Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Where We're Going


Contributed by guest blogger of the week, Blessed Unrest.

Next fall our company and Teatri Oda will create another original bilingual (English/Albanian) play based on the ancient Albanian tradition of the sworn virgin, to perform in Kosova and New York. The Sworn Virgin will be based on an ancient Albanian tradition, still in existence today, in which women take an oath of lifelong celibacy in exchange for the right to live as men. The virgjinesha, or sworn virgins, take the oath (or are forced to take it) for many reasons including to replace a family’s patriarch if no other males are living, to avoid an arranged marriage without disgracing the groom’s family, to gain independence in the male dominated society, or because they feel more comfortable as men. They cut their hair, dress, work, and are treated as men, despite the community knowing the sworn virgins are women. These women, who were not able to vote or own property before, could now become heads of households or political leaders as sworn virgins. However, despite their social and financial independence, sworn virgins are denied sexual relations on pain of death.

We are intrigued by this tradition and the ability of the Albanian community to immediately and completely alter their perception of and response to these women; to see them one day as “a sack made to endure” (so states the Kanun or Albanian tribal law) and the next as a member of the male ruling class. We are also interested in our own society’s inability to alter its gaze with regard to Americans who choose to self identify as the opposite gender.

Kosovar and Albanian society today, and the theatre created there, continues to be very male-centric, and this project is an opportunity to explore the experiences of women, this remarkable tradition, the ways it is repressive and liberating, why it is fading and what that says about Albanian women and their struggle for equality.

Americans and Kosovar Albanians have close ties politically, since the breakup of Yugoslavia and subsequent Balkan War in the 1990's, yet we understand little about each other culturally or artistically. America’s relationship with the Balkans is unbalanced; we predominately bring aid and try to solve problems. Blessed Unrest’s work with Teatri Oda engenders a different kind of communication, in which we exchange ideas and perspectives, and work together to create art.

For centuries Albanians have been marginalized in Europe and America, often viewed as lowly criminals. There are over 300,000 Albanians living in New York City, often disguising their identity to avoid discrimination. Albanian is one of the oldest languages on the planet, not directly related to any other, and few Americans have ever heard it spoken. Our work together shows that there is respect for and interest in Albanian culture by Americans and gives the artists and audience a direct and tangible connection to the history and traditions of Kosovar and Albanian people.

Our work with Oda has had a huge impact on the lives of the artists involved and the subsequent creative work of our company. The challenges and thrills of traveling, creating and performing with Oda, and experiencing Albanian culture and the openness and appreciation with which audiences received our work, blew all of our minds. The Oda artists are more than just our creative partners, feeling more like family. We look forward to deepening our relationships and continuing to learn from each other as we create more plays together. 


Monday, March 28, 2011

Where We've Been


Contributed by guest blogger of the week, Blessed Unrest.

Blessed Unrest has maintained an artistic partnership with Teatri Oda of Kosova (Albanian spelling of Kosovo) since 2005. We first met while my partner Matt and I were traveling through the Balkans seeing as much theatre as we could and looking for a creative partner. We were blown away by Oda's work, their humor, intelligence, and determination. We spent many hours talking and decided to work together.

In 2006 we performed our original play Lying at Teatri Oda, incorporating an Oda actor into the show as a character/translator. Performing in Prishtina, Kosova was incredible, the show very well received, and the experience left us craving more artistically. In September 2008, Blessed Unrest hosted five Oda artists in New York City for the first-ever US/Kosovar theatre collaboration in the US. Our companies created Doruntine, an original, bilingual play based on an Albanian legend of family loyalty and the power of an unbreakable vow, co-directed by Florent Mehmeti (Oda's Co-Artistic Director) and myself (Blessed Unrest's Artistic Director Jessica Burr) and co-written by Matt Opatrny (Blessed Unrest's Managing Director) and Lirak Çelaj (Oda's Co-Artistic Director). We were amazed at the turnout of both American and Albanian-American audiences and determined to continue working together. In August 2009, seven artists from Blessed Unrest traveled to Prishtina to perform Doruntine to sold-out houses at Teatri Oda. We then toured to three cities in Kosova, two in Macedonia, and Albania’s capital Tirana. 


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Guest Blogger of the Week: Blessed Unrest


We really want to thank Kathleen Warnock for her wonderful blogs last week.

This week our guest blogger will be Blessed Unrest.

Blessed Unrest uses the safe structure of training, rehearsal and performance to create an environment where dangerous things can happen. We are a non-profit, experimental theatre company based in Manhattan and have been generating original work since 1999, presenting over twenty full productions and numerous workshops and readings. Blessed Unrest pursues international collaborations, performing here and overseas, including an ongoing relationship with Teatri Oda of Kosova.


Friday, March 18, 2011

A Tribute to Doric Wilson


Contributed by guest blogger of the week, Kathleen Warnock.

The first time I met Doric Wilson was on the internet: on the gaytheatre Yahoo group, when someone addressed him as “Dude” (as part of a completely wrongheaded opinion.) Rather than address the guy’s wrongheadeditude, I simply replied: “Dude?”

Doric liked my pithy timing, and we began a correspondence, during which I invited him to read a scene from “Street Theater” at my reading series, Drunken! Careening! Writers! Then Doric invited me to submit something to his theater company, TOSOS, and thus began an education, in the history and present of American theater (gay department), the gay liberation movement, a bit of leather legend, and a tutorial in the perfection of a Manhattan up, with a twist.

So the title of last Wednesday’s tribute to Doric, “Proud to Know You,” perfectly describes my feelings about the man.

