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: Works by and/or featuring Moko Fukuyama, Joshua William Gelb, Gabrielle Hamilton, Jace, Elmore James, Jamal Josef, Katie Rose McLaughlin, Sara Mearns, Zaire Michel, Zalman Mlotek, Alicia Hall Moran, Patrick Page, Barbara Pollack, Seth David Radwell, Jamar Roberts, Tracy Sallows, Xavier F. Salomon, Janae Snyder-Stewart, Mfoniso Udofia, Anne Verhallen
What: This Week in New York twentieth anniversary celebration
Where: This Week in New York YouTube
When: Saturday, May 22, free with RSVP, 7:00 (available on demand through June 12)
Why: In April 2001, I found myself suddenly jobless when a relatively new Silicon Alley company that had made big promises took an unexpected hit. I took my meager two weeks’ severance pay and spent fourteen days wandering through New York City, going to museums, film festivals, parks, and tourist attractions. I compiled my experiences into an email I sent to about fifty friends, rating each of the things I had done. My sister’s husband enthusiastically demanded that I keep doing this, and This Week in New York was born.
Affectionately known as twi-ny (twhy-nee), it became a website in 2005 and soon was being read by tens of thousands of people around the globe. I covered a vast array of events – some fifteen thousand over the years – that required people to leave their homes and apartments and take advantage of everything the greatest city in the world had to offer. From the very start, I ventured into nooks and crannies to find the real New York, not just frequenting well-known venues but seeking out the weird and wild, the unusual and the strange.
For my tenth anniversary, we packed Fontana’s, a now-defunct club on the Lower East Side, and had live music, book readings, and a comics presentation. I had been considering something bigger for twenty when the pandemic lockdown hit and lasted longer than we all thought possible.
At first, I didn’t know what twi-ny’s future would be, with nowhere for anyone to go. But the arts community reacted quickly, as incredible dance, music, art, theater, opera, film, and hybrid offerings began appearing on numerous platforms; the innovation and ingenuity blew me away. The winners of twi-ny’s Pandemic Awards give you a good idea of the wide range of things I covered; you can check out part one here and part two here.
I devoured everything I could, from experimental dance-theater in a closet and interactive shows over the phone and through the mail to all-star Zoom reunion readings and an immersive, multisensory play that arrived at my door in a box. Many of them dealt with the fear, isolation, and loneliness that have been so pervasive during the Covid-19 crisis while also celebrating hope, beauty, and resilience. I’ve watched, reviewed, and previewed more than a thousand events created since March 2020, viewing them from the same computer where I work at my full-time job in children’s publishing.
Just as companies are deciding the future hybrid nature of employment, the arts community is wrestling with in-person and online presentations. As the lockdown ends and performance venues open their doors, some online productions will go away, but others are likely to continue, benefiting from a reach that now goes beyond their local area and stretches across the continents.
On May 22 at 7:00, “twi-ny at twenty,” produced and edited by Michael D. Drucker of Delusions International and coproduced by Ellen Scordato, twi-ny’s business manager and muse, honors some of the best events of the past fourteen months, including dance, theater, opera, art, music, and literature, all of which can be enjoyed for free from the friendly confines of your couch. There is no registration fee, and the party will be available online for several weeks. You can find more information here.
Please let me know what you think in the live chat, which I will be hosting throughout the premiere, and be sure to say hello to other twi-ny fans and share your own favorite virtual shows.
Thanks for coming along on this unpredictable twenty-year adventure; I can’t wait to see you all online and, soon, in real life. Here’s to the next twenty!
