Spring forward to fall festivals

Communal Spaces sets its short play fest in Manhattan and Brooklyn community gardens. Photo by Lee Rayment.
Communal Spaces sets its short play fest in Manhattan and Brooklyn community gardens. Photo by Lee Rayment.

BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Like fall, that fleeting sweet spot between summer’s messy swelter and winter’s bone-chilling cold, we’re keeping this introduction brief — all the better to get right down to the business of presenting our totally subjective picks from the robust harvest of fall festivals in and around Manhattan. It begins!

COMMUNAL SPACES: A GARDEN PLAY FESTIVAL | Green gathering places are an integral part of the show (and sometimes get cast as central characters), when Communal Spaces presents short plays in Manhattan and Brooklyn community gardens. The Alphabet City venue gets title billing, in Sarah Bernstein’s “Catfight at the Oasis,” which has long-suffering but dedicated garden administrator Joanne tasked with brokering peace between the pro-cat lobby and bird fanciers who want to ban feline strays from Green Oasis Community Garden. Angela Santillo makes her fifth consecutive contribution to Communal Spaces with “Welcome to The Fall,” in which a contemporary tour guide experiences fallout from a smokejumper’s 1973 crash landing on property occupied by a meteor strike survivor. The plays run at 2:30 & 3:30 p.m., respectively, in Green Oasis Garden (E. Eighth St. btw. Aves. C & D).

Charly Evon Simpson’s “An Apple Today” finds two sisters meeting at Warren St. Marks Garden (619 Warren St. in Park Slope, Brooklyn) to speak in confidence. When they encounter a former classmate, memories of playground romances and acts of emotional agression come flooding back. You’re already there for the 5 p.m. “Apple,” so it’s job accomplished when Dominic Finocchiaro’s “enter a garden” beings at 6. “Leaves turn from green to red to brown and fall to the ground. Life happens.” That’s all the playwright is divulging about the plot.

Free. All plays run Sept. 1227, Sat. & Sun. For more info, as well as a description of what’s on the boards (or brick pathways) in Bed-Stuy’s Classon Ful-Gate Community Garden and La Perla Garden (76 105th St. in Manhattan), visit communitygardenproject.wordpress.com.

Limited stage space serves as inspiration for Dance Now artists. Photo by Whitney Browne
Limited stage space serves as inspiration for Dance Now artists. Photo by Whitney Browne

DANCE NOW at JOE’S PUB | From its first year in 1995, those who’ve created content for DANCE NOW have been both constrained and inspired by the festival’s unconventional venues — which included swimming pools, firehouses, and galleries — until landing on its feet for good at Joe’s Pub, where the “less is more” mantra came with a mandate for “brevity, clarity and effect.” The 2015 edition will feature contributions from 50 New York-based choreographers who’ve presented over the past 20 years. Some, such as David Parker and Jeffrey Kazin will revive works (“Old Fashion Wedding,” a duet from 2009), while others will reimagine them (Heidi Latsky and Lawrence Goldhuber’s “Head Duet”). Established artists like Aszure Barton, Doug Elkins, and Ellis Wood (once up-and-comers) will be joined by emerging choreographers including Jordan Isadore, Cori Marquis, and Donnell Oakley.

At 7 p.m. Wed. Sept. 9Sat. Sept. 12 at Joe’s Pub (425 Lafayette St. btw. E. Fourth St. & Astor Place). Tickets, per show: $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Encore Performance of 12 “producer’s picks” Thurs. Sept 24. ($25 in advance, $30 at the door). To order: 212-967-7555 or joespub.com. Also visit dancenownyc.org.

We’ll drink to that: The Whiskey Spitters are part of Sept. 13’s Washington Square Park Folk Festival. Photo by Eli Smith.
We’ll drink to that: The Whiskey Spitters are part of Sept. 13’s Washington Square Park Folk Festival. Photo by Eli Smith.

