Friday, November 27, 2009

Kickoff! -- Stolen Chair Theatre's Community Supported Theatre

Here's the first dispatch from Jo Ann Rosen, nytheatre.com's "embedded journalist" with the Stolen Chair Theatre's Community Supported Theatre program.

*****

November 22, 2009

Even before President Obama urged educators to concentrate their efforts on math and science, Stolen Chair Theatre co-artistic directors Jon Stancato and Kiran Rikhye were reaching for the stars. Last night, they launched the pilot program of their Community Sponsored Theatre (CST) that introduced friends, family and, most importantly, the new CST members to this year’s theatrical theme: Quantum Poetics: A Science Experiment for the Stage.

The evening, divided into two parts, began with a slide presentation by Jon, also the resident director, explaining the CST concept, which he hopes will solidify a long-term relationship between the theater group and its membership. The plan is to update and educate the members monthly on the creative process. Kiran, Stolen Chair’s resident playwright, focused on their mission statement: to create “playfully intellectual, wickedly irreverent and exuberantly athletic original works.” Aviva Meyer, the communications director, explained how they intend to increase awareness through telephone interviews that will become pod casts and through their online social network, The Chaise Lounge, where subsequent CST events and other related activities, will be posted.

But it was the second part of the evening that delivered on the CST concept; that is, they shared the result of their first steps in the dynamic process of creating a play. Seven actors re-enacted exercises developed during a recent creative retreat. To prepare for the retreat, each actor received a 211-page compilation of articles and books on a wide variety of scientific subjects, including theoretical physics and neuroscience. They also received books by Bertolt Brecht, Aristotle, and Richard Schechner, who, in Jon’s words, “approach theater with the same sort of empirical rigor as scientists.” During the retreat, ideas percolated and Jon added requirements and boundaries to the concepts. The actors interpreted and enacted them. The best of the compositions were presented at the kickoff.

Performances represented the personification of five theories: chaos, gravity, memory, evolution, and synethesia (senses crossing from one part of the brain to another, as from brain damage or drugs). The first exercise, made up of all seven actors, reflected an imaginative interpretation of a human collider creating new matter. The group, held tightly together by a hula hoop, moved slowly to center stage. Once the plastic ring dropped, each burst from the whole with great energy. Another performance related the story of The Three Little Pigs to represent three gravity-defining moments; a third showed the daily routine of two people that could easily have doubled for two rats in a maze. All were big scientific ideas applied to every day life. They were made comprehensible and whimsical by this very clever group.

Kiran, who will be giving shape to the final play, knows there will be lots of changes during this year-long collaboration. The final version may include parts of the exercises, maybe only a gesture, or none of it. But, what the charter members saw last night was the first spark of a new play – Quantum Poetics: A Science Experiment for the Stage. The next event is on Sunday, December 13. They will be screening clips from movies that explore scientific themes. Membership is still open.

*****

Learn more about Stolen Chair and CST here.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Major Savings on Tickets to Pilar Rioja Flamenco

Theatergoers who have never experienced authentic flamenco on stage have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so at a very affordable price this month. Thanks to a grant from Target, Repertorio Espanol is offering a great ticket discount for purchases made on or before November 16th. You pay regular price for the first ticket ($30 and up) and just $1 for the second ticket. (You can buy up to 8 tickets with this offer.)

Pilar Rioja was born in Torreón, México to Spanish parents who hailed from the Rioja region of Spain. Ms. Rioja combined her modern, ballet and classical dance training with traditional Spanish dance forms. She has taught throughout Latin America, Spain, the United States and even Armenia, and to the dancers of the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. Ms. Rioja has been an inspiration for many artists' work including: a sculpted bust by Arnold Taylor, drawings and paintings by Hector Javier, paintings by Spanish artist Antonio Peyri, a collection of songs and poetry by Luis Ríus, poetry by Juan Duch and Alfonso Simone and an audiovisual production by Neil Goldberg in New York (http://www.neilgoldberg.com/). Ms. Rioja has performed in the United States, México, Latin America, Spain, Austria, Bulgaria and throughout the former Soviet Union. In 1996, she performed in England with the BBC Proms Orchestra and in 1997 with the Brooklyn Philharmonic in New York; as a guest artist with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra in Portland and the San Antonio Symphony in Texas as well as two participations in the prestigious Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts. Ms. Rioja debuted solo in New York at Repertorio Español in 1972, this is her 37th season with the Company.

You can read more about her show here. Tickets for Pilar Rioja may be reserved by phone: 212-225-9920; online: repertorio.org or in person: Repertorio Español’s Gramercy Arts Theater Box Office located at 138 East 27 Street, New York, NY between Lexington and Third Avenues.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Temperamentals Moves to Off-Broadway

Here's a great piece of news: The Temperamentals, Jon Marans's excellent and insightful new play about Harry Hay and the founding of the Mattachine Society, is moving to New World Stages in February.

This is a terrific work that reminds us how recent the struggle for gay rights really is; it's particularly timely in this current period of opposition to same-sex marriage rights. I reviewed the original off-off-Broadway presentation here.

I had the privilege of interviewing playwright Jon Marans on an episode of our nytheatrecast podcast series. Listen here or read more about it.

