“When we really didn’t know what this pandemic was going to be, times got really, really, really rough. And then, around late March, the entire ecosystem just completely collapsed,” Works & Process general manager Duke Dang says in The Way Forward, the film that kicks off the docuseries Isolation to Creation, which premieres on WNET’s All Arts channel on January 27 at 8:00. The half-hour film follows the creative process of a group of artists who found their previously commissioned works postponed so they had to adapt to the shutdown of indoor venues, in this case the 273-seat Peter B. Lewis Theater under the Guggenheim rotunda, where Works & Process has been hosting sneak peeks and behind-the-scenes looks at dance, theater, opera, and music productions since 1984. The organization quickly transitioned to the new digital world, presenting a wide range of daring and beautiful virtual pieces, more than six dozen so far, all under ten minutes and premiering Sunday and Monday nights, filmed outdoors or from wherever the artists are sheltering in place.
In The Way Forward, Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie, Archie Burnett, Omari Wiles and Kya Azeen of Les Ballet Afrik, Joshua Bergasse, Sara Mearns, Chris Celiz, José Cruzata, Jamar Roberts, Dr. Wendy Ziecheck, and others discuss the metamorphosis to virtual productions, including Covid-19 testing, forming quarantine bubbles in the Hudson Valley (at Kaatsbaan Cultural Park, Mount Tremper Arts, and Petronio Residency Center), and collaborating while socially distancing. “It’s a complete launch into the unknown for us, and Duke especially just grabbed it and ran,” W&P producer Caroline Cronson explains. The series, directed by Nic Petry of Dancing Camera, continues February 3, 10, and 17 as the artists get ready for showtime, preparing their works in such styles as Afrik, ballet, ballroom, break, flex, Krump, modern, tap, and vogue. W&P has been more than a breath of fresh air during the coronavirus crisis, streaming exhilarating short pieces that remind us of the power of and intrinsic need for art and all that it brings us, particularly when we’re stuck in our homes, and Isolation to Creation enhances that experience in a big way, holding us over until we can once again return to the Peter B. Lewis Theater and be together in the same space.
Who: Arin Arbus, John Douglas Thompson, Isabel Arraiza, Danaya Esperanza, Ian Lassiter, Ajay Naidu, Alfredo Narciso, Graham Winton
What: Pair of readings and talkbacks about The Merchant of Venice
Where: Theatre for a New Audience
When: Wednesday, July 27, 7:00, and Saturday, July 30, 3:00, free with RSVP
Why: Theatre for a New Audience is planning on staging an in-person adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice once theaters are allowed to reopen in New York City. On January 27 and 30, TFANA will give a sneak peek at its take on the problematic play for the new series “Artists & Community.” Director Arin Arbus and award-winning actor John Douglas Thompson, who have previously worked together on Othello, Macbeth, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, and Strindberg’s The Father, are teaming up again for the Bard’s seriocomic work about romance and moneylending. Thompson, who will be playing Shylock, will be joined on Zoom by Isabel Arraiza, Danaya Esperanza, Ian Lassiter, Ajay Naidu, Alfredo Narciso, and Graham Winton, performing Act I, Scene III; Act II, Scenes III and V; and Act III, Scene I on January 27 at 7:00 and Act IV, Scene I: The Trial on July 30 at 3:00. Both free readings will be followed by a talkback with Arbus and members of the cast, moderated by TFANA founding artistic director Jeffrey Horowitz, who said in a statement, “On January 9, the Royal Shakespeare Company, with TFANA and the Young Vic, copresented a livestreamed concert that began an investigation into the 1939 Broadway musical Swingin’ the Dream. I’m thrilled that TFANA will now offer another first look: a behind-the-scenes exploration of Shakespeare’s provocative, polarizing play.” Among the lines they are likely to examine is Portia’s courtroom question “Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew?”
