PEN World Voices International Play Festival 2016

The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Announces
The 2016 PEN World Voices: International Play Festival

  • Internationally celebrated playwrights tackle global issues including gender identity, inequality, migration, refugees, and climate change in 8 free play-readings.
  • With plays by LARA FOOT (South Africa), TRINIDAD GONZÁLEZ (Chile),
    and YAEL RONEN (Israel).
  • Directed by Charlotte Brathwaite, Oskar Eustis, Lara Foot, Sarah Hughes, Shira Milikowsky, Dan Rothenberg, Debbie Savietz, and Tony Torn.
  • APRIL 27 and 28 — THE SEGAL THEATRE The Graduate Center CUNY,
    365 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10016
    APRIL 29 — DIXON PLACE 161A Chrystie Street, New York, New York 10002
    FREE and open to the public. First come, first served. No reservations required.

(NEW YORK, March 7, 2016) The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center at the Graduate Center, City University of New York announces the complete line-up of its annual PEN World Voices International Play Festival, running April 27-28 at The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center (365 Fifth Avenue, New York), and April 29 at Dixon Place (161 Chrystie Street, New York).

All readings are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Presented in partnership with the PEN American Center’s annual PEN World Voices Festival, the three-day event generates a global dialogue on art, culture, politics and beyond, through play readings and in-person discussions with the featured playwrights — who hail from eight different world regions, as classified by the United Nations.

The selected 2016 playwrights — Lara Foot (South Africa), Trinidad González (Chile), Yudai Kamisato (Japan), Jonas Hassen Khemiri (Sweden), Conchi León (Mexico), Ivor Martinić (Croatia), Shahid Nadeem (Pakistan), and Yael Ronen (Israel) — offer plays that tackle a range of themes including, gender identity, inequality, migration, refugees, and climate change. Each reading will be followed by a short discussion with the artists.

The readings will be directed by a line-up of notable New York-based and international theatre-makers, including Tea Alagić, Oskar Eustis, Lara Foot, Sarah Hughes, Shira Milikowsky, and Dan Rothenberg.

The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center is located at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, 365 Fifth Avenue, at 34th Street. FREE and open to the public. First come, first served. No reservations required. Subway: Herald Square, lines B, D, F, M, N, Q, R.

For more information on the 2016 PEN World Voices International Play Festival, and all of the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center’s ongoing programming, visit

2016 PEN World Voices International Play Festival Full Schedule

Wednesday. April 27
+51 AVIACIÓN, SAN BORJA by Yudai Kamisato (Japan)
Directed by Sarah Hughes | Translated by Aya Ogawa
Intensely personal, +51 Aviación, San Borja references Kamisato’s grandmother’s address in Lima. It shifts between reportage and fiction with the narrative unfolding around places Kamisato has traveled, from Tokyo and Okinawa to his grandmother’s Japanese-Peruvian community. This event is supported by the Japan Foundation through the Performing Arts JAPAN program.
4:00pm, Segal Theatre

MY SON JUST WALKS A BIT SLOWER By Ivor Martinić (Croatia)
Directed by Shira Milikowsky | Translated by Tomislav Kuzmanović
Martinić’s play explores three generations of a family while centering itself on a young man, Branko, who is in a wheel chair. The central relationship is between a son and his mother who tries to keep up her spirits and lives in denial while watching her son move around in his wheel chair.
6:00pm, Segal Theatre

COMMON GROUND by Yael Ronen (Israel)
Directed by Charlotte Brathwaite | Translated by Frank Hentschker
Ronen brought together performers who migrated to Berlin from Belgrade and Sarajevo to explore common ground between the children of victims and perpetrators. Based on a trip to Bosnia and on encounters with experts and the family members of the protagonists, the theater becomes a safe space for discussing terms like guilt and atonement, forgiveness and forgetting, while stereotypes, prejudices and conflicting narratives gleefully collide. This event is supported by Israel’s Office of Cultural Affairs in the USA.
8:00pm, Segal Theatre

Thursday, April 28
THE REUNION By Trinidad González (Chile)
Directed by Tony Torn | Translated by Alexandra Ripp
The Reunion is a play about power and the abuse of power. As Queen Isabella of Spain and Christopher Columbus discuss América’s destiny, their confrontation reveals their own arrogance and violence. It questions the hidden places of human ambition and reflects the pain of the victims who suffer when power is abused.
4:00pm, Segal Theatre

