Hole in the Desert
PHOENIX, ARIZ.: The rough economy has claimed another theatre. In an open letter to patrons last June, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company producing director and founder Janet Arnold announced that the theatre, which served the Phoenix area for 24 years, was folding with a deficit of more than $70,000.
AJTC offered a broad range of 80-plus productions reflecting the Jewish experience, including Kindertransport by Diane Samuels, The Immigrant by Mark Harelik and adaptations of Chaim Potok’s
The Chosen and My Name Is Asher Lev. Its Curtain Call program provided workshops, camps and productions for young people.
Arnold says the theatre was heavily reliant on government grants, which dipped starkly since 2008. Hopes that local corporations might step in were met with disappointment. “They’ve used this economy as an excuse to walk away,” Arnold says, noting that two companies withdrew their support after 20 years of giving. “When that happened, and then others followed suit, I knew there was no way to continue.”
Alternatives are available for local kids—the area still has many theatres for youths, and ATJC’s teen improv troupe has been “adopted” by Theater Artists Studio. But AJTC’s closure means that local Equity actors will have one less port of call, in an area already light on Equity theatres. “It really leaves a hole for the actors,” says Arnold.
Subscribed for Life
PALO ALTO, CALIF.: When the staff at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley realized their education program, led by Mary Sutton, was nearing a major milestone, they decided to mark the occasion. “We decided to celebrate all the student participants over the years by focusing on one,” said TW artistic director Robert Kelley. That one turned out to be Abby Sutton (no relation to Mary), a San Mateo County fourth grader who signed up for the Drama School at TheatreWorks summer camp in June. As TW’s 200,000th student, Sutton received a voucher for two tickets per season—for the rest of her life.
“This lifelong gift of theatre makes tangible what we hope to achieve with every kid that comes through our doors,” said Kelly. “Our education programs instill a love of theatre that we hope will last a lifetime.” TW’s education initiatives include touring shows for kids, a conservatory for teens, and classes for English-language learners and young patients at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Learn more at www. theatreworks.org.
Next Exit to Brooklyn
BROOKLYN: It’s a slightly misleading name: The Brooklyn Academy of Music, known universally simply as BAM, doesn’t offer classes, and while it’s been no slouch in the music department, arguably its biggest impact has been in the realms of performance and theatre. In addition to year-round theatrical events that keep Brooklyn buzzing with visitors not only from all reaches of the five boroughs but from everywhere on the globe, BAM’s annual fall/winter Next Wave Festival has been a major staging ground since 1981 for such avant-garde avatars as Peter Brook, Robert Wilson, Pina Bausch and Arnie Zane and Bill T. Jones.
The next Next Wave, BAM’s 30th (Sept. 5–Jan. 19), will be no exception, and a few planets have aligned to make this iteration extra-starry. For example, one of BAM’s biggest waves is rolling back to shore: Einstein on the Beach, Philip Glass’s sui generis opera/happening, created with director Wilson and choreographer Lucinda Childs, runs Sept. 14–23. Though it had a two-night American premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 1976, it was the show’s 1984 revival at BAM that really put Einstein on the map; it also represented a triumphant homecoming of sorts, since BAM had co-commissioned the nearly five-hour, postmodernist game-changer. In conjunction with the opera’s return, NYC’s Morgan Library & Museum is exhibiting Glass’s never-before-displayed autograph score, and more than 100 images from Wilson’s original storyboards, through Nov. 4.
There are other major ripples swelling into BAM: from Paris, Théâtre de la Ville’s production of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros (Oct. 4–6); from New York, the Builders Association’s Grapes of Wrath-inspired multimedia piece House/Divided (Oct. 24–27) and SITI Company’s Trojan Women (After Euripides) (Nov. 28–Dec. 2); Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s melding of Shakespeare’s three Roman Tragedies, directed by Ivo van Hove (Nov. 16-18); and, from Iceland’s Vesturport Theatre and Reykjavík City Theatre, the Goethe-inspired Faust: A Love Story, with music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (Dec. 12–16).
Those are all familiar names to BAM, but not to worry; helping to put the “next” in Next Wave is a brand-new venue, the BAM Fisher, a flexible space nearby where all seats are $20. The Fisher’s inaugural programming is admirably local-grown: installation artist Anthony McCall joins choreographer Jonah Bokaer for Eclipse (Sept. 5-9); Derrick Adams’s pseudo-educational The Channel (Sept. 19–22); Paris Commune, The Civilians’s recreation of a cabaret celebrating the quixotic experiment of the title (Oct. 3–7); “Brooklyn Bred,” a showcase of performance art by Jennifer Miller, Dread Scott and Coco Fusco (Oct. 11–13); Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s “performed documentary” red, black & GREEN: a blues (Oct. 31–Nov. 3); and Pan Pan Theatre Company’s All That Fall, a U.S. premiere of a Beckett radio play (Dec. 19–23). The lively arts have seldom looked livelier. —Rob Weinert-Kendt
Hail to the Chiefs
NATIONWIDE: Think presidential speeches go on too long? You might find the perfect antidote to executive bloviating in 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, a madcap production first conceived in 2002 by Chicago troupe the Neo-Futurists, in which each president gets no more than two minutes of stage time (it was titled 43 Presidents then, of course). Tracing the history of the U.S. through the highlights (and lowlights) of each commander-in-chief, the play is hardly reverential—each president’s embarrassments are thoroughly mocked.
