Monthly Archives: August 2023

WHY THE GOETHE MEDAL COULD SPARK POLITICAL CONTROVERSY ·

(Stefan Dege’s article appeared in DW, 8/26; Photo: Honored for promoting cultural exchange with Germany: Taiwanese dramaturge and theater festival curator Yi-Wei KengImage: Willie Schumann/Goethe Institut/DW)

Cultural workers from Georgia, Taiwan and Hungary are being awarded the Goethe Medal by Germany for their courage and commitment but not without controversy.

Georgian cinema professional Gaga Chkheidze will receive the official badge of honor from the German state this year, as will Taiwanese curator and dramaturg Yi-Wei Keng, and the OFF-Biennale curatorial collective from Hungary. The award ceremony will take place in Weimar on August 28, on the birthday of German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The president of the Goethe-InstitutCarola Lentz, will present the cultural-political award during a ceremony.

This year’s choice of prize-winners is likely to cause political trouble, especially in the former Eastern bloc country of Georgia. Gaga Chkheidze, until recently director of the internationally renowned Tbilisi Film Festival, has fallen out of favor with the ruling Georgian Dream Party. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, he publicly criticized Georgia for not

Gaga Chkheidze: Cultural bridge-builder

That stance cost him his position as head of the Georgian National Film Center. In addition, he was expelled by the country’s national film funding organization, the Georgian Filmfund. The Tbilisi Film Festival’s office on the site of the old Soviet film studios was closed, film grants were cancelled, and the festival’s budget was cut.

Born in Georgia in 1957, Gaga Chkheidze has always been considered a friend of Germany and a “cultural bridge builder,” and not only between those two countries. From 1976 to 1980, he studied in Jena, in the central German state of Thüringen. In the 1980s, he worked as the director of the German school in Tbilisi and taught German literature at the Georgian capital’s Ilia State University. In 1988, he organized a Georgian film retrospective at the Arsenal cinema in Berlin, for which he smuggled films across the Soviet border in his car. In the 1990s, he was a translator and program coordinator for the International Forum of New Cinema at the Berlin International Film Festival, before launching the Tbilisi International Film Festival in Georgia in 2000.

Tbilisi Film Festival under pressure 

This coincided with the founding of a National Film Institute in Tbilisi, which gave Georgian films a new boost. The budget for film promotion was tripled, movie theaters sprung up, and more and more films made it to international festivals, from Berlin to Toronto. Georgian cinema drew attention from the European film market. “Gaga Chkheidze’s commitment to film is crucial to Georgia’s connection to European and international institutions and programs, film markets and festivals,” the Goethe Medal award jury said in their citation.

Indeed, Chkheidze’s festival concept appealed to both filmmakers and audiences alike. Soon the Tbilisi Film Festival became an international meeting place for filmmakers. As director of the Georgian National Film Center, Chkheidze promoted the digitization and restoration of Soviet-era Georgian films. The preservation of the Georgian cinema heritage is another of Gaga Chkheidze’s achievements. 

But the Russian invasion of Ukraine also had an impact on Georgia. The Tbilisi festival came under increasing pressure, as demonstrated by the firing of its director. “Unfortunately, here in Georgia we are on the front line between democracy and autocracy,” Chkheidze said in a recent interview with Deutschlandradio. There are many signs that political development in the country is heading in the wrong direction,” he said. “It’s moving more toward authoritarianism — I don’t want to say to dictatorship, but totalitarianism, we’ve already had that during the Soviet era. No one in Georgia wants that anymore.” But the danger is real, he said.

Analysts say Georgia is indeed teetering between Moscow and Brussels. 15 years after its war with Russia, the country officially has aspirations of joining the European Union, which is offering the prospect of membership but still denying the country candidate status. “Society is completely divided,” the dpa news agency quotes Tbilisi sociologist Iago Kachkachishvili as saying. “The majority wants to join the EU, but many hardly understand that the road is long.” The ruling Georgian Dream Party claims to be Russia-friendly. Its chairman, Irakli Kobachidze, emphasizes the high tourism revenue from Russians, the equivalent of about €900 million ($972 million). It is true that Georgia’s government always appears pro-European to the outside world, says Kachkachishvili. “But it’s doing nothing to set itself on a course to EU membership; rather it’s becoming more and more pro-Russian.”

