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Thursday, January 30, 2014

BAM Illustrated: Vengeance is Graphic

On Friday February 7, BAMcinématek returns from hiatus—with a vengeance! As the first series of the new year, Vengeance is Hers is an eclectic mix of movies featuring women seizing control and settling scores. We’ve asked illustrator Nathan Gelgud to pair images from a few of the films with some thoughts on revenge, film, and feminism from thinkers like Mary Shelley, Bertrand Russell, Friedrich Nietzsche, Molly Haskell, and Laura Mulvey. Quotes were sourced by series curators Thomas Beard (co-founder of Light Industry) and Nellie Killian (BAMcinématek programmer) with BAMcinématek marketer Andrew Chan.

BAM Blog Questionnaire: Amaranta Leyva

by Jessica Goldschmidt and Claire Frisbie

Award-winning Mexican playwright Amaranta Leyva thought she knew the story of The Sleeping Beauty. But when she sat down to write her adaptation, Sleeping Beauty Dreams, for the puppet company Marionetas de la Esquina, a whole new tale of parents and children emerged. 

We caught up with Ms. Leyva to ask a little more about the production, part of BAMkids, at the BAM Fisher starting this weekend. And since you can catch the show in both English and Spanish versions, we've included both languages here!

1.  El guión de Los Sueños de la Bella Durmiente desvía del cuento original en unas maneras maravillosas. ¿Cual de los cambios te gusta más?

Creo que el que más disfruto en escena es cuando la princesa se pica con la corona. Es un momento que la gente no se espera y hay veces que podemos oír la sorpresa desde atrás de los títeres. Cuando elegí Sleeping Beauty para hacer una versión, necesitaba hablar de la relación entre padres e hijos y el miedo que se despierta en los padres porque a los hijos no les ocurra nada y la curiosidad en los niños por despertar al mundo. ¿Cómo lidiar con ambos sentimientos tan reales y tan contrarios a veces? Esa es la pregunta que quisera que el público , al terminar la obra, lo platique entre chicos y grandes.

Your script deviates from the original fairy tale in some wonderful ways. Which of your updates do you like the best?

I think the update I enjoy most is when the princess pricks herself on her crown. It’s a moment people don’t expect, and sometimes we can hear the [audience’s] surprise from backstage, behind the puppets. When I chose to do a version of Sleeping Beauty, I had to address the parent-child relationship—specifically the relationship between the fear all parents have because they don’t want anything to happen to their children, and the children’s inherent curiosity about the world. How do you deal with these feelings that are both so real and at times so contradictory? That’s the question I’d like the audience to discuss after seeing the piece.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Shining Light into Dark Corners—Q&A with Simon Stephens

by Alicia Dhyana House

Hattie Morahan and Dominic Rowan. Photo: Johan Persson
English playwright Simon Stephens had never written a new version of a classic play until this Young Vic production of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, at the BAM Harvey from Feb 21 to Mar 16. His plays include Bluebird, Motortown, Harper Reagan, and Three Kingdoms. Both On the Shore of the Wide World and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time won the prestigious Olivier Award for Best New Play.

How did this project come to be?

I was asked to do a new version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House by Carrie Cracknell, the play’s director, and David Lan, the Young Vic’s artistic director in the immediate wake of my version of Norwegian poet and dramatist Jon Fosse’s I am the Wind in 2011. The decision to revive A Doll’s House and to re-interrogate it came from two completely different positions, one of which was conversations between David Lan and Jon Fosse. Fosse is largely considered to be one of Europe’s leading living playwrights. In his conversations with Lan, he said that A Doll’s House has been widely misinterpreted as a feminist text by Anglo-Saxon theater practitioners, it was never Ibsen’s intention for the play to be perceived as being feminist, and that productions in Norway and Scandinavia are never staged as being a feminist text. Rather, it is a play about cruelty, about isolation, and about a character’s search for a sensible sense of self. It’s like an early text of existentialism rather than a text of feminism. And I thought that was a very bracing and provocative idea.