The Laurie Beechman Theater was packed with tables full of friends, memories, and a city’s worth of knowledge, nostalgia and talent.

Rick Hinkson (who helms the Billy Blackwell/John Wallowich Musical Theater Project for TOSOS) produced (and emceed), Mark Finley (TOSOS Artistic Director) directed, Jen Russo (best stage manager in the world) was at the board, and cabaret legend Steve Ross provided the musical direction. 

Our souvenir program included tributes to Doric from colleagues and admirers throughout his 50 year career. Edward Albee offered: “Doric has always told it as it is. He has never believed in playing it safe and the word ‘sugar-coating’ is not in his vocabulary either.” And Craig Lucas added: “Wilson has devoted his life to the once-radical notion that gay lives deserved true representation.” And on and on…(I hope we can get the complete text of all the encomiums on the TOSOS website!)

Doric provided program notes that waxed enthusiastic about each performer, and we nudged each other with delight as each one came onto a hot stage and made it hotter.

The program began with Rick introducing the video that was made for Doric’s Artistic Achievement Award from the New York Innovative Theater Awards. It was followed by another video message from Doric’s fellow Cino playwright Robert Patrick, who spoke and sang about his colleague as only someone who has known him for 50 years could.

Then the playwright’s words took to the stage in the form of a monologue from his first play (produced at the Caffe Cino in 1961), And He Made a Her, performed by Jamie Heinlein, who played the role of Eve in the recent TOSOS revival of the play.

Michael Lynch, whose “Livin’ on the Real” was recently seen at Dixon Place, and has been developed by TOSOS over the last few seasons, came next with Janis Ian’s “Having a Party” (or rather, his version of it). Lynch, who IS Boom Boom in Doric’s seminal (ha!) Stonewall play, “Street Theatre” was joined by his longtime collaborator Steve Kaufman (whom the audience exhorted to “Make it funky, Steve!”)

Singer/songwriter Morry Campbell followed (wearing black leather, of course), with his ballad “On My Own,” from his album (yes, I still call them albums!) long way home. It introduced the theme of the evening of a man alone…and still making his way through the world.

Aaron Tone and J. Stephen Brantley then played a scene from A Perfect Relationship and while serving the work beautifully, were also hotly gorgeous themselves. While I am a lesbian, I am not blind.

Steve Ross then took to the piano, and gave us “Here’s to Us” (by Cy Coleman & Carolyn Leigh), the first standard of the night, and one that defined the word (“standard,” as in the kind of song that others strive to match).

Lodi Carr, accompanied by Jon Weber, tumbled onto the stage, and continued to up the stakes with a beautiful version of “For All We Know” (no, not the one the Carpenters sang, but the one written by J. Fred Coots & Sam M. Lewis in the 1930s). And in case you think I am that knowledgeable, I am totally cribbing from the program.

Big opera met pop standard with Zachary Stains, singing “All the Things You Are,” (Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II), which contains the lovely couplet:

You are the breathless hush of evening/that trembles on the brink of a lovely song

Then came Alex Bond, writer, actress, leather bar chanteuse, doing a monologue of Muriel’s from A Perfect Relationship, playing a frazzled New York City real estate broker, and the distaff side of the evening continued with Wagnerian soprano Susan Marie Pierson blowing out the back will with the strength and beauty of “Dich teure Halle” from “Tannhäuser.”

Then more cabaret royalty hit the stage in the form of KT Sullivan, accompanied by Jon Weber, singing a medley of 29 (yes, 29) songs in a gorgeous plaid skirt (she explained she’d just been having drinks with Malachy McCourt!) The assemblage, style and delivery of the mélange made you understand why Doric says: “KT Sullivan may very well be the last of the Great Dames of the New York stage.”

(And I nudged Shay Gines, who was sitting next to me and said: Who the hell follows THAT? And she said: Chris Borg. And I said, well, then he can handle it.)

Borgi (to his friends) then knocked Lane’s speech from Now She Dances! out of the park. The play is described by Doric as “by far my strangest play and perhaps one of my best.”

Joanne Beretta was the next of the cabaret royalty (cabalry?) to arrive…She bean with “My Favorite Year” (Michele Brourman & Karen Gottleib), which brought the room to the most attentive silence you’ve ever heard, then followed with with “My Shining Hour” (Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer), which brought the room to its feet. With Beretta, who’s been mesmerizing New York City audiences since the late ‘50s, it was goosebump time, and remembering why you moved to New York City in the first place.

…and then Doric’s own words took the stage in the form of Karen Stanion, with another monologue from Now She Dances that left the room laughing enough to cry.

John Wallowitch was one of the ghosts dancing about the room; as one of the great songwriter/cabaret performers of the second half of the 20th century, he lives on in his songs, and first Robert Locke summoned him with “I See The World Through Your Eyes” (and through the crash of a pan of dropped dishes…something Robert told me comes with the territory when you’re a jazz singer). Then Chris Weikel, better known as a playwright these days (though he’s got quite a resume onstage and as a singer), sang the jaunty, beautiful “I Live Alone Again,” And Steve Ross capped the moment beautifully with some Cole Porter: “Take Me Back to Manhattan” and “I Happen to Like New York,” something to which all the folk in the room could agree.

The Divine Sister herself, Charles Busch, doffed her habit and raced uptown in time for the 11 o’clock(ish) number, his own unique version of “Dear Mr. Gable/You Made Me Love You,” that included some very Doric-specific references.

