BAM Fisher, Fishman Space
321 Ashland Pl.
September 15 - November 6, $25-$35
One of the places I’ve missed the most since the pandemic lockdown began in March 2020 is BAM, my performance-venue home-away-from-home. Over the decades, the Fort Greene institution’s exciting cutting-edge programming of innovative works from around the world has been a kind of lifeline for me. I remember in October 2012, after Hurricane Sandy paralyzed the state, I took an extremely slow bus through a dark, bleak city, on my way to BAM to see a show as if that would signal we would all get past this disaster. I made it just in time, breathing heavily, soon immersed in the wonders of how dance, music, art, and theater can lift you up. And so I relished the news when BAM announced its reopening for the fall 2021 season, featuring four works at the intimate BAM Fisher. “The hunger for artistic adventures has never been greater as our world continues to change around us,” BAM artistic director David Binder said in a statement. “Our 2021-22 season kicks off with works from a cohort of remarkable international artists, all of whom are making their BAM debuts. New forms and new ideas will abound in the Fisher, as they create singular experiences that can only happen at BAM.”
The season kicks off September 15-26 with Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė’s Sun & Sea, which turns the Fisher into a beach. Winner of the Golden Lion at the 2019 Venice Biennale, the work, commissioned for the Lithuanian Pavilion at the fifty-eighth International Art Exhibition, takes place on twenty-five tons of sand on which thirteen vocalists sing a wide array of stories, with a libretto by Vaiva Grainytė and music and musical direction by Lina Lapelytė. Sun & Sea is followed September 30 to October 2 by 100 Keyboards, in which Japanese sound artist ASUNA performs a unique concert in the round on one hundred battery-operated mini keyboards of multiple colors, creating a mysterious sound moire as the audience walks around him, picking up different reverberations.
In By Heart, running October 5-17, ten audience members join Portuguese artist and Avignon Festival director Tiago Rodrigues onstage, memorizing lines from such writers as William Shakespeare, Ray Bradbury, George Steiner, and Joseph Brodsky to create a new narrative consisting of forbidden texts while the rest of the audience watches (and sometimes participates as well); the set and costume design is by Magda Bizarro, with English translations by Rodrigues, revised by Joana Frazão. And in Cria (November 2-6), Brazilian troupe Cia Suave celebrates the passion of adolescence in a piece choreographed by Alice Ripoll and performed by ten members of the all-Black company of cis and trans dancers who proclaim, “We are CRIA, not created. Little breeds. Loneliness. To smear yourself. The act, the creation and its moment. Sprout. The heart saying, ‘hit me’ with every punch of suffering. In scene birth and death. Each time. Even in childbirth there is a force that wants to give up. A life that begins touches the sublime.” Tickets go on sale today at noon; the way New Yorkers have been snatching up tickets for live, in-person events, you better hurry if you want to catch any of these promising shows in the small, intimate BAM Fisher.
Who: Black Box PAC
What: Free Shakespeare in Bergen County
Where: Overpeck Park Amphitheater
When: Weekends July 23 - August 29, free, 8:00
Why: New York City has Shakespeare in the Parking Lot’s Two Noble Kinsmen, NY Classical’s King Lear with a happy ending, the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s Seize the King, and the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park presentation of Merry Wives of Windsor. But you can also catch free Bard in New Jersey, where the Black Box Performing Arts Center’s summer season begins this weekend with modern productions of Hamlet and As You Like It, continuing Thursday to Sunday through August 29 at the Overpeck Park Amphitheater in Bergen County. In addition, Black Box PAC will be hosting free “Play On!” concerts Sundays in August at the amphitheater at 4:00, including performances by Divinity & the FAM Band, Melissa Cherie, Esti Mellul, Ginny Lackey & the Hi-Fi Band, Dan Sheehan’s Rising Seas, and Andy Krikun & Jeff Doctorow. There will also be script-in-hand readings of Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew at the Englewood Public Library on Wednesdays at 8:00 from July 28 to September 1. Admission to all events is free, with no advance RSVP necessary. As Duke Orsino declares in Twelfth Night, “If music be the food of love, play on!”
