The efforts of most of New York’s theaters have focussed on keeping a connection to their loyal audiences while staying home. Keen Company has launched a QuaranKeen initiative which asks “What can Keen do for you?” Lincoln Center is offering classes and entertainment for your little ones trapped at home; it is simply, if not too cleverly, referred to as Lincoln Center AT HOME. Playwrights’ Horizons has set up plays for your ears at Soundstage; now streaming is Robert O’Hara’s Gather, and Prime by Heather Christian. The Dance Theatre of Harlem is helping us Stay Fit with free live open classes. Roundabout is offering on-line viewing as well in a series of at home with the stars videos called Roundabout Off-Script, one of which I share below:
Theater professionals want to stay connected as well as active. Their lives are about performance and communicating with their audience. Their forii are gone, for now. Or transformed into virtual spaces.
Works & Process Virtual Commissions has set up a grant to artists who have participated with Works & Process at the Guggenheim so that these artists can continue to connect, communicate and touch an audience via youtube.com, Facebook, and Instagram programming. The commissions are for short form work, mostly less than 5 minutes.
We have given up a lot to the coronavirus. For our own safety and that of those around us, we voluntarily restricted our freedom of movement (#Stay_Home) and our love of congeniality (#SocialDistancing). We traded our daily routines of work and cocktail hour for being at home and meeting via Zoom. We have become shutins and anti-social. We don’t go out except to walk six feet apart from others, just for the sake of getting some air.
What we give up when we indulge in at-home theater viewing is
1. the live-actors-in-real-time theater experience
2. the 4th wall
2a. “great seats”
3. the chance to go out, dress up and make a night of it
4. the spontaneity of a flubbed line and a good save
1. The action is pre-recorded, or, if contemporaneous, involves only one actor
2. The distance between you and the stage is filtered through a screen.
2a. You still have the best seats in the house.
3. You may well be in your pjs, as so many of us are these days, or workout clothes.
3a. Your dinner may have been oreos or a box of mini-wheats.
4. If there is a flub or a falter, it ceases to be spontaneous once taped.
5.. You are likely watching alone on a laptop or tablet.
5a. At most, you are likely part of an audience of 2.
The privacy of your home is a sanctuary into which you are bringing a sacred event. Cool. But not the same as experiencing theatrical expressions in a theater space.
As I said in a recent post, theater artists also yearn to stay active, contribute and engage in what they love. Audiences are part and parcel of what they love to do. Broadway World is sharing updates about shutdowns and “Living Room Concerts” with me as well as “Songs from the Vault” and “157 Musicals and Shows You Can Watch Online.” Their “Broadway Rewind” took me down memory lane to some productions I really enjoyed over the years.
Roundabout Theatre Company sent an email with encouraging tidbits, including this montage from last season’s Kiss Me Kate:
Dance Theater of Harlem reached out with a newsletter on their 50 Forward which includes a video of a signature dance by Louis Johnson, who died in March, created by him for the company in 1972. Forces of Rhythm remained in the DTH repertory alongside works by Arthur Mitchell and George Balanchine.
New York Theatre Workshop’s email announced Virtual Programming; it is no great wonder that these companies are also looking for donations to help them tide over in these tough “shutdown” days. It is remarkable how much creativity is being put to alternative use!
Theater can be distanced, ie by not breaking the fourth wall. It can be immersive, like Tamara at the Park Avenue Armory back in the day, or the McKittrick Hotel programs, Sleep No More or Woman in Black happening now. Audiences sit in the round, or follow the players from room to room, or sit in front of the proscenium, or on stage.
These times need a healthy dose of cynical analysis and profound soul-searching. “All animals are equal,” George Orwell says in Animal Farm, “but some are more equal than others.” The Seeing Place, a ten year old theater collective, kicks off the season with a modern adaptation by Brandon Walker of Orwell’s novel.
The theme for this year is the Body Politic, and its Animal Farm focuses on drawing out the ways in which we are susceptible to the collective power of a group. The line between community and a folie à tous is subtle.
Executive Artistic Director, Erin Cronican says of TSP’s production; “By creating this play for just four actors playing 28 characters, we shine a spotlight on the malleability of people’s opinions and desires, which often depend upon who is in charge and what is promised to them.”
