For sixteen years, the Downtown Urban Theater Festival brought topical, well-produced, professional works that challenged its audiences. Adding poetry, music, and most palpably film, it is now the Downtown Urban ARTS Festival. Looking at the plays and players, you know this is one not-to-miss. DUAF stage artists were quick to speak on the their works and the industry when I got the chance to meet with them..
Anghus Houvouras epitomizes the kind of artist you’ll meet there as he is a writer of plays, movies, graphic- and literary novels. His current piece, A Civilized World, explores our society when lack of commercial relevance is punishable by death. His battle cry for indie work can be tagged for all the arts that he is conquering I his own life:
“Independent theater is where the most innovative and exciting work is happening. Where risks are taken and the material is designed to challenge audiences. There are plenty of places to see traditional theater where the audience can escape and be entertained. But sometimes people want more. To step outside their comfort zone, to see something thought-provoking that pokes them in the cerebellum and demands consideration. That was my intent when writing a Civilized World. I felt compelled to write something about the state of the world and some of humanities less flattering characteristics. That’s the kind of story you can tell in Independent Theater.”
J. E. Robinson, also a renaissance man in terms of writing, boomed his thoughts on this genre:
“Behold, independent theater’s commercial counterpart. Behold simple spectacle, empty and meaningless, like cotton candy, saccharine enough to rot teeth, a malignancy. Is there a better reason to help independent theater thrive?”
The no-nonsense Mr. Robinson is an award-winning essayist and fiction writer withy works performed in New York; Alaska; Louisville, Kentucky; and Saint Louis. He is a professor of history at the Saint Louis College of Pharmacy. His play, The Strong Man” is an envelope-pushing piece about a retired strong man who must face having to kill one of his own.
Help Me Get Over You by award winning playwright, screenwriter, singer/songwriter, author and poet Rollin Jewett, shows us how a separated couple can share one more thing – getting over one another. Jewett uses indie theater joyously due to its open door: “There is a certain freedom and nonjudgmental attitude in independent theatre that allows playwrights and actors to create works that are daring, different and singular in their vision and scope.”
Daniel Damiano takes to the stage as actor in his one-man show: AMERICAN TRANQUILITY. He plays four very different Americans reflecting on the human divide in 21st Century America. Funny, timely, and unsettling. He also talked of the healing effects of indie theater: “It is more cathartic. It is more about the necessity of the artist to have their stories told however and wherever they can. It is first about the absolute necessity of a work being created and being seen – and creating an engaging reason for audiences to gather and share in the experience of live theatre.”
The world today is not one to ignore. Nelson Diaz-Marcano gives us a dinner party on the eve of the 2016 Presidential Election. We can take it from there. The award-winning Puerto Rican with acclaimed works presented in NY, Chicago, and DC, whose mission is to create work where different cultures are represented and to raise awareness of their history, looks at indie theater as the jumping point for all artists: “It is where it all begins. It’s the foundation of the craft, it’s where we grind ourselves into masters. It’s where we can come back to experiment and grow. No matter where we go in our careers, this is a place that will always receive us with open arms.”
Azure D. Osborne-Lee describes himself as an “award-winning Black Queer theater maker from South of the Mason-Dixon Line” and his play, Mirrors, delves into the battle of cultures, ages, and ideals, with the pairing of 17-year-old Alma Jean who must move in with her mother’s ex-lover when her mother dies. He gave us the best slogan for it all … “Indie re oxygenates the lifeblood of theater!”
Transgender awareness is in full power these days so multi-award-winning (including the Kennedy Center’s Meritorious Achievement Award) Kim Yaged asks the question in her play, The Vast Mystery of Who You Are: What happens when you find out the person you hooked up with at the sex party isn’t a man or a woman? A film dealing in this subject matter, Almost Saw The Sunshine, a film by Leon Lopez of the United Kingdom is also premiering at DUAF’s film festival.
A staple in short plays is the opportunity to explore world situations from a personal point of view. DUAF packs its programming with intimate dramas in which two or three people shed light on what we are all thinking … but never get the chance to express.
Looking at justice and how it is served is a theme within Charles Curtis’ Strings about a detective turned vigilante and a lawyer with an ulterior motive, and how their meeting doesn’t prove innocence as much as mutual guilt. Strings was a runaway hit at last season’s Fresh Fruit Festival.
Alano P. Baez, inspired by his trip to El Salvador, where he met masses of forgotten people living in mountains of garbage, wrote Trash Talk. A sort-of “Waiting for Godot, with two men who discuss work, waste, the hustle, struggle, refuse and the meaning of life and death, while trapped underneath a mountain of garbage. Baez is a community activist, poet/singer/MC/graffiti Writer/actor and has released several independent music albums and is also a published poet.
Another Latino playwright looking at life through a unique lens is Juan Ramirez, Jr., whose play, Sailing Stones concerns skeptical Jaime forcing his god-fearing best friend Charlie out into the Death Valley to finally prove once and for all if a god exists. Personally, speaking Ramirez feels that working in indie arts is good for your creative soul: “Without the chance to explore a play, you may miss out on the opportunity to discover new elements of your work you never knew it had.”
Baindu Dafina looked at another opportunity indie work offers: “There are more opportunities for nontraditional characters to be presented.” She epitomized that with her entry in this year’s DUAF – Corporatesthenics – about the exploits and unique strength and conditioning techniques of an African-American physical trainer.