And then the second completely contradictory impulse to that was from director Carrie Cracknell for whom the arguments in the play concerning the autonomy of women, the authenticity of the female voice, and the oppressive nature of patriarchy, now 130 years after the play’s first production, remain as hot and urgent as ever—that we still operate within a patriarchy, that women are still marginalized, and that women still lack agency in their contemporary culture. So those two starting points—one denying it as a feminist play and one celebrating it as a feminist play—I found completely intriguing and very much wanted to interrogate.

In adapting this iconic classic what was your intention in how you were going to approach it? And did your approach shift during the process?

There is a tiny semantic point I’d like to make which is that the play is a version by me and not an adaptation. In terms of the text, structure, characters, and the story, it’s tremendously familiar. I have not done anything radical at all. I went into the play with the intention of doing something explosively radical and alarming. I was drawn to the notion by Ibsen’s major English language biographer Michael Meyer celebrating the cubist nature of the play. I was really drawn to unpicking that, but the more I worked on the play, the more I found I didn’t need to deconstruct it—that the structure itself was robust and radical. All I needed to do was find a language that felt present day without being idiomatic, that felt actable without being jargonistic. I didn’t want to resort to slang. I didn’t want to resort to contemporary idiom. I just wanted to create an actable language, something that was immediate and active. My work on it was exclusively linguistic. I tried to find a dialogue that actors could get their teeth into. I cut a thousand words. It’s leaner than most versions. It’s sharp. But actually it is a tremendously loyal version.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

#Leargram, a visual King Lear on Instagram

2014 is the Year of Lear, what with our run of Chichester Festival Theatre’s King Lear starring Frank Langella earlier this year, Theatre For a New Audience’s upcoming production directed by Arin Arbus, opening in March, and the Public Theater's recently-announced Shakespeare in the Park production this summer with John Lithgow as Lear. We see King Lear references everywhere, and would like YOU to help us capture a visual Lear using Instagram!

How to participate:

Every morning we will post a new quote from King Lear to inspire your ‘gramming for the day. The quotes will be posted below, and via the BAM (@BAM_Brooklyn) and Theatre For a New Audience (@TheatreForaNewA) Twitter and Instagram feeds. The contest runs from Wed, Jan 29 through Wed, Feb 25 at midnight.

You may post as many photos (and/or videos!) as you like inspired by each quote—feel free to be as literal or interpretive as you like, and don’t forget the #Leargram hashtag. Creativity and originality are encouraged! No prior knowledge of the play required.

We will pick two winners every Wednesday in February (Feb 5, 12, 19, and 26), and one will go on to be the grand prize winner to be announced the first week in March.

Billy Budd: Britten’s Musical Morality Play

by Paul Crabtree

Photo: Alastair Muir, courtesy Glyndebourne Festival Opera
At the beginning of his career in the early 1930s, two decades before composing Billy Budd, Benjamin Britten collaborated on documentary films as a regular contributor to the government financed General Post Office Film Unit. Britten provided each short GPO documentary with a soundtrack to "sell" the scene, to intensify the emotional content, to confirm or contradict the meaning of the image, and to add impact to the events and characters.

Night Mail (1936), a promotion for the London to Scotland mail train, pairs WH Auden’s spoken rhythmic poetry with Britten’s musical evocation of the steam locomotive tearing up the track to its destination. Britten’s mail train comes alive with its whistles and its rickety rhythmic drive, a perfect accompaniment to the visual image and poetry.

Britten’s other early compositional output is a pleasant and innovative mix of concert and Gebrauchsmusik for an inter-war audience, and it wasn’t until Peter Grimes (opus 33, 1945) that he was encouraged to display so consistently the genius for mimetic and evocative music that his experience in film music promised.

This first opera is full of the sounds of a small fishing village, its seascape, its work songs, its religious life. Building upon his skills as a naturalistic musical narrator, it expertly stylizes the sounds of a close-knit coastal community. It is also made all the more intense because the plot is obliquely autobiographical.

