Monday, January 12, 2009

Melvillapalooza: Not Just a Theatre Festival

I just came home from opening night at Metropolitan Playhouse's Melvillapalooza (where I saw two very different one-act plays--one based on Billy Budd, the other a fanciful comedy about the genesis of Moby Dick; my review will be on nytheatre.com soon).

I want to make sure that folks know about this festival, during this amazing month of festivals all over downtown Manhattan. This the fourth year in a row that Metropolitan has given over its January to a celebration of a significant American writer of the 19th century (previous years were dedicated to Hawthorne, Poe, and Twain). For two solid weeks, artists present new work adapted from or inspired by the author in question--in this case, Herman Melville. It's a very inexpensive and educational way to bone up on some of those classic American works you haven't thought about in a while or somehow never got to read.

I had a nice chat with Alex Roe, the artistic director of Metropolitan Playhouse, and he mentioned something that I found particularly inspiring about Melvillapalooza. He said, rather than just focusing on theatrical works inspired by Melville, his goal this year with the festival was to make it a truly literary event. To that end, in addition to the plays, musicals, and staged readings that comprise most of the schedule, there are three evenings devoted to the works of Melville, as he wrote them: readings of Bartleby the Scrivener, three short stories including "Benito Cereno" and "The Lighting Rod Man," and selected poems. These readings will feature actors doing the prose and poetry of Melville himself, not in dramatic form. They take place on Tuesday, January 13; Tuesday, January 20; and Wednesday, January 21.

In addition, there's a symposium featuring Melville scholars from NYU and elsewhere on January 25.

I love that Alex and the folks at Metropolitan work hard to make sure that this festival is as diverse and inclusive as possible. Information about the festival is here and here.