≈ [ALMOST EQUAL TO] By Jonas Hassen Khemiri (Sweden)
Directed by David Rothenberg | Translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles
In ≈ [Almost Equal To] we encounter a number of people who, seemingly invaded by numbers, are colliding with the economy surrounding them. Whether the character dreams about growing her way out of the contemporary economic system or wants to crush it, they all end up investing money in postage and pine nuts, fake bubbles and perfumes, strollers and utopias. This event is supported by the Swedish Arts Council. In collaboration with the American Swedish Institute Minneapolis, Scott Pollock/Director of Programs.
6:00pm, Segal Theatre

DARA By Shahid Nadeem
Directed by Oskar Eustis | Adapted by Tanya Ronder
Set in 1659 in the imperial court of Mughal, India, Dara explores the blood war of succession between two brothers, both heirs to the Muslim Empire, whose mother’s death inspired the Taj Mahal. The brothers embody the struggle between religious absolutism and liberalism, which has renewed impact today. It premiered in 2010 was performed widely in Pakistan and India, and was translated into English for a sold out run at the UK’s National Theatre in 2015. Special thanks to Rose Cobbe, United Agents LLP, London.
8:00pm, Segal Theatre

Friday, April 29
FISHERS OF HOPE By Lara Foot (South Africa)
Directed by Lara Foot
Known for her award-winning plays that tackle social issues, Foot’s play explores the theme of hope: its essence, values, meaning, impressions, longevity and even possible demise, examining the prospects of hope and livelihood within the African continent.
5:00pm, Dixon Place

MESTIZA POWER By Conchi León (Mexico)
Directed by Debbie Savietz | Translated by Virginia Grise
Through a series of monologues and interviews conducted with street vendors in Mérida, the capital of Yucatán, and other rural areas of the state, this play explores the inherently complicated world of the modern day Mestiza. Ranging from domestic violence to street life to mystical practice, these stories paint a portrait of the faces, the thoughts, and the voices of today’s Mayan women.
7:30pm, Dixon Place

All programs are subject to change.

The PEN World Voices International Play Festival was conceived
and created by Frank Hentschker in 2005.

2016 Festival Co-Curator, Antje Oegel.
2016 Festival Producer, Brooke Christensen.

The PEN World Voices: International Play Festival 2016 has been made possible by the support of Marvin Carlson, Sidney E. Cohen Chair, The Graduate Center CUNY and Susan and Jack Rudin.

For further information on the 2016 PEN World Voices International Play Festival, and all of the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center’s ongoing programming, please visit

The World Voices Festival April 25- May 1, 2016.
Launched by PEN American Center in the wake of the tragedies of September 11, 2001, the 11th annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature serves as a means of combating American cultural isolationism. The festival is an extension of the organization’s work as a champion of freedom of expression. For more information on PEN World Voices Festival, visit

About the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center
The Segal Center bridges the gap between the academic and performing arts communities through dynamic public programs and digital initiatives that are free and open to all.

Home to theatre artists, scholars, students, performing arts managers, and the local and international performance communities, the Segal Center provides a supportive environment for conversation, open exchange, and the development of new ideas and new work. Year round, the Center presents a wide variety of FREE public programs which feature leading national and international artists, scholars, and arts professionals in conversation about theatre and performance. Programs include staged readings to further the development of new and classic plays, festivals celebrating New York performance (PRELUDE) and international plays (PEN World Voices), screenings of performance works on film, artists in conversation, academic lecture series, televised seminars, symposia, and arts in education programs. In addition, the Center maintains its long-standing visiting-scholars-from-abroad program, publishes a series of highly regarded academic journals, as well as single volumes of importance (including plays in translation), all written and edited by renowned scholars.


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Crisis to Creation: Public Report on A Town Hall for the Future of NYC Performing Arts

Photos by Gaia Squarci

Crisis to Creation
Town Hall on the Future of NYC Performing Arts
Public Report available

This February, the Segal Center asked 16 organizations to present their missions, programs and services in response to the financial collapse of 2008 and the subsequient lean years in arts economy. These organizations, while just a sample of the many in the city, covered all 5 boroughs of NYC and with strong representations from Black, Latino, Arab, and Queer artist populations, among others.

Tom Finkelpearl, the newly appointed Commissioner of The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, attended and addressed the large crowd, with representatives from more than 100 groups and universities in attendance.
He also spoke highly of the night’s honored guest, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who was presented with the first Segal Center Award for Civic Engagement in the Arts.


