Category Archives: Current Affairs

SHAKESPEARE TROUPE TO GO WITHOUT AN ARTISTIC DIRECTOR ·

(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/19; via Pam Green. Photo: John Harrell and Jessika D. Williams in the American Shakespeare Center production of “Othello,” which was overseen by its former artistic director Ethan McSweeny.Credit…Lauren Parker.)

Amid severe budget cuts and complaints about his leadership, Ethan McSweeny, who had run the American Shakespeare Center since 2018, will not return.

The American Shakespeare Center in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley claims to have the world’s only replica of the indoor venue where Shakespeare’s company performed. And now it’s going to attempt another Shakespearean structure: an actor-led company.

The nonprofit announced Friday that its artistic director, Ethan McSweeny, had stepped down eight days earlier. The theater did not offer an explanation; McSweeny cited financial strain caused by the pandemic, but he was also facing complaints about the workplace climate from some employees.

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RONALD PICKUP: A THEATRICAL GREAT FROM A GOLDEN GENERATION ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/26; Photo: Self-deprecating … Ronald Pickup in 1972. Photograph: Evening Standard/Getty Images.)

The actor, who has died aged 80, had a thriving screen career but was also a terrific stage star and an essential member of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre company

Ronald Pickup, who has died aged 80, had the capacity to bring a gaunt gravitas to high-ranking establishment figures. It is no accident that he was cast as the archbishop of Canterbury in The Crown and Neville Chamberlain in Darkest Hour. Although Pickup had a thriving career in film and television, to people of my age he will always be remembered as part of the National Theatre company that Laurence Olivier assembled in its early days at the Old Vic. When you think that Pickup was one of a number of rising stars including Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon and Anthony Hopkins, you realise it was a golden generation.

Pickup caught the eye at the Royal Court in 1965 when he played the title role in Shelley: the first of a number of a real-life figures he was to play, including Verdi, Stravinsky and Einstein. Rejoining Olivier’s company at the Old Vic where he had started out in small parts, he was an extraordinary Rosalind in an all-male As You Like It in 1967. It was an odd production but Pickup’s Rosalind, in peaked cap and white trouser-suit, caught something of the poetic sexuality for which the production was ostensibly searching.

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***** ‘TYPICAL’ REVIEW – RICHARD BLACKWOOD IS MESMERISING IN POETIC TRAGEDY ·

(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/25. Photo:  Richard Blackwood in Ryan Calais Cameron’s Typical. Photograph: Franklyn Rodgers. )

Available online
This superb play draws on the final hours of Christopher Alder, who died in police custody in Hull in 1998

Christopher Alder’s last moments, in April 1998, were unforgivably brutal. Injured in a fight at a nightclub, he took his final breath in police custody. It was an abject death: an unlawful killing that, for his campaigners, represented another instance of a black British man dying in a senseless way.

Yet what is marked about Ryan Calais Cameron’s astounding play, written in rap-like rhyming verse and tracing the minutiae of its unnamed character’s final day, is that it bursts with life, zest, humour and hedonism even as it hurtles towards tragedy.

First staged as a solo show in 2019 and now created by Nouveau Riche and Soho theatre for a screen version, it becomes a perfect, if eviscerating, nugget of dramatic performance in its new medium; theatrical in setting but also sharply focused and dreadful in its filmic intimacy. When the violence comes, the camera seems to throw the punches. In a claustrophobic closeup, it tightens its gaze around Richard Blackwood’s face so we cannot avert our eyes, even as his character chokes on his own blood.

Until those excruciating moments, Typical feels like a day in the life of an urban everyman, granular in its detail, Joycean in its steam-of-consciousness as he wakes up, puts on the toast, thinks about his marriage, divorce, an office flirtation, and gets going. It’s a typical day, says Blackwood, but he is determined to make it a special one with a big night out.

