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    When an Actor Calls With a Poem to Share

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }At HomeBake: Maximalist BrowniesListen: To Pink SweatsGrow: RosesUnwind: With Ambience VideosAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyCritic’s NotebookWhen an Actor Calls With a Poem to ShareA Paris playhouse has developed a program of one-on-one “consultations,” delivered by its artists while the theater is closed.The singer Dimitra Kontou performing this week for an elderly patient at the Charles-Foix hospital in Ivry-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris.Credit…Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York TimesFeb. 25, 2021, 3:31 a.m. ETPARIS — “I am calling you for a poetic consultation,” said a warm voice on the telephone. “It all starts with a very simple question: How are you?”Since March, almost 15,000 people around the world have received a call like this. These conversations with actors, who offer a one-on-one chat before reading a poem selected for the recipient, started as a lockdown initiative by a prominent Paris playhouse, the Théâtre de la Ville, in order to keep its artists working while stages remained dark.It’s free: Anyone can sign up for a time slot, or make a gift of a call to someone. The exchange generally starts with simple questions about the recipient’s life, then ranges in any direction; after 20 to 25 minutes, the actor introduces the poem.As coronavirus restrictions in France stretch on, the program has become such a hit that the Théâtre de la Ville now offers consultations in 23 languages, including Farsi, its latest addition. It has also been expanded to encompass different subjects and formats: Since December, the actors have held consultations at a hospital and at emergency shelters run by the city of Paris.When Johanna White, the comedian who called me, asked how I was doing, I answered honestly. We may tell white lies to reassure loved ones, but there is no reason to skirt the truth with a kind stranger. White and I shared our pandemic coping strategies and talked about the ways in which theater has adapted in the past year.And then White picked my poem: “Incantation,” by the Polish-American poet Czeslaw Milosz. “Human reason is beautiful and invincible,” she began after a pause.A year into the pandemic, I’ll admit I had my doubts about the healing power of yet another replacement for live performance. Yet when I hung up the phone, I felt a little lighter. White, who has a rich, deep voice, was adept at putting an audience of one at ease, and Milosz’s words held hope.“Through the phone it can be intimate, because generally you’re isolated,” White, a trilingual voice actor, said in an interview the next day.The comedian Johanna White, who estimates that in the past year, she has talked to between 400 and 500 people around the world.Credit…via Théâtre de la Ville She estimates that in the past year, she has talked to between 400 and 500 people, from places including Wisconsin, Los Angeles, Chile and Niger. A man based in Beirut told her about local riots in which he had lost half of a hand; from Mexico, an 85-year-old woman shared her grief about being separated from her 92-year-old lover by pandemic-mandated rules.Consultations involve a great deal of improvisation, White said, including choosing a poem for a person you’ve only just met. “Each of us has our own method,” she added. “I file them by emotions, by feelings.”For the director of the Théâtre de la Ville, Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, the idea of individual consultations with actors didn’t come out of the blue. In 2002, when he was at the helm of the northern French theater La Comédie, in Reims, he initiated in-person sessions at a local bar. Passers-by could meet an artist and leave with a poetic “prescription” — a printed version of the poem that was read to them.Last February, he revived the concept at a Paris shopping mall, Italie Deux, where visitors could drop in for a chat between errands — and then the pandemic struck. The Théâtre de la Ville immediately pivoted to phone consultations. “We were ready,” Demarcy-Mota said in a phone interview this month.Other institutions have taken an interest in the program’s popularity. The Théâtre de la Ville has partnered with a handful of European playhouses, including the Teatro della Pergola in Florence and the Orkeny Theater in Budapest, to expand its roster of actors. Additionally, Demarcy-Mota and his team are in the process of holding phone training sessions with around 100 actors from nine African countries, including Benin and Mali, so theaters there can replicate the program.Demarcy-Mota acknowledged that the consultation format didn’t suit all stage actors. “Some were scared. You’re no longer performing while someone else watches: Instead, you’re in the position of listening to someone.” It involves a degree of psychology, White said, but “we’re not psychologists,” she added. “People need to feel that they’ve got a real person with them, that we’re in the same situation.”The Théâtre de la Ville now employs a total of 108 “consultants.” While most are actors, they also include singers, dancers and a handful of scientists, who share their knowledge via “scientific consultations” as part of a program started in December. (These are being offered only in French for now.)Most of the scientific consultations are also individual and take place over the phone, but the Théâtre de la Ville is testing group sessions over Zoom. Last week, I joined one with the astrophysicist Jean Audouze.To explain the relativity of time, Audouze suggested that when we talk via videoconference — that is, over electromagnetic waves — there is an infinitesimal delay between the moment someone speaks and the moment the other hears. “We’re all on our own time,” he said, something to bear in