While the Sadler’s Wells premiere was an indisputable triumph, the company was not pleased that its first peacetime opera was by a 31-year-old homosexual pacifist. Eager to cash in on the success, and putting art ahead of political scruples, the Royal Opera House gave performances in 1947, and then in 1950 offered Britten a commission for a new opera. Billy Budd (1951) is another equally self-revealing and even larger scale work. (The original four acts were reduced to two in 1960.)

Monday, January 27, 2014

BAMfans Closing Night Party for Green Porno

BAMfans with The Bosco photo booth. (Photo: Elena Olivo)
Saturday night, as Isabella Rossellini was detailing the myriad ways the animal kingdom “makes love” in her one-woman show Green Porno, the Special Events team was busy preparing the after-party for the show’s closing night. In addition to celebrating the show’s successful run, the party celebrated BAM members in their 20s and 30s at the annual BAMfans party!

More on the night after the jump. And be sure to check out all of The Bosco photos!

The Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute Breakfast

The Christian Cultural Center Choir. (Photo: Elena Olivo)
On Monday morning, the building was abuzz for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute breakfast, an annual BAM event and the prelude to the largest celebration of Dr. King in New York City. The main lobby was packed well before the event began, and the energy was positive and celebratory. When 9AM rolled around, the crowd headed to the Lepercq Space to sit down to a buffet breakfast.

During the breakfast, remarks were given by BAM President Karen Hopkins; Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams; Target District Team Leader Kevin Bryant; Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer; 35th District Brooklyn Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo; Assemblyman Walter Mosley and more.

Keep reading for more on the breakfast reception and Tribute!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

10 Years of Eating, Drinking & Being Literary

Photo: Beowulf Sheehan
by David Hsieh

Any good host knows the secret to a great dinner party is to invite guests who can bring intelligent conversation, often the most hard-to-find gift. No wonder BAM’s Eat, Drink & Be Literary series has been such a success. With professionally prepared food, unlimited wine, and authors as renowned and diverse as Joyce Carol Oates, Edmund White, Gary Shteyngart, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Ha Jin discussing their inspirations with lively moderators, all ingredients point to an enriching evening.

But when it started nine years ago, neither BAM nor the National Book Foundation, BAM's partner in this program, was entirely sure the format would work, as Suzanne Youngerman, former director of BAM Education & Humanities, recalled in a recent conversation. “We wanted to utilize the café space we had, and also to take advantage of the burgeoning Brooklyn literary scene. But we didn’t know what to expect.”

BAM found a willing and capable partner in NBF. As the presenter of the country’s foremost book award, the National Book Award, it had always conducted literary events, including the “Gold Medal Tour” in which all four award winners go on a national tour. But “we were looking to reinvent the book reading format,” said Leslie Shipman, its director of programs. “The picture of going out for a nice dinner, with a glass of wine in hand, and listening to authors discuss their work just seemed to be a lovely idea,” she said recently.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Toasting Lear: The Young Producer’s Benefit

Photo: Elena Olivo
On the night of January 15, BAM celebrated the opening of Chichester Festival Theatre's lauded production of King Lear at the Harvey Theater, directed by Angus Jackson. The Young Producers, a group of young professionals who make up one of BAM's newest and most forward-thinking patron programs, celebrated as well. And it did so in style: the annual Young Producer's Benefit was a sleek, wine- and food-filled party with the cast and crew.