Then Doric took to the stage for a few remarks, in which he thanked by name many of the people who have been most important to him on his journey through some of our most historic times (some of which he helped push into being), and then everyone came up onstage and Steve Ross brought the evening home with “This Moment” by (of course) John Wallowich. We got lyric sheets in our programs, and I murmured along with the crowd, and then we all went upstairs…Doric urged us to steal the tips from West Bank bartender (and TOSOS playwright) David Bell, but instead, we kept Doric company with another Manhattan or three, and little by little, the company departed, hailing cabs off 42nd Street to our beds in the boroughs or blocks away, ready to sleep the sleep of the just (or tipsy) with songs on our lips, and ideas for the next play…the next lyric…the next cabaret…

Doric, of course, closed the place down (or so I heard).

Also see our Spotlight On: Doric Wilson.


Monday, March 14, 2011

How Off-Off-Broadway got me across the Atlantic


Contributed by guest blogger of the week, Kathleen Warnock.

Greetings! You may call me the Ambassador of Love for North America. I even have a plaque that says it (actually it says “Ambassador for International Dialogue,” but I used my diplomatic powers to change the title).

As I ride in my ambassadorial sedan chair down to Zuni, waving at my colleagues, stroking my elbow-length ostrich-skin gloves, I pause and think back…back…to the middle of the last decade.

Twitter hadn’t been invented yet, and many people who have broken their limbs in Spiderman: Turn off the Dark hadn’t graduated from college! In a small theater on W. 43rd St. (no, not Roy Arias; no not the Mint; no, not Milk Can…), Emerging Artists Theatre produced my play, Rock the Line. (This, after TOSOS had given me a reading of the play in its Robert Chesley/Jane Chambers Playwrights Project).
Rock the Line went on to be published by United Stages, and to win the Robert Chesley Award for Emerging Playwright, accompanied by a nice check.

“Let’s go somewhere!” I told my partner. “Where would you like to go?”

“Ireland!” she replied. “I’ve always wanted to go there.”

I googled “gay” “theater” and “Ireland,” and on the weekend we were going to Dublin, there was an International Gay Theatre Festival! When we got there, I found the festival office and introduced myself. I went to a panel on gay theatre the next day, and heard the scholars discuss the Caffe Cino and Lanford and Doric Wilson…(“Hey! I know him!” I thought). I began to make a list of people who needed know about this festival.

One of the plays we saw was I Know My Own Heart, by Emma Donoghue, and I said, "We need to read this play at TOSOS." Emma said we could read her play at TOSOS and we had a jam-up reading at Chesley/Chambers (andI still want to see a full production of it…it could be done very simply & well in a small space…)

I had another play done at EAT, a one-act called Some Are People, based on a 10-minute play I wrote for a 24-hour festival down at Wings Theatre. Some Are People might make a good candidate for the Dublin festival, I thought, and suggested to Paul that EAT apply. So we did and included two short plays by EAT playwrights, Kevin Brofsky and Matt Casarino, which we figured would be a good evening to show our range.

The festival required no application fee, they provided housing, and the visiting companies got 70% of the box office. (Remember, this was before the financial collapse, when Ireland was one of the richest countries in Europe).

We were accepted, and managed to raise the dough for airfares, and flew all night and got there in the morning and immediately went to tech (in two theaters…the festival had decided to present Some Are People

I refrained from going to see my own play every night, and tried to see every other show, which ranged from Slipping by Daniel Talbott, presented by the Side Project of Chicago; Corpus Christi by Terence McNally, presented by 108 Productions of Los Angeles, Confessions of a Mormon Boy by Steven Fales, and Love Scenes by David Pumo, performed by Moe Bertran. (I hadn’t seen Steven or David’s plays in New York, where they originated, but finally got to see them in Dublin). We had a grand time at the gala, and everyone promised to stay in touch, and we flew home again.

We DID stay in touch. I loved Slipping, and was astonished to find out it hadn’t been done in NYC yet. So I found Dan Talbott on Facebook and said: “Hey, do you want to read it at TOSOS?” And we did…and it was a step on the road to the off-Broadway production. Steven Fales said: “I’ve got a new piece I’m working on, Missionary Position…could I give it a read at TOSOS?” And he did, prior to its Fringe run and national tour. The Corpus Christi folks wanted to bring hteir show to New York, and the Dublin buddies pow-wowed via phone and email, and Corpus got invited to do the show at Rattlestick, and the Dublin/New York connection turned up spare rooms and sofa beds for the actors to sleep in.

We also read The Countess and the Lesbians at TOSOS (I’d love to see a production of that in NYC as well!), and the people who’d been to Dublin continued to pull their friends aside and say "here’s how it’s done."

When the next festival rolled around, I had a short piece I wanted to send over…and so did J. Stephen Brantley, another EAT playwright. I asked if I could use his 2-man cast to double in my 3-character show, and they were up for it, and we sent them in. TOSOS, in the meantime, had had a run of Chris Weikel’s Pig Tale at Wings, and decided that we should send that gay fairy tale over to the Ould Sod (no, the Ould Sod isn’t Doric!)

EAT and TOSOS both got in it was some seat-of-the-pants, DIY theater at its best. The Off-Off crowd didn’t really break a sweat. We just went out and bought a bed, and borrowed a mic stand, and changed the staging to fit the room. We made new Friends for Life, and ran into other folks from our  neighborhood, so to speak. Elizabeth Whitney did her Wonder Woman one-woman cabaret (a revision of a piece she’d presented at TOSOS a few years befor), Moe Bertran was back acting in Pig Tale and we’d just missed (but heard great things about) Dan Bernitt, who along with Carolyn Gage later won the Chesley Award. Careful by South African playwright Fiona Coyne moved me, and I talked her into sending me a copy so we could read it in New York, where Fiona had never visited. (Fiona passed away last year, never having been to New York, but we WILL read her play.) Elizabeth Whitney brought her Wonder Woman show to EAT, complete with invisible airplane.

