Compiled by Nicole Estvanik in the October 2013 issue of American Theatre magazine. (View Archives)
Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Festival Colombiano de Teatro: The 12th edition of this festival features special guest Contraelviento Teatro from Quito, Ecuador. Apart from that, the program is made up of Colombian work, including the opening production Crónica, by Bogotá’s La Fundación L’explose. Directed by Tino Fernández with text by Juliana Reyes, it is billed as a tribute to “the most transcendent moments in the history of contemporary dance.”
Another highlight is Teatro La Hora 25 of Medellín’s new staging of Hamlet; the festival is giving its audiences a sneak-preview engagement in advance of the production’s official premiere. The group is not afraid of the classical canon (nor of radical re-imaginings thereof; it tackled Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine two decades ago). Its director, Farley Velásquez, is known especially for his work on Shakespeare and the Greeks, and was recognized with a prestigious national theatre-directing award by Colombia’s Ministry of Culture in 2007 for his Electra. (Oct. 7–12; festivalcolombianodeteatro.blogspot.com)
Festival Internacional de Teatro de Vitoria-Gasteiz: This is a festival with two names, and the second one would earn you a lot more Scrabble points. Vitoria-Gasteizko Nazioarteko Antzerki Jaialdia is the moniker that reflects the event’s location in Spain’s second-largest Basque city. This lively destination boasts a contemporary art museum said to rival Bilbao’s Guggenheim—as well as, charmingly, a museum of playing cards and, curiously, a bronze statue of British historical-epic novelist Ken Follett—but it truly becomes a cultural mecca each fall during this decades-old, two-month celebration of classical and contemporary theatre.
Several international guests are on the lineup this year. Among them, Claudio Tolcachir of the Buenos Aires theatre Timbre 4 will direct a new Spanish cast in his latest play, Emilia, about a man whose reunion with his childhood nanny exposes his distorted understanding of love. Tolcachir knows something about unconventional family dynamics, having memorably broached the topic in his first script, La Omisión de la familia Coleman, and counting among his directing credits the first Latin American production of Tracy Letts’s August: Osage County. (Notably, back in Buenos Aires, Timbre 4 has taken steps to make itself more accessible to international audiences and now offers English subtitles at its Sunday performances. And theatregoers in L.A. and Chicago are getting to see one of its shows, Tolcachir’s El tercer cuerpo: It played at REDCAT in September and visits MCA Chicago early this month.)
Meanwhile, following Tocachir’s play on the Vitoria festival stage this month is Jakop Ahlbom, on tour from the Netherlands with his Buster Keaton–inspired Lebensraum. The wordless hijinks, involving a tiny apartment and a mechanical cleaning lady, are accompanied live by the Amsterdam rock band Alamo Race Track (which previously collaborated with Ahlbom on his production Innenschau). Lebensraum kicked off the summer at Barcelona’s Grec Festival; it will log time at several French venues later this year, then will hit London’s International Mime Festival in January before arriving in the U.S. for engagements in New Hampshire and Massachusetts this coming April. (Oct. 9–Nov. 29; www.vitoria-gasteiz.org)
Temporada Alta: This annual festival’s 90-plus offerings will include Great Britain’s all-male Shakespeare troupe Propeller, with perennial touring favorite A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Uruguayan director Roberto Suárez’s two-part, ensemble-created dark comedy Bienvenido a casa.
