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: Tiffany Mills Company; Hadar Ahuvia and Tatyana Tenenbaum; J. Bouey; Morgan Bullock, Gerald Casel, Daudi Fayar, BamBam Frost, and John Scott; Ricarrdo Valentine/Brother(hood) Dance!; Jasmine Hearn; Sugar Vendil; more
What: Digital and in-person dance festival
Where: La MaMa online and at Downtown Art/Alpha Omega
When: May 12–23, free - $25 (pay-what-you-can)
Why: The 2021 edition of La MaMa Moves! will be a hybrid dance festival, consisting of workshops, discussions, and performances streamed live from the Ellen Stewart Theatre and the Downstairs Theatre at its home at 66 East Fourth St. as well as held in front of a limited audience at Downtown Art/Alpha Omega at 19 East Third St. “Performing artists have always proven to be resilient and resourceful even during the most challenging times,” La MaMa Moves! curator Nicky Paraiso said in a statement. “Since the pandemic began last March, dance practitioners have been both taking time to reflect and going ahead in doing the creative work they are always doing. This past year has certainly been painful and frustrating, both mentally exhausting and physically debilitating. Dance artists have, however, continued to make work, and I believe that the artists participating in this season’s La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival are making work that is essential and true to this pivotal moment in time.”
The sixteenth annual festival kicks off May 12 with an intergenerational discussion in recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with Yoshiko Chuma, Sophia Gutchinov, Potri Ranka Manis, Paz Tanjuaquio, and Sugar Vendil, moderated by choreographer and writer Maura Nguyen Donohue. Tiffany Mills Company will offer a Zoom workshop for kids on May 13, Hadar Ahuvia and Tatyana Tenenbaum will perform Prayer of the Morning on May 13 and 15, J. Bouey will present untitled: an exploration of grief on May 14 and 16, and Morgan Bullock, Gerald Casel, Daudi Fayar, BamBam Frost, and John Scott will participate in a Virtual International Showcase on May 18. Tiffany Mills Company will give a sneak peek at the excerpts-in-process Home Project on May 20 and 22 (with Mills, Jordan Morley, Nikolas Owens, Emily Pope, and Mei Yamanaka), Ricarrdo Valentine/Brother(hood) Dance! shares All About Love about Black healing on May 21 and 23, and, on May 22 and 23 at 4:00, La MaMa moves to the nearby Downtown Art/Alpha Omega for outdoor performances of Jasmine Hearn’s Songs from Pleasure Memory and Vendil’s Test Sites. All events require advance RSVP and are either free or pay-what-you-can ($5-$25).
Who: Okwui Okpokwasili, mayfield brooks, Anaïs Maviel, Samita Sinha
What: Live performance celebrating the final days of Simone Leigh’s Brick House
Where: The High Line
When: May 3-6, free (sold out but walkups welcome)
Why: Simone Leigh’s Brick House, the inaugural commission for the High Line Plinth at the Spur on Thirtieth St. and Tenth Ave., is ending its nearly two-year-run in a special way, with live performances saying goodbye. From May 3 to 6 at 7:00, Igbo-Nigerian American artist, choreographer, dancer, and actor Okwui Okpokwasili will present On the way, undone, a site-specific work in which Bessie winner and MacArthur Fellow Okpokwasili, mayfield brooks, Anaïs Maviel, and Samita Sinha will lead a procession, featuring a four-part vocalized score, traveling from the southern end of the High Line (the Chelsea Market Passage at Sixteenth St.) to Brick House, paying homage to the sixteen-foot-high bronze bust of a Black woman that overlooks traffic and dominates the space around it with a powerful energy. “It’s an honor to work with Okpokwasili on the occasion of our farewell to Simone Leigh’s Brick House,” High Line Art associate curator Melanie Kress said in a statement. “Okpokwasili’s virtuosic performance On the way, undone continues an incredible ongoing dialogue between the two artists, furthering shared themes of Black women’s collective creativity, strength, and gratitude.”
The New York–based Okpokwasili is currently represented in the stunning New Museum exhibition “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America” with the multimedia performance installation Poor People’s TV Room (Solo), in which she occasionally appears inside a translucent box; you can watch a discussion about the piece with Okpokwasili and Massimiliano Gioni here. A 2018 MacArthur Fellow, Okpokwasili previously starred in the Public Theater’s dazzling recent revival of for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf and bared her soul in the documentary Bronx Gothic. And last year she contributed the performance installation Sitting on a Man’s Head, a collaboration with her partner, Peter Born, as well as brooks, Maviel, and Sinha, to “Platform 2020: Utterances from the Chorus,” which she cocurated with Judy Hussie-Taylor at Danspace Project.
Her artist statement for that work also applies to On the way, undone: “We walk, we tremble, we moan, we ache, we cry out, we hold still, we tune together in accord, and even our dissonance is an agreement we all reach through a voracious listening. In this practice we walk with friends and we walk with strangers into the sonic space the way one steps into a cold sea on a hot day, slowly, with care, until plunging with relief into the bracing water. And then maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll be carried away by the tide, unmoored, though buoyed by our shared breath, which we attend to with care. That is the only thing we know. We find the words, we find the tune, we discover and might even be surprised by who cries out first. But we always know breath. Our song begins with breath. We must attend to breath, ours and the breath of everyone around us, with utmost care. To impede breath, to deny breath, would be to leave ourselves wounded and bereft and without song. I ache with gratitude, and with the echo of the electric cries that filled the space between us. . . . Today I hope that we are being led out of the darkness and that the lantern of justice is lighting the way.”
Who: Gingold Theatrical Group
What: Virtual open mic Shakespeare birthday celebration
Where: Gingold Zoom and Facebook
When: Friday, April 23, free with RSVP, 6:00
Why: This month marks William Shakespeare’s 457th birthday as well as the 405th anniversary of his death, and New York City’s Gingold Theatrical Group, which specializes in works by George Bernard Shaw, will be paying tribute to the Bard with a free, virtual Shakespeare Sonnet Slam open mic on April 23 at 6:00. Among those who will be reading from Shakespeare’s writings are Stephen Brown-Fried, Robert Cuccioli, Tyne Daly, George Dvorsky, Melissa Errico, Alison Fraser, Tom Hewitt, Daniel Jenkins, John-Andrew Morrison, Patrick Page, Maryann Plunkett, Tonya Pinkins, Laila Robins, Jay O. Sanders, Renee Taylor, and Jon Patrick Walker — and the general public, who is invited to offer their own favorite pieces either by or inspired by Will, kept to less than three minutes. “We’re eager to celebrate as much as we can with whatever we can these days,” GTG artistic director David Staller said in a statement. “And since nobody has contributed more to the world of the theater than William Shakespeare, we’re going to celebrate like mad. He wrote more than 150 magnificent sonnets and I doubt we’ll get through them all but we’ll give it our best shot.” In order to be part of the interactive festivities, you must register by April 22 at 4:00.