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Category — Borough Play

Can We Put a Perfect World On Stage?

Piehole's "Old Paper Houses"

Piehole’s “Old Paper Houses”

Piehole’s new play tries to create a utopia

Welcome to Borough Play, our exclusive series on theatre in Brooklyn, Queens, and beyond

What is it about the idea of a perfect community that’s so alluring? And is the attempt to make art all that different from the quest to create a utopia?

Members of the theatre ensemble Piehole found themselves wrestling with these questions as they developed Old Paper Houses, directed by Tara Ahmadinejad and running through Mar. 14 at the Irondale Center in Brooklyn.

The show began when a Piehole member brought in a Bernadette Mayer poem called “Essay.” “It became the anchor for our piece,” says Ahmadinejad. “Her poetry helps you read the artistic act as a kind of utopian pursuit. There’s an obsessive need to get it right and somehow capture something that is true. Of course, you can’t ever get it quite right, but it’s the pursuit that makes life worth living.”

Even though Mayer wrote in the 1970s, Piehole next turned to Brook Farm, a commune from the Transcendentalist Movement of the 1840s that the poet references in her work. “We wanted to look at what it is that made people in the 1840s move to a commune and have all these romantic ideals and not be embarrassed about it,” Ahmadinejad says.

Old Paper Houses acknowledges both sources, and despite its often academic roots, it’s funny in surprising ways, with performing “trying on” various utopian models. [Read more →]

March 5, 2015   No Comments

If You’re Only 40, How Do You Play an 80 Year Old?

Elizabeth Dement (rear) in Social Security

Elizabeth Dement (rear) with Cynthia Hopkins

Inside Elizabeth Dement’s transformative performance in Social Security

Actors are often told to make a character “their own.” But what exactly does that mean? And how do actors put themselves into a role when they’re playing someone who’s almost twice their age?

For the 40-year-old performer Elizabeth Dement, who stars as an 80-year-old retiree in Christina Masciotti’s Social Security, at the Bushwick Starr Feb. 25 – Mar. 14, the first entry point was speech patterns.

Masciotti’s play, which is being co-presented by the Bushwick Starr and terraNOVA Collective, follows June Willitz, a retired pretzel factor worker who has recently lost her husband, and the character is based on Masciotti’s real-life neighbor in Reading, Pennsylvania. “Christina gave me voice recordings of the woman whom June is based on,” says Dement. “It was so intense. She’s deaf, she has no teeth, she has a Pennsylvania Dutch accent, and she’s 80!”

Any one of the vocal traits would be hard to capture, but all four proved nearly impossible, especially in terms of sustainability for a theatrical environment. Nevertheless, Dement initially found “mimickry was the only way in.” Over time, she shifted her character’s voice so that it is supported and healthy for performance, but the residual effect of those early imitations remain.

Another huge element for bringing June to life has been exploring her physicality. “That’s the part that comes most naturally to me,” says Dement, who is a trained dancer and choreographer.

Since June is an octogenarian, Dement describes creating her physicality as “a stripping away of movement.” Even though June doesn’t leap across the stage, Dement has considered “how her joints would feel, how she sits, what her posture is like, and where her injuries are.” Capturing the right physicality is an ongoing process. “Sometimes I catch myself turning my head too quickly,” the actress says. “It’s not that June doesn’t have energy. It’s that it doesn’t get out of the body in the way I know. There’s something about stillness that we don’t have, as younger people.” [Read more →]

February 26, 2015   4 Comments

What Exactly Is Queens-Style Dance?

A piece by Neville Dance Theatre

A piece by Neville Dance Theatre

The Queensboro Dance Festival celebrates dance companies from across the borough

In dance reputation terms, Manhattan has made its mark with stalwart institutions like American Ballet Theatre and Lincoln Center, as well as 1960s-bred, avant-garde downtown companies. Brooklyn’s dancescape is known for Mark Morris, BAM, and even more experimental flavors. But do audiences ever think of—or even recognize—what could be called “Queens-style” dance?

Karesia Batan thought not, and she decided this was a problem she needed to address. That’s why she’s developed the Queensboro Dance Festival, where from October 20 to 26, audiences from all boroughs can enjoy 18 diverse, Queens-based dance troupes in a rotating bill at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City.

