Thursday, October 15, 2009

Previewing Ars Nova's ANT Festival

Ars Nova's ANT Festival, which runs from October 20 - November 22 at the Midtown venue, is tough for a website like nytheatre.com to cover. All of the programs are one-night-only, and many are works-in-progress, not really suitable for review. How can we get people excited about this festival, and give them the info they need to decide whether they want to go to it, and if so, which shows they want to sample?

We are solving this dilemma with a two-pronged attack on the festival! By tomorrow, our preview podcast for the 2009 Festival will be online at nytheatrecast.com and available for download. This podcast is one of the most fun ones we've ever made. We got artists from 18 out of the 32 shows participating in ANT and we gave each of them 90 seconds at the microphone. The result is a collage of every kind of contemporary performance you can imagine! Cudzoo and the Fagettes sing an a cappella ditty about a-b-o-r-t-i-o-n, Soce the Elemental Wizard performs a 30-second rap, Jesica Delfino plays on her v-shaped ukulele, Elsie Jay's Improv Girl Smash tantalize us with a chat about what sort of hookers they will play at their show, and The Mighty Third Rail give listeners a sample of their beatboxing accompanied by a mean fiddle player.

And there's much more! Check out our podcast and get a real taste of the ANT Festival. Then check out Ars Nova's website for the details about showtimes, ticketing, etc.

Now for the second prong: I asked Emily Shooltz, one of the curators of the festival, to answer a few questions about this event. Here's our cyber-conversation:

ME: How do you go about finding the artists who will participate in the festival?

EMILY: We accept open submissions for ANT FEST each summer. We put out the call to emerging artists in theater, music, comedy and everything in between to send us their original shows, and this year we were lucky to have an embarrassment of riches--we received hundreds of applications from a truly phenomenal range of talent. We could have programmed the festival twice over from the materials we received, so choosing just thirty nights was a challenge! Our goal is to find the next wave of emerging artists, those who see the future of live entertainment and need a chance to show off their skills. Over the five weeks of the festival this year, more than 200 artists will use ANT FEST as a way to showcase their talents.

ME: What can audiences expect at Ars Nova during the festival?

EMILY: Every night a new group of performers takes the stage and the festival is designed to be eclectic, so you definitely won't see the same thing twice! Expect to see emerging artists pushing the boundaries, and a lot of hot new talent exploding preconceived notions of what a concert, or a play, or a crypto-zoology-horror show can be. Our hope is that audiences will take a chance on a few different shows to get a taste of the wide range the festival has to offer. We definitely have concerts for music lovers, great improv and sketch for comedy fans, but also magic, vaudeville, a play or two, and even an interpretive dance squad to wrap things up. Plus we've added late-night variety shows called Showgasm on Thursdays during the festival--they're free and a great way to hang out with festival artists and sample what's coming up in ANT FEST.

ME: What's it like to attend one of the performances?

EMILY: It's an awesome, fun, night out! Because each performance is for one night only, the crowd is pumped to be there and there's a great vibe around the whole event. All of the ANT FEST artists are very supportive of each others' shows, and it's not uncommon for the party to continue at a bar around the corner when the curtain comes down.

ME: Can people get drinks and/or food?

EMILY: We have a full bar in the theater (be warned--the drinks are strong!) and snacks like chocolate and Pirate's Booty. People are welcome to take drinks to their seats, but we have no drink minimum, so no pressure!

ME: Do the artists hang out?

EMILY: Absolutely. ANT FEST artists can see any of each others' shows for free (space permitting), so they are around for performances, and the Showgasms are a way for everyone to come together and have a beer and watch some hilarity each week. Plus, our festival bars, Bar Nine and The Ritz, are offering ANT FEST artists and audience members a free drink with their program after the shows, so why would anyone go home?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Plays and Playwrights 2010: First Announcement

Friends, colleagues, readers -- today I am very excited to announce the forthcoming publication of NYTE's 11th annual anthology of new works from the world of indie theater: Plays and Playwrights 2010. We are now in production for this volume, with an expected release date of February 1, 2010.

