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Under the Radar 2017 will blow your mind with the best of new theater

The 13th annual festival brings the best of theater from home and around the world to NYC.

A play without actors, a musical on a warship and a spy mission inside the Brooklyn Museum — so much for staying Under the Radar.

The 13th annual theater festival that collects the best works from around the country, and the world, returns Jan. 4-15, bringing some of the most inventive productions ever, according to director Mark Russell. More than 180 shows will play at venues across the city in just 12 days, and all tickets are only $25.

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“It’s a very confusing time,” says Russell, referring to the election results. Now that we’ve “caught the Brexit virus,” as he puts it, “places like theater, where people come together to see something, are going to be very important.”

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With that in mind, we asked Russell which Under the Radar shows will be unlike anything else you’ll see this year.

Theater in the raw

Many of the performers at Under the Radar don’t have a theater of their own — they move from place to place, surviving in basements and performing for very little money. Sometimes, this is even out of necessity, like the Belarus Free Theatrewhose members live abroad in exile and direct their productions via Skype.

Before they were forced to leave their homeland, their shows would take place in secret locations and get raided, with both performers and audience arrested. “We’re sort of duplicating some of those elements [of danger]” says Russell of their show, “Time of Women.” “It’s helpful to remind people that we may have to go to some very inventive resistance forms to survive the next four to eight years.”

Who are the actors?

Just as silence can sometimes be as profound as Shakespeare’s prose, Russell says several productions question “Whether we needed actors, whether that was the best way to deliver a story at this moment.” In Obie-winning Brooklyn duo 600 Highwaymen’s “The Fever,” it’s actually the audience who will be performing a piece that questions our role in a community, and how we perceive people who are different from ourselves.

“It’s a gentle piece — at least it begins very gently — where you wouldn’t have to do anything that you don’t want to at all,” says Russell. “And things just accumulate into a piece that was first inspired by ‘The Rite of Spring,’” Igor Stravinsky’s ballet in which a sacrificial virgin dances to death.

Site-specific productions

Under the Radar is taking over much more than the Public Theater’s stages and salons this year. “Blueprint Specials,” a Broadway-style musical created during World War II and acted out by enlisted Army soldiers, will take place on the deck of the Intrepid with a cast of 16 veterans led by two Tony nominees (Laura Osnes, Will Swenson). The creative team behind the spy drama"Top Secret International (State I)"chose to use the Egyptian wing of the Brooklyn Museum as their set. “Audience members will mix with regular patrons of the museum. You won’t know who’s an audience member and who’s not, really,” says Russell.

Everything old is new again

Leave the virtual reality hype to video games, this year’s Under the Radar is downright retro. There’s the “Blueprint Specials” WWII-era musical,Manual Cinema’s low-cost projectors creating a shadow puppet theater, and “Club Diamond” reviving a Japanese traveling show where actors make up their own stories set to silent films. The show was co-created by Saori Tsukada, a muse for many downtown choreographers, and Russell describes her first effort at creating her own production “really impressive.”

 
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