Spring Dreams with Shakespeare

When the first act of Blessed Unrest’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream ended with a spirited interpretative dance to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”, it became evident that this was not my mother’s interpretation of William Shakespeare.  But in truth, the signs were already there.  From the first scene of the play, the physicality in which the actors approached the material changed my perception of this play.  Instead of focusing on the dialogue, I was more interested in the emotions of the characters brilliantly displayed by the actors.  The almost clichéd idea of loving someone that doesn’t return your love and the trickery one might devise to change that situation spells for a bad romance indeed.

Jessica Burr

Blessed Unrest is a non-profit experimental theatre company that has been generating original work since 1999.  Director Jessica Burr has been running the company for nine years.  “What really grabs me about this story is the love relationships,” Jessica states about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “So we worked a lot [the relationships] to find the heart of them.  Often times they are glossed over, but we really wanted to get to the meat of it and make it very real and very passionate.”

This production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream definitely has passion.  In fact, it is all heart, soul and fluid movement.  “As a company we train every month in physical theater.  I like to see bodies moving.  It’s just pleasing,” Jessica explains as she smiles. The actors seamlessly weaved through the production playing multiple characters.  The authenticity in which they approach each character led me to believe the cast took a class in multiple personality syndrome.  Another enjoyable aspect was the transition of Lysander, played by Stephen Drabicki, to a hearing impaired young man and the company’s incorporation of sign language into the script.  It added another layer to an already intricate story.

At the core of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are the themes of love and obsession which makes it perfect for a non-profit troupe like Blessed Unrest.  It could be said that art and the business of entertainment is a bad romance.  So often artists remain in the theater because they are in love or even obsessed by what they do.  Unfortunately as much as the arts are coveted in this country, our government doesn’t provide the financial support to the arts as other countries.  It is sad to think that in a city as creative as Manhattan that an artist simply cannot live as an artist and have their craft be their only occupation.  The love of breathing life into new and classic material is inherent with the members of Blessed Unrest, many of whom were in attendance on the opening night lending their support in the audience and various off-stage roles.  “There’s something to be said for obstacles and challenges, and I really do think it makes us stronger and makes us more creative because we have to find ways to make money,” Jessica says.

Blessed Unrest’s production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be playing at The Interart Theatre, 500 West 52nd Street, until April 12.  Blessed Unrest claims to be theatre for the adventurous, and their declaration did not disappoint.  Also, with ticket prices set at $15, it is a journey that is affordable for every New Yorker.  FAMERS I suggest an evening frolicking in Shakespeare’s magical woods with this innovative company.  I found it to be a dream that is hard to forget. 

To learn more visit www.blessedunrest.org.

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Love Is In the Air

With all the leftover Valentine’s Day cards, candy and stuffed animals littering the shelves at Duane Reade and Walgreens, the remnants of the world’s biggest day of manufactured adoration is still lingering in the city, but are special shared menus, boxes of chocolate and Hallmark cards true representations of love?  Love is more than corporate displays of affection.  Last Friday, I attended the opening performance of “all about love”, an off-Broadway production at the Paradise Factory Theater. 

Donysha Smith

“all about love” is an engaging and truthful exploration of love and its many facets.  Written by Donysha Smith, who is also making her directorial debut, “all about love” is a wonderful reflection of a lifetime labor.  “I used to put on plays at three-years-old.  I used to put the tablecloth around my neck and become a different character and perform for my family and extended family at cookouts,” she says.  Smith is a Philadelphia born playwright, producer and actress.  She earned a B.F.A in Dramatic Writing from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.  She has held several roles in NYC Theater, Media and Fashion.   “This is all I ever wanted to do my entire life and I’m finally at a place in my life where it’s like this is what I’m going to do,” Donysha adds.

Wesley Voley, Zdenko Slobodnik and Aubyn Peterson

“all about love” is a tapestry that combines three perspectives of love.  The first, Three Point Stance at the Edge of the World, journeys into the psyche of soldiers living for the love they receive through letters from family and lovers at home.  Zdenko Slobodnik, an Iraq War soldier, and Wesley Voley, a Union soldier during the Civil War, provide a harsh glimpse into the alienation, somber, stressful and loveless existence that a soldier during wartime endures.  Sometimes love is a desperate thing.  Through Slobodnik’s and Voley’s narration of the letters they send home the audience can feel  their desperation and frustration to get home, back to the people they love.  The choreography in this scene is sharp and aggressive and compliments the performances given by these two actors.

Bianca Lemaire and Erickson Dautruche

The second, Carmelita 1:13, provides a modern “Thorn Birds” look at love.  The scene involves a young couple in the throws of a break up.  Carmelita’s love for the lord is driving a wedge between her relationship and is pushing her and her man to the brink of insanity.  When falling in and out of love, one can sometimes forget how another person’s upbringing and religious beliefs can affect their views on love.  Carmelita 1:13 is a poignant observation of a relationship from the other side of the spectrum.  As the characters played by Bianca Lemaire and Erickson Dautruche share memories while also expressing anger and confusion, the audience is reminded of how a breakup is just as multi-dimensional as a relationship and sometimes people must break apart in order to find their way back to each other.