THE WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK FOLK FESTIVAL | Veterans of the 1960s Greenwich Village scene share the bill with young groups from today’s New York City, at folk promoter Eli Smith’s fifth annual forward-looking throwback to the time when “the likes of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger came together on Sunday afternoons to play music and socialize in the park.” From a stage in the southeast portion of the park, by the Garibaldi statue, the legendary John Cohen (of the New Lost City Ramblers) will appear with old time string band The Down Hill Strugglers. Also booked for the afternoon: Balkan and gospel-influenced singer and songwriter Feral Foster; country blues guitar and fiddle duo Hoodoo Honey Drippers; Jalopy Theatre house jug band The Whisky Spitters; and square dance caller Alex Cramer, who’ll guide you in matters of partner-spinning and do-si-doing.

Free. Sun. Sept. 13, 1–5 p.m. in Washington Square Park. Visit WSPFolkFest.com.

BETWEEN THE SEAS | Day in and day out, they say a balanced Mediterranean diet is the best thing for you — but there’s nothing wrong with binging once a year, at least when it comes to that region’s culture. The fifth annual Between the Seas festival returns to The Wild Project with six days and nights of theater, dance, and performance art.

Feast on a Mediterranean diet of theater and dance, at Between the Seas. Pictured: “Per…Inciso” grooves to Italian pop songs. Courtesy Esperimenti Dance Company.
Feast on a Mediterranean diet of theater and dance, at Between the Seas. Pictured: “Per…Inciso” grooves to Italian pop songs. Courtesy Esperimenti Dance Company.

From Catalonia, “Dreams of the Mediterranean” is an atmospheric storytelling performance in which illustrator Borja González speed paints, with sand, on a light table. Ephemeral images are projected on a giant screen, as large-scale puppets and the live music of pianist Roc Sala swirl around him. In the New York premiere of “A Palo Seco,” the contemplative words and fiery movement of Rebeca Tomas express her inner dialogue about motherhood and the Spanish art of flamenco. Lebanese playwright Issam Mahfouz’s “The Dictator” gets a new English translation and minimalist staging. The 1969 absurdist exploration of tyranny (eerily applicable to our 2016 presidential race) concerns a “mentally disturbed individual under the illusion that he is humanity’s long-awaited savior.” A creative team from France and Catalonia has built “Hearts Beating Like Drums” around the stories of women impacted by living through war. A series of low- or no-cost discussions and performances on the first day address the experiences of Mediterranean refugees and migrants.

Sept. 8–13 at The Wild Project (195 E. Third St. btw. Aves. A & B). For tickets (most shows $20, $15 with student/senior ID), call 212-352-3101 or thewildproject.com. Full schedule at betweentheseas.org.

WEST AFRICAN CULTURAL FESTIVAL AT CHILDREN’S MUSEUM OF THE ARTS | This edition of CMA’s Cultural Festival series puts the spotlight on Nigeria, with events throughout the museum — including performances from Brooklyn Music School’s World Percussion Department, the chance to design and animate your own Ibibo Puppet in the Media Lab, and workshops teaching techniques to make Yoruba masks, Adire cloth fabric designs and a traditional Nigerian board game. Other fall Cultural Festivals are Caribbean (Oct. 25), Mexican (Day of the Dead theme, Nov. 1), Indigenous People (Nov. 15) and Native American (Nov. 22).

Sun., Sept. 20. All Cultural Festivals take place 10 a.m.–5 p.m. at the Children’s Museum of the Arts (103 Charlton St. btw. Hudson & Greenwich Sts.). Free, with general admission (infants free, $12 for ages 1–65, senior admission is pay-as-you-wish). Call 212-274-0986 or visit cmany.org.

The third annual Chelsea Film Festival, Oct. 15-18, focuses on women in film and media. Photo by Paula Rey Jimenez.
The third annual Chelsea Film Festival, Oct. 15-18, focuses on women in film and media. Photo by Paula Rey Jimenez.

THE CHELSEA FILM FESTIVAL | It was named for the place where every screening happens, and where its founders live — but the shorts, documentaries and features chosen for the Chelsea Film Festival have always had an international flavor. This year’s edition, the third, retains that programming penchant while dedicating itself to the theme of women in film and media.

