply in love with her husband Jan. Bess’s marital vows are tested when Jan is paralyzed in an off-shore oil rig accident.”

matahari

Mata Hari

“an exploration of love and survival of the famous woman whose exploits in espionage took her back and forth across WWI Europe and ultimately made her a scapegoat.”

Silent Voices

Brooklyn Youth Chorus has commissioned a diverse group of artists to create new music that “explores race and identity, inequity and social disparity.”

Funeral Doom Spiritual

Taking place a century in the future, this multimedia concert explores “apocalypse, end times, and rapture found in Negro Spirituals” as well as “futuristic longings for destruction of the white supremacist world order.”

Rev 23

the (newly created) last chapter of the Book of Revelation

Secondary Dominance

In 13 micro-movements in this multimedia concert, Sarah Small “synthesizes genres from Balkan folk to contemporary chamber, industrial, renaissance, rock, rap, and punk, while interweaving live and recorded electronics, Chinese sheng, strings, winds, and densely packed vocals.”

LA MAMA’S SQUIRTS

January 6 to 15

@LaMaMaETC

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Each night of La MaMa’s Squirts features a different inter-generational pairing–six nights of duets. January 6th, for example is Marga Gomez and Patti Harrison.

SPECIAL EFFECTS
January 6 to 8

@pformart

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Four productions (one of them an evening of new plays) by artists who are members of the Contemporary Performance Network and presented at The Wild Project

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What’s Your Problem/A Deep Space Lounge Act

 

I’m Very Into You

A free staged reading of a new play by Sara Lyons about the brief love affair and subsequent (e-mail) correspondence between punk feminist author Kathy Acker met Australian media theorist McKenzie Wark.

THE FIRE THIS TIME FESTIVAL
January 16-31

@firethistimenyc

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

You Mine
January 17
Written and directed by Nia Witherspoon.

Set during a water crisis in the final year of Trump’s second term as president, Sayida, a black caregiver accused of murdering a white Alzheimer’s patient is thrust between the nursing home, a South Carolina plantation, and the Haitian Revolution, as she struggles to keep her child alive and her partner out of the custody of the state.

Sister to Sister reading

January 26

Kia and Kara Corthron, sisters who are both acclaimed playwrights, read from their debut novels “The Castle Cross The Magnet Carter,” and “The Truth of Right Now.” A moderated talkback follows.

FRIGID FESTIVAL
February 13 – March 5

Twitter: @FrigidNewYork

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The shows are not yet selected. (The artists are chosen by lottery.)

Under The Radar Festival to feature Swenson, Osnes in Loesser’s lost World War II musicals

osnesandswensonblueprintwaterwellpublic1Laura Osnes and Will Swenson will star in Frank Loesser’s “lost” World War II musicals on board the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, as part of the Public Theater’s 13th annual Under the Radar Festival. This is a decided departure for a festival known for showcasing experimental theater pieces from around the world. These will still be in abundance at the 2017 festival, running January 4 to 15, with work by artists from Belarus, France, Germany, Indonesia, Lebanon, and the U.K.

Osnes (Cinderella, Bonnie and Clyde) and Swenson (Hair) will perform in Waterway Theater Company’s “Blueprint Specials,” which are revivals of the musicals that the US Army commissioned in 1944 to boost American soldiers’ morale. They were created by such Broadway talent as composer Frank Loesser and choreographer Jose Limon, and have not been seen since then.  The performances will take place on the hangar deck of the Intrepid, a decommissioned battleship now docked permanently in the Hudson River.

Below is the entire schedule of Under the Radar shows, with links to the Public Theater’s descriptions of them.

600 HIGHWAYMEN (USA)
THE FEVERThe Public Theater
Nikki Appino & Saori Tsukada (USA)
CLUB DIAMONDThe Public Theater
Belarus Free Theatre (Belarus/UK) 
TIME OF WOMEN

