Review of the Satellite Festival, Yale Cabaret
The first-ever Satellite Festival at Yale Cabaret was a sampling of works-in-progress and some short pieces with very specific focus. Sprawling over three nights in three locations, the Festival events could be accessed in different sequences and required at least two nights to see everything included, since some events were limited to a particular evening. The order in which things were seen may or may not contribute to the effect, and that’s part of the fun and interest of the festival format, making each person’s path through the offerings to some extent unique.
My approach was to see as much as I could in consecutive attendance at three separate locations in a sequence commencing at 9 p.m. Friday night and concluding around 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning. That meant seeing the late show of the main-stage offering, at the Yale Cabaret, which seemed to suit the nature of the events on view.
Someone to Watch Over Me, created and performed by Andrew Burnap, felt, suitably, like an intimate, after-hours encounter with jazz great Chet Baker—whom Burnap impersonated in speaking, singing, and trumpet-playing. A short presentation, the show revealed something of Baker’s persona, and let Burnap display for us the lyricism of Baker’s playing, the melancholy of his singing, and the coolness of his stage patter. It was a great combo—I particularly liked the comments about the virtues of trumpet and piano unaccompanied by a drummer, the story of the try-out for Charlie Parker, and, of the tunes, “My Funny Valentine” was a highpoint.
Next up was Run Bambi, an exploratory work by Lex Brown of the Yale Art School, supported by performers Kate Ruggeri and Aarica West with lighting by Elizabeth Green. The piece, at its best, evoked impressionistic responses, as Brown’s spoken word and gestural theater riffed on racist and sexist problems in our culture, while also asserting the power of owning one’s own style and presentation. The use of props—white towels, white tires, a ladder—helpedcreate the performance space as an arena for free-form routines. An arena that Brown literally fled at one point to move through the space upstairs and back again.
All the movement of Run Bambi—dance was key to the show’s expressive sense of joy and defiance—was in marked contrast to the stationary nature of the next show, Christopher Ross-Ewart’s Stop Drop and Shop: Explosions for the 21st Century, a one-man monologue with sound effects. With a comic sense of inadequacy in the face of a world he doesn’t quite understand, Ross-Ewart played “himself,” a white West Coast Canadian trying to come to grips with tensions on the U.S. east coast during Election Year 2016. Ross-Ewart’s breathy, nervous delivery—punctuated by explosions and horn effects—created a sense of the put-upon, well-meaning, would-be liberal conscience of our day and age, with particular reference to that most definitive of American activities: grocery-shopping.
The first two shows benefited greatly from songs and singing; the third show would’ve as well, as Ross-Ewart is a better musician than stand-up comic, but the Festival’s rationale, at least in part, was to give students opportunity to stretch their talents beyond their expected competencies.
I began the evening with Do All Daddies Have Grey Suits?, A Memory Play by Aylin Tekiner, at the Annex, that used a fascinating mixture of puppetry, shadow puppets, and projections/animation to tell a story of mourning. The author’s father, Zeki Tekiner, was the victim of a political assassination in Turkey in 1980. The short theater piece let a child, a stand-in for Aylin voiced by Dora Schwartzman, tell the story with details gleaned from adults and from her own active imagination. The question of her source for the information she imparted, in fact, kept meeting with the oft-iterated phrase, “I don’t know.” As a child, our narrator is uncertain what she knows or how she knows it; as our narrator, the child speaks with full authority. The relation between the two states—knowing and not-knowing (and knowing things you’d rather not know) informed the entire piece. The shadow puppets were creepily perfect for the Grimm’s fairy-tale-like story—complete with an actual underground city below the Castle district of Neveshir, Cappadocia, where Tekiner was killed, in a grocery store. Bracketing the child’s tale were photos of the family as well as film of Tekiner’s funeral, both providing a factual setting in the past that helped to enhance what came to seem a perpetual child’s perspective in a state of stricken arrested development.
Shadi Ghaheri’s فریادا , the second piece at the Annex, made effective use of the stage as a place where encounter becomes theater. Two young women, intrigued by and perhaps attracted to each other, find that neither can understand a word the other says. The situation is comical and ultimately frustrating—as the piece’s title, “Scream,” indicates—but only the English-language speaker seemed to find it embarrassing. Stella Baker, as the English speaker, acted the sheepish response of the American who can’t quite overcome surprise that the whole world doesn’t speak English, while Ghaheri played a woman with a passionate insistence upon communication. Ultimately, the show demonstrated that such commitment makes for connection: communication is what happens between people who interact, regardless of what they use to do it—eating apples, dancing, screaming.