Two years ago, the documentary film “Taming the Garden” painted a picture of the situation in Georgian society. In it, Georgian director Salome Jashi tells the story of centuries-old trees that an influential man collects for his private park. 

The man — presumably Georgia’s ex-prime minister and party leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his billion-dollar fortune in the finance and commodities business — remains unnamed in the film. Jashi’s theme is rather the uprooting of people, in both real and metaphorical terms. “Taming the Garden” caused a sensation at film festivals around the world, including the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival. To this day, the film is not allowed to be screened in Georgian cinemas.

The Goethe Medal for Gaga Chkheidze arrives in the midst of this political tangle, Georgia’s struggle for its course between Russia and the West. For the pro-Russian camp, the prestigious cultural-political award could be seen as an affront. To pro-Western factions, the award will be a sign of encouragement. In any case, the Goethe Medal is likely to cause a stir in Tbilisi.

Medals for Taiwan and Budapest as well

Another Goethe Medal goes to Taiwan this year, with curator, dramaturg and translator Yi-Wei Keng being honored. He has brought important impulses to the Taiwanese theater scene, says the Goethe-Institut, including in the areas of experimental theater, children’s theater and theater for people with disabilities. Under his direction, the Taipei Arts Festival has developed into the most important festival for performing arts in Taiwan. Guest performances and co-productions with Europe, the United States and Japan are cited. Yi-Wei Keng has also brought German theater productions to Taiwan, such as those by the Deutsches Theater Berlin, the group Rimini Protokoll and Raumlabor Berlin. Yi-Wei Keng, born in 1969 in Taiwan, first studied philosophy. In Prague, he worked with non-verbal theater. Back in Taiwan, he began working in theater and as an author. Since 2012, he has been artistic director of the Taipei Arts Festival.

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‘THE LAST OF THE SOVIETS’ REVIEW – NEWSREADERS NAVIGATE BRUTAL TRUTHS AND PROPAGANDA ·

(Mark Fisher’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/14/2023; Photo: Dark and surreal … Inga Mikshina-Zotova and Roman Mikshin-Zotov in The Last of the Soviets. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian.)

Zoo Playground, Edinburgh

Inspired by the work of Nobel-winning Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich, this is a disturbing but blackly funny piece

Every performance of The Last of the Soviets by the Czech company Spitfire is dedicated to Belarusian political prisoner Palina Sharenda Panasyuk, an activist detained in 2021 for her opposition to the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. “We want to support people who are not afraid to speak out loud,” says actor Inga Mikshina-Zotova at the end of the show.

That seems only appropriate after a performance all about what can and cannot be said in a totalitarian regime. Petr Boháč’s unsettling production is inspired by the work of Nobel prize-winning author Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian investigative journalist who has specialised in first-hand testimonies about key moments in Soviet history. In its allusions to the Chernobyl disaster, the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s and other military conflicts, the show paints an image of a culture, whether in Russia or Belarus, debilitated by cognitive dissonance, unable to square the circle between national myth and actual experience.

Mikshina-Zotova and Roman Mikshin-Zotov – Russian actors currently living in Prague – play stony-faced newsreaders navigating truth and propaganda from behind a TV studio desk. It does not take long for their facade to crack, or their boosterism to give way to deathly dry gallows humour and violent outbursts. The more their jokes about Chernobyl victims get lost in translation, the more disturbing the reality seems. Mikshin-Zotov decides one joke simply cannot be translated at all and stops trying, leaving only bleakness.

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CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (154) ·

The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

To reproduce feelings you must be able to identify them out of your own experience. But as mechanical actors do not experience feelings they cannot reproduce their external results . . . . Cliches will fill up every empty spot in a role, which is not already solid with living feeling. (AP)

ART UNDER ATTACK: HOW RUSSIA DESTROYS UKRAINE’S CULTURAL HERITAGE ·

(Natalia Chekotum’s and Liza Pyrozhkova’s video appeared in the Kyiv Independent, 8/8; Photo: Kyiv Independent.)