The night began with a performance of King Lear, starring Tony Award winner and Academy Award nominee Frank Langella as the mad king and disgraced patriarch, one of the most coveted roles in theater. Moments after the actors took their bows, the crowd flooded into the Campbell Lobby for a special post-show reception. The cast and crew joined the celebration, with an English-themed food spread—complete with mini shepherd pies and single servings of fish and chips. In addition, Brooklyn Gin designed a specially themed cocktail for the night, and the lobby was lushly decorated by Bella Meyer and the design team at Fleurs Bella.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Top Ten BAM Blog Posts of 2013

By Robert Wood

Carl Einhorn and Karen Weiss in Paradise Now, Living Theatre, 1968.
Photo: Kenneth L. McLaren

For most respectable publications, the window for posting 2013-related top 10 lists closed a few weeks ago. But any blog representing the "home of adventurous artists, audiences, and ideas" is obligated to flout journalistic convention. Besides, the year would feel incomplete without at least a cursory look back at our year in self-publishing, so here, without further ado, are our top 10 most popular posts from 2013.

10. King of New York: Remembering Lou Reed at BAM

As we implied above, BAM has always committed to being a home for adventurous artists, and never has that mission excluded the chain-smoking, poker-faced, proto-punk-innovator set. Lou Reed, who died in October of last year and who performed at BAM frequently throughout the 90s, was an important part of that pantheon. Susan Yung remembered Reed in this lovely piece.

9. John Cassavetes: Criminal Minded

What’s cooler than being a pioneering director of American independent film? Being a pioneering director of American independent film who also steals people’s sweaters. Critic Pauline Kael had it coming, according to John Cassavetes, who was the subject of a retrospective at BAMcinématek in July. BAM’s own Nate Gelgud recreated the director’s sleight-of-hand vengeance in this comic.

8. BAM Illustrated: John Turturro Mid '80s Hat Trick

It’s John Turturro’s own fault that he’ll always be known as “The Jesus.” That’s what happens when you lick a bowling ball while wearing a purple onesie and it’s all caught on film. If Turturro’s other roles with the Coen Brothers—and to a large extent, Spike Lee as well—were no less iconic, they also overshadowed lesser known but equally fantastic turns in '80s films from Woody Allen, Susan Seidelman, and William Friedkin. BAM illustrator Nate Gelgud paid homage to these underrated roles in conjunction with Turturro’s stint in Ibsen’s The Master Builder.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

NYC Porno


This week, Isabella Rossellini continues her one-woman monologue, Green Porno, about the fascinating and sometimes surprising mating rituals of animals, insects, and sea creatures. Inspired by her enthusiasm and our own love of animals, we at the BAM blog decided to look into the sexual antics of some of our local New York City fauna—critters we encounter (and in some cases, dread) on a regular basis.

Our NYC Porno is more Prospect Park than 1980s Times Square, and 100% safe for work, though you may never look at an adorable little French Bulldog in the same way.

If I were a pigeon...
  • If I were a male, I’d bring my mate one stick, laying it in front of her, and she'd accept the stick. We'd repeat this, and build our nest.
  • In courtship, I would strut around a prospective mate, and if a female approved, she’d put her beak inside mine.
  • I would have no external sex organs, which makes it difficult to tell whether I’m male or female. During sex, I would ejaculate very quickly.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Happy Birthday, José James

We were lucky to have jazz crooner José James as one of the musical guests at BAM's annual Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a lively celebration of the great man that also featured remarks by activist Angela Davis, a surprise appearance by "Brooklyn Bill" DeBlasio and his wife Chirlane, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in rare form as MC, and others. It just so happens that James, who finished off his set with a lovely slow-rolling arrangement of Sam Cooke's anthem "Change Is Gonna Come," turns 36 today as well. Happy birthday, velvet-voiced one!


Thursday, January 16, 2014

In Context: Green Porno

Green Porno runs at the BAM Fisher through January 25. Context is everything, so get even closer to Isabella Rossellini's kinky beasts and bugs in this curated selection of articles, audio, and video related to the show. For those of you who've already seen it, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Billy Budd—The Far-Shining Sail

by Marina Harss

Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

In January 1949, Benjamin Britten, librettist Eric Crozier, and novelist EM Forster met at Britten’s home in Aldeburgh, on the Suffolk coast, to discuss ideas for a new opera, based on Herman Melville’s novella Billy Budd. “Ben made a rough drawing of what he thought a three-masted schooner was like, going by what Melville had written,” Crozier recalled in a recent documentary. “That was the exact genesis of the opera.” The battleship, HMS Indomitable, with its various decks, cramped quarters, and maze of public and private spaces, contains the whole world of Billy Budd. It is a world of men; the absence of the fairer sex is striking. (Treble voices are supplied by kids playing the “powder-monkeys,” boys who carried gunpowder on warships.)