Another exploration of present day politics can be found in the works-in-processSiachenat Baruch Performing Arts Center, from April 30 through May 2. This anti-war play, written by Aditya Rawal, takes us to India’s disputed Kashmir region where a group of soldiers awaits rescue. Gwynn MacDonald directs.
George Bernard Shaw was a principled man, whose ideals of humanitarianism and universal human rights were a creed underpinning everything he wrote. His politics were always in evidence in his dramas. The Gingold Theatrical Group’s annual party, the Golden Shamrock Gala 2020, takes place on Monday, March 16th; they will be honoring Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders, and Ethan E. Litwin. The Gingold Theatrical Group creates theater in the activist spirit of GBS with regularly scheduled events through the year.
LaMaMa, the mother of experimental theater, hosts a play appropriate for our time. Pananadem (Remembering) is about refugees brought to these shores by the Filipino troupe Kinding Sindaw. Potri Ranka Manis, the Founder and Artistic Director of Kinding Sindaw is the creative and choreographer behind this production, running from March 12th through March 15th in a New York premiere. The work uses the tradition of myth to capture the experience of the displaced.
It is sometimes harder to put a concept better expressed in the physical, into words.
I admit that it can be difficult for a critic to articulate what s/he sees presented on the stage. Some things are visceral. This is particularly true of dance where emotion and meaning are conveyed in gestures, movement and context. It also often applies to experimental theatre which tends towards the cerebral.
Katie Workum and her collaborators want to communicate about their work, The Door’s Unlockedin exclusionary descriptives. This is how the work is described: “Let’s be clear: This is not a dance piece. This is a conjuring inside a temporariness. This is connecting the dancers with the dance. This is a negotiation of our togetherness. This is entering the unknown without demanding to know. “
She and her collective, the eponymously named Katie Workum Dance, will perform the multi-platformed piece at Foley Gallery at 59 Orchard Street; they expect that it will change with each iteration and audience to which it is presented, from February 3 through 9.
In speaking of the experimental in theater, I am always referencing LaMaMa as a touchstone. So, I am glad to be able to include in this posting a little something of what they will be up to in the new year.
La MaMa, in association with Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre and NODA・MAP, presents the U.S. Premiere of One Green Bottle from February 29 through March 8, 2020 at The Ellen Stewart Theatre, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. One Green Bottle is an absurdist work in which gender is bent, and our societal foibles, from consumerism to selfie-addiction, is explored.
LaMaMa may have been at the forefront of theatrical happenings, of course, but all theatre is about performance, sentiment and interaction. What is on stage is always a happening.
The 1st Origin Irish Festival is in its 12th season of competition., beginning on January 7th and running through February 3rd. The festival is a highly curated event, devoted to producing the plays of contemporary Irish playwrights from around the world with a total of 15 productions being presented in venues all over NYC. During the Closing Night Ceremony on Monday, February 3rd, the Best of Festival Awards will be handed out.
A multi-generational drama, Echoes in the Garden, is on offer at The Chain Theatre this March 11th through 29th. The world premiere of Ross G. Hewitt’s new play about family, grief and obligation is producted by American Bard Theater Company and directed by Aimee Todoroff.
Also at The Chain, beginning on February 7th and running through the 22nd is another premiere, Chasing the River. Written by Jean Dobie Giebel and directed by Ella Jane New, Chasing the River depends on memory and its intersection with PTSD to tell its tale of second chances, survival and the healing power of love.
Judy and Mickey may have been able to put up a show on a wing (time step) and a prayer. You likely need more than just that barn. If you want to be an impressario, you need some skills.
Those with curiousity about what it takes to be a Broadway (or off and off-off) producter can explore these options with the Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU) in an intro program on August 20th.
The free informational program will introduce prospective theater showmen in the intricacies involved in mounting a show. .At this meet-and-greet info session about TRU’s Producer Development and Mentorship Program (PDMP), the would-be producer will have the chance to learn from and network with TRU’s commercial producer instructors and successful program graduates.
PDMP’s mission is to give members the resources and mastery to become commercial theater producers, non-profit theater producers and/or self-producing artists. TRU’s classes, which are reasonably priced, will give you the necessary know-how, such as developing a business plan, raising money, budgeting, marketing and putting together creative production teams. For those theater artists who may need to self-produce, they also provide the tools with which to create your own opportunities .
