American Theatre “The Americans Are Coming”

Yankee groups of different sizes and aesthetics find more than one way to reach international destinations

By Eliza Bent

Why aren’t more American plays seen abroad? “Travel,” Mark Twain once remarked, “is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness”—and certainly we theatre folk are an open-minded bunch. Shouldn’t it stand to reason that we’d be eager to share our work with international audiences?

Though a number of American theatres produce plays in translation or host artists from other continents, relatively few U.S. productions are seen these days outside our borders. The reasons are varied, ranging from scant arts funding in the U.S., to extra visa red tape following 9/11, to a sense of theatrical isolationism that may be related to larger trends in international relations. (Only 37 percent of all Americans hold passports.) Certainly, recent administrations have had more pressing political and economic crises to deal with than the scarcity of U.S. theatre’s presence abroad.

There are exceptions, of course. Broadway musicals crop up across the world as a particularly American kind of entertainment, and heavy-hitting contemporary playwrights such as Edward Albee and Sam Shepard receive productions in translation around the world. But the dearth of contemporary American plays done on foreign soil remains as stubborn a fact as the disparity between the slim budgets of U.S. arts funding and their more ample counterparts in Europe.

Funding issues aside, the challenges for artists interested in presenting work in other countries can seem insurmountable: visa issues, coordinating schedules, shipping hurdles, actor availability and language barriers all pose difficulties. When theatre artists stateside do take homegrown work abroad—to festivals, partnering theatres or on tour—their paths around these obstacles vary greatly. I spoke with representatives from several companies, ranging from small experimental collectives to large flagship institutions, to find out how they have overcome both ideological and practical barriers and discovered ways to share their made-in-America art with the rest of the world.

Following in the footsteps of such avant-garde forebears as the Wooster Group and Mabou Mines, two New York City groups—Elevator Repair Service and Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company—have joined the small cohort that has successfully tapped into the European festival circuit. Split Knuckle Theatre, a performance troupe based in Storrs, Conn., and New York, found an unlikely patron in the international business community. The irreverentDad’s Garage of Atlanta looks to fringe festivals throughout the world to showcase its comedy pieces. And two of the nation’s most storied institutions, the Guthrie Theater of Minneapolis and Berkeley Repertory Theatre of California, found success in partnering with a British theatre to bring their co-production of Tiny Kushnerabroad.

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LA Times “Boulevard Bard”

Salty Shakespeare stages surprise performances in public, taking classics to the Venice boardwalk, the City Hall lawn — even jail (after arrest, no less).

When Shakespeare declared that “all the world’s a stage,” Nancy Linehan Charles missed the metaphor. She thought he meant it literally.

So for the last six months, she’s been taking Shakespeare to the streets, malls, buildings and beaches of Los Angeles — in pseudo-spontaneous, “flash mob”-style performances. But instead of a crowd breaking into “Thriller” on a New York City subway platform, imagine an edited, streetwise version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on the Venice Beach boardwalk.

The comedy was the debut performance of Salty Shakespeare, a ragtag, unpaid troupe of working actors under Linehan Charles’ direction who spend their free time making “like Hansel and Gretel,” as she likes to say — dropping Shakespearean bread crumbs all over Los Angeles.

The company has whispered scenes from “Hamlet” in the elevators of downtown high-rises; shouted politically trenchant lines from “Julius Caesar” and “Coriolanus” at the Occupy L.A. protest; performed for students at Santa Monica College; and even sprung a monologue from “Henry IV” on an unprepared reporter at a Barnes & Noble cafe.

Police have intervened on more than one occasion, but their involvement seems to embolden rather than deter Salty Shakespeare’s group of committed, mostly young actors. They’re fighting, Linehan Charles says, for the survival of theater itself.

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NPR Interview for Alice in Wonderland continues this Week at Binghamton University


Gregory Keeler

(Binghamton, NY) – ‘Follow the white rabbit’ and you shall find yourself at the production of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ – Binghamton University Department of Theatre: Adapted and devised by Michael F. Toomey and Students of BU Department of Theatre.

Students led by faculty member Michael Toomey spent the Fall 2011 semester studying classics such as ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Through The Looking Glass’ by Charles L. Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll. The group harnessed inspiration taken from the countless works of art (paintings, sculptures, films, poetry), public tributes to the story (restaurants, gardens etc.), research on the Author (his creative process, era, related works) ; all of this bringing together a truly unique theatre experience you won’t want to miss. This team of 27 not only devised a script, but composed original scores, recorded the music, designed and built the scene from this work of the imagination.

The story of ‘Alice’ holds a special place in so many of our hearts  – this is a prime example of how a work of art reaches across multiple generations and TRULY is timeless.  This production welcomes all audiences – comparable to a PG rated film.  Tickets will go quickly, so get yours as soon as possible!

Boston Globe

Stranded in an icy wasteland, their ship wrecked, supplies running out, morale perilously low: Split Knuckle Theatre’s “Endurance” compares corporate workers in today’s America to the men of a famously harrowing 1914-16 Antarctic expedition. Sounds about right.

But the play, now onstage at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, finds hope in the example of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who led his crew to survival against staggering odds.

“He said, ‘Optimism is true moral courage,’ ” says Greg Webster, who plays Shackleton and is also the New York-based company’s artistic director. “I am an Irish Catholic, glass-half-empty kind of guy. So to transform myself into someone who is always looking on the bright side of life was an incredible learning curve for me.”

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