So, theater is slow in the summertime? Think again. Maybe there's a paucity of openings on the Great White Way but the festivals listed below offer such an outpouring of activity that, by September, you might just have forgotten about Broadway entirely. From Danny Hoch's celebration of hip-hop theater to Iranian musical drama at Lincoln Center to the unpredictable treats of the Fringe, New York's summer festival season is like a stimulating, adventuresome vacation--and you never even have to leave the city.
American Dreams: Plays About New York & The Immigrant Experience
(June 6-August 1)
New York's home of gritty and innovative theater, the Lower East Side has always been a melting pot brimming with artists anxious to engage and delight. The LES Tenement Museum, in conjunction with the Immigrants' Theatre Project, celebrates the area's heritage with this summer's reading series American Dreams: Plays About New York & The Immigrant Experience.
The festival begins on June 6 with Snow/Snapperdazzled, Pat Kaufman's fantastical history of race in America, and ends on August 1 with First Language, Novid Parsi's drama about a Middle Eastern woman struggling to connect with her Western son. In between there is Queen Latina, in which the audience of a game show must choose which contestant is the "Latina Real". In How I Wore Out My 50 Pairs of Silk Stockings, a Transylvanian journalist meets some very strange men in Budapest; in Criminal, psychoanalysts and their patients play hide and seek in Argentina. Other plays in the reading series will examine racial identity: What's it like to be an Asian-American guy from Queens? What does it mean to be an Arab-American in New York? Or a Filipina? These are among the questions posed by the various works in the festival.
Hip-Hop Theater Festival
Due to the vagaries of demographics and economics, rap music and live theater very rarely share an audience--and more's the pity. The best hip-hop, like the best theater, combines outrageous levels of energy with dazzling intelligence and verbal sophistication. The Hip-Hop Theater Festival, running for 10 days downtown beginning on June 18, is now in its third year of displaying the best talent in the movement that brings together two worlds that have more in common than one might think. Emerging playwrights examining urban life, a rap opera freely adapted from Wagner's Ring cycle, and an evening of hip-hop dance theater may be found among the high energy programs offered.
The festival is co-produced by Hip-Hop Theatre Junction and Caseroc Productions; the latter organization is run by the biggest name in the hip-hop theater movement, Danny Hoch of Jails, Hospitals, and Hip-Hop fame. Hoch will get the party started--along with fellow performance artists Sarah Jones, Will Power, and Jonzi D--in the Hip-Hop Theater All Stars (June 18) at P.S. 122, the first of 18 shows in the festival. The other main venue is the Nuyorican Poets Café, where you might get a good taste of the magic with Play Back NYC: A Night of Hip-Hop Theater and Improvisation (June 25), starring the Playback Theater Company. For a straight-up dissection of the art form, don't miss From Whence We Came: Hip-Hop Theater's Aesthetics and Origins (June 24), a panel discussion at the Tisch School of the Arts.
AlterNATION One-Act Festival
Has television destroyed your attention span? Are you finding it difficult to concentrate long enough to enjoy a full-length play? Never fear! The Third Annual AlterNATION One-Act Festival presents eight evenings of 10-minute plays this month at the Cherry Lane Theatre's sister space, The Cherry Lane Alternative, from June 19 through June 29.
The mission of the festival is to provide a diverse group of writers with an artistic home, and you couldn't ask for a better home than this: The Cherry Lane Theatre is located on tranquil, tree-lined Commerce Street in Greenwich Village. Famously loyal to the playwrights it has nurtured through other initiatives, Cherry Lane will feature the work of writers from its Artistic Membership and Mentor Project programs. Past participants in the One-Act Festival have included rising stars Glen Berger (Underneath the Lintel) and Adam Rapp (Finer Noble Gases, Nocturne).
