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January Theatre Festivals: 7 Events with Ambitious Offerings

By: Raven Snook
Date: Jan 04, 2024

Catch innovative and inexpensive performances at Under the Radar, The Exponential Festival, Prototype and more


Not too long ago, audiences were worried that January theatre festivals were going the way of the dodo. The Public Theater cutting the celebrated Under the Radar from its budget last June was particularly distressing. Thankfully, theatre fests are back in full force this month, even Under the Radar, which is being resurrected at multiple partner venues. Here are the highlights of these eclectic events, which offer exciting and adventurous shows at bargain-basement prices.

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Soho Playhouse: International Fringe Encore Series: Play Festival 2024

Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street between Sixth Avenue and Varick Street in Soho

January 4-February 11. At press time, several International Fringe Encore Series shows were available to TDF members. Log in and search for International Fringe Encore Series.

The cozy Soho Playhouse has been importing Fringe Festival favorites from around the world for years. This edition features nine plays, including The Movement You Need (February 7-10), an autobiographical solo show by Ted Lasso co-creator and cast member Brendan Hunt, aka Coach Beard; It's a Motherf**king Pleasure (January 4-21), a satire from disability-led theatre company FlawBored about the commodification of marginalized identities (note: all performances are captioned and audio described); Cassie Workman's Aberdeen (January 30-February 11), a tribute to Kurt Cobain written entirely in rhyming couplets; and Esther's Revenge (January 7-19), a participatory jury trial inspired by a real-life, racially charged murder.

See the full International Fringe Encore Series lineup.


PhysFestNYC 2023

Stella Adler Studio of Acting, 65 Broadway between Rector Street and Exchange Alley in the Financial District

January 5-14.

Produced by the venerable Broken Box Mime Theater, this brand-new festival spotlights physical theatre, an underappreciated genre that encompasses mime, clown, dance, performance art and puppetry. The 10-day event includes workshops and panels along with 16 shows, all just $20 per ticket. Best bets include War and Play: A Clown Odyssey of Survival (January 6-7), The Crone Chronicles: Reclaiming the Story of Baba Yaga (January 8-9), STELLAAA! (January 7) by The Lion King alum Bill Bowers and Recent Cutbacks' Lord of the Rings parody Fly, You Fools! (January 12).

See the full PhysFestNYC 2023 lineup.


Under the Radar

Multiple venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn

January 5-21. At press time, a few Under the Radar shows were available to TDF members. Log in and search for Under the Radar.

Thanks to founder Mark Russell, new producer ArKtype and partnerships with lauded NYC cultural institutions, the 19th edition of Under the Radar will go on despite being nixed from The Public Theater. Seventeen full-fledged productions, six works in progress, a symposium and a disco will be presented at 17 venues, and the offerings are so varied and intriguing, it's hard to pick favorites. We are particularly excited about South African performance artist Albert Ibokwe Khoza's solo The Black Circus of the Republic of Bantu (January 11-13 at New York Live Arts) exploring the horrible history of so-called "ethnological exhibitions;" a pair of innovative reinventions of Shakespeare: Hamlet | Toilet (January 10-13 at Japan Society) by Japanese playwright-director Yu Murai and William Shakespeare's As You Like It, A Radical Retelling by Cliff Cardinal (January 12-13 at NYU Skirball) by Indigenous artist Cliff Cardinal; Peter Mills Weiss and Julia Mounsey's Open Mic Night (January 5-18 at Performance Space New York), an experimental theatre work about the demise of an experimental theatre; and Nigerian-born British playwright-poet-performer Inua Ellams (Barber Shop Chronicles) sharing work from his archive in the interactive Search Party (January 5-13 at Lincoln Center Theater). There are also a handful of longer running productions included in the lineup: Arlekin Players Theatre's Our Class (January 18-February 11 at BAM) about a devastating 1941 pogrom in Poland starring Broadway's Alexandra Silber and Richard Topol; and an encore engagement of Shayok Misha Chowdhury's Public Obscenities (January 17-February 18 at Theatre for a New Audience), which was a smash at Soho Rep last season.

