Category Archives: Commentary

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (93) ·

I came to understand that creativeness begins from that moment when in the soul and the imagination of the actor there appears the magical, creative if. . . that is, the imagined truth, which the actor can believe as sincerely and with greater enthusiasms than he believes practical truth, just as the child believes in the existence of its doll and of all life in it and around it. (MLIA)

 

PHOENIX THEATRE ENSEMBLE: THIS THURSDAY ONLY (9/24 AT 4PM)–CRAIG SMITH TALKS TENNESSEE WILLIAMS ·

 

 

A PHOENIX THEATRE ENSEMBLE FUNDRAISER
Tennessee Williams was in residence for his final NY play in the 80’s, the intensely personal and autobiographical Something Cloudy, Something Clear at Jean Cocteau Repertory – the times with TW were wild and memorable. And in the 70’s the wonderful Southern Gothic Farce Kirche Kuchen & Kinder.

Craig Smith who played TW in both plays shares a half-hour cocktail and conversation on working with our greatest playwright – including sharing TW’s self-portrait “An Old Man in a Young Season.”

No ticket charge but this is a fundraiser for Phoenix Theatre Ensemble. Remember to bring a soda or cocktail – will be fun.

To donate directly to PTE, head over to bit.ly/ptedonate

Watch it live on Facebook CLICK HERE & make sure to click “Reminder”
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ARS NOVA ANNOUNCES PROGRAMMING AND EXPANDED RESIDENCIES FOR 2020-2021 SEASON ·

(via John Wyszniewski, Everyman Agency)

Here’s what is going on at ARS NOVA:

Debut of Ars Nova Supra, New Digital Streaming Platform

New $150,000+ Vision Residency Program
P.S., Durational Theatrical Experience from Teddy Bergman, Sam Chanse, Amina Henry, Kimie Nishikawa

$100,000 in Artist Flash Grants
The Ars Nova Forever Telethon

 

AND LOOKS FORWARD TO
Heather Christian’s Oratorio for Living Things
nicHi douglas’s (pray)

 

Ars Nova, “an essential civic institution” (Adam Feldman, Time Out New York), under the leadership of Founding Artistic Director Jason Eagan and Managing Director Renee Blinkwolt, is pleased to announce details for its upcoming 2020–2021 season. As New Yorkers continue to grapple with daily life amidst a pandemic that prevents us from gathering safely, and work to eradicate and undo the harm caused by our collective and individual racism, Ars Nova is committed to artistic and operational activities that build an anti-racist foundation and create a platform for diverse, adventurous artists. Ars Nova has planned a season centered on its core values, radical artist support, collective curatorial vision and unique theatrical experiences meant to forge a human connection in a time of distance. Although the timeline for gathering together for in-person events is uncertain, Ars Nova remains committed to responding to the needs of its artists, audiences, and community in a variety of meaningful ways.

 

ARS NOVA SUPRA

Ars Nova is pleased to announce the accelerated debut of Ars Nova Supra, a new digital platform dedicated to showcasing some of New York City’s most promising emerging artists. Originally slated to launch next year as a digital extension of Ars Nova that embraces audiences worldwide, Ars Nova Supra will serve as the online home for the majority of Ars Nova presentations this season. Tickets for Ars Nova Supra livestreams are $5-10 per event, with subscriptions available for $15 per month. Subscribers receive access to all monthly livestreams at one low price, plus exclusive on-demand access to the Ars Nova Supra library, where they can catch any shows they may have missed. 

“I don’t see a future for the performing arts that doesn’t include a full embrace of digital mediums,” says Founding Artistic Director Jason Eagan. “That was true before COVID-19, and the pandemic drilled home a whole new set of reasons why. Ars Nova Supra will help us address today’s urgent need to keep artists working, and keep audiences entertained from the safety of their homes.”

 

ARS NOVA EXPERIENCES
Ars Nova’s 2020–2021 season also includes the launch of Ars Nova Experiences, featuring new forms of physical, tactile, and off-screen happenings for the COVID-19 age. It begins with P.S., a durational theatrical experience created collaboratively by director/developer Teddy Bergman (KPOP) and playwrights Sam Chanse and Amina Henry (both alumni of Ars Nova’s Play Group) with materials designed by Kimie Nishikawa (Dr. Ride’s American Beach House).

