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Thursday, August 28, 2014

BAM’s Global Reach

by William Lynch

Chandler Williams (George) and Kevin Spacey (Richard III) in the Bridge Project production of Richard III.
BAM 2012 Winter/Spring. Photo: Joan Marcus

BAM has long been sought out by audiences from the metropolitan area and beyond as a destination for exotic fare not likely to be seen elsewhere in New York City. In any given season, one might witness dance from Madagascar, Swedish-language drama, film from Yugoslavia, and more. However, there is an important aspect of BAM that is little known to the public, but which is changing the way BAM does business and the way in which the world views this venerable institution. Whereas BAM is well-known at home and abroad as a leading presenter of contemporary international performing arts, it has also more aggressively begun to produce theatrical and other events for its own stages and for export to venues overseas. BAM has bundled all this activity under the moniker of Global BAM to provide it with an easily understood identity that encompasses the broad nature of its potential.

Perhaps the best-known example of this new phenomenon came about in 2008 with the inaugural co-productions of the three-year Bridge Project with London’s Old Vic and Neal Street, which brought Shakespeare and classical theater to audiences not only in London and New York, but also in such far-flung locales as Paris, Beijing, Madrid, Istanbul, Moscow, and Epidaurus, Greece. In keeping with the goals of the collaboration, each of the productions contained an equal complement of American and British actors. The reader may recall the culminating production of Richard III directed by Sam Mendes and starring Kevin Spacey, which played in Brooklyn in the winter of 2012, and which in part inspired Spacey's ravenous character in House of Cards.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

An Irish Wave Hits Brooklyn

Pan Pan Theatre's Embers. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Four productions in the 2014 Next Wave Festival hail from Ireland. Howie the Rookie (Dec 10—14); riverrun (Sep 17—20), Embers (Sep 17—20), and Not I, Footfalls, Rockaby (Oct 7—12) are presented in association with Irish Arts Center, which recently announced plans to build a new facility, to open in 2016. BAM Executive Producer Joseph V. Melillo sat down with Aidan Connolly, IAC’s Executive Director, to discuss the upcoming season. Excerpts from their conversation follow.

Irish Arts Center’s mission and activities

Aidan Connolly: Irish Arts Center was founded in 1972 and has been on the westside of Manhattan since 1974. The mission has evolved over the years. It started as a place for the Irish creative community to come together and have a home and make work; it was committed to preservation of the Irish language and the celebration of traditional music, but in a way that was integrated with the neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen. It’s always had a real notion of itself, about preserving Irish culture for people of all backgrounds. That is still in our DNA. It’s inspired by institutions like BAM—a multi-disciplinary program, affirmatively diverse in seeking the connection between our culture and Irish culture, and look at how an ethnically rooted cultural institution makes itself relevant in a city as culturally adventurous as New York. At its core, we’re looking to project a dynamic image of Irish America for the 21st century in a way relevant to New York audiences.

BAM’s relationship with Irish Arts Center

Joseph V. Melillo: It’s rooted in the forthcoming Next Wave Festival... I didn’t set out seeking representation of Ireland, Irish writing, and performers. The fact is, it’s an unprecedented moment to have four works of theater that trace origins to Irish contemporary writing, or Irish writing for the theater of the 20th century, and performance. Irish Arts Center is a locus for Irish writing and performance, and I spent time going to performances there to immerse myself.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

BAM Receives National Medal of Arts!

President Barack Obama presents the National Medal of Arts to Karen Brooks Hopkins, BAM president, on behalf of BAM in a White House ceremony on July 28, 2014. Photo by Jocelyn Augustino.
We here at BAM like to think of ourselves as well-seasoned cultural citizens, routinely interacting with some of the world's greatest artists—often bold-faced names—as well as national public figures.

But we were collectively truly humbled and honored as we gathered in BAM Rose Cinemas to watch a livestream of BAM President Karen Brooks Hopkins accepting a 2013 National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama at the White House yesterday. (Watch the ceremony here.)