Plays and Playwrights 2010 will include ten plays, culled from the hundreds of new American plays that premiered in NYC's indie theaters from September 2008-September 2009. Here they are, in the order they appeared on stage:
  • The Invitation by Brian Parks: This is a scathing, vitriolic, and surprising dark comedy from one of the masters of contemporary comedy of manners. In it, a dinner party among five old friends goes horribly awry.
  • Flip Side by Ellen Maddow: This play from The Talking Band contrasts two opposite worlds--one drab and predictable, the other fast-paced and dynamic. It's an exploration of symmetry, balance, and harmony--in our lives, and in theatrical style.
  • Any Day Now by Nat Cassidy: A modern epic tragicomedy about a family coping with their daily lives...and an epidemic of zombie-ism. Nat's play The Reckoning of Kit and Little Boots was recognized last month at the New York Innovative Theatre Awards.
  • The Spin Cycle by Jerrod Bogard: As the title suggests, this is a cycle of short plays about the notion of "spin" in contemporary America. Jerrod's "green" musical for children, Jack and the Soy Beanstalk, is currently playing at the Algonquin Theatre.
  • Suspicious Package: Rx by Gyda Arber and Aaron Baker: This interactive "iPod" play premiered at the Brick's Antidepressant Festival. It embraces Web 2.0 technology in a dazzlingly innovative way.
  • Our Country by Tony Asaro and Dan Collins: A new musical about a country & western singer who is inadvertently outed following a tryst with a cop in a public men's room. Full of heart and vigor, this show premiered at the brand new Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.
  • Maddy--A Modern Day Medea by Will LeVasseur: This is a contemporary re-telling of the legend of Medea, set in a Southern trailer park. Its exploration of the cosmic forces invoked in the story bowled me over.
  • Al's Business Cards by Josh Koenigsberg: The format of La Ronde is freely adapted here into a hilarious farce about circumstance and coincidence and miscommunication and misunderstanding.
  • The Songs of Robert by John Crutchfield: A one-man musical about a young man growing up in Appalachia. This smart and sensitive piece debuted in the New York International Fringe Festival.
  • MilkMilkLemonade by Joshua Conkel: A parable about growing up queer in the American heartland, by a young playwright who has made a big name for himself within the indie theater community in a very short period.

I'll be posting about the new book every so often between now and its release, to keep you apprised of our progress and, more importantly, to introduce the plays and playwrights to you. I am proud to be working with these 12 distinguished artists, and thrilled to present their work to a wide audience in Plays and Playwrights 2010.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Ellen Stewart Theater

On November 1, the La MaMa Annex Space will be renamed The Ellen Stewart Theater, as a living tribute to La MaMa's founder and artistic director. I can't think of better way to celebrate the life and career of Ellen Stewart; nor can I think of a theater person more deserving of having a theater named after them.

The following comes from the press release from La MaMa:

La MaMa ETC - one of the standard-bearers of experimental theater in New York and around the globe since it was founded in 1961 by the inimitable Ellen Stewart - will rename its Annex theater the Ellen Stewart Theater at a gala entitled "Celebrating Ellen" on Sunday, November 1 at 4 p.m. at the Annex (66 E. 4 St.), it has been announced by Mia Yoo, Associate Artistic Director of La MaMa, and Frank Carucci, President of the theater's Board of Directors.

A host of La MaMa alum - including Tony winner Bill Irwin, Meredith Monk, John Kelly, Peggy Shaw, Lois Weaver, Elizabeth Swados, Andrei Serban and members of Ms. Stewart's own Great Jones Repertory Company - will perform and pay tribute to Ms. Stewart, affectionately known as "Mama," at the November 1st event, which will also mark the 48th anniversary of the founding of La MaMa ETC.

Through Ms. Stewart's guidance and vision of international and multi-cultural collaboration in the arts, La MaMa ETC is considered the home of experimental theater in America, one of the premiere presenters of the international avant-garde, and a beacon to all artists who explore the boundaries of creative expression. Well-known names of the theatre for whom La MaMa was their first artistic home in the United States include Andrei Serban, Elizabeth Swados, Jerzy Grotowski, Tadeusz Kantor, Tom O'Horgan, Lee Breuer,Tom Eyen, Mike Figgis, Joel Zwick, Harold Pinter (THE ROOM -- La MaMa was the first presenter of Mr. Pinter's work in the United States); Kazuo Ohno, Tan Dun, Julia Stiles and Diane Lane, as well as artists from Japan, Nigeria, Korea, Zaire, Ivory Coast, Poland and countless other countries. La MaMa was the first Off-Off Broadway theatre to support full-time resident companies, and was the first Off-Off company to tour Europe. La MaMa has been honored with numerous OBIE Awards, dozens of Drama Desk Awards, Bessie Awards and Villager Awards.

For ticket information about "Celebrating Ellen," call the La MaMa box office at 212-475-7710. Single tickets are available for $100, with various patron packages also available.

Ellen Stewart also won the first Stewardship Award from the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation (an award that NYTE was honored to received in 2008). La MaMa's website is at http://www.lamama.org.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Theater for the Adventurous Soul

There is always so much interesting and surprising theater going on in NYC at any given time that it's sometimes easy for shows to "fall through the cracks." Our mission here at nytheatre.com--and at our affiliated website, indietheater.org--is to try to make sure that this doesn't happen. We want to be certain that while the mainstream media is talking about Hugh Jackman and Tony Roberts and Jeremy Piven, there's also a place on the web where people can learn about the New York Neo-Futurists and Rich Lovejoy and David D'Agostini.

