Gov. Pataki congratulated Robert DeNiro, one of the founders of the Tribeca Theater Festival, which opens Monday.
Tribeca filmsters put on a show
By Alison Gregor
Move over Mammon, theres a muse being celebrated in Tribeca, and her name is Thalia.
With the start of the Tribeca Theater Festival Oct. 19, two weeks of plays, staged readings, screenings and panel discussions about drama will bring a decidedly theatrical air to Lower Manhattan, an area often noted as the cradle of Wall St. but overlooked when it comes to its nearly 70 theater companies.
The festival was the vision of Jane Rosenthal actor Robert DeNiros business partner and one of the founders of the Tribeca Film Festival along with the Tribeca-based theater company, Drama Dept.
We wanted to showcase this incredible cultural asset, Rosenthal said at a press conference Wednesday. Unique in its breadth, in its voice, in its pool of talent, the festival is first and foremost meant to be inclusive of all downtown theaters and will become more so as it grows in scope for years to come.
While festival founders said they hope to forge a tradition that will attract theater-lovers and patrons, dramatists said they wholeheartedly support a new venue for drama.
The festival is not only important to those of us who come downtown to see plays, its crucial to artists to have a place to work, said award-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein, one of nine dramatists featured in the festival.
Nine short premiere plays, collectively called The Downtown Plays, written by Wasserstein and other acclaimed contemporary playwrights, such as Jon Robin Baitz, David Henry Hwang, Neil LaBute, Kenneth Lonergan, Frank Pugliese, Paul Rudnick and Warren Leight, are the festivals ongoing centerpiece.
Focusing on Downtown Manhattan, the works were written at the behest of dramatist Douglas Carter Beane, artistic director of Drama Dept., who also wrote one himself.
Thats what Downtown is about, said the artist, who wrote Advice from a Caterpillar and As Bees in Honey Drown. Its about going out, having dinner, seeing a show, going to a bar, fighting about the show you just saw and then holding hands and going home.
The festival, sponsored by American Express, will kick off Monday with a staged reading of David Hares London hit Stuff Happens, a sardonic political play lampooning more than a handful of current U.S. government officials and world leaders. The title was taken from U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfelds response to a reporters question about the looting of Baghdad after the American invasion of Iraq.
The free reading, the only North American pre-election showing of Hares work, will be staged by New York Theatre Workshop, a safe home for theater artists, said managing director Lynn Moffatt. These are artists who want to explore collective history, and who need to respond to the events that shape our lives.
Festival founder and actor Robert DeNiro said in characteristically laconic fashion that he wasnt sure about the impact of dramatists and Hollywood celebrities on the public discourse, especially right before a presidential election, but that he did believe people are entitled to express their opinion.
He also said he hoped to bring new audiences to the theater with the festival.
Along those lines, celebrity hosts will be introducing to festival-goers many of the dramatic works, and at the same time, the many downtown theater companies. Hosts will include Billy Crudup, Isaac Mizrahi, Whoopi Goldberg, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Harvey Keitel, Martin Scorcese, Ben Stiller, Tony Danza, Christopher Walken, Anna Deavere Smith, Michael C. Hall, Ben Shankman, Kitty Carlisle Hart and Tovah Feldshuh, among others.
Besides these events, there also will be a reading of Carol Churchills surrealistic work This is a Chair and a panel discussion about playwright Tennessee Williams, featuring film heartthrob Ethan Hawke. There will be free readings and performances by companies such as Naked Angels, The Culture Project, National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped and New Federal Theatre.
In an event closed to the general public, six minority playwrights selected by a jury will read their un-produced works before agents, producers and theater company representatives.
As a spinoff of the Tribeca Film Festival, the theater festival will remain true to form and showcase some films in this case, about drama. Featured will be Waiting for Guffman, Broadway: The Golden Age, By the Legends Who Were There, All About Eve and A Streetcar Named Desire.
Playwrights said they were thrilled and grateful at the opportunity to participate in a new dramatic event in one of the worlds handful of theatrical hubs.
Theater companies are a place where writers are supported and carried through the long arc of their careers, both the successes and the failures, said Frank Pugliese, author of Avenu Boys and Hope is the Thing with Feathers. The festival is really a great sign for the future of theater in the whole city.
Theater and the performing arts are one of the biggest attractions of visitors to New York. The Tribeca Film Festival was one of many events that helped draw 38.7 million visitors to the city last year, which was more than the city received prior to Sept. 11, 2001, said Christyne Nicholas of NYC & Company, the citys visitors bureau.
Thus, city officials are solidly behind the theater festival.
Were the financial center of the world, and were going to make sure Lower Manhattan stays the financial center of the world, Gov. George Pataki said at Wednesdays announcement. But were also the center of creativity, whether its theater or film or art, and were just so proud of that. And now we will have a chance to showcase that.