Rallying the Troupes


They’re groundbreaking directors, heading their own companies—and they’re not yet out of their twenties. Watch for the youth brigade leading the theater charge this fall.

David Travis, 29, Jon Schumacher, 25, and Joshua Carlebach, 28, are three of a wave of directors flooding out of school and putting together troupes. Their companies—Synapse, Singularity, and the Flying Machine—differ wildly. But that’s the point. They set up their own shops to make their kind of art. And their work speaks especially loud to their own generation.

“This current crop, raised on MTV, channel surfing, and pop culture, relate especially well to their contemporaries,” notes HERE’s executive director, Kristin Marting. “Their work is quick-moving, with a variety of perspectives, collage-based stuff, and a renewed exploration of the spectacle of theater.”

These artists also tend to be more political, says Travis (who appointed himself Synapse’s second-in-command to free himself of administrative overload). September 11 hit his troupe hard. That November, they read Silence, a feminist comedy set during a medieval holy war, and it resonated with them. So when Synapse’s artistic director, Ginevra Bull, mounted it, she underscored its darker elements. Chills shot through the laughs, and reviewers were impressed.

Their third season takes off with another political play, Euripides’ The Phoenician Women at Ohio Theatre (66 Wooster Street, 206-1515), beginning November 9. It’s a tragedy in which two brothers wage a senseless war against each other. “It’s shockingly timely,” says Travis, who will direct it. He dismissed as too obvious his early notion of using footage of Sharon and Arafat in the piece; instead, he’ll emphasize the “public nature of the spectacle,” with seven video monitors representing surveillance cams outside the gates of Thebes and a chorus modeled on Red Cross/Greenpeace volunteers.

Travis, who co-founded Synapse at age 23 after doing a production at the Edinburgh Fringe, wooed Harvard classmates “in finance who abandoned their artistic ambitions,” for start-up funds, he says. Singularity’s members and backers, similarly, emerged from the “Northwestern mafia.” When Schumacher graduated in ’99, he and a few others and moved to New York to perform at the Fringe that year. Their entry, which grew out of a class with Metamorphoses director and Northwestern prof Mary Zimmerman, was a docudrama à la Anna DeVeare Smith, focusing on one day in the life of a real, but not famous, person.

That work, A Day in the Life of Clark Chipman, became the first of a series, The United States Project. The latest episode, United States: Work in Progress, making its debut at HERE on November 8, interweaves the voices of three scientists at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT. “It will have more dialogue and interaction than the earlier parts,” explains Schumacher. “We’ll be exploring the potential and limits of documentary theater.”

His idealism and drive are typical of these young companies. Schumacher and another member of the company temp at an investment bank at night, while three of his cohorts earn a living as a receptionist, Web designer, and hotel bellman, respectively. But from the start they were applying for—and getting—grants, like the 2002 Drama League Director’s Project award that enabled them to mount this new production.

They graduated together from Jacques Lecoq’s school in Paris in 1996, but only recently did Joshua Carlebach and the Flying Machine cast off the shackles of waiting tables and tending bar. Trained in traditions like clowning, mime, chorus, and Greek tragedy, the troupe put on their first show in the basement of a rectory by the BQE. They did the ’97 Fringe and won a $15,000 grant from New York State Council on the Arts to develop new work, including Signals of Distress, which will run at Soho Rep starting November 12. Adapted from Jim Crace’s tragic novel set in 1836, it tells the tale of a priggish social reformer—a 45-year-old male virgin—isolated on a business trip on the bleak Cornish coast. “It’s a meditation on a deep sense of longing for human connection,” Carlebach explains. A well-made, three-act play, it will eschew their trademark mime and puppets but will heighten the production with choral movement and dance.

What are his ambitions for the Flying Machine? Companies like the Wooster Group and Mabou Mines are his models. “Maybe it’s a youth thing,” he says. “I’m suspicious of corporate culture and the theater business run by companies like Walt Disney. I don’t want to get famous making theater. I want to make plays and have audiences come and see them.”

Reviews by Brian Parks


September 6-October 13

Playwrights Horizons at the Duke, 229 West 42nd Street, 279-4200

Playwrights Horizons opens up their 2002-2003 season with the latest play by Keith Bunin, author of last year’s The Credeaux Canvas. The World Over is described as a theatrical fable about a man who believes himself the lost prince of a mythical land, and his travels around the globe to claim his birthright.


September 12

Atlantic Theater, 336 West 20th Street, 645-8015

The Atlantic casts its eyes back at George S. Kaufman’s 1925 comedy, about an innocent Midwesterner who comes to New York and falls in with a couple of suspect theater producers and their loser play. Wonder if Mel Brooks will stop by opening night.


September 12

Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center, 150 West 65th Street, 239-6200

Terrence McNally, Stephen Flaherty, and Lynn Ahrens adapt the 1994 film about a Dublin bus conductor who runs an amateur theater company. His ambition to produce Oscar Wilde’s Salome, though, gets the local church authorities hot under the cassock.


September 12-28

The Kitchen, 512 West 19th Street, 255-5793

Performer John Kelly’s new work is based on his fascination with the 1945 French film Children of Paradise. Kelly’s multimedia piece uses two characters from the movie, as well as music by both Michael Torke and Radiohead (Torke and Yorke?). Full disclosure requires noting that the production will also feature mime.