 

Unfolding in real time beginning this November, P.S. will bring intimate storytelling directly into the hands of audiences, as they receive letters sent between two characters isolated from each other during the pandemic. Arriving in the mail every few weeks, the letters and objects the characters exchange will weave a story that responds to the world we are living in until it’s once again safe to gather together. The final act of P.S. will culminate with a live, in-person performance that reunites these characters — and welcomes audiences back — for a cathartic recognition of the historic period we’ve endured. Tickets for the Letters phase of P.S. are $35 per household and go on sale October 1.

 

A second Ars Nova Experience, taking place in Spring 2021, will be announced at a later date.

Equally as important as its public programming, Ars Nova is pleased to announce the launch of two major development programs,  Flash Grants to its current Resident Artists, and a new musical commission, flexing its artist support programs to meet the extraordinary needs of the current moment.

 

VISION RESIDENCY

Designed to foreground Ars Nova’s values through the creation of more equitable and power-sharing curatorial practices, the Vision Residency will expand Ars Nova’s artistic vision by inviting seven artist-curators to populate our digital platform with their own work as well as work by artists they champion and admire. Each Resident will be given broad support from Ars Nova’s full staff, spending two months planning for one month of activity on Ars Nova Supra. Each will receive a $7,500 fee for their curation and administrative work, along with a $12,000 budget to allocate towards the creation, development and presentation of work during their curated month. Vision Residents will be encouraged to invite other artists they feel inspired by, want to collaborate with, or simply wish to amplify, to make and share work using the budget and resources of the residency during their month of programming. The 2020-2021 Vision Residents are Starr BusbynicHi douglasJJJJJerome Ellisraja feather kellyJenny KoonsDavid Mendizábal, and Rona Siddiqui.

 

Founding Artistic Director Jason Eagan commented, “I feel so fortunate to get to share the curation of our season on Ars Nova Supra with this newly formed cohort. Bringing this incredible group of artists and thinkers into conversation about who and what will be featured on our platform this year expands our — and their — potential. The Ars Nova community has always thrived most when it is looking forward, and I am thrilled to discover where these visionaries will take us next.”

 

CAMP

Another new developmental program will deepen Ars Nova’s commitment to early career comedy artists at a time when their support systems in NYC have decreased. CAMP will provide a dynamic group of creators with peer support and artistic feedback as they work on developing new comedic work in weekly meetings facilitated by Co-Directors Mahayla Laurence and Matt Gehring. Resident comedy teams, including dance, sketch, or improv collectives, or individuals such as character comedians and storytellers will also share material in monthly live shows, and culminate their CAMP residencies in full-length performances on Ars Nova Supra. Members will be selected through an open submission process beginning September 22. Apply online at arsnovanyc.com/CAMP.

 

FLASH GRANTS

Ars Nova will also continue developing the voices and new work of its current Resident and Commissioned Artists by extending their commission timelines and residencies through 2021 and providing each individual with a $2,500 no-strings-attached Flash Grant to be used however best sustains each artist during this time—whether that’s creating art or paying rent. Should they feel inspired to create, they have an open invitation to share their work on Ars Nova Supra.

 

Ars Nova’s Resident Artists are: Melis Aker, Preston Max Allen, Kevin Armento & Sammy Miller, Serena Berman, Michael Breslin & Patrick Foley, John J. Caswell, Jr., Heather Christian, Manik Choksi & Zi Alikhan, Vichet Chum, Guadlís Del Carmen, Erika Dickerson-Despenza, nicHi douglas, Laura Galindo, Gracie Gardner, Dylan Guerra, Deepali Gupta, Gethsemane Herron-Coward, Jerome & James, David Mendizábal, Nightdrive, Antoinette Nwandu, Ife Olujobi, On the Rocks Theatre Co., Joél Peréz,  Emma Ramos, Michelle J. Rodriguez, Omar Vélez Meléndez, Jillian Walker, Ray Yamanouchi, and Zack Zadek.

