Bed-Stuy Theater Company Goes International For Summer 2014 Season

By Paul DeBenedetto on May 1, 2014 8:15am 

 Jeff Strabone, co-founder of the New Brooklyn Theater, leads a talkback session after "The Death of Bessie Smith" at Interfaith Medical Center. More performances and talkback sessions were announced for Summer 2014.
Jeff Strabone, co-founder of the New Brooklyn Theater, leads a talkback session after "The Death of Bessie Smith" at Interfaith Medical Center. More performances and talkback sessions were announced for Summer 2014.
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DNAinfo/Paul DeBenedetto

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A Bed-Stuy theater company famous for holding site-specific plays inside Interfaith Medical Center to raise awareness for the hospital's possible closure will expand with two shows outside of Brooklyn this summer — including a performance in Turkey.

The New Brooklyn Theater announced its Summer 2014 season Tuesday. It includes a site-specific performance of Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" in Istanbul, and one of Henrik Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People" in Charleston, West Virginia, alongside summer-long performances in Bed-Stuy.

The two performances were inspired by the work at Interfaith. They tackle a problem specific to those communities, said theater co-founder Jeff Strabone.

"We think that theater can uniquely move forward public conversations," Strabone said.

"We're not doing site-specific plays just for the fun of it, or as a brand. We're doing it as long as we can think of opportunities for theater to assist the public in its consideration of difficult questions."

The theater is partnering with Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies in August for Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard," a play centered around an aristocratic Russian family that loses its estate, which features a large orchard that is eventually torn down.

For their performance, New Brooklyn Theater scouted orchards inside Istanbul's Yedikule gardens. The performance is in protest of government plans to bulldoze the gardens and replace other park land in the city.

Harvard reached out to Strabone and the theater after members of the university saw New Brooklyn's version of "the Death of Bessie Smith" inside Interfaith Medical Center.

"This is a moment in Turkey where development is clashing with historical memory and preservation," Strabone said. "'The Cherry Orchard' seems like the perfect play to speak to that dilemma."

Ibsen's "Enemy of the People" is another site-specific play taking place in West Virginia on June 5, in partnership with Boston University and Kanawha Players Theater.

The production, about a man who finds evidence that a local business is purposefully polluting a town's water supply, is in response to a real-life chemical spill in Charleston's Elk River, Strabone said.

Like "the Death of Bessie Smith," both plays will feature talkback sessions after the show with local experts to help raise awareness, he said.

In Bed-Stuy, the theater will focus its performances on four "great, but neglected plays" from black writers beginning May 25, including work from writers like Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, Strabone said.

"We just think it's the right thing to do, to revisit lost gems," Strabone said. "We think that the African-American theatrical canon needs to be revisitied."

The Bed-Stuy performances have not yet been announced.

Each of the three programs highlights the theater's mission of sparking a discussion in the community, Strabone said.

"Theater has a way of provoking a way of thinking that's helpful when the normal analytical and politcal ways of thinking are exhausted," Strabone said.

"The arts can open up the question anew, and surprising thoughts and combinations of thoughts can occur."

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