I didn’t have a chance to go to the festival in 2010 (though some EAT people who’d gone the first year put together a production that did very well), in part because EVERYONE IN THE WORLD IS BROKE NOW, but I did help put together a benefit for our friends, whose own economy was in the giant crapper. All I had to do was say “Dublin” and people were there. Paul Adams donated the EAT theater space for a night, performers ranging from Dan to Moe to Elizabeth, and the casts of the two short plays we’d sent over the first year performed, Chris Weikel MC’d. Mark Finley dircted. Jen Russo and Terra Vetter stage managed and ran the board. Brendan Fay of St. Pats for All came and said a few words on behalf of his homeland and adopted country, and I asked LGBT writers I know if they’d donate a signed copy of one of their works for a raffle. Every one of them did.

We raised about a grand for our friends in Dublin…not a huge amount in the grand scheme of things, but they appreciated it. They were no longer able to offer free housing, and were worried they couldn’t get as many and varied groups whose work needed to be seen over to Dublin. But they made it happen in 2010, and will continue this year. They used the challenge as an opportunity to bring in more Irish writers, and young writers and theater groups. And this year, they’ve gotten funding from the equivalent of their arts council, and will keep going.

I don’t have a piece over in Dublin this May, but I’ve been pulling people aside and saying: “Hey, you should go there!” and giving my considered opinion on what to put in and how to help pay for it.

If you’d like to find out more about the festival, visit, and remember the application deadline is in December every year.

Now I will ride my chariot back to the lyrical County of Queens, and attempt to get some beauty sleep in order to be upright and functional for the dayjob, which pays for my Ambassadorial adventures.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! This year, come hear Dan Bernitt (yeah, that guy), PE Nolan and Eddie Sarfaty at Drunken! Careening! Writers! on Thursday, March 17 at KGB Bar, 7pm FREE. You may buy me a drink.
on its own, and include the two shorts in an evening of short plays in the drawing room/theatre of a beautiful Georgian mansion).


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Guest Blogger of the Week: Kathleen Warnock


We would like to thank Judith Malina for her inspiring blogs last week.

We are happy to announce this week's guest blogger, Kathleen Warnock.

Kathleen Warnock is a playwright and editor, whose work has been seen in New York, London, Dublin (Ireland and Georgia) and regionally. She is Playwrights Company Manager for Emerging Artists Theatre, NYC, and curates the Robert Chesley/Jane Chambers Playwrights Project for TOSOS. She is Ambassador of Love for North America for the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. She also curates the series Drunken! Careening! Writers! the third Thursday of the month at KGB Bar (since 2004). Her short play, Staying Put, is running as part of EATfest, Series A, through March 19. She is also series editor for Best Lesbian Erotica (Cleis). She is a member of The Dramatists Guild.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Town Hall Meeting for the Indie Theatre Community


A.R.T./New York,
The Innovative Theater Foundation,
Institute for Culture in the Service of Community Sustainability

 & The League of Independent Theater 

are excited to inform you about a unique collaboration with many members of the art & culture committees of the Manhattan Community Boards and their continuing initiative to support Small-to-Mid-Sized Non-Profit Performing Arts Organizations located in the City of New York.
On Monday, March 21, 2011 (6:00 p.m.) 
at The National Arts Club - 15 Gramercy Park South (20th Street) 

ICSCS – The Institute for Culture in the Service of Community Sustainability – will be holding its next Table Town Hall at 6pm where this coalition will present on the many agenda items they have been pursuing.  Included in this evening will also be a brief presentation by 1% for Culture.  You are invited!  

Please RSVP if you are going to attend this 6:00 p.m. (meet and greet) / 6:30 p.m. (start time), March 21st Event by sending an email to:

Drinks, light refreshments and schmoozing for the first ½ hour and then we will get right down to work.  Admission is free.  Business casual attire please.

Representatives of the above-mentioned art support organizations have been working closely for over two years with members of various art & culture committees of the Manhattan Community Boards on issues that affect every neighborhood in the City of New York.

Specifically, all of these organizations support a proposal to secure a property tax abatement for NYC non-profit performing arts organizations -- that have been closing at an alarming rate, Citywide, for the past five years.  

Recently, A.R.T./New York, ITF, ICSCS and LIT formed a coalition to focus their combined efforts on achieving this property tax abatement, and other art related goals that would support the non-profit arts sector, by conducting effective political advocacy at the local level.

 At this town hall meeting, the following questions will be asked:
  • What direct political action can be taken to support this sector?  
  • How do we better engage the artists and producers of this community to advocate for pragmatic political change that will allow this important NYC cultural and economic engine to operate more successfully? 
  • How do we more effectively manage the time and resources, that this effort will demand, of this artistic community?
It is important that an open conversation be had about the full array of local political action options that are available to support the NYC Arts Community.

To that end, we are especially interested in encouraging the attendance of as many
Managing/Executive Directors, Artistic Directors and Board of Director members
of non-profit performing arts organizations -- specifically those that pay real estate property tax for their spaces - to attend this very important meeting. 

In addition, we will make information available about a new program at the ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION that could lower your electric rates.

All 12 Manhattan Community Boards have unanimously ratified their support for a proposal that could reduce rent and/or property tax assessments for those organizations that have an artistic mission and/or rent performance space to similar non-profit performing arts groups with artistic missions of their own.  

For further information on this proposal, please send an email to: and we will gladly answer any questions you have.