 

Additionally, Ars Nova welcomes Khiyon Hursey to this community through a new musical commission.

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WHEN RUSSIA APPEARED IN WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS ·

 (Ajay Kamalakaran’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 9/18.)

Despite Russia’s overwhelming passion for the bard’s works, few in the country are aware of Shakespeare’s mentions of the country in his plays.

 

Ever since Alexander Sumarokov translated Hamlet into Russian in 1748, Russian intelligentsia has been passionate about the works of William Shakespeare.  

The great English bard’s plays and sonnets have been Russianised to such an extent that they have left an indelible mark on the country’s cultural landscape. Shakespeare even inspired Alexander Pushkin, Anton Chekhov and Boris Pasternak. 

Vladimir Vysotsky as Hamlet (Moscow, Taganka Theater, 1971)

In the 1970s, it was incredibly difficult for a Muscovite to get a ticket to watch poet, singer and actor Vladimir Vysotsky play the role of Hamlet.  More recently, in 2016, a Moscow Metro train was decorated with quotes and images of characters from Shakespeare’s plays. Despite this love for the bard’s works, few in Russia are aware of the bard’s mentions of Russia in his plays. 

Ian McKellen rides Shakespeare train in Moscow metro.

In The Winter’s Tale, Hermione, the virtuous and beautiful Queen of Sicilia, who is falsely accused of infidelity by her husband Leontes, made these remarks when charged with adultery and treason: 

“The Emperor of Russia was my father:
O that he were alive, and here beholding
His daughter’s trial! that he did but see
The flatness of my misery, yet with eyes
Of pity, not revenge.”

The Winter´s Tale. Act V. Scene III

This reference to the Emperor of Russia in a play that was written in 1610 has puzzled scholars studying the works of Shakespeare. 

“Hermione seems to be the only Russian character in Shakespeare, and perhaps on this account, she is made of sterner stuff than many of his other heroines,” J. M. Draper wrote in an article for The Slavonic and East European Review in December 1954. “She threatens, albeit in jest, to keep her guest Polixenes a prisoner; she will not weep or let her ladies weep when she is sent to prison, and she pleads her cause as a ‘great king’s daughter’ preferring death to dishonour.”  Draper added, however, that there was no characteristic “unmistakably Muscovite” about her. 

In the 1995 autumn issue of the Shakespeare Quarterly, Daryl Palmer wrote that by evoking a Russian ruler, Shakespeare “encourages his audience to undertake a fleeting albeit bracing ‘passage from one sign system to another’, from English questions on kingship to Russian queries on the same theme.”  

Bears and sables 

Shakespeare’s Russian references go beyond people and extend to two animals that are symbols of Russia – bears and sables. In Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark tells Ophelia: 

“Nay, then, let the devil wear black, for I’ll have a suit of sables.”  

The play was set in Denmark, but it was through the country’s waters that sable furs reached Britain from Russia.  

There are references to the Russian bear in Macbeth and Henry V.  The Duke of Orleans mentions the bear in the third act of Henry V, when he tells Rambures: 

“Foolish curs, that run winking into the mouth of a 
Russian bear and have their heads crushed like 
rotten apples! You may as well say, that’s a 
valiant flea that dare eat his breakfast on the lip of a lion.” 

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THE NIGERIAN-BRITISH WRITER PUTTING BLACK JOY ON STAGE AND SCREEN ·

(Alison McCann’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/18; Photo from The New York Times: Theresa Ikoko; via Pam Green.)

“There’s so much more that comes with being Black apart from dealing with racism,” says Theresa Ikoko, a Londoner whose movie “Rocks” opened this week.

LONDON — The first play Theresa Ikoko wrote wasn’t necessarily meant to be a play — not yet, anyway.

At that point it was simply a story she had written for herself after years of collecting characters and scenes in her head, all of them rooted in the communities she knew as a Nigerian-British woman. When she read parts of it over the phone to a friend several years ago, he was taken by the way she had captured the experience of being Black and British.

“After I finished, he said to me, ‘Theresa, there’s no difference between this and Shakespeare as far as I’m concerned,’” Ms. Ikoko said with a laugh while sitting on a park bench in East London.