Launched in February last year, Russia’s war against Ukraine has taken a toll on Ukraine’s culture. Russia has razed to the ground many museums and churches, destroying priceless works of art. So far, Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture has documented over 1,600 cultural facilities damaged or destroyed by Russian forces, but the actual number may be even higher.

As Russian forces blew up the Kakhovka dam, resulting in massive flooding in the south of Ukraine, the water severely damaged the house of Ukrainian self-taught artist Polina Raiko in the occupied town of Oleshky, Kherson Oblast. The Polina Raiko Charitable Foundation is raising money for the restoration of the house.

Visit the Kyiv Independent

‘ENDGAME’ REVIEW – PROM 43, MUSIC BRINGS COMPASSION TO BECKETT’S AUSTERE DRAMA ·

(Tim Ashley’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/19; Dramatic pressure … Endgame. Photograph: Sisi Burn.)

Royal Albert Hall, London
For its UK premiere, György Kurtág’s opera faced a challenge summoning the play’s claustrophobia in this venue, but performances and players were superb

Michael Billington, writing about Endgame in these pages a while ago, once used the phrase “the terrible music of Beckett’s prose” to describe the bitter beauty of the play’s language. In György Kurtág’s opera, the words retain their fierce, lacerating power, though the music extends a deep and ambivalent compassion to Beckett’s characters even as their rebarbative sparring masks fears of decline, isolation, endings and loss. This is not, in essence, the bleak comedy we often find, but a work of pervasive sadness that continues to haunt us after its final notes have died away.

Considered a masterpiece by many at its 2018 Milan premiere, Endgame (more correctly Fin de Partie, as Kurtág uses the French text) has now been given its first UK performance at the Proms by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Ryan Wigglesworth, in a semi-staging by Victoria Newlyn. Playing and conducting, as one might expect, were superb. Wigglesworth dug deep into the score’s detail while maintaining the dramatic pressure throughout, and you couldn’t help but be struck both by Kurtág’s fastidious craftsmanship and the way every verbal and musical gesture tells, often through the sparest and simplest of means. Flaring brass suggested fury, futile or otherwise, and cimbalom taps quietly frayed the protagonists’ nerves. But there were also moments of quite extraordinary beauty, particularly as Nell (Hilary Summers) and Nagg (Leonardo Cortellazzi) lose themselves in memories of the past.

Available on BBC Sounds until 9 October. The Proms continue until 9 September.

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‘SHAKESPEARE’S LADIES AT TEA’ AND ‘SHAKESPEARE’S DEATHS’, FROM FIRST FLIGHT THEATRE COMPANY—AT  THE 2023 LITTLE SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Who is this Shakespeare who needs to be banned in Florida public schools, who dared to write a play called Romeo and Juliet?  Was he decadent?  Was he warped?  Has he really been infecting others with degenerate thought for over four hundred years?  The 2023 Little Shakespeare Festival, now playing at the tiny underground theatre, with bright red seats, UNDER St. Marks (94 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009) answers with a resounding, “Yes,” in shorts awash in cross dressers, wigs, effeminate tea-stirring parties, and grotesque morbidity, ad infinitum (there are 74 onstage deaths in the so-called playwright’s works, some count 75—the pyramid death scene, from Antony and Cleopatra takes place in both of the one acts, recurring many times).  The good news is that you can see them all in fifteen minutes (if you must—the entire production takes an hour), in First Flight Theatre Company’s presentation, directed by Frank Farrell, of Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea or I Thought You’d Never Asp, written by Kathleen Kirk, and Shakespeare’s Deaths, by the Free Shakespeare Theatre Company of Chicago.  The production continues to play on Friday, 8/18 at 6pm and Saturday 8/19 at 7pm

There is always something with which to offend in each Shakespeare play—and, truth be told, this reviewer would not relish revisiting the horrors of Titus Andronicus (although one still wants to have seen Olivier play it).  To “cancel” the work, however, to not believe that people can simply close their eyes, would mean not knowing Shakespeare’s first Black character and one of the first in the language.  Can we actually think of more boring writing than that approved under the totalitarian gaze of thought police, and now being penned by A.I. robots?  Who ever said you have to like every second of a piece of writing, anyway?  Wasn’t there a certain enticement to knowing on what pages the “good parts” were in Lady Chatterley’s Lover?  Perhaps the more we clean up, the more we leave ourselves open to seeing problems appear again and, oh, the provocation we lose.

