Category Archives: Upcoming Events to Consider

These posts discuss events that I’m considering attending.

Interactive/Immersive Theater

When Sleep No More opened in 2011 it presented New Yorkers with a new kind of theater experience, one in which we were expected to interact with the characters and the set, to build our own story, to choose our own adventure. I remember when I first visited the McKittrick Hotel I was baffled by the lack of dialogue and confused by the labyrinthian set. I felt like the piece failed to truly tell the story of Macbeth and I missed the familiarity of the dialogue. At the same time I was fascinated by the layers of detail evident in all aspects of the sets. I remember riffling through file cabinets in the psychiatrist’s office and finding hundreds of detailed case files. At times some of the rooms felt crowded and towards the end I wished we could sit down to watch the final dramatic death scene. Perhaps the most brilliant innovation by the theater company Punchdrunk were the masks. All audience members wear masks and this somehow makes the audience into part of the set; looking around you stop seeing the other audience members, they blend into the scenery. This gives each audience member the strange feeling that they are alone, that they are the only person watching this drama unfold. I loved that feeling. I remember it made me feel much more part of the play, and though this could be a frightening feeling it was also very exciting.

Photo of Sleep No More, borrowed from

Photo of Sleep No More, borrowed from

In the years since the opening I have heard many of my friends relate their experiences at the McKittrick Hotel. There has been a proliferation of guides to the show, which give you details on which characters to follow to witness certain key scenes. Some of my friends have gone multiple times so as to see the whole play from each possible perspective. I think the impossibility of doing this in a single visit is a real weakness for this sort of immersive theater. I think we are all burdened as audience members with a deep fear of missing out, something we do not usually cope with when it comes to theater. The fact that each member of the audience will have their own unique experience can also be positive- your experience is special. As immersive/interactive/exploratory theater goes I think Sleep No More remains the gold standard. The sets are exquisitely detailed and fun to play with; the acting is professional and the choreography beautiful. All this comes with a price tag- $120 per person, including no food or drink, but you can see where your money is going.

I have recently attended two other theater pieces that fit into the immersive/interactive category. Both had some of the same problems as Sleep No More and some of the same successes. Queen of the Night aims to be a very sexy sort of interactive theater. The actors flirt and touch and place audience members at the center of sexy dances. Plot is almost nonexistent in this piece but all of the circus performances are stunning. Their promo video gives you only a brief glimpse of the amazing tricks being performed on stage, and sometimes even on your table, but it does give you a taste for the atmosphere.

In this case individual experiences can be extremely different. My closest interaction with a performer was when one of them performed a sexy dance behind me while I watched, as instructed, via a fragment of mirror. On the other hand one of my friends was taken under the stage for a blind date with another audience member, moderated by several performers. Another friend was passionately kissed at the table just before dinner. The strangest experience I’ve heard of was that of an acquaintance who was taken back stage and directed to take a milk bath in a giant claw foot tub (she complied of course). This range of possible adventures is tantalizing but can also lead to the aforementioned fear of missing out. Your individual adventure, with or without milk bath, will cost you $150 per person, including decadent but somewhat DIY food and drink. In contrast I have seen similarly amazing acrobatics performed by Company XIV for lesser sums, but the performers stayed onstage and I stayed in my seat.

The second interactive/immersive piece I saw recently was Cynthia Von Buhler’s latest creation, Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic. This lavish bit of performance tells the story of the death of Olive Thomas in Paris in 1920. The audience follows the cast from one set to another, witnessing (if you manage to follow along) the death scene performed in three different ways, leaving you to wonder which was the true version. The actors stay in character throughout the evening and you are encouraged to talk with them and try to glean more information about the mystery of Olive’s death. The sets are very lovely but less immersive than those of Sleep No More. There are wires and stage lights that break the spell a bit. The dance numbers are fun and the amazing aerial performance hanging from the chandelier is spectacular, but there are no acrobatics equal to those performed at Queen of the Night.

Dancers hanging from the chandelier at Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic

Dancers hanging from the chandelier at Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic

In this case the audience was encouraged but not required to dress up for the occasion. My friends and I were there in full flapper regalia but many of the audience members were not, which I found a bit distracting. In fact I found myself wishing we had masks or that costumes were required, so that I would feel more immersed in the world of the 1920s. This is a real problem for this sort of show; how do you make the audience feel like they are part of the show if they’re not willing to dress the part? If you require costumes how much of your audience will you lose? The ticket price here was a bit lower, $75 per person, but included no food or drink. Would it be impossible to sell tickets at that price if it was necessary to dress up? Queen of the Night requires ‘festive clothing’ and that seems to be no deterrent. Perhaps the creator wanted this to be more casual fun?