Click on the links below for:

The Public Report

The Streaming




Organizations included:
A.R.T./New York
Actors Fund
Arab Stages
Asian American Arts Alliance
Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance
The Field
Fourth Arts Block
The League of Independent Theater
Network of Ensemble Theaters
The New Black Fest
The New York Innovative Theatre Foundation
One Percent for Culture
Staten Island Arts
Theatre Communications Group

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Cultural Mobility Symposium. US Guide + Public Report



The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center created, in collaboration with the European cultural mobility information network On the Move and the U.S.-based grass-roots international network Theatre Without Borders, a free and user-friendly guide to funding for international exchange for artists traveling to and from the USA. This guide builds upon On the Move’s existing guides for artists and cultural professionals in Europe, Asia, and Arab countries (check out

The US Cultural Mobility funding Guide was launched during a full day Conference on January 7, 2015 which was attended by more than 300 participants. The Symposium was jointly organized by the Martin E. Segal Theatre Centre (The Graduate Centre, CUNY) in collaboration with Theatre Without Borders and On the Move.

Download the Cultural Mobility Funding Guide for the U.S.A.: Theatre, Dance and the Performing Arts as well as the guides to Asia, Arab Countries and Europe on

Public Report and Resources are available on:

Streaming available on:



Funding guide prepared and edited by Michael LoCicero and Isabella Curry,
in close collaboration with
Marie Le Sourd, Frank Hentschker, and with assistance from David Diamond, and Roberta Levitow.


Conference organized by
The Martin E. Segal Center | Frank Hentschker, Rebecca Sheahan, Michael LoCicero, Yu Chien Liu, and Camille Gaume (Producer)
On the Move | Marie Le Sourd
Theatre Without Borders | David Diamond and Roberta Levitow


The organizers wish to thank:
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Republic of Korea; and
Korea Arts Management Service

MCST_Korea1(1)       KAMS_Eng_LOGO

the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States
& the Open Society Foundation-Arab Regional Office


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The Unparalleled Magic of City and Stage

written by Rami G. Khouri

NEW YORK—Many significant things related to the Middle East and its relations with Western societies happened on Monday of this week, some more significant than others. Benjamin Netanyahu squaring off with Barack Obama. Egyptian policemen sentenced to jail for torturing to death Khalid Saeed three and a half years ago. The ageing Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika officially filing papers to run for a fourth consecutive term of office. Confirmation that Israeli settlements doubled last year to reach a 13-year high, and a dozen other significant news items from that day.

Well, yes, these are all newsworthy developments, but I was able Monday to step back from the day-to-day political news and experience an event in New York City whose consequences must be measured by a very different set of criteria than these political issues. I was fortunate to be able to attend the excerpted readings of the first English translation of the late Syrian writer Saadallah Wannous’ play Rituals of Signs and Transformations. Not an earth-shaking event, you might comment, but as I watched with fascination the 45-minute performance, followed by a discussion among key people involved in translating, directing and hosting the play, I was struck by the tremendous power that cultural performances can have in creating appreciation and respect among Americans and Arabs who otherwise spend much time mocking, abusing and killing each other.

The themes of the play largely, but not totally, explain my fascination for the power of cultural performances. Set in 1880s Damascus, the play batters the hypocritical and scheming political and religious leaderships of society, alongside moving episodes of sexual affirmation and transformation by both straight and gay men and women, held together by the common thread of the power of liberating oneself from the constraints of oppressive social rules. This play written by a Syrian author in the 1990s captures human emotions and hypocrisy, social constraints, and political power relations that are reflected in very similar manners in perhaps every country in the world. But this cultural and creative power that affirms universal human attributes, and that emanates from modern Syria in this case, is virtually unknown outside the Arab world.

Beyond the thrill of the play and the wonderful performance by the Noor Theater, I was equally impressed by how several quality institutions came together to offer the public this reading and the illuminating discussion that followed. The Martin Segal Theater Center at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York hosted the event, under the able leadership of executive director Frank Hentschker. The English translation of the play and its first production in Beirut a few months ago largely reflected the work of two professors at the American University of Beirut—Robert Myers and Sahar Assaf—along with Nada Saab at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.

The result—especially amidst the ugly news of wars, terrorism, starvation sieges, bombs, and widespread political criminality across the Arab world—was a powerful reminder of the deep and textured humanity that defines the Arab world that I know, love and encounter every day. Only art and culture can reflect this reality to other societies.