NYU Tisch School of the Arts Shop Theatre

The Bengsons (USA)
HUNDRED DAYSThe Public Theater
Tania El Khoury (UK/Lebanon)
GARDENS SPEAKNYU Tisch School of the Arts Abe Burrows Theatre
Marga Gomez (USA)
LATIN STANDARDS
The Public Theater
Manual Cinema (USA)
LULA DEL RAYThe Public Theater
Eko Nugroho and Wayang Bocor (Indonesia)
IN THE NAME OF SEMELAHAsia Society
Philippe Quesne (France)
LA MÉLANCOLIE DES DRAGONS
The Kitchen
Rimini Protokoll (Germany)
TOP SECRET INTERNATIONAL (STATE 1)Brooklyn Museum
Keith A. Wallace & Deborah Stein (USA)
THE BITTER GAME
The Public Theater
Waterwell (USA)
BLUEPRINT SPECIALS
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Champagne Jerry feat. Neal Medlyn (USA)
IN THE CHAMPAGNE ROOMUTR + Joe’s Pub: In Concert
Jomama Jones (USA)
BLACK LIGHTUTR + Joe’s Pub: In Concert
Erin Markey (USA)
ERIN MARKEY: BONER KILLERUTR + Joe’s Pub: In Concert
PWR BTTM (USA)
PWR BTTM
UTR + Joe’s Pub: In Concert
Becca Blackwell (USA)
INCOMING! THEY, THEMSELF AND SCHMERMThe Robert Moss Theater at Playwrights Downtown
Ryan J. Haddad (USA)
INCOMING! HI, ARE YOU SINGLE?The Robert Moss Theater at Playwrights Downtown
Ayesha Jordan + Charlotte Brathwaite (USA)
INCOMING! SHASTA GEAUX POPThe Robert Moss Theater at Playwrights Downtown
New Saloon (USA)
INCOMING! MINOR CHARACTERThe Robert Moss Theater at Playwrights Downtown
James Allister Sprang as GAZR (USA)
INCOMING! LIFE DOES NOT LIVEThe Robert Moss Theater at Playwrights Downtown

#FostFest: Ferguson-Inspired “Riot,” “Famous Deaths” of Whitney Houston and JFK, and Other Theater of the Future

 

 

Get out of my face, the cop in riot gear screams in my face.
He then pummels me to the ground. Actually, it’s my avatar that gets hits. I get a message: Because I was angry, I failed to mollify the officer, and so the game is over for me.
Was I angry? I hadn’t even realized. But the camera knew.
This is “Riot,” which its creators call an immersive video installation. It is one of several cutting edge exhibitions and installations this weekend at #FostFest, aka the Future of Storytelling Festival. Billed as “the world’s first immersive storytelling festival,” the shows  suggest what the future of theater might look like.


I was standing in front of a screen beneath a webcam that assessed my mood using facial recognition technology. If the webcam detected I was angry or fearful or agitated or anything but calm, I’d get pummeled out of the scenario.
“I was inspired by the Ferguson Riots” said Karen Palmer, the director.
“Riot” is being developed by the National Theater in the UK, in its recently launched Immersive Storytelling Studio. “This is very much new technology,’ said Mark Atkin, the producer of “Riot,” and a director at Crossover Labs. “We don’t know where it’s going.”
I stepped back in front of the screen, and tried to remain calm through one screen after another or provocation, making it through the three levels.

 

In “Famous Deaths,” the Dutch-based theater company Polymorf allows you to experience the deaths of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Whitney Houston — through sounds and smells alone. The creators stick you in a metal tank (crypt?) for four minutes, which is dark, but full of (in JFK’s case) the sounds of a crowd, or announcers….of gunshots. The smells are less easy to distinguish; they include gas, Joy (Jackie Kennedy’s eau de cologne), popcorn, cotton candy, coffee, sausage, a car.

Polymorf’s Marcel van Brakel acknowledges that sounds are easier than smells to identify, but smells “are connected to the oldest part of the brain. Smells work on an unconscious level.”

 

 

holocaust-survivorI ask Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter one question after another — where and when he was born; when did he first realize Jews were in trouble? Does he have any happy memories of the concentration camp? Gutter — or, more accurately, his image — answered each one as if I were speaking directly to him.
“We asked him around 2,000 questions,” explains Anne Marie Stein of the USC Shoah Foundation, which spearheads the project, entitled New Dimensions in Testimony, in coordination with USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies. They have created an algorithm that recognizes a spoken question and then quickly sorts through Gutter’s answers to find the most appropriate one. “Soon,” says Stein, “we’ll be able to display the survivor in three dimensions, to provide an experience that feels like a face-to-face encounter.”

