Moscow’s Teatr.doc Raided For Screening Ukraine Documentary

Teatr.doc's Moscow offices following police raid. Photo by co-founded Elena Gremina

Teatr.doc’s Moscow offices following police raid. Photo by co-founded Elena Gremina

From the full story at Culturebot:

Then the screening began. The film begins with footage of Yanukovych’s legendary press-conference, where he breaks a pen. Literally seconds later, special agents [police] appeared, the lights were turned on, and they announced that there was information suggesting a bomb had been planted, and requested that we immediately evacuate the premises. While this was happening, the special agents who’d been impersonating audience members, and those who’d entered when the screening had been halted, demanded that the proceedings not be photographed or filmed in any way. It got to the point where cameras were being openly knocked out of [audience members’] hands. In the basement’s exit, those who were being “rescued” from an explosion were stopped by at least 5 special agents, who’d organized a check of documents and a search of possessions. We requested that they explain whether their operation was to save us, or to detain us.

Go See the TEAM Waste Your Tax Dollars at PS 122’s COIL Festival

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I’m going to miss Tom “Rampant Lesbianism” Coburn, Oklahoma’s recently retired senator. I mean, there are so many great things he’s done! True, he lacked Sam Brownback’s visual-aid skills, and has always lacked the high-minded intellectualism of James Inhofe. Nevertheless, I always got a kick out of Tom Coburn, and in particular his annual Wastebook, where he calls out all kinds of wasteful spending those liberals get up to. Such as, in the 2014 edition, The TEAM, for RoosevElvis which received $10,000 for “their next run of RoosevElvis at a still-to-be-determined date before May 2015.” Which you can come see as part of the 2015 COIL Festival, where it plays the Vineyard Theater.

As Arizona’s Senator Jeff Flake–for whom bipartisanship is literally a Survivor-esque contest–notes, in the sort of pull-quote most theater companies can only dream of: “What in San  Juan Hill is the federal government doing funding this hunk-a-hunk-a-burnin’ waste?”

Truly one for the press kit.

For more recommendations on shows coming up in January, see here.

January Ticket Price Madness

Like many people I know, the last few weeks have been a matter of spending fairly large amounts of money on tickets to shows in January for Under the Radar, COIL, American Realness, and so on. Or, well, let me clarify: Under the Radar. As a critic I tend to have the opportunity to receive review comps. But for various reasons I usually wind up buying my own tickets to Under the Radar shows. Which makes me one of the lucky ones, to be sure–the cost would be staggering otherwise. Anyway, a Facebook friend threw this up this morning and it cracked me up:

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As he pointed out, $25 for a 15-minute performance works out to a little over $1.66 per minute of performance. Which, for some reason, does seem expensive. $25 for a downtown performance is a little higher than average I want to say, but still solidly within the expected price range. But for only 15 minutes? It’s an odd bit of math to do: what is the value of a minute of performance?

The economics of production dictate that the fixed costs (design, set construction, load-in, etc.) are more or less the same for a show regardless of whether its run time is five minutes or 5 hours. If I were James Surowiecki writing in The New Yorker‘s financial page, I’m sure I’d have some pithy little analysis based in social science research that would provide a concrete language regarding why it is that–even though I know why the prices are the same for a short performance or a long one–that it seems somehow unfair to have to pay the same for a show that’s short as for one that’s long. Instead, I just decided to start running the math on various shows based on ticket prices I’ve paid (or would have paid had I been forced to buy them):

