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The comic collapse of a puppet in The Pigeoning
Read more on this month’s mini-boom in puppetry for adults
Puppet shows aren’t just child’s play. From the Tony Award-winning Avenue Q and War Horse to the genre-busting works of Obie and Drama Desk Award-winning Basil Twist, many puppet performances are being created for grown-ups these days. That’s one of the reasons Twist—a third-generation puppeteer whose work has been seen both on Broadway and off—partnered with HERE to found the Dream Music Puppetry Program. He wanted to help incubate innovative, multidisciplinary puppet works aimed at adult audiences.
The program is housed in HERE’s intimate Dorothy B. Williams theatre, which was constructed with puppets in mind. (In a lovely testament to his family history, Twist’s grandfather’s vintage marionettes are on permanent display just outside the door.) Twist’s iconic underwater puppet show Symphonie Fantastique christened the space in 1998, and every year since, he has presented imaginative productions that explode any lingering notion that puppets are only for kids.
The program’s current offering, The Pigeoning, was created and directed by Robin Frohardt. A Bay Area transplant now based in New York City, Frohardt has extensive experience as a puppet maker and set designer, and she has collaborated on a wide range of projects like the Empire Drive-In art installation (late of Queens’ New York Hall of Science) and the site-specific subway saga IRT: A Tragedy in Three Stations. But The Pigeoning, an insightful comedy about Frank, an ’80s office worker who slowly descends into madness, marks her first full-length puppet show.
Frank has actually existed in different incarnations since 2006, when he debuted at Oakland’s Apocalypse Puppet Theater, a traveling troupe founded by Frohardt, composer Freddi Price (who supplies the live soundtrack for The Pigeoning), and two other local artists. “We were doing these 10-minute puppet pieces about the end of the world,” says Frohardt. “We had this crazy old man character with a ‘The End Is Near’ sign. He didn’t say anything; he just came out when we were changing the scenery and was like our mascot. I always had this idea of writing his back story, how he ended up that way.” [Read more →]
December 10, 2013 No Comments
Inviting someone into your office can be a very intimate experience. In fact, it may unearth personal secrets that would never be discovered at home.
That’s the conceit of playwright Andy Bragen’s Off-Broadway debut This is My Office, an immersive solo show at chashama produced by The Play Company. Although the play was inspired by Bragen’s actual experiences in a downtown office building, it deviates from reality the moment that actor David Barlow steps in front of a cozy audience of 40 and declares, “Welcome. I’m Andy Bragen. This is my office.”
He’s not Bragen, of course, and chashama’s raw Midtown East storefront space is not his office. But the play thrives on deception in the service of emotional truth.
“Like the work of Spalding Gray or W. David Hancock, what at first seems simple is meant to open up in a theatrical manner,” the real-life Bragen explains. “The character of Andy is an unreliable narrator, not just to the audience but to himself. He thinks he’s telling a story about this amazing photograph he finds in his office, but it turns into something else. It’s a kind of magic trick.” [Read more →]
November 22, 2013 2 Comments
Inside a thriving cultural district in Queens
Welcome to Borough Play, our exclusive series on theatre in Brooklyn, Queens, and beyond.
Astoria, Queens has long been celebrated for its affordable rents and authentic Greek cuisine, but New Yorkers should really add “thriving cultural district” to its list of amenities. Within a few blocks, you’ll find Kaufman Astoria Studios, a bustling TV and movie complex that’s also home to the TDF Costume Collection; the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI), which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year; and the 12-year-old Astoria Performing Arts Center, a professional theatre company that mounts musical revivals as well as new plays.
To put the neighborhood’s creative success in context, you need to look to its past. And that’s just what MoMI is doing with its latest temporary exhibit, Lights, Camera, Astoria!, which chronicles the history of the Astoria Studio complex.