This play and three others were published Monday in English in the book Four Plays from Syria: Saadallah Wannous (edited by Marvin Carlson and Safi Mahfouz, published by the Martin E. Segal Theater Center Publications). They remind us again of the importance of both translation and theater arts as potentially immense forces in the transmission of culture and human values across continents.

On a freezing Monday evening in midtown Manhattan, I emerged from this 90-minute spectacle with heightened respect and appreciation for the phenomenon that underlies all of this—urbanism, with its grandeur, productivity and endless joys. It is in cities that hypocritical leaders in all spheres of society operate, and cities also are where ordinary citizens perform extraordinary deeds as they assert their common humanity, their enticing individualism, and their determination to live in freedom and dignity. Cities also allow great universities to thrive.

Damascus, Beirut and New York combined across time and geography to give us this captivating display of the best they have to offer us, and each other. For this moment in time, the killing, castigating and bombing could wait; this Monday evening in New York, Americans, Arabs and people from a dozen other lands touched and marveled at their shared humanity. They walked away richer, wiser and warmer. We need more of this, flowing in both directions.

Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. You can follow him @ramikhouri.

Copyright © 2014 Rami G. Khouri—distributed by Agence Global

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Anita Rákóczy On “Theatre as Civic Response: Hungary’s Árpád Schilling (Krétakör) and Critic Andrea Tompa ”, 3/07/2012

On March 7, the Martin E. Segal Theatre Centre hosted a Hungarian event, Theatre as Civic Response, by inviting the renowned Hungarian independent theater maker and director Árpád Schilling, and Andrea Tompa, critic and President of the Hungarian Theatre Critics’ Association. Unfortunately, Árpád Schilling could not make it to New York due to last minute visa complications, so he joined us via Skype, and the panel of Andrea Tompa, the editor of Theatre magazine Tom Sellar, the Hungarian cultural historian, cultural manager András Török, and the moderator Helen Shaw. The discussion was preceded by the screening of Krétakör’s Blackland in the afternoon.

I left Budapest six months ago to become a Fulbright Research Student at CUNY Graduate Center, so I was delighted to see some familiar faces, and hear the news about the Hungarian theater scene. The discussion was mainly about Schilling’s artistic style as a director, and his career from the foundation of the internationally acclaimed independent theater company, Krétakör to its dissolution, and his sudden shift from theater to education projects, site-specific and crossover experiences.

I am grateful for Professor Daniel Gerould and Frank Hentschker for their restless interest in Hungarian theater and culture, and their intention and continuous efforts to share it with their community. I am deeply touched by Martin E. Segal Center’s unique awareness of the current painful economic and political situation in Hungary. Ever since my arrival, they have made me feel that they seriously care and also worry about what is happening there.

However, the Hungarian event hardly touched upon current political issues. Apart from some vague references to general hardships that the Hungarian theater world is now facing, the presence of the extreme right in the Parliament and a hint on scandalous changes in theater leadership, the discussion was entirely non-political, and focused primarily on artistic matters concerning the theater of Árpád Schilling. Still, there was someone in the audience, who considered this 90 minutes of theater art talk already too dangerous to the reputation of Hungary. After the discussion and the Q&A session were over, he approached members of the audience, told them that all that had been said before was a lie, those people on stage were telling lies, they were besmirching the fair name of Hungary, where democracy is not endangered but flourishing. Claiming to be the representative of the Hungarian Writers’ Association, he distributed a handout signed by its President, János Szentmártoni with similar content. I am still wondering whether he referred to Shilling’s first or second period of artistic career, or the speakers got some dates wrong, perhaps the foundation of Krétakör. It would have been more stylish if the delegate had contributed to the discussion with his comments openly, during the Q&A, along the lines of freedom of speech and of differing opinions. His imput left the audience in the state of confusion and dismay.[1]

Anita Rákóczy

[1] I hereby acknowledge that the views and information presented here are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

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Joe Heissan On “Celebrating Daniel Gerould’s Quick Change”, 3/14/2011

The Segal Center’s celebration of Prof. Daniel Gerould’s Quick Change:  Theatre Essays & Translations proved to be a justifiably crowded event.   If you didn’t reserve tickets in advance, chances are you didn’t get in.