BAM was the sole organization to receive the arts award this year, and thus the only recipient to take home the medal in a handsome box. Individuals had their medals personally draped around their necks by President Obama, and included several BAM artists: choreographer Bill T. Jones, filmmaker Albert Maysles, and filmmaker Stanley Nelson (who received a National Humanities Medal). Other arts recipients included writer Maxine Hong Kingston and musician Linda Ronstadt, on whom President Obama confessed to having a crush back in the day.

The official citation (full brief here) reads:
Brooklyn Academy of Music for innovative contributions to the performing and visual arts. For over 150 years, BAM has showcased the works of both established visionaries and emerging artists who take risks and push boundaries.
As the citation was read, President Obama confided to Karen Hopkins that he saw The Gospel of Colonus at BAM in 1983. She invited him to return in the near future, perhaps setting the stage for another historical moment at BAM.

—Susan Yung

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Unseen Warhol

by Sarah Gentile

One of the joys as an archivist at an arts organization with a 150-plus-year history is seeing what has remained unseen for a long time. While working on the Leon Levy Digital Archives grant, we are processing photographs, video, audio, programs and ephemera that in some cases has been hidden for decades. Andy Warhol himself had a fascination with archives, going so far as to create his own version called Time Capsule 21, an art project consisting of more than 600 cardboard boxes full of ephemera from his daily life.

This fall, BAM will present Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films, a set of films never publicly shown, with accompanying music from rock icons Dean Wareham, Tom Verlaine, and Martin Rev, among others. It's not the first time Warhol's ties to rock were seen at BAM. In 1968, The Velvet Underground, the in-house band at Warhol's Factory, came to BAM for Merce Cunningham's opening night benefit. Warhol's helium-filled, mirrored, floating rectangles—what he called Silver Clouds—were also part of the New York premiere of Cunningham's RainForest, one of a set of eight performances featuring the work of composer John Cage and visual artists Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella. Then in 1989, Lou Reed and John Cale paid tribute to Warhol in the BAM-commissioned Songs for Drella, for which Warhol-inspired Campbell's soup cans and packets were created to give to the opening night audience. With the launch of the BAM archives website in 2016, expect to see more of these finds from BAM's history soon.

Excerpt from a 1968 Merce Cunningham BAM promotional mailing highlighting A Rock 
Dance; the Velvet Underground performed.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

When Invitations Matter: Polish theater finds from the Harvey Lichtenstein Collection

by Anika Paris

The BAM Hamm Archives' recent work processing the files of BAM President Emeritus Harvey Lichtenstein yielded these beautiful items from two luminaries of Polish theater: Jerzy Grotowski's Polish Laboratory Theatre and Józef Szajna's Teatr Studio Warsaw.

In the fall of 1969, the Polish Laboratory Theatre produced three shows with BAM: The Constant Prince, Acropolis, and Apocalypse. Several years later, in the spring of 1976, Teatr Studio Warsaw produced Dante and Replika. Speaking of Replika, Szajna told The New York Times, “It is a protest against war; it says, ‘Look at what we make of ourselves.’”

Grotowski was no stranger to conflict either, though he made his protests a little closer to home—when Lichtenstein and the director of the Chelsea Theater came to the premiere of The Constant Prince, Grotowski told them to leave in these choice words. If only they had these invites in hand!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Next Wave Festival Preview:
Independence Day Edition

By Robert Wood

A slightly cheesy, glibly bohemian, and yet entirely reasonable proposition for this Fourth of July: art has had everything to do with creating what we understand to be America (and the Declaration of Independence has done alright, too). The Great Plains are Woody Guthrie’s masterpiece. Main Street USA? Much obliged, Frank Capra.