The idea that theater can be immersive and interactive is exciting and I’m looking forward to seeing more shows of this variety. I am hopeful that future productions will learn more from their predecessors and make conscious decisions about how to handle the fear of missing out and the need for the audience to look the part. What experiences have you had with this form of theater? How do you believe it can be improved?


There are many wonderful events in NYC in the summer. There are outdoor film screenings, concerts, parades… People watching is everyone’s favorite pastime and every park becomes a stage. Of all the events in the city though, there is only one that truly feels like a figment of Salvador Dalí’s imagination, and that is the FIGMENT Arts Festival on Governors Island. This marvelous event brings all sorts of whimsical creations to an island that still feels as though it exists outside of time.

Wandering around Governors Island, past the houses in Nolan Park and Colonel’s Row, there is a sense of being in a sleepy forgotten town. When you round a corner and suddenly see Lower Manhattan rising above you it can be almost shocking. Visiting the island at any time during the summer is worthwhile; it is a fabulous place for a picnic or a little sunbathing in the new ‘Hammock Grove.’ Children can run free without fear of vehicles, although they should watch out for all the Schwinn bicycles. The ferry is now $2 roundtrip (up from the previous $0) and for the first time is running seven days a week. While I have mixed feelings about the hills currently being constructed, I absolutely love the respite from the noise and smell of summertime in NYC. It’s also my favorite view of Manhattan; the one viewpoint from which it truly looks like an island.

The Island of Manhattan as seen from Governors Island

The Island of Manhattan as seen from Governors Island 2008

Governors Island has its own magic but FIGMENT transforms the island into something truly surreal. The artists who create installations for the festival work in many media but the guiding spirit is that the art be participatory. This is not art behind glass, it is art made to be touched, played with, climbed on, drawn on, destroyed and rebuilt. The island becomes an art museum that a child would imagine. Last year a cloud-like dome made of recycled water bottles rose against the backdrop of the city.

Figment 2013

Figment 2013, Studio Klimoski Chang Architects’ Head in the Clouds

Inside the dome a DJ played music and people of all ages and in quite a strange assortment of clothing danced and jumped and spun until the grass was all turned to muck. The space was lit strangely through the bottles and it had such a feeling of unreality that it was astonishing to emerge into the sunshine again.

Inside  Studio Klimoski Chang Architects’ Head in the Clouds

Inside Studio Klimoski Chang Architects’ Head in the Clouds

Children are usually first drawn to the elaborate mini golf course, each hole of which is designed by a different artist. As someone who is not particularly skilled at golf, I am more likely to make a beeline for the treehouse, although it can get too crowded at times. The real fun is the wandering; there are so many small interesting pieces to discover. Just as important are the many performances taking place. There are concerts and dance performances at all times. Last year I followed the sound of drums to find an all-female marching band on the waterfront.

Perhaps my best FIGMENT was the year that I volunteered as an assistant priestess for the Encouraging Priestess. The Encouraging Priestess marries people to themselves. I helped participants write their vows to themselves and find appropriate costume pieces from our supply for the ceremony. Watching people, some with great seriousness and others with great levity, engage in this ceremony, was magical in a wholly different way. At the heart of FIGMENT is a need to engage, to provoke, to truly touch each person who visits the island. That summer I felt that I was really part of the festival. It was only the porch of one of the lovely yellow Nolan houses, but for that weekend it was a magical temple of self-affirmation and glittery ceremony.

Marry Yourself, Encouraging Priestess

Marry Yourself, Encouraging Priestess

This summer CDR Studio’s Governor’s Cup will add a heavy dash of the surreal to the island. It is described on the FIGMENT website:

Inspired by tape-lace crochet, used plastic cups, saved from discard from throughout the city, are bound by zip-ties into a densely-knit serpentine structure. Undulating between the tree branches, the canopy is suspended by strapping and turn-buckled cabling. The trees are unscathed. A lacy infill of cups between the tape structure and branches create an airborne topography and shadow play. The configuration forms an outdoor room, shimmering in the sun and echoing with breeze-driven sound.