Please RSVP if you are going to attend this March 21st Event (Starting at 6:00 p.m.)
by sending an email to:

Your active participation is vitally important to this process, and we thank you in advance for attending.

Virginia Louloudes - A.R.T./New York
Shay Gines and Nick Micozzi – Innovative Theatre Foundation
Paul Nagle - Institute for Culture in the Service of Community Sustainability
John Clancy and Paul Bargetto - League of Independent Theater
David M. Pincus -  Chair, Theater Task Force, Manhattan Community Board 4
If you think a friend or colleague may be interested in attending this event or subscribing to this Theater Task Force Mailing List, please forward this email and/or direct them to this link:


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Human Happiness is Our Cause


Contributed by guest blogger of the week, Judith Malina.

Today, New York is the hub of energy that will spark the next step in the international peace movement.  It is here where the proximity of the rich – those who have much more than they need, and the poor – who have much less than they need, grate against each other in an intolerable encounter.

It is here that the artists and the scholars mingle with the uneducated and marginalized…

If we can make the next step it will happen here - yet – it is in places remote from this great city that the fervent of revolution occurs.

10 years ago in 2001, The Living Theatre went from New York to Paris to Lebanon, where in the ruins of the bombings, and the foretaste of a terrible war, the young people gathered to do a street play; invented by themselves - and performed in their own Lebanese language – to plead for peaceful solutions to the warlike reality.

A dozen of the 35 participants left the play, regretfully and took with them all of the eloquent statements of their position.  They believed that armed struggle was necessary + inevitable.  And we parted as friends, with embraces – and they attended the final performance, for they too longed for the peaceful solution which they thought was unattainable.

Today we watch the moving results of the Egyptian Revolution + at the same time the terrifying struggle of the Libyan Revolution, and we know that there too the young people would welcome peaceful solutions –  and even as the bloodshed continues, we know that those peaceful solutions are a possibility + that we must never abandon hope…

So in New York, where we are still far from the bloodshed, we work to explore, to investigate, to invent new ways to make peace.

Let's not give up because the cause of human happiness is our cause though the despair of violence is still occurring.

Judith Malina's handwritten post

Monday, March 7, 2011

Go Beyond Your Borders


Contributed by guest blogger of the week, Judith Malina.

Since 1961 – When The Living Theatre began its European Tour, we have been concerned with the climate of international experimental theatre on both sides of the Atlantic.  The love and appreciation of innovative theatre is surely most fertile on the Italian Peninsula, and while The Living Theatre has performed in every Western European country, it has found its deepest understanding and hospitality in Italy.

We were first invited by The Theatre de Nation’s in Paris, that wonderful festival which annually brought together theatres of many many nations – European, African, Asian, with conferences, fringe festivals and encounters of all sorts; that furthered the dialogue between theatre people of varying cultures + many languages…

From there we began our work in Italy + Europe + eventually even in Brazil, where we were invited during the military dictatorship and when no experimental theatre was permitted.  In the early 70’s, The Company quickly studied Portuguese and went to Sao Paulo + Rio de Janeiro + then settled in Ouro Preto, where we performed clandestine theatre until we were arrested while rehearsing a play for children called Six Dreams about Mother.

In one of Brazil’s notorious torture prisons, we served 70 days (though – believe it or not we even did some potent prison theatre there) till international publicity got us liberated.  The prison we were confined in practiced terrible tortures + when we left we asked our jail - mates how we could best help them and they said ‘show them how it is here.  Tell the world what they do to us.’

Out of this request came Seven Meditations on Political Sad-Masochism in which we not only portray the inhuman forms of torture practiced then in Brazil (not currently) but also today in many other parts of the world, including these current Middle Eastern revolutions; but we make our premise the relations between the ownership of women by men as the model of our political, social, educational and legal and military structures.

We have performed the play in Italian, French, Portuguese, Spanish and German….among others, also with the help of skillful translators in a dozen other languages…

We are reviving this play in New York City, where it will open March 15th, as part of Culture Project’s Women Center Stage Festival.

The Theatre unifies the world, our work is an example of the multiple possibilities of transcending national, lingual, and cultural boundaries.  We urge other companies to go beyond their borders + work with theatre people + audiences of many places!

Judith Malina's handwritten post


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Guest Blogger of the Week: Judith Malina


We would like to thank David J. Diamond for blogging for us last week. 

We are really excited to announce our next guest blogger, the legendary Judith Malina.

Malina founded The Living Theatre with husband Julian Beck in 1947 as an alternative to commercial theatre. Based in a variety of small New York locations which were frequently closed due to financial problems or conflicts with city authorities, they helped to establish Off-Off-Broadway and Off-Broadway as significant forces in U.S. theatre.

In the 1950s, the group was among the first in the nation to promote such international dramatists as Bertolt Brecht, Jean Cocteau, Federico Garcia Lorca, and Luigi Pirandello. Additionally, the Living Theatre took the unconventional step of performing the work of modernist poets, including T. S. Eliot, Paul Goodman, Gertrude Stein, and William Carlos Williams. Their work during this period shared some aspects of style and content with Beat generation writers.

The Brig (1963), an anti-authoritarian look at conditions in a Marine prison, was their last major Living Theatre production in New York before a disagreement with the IRS led to the closure of the theatre space and even the brief imprisonment of Beck and Malina. During the 1960s, the group toured chiefly in Europe, and turned to even more politically and formally radical work carrying an anarchist and pacifist message, with the company members creating plays collectively and often living together. Major works from this period included adaptations of Antigone, Frankenstein and Paradise Now, which became their best-known play. Paradise, a semi-improvisational piece involving audience participation, was notorious for a scene in which actors recited a list of social taboos that included nudity, while themselves disrobing. leading to multiple arrests for indecent exposure.

