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    Under the Radar Theater Festival Canceled as Omicron Surges

    Putting off the Public Theater’s annual showcase for experimental work was the latest sign of the variant’s impact on live performance.As a surge of coronavirus cases driven by the Omicron variant takes a growing toll on live performance, the Public Theater on Friday announced it would cancel its Under the Radar festival, originally scheduled to begin on Jan. 12.In a statement, the theater cited “multiple disruptions related to the rapid community spread of the Omicron variant,” including effects on staff availability, cancellations by artists and audience members, flight interruptions and visa processing delays.Mark Russell, the festival’s director, said in a video interview that his team had worked on plans to streamline Under the Radar — the Public’s annual showcase for experimental work, and one of several New York festivals that have formed around the Association of Performing Arts Professionals conference — so that it could proceed despite the surge. But on Thursday morning, Russell said, he took stock of the test positivity rate and number of cases in New York, and decided it would be irresponsible to press on.“It was not a time for a festival,” he said. “A festival is a celebration. It’s supposed to be a coming together to celebrate this work, and it was not going to be a celebration.”Although last year’s Under the Radar was completely virtual, that took months of planning, Russell said, so it would not have served this iteration to attempt to go hybrid or digital so late. Oskar Eustis, the Public’s artistic director, said in the interview that all festival artists and staff will be paid as planned.The lineup for Under the Radar was to have included “Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner,” by Jasmine Lee-Jones; “Our Country,” by Annie Saunders and Becca Wolff; “An Evening With an Immigrant,” by Inua Ellams; “Otto Frank” by Roger Guenveur Smith; and “Mud/Drowning,” with texts by María Irene Fornés.As part of Under the Radar’s On the Road initiative, “The Art of Theater” and “With My Own Hands,” two monologues by Pascal Rambert, will still be presented by Performance Spaces for the 21st Century in Chatham, N.Y. “An Evening With an Immigrant” is still expected be performed at Oklahoma City Repertory Theater (Jan. 22-23) and at Stanford University (Jan. 29-30), and “Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner” is still planning a three-week run at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington (Feb. 14-March 6).In December, the Public announced that it would require full vaccination and, through the end of January, proof of a negative Covid-19 test to access its theaters and restaurant. With no main-stage performances during that time, the policy was aimed mainly at Under the Radar, which had been scheduled to end on Jan. 30.Another presentation of experimental performance, the monthlong Exponential Festival, will be presented online, on the festival’s YouTube channel and Twitch. More

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    New Work by Suzan-Lori Parks to Be Part of Public Theater Season

