Who says all fairy tales have to take place a long time ago in a land far away? The Urban Fairytale Festival, April 6-29, wants to introduce city folk to a new kind of fairy story. Produced by Absolute Theatre, the festival features over a dozen new works that explore the cityscape in a new way. "It's our hope," says Absolute Theatre's artistic director Charles E. Drew, Jr., "that audiences will let their imaginations run wild and see city life for the truly mystical experience that it is."
Absolute's managing director Dennis J. Dannel, Jr. describes an urban fairy tale as being "either a modern adaptation of a classic tale or a new one with a spin." There is one of each among the festival's two mainstage productions: The Taming of Miss Shrew is a Motown-era version of the Shakespeare classic, while Spades is a new piece about a 1932 Negro League baseball team whose members find themselves caught in a haunted brothel during a hurricane. Several other short plays will be presented during the festival on alternate nights, grouped by ominous subjects like Dungeons, Sorceress, Munsters, and Giants. "There are eight different programs, so there are eight different nights of theater," explains Dannel.
This is the fifth year for the Urban Fairytale Festival. It began as a rather small effort, at first presented at Todo Con Nada's space over on the Lower East Side, but it has gradually blossomed. Though Dannel emphasizes that text and performance are always the heart and soul of the works featured in the festival, he says that he and his company are quite happy to now be afforded more technical resources at the Chelsea Playhouse. "We're incorporating multimedia, video, projection," he says, "but we are still keeping the production values minimal."
Last year's festival sold extremely well, with some of the plays included (such as a hip-hop Great Gatsby) gaining attention from the film world. And Dannel doesn't think this is a fluke. But though he believes that the idea of the urban fairy tale has a potentially exciting future in film and TV, he is adamant that Absolute Theatre will continue to offer the festival annually to ensure that these stories have a home on the stage.
Among the short plays in the festival are new takes on Cinderella and the Emperor's New Clothes, as well as original fables and tall tales about mysterious prison escapes, strangely-motivated bank robberies, and more. Like their traditional counterparts, these urban fairy tales have morals and meaning. "There's definitely an arc," insists Dannel, "and definitely a message behind them. Everything is issue-driven. To me, that's what makes it meaningful."
Dannel himself cites stories like the tale of Aladdin's lamp and "wish stories, where people are transported to another land" as his favorite fairy tales. A law school graduate, he soon left the profession to pursue acting and theater work, and he's never looked back. ("My life is a fairy tale," he enthuses.) Now in his third year with Absolute Theatre and the Urban Fairytale Festival, he is able to take part in a theatrical exploration of the mystical and magical experiences of New York City and the strange folk who inhabit it. "I've always been infatuated with magic and the idea that anything is possible," he says; and, in urban fairy tales, anything and everything is possible.