Currently the place where popular TV shows like Nurse Jackie and Sesame Street film their episodes, the studio was originally the east coast home of Paramount Pictures during the days of silent films and early talkies. It then became a center for independent filmmaking in the 1930s and finally the U.S. Army Pictorial Center from World War II through the Cold War. Although it fell into disrepair in the 70s, it was reborn in 1980 as Kaufman Astoria Studios, and today its extended grounds include not only MoMI, but also the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts high school and the offices for the Astoria Performing Arts Center. [Read more →]
November 14, 2013 2 Comments
In their new musical, Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick blend spoof and soul
Most musicals incubate for a long time, but 20 years? That’s how long it took Seth Rudetsky to finally turn his initial inspiration into the Off-Broadway musical Disaster!, an effervescent send-up of 1970s disaster movies that’s overflowing with popular period songs.
Why the delay? According to Rudetsky, a performer/writer/musician/radio host/hardcore theatre fanboy, the answer is simple. “I literally have ADD,” he says. “I can’t do anything without a deadline!”
In 1993, Rudetsky and his friend Drew Geraci were working in the Off-Broadway musical Forever Plaid when they started joking about doing a musical parody of disaster movies that would be set during New York City’s 1977 blackout. “We were saying things like, ‘There’s going to be fighting in the streets!’ and that everyone would break into ‘(Everybody Was) Kung Fu Fighting,’” Rudetsky says. “I remember going to the Performing Arts Library and picking out lots of ’70s songs.”
And then… nothing. Until 2011, that is, when Rudetsky was invited to write a show for a benefit and decided to revisit the idea. Since Geraci was busy, Rudetsky turned to Jack Plotnick, his old friend and former comedy partner. “He asked me, ‘How far have you gotten?’ And I said, ‘Well, I haven’t actually written anything.’ Then I told him we only had two months. Jack opened up his laptop and typed: Scene I: Chad appears onstage and the “Hot Stuff” vamp is heard. And I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is actually happening.’”
Rudetsky and Plotnick had a tough creative road ahead of them, and not just because of the time crunch. Since the idea had originally been hatched, jukebox musicals had become a much-maligned genre, and thanks in large part to the Fringe Festival, which helped spawn the likes of Silence! and Poseidon!, musical movie parodies were no longer so novel. For the show to work, it needed to be much more than a collection of retro pop-culture references and familiar tunes. [Read more →]
November 1, 2013 No Comments
Inside the striking set design of Broadway’s A Time To Kill
A compelling legal drama usually invites viewers to consider a case from multiple perspectives, and in A Time to Kill, Tony Award-winner Rupert Holmes’ adaptation of John Grisham’s lauded debut novel of the same name, the audience sees the case in question from every angle—literally.
Set in Mississippi in the 1980s, the morally complex tale concerns Carl Lee Hailey, an African-American father who killed his young daughter’s white rapists. While the defendant is seemingly guilty in the eyes of the law, his plight stirs up a wide range of reactions and emotions, both in his community and in his white defense attorney, Jake Brigance. Those responses are underscored by scenic designer James Noone’s clever turntable set, which rotates throughout the two-act play. Every time the action returns to the courtroom, the players are physically in different places. It’s so subtle you may not even notice it consciously at first, but this sly bit of staging emphasizes the play’s point. Justice isn’t always clear-cut, and as we learn more about a situation, our moral position might change.
A theatre veteran with 15 Broadway productions on his résumé, Noone is clearly the go-to guy for procedurals. A Time to Kill is his fourth, after the 1996 revival of Inherit the Wind, Getting and Spending, and Judgment at Nuremberg. “After all of my experiences putting courtrooms on stage, I breathed a sigh of relief when [A Time to Kill director Ethan McSweeny] proposed being able to change the perspective of the trial during the play,” Noone says. “It’s so liberating. Normally, you’re stuck trying to design a set where the judge’s bench, the witness stand, and the defender and prosecutor are all in positions where everyone can have a satisfying connection with them. The turntable allows that to happen in a simple and elegant way that works beautifully with the storytelling.” [Read more →]
October 21, 2013 2 Comments