Who: Bob Dylan
What: Prerecorded streaming concert film
When: Available on demand through July 25 at 11:59 pm
Why: “What was it you wanted / Tell me again so I’ll know / What’s happening in there / What’s going on in your show / What was it you wanted / Could you say it again / I’ll be back in a minute / You can tell me then,” Bob Dylan sings on “What Was It You Wanted,” one of thirteen tunes that make up his first-ever livestreamed performance, the fifty-minute prerecorded concert film Shadow Kingdom: The Early Songs of Bob Dylan, available on the online veeps platform through July 25 at 11:59 pm. There was much speculation and little information in advance as to what the stream would be, although a brief trailer gave a hint of what to expect, a clip of Dylan playing a rollicking blues version of 1971’s “Watching the River Flow” in a smoky speakeasy, filmed in black-and-white.
For decades of the Never Ending Tour, fans have learned to have no expectations when seeing Bob live; he’ll play whatever he wants, continually reinventing tracks from his extensive catalog in fascinating ways, often almost to the point of unrecognizability, but that’s all part of the excitement. The veeps chat lit up with naysayers, complaining that the show was not actually live, with a handful arguing that Dylan wasn’t even really singing, that he and his band — who were wearing masks even though the crowd, which included a number of smokers in the small, claustrophobic space, was not — were lip syncing and miming with their instruments. Some of the grumblers demanded their money back, whereas other Dylanheads declared it was the best twenty-five bucks they’d spent since music venues were shuttered back in March 2020.
The closing credits say Bob was accompanied by Janie Cowen on upright bass, Joshua Crumbly on electric bass, Shahzad Ismaily on keyboards and accordion, and Buck Meek on guitar — many in the chat wondered where regular bassist Tony Garnier and guitarist Charlie Sexton were — but online hypotheses are making the case that not only are they not actually playing the music, but it was prerecorded by a different group of musicians. What’s the truth? We’re certainly not going to get it from Dylan, who filled his must-read memoir with falsehoods that we ate up despite knowing that.
Some chatters were mad that the show was not in color; others were furious about the cigarettes, as if the smoke were coming through their screens; while others were more interested in the wedding ring Dylan was suddenly wearing. Far, far more fans were overjoyed to see Bob with a guitar in his hands — arthritis has prevented him from picking up a six-string for a bunch of years, concentrating instead on piano — and sounding better than he has in a long time, his voice clearly rested from a year and a half off the road. (But was he really singing or playing the guitar and harmonica?) The best way to experience the show is to forget about all that and just sit back and watch the music flow, like you were hanging out in Greenwich Village in the 1960s. (Unfortunately, the chat was only available during the initial stream, so when you watch it, you’ll have “to be alone with” Bob, not interacting with a rabid online audience.)
Dylan reached relatively deep into his past, pulling out new versions of such favorites as “When I Paint My Masterpiece” (masterful!), “Queen Jane Approximately” (majestic!), and “Forever Young” (eternal!) alongside such less-familiar cuts as “To Be Alone with You” from Nashville Skyline, “The Wicked Messenger” from John Wesley Harding, and “Pledging My Time” from Blonde on Blonde. Some of the tunes hadn’t been performed live in more than ten years; “What Was It You Wanted” last made a setlist in 1995.
Dylan began toying with the lyrics right from the opening number, as if adapting them to the pandemic, changing “Gotta hurry on back to my hotel room / Where I got me a date with a pretty little girl from Greece [also sung as “Botticelli’s niece”] / She promised she’d be right there with me / When I paint my masterpiece” to “Gotta hurry on back to my hotel room / Gonna wash my clothes, scrape off all of the weeds / Gonna lock the doors and turn my back on the world for a while / I’ll stay right there till I paint my masterpiece.” A few songs later, he changed “To be alone with you / Just you and me / Now won’t you tell me true / Ain’t that the way it oughta be? / To hold each other tight / The whole night through / Ev’rything is always right / When I’m alone with you” to “To be alone with you / Just you and I / Under the moon / ’Neath the star-spangled sky / I know you’re alive / And I am too / My one desire / Is to be alone with you.”