mind, perhaps, the next time a Zoom meeting descends into chaos.While remote sessions are the most virus-averse format, the Théâtre de la Ville also brought back in-person consultations this winter in partnership with public institutions. The Charles-Foix hospital in Ivry-sur-Seine, a Paris suburb, was the first to allow performers to come for conversations with staff members and patients. (Several other hospitals are scheduled to follow in the coming months.)Dimitra Kontou entertaining patients at the Charles-Foix hospital.Credit…Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York TimesThe actor Hugo Jasienski interacting with the patient Éliane Le Bras.Credit…Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York TimesDimitra Kontou, at the piano, with Simone Gouffe.Credit…Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York TimesOn a recent afternoon, the actor Hugo Jasienski and the singer and musician Dimitra Kontou went from room to room in a residential care building at the Charles-Foix for elderly patients, known as L’Orbe. As on the phone, each encounter led to a poem or, in Kontou’s case, a song.For some residents, especially those with dementia, the performances were adapted: Instead of asking questions, Kontou sang to them directly, in a transparent mask so they could see her mouth. Still, the music inspired interaction. At one point, a 97-year-old woman, Simone Gouffe, almost rose from her wheelchair and started singing, her voice powerful despite her slight frame.With other patients, the kind of conversations that flow so smoothly on the phone proved tricky to navigate. “What do you enjoy in life?” Jasienski asked one resident, Éliane Le Bras, 88. “Walking,” she said dryly. “But I can’t walk anymore.”Still, Le Bras lit up when the conversation turned to her great-grandchildren, and listened closely to a poem by the early 20th-century writer Anna de Noailles. “It’s nice,” she concluded. “A woman wrote this?”After the visit, Jasienski said that working on the consultations had been a unique experience for him as an actor. “The verdict lands immediately,” he said. “When you go back to the stage, you’ve learned a lot.”And while in some ways the consultations are more impromptu therapy than theater, now has been the right time for artists to embrace social responsibility, Demarcy-Mota said.“We need a new alliance between health care, theater, culture and education,” he said. “It’s time to take care of one another.”Dimitra Kontou’s uniform includes the logo of the Théâtre de la Ville.Credit…Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York TimesAdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Douglas Turner Ward: A Lens on ‘Questions That the Country Wasn’t Asking’

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyDouglas Turner Ward: A Lens on ‘Questions That the Country Wasn’t Asking’Samuel L. Jackson, David Alan Grier, Phylicia Rashad and others remember the Negro Ensemble Company founder.Douglas Turner Ward waiting to go onstage after the opening night performance of “A Soldier’s Play” in January 2020. Kenny Leon, who led the production, called Ward’s presence and smile up there that night “the greatest experience for me as an American director.” Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesFeb. 23, 2021Updated 5:20 p.m. ETDouglas Turner Ward, who died at 90 on Saturday, left a legacy of extraordinary reach.By the time he founded the Negro Ensemble Company in 1967 with Robert Hooks and Gerald Krone, he had already been on Broadway in the original 1959 cast of “A Raisin in the Sun,” playing a tiny role while understudying Sidney Poitier.In the mid-’60s, Ward made a splash with his short satire “Day of Absence” — in which Black actors in whiteface makeup played white characters — and with an essay in The New York Times titled “American Theater: For Whites Only?” He dedicated his career to making sure that the answer was no.Nurturing the talents of Black artists through his company, he watched a remarkable number go on to fame — not least those from his acclaimed 1981 original production of Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Soldier’s Play,” whose cast included Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson and David Alan Grier.This week, company alumni and other colleagues reminisced about Ward and how he shaped the field. These are edited excerpts from the conversations.Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson JacksonNegro Ensemble Company alums; in a joint interviewLATANYA RICHARDSON JACKSON He wanted the work of great African-American and Black artists to be as important to the world and to the artists themselves as the dominant culture. And his love of that original Negro Ensemble Company was always first in his conversation about art, because he so respected all of those actors and felt that they represented the best of the best inside the business, period.SAMUEL L. JACKSON He carried, like, four newspapers around with him. Every day. And when we were in rehearsal, he would sit in the back of the theater reading the paper. He would be in the back left corner reading the paper, and then, you know, you’d look up, and by the time you’d finished the first act, he’d be in the middle of the theater reading the paper, and then he’d be in another corner reading the paper, or in the balcony reading the paper. And at the end of rehearsal, he’d come down and give you notes! And we’d be like, “You’ve been reading the paper!” And then we started to find out that he only looked up from reading the paper when there was a bad line reading, or something sounded off.From left, Sophie Okonedo, Denzel Washington, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Bryce Clyde Jenkins and Anika Noni Rose in a 2014 performance of “A Raisin in the Sun” at the Ethel Barrymore Theater.