Sunday, January 25, 2009

Leap before We Look: Kaiju Big Battel

At Playlab NYC we recognize like-minded artists when we see them. In that spirit we present Leap Before We Look. Wherein we blindly endorse a theatrical event right up our alley without seeing it first.

Kaiju Big Battel

Created by Studio Kaiju in 1996, Kaiju Big Battel (the misspelling is intentional) is part Japanese style men-in-rubber-monster-suits and part Mexican wrestling. Masterminded by Rand Borden and David Borden, former students of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Big Battel is a multimedia extravaganza that encompasses comics, DVDs, toys, and full-scale wrestling matches.

For a taste of the Kaiju Big Battel take a look at this contest between
Robox and Kung Fu Chicken Noodle on You Tube, or one of their most popular villains Dr. Cube.

Check ‘em out when they come to your town.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

What We Eat: Tiny Ninja Theatre

Welcome to What We Eat where we take a look at the books, movies, and plays that have influenced the direction of Playlab NYC.

Tiny Ninja Theatre Presents:
Romeo and Juliet

Chris Head and Melanie Hipchikz as Romeo & Juliet (promotional poster)

You are moving into a land of between classic drama and found object puppetry. You've just crossed over into...Tiny Ninja Theatre.

Armed with the company’s motto of “There are no small parts only small actors” founder and puppeteer Dov Weinstein uses miniature plastic toys to present forty-five minute versions of some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays.

Founded in 1999 Tiny Ninja Theatre made its debut with Macbeth at the 2000 NYC International Fringe Festival. In the nearly ten years since then Weinstein has added Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet to the troupe’s repertory. Tiny Ninja Theatre has also created a backlog of original shows as well including A Brief History of D.U.M.B.O. and The Effects of Nuclear War, and they have presented their performances all over the world.

A couple years ago I had tried to get tickets for a Tiny Ninja performance of Hamlet at PS 122, but the show had already sold out. I was finally able to check out Tiny Ninja Theatre last week, when 92Y Tribeca presented Romeo and Juliet. Located at 200 Hudson Street in New York City, 92YTribeca is the 92nd Street Y's new arts and entertainment venue.

Entering the playing area dressed entirely in white, Dov Weinstein leads a cast of not only tiny ninjas but an “assorted dime store figures” as well. A good puppeteer, Weinstein invests his performing objects with life by giving them total focus. He absorbs himself in the figures, like a child playing with his toys except with much better diction. It is difficult enough to clearly speak Shakespeare’s lines, but the performer makes it even more challenging by taking on 18 speaking parts himself.

There is a lot of wit to be found in the staging. The prince addresses the crowd from on high perched on the visor of a baseball cap. Outside Juliet’s balcony is a grove of trees made up of green plastic forks and spoons. The apothecary is a skeleton key chain, an obvious figure of death that got a laugh. Weinstein indulges in some pop culture short hand. The audience knows that the prince is ineffectual because he speaks with Elmer Fudd’s voice, just as they can tell Tybalt is a bad ass because a tiny figure of Bruce Lee takes the part.

I was startled by how low tech the show was. While the performance is very polished it maintains its low-tech charm, shunning a service gloss that would be easy to achieve after so many years of performance. White boxes suggest the different locals, sometimes opening up to reveal miniature sets contained inside. The unveiling of the Capulet’s disco ballroom yielded applause the night I attended. Each box is self-contained with doubles and triples of each of the cast members, allowing for quick transitions and a minimum of misplaced actors.

What surprised me was the lack of camp. Romero’s meeting of Juliet’s at the Capulet’s party is tender and intimate. When Romeo discovers Juliet in the crypt Weinstein cups a jewelry box with her body in his own hand and takes on Romeo’s role drinking the poison from a cup. Like all children at play the performance is very earnest.

I still want to see the Tiny Ninja cast in Hamlet though.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

In the Works: Loss of Breath

As we prepared Playlab NYC’s Loss of Breath application for the New York International Fringe Festival, Jennifer and I thought it was a good opportunity to sit down and hear the most recent draft.

If you have browsed out website at all you no doubt are aware that back in April of last year we had a two week workshop of Loss of Breath. For two weeks Todd Courson, John Pieza and I took the script apart and began the work of putting it back together again. Armed with Kenn Adams “How to Improvise a Full-Length Play,” Jeremy Whelan’s Tape Technique, and John Wright excellent clowning book, “Why Is That So Funny?” the three of us went back to Poe’s original short story. Using these improv and clown techniques we stripped the story down to its skeleton, allowing me to see which of the actions in the text were superfluous to the story of the play.

After two very productive weeks, I spent the next five months going over what I had learned. In October I had finished a new draft of the show, and decided we should work toward inclusion in the 2009 NYC Fringe.