It has since been a remarkable rise for the playwright turned screenwriter, who until last year was working as a case manager at a youth violence organization, pretending to compose long emails and writing scenes instead.

Ms. Ikoko eventually submitted her writing to the Talawa Theatre Company, Britain’s renowned Black-led theater group, which jumped at the chance to produce it as a play. The work, “Normal,” ran as a stage reading in 2014, and a year later she wrote “Girls,” a play about three girls abducted by a terrorist group. That earned her the Alfred Fagon Award for Best New Play of 2015 and the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright in 2016.

On Friday, her first movie, “Rocks,” which she wrote with Claire Wilson, opened in Britain. It centers on the joy and resilience of young women of color — a group rarely given mainstream attention in British film — and positions Ms. Ikoko as a major new voice.

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IRELAND: DRUIDGREGORY REVIEW–CAPTIVATING PERFORMANCE ROOTED IN HISTORY ·

(Ciara L. Murphy’s article appeared in The Irish Times, 9/17; Photo: The Irish Times: Druid combines representations of raw sorrow, naked nationalism, and raucous humour to honour Gregory’s legacy.)

Revival of Lady Augusta Gregory’s neglected works is of vital importance

★★★★☆

At Coole, the collision of past and present is delivered through a collection of Lady Augusta Gregory’s neglected works. Druid combines representations of raw sorrow, naked nationalism, and raucous humour to honour Gregory’s legacy at her home, the historical site of Coole Park.

Gregory’s plays have been notably absent from Irish stages for far too long. This revival is of vital importance, not only for a canon in urgent need of revision, but also because, despite the common view, Gregory’s plays provide worthy and clever snapshots of an important moment in Irish theatre history.

The nationalism that underpins two of her best-known texts, The Rising of the Moon and Cathleen Ní Houlihan, can appear a blunt instrument in contemporary times. However, these political allegories bookend DruidGregory, highlighting the political significance of Gregory’s work.

The setting of The Rising of The Moon is perhaps the most effective of the entire series, drawing fully on its surroundings. In Cathleen, Marie Mullen is striking as The Old Woman, leaning into moments of stillness and silence, presenting this well-known character as a literal monument of significance.

Standout

Francis O’Connor’s light touch approach to set design allows the natural beauty of Coole Park to take centre stage across the five short plays. Augmented by Barry O’Brien’s simple yet exquisite lighting design, the entire performance places the audience along a porous boundary line between the historical and the contemporary. These threshold spaces hold the power of this performance.

Unexpectedly, the standout performance moves away from nationalist rigour and atmospheric mystique. Gregory’s raucous comedy, Hyacinth Halvey, is the ideal centrepiece of the production. Gregory’s humour is often overlooked, and Hyacinth Halvey rivals Synge for its considered parody of rural twentieth century Ireland.

Presented as a delightful farce, it delivers comic relief and a breadth of capable performances from the ensemble. Here, the set allows for a more ostentatious addition to the traditional setting, which only accentuates its high-energy delivery.

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FAUCI SAYS IT COULD BE A YEAR BEFORE THEATER WITHOUT MASKS FEELS NORMAL ·

Credit…David S. Allee for The New York Times; via Pam Green.)

Dr. Anthony Fauci said a vaccine would need to exist for nearly a year before people might feel comfortable returning to theaters unmasked, which he said would likely be mid- to late 2021.

As theaters look to see how they might reopen with safety accommodations including mask use, Dr. Anthony Fauci says it will likely be more than a year before people feel comfortable returning to theaters without masks.

“If we get a really good vaccine and just about everybody gets vaccinated,” he said in an Instagram Live interview with the actress Jennifer Garner on Wednesday, “you’ll have a degree of immunity in the general community that I think you can walk into a theater without a mask and feel like it’s comfortable that you’re not going to be at risk.”

He said that would most likely not be until mid- to late 2021.

But that doesn’t mean he is saying when it would be safe to go to the theater without a mask. Dr. Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, clarified in a phone interview on Friday that he was referring to when people could return to theatergoing at their pre-coronavirus comfort levels. “Words like ‘safe’ are charged,” he said. “I’m talking about the general trend of when we’ll start to feel comfortable going back to normal if we get a safe and effective vaccine.”

