Pitchblack Immersive Experiences
Last month I saw Simon Stephens’s Blindness at the Daryl Roth Theatre, a sound and light theatrical installation without actors in which the story about a sudden and inexplicable epidemic of sight loss is presented through binaural headphones in a space often cast in total darkness. A few weeks after that, I got on an airplane for the first time since the coronavirus crisis began, going to California to visit family. Those two elements come together in compelling ways in Odd Man Out, an immersive, interactive treat for the senses that arrives at your home in a box.
Originally performed with an in-person cast and audience at Teatro Ciego in Argentina, a company that specializes in productions in complete darkness, with nearly half of the troupe either blind or with low vision — the riveting sixty-five-minute presentation, which was workshopped in English in New York City in February 2020 in collaboration with theatreC, has been reimagined by writer-director Martín Bondone and codirectors Carlos Armesto and Facundo Bogarín for a unique private journey. Odd Man Out follows successful blind Argentine musician Alberto Rinaldi (Gonzalo Trigueros) as he flies on Pitchblack Airlines from New York City back to Buenos Aires, where he was born and raised. During the trip, his mind is flooded with memories of seminal moments from his life, involving his mother (Alejandra Buljevich) and father (Ignacio Borderes), his teacher (Buljevich), his music partner Jamal Jordan (Modesto Lacen), and his true love, Clara (Carmen Boria, who in addition voices Alberto as a child). The tale also features a taxi driver (Andrés Montejo), two policemen (Aksel Tang and Lacen), an attentive flight attendant (Boria), Alberto’s seatmate (Montejo), another passenger (Victoria Raigorodsky), and a parrot (Lacen).
The black box contains everything you need for this multisensory excursion: a map, a blindfold, a boarding pass with a QR code that takes you to the online audio, wine or yerba maté, and six mysterious objects that incorporate taste (chocolate, vegan, gluten-free, or coconut), touch, and smell. The narrative was recorded using binaural technology that makes it feel that the characters are moving around your head as if in a 360-degree area, a technique that was also used for Blindness and Simon McBurney’s remarkable Broadway show The Encounter. The sound design is by Nicolás Alvarez, with original music, arrangements, and music direction by Mirko Mescia — performed by pianist Lubert Andrés Pulval Jiménez, guitarist Roberto Ariel Caceres, and bassist Bogarín — and dramaturgy by Armesto and Tang.
Alberto talks about love, fear, discrimination, and music as the plane continues on to Argentina, where he hasn’t been in decades. These feelings and beliefs have come into much clearer focus during the pandemic, as the world sheltered in place, travel was limited if not nonexistent, isolation and loneliness ran rampant, and rallies and marches were held across the globe against racial injustice. Theater is best experienced with live actors in front of an in-person audience in the same space, yet Odd Man Out is just the right kind of show when that is not available, offering a compelling individual adventure for the body and the mind.
(A portion of the proceeds from Odd Man Out — boxes cost $50 — goes to Visions,which provides services for the blind and visually impaired.)
Who: Annaleigh Ashford, Robin de Jesús, Renée Elise Goldsberry, LaChanze, Kelli O’Hara, Billy Porter, Idina Menzel, Melissa Barrera, Gavin Creel, Leslie Grace, Cheyenne Jackson, Jai’Len Josey, Aaron Tveit, Kelly Marie Tran, Patrick Wilson, McKinley Belcher III, Nick Blaemire, Sandra Caldwell, Juan Castano, Trip Cullman, Hugh Dancy, Halley Feiffer, Dominique Fishback, Jennifer Garner, Paige Gilbert, Lucas Hedges, Evan Jonigkeit, Alex Lacamoire, Donja R. Love, Zosia Mamet, Laurie Metcalf, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ana Nogueira, Marisa Tomei
What: Virtual edition of MCC Theater’s annual Miscast gala
Where: MCC YouTube
When: Sunday, May 16, free (donations accepted), 8:00
Why: We’ve all been there: We’re in a theater watching a show when we realize that it’s just not going to work because of a bad casting decision. MCC Theater has been spoofing on that situation with its annual Miscast fundraising galas, in which they purposely match talented performers with the wrong song. On May 16 at 8:00, Miscast21 will go virtual, adding a geographic dimension to the wrongness. Admission is free, though donations will be accepted to help support MCC in its mission “to develop and produce exciting work Off-Broadway, as well as [its] Youth Company and partnerships with NYC public high schools, and MCC’s literary development work with emerging playwrights.”
