Contributed by Hillary Cohen
I recently met a very early-career director who described her area of interest as “site specific” work. That has got to be the biggest trend I noticed amongst the registered shows this year. The New York independent theater community has largely embraced non-traditional performance spaces, but it also produces shows that are “site specific” in the sense of the wry exclamation “Only in New York!”
Even as Jeff Lewonczyk audaciously suggested we take a few years off from Shakespeare, Off-Off-Broadway companies made equally brave runs at re-imaging the Bard and introducing typically Radio City Christmas Spectacular-bound audiences to smaller-budget theater. Downtown Art brought us a two-installment rock musical mash-up of Romeo & Juliet and Gangs of New York called Bowery Wars with age-appropriate casting for the young lovers sprawling over a walking tour of Lower East Side alleys and sidewalks. Theater 2020 produced a family-friendly version of the originally quite bawdy script for Comedy of Errors in domesticated Brooklyn Heights and Brooklyn Bridge Park featuring adorable puppets.
Off-Off-Broadway performed in storefront windows, in an unpartitioned warehouse, and in a butcher shop. If there was a theme uniting any of these very different shows, it certainly wasn’t tone or content, but the daring confidence to “go there”. Poetic Theater opened their production of Goliath with intimate and personal poetry readings by Iraq War veterans very new to the performing arts scene. Harrison Greenbaum (beloved two-time ceremony host and now IT Awards participant) risked heavily incorporating audience participation in his show What Just Happened? and the venerable members of the Talking Band danced naked to illustrate the incisive socio-political critique of Hot Lunch Apostles.
One of my favorite things about the 2012 season was how much of it was unexpected. There was a lot of exciting staging being done…only sometimes on an actual stage.