The Public Theater's Under the Radar Festival (UTR) kicks off January 9 and runs through January 20, offering productions from seven countries. In addition to the United States, countries represented are Iran, Belarus, the Netherlands, China, Japan and Australia.
Now in its ninth year, UTR will take place solely in the newly revitalized Public Theater at Astor Place. "It is now a part of the Public's core mission to introduce worldwide, independent theater to audiences that may not get to see it," festival director Mark Russell said. "A lot of the productions are smaller, emerging companies that are on the cultural edge of their society. The topics are more direct as to what the people and culture are talking about." Four theaters at the Public will house the showcase, which includes productions that are 30 minutes to 11 hours long.
UTR is an explosively diverse festival that celebrates international performances ranging from emerging talents to masters in their field. The festival offers a crash course in theater that is exciting, independent and experimental.
Russell urges theater lovers to take advantage of the often experimental showcases. "I'm trying to introduce international and national companies that may not have had a high platform before," he said. "What is the purpose of the festival? Anyone can make a film, a YouTube video and so on. The festival is about contemporary theater all the way through.
"They might not necessarily answer the questions of society, but the performances reverberate with contemporary issues. Another great thing about this year's UTR is we'll be in four of the theaters here instead of in different sites as in the past," he said.
Subject matter encompasses sexism, racism, Nazism, storytelling, and cultural schisms around the world. Some of the performances will be in native languages with supertitles. Russell is confident that audiences will find plenty of exciting, stimulating and fun performances during the festival. "If anyone has any doubt about coming downtown or worried that productions will be too experimental, they should just check out some of the topics we will have to offer online (www.undertheradarfestival.com). Russell circles the globe to choose productions he thinks will be entertaining and enlightening, he said. "I go around the world and check out 10 festivals, my staff goes to festivals and we look at tapes and usually contact about 300 artists."
One short performance is conducted in Mandarin; the artist emigrated to Holland from China and in the show teaches the audience Mandarin -- or at least attempts to, Russell said. Another is a 30-minute production of Hamlet performed in Farsi (with English supertitles). A troupe from Belarus came to New York a few years back and will return with its own drama. "They continue to make theater in exile, and they found political asylum in London," he said. "The show reveals what life is like there and how oppressing the government still is. There's a prevalent sex trade, there are no permits for assembling so people are creating flash mobs. It's a fascinating troupe."
The 12-days of non-stop activity are like "Mardi Gras with theater," Russell said. In addition to the performances, a professional symposium (Jan. 10-11) will allow the public not only to see a show but also to attend panel discussions led by keynote speakers. There will also be a historical tour of the renovated downtown site. The tour will encompass intriguing information about the theater's landmark architecture and cultural events, hidden artifacts, secret passages, theater ghosts, soldier stories, immigrant legacies and the dazzling results of the recent $40 million restoration.
For more information on the festival, check the websites: undertheradarfestival.com or publictheater.org.