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Thursday, March 31, 2016

In Context: Les Fêtes Vénitiennes

Legendary conductor William Christie and his acclaimed early-music ensemble Les Arts Florissants explore the hedonistic side of the French Baroque with Les Fêtes Vénitiennes, a rarely staged opéra-ballet by André Campra. Context is everything, so get even closer to the show with this curated selection of related articles, interviews, and videos. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought below and by posting on social media using #LesFêtesVénitiennes.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Mask Is Mine

Photo courtesy Janus Films.

By Ashley Clark

Ousmane Sembène’s Black Girl (1966), based upon the director’s own short story, charts the fortunes of an optimistic young Senegalese woman, Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop), who leaves her nation’s capital of Dakar to work for a bourgeois white family in a small town adjacent to the picturesque French Riviera.

Widely considered the first-ever feature film made in Africa by a black African director, this absorbing 64-minute drama, shot in stark monochromatic tones, resonates equally as a vivid character study and an incisive commentary on the pernicious inequalities of postcolonial power relations between cultures. (Senegal became fully independent from France in 1960, six years before Black Girl, and three before Sembène’s debut short film, the equally unsentimental Borom Sarret, about the travails of a luckless wagoner. They screen together at BAMcinématek from May 18—24.) This postcolonial complexity is reflected in Black Girl’s production history: its hyper-critical screenplay was the only one ever rejected for production funding by the then-head of the French Ministry of Cooperation’s Bureau de Cinema—the key funding body for Francophone African cinema—on subject matter alone. Sembène invented the term “mégotage” (cigarette-butt cinema) to describe the lengths to which African filmmakers went to scrabble together budgets.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Wilde Again

L-R: Charlie Row, Rupert Everett, Cal MacAninch. Photo: Johan Persson
By Brian Scott Lipton

Life is full of second chances, even if we don’t always make the most of them. Take the case of the great Irish dramatist Oscar Wilde, whose reputation never quite recovered after his ill-conceived love affair with the young poet, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas. Or, conversely, take the renowned British playwright David Hare, whose very play on that subject, The Judas Kiss, received tepid reviews on Broadway in 1998, but which has been since revived to glorious reviews by director Neil Armfield and star Rupert Everett (whom the UK Telegraph says “was born to play Wilde”). This acclaimed production now comes to the BAM Harvey from May 11 through June 12. For BAMbill, I recently spoke to Hare about what inspired the work and what has changed over the past two decades.

What was your original inspiration for writing The Judas Kiss?

I’d admired Wilde since I was 10 years old. I tried to study him at university, but I was told by my Cambridge English literature supervisor that Wilde was not serious, and that if I wrote my final year dissertation on him, I would be a laughing stock. I ignored the advice. I never wanted to write biographical plays but I had always been fascinated by the question of why Wilde turned down the opportunity to run away and avoid prosecution. But I also loved the period of his life after prison when, in exile and with apparent perversity, he returned to the lover who had precipitated his downfall. I decided that making a play out of these two separate, apparently incomprehensible actions would be exciting.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

In Context: Henry V

A young king exercises his ambition in the RSC’s take on Shakespeare’s incisive drama Henry V. Context is everything, so get even closer to the show with this curated selection of related articles, interviews, and videos. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought below and by posting on social media using #KingandCountry.

In Context: Henry IV Parts I & II

Henry IV fends off rebellion, Falstaff cavorts at the tavern, and a crown is passed from father to son in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s take on Shakespeare's epic two-part play Henry IV, featuring Antony Sher and Alex Hassell. Context is everything, so get even closer to the show with this curated selection of related articles, interviews, and videos. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought below and by posting on social media using #KingandCountry.

In Context: Richard II

David Tennant (Doctor Who, Broadchurch) makes his US stage debut as the ineffectual king in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s masterful take on Shakespeare’s Richard II, a study of squandered sovereignty. Context is everything, so get even closer to the show with this curated selection of related articles, interviews, and videos. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought below and by posting on social media using #KingandCountry.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

BAM Art Auction—Ready: look, click!