If it would be helpful to know the kind of language that this banned playwright actually uses, Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea gives highlights—at a bar, sometimes with a disco beat–you might even find yourself knowing a good number of the lines, which does not say much for the culture.  If providing the titles of the blasphemous works would be helpful, for future banning, here is a partial list:  Hamlet; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; King John; Richard II; Othello; Antony and Cleopatra; Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part II; Henry VI, Part 1; Henry VI, Part 2; Henry VI, Part 3; Richard III; Romeo and Juliet.

Overzealous societal control takes power out of the hands of the individual, and leaves the gratification to the influencer, whether they be adherents of the left or right.  American theatre can only define itself in terms of politics, demonstrably of the left, but small work has a chance to not see itself in terms of powerful, dominant agendas.  Instead of hand-wringing over Romeo and Juliet, though, why not let students experience it?  Enough of them have disliked it over the years to decide, for themselves, whether they will study it or not.  That’s called democracy.

Although the content is in question, much can be said for the lively direction of Farrell and the spirited performances, in multiple roles, of Michael Brunetti, Lee DeCecco, Claudia Egli, Frank Farrell, Brian Hagerty, Haley Karlich, Jennier Kim, Adam Muñoz, Danielle Ruth and Hannah Simpson with Stage Managing by Thomas J. Donohoe II.

As debauched as it all is, some might even call it fun.

 

(c) By Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.

Press: Emily Owens PR.

Photos: Conor Mullen/First Flight; Bob Shuman.

 

First Flight Theatre Company

presents

Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea or I Thought You’d Never Asp

Written by Kathleen Kirk

Shakespeare’s Deaths

Written by the Free Shakespeare Theatre Company of Chicago

Directed by Frank Farrell

Presented as part of the 2023 Little Shakespeare Festival

August 3- 20 at UNDER St. Marks

 

performances on Thu 8/10 at 9pm, Fri 8/11 at 10pm, Sat 8/12 at 5pm, Fri 8/18 at 6pm & Sat 8/19 at 7pm. Tickets ($25 in person) are available for advance purchase at www.frigid.nycThe performance will run approximately 55 minutes.

 

PROM 36 A SPACE ODYSSEY: LPO/GARDNER REVIEW – “UNSETTLING AND AWESOME” ·

Prom 36 – A Space Odyssey-The London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner (Jennifer France: soprano, Clare Presland: mezzo-soprano,
Edvard Grieg: Kor, Royal Northern College of Music Chamber Choir, London Philharmonic Choir) perform György Ligeti: Requiem and Lux aeterna followed by Richard Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 11 August 2023
Photo by Mark Allan

 

PROM 36 A SPACE ODYSSEY: LPO/GARDNER REVIEW

Listen

(Tim Ashley’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/13. )

Royal Albert Hall, London
Intense and finely focused performances of the Ligeti and Strauss pieces used in Kubrick’s sci-fi epic revealed every detail of their unearthly majesty and awesome extremes

Like many, I first heard György Ligeti’s music on the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey when I was a teenager, and for some years after was unable to dissociate its unearthliness from Kubrick’s ambitious vision of human evolution as a product of alien intervention. Edward Gardner’s London Philharmonic Prom marked this year’s Ligeti centenary by acknowledging 2001’s grip on our imaginations, placing his Requiem and Lux Aeterna alongside Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. It’s hard to dissociate the Strauss from some of the film’s most iconic moments, either.

Bleak and sparse despite the awesome volume of sound it can generate, the Requiem, completed in 1965, offers no comfort for the fear and violence it evokes, and hearing it complete (Kubrick only uses the Kyrie) can be unsettling. Gardner’s interpretation was a thing of extremes. The quiet, penumbral opening Introit seemed to hover on the verges of sound and silence. Later, the roaring brass of the Dies Irae pinned you to your seat. The combined forces of the London Philharmonic Choir, Royal Northern College of Music Chamber Choir, and Norway’s Edvard Grieg Kor (Gardner is also their chief conductor) sang with furious intensity. Jennifer France and Clare Presland were the hieratic soloists, their voices finely blended in the ambivalent closing Lacrimosa, its oscillating vocal lines fading away in irresolution.