    “The Visitor” and “cullud wattah,” two shows postponed by the pandemic, will get their premieres alongside works by James Ijames, Shaina Taub and Lloyd Suh.The Public Theater’s 2021-22 season will feature a mix of projects postponed because of the pandemic and new works, including “Plays for the Plague Year” by Suzan-Lori Parks.Behind the scenes, the Off Broadway nonprofit — responding to renewed calls for racial equity in the theater industry — said it will include over 50 percent representation by people of color in artistic leadership roles, from the directors and writers to the choreographers and the designers.“This last year and a half, in addition to Covid, has been about a call for racial justice and equity that we take profoundly seriously,” Oskar Eustis, the Public’s artistic director, said in an interview. “The Public obviously has always been, we felt, progressive on racial issues. And what became clear to us is we weren’t progressive enough.”The season begins with a musical that was about to have its world premiere in March 2020, before theaters were shuttered because of the pandemic: “The Visitor,” by Tom Kitt, Brian Yorkey and Kwame Kwei-Armah. Directed by Daniel Sullivan and based on the film about a college professor and two undocumented immigrants, it will feature David Hyde Pierce and Ari’el Stachel, both Tony Award winners. Performances will begin Oct. 7.The pandemic also led to the postponement of the debut of Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s play, “cullud wattah.” In the interim, she received the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, which honors work by women and nonbinary playwrights. The play is about the effects of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., on three generations of women. Candis C. Jones will direct the play, which begins performances in November.Another delayed work, Mona Mansour’s “The Vagrant Trilogy,” about Palestinians’ displacement, will be directed by Mark Wing-Davey and will now open in April 2022.And Shaina Taub’s anticipated musical about the American women’s suffrage movement will take the stage in March 2022. “Suffs,” described as an epic show about some of the unsung heroines of the movement, will be directed by Leigh Silverman and feature the choreography of Raja Feather Kelly.In addition to Parks’s “Plays for the Plague Year,” in which the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright wrote a play a day since the beginning of the pandemic, the season will also include “Out of Time,” a collection of monologues by five award-winning Asian American playwrights; “The Chinese Lady,” Lloyd Suh’s portrait of the first Chinese woman to step foot in America in 1834; and “Fat Ham,” James Ijames’s “hilarious yet profound new ‘Hamlet’-inspired play” set at a Southern barbecue, Jesse Green wrote in his review of a streaming production. (Some of these are co-productions with Barrington Stage Company, Ma-Yi Theater Company, NAATCO and National Black Theater.)The theater artist Daniel Alexander Jones’ digital album, “Altar No. 1 — Aten,” will unfold through a series of weekly installments beginning Sept. 22. And Joe’s Pub will be back, too: The performance space tucked inside the Public will have live music starting Oct. 5.The lineup of shows reflects the current moment well, Eustis said, for a few reasons. There’s the representation of artists of color and the partnerships with theater companies hit harder by the past year than the Public. And then there’s what he called Parks’s “astonishing” new work, “Plays for the Plague Year.”“They give a sort of map,” Eustis said, “and a day by day examination of what this year has been, like no other work of art I’ve seen. I think it’s an incredibly important and powerful work.”Parks began writing “Plays for the Plague Year” on March 12, 2020, and it covers at least a year. Among the snapshots she captured were those “almost like a small domestic adjustment drama,” Eustis said, in April, and the murder of George Floyd in May, as well as the racial reckoning that followed.The past year has sparked dialogue and rocked foundations, and the theater is no exception. Much of the conversation at the Public has been in the gap between “we need to be more thoughtful” and “the show must go on,” Eustis said.“Because the show must go on; it really must,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t figure out a way to be more thoughtful about how we work, and more mindful about and contemplative about the ways we treat each other while the show goes on.” More

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    Theater to Stream: Festivals, Festivals, Festivals

