During their 17-year creative partnership, Tina Kronis and Richard Alger of L.A.-based Theatre Movement Bazaar have drawn a receptive global audience to their audacious, rip-it-up, ensemble-based remixes of classic Chekhov.
"Anton's Uncles," their gleefully irreverent deconstruction of "Uncle Vanya," was an out-of-left-field smash at the 2011 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Recently, they returned from a London touring production of their work "Track 3," a vaudeville- and disco-infused riff on the Russian playwright's tragi-comic "Three Sisters." In a few weeks they'll be off to perform in Beijing and Shanghai.
But when Theatre Movement Bazaar presents "Track 3" Sept. 27 through 29 at REDCAT, the company won't have to schlep any further than from Van Nuys to Grand Avenue to be seen by international theater cognoscenti. It will be one of more than half a dozen local artists alongside performers from Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Japan, Samoa and New Zealand, participating in the second edition of REDCAT's "Radar L.A., An International Festival of Contemporary Theater."
"The thing about this festival, you end up being able to reach another audience, outside of the 99-seat-theater audience, and whatever other international audience might come outside of L.A.," Alger said with director-choreographer Kronis last week in a lounge outside REDCAT's flexible black-box theater.
"Because I think that's something that we've observed here," he continued, "that L.A. hasn't been as much a place where people come from outside to find work."
Maybe not, historically. But that's changing, and Radar L.A. appears to be part of the reason why.
Christened in 2011, the biennial festival is a kind of Left Coast rejoinder to New York's highly influential Under the Radar festival. The relationship is not coincidental: Radar L.A. is co-curated by REDCAT Executive Director Mark Murphy, Diane Rodriguez, director of new play production at L.A.'s Center Theatre Group, and Mark Russell, who produces Under the Radar for the Public Theater in New York.
Both festivals focus on interdisciplinary collaborative theater rather than the single-author, script-based plays that drive most U.S. regional theaters. The individual artists and collectives participating in Radar L.A. are far more likely to have a background in film, dance, classical music, DJ-ing, fashion, design or all the above than they are to have resumes stocked with off-Broadway credits.
Olga Garay-English, who helped launch Under the Radar a decade ago when she worked for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, thinks that the festival's Los Angeles sibling has managed to carve out a distinct identity.
"Although there are some really stimulating and creative theater ensembles in Los Angeles, they have not been as much part of a national dialogue as you would want," said Garay-English, now executive director of L.A.'s Department of Cultural Affairs, which helps fund Radar L.A. "Doing festivals like this are really critical to putting us in a national and international spotlight, because that's where the buzz starts."
This year's festival, with 18 projects, is slightly larger than its inaugural version and broader in the scope, Murphy said. Most performances will take place at REDCAT, but others will occur at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, the Getty Villa, CAP UCLA, historic movie palaces in downtown L.A., and public venues such as Grand Central Market. (Further information can be found at http://www.redcat.org/festival/radar-la-festival-2013
Asked what she and Murphy learned from the first festival, a six-day sprint of 15 companies and 82 performances, Rodriguez replied only half-jokingly, "We learned that we were very crazy to do this."
Along with Garay-English, Murphy and Rodriguez believe that one key to raising the global profile of L.A.'s progressively minded performing artists was to give them the same prominent festival platform as foreign visitors. This year, Murphy and his co-organizers looked for ways to create new commissioned works that could have their world premieres at Radar L.A.
One example is "Hospital," a collaboration between Skid Row performance group Los Angeles Poverty Department and the Netherlands collective Wunderbaum. Downtown's historic Tower Theater will be transformed into a simulated TV studio to host the premiere production of a 90-minute work that spoofs TV medical serials while taking an analytical scalpel to the very dissimilar medical-industrial complexes of two countries.
New works by other L.A.-based artists that will have their world premieres include CalArts Center for New Performance's "Prometheus Bound" at the Getty Villa and "St. Jude" by writer-performer Luis Alfaro, a ritualistic, memory-laced work based on Alfaro's real-life return to his Central Valley childhood home to attend to his dying father.
Among the other L.A.-based festival performers are Roger Guenveur Smith, presenting his solo historic-poetic incarnation of Rodney King; "Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam," Trieu Tran's re-imagining of his family's escape from Vietnam when he was 6; and director-choreographer David Roussève's "Stardust," billed as "a coming-of-age story for the Twitter generation."
Although not necessarily by design, this year's festival has a distinctly Latino-Latin American sensibility, which proved to have strong drawing power in 2011, Murphy said.
"I don't think we actually said, 'Let's focus on Latin America' this year,'" Rodriguez said. "It happened that the projects were there, they were touring, they were exciting, and they were forward in their aesthetic."
One of those companies is Mexico City's Teatro de Cierto Habitantes. In 2009, it came to REDCAT to present "Monsters and Prodigies: The History of the Castrati," a brilliantly antic and erudite piece of cerebral "physical theater" about the falsetto-voiced young male opera singers whose gonads were sacrificed in the service of Baroque culture.
This fall, the group will present "El Gallo," a fusion of Pirandellian lucha libre-esque stagecraft, in which the audience witnesses the birth of an opera-like work (in an entirely made-up language), from its chaotic rehearsal stages through its grand "opening."
In an interview last month in the Mexican capital, company founder and director Claudio Valdés Kuri said he applauds U.S. presenters for attempting to reach Spanish-dominant and bilingual audiences with new Latin American work. But while touring the United States, he said, he also has noticed a welcome shift in the receptivity of English-speaking audiences to experimental foreign-language work.
"My public in the U.S. continues being English-speaking, with some Latinos," he said, "but they are English speakers who are beginning to know their Latin neighbors in a very distinct manner."
Murphy hopes that this process of deeper mutual discovery will extend in the coming days. "A festival is about the performances, a snapshot of a moment in time that caught the evolution of the art form," he said. "But it's also about place: a critical mass of artists and audiences gathered together in one area."