September 19

Maverick Theater, 307 West 26th Street, 206-1515

The Twilight Series—a new late-night run of productions at Chelsea’s Maverick Theater—kicks things off with Adam Rapp’s rumination on religion and evil. Series artistic director Simon Hammerstein states he’s looking for “danger, blood, and unforgettable theater”—drama as abattoir, we guess.


September 27-October 27

Mint Theater, 331 West 43rd Street, 315-0231

The Mint Theater won themselves an Obie grant a couple of seasons back, cash to help them continue their mission of unearthing worthy but neglected old plays. Their 11th season begins with The Charity That Began at Home, the U.S. premiere of St. John Hankin’s 1906 comedy. Originally produced by Harley Granville Barker at the Royal Court, the play concerns the unexpected consequences of a family’s “all-consuming commitment to kindness.”


September 30

Richard Rodgers Theater, 226 West 46th Street, 307-4100

“Six lifelong friends,” the advance press reads. “Two turbulent decades. 24 classic Billy Joel songs.” One big bullet to the head of theater.


October 1-12

BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, 718-636-4100

Dublin’s Abbey Theater brings Euripides’ tale of motherly woe to Brooklyn, directed by Deborah Warner and starring Fiona Shaw as the woman done wrong. Folks with impending divorces should not bring the kids.


October 1

City Center, 131 55th Street, 581-1212

Dael Orlandersmith’s latest concerns an African American man and woman battling the racism they’ve inherited along with their varying skin tones.


October 18

DR 2, 103 East 15th Street, 581-8869

The Ma-Yi Theatre Company dedicates itself to presenting work about the Filipino and Asian American experience, a project that won them a 2002 Obie grant. Their season opens with Lonnie Carter’s new play about a lonely Filipino farm worker’s pen-pal courtship with a woman who advertised in the back of a movie magazine. Loy Arcenas directs.


October 24-November 24

P.S.122, 150 First Avenue, 477-5288

For a contempo variety of religious experience, check out Elevator Repair Service’s

new piece, based on work by Henry and William James. A golden bowl of American scenes, one hopes.


October 28-November 24

The Connelly Theatre, 220 East 4th Street, 414-7773

Returning for its fourth year, the Chekhov Now Festival will offer up nine different productions and adaptations of the good doctor’s works. Among them: Gull, Ellen Beckerman’s movement-based version of The Seagull; The Ghosts of Firs Nokolaich, a sequel to The Cherry Orchard about Lopakhin’s destruction of the estate; and Moscow, a musical adaptation of Three Sisters in which three gay men trapped in a deserted theater have nothing but Chekhov’s play to perform for all eternity.


October 29

Jane Street Theater, 113 Jane Street, 924-8404

Back in college, a fellow student did her Am Civ thesis on the structural similarities between musicals and porn movies, how the songs in a musical and the sex scenes in porn played the same dramaturgical role. So it was only a matter of time, I guess, before the stage was graced with the musical version of Debbie Does Dallas, the modestly entertaining FringeNYC hit now engorged into a full-blown Off-Broadway production.


October 30

Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, 353-0303

The Vineyard gets back to busi-

ness with Janusz Glowacki’s spin on Chekhov. Three sisters in modern-day Moscow dream of freedom, “Hollywood style.” Next up: Konstantin Treplev takes a meeting at Miramax.


October 31-December 8

Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street, 677-4210

Not busy enough with his season at the Signature, Lanford Wilson also translates the Ibsen classic for CSC. The production will be directed by Daniel Fish, who helmed Charles L. Mee’s True Love at the Zipper last season.


November 8-17

HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue, 647-0202

The Singularity troupe present the latest installment in their documentary theater project. Three scientists at MIT work to unearth the secrets of artificial intelligence—not the stoner kind.


November 8-17

P.S.122, 150 First Avenue, 477-5288

Ken Nintzel is the inspired kook who, a few years back, brought us Pageant, a charming and

pleasingly crazy piece about a contest to be the Virgin Mary. His newest production centers around a woman in a coma, as family and doctors try to “revive her and create the memories she’s missing”—a process that somehow involves piñatas.


November 12

Soho Rep, 46 Walker Street, 206-1515

The Flying Machine opens up Soho Rep’s season with a multimedia adaptation of Jim Crace’s novel about a group of Americans shipwrecked on a northern English coast in 1830. Expect the Flying Machine’s highly physical Lecoq training to figure prominently in this tale of displaced, sandy Yanks.


November 26-January 11

Manhattan Class Company, 410 West 42nd Street, 727-7722

MCC got kicked out of their old home, so now find themselves perched on Theater Row. Expect the crowds to find them, though, when they begin their season with Neil LaBute’s The Mercy Seat, about an affair set right after 9-11.


December 5-22

La MaMa, 74A East 4th Street, 475-7710

The Cleveland Public Theater mounts a multidisciplinary work based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. A woman suddenly dies and gets cast into an otherworld of “chattering ghosts, spinning gurus, and singing charlatans”—sorta like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.