That's why today we launch Theater for the Adventurous Soul.

It's a new section of indietheater.org where I will highlight (to quote myself) "the best in unusual, inventive, out-of-the-ordinary, under-the-radar indie theater." TFAS will be updated continually, to provide news and views about the great stuff happening in the world of indie theater that you might not have heard or read about...shows that are perfect for folks who want to be challenged by and immersed in a fulfilling and stimulating theatrical experience.

The current lineup at TFAS includes Laika Dog in Space, The Dark Heart of Meteorology, and Homer's Odyssey.

Please check out this newest feature and let me know your thoughts about it. And, if you have ideas for some other kinds of theatre you'd like to see spotlighted here at nytheatre.com and indietheater.org -- i.e., theater for people other than "adventurous souls" -- please send me your suggestions! (Email me.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Another Look at Indie Theater

Theatre Resources Unlimited (TRU) is presenting a panel on Wednesday, October 21, that should be both interesting and edifying. It's called "Where Do I Belong: Off-Broadway or Indie Theater?" Here's the description, from the good people at TRU:


We'll attempt to define "indie theater," the new designation for showcase and off-off-Broadway productions, and compare it to off-Broadway. Are the differences mainly economic, or are there significant aesthetic distinctions? Does "indie" necessarily encompass fringe and festival production? When planning a production of a new work, what are the reasons for aiming at one medium versus another? What economic impact does "indie theater" have on New York's economy? And how different is producing not-for-profit from producing commercially?
As you may know, the term "indie theater" was coined by Kirk Wood Bromley back in 2005, and has been championed by me here on the nytheatre i and on nytheatre.com's community website, indietheater.org. I am very excited that TRU has invited me to participate on their panel to talk about what it means for theater to be "indie"--economically, artistically, and in other contexts. I am really looking forward to this event, and hope that lots of you will attend!

The other panelists slated to participate are: Paul Bargetto, Managing Director of Public Affairs, League of Independent Theater; Frances Black, Director of Member Services, ART-New York; Virginia Louloudes, Executive Director, ART-New York; and Stacey Cooper McMath, Associate Arts Program Specialist, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs.

Here's the rest of the important info about the event:

Doors open at 7:00pm for networking and refreshments, panel starts promptly at 7:30pm. FREE for TRU members; $12 for non-members. Please call at least a day in advance for reservations: 212/714-7628; or e-mail TRUnltd@aol.com. The panel will be held on Wed, October 21, 2009 at the Players Theatre, 115 Macdougal Street, Mainstage Theatre.

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You may also be interested in this TRU event: Pitching & Presentation Skills for Producers, Writers & Everyone! This is a new full-day, two-part program with Jane Petrov and Roy Havrilack of Skytown Entertainment, Saturday October 10, 11am to 5pm, Players Theatre, 115 Macdougal Street, 3rd floor loft. Full details are here.

Readers of the nytheatre i can attend for the special price of $125 (a $50 savings from the regular price of $175). Just tell the folks at TRU you heard about it from Martin.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Ways to Navigate the NYC Theatre Scene on nytheatre.com

Yesterday, we added two new features to nytheatre.com that I hope will be useful to our readers.

PICK A PLAYWRIGHT provides you with an alphabetical listing of playwrights whose work is currently playing (or about to be playing) in NYC. It's a simple, convenient way for you to keep up with the dramatists that matter to you. Who's the most popular playwright in New York right now? I don't think you'll be surprised, but you'll find the answer right here. (There's a tie for 2nd place between two very successful contemporary American playwrights.)

SEE SHOW WEBSITES is a portal to the official websites of shows with currently scheduled runs in New York theatres. What I love about this feature is that it lets you move rapidly from one show's site to another without having to hunt for the links--you can get a real feel for what a show is like by visiting its official site (usually!). The journey from one to another is fun and entertaining.

These are two additions that I've been looking forward to bringing to nytheatre.com for a while now. And they are just the beginning of what we have planned.

As you may recall, nytheatre.com won the "Show Your Impact" contest sponsored by Microsoft last summer, and received both a cash grant and a ton of software as the prize. Well, we've started working with some of our new software and we've made subtle but far-reaching changes to the nytheatre.com infrastructure. Maybe you've noticed some of the new little ways we've started enhancing our site: the design of the individual show/review pages has been improved, and we're listing more information about closed shows... we've added venue links to the festival calendar... we've upgraded the way festival productions are displayed throughout the site... and those are just a few examples.

I'll be announcing some new technology-related enhancements to nytheatre.com and to NYTE's suite of services to the NYC theatre community quite soon in upcoming posts on this blog. In the meantime, please let me know what you think of our new features and what changes/additions you'd like to see on nytheatre.com.