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Prom 36: A Space Odyssey

 

Live at the BBC Proms: Edward Gardner conducts the London Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra, RNCM Chamber Choir and Edvard Grieg Kor, in music by György Ligeti and Richard Strauss.

Presented by Georgia Mann, live from the Royal Albert Hall.

György Ligeti: Requiem

c. 8.05 pm
Interval: Matthew Sweet, presenter of Radio 3’s programme Sound of Cinema, joins Georgia Mann to discuss the use of music in film by Stanley Kubrick.

c. 8.25 pm
György Ligeti: Lux aeterna
Richard Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra

Jennifer France (soprano)
Clare Presland (mezzo-soprano)
Edvard Grieg Kor
Royal Northern College of Music Chamber Choir
London Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra
Edward Gardner (conductor)

György Ligeti was one of the boldest voices of the 20th century – a composer whose radical vision brought wit as well as invention to the world of contemporary classical music. Tonight, we hear two of his most famous works – the dramatic Requiem paired with the shimmering Lux aeterna, both of which featured in Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Also featured in the film was Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra, with the iconic brass opening that calls to mind the image of the sun rising over the Earth and Moon.

 

CONCERNS OVER SEX CONTENT LEADS FLORIDA SCHOOLS TO PULL SHAKESPEARE ·

William Shakespeare. Portrait of William Shakespeare 1564-1616. Chromolithography after Hombres y Mujeres celebres 1877, Barcelona Spain

(Jeffrey S. Solochek’s article appeared in the Tampa Bay Times, 8/8; via the Drudge Report.)

The big story: After Florida adopted its Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking standards in 2020, the Department of Education distributed recommended reading lists it said included “top of the line literary works with world renowned titles.”

Authors on the high school list included William Shakespeare.

Three years later, some Florida school districts are shying away from Shakespeare, along with other classic and popular materials. They say they’re attempting to comply with new state law restricting books with and instruction about sexual content.

Hillsborough County became the latest to take this step, telling teachers they could assign excerpts of plays such as “Romeo and Juliet,” but not the full text.

“I think the rest of the nation — no, the world, is laughing us,” Gaither High teacher Joseph Cool said after learning of the directive. “Taking Shakespeare in its entirety out because the relationship between Romeo and Juliet is somehow exploiting minors is just absurd.” Read more here.

The availability of books has become a regular flash point for Florida’s public schools. Groups of parents have pushed to get some materials removed, while other groups have pushed just as hard to keep as many titles available as possible.

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SHAKESPEARE’S ‘LADIES AT TEA’ AND ‘SHAKESPEARE’S DEATHS’ TO PLAY 2023 LITTLE SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL AT UNDER ST. MARKS, 8/3-8/20 ·

(Via Emily Owens, Emily Owens PR–rehearsal photo from Ladies at Tea.)  

 

 

First Flight Theatre Company

presents

Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea or I Thought You’d Never Asp

Written by Kathleen Kirk

Shakespeare’s Deaths

Written by the Free Shakespeare Theatre Company of Chicago

Directed by Frank Farrell

Presented as part of the 2023 Little Shakespeare Festival

August 3- 20 at UNDER St. Marks

 

First Flight Theatre Company will present Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea or I Thought You’d Never Asp written by Kathleen Kirk and Shakespeare’s Deaths written by the Free Shakespeare Theatre Company of Chicago, both directed by Frank Farrell. This production will be presented as part of the 2023 Little Shakespeare Festival at UNDER St. Marks (94 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009) with performances on Thu 8/10 at 9pm, Fri 8/11 at 10pm, Sat 8/12 at 5pm, Fri 8/18 at 6pm & Sat 8/19 at 7pm. Tickets ($25 in person) are available for advance purchase at www.frigid.nycThe performance will run approximately 55 minutes.

Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea is a sketch of what might happen if eight Shakespearean ladies were to get together for tea. Each character is only able to speak the lines the Bard gave her, and the women are at first embarrassed and uncertain what to say at all, but Cleopatra is fearless and Lady Macbeth keeps things rolling along pretty well: in all the party is a triumph.

 

Shakespeare’s Deaths To close the marathon, at dinnertime Saturday, the players pratfell through a 10-minute rapid-fire condensation of almost every death scene in Shakespeare’s 37 plays. Over and over, they were shot, stabbed and clubbed, but finally fell recumbent upon the ground, their eyes all closed at last, a great labor done: ‘My gross flesh sinks downward – I can no more – Farewell, friends. This, this be ends.’”  Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune, Monday, April 26, 1982.

 

There are 74 onstage deaths in the works of William Shakespeare — 75 if you count the black ill-favored fly killed in Titus Andronicus. From the Roman suicides in Julius Caesar to the death fall of Prince Arthur in King John; from the carnage at the end of Hamlet to snakes in a basket in Antony and Cleopatra. And then there’s the pie that Titus serves his guests. Audiences will see all these and more in 15 minutes, updated for 2023 by the founder of Chicago’s Free Shakespeare Theatre Company, Frank Farrell.

The cast will feature Michael Brunetti, Lee DeCecco, Claudia Egli, Frank Farrell, Brian Hagerty, Haley Karlich, Jennier Kim, Adam Muñoz, Danielle Ruth and Hannah Simpson

KATHLEEN KIRK (Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea/Playwright) is a widely-published poet, freelance writer, editor, actor, and director who moved back to her hometown in central Illinois after a career in Chicago. She serves on the Board of Heartland Theatre Company, where she has acted, directed, and written short plays for the Young at Heartland acting troupe. She writes history-based scripts for Illinois Voices Theatre, performed in the annual History Makers Gala and Evergreen Cemetery Walk for the McLean County Museum of History. In Chicago, Kathleen acted with the Free Shakespeare Company, for which Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea was written, as well as the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Court Theatre, and others, and directed in the Organic Theater’s New Plays Festival. She is the poetry editor for Escape Into Life, an online journal, and works part time at a public library.

 

FRANK FARRELL (Director & Artistic Director of the First Flight Theatre Company) has recently directed three short films and one full length; Walt Kelly’s Songs of the Pogo, The Leaves Were FallingSalvador and In the Garden of Live Flowers. He was an actor in Chicago for 40 years receiving three Joseph Jefferson acting nominations and recently returned to NYC where he was born. While in Chicago he directed and produced plays for Free Shakespeare Theatre Company, Temporary Theatre, Shakespeare’s Herd, Steppenwolf Theater, Raven Theatre, Equity Library Theater Chicago, the North Lakeside Players and Theatre-Hikes. For Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest, IL he directed outdoor productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, Spoon River Anthology, Romeo and Juliet and Scapin. Frank has formed six theater companies along the way including Theatre-Hikes in Chicago and, in Grand Haven, Michigan, the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company. In NYC he wrote, directed and produced Forgotten Soldiers from Our Forgotten War for the First Flight Theatre Company, the seventh theatre group he has formed. For First Flight he also coordinated several stage readings of Maxwell Anderson’s plays in New York City and Chicago. Frank directed and produced last summer’s production of Maxwell Anderson’s play Valley Forge and this summer’s production of Little Women for First Flight at The Hermitage Mansion in Bergen County, New Jersey. His Zoom film In the Garden of Live Flowers recently won Best Biopic at the Green Academy Awards Film Festival. Since 2015 he has published seven books including Forgotten Soldiers from Our Forgotten War, all available at Amazon.com.