It would be a stretch to label as “live theater” almost any of the exhibitions and installations on display in the “FOST playground” (actually a cavernous building) at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue.  Even Break A Leg,” presented by Emilie Joly (who is the daughter of an actor) and her colleagues, about an illusionist performing in front of a demanding audience, is in fact a Virtual Reality installation, in which you become the illusionist by donning goggles that create the stage and your audience. Most of the “shows” at the Future of Storytelling Festival are tech-heavy, involving screens.

futureofstorytellingcharlesmelcherDoes this mean that in the future, live theater will disappear?

“I don’t think it will disappear,” says Charles Melcher, the founder of FOSTFest. “I think there will be a mix of live theater and digital theater.

“In the past, all mass media was in one direction. Now it’s two ways. Now people want agency. Now people have a desire and expectation to be part of the story.”

fostfest

 

5 Guys Chillin’ Review: Cautionary Tales at Drug-Fueled Gay Sex Party

5-guys-chillin-5-elliot-hadley-and-cesare-scarpone

Elliot Hadley and Cesare Scarpone

There are two ways to take “5 Guys Chillin’,” Peter Darney’s play in the Fringe Encore series that takes place among five half-naked gay characters at a drug-fueled sex party. One is as a seductive entertainment in which fit young performers are dancing and smiling and snuggling and generally seem to be having fun, at least initially. The Soho Playhouse even permits the audience to bring in drinks from the downstairs Huron Club.

The other is as something of a public service announcement by writer and director Peter Darney, who, like the Larry Kramer of his generation, is warning members of the gay community about self-destructive excess. Each member of the audience is handed a package of condoms as they enter the theater.

Darney’s evident intent is to have you react to “5 Guys Chillin’” as both an entertainment and as a powerful – and graphic — cautionary tale. The combination can feel awkward at times, and unrealistic. At first blush, it might seem odd that the characters spend much more of their time talking about past practices and experiences rather than, um, making new ones. There is a scene near the end of the play that could come off as downright ludicrous. One of the characters has just gone into a drug-induced fit and become unconscious; the others sit nearby ignoring him and launching into a series of monologues about dangerous or disappointing encounters they have had in the past.

It is important to know, however, that, according to the playwright, every word the characters utter is true, taken from interviews he conducted with people he met on Grindr and other social media apps who are involved in the chemsex subculture. (which is one of the terms helpfully defined in a glossary included in the program.) The (true) stories they tell bluntly impart a lot of information  – about the type of drugs and sexual practices involved, the rules of etiquette of the parties, the racial attitudes of the participants, the varied ways and reasons they got drawn in.

The knowledge that everything the characters say is verbatim (albeit edited) from actual people  adds an extra layer of alarm and revulsion at some of the comments: “I like having sex with guys that have Gonorrhea, ‘cause it’s the best lube in the world.”

That line is given to the character R, who is portrayed by Elliot Hadley, one of the five brave and persuasive performers – and one of the cast members who are holdovers from the production at the Edinburgh Festival in August. Another is Adi Chugh, who portrays PJ, the one newcomer to the party (which is one of the ways the playwright tries to justify all the talk of past sex party experience; the other characters are explaining themselves to the newcomer.) PJ is probably the most memorable character. He is of Pakistani descent, in an arranged marriage to a woman from a small Pakistani village, the father of one son and another on the way. “I’m a Pakistani male from a very traditional family, it’s never gonna be accepted, you know? There’s a part of me that…I will never like myself.” When he first started going to sex parties, “I remember I would always feel a little bit embarrassed, and disgusted at myself. But that was also the bit that I liked. I wanted it to match how I felt inside. A little bit disgusted at myself. A little bit ashamed.”

It is PJ that overdoses in “5 Guys Chillin’” It soon becomes clear that the other characters are ignoring his unconscious body not from some flaw in the writing, but as the playwright’s deliberate comment on one of the insidious products of the chemsex scene — indifference.

 

5 Guys Chillin’ runs through October 9, 2016 as part of the Fringe Encore Series at Soho Playhouse.

Written and directed by Peter Darney

Lighting design by Sherry Coenen, movement director Chris Cuming, sound design by Jo Walker

Cast: Rick Yale as J, Cesare Scarpone as M, Elliot Hadley as R, Richard De Lisle as B, Adi Chugh as PJ

Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission

 

Tickets: $45