The evening was divided into three parts.  It began with a staged reading of the English-language premiere of Andrzej Bursa’s one-act play, Count Cagliostro’s Animals (1957).  Originally written in Polish, Gerould’s translation was presented by members of Counterpoint; it was directed by Allison Troup-Jenson and performed by Jason Emanuel as Albandine, Andrew Vallins as Bartholomew, and Alenka Kraigher as Catherine.    The play opens with the sounds of stomping boots, and we soon learn that revolutionaries outside on the streets seem to be on the march against the Count Cagliostro.  These three characters are all being held captive in a basement by the unseen Count.  Each has been tortured by him in ways that have left emotional and/or physical injuries.  Throughout the play these three characters seem to support the revolutionaries, then switch sides, back and forth.  In the end, one of the three characters is dead, and as the other two hear more sounds of marching boots, there seems to be the suggestion that they may shift their support, yet again.

This staged reading was followed by a brief discussion between Gerould and Troup-Jensen.  Both agreed that this script seems particularly timely, especially given all the unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the world.  Clearly these characters want freedom, but they are willing to adjust allegiances as their conditions change.

The evening concluded with a conversation between Gerould and Elinor Fuchs.  Fuchs is currently a professor at the Yale School of Drama, and had been a student of Prof. Gerould’s  at the CUNY Graduate Center in the 1990s.  Fuchs asked Gerould about the many resonances conjured up by the title Quick Change.  Gerould said that these multiple potential meanings were intended, but that the title grew out of an essay on Witkiewicz that is included in the collection.  From their discussion we learned about the diverse topics that this book explores, and how some of them came to be of interest to Gerould.  We also found out that the book was intentionally arranged, not by chronology or by subject, but to allow the reader to move around as s/he saw fit and discover recurring themes in these essays that play off of one another.

Quite a few people in the audience were current and past students or colleagues of Prof. Gerould.  I left appreciating even more the example he has set for so many of us through his teaching and his scholarship.  I also look forward to reading Quick Change.

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The Last Uncharted Territory—an Evening with John Guare

“American history,” I recently heard George C. Wolfe, director of John Guare’s latest play A Free Man of Color, say, “is not a well-made play.”  Last Monday before an enthusiastic audience at the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center John Guare continued this thought in a free flowing dialogue with David Savran about his play, the poetry of theatre, racial stereotypes, and what it means to be American.

Directed by Wolfe at The Vivien Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center with all the visual excess Guare had wished for, A Free Man of Color employs the sexy, anything goes model of Restoration comedy to engage in an exploration, deconstruction, reassessment, and much more of the American dream.  Rich with references from the Country Wife to Barbara Bush (think Hurricane Katrina) A Free Man of Color tells of the life and times of former slave turned slave owner Jacques Cornet, played by the always exciting Jeffrey Wright, for whom Guare wrote the play.  Aided by his clever slave Murmur (in a nuanced performance by mos aka rapper Mos Def), fop Cornet indulges in fine clothes, maps, and women.  Lots of women.  Cornet is so hot; it only takes his signature whistle for the ladies of the town to drop on the nearest canapé.  The town is, of course, New Orleans, because where else in the US around 1800 could a black man celebrate his magic endowment?  What poetic truth that Cornet is such a libertine—after all the term originally meant “a man freed from slavery,” as David Savran discovered to his and Guare’s astonishment.

How my Father sold my Mother

Brocade purchased with the enormous inheritance from his white father may have given Cornet confidence, but it doesn’t protect him from the tidal waves of history.  After the Louisiana purchase the racial mosaic of New Orleans is forced into a brutal division of black and white, and Cornet ends up on a plantation; an ending that David Savran called “a nasty, sad surprise.”  A Free Man of Color, so Guare, is a play about narrative.  Cornet is seduced by the illusion of writing his own play, but history simply kicks him out of the narrative and into the mystical white spaces that symbolize American ideals of freedom and their flipside: living in chance—the ultimate uncharted territory.  Tragic that Cornet’s hope “all men are created equal” was one of Jefferson’s sharp statements that didn’t find their way into the constitution.  By the way, a Jefferson whom Guare depicts to this audience’s puzzled delight as a pragmatic comfort creature with a sweet tooth rather than as an intellectual heavy weight.

How One Man Became an American

In response to questions about his writing process Guare talked about exhilarating research that led him to findings such as Napoleon’s confinement to a bathtub to alleviate his skin disease and the Code Noir, that mind numbing, insane set of laws prohibiting blacks from everything but labor.  Cornet reciting it with a mix of terror and amazement and Guare talking about it make two memorable moments in my personal theatre history.  I found myself equally fascinated with the roles of trickster slave Murmur and Haitian leader Toussaint Louverture (also played by mos), two men who fight for freedom with literally all they have.  Toussaint dies a miserable death in France, Murmur sells Cornet to gain his own freedom.  Easy to admire upright, courageous Toussaint, but Murmur?  His actions are human, all too human, those tragic decisions people make when oppression pushes them into an ethical cul de sac.  The “humanity of America,” said Guare, “is the nightmare of America.”  Mos’ diminished, guilty look on his final line “now I am a Free Man of Color, and I find that very nice,” came back to mind as I listened to the irreplaceable voice of John Guare alerting us to the high price of freedom.