Having returned to the U.S. in 1968 to tour Paradise, the group broke apart the next year. Malina and Beck toured with the remaining members in Brazil, where they were imprisoned in 1971, then returned to New York to form a new version of the group. Though Beck passed away in 1985 after a two-year battle with stomach cancer, The Living Theatre has staged nearly 100 productions performed in 8 languages in 28 countries on 5 continents - a unique body of work that has influenced theater the world over.

In 2008, Malina received the Artistic Achievement Award from the New York Innovative Theatre Awards. This honor was presented to Malina by Olympia Dukakis on behalf of her peers and fellow artists of the Off-Off-Broadway community "in recognition of her unabashed pioneering spirit and unyielding dedication to her craft and the Off-Off-Broadway community".


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Experience International Theatre…Without Leaving Home


Contributed by guest blogger of the week, David J. Diamond.

Fortunately, here in New York, we can see some of what is happening on stages around the world. La MaMa E.T.C. is dedicated to presenting experimental works from all over the world. During the next few weeks, there will be some of these opportunities to peek into the theatre world outside of the U.S. Check out these cutting-edge performances.

Next week, they begin the Perforations Festival New York, a week and a half of groundbreaking performances from the Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia. Perforations is a huge annual event in Croatia, which focuses on independent artists in performance art, theatre and dance, whose approach to creating art blurs the borders between these genres, according to its artistic director Zvonimir Dobrovic. Now we have a chance to experience it here. Dobrovic says, “The Festival will offer the audience insight into contemporary lines of artistic thinking from some of the most provocative and influential artists fro the region who are shaping a wider artistic and cultural landscape.”

Ellen Stewart’s commitment to presenting work from this region has been longstanding. According to La MaMa artistic director Mia Yoo, “These artists working independently out side the state subsidized institutions, are creating compelling and powerful art. La MaMa is proud to present this work. Continuing our artistic dialogue with these countries is a deep commitment of La MaMa.”

La MaMa is teaming up with The Public to present the return to New York of Belarus Free Theatre. I wrote about them in a previous post. They will be in residence at La MaMa for 5 weeks, performing three of their productions in repertory including Being Harold Pinter, which played during the Under the Radar Festival, Discover Love, which had one showing at the Theatre Without Borders Conference last September and Zone of Silence, which explores Belarussian taboos. It is still unclear when they will be allowed by the government of Belarus to go home to Minsk. At least they have been able to use their exile to share these important plays with audiences in other countries on their unintended world tour.

A particularly ambitious production from Ireland comes to La MaMa later in March. A dance performance, Fall and Recover, emerging from workshops with clients of Centre for Care for Survivors of Torture located in Dublin, Ireland mixes two outstanding Irish dancers with a cast of 11 torture survivors from nine countries. Celebrating the power of the human spirit, their dignity and determination will have live music by Rossa O’Snodaigh of the Irish world music band Kíla. As is often the case when presenting works from abroad, it can be challenging to get visas and funding to make these exchanges possible. It can take considerable political will and tenacity to help artists come to the United States.

International exchange was a major topic of the NoPassport Conference that just concluded at Nuyorican Poets Café. Caridad Svich has been organizing these convenings for five years. This year, the topic was Dreaming the Americas: Global Change in Performance, co-curated by Caridad, Catherine Coray (NYU) and Daniel Gallant (Executive Director, Nuyorican Poets Café). Among the provocative discussions were Activism in Performance, Genocide and Political Atrocity in Theater, Global Playground and Sundance Institute Theatre East Africa. Playwright Jose Rivera, gave the thoughtful and poetic keynote address.

Other conferences and performance venues around the country also take a global perspective on theatre. Erik Ehn’s Arts in One World Conference, which used to be occur at Cal Arts, where he was Dean of the Theatre Program, now also has a home at Brown University (where he heads the Playwriting Program). The International Theatre Institute, now housed at Theatre Communications Group, plays an important role in the annual TCG Conference (the next one coming up in Los Angeles in June,) with visitors from many countries (including two exceptional Iraqi artists) participating in the discussions, workshops and performances.  Under the Radar, a performance festival curated by Mark Russell and produced by The Public Theater includes many lesser known performing groups from abroad, while The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival provides a venue for larger works of better known companies such as those of Robert Wilson, Ivo van Hove and the late Pina Bausch.

There are lots of resources out there for artists interested in working abroad and learning more about international opportunities. Some of my favorites are Kadmus Arts, for everything to do with international festivals, On-the-Move for information about conferences, workshops, performances and other opportunities, Theatre Communications Group, which houses the US Center for the International Theatre Institute (ITI). Excellent lists of resources are also available on the Theatre Without Borders website.

It has been a privilege and a pleasure to have had the opportunity to blog at you this week. Thanks to the Innovative Theatre Foundation, Shay Gines and all of you who faithfully followed my ramblings for the past few days. If you’d like to keep abreast of my doings, please visit my website and sign up for my mailing list:


Friday, March 4, 2011

A Place To Create


Contributed by guest blogger of the week, David J. Diamond.

