BWW Special Feature: 99 and Under the Radar; Smashing the Mirror
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: Smashing the mirror
The landscape of theatre is changing in a number of ways. Lack of funding is forcing certain groups to become even more creative about how they get a show up. Many companies are using crowd sourcing techniques to build funds, while others are simply doing things on a smaller scale or for a shorter period of time. The by-product of this is theatrical presentations that boldly take risks in a way that most commercial pieces cannot. Much of that risk is showing an audience work that may shock, offend, or hurt in addition to providing delight and escape. It has been said that theatre holds a mirror up to society and that the audience is viewing themselves whenever they see a show. In the Indie Theatre community, there are certainly plenty of companies that provide a slice of life, but this week looks at companies who go beyond this idea and smash the mirror leaving us to look at the shards and make our own discoveries. These companies take big risks in showing us the images that we may not want to see or accept, much in the same way the pieces of a mirror do not unify to show one image, but rather a myriad of images depending on the reflection and the light. This paves the way for exciting new theatre to be created because fewer people are looking for approval allowing for new voices to challenge the status quo.
The first of these challenges comes from a group that identifies as Blueprint Theater Projects. They did a very brief run of a show called Scherzo that revolved around a new theatrical concept known as "Theality". The show's writer David Alex Andrejko explains: " How we came up theality is an entirely different story. I myself have obsessed over docu-theatre since first sinking my teeth into Anna Deveare-Smith's TWILIGHT. I came to discover, infer, decide that reality theatre - theatre verite - whatever you want to call it, is most compelling and a medium that I wanted to work in. Real stories fascinate me and they fascinate audiences. They provide for more potential for catharsis. Now, a completely different medium on television is reality TV. I grew up during the reality TV boom, I watched it morph and change similarly to how I studied fusion theatre with all its changes. Certain people will cast aside reality TV as garbage, they do it everyday, but those who watch it - those responsible for keeping it on the air are fascinated by it are connected to it on a personal level. My goal is to have people feel, connect and relate, because if theatre doesn't do that, why are we doing it in the first place?
So, like a mixed-media canvas we fused transcriptions of filmed conversations of the actors being themselves at various coffee shops around town and transcribed them. Separately, I interviewed all the actors on their hopes and fears and created monologues for them. We threw all this text into the post-modern melting pot and what came out was theality: naturalistic characters living onstage with their expressionistic, Faustian alter-egos cycling in and out.
Now SCHERZO has episodic potential, potential for new characters to come in and out and the potential to change the way audiences feel about everyday interactions. What's being said vs. what is not. It's a post-modern love child and we are so excited to continue working with it." The piece was one that challenged the audience because the entire experience was voyeuristic in nature. The audience sat literally inches away from the performers who chose various moments to look directly at us and break the fourth wall. The incredible staging by director Ellen Orenstein featured things like live-action slow motion sequences, and musical numbers using blackberrys and I phones. The naturalistic development of the characters lives was like watching a reality television show while being fully aware that the space is theatrical. This is a group to keep and eye on for sure. To find out more info on them, click here.
Equally engaging is Everywhere Theatre Group's newest creation, The Internet. Collaboratively constructed by a team of innovative actors, directors, and designers, the show addresses the concept of the internet and how it has changed so many things. The videography, care of Chase Vorhees, is often so engaging and honest that it pulls the audience away from what is happening on stage which is equally as impressive. Director/ Choreographer Lindsay Mack does an amazing job of fusing modern dance, intense monologues, and complex staging to present something that is as intricate as the web itself. The piece focuses on the lives of the performers who were interviewed about their internet experiences and explores various scenarios that we all know too well. This includes an IM conversation that gets a little hot and heavy, web surfing as a well to fill deep desires, and the all to popular concept of someone being more attractive online than in real life. The thing that is most engaging about the show is that anywhere one looks, there is something very deep and intricate happening. Whether we are seeing someone have a private moment of pain collapsed against a wall or rocking out to a Michael Jackson song, there is enough story in every moment to fill a thousand blogs. The show itself is great, but what is more impressive is the way one feels after the show. Due to the fact that these actors confront some major hot button topics of the net, the audience is left thinking about which member of this cast most resembles them, and perhaps about how long it's been since they last cleared their web history. That, in turn, allows for greater exploration and deeper conversations. The team is opening minds for a few more performances and tickets can be found here.
And finally we have the piece New York Monologues produced by Backyart as part of Theatre for the New City's Dream Up festival. Written by Mike Poblete and directed by Ruth McGowan, the show is a series of monologues about September 11th. Interestingly enough, it is not a tribute really in any way, but rather a commentary on the way people reacted to the event. Poblete's writing is very natural and often times very comical, but with enough intensity at moments to punch the audience in the gut. Indeed at the opening night performance, there were a number of gasps, shocked faces, and some vocal reactions to what was being said. Poblete challenges the audience to confront beliefs about ideas of race, celebrity, and commercialization all of which surrounded the event, but were never talked about for fear of being seen as Un-American. It is brave in the unabashed portrayal of people who were on the outside of the event. The most shocking perhaps being a monologue by a little girl who decides to play a very dark game with her teddy bear. Taylor D. Martin is excellent in this role as she channels the reckless abandon of a child while playing a scene that many will find incredibly thought provoking, and disturbing. She exudes an innocence that directly contradicts the game she is playing. The show is more of a rogues gallery featuring characters who we never saw after the attacks because the masks were still on. With some distance Poblete pulls off those masks and makes a conscious choice to ask us to look at what lies beneath. This show will shock some, offend some, and most likely elicit a number of very distinct responses, but everyone will leave it thinking. More information on the show and the Dream Up festival can be found here.
There is no doubt each of these groups is smashing the mirror in the Indie Theatre Community. This is to be commended as they travel down a path of risk and force the audience to see things differently. These companies do work that paves the way for more work to be created like this and to break those shards into finer and finer pieces, until we see thousands of them and our entire industry sparkles.
Read more of Michael's insights at www.oneproducerinthecity.typepad.com.