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Prepare to Get Made

This is the true story of forty performing artists, picked to live in a house…OK, not exactly. But if the idea of a behind-the-scenes look at the “challenging and eclectic lives” of performing artists in New York City peeks your interest, the upcoming (and FREE!) Segal Center program, MADE HERE should be high on your list of priorities.

The “house” that these forty theatre, dance, music, and media arts practitioners have been thrown into is New York City, and the issues they confront range from the realities of maintaining a family balance within artist couplings, to the persistent battling with day jobs. All of these challenges are wrestled to the ground in the MADE HERE video series, which can be viewed next week at the Martin E. Segal Theatre.

At 3pm on Monday, November 2, view all of the MADE HERE episodes, and then, at 6:30pm, join the brains behind the project to discuss its development, goals, and some of the issues the series raises. On hand for the discussion will be Moira Brennan, Program Director, MAP Fund; Gabri Christa, Filmmaker/Choreographer and MADE HERE Artist; Andy Horwitz, Curator, LMCC and Founder,; Mikeah Ernest Jennings, Performer and MADE HERE Artist; Ginny Louloudes, Executive Director, A.R.T./New York; Helen Shaw, Theater Critic, Time Out New York; and Kim Whitener, Producing Director, HERE.

MADE HERE is a documentary series and website, split into seasons and organized around different themes: this month, MADE HERE explores Technology, with other areas of focus including Activism, Family Balance, and Creative Real Estate. Season One was rolled out from May to September 2010, and Season Two will premiere in Spring 2011.

The website is indeed an excellent resource for anyone interested in contemporary performance in New York, and the videos themselves showcase interviews with an impressive array of performing artists: Arthur Aviles, Jennifer Miller, Melanie Joseph, Elizabeth Streb, and Charles Rice-Gonzalez are among those interviewed for one of the Activism episodes, which engages a “civic dialogue about gentrification, class, race, neighborhood politics, and community building.” Marianne Weems, Anne Bogart, Taylor Mac, Ping Chong, and Toni Dove are just a smattering of the other interview subjects who appear in other episodes. The clips on their formidable and easily navigated website give a taste of these well-produced videos. Here’s one of them.

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In the Blonde Room

Authored by Sascha Just

Bourdieu and Deleuze’s ghosts sat in the wings during Simulation: Living the Simulacra, the last event of the seventh annual Prelude Festival of Contemporary New York Theatre and Performance. After an evening of presenting multimedia performance artists, Reggie Watts, Andrew Schneider, and Reid Farrington were joined by a group of performers and producers from the New York avant-garde theatre scene in a round table discussion about simulated realities and the challenges of mediatized live performances. What is “live” anyhow? Can a performance with two flickering TV monitors and a large projection in the back like Andrew Schneider’s piece CHNO2, “a hyper meditation on contemporary media culture,” be defined as live? Schneider toyed with the gap between audience, performer, and simulated reality by hiding between the spectators.

Music comedian Reggie Watts offered a very different approach to engagement with space and absent and present realities. Singing and dancing next to his tiny piece of electronic equipment atop a bar stool (and before an ecstatic audience), he evoked models, imitated and twisted familiar tropes—belting out a soulful romance, for example, while actually complaining about dwindling artist funding. Like a record that spins a little faster, then again a little slower Watts distorted styles and modes, only to reveal their clichés. Through his mocking eyes the light wood paneled Elebash Hall became the Blonde Room, a representation of all that is blonde meaning white—perhaps bland. Or better yet, a model for a neutral space in which simulations are created, everything is possible, even that happy “Goldilock state where,” as Watts informs us, “one wants to be.”