See the full Under the Radar Festival lineup.


The Exponential Festival

Multiple venues in Brooklyn

January 5-February 3. At press time, a few Exponential Festival shows were available to TDF members. Log in and search for Exponential Festival.

Founded in 2016, The Exponential Festival is, like its home borough of Brooklyn, eclectic and eye-opening. With 15 performances at seven brick-and-mortar venues as well as on YouTube, this cornucopia of quirk has an anything-goes vibe that ranges from highbrow—Más que un Pétalo (January 23-27 at The Brick), a multidisciplinary exploration of the Ecuadorian immigrant experience; Yuki Kawahisa's solo show ten dreams of metamorphoses or me talk dirty someday (January 31-February 3 at The Brick)—to whoa-brow (Admin Reveal: An Evening With Miss Lady Salad by meme master Shawn Escarciga (January 25-27 at Brick Aux); ROAR! (January 11-13 at Cloud City), a rock musical about the making of the infamous movie of the same name starring Tippi Hedren and a bunch of tigers; Two Sisters Find a Box of Lesbian Erotica in the Woods (January 5-13 at Loading Dock), which is exactly what it sounds like.

See the full Exponential Festival lineup.


Out-FRONT! Festival

Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street near Pitt Street on the Lower East Side
The LGBT Community Center, 208 West 13th Street between Seventh and Greenwich Avenues in the West Village

January 10-20.

Pioneers Go East Collective curates this radical queer dance, film and performance festival at a pair of downtown venues. The live offerings include a double bill from voguer and Pose star Jason Anthony Rodriguez exploring his queer, Dominican identity (January 10-11 at the The LGBT Community Center); Joey Kipp's Tracing Lorraine (January 11-12 at the The LGBT Community Center) about his connection with the ghost of groundbreaking Black playwright Lorraine Hansberry; and a new installment in choreographer Arthur Aviles' Naked Vanguard series (January 17 and 19 at the Abrons Arts Center).

See the full Out-FRONT! Festival lineup.



Multiple venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn

January 10-21

For its 11th edition, Prototype, which is co-produced by Beth Morrison Projects and HERE, presents six new in-person operas and three virtual ones, none of which you'd catch at the Met (yet), though two previous titles, Angel’s Bone and Prism, did snag the Pulitzer Prize for Music. The themes, musical styles and short-attention-span lengths are decidedly contemporary and push the boundaries of the genre. Already a hot ticket and extended beyond the fest: Terce: A Practical Breviary (January 10-February 4 at The Space at Irondale), a feminist reimagining of a monastic 9 a.m. mass by Heather Christian, whose Oratorio for Living Things was universally worshipped. Other offerings include Adoration (January 12-20 at the Sheen Center), an adaptation of Atom Egoyan's film of the same name, Angel Island (January 11-13 at BAM) about the 20th-century Chinese immigrant and Malinxe (January 20 at Brookfield Place), a free, one-day-only, half-hour piece inspired by the myth of La Llorona, aka the Weeping Woman.

See the full Prototype lineup.


The Fire This Time Festival

The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street between Avenues A and B in the East Village

January 15-28. If you're a TDF member, log in to purchase discount tickets.

The Fire This Time's longtime home may be gone—the Kraine Theatre closed last month—but this venerable festival lives on at The Wild Project. Since its 2009 founding, this annual event has helped launch the careers of a slew of superb Black playwrights, including Dominique Morisseau, Jocelyn Bioh, Antoinette Nwandu, Roger Q. Mason, C.A. Johnson, Charly Evon Simpson and Marcus Gardley. The fest's name is a nod to James Baldwin's seminal book The Fire Next Time, and its goal is to support the next generation of Black dramatists as they explore their ever-evolving culture. Its signature event is the 10-Minute Play program featuring six different shorts tackling more hot-button topics than your social feeds, including colorism, domestic abuse, and the bonds of biological versus chosen family. Cezar Williams directs the playlets.

See the full Fire This Time Festival lineup.


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Raven Snook is the Editor of TDF Stages. Follow her on Facebook at @Raven.Snook. Follow TDF on Facebook at @TDFNYC.