A day of panel discussions (Oct. 17, 10:30 a.m.5:30 p.m.) will focus on emerging international markets, On Demand distribution, and the value of financing films made by women. Before the festival, free panels (topics to be announced) take place at the W. 14th St. Apple Store on Sept. 30, Oct. 7 and Oct. 14. Establishing a presence far past its four days in October, CFF will be launching a new monthly series at Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea (23rd St. & Eighth Ave.) — to debut on Nov. 9 with a 7 p.m. screening of the 2015 Grand Prix Winner. Future installments will present an indie feature that has appeared in the festival’s programming, followed by cast/filmmaker Q&A and a networking reception.

Oct. 15–18 at the SVA Theatre (333 W. 23rd St. btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.) and other locations in Chelsea. Visit chelseafilm.org, where the roster of films will be announced in mid-Sept.

THEATER FOR THE NEW CITY’S DREAM UP FESTIVAL | Some people never go below 14th St., while others refuse to venture above it. For the first time in its six-year history, Theater for the New City’s Dream Up Festival ministers to both stubborn groups, while encouraging them to broaden their horizons. Although most of the action is staged in TNC’s sprawling East Village home, some of it takes place at a Hell’s Kitchen venue equally adept at multitasking (the Producers’ Club Theaters and Bar). So there’s no excuse not to catch one of Dream Up’s 27 musical, drama, improv, dance or aerial performances (they’ve also got a “Scratch Night” series of works in development).

Comedy is not pretty, Steve Martin told us with his 1979 album title, hinting at the ugly reality that life as a stand-up comic is largely about treading water once you leave that little island with the mic, the laughs, and the applause. “The Boom” takes place in a shabby condo owned by the management of Pittsburgh’s Steel City Funny Factory. Three comics on the bill are thrown together: a past-his-prime veteran, his second banana pal, and a new guy whose viral video appeal both eludes and confuses the old guard. This dynamic of foxhole friendship and cutthroat competitiveness is something the cast and creators of “Boom” know intimately (though they’ve learned to laugh about it). Club circuit comic, TV pundit and ghostwriter Vinnie Nardiell makes his debut as a playwright, with Amoralists Theater Co. member Mark Riccadonna directing for the first time. Working comics Dan Stern, DJ Hazard and Richie Byrne play the quick-thinking, hair-trigger trio.

An immigrant family relocates to California, in the musical memoir “Escaping Queens" (part of Theater for the New City’s Dream Up Festival). Photo by Jana Marcus.
An immigrant family relocates to California, in the musical memoir “Escaping Queens” (part of Theater for the New City’s Dream Up Festival). Photo by Jana Marcus.

Dream Up mines matters of home, family, assimilation and reinvention in a multitude of productions, including Rachel Graf Evans’ drama “Inch by Inch,” which gives Bridget a house and a garden — and the chance to dig up old questions about identity — when her mother’s death requires a hasty return to her old childhood home. Andrea Fulton’s “Roof-Top Joy” is a musical comedy/drama concerning two new tenants of an upscale Brooklyn high-rise who discover what’s below the thin veneer of wealth and power that lurks behind every door. People who aren’t what they seem also figure into Hassem Khemiri’s immigrant and tolerance-themed “Invasion!,” which has its ensemble of four playing multiple characters. Teenagers Yousef and Arvind are the main focus, as they navigate New York’s hip-hop culture while challenging stereotypes. An Italian/Puerto Rican immigrant family discovers you can’t go home again, after “Escaping Queens” and settling in California. The musical memoir of Joe Ortiz — a melting pot of Latin beats, Sicilian ballads, bluesy riffs, jazz and 1950s radio hits — makes its New York debut after a well-received run at Cabrillo Stage in Aptos, California.

The Dream Up festival plays through Sept. 20 (but not every show runs until then). Mon-Fri, 6:30 & 9:30 p.m. and Sat./Sun. at 2, 5, & 8 p.m. At Theater for the New City (155 First Ave. btw. 9th & 10th Sts.) and the Producers’ Club (358 W. 44th St. btw. 8th & 9th Aves.). For tickets ($12, $15, $18, $20), visit dreamupfestival.org or call 212-686-4444.