“I’ve always wanted to make a way by which as many young artists as possible could travel to Europe, or Asia, or wherever. I think it’s the best thing for developing the artists, particularly the American artist. I think in world terms. I believe we are one race, and everybody is in that race. And one day we are going to learn to trust what is within us, so that we can be in tune with the world, the earth, the moon, the stars, the universe.”  
--- Ellen Stewart


The whole point of having an international symposium in Italy every summer is to challenge artists to think about the act of creation in new ways. When they bump up against different ways of working, ways of thinking about what theatre can do, ways of reaching an audience, they become more substantial artists themselves. It’s not easy to describe what happens to the artists who experience a summer at La MaMa Umbria. They are definitely changed. I’ve never been involved with a program that has generated as much gratitude from participants for providing them an opportunity to grow as artists and as people. And we have a lot of fun. That is key to the learning. 

Participants talk about how well they are taken care of at La MaMa Umbria. That is Ellen’s legacy. We prepare and serve the meals, which are expertly prepared by our beloved Elisa, with many ingredients coming directly from our garden and orchard; we clean your room, even do your laundry. We provide an environment that provides the maximum opportunity to focus on the creative work. And then we bring together extraordinary, working professional theatre-makers who are also gifted teachers to share their perspectives and engage the participants in active, participatory exercises that force them to “try on” new techniques. For eight hours a day, the participating artists stretch and learn and grow. Then there is time to share with each other informally. Living and working together, you get close quickly (if you want to) and you can engage iconic masters in one-on-one conversations about life and art.

La MaMa Umbria is tucked away in the hills surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, farms and forests. Yet it is close enough to the greatest cultural treasures to be found in Italy, that we can’t let you get away without experiencing the art and culture of this unique part of the world. Spoleto, the nearest town, is home to one of the great arts festivals of Europe: The Festival of Two Worlds. The town boasts theatres from four centuries, which are still used today. Dance troupes perform outdoors at Teatro Romano, the Roman theatre from the 1st century; operas are done at Teatro Nuovo (the “new” theatre, that is, 19th century). There’s also a 17th century opera house called Caio Melisso and “black box” (which is actually a stone box) below Caio Melisso, called Teatrino delle Sei (the Six O’Clock Theatre) for more experimental work. Many other spaces from churchyards to movie theatres are also used as performance venues during the Festival. The Spoleto

Festival was begun by Giancarlo Menotti (the opera composer) 55 years ago, and run by him until he died a few years ago. It attracts the worlds top musicians, dance troupes, theatre companies and visual artists.

We insist on taking everyone who participates in La MaMa Umbria programs to Assisi to visit the Church of St. Francis, where some of the greatest religious frescoes in the world adorn the walls (by Giotto and other artists). We can also see the Church of Santa Chiara, named for St. Clare, a follower of St. Francis, whose order of nuns were called the “poor Clares” on account of their pledge of poverty. This is the church that houses the crucifix of San Damiano, which supposedly gave Francis a signal that he should give up his errant ways and devote his life to worship and good deeds. We also visit the Umbrian hilltowns, Orvieto,

Perugia (especially during the great Umbria Jazz Festival), Deruta (to see the ancient art of ceramic-making, still practiced today) and others. We may have a wine-tasting at one of the vineyards on the Strada di Sagrantino and tour the wine-making process which combines modern technology with ancient ways.

Yes, we drink a fair bit of wine and eat our share of gelato (my particular weakness.) But the focus is always on the creative process. This summer, we are offering our most ambitious program yet. [] Our 12th Annual Symposium for Directors brings together the talents of Ping Chong, Ruth Maleczech, Luca Ronconi, Dijana Milosevic, Baba Israel, JoAnne Akalaitis, Dorcy Rugamba and others. Dorcy comes from Rwanda, where much of his family was killed in the genocide. His response was to create a six-hour play with a cast of 40 which played the Avignon Theatre Festival and toured for the next four years. Dijana is artistic director of Serbia’s DAH Theatre, which is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year. Luca is an iconic star of the Italian theatre, having run the Piccolo Teatro in Milan, the Venice Biennale and other theatres. Ruth Maleczech will take a look at American classic texts from her Mabou Mines-inspired experience. Ping shares his techniques for combining movement, text, sound, space and image.

This is the 5th year we are providing a space for playwrights during the Playwright Retreat. Facilitated in the past by Lisa Kron, Naomi Izuka, Chuck Mee and Lynn Nottage, this year we are lucky to have Erik Ehn, head of playwriting at Brown University as our teaching artist. In addition to learning from Erik, the writers have lots of time to write in the serene, pastoral environment of La MaMa.

We have two new programs this year: The First Annual Master Acting Workshops and Cricot-2 Workshops. Cricot-2 is the company founded by Polish master director, Tadeusz Kantor. Kantor and Ellen Stewart were very close friends. His major works had their US premieres at La MaMa in New York. I remember seeing a couple of them in the later years: The Dead Class was particularly haunting to me. Kantor used to direct the actors while sitting on a stool onstage with them DURING the performances. While they were dragging themselves across the stage portraying Easter European war refugees, he would yelling at them. It was extraordinary. (He spoke in Polish, so I was never sure what he was saying.) After he died, the Company came back to La MaMa without him, but the empty stool sat there during the performance, just as before. Haunting.

Our Master Acting Workshop will be led by two great artists: Tina Landau and André De Shields. Tina’s work with The Viewpoints and composition will compliment André’s intense physical and vocal work. Both artists have long associations with La MaMa. André’s Cotton Club revue remains of highlight of my La MaMa theatergoing experiences.

We encourage you to check out our programs and get involved. The experience is bound to affect you in untold ways. Here’s what one participant had to say about her time at La MaMa Umbria:

“The month that I spent at La MaMa Umbria gave me the most precious thing that you could give to an artist: time to think.  It was great to get away from the business of theatre and really delve into what theatre meant as an art form.  I remember those early mornings stretching on the field overlooking the valley below, later meeting and talking with other participants in our workshops about life and art.  This wonderful mixture of solitude and interaction really gave me space to breathe and inspired me to continue creating.”
-- Stacey Christodoulou (2008)


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Acting Together on the World Stage


Contributed by guest blogger of the week, David J. Diamond.

