The underground theater scene in New York City has come a long way in its renown. In 2016 even the posh Charles Isherwood found himself at “downtown” performance work in the Lower East Side. Brooklyn isn’t a theater desert for emerging voices seeking venues, and critics are just as keen to catch new musicals at the Bushwick Starr as they are to see Kevin Spacey do Shakespeare at BAM.
One young theater festival in Brooklyn continues to “[celebrate] the increasing growth and importance of Brooklyn venues and local artists” with a multi-week festival that aggregates locally-made works of theater across a range of participating venues in the borough. The Exponential Festival kicks off tonight (Jan. 6) for its second year and features over 25 shows in just four weeks and change, with a roster that champions emerging artists as much as those mid-career.
“Brooklyn is less tidy. Less Broadway bound. More exciting. More accessible,” Theresa Buchheister, one of the festival’s co-founders and curators, told us.
Whether you’re already a seasoned theater-goer or you just promised yourself you’d see more stuff this year, The Exponential Festival is a great way to dip your toes into the wide-ranging world of perennial performance offerings in the borough. Here are our top picks for what not to miss:
TELE-VISION, by The Million Underscores
January 6-8 at 8:30pm, Jan 7 at 3pm
Triskelion Arts (106 Calyer St.)
Created and directed by Nicolas Noreña and Timothy Scott, The Million Underscores’ TELE-VISION is a treatise on spiritual displacement — a phenomenon we can all relate to since the election. It’s equal parts “absurd ballet” and “brain-washing spectacular,” and it’s sure to leave you feeling at least marginally more comfortable with the terrifying unknown that awaits us after Inauguration Day.
The Failures, by The Psychic Readings Co.
January 13 & 14 at 9pm
Vital Joint (109 Meserole St.)
$10, $7 if you come visibly injured
In case it wasn’t clear from the sliding scale above, The Failures is a show for the downtrodden. Or at least, for those who take advantage of them. Ric Royer and Peter Mills Weiss are “the most incompetent subjects known to man” and will attempt moderately challenging tasks as “an in-depth look at what makes failures fail and how YOU can achieve success through their ineptitude and misery!” You may get some schadenfreude out of it, but it also promises to be “the bloodiest show ever produced.” Those with a bad heart are encouraged to leave as soon as they arrive.
Given the state of women’s repro rights, we need some emphatically pro-choice art to remind us why we’re still fighting. The dancers of LMnO3 —Deborah Lohse, Cori Marquis and Donnell Oakley — embody the lives of women who are “child-free by choice” and dance through laborious (get it?) shapes, exaggerating mundane tasks so that they feel like high-risk Olympic events. The goal? To challenge notions of femininity, and to engage with “alternative ways of channeling the instinct to nurture.”
[PORTO], by Kate Benson
January 11 – February 4, Wed-Sat at 8pm
The Bushwick Starr (207 Starr St.)
“A neighborhood bar in a gentrifying outpost of a major American City. I know this will end badly, but for now, it tastes really good.” That last sentence may be the most accurate satire of your average Brooklynite to-date, though the play doesn’t specify which “major American city” it’s set in.
Written and directed by two seasoned NYC theater makers — Kate Benson and Lee Sunday Evans, respectively — this show treads bravely where most of us only dare to complain, raising important questions about how we take up space in a shifting urban culture, and whether it’s “possible to enjoy the sausage when we know how it’s made.”
Untitled Together and A Salient Theme
January 26 & 27 at 7:30pm
CPR (361 Manhattan Ave.)
The Center for Performance Research hosts a double-feature of Chez Bushwick artists-in-residence, Nora Stephens and Leslie Cuyjet. Stephens’ Untitled Together is “part social experiment and part dance musical,” bringing together four New York strangers (don’t worry, you’re not one of them) to investigate and create in the wake of 2016 election. Cuyjet’s A Salient Theme “aims to document life-long questions of identity, confuse and disrupt conventional narratives, and demonstrate the angsty, explosive, sensitive, pioneering excellence of the black woman.” ‘Nuff said.
The Exponential Festival runs tonight (Jan. 6) through Feb. 4. Performance dates, times, locations and prices vary, so check the website for tickets.