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesLATANYA RICHARDSON JACKSON We stayed in touch with Doug. When I was doing “Raisin,” he was one of the first persons I saw when we came off the stage.SAMUEL L. JACKSON I remember when I was doing “Shaft,” he just walked into my trailer one night.LATANYA RICHARDSON JACKSON Yeah, he kept up with his people now. He would find you.SAMUEL L. JACKSON Sometimes when people pass, you can actually feel the hole in the universe. This is one of those.Robert HooksA founder of the Negro Ensemble CompanyWe bonded on the road with “A Raisin in the Sun.” Douglas got to play the Sidney Poitier role, Walter Lee [Younger], which was a role he had understudied from the very beginning.He was a highly intellectual man. Read all the time about everything. I was not into politics at all. But by the time we closed “Raisin in the Sun,” I was a politico. We talked politics all the time. We talked about Black art.His whole sense of humor as it relates to his writing was classic. He proves it, of course, in “Day of Absence,” when all the Black people disappear from this Southern town. It’s just hilarious. But the white folks that were laughing, their heads would roll down the aisle because that’s the kind of humor Douglas wrote: scathing, scathing stuff.Of all the men that I’ve ever met in my life, he was the greatest influence. My father died when I was 2. But when I met Douglas Turner Ward, I had a father and a brother.Phylicia RashadNegro Ensemble Company alum; in a written statementDouglas Turner Ward was a “salt of the Earth” person who brought those sensibilities to the art of theater. He was daring. He was bold. He was honest. He was kind. He made room for many theater artists. He even created space.Phylicia Rashad in the play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Broadhurst Theater in 2008. She said of Ward: “He was daring. He was bold. He was honest. He was kind.”Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesWoodie King Jr.Producing director and founder of New Federal TheaterHe was touring in “A Raisin in the Sun,” and they came to the Cass Theater in Detroit, and I went down to see the play and waited around. Then I walked them back to the hotel, and we talked. I showed up the next night and the next night. Finally they said, “When you get to New York, man, we can talk all the time.” I said, “Well, while you’re in Detroit for these two weeks, can I come back tomorrow?” So that was my first encounter with Douglas Turner Ward.Two weeks later, I saw Sidney Poitier in “The Defiant Ones.” These two dark-skinned actors sort of like put a stamp on the acting profession. That’s what I wanted to be. It seemed possible. Absolutely possible.Sade LythcottChief executive of National Black Theater, founded by her mother, Barbara Ann TeerDouglas and my mom grew up together, artistically. It was such a seminal moment in our country, the mid-1960s. It was the birth of Black consciousness. And “Day of Absence” was such a seminal work. My mom was in it. And that was such a metaphor for so much of their relationship: the support onstage and behind the stage to do something that felt revolutionary and felt accurate in the telling of our stories, and that that could be the revolution — Black stories in the way that Douglas wrote that. From our lens, the questions that the country wasn’t asking.David Alan Grier, second from left, facing Nnamdi Asomugha in “A Soldier’s Play,” in 2020. Grier was also in the original 1981 production of the Charles Fuller play, with Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesDavid Alan GrierNegro Ensemble Company alum Growing up in Detroit, I read about the Negro Ensemble. My parents took me to see a road company of “The River Niger.” These were artistic heroes to me, and specifically Douglas Turner Ward. When I went into the company of “A Soldier’s Play” [in the original production], I auditioned for him. I was really nervous, and he directed and put me in.I was in town to do “Race” back in 2009, and I ran into Doug in a restaurant we used to hang out in. He came over and he said, “I really want to congratulate you on all of your success on television and in film. But please, you guys” — meaning me, Denzel, Sam Jackson, not to put myself on their level, but we were all in the play together, that was our connection — he said, “Don’t forget the theater, man. Always come back. We need you here, and the theater needs you here.”Sometimes those words, those moments of mentorship, mean and resonate so much and so deeply.Kenny Leon, with the microphone, thanked Douglas Turner Ward, second from left, and Charles Fuller, third from the left, on opening night of “A Soldier’s Play” last year.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesKenny LeonDirector of the Broadway production of “A Soldier’s Play,” in 2020The greatest experience for me as an American director was when the curtain went down that opening night, for me to call Douglas Turner Ward and Charles Fuller on that stage. To have Doug come up there and have him smile like that.Hattie WinstonA founding member of the Negro Ensemble CompanyDouglas Turner Ward is responsible for — and I say this without hesitation — the careers of not only Sam and LaTanya and Denzel and myself, but Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, Charles Weldon, Adolph Caesar came through there. Not just actors, but costume designers, set designers, directors.Michael Schultz directed our very first production at the company, a play called “The Song of the Lusitanian Bogey” that was written by Peter Weiss, who was a German playwright who was a friend of Doug’s. It was all about colonialism in Africa. With that play, N.E.C. was chosen to represent the United States of America in the international theater festival in London. That was monumental.So Douglas Turner Ward, he’s in my heart, and he will always be in my heart. He’s responsible for me being who I am. It all came from Doug. We’re his children.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Douglas Turner Ward, Pioneer in Black Theater, Dies at 90