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Best of 2020Best ComedyBest TV ShowsBest BooksBest MoviesBest AlbumsAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyTheater to Stream: Festivals, Festivals, FestivalsThe Under the Radar, Prototype and Exponential festivals are ready to open our minds with experimental work, even if their doors are shut.Alexi Murdoch in “Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists,” part of the Prototype Festival.Credit…Pierre-Alain GiraudJan. 6, 2021Updated 12:41 p.m. ETSet dates for previews, openings and closings. Fall and spring seasons. Heck: turning up somewhere on time!Until the pandemic occurred in 2020, many of us perhaps did not realize how much theater relies on appointments. Now that most of them have vanished, with theater — and time itself — becoming somewhat amorphous, it’s comforting to see that the January festivals are still happening.Once cursed as the sluggish period of the year that follows the holiday rush, January has slowly turned into a hyperactive showcase for experimental work. And so it remains this year. While the doors remain physically shut, our minds can still open up.Whitney White and Peter Mark Kendall, the creators of “Capsule,” part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival. Credit…Melissa Bunni ElianUnder the RadarIn a way, going online was a natural step for Under the Radar (through Jan. 17). Hosted by the Public Theater, the 17-year-old event has always questioned the very nature of the art form: “What makes something theater?” the festival director Mark Russell pondered in a recent video chat. “Can an exhibit be a theater piece? Does a story have to be a part of it? This is a lot of hubris, but I felt like the whole world turned into UTR,” he added, laughing.One thing that has not changed is Under the Radar’s international bent — this year with a mix of on-demand and appointment shows, all of them free. Among the on-demand offerings are works in which two wildly creative women take on roles different from the ones they’re known for: “Capsule,” in which the rising director Whitney White (“What to Send Up When It Goes Down”) steps on the virtual stage; and “Espíritu,” which was written and directed by the prominent Chilean actress Trinidad González (“A Fantastic Woman”).As for the livestreams, mark your calendar for Piehole’s “Disclaimer”; “Borders & Crossings,” by the Nigerian-British playwright and performer Inua Ellams (“Barber Shop Chronicles”); and “A Thousand Ways (Part One): A Phone Call,” by 600 Highwaymen.Shara Nova, left, and Helga Davis in “Ocean Body,” which is part of the Prototype Festival.Credit…Mark DeChiazzaPrototypeThe experimental operas and musical-theater pieces that the Prototype festival presents can take three to five years to gestate. So when the artistic directors Beth Morrison and Jecca Barry (from Beth Morrison Projects) and Kristin Marting (from HERE Arts Center) decided in June to jettison the entire slate they had planned for the 2021 edition, which runs from Jan. 8-16, they knew they would have to change tack, and fast. Especially since they did not want to simply adapt pre-existing projects for the digital world.“A bunch of people came in with stuff that was like retooling things that they already had,” Marting said. As curators, they felt that this “wasn’t the way that we can serve our audience right now,” she continued.The new 2021 festival centerpiece, “Modulation” — a commission made up of brief vocal works by the likes of Sahba Aminikia, Juhi Bansal, Yvette Janine Jackson, Angélica Negrón and Daniel Bernard Roumain — emerged as a pure product of the new moment.“We saw the opportunity to ask a lot of composers to respond to 2020, but in short bursts,” Barry said. “The three of us developed different themes for what we were interested in having them respond to, and we landed on fear, isolation and identity. Then we thought of a fourth theme to connect all of those things, and that was breath.”Except for “Ocean Body,” a ticketed video installation at HERE that features the performers Helga Davis and Shara Nova, all of Prototype 2021’s offerings are on-demand. This includes Geoff Sobelle and Pamela Z’s “Times³ (Times x Times x Times),” which can be streamed anywhere but was conceived to be heard while walking through Times Square. For Marting, the experience is typical of Prototype’s ever-questioning approach. “We’re trying to craft the conversation,” she said, “because one of the things the festival is really interested in is interrogating this line between opera and music theater, and why people think they like one and not the other.”Nathan Repasz is taking part in “The Unquestioned Interiority of Humankind,” as part of the Exponential Festival.Credit…via Exponential FestivalExponential Festival“We didn’t want to do a single Zoom reading because they’re the bane of my existence,” said Theresa Buchheister, the founding artistic director of the Exponential Festival.This is pretty much the only guarantee we can get about the 2021 edition of a fest that reliably supplies the nuttiest, most unpredictable programming of any in January.In normal years, the festival takes place at such funky Brooklyn venues as the Brick Theater, Vital Joint and Chez Bushwick. But from Jan. 7-31, each of the 31 shows on the 2021 slate will debut in one place — YouTube — and will remain available for the foreseeable future. While this is convenient for viewers, it is giving Buchheister an extra headache. “We’re dealing with nudity on YouTube, which is hard,” she said. “Performance artists are always naked, they just are. So it’s one of the many difficulties this year.”Indeed, challenges abounded. Another, for example, was figuring out how to present Panoply Performance Laboratory’s “Heidegger’s Indiana,” which Esther Neff originally envisioned as a choose-your-own-adventure show made up of distinct vignettes.“What we ended up doing is that Esther will create a work where she’s put the pieces in the order that she wants,” Buchheister said. “And I was like, ‘You can draw tarot cards, you can throw axes into a tree — I don’t care how you choose what order they go into.’ But then we’ll also create a playlist on YouTube of all of the different segments.”One of Exponential’s singularities is its emphasis on curated bills, often pairing a better-known — at least in avant-garde circles — with an up-and-comer. Buchheister was excited to link the writer-performer Jess Barbagallo and the musician Nathan Repasz. “Nathan did one of my favorite performances of 2020,” she said, “a percussion piece to Mitt Romney saying that hot dog is his favorite meat.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More