As at his live shows, the Bobster — who turned eighty this past May, when the film was shot in a fictional Santa Monica nightclub over a seven-day period (not, as mentioned in the credits, at the nonexistent Bon Bon Club in Marseille) — does not talk to the audience; he doesn’t introduce songs or include any concert patter. When I saw him at the Prospect Park Bandshell in 2008, the crowd nearly flipped out when he said he was glad to be back in Brooklyn, surprising us that he knew where he was. My only quibble with the stream is that the name of each song appears onscreen in big, bold letters before it is played; much of the fun at Dylan shows is trying to figure out what the next song is as it starts. I’ll never forget my best friend asking me at a 1978 concert on the Street Legal tour, “When is he going to play ‘Tangled Up in Blue’?” I had to tell him that Bob had just played it.
Each song in Shadow Kingdom is its own set piece, with Dylan in a different position on the stage, wearing one of several outfits. Regardless of where he is sitting or standing, the old-fashioned microphone blocks most of his mouth, furthering the chat conspiracy theory that he is lip syncing. It also prevents us from getting a better view of his extraordinary vocal phrasing, a technique that for him only improves with age, whether on his originals or standards; Dylan can shape a word like nobody else. He never moves around much during songs, but he does show off a few teeny gestures in “Queen Jane Approximately” and “Most Likely You Go Your Way,” (barely) swaying his shoulders and legs (his feet appear to be nearly glued to the floor) while making fists, pointing, and raising his arms a bit. (That’s probably not part of Dom McDougal’s choreography.) The close-knit, intimate production design is by Hannah Hurley-Espinoza and Ariel Vida, with cinematography by Lol Crawley, whose camera remains still when it is on Dylan but does occasionally pan through the band and the crowd. (By the way, just who are those people who got into the show?)
The name of the show might have come from Robert E. Howard’s 1929 short story, “The Shadow Kingdom,” in which the Texas-born pulp fiction writer and Conan the Barbarian creator explains, “As he sat upon his throne in the Hall of Society and gazed upon the courtiers, the ladies, the lords, the statesmen, he seemed to see their faces as things of illusion, things unreal, existent only as shadows and mockeries of substance. Always he had seen their faces as masks, but before he had looked on them with contemptuous tolerance, thinking to see beneath the masks shallow, puny souls, avaricious, lustful, deceitful; now there was a grim undertone, a sinister meaning, a vague horror that lurked beneath the smooth masks. While he exchanged courtesies with some nobleman or councilor he seemed to see the smiling face fade like smoke and the frightful jaws of a serpent gaping there. How many of those he looked upon were horrid, inhuman monsters, plotting his death, beneath the smooth mesmeric illusion of a human face? Valusia — land of dreams and nightmares — a kingdom of the shadows, ruled by phantoms who glided back and forth behind the painted curtains, mocking the futile king who sat upon the throne — himself a shadow.” More clues from Dylan, perhaps, or yet another red herring? Does it matter?
Directed, produced, and edited by Alma Har’el, an Israeli American music video and film director who has worked with such bands as Beirut, Sigur Rós, and Balkan Beat Box and has made such films as Honey Boy, Bombay Beach, and LoveTrue, the presentation, too short at less than an hour, marvelously captures the mysterious enigma that is Robert Allen Zimmerman, the Minnesota-born folk-rock troubadour who has changed the planet with his music, reinventing himself umpteen times over his more than six-decade-long career. During the coronavirus crisis, he released the outstanding album Rough and Ready Ways, and he has now entered the streaming realm. What’s next? I certainly am not going to hold my breath waiting for a live Zoom concert or interactive Instagram talkback, but will there be a Shadow Kingdom: The Later Songs of Bob Dylan? Will the show ever be available again, on CD, LP, DVD, Spotify, etc.? Will the Never Ending Tour reemerge, after having not been seen since December 8, 2019? It’s Dylan, so it’s best not to expect anything — except something strange, something unusual, something wonderful. Whichever way he is likely to go, we worshippers are sure to follow.
