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Monday, February 26, 2018

Playing Lear

Antony Sher as King Lear, Graham Turner as the Fool. Photo by Ellie Kurttz
By Christian Barclay

Shakespeare’s tragic monarch is one of the most coveted roles in the classical theater canon–– and it is also one of the most demanding. King Lear’s delirious journey through the play calls for an actor who can plumb the depths of human suffering, portraying a betrayal of both the body and the mind. It has challenged no lesser actors than Laurence Olivier, Paul Scofield, Geoffrey Rush, and in recent seasons at BAM, Frank Langella, Derek Jacobi, and Ian McKellen.

The process that goes into inhabiting a character like Lear is often all-encompassing. For Antony Sher, the acclaimed British actor who will portray the monarch in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s King Lear (April 7–29 at the BAM Harvey), the work took a familiar form––he wrote a book. Sher has documented his character development for several of his roles with the RSC. The books read like diaries, covering not just in-depth rehearsal work, but the everyday occurrences that can lead to unexpected insights.

Year of the Mad King: The Lear Diaries (Nick Hern Books) begins during the summer of 2015 and covers the year-long process of bringing the monarch to life. (A doubly difficult effort considering Sher was also playing Falstaff in the RSC’s King and Country history play cycle (BAM, 2016) during the same time; he received rave reviews in the role.) Here are some excerpts from the soon to be published book.

Performance as a Life Science

Photo: Julieta Cervantes
By Bonnie Marranca

“As artists, we’re all contending with what to do at a time like this. I wanted to make a piece that can be seen as an alternative possibility of human behavior, where the values are cooperation, interdependence, and kindness, as an antidote to the values that are being propagated right now.” After a half-century as an influential figure in the creation of contemporary performance culture, Meredith Monk goes right to the heart of the challenge.

Her spare new work, Cellular Songs, is conceived for five women performers—Monk and her vocal ensemble consisting of Katie Geissinger, Allison Sniffin, Ellen Fisher, and Jo Stewart. Dressed in layers of white and beige-toned clothes, the women sing, dance, play the piano together, and lie on the floor, all the while modeling behavior of care, comfort, companionship, and collaboration. Glorious colors of sound arise from the intricate musical textures. The only words of the piece are in Monk’s song of wisdom, “Happy Woman.” Bodies alone make the landscape.

Cellular Songs inhabits its own special realm of music-theater in its soulful interweaving of music, theater, image, and movement. Monk describes her process in spatial terms: “Some of the pieces have much more dissonance and chromatic kind of harmonies, and the forms are almost like three-dimensional sculptures. Earlier, my music had much more to do with layering. Now you can almost see or hear the piece rotating as if it were a sculpture in space, though it’s just a musical form.” A visual architecture is built into its rigorous structure, which may look deceptively simple. The 75-minute work is scored for piano, keyboard, and violin and the shimmering chorus of women’s voices that animate the space.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Behind the Scenes—Noel Vega, BAM ticket services

Noel Vega. Photo: David Hsieh
Noel Vega is a grandfather, a writer, a life-long Brooklynite, and a 20-year-old veteran of BAM’s ticket services. The staff of ticket services has grown three-fold since he started in 1997, forcing it to move out the Peter Jay Sharp Building to larger offices in downtown Brooklyn. Technological advancements have made remote working possible. But the core of the work remains the same: to ensure ticket buyers have the best answers to their questions, whether by phone or by email. Vega tells us how that’s done.

David Hsieh: What does the ticket services job encompass?

Noel Vega: Our responsibilities include taking orders from people, answering their questions about current and upcoming events, giving them suggestions on where to eat, park, directions to the theaters, etc. People call us for everything—I can’t buy a ticket on the Website, I can’t use my ticket tonight, what do I do? What movie is playing?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Introducing Beyond the Canon

BAM’s senior programmer of cinema Ashley Clark talks about the impulse behind this new, monthly repertory event. Screenings take place at BAM Rose Cinemas, 30 Lafayette Avenue.

Chantal Akerman on the set of Golden Eighties

Starting in February, BAMcinématek invites audiences on a journey beyond the canon. Through a new monthly program, we investigate and challenge how traditional histories of cinema—best-of lists, awards, academic recognition, films deemed worthy of “serious” discussion—have tended to skew toward lionizing the contribution of the white male auteur while overshadowing other groups.

Beyond the Canon will feature two films back-to-back, in an old-school double-bill format. The second film to screen will be an established, well-known classic, more than likely directed by a white male. It will be preceded by a stylistically or thematically linked film that is directed by a filmmaker from an oft-marginalized group: women, people of color, queer people, and the intersections thereof. 

It is worth making one point clearly. There is no slight intended on these canonical titles—they are great films crafted by eminently skilled filmmakers, and they have unquestionably been formative in our film education: that’s why the series is not called “Destroy the Canon”! Rather, a key aim of this program is to place the films in dialogue with each other, spark ideas and discussion, highlight some overlooked gems of world cinema, and provoke thought about how a future, more equitable canon might look.