  • Nature Theater’s Life and Times Episode 1-4 at UTR/Soho Rep ’13: $0.16 per minute (at $25 per ticket/4 tickets, over 10 hours)
  • Einstein on the Beach, BAM ’12: $0.29 per minute (at $80 per ticket, over 4 1/2 hours)
  • Daniel Fish’s A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (after David Foster Wallace) at the Chocolate Factory ’12: $0.13 per minute (at $20 a ticket, over 2 1/2 hours–which is a full hour longer than the reduced version being shown as part of Under the Radar ’15)
  • 600 Highwaymen’s The Record at the Invisible Dog ’13: $0.26 per minute ($15 suggested donation at nearly exactly 57 minutes–if Abby or Michael feel so inclined, they can provide exact run-time for the most accurate cost-per-minute analysis here)
  • TR Warszawa’s 4.48 Psychosis at St. Ann’s Warehouse ’14: $0.75 per minute ($45 per ticket, 60-minute run-time)
  • Philippe Quesne’s Bivouac at Performa 13: $1.50 a minute? Maybe? ($20 for a 30-minute…90-minute… Wait, if the bus ride was part of the performance, do I have to figure out how long it was supposed to take if the driver hadn’t gotten lost? And do I subtract the period during which the performance was interrupted to make us all stage a scene for a different performance Quesne was making? Fucking performance art…)
  • Jim Findlay’s Dream of the Red Chamber in Times Square ’14: $0.00 per minute ($0.00 ticket for up to 12 hours; at zero cost it’s not worth debating the validity of whether you experience performance while you’re asleep for the purposes of calculation)
  • Fernando Rubio’s Everything by my side at Crossing the Line/PS122 ’14: $0.33 ($5 for 15 minutes…though I actually think the “performance” was much less than 15 minutes)
  • Gerald Kurdian’s The Magic of Spectacular Theater at Crossing the Line ’12: $0.50 per minute, or $0.30 per minute, or $15 for nothing, depending (Assumes $15 ticket purchased in advance for the performance that  started 20 minutes after scheduled curtain due to artistic crisis, which in turn led to the artist not actually performing the intended show. So pricing is based on whether you assume the show started late but you accepted the alternate performance of a few songs; or whether you accept the artist’s statement that what took place onstage was all a matter of conscious decision, which means the show didn’t start late; or whether you assume you didn’t actually get the thing you thought you paid for at all)
  • Elevator Repair Service’s Gatz in Seattle in ’07 or NYC in 2010: $0.06 per minute, or $0.41 per minute (depends on whether you paid $24 for the show at  On the Boards in 2007 or $160 top price at the Public in 2011)

Support zoe|juniper Who Need a New Set Because FedEx

To get an idea of where I‘ve been with this, you check out this narrative more or less covering (actually, dancing around) my project with Zoe Scofield and Juniper Shuey. In 2013. Not the 2012 part, not the 2014 part. Just 2013. This is the morass I’m working way through right now–hours of interviews, hundreds of photos, pages upon pages of writings, dozens of emails. All to produce a definitive document of the making of BeginAgain, which will be returning (in mainstage form) to NYC as part of PS122’s 2015 COIL Festival, at Baryshnikov Arts Center.

And that’s just what I’ve been through. Think about the artists! All that work! Unfortunately, for all this work to come to fruition, the company needs to replace a massive, hand-made, delicate paper cut-out backdrop by Celeste Cooning. Which was literally lost in the mail. And which FedEx did not cover the cost of replacing. So let’s all help cough a little bit to let us see this amazing design the way it was meant to be seen.

Early-Bird January Recommendations

So yes, the entire January shit-show thing is coming back and whatnot, and personally I’m still trying to wrap my head around it all. There’s tons and tons of mainstage, head-lining shows to see that are new (or largely new) to New York audiences. But for better or worse, the entire reason the entire January festival season thing is a shit-show is precisely because it’s a showcase of work from New York and around the world–for audiences from around the world. So, in the interest of serving what few readers this blog occasionally has, I thought I’d throw out some really strong pieces that should not be missed this January, based on my knowledgeable critical opinion, which may or may not be of interest to you. The list is preliminary and by no means exhaustive, but what follows is a group of artists whose work I’ve followed with engagement and interest, and I’d be remiss not calling them out.