Who: Brian Stokes Mitchell, Vanessa Williams, Daniel J. Watts, Marc Shaiman, Bernadette Peters, Kristin Chenoweth, David Hyde Pierce, more
What: Ticket giveaway for Crossovers Live! with Brian Stokes Mitchell
When: Premiering monthly July 26 - December 20, $15-$100 per show, six-show bundle $49-$500; use code BBS10 to save $10 on any six-show bundle through July 21 (benefiting the Actors Fund)
Why: Brian Stokes Mitchell was already a Broadway and television star when he reached a new stratosphere of fame for his nightly renditions of “The Impossible Dream” early in the 2020 pandemic lockdown in New York City. Delivered from the window of his Upper West Side apartment after the 7:00 pm clap for health-care workers, Stokes’s performances were part of his vocal retraining after a serious bout with Covid-19. He sang one of the hit songs from Man of La Mancha, a show that earned him a 2003 Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical, an award he had won in 2000 for Kiss Me Kate. The Seattle-born Mitchell, who has appeared in such other Broadway musicals as Jelly’s Last Jam, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Ragtime and such TV series as Mr. Robot, Glee, and Trapper John, M.D. (in addition to a ton of voiceovers on animated programs), is now hosting his own online talk show, Crossovers Live!, which will stream live monthly July through December and be available on demand for a limited time.
In a promotional video, Mitchell — who has also been nominated for a Grammy, formed Black Theatre United in June 2020 with Audra McDonald, LaChanze, Billy Porter, Anna Deavere Smith, and others, and received the key to the city for his extensive work during the coronavirus crisis as chairman of the board of the Actors Fund — asks, “Do you like movies? TV shows? Miniseries? How about theater? Do you like theater? Like, really like theater? Do you like any medium that actors, composers, singers, writers, dancers could be on? We asked Vanessa Williams, Marc Shaiman, Bernadette Peters, Kristin Chenoweth, David Hyde Pierce, and more to talk about crossing over from stage to screen. And they all accepted because they love audiences, and audiences love them, and we all just love each other. You get it.” The show premieres July 26 with Williams (Soul Food, Kiss of the Spider Woman) and Daniel J. Watts (Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, The Last O.G.), followed August 30 with composer Shaiman (Hairspray, Mary Poppins Returns), September 27 with Peters (Annie Get Your Gun, The Jerk), October 25 with Chenoweth (Wicked, Glee), November 22 with Hyde Pierce (Spamalot, Fraser), and December 20 with a Holiday Finale. A minimum of ten percent of the net proceeds will benefit the Actors Fund.
TICKET GIVEAWAY: Tickets for Crossovers Live! with Brian Stokes Mitchell are $15 each, $25 for the show and access to the VIP chat room, and $100 for the Super VIP Livestream, which adds in signed merchandise. The six-show bundle is $49/$99/$500.
However, twi-ny is giving away two standard six-show bundles ($49) and one VIP bundle ($99) for free. In order to be eligible, you must like Crossovers Live! on Facebook and Instagram and, in addition, send your name, phone number, and favorite play, television show, or movie with Brian Stokes Mitchell in it to email@example.com by Thursday, July 22, at 3:00 pm. All entrants must be twenty-one years of age or older; three winners will be selected at random. As Mitchell sings, “And the world will be better for this / Oh, that one man, scorned and covered with scars / Still strong with his last ounce of courage / To reach the unreachable, the unreachable / The unreachable star.”
Developed during the pandemic, the curatorial platform four/four presents continues its monthly site-specific “Open Air” performance series with a new piece about mourning, healing, rebirth, and renewal, taking place July 14-15 in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Founded by dancer and choreographer Loni Landon and producer Rachael Pazdan, four/four has brought us “Tethered,” a ten-part multidisciplinary video project featuring collaborations with Kassa Overall, slowdanger, Gus Solomons, Zoey Anderson, Rafiq Bhatia, Ian Chang, Jacqueline Green, Jon Batiste, Lloyd Knight, and many others, which can be watched here.