New York Shakespeare Festival
(June 25-August 11)
Most festivals have more than one show in them; on the other hand, most festivals don't have Oliver Platt, Christopher Lloyd, Jimmy Smits, and Julia Stiles on stage. The Joseph Papp Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival, started in 1957 by the enterprising Joseph Papp, once again presents Shakespeare in Central Park at the Delacorte Theater. This year's single offering is Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's romantic comedy of misunderstanding and cross-dressing (okay, one of them). It's a killer cast: Platt plays the comic lead, Sir Toby Belch; Stiles and Zach Braff (the quirky boy-next-door who leads the cast of NBC's Scrubs) are the mixed-up Viola and Sebastian; Broadway regular and Delacorte vet Kathryn Meisle is Olivia; Jimmy Smits (that's right--Jimmy Smits!) is the food-of-love hungry Duke Orsino; and Christopher Lloyd gets to play the ludicrous manservant, Malvolio.
Fun in the park, for sure. But, as usual, you'll have to wait for it: tickets are made available on the day of the performance starting at 1pm, both at the Delacorte and at the Public. Expect lines of anxious Shakespeare fans (and/or Smits fans) to begin lining up at the crack of dawn in an attempt to secure tix for that night's show. One way of skirting the rabble is by paying attention to the special, all-borough ticket distribution days; log on to the Public's website for the when and where. Twelfth Night, directed by Brian Kulick (who has previously done Timon of Athens and the The Winter's Tale at the Delacorte), will run through August 11.
HOT: NYC Celebration of Queer Culture
(July 1-August 3)
A decade old and going strong is HOT: The NYC Celebration of Queer Culture at Dixon Place. Considered a haven for experimental artists developing new ideas and works, Dixon Place (at 309 E. 26th Street) devotes six nights a week to gay and lesbian art throughout July.
During this HOT month, plays, performance art, music, and dance are out, proud, and on display, showcasing the exciting and diverse voices of the so-called "queer" artistic community. Both John Fleck and Holly Hughes (of the "NEA Four") will participate in the festival, folk-singing duo Andy Buck & Rick Libert will perform on a double bill with the Church Ladies for Choice, and the team of Regie Cabico & Aileen Cho offers a "non-white, non-rich, queer Asian" take on Sex and the City with Eyes Slammed Shut. Other entertainments include poetry slams, mixed media pieces, comedy, and drag shows.
Wanna show off your talent? On July 3, the free Queer Open Performance Night allows all you lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender artists out there a chance to step up to the mic and show your stuff.
(July 4-August 17)
Soho Think Tank, the eclectic house organ at Soho's Ohio Theater (a converted hat factory on Wooster Street), annually presents this two-week festival, featuring a short list of shows from small companies with big brains. Groups like New Georges and Elevator Repair Service have appeared in past years; the Rude Mechanicals from Austin, Texas brought their Lipstick Traces here and subsequently enjoyed an Off-Broadway run. Companies have come to Ice Factory from all over the world--Italy, Switzerland, Austria, etc.
This year's participants include the International Wow Company, currently presenting a return engagement of The Bomb at CSV; the company's Death of Nations will close out the festival. Opening it will be Soho Think Tank's No Meat, No Irony. Also on the bill: quintessential downtown performance guy Trav S.D. in Sea of Love (a version of Moby Dick from WORKS Productions) and a detective story called The Hush (from Britain's Hush Productions).
Midtown International Theater Festival 2002
(July 8-August 4)
Not as well known as the NYC International Fringe Festival, the Midtown International Theater Festival comes first every year, transforming two of the theaters in midtown's giant Raw Space complex into showcases for the new and the offbeat. Midtown is hosted by John Chatterton, who also runs the Off-Off Broadway Review; like that endeavor, the festival is meant to spotlight the best and brightest of the Off-Off world. This means a couple of things: lots of raw talent, lots of experimental shows, and, undoubtedly, some unexpected gems.
With the uninspiring slogan "Theater is Cool in July", Midtown kicks off on July 8 for a three-week run, with nearly two dozen shows jostling for audience attention. Among them are a new adaptation of Faustus, an anthology of short Christopher Durang pieces charmingly titled The Durang Project, and plenty of brand new works, such as Richard Hoehler's Heavy Mettle (which "celebrates the lives of some of New York's anonymous denizens") and Joseph and David Zellnick's City of Dreams (a musical about Sigmund Freud and Gustav Klimt.) In other words, something for everyone.