The styles of presentation also vary: Dance numbers set to “Little Demon” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins mark Grover Cleveland’s first and second terms. Some POTUSes speak for themselves, like LBJ, who has an emotional monologue. Others don’t get a word in, like Millard Fillmore, whose scene is titled “Yawn…”
In 2004, the play was remounted and published by Playscripts, Inc. This season, however, a small band of Neo-Futurist alumni and assorted theatre pros have been working on something bigger: the Plays For Presidents Festival 2012. Their goal, which they called “seemingly unattainable,” was to mount 44 productions of the play across the U.S. in the months leading up to the Nov. 6 presidential election. In June, they announced success: 44 theatres, colleges and high schools across the country would be taking part in the festival; by press time, the number had climbed. The first production took place in April at Lake Forest College in Illinois.
“This was 100-percent grassroots,” says Andy Bayiates, who co-wrote the play and is festival co-chair. “Just theatre people sharing their contacts.” Organizers hope the festival will not only make for fun theatre but provide historical context for today’s voters.
“In an age when the short-term memory of the media—and the politicians and public, to be fair—has gotten even shorter…we believe it’s time to celebrate the long view,” reads part of the festival’s mission statement. “The history of our presidents is the history of our people.” God help us! See playsforpresidents.com.
CHICAGO: If you happen to be wandering around Chicago in the next few months, you may find yourself face-to-face with one of several dramatically titled performance objects. The title character of The Hawkman and His Entourage, for one, will appear perched atop a 30-foot extension ladder, his wingspan reaching 13 feet when he is “in flight.” The Dis/Re Placement machine lifts and moves two rooms—with huge forks—while performers execute “architectural ballet.” And DJ Fire turns live music into huge jets of flame, which shoot out of a 12-pipe fire organ.
These are all part of the Urban Interventions tour, which organizer Redmoon Theater hopes will create “spontaneous celebration and community within each urban locale.” The tour began outside a cathedral on June 21 and continues with events dotted across Chicago through Oct. 14. Redmoon focuses on live arts pieces and outdoor spectacles, often in unexpected locales, with the hope that they will “disrupt Chicagoans’ daily routines.” If a hovering birdman, giant fork lifts and spitting fire organs don’t do the trick, what will? Visit www.redmoon.org.
Designs for Living
AUSTIN: Designer Norman Bel Geddes clearly took Shakespeare to heart: All the world was a stage for this mid-century American designer, who got his start designing sets, including for Aline Barnsdall’s Los Angeles Little Theater, and soon moved on to sleek, aerodynamic industrial designs for everything from teardrop-shaped cars to cocktail shakers, radio cabinets, factories and ocean liners. He made a splash with the General Motors “Futurama” pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, but his contribution to the Chicago fair six years earlier helped seal his theatrical reputation: “Six Theatre Projects” detailed plans for six different kinds of venues, from the in-the-round “Intimate Theatre” to the Greek-inspired “Divine Comedy Theatre.” Those designs—along with his visionary work for clients as diverse as Ringling Brothers and the Toledo Scale Company, and samples from 100-plus stage productions, including Hamlet, Dead End and The Eternal Road—will be on view Sept. 11–Jan. 6 at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center in “I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America.” As Bel Geddes wrote in 1919, “There is no form of creative expression which cannot be used to advantage in the theatre…Art has always had its own little continent in the world of the theatre.” Visit www.hrc.utexas.edu.
WASHINGTON, D.C.: The same week the Shakespeare Theatre Company received a regional theatre Tony for 25 years of first-rate work, it raised the curtain on a real-life drama of its own: The company filed a lawsuit against its landlord, Lansburgh Theatre, Inc., the nonprofit created to manage the building, to stop it from raising annual rent by 700 percent, from $70,000 to $480,000. The Lansburgh board, according to the suit, acted in clear violation of the 1992 agreement under which the Gunswyn/Lansburgh Development Corp. would develop the building on 7th Street into apartments in return for creating a nonprofit support organization for STC. The lawsuit asserts that raising the rent so precipitiously, as well as reportedly demanding the resignation of the theatre company’s managing director, Chris Jennings, breaches the agreement to “support” the theatre’s efforts as sole tenant. Hearings on the case begin this month, but in the meantime the company is free to continue producing. On Sept. 13, Gogol’s The Government Inspector arrives, just on time, with an always relevant satire of craven rent-seeking. Go to www.shakespearetheatre.org.