Performing at the event, which will be broadcast on YouTube, are Annaleigh Ashford, Robin de Jesús, Renée Elise Goldsberry, LaChanze, Kelli O’Hara, Billy Porter, Idina Menzel, Melissa Barrera, Gavin Creel, Leslie Grace, Cheyenne Jackson, Jai’Len Josey, Aaron Tveit, and Kelly Marie Tran; among those making appearances will be Patrick Wilson, Trip Cullman, Hugh Dancy, Halley Feiffer, Dominique Fishback, Jennifer Garner, Paige Gilbert, Lucas Hedges, Donja R. Love, Zosia Mamet, Laurie Metcalf, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Marisa Tomei. Be sure to check out the online auction, where you can pick up signed Playbills, overseas trips, private coaching sessions, personalized video messages, and limited edition totes and T-shirts. You’ll also find on MCC’s YouTube page videos of pandemic performances by Heather Headley, Joshua Henry, Adrienne Warren, Rob McClure, Beanie Feldstein, Norbert Leo Butz, Phillipa Soo, Robert Fairchild, and others.
Who: Stefanie Batten Bland
What: World premiere of BAC commission
Where: Baryshnikov Arts Center digital
When: Through Monday, May 17, 5:00, free
Why: In a March 2019 interview with her alma mater, Goddard College, choreographer Stefanie Batten Bland said, “I am a storyteller; I mean, I don’t shy away from that. I love being able to tell stories that we can find ourselves in. I don’t know if they’re necessarily linear stories, but I think that’s another way that we can validate who we are, when we identify with someone, or with something, and I kinda like to go about it through a common goal. So I’ll often ask audience members and performers to work towards a goal, and that could be like lifting something up together.” Born and raised in Soho, Bland has been busy during the pandemic, even without the ability to present pieces in front of an in-person audience. With Company SBB, she created This Moment for Works & Process at the Guggenheim, Current for Duke Performances, and Unnatural Contradictions for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, set in the Osborne and Woodland Gardens. In addition, Mondays at Two explored how the health crisis affected members of the company, which was founded in France in 2008 and established in New York City three years later. Her latest dance film is the fantastical Kolonial, commissioned by Baryshnikov Arts Center and filmed in BAC’s Jerome Robbins Theater. The twenty-minute work is set in a dark, ominous, postapocalyptic world where seven people are trapped in bubble pods, their clothing in tatters, a threatening musical drone hovering over them. As a baleful blue morphs into a more hopeful orange, the music shifts, along with the characters’ emotional physicality.
Kolonial is directed and choreographed by Bland and codirected and filmed by Jean Claude Dhien, with scenic installation by Conrad Quesen, costumes by Shane Ballard, and music by Grant Cutler; it is performed by Bland, Miguel Anaya, Yeman Brown, Rachel Watson Jih, Jennifer Payán, Paul Singh, and Latra A. Wilson. “It’s something that’s in the now, that’s happening right now,” Bland says in her video introduction. “It’s a story of isolation, of separation, of being on display, of viewership, of voyeurism, of desire to touch. And isn’t that also a story of before . . . and before . . . and before.” It’s a bold and powerful work, with haunting sound and imagery, that ultimately finds there just might be light at the end of the tunnel. But then what? Kolonial is available for free though May 17; be sure to also check out the May 11 conversation with Bland and writer and curator Eva Yaa Asantewaa.
333 East 47th St.
June 23-27, $45
As the lockdown ends and venues start reopening, theaters are dealing with limited admissions, socially distanced seating, and protocols for the health and safety of the cast and crew. Several companies have come up with unique presentations that feature no performers and a sparse audience. In Simon Stephens’s Blindness, people sit in pods of two inside the Daryl Roth Theatre and listen to the narrative unfold through binaural headphones. In Social! at the Park Avenue Armory, fewer than a hundred people were marched into the Wade Thompson Drill Hall and danced in their own colored circle for nearly an hour as a DJ in the center spun tunes and the disembodied voice of David Byrne offered movement suggestions. For the Byzantine Choral Project’s Icons/Idols: In the Purple Room, two people at a time follow the narrative over their phone as they wander through creepy downstairs rooms at the New Ohio Theatre. And for En Garde Arts’ A Dozen Dreams, pairs make their way across twelve separate installations at the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place, each one containing a dream from a woman playwright.