Lincoln Center Festival
You'll find the best that the world has to offer at the Lincoln Center Festival in July. Each year, artists from around the globe bring their unique forms of dance, music, opera, and performance to Lincoln Center stages, both indoors and outdoors.
Highlights on this summer's schedule include: Tokyo's New National Theatre production of the Sondheim-Weidman musical Pacific Overtures, performed in Japanese with supertitles; a series of three performance pieces in the Iranian tradition known as Ta'ziyeh, the only indigenous form of music drama in the Islamic world; St. Petersburg's Kirov Ballet in La Bayadere, Jewels, Swan Lake, and Don Quixote; and, from the good old U.S. of A., a new solo work by performance artist Laurie Anderson called "Happiness".
American Living Room Festival
(July 13-September 1)
In June and July, HERE Arts Center will host over 1,000 artists and performers as they offer 100-plus pieces of every kind imaginable during The American Living Room Festival. Different projects are presented together in programs like The Directing Cabaret, The Performance Series, The Puppet Parlor, The Music Lounge, and the Film and Video Salon. HERE also introduces 50 new visual artists each year at this time by putting their work on display in the MainGallery.
The idea is to bring the downtown theater community together to create evenings of diverse entertainment for a great price (tickets range from $8 to $15). Many of these works are still in development. To keep the atmosphere creative, productive, and informal, HERE provides all the comforts of home right at the theater; while you watch, you can sit on cushy sofas, open up a beer, and munch on potato chips.
Here's just a taste of the programs coming to the Living Room: Dixie Fun Dance Theatre will present a humorous dance piece that comments on the way that mass media affects our society and culture. Brian Rogers' Fundamental will explore the human need for spiritual affirmation and the ways in which that need is exploited by everyone from con artists to mystics. And Field of Fireflies will tell three darkly comic tales about a trio of individuals who obsess over pain killers, internet dating, and outlet shopping. All this and much, much, more--plus snacks!--at TALR'02.
NYC International Fringe Festival
The festival season does not go out with a whimper, but with the whirlwind that is the New York City International Fringe Festival--or just "the Fringe" to its friends. And, lately, the Fringe has plenty of friends: Applications to this 10-day wind sprint of alternative theater, musical theater, and every other kind of theater reportedly skyrocketed this year, with more than 500 shows having vied for space and nearly 100 having gained admittance to the festival. Founded by the Present Company back in 1996, New York's Fringe is fast approaching the size and stature of its Edinburgh namesake, and no surprise: Who wouldn't want to launch their new work within a festival that gave birth to a little show called Urinetown just three short summers ago?
There's never a shortage of intriguing show titles in the Fringe, and this year is no exception. You can sample everything from Requiem for a Bomber, a theater-dance piece about a Japanese bomber pilot, to The Belly Button Drum, "puppetry featuring people." As always, the performance schedule--which plays out in such Lower East Side venues as the Henry Street Settlement House and Kraine Theater--is supplemented by FringeArt (ad-hoc art galleries adorning Festival's public spaces), Fringe AlFresco (outdoors events), FringeU (a series of lectures and talkbacks), and the family-friendly FringeJr. There's only been one Urinetown so far but, each year there's something from the Fringe that "hits"; last year, it was 21 Dog Years, a one-man show about life at Amazon.com that recently began an Off-Broadway run. What will be this summer's breakout? Only one way to find out...
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Tokyo's New National Theatre presents Pacific Overtures at Lincoln Center
(Photo: Tsukasa Aoki)
Rick Libert and Andy Buck will perform at Dixon Place's HOT Festival on July 9
Rick Libert and Andy Buck will perform at Dixon Place's HOT Festival on July 9
W. Lee Daily is Firs in The Ghost of Firs Nikolaich, soon to be haunting the Fringe Festival
(Photo: Tim Herman)