We are a species that likes to simulate, Watts argued at the round table, so there is a chance that we are only simulations, too, living in a simulacra. This begs the oldest possible question: If the edges of what we see are currently being rendered, then who is simulating us? Too bad turn table acrobat, composer, and visual artist DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid (aka Paul D. Miller) was still plodding across the melting North Pole and so could not give his unique spin to the play with presence, memory, and (re-)creation of reality. A high tech artist without internet connection may be an oxymoron, but DJ Spooky’s adventure on a replica of the flagship with which Amundsen sailed into the ice almost one hundred years ago, embodied the topics of the evening only too well. In keeping with the theme, Co-Curator Morgan von Prelle Pecelli masked DJ Spooky’s absence with projections of his footage and diary entries, filling the Blonde Room with the mysterious silence of uninhabited locales. As much as I enjoyed and admired the other performances pieces as contemplations of simulacra, strangely the few images of the pole projected into the dark made me experience the simulacra most powerfully.

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dressing room discourse

Authored by Visnja Rogosic, Fulbright Visiting Scholar

The dressing room conversation with Morgan von Prelle Pecelli, the co-curator of Prelude 10 – on the spectator-performer, individual-community, scholar-practitioner and past-present relations.

VR: Reading curator’s and dramaturge’s notes, I have found many references to historical avant-garde and neo-avant-garde history of performing arts, however, no reference to Prelude’s immediate past. What is the relation of Prelude 10 to the previous ones?

MPP: It’s smaller, tighter and more compact. That said we did shift a couple of things. In 2008 I was the dramaturge and worked closely with Andy (Horwitz) and Geoffrey (Jackson Scott). It was the first time we really tried to structure the flow of the days. In 2008 we were talking about the form: performance art versus contemporary dance, the difference between the white cube and the black box practice… And in 2009 we were looking at the different practices through which the art is getting made: hybrid practices, political practices – where political was a lower case “p”, more human political, etc. The question in 2010 is why live experience is so important to all of us. To some extent there was a through line of the last three years. We kept talking about audience engagement and participation. To me, that’s really the question about live. It’s not so much the question of live versus mediated, I’m not interested in that divide, I’m interested in what is it that draws audience members to become alive, wake up, participate, engage and become thoughtful human beings and why is that an important thing that they are socially engaging with each other, whether it is through live human contact or whether it’s through mediated contact. It’s still a living being activity. The artwork that we all produce is the kind of work that asks audiences to doubt the world that they live in, to question it, to come together with each other into dialogue as opposed to other aesthetic practices that confirm the world and help you to forget your day…

VR: In relation to that, for the first part of the program – “Communication” – you chose communitarian over individual form of communication, and I am particularly interested in two aspects of your choice. The first is the reason for affirming the egalitarian concept of community by referring to Turner’s concept of “communitas”, which seems rather risky, given that in the past decades the world has witnessed the failure of both artistic and political egalitarian endeavours. The inability to establish and maintain egalitarian artistic collectives in the 1960s and the disintegration of a number of communist political systems during the 1990s are probably the first things to come to mind. Also, with “communitas”, you evoke very important issues such as audience elimination, social activism and the primacy of community over the individual which is as big a question as the “egg or chicken” one. So, if it is the egalitarian community that you want, what do you need it for? What’s the aim?

MPP: I’m sitting watching Rich Maxwell’s show “Ads” recently – it came out in January. There was an audience of seventy people but there were no live performers on the stage at all, it was entirely virtually created so that you were watching video of one person talking about their beliefs, or their relationship to the world in some sort of way…

VR: Not performed somewhere at the same time, but just projected? Cinema?

MPP: Cinema! But it was so stripped down, so simple. There was such a raw simplicity to the way that Rich directed, the way that the language came through and the way these people were just standing totally emotionally naked on stage, that you really were brought into it but not in a way that you forgot everybody else around you. In the normal movie theatre you forget there’s anybody else, you forget you have a body and you are lost in the movie, and that’s true for a lot of theatre as well. In this scenario the lights were up on the audience just a little bit, so that I could see who’s around me and feel them and hear them laughing and hear them responding. Because they were the only living energy in the room, I became really super aware of how I was connected to the people in that audience who I know very deeply, the people who I don’t know so deeply, very aware of what we all shared together when we were responding, or when some were responding and others weren’t, and what that meant. It reminded me of why I leave my apartment where I’m watching the video all by myself. It’s still more likely that I will go spend $25 to go see the piece to the theatre with sixty other bodies around me. So that’s the real crux of it. There is a social activity to it, even if you go by yourself, even if you’re actually an audience of one going through an installation piece where you’re the only person who can be the audience at that time and then somebody follows you ten minutes behind. There is still some kind of social interaction going on there.

VR: Such as gathering and dispersion of audience before and after the performance?