Comic duo Faemino y Cansado is among the groups representing Spain at Temporada Alta this year, along with Catalonia’s Companyia Prisamata performing Iván Morales’s Jo mai (I Never). The play—which combines a rock-and-roll attitude with its empathetic depiction of a group of teen drifters trying to create a home for themselves in an abandoned bar—debuted in Barcelona this past July. (Oct. 3–Dec. 8; www.temporada-alta.net)
Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Cooking with Elvis: British writer Lee Hall is best known for the film and musical Billy Elliot and the play The Pitmen Painters. But before he wrote either, he penned the dark farce Cooking with Elvis—about the dysfunctional family of a wheelchair-bound Elvis impersonator—which has seen a spate of productions since 1998, when it first appeared in Newcastle, in the north of England. Now the new-writing-focused Live Theatre of Newcastle, as part of its 40th-anniversary celebration, will remount the play it premiered to great success at its own venue and at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Elvis was Hall’s main project while a resident playwright at Live Theatre back in the ’90s (incidentally, the residency also included a reading of a screenplay-in-progress for Billy Elliot, then titled Dancer). It was, in fact, a fleshing-out for the stage of Hall’s previously written radio script Blood Sugar. At the urging of Live Theatre’s staff, he added the now-central character of the Elvis-obsessed father, tailoring the role to Live Theatre actor Joe Caffrey (who will reprise it this fall).
According to Live Theatre’s artistic director Max Roberts, who directed Elvis’s premiere and will also direct the remount, “Cooking with Elvis cemented Lee’s relationship with Live Theatre and gave his work an international life.” Roberts notes the new production has been brushed up with “a slightly more contemporary context and setting,” but the goal remains simple: “We want to try and make it as funny, surprising, shocking and as moving as the original production.” (Oct. 17–Nov. 23; www.live.org.uk)
THE CONVERT: Danai Gurira’s play The Convert, published in full in American Thea-tre’s Sept. ’13 issue, takes place at a critical moment in the colonial history of Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). The play has been seen in several U.S. cities, and in early December, it will, in a sense, come home.
Adam Immerwahr, the new associate artistic director of McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, N.J., will travel next month to Zimbabwe’s capital city to direct the production for Almasi Collaborative Arts, a professional theatre founded by Gurira (who was born in the U.S. to Zimbabwean parents but spent her childhood in Harare) and Zimbabwean film and theatre director and producer Patience Gamu Tawengwa.
Why Immerwahr? For one thing, he was the assistant director to Emily Mann, McCarter’s artistic director, when she mounted the show’s three-pronged premiere in 2012 for her theatre, Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and L.A.’s Center Theatre Group. Immerwahr’s involvement represents an ongoing commitment by Almasi’s founders to bolstering the professional standards of their theatre. Says Tawengwa, “The planning and execution of The Convert in Zimbabwe is being carefully molded in the exact same way a production in America would be done. It is an educational exercise for every Zimbabwean working on this project.”
To the same end, Tawengwa spent several weeks this summer observing Mann in rehearsal for Proof in Princeton, and interviewing McCarter staff about artistic and managerial best practices. According to Tawenga, Almasi was founded specifically to engage in exchange with the United States. “We generally lack schools of dramatic arts or highly specialized arts education facilities in Zimbabwe, and this is Almasi’s long-term goal: to establish a world-class dramatic arts conservatory.”
Tawengwa goes on, “The Convert will be a departure in the type of theatre normally staged in Harare. Our productions, starting with the scripts, are usually very rushed and half-baked. We’re talking about people staging first drafts of scripts with, at times, as little as a two-week rehearsal period. Actors don’t really get into the text—usually they quickly learn lines and just recite them.” Tawengwa explains that Almasi has already broken new ground by giving The Convert a staged reading (directed this past March by Gurira), featuring five of the actors who are now about to start rehearsals. She adds that there is another way in which this production is outside the norm: “In a country where we have only 22 percent of the population employed, a full production of a play such as The Convert creates much-needed, well-remunerated temporary employment.”
Better still, the production may have a life beyond this year. “I’m excited to create a version that’s built to travel,” says Immerwahr, holding out the hope of an African tour, headed up by a Zimbabwean assistant director yet to be hired at press time.
For his part, Immerwahr is looking forward to the artistic opportunities that producing the play on African soil will provide. “So much of putting together the original production was helping American actors with cultural heritages from around the globe unpack the many layers of meaning buried in Danai’s script that are culturally specific,” he recalls. In Harare, those details will be implicit both to the performers and to the audience: “I’m hoping that will make the play sing in a new way.” (December; www.almasiarts.org)