For Green-Wood, Landon has choreographed a work for seven dancers, with live music by experimental harpist Mary Lattimore, performed in Cedar Dell, the one-acre bowl-shaped natural amphitheater with graves dating back to the eighteenth century. The evening will conclude with a participatory meditative sound bath. “Open Air” began June 9 with Madison McFerrin, Samantha Figgins, and Jessica Pinkett teaming up at the Jackie Robinson Park Bandshell; up next are Melanie Charles and Kayla Farrish at the Bushwick Playground Basketball Court on August 8, followed by Moor Mother and Rena Butler at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 1 on September 21.
LUCKY STAR (0.3)
Judson Memorial Church
55 Washington Square South between Thompson & Sullivan Sts.
Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, July 13-30, free with RSVP, 8:00
Pioneers Go East Collective honors the history of DIY queer artmaking at such famed New York City venues as La MaMa, Judson Memorial Church, and the Pyramid Club in Lucky Star (0.3), a free multidisciplinary performance installation taking place Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 8:00 at Judson from July 13 to 30. Inspired by Club 57, which was recently highlighted in the documentary Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide, the in-person work consists of five episodes featuring dance/performance artists Shaina and Bryan Baira, Bree Breeden, Daniel Diaz, Beth Graczyk, and Joey Kipp and nightlife icon Agosto Machado. Lucky Star (0.3) was written by creative director Gian Marco Riccardo Lo Forte and production designer Philip Treviño, with choreography by Ori Flomin, film by Jon Burklund and video designer Kathleen Kelley, set design and fabrication by Mark Tambella, and sound by Marielle Iljazoski and Ryan William Downey.
“Lucky Star was born by a desire to make art in a new time,” the collective said in a statement. “We pay homage to creators and legends whose trailblazing work has solidified ways for us to survive as artists reimagining our approach to sharing our work in the age of social media and instant gratification. We term the project a meta-creative journey inviting viewers to engage in an emergent process of collective liberation.” Inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem “Pioneers, O Pioneers!” (“O you youths, Western youths, / So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship, / Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost, / Pioneers! O pioneers!”), Pioneers Go East Collective was founded in 2010 to “empower a collective of thought-provoking, adventurous, and proud LGBTQ artists . . . dedicated to Latinx, BIPOC, and immigrant artists and teaching artists and their communities in all five boroughs, [exploring] stories of vulnerability and courage for social change.” Admission to Lucky Star (0.3) is free with advance RSVP.
THE WATERING HOLE
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through August 8, suggested admission $6.51-$41.50
“Can you feel the cleansing / the turning into something new?” six performers ask in the multichannel “Water Brings Me Back to You,” one of ten immersive installations that make up The Watering Hole, placed all around the Pershing Square Signature Center, from the lobby and hallways to the various stages and dressing rooms.
Conceived and created by playwright Lynn Nottage and director Miranda Haymon, The Watering Hole completes two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nottage’s residency at the Signature, which began with superb revivals of Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine and By the Way, Meet Vera Stark in 2018–19. The presentation recalls En Garde Arts’ recent A Dozen Dreams, in which pairs go through twelve installations by women playwrights at Brookfield Place that reveal their pandemic dreams.
At the Signature, four guests at a time are guided through the works, occasionally meeting up with another group, as they travel through set pieces dealing with healing, community, isolation, and ritual, with water always at the center. The Watering Hole is a hit-or-miss affair, an inconsistent though well-meaning adventure that can get didactic and too cut-and-dried. As its handwritten manifesto declares, “Theaters need to practice what the artists preach. Less talking. More listening. . . . I want to say goodbye to the product over process mentality, to time as a construct of artistic capitalism.”
Projection designer Stefania Bulbarella and writer Charly Evon Simpson’s “Water Brings Me Back to You” features overlapping dialogue spoken by Mike Braun, Ryan J. Haddad, Francis Jue, Denise Manning, Kenita Miller, and Lisa Ramirez on small monitors outside the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre. “I’ve missed you,” they say. “I’ll miss you.”