Who: Salamishah Tillet, Rebecca Belmore, Zena Howard, Bryan Lee Jr., Mayor Marvin Rees, Justin Garrett Moore, Paul Ramirez Jonas, Zsuzsa Szegedy-Maszák, Cecilia Alemani, Melanie Kress
What: Discussions on monumental public sculpture sponsored by the High Line and Next City
Where: Next City
When: Wednesday, January 27, pay-what-you-wish, 1:00; Friday, January 28, pay-what-you-wish, 1:00 (suggested admission $20 for both events)
Why: In June 2019, the High Line installed its inaugural plinth commission, Simone Leigh’s Brick House, a sixteen-foot-high bronze bust of a Black woman on the Spur at Thirtieth St. and Tenth Ave., overlooking traffic. The woman’s eyes are rubbed out and four cornrow braids with cowrie shells fall from her afro onto a skirt based on the Natchez, Mississippi, restaurant Mammy’s Cupboard as well as the Batammaliba (“those who are the real architects of the earth”) building style of Benin and Togo and the nearly extinct dome-shaped Mousgoum teleuk clay dwellings that can be found in Cameroon and Chad. The Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based Leigh will represent the United States at the 2022 Venice Biennale, and she recently unveiled the twenty-inch-tall limited-edition sculpture Sentinel IV, raising money for the nonprofit organization Color of Change. Brick House, which also evokes the Commodores hit (“Ow, she’s a brick house / She’s mighty-mighty, just lettin’ it all hang out / She’s a brick house / That lady’s stacked and that’s a fact / Ain’t holding nothing back”), will remain up through the spring, casting an imposing figure across the area, dominating the space around it with a powerful energy at a time when public statues and sculptures are being reevaluated and, sometimes, torn down because of their subjects’ historical connections to racism, misogyny, slavery, and other societal ills.
The High Line and Next City, a nonprofit news organization whose mission is “to inspire greater economic, environmental, and social justice in cities,” have teamed up for the Future of Monumentality Speaker Series, which kicks off this week with two events moderated by Salamishah Tillet focusing on monumental public sculpture just as Brick House prepares to start giving way to the second plinth commission, chosen from shortlisted artists Jonathan Berger, Minerva Cuevas, Jeremy Deller, Sam Durant, Charles Gaines, Lena Henke, Matthew Day Jackson, Roman Ondak, Paola Pivi, Haim Steinbach, and Cosima von Bonin. On January 27 at 1:00, Paul Ramirez Jonas, Justin Garrett Moore, and Zena Howard will discuss “What Is Monumentality?,” exploring the connections between art and architecture, the narrative of the work in relation to the audience, and who can tell which story. On January 28 at 1:00, Rebecca Belmore, Bryan Lee Jr., Mayor Marvin Rees, and Zsuzsa Szegedy-Maszák will talk about “Alternatives to Monumentality,” examining form and function, displacing and recontextualizing, and storytelling traditions. "Monuments have hurt our communities, but they can also be used to heal,” Next City executive director Lucas Grindley said in a statement. “Now is the time to learn from the many practitioners already doing the work of reimagining monuments.”
The High Line has just announced the twelve finalists for the third and fourth plinth commissions, scheduled to be installed in 2022 and 2024; the list of eighty proposals has been whittled down to submissions by Iván Argote, Nina Beier, Margarita Cabrera, Nick Cave, Banu Cennetoğlu, Rafa Esparza, Teresita Fernández, Kapwani Kiwanga, Lu Pingyuan, Pamela Rosenkranz, Mary Sibande, and Andra Ursuţa. You can see their maquettes either on the High Line at the Coach Passage at Thirtieth St. through April or online here.
Who: Bobby Cannavale, Marisa Tomei
What: Livestreamed reading produced by Tectonic Theater Project
Where: Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and YouTube
When: Tuesday, January 26, free (donations accepted), 8:00 (available through January 30)
Why: Originally commissioned for public television, Jon Robin Baitz’s Three Hotels consists of a trio of confessional monologues by executive Ken Hoyle and his wife, Barbara, dealing with personal tragedy and professional complications. First presented by Circle Rep in 1993 with Ron Rifkin and Christine Lahti, it played the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 1995 with Richard Dreyfuss and Lahti and the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2011 with Steven Weber and Maura Tierney. Tectonic Theater Project is now teaming up with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS for a benefit reading of the work with Bobby Cannavale and Marisa Tomei, helmed by Tectonic cofounder and artistic director Moisés Kaufman. “I think I first conceived of Three Hotels as an act of vengeance on my parents’ behalf — this being the kind of hubris only children are capable of, and only when they believe, erroneously or not, that they have witnessed the humiliation of a mother and father,” Baitz writes in an introductory note to the published version. “Memory is everything to me.” The play will stream live on January 26 at 8:00, with an introduction by two-time Pulitzer finalist Baitz (The Substance of Fire, Other Desert Cities) and two-time Tony nominee Kaufman (The Laramie Project, Torch Song), and will be available through January 30. Every dollar donated will help fight HIV/AIDS, Covid-19, and other critical illnesses across the country; Broadway Cares will also be presenting Anjou: The Musical Horror Tale on January 29 and ABC Daytime: Back on Broadway on February 11 with Bobbie Eakes, Melissa Claire Egan, Vincent Irizarry, Eva La Rue, Susan Lucci, Cameron Mathison, Eden Riegel, Chrishell Stause, and Walt Willey from All My Children, Kristen Alderson, BethAnn Fuenmayor, Kathy Brier, Kassie DePaiva, David Gregory, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Catherine Hickland, Mark Lawson, Hillary B. Smith, Jason Tam, and Brittany Underwood from One Life to Live, and Bradford Anderson, Brandon Barash, and Anthony Geary from General Hospital.