The Indomitable is a “seventy-four” (a ship with 74 guns), engaged in Britain’s wars against revolutionary France. The year is 1797. As the action begins, the men near enemy waters; tension is high, not only due to of the imminence of battle but also because of recent mutinies on Royal Navy ships (inspired, in part, by radical ideas from France). The naval officers keep a close watch, ready to sniff out the slightest hint of rebellion among the men. “Life’s not all play on a man-of-war,” an officer gruffly reminds them, whip at the ready, as they scrub the deck with holystones. The sailors moan their discontent in the haunting, chant-like chorus, “O heave, O heave away, O heave.” The sense of compulsion and cruelty is as heavy as their lament.

In Context: Billy Budd

Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
Billy Budd runs at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House from February 7—13. Context is everything, so get even closer to Glyndebourne Festival Opera's spectacular production with this curated selection of articles, videos, and original blog pieces related to the show. For those of you who've already seen it, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

In Context: King Lear

Photo: Johan Persson

King Lear runs at the BAM Harvey Theater through February 9. Context is everything, so get even closer to Frank Langella and the rest of the production with this curated selection of articles, videos, and original blog pieces related to the show. For those of you who've already seen it, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below.

BAM Blog Questionnaire: A Peek at The Pop Ups

by Jessica Goldschmidt

In preparation for this Saturday's BAMkids performance, Brooklyn "kindie" rocker Jacob Stein (half of the Grammy-nominated duo The Pop Ups) offers up a little insight into the band's clever lyrics, sparkling melodies, and groovin' drum lines (not to mention The Pop Ups' passion for Silver Glitter crayons and the guiding light that is Prince).

What are some of The Pop Ups  biggest musical influences?

We listen to a lot of 80s dance music, Prince, Chromeo, Paul Simon, loved that recent Daft Punk album, and early 90s hip-hop.

You talk a lot about color in your song “Box of Crayons.” What three colors would you use to describe your music?

Jason, who sings the song, is actually color blind, so it's quite an adventure figuring out what colors are what! That said, I'd have to go with Deep Purple, Silver Glitter, and Hot Hot Pink.

Friday, January 3, 2014

On Langella's Lear

by Brian Scott Lipton

Chu Omambala and Frank Langella. Photo: Johan Persson

It’s long been a truism in theatrical circles that every actor of a certain age considers his career
incomplete until he has played the title role in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Without question, the
Bard’s proud monarch is a banquet for every seasoned thespian to feast on. Now, Tony Award
winner Frank Langella tackles the role.

Similarly, many a great director, from John Houseman to Jonathan Miller, has put his own stamp on Lear. Now, Angus Jackson takes his turn with this classic play. His production arrives at the BAM Harvey Theater on January 7 for a five-week run after a month-long stint at England’s Chichester Festival.

“Angus Jackson’s excellent production becomes the theatrical equivalent of a pressure cooker, scalding in its intensity,” writes Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph. “Throughout, the play emerges with clarity and insight as well as dramatic power.”

“It’s a play I always admired, and connected with emotionally, from the first time I saw it with Robert Stephens at the Royal Shakespeare Company when I was a teenager. I even remember the standing ovation,” says Jackson. “Then, a few years ago I did a production of Bingo by Edward Bond at the Young Vic with Patrick Stewart. That play is a bit of a riff on Lear and I did a lot of research on Lear while doing it. It got me thinking about the themes of the play, especially how people abuse their power and then injustice occurs. Plus, I love these dark, epic plays with these very compromised characters whose fortunes keep changing. It’s like a roller-coaster ride.”