Who: Kate Baldwin, Roz Chast, Britney Coleman, Jane Curtin, Nikki Renée Daniels, Santino Fontana, Jason Gotay, Melora Hardin, Jane Kaczmarek, Jeff Kready, Colum McCann, Patricia Marx, Laura Osnes, George Saunders, Rashidra Scott, Nathaniel Stampley, Sally Wilfert, Meg Wolitzer, Tony Yazbeck, more
What: Virtual gala fundraiser
Where: Symphony Space Zoom
When: Thursday, May 13, $35, 7:00
Why: On January 7, 1978, conductor Allan Miller and playwright and director Isaiah Sheffer staged the free twelve-hour concert “Wall to Wall Bach” at an Upper West Side building on Broadway that was formerly the Astor Market, the Crystal Palace Skating Rink, and the Symphony Theatre. The event was such a success that they decided to start Symphony Space, an arts venue that for more than forty years has hosted music, storytelling, film, theater, readings, lectures, dance, and much more. The pandemic lockdown had closed the institution’s doors, but they will reopen for the 2021 annual gala fundraiser on May 13 in a hybrid livestream featuring an all-star lineup performing onstage at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater and sharing memories from home over Zoom. “When I got a text that the first rehearsal for the dance piece in the space had happened and gone well, it was thrilling — we had arrived at that long-awaited moment when artists were once again gracing our stages,” executive director Kathy Landau said in a statement. “Before the pandemic, every corner of our building pulsated with art and ideas, with people meeting in the hallways and the wings. The theater itself is almost its own character in the life of Symphony Space — and what makes it come alive is the community we have built in and around it. And while we had so much engaging virtual programming, the theater had been sitting almost entirely empty. For the gala, there was a lightbulb moment where we realized, ‘Wait, there’s a way to safely and responsibly and comfortably bring this energy back,’ for this event to be our first step before bringing audiences in. It had to be quintessential Symphony Space: to be multidisciplinary, to have that unique-to-this-one-evening, in-the-moment immediacy, to have that magical alchemy that occurs when artists come together at Symphony Space to create, collaborate, and celebrate.”
The evening of cocktails, concert, and conversation, produced and directed by Annette Jolles and Joel Fram, will feature performances by Kate Baldwin, Britney Coleman, Nikki Renée Daniels, Jason Gotay, Jeff Kready, Laura Osnes, Rashidra Scott, Nathaniel Stampley, Sally Wilfert, and Tony Yazbeck in addition to a new dance piece by Sara Brians (performed by Saki Masuda, Michelle Mercedes, and Devin L. Roberts) as well as appearances by Roz Chast, Jane Curtin, Nikki Renée Daniels, Santino Fontana, Melora Hardin, Jane Kaczmarek, Patricia Marx, Colum McCann, George Saunders, Meg Wolitzer, and others. The house band consists of conductor Fred Lassen on piano, John Romeri on flute, Keve Wilson on oboe, Nuno Antunes on clarinet, Eric Reed on horns, Nanci Belmont on bassoon, Laura Bontrager on cello, George Farmer on bass, and Clayton Craddock on drums. Tickets for the concert are $35 and go up to $1,000 to $40,000 for special breakout rooms and tables with guest artists and a Party in a Box.
Who: Raúl Esparza, Alice Ripley, Nikki Renée Daniels, Carmen Cusack, Darius de Haas, Adam Gwon, Manu Narayan, Johanna Pfaelzer
What: Live discussion about six-part The Waves in Quarantine
Where: Berkeley Rep Zoom
When: Thursday, May 6, free with RSVP, 8:30 (presentation available on demand through May 28)
Why: In 1990, New York Theatre Workshop presented The Waves, a musical adaptation by director Lisa Peterson and composer and lyricist David Bucknam of the 1931 novel by Virginia Woolf about six friends, portrayed by Catherine Cox, Diane Fratantoni, Aloyisius Gigl, John Jellison, Sarah Rice, and John Sloman. During the pandemic lockdown, Berkeley Rep has taken a deep dive into the novel and adaptation, exploring the characters, the settings, Woolf’s life, and the making of the musical. Conceived by Esparza and Peterson and directed by Peterson, The Waves in Quarantine: A Theatrical Experiment in 6 Movements is streaming for free through May 28, with songs, reflections, recitations, and memories shared by actors Raúl Esparza, Alice Ripley, Nikki Renée Daniels, Carmen Cusack, Darius de Haas, and Manu Narayan in addition to Adam Gwon, who wrote additional music and lyrics for the show. The actors film themselves at home and outside and meet over Zoom over the course of ninety minutes, covering “Memory,” “Those We Love,” “The Female Gaze,” “Absence,” “The Sun Cycle,” and “Reunion,” paying special tribute to Bucknam, who passed away in 2001 at the age of thirty-two. On May 6 at 8:30 EST, members of the cast will reunite over Zoom for a live discussion about The Waves in Quarantine, moderated by Berkeley Rep artistic director Johanna Pfaelzer. Admission is free with RSVP.