Japan Society is entering the actorless arena with the latest iteration of writer-director Kuro Tanino’s The Dark Master, running for only sixteen performances from June 23 to 27, with a maximum of ten people at each show. A sculptor, painter, and former psychiatrist, Tanino (Frustrating Picture Book for Adults, Fortification of Smiles) created the immersive forty-five-minute piece for his experimental theater company, Niwa Gekidan Penino, but they will not be at the East Forty-Seventh St. institution; instead, the story, about the relationship between a Japanese diner and the owner-chef of a restaurant and inspired by an indie manga and first-person video games, takes place through Virtual Reality headsets and headphones, along with live onstage cooking to add smell and taste to hearing and seeing. The work was first presented in 2003 with a full cast and audience and has now been reimagined for the pandemic.
“Niwa Gekidan Penino generated significant buzz in their 2014 U.S. debut at Japan Society with The Room Nobody Knows,” artistic director Yoko Shioya said in a statement. “With this new presentation, I hope to further their status and reputation in this country. We are extremely happy to welcome audiences back into our building for Kuro’s innovative and immersive in-person VR performance. From its intimate scale to the sensorial nature of the piece — along with its haunting and thrilling plot — this one-of-a-kind theater event seems tailor made for our return to live, onsite theater.” With only 160 total tickets available, you better act fast if you want to experience what should be a wild and special show.
Who: Ishmael Houston-Jones, Eiko Otake, Joan Jonas, Okwui Okpokwasili, Reggie Wilson, Judy Hussie-Taylor, Lydia Bell, Kristin Juarez, more
What: Annual Platform presentation
Where: Danspace Project Zoom
When: May 15 - June 18, free (live events require advance RSVP)
Why: Danspace Project’s annual Platform series, in which specially chosen curators put together programs of dance, literature, conversation, and more, was cut short last year because of the pandemic lockdown. The 2021 edition, curated by Judy Hussie-Taylor and aptly titled “The Dream of the Audience,” is fully digital, with new short films made during residencies at Danspace Project, live discussions, looks back at previous Platforms, and archival footage. It takes as its inspiration Teresa Hak Kyung Cha’s 1977 poem “Audience Distant Relative”: “you are the audience / you are my distant audience / i address you / as i would a distant relative / as if a distant relative / seen only heard only through someone else’s / description.” Platform 2021 kicks off May 15 at 7:00 with a live Zoom launch featuring Ishmael Houston-Jones, Eiko Otake, Joan Jonas, Okwui Okpokwasili, and Reggie Wilson, moderated by Hussie-Taylor, all of whom have previously curated an edition of Platform. Below is the full schedule; live Zoom events require advance RSVP.
Saturday, May 15
Platform Launch with Ishmael Houston-Jones, Eiko Otake, Joan Jonas, Okwui Okpokwasili, and Reggie Wilson, moderated by Judy Hussie-Taylor, RSVP required, 7:00
Monday, May 17
On the Online Journal: Archival footage of Ishmael Houston-Jones and Miguel Gutierrez, Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and other works by John Bernd
Friday, May 21
Film Premiere: Ishmael Houston-Jones, Try, in collaboration with Keith Hennessy, josé e. abad, Kevin O’Connor, and Snowflake Calvert, RSVP required, 5:00
Monday, May 31
On the Online Journal: Archival footage of Okwui Okpokwasili and Peter Born, Sitting on a Man’s Head
Friday, June 4
Film Premiere: Okwui Okpokwasili, RSVP required, 5:00
Monday, June 7
On the Online Journal: Archival footage of Eiko Otake’s A Body in Places and Joan Jonas’s Moving off the Land, with new written works by writer-in-residence Maura Nguyen Donohue
Conversations without Walls: Revisiting Eiko Otake’s A Body in Places and Ishmael Houston-Jones and Will Rawls’s Lost & Found Platforms, with Lydia Bell and Kristin Juarez, RSVP required, 5:00
Friday, June 11
Film Premiere: Eiko Otake & Joan Jonas, filmed at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, RSVP required, 5:00
Monday, June 14
On the Online Journal: Archival footage of Reggie Wilson’s . . . they stood shaking while others began to shout, with new written works by writer-in-residence Maura Nguyen Donohue
Conversations without Walls: Revisiting Reggie Wilson’s “Dancing Platform, Praying Ground: Blackness, Churches, and Downtown Dance” and Owkui Okpokwasili’s “Utterances from the Chorus,” with Lydia Bell and Kristin Juarez, RSVP required, 5:00
Friday, June 18
Film Premiere: Reggie Wilson, collaboration with members of Fist & Heel Performance Group, RSVP required, 5:00
A multidisciplinary collaboration by some of today’s preeminent Black women creators, “Afrofemononomy / Work the Roots” features live theater, music, discussion, and installation, inspired by the career of activist, author, poet, playwright, editor, director, filmmaker, educator, and mother Kathleen Collins (Losing Ground, Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?), who died of breast cancer in 1988 at the age of forty-six.