There was a time I came to Ellen Stewart with an idea for a project when she again said, “Yes” immediately. It was less than two years ago. The project was a conference bringing artists from around the world together to discuss theatre and peacebuilding. The idea came from Roberta Levitow and her colleagues at Theatre Without Borders. She was speaking on the subject at a TCG (Theatre Communications Group) Conference breakout session. She had been working with Cynthia Cohen at Brandeis University on a documentary film highlighting case studies of theatre and peacebuilding going on in conflict zones in several countries. The documentary was on its way to completion and case studies to publication. She imagined a Conference where the film would be shown and the case studies discussed. When I heard the idea, I immediately thought of La MaMa. What better place could there be to showcase international artists and their work changing lives in the most challenging environments in the world? Ellen had visited most of the places where these companies were struggling to survive: Serbia, The Sudan, Cambodia, Israel/Palastine, etc. She was committed to sharing and supporting their work.

Working with Theatre Without Borders – Roberta, Daniel Banks, Catherince Filloux – on this Conference, changed my life yet again. I was consistently inspired by these three remarkable artists. We stepped into unknown territory together. We started with the premise that we wanted to invite everyone we knew who was working in theatre and peacebuilding; we wanted companies to come and perform, artists to speak about their work, artists to conduct workshops AND we had no money to pay for any of it. Zero. Nada. Bupkis. Thus began the roller coaster that became the ground-breaking convening: Acting Together
on the World Stage: Theatre and Peacebuilding in Conflict Zones

Natalya Koliada, Artistic Director,
Belarus Free Theatre
It has been said that when you commit to something, suddenly resources come to you from places you hadn’t expected, doors open, people respond. We didn’t have the right to expect anyone would respond to our invitations, our pleas. But then something wonderful happened. People started saying, “Yes” to us, over and over again. First it was Ellen Stewart who generously offered us the use of La MaMa’s theatres in New York City, the week before the La MaMa season was to begin in September, 2010. Cynthia Cohen and the Coexistence Project at Brandeis became a major collaborator. They would present the premiere screening of the finished documentary. Support came from all over, from 651 ARTS/Africa Exchange; Brandeis University; Nathan Cummings Foundation Arts and Culture Program; Fordham University; The Public Theater; The Romanian Cultural Institute of New York and others.

Leng Sithul & Chhon Sina came from Cambodia to read a moving play by Morm Sokly. Belarus Free Theatre brought their production of  Discover Love; Serbia’s DAH Theatre presented Crossing the Line and the Albugaa Theatre from Sudan culminated the weekend’s events with their Theatre of Festivity, which is typically performed in refugee camps in Darfur. Everyone figured out how to get to New York for a 

Conference that wasn’t paying for anything – just offering a venue to share their work with colleagues who were facing similar challenges, doing theatre in conflict areas. As the Conference unfolded, the electricity in the Ellen Stewart Theate was palpable. We had a sense that something extraordinary was happening.

We learned about theatre in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan and Belarus, Burma and Kenya, Ireland and Zimbabwe. In all, we had representatives from over thirty countries, at an event that was sold-out with over 300 participants. Dr. Barbara Love from University of Massachusetts at Amherst spoke about strategies for transformation and healing. She inspired us to start the process of forgiveness by forgiving ourselves. James Thompson of the University of Manchester (UK) gave a performance/lecture on the Bindunuwewa child soldier massacre in Sri Landa in 2000. He made a strong case for understanding how our “good intentions” to help people might be manipulated by governments for their own ends and challenged us to look closely at who we are affecting by our actions, no matter how noble. What responsibility do we take for the actions of those whose independent thinking we inspire?

As a result of my personal involvement with the Conference, I met extraordinary artists with whom I hope to collaborate in the coming months. I have become interested in the struggles of a
small theatre company in Lahore, Pakistan (Ajoka Theatre) who work for social change in a place where “social change” itself is subversive. I began a collaboration with a Kurdish artist I hope to visit this summer.

Protest against Belarus oppression 

I became closer to members of Belarus Free Theatre. Their struggles have become major news stories across the U.S. and internationally. Protesting their government’s recent election at a peaceful rally in Minsk, Belarus, many members of the Company were arrested. (They were scheduled to come back to New York to present a different play, Being Harold Pinter, at La MaMa as part of Under the Radar Festival in January, 2011.) Released from prison, but being harassed by the authorities, we had no idea whether they would be able to leave the country. Thanks to the ingenuity of their colleagues in the U.S., particularly Mark Russell, producer of the Under the Radar Festival, they were smuggled to Moscow, so they could fly to New York from there, arriving just a couple of days prior to their opening at La MaMa. Evidently, after they left Belarus, the KGB ransacked their homes.

The New York theatre community was a major player at a protest held in support of the Belarussians that took place near their embassy. Key speakers included playwright Tony Kushner, Belarus Free Theatre Artistic Director Natalya Koliada and The Public Theater’s artistic director, Oskar Eustis. Theatre companies acted in solidarity with the BFT by presenting readings of Being Harold Pinter at cities around the U.S. at the same time it was being done in New York. We were speaking out not just for the artists of Belarus, but for freedom of speech for all people. The theatre company has experienced first-hand what happens to those who raise their voices against the status quo. It is still unclear when they will be able to return home.