ReelAbilities Film Festival: New York
Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan online
Through May 5, $12 per virtual film, $45 for in-person comedy night
“Everybody has crutches,” multidisciplinary artist and performer Bill Shannon says in Crutch, screening at the thirteenth annual ReelAbilities Film Festival. “Some of them you can see; some of them are invisible.” Founded in 2007 by the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, the festival is “dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories, and artistic expressions of people with disabilities.” Running through May 5, it opened April 29 with Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smitelli’s Best Summer Ever at the Queens Drive-In at the New York Hall of Science, with appearances by Itzhak Perlman and Lachi, and will be virtual the rest of the way (with one notable exception), consisting of eighteen programs, from panel discussions and Q&As to shorts and full-length films as well as a comedy night. The eight feature documentaries can be streamed throughout the festival; each will also have a live Q&A with the filmmakers and/or subjects. Among the topics explored in the works are disabling injury (Ahead of the Curve), Down syndrome (The Special), blindness (Maricarmen), amputation (Augmented), mental health (The World Is Bright), autism (In a Different Key), and ALS (closing-night selection Not Going Quietly, with Temple Grandin participating in the Q&A).
There will also be a Gamechanger talk about authentic storytelling with Lauren Ridloff and Katherine Croft, “Black Future Month: Legacy, Present & Afro-Futurism” with Keith Jones, CJ Jones, Tameka Citchen-Spruce, Safiya Eshe Gyasi, Diana Elizabeth Jordan, and Trelanda R. Lowe, “Fashion, Beauty, and Disability” with KR Liu, Natalie Trevonne, Dana Zumbo, and Aubrie Lee, an author talk with Jodi Samuels about parenting children with disabilities and her book Chutzpah, Wisdom and Wine: The Journey of an Unstoppable Woman, as well as four collections of shorts. In addition, there will be a live reading of the pilot script for the unproduced television series Disgraced with writers Julie Klausner and Alex Scordelis and star Shannon DeVido along with Amy Sedaris, Larry Wilmore, Jackie Hoffman, Chris Gethard, Sasheer Zamata, and others, and a live, hybrid comedy show with Maysoon Zayid, Tina Friml, Martin Phillips, Jenny Cavallero, and Ryan Haddad, hosted by Pamela Schuller, taking place in person on the JCC Manhattan rooftop ($45) and online ($15).
Who: Joel Grey, Samantha Hahn, Stephanie Lynne Mason, Zalmen Mlotek, Rosie Jo Neddy, Bebe Neuwirth, Raquel Nobile, Jana Robbins, Rachel Zatcoff
What: Virtual book launch party
Where: National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene
When: Sunday, May 2, free, 2:15
Why: In the summer of 2018, the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene unleashed a phenomenon on the New York City theater world, a mind-blowing production of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. At the time, I wrote, “I’ve seen numerous Fiddlers over the years, but this Yiddish version, which could have felt dated and old-fashioned, instead is very much of the moment in the wake of the immigrant and refugee crisis currently going on in America and around the world. It’s chilling watching the final scenes in light of what is shown on the news night after night.” Samantha Hahn, who played Beylke, the youngest of Tevye and Golde’s five daughters, documented the making of the show, regularly talking to cast and crew, and now takes us behind the scenes — through auditions, rehearsals, mishaps, and more — in On The Roof: A Look Inside Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. She writes in the book, “I went home that night and took a shower, put on my pajamas, turned out the lights, and crawled into bed. A minute later I got out of bed, turned on the lights, took the pillow case off of my pillow to wrap around my head like a shmata, and practiced the ‘Tradition’ choreography. Even in my little bedroom, wearing my ‘Yertle the Turtle’ hand-me-down pajama shirt and my blue pillow case around my head — it felt like I was doing something special.”
On May 2 at 2:15, Hahn, an actress, singer, voiceover artist, and author, will do something special at a virtual book party, reuniting with her four stage sisters, Stephanie Lynn Mason (Hodl), Rosie Jo Neddy (Khave), Raquel Nobile (Shprintze), and Rachel Zatcoff (Tsaytl), as well as director Joel Grey, producer Jana Robbins, NYTF artistic director Zalmen Mlotek, and Fiddler fan Bebe Neuwirth, who was at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust for opening night. (The musical later moved uptown to Stage 42.) The party will include backstage video footage, a panel discussion, a live chat, and a Q&A. To get in the mood, you can check out Fiddler’s Stars in the House reunion here.