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyDouglas Turner Ward, Pioneer in Black Theater, Dies at 90A founder of the Negro Ensemble Company in New York in the 1960s, he was outspoken about limited opportunities for fellow Black actors and directors.Douglas Turner Ward, right, in 1971 with the director and producer Michael Schultz on the set of the play “The Sty of the Blind Pig.”Credit…Edward Hausner/The New York TimesFeb. 22, 2021Douglas Turner Ward, an actor, playwright and director who co-founded the celebrated Negro Ensemble Company, a New York theater group that supported Black writers and actors at a time when there were few opportunities for them, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 90.The death was confirmed by his wife, Diana Ward.Mr. Ward was establishing his own career as an actor in 1966 when he wrote an opinion article in The New York Times with the headline “American Theater: For Whites Only?”“If any hope, outside of chance individual fortune, exists for Negro playwrights as a group — or, for that matter, Negro actors and other theater craftsman — the most immediate, pressing, practical, absolutely minimally essential active first step is the development of a permanent Negro repertory company of at least Off-Broadway size and dimension,” he wrote. “Not in the future … but now!”The article got the attention of W. McNeil Lowry, the Ford Foundation’s vice president of humanities and the arts, who arranged a $434,000 grant to create precisely the kind of company that Mr. Ward was proposing. Thus the Negro Ensemble Company was born, in 1967, with Mr. Ward as artistic director, Robert Hooks as executive director and Gerald S. Krone as administrative director.The company went on to produce critically acclaimed productions, among them Joseph A. Walker’s “The River Niger” (1972), which won the Tony Award for best play in 1974 and was adapted for film in 1976. Mr. Ward not only directed the play but also acted in it, earning a Tony nomination for best featured actor in a play.Other notable productions by the company included Samm-Art Williams’s “Home” (1979) and Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “A Soldier’s Play” (1981), about a Black officer investigating the murder of a Black sergeant at a Louisiana Army base during World War II, when the armed forces were segregated. The cast included Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson. (It, too, was adapted for film, as “A Soldier’s Story,” in 1984.)Frank Rich of The Times called the production, directed by Mr. Ward, “superlative.” (The play was revived last January on Broadway, starring Blair Underwood, before being forced to close because of the pandemic.)The Negro Ensemble Company became — and continues to be — a training ground for Black actors, playwrights, directors, designers and technicians. Many of the troupe’s actors over the years went on to become stars, among them, in addition to Mr. Washington and Mr. Jackson, Angela Bassett, Louis Gossett Jr. and Phylicia Rashad.Mr. Ward, right, in 1967 with the ensemble company co-founder Robert Hooks. They started the troupe that year with a grant from the Ford Foundation, setting up headquarters at St. Mark’s Playhouse in the East Village.Credit…Don Hogan Charles/The New York TimesThe company, and Ford’s contribution, won immediate praise after its founding. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said the grant represented “a magnificent step toward the creation of new and greater artists in the community,” and Roy Wilkins, the executive director of the N.A.A.C.P. at the time, said the foundation had “recognized the potential in the Negro theater” and the talent of “hundreds of actors and entertainers who have struggled individually.”The company began racking up Obie, Tony and Drama Desk awards and recording firsts. In 1975, the Times critic John J. O’Connor acknowledged the historical significance of a “superb” television production of Lonne Elder III’s play “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men,” set in 1950s Harlem. “The event marks the debut of a major Black theater organization, the Negro Ensemble Company, on American network television,” he wrote.Mr. Ward starred with Rosalind Cash in 1975 in the well-received ABC television movie adaptation of the play “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men.” Credit…Bert Andrews/ABC, via Getty ImagesThe company enabled Mr. Ward to solidify his own career as an actor and director.“I love acting for the communal thing — you know, working with people,” he said in an interview with The Times in 1975. But directing, he added, “sort of happened to me.”“I never had any intention of functioning as a director,” he continued, “but as the artistic director of the company, I choose the plays, and if I can’t find someone to direct them for us, I do it myself.”One of the first plays he directed was Richard Wright and Louis Sapin’s “Daddy Goodness” (1968), about a town drunk in the rural South who falls into such a stupor that his friends think he is dead.In an interview, Mr. Fuller said, “Doug is the only director I have worked with that could read any play and know whether its story line and characters would ‘work’ onstage.”The Negro Ensemble Company was not immune to criticism, however. The founders were criticized early on for setting up their headquarters at the St. Mark’s Playhouse in Manhattan’s East Village rather than at a theater in Harlem, and for appointing a white administrator, Mr. Krone. (He died last year at 86.)Mr. Ward, front left, on opening night of a revival of “A Soldier’s Play” in New York last January. He shook hands with the play’s author, Charles Fuller. Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesRoosevelt Ward Jr. was born on May 5, 1930, in Burnside, La., to Roosevelt and Dorothy (Short) Ward, impoverished farmers who owned their own tailoring business. His family moved to New Orleans when he was 8, and he attended Xavier University Preparatory School, a historically Black Roman Catholic institution.Mr. Ward was admitted to Wilberforce University in Ohio in 1946, then transferred to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he studied politics and theater. He quit college at 19 and moved to New York City, where he met and befriended the playwrights Lorraine Hansberry and Mr. Elder.In the late 1940s, Mr. Ward joined the Progressive Party and took to left-wing politics. He was arrested and convicted on charges of draft evasion and spent time in prison in New Orleans while his case was under appeal. After his conviction was overturned, he moved back to New York and became a journalist for the Communist Party newspaper The Daily Worker.He also began studying theater, joining the Paul Mann Actors Workshop and choosing the stage name Douglas Turner Ward, in homage to two men he admired: the abolitionist Frederick Douglass and Nat Turner, who led a revolt against slavery.One of Mr. Ward’s first acting roles was in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” in 1956 at Circle in the Square in Manhattan; another was as an understudy in Ms. Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway in 1959, with Sidney Poitier and Claudia McNeil in the lead roles.He also began developing as a playwright. In 1965, an Off-Broadway double-bill production of his satirical one-act comedies “Happy Ending” and “Day of Absence” became a hit, bringing him a Drama Desk Award for outstanding new playwright. Surviving a transit strike, the production ran for 15 months.Mr. Ward had lead roles in many plays, including “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men,” for which he won the Drama Desk Award, and “The Brownsville Raid,” about an incident of military racial injustice in a Texas town. Clive Barnes, reviewing “Brownsville” for The Times, wrote “Ward, who, to be frank, I usually admire more as a director than an actor, has never been better.”Among his many awards and honors, Mr. Ward received the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award. In 1996, he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.He continued to write into his later years. Last March, he published “The Haitian Chronicles,” a series of three plays that he had been working on since the 1970s, all centered on the Haitian Revolution, which threw off colonial rule in the early 1800s. His wife said that he had considered the project his magnum opus and that she and others were hoping to have the plays staged in New York with alumni from the Negro Ensemble Company.In addition to Ms. Ward, whom he married in 1966, he is survived by their two children, Elizabeth Ward-Cuprill and Douglas Powell Ward, and three grandchildren.At the Negro Ensemble Company, Mr. Ward often played matchmaker in connecting actors to roles, seeking out opportunities for people whom he knew had not been getting much work.“Doug never saw N.E.C. as a place to feature himself,” the playwright Steve Carter, who was a production coordinator for the company, said in a phone interview for this obituary in 2017. “He was always looking for new people.”Mr. Carter, who died last year, said Mr. Ward had been known for his willingness to step into any role in which he was needed. He recalled in particular a 1972 production of “A Ballet Behind the Bridge,” by the Trinidadian playwright Lennox Brown. With the actor Gilbert Lewis unable to appear one evening, Mr. Ward was hastily summoned to fill in.“Doug went on with script in hand,” Mr. Carter said. Then Mr. Ward actually injured his hand on the set and began bleeding profusely, but he refused to go to the hospital until he had finished the show.“He would always do what was necessary for N.E.C.,” Mr. Carter said.Alex Traub contributed reporting.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Ex-Artistic Director of Greece’s National Theater Held After Rape Arrest Warrant

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyEx-Artistic Director of Greece’s National Theater Held After Rape Arrest WarrantThe case of Dimitris Lignadis is the most high-profile among the numerous directors and actors to have been named in a torrent of accusations that have rocked the Greek arts world.Director Dimitris Lignadis reciting a poem on the balcony of National Theater in Athens on World Poetry Day in 2016. Mr. Lignadis has been accused of sexual abuse and harassment and charged with rape.Credit…Giorgos Georgiou/NurPhoto, via Getty ImagesFeb. 20, 2021, 2:59 p.m. ETATHENS — The Greek police on Saturday evening arrested the former artistic director of the country’s prestigious National Theater, who has been the target of accusations of sexual abuse and harassment that have buffeted the Greek arts world over the past weeks.Dimitris Lignadis turned himself in at the Athens police headquarters shortly after being informed that a warrant had been issued for his arrest on rape charges, his lawyer, Nikos Georgouleas, said in a text message. Speaking later outside police headquarters, where his client was being held, Mr. Georgouleas said his client denied the charges.