The treehouse, with its slightly terrifying slide, will be returning for the summer of 2014. This video (showing some very happy frolicking) gives me quite enough incentive to go out to the island all on its own. I am excited to see what other structures will be part of the sculpture garden. Until it’s all there under the sun (or sometimes in the rain), the art exists mainly in the artist’s imagination; once it’s there it becomes part of our collective imaginings. This is a festival that aims to connect, not merely to entertain. Go forth and be part of the fun!



Outdoor Film Screenings

Summer in NYC is a hot, sticky time full of free outdoor events. There are yoga classes, bubble wars, wandering Shakespeare, Shakespeare in a Parking Lot, countless concerts of all musical varieties and, my favorite part of the summer- outdoor film screenings! There’s something about sitting on the grass, eating picnic food and watching a movie that makes me positively glowy. I suppose it’s because I love the group experience of seeing a movie with hundreds of strangers, but I hate paying the $12.50 to do so in a theater. The outdoor film screening gives NYC back its raucous movie going adventures. The New York Parks Dept. has a pretty exhaustive list of the screenings happening this summer, but I’d like to spotlight the ones I think are particularly exciting!

The Bryant Park film series is one of the best known and therefore one of the most crowded. You need to get there when the lawn opens (5pm) and be prepared to use all your New Yorker bitchiness to get a spot. This year they’ve saved the best movie for last: Bonnie and Clyde on Monday Aug. 23rd. Watch this trailer and consider if watching in a group is worth the hassle for you.

The only really exciting film (for me at least) at Summerscreen this summer is the Labyrinth. God I love David Bowie. Sigh. Lucky for you the screening was postponed by rain and will be happening Aug. 18th, so you still have time to figure out what to wear when on hipster home turf!

On Wed. July 21st take a trip up to Van Cortland Park in the Bronx for a screening of one of the most romantic movies ever released- Casablanca. You and your significant other will be so wrapped up in the romance you’ll almost forget how long it will take you to get home.

The Summer on the Hudson film screenings on Pier 1 in Riverside Park South offer a lovely view of the water and free chairs (if you show up early enough). My two picks are Big Fish on Aug. 4th and Stranger than Fiction on Aug. 11th. Here’s the trailer for the latter; imagine watching it with the Hudson River in the background (sigh, I love summer in NYC).

The Rooftop Film Noir Screenings are new (at least to me) this summer. I find the idea of watching film noir from a rooftop in the W. Village extremely compelling. My pick is Sunset Boulevard on July 22nd.

Hudson River Park’s River Flicks provide cool breezes off the water as well as free popcorn! There’s only one film in the lineup I’d want to see this summer- Julie and Julia (Aug 4th). I’ve already seen it and I can assure you it’s nice light summery fare but be sure to bring a substantial picnic- all the cooking will make you hungry!

Also new to me this summer is the Red Hook Summer Movies festival. From their website it looks like the view behind the screen will be phenomenal- Lady Liberty is the guest star of every film! The films are mostly new to me as well so I can’t give any solid recommendations, though Splash looks ridiculous enough to be fun:

I’m not too keen on any of the movies screening at Socrates Sculpture Park in July, but the August schedule isn’t up yet so you should definitely check the site again later this month to see what comes up!

Rooftop Films, though generally not free, is one of my favorite summer institutions. The screenings take place in a variety of locations, not all on rooftops. My favorite venue by far is the Old American Can Factory, so if one of the screenings happening there appeals to you definitely go! I generally favor the programs of short films. July 21st they’re showing a program of Swedish short films, which I might skip were it not that I’ve seen one of the films (INSTEAD OF ABRACADABRA) and it was marvelous! I would also strongly recommend Animation Block Party (July 30th)- a wonderful night of animated shorts that I’ve attended 2 years running.

Last but certainly not least, my all time favorite venue for film screenings- Brooklyn Bridge Park. There is nothing more magical than sitting between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges watching a wonderful film with your friends. It is a truly New York experience. The film selection this year isn’t that great but I would say The Blues Brothers on Aug. 19th is the best of the bunch.

Happy watching!!

