The New Ohio Theatre’s “Ice Factory Festival” began 29 years ago, originated by playwright/artistic director Robert Lyons in a space on Wooster Street that famously lacked air-conditioning and got its name with no lack of irony. Now located at 154 Christopher St. in the West Village, the summer festival of avant-garde theatrical works has almost doubled in size while retaining its sense of originality, losing a leaky ceiling and gaining the power of a working a/c.
Ranging over the years from a one person show to 30 actor productions and occasionally mounting experimental opera or a Spanish language show with super titles, the festival is not short on uniqueness.
In December, Lyons and Jaclyn Biskup, the creative producer, began the process of going through the 120 or so applications with the goal of weeding them down to seven productions.
“Most of the pitches that we get are conceptual, without a script,” explains Biskup. “Most of the time, we are surprised with what ends up on stage.”
“It’s not a script based decision,” confirms Lyons. “We’re not looking for kitchen sink realism. We are looking for artists that we want to support and every one is different. There’s an element of surprise in each production.”
The artists chosen for this year’s festival validate Lyons’ claims and were uniform in expressing their gratitude for being included in the diverse group.
“It is an honor to be included in the Ice Factory!” exclaims Soomi Kim, whose “Body Through Which the Dream Flows” will be performed in August with an ensemble of six young competitive gymnasts in a play inspired by “the horrendous Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal.”
Kim adds that “their programming supports artists who are taking risks and who envision their latest wild ideas to be seen by an audience.”
The Guerilla Opera will present “SALT,” which “uses a multimedia approach to tell the commonly recurring story of a woman trapped in an abusive marriage. After agonizing self-reflection, she decides to release her fantasy of freedom. In this performance, her release is not physicalized through action or words, but by an object moving through space: salt,” according to Keithlyn B. Parkman, the production’s associate producer.
This weekend, XIPE Colectivo Escenico presents “Acheron: The River of Tragedy,” described by director Martín Balmaceda as “a poetic exploration of crossing the border between Mexico and the USA. The visceral and physical world of migration is brought to life by exposing the many phases of human transition, the transition between powerlessness and power and the ultimate transition between life and death.”
Samantha Blain, who created the piece “ISLA” with Kristopher Dean for the Hit The Lights! Theater company, relayed that “the impact goal for ‘ISLA’ since its inception has been to give space for dialogue and understanding about the refugee experience, to share diverse stories about women and to collaborate in open discussions with those whose journeys look different than our own. Being able to premiere this work at the New Ohio Theater Ice Factory is a dream come true for us.”
Tiffany Carvalho, recently seen in “Trash Body Monkey House,” is grateful that to the New Ohio “for providing a fundamentally safe space to usher in the new era of independent theatre artists navigating a post-pandemic world. Amongst the chaos of today’s ever-changing landscape, the performing arts remain an essential vessel to better understand the complexities of the human condition. Ice Factory embraces these changes, actively supporting the bold new works that redefine the way theatre should be experienced.”
Robert Thaxton-Stevenson, co-director of the upcoming “The Strange Case of Citizen de la Cruz”, wonders “what other festival would welcome a political satire about sex and radical nationalism in the Philippines?” and adds that “they make space for indie theatre companies to get their work in front of a receptive audience while providing comprehensive administrative and production support.”
“What we’re trying to do,” explains Lyons, “is to take a snapshot of what’s going on in theatre in this particular moment and we want that to include as wide a range as possible. Week to week, the shows are dramatically different.”
While the Ice Factory can likely claim to be the oldest running avant-garde theatre festival running in New York, it can also boast that many of the creative people involved have gone on to bigger things.
“Not that it’s the goal,” Lyons says, “but last year, four of our alumni were directing on Broadway.”
The festival continues through Aug. 20. Live streams of the shows will be available for a limited time after the festival ends. Info can be found here: newohiotheatre.org/ice-factory.