By Kiara Downey
Just as January’s winter weather threatens to lock everyone indoors, the New York theatre scene is about to save us from frigid isolation. A plethora of enticing festivals and plays will pop up all over the five boroughs, but the finest of these gatherings begins this week at the Public Theater. The Under The Radar Festival is an eleven-day celebration of independent shows that aims to shock, titillate, and educate audiences. The organizers of this event are just as fascinating as the work they produce, and luckily I have the inside connection to one of them.
Meiyin Wang is the vivacious Associate Artistic Director of the Under The Radar Festival. Meiyin, who holds an MFA in Directing from Columbia University believes “theatre should live everywhere. I like seeing the liveliness of it…I like seeing an actress spit.”
Ms. Wang came to New York from Singapore where she spent two years as the playwright in residence at a local theater.
“Being a writer is a very solitary activity,” says Wang, “it takes a brave person to put pen to paper.” Knowing she needed more interactive pursuits, this ambitious thespian moved into directing because it required her to “respond to what happens in the room.”
First inspired by Theatre de Complicite’s award winning 1999 play Mnemonic, Wang gushes about the “beautiful text,” but finds that the “unpredictability of the ensemble piece is something you can’t quite translate onto the page. I get a little gaga over it.”
When I asked Meiyin (who seems to be a lady of many pursuits) how she defines herself within the profession, she said, “Differentiations aren’t helpful… I am a fan of theatre that makes its own rules.”
Her unabashed passion for experimental performance has been fostered at the Public. Mentored by Under The Radar’s Artistic Director and Producer Mark Russel, Wang has helped bring a host of provocative new productions to the city.
“All work in the Under The Radar Festival,” she says, “takes into question the fantasies and impulses of the people in the room.”
Among their most tantalizing offers, Wang and her colleagues have arranged a one-night only spectacle of 20th century songs and bedazzled costumes from the iconic performer Taylor Mac, Christina Anderson’s one-woman monologue Hollow Roots that questions the role of gender and race in self-identity, and Australian-based Back to Back theater’s much talked about show Ganesh Versus the Third Reich that has the god Ganesh traveling through time to reclaim the Swastika from the Nazis. The Hungarian director Edit Kaldor will present C’est du Chinois, a play with a French title that strives to teach its audience Mandarin. Wang believes that this unique piece of theatre will provide viewers with an “amalgamation of iniquities.”
This year will be the first time the entire series will take place exclusively at the newly remodeled Public. Wang is excited to “invite the neighborhood” back to the space that has been undergoing major renovations. Now that the hammers and nails have been put away, Wang feels the festival is the perfect opportunity to “celebrate the reopening,” and it will establish the Public as a friendly place for “people to run into each other in the lobby.” The Public is an amazing building,” she says “from its history as the Astor Library and beyond.” She’s ready to revel in the “downtown state of mind,” and she feels that this program will send viewers, “into the year with new excitement.”
Ms. Wang certainly has me looking forward to putting on my finest frock and dashing to the theatre. The Under The Radar Festival began on January 9 and runs through January 20. I’ll be looking for you in the lobby!
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