“In many respects, theater is still grappling with problems of reality and representation that the visual art movement realized were unimportant many years ago,” says Tim Crouch, writer/performer of My Arm. “I am particularly interested in creating a relationship between ideas of reception in conceptual art and theater.” Crouch is one of the many artists participating in the second annual edition of Under the Radar, a city-wide festival of cutting-edge theater running January 19-23. While the majority of last year’s productions were U.S.-based, the 2006 festival has a more international scope, with artists coming in from such places as Australia, Brazil, South Africa, and the Netherlands.
Crouch, who’s based in England, is offering a reprise of his debut work following a critically acclaimed run as part of the 2004 Brits Off-Broadway series at 59E59. The play is about a boy who holds one arm above his head and never takes it down. As part of the performance, Crouch animates a number of everyday objects that he gathers from audience members on the night of the show. “This isn’t puppetry,” he states. “It’s more about creating meaning through composition and projection. If I say this packet of cigarettes is my dad in the play, then that’s what it becomes, without me having to do any funny voices.”
Under the Radar is curated and produced by Mark Russell, the former artistic director of downtown hot-spot P.S. 122, who definitely has his finger on the pulse of experimental theater around the world. Many of the productions in the festival have never before been seen in the U.S. “The festival is part of a dialogue about trying to get some smaller-scale theater to tour,” he says. “Some of these works I saw two or three years ago, or I heard about them, or I chased them down on videotape or through different festivals.”
While most of the productions are in English, a few are not; for example, the Brazilian troupe Cia dos Atores presents Rehearsal.Hamlet in Portugese. Though there will be some translation done for the show, Russell believes that not being able to understand every single word you hear can sometimes be an advantage. “You can get the essence of it and, sometimes, even a deeper picture than the speakers of the language by immersing yourself in the performance,” he says. “Also, it’s Hamlet, for God’s sake. If you don’t know the story, you flunked eighth grade!”
William Yang is presenting the U.S. premiere of Shadows. Known for his mixture of photography and autobiographical monologues, his latest solo show is a bit of a departure for the Australian artist. It focuses on the stories of Australian aborigines and migrant Germans in South Australia — quite different from Yang’s tales of his Chinese Australian family, which he’s told in the past. “At first,” he remarks, “I was rather apprehensive about telling an Aboriginal story because it meant treading on sensitive cultural ground. But, in the end, I felt confident in doing so because I was familiar with cultural marginalization.”
Yang is still very much present in Shadows, not only through his narration but also through the multitude of his photographs that are projected as part of the piece. “I regard myself firstly as a photographer,” he says. “My performance pieces are a way of showing my photos; I try to work it so that the word helps you engage with the image, and the image supplies information for the text. In the piece’s best moments, all three elements — word, image, and music [a soundscape by composer Colin Offord] — produce an effect of sustained emotion. It’s a little like opera.”
This year’s festival is hosted by The Public Theater, where several of the shows — including My Arm, Rehearsal.Hamlet, and Shadows — are being presented. Other performances are taking place in different parts of the city. The U.S.-based Foundry Theatre presents Major Bang Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dirty Bomb at St. Ann’s Warehouse, which hosted last year’s Under the Radar festival. The South African work Amajuba: Like Doves We Rise, by Yael Farber, is being performed at Long Island University’s Kumble Theater.
Ibrahim Quaraishi’s 5 Streams was commissioned by and is playing at The Asia Society. The Paris and New York-based artist draws from South Asian mythology for this multimedia work, which includes an interactive sonic installation by DJ Spooky and Norscq, video by Marc Perroud, and choreography by Parul Shah. Says Quaraishi, “My aesthetic is based on the principles of the transformation of space, the use of the actual architectural tensions to bring together physical and contextual forms that initially may seem divergent but find themselves very complementary in the intertextual layering of the space, sound, and visual dynamics they collide with.” 5 Streams is a full-sensory experience with interactive trees in a synthetic forest producing unique sonic mixes, Kathak-inspired dances, and projections of color and light.
Some of the shows in the festival are part of particular theater’s seasons, such as Will Power’s The Seven at New York Theater Workshop and Richard Maxwell’s The End of Reality at The Kitchen; both of these will run beyond the festival weekend, but they are a crucial part of Russell’s vision for Under the Radar. “The producing organizations were gracious enough to allow us to put these works in a different context by making them part of the festival,” he says. “It’s a way of tracking an artist or an audience through the global culture of theater.”