Who: Natalie Portman, Nina Totenberg, Tiffany Haddish, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Abigail Pogrebin
What: Series of talks with inspirational women
Where: The Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center
When: Tuesday, January 26, free with RSVP ($20 with book), 7:00 (through Thursday, March 11)
Why: For its new series, “Women Inspiring Women,” the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center asks the question “Who inspires the women who inspire us?” Free, live discussions will look at successful, inspirational women who will talk about their role models, heroines, and influencers, beginning January 26 at 7:00 with actress, activist, and author Natalie Portman in conversation with writer Abigail Pogrebin; for $20, you will receive a copy of the brand-new children’s book Natalie Portman’s Fables, in which Portman retells three classic tales in a gender-safe environment “so we’re not telling any of our children that boys’ inner lives are more valuable to imagine than those of girls.” The series continues with Nina Totenberg on February 9, Tiffany Haddish on February 17, Mayim Bialik on February 25, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz on March 2, and Hillary Rodham Clinton on March 11.
Who: Bryan Cranston, Hunter Doohan, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Liz Glotzer, Alon Aranya
What: Live discussion about Showtime series Your Honor
Where: The Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center
When: Monday, January 25, free with RSVP, 6:30
Why: For those of you watching the eight-part Showtime series Your Honor, you might be feeling a little lonely on January 24 as the Sunday-night show takes a week off before presenting two new episodes on January 31. But you can get your fix on Monday night when stars Bryan Cranston (Michael Desiato), Hunter Doohan (Adam Desiato), and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Charlie Figaro) and executive producers Liz Glotzer and Alon Aranya appear in a live, virtual discussion for the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center. In the series, which is based on the Israeli show Kvodo, Cranston portrays a widowed judge in New Orleans whose teenage son accidentally kills the son of a mob boss in a hit-and-run, and the judge goes to extreme lengths to protect his child. The panel will talk about the show as well as adapting Israeli television programs; such popular Israeli shows as Homeland, In Treatment, The Spy, and Euphoria have also been remade for American audiences.
Who: Red Bull Theater company
What: Benefit reading of The Woman Hater and live Q&A
Where: Red Bull Theater website and Facebook Live
When: Monday, January 25, free (suggested donation $25), 7:30 (available on demand through January 29); Bull Session on Thursday, January 28, free, 7:30
Why: For its previous livestream benefit reading, Red Bull Theater, known for its exquisite stagings of Jacobean plays — the company was named after an English playhouse that produced works between 1604 and 1642, not after an energy drink — dipped its toes into the contemporary era with Carlyle Brown’s The African Company Presents Richard III, which was written in 1994 and set in 1821. Red Bull heads to the turn of the eighteenth century with a benefit reading of Frances Burney’s rarely performed The Woman Hater, a protofeminist satire of romance, misogyny, and high society. “The discovery of Frances Burney’s stage plays is a wonderful revelation, and it is a joy for us to be able to share what just might be her funniest play with audiences online,” artistic director Jesse Berger said in a statement. Directed by Everett Quinton and featuring Bill Army, Arnie Burton, Veanne Cox, Rebecca S’Manga Frank, Cherie Corinne Rice, Matthew Saldivar, Jenne Vath, and Nick Westrate, with visual design by David M. Barber and costumes by Sara Jean Tosetti, the work will be performed live January 25 at 7:30 and will be available on demand through January 29.
In addition, Red Bull is hosting a Bull Session on January 28 at 7:30 with Quinton, members of the cast, and scholar Tara K. Menon, who in a statement explained, “Frances Burney wrote The Woman Hater between 1796 and 1801. Although the play was never performed in public, Burney drew a cast list of prominent actors from Drury Lane, including Sarah Siddons, the best known tragedienne of the day, as Eleonora. The play shares its title with the 1607 play by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, which also lampoons misogyny. Burney’s play first came to light in 1945 when the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library acquired a collection of her writing. Her plays were published for the first time in 1995. The Woman Hater is best characterized as a sentimental comedy, but it contains elements of several other genres including gothic drama, farce, and comedy of manners.” It also has echoes of Burney’s 1779 comedy, The Witlings. Tickets to both events are free, but there is a $25 suggested donation for the reading if you are able to contribute.