Daniel Heidkamp, Vapor world, 2016, oil on linen, 24"x15"
By Susan Yung

The 12th Annual BAM Art Auction will be held online March 16—31, in collaboration with Paddle8 and Bridget Donahue gallery. It’s the yearly opportunity to acquire some amazing contemporary art from a roster of more than 100 artworks, curated with BAM audiences in mind. Proceeds benefit the institution and its myriad programs which range from performances on the big stages; art exhibitions; repertory films and first releases; shows for kids; literary events and classes, and more. The artworks can be viewed and bid on at beginning March 16; the collection will be on view at Bridget Donahue at 99 Bowery from March 29—31, with a closing party on the 31st.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

RadioLoveFest Retrospective

by Anna Troester

RadioLoveFest, a multi-day festival co-produced by BAM and WNYC, celebrates public radio and its community of fans. Beloved programs like Wait, Wait... Don’t Tell Me! and The Moth Radio Hour are presented live at BAM. The festival showcases familiar programs, hosts, and celebrity guests in a theater setting that invites new opportunities and surprises. It returns to BAM for its third year March 10—12, and in anticipation of this year’s lineup, let’s revisit highlights from RadioLoveFests past.

For the inaugural RadioLoveFest in June 2014, the radio programs explored the possibilities of a new format—performance for live audience. Ira Glass and This American Life created an evening of journalism presented as radio drama. Exemplifying this endeavor, Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, In the Heights) performed in his original 14-minute work, 21 Chump Street: The Musical, inspired by a piece of reporting on a high school student who fell in love with an undercover cop.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Folger Gems

During King and Country: Shakespeare’s Great Cycle of Kings, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s repertory run at the BAM Harvey from March 24—May 1, audiences are in for a treat—rare and ancient artifacts from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC will be on display in the Harvey lobby, including two quartos and two promptbooks. Viewers will also see a video and visual history of Shakespeare performed at BAM through the ages, focusing on the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Macbeth annotated promptbook, courtesy Folger Library and Museum.
By James Shapiro

Coming to the Harvey: Rare Shakespeare Quartos and Promptbooks 

Think of a Shakespeare quarto as an inexpensive paperback. It’s called a quarto because the sheet of paper on which it was printed was folded in half, then folded in half again, producing eight pages (four double-sided leaves). Limited to print runs of a thousand or so, Elizabethan quartos were sold unbound and quickly read out of existence. Few have survived: the first of two extant copies of the 1603 quarto of Hamlet was only rediscovered in 1823 and it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the sole surviving copy of the first quarto of Titus Andronicus was found in the home of a Swedish postal clerk.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Graphic Details: 150 Years of BAM Visual Identity

Image: Detail of the BAM 1995 Next Wave Festival brochure, designed by Michael Bierut

How do you make one thing speak for a place that does many things? And how often should that thing change throughout the course of 29 presidential administrations, two world wars, and the advent of live tweeting?

Most importantly, should it have serifs?

From the 1860s until the 1970s, the BAM visual identity was a motley assortment of styles reflecting shifting zeitgeists and programming. Letterpressed broadsides and hand-drawn invitations for the Civil War years. Civilized neoclassicism for the genteel interwar period. Modernist typeface mashups for the era of Sputnik. In the 1970s, the identity became more focused with the creation of a new logo. In the 1980s, artists and designers like Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, and Massimo Vignelli offered their creative twists.

But it was in 1995 that famed Pentagram designer Michael Bierut developed the iconic BAM identity that persists today today: the News Gothic typeface, blown up to big scale, and cropped in various creative ways. Enjoy this tour of pre-Bierut BAM visual design, together with a closer look at the way designers have kept his original conception alive into the present.