THE NEW YORK BURLESQUE FESTIVAL | You may have the right to go topless in Times Square, but there’s a good chance those painted ladies would land in the hoosegow if their bare-breasted busking was accompanied by the sort of bumping, grinding, twirling tassels and unabashed sexuality on display at the New York Burlesque Festival. Those who like their skin with a side of seduction are set to get lucky, when the fest’s 13th edition celebrates “glitter and glamour in Gotham with over 100 performers from around the Globe!”

Brooklyn is the location for a teaser and premiere party on Thurs./Fri., with a “Saturday Spectacular” at B.B. King Blues Club (W. 42nd St.), a free Sun. 2–7 p.m. showcase/bazaar at The Tippler (in Chelsea Market), and The Golden Pastie Awards at The Highline Ballroom (W. 16th St.). Some featured talent you’ll be able to finally put a face (or other body parts) to the name: Bunny Buxom & Schaffer the Darklord, Sizzle Dizzle, Dr. Lucky, Francine “The Lucid Dream,” Tigger, Julie Atlas Muz, Dirty Martini, Matt Knife, Scotty the Blue Bunny, Gal Friday, Kitten LaRue, and Cherie Nut.

Sept. 2427. Tickets are sold through each venue, with a four-day VIP pass ($125.19) available at thenewyorkburlesquefestival.com.

ORIGIN’S 1ST IRISH THEATRE FESTIVAL | Forget everything you know about entertainment that flows from the Irish people’s supposed penchant for pain and suffering, high drama, and excessive drink. A river of tears most certainly runs through Origin Theatre Company’s 1st Irish, but the salty stream is from excessive laughter — because comedy is the theme for this eighth edition of the city’s only theater festival dedicated to Irish playwrights.

Des Bishop’s “Made in China” charts his quest to learn the language for a Chinese stand-up audience. Part of the 1st Irish Theatre Festival. Photo courtesy 1st Irish.
Des Bishop’s “Made in China” charts his quest to learn the language for a Chinese stand-up audience. Part of the 1st Irish Theatre Festival. Photo courtesy 1st Irish.

Dublin’s New Play Company returns for the fourth time, with Donald O’Kelly’s “Fishamble,” a comedic road trip-cum-dark thriller that finds an ex-con and a nun being chased across Ireland, as they search for a roll of film. Comedian Des Bishop, who’s made a name (and a niche) for himself by creating solo performances based on his immersive cultural experiences, brings “Made in China” to 1st Irish, after its March 2015 limited run at The Barrow Street Theatre. The solo show recalls his travels to China on a quest to learn Mandarin, in order to perform stand-up for Chinese audiences. The lessons must have stuck: Bishop has relocated to his native Flushing, in order to launch a Chinese-centric comedy club called “The Humor Section,” at Huang Cheng Gen Tea House (135-14 Northern Blvd.). Opening weekend is Sept. 26 & 27. See desbishop.net for more info.

Limerick’s Bottom Dog Theatre brings “Language UnBecoming a Lady” to Chelsea’s the cell (a frequent presenter of Irish subject matter). The “Lady” is Liam O’Brien, who plays an aging drag queen hunkered down in her dressing room, recalling pivotal moments of her life. Equal parts tart and sweet, Eugene Pack’s “Celebrity Autobiography” series at The Triad (which features celebrities reading passages from often howlingly bad celeb-written bios) goes all-Irish for one night only. The precise tome is under wraps — but announced readers include Michael Urie (“Buyer and Cellar”) and Tate Donovan (“24”). Ensconced at Union Square’s DR2 while his W. 22nd St. Irish Repertory Theatre undergoes a game-changing renovation, director Ciaran O’Reilly will premiere a 1st Irish entry just two weeks after the having helmed IRT’s long run (closing Sept. 5) of “The Weir,” a bone-chilling collection of one-upmanship ghost stories told by a country pub crowd. “The Quare Land” is a comedy by John McManus, about a prickly Irish farmer who — while taking his first bath in four years — is interrupted by a golf course developer intent on getting a contract signed.