Wishing to hear this new draft with fresh ears, this past Thursday Jennifer and I met with Jonathan Wiener and Bob Stack. If you saw the Playlab NYC production of The Tempest at Socrates Sculpture Park in June then I don’t need to tell you too much about Jonathan and Bob. Jonathan and Bob as Trinculo and Stephano did a lot of The Tempests’ comic heavy lifting. They had such wonderful chemistry together that I was eager to hear what they brought to the piece.

A casual environment with friends, the four of us sat around a table listening to this new draft. Needless to say the reading went well. I am thankful to Bob and Jonathan for taking time to sit down with us again. We are proceeding with our application. Keep your fingers crossed and check back again for more updates.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Adaptive Theatricality

Playlab NYC’s attempt to get © up this last fall might have been a bust, but working with Kevin and Jennifer on the project has gotten me so fired up to explore derivative works of art, such as mash-ups, fan-fiction and parody that I have started a blog called ADAPTIVE THEATRICALITY.

I started work on it in November when it became clear that our show had fallen apart. The first few entries are cannibalized pieces that Playlab NYC has already posted. But I've stolen as much writing as I can, and I am filled with ideas that I want to tackle in the new year.

In addition to exploring the concepts like mash-ups and fan-fiction, ADAPTIVE THEATRICALITY will discuss issues and ideas related to translating a work from one artistic medium (e.g., novel, painting, poem) into another form, such as a film or a stage play. I want to keep the focus on theater as much as I can, but I know that I will often end up straying into movies as well.

Like anyone who starts a blog, I am putting this together out of love. I love multiple versions of works of art. I am the reason that you can buy a box set with five different versions of Blade Runner. I am the sort of person who is excited by the fact that not only can you read Nabokov's Lolita, but you can see the Kubrick movie, the Adrian Lyne movie, read Nabokov's screenplay, read Edward Albee's play, and take a look at The Enchanter which is a sort of first draft of Nabokov's famous novel.

Tasha Robinson created a column called "Book vs. Film" on the AV Club website. She describes the posts on the AV Club Blog as "a column comparing books to the film adaptations they spawn, often discussing them on a plot-point-by-plot-point basis. This column is meant largely for people who’ve already been through one version, and want to know how the other compares."

I am just the nerd for whom she was writing. However I have become frustrated by the basic compare and contrast approach she takes. I believe that adaptations have so much more to tell us. Adaptations can teach us about the needs a various art forms, a book's needs versus a play's needs. They can teach us about the time period in which the adaptation was created. What does the 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers tell us about the 1950's, or what does 1993's Body Snatchers reveal about the presidency of Bush the First?

I also hope to explore adaptations of the same work, for different purposes, e.g., to work with a smaller cast, in a smaller venue (or on the road), or for a different audience (such as adapting a story for children). Such as the various versions of Frank Wildhorn's Scarlet Pimpernel musical, or Tim Rice's Chess.

I hope that you will check in from time to time, and I hope you will find something of interest.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Road Ahead: 2009

2008 was perhaps not the year to create a new theater company. It seems that everyone is struggling to raise money, and given the economic environment out there no one is donating. A month hasn’t gone by that I haven’t read about another theater company going bankrupt.

In spite of the tough times, Playlab NYC has had some success during our first year. We were able to put together a two-week workshop of Loss of Breath back in March. That our first toe in the water was so productive is due in no small part to the efforts of John Pieza and Todd Courson.

In June we mounted our very first production. The Tempest was presented on Father’s Day weekend at Socrates Sculpture Park. Considering the rain and the heat we attracted good crowds at all three performances, and I look forward to having the opportunity to work with the cast and our director again.

We learned a lot this past year as well, about fundraising, marketing, producing, and much more. Our only disappointment has been in our thwarted efforts to produce our second show, ©. Artistically things were shaping up to be a fun evening skirting intellectual property law, but without the money to rent a venue the show had to be postponed.

Looking ahead to 2009, Playlab NYC is going to pick itself up and push ahead. If we need to be a theater company that is only producing one show a year then that show is going to be the best production that we can put together. We will redouble our efforts to building a company that produces quality shows in line with our desire to bring a spirit of play to artists and audiences.
Based on our Loss of Breath workshop last spring, a new draft of the script was completed in October. This month we are looking forward to sitting down and hearing a reading of this new draft. Playlab NYC is putting together an application for The New York International Fringe Festival. We will know more in spring, but we are looking forward to getting Mr. Lackobreath in front of an audience in 2009.

Taking a page from Theater on a Tabletop by Kuang-Yu Fong and Stephen Kaplin, we are looking toward embracing puppetry for small spaces. “Working small is not the same as thinking small.” By working small we hope to create some imaginative productions in 2009 and beyond, including a new tabletop presentation of The Tempest, and a resurrected ©.

I hope that we will see you around in 2009.