Jeff Kozel and Warren Katz

After a brief intermission, the audience is treated to an amusing display of Casual Addictions and Lost & Found, the third and final scene.  Lost and Found is a touching story about acceptance and unconditional love.  While shopping for a family dinner, an elderly gay couple comes to grips with failed past relationships, a disapproving daughter and dementia.  As the scene ends, they learn the only way to move forward is with love, and a dance doesn’t hurt either.  Jeff Kozel, Warren Katz and Aubyn Peterson are extremely convincing and moved me to the brink of tears.

Aiding in the transition of the scenes are video interludes and the music of Stevie Wonder. “I think that Stevie’s music is hopeful, it’s honest [and] it is resonant,” Donysha explains about the use of Stevie Wonder’s music in the show, “He’s one of those artists that everybody loves.  Everyone knows a Stevie Wonder song.  No matter what their age, class [or] race, everybody can hear one of his songs and is like that is my jam.”  The video contains footage of New Yorkers talking about their perception of love and their experience with it, and creates a love letter to New Yorkers in general.

 A percentage of ticket sales from “all about love” will go to the Fistula Foundation, www.fistulafoundation.org.   The Fistula Foundation a nonprofit corporation dedicated to raising awareness of and funding for fistula treatment, prevention and educational programs worldwide. 

“all about love” will be playing at the Paradise Factory Theater until February 21. I suggest all FAMERS get a dose of love before this productions ends. 

To purchase tickets for “all about love”, please visit www.allaboutloveshow.com.

Photos courtesy of D. Austin

The Interactive Art of Broadway

“The Lullaby of Broadway” from the musical 42nd St is one of the most recognizable songs to ever be sung on a theater stage, but in the wake of the digital age, the adaptation of this lullaby is being delivered differently than when the tune was originally written.

 It is fair to say that the internet has become a bit of a conundrum to those in the arts and entertainment field.  Industries like publishing and music have suffered while trying to decipher how to adapt and maximize the new way in which the world receives art and information and ultimately remain profitable.  Broadway has not been exempt in this digital wave, but here to navigate Broadway and off-Broadway productions through vast wilderness of the internet is Art Meets Commerce.

Starting with one client, a small off-Broadway production at the SoHo Playhouse titled Room Service, three years ago Art Meets Commerce has grown into a multi-services company that provides internet marketing, web design, advertising and video packages to an array of Broadway and off-Broadway shows.  Their current client roster includes Fela!, A Little Night Music, Stomp, Rock of Ages and the upcoming revival of Promises Promises.  

The AMC team is comprised of individuals with a wealth of knowledge and experience within the entertainment industry giving them an advantage when crafting exclusive, boutique campaigns designed for needs of each show.   With their deep understanding of internet branding, Art Meets Commerce’s clients are not only exposed to Generation Y, but other generations as well.  Their hands-on approach allows them to cultivate a following for the shows that transfer over when a client takes a show from off-Broadway to Broadway, as was the case for Fela! and Rock of Ages.

“I think it is very important to reach out to new audiences, to get them excited about the shows we work on.  There is a misconception that the internet and social networking is for kids, [but] I completely disagree,” states Jim Glaub, AMC’s interactive creative director, “I think it’s an easy tool to communicate and that’s why people of all ages are grasping on to it. It’s still very new; it’s changed so much from just a year ago.  There are so many things that have changed with how to use social networking [and] the internet.  For me it is about trying to keep on top of the changes and meanwhile test and try new things for each of the clients.”

There is nothing like the experience of live entertainment whether it is a play, a musical or a performance from a dance ensemble or Grammy award-winning artist.  The energy that is shared between the audience and the performers on stage creates a spark of electricity that cannot be duplicated making each performance a unique journey.  It is this exact distinct power that is can be lost when trying to translate live theater to the internet and sites like You Tube, and it is this dynamism that Art Meets Commerce infuses into social networking sites and other client sites.  As a person that has had a lifelong love affair with the arts, it appears to me that Art Meets Commerce is a necessity for any show.  By remaining on the pulse of live theater and the internet, AMC ensures that the lights of off-Broadway and the Great White Way remain luminous for decades to come.

From Harlem to Off Broadway Top off Broadway Production for 2009

Women had The Vagina Monologues; thanks to Jim Jones hip hop heads have their own soliloquies.  Hip Hop Monologues: Inside the Life & Mind of Jim Jones first debuted off Broadway in 2008 and had a brief revival in March.  It was a theatrical listening party of sorts as it featured singles from his album Pray IV Reign.  The play appears to be an autobiographical account about Jim Jones.  Playing himself, Jim Jones returns to Harlem to take the audience through different sequences of his life –relationships with his baby’s mom, fake friends, the police and himself are all examined.  Ultimately Jim has to decide if he should give his street life.

Director J. Kyle Manzay makes great use of the stage blending props and multimedia to give the audience the ultimate Harlem experience.  When I think of Harlem, I think of a place where cats are always on the move, even when they are sleeping they are looking for ways to make moves.  Hip Hop Monologues: Inside the Life & Mind of Jim Jones moved and Harlem shook from beginning to end.  It is a cleverly crafted showcase of an artist who is definitely on my top ten best rapper list.  My sincere hope is that more productions like it will be debuting in the decade to come.