The language is playful, kinetic, partly in patois, with sentences that syncopate and waver between poetry and song, and fizz with wordplay: “Looking at the weather, weather looking back in anger, weather look mad, weather looking temperamental, menstrual, weather looking bad.” And later, when the police handcuff him: “I’m being manhandled … heavy-handed men, heavy-hearted men.” It moves at speed and has a polyphonic effect, making the set feel as if it is occupied by more than just one actor. Blackwood keeps up with every note, mesmerising us with every tic, smile or grimace.

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JAPAN: ‘YABUHARA KENGYO’ SHOWS AUDIENCES THAT JUSTICE ISN’T ALWAYS BLIND ·

(Nobuko Tanaka’s article appeared in the Japan Times, 2/18; Photo: Playing the bad guy: Kabuki actor Ichikawa Ennosuke IV plays Suginoichi, a blind musician who kills and cheats to get ahead but ultimately meets a gruesome end, in the play “Yabuhara Kengyo.” | © KATSUMI MINAMOTO.)

Colorful graffiti marks the facade of a shuttered shopping mall. People navigate their way around chain partitions and orange traffic cones. It’s a scene that looks familiar to anyone who has walked through the streets of Shibuya recently.

And yet, while the backdrop is modern, the characters in “Yabuhara Kengyo” (“Yabuhara, the Blind Master Minstrel”) are rooted in the Edo Period (1603-1868), wearing kimono and living according to the law of the shogun. The play’s protagonist, a blind musician named Suginoichi who has risen from being a penniless minstrel to becoming the highest-ranked performer in the shogun’s court, is played by Ichikawa Ennosuke IV, a member of the venerable Ichikawa kabuki family whose real name is Takahiko Kinoshi.

Ennosuke may be recognizable to some for his recent role as an elite banker and rival to the titular hero of TV’s hit drama series, “Hanzawa Naoki.” But for many others, the 45-year-old actor is a standard-bearer for the Japanese stage who has been pumping life into traditional and modern theater since well before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the entertainment industry.

On the day we met for the interview, Ennosuke had already performed in a classical matinee program at the Kabukiza Theatre before moving to a studio to rehearse his role as Suginoichi, the cunning antihero of “Yabuhara Kengyo,” which opened on Feb. 10 and will run through Mar. 7 at the Parco Theater in Shibuya.

In the play, Suginoichi’s ascent from penniless minstrel to master performer is all the more remarkable because not only is he arrogant and averse to studying or practicing music, he is also a thief, rapist and murderer who slayed his first teacher, among others, to get ahead.

Although another blind performer, Hokiichi (played by Ken Miyake, who tackles five additional roles in this production), advises Suginoichi to keep a low profile because his blindness puts him at risk of being victimized, he pays no heed to the warning and continues to live according to his whims.

Meanwhile, discontent grows in society, and the shogun’s adviser asks Hokiichi how to quell the unrest. The minstrel suggests publicly punishing someone slothful as a scapegoat, adding that someone like Suginoichi could be accused of murder and bear a cruel sentence. Following Hokiichi’s counsel, the adviser puts Suginoichi to death in a manner that is painful and gruesome.

This picaresque play, written by notable postwar playwright Hisashi Inoue, premiered in 1973 under the direction of Koichi Kimura. A success from the outset, the show was repeatedly rerun in Japan and went on tour to Hong Kong, New York, London, Paris and Edinburgh. The production was then followed by lavish and energetic costume-drama versions staged by Yukio Ninagawa in 2007 and Tamiya Kuriyama in 2012 and 2014.

To direct the most recent iteration, which is part of a special series marking the theater’s reopening after a major refurbishment, Parco appointed Kunio Sugihara. Widely admired for his bold direction in works such as the rap-style Greek tragedy “Oedipus REXXX” and his 10-hour trilogy “The Greeks,” the 38-year-old dramatist has also worked on various “Super Kabuki” shows, a style of theater that combines traditional kabuki style with contemporary themes and media such as manga.

Ennosuke has been a driving force behind “Super Kabuki” for years, and in 2015, he chose Sugihara to be his assistant director on “One Piece,” an entertainment-focused production based on the titular manga series by Eiichiro Oda. Since then, the pair have often collaborated together, but this time it’s Sugihara in the driver’s seat.