Temporary Distortion’s My Voice Has An Echo In It (COIL Festival)

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Kenneth Collins is a relentless sort of artist. He had something good (commercially, if that’s the right word) going with his trilogy of film deconstructions: Welcome to Nowhere (on road movies), Americana Kamikaze (Japanese horror), and Newyorkland (cop films and TV shows). However, as I reported in a lengthy feature on Collins in Chance magazine earlier this year, the entire progression left him cold. From a beginning as an artist interested in arresting but largely static situations, the engagement with film tropes kept inviting in the terror of narrative, until–despite commissions and opportunities–he felt he had to turn his back on it all. A couple years of false starts and deep artistic exploration later, he and his company return with My Voice Has an Echo In It, a durational installation performance piece which takes his Minimalist-sculpture-inspired box aesthetics to new heights. It’s not to be missed.

zoe | juniper’s BeginAgain (COIL Festival)

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Similar to Temporary Distortion, my engagement with this piece began critically and journalistically. For two years, I followed the company’s development of the piece, as choreographer Zoe Scofield and designer/visual artist Juniper Shuey attempted to further the aesthetic considerations that had informed their work for years. Juniper’s design has always been beautiful and arresting, but Zoe’s choreography–to be blunt–has been divisive amongst choreographers I know. The dominance of conceptualism in contemporary dance makes Zoe’s highly technically accomplished work a little outside the mainstream as it resolutely refuses to move toward either contemporary ballet or deconstructive conceptual performance. Instead, in this piece, Zoe and Juniper attempted to design a development process that would challenge them to collapse their aesthetic concerns further, subtly shifting the site of spectacle from the dancer’s body (the balletic quality Zoe was so known for) while at the same preserving and furthering Juniper’s exploration of design/installation as a means of lyrical and fluid expression, rather than a conceptual/deconstructive environment or, worse, a “set.” Those who might be tempted to write off the company’s return to Baryshnikov as part of PS 122’s COIL–based on the fact they were here in May with the Joyce Theater (off-site at 3LD)–should be aware that the earlier New York appearance was a reconceptualized “installation/performance” considerably different from the stage version I saw opening weekend in Seattle in March. So even if (or particularly if) you caught the 3LD version, come back. It won’t disappoint.

Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble’s The Art of Luv (Part 1) (Under the Radar)

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Ah, the ROKE! Consistently challenging and irreverent, Royal Osiris (the brainchild of theater artist Tei Blow and visual artist Sean McElroy)  defies description. Nominally based on characters with a dramaturgically solid (if narratively irrelevant) backstory, Royal Osiris defies traditional categories, as much deconstructive performance art as immersive theater. Blow and McElroy create performances through archaeological excavations of media that ranges from relationship advice shilling to New Age spirituality shilling to…karaoke. But the “shilling” is the important part. Below what at what first blush seems a wormhole of odd-ball YouTube videos (most of which are actually too rare to appear on YouTube) is an indictment of the nightmarish way the ever-increasing prevalence of media self-help, buoyed by a surprisingly solid foundation in business management theory, warps our perceptions of love and self-worth. Also operative in the above is the statement “at first blush”–at first blush, Royal Osiris may not seem to be your thing. Give it a second blush (whatever that euphemism actually means); let them surprise you.

Tony Torn/Dan Safer/Julie Atlas Muz’s Ubu Sings Ubu (No festival, at the Slipper Room for two nights only!)

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When Ubu Sings Ubu premiered at Abrons this past April, well…I think it more or less did well, but it sort of avoided the popular (or rather, scene-y) downtown performance consciousness. For a few reasons. Despite having been a member of Reza Abdoh’s company for a series of seminal works, Torn was sort of an unknown in the contemporary. Couple that with Dan Safer, who I think sometimes suffers (unfairly) from the sense that if you’ve seen one Witness Relocation show, you’ve seen them all. And then there was the play itself–Alfred Jarry’s seminal Ubu Roi, a play everyone knows, many people did shit versions of in college, and no one can think of good production of. Oh, and the amazing Julie Atlas Muz? Ubu Sings Ubu opened less than two weeks following the closing of the surprise hit that was her turn in Beauty and the Beast. All of which is really sad, because in this piece, the artists, all bringing their distinctive voices to the production, realized the most effective and original version of Jarry’s oft-neglected text imaginable. Paired with the music of proto-punk outift Pere Ubu, Torn and Muz bring ear-bleeding ferocity to Jarry’s tale of the brutish and ignorant would-be king of Poland. Dan Safer will do some full-body wrestling as the bear. It will stink to high-heaven of kielbasa. And the video/animation design by Kaz Phillips Safer is wonderful.