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.
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, 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.
January 3 to 22
Twitter feed: @PS122
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
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.”
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.
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 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
Twitter feed: @UTRFestival
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.
Time of Women
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.
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’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.)
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
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.
Top Secret International (State 1)
“an immersive installation piece where audiences will explore the Brooklyn Museum’s Egyptian wing”
Twitter feed: @exponentialfest
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Twitter feed: @AmericanRealnes
Fifteen works, primarily dance, although many are more accurately described as performance art. (Most are more productively sampled via video than described with words.)
The Planet Eaters: Seconds
This is a Musical
Five performers share their real and imagined histories.
Mx. Oops / Wendell Cooper performs a multimedia ritual using sound meditation, urban dance, video projection, and rap, within an installation by sculptor Jasmine Murrell;
The fifth annual festival presents seven new musicals/indie chamber opera, plus “Out of Bounds,” free performances of three short works in public spaces.
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
the (newly created) last chapter of the Book of Revelation
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.”
January 6 to 15
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.
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
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.
Now in its eighth year, this festival is a a platform for new work by rising playwrights of African and African American descent.
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
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.
The shows are not yet selected. (The artists are chosen by lottery.)