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https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2021/02/18/stage/yabuhara-kengyo/

SAMUEL BECKETT’S ‘HAPPY DAYS’ IS TURNING 60. ITS IMAGE OF A TRAPPED WOMAN IS AS POTENT AS EVER ·

(Claire Thomas’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/22.)

I first saw Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne in 2009. I remember the barren stage and the entombed woman at its centre, whose utterances filled the theatre and carried the content of the play.

Happy Days – which turns 60 this year – has a stunning and simple premise: a woman, Winnie, is buried in a mound of earth. She remains trapped for the play’s duration, grappling with her predicament as a relentless sun beats down on her. Winnie is in possession of a bag full of everyday items (and a gun) that offer her some distraction. A man, Willie, occasionally crawls out from behind the mound of earth to mutter something in Winnie’s direction, but she is mostly alone.

At the Malthouse, Winnie was played by Julie Forsyth, whose performance enthralled me: her pliable face poking out of the ground; her squeaky yet powerful voice talking, talking, talking. There was Willie too, but Winnie was the fascination. As the late British theatre critic John Peter writes, “Only Beckett could have written this play: a hilarious account of extinction, a short sonata for the dead, scored for female voice and male mumble.”

My novel, The Performance, takes place inside a theatre during a staging of Happy Days. It begins as the audience shuffles into seats and it ends as the curtain falls. My main characters – three women of different ages and backgrounds – watch the play and consider their own lives. A bushfire emergency is developing in real time on the outskirts of the city, beyond the theatre’s air-conditioned bubble.

I never forgot the perfect simplicity of the image of the trapped woman, and its many connotations. The play’s formal austerity offered my novel a useful structural device to contain the swirling thoughts I wanted for my characters. The range of subjects covered by Winnie also allowed me to extract whatever words most resonated for my women, triggering their thoughts and memories.

Like much of Beckett’s work, Happy Days is defined by both its expansiveness and its specificity. It is interested in the nature of humanity, and in the minutiae of the quotidian. It is perhaps most interested in the intersection between the two. This is also the stuff of novels. How does a character make their way through any moment in time, in body, in soul?

This question of scale – what to care about and how; what to notice or ignore; how tightly to focus one’s attention – is a key quandary of life, quite beyond the making of art. As Winnie endures the long hours of her days inside a dying earth, she busies herself with personal grooming and the consolations of remembered literature. Whether her hopefulness is delusional madness or in fact a necessary aspect of survival is one of the play’s many ambiguities. It also offers a strong resonance to our contemporary response to the climate crisis.

In 1979, Beckett directed Happy Days at the Royal Court, London. Winnie was played by his beloved collaborator, Billie Whitelaw. In Beckett’s Production Notebook from this period, he offers Whitelaw precise choreography for Winnie’s gestures, as well as instructions around prop management, vocal tone and staging details.

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ATTEND THE TALE OF ‘ANYONE CAN WHISTLE,’ THEN AND NOW ·

(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/19; via Pam Green; Photo:  From left, Maria Friedman, John Owen Edwards, John Yap and Stephen Sondheim working on the recording of “Anyone Can Whistle” at Abbey Road Studios in 2013.Credit…Doug Craib, via JAY Records.)

A sparkling new recording of the 1964 musical makes half the case for Stephen Sondheim’s endlessly inventive score.

A new recording of “Anyone Can Whistle,” the 1964 musical by Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents, has for decades been on the wish lists of Broadway cultists and completists. Now that their wish has been granted — a complete studio version from the English label Jay Records was released in December — I think they’ll find that new isn’t always enough.

Which is not to say it isn’t vastly welcome. The original cast album from Columbia Records, though better than you might expect from a one-week flop, is less than ideal. Sondheim’s endlessly inventive score was heavily truncated, and the singers, who recorded it on the Sunday morning after the closing on a Saturday night, sound exhausted. Bungles abound. Despite lovely moments, that disc (now available on Masterworks Broadway) comes off less as a living record of the show than as a hasty, sketchy post-mortem.