I'll post details about casting, ticketing, and more as they are released, on nytheatre.com

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Stolen Chair Theatre's Community Supported Theatre

Stolen Chair Theatre Company was recently awarded a grant to develop a new model for funding their work. Their program--Community Supported Theatre--is based on the very successful Community Supported Agriculture concept. You can read much more about what Stolen Chair is planning to do here. I did a podcast with Stolen Chair members Jon Stancato and Aviva Meyer along with Jennifer Wright Cook from The Field which provides lots of great background about this initiative as well.

We at NYTE think that what Stolen Chair is doing has real significance and applicability to the indie theater community. So we've asked the folks at Stolen Chair if we can have one of our contributors follow the program as it develops and unfolds, as an "embedded" member of the new CST. They've graciously consented, and so today I am happy to let readers know that nytheatre.com staffer Jo Ann Rosen will be reporting about CST for the next nine months, right here at the nytheatre i.

Here's Jo Ann's initial dispatch:

Good ideas are plentiful, but the number of people willing to invest time, money, and a detailed plan to see whether, in fact, their concepts actually work are far fewer. This appears particularly relevant in theater, where the daily scramble to keep the dinghy afloat is particularly acute. Therefore, it seemed worth more than a glance to talk to Jon Stancato, co-artistic director of The Stolen Chair Theatre Company, and learn about his ambitious plans for developing community sponsored theater (CST). For the next nine months, I will be embedded for nytheatre.com as a member of Stolen Chair, reporting on the monthly events of Stancato’s new business model for theater production.

Basically, Stancato is rethinking the relationship of the audience to his theater, offering an alternative to the actively-engaged theatergoer. His idea grew from his long-time membership in Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA), where each member invests seed money and in return reaps the profits of local farms. According to Jon, some weeks the produce he received looked gorgeous and tasted even better, other weeks less so due to heavy rains. At times, he received a nice variety of vegetables, other times his share could amount to five pounds of cauliflower. Still, he is nothing short of ecstatic about his heightened understanding and better appreciation for the farm-to-table process. “I’ve learned so much about food!” - about the process, what goes into putting it on the table, an increased enjoyment of eating, and an interest in cooking. Then, the connection sank in. Could he do the same thing with his theater? That is, could he create a rich and committed community by including people in the process?

Jon thinks so. Members will participate once per month in a wide range of events that illuminate his chosen topic: panel discussions, lectures, viewings of rehearsal footage, movies, field trips, and more, ending with a full production of a new play. “My plays always start with an obsession,” he offered. He reads, and reads, and then reads some more on topic. His references for each production are listed on Stolen Chair’s website. “I’m trying to create theater that hasn’t been done before.” The topic for the pilot project is Quantum Poetics. Not interested in science? Too intellectually challenging? According to Jon, the concepts will be presented in relevant, understandable ways that have meaning for the members.

Stancato is aiming for 100 charter members, but will breathe easy with 50. They might be connected to people in the production, interested in the subject matter, or intrigued by Stolen Chair and its process. Wherever they come from and whatever their interest level, Stancato is intent on building a group of invested audience members. “This is not about rewarding donations. It’s about creating community,” he emphasized. “By buying into the community, you get nine months worth” of enlightening and thoughtful entertainment related to the play’s topic. All members receive the same benefits, but there are several ways of joining. A group of three can join for $325; one person for $175; and a student for $150. Stolen Chair has already received a $20,000 grant to jumpstart this idea. Stancato will kick off his CST on November 22.

Watch here for monthly updates of the events. It should be a fascinating year.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Meet Susan Louise O'Connor and Greg Kotis

Next Monday night (November 9), at the Kraine Theater, members of the indie theater community will have a chance to meet two of its biggest success stories in a panel sponsored by the League of Independent Theater.

Susan Louise O'Connor has been given nicknames like the "queen of downtown theatre" after a long history of memorable performances in plays by Daniel MacIvor and others at venues like the Red Room and 14th Street Theatre. Her career has recently taken off in more commercially viable directions, happily; last spring she appeared on Broadway in Blithe Spirit, alongside Angela Lansbury, Christine Ebersole, and Rupert Everett, in a performance that was highly regarded enough to bring her a Theatre World Award.

Greg Kotis had a long career working in the trenches in Chicago and NYC indie theater scenes before his musical Urinetown (co-written with Mark Hollman) made a splash (pun entirely intended; sorry) first at the FringeNYC festival in 1999 and then off-Broadway and finally, in 2001, on Broadway at the Henry Miller Theatre. Greg won 2 Tony Awards for Urinetown.

At Monday's "Get Lit with LIT" event, you will have the chance to hear from Susan and Greg as they talk about the trajectories of their careers. Mark Lonergan will moderate a panel with these two artists, and afterward there will be time for audience members to speak directly with both of these folks. This is a great chance for people in the indie theater world to spend some quality time with people who have set down roots in our community but achieved success in the more "mainstream" world beyond it.

This event is free!

Get Lit with LIT, featuring Susan Louise O'Connor and Greg Kotis, is at the Kraine Theatre, on Monday, November 9, from 7-9pm.