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Theater festivals fire up a cold New York

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 5, 2013 at 5:37 pm •  Published: January 5, 2013

The acclaimed edgy troupe Belarus Free Theatre, whose members had to sneak out of Belarus to perform "Being Harold Pinter" in America last year are back with a new piece. "The secret police are still hassling them, and we're just crossing our fingers that they get out in one piece again," Russell said.

Bring a comfy pillow if you plan to catch Nature Theater of Oklahoma's "Life and Times: Episodes 1-4," an 11-hour story of a life. Part I is a ukulele opera, but Russell isn't worried about the sound of that scaring anyone away. "Believe me, you'll be hooked and scream to get a ticket to the full marathon," he said.

There's also "C'est du Chinois," which is challenging in another way — it's performed completely in Mandarin with no supertitles. And "Hamlet, Prince of Grief," featuring Iranian actor Afshin Hashemi using household objects and children's toys in his retelling of Shakespeare's classic in Farsi.

"It's only 30 minutes. It's only one man. But it's one of the strongest interpretations of that story I've seen," Russell said. "It just hit you like a punch."

In addition to Under the Radar, the acclaimed theater company Performance Space 122 already has kicked off its annual COIL festival, boasting 10 theater and dance pieces until Jan. 19 that tackle everything from Frankenstein to Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull." There are also 15 workshop performances at HERE's Culturemart starting Jan. 28, with topics ranging from the story of a transvestite prostitute to another about a woman's cyborg pet.

All the festivals are hoping to take advantage of the thousands presenters, producers, vendors, managers, artists and donors who descend on the city for the annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters convention, which kicks off this year on Friday.

The show by Elevator Repair Service was born out of Collins' own personal interest in constitutional law. The case it is based on — Barnes vs. Glen Theatre — was one of Collins' favorites, bringing up everything from humor to profound questions: Does a state law against nudity violate the First Amendment? What is dance? What is live performance?

"Something that has always interested me is that fuzzy line between theater as an art form — something that you make — and theater that's just something happening," Collins said.

The show is subversive, thought-provoking, sometimes silly and fascinating — all typical attributes of the company. But how far will it go? Will any of the actors strip down to illustrate the case?

"Are we going to be going to be doing any naked dancing ourselves?" Collins said, chuckling playfully. "This is a work in progress so I think there may be some experiments on that front still to come."