Wednesday, August 31, 2016

#GOMO with Eventbrite: Exploring Downtown NYC

Hello chickadees!

Today we'll be taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming to discuss something a little different. I hope you'll enjoy it. :)

You may or may not know this depending on how closely you follow this blog, but I live in New York City, and when I'm not reviewing nail polish or beauty products, sometimes I leave my apartment. Shocking, I know. I was raised to appreciate the value of music and theater, and living in the city allows me to indulge my passions for them both. These days I'm more of an observer than a participant, but wonderfully, theater invites you to be a part of a community regardless of what side of the stage you're on.

When I was younger and saw one or two shows a year, my entire concept of theater in New York was centered around Broadway. In actuality, there's so much amazing music and theater happening in the city on a daily basis that it can be overwhelming. I've had to get very good at scheduling, and even then sometimes it's impossible to fit everything in. I'm more than familiar with the feeling of FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out. So that's why I decided to team up with Eventbrite and participate in this project. If there's anything I've come to realize in the last few years, it's that the only way to combat FOMO is by getting out more often. Cute, isn't it? Squash "Fear of Missing Out" by Getting Out More Often.

In the spirit of Getting Out More Often, I thought I'd take you around with me downtown and show you that there's more to see in the city than the tourist attractions around Times Square. And to prove that there's more to theater in the city than Broadway, I'll finish up by reviewing two of the shows that I've seen recently at downtown venues. OK, let's go! (Expand the slideshow.)

Of course there's more to getting out more often than just wandering around the city. Once in a while it's nice to treat yourself to an event and one of the great things about off-Broadway theater is that it can be considerably more affordable. Eventbrite is one avenue for finding unique and free events in the city every week. In fact, I purchased the ticket for one of the shows I'm about to review using Eventbrite. I swear it's true. Part of the reason I wanted to work on this project was that I'd just used the service a few days before Cara wrote to me. I have the confirmation email to prove it. :) I'd wanted to see the show because I'd discovered a great Danny K. Bernstein musical at the festival last year. Of all the musical entries this year the show I ended up seeing, Lamia, jumped out at me because of one of the composers, Janna Pelle. I urge to check out her albums. The first one is particularly great.
 Lamia is a story of transformation but, like its protagonist, I'm not sure if the creators really thought through what they wanted it to be. The story at the core of this play is a simple one. Like Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, Lamia tells the story of creature who falls in love with a human man and wishes to become human so that she can be with him. I believe the inspiration for the play is probably the Keats poem. This play frames that myth as the story that a bride is being told on the night before her wedding day as she deals with her anxieties and misgivings. Given that the running time of the play is less than an hour, you might assume that much of that time would be spent trying to flesh out the characters and give weight to the narrative since the framework is so straightforward and easily understood. Instead, Lamia abandons a lot of traditional storytelling wisdom in favor of a convoluted book, songs that have nothing to do with the plot, and a framing device that adds very little value. It's the sort of play that serves as an example of why conventional storytelling structure has held up for so long. Even though it isn't difficult to grasp the story or the point of the play, it's still important to have a certain amount of connective tissue to give the story emotional weight.

With all that said, I didn't hate it. I managed to enjoy myself, if not always for the right reasons. While the vocal music felt like the intrusion of unwanted indie rock band, much of the underscoring established a late 1960's-early 1970's rock vibe that set the perfect tone for the piece. That sensibility is carried into the movement which is reminiscent of an Alvin Ailey style of modern dance and the book which is influenced by both spoken word poetry and traditional oratory storytelling. If Lamia had been framed as a period piece with a group of hippies retelling a Greek myth, it would have explained these otherwise ridiculously dated elements. Though even with that framing device, the book needs serious revisions. As it currently stands, it barely sketches out the plot in favor of nonsensical gibberish. There's too much style over substance. What this play needed was to build up its characters so you could understand and sympathize with Lamia's plight and the concerns of the bride hearing her tale. Overall, I'm conflicted about this show. I laughed at it and not with it but I did enjoy most of the time I spent in the theater. I did think that the way the costumes transformed was fairly creative and I thought the staging made pretty good use of the small theater. Lamia was a good concept for a play that was not executed well. It lacked ambition and had too much filler and not enough substance which is particularly disappointing in a short play.
I didn't want to leave this post on a negative note and luckily I didn't have to. A few days after seeing Lamia I had the chance to see The Good Earth, which is currently playing a short run at the Flea Theater. The Good Earth is a Welsh import that tells the story of a family and community whose village and way of life comes under threat. But it's also a story of family. Honest and raw and heartfelt.

Writing a play is a very difficult endeavor. When you've seen the myriad ways things can go wrong, you come to really appreciate a simple story told well. The Good Earth does just that. By anchoring the play in the story of the Adams' family and their struggles to stay in their home, Motherlode Theatre makes you invested in the larger political issues at play. The play is ostensibly about the conflict between the council that claims the village is too dangerous to live in because of the nearby mountain and the villagers who resist the council's attempts to relocate them to quickly built homes in a neighboring town. And yet over an hour or so later you find yourself coming to understand what it means to take a job in a big corporation when you've always lived in a self-sustaining village where class barriers are nonexistent. You've gained a sense of place through a capella Welsh vocals that carry with them the weight of emotion and cultural tradition regardless of whether you can understand the lyrics. The Good Earth is a beautiful example of how an oppressed group can make themselves heard not through violence or volume but perseverance and humanity. I was particularly moved at the relationship between Jackie Adams (Gwenllian Higginson) and her brother James (Michael Humphreys). My main criticism of this play would be the final resolution which I found unnecessary and slightly manipulative. Still, The Good Earth is a testament to what can be accomplished with good writing and excellent acting on a limited budget. It is playing until September 3rd and I would urge you to see it while you can.
When I set out to write this post, I hadn't anticipated reviewing two shows, but I'm glad I did. These two experiences reflect a much larger year of theatre-going experiences and I think they show the value of taking a chance and going out more often. You could spend years on regrets for not taking a chance on past experiences or you could embrace the joy that's to be found in letting go and instead combating the fear of missing out by doing more. You'll never know what event you'll be telling stories about for the next week if you don't get out there. If you're thinking of hosting an event or looking for fun things to do in the city, you can RSVP online with Eventbrite.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about what I've been doing around the city for the past few weeks. If you decide to use Eventbrite and join in and Get Out More Often, I would love to hear about it. Feel free to share your stories with me in the comments and happy exploring!

-Cat :)

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