MPP: Yes, that social connecting is part of humanness and art being alive. Am I going back to Marxian definition of human? Definitely. I’m not, however, necessarily trying to go to a capital “S” socialist – just remembering that this is a social activity as well. It is dangerous because it can be used to indoctrinate us towards all kinds of directions.  I think this type of work is constantly saying “is that the social reality you want?” rather than saying “this is the social reality in which you live.” And that is also our relation to the avant-garde – to question it rather than just reproduce it.

VR: If Prelude is about both, community and participation, it seems that the way the theme of the second day – “Provocation” – is elaborated in the program, assumes a certain inequality between the performer and the audience, focusing on how performer might provoke the audience. Do you think that chosen projects also question the way audience provokes performers, changes their “mental picture”?

MPP: The interwar period avant-garde in Europe or Alfred Jarry even before – the way they talk about them in the biographies – were creating provocations but the audience was pushing back quite viscerally, throwing stuff, fainting. What depresses me a little bit, is that every time I go to see a show here, particularly the ones that I think are quite mediocre and boring or the ones that are provocative, is that everybody sits quite docile and doesn’t respond. And I feel that there is some aspect in which the audience has given up its power to respond, to provoke back, to engage the performers in ways that performers didn’t anticipate or plan for. What is going on with Ann Liv Young right now is fascinating; she is getting censored by PS1, to my understanding of what’s going on there. What she’s been doing with that character Sherry is really getting into people’s faces. She is creating situations where she has no control over how that person is going to respond and she is pushing that envelope so hard that people are actually responding and getting in her face and getting upset about it. Even those of us who are making provocative work, aren’t trying to construct a particular response in the audience and we don’t expect them to have any other response than the one we have. I’m not sure what to do about that, except try and have that kind of conversation with audiences. I focus on the subtle provocation practice that does not say “you should go do this, think this”, they just make you start to itch. It’s still up to the audience member. They still maintain a level of autonomy to create the meaning from the work, to create their understanding from the work and also to create whatever direction they shift in. So the provocations aren’t proscriptive, they are encouraging somehow.

VR: How does the liminal university surrounding influence Prelude?

MPP: I feel like we should be thriving in this half way space between the university students and the scholars and the professional practitioners but I think we haven’t quite nailed it and that’s why we keep playing with its format. From what I’ve seen in the last few years (and I could be wrong – we don’t have any real data, so this is just an impression) –is that the practitioners are there but the scholars and the students aren’t… I have no idea where they are or what they’re doing. They don’t seem to be fully engaging even when we have brought them in our panels. We have not figured out how to really key in and perhaps some of it is that the focus is on the professional practitioners. The focus of the festival is to provide content but we are also trying to provide engaging conversations about that content. It is a preview of work that is to come – all the shows are going to be which is amazing. It’s a huge trailer for the contemporary performance theatre sector for the whole year, which is phenomenal.

VR: It’s a new genre in fact…

MPP: Yes, but it can’t just be that and I think particularly because it’s in a university setting it has to have also this base for the community to come together and talk to each other.

VR: Do you feel that’s missing?

MPP: There’s definitely conversation, people come and talk about all kind of things and those conversations go on and beyond and they happen afterwards but it’s all the practitioners coming together. The scholars, the writers and the students aren’t engaging in that conversation. There are two totally different worlds and they never meet, in spite of the fact that the writers are writing and the students are studying these practitioners but they aren’t actually talking to each other ever.

VR: Do you think that’s a general problem, because I see it in Croatia all the time…

MPP: It’s a huge problem here. I work at PS122 and we just co-edited The Live Art Almanac Vol. 2 with Live Art UK and Performance Space in Sydney, Australia and they wanted practitioners’ writings, their own voice, not scholarly articles. We had a hell of a time getting any US based artists to submit anything because they are not used to writing about their own work or thinking about it in those kinds of ways because they don’t talk to the scholars. And I think they’re suffering for it. The reviewers don’t understand them, the journal articles don’t really talk about them, there is very little communication happening around the artists beyond the show. And it’s not about inviting the audience to check out the work in progress and give feedback – it is having conversations with them about that kind of work, about politics, about anything, anything…

VR: And what’s relevant will eventually come out…

MPP: Exactly. That’s why we shifted from the panels to a round table. We kept having the panels where artists were speaking in monologues and it was starting to drive me nuts after two years. It’s an experiment where eight to ten of us are sitting around the table and, by the fact that we are facing each other, we’ll have a conversation. It forces the audience out of it but hopefully the audience will have a richer experience because maybe some drama will actually happen.

Edited by Arwen Lowbridge

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