Maybe that was apt. The disaster that opened at the Majestic Theater on April 4, 1964, had already been in florid trouble out of town. One actor had a heart attack during a Philadelphia performance; a dancer caused a heart attack when she flew off the stage, into the pit and onto a saxophone player. Everyone else was left to squabble and panic. So perhaps it’s not surprising that when “Whistle” eventually got to Broadway, in a season otherwise notable for “Hello, Dolly!” and “Funny Girl,” it struck many theatergoers as chaotic and alienating.

Chaotic it still is. Laurents’s satirical book, though clever and novel, works too hard at too many things, aiming darts at every -ism in its path: conformism, evangelism and cronyism among them. The gangly plot, involving a venal mayoress faking a miracle (Angela Lansbury in the original production), a repressed nurse with a French alter ego (Lee Remick) and a psychiatrist who’s actually a psychiatric patient (Harry Guardino), seems to be held together by spit and sarcasm.

But it wasn’t just the complicated book; audiences weren’t yet ready for the complications of Sondheim. Despite his score for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” — a hit that was still running after two years on Broadway — he was mostly pegged as a lyricist, and his music for “Whistle” did not go over well. In The Times, Howard Taubman allowed that some songs were pleasing, “but not enough of them.” Another critic called the music, inaccurately, atonal.

Despite such judgments, several songs from “Whistle” — including “A Parade in Town,” “There Won’t Be Trumpets,” “With So Little to Be Sure Of” and the title song — are now widely performed. Smallish revivals over the years, and a starry Encores! presentation in 2010, demonstrated that much of the show could be redeemed by its score.

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JEAN-CLAUDE CARRIÈRE, 89, DIES; PROLIFIC WRITER OF SCREENPLAYS AND MORE ·

(Neil Genzlinger’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/11; Photo: Jean-Claude Carrière in 1999. He had more than 150 film and television writing credits and also wrote books and plays.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)

He was a favorite of Luis Buñuel and other top filmmakers. He also had a fruitful collaboration with the stage director Peter Brook.

Jean-Claude Carrière, an author, playwright and screenwriter who collaborated with the director Luis Buñuel on a string of important films and went on to work on scores of other movies, among them Philip Kaufman’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (1988), died on Monday at his home in Paris. He was 89.

The death was confirmed by his daughter Kiara Carrière. No cause was given.

Mr. Carrière had barely started in the movie business when he met Buñuel, the Spanish-born director, in 1963 (although he had already won a short-subject Oscar for a 1962 comedy he made with Pierre Étaix, “Happy Anniversary”).

“At the time, he was looking for a young French screenwriter who knew the French countryside well,” Mr. Carrière recalled in a 1983 interview with the writer Jason Weiss.

“I was a beginner,” he said. “I had gone to Cannes, and he was seeing various screenwriters there. I had lunch with him, we got along well, and three weeks later he chose me and I left for Madrid. Since then I haven’t stopped.”

His first project with Buñuel was “Diary of a Chambermaid” (1964), for which the two adapted the Octave Mirbeau novel of the same name. Mr. Carrière continued to work with Buñuel for the rest of the director’s career, including on his last feature, “That Obscure Object of Desire,” in 1977. (Buñuel died in 1983.)

“Quite often the screenwriter has to guess what exactly the film is that the director wants to make,” Mr. Carrière told Interview magazine in 2015. “Sometimes the director doesn’t even know himself. You have to help him find the right thing. That was the case with Buñuel. At the beginning, he was looking around in many different directions, and finally when we went the right way, we felt it.”

Mr. Carrière also collaborated with other top filmmakers, including Jacques Deray (on the 1969 movie “The Swimming Pool” and more) and Louis Malle (on the 1967 film “The Thief of Paris” and others). In the 1970s one of his greatest successes was as a writer of Volker Schlondorff’s “The Tin Drum” (1979), which was adapted from the Günter Grass novel about a boy who, in the midst of the gathering chaos that led to World War II, decides not to grow up; it won the Oscar for best foreign-language film.

