Mark Russell on Under the Radar 2013

Oskar Eustis and Mark Russell at the opening of the 2013 Under the Radar Festival

Oskar Eustis and Mark Russell at the opening of the 2013 Under the Radar Festival

“It kind of forms the themes of a lot of the shows in the festival,” Mark Russell, the director of the Public’s Under the Radar Festival, said of Australia’s Back to Back Theatre, who are bringing Ganesh vs. the Third Reich to NYC this January as part of the Public’s 2013 Under the Radar Festival. “It’s about outliers, and who has rights to images and who has the right to speak.”

Entering its ninth year, Under the Radar is the oldest and most established festival during APAP, and–slightly slimmer but decidedly more focused–is reveling not only its opportunity to showcase the newly renovated Public Theater (which for the first time is the only venue for the festival, which has previously spread across several downtown theaters for want of space) as well as the chance to lead conversation about contemporary performance, setting itself up as the hub of global exchange and discourse. (Full disclosure: Culturebot is a part of that, with our own Andy Horwitz co-organizing a series of discussions called “Scanning the Landscape”).

Back to Back, the Geelong, Australia based company that for the past two decades has developed groundbreaking work with a core ensemble of artists perceived as being disabled, is this year’s stretch for UtR, according to Russell, the show that they really had to go to bat for to make happen in New York. So it’s fitting that it serves a linchpin for the theme that has emerged from this year’s program. UtR’s line-up always, by virtue of its global perspective, has a strong political bent, but it’s true that this year the experience of difference is coming to the forefront in distinct ways.

A case in point is Hollow Roots, a lovely and small show by playwright Christina Anderson, performed by April Matthis, that risks getting lost amid the more well-known assets like Nature Theater of Oklahoma, who are presenting the first four episodes of Life and Times this year. A monologue that aesthetically grapples with the legacy of white solo performers, that’s a poetic meditation on the (im)possibility of racially neutral identities, is a two or more year project of UtR.

“The text is so strong, and for me it gives a different angle on the whole issue of black identity. And for me, it sort of reads like an indie movie,” Russell told me in a recent interview. “We’ve been working with them for about two years now–we tried to get it into last year’s festival–but they weren’t ready. So we’ve been developing it and we gave them the chance to show it again at Joe’s Pub. So it’s something that the Public and the Under the Radar office have really invested in.”

This year also features the return of Belarus Free Theater, with Minsk 2011: A reply to Kathy Acker, the first show the company developed in London following their directors’ flight from Belarus. And Edit Kaldor’s C’est du Chinois likewise explores complex terrain through telling the story of a Chinese immigrant family through an erstwhile hour-long Mandarin lessor for the audience. And Pig Iron are bringing Zero Cost House, their fantastic collaboration with Toshiki Okada, to town this year. While the show received mixed reviews in Philadelphia at Live Arts when it premiered, including from the NY Times, I personally was deeply moved by the show. And Russell told me that with further development since then, “I think if you saw it in Philadelphia you’re going to see a very different piece.”

“We have a lot of return artists this year–ERS, Back to Back, Nature Theater, Pig Iron–but I think it really is balanced with new voices,” Russell said, “but also that’s part of that commitment to artists to continue to have a dialogue with them as long as I feel they’re trying to say fresh things to us.”


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