The Other MTC
MIAMI SHORES, FLA.: The last time the single-screen Shores Theatre screened a movie, back in the late 1980s, it was not family fare, to say the least. “The theatre had a seedy past,” admitted Stephanie Ansin, who made it her producing home in 2005 with the company she founded, PlayGround Theatre.
In the years since, PlayGround has significantly refurbished both the Art Deco space and its reputation, with artistically ambitious, high-production-value productions for young audiences. Ansin and her frequent collaborator, designer Fernando Calzadilla, felt ready to take the theatre to the next level. In July, it was rechristened Miami Theater Center, with plans to encompass not only world-class children’s theatre, under the aegis of MTCplayground, but also MTCperformance, which will present theatre and dance for adults, and MTCeducation, a division offering theatre training for young people and adults.
MTCperformance’s first offering will be a new version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters (opening Nov. 14). The season will include a performance series in the 70-seat SandBox, and the return of popular multicultural productions The Love of Three Oranges and Inanna and the Huluppu Tree.
The change has been “cooking for a while,” Ansin said. “In our second season, we had shows for 16-year-olds and up, but it was hard to market them, because people thought of PlayGround as being for kids. And our relationships with schools and young audiences became so fruitful, we just put the other work on hold.”
Ansin notes that her theatre shares an acronym with the New York–based Manhattan Theatre Club—appropriately enough, the place where, in 1998, Ansin took a course called Design Your Own Theater Company. Perhaps it’s inevitable that a quick learner like Ansin would one day run her own MTC.
There’s even a happy ending on the film front: In partnership with a nearby art-house, O Cinema, MTC is launching MTCfilm, screening movies in the old 330-seat theatre for the first time since its closure. The first offering? Blue Skies, the 1946 Fred Astaire/Bing Crosby musical that was the first film ever shown there. Future film programming, Ansin said, will relate to whatever’s on stage. But who could begrudge a theatre rebooting with a little kick from its past? Go to www.miamitheatercenter.org.
NEW YORK: Playwright David Adjmi‘s dark comedy 3C not only received passionately pro-and-con reviews at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in July—after the show closed, Adjmi received a cease-and-desist order from lawyers for DLT Entertainment, which owns the rights to “Three’s Company,” the vintage sitcom 3C clearly riffed on. A protest letter by playwright Jon Robin Baitz got overwhelming support from the theatre community, but at press time it was unknown whether Adjmi planned to knock on DLT’s door and fight for the right to publish and/or seek future productions of 3C. Baitz’s letter and the list of signatories are posted on the TCG Circle: www.tcgcircle.org/2012/07/a-letter-ofsupport-for-david-adjmi.
Guare or When?
BATON ROUGE, LA.: New Orleans, 1801: The city at the mouth of the Mississippi saw itself (much as it does today) as a singular entity of multiple backgrounds and diverse characters. With the impending purchase of Louisiana from France, the U.S. would begin to discover the city as a beacon of light for writers and artists—and a center for the debauchery that would eventually inspire the nickname “The Big Easy.”
It was “a time of monarchy and a time of turmoil,” says John Guare, speaking of the setting for his play A Free Man of Color, which premiered at New York’s Lincoln Center Theater in 2010, with Jeffrey Wright in the title role. “The world was suddenly becoming connected—things were changing, shipping became globalized. And there was New Orleans, this anomaly that represented the wild card in the U.S. The kind of irrationality the city represented, things that are out of the norm—we still don’t know how to deal with that which does not fit,” Guare believes.
A Free Man of Color follows Jacques Cornet, described as “a new world Don Juan,” living his life as the wealthiest colored man in New Orleans. For its first post-Broadway outing, the play is coming home to the state that inspired it. A new production, mounted by Swine Palace and directed by Paul Russell, will open Sept. 14 at the Reilly Theatre on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Cornet, a role written for Wright, will be played by Alvin Keith.
“John has brilliantly penned a sprawling saga,” says Russell. “My mantra from the start has been to simplify the storytelling, while remaining true to the essence of the colorful, vibrant historical collage he created.” As for Cornet, Russell sees him as “Othello on steroids, without the bloodshed, brandishing wit as his sword.”
Swine Palace slated the production for its Bicentennial Celebration. “Our plays this season showcase characters who are forced to examine their own lives by events greater than themselves,” Russell notes. “Cornet’s journey of self-discovery is juxtaposed against the changing landscape of New Orleans and Louisiana, as instigated by the Louisiana Purchase.” —Eric Freeman Jr.
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