Another year, another Under the Radar festival at the Public. With no intention of bucking the trend among all the other performance fests in the city of needing bigger and bigger britches every year, Mark Russell's creation has gone up at least a couple of pant sizes in 2010. There are 20 shows, in addition to a symposium, free talks, music acts, a two-day attempt to reform American theater as we know it, and the famous LuEsther Lounge, where you can rub elbows not only with the artists but also with all the producers in town for the simultaneously enlarging APAP Conference.
Every year APAP (the Association of Performing Arts Presenters) hosts a few-day conference here in the city where the people who produce and book shows at venues around the country and the world get together, talk shop, and check out what's hot in New York. Russell and a few others got together and started the Under the Radar festival six years ago to coincide with the big do so that smaller and less well-known acts could show off to the big cheeses.
That little-fest-that-could has now grown into a major showcase for independent theater and performing artists. That's why if you show up at the right times for some of the UTR shows, there might be free food and drinks hanging around. It's also the reason why you have a better chance of, at the very least, glimpsing the people behind all these shows at the theater—they're there to sell their shows. For those not in the business, the primary benefit is that Russell is attempting to bring the good stuff to you, including remounts of some shows that recently had short, successful runs at smaller venues around town that you may have missed.
Some of the shows that were recently on New York stages that you might have missed include the universally lauded Chekhov Lizardbrain (pictured above) by the Pig Iron Theatre Company (it appeared in the same venue, CSV Cultural Center, back in 2008). There's also CHAUTAUQUA! from the National Theater of the United States of America, a company that can seem to do no wrong of late. This, their latest show, has traveled from the prestigious Walker Art Center in Minneapolis to a popular run P.S.122 in early 2009 and then free shows over the summer with the NYC Parks Department, a trail of good reviews following them all the way. Both of the companies mentioned above create work that combines vaudeville, song, and movement. They represent the new wave of old-school American variety theater that's been bubbling up for the past decade or so, which, above all, seeks to entertain. Another returning act that promises to be a crowd pleaser is Jollyship the Whiz-Bang, which played to sold-out houses most of its run at Ars Nova back in 2008. If you want to have a good time at the theater (heaven forbid) these three shows are pretty much guaranteed slam dunks.
Some of the work that's new to New York includes a handful of international artists ranging from Silver Stars, featuring a gay men's choir from Dublin interweaving song and story to explore the search for happiness, to Poland's Teatr Nowy, presenting an adaptation of Brecht's In the Jungle of Cities which promises to explore violence through choreography.
Then there's the curious addition of an adaptation of John Cassavettes' film Husbands (pictured at right) by Dangerous Ground Productions. You may remember that Doris Mirescu ran into some trouble a little while back when MGM shut down her attempted staging of Bernardo Bertolucci's film Last Tango in Paris the day before it was scheduled to open. But that's not the only reason it's a curious choice. BAM's 2008 Next Wave Festival featured Ivo van Hove's multimedia adaptation of John Cassavetes' film Opening Night. It's hard not to look at those three films, often dealing in deeply misogynist stories by deeply misogynist directors, and wonder what the trend they represent is speaking to. And also, what's at play when you put a film on stage? Either way, it's certainly more than a coincidence at this point.
There are two shows that I'm particularly excited to see, the first of which is MUST the inside story, a collaboration the UK's Clod Ensemble and New York performance artist Peggy Shaw. Shaw has been treading the boards since the 80s and this autobiographical reflection on her life promises to be not only insightful but also strange and beautiful. The other show I'm especially looking forward to is called Once and For All: We're Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen. I know nothing about the group that put it together, or what the evening is going to look or feel like, but it's a Belgian group, the cast is made up entirely of teens from the age of 14 to 18, it won a couple of awards at the Edinburgh Fringe, and the whole point of these festivals is to try something new.
If you do check UTR out, make sure you study the program, the shows don't all take place at the Public. Goods news is that they're all pretty cheap—most ticket prices are $15, but the prices actually range from free to $35. Either way it's a relatively cheap date and because they're almost all remounts of previously successful shows, you have a reasonably good chance of seeing something worthwhile.
Some other fests and events that also coincide with this years APAP are COIL at P.S.122, HERE Arts Center's Culturemart, F*!@cking Good Plays at the Rattlestick Theater, and the brand new Other Forces Festival at the Ontological-Hysteric. Not only at the fests around town getting bigger each year, they're multiplying. Presumably at some point they'll either eat each other alive or the producers will relocate due to oversaturation. Anyway, have at 'em while the having's good.
(photo credits: Justin Bernhaut, Pig Iron Theatre Company, Greg Westby)