Dr. Fauci said that although a vaccine might be available as early as the end of this year or the beginning of 2021, it would most likely be well into next year before enough people were vaccinated to ensure broad protection.

But Dr. Fauci said that in green-zone areas — those with very low community transmission — indoor theaters may be able to return sooner if people wear masks. “As long as there is infection in the community, you do not want indoor spaces with crowds,” he said Friday. “But in states, cities or counties in the green zone with low levels of infection, I imagine theaters could maybe open at 25 percent capacity, with people wearing masks, sometime as early as next year.”

Experts said Dr. Fauci’s comments help set the expectation that the coronavirus will be around for some time. “We should not be thinking of the vaccine as a silver bullet,” Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University who previously served as Baltimore’s health commissioner, said Friday. “It will take months to vaccinate hundreds of millions of people, and the vaccine may be, at best, 75 percent effective.”

(Read more)

 

AN AMERICAN WRITER FOR AN AGE OF DIVISION ·

(Alexandra Schwartz’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 9/14.  Photograph by Cole Barash for The New Yorker.) 

Ayad Akhtar’s autofictional novel cunningly entwines outrage and ambivalence.

The playwright and novelist Ayad Akhtar has never been afraid of provoking audiences. His latest work explores the origins of Trump’s toxicity, the tensions of Muslim identity, and the splintering of a family and a country.

Ayear after Donald Trump assumed office, Ayad Akhtar was at the American Academy in Rome, contemplating populism, the degradation of democracy, and ruinous civil strife. He had been mulling over the idea of a play about the brothers Gracchus, plebeian politicians in the century before Caesar whose defiance of the senatorial élite and championship of the poor led to an unhappy end. Akhtar wasn’t alone in consulting Roman history to gain perspective on the present. From his window, he could look out at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich, whose husband, Newt, was studying Augustus, rumor had it, for pointers on how to counsel a President who fancied himself an emperor.

Akhtar, who is forty-nine, is an obsessive autodidact, with a mind like a grappling hook for any subject that attracts his interest. There are many. As a kid growing up in the Milwaukee suburbs, he studied the Quran with a rigor that flummoxed his secular Pakistani parents. As a theatre major at Brown, he taught himself French, attaining enough fluency in a year to direct his own translations of Genet and Bernard-Marie Koltès. When he was in his twenties, working in New York as an assistant to the director Andre Gregory, he spent his free time analyzing the prosody of Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene” and poring over Freud, which led to a years-long study of Jung, then Lacan, then Winnicott. Although he lost his faith in his teens, religion of all kinds continues to fascinate him. “He’s the only American I know who has read Meister Eckhart,” the German writer Daniel Kehlmann, a good friend of Akhtar’s, told me, referring to the medieval Christian theologian and mystic.

Success arrived late, but Akhtar has made up for lost time. His first novel, “American Dervish,” about the coming of age of an innocent Pakistani-American boy, was published in January, 2012, when he was forty-one, the same month that his first play, “Disgraced,” about the unravelling of a jaded Pakistani-American lawyer, premièred, in Chicago. After a buzzy run at Lincoln Center, where tickets were scalped for fifteen hundred dollars apiece, “Disgraced” won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, then moved to a sold-out run in London, and to the Lyceum Theatre, on Broadway.

In short order, Akhtar had three more plays première, including “The Invisible Hand,” a thriller about an American hostage in Pakistan who, to pay his ransom, teaches his fundamentalist captors how to manipulate financial markets, and “Junk,” another Broadway hit, which transformed the dry subject of high-yield bonds in the nineteen-eighties into unexpectedly riveting drama. “Ayad’s particular brilliance is that he makes systems kinetic,” Josh Stern, a producer who is working with Akhtar to develop a television show, told me. “He’s able to take this huge, complicated infrastructure and distill it down to visceral character drama in a way that is unique.” As arcane as his intellectual tastes can be, Akhtar is determined to appeal to a broad public. “Proust meets Jerry Springer” is how he described his work to me when I met him, earlier this summer.

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