THE FREE SHAKESPEARE THEATRE COMPANY (Shakespeare’s Deaths/Playwright) had its beginnings in October 1980 when Frank Farrell assembled a group of Chicagoans to explore Shakespeare’s plays and try to make them more accessible to modern audiences. The book Free Shakespeare by John Russell Brown served as a guide for the new company. Brown hoped a group of actors would get together and with no rehearsal and no director put on Shakespeare’s plays for the public. In this way he theorized that the actors and the audience would discover the plays together. For its first season the company presented 12 Plays by Shakespeare in late night weekend performances at a new theatre space at the time behind Chicago’s Second City Theatre. In April of 1982 for Shakespeare’s birthday Free Shakespeare presented a 24-hour marathon of plays and sonnets by the Bard. This marathon included the two short plays Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea and Shakespeare’s Deaths. The Free Shakespeare Theatre Company was Chicago’s first year-round Shakespeare company and continued producing plays by Shakespeare for many years. It proved to be a valuable training ground for young actors during Chicago’s burgeoning theatre growth in the final decades of the 20th century. 

FIRST FLIGHT THEATRE COMPANY is a not-for-profit founded by Frank Farrell in 2018 is devoted to presenting the plays of 20th century American playwright Maxwell Anderson as well as other playwrights who instill poetry in their writing. Since its start the company has performed live stage readings of Anderson’s plays in New Jersey, New York City and Chicago including Valley Forge, Elizabeth the Queen, Mary of Scotland, Sea-Wife, The Masque of Queens, White Desert and The Eve of St. Mark. In addition, the company presented live presentations in New York City of Frank Farrell’s play Forgotten Soldiers from Our Forgotten War, Maxwell Anderson’s first Broadway play White Desert in Chicago and Dickens by Candlelight: A Christmas Carol at the Hermitage in New Jersey. During the pandemic First Flight presented play readings on Zoom for the public. These were benefits featuring actors from all over the United States and England and they benefited various not-for-profits. Productions streamed included Maxwell Anderson’s one-act plays The Feast of Ortolans, Second Overture, The Miracle of the Danube and Letter to Jackie. Also streamed were A Vampire Kiss in the Plague of 1666 written by James Fitzmaurice, which went on to win many awards on the film festival circuit, Salvador, a play about Salvador Dalí by Richard Young, another film festival winner, and a streaming version of Anderson’s White Desert. Post-pandemic the company presented at The Hermitage in New Jersey outdoor productions of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Maxwell Anderson’s Valley Forge followed by indoor performances of Mina, based on Dracula and a reprise of Dickens by Candlelight: A Christmas Carol. For this past Earth Day in April the First Flight Theatre Company presented streaming performances of In the Garden of Live Flowers, a play about Rachel Carsonwhich went on to be a winner at this year’s Green Academy Award Film Festival. Most recently the company and the Instant Shakespeare Company have joined forces presenting play readings at New York City’s various public libraries including Anderson’s White Desert and Sea-Wife and upcoming in December Maxwell Anderson’s 1924 play What Price Glorywww.firstflighttheatreco.com

DARK NOON REVIEW – EXTRAORDINARY OUTSIDER VISION OF AMERICAN HISTORY ·

(Mark Fisher’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/7/2023. Only the merciless survive … Dark Noon. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod)

Pleasance @ EICC, Edinburgh
South African actors replay the brutal events of the US’s formation as a catalogue of poverty, struggle, violence and pain

We know the story. We have heard it told countless times. One of the US’s great skills is in self-mythologising. Time and again, it has told the world about the first European settlers, the battles with the Indigenous people and the romantic dash for the western frontier. Everyone knows about cowboys, the gold rush, religion and commerce. Wherever you are from, you can talk about the American dream.

So it should not be a surprise to see this extraordinary show co-directed by Denmark’s Tue Biering and South Africa’s Nhlanhla Mahlangu for Fix & Foxy. On the surface, it sets itself the task of charting the birth of a nation from the arrival of its first impoverished immigrants to its early industrialisation, from lawlessness to civilisation. In a sequence of lightly narrated scenes, it plays out the key stages in the country’s development in pictorial style.

What makes it fresh, arresting and not a little troubling is who is telling the story. The seven actors are South African, six black, one white, who recount the familiar tales with the wonder of outsiders. Putting on blond wigs and daubing their faces in white makeup, they see nothing noble or romantic about this invasion of a foreign land, but a catalogue of poverty, struggle and violence. Most of the 35 million Europeans who crossed the Atlantic were as hungry and impoverished as the migrants in today’s world. Scarcely a scene goes by that does not end with a bullet.

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