The 1st Irish Theatre Festival runs through Oct. 4. For tickets and schedule, visit 1stirish.org.

The Black Rock Coalition celebrates its 30th year, with daily events in September.
The Black Rock Coalition celebrates its 30th year, with daily events in September.

AND SO VERY MUCH MORE | To celebrate its 30th year, the volunteer-powered Black Rock Coalition is presenting 30 concerts during the 30 days of September, in recognition of how “Black musicians have a central, vital role to play in shaping edgy, righteous, driving rock.” Festival co-founder and guitarist Vernon Reid (of Living Colour), Tamar-kali and Pillow Theory are among the artists on the roster, along with listening sessions, retrospectives, showcases and a BAMCafé (Sept. 18–19) concert from the BRC Orchestra, playing the Jimi Hendrix “Band of Gypsys” album. See blackrockcoalition.org for more info.

Highlights from The New York Comedy Festival (Nov. 10–15) include Billy Crystal conversing with David Steinberg, and new “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah (both at Town Hall). In a festival replete with marquee names (Bill Maher, Margaret Cho, John Leguizamo), the must-see is Kathy Griffin, in a Nov. 12 Carnegie Hall gig that will hopefully have her conducting an acerbic postmortem on her time in the main “Fashion Police” chair. Purchase tickets and access the full schedule at nycomedyfestival.com.

The 10 shows presented by The New York Gypsy Festival (Sept. 18–Oct. 4) include Georgian folk ensemble Zedashe, NYC’s Underground Horns and Slavic Soul Party, and the NYC debut of French/North African brass orchestra Fanfarai. Ticket prices and venues vary. Visit nygypsyfest.com.

Thespis, a competition-structured festival that brings new work to the stage, takes place through Sept. at Hudson Guild Theater (411 W. 26th St.). Playing Sept. 14, 16 and 19, “Brush Strokes” is a musical that finds aging art lovers Virginia and Eric drawn together, but wary of their controversial pasts. See thespisnytheaterfestival.com for tickets and the full schedule of shows.

In collaboration with founder/curator Peter Michael Marino (whose “Late With Lance” just played the Edinburgh Festival Fringe), The Peoples Improv Theater brings back their loopy and eccentric (often to the point of insane) SOLOCOM Festival of one-person storytelling, music, stand-up, improv and cabaret performances — Nov. 20–22 at their E. 24th St. home base, and the newly-opened PIT Loft on W. 29th St. The shows (dozens of them) range from 15 to 60 minutes. Get info at thepit-nyc.com/solocom.

The NYC nonprofit service and advocacy organization Community Access holds its 11th Annual Mental Health Film Festival at Village East Cinema (Second Ave. & 12th St.) on Sept. 26. The features and shorts, all addressing life with mental illness, include the US premiere of “No Letting Go,” about a family whose middle child is diagnosed as bipolar. Filmmakers and cast members for the features will be in attendance for an audience Q&A. Visit MentalHealthFilmFest.nyc for the full schedule, and communityaccess.org for info on the event sponsor.

Iranian artist Ali Moino makes tension tangible, in his Crossing the Line festival performance. Photo by Mathilde Delahaye.
Iranian artist Ali Moini makes tension tangible, in his Crossing the Line Festival performance. Photo by Mathilde Delahaye.

The French Institute Alliance Française cultural and language center’s Crossing the Line Festival showcases the work of interdisciplinary artists from around the world, in a variety of premiere venues and public spaces. Iranian artist Ali Moini’s “Lives” (Sept. 29 & 30 at NY Live Arts on W. 19 St.) is a dance of tension between his fictional, political, mythical and real selves — while NY-based Elana Langer’s “WhatILiveBy” is a free, interactive happening that will pop up at festival events and kiosks throughout the city, all in the service of launching her fantastic new “product-less” brand. Visit fiaf.org for the full schedule of performances (Sept. 10–Oct. 4) and venues.