That’s what we’re thinking about, at least, on this Independence Day—that and our upcoming Next Wave Festival, which will feature a handful of shows with an American bent to them: a new production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America from Dutch director Ivo Van Hove, a staged version of Teru Kuwayama’s Basetrack project, which documented the experience of Marines serving the front lines in Afghanistan, and a concert of American and other folk music from Kronos Quartet, Sam Amidon, Rhiannon Giddens, and others. All three are sure to contribute fruitfully to the red, white, and blue imaginarium.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Majestic BAM Harvey Theater

by Louie Fleck

Imagine if you will, the entertainment options in 1904: no internet, no video games, no YouTube or TV… in fact practically no movies! Oh yes, and no radio. If you wanted to be entertained, you had to go somewhere.
Imagine Fulton Street, Brooklyn in 1904… No sneakers or cell phone stores or discount closeout shops! But there were a lot of theaters. Only six years after consolidation to become part of the City of New York, Brooklyn had its own “Broadway” district on Fulton Street. The newest jewel in this Brooklyn theater row was designed by J. B. McElfatrick at 651 Fulton Street. Meanwhile, just a block away, construction was about to begin on the brand new Brooklyn Academy of Music.

The Majestic opened up with a production of The Wizard of Oz (yes, 33 years before the Judy Garland film). Here at the BAM Hamm Archives, we’re still looking for a program, but it was most likely a road version of the hit that was running at the Manhattan Majestic at the same time. For this production, Toto was played by a cow. Can you imagine the flying monkeys carrying Toto away?

The theater had 1708 seats and hosted a wonderful variety of productions.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

About Last Night: The Ignite Gala

Last night BAM wrapped up a very full season with the Ignite Gala: Benefiting BAM Education. The fun-filled evening began with cocktails in the Dorothy Levitt lobby, followed by a gorgeous dinner on the stage of the Howard Gilman Opera House and a playful dessert reception with a DIY margarita bar.

The evening was a great way to jump in to summer. Read on for more about the event and what's coming up for BAM Education!

And check-out the full photo album.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

BAM CUP 2014

Every four years the world turns its eyes towards the World Cup as 32 nations battle it out for the title of greatest footballing (soccer) nation. Here at BAM a different competition has begun. As the premier New York venue for international artists, we decided to host our own sporting competition of sorts, the inaugural BAM Cup.

Artists and companies from around the world (and one from USA!), representing performances and films from BAM seasons past and future, are competing in a tournament that quite literally is too abstract to explain. What we can promise is that the results ALWAYS mirror those of the World Cup.

We've watched the group rounds with fervor and anticipation, and the drama has not disappointed: upsets galore, bites, and some truly stellar acting. 16 countries have emerged and the knockout rounds have begun. It’s Art vs Art, Performers vs Performers.

And here are the teams:

Friday, June 27, 2014

BAMcinemaFest 2014: Q&A with Joe Callander (Life After Death)

"As impossible to pin down as it is to stop talking about" (Moving Image Source), BAMcinemaFest alum Joe Callander's debut feature Life After Death charts the life of a directionless young Rwandan receiving aid from a charity-minded Christian couple in the US. Lacing this powerful depiction of life in Rwanda post-genocide with touches of wry comedy, Callander delivers one of the most unique and unexpected documentaries of the year. He spoke with us about his inspirations and the audacious and complicated tone of the film.

What films have served as inspiration in your work?

When I first started to really focus on making questionable life choices in pursuing documentary filmmaking back in 2008, I happened to see Jennifer Venditti's Billy the Kid. That film served as a kind of blazing beacon on a distant but not unreachable hill. It's a wonderful portrait of a character at the margins of society, which is the type of story I was trying to tell at the time. You need those films that get you thinking, "There is an audience for the type of film I want to make. I can do this. It's possible." Also, the Fishing With John TV series that aired on HBO back in the 90s affirmed for me that it's O.K. to get a little strange with documentary storytelling.

Beyond that, Burden of Dreams, American Movie, the films of Werner Herzog, and the word-movies of Mark Twain have inspired me immensely.