In the 1980s he wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for Daniel Vigne’s “The Return of Martin Guerre” (1982), Andrzej Wajda’s “Danton” (1983), Milos Forman’s “Valmont” (1989) and numerous other movies. Among the most recent of his more than 150 film and television credits were “The Artist and the Model,” a 2012 drama directed by Fernando Trueba, and “At Eternity’s Gate,” a 2018 film about Vincent van Gogh directed by Julian Schnabel.

In 2014 Mr. Carrière received an honorary Oscar for his body of work. The citation said that his “elegantly crafted screenplays elevate the art of screenwriting to the level of literature.”

The prolific Mr. Carrière also wrote books and plays, often collaborating with the stage director Peter Brook. His interests knew no bounds.

With Mr. Brook he created “The Mahabharata,” a nine-hour stage version of the Sanskrit epic, which was staged at the Avignon Theater Festival in France in 1985 and then made into a film. He once wrote a book with the Dalai Lama (“The Power of Buddhism,” 1996). He wrote a novel called “Please, Mr. Einstein” that, as Dennis Overbye wrote in a 2006 review in The New York Times, “touches down lightly and charmingly on some of the thorniest philosophical consequences of Einstein’s genius and, by extension, the scientific preoccupations of the 20th century — the nature of reality, the fate of causality, the comprehensibility of nature, the limits of the mind.”

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FRANCE: CULTURE VS COVID: A FINAL CURTAIN CALL FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS? INTERVIEWS WITH BASIL TWIST AND MARION SIEFERT ·

(Olivia Salazar-Winspear’s interviews appeared 2/19 on France24.)

As part of France24’s week-long series about how the arts are dealing with Covid-19, we take a look at the impact of the health crisis on theatre, dance and opera. Playwright and director Marion Siefert joins us in the studio to talk about how the “stop-start” measures of 2020 affected her productions. She also explains how her latest play “Jeanne Dark” has successfully made the shift into the virtual space, with performances streamed live on Instagram.

We then discuss the upcoming restrictions on crowd sizes and social distancing at festivals, and how they will affect young artists and smaller institutions.

And we check in with American puppeteer Basil Twist, who managed to stage a full-scale production of “Titon et L’Aurore” at the Opéra Comique in Paris, despite the absence of a live audience.

Go to France24

INTERACTIVE ‘THE CHERRY ORCHARD’ ONLINE STARRING *JESSICA HECHT*ANNA BARYSHNIKOV*DARYA DENISOVA*JEFFREY HAYENGA*ELANIE MOORE*NAEL NACER*MARK NELSON*AND SPECIAL GUEST *MIKHAIL BARYSHNIKOV ·

(via John Wyszniewski, Everyman Agency.)

Baryshnikov Arts Center and Cherry Orchard Festival Foundation Co-Present Arlekin Players Theatre’s The Cherry Orchard: A New Media Workshop

Interactive Online Theater Experience Starring Jessica Hecht with

Anna Baryshnikov, Darya Denisova, Jeffrey Hayenga, Melanie Moore,

Nael Nacer, Mark Nelson, and special guest Mikhail Baryshnikov

February 26, 2021 at 8PM – One Night Only

FEBRUARY 16, 2021 – New York, NY – Baryshnikov Arts Center and Cherry Orchard Festival Foundation co-present an interactive new media experiment, adapted from Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, created by Boston’s award-winning Arlekin Players Theatre and their newly-established Zero Gravity (zero-G) Virtual Performance LabThe Cherry Orchard: A New Media Workshop will debut online Friday, February 26, 2021 at 8PM ET as part of Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC)’s Digital Spring 2021 Season. Registration for this free event is required at BACNYC.ORG. This presentation is not open for review.

The Cherry Orchard: A New Media Workshop is an experiment in development by Arlekin Players Theatre’s founder and director Igor Golyak, who has been a leading innovator of virtual theater since the start of the pandemic. His recent State vs. Natasha Banina was a Critic’s Pick in The New York Times by Maya Phillips who declared “The verdict is in: Zoom can, in fact, be an effective new stage for theater.” Golyak’s latest work fuses film, theater, and video game technology to create a new medium where viewers are able to interact with the performers. Drawing from the original text of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, scenes from the play, and recordings of Chekhov’s letters and dreams, the online event accesses Chekhov’s desktop computer, where viewers discover six of his classic characters living in a virtual space, searching for happiness.