This was true in 2016, when I first posted it, and it proves once again that Chekhov provides a model for new plays and spurs a playwright to use The Cherry Orchard as a starting point for startling new work:
Anton Chekhov, it seems, provides excellent inspiration for contemporary Americans in his line of work. As if the Chekhov challenge asks the modern playwright to match him wit for wit and build on his premises.
Chekhov teases imitators, adaptors, translators and audiences with themes of grandeur and loss. His plays are shown on stages large and small each year; his works are mimicked in pastiches, like Stupid F**king Bird at the Pearl, or Minor Character— in Brooklyn from June 17-25, 2016. In the latter, multiple versions of Uncle Vanya merge in a mist of millenial angst.”
This March, The Cherry Orchard is the influence for Breitwisch Farm, a play by Jeremy J. Kamps at the Esperance Theater Company at the new Tribeca venue, Town Stages. Breitwisch Farm explores issues of displacement and immigration in the era of America First, giving Chekhov’s story a distinctly of the moment twist. The play runs from March 2nd through March 16th.
Breitwisch Farm author Jeremy J. Kamps is part of the Public’s Emerging Writers Group. The play stars Danaya Esperanza, Joe Tapper, Katie Hartke, Will Manning, Charlie Murphy, Maria Peyramaure, Alejandro Rodriguez, and Katie Wieland, under Ryan Quinn‘s direction.
Don’t disparage the chance to watch theater or hear music while enjoying a meal. It has the old time charm of the big band era. Thinking of dining while being entertained reminds me of ball gowns and tuxedos– in short it simply sounds elegant. Even the vulgar were properly attired in those days.
In our loosey goosey environs, the chances are that you are decked out in an elegant pair of shorts with a tucked in shirt. You order a burger, rather than prime rib, and beer rather than bubbly.
The show, too, may be less burlesque, drama, lounge act and cabaret than it might be one of those guess- who-dunnits from the murder mystery circuit. Don’t get me wrong, there is room for an amusing evening in which we wonder which of our neighbors stuck a knife in a sidekick’s back while we ate our fries! It just is not as highbrow or as uplifting as theater can sometimes be. The dramatics and dramatization may be broader than on Broadway, too.
As for the dress code for the audience, well, I haven’t worn a gown to a show in a long time, if ever. I look to the costume designer to dress the actors in an inspirational way. I can aspire to high-falutin’, ya know.
It’s hard to pinpoint just what makes a “hot ticket;” it could be a star turn, or 11 Tonys or just the quirky charm of the story. Whatever it is, you might want to share it with friends or family this holiday season.
In mid-January when the Divine Miss M cedes the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi to the sterling Miss Bernadette Peters, tickets for this Broadway revival might become a tad more accessible. This in no way disparages Bernadette Peters’ enormous talent and wattage. Bette Midler just has a star shine all her own. A je ne sais quoi, let’s say, that sends tickets to see her in Hello, Dolly!! into the stratosphere. (Regular price tickets ranging from $189 may still be found at Telecharge, so check on availability, but there are premium seats for nearly $1000 and “secondary market” tickets for a lot more.)
Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s American history lesson enthralls. It’s still at the Richard Rodgers on West 46th Street, and it’s on tour across the country. It may be its impressive Tony showing that is part of the draw. Lottery tickets go for just $10 per, but, like any lottery, it’s a gamble. Speaking of gambles, the Hamilton website warns against buying from resellers to avoid receiving fraudulent tickets, so use the regular channels for purchasing this sizzling ticket. In fact these tickets are so blistering hot that it might be next December before the family enjoys the show.
Another and different kind of civics lesson can be found at The Band’s Visit. This musical was created from the Cannes prize-winning Israeli film; you can watch the movie on Showtime cable on Wednesday 12/13 and Tuesday 12/19 at 7:30pm, by the way.
This modest musical is enjoying a very successful and prestigious Broadway transfer from its 2016 run at the Atlantic Theatre. (Tickets are hot enough that the producers are not offering any discounts, by the way. We have not checked in at the day of TDF kiosk.) The Band’s Visit has heart and warmth, and a promise of the possibility of peace in the middle east.
