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Celebrating New Theater Though New York’s Festival Scene


“Birthday Boy”
The Planet Connections Theatre Festivity (Closed)

9th annual Dream Up Festival
Running August 26th -September 16th 2018
Theater for the New City
155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street)

New York City has always been a home to live theater, especially musicals. And July and August are the months in which several festivals have taken place or are being staged that celebrate new theatrical productions. This city does a lot for workshopping new shows -- some of which become legendary hits.

While both The New York Musical Festival and The Planet Connections Theatre Festivity have finished up, they again demonstrated how such festivals nurture the creation, development, and public presentation of diverse new productions. 

So when I had a chance to see one show at this year’s Planet Connections Theatre Festivity — held on the lower east side  — I grabbed the opportunity and it was worth it. 

Titled “Birthday Boy,” it was a raw and unvarnished production with some inexperienced talent, but seeing such a show early on in its history is what make the experience all the more worthwhile when one realizes this is how big productions get started. Drawing on the playwright Jack Donahue’s personal experience, he and Brett Roelofs (featuring an original score by Roelofs), as well as director Angie Kristic, transformed a dark interlude into a musical drama.

The play documented in both song and dialogue one of those cultural tragedies shared by many —  abandonment by a substance-addicted mother in an orphanage run by the Catholic Church where those who are meant to protect turn out to be abusers. In a way, this piece was not unlike the Broadway hit “Dear Evan Hansen” — which takes a personally painful experience (teen suicide) and transforms it, not only into a narrative but into a musical entertainment experience.

Though this production was done with minimal set parameters and limited stage movements, it hints at what could come out of this touching and sometimes raw show.

But that what’s great about such festivals which present creation such as this. Usually, at this time of the year, the the big gorilla on the August scene is the three-week long New York International Fringe Festival. Though it offers much more than just musicals or theatrical productions,  it will happens this year in October rather than during the late summer as it has in the past,

So that leaves audiences with the upcoming 9th annual Dream Up Festival which takes place this August 26th to September 16th. Under the direction of Theater for the New City Artistic Director Crystal Field, the Dream Up Fest has an adventurous mix of world premieres, American premieres and New York premieres of new work dedicated to offering work by new authors and edgy, innovative performances.

The Fest presents 27 plays, of which 20 are world premieres and four are New York premieres. Contemporary controversies such as the #MeToo theme appears prominently in many of the productions. Others include a play on violence against LGBT people, two plays addressing stereotypes and race, and an investigative documentary play on corruption in Arizona. An epic musical, three movement theater works, an aerial dance work as well as a radical adaptation of Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler" and a new translation of Strindberg's acute psychological masterpiece, "Creditors" will also be presented. 

As the press release explains, “The festival does not seek out traditional scripts that are presented in a traditional way. It selects works that push new ideas to the forefront, challenge audience expectations and make us question our understanding of how art illuminates the world around us. 2018 marks the largest number of plays presented at one time by the Dream Up Festival.”

Curator/Festival Director Michael Scott-Price has directed at New York venues including Chashama, Dixon Place and Collective Unconscious. He has written and directed productions that were presented nationally as well as in Canada, Ireland and England. Currently, he is also Curator of TNC's "New City, New Blood" reading series and "Scratch Night" (works-in-progress) and is Artistic Director of an experimental theater company, Asteroid B612 Theatre Company, which made its debut in the 17th Annual HERE American Living Room Series in August 2006

Theater for the New City presents an assortment of distinct, exceptional events each year, including the Lower East Side Festival of the Arts (which celebrates the artistic and cultural diversity of TNC's Lower East Side community); an annual Village Halloween Ball and an annual summer Street Theater tour that presents a live, original musical in 13 neighborhoods in all five boroughs. Most of these are free to the public.

Dream Up Festival tickets are $12-$20 for the participating productions.

For tickets, go or call TNC box office at 212-254-1109.

Speak Up Rise Up 2018: Diverse Storytelling

Negin Farsad. Photo by Bret Hartman

Now in its second year, the Speak Up Rise Up storytelling festival takes place August 6 - 12 at New York’s The Tank (312 W 36th St.). Speak Up, Rise Up was started by community organizer and storyteller, Asher Novek, after the 2016 Presidential election. The mission of the festival is to create a network of stories, sharing, and workshops to elevate disenfranchised communities’ and bring together people via personal storytelling.

