BWW Special Feature: 99 and Under the Radar; Acknowledging the Architects
Welcome to 99 AND UNDER THE RADAR: A LOOK AT INDIE THEATER'S MOVERS AND SHAKERS, BroadwayWorld's new weekly series that showcases standout productions and production companies from the independent theater scene in New York City. Each week, independent producer Michael Roderick will be discussing the latest goings on in the theatrical wings, highlighting those with potentially bright futures.
This Week's Topic: Acknowledging the Architects
In the theatrical community, there are two very specific types of shows: Those that are watched and those that are experienced by the audience. The ones that are watched incorporate the concept of the fourth wall. The audience sits back and from the safe space of their seats they observe a production. The ones that are experienced serve as more of a ride in an amusement park. The audience is not removed, they are placed into the world of the show and there is very little passive observation. Directors and companies who do this kind of work are architects. They each envision the space that they will perform in and see both the actors and the audience as well as anyone who enters the space. In much the same way an architect drafts a building, these artistic visionaries draft a performance that will include everyone. This week acknowledges three such architects.
First up is Matchbook Productions collaboration with Sonnet Repertory Theatre. The team performed Richard II in a truly remarkable way: The entire production utilized the low-flying trapeze. The team transformed the 45th street theatre into a space that resembled a Cirque arena and provided the audience with an incredibly visual and thought provoking experience. Throughout the entire show, each of the performers moved in and out of the air, sometimes coasting above the front row, and sometimes entwined with each other around a trapeze bar. No set, or props were in place. In a moment that can really only be described as genius, the crown of Richard becomes the trapeze and in a startling final moment of the first half, we watch as Bullingbroke reaches for the trapeze in silhouette and grabs hold. The true tragedy of this piece is that the run was relatively short, but after seeing what both companies did with this play, one can only hope that these architects will make it possible for Shakespeare's immortal characters to fly again. For more info on Matchbook productions see here. For more info on Sonnet Rep, see here.
Next up is The Nerve Tank which was one of the 10 to watch in 2010 and with their latest Live Feed, there is so much to watch. Director Melanie S. Armer serves as a true architect in developing an experience at The Brooklyn Lyceum that begins the second the audience buys their ticket. There is a warning similar to the one an individual receives when about to enter a ride at an amusement park and then the trek down the stairs into the darkened space, reveals a scene that is as much an art installation as it is a pre-show moment. Once seated, the show begins with an absolute assault on the senses as lines of playwright Chance D. Muehleck are hurtled from above by a team of Stacia French, Karen Grenke*, Robin Kurtz*, Mark Lindberg, James "Face" Yu who are all amazingly versatile actors. What follows is a series of vignettes that incorporate the entire expanse of the space beautifully using light, sound, and reflection is such ways that are though provoking and invigorating. Much in the style of a choose your own adventure book, Live Feed provides the type of experience that allows an audience to draw as many stories as they choose from the piece. There is no one narrative. There is just an explosion of creativity and visceral moments that serve as triggers for emotional, sociological, and even political debate and discussion. The cast dives full on into all of the colors of the piece and commits with such violence and beauty it is literally impossible to ignore even one of them even though they may be behind or above an audience member. These architects have built something extraordinary and luckily there are a few more chances to be part of the picture. Tickets can still be found here.
Finally, if one decides to take a trip up the other end of the yellow line to Astoria, another incredible experience awaits. Astoria Performing Arts Center is currently presenting an extended run of the Stephan Scwhartz musical Children of Eden and Artistic Director Tom Wojtunik has crafted an absolutely stunning piece of musical theatre with staging so technically adept, the 99 seat space feels like a Broadway house. The auditorium is literally transformed numerous times before the audience's eyes with the use of very simple set elements that exemplify the statement "less is more" The walls of the space become a tree, a feather turns into a bird, and staffs become pieces of an ark in some of the most imaginative moments of staging. The cast is huge and yet they move throughout the space in a seamless manner and there are so many stage pictures that if anyone were to take a photograph at any point during this show, it could sell as a stunning still life. The cast is incredibly committed and includes some beautiful voices giving life to the story of Adam and Eve and Noah and his Ark, and Christine O'Grady contributes lovely choreography including a very sexy sultry snake number, and the experience itself really is unmatched. It is rare to see a show this well done and the audience who rose to their feet at the curtain certainly agreed. There is no doubt that Wojtunik will be one to watch in the coming years as his talent is trumpeted with every moment of this grand show. There are a few shows left and tickets can still be found here.