Reflecting on another facet of history, Junk at the L.C. Beaumont Theater, offers much less hopefulness than The Band’s Visit. The heat factor in Junk comes from its ripped off the front page view of the financial crisis of the 1980s. This is just the ticket if you want to reflect on America’s obsession with money. I found it worrisone when someone in the audience wanted to clarify who had “ratted” on the main character. Ayad Akhtar takes us back to the “greed is great” days in which malfeasance is the benchmark. His lead character “creates wealth” by creating debt. The “Junk” of his title refers, of course, to junk bonds, a vehicle by which you, the consumer, lend a corporation more money than its worth. Wall Street types will be drawn to the humor and pace of this drama. The rest of us will appreciate the concise lesson it offers in high finance and unbridled ambition. At its core, Junk, staged as a Greek tragedy, is just that, showcasing characters filled with hubris and arrogant conceit.
Visit a Broadway show over the holidays, if you can, with your nearest and dearest.
This is the season when grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, all look for entertainment that will please their youngsters. Lots of shows, like Balanchine’s Nutcracker at NYCB, are not just kid- but also adult-friendly. Here is a short list of some of the things you might want to do to occupy the holidays:
Bookish children will enjoy hearing their favorite authors read to them in Symphony Space’s interactive Thalia Kids Book Club series, produced in cooperation with Bank Street Bookstore. The series unites eager young readers with the creators of the books that inspire their imaginations. Each event includes a creative writing project, a discussion with the audience, and fun.
On December, 2 Newbery Award-winning author Katherine Paterson visits the series, and on Monday, December 4, Neil Patrick Harris will celebrate his middle-grade novel The Magic Misfits. More events, including a Judy Blume birthday celebration, are planned for winter and spring 2018.
Click on the link above for more information.
Christmas Past, Future and Present will make their appearance in a new site-specific parlor performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Caroltaking place in the Chelsea townhouse and theater space, Torn Page from Thursday November 30 to Friday December 15.
Produced by Origin Theatre Company, the one-man version of the story, uses an adaptation of Dickens’ own little-used original performance text. The Origin’s A Christmas Carolfeatures the distinguished African-American opera singer and actor Elmore James, and is directed by Erwin Maas and is set in the Chelsea home of the actors Rip Torn and Geraldine Page. The immersive staging transforms the Chelsea home, filling the 19th century townhouse with the sights, sounds and smells of both a large Victorian home, and a more modest dwelling circa 1853. Mince pie and mulled wine, prepared on the premises, will be served during the performance. A small, multi-racial chorus singing period carols, will also evoke the season.
More information can be found on the Origin Theatre’s website.
This December, Axis Theatre Company will present the 16th annual production of its beloved family holiday show, Seven in One Blow, or the Brave Little Kid. Written and directed by Axis Artistic Director Randy Sharp in an adaptation of the classic fairy tale by The Brothers Grimm, this festive, interactive winter play was created for kids, but resonates equally well for adults and features a Video Cameo from Debbie Harry.
Axis will stage Seven in One Blow, or the Brave Little Kid on Fridays at 7pm, and on Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm, with an additional performance on Tuesday, December 19 at 7pm.
Click on the link to the Axis webpage above to find out more.
Puppetry that blends the avant-garde, pirates and Pinocchio at Just Kidding.
During the 2017-18 season at Symphony Space, families are invited to experience marionette shows with three acclaimed practitioners: November brings the antic Frogtown Mountain Puppeteers in Everybody Loves Pirates; December will see the expert National Marionette Theatre with the children’s classic Pinocchio, and the New Year brings the ingenious Milo the Magnificentto the stage.
Information and tickets is found on the links above.
This A Christmas Carol is playing more to the parents (and grands) than to the kiddies, but come see David Hyde Pierce as the iconic curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge in Crispin Whittell’s adaptation of the beloved Charles Dickens novella, directed by Joe Dowling. Joining David Hyde Pierce are John Glover, Harriet Harris, Edward Hibbert, Julie White, Matthew Amendt, Matt Bradford Sullivan, and Kaliswa Brewster, plus others to be announced. The occasion is The Acting Company’s one-night-only benefit reading on December 11 at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. Following the reading, the evening will continue with an exclusive cast dinner (jacket and tie required) at the nearby Union Club.