The festival includes storytellers, stand ups, podcasts and solo performers, including WNYC's Nancy Podcast, Andrew Collin, Ophira Eisenberg, Bobby Hankinson, Shalewa Sharpe, Sydnee Washington, and Josh Johnson who is one of 6 comics to be features in The Comedy LineUp on Netflix which premieres on August 31.

Other events include the Tell, Queer Storytelling Show,  featuring a line-up of queer folks telling their own stories on their own terms including Danielle Earle, Azure D. Osborne-Lee, David Reyes, Sara Jane Stoner, and Foxy Squire.

Average Women with Average Rage features stand up comics Leah Bonnema, Ophira Eisenberg, and Negin Farsad as they blend personal stories and political commentary.

To learn more, go to:

Speak Up Rise Up 2018
August 6 - 12, 2018

The Tank
312 W 36th St.
New York, NY 10018

Shakespeare’s Henry V Comes to The Public Theater


The late Joseph Papp had a dream which was to bring free Shakespeare to the communities. His legacy lives and the commitment, to bring free Shakespearean plays to the community, and to strengthen audience engagement with the arts, via The Public Theater’s Mobile Unit continues and it’s still free.  

The spring the free three-week tour to the five boroughs will present Henry V, directed by Robert O’Hara marking the mobile units eighth year (March 29 – April 21) and will feature original music by Elisheba Ittoop. Making the tour mobile allows the team to literally bring the work to audiences who have limited or no access to the arts by visiting correctional facilities, homeless shelters, social service organizations, and other community venues. Part of The Public’s Astor Anniversary Season at their landmark downtown home on Lafayette Street, celebrating 50 years of new work at 425 Lafayette Street and the 50th Anniversary of HAIR, the three-week engagement at The Public Theater will also be free, running Monday, April 23 through Sunday, May 13 with an official press opening on Friday, April 27.

“The Mobile Unit is fueled by an unwavering belief in the power of a shared storytelling, and a commitment to meeting audiences where they are,” said Director of Special Artistic Projects Stephanie Ybarra. “I’m thrilled to welcome this company of artists to join The Public’s decades-old legacy of creating world-class theater for the city of New York.”

The casting of all the plays produced at the Public Theater is tremendous, and the Henry V cast includes Michael Bradley Cohen (Canterbury/Dauphin), Leland Fowler (Scroop/William-Bates), Patrice Johnson (Montjoy/Messengers), Carolyn Kettig (Katharine/Cambridge), Ariel Shafir (Westmoreland/Constable), David Ryan Smith (Exeter/Governor), Joe Tapper (French King/French Queen), Zenzi Williams (Henry), and Kim Wong (Alice/Grey).

Directed by Robert O’Hara the story is about the warring King and their band of brothers to communities all across New York with the Mobile Unit’s spring production of Henry V. Insulted by the regent of France, Britain’s King Henry V decide to wage war and claim the throne across the Channel.  But Henry’s charm only distracts the soldiers for so long before the dire stakes of their task call into question the King’s true motives and direction. Resonating from across the centuries—wherever there may be a kingdom for a stage, and royalty to act—Shakespeare’s drama about an invasion, ego, and leadership delves into history’s thorniest questions: What makes a person worthy of wearing the crown, and what do they owe the people they lead?

All tour performances are free, and performances at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center; Roy Wilkins Recreation Center; The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; Brownsville Recreation Center; Williamsbridge Oval Recreation Center; St. Paul’s Chapel; Pelham Fritz Recreation Center; and Faber Park Field House, are also open to the general public via RSVP.

For more information, visit

Paul Slade Smith’s "The Outsider" Makes East Coast Premiere at Paper Mill Playhouse

Production photographs by Jerry Dalia

Paper Mill Playhouse (22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ) scores again – and with a side-splitting comedy of errors (and fun nonsense), The work is the East Coast premiere of Paul Slade Smith’s biting political satire The Outsider (running through February 18). 

The Outsider premiered in 2015 at Peninsula Players, Milwaukee, where it won a Best Play award. The play is described as “a timely and hilarious send-up of modern American politics, in the midst of a political scandal” and “a razor-sharp satire and an inspirational tribute to democracy.”