And just when the envelope was pushed as far as it ca go… Joe Gulla, known for his role on NBC’s ground-breaking series, LOST, offers up GAY.PORN.MAFIA: a collection of his internationally and nationally-produced, award-winning short comedies: Gayfever, Fall and Rise, Reel Wood, Knock Off! and Sleeping With The Fish! “It’s the SAME-SEX, X-RATED, ITALIAN-STYLE OFFER YOU CAN’T REFUSE” says the regular performer at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater. About why he chooses to go indie, Joe, in his usual blunt style concluded with “there are no Flying Chandeliers, Helicopters or Holographic Spider Webs in the shows I’ve created.”
DOWNTOWN URBAN ARTS FESTIVAL’S
PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE FOR LIVE THEATER, and, POETRY
NEW YORK LIVE ARTS
219 W 19TH STREET, NEW YORK CITY
FRIDAY, APRIL 13 @ 7:00 PM
THE VAST MYSTERY OF WHO YOU ARE BY KIM YAGED
An irreverent, hard-hitting exploration of love via sex parties and philosophical sparring about the nature of relationships.
SATURDAY, APRIL 14 @ 7:00 PM
GAY.PORN.MAFIA BY JOE GULLA
Bronx, LA, SoHo to Ibiza! Porn Stars, Gay Priests, Mafia Dons and Abstract Expressionists! Smart! Fun! Funny! Fearless! “Gay.Porn.Mafia” has it all! Grab your ticket! Leave the gun! Take the cannoli! You’ll feel like “family” and laugh out loud (emphasis on “out”!) It’s the same-sex, Italian-style, x-rated offer you can’t refuse!
THEATRE 80 ST. MARKS
80 ST MARKS PLACE, NEW YORK CITY
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18 @ 8:00 PM
SUBLET BY ALISA ZHULINA
Christy, an overworked hospital resident, new to New York City, sublets a room from an artist working on a mysterious sculpture. Things start to get scary, or is it just Christy’s imagination? What’s really going on in this express journey to NYC roommate hell fueled by outsized artistic ambition.
AMERICAN TRANQUILITY BY DANIEL DAMIANO
A southern retiree, an Iranian subway station poet and percussionist, a talk-radio show host and a Brooklyn existentialist reflect on the human divide in 21st century America.
THURSDAY APRIL 19 @ 8:00 PM
STRINGS BY CHARLES CURTIS
A detective turned modern day vigilante, a lawyer with an ulterior motive, and the strings that bind them both. They each find that neither is truly innocent, and that no matter how fast we run our past catches up with us eventually.
FRIDAY, APRIL 20 @ 8:00 PM
THE STRONG MAN BY J.E. ROBINSON
Decades ago, at the head of his gang, Pearl Crabtree was strong enough to kill any man. Is he now strong enough to kill one of his own?
CORPORATESTHENICS BY BAINDU DAFINA KALOKOH
From unsuccessfully climbing the corporate ladder to fearlessly summiting Mount Everest, Black Television Network’s favorite physical trainer premieres the newest edition to her record selling fitness program. Her unique strength and conditioning techniques are essential to breaking glass ceilings in every profession.
SATURDAY, APRIL 21 @ 8:00 PM
HELP ME GET OVER YOU BY ROLLIN JEWETT
John is in love with Phyllis. Unfortunately, he only realizes it after he breaks up with her. Now she’s moved on and John can’t seem to get her out of his mind. What’s a lovestruck fool to do? Ask her to help him get over her, of course. The question is: What’s in it for her?
A CIVILIZED WORLD BY ANGHUS HOUVOURAS
An opioid addict is sentenced to death in the near future where being an unproductive member of society is a capital offense. The play centers on the condemned, Eleanor Reed, and her final conversation with Andrew Goodman, a life long government shill tasked with explaining the value of her sacrifice.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25 @ 8:00 PM
BLOOD ORANGE BY MARCUS SCOTT
Blood Orange explores the fetishization of black male bodies, hook-up culture, the nature of interracial gay relationships and sexual encounters, power play and upward mobility.
MIRRORS BY AZURE D. OSBORNE-LEE
Mirrors is the story of two women mourning the death of a loved one while sifting through the secrets of a shared past.
THURSDAY, APRIL 26 @ 8:00 PM
TRASH TALK BY ALANO P. BAEZ
Trash Talk is a taut and troubling tale of two dregs of society who rap, scrap, quip and play craps while slowly suffocating under the weight of wasted lives.
SAILING STONES BY JUAN RAMIREZ, JR.
At rock bottom, Jaime forces his god-fearing best friend, Charlie, out into the Death Valley desert to finally prove once and for all if a god exists. Who will save them?
FRIDAY, APRIL 27 @ 8:00 PM
THE FAN BY ADAM SEIDEL
A famous novelist sits on a park bench reading when she is approached by a fan who wants more than just an autograph.
THE DIPLOMATS BY NELSON DIAZ-MARCANO
Two days before election night 2016, close friends Annie and Carlos are having a little reunion on his first visit back in New York City. It can only take one person to change world events, but at this reunion two days before the 2016 Presidential election – it’s world events that do the changing.
SATURDAY, APRIL 28 @ 8:00 PM
ATACAMA BY AUGUSTO FEDERICO AMADOR
Thirty years after the dirty wars waged by the General Pinochet regime on the Chilean people. Two strangers; a mother and father, search the Atacama Desert for their buried loved ones and discover there are darker truths awaiting them underneath the hard sands of the Atacama.
SATURDAY, APRIL 22 @ 7:00PM
NUYORICAN POETS CAFÉ
236 E 3RD ST, NEW YORK CITY
WORDS MATTER POETRY SLAM
Repair! Reform! Transform! Calling all poets with poetic words about today’s social issues and social conscious people. Hosted by Nuyorican Poetry Slam winner Jaime Lee Lewis with special guest poets include Reg E. Gaines, Tony nominated writer/poet, and Miguel Algarin, the founder of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Sign up for poetry slam starting at 6:30pm.