“Everything that is being heard, he denies,” the lawyer said.Mr. Lignadis is the most high-profile among the numerous directors and actors to have been named in a torrent of accusations that have rocked the Greek arts world. And the charges against him are among the most serious. He resigned from his post at the National Theater earlier this month after reports emerged suggesting that he had sexually harassed young actors, which he furiously denied. After his resignation, more reports emerged, alleging more serious abuse.Mr. Lignadis in 2019.Credit…Efi Skaza/Eurokinissi, via Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe upheaval in Greece’s arts world has come after an Olympic sailor, Sofia Bekatorou, accused a top sailing official last month of sexually abusing her in 1998. Her charges represented the first high-profile accusation of sexual assault and abuse of power in Greece since the #MeToo movement swept the world, bringing down powerful figures in sports, the media and beyond.On Friday, Greece’s culture minister, Lina Mendoni, said she had asked the country’s Supreme Court to investigate a barrage of accusations of sexual assault, primarily those involving the abuse of minors.In her remarks, Ms. Mendoni underlined the need for “catharsis” in Greece’s cultural sector and said that sexual abuse, particularly against minors, must not go unpunished.The unfolding scandal has fueled a vehement political fight in Greece. Ms. Mendoni’s detractors blame her for appointing Mr. Lignadis to the National Theater in 2019. Defending her ministry’s actions, Ms Mendoni said that neither she nor the country’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, had known Mr Lignadis “personally,” and knew him only as an actor.“Mr Lignadis is a dangerous man, but that has emerged now,” the minister said. She said she felt “deceived” by him.“With deep acting talent he tried to convince us that he had nothing to do with all this,” Ms Mendoni said, referring to the accusations of abuse.Mr. Mitsotakis, the prime minister, also referred to the mounting number of accusations of sexual abuse and harassment in the Greek performing arts during a televised meeting with President Katerina Sakellaropoulou on Friday.“The sexual abuse of minors is the most abhorrent version of this phenomenon,” Mr. Mitsotakis said at the meeting. “In the public dialogue that has fortunately begun we must achieve the greatest possible political and social consensus if we are to tackle the problem,” he said.Greek prosecutors are expected to start summoning witnesses next week for their broader inquiry into allegations of abuse and harassment in the Greek arts world, starting with the head of the country’s actors’ union, Spyros Bibilas, who said the union has been deluged with complaints by actors reporting alleged abuse.In a statement issued after Mr Lignadis’ arrest on Saturday, Greece’s Justice Ministry said that judicial authorities “will do whatever is necessary in order to ensure everything comes to light on this very shady case and for justice to be done.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Shakespeare Troupe to Go Without an Artistic Director

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyShakespeare Troupe to Go Without an Artistic DirectorAmid severe budget cuts and complaints about his leadership, Ethan McSweeny, who had run the American Shakespeare Center since 2018, will not return.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 ParkerFeb. 19, 2021The 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.“While the pandemic crisis metastasized this past fall, I increasingly found myself trying to conceive of an ASC that would enter 2021 tabula rasa, preparing to reshape itself for rebirth into a massively changed arts ecosystem and national economy,” McSweeny said in a statement on Facebook. “It turns out that part of what became necessary to give the company a truly blank slate was to erase myself as well.”He declined to comment on the complaints, which were voiced in a letter submitted to the theater last fall, other than to say “it is a factor, but not a cause.”The theater, in Staunton, Va., said its “actor-led theater model” would be in place at least for the immediate future, which is expected to include productions of “Macbeth,” “Henry V” and “All’s Well That Ends Well” this summer.The chairman of the theater’s board, G. Rodney Young II, said that he could not comment on the specifics of McSweeny’s departure, but that the theater is addressing its workplace culture and “moving away from a top-down, vertical approach to producing plays.”“We are committed to focusing on improving how we work with each other, how we communicate with each other, and how we respond to the challenges that many of those who work for us are experiencing — and by that I’m talking about people of color,” he said. “We’re aware that in the theater world there are challenges to a traditional, hierarchical structure, and we think that this new model we’re going to pursue will in some ways address those concerns.”The company, founded in 1988 and a destination for Shakespeare lovers, has, like many arts nonprofits, had a challenging year.The theater, in a rural area with a low number of Covid-19 cases, decided to continue presenting plays — indoors, outdoors and streaming — using a variety of safety measures, but without the blessing of Actors’ Equity, the national union of stage actors. Several actors left Equity in order to be able to continue working at the theater.The theater has nonetheless contracted financially, from about a $4.2 million organization before the pandemic to a $1.8 million organization now. The theater is currently dark and much of the staff is on furlough.McSweeny began at the theater in 2018 after a freelance directing career that took him to Broadway (“A Time to Kill” and “The Best Man”) and around the world. He oversaw the development of an ambitious strategic plan that was finished last March, just days before the pandemic prompted theaters around the country to close.“The catastrophic impact of the last eleven months of pandemic has resulted in a significantly changed trajectory for ASC,” McSweeny wrote. “As the new year dawned, the Board and I determined that within the financial constraints of the foreseeable future, ASC could still thrive without my leadership. Accordingly, I offered my resignation and will not be returning from the current companywide furlough.”The theater’s managing director, Amy Wratchford, announced her departure in October, but has continued to help balance the books as an interim controller. “They have a lot of figuring out to do, but they’ve got the financial stability to take the time to figure it out,” she said on Friday. “They’re not swimming in cash, but they’re not on death’s door, and I definitely think the company can and will survive.”She said the new leadership structure is an opportunity to try a new way of operating.