Pushy by Discovery

Everyone has certain music that immediately brings them back to a particular place and time. On New Year’s Eve 2009 K and I found ourselves, somewhat by accident and somewhat by design, listening to a band we had never heard of in Cameo Gallery in Wburg. The singer was wearing these absurd sequin covered pants (or was it a dress? I’ll admit parts of the evening are blurry) and she was rocking them. I mean this woman had serious style and the music was exactly right for that moment. We felt energized and empowered. My photos of that show are even blurrier than my memories but when I hear Broke by Discovery I instantly get that rush of excitement.

I have got to find some peace

I can’t afford to go

but I can’t afford to love you anymore…

Can I walk the night alone?

Discovery recently released a new record, Pushy, (available on iTunes), and it’s full of Kathleen Cholewka’s intense personal style, together with the impressive musical additions of her bandmates. I particularly enjoy Lex Marsh’s sax. It’s the sort of sound that makes you want to be in a crowd of people, toasting to new experiences with your very closest friends. You can check them out in June at Goodbye Blue Monday.


Culture High & Low

If you’re feeling a bit blue, stuck in NYC while your friends are rocking out at SXSW, you should be reminded of some of the amazing cultural events happening in our fine city- both High and Low.

This past weekend G and I attended, among other diversions (he met my mother for the first time this weekend! It went well!) Franco Zeffirelli’s legendary production of La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera. More than perhaps any other opera La Bohème has captured the imagination of generations of artists. Its compelling story was the basis for the musical Rent. Baz Luhrmann’s version also spent time on Broadway. Recently there was even a production without music.  As G said after the performance, the characters are much more familiar than most characters in opera; these are people you can imagine knowing. Anna Netrebko was an incredible Mimi; both her acting and her singing were intensely evocative. I cried (of course) when she died but I also felt that the story had a message for the audience, much more so than the melodramatic plots of Aida or Tosca. If you haven’t seen this classic I highly recommend finding a way to do so.

Anna Netrebko

Anna Netrebko

I will be seeing a much less classic opera next week- The Nose is a surrealist opera based on a short story by Gogol.

Artist William Kentridge defies genres with Shostakovich’s adaptation of Gogol’s story. “The opera is about the terrors of hierarchy,” Kentridge says. “There’s a mixture of anarchy and the absurd that interests me. I love in this opera the sense that anything is possible.” The new production is conducted by definitive Shostakovich interpreter Valery Gergiev. Acclaimed baritone Paulo Szot, who won a Tony Award® for South Pacific, makes his Met debut as the man who wakes up to discover that his nose has disappeared.

You can get a taste of Kentridge’s work at the MOMA, which is currently hosting a retrospective.

Best known for animated films based on charcoal drawings, he also works in prints, books, collage, sculpture, and the performing arts. This exhibition explores five primary themes in Kentridge’s art from the 1980s to the present, and underscores the inter relatedness of his mediums and disciplines, particularly through a selection of works from the Museum’s collection. Included are works related to the artist’s staging and design of Dmitri Shostakovich’s The Nose.

I haven’t visited the Kentridge exhibit yet but G and I did take a look at Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present, which just opened to the public on Sunday. The exhibit documents her various performance pieces, both through video and photographs of the original performances, and through recreations by actors. The most interesting, and disturbing, of the latter was a pair of naked actors- one female, one male- standing within a narrow archway; you had to pass between them to get into the next room. It was impossible not to touch the naked pair and this was hugely unnerving but, simply because it was unnerving, forced you as the viewer to think further about the piece. I am thrilled that the MOMA has chosen to showcase such challenging work. The exhibit is a triumph for the curator, Klaus Biesenbach, who has succeeded in creating a retrospective of performance art, something never done in the MOMA, and possibly never done as successfully in any other major museum.

You can see some less established artists in the Jonathan LeVine Gallery’s Five Year Anniversary Exhibition.

Since 2005, Jonathan LeVine Gallery has been an important venue for Street Art (ephemeral work placed in public urban environments) and Pop Surrealism (work influenced by illustration, comic book art, and pop culture imagery). As such, the pieces in this exhibition—comprised of paintings, drawings, and sculptures—will be primarily figurative with a strong sense of narration.

I am quite a fan of this image (Ray Caesar, Arabesque):

Ray Caesar, Arabesque

Ray Caesar, Arabesque

On the lower end of the culture spectrum, this Thursday you can attend a retrospective of a rather different sort- a burlesque tribute to Dolly Parton! I expect The Queen of Country Music would be thrilled!

P.S. Best way to spend St. Patty’s Day- Benefit Concert for City Reliquary at the Knitting Factory!

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