For the first time in its seventeen-year history, The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival will be going completely virtual in 2021, with twelve days of free performances beginning on Wednesday, January 6. Through its new digital format, the premiere Off-Broadway launching pad for original and cutting-edge work will now become available to a growing audience of viewers across the US and the around the world, in a high-visibility platform that continues The Public’s mission to provide support and exposure to artists of diverse backgrounds who are redefining contemporary theater with their distinct perspectives, social practices, and aesthetic sensibilities.
Curated by UTRF Director Mark Russell, and presented in partnership with JanArtsNYC, the 2021 Festival highlights seven unique shows, each running an hour or less, of digital livestreams and on-demand performances by an international line-up of artists from the US, Chile, Iran, and the UK. In addition to the performances is the premiere of INCOMING!, a 30-minute video compilation of shorts (available to view on demand until 11:59 pm, January 17) by the 2020-2022 members (Savon Bartley, Nile Harris, Miranda Haymon, Eric Lockley, Raelle Myrick-Hodges, Mia Rovegno, Justin Elizabeth Sayre, and Mariana Valencia) of the Devised Theater Working Group – an artist resource cohort designed for live arts-makers of all disciplines, formed as a complementary infrastructure program to the Under the Radar Festival in 2014, to offer the dramaturgical, technical, artistic, and administrative resources of The Public Theater to collaborative collectives and other untraditional originators.
This year’s UTRF programming will also include the return of the Under the Radar Symposium: A Creative Summit, a half-day of conversations and panel discussions, beginning at 10 am, on Thursday, January 7, about the current state of the theater and the challenges faced by artists and presenters during the pandemic shutdown of live performances. The supplemental event will open with a keynote address by spoken-word poet, educator, and performer Marc Bamuthi Joseph, who serves as the Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The summit will also showcase the future work of Tania El Khoury, Héctor Flores Komatsu, Anna Maria Nabirye/Annie Saunders, and Roger Guenveur Smith, and will close with a session on “Artists and International Presenting.”
The schedule of shows is as follows:
A Thousand Ways (Part One): A Phone Call – The first of an eventual three-part series by Obie Award-winning US theater-makers 600 HIGHWAYMEN explores the line between strangeness and kinship, distance and proximity, as participants around the world pick up their phones and follow a thread of automated prompts, in an exchange with a stranger whose name they won’t know, but will come to “see” via their live anonymous phone call encounter during this period of pandemic isolation. Written and created by Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone, the profound 60-minute experience runs through January 17.
Capsule – Inspired by the events of the past year and recorded during the week following the 2020 US election, creators Whitney White and Peter Mark Kendall (FX’s The Americans) offer a kaleidoscopic abstract reflection through original text and music on isolation and longing, the nature of connection, and the communal unease of our city and country throughout the pandemic, as they consider issues of race, the medium of film, and being caught up in the maelstrom of our society’s blunt binary responses to complex questions. The piece runs 50 minutes and streams on demand from January 6-17.
Espíritu – Created by Chile’s Teatro Anónimo, written and directed by Trinidad González, and performed in Spanish with English subtitles, the work, streaming on demand January 6-17, takes audiences on a 35-minute journey through different stories happening on one night in an unknown city. Anonymous characters face a spiritual crisis unleashed by wild consumerism, the exploitation of Neo-Liberal principles, and the power to manipulate their desires, leading them on a search for the hidden devil and an attempt to capture him in a bottle.
Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran – The second installment in a trilogy by Javaad Alipoor (UK/Iran), co-created with Kirsty Housley, explores the ubiquitous feeling that our societies are falling apart, in a darkly comedic take on entitlement, resentment, consumption, and digital technology, as the world decays and the global gap between rich and poor has never been greater. Winner of the 2019 Scotsman Fringe First Award, the play, a sequel to the award-winning The Believers Are but Brothers, combines digital theater with a live Instagram feed, in select one-hour online performances on January 7-10, and 14-17.
Borders & Crossings – Born to a Muslim father and Christian mother against a backdrop of sectarian violence, award-winning poet, performer, playwright, graphic artist, and designer Inua Ellams left Nigeria for England at the age of twelve in 1996, then moved to Ireland for three years before returning to London. In select 60-minute performances, produced by Fuel and streaming live online from London January 7-10, two actors recount Ellams’ own migration experiences and explore wider global political questions through his poems and anecdotes, in a moving opportunity to get to know the artist, his life, and his work.
Disclaimer – Created by Piehole (US) and written by Tara Ahmadinejad in the style of a classic whodunit, this one-hour mystery examines identity, fear, and the stakes of cultural (mis)representation, as Chef Nargis invites you into her virtual cooking class, where you can look forward to a dinner filled with propaganda, vague promises of Persian food, bits of audience participation, and murder. But if you both do your jobs right, you can help prevent a perpetually impending war from the safety of your own home. Select live performances stream January 7-11, and 14-17.
the motown project – Presented by Joe’s Pub as part of Joe’s Pub New York Voices Commission, Alicia Hall Moran (US) reimagines Motown recordings as a Schubertian cycle, in a cinematic movement-based aria fusing the songs and traditions of opera, jazz, and Motor City poetics. Featuring Thomas Flippin (guitar), Steven Herring (vocals), Barrington Lee (vocals), and Reggie Washington (bass), with choreography by Amy Hall Garner, the project, streaming on demand January 8-17, with a running time of 60 minutes, is a study of desire and infatuation, in which musical traditions yearn for each other across race, class, and nation.