“We’ve been saying for decades that the nonprofit theater model is broken,” she said. “They have an opportunity to create a truly new model. I’m excited to see where they go.”Jessika D. Williams, one of the actors who left Equity to continue performing at the theater this summer, said American Shakespeare Center had been working for some time on director-less shows. Its 2020 production of “A Christmas Carol,” for example, was developed and run by actors.“We had been starting to plan this actor-manager model, learning the ins and outs of administration and development and education, so we could have more agency and input moving forward,” she said.Williams, who was not among those who signed the letter about the workplace environment, has left the company to pursue a career in film and television.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Two Tales of Disconnection, With One Cicada Cameo

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }At HomeBake: Maximalist BrowniesListen: To Pink SweatsGrow: RosesUnwind: With Ambience VideosAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyCritic’s NotebookTwo Tales of Disconnection, With One Cicada CameoRecorded on a Houston stage, “The Book of Magdalene” is theatrically intimate, while “Hotel Good Luck” gets caught up in digital trickery.From left: Jennifer Wang as Len and Mariam Albishah as Ru in “The Book of Magdalene.”Credit…via Main Street TheaterPublished More

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    Review: The Internet and Real Life Blur in ‘Sin Eaters’

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyReview: The Internet and Real Life Blur in ‘Sin Eaters’Anna Moench’s play, about a woman working in social media content moderation, begins with dark humor but slides into psychological horror.Bi Jean Ngo in Anna Moench’s “Sin Eaters,” which is being streamed by Theater Exile in Philadelphia.Credit…via Theater ExileFeb. 18, 2021Sin EatersIf you think social media is a cesspool, Mary Lee knows that it’s even worse than that.Her story, recounted in Anna Moench’s play “Sin Eaters,” starts like the internet did: with the promise of a brighter, improved future. Mary (Bi Jean Ngo) and her partner, Derek (David M. Raine), are celebrating; she has finally landed a new job, and in tech at that. So what if she found the gig on Craigslist, it’s temporary, it pays $20 an hour, and she doesn’t know exactly what her duties will entail? It’s money, which the couple need to move out of their Staten Island hovel.“Sin Eaters,” presented on-demand by Theater Exile in Philadelphia, kicks off as a standard domestic dramedy. Derek, who has artistic aspirations, sulks a bit when Mary Lee points out that it would be easier for them to find a new place if they had two incomes, and suggests he should go back to catering.Darker waters, however, are churning underneath the banter. Noises from the neighbors bleed into the couple’s apartment, alternately gross and ominous. The petulant Derek has an unwelcome passive-aggressive streak. At one point, he adjusts a home surveillance camera on the ceiling, and it’s unclear whether Mary knows it’s there.Ngo, left, stars in the production with her real-life partner, David M. Raine, who plays all of the supporting characters.Credit…via Theater ExileThe unease grows more sharply defined when Mary turns up at her new cubicle (Matt Pfeiffer’s deft, inventive staging for this virtual production makes the most of the two main sets). She has been hired by a new social media platform, Between Us, to review anonymous posts that have been flagged for guideline violations. As anybody who has ever taken a wrong turn on the internet can attest, it does not always bring out the best in people.Mary’s days are a parade of gore, racism, child abuse and animal torture — a list of no-no’s helpfully hangs on a whiteboard, a constant reminder of the horrors people are capable of. “It’s a hard job,” her supervisor, Steve (voiced by Raine), tells her. “You eat the weirdos’ sins so normal people don’t have to.”Moench, whose play “Mothers” also displayed a penchant for dark humor, has set up a great premise. And the first half of “Sin Eaters” moves with assurance, layering paranoid, unsettling vibes and satirical barbs targeting contemporary corporate environments; the winner of a productivity challenge gets to choose between a $50 Starbucks gift card and a Skype interview with the company’s content managers.The play is on less solid ground when Mary’s job inevitably gets in her head. In theory, what happens on Between Us stays on Between Us; but the web has a nasty habit of spilling into real life, and vice versa. Just when Mary is getting used to — or rather, desensitized by — her daily parade of depravities, she thinks she recognizes somebody in one of the videos under review. She is not 100 percent sure, though, especially since everybody around her starts looking familiar. (Raine, who is Ngo’s real-life partner, plays all the supporting characters.)The turn into psychological horror — shades of Tracy Letts’s “Bug” or the Roman Polanski film “Repulsion” — feels a little tentative, in both the writing and direction. Still, it’s refreshing to see a play embrace genre instead of snobbing it as if it were the equivalent of a catering job.Sin EatersThrough Feb. 28; theatreexile.org.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    A ‘Roman Tragedies’ for the History Books