The cast comprises a cadre of well-known stage, television, and film actors including Tony-Nominee Jessica Hecht, who performs the iconic role of Ranevskaya. Hecht says, “I have been longing to explore The Cherry Orchard with Igor and our company in a way that gives us the most intimate and relatable portrait of a family in crisis. I believe we can create something raw and modern, without losing an authenticity to Chekhov’s vision.”

The presentation also features other celebrated performers, including Anna Baryshnikov (Apple TV+’s Dickinson) as Varya; Arlekin’s Darya Denisova as Tramp; Jeffrey Hayenga (The Elephant Man) as Fiers; Melanie Moore (Finding NeverlandSo You Think You Can Dance) as Anya; Mark Nelson (Angels in AmericaThe Invention of Love) as Gaev; and acclaimed Boston-based actor Nael Nacer as Lopakhin. BAC’s Founder and Artistic Director Mikhail Baryshnikov makes a special appearance in the role of Anton Chekhov. The work was developed and filmed, in part, at BAC in January with strict adherence to COVID health and safety protocols.  

This project is the first phase of a larger New Media Cherry Orchard Project that Arlekin plans to develop into a hybrid production featuring new media, online, and live elements, with aspirations for a New York run in the 2021-22 season. “The Post-pandemic theater has to reexamine and reimagine itself. Through this experiment we are finding out how humankind can find each other in the virtual while continuing to treasure the in-person encounter, which makes for a new kind of site-specific theater,” says Golyak. “And I find myself in constant dialogue with The Cherry Orchard—during a time of loss and recovery, it helps us explore connection, transition, loss, and the human yearning for happiness.”

An international team of designers, new software usage, and technical engineers has collaborated with Golyak both virtually and onsite in Arlekin’s new Zero Gravity (zero-G) Virtual Performance Lab in Needham, MA for several months to create the functionality and online environment for this project, which includes software support from Aximmetry Technologies Ltd., the official software provider for Arlekin’s Zero Gravity Lab; a new platform called “The Soft Layer” from Will Brierly of Snowrunner Productions; and back-end/design work from Vladimir Gusev, Anna Fedorova, and Anton Nikolaev.

The Cherry Orchard: A New Media Workshop marks the second collaboration for Cherry Orchard Festival Foundation and Baryshnikov Arts Center, who co-presented Arlekin’s State vs. Natasha Banina during BAC’s Digital Fall 2020 Season. The evening offers an immersive experience as Arlekin shares their new proof of concept, followed by a live talkback with members of the cast and creative team.

The Cherry Orchard: A New Media Workshop, co-presented by Baryshnikov Arts Center and Cherry Orchard Festival Foundation, is made possible with generous additional support from ArtsEmerson, Fooksman Family Foundation, ZiphyCare, BroadBand Collaborative, Meghan Coleman, Robin Hanley, and Aximmetry Technologies Ltd., the official software provider for Arlekin’s Zero Gravity Lab.

FULL PROGRAM CREDITS

The Baryshnikov Arts Center & Cherry Orchard Festival Foundation Co-present

Arlekin Players Theatre

The Cherry Orchard: A New Media Workshop

Adapted from The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov

Conceived and Directed by Igor Golyak

Produced by Igor Golyak, Arlekin Players and Sara Stackhouse, BroadBand Collaborative