Smith’s comedy of errors surrounds a governor forced out of office in the midst of a sex scandal and how his lieutenant governor, Ned Newley is thrown into the spotlight. Though the brains behind the governor, he possesses no political instincts and a paralyzing fear of public speaking. At his swearing in, he can hardly repeat the oath of office. He’s quickly perceived as the worst candidate ever – one sure to lose a special election. He has to be made over. Arriving to the aid of his chief of staff are a smart political consultant and a once-powerful national candidate groomer. Add to the mix, the last-available temp to be a receptionist, a TV reporter who’s told to not to ask hard-ball questions, and her one-syllable speaking cameraman. Newley, unknowingly eventually becomes a powerful presence, but, and here’s the clever twist, he’s no longer the worst candidate ever.

Outsider1Connecticut-native Smith’s play Unnecessary Farce, has received 250 productions worldwide. And get this: as an actor he’s appeared on Broadway in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Finding Neverland. In addition, he’s toured in Wicked and Phantom of the Opera and worked extensively in major regionals. In a program note about the difficulties of playwrights getting new works produced, he compliments Paper Mill for taking “a gamble” putting his play up and thanks “the incredibly talented cast.”

Good for him. Often we hear actors state, “It’s all on the page.” True, and especially here it’s how actors, collaborating with their director – in this case, the invaluable David Esbjornson, superbly interpret what’s on the page.

Esbjornson, chair of the Rutgers Theater Conservatory and former artistic director, Classic Stage Company, had his deft hand behind the original Driving Miss Daisy, works by Albee and Miller, and the Public’s 2004 premiere of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart. He was chosen by San Francisco’s Eureka Theatre artistic directors Oskar Eustis and Tony Taccone to helm the 1991 world premiere of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika.

Smith is doubly-blessed. There’s the gifted ensemble, headlined by Paper Mill favorite Lenny Wolpe, whose career has proven he can do anything. Bumbling comedy seems to be a new addition to his resume, and, here, he bumbles, mumbles, and stutters into one of the best and certainly memorable performances of his career. 

Wolpe, in his sixth Paper Mill outing [which includes an acclaimed Herbie opposite Betty Buckley in Gypsy], originated Broadway roles in Bullets Over Broadway, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Mayor; and has a long-list of Off Broadway, regional, tour, and TV credits. 

He and the play benefit from veteran regional actress [making her Paper Mill and, probably, her East Coast] debut, Erin Noel Grennan as the temp who’s never held down a position for more than a day. She’s highborn to the manor of scatterbrain comedy in the way of Judy Holiday in Born Yesterday and, when it comes to the phone and intercom, the ineptness of Carol Burnett’s Mrs. Wiggins.

OutsiderBMosesJDuffyJDaliaAs the consultant, welcome back Julia Duffy (Golden Globe and multiple Emmy-nominated co-star of TV’s Newhart, whose last Broadway role was in the 1978 revival of Kaufman and Hart’s Once in a Lifetime). Wolpe and Grennan might get all the laughs, but Duffy, along with Tony nominee Manoel Felciano (Tobias, John Doyle’s 2005 Sweeney Todd revival) as the chief of staff provide the much-needed sensible backbone.
Also in his return to area stages is Drama Desk nominee Burke Moses (Gaston, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) as the eager-to-be powerful again candidate-maker. With his tall statue, bass voice, and swagger, he brings to mind young Orson Welles. 

OutsiderMFelcianoLWolpeJDaliaSmith throws in a whiff of romance between the chief of staff and the TV reporter who doesn’t like to be told what to do, tall and slinky (especially in ten-inch heels and body-hugging couture) Kelley Curran (who made her Broadway debut understudying the five female roles in last season’s Present Laughter); and, as the cameraman, Mike Watson (Lee Dixon on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black; numerous film and TV roles), who in the play’s poignant coda, proves to be anything but the silent type.

While not earth-shaking, The Outsider has many assets. It’s sassy, light, fluffy fun. A vast array of self-flagellating lines by Wolpe and every move by Grennan had the opening night audience in stitches and thunderous applause. With all that’s happening day-in-and-day out in American politics, we certainly can use laughs.

To learn more, go to:

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