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyTheater ReviewA ‘Roman Tragedies’ for the History BooksThe International Theater Amsterdam presented Ivo van Hove’s exhilarating Shakespeare marathon in a one-off, livestreamed production.Chris Nietvelt as Cleopatra giving in to grief at the death of Mark Antony in Ivo van Hove’s staging of “Antony and Cleopatra,” part of the director’s “Roman Tragedies.”Credit…Jan VersweyveldFeb. 18, 2021, 4:05 a.m. ETSix hours have rarely passed so quickly, or been so smart.That was the immediate take-away from the livestream last Sunday of the director Ivo van Hove’s “Roman Tragedies,” an exhilarating distillation of Shakespeare’s three Roman plays performed throughout an afternoon and into the evening as part of the International Theater Amsterdam’s ITALive program.This marathon, modern-dress sequence of “Coriolanus,” “Julius Caesar” and “Antony and Cleopatra,” first performed in the Netherlands in 2007 and widely toured since, was revived for one mid-pandemic performance. And where similar offerings often remain online for later viewing, in this instance live meant live. If you blinked last weekend, you missed it — though six hours, to be fair, is quite a long blink.Van Hove wasn’t yet a Broadway and West End favorite when “Roman Tragedies” was first produced, but the Belgian maverick has since moved into the mainstream, winning Olivier and Tony Awards for his searing reappraisal of Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge.” Now as much of a star as the actors he draws to him, van Hove had just overseen the opening of his first Broadway musical, a production of “West Side Story,” when the pandemic shut down New York theaters almost a year ago.Despite van Hove’s gathering renown, I can’t think of a later production than “Roman Tragedies” that better exemplifies his skill for eliding past and present so that centuries-old texts acquire a hurtling immediacy. Precarious governments rocked by political infighting are common to all three plays, and van Hove links those machinations to our current age by playing video footage of contemporary world leaders in the background.The stage is set in van Hove’s signature anonymous style, with no time for period detail. And there are cameras at the ready — another favorite van Hove device. (At one point in “Antony and Cleopatra,” Bart Slegers’s anxious Enobarbus broke the fourth wall to bolt outside into Amsterdam’s wintry streets, catching dismayed passers-by unaware.) But what has perhaps become predictable about his aesthetic over time works stirringly here, as does his insistence on the timelessness of the plays, which seem more apposite now, perhaps, than ever.The stage for “Roman Tragedies” is set in van Hove’s signature anonymous style, with no time for period detail.Credit…Jan VersweyveldHe could never have guessed, in 2007, that talk of advancing upon the Capitol in “Julius Caesar” would link the death throes of the Roman Republic to events in Washington last month. When Hans Kesting’s bearish Mark Antony in the third and longest of the plays spoke of “a sudden passion for mutiny,” you couldn’t help but think of assaults on democracy then and now, from the classical world to modern-day Myanmar.The smoothed-out rendering of Shakespeare’s text — Sunday’s streaming was presented in Dutch, with English and French subtitles — dispensed with Elizabethan archaisms, allowing the plays’ meanings to emerge afresh. Key lines remained intact — woe betide anyone who messes with “Et tu, Brute?” — but elsewhere Tom Kleijn’s translation streamlined and brought clarity to the proceedings, highlighting themes that connect the plays without letting the obfuscations of language get in the way.Only in Cleopatra’s death scene did I miss the luxuriant wordplay of the original, which contains some of Shakespeare’s most ravishing verse. And yet that cavil fell away with Chris Nietvelt’s piercing performance as an Egyptian queen so poleaxed by the death of her Roman lover that she let rip with a series of screams. Could this have been the same actress from the opening play, “Coriolanus,” where she embodied a TV anchorwoman always smiling, no matter how grievous the news she had to report? Nietvelt completed a tremendous theatrical hat trick with her performance in “Julius Caesar” as a Casca full of foreboding about the chaos to come.If Nietvelt stood out amid an astonishing cast of players from the International Theater Amsterdam’s ensemble, no praise is too high, either, for Gijs Scholten van Aschat as Coriolanus. He played the Roman leader not as some blood-spattered action movie hero but as a graying figure of great volatility who won’t be reined in by a jacket and tie when his natural habitat is the battlefield.Both Cassius and Octavius Caesar were played by women, and a neat reordering of the scenes in “Coriolanus” allowed a determinedly macho play to begin with a conversation between the mother and wife of the prideful general of the title: Van Hove, in a clever touch, grants these women voices well before the play’s surrender to toxic masculinity.How thrilling, too, to see a large cast onstage, unfettered by the constraints of social distancing. (The theater said in a statement that Sunday’s show “complied with all current governmental measurements surrounding the regulation of livestreaming for cultural institutions in the Netherlands.”) Shakespeare demands intimacy, but I’ve never seen such a hyper-affectionate “Antony and Cleopatra,” with so many lingering smooches, and not just between the title characters.And yet it’s the countdown toward extinction and death, whether politically or individually, that unites these three plays. “Roman Tragedies” began and ended to the strains of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” a song that looks forward to a waiting calamity. The implication, as van Hove made plain, is that the times haven’t really changed at all.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More