According to the collective, “‘Afrofemononomy / Work the Roots’ is an affirmation of how we, as Black women, expected to maintain the world’s health, can restore and not imperil our own. Black women absorb disproportionate stress and often develop a variety of risk factors, including higher early mortality rates with cancer and other diseases. Working inside the unsustainable economy and time structures of theater-making are often depleting for us. ‘Afrofemononomy / Work the Roots’ is a Black femme reclaiming of time and space, a model for restoration, a continuation of the lineage of our foremothers’ formative presence in the downtown avant-garde. We claim our health and sovereignty, prioritizing our human needs, and translate the ease, free expression, and non-compulsory ethos of our informal gatherings to our working conditions and aesthetic.”
The six-week celebration, produced by Performance Space New York with New Georges, kicks off this weekend with Collins’s 1984 Begin the Beguine: A Quartet of One-Acts, which is having its theatrical world premiere at Oakland Theater Project later this month. Part of the Downtown Live festival, Remembrance, a kind of personal séance starring Eisa Davis and Kaneza Schaal and with directorial consultation by Jackie Sibblies Drury, takes place at 85 Broad St. on May 16 at 6:30, May 22 at 1:30 and 4:00, and May 23 at 4:00, in an arcade next to the Stone Street Historic District. Those same days at 2:30 and 3:45, Lileana Blain-Cruz, Amelia Workman, Kara Young, Gabby Beans, and Jennifer Harrison Newman will present The Reading in the Courtyard at 122CC, Performance Space New York’s home, a tale set in a psychic’s waiting room with a white novelist and a Black fashion designer.
Begin the Beguine unfolds May 15 and 16 on a lawn in East Harlem, performed by April Matthis and Stacey Karen Robinson about an actress mother and her adult son and created with Charlotte Brathwaite, and The Healing is set in a Bed-Stuy park May 15-16 with Joie Lee, Schaal and Drury, as a white healer tries to help a Black woman with an unnamed illness.
In addition, Blain-Cruz’s installation “Last night, I dreamt I danced in the image of God” provides “a space for dance, rest and sustenance made for and in appreciation of Black women,” running May 15-16 and 22-23 from noon to 2:30 and 4:00 to 7:00 in the Courtyard at 122CC, and Davis’s audio-visual installation “The Essentialisn’t: Gold Taste” is open Thursdays to Sundays from May 29 to June 27 from noon to 6:00 at Performance Space New York’s Keith Haring Theatre and in the Courtyard, with occasional live sound interaction that asks the question “Can you be Black and not perform?” And finally, on May 15, “Afrofemononomy” will launch an online, international, interactive radio project. All events are free but require advance RSVP for timed tickets and because of limited space.
Who: Jordan Donica, Rosemary Harris, Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Ruthie Ann Miles, Seth Numrich, Steven Pasquale, Paulo Szot, Ayad Akhtar, Lileana Blain-Cruz, Bartlett Sher
What: Benefit fundraiser for Lincoln Center Theater
Where: Lincoln Center Theater YouTube
When: Thursday, May 13, free with RSVP, 7:00 (available through May 17)
Why: With arts venues opening up across the city this summer and fall, Lincoln Center Theater takes a look back and ahead in its virtual fundraiser “Tales from the Wings.” Premiering on YouTube on May 13 at 7:00, the show will feature appearances by Jordan Donica, Rosemary Harris, Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Ruthie Ann Miles, Seth Numrich, Steven Pasquale, Paulo Szot, Ayad Akhtar, Lileana Blain-Cruz, and Bartlett Sher sharing stories about working at the Vivian Beaumont, the Mitzi E. Newhouse, and the Claire Tow. The evening will also include excerpts from previous productions and a sneak peek at the upcoming 2021-22 season. The benefit will be available on demand through May 17; admission is free, although donations are welcome.