Campra's Festive Prologues & Entrées

Photo: Vincent Pontet
By Christopher Corwin

Before William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed the Paris Opera’s production of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Atys to BAM for the first time in 1989 (it returned with Opéra Comique’s production in 1992 and 2011), those in the US curious about French Baroque opera had to be content with a handful of recordings, as live performances were few. LAF’s visits have since revealed further gems from this late-17th to early-18th century repertoire by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Jean-Philippe Rameau. In April the group returns to the Howard Gilman Opera House for three performances of a well-known, yet rarely performed work from that era, André Campra’s Les Fêtes Vénitiennes, in a production by Opéra Comique.

Opera as an art form began to first coalesce in Italy in the late 16th century; the French had a later start. Pomone by Robert Cambert, considered the first French opera, appeared only in 1671. But soon Lully established its proscribed form—the tragédie en musique, a complex five-act musical drama proceeded by a mythological prologue. The opera’s serious dramatic action, however, was regularly interrupted by divertissements, extended “entertainments” that were often pastoral in nature.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Brooklyn Before BAM: Whitman Weighs In

Walt Whitman courtesy of the Brady-Handy Photograph Collection,
Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress
by Sarah Gentile

Brooklyn native Walt Whitman is one America's best-known poets. His words often inspire modern artists, as they did for BAM's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry music festival in 2012 and 2013. A comprehensive Whitman resource,, contains "the veracious pen-jottings" of Whitman—not just about early Brooklyn, but on the Brooklyn Academy of Music not a year after it opened in 1861.

Whitman wrote for a number of Brooklyn newspapers, including the Brooklyn Standard. In late 1861 and early 1862, Whitman penned a series of nostalgic pieces entitled Brooklyniana, telling readers about the olden days. For the eighth article in the series, Whitman details what life was like before the establishment of the Academy's more formal spectacles. During the cold winters, Whitman recalls the "…'frolics', balls, sleigh rides" of yesteryear. In later years, Whitman was able to enjoy more sophisticated entertainment thanks to the new Academy, like the 1870 opera production of Poliuto starring the famous soprano Clara Louisa Kellogg.

The scholars behind the Walt Whitman Archive were able to update their research on Whitman based on the new identification we at the BAM Hamm Archives provided for a revised footnote to this article. This new insight into Brooklyn life pre-dating BAM, and other discoveries of BAM's rich history, are currently being catalogued for the soon-to-launch BAM Digital Archives, a project made possible by the generous support of the Leon Levy Foundation.

Advertisement in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1870.

Sarah Gentile is the Digital Project Archivist for the BAM Hamm Archives.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

In Context: RadioLoveFest

WNYC is back on stage at BAM for year three of RadioLoveFest, a multi-day festival running March 10—12. Context is everything, so get even closer to your favorites with this curated selection of related articles, interviews, and videos. For those of you who've already attended an event, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below and by posting on social media using #RadioLoveFest.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Shakespeare's Henriad

Nigel Lindsay, David Tennant in Richard II. Photo: Kwame Lestrade
By Christian Barclay

When Shakespeare began to write his second tetralogy of history plays in the late 1590s, Elizabeth I had ruled England for more than 30 years. Her golden age reign transformed the country and established it as the dominant economic and naval power of Europe. Britannia became the symbol of national pride—a personification of the ideals of an ever-expanding empire.

This fervor of nationalism was accompanied by the rise of the chronicle play, also known as a history play. These plays focused on events of the country’s past, often presenting them as allegories of power, rebellion, and atonement. Their authors capitalized on the national consciousness by producing works that imagined the inner lives of England’s storied monarchs.

Shakespeare’s 10 medieval history plays span a period from the late 14th century to the ascension of Henry VIII in 1485. In chronological order, these are King John; Richard II; Henry IV Parts 1 and 2; Henry V; Henry VI Parts 1, 2, and 3; Richard III; and Henry VIII. The epic cycle dramatizes five generations of dynastic power struggles, focusing largely on the tumultuous events of the Hundred Years War and the War of the Roses.