Shoshana's favorite shows in NYC theater this year and the companies that made them possible.
By Shoshana Greenberg (lyricist/bookwriter)
1. Ars Nova
Yes, I had my own show there this fall as part of ANT Fest, but that's not the only reason I'm including Ars Nova in my top ten. I was also fortunate to see other great ANT Fest shows and acts (1 Night Only: A Hanukah Jamboree and their ANT Fest opening show complete with stand-up, music, and a burlesque act), and The Lapsburgh Layover, a kooky detour through the fictional Lapsburgh's intimate (and dangerous) airport. I was also told I should not have missed Bekah Brunstetter's play Be a Good Little Widow in the spring.
2. New York Theatre Workshop
Everything I've seen at NYTW this year as been wonderful and interesting. From the beautiful Schubert-inspired Three Pianos in January to the thrilling new musical Once I saw a few weeks ago, they never hit a false note. Peter and the Starcatchers, which I saw in March, was funny and imaginative, and Elevator Repair Service's The Select (The Sun Also Rises) was fascinating (and an opportunity to see this great company in action since it's difficult to carve out time for their eight-hour production of Gatz). The Shaggs: The Philosophy of the World, which played uptown in partnership with Playwrights Horizons, was one of my favorite new musicals this year.
3. Trusty Sidekick
A new company for young people and families, Trusty Sidekick has presented two promising new works this year, and they have exciting plans for 2012. They did a workshop presentation in May of The Little One and the Sea of Letters, a story about immigration that made beautiful use of puppetry and the Henry Street Settlement space and history. In June, they presented a memorable outdoor performance installation on Governors Island (part of the Figment Festival): a Lord of the Flies-inspired flash mob featuring 12 boys, titled BEAST.
This fun, Brooklyn-based company makes the audience an integral part of the theater-making process. With their open rehearsal series, they opened up the theatrical process to all interested onlookers. The play The Journeyman of Breuckelen, which enjoyed a weeklong stay at Brooklyn's Old Stone House, was open to audiences for its first table read and revised reading. The company's other production, Brooklyn Underground: Theatrical Stories from Green-Wood Cemetery, took place inside the cemetery's chapel. Coming up in 2012: the hilarious-looking Leaving Ikea.
My journey with the British company Punchdrunk actually began in the fall of 2010 when I started volunteering on their New York production of Sleep No More. This experience gave me an invaluable inside look at how the people of Punchdrunk (along with the company Emursive) turned a warehouse in Chelsea into the dazzling six-story maze of rooms and corridors of Sleep No More's McKittrick Hotel. The hit immersive experience began as a six-week run in March and is still going strong. From detailed prop and set-work to breathtaking dances (did anyone see the dance on an unhinged door?), Punchdrunk provided hours of voyeuristic entertainment that still haunts my dreams.
6. The Woodshed Collective
I had not heard of this company until their show The Tenant debuted this Fall. Based on a French novel by Roland Topor, The Tenant gave audiences a creepy immersive experience akin to Sleep No More, but the Woodshed Collective made it their own in the Upper West Side's West-Park Presbyterian Church. Scenes with dialogue (one of the main differences from Sleep No More), spread throughout an apartment building where the character Monsieur Trelkovsky has rented a room, build to a frightening finale. 2011 was a great year for immersive, site-specific theater.
7. Wakka Wakka
I caught Wakka Wakka's Baby Universe right before it closed the first weekend of January, and the production was exquisite. The story, told almost completely through puppetry, concerns a race against the clock to produce a new baby universe for the remaining people of the dying planet Earth. I hadn't heard of this company before, and I hope to see more of their work.
8. The Transport Group
Two of my favorite musicals this year came from the off-Broadway company The Transport Group, and they were both written by Michael John LaChiusa. Hello Again, a revival of LaChiusa's 1993 musical adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde, was captivating in an intimate SoHo loft, and Queen of the Mist, starring the incomparable Mary Testa as the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, was thrilling in the gym at Judson Church. This year, Transport Group also produced Lysistrata Jones (currently on Broadway) and The Patsy & Jonas starring David Greenspan, both of which were well-received and I'm sorry to have missed. I hope to catch Lysistrata Jones on Broadway next year!
In the world of theater company 13P, 13 playwrights converge to produce one play by each playwright, after which the company implodes. Formed in 2003, 13P is set to implode in 2012, and there are only two more chances to see one of their plays. This year, 13P produced one of my favorite theater experiences, Young Jean Lee's We're Gonna Die. Performed at Joe's Pub with Lee's band Future Wife, We're Gonna Die used songs and monologues to bring comfort despite the fact that, well, we're going to die.
10. Fiasco Theater
Early in the year, I was fortunate to see Fiasco Theater's Cymbeline as part of Theatre for a New Audience's season. It has since transfered to a longer run at off-Broadway's Barrow Street theater, closing this January 15th. One of my favorite aspects of the production (aside from the beautiful score) was that the actors actually felt as though they were part of a company. Perhaps it was the minimal yet imaginative set or a small cast playing many parts. Whatever it was, I'm eager to see what this company will bring us next.
And, finally, a special shout-out to the theater company for which I work, Primary Stages, who gave me an amazing year through their shows Black Tie, Olive and the Bitter Herbs, and Motherhood Out Loud, as well as many wonderful readings, activities, and events. Here's to an amazing 2012 in NYC theater!