I ended my evening at the Afro-American Cultural Center where Chiara Klein played an ingratiating female political candidate named Hedda (Gabler). Which is to say: the short piece, developed by Li-Min Lin, Tracy Tserjing Huang, and Pei-Yu Chu, asked us to consider Ibsen’s heroine as a contemporary political candidate, or, put another way, asked us to consider how a certain contemporary political candidate might be like Hedda Gabler. There were a few dropped references to other characters in the play, but it seemed to me the piece could really have pushed the notion of Hedda finding fulfillment as a contested candidate. Certainly, the idea as both a take on Ibsen’s play and on some current views of women in power is intriguing.
Finally, a staged reading of Emely Selina Zepeda’s From Clay and Water, directed by Sebastian Arbodela, with Bianca Hooi as Girl, Bradley James Tejeda as Dad, and Haydee Antunano as Mom. The play looked at her parents’ effects upon a young, impressionable girl, who narrated her recollections and her parents’ interactions. She seemed to grow up questioning what kept her mother in the marriage and expressed a lingering frustration at never having intervened in any significant way. She also recalled moments about her father, such as how his drunk, amateurish guitar-playing and singing showed a vulnerable side not often shown, as he tended to be abusive or unresponsive. More than the dysfunction between the adults, however, what the play highlighted, to me, was how children, even when they become adults themselves, understand so little of the full story of their parents’ lives. The young perspective of the narrator seemed trapped in a kind of emotional solipsism, a perspective that sees the parents themselves as trapped but without realizing how limited her view is. The play worked best as Girl’s effort to overcome the limitations of her own family romance, while acknowledging her debt to her parents.
Unfortunately, I missed other offerings. The best feature of the Festival was getting a sense of the variety of talent and the many different kinds of work being done at YSD. In stretching over three days, the Festival worked best, I imagine, for students and patrons already in the vicinity of Park Street. Piling show upon show, as I did, tended to dilute the primacy of any particular event, but it created an effect a bit like a theater version of the Art School’s Open Studios, where the audience can drop by and see what students are up to, in this case receiving perspectives and approaches that may be more diverse, if less developed, than pooling all resources into one show per week.
As an interesting experiment for the Cab’s season, I wonder if the Satellite Festival will continue to develop in subsequent years.
The Satellite Festival
Someone to Watch Over Me
Created and performed by Andrew Burnap
Music, words, movement and direction by Lex Brown
Lighting design by Elizabeth Green
Performers: Lex Brown, Kate Ruggeri, Aarica West
Project manager: Cindy Ji Hye Kim
Stop Drop and Shop: Explosions for the 21st Century
Created and performed by Christopher Ross-Ewart
Do All Daddies Have Grey Suits? A Memory Play
Conceptual Artist and Director: Aylin Tekiner
Illustrator Artist & Story Conception Collaborator: Kemal Gökhan Gürses
Artistic Director: Stuart Fishelson
Video Projection: Brittany Bland
Lighting Design: Carolina Ortiz
Sound Design: Ien DeNio
Costume Design: Katie Touart
Set Design: Izmir Ickbal & Zoe Hurwitz
Stage Manager: Francesca McKenzie
Video Composer/Editor: Gülcan Barut & Yusuf Bolat
Mandolin: Ian Scot
Artistic Advisor: Wendall Harrington
Technical Advisors: Larry Reed (Shadow Master) & Caryl Kientz
Graphic Assistant: Jessica Alva
Performers: Stefani Kuo, Li-Min Lin, Jennifeer Schmidt, Zoe Hurwitz, Jae Shin
Narrator: Dora Schwartzman
Created by Shadi Ghaheri
Co-Directed by Chalia LaTour & Shadi Ghaheri
Performers: Stella Baker & Shadi Ghaheri
Dramaturg: Lynda Paul
Sound Design: Nok Kanchanabanca
Projection Design: Wladimiro Woyno Rodriguez
Light Design: Elizabeth Mak
Costume Design: Sarah Nietfeld
Technical Design: William Hartley
Stage Manager: Jake Lozano
Hedda, or What Will Gabler’s Daughter Do Next?
Collaboration by Li-Min Lin, Tracy Tserjing Huang, Pei-Yu Chu
Producer: Li-Min Lin
Costume Design: Sarah Nietfeld
Visual Design: Lih-Chyi Lin
Actors: Chiara Klein, Steven Koernig, Chad Kinsman
Special Thanks: Kimberly Jannarone
From Clay and Water
Playwright: Emely Selina Zepeda
Director: Sebastian Arbodela
Actors: Bianca Hooi, Bradley James Tejeda, Haydee Antunano
April 7-9, 2016