Inside the Griffin, Liza Colon-Zayas is heard delivering writer Matt Barbot and lighting designer Amith Chandrashaker’s “Spray Cap,” a monologue about opening up a fire hydrant to shoot out water on a hot summer day, with audience members seated around the sculpture of a large red hydrant. “Ah! Yes! Relief! Can you feel it? The cool sigh of contact as the droplets hit your skin. It’s nice,” Colon-Zayas says. Feel free to play cards or dominoes on the tables.
Backstage at the Diamond, associate director Campbell Silverstein and Simpson’s “The Beach Explored” is a mini-oasis with sand and colored lights in a corner; you’re encouraged to kick around some beach balls while reading poetry about water from Langston Hughes, Lucille Clifton, Ada Limón, and others. Inside the Diamond, Kenita Miller narrates writer Christina Anderson and sound designer Justin Ellington’s “FreeQuency,” an abstract film projected on the covered seats in which we are told, “You are the experience. You enter this theatrical body full of frequencies. A bath of sound and energy. A bath that cleanses you so that you may journey. Repeat as many times as necessary.”
Set designers Emmie Finckel and Riccardo Hernández and actor and playwright Haddad’s “Wings and Rings” is a ten-minute film, projected on a large screen and the ceiling and reflected on the floor, of Lebanese American Haddad, who has cerebral palsy and uses a walker, negotiating swimming in a pool as he talks about his family and his childhood. “Would I die in two feet of water?” he asks.
In the Linney green room and dressing rooms, Anderson and Haymon’s “Ebb & Flow” music video offers you the chance to dance on a floor piano like the one in the film Big, although it is not clear why, and it is not easy to use. In choreographer nicHi douglas and writer Phillip Howze’s “Ssssssssshhhhhh” in the Ford Foundation Studio Theatre, you sit in your own private booth and watch a short film, listening to Samy Nous Younes talk about a lighthouse and safe spaces.
The least successful pieces clamor together on the stairs and in the lobby, the audio of several of them difficult to follow as they clash against one another. On the grand staircase, costume designer Montana Levi Blanco and writer Rhiana Yazzie’s “Pre-Industrial” comprises short autobiographical monologues about ancestry by Blanco, Haymon, Nottage, Finckel, Silverstein, line producer Iyvon E., and Gabriela Gutierrez that can get overly pedagogic. The lobby is home to three boats that evoke the Middle Passage, slavery, immigration, and freedom. Visual artist Vanessa German and writer Haruna Lee’s “This Room Is a Broken Heart” is anchored by art postcards designed by three incarcerated people of color, Naomi Chambers, John-Paul Kim, and Mimi Zaza, on which you can write messages and place in the boat — the postcards will be sent to the imprisoned trio — and is accompanied by a song with such lyrics as “You are the safest here with me / We’ll hold hands and kiss / Under this tree / The water is laughing ~ / So laugh with me.”
A kind of fairy tale about a fisherman and his family wraps around “Evening Boat Tankas,” which features a beautifully bejeweled large-scale figurehead made out of numerous objects in the front and the tanka performed on three nearby screens in another language. “The fisherman’s wife cracks the belly of the fish, as if the fingertips were turned red in the hibiscus. / Embrace my tasteless and dry ribs, / neither hay scent nor / sea breeze scent,” she says.
The Watering Hole concludes with a boat on which guests are invited to answer the question “What helps you feel safe + whole?,” writing responses on a piece of paper you can pin to the sails. On one end of the boat, two more questions appear: “Where do you feel home? Where do you feel love?” Nottage and Haymon have assembled a diverse team of creators from numerous disciplines to help welcome theater back to New York City and the Signature, a place where many of us have found a sense of home, of safety, of love. The Watering Hole is like a tall drink on a hot day; it might occasionally quench your thirst for theater, but it will also leave you feeling dehydrated, ready for the real thing to flow through your heart and soul.