“My inspiration for creating [Queensboro Dance Festival] was the absence of a physical dance community in our borough,” says the Flushing-born and current Long Island City resident. “I knew from programs I’ve seen around Queens, and also from a ton of dancers I’ve worked with, that a lot of us live in Queens. But oddly, we don’t have a cohesive identity like Manhattan or Brooklyn.”

She continues, “In Queens, we don’t have anything that really connects us all. Queens is so, so diverse, from the culture to the food, and because it’s so large it tends to be disjointed and people stay in their own pockets. But a lot of artists live here, and it’s really an artistic hive. So this is my attempt to bring the Queens dance community together and discover: Who else is out there? What does dance from Queens look like? How can we create a platform for Queens dance?” [Read more →]

October 20, 2014   No Comments

Want to Know How the Play Ends? Pay Up.

The cast of Trade Practices

The cast of Trade Practices

 

In Trade Practices, audience members “purchase” pieces of the story

Welcome to Borough Play, our exclusive series on theatre in Brooklyn, Queens, and beyond

For a practical lesson in economics, try being hungry on Governors Island. The ferry ride to this lovely enclave is only $2—or completely free if you sail out early—and considering all the activities, views, and traffic-free silence the place offers, that’s a spectacular deal.

But if you don’t bring your lunch, noontime might find you on the receiving end of an $8 sandwich. And if you want a lemonade, that’ll be $12. Is it worth it? Does that transaction change your sense of the entire experience?

Such predicaments make Governors Island the perfect home for HERE’s Trade Practices, which runs through Sept. 21 and is co-created by David Evans Morris and HERE artistic director Kristin Marting. Set in the historic Pershing Hall, the show meditates on behavioral economics by telling site-specific stories about the boom and bust of a fictional paper company.

The production itself is as massive as the topic it treats. Marting and Morris developed characters and concepts with the help of an epic flow chart of narrative threads. Along the way, they enlisted six playwrights to craft intersecting storylines and recruited a video designer to make company orientation videos and financial news reports. They also cast ten actors who not only come together for group song and dance numbers, but also disperse into Pershing Hall’s various rooms to play out individual dramas about the paper company’s owners, workers, management, and communications department.

The audience helps create the experience, too. It’s impossible to see every element of the show, so patrons “invest” in the stories they want to follow. Using fake money that’s handed out by the cast, they regularly gather in a room called the “trading floor” to buy entry into various scenes.

For example, if someone wants to see what happens to the worker who’s being spied on by an owner’s cousin, then she might have to pay eight fake dollars to keep following the story. However, the latest chapter of the management drama, where two characters get increasingly ruthless in their quest for promotions, might be selling for a mere four dollars. A choice must be made. [Read more →]

September 3, 2014   No Comments

How One Story Became Four Different Plays

A scene from The Blueprint Project

A scene from The Blueprint Project

In The Blueprint Project, writers riff on the same idea

Welcome to Borough Play, our exclusive series on theatre in Brooklyn, Queens, and beyond.

Have you ever watched a play and thought, “That’s not how I would’ve told the story?” This week, Gideon Production is encouraging playwrights to think just that. In Blueprint Project: First Contact, four writers have been called on to create their own short plays based on the same synopsis.

Playwrights Johnna Adams, J. Holtham, Dan Kois and Mariah MacCarthy all received the same plot outline. In a nutshell, it goes like this: Two characters (call them A and B) are trying to establish ‘first contact.’ A third person (C) enters the picture. Conflict ensues, and then a fourth person (D) appears. At the end, one of the characters leaves with D.

Beyond that structure, anything goes. So the works, while sharing the same basic story, differ in tone, genre, and interpretations of the evocative phrase “first contact.” For example, while Adams describes her play Advances as a “popcorn-chewing action thriller” with no aliens in sight, Holtham took a more traditional approach to science fiction with The Great Silence, in which three scientists trying to figure out how to communicate with distant beings.

The four short plays will be presented as an anthology May 21-25 at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City. Inspired by Blueprint Project, TDF Stages asked Adams and Holtham the same set of questions. The result, like the plays themselves, share similar thoughts and sentiments, but they also diverge in many ways. [Read more →]

May 19, 2014   No Comments