Virtual Performance Technical Director: Vladimir Gusev

Game Engine & Interaction Design: Will Brierly, Snowrunner Productions

Live Production Technicians: Anton Nikolaev and Igor Golyak

Virtual Set & Environment Designer: Anna Fedorova

Web Developer: Anatoly Krivonos

Composer: Jakov Jakoulov

Assistant Director: Blair Cadden

Properties Assistant: Irina Vilenchik

Platform: The Soft Layer by Snowrunner Productions

Director of Photography: Guillermo Cameo

Associate Producer: Joshua A. Friedman

2nd Camera and Editor: Anton Nikolaev

Sound: Sebastian Holst

Gaffer: Sashank Sana

Assistant Editor: Anna Gruman

Production Assistant: Violet de Besche

Cast

Ranevskaya                Jessica Hecht

Gaev                           Mark Nelson

Varya                          Anna Baryshnikov

Anya                            Melanie Moore

Lopakhin                     Nael Nacer

Fiers                            Jeffrey Hayenga

Tramp                         Darya Denisova

And Mikhail Baryshnikov as Anton Chekhov

Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC) is the realization of a long-held vision by artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov who sought to build an arts center in Manhattan that would serve as a gathering place for artists from all disciplines. BAC’s opening in 2005 heralded the launch of this mission, establishing a thriving creative laboratory and performance space for artists from around the world. BAC’s activities encompass a robust residency program augmented by a range of professional services, including commissions of new work, as well as the presentation of performances by artists at varying stages of their careers. In tandem with its commitment to supporting artists, BAC is dedicated to building audiences for the arts by presenting contemporary, innovative work at affordable ticket prices. For more information visit bacnyc.org.

Cherry Orchard Festival (CherryOrchardFestival.org), a registered 501c) (3) arts organization, is a leading independent international arts organization with a solid reputation for presenting musical performances, theatrical productions, multidisciplinary performing and visual arts attractions by a stunning array of global artists to audiences in the US. Founded by executive producer Maria Shclover and artistic director Irina Shabshis in 2012, the festival has presented over 60 unique world class events, concerts, and theatrical performances to over 150,000 audience members across the US. The presentation of “Cherry Orchard” at the Baryshnikov Arts Center will be the second collaboration between the Festival and Arlekin Theatre, after the successful online run of The State Vs. Natasha Banina in 2020. The ongoing mission of the Cherry Orchard Festival is to introduce and promote global cultural activity and exchange of ideas, aiming to enlighten and engage audiences through educational entertainment programs and events. For more information about the festival, please visit cherryorchardfestival.org.

Arlekin Players Theatre, founded by Artistic Director Igor Golyak, was created in Boston in 2009 and has since toured to New York, Chicago, and Hartford, as well as to international festivals in Russia, Armenia, Ukraine, and Monaco. It’s production of State vs Natasha Banina has received world-wide acclaim, including the New York Times Critics’ Pick. Arlekin has received multiple awards for its work including four 2020 Elliot Norton Awards from the Boston Theater Critics Association for its recent productions of The Stone and The Seagull. Arlekin takes strong pride in their emphasis on self-identity; they are a company of immigrants performing works that play on the ideas of cross-culture, home, and traditions, challenging the idea of nationality, and finding common themes that unite us all. The company makes its home in Needham, MA. For more information, visit www.arlekinplayers.com.

UP CLOSE: THE VOODOO MACBETH THAT GENERATED JOBS FOR BLACK AMERICANS DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION ·

(from Shakespeare & Beyond, February 16, 2021.)  | 

Federal Theatre Project production of Macbeth in 1936. Courtesy Library of Congress

A struggling economy. Unemployed artists. Hard-hit Black communities. It might sound like we’re talking about our present pandemic life in America, but this also describes the situation in the 1930s, during the Great Depression.

In the midst of these difficult conditions, a spectacular production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth took the stage at Lafayette Theatre in New York City, involving hundreds of Black actors, theater technicians, and supporting staff. It was financed by the Federal Theatre Project, a controversial part of the federal government’s New Deal programs to provide jobs for Americans.

This 1936 Macbeth was distinctive for a variety of reasons: the large, all-Black cast performing a classical play (extremely unusual for the time); the voodoo-infused setting in 19th-century Haiti with colorful jungle scenery; and the involvement of a 20-year-old Orson Welles, who was making his professional directorial debut.

Related: Listen to a Shakespeare Unlimited podcast episode about Orson Welles and Shakespeare

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