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A First Look at BAM's Next Wave

Laurie Anderson, Ping Chong, Warren Leight, and Stew discuss their new works for BAM's always-anticipated annual festival. logo
Laurie Anderson in Delusion
(© Laurie Anderson)
For more than two decades, the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave festival has been bringing together a wide range of events that push the boundaries of convention and comforts of traditional narratives. This year is no exception with such works as Warren Leight's experimental, play-within-a-play adaptation of Persephone, co-created with Ridge Theatre and starring Julia Stiles; pioneering visual director Ping Chong's ambitious adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood; Stew and Heidi Rodewald's new song cycle, Brooklyn Omnibus; and Delusion, a collection of short plays by BAM favorite Laurie Anderson.

Delusion which opens the festival on September 21 following acclaimed performances in Berkeley and Vancouver, is somewhat of a departure from Anderson's previous works. "Delusion started out as a series of plays I wanted to write. But I don't know how to write plays at all, so I abandoned it pretty fast," she says. "Now, it's sort of a three-dimensional movie more than anything else with 20 short stories."

In addition to Anderson, there will be two other musicians with her on stage, including horn player Colin Stetson, who tours with the popular Canadian group Arcade Fire. However, the music is not the focus, which is a bold move coming off her very impressive last album, Homeland. But Anderson would be the first to admit that thwarting audience expectations is the lifeblood of the avant-garde.

Stew is also more interested in the abstract over the concrete. "Ours is a very subjective, kind of surreal, and dreamy look at our lives here in Brooklyn," he says of his new work. "It's not one of these objective, documentary pieces of art where we're talking about the issues of the city."

Indeed, he and Rodewald -- longtime collaborators best known now for the Broadway musical Passing Strange -- are not trying to make a topical piece or speak for all of Brooklyn. Instead, their aim is to vividly capture emotional truths, while also embracing the freedom that comes from stepping outside a narrative. "I prefer to be a little more slippery, and I'm liking the slippery more and more as we get further away from our official theater experience," says Stew.

Julia Stiles and Mimi Goese in Persephone
(© Laurie Olinder)
Persephone is certainly a departure from other versions of the classic myth, says Leight. "It's about a dysfunctional theater company putting on this performance. It's 1895, and they're trying to employ multimedia for the first time in history," he explains. "They're trying to do projections on the walls while they're acting."

The playwright, best known for his work on Side Man, notes there are two special reasons he agreed to work on the piece. "I'm not a big myth guy, but I always liked the myths that took place in the real world. Persephone to me is a daughter separating from her mother. There's the classic triangle: mom, bad boy boyfriend, and daughter. It's one of those myths where every 10 years people view it differently, depending on what's going on culturally."

In addition, Leight has been spending a lot of time in the TV world writing for Law and Order: Criminal Intent and HBO's In Treatment, so he particularly relishes the opportunity to work with Ridge, a company he's admired for many years. "Ridge Theater is one of the great, really fascinating companies. And there's very little avant-garde TV."

Ping Chong is renowned for exploring the boundaries of the stage, and he's long wanted to tackle Kurosawa's masterpiece. "This is what I'd call a dream project, one of those things I've wanted to do for a very long time. It's a very expensive project, though, and very few theaters in this country would be able to do it in a non-profit setting," he says of the work, which is currently playing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival through the end of October before making its New York premiere at Next Wave in November with the original, multicultural cast intact.

While there are certainly Shakespearian undertones in the play, the director emphasizes that the piece is not really about the Bard's Macbeth, despite popular perception. "Kurosawa did not reference that play at all when he made Throne of Blood, although he had already seen or read it years ago. In regards to his own interpretation, I only reference it in very subtle ways and very little. My job, in terms of what I was trying to achieve with this project, is to be faithful to Kurosawa as much as it was possible in translating from one medium to another."

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