There’s been a relative lull since January, but May begins the ever-expanding primary festival season that runs from now into early September. These two festivals are not the most well-known, nor are they the oldest, but they’re both bringing in some voices that you’re unlikely to hear on the splashier stages this summer.
They claim they’re trying to stretch the meaning of solo performance and it seems they’re not just saying that. soloNOVA 2009 kicked off last night with Mike Daisey delivering another of his classic performance-cum-manifestos about the importance of theater, this time arguing, appropriately, that solo work is the “most primal and vital theatrical form.” From tonight forward there’s a jam-packed line-up of 10 mainstage performers and late night Fridays featuring shorts from many others. Genres range from drama to magic to “fun” (seriously, that’s what they put down as the genre for Preston Martin’s otherwise difficult to describe show) and ticket prices are low – you can see two shows for only 25 smackers.
Among those on the mainstage, there’s a pretty big range and it covers stories from around the globe. Playwright and actress Haerry Kim gives a new spin to the story of the Comfort Women of World War II (sex slaves to the Japanese Army) by letting them do the talking themselves – she based the work on the testimonies of the women who lived through it. Singer Abena Koomson brings West Africa to New York, retelling stories from Ghana that her father used to tell her as a child, while also weaving in music from the region. Just off a successful run at La MaMA, Abigail Nesson Bengon pairs tales of Hurricane Katrina and a volcano eruption in Santa Ana, El Salvador with live music from her husband Shaun McClain Bengson (the pair also tour the country as music group Zombie Nationalists). And of course there are some new spins on good old America, one of the most interesting of which comes from Micia Mosely with Where My Girls At?, featuring a new (albeit fictional) reality show called “BLACK BEAUTY: America’s Next Top Negress,” where a band of black lesbians all played by Mosely compete for your affections – and yes, you vote for the winner. Thankfully this show will not feature Tyra Banks.
The festival also takes audience participation one step further – you get to help play the role of the juror. One of these lucky 10 performers will get a one-week post-fest run all on their own, so have your say about the stories you want to hear more of.
Downtown Urban Theater Festival
Only slightly older than soloNOVA, the DUTF, is back for its seventh year at the HERE Arts Center a couple blocks above Canal Street. It also opened last night to a shorter run than soloNOVA, finishing May 16, but with at least as many artists involved. This fest is not just solo performers, though there are a few in the mix (including Micia Mosely from soloNOVA). DUTF aims to capture the “true spirit of urban life” and based on the show descriptions they really deliver – there are sordid tales of alternate side parking, recountings of violent crimes committed, explorations of ethnicity in the original melting pot (or not), prison life, and a latino hip-hop mash-up, among other things. Many of the performers and writers in this fest are award winners and festival alums, so not only did they manage to get into this year’s fest, they have a record of success. Not all are New Yorkers: – Kash Goins is a Philly native and Susan H. Pak is a Chicagoan – but the city is definitely in all of their blood. Be sure to catch these acts while you can, as the shows in DUTF are one-night only.