By Rachel Breitman
In the Public Theaters global festival, Under the Radar 2006, a babble of voices, photographs, film clips, music and spoken word from around the world collide into a common language of desire, loss, destruction, and renewal.
To assemble such diverse performers for this five-day festival called a crash course in international theater producer Mark Russell culled artists from Africa, Asia, South America, Europe, The United States and Australia.
I tried to get as wide a picture from the field, said Russell, former artistic director of PS 122. These are primarily smaller scale works from smaller theater companies using an array of different media and the performances. The series first premiered a year ago at St. Anns Warehouse in Brooklyn. The man who helped bring to the stage John Leguizamo, Eric Bogosian, and Blue Man Group designed this kaleidoscope of productions as part of a professional symposium for directors and performers at The Public Theater and its partner theaters, The Asia Society, 651 Arts, The Kitchen, New York Theatre Workshop, Theater Mitu, and The Foundry.
One of the first groups Russell asked to join was Kassys, a Dutch, directorial trio working with six actors. Their piece, Kommer starts onstage, but morphs into a video in which the actors are shown in their homes in Amsterdam. The piece is a non-narrative meditation on mourning. In one scene, the actors blandly try to console each other with clichéd words of solace, while half-heartedly running their hands through planters of dead trees.
The issue of grief is universal, said assistant director Mette van der Sijs. Everyone knows how it feels to be lonely, to be sad, to lose someone you love. In the onstage scenes, though plants fly through the air, it is really about human behavior.
Australian performer William Yang, whose piece Shadows will appear four times during the series, started working as a playwright and freelance photographer in the 1970s, but in the last sixteen years he has combined the two, using slides and spoken word to give his images of Asian and Aboriginal Australians a story. The photos, projected on multiple screens around the theater, are accompanied by a musical score by Colin Offord on the mouth bow, an Aboriginal instrument which sounds like a guitar crossed with a synthesized cello. The piece is named for the dark, shadowy places in history where Yang traveled to cull the images, and of the silence that still shrouds much of human brutality.
The pictures are from the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Germany, an Australian Aborigine massacre, and an internment camp where German-Australians were forced to live during both World Wars. The piece is about reconciliation, but it touches on the events from the past which caused the rift in the first place, said Yang. The blood that was spilt at these places has long since dried, but the spirits are uneasy because there has been no resolution to the conflict.
Superamas, a dark comedy performance troupe from France and Austria, also mixes media for a haunting effect. Their piece Big 2nd Episode (show/business) offers a critique of consumer culture through video loops they call re-live performance. The audience is teased with images both familiar and surreal, including clips of soap operas and reality tv shows.
We take an element, a video clip, a song, a theatrical scene, a short dance, and repeat it over and over again, said the group, who prefers to have all their quotes attributed to the ensemble cast, rather than individuals. We dig into it till we create something new. In one scene, businessmen flirt with a pretty flight attendant who breaks into her own rendition of Four Non-Blondes Whats Going On. Later, in an image of raw corporate glee, the director of Rolls Royce Europe is seen cheering as he casually describes the 5,000 people he just fired.
Producer Mark Russell described Superamas collage performance as, funny but scary, probably one of the most terrifying moments I have encountered.
While tickets for individual performances cost $25, a $60 pass allows patrons admission to the opening night reception, access to all festival shows at The Public Theater and a reduced price at the partner locations. Russell admits that he himself is looking forward to finally seeing the diverse performances woven together. Said Russell, There are threads that connect these pieces thematically, but I think the audience is going to have to discover them.