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A scene from The Record
Photograph: Maria BaranovaA scene from The Record

January arts binge: downtown theater fests in New York

Downtown New York explodes with theater, dance and opera fests come January. We break down the offerings at five of the season’s coolest

In the past few years, New York has become the global hub for theater and performance—particularly in January. Roughly a decade ago, festivals started springing up to help connect arts creators and venue curators looking to program their seasons; for the rest of us, it’s a chance to jam a year’s worth of theatergoing into a few weeks, while rubbing elbows with performers and directors from across the globe. So where will you be happiest? Time Out New York is here to help you sift through the smorgasbord.
January 8–19, 2014 at various locations (212-967-7555, $20, UTR Pack (five shows) $75.

The deal: This ten-year-old alt-theater event is turning its home base, the Public Theater, into the glittering nerve center of January’s multifestival downtown scene. Codirected by Mark Russell and Meiyin Wang, UTR is renowned for presenting cutting-edge work from all over the world. This is where to find the next big thing.

Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone’s radically inclusive group, 600 HIGHWAYMEN (seen in last year’s This Great Country), will present its beautiful, dreamlike 45-person piece, The Record.

Sure things: Deliriously elegant raconteur Edgar Oliver will perform Helen & Edgar, a rueful account of his difficult, bizarre Savannah childhood. Picture a Tennessee Williams story without the softening veil.

Insider rec: Russell and Wang are pumped about the Lounge, a new collaboratively programmed, cross-festival club at the Public (opens Jan 9–19 at 9:30pm; free). It’s the perfect place to unwind over drinks and catch late-night acts like AndrewAndrew and Holcombe Waller.
January 3–26, 2014 at various locations (212-477-5829, $15–$25, festival pass $75–$122.

The deal: P.S. 122’s interdisciplinary performance blowout features innovative dance troupes, overseas companies and local downtowners, in documentary work, experimental pieces and more. Renovations to the famous venue have made Coil temporarily nomadic, with offerings spread across three boroughs.

Breakout: Ask ten theater insiders whom they want to see more from, and nine of ’em will reply Okwui Okpokwasili. Check out the Brooklyn writer-performer’s Bronx Gothic, a visceral piece set in 1980s BX.

Sure things: Experimental-theater elder statesman Mac Wellman’s Muazzez concerns an abandoned factory on a weirdly hospitable asteroid; video-performance hybrid An Evening with William Shatner Asterisk by Phil Soltanoff should give you tips on how to boldly go there.

Insider rec: Artistic director Vallejo Gantner’s advice: “The most rewarding way to do this is to get passes, take the day off work and just go. This has become the global gathering. If people can get their butts here from Perth, so can you.”
January 9–26, 2014 at Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark’s Church, 131 E 10th St at Second Ave (866-811-4111, $18–$25.

The deal: The Incubator Arts Project’s fest, helmed by producer-director Shannon Sindelar, is heavily invested in experimental musical-theater works. It may be smaller than the others, but OF’s four shows still pack a wallop.

Breakout: Joseph Keckler’s trippy, personal I Am an Opera made major waves at Dixon Place during its first run; here’s your chance to hear the interdisciplinary artist’s limpid voice in an intimate space.

Sure things: Dave Malloy (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812) and Eliza Bent (The Hotel Colors) throw down rhymes in Blue Wizard/Black Wizard, a take-no-prisoners pop-culture magic-off that’s one part Prince tunes and one part Wittgensteinian musings.

Insider rec: Book super early for Take Me Home; Alexandra Collier’s piece can accommodate only three audience members at a time, as it takes place inside a moving yellow cab.
January 9–19, 2014 at various locations (212-598-0400, Free–$25.

The deal: This performance fest is only five years old, but enormously self-assured, and its mix of cutting-edge dance and interdisciplinary work lures dance-hungry audiences to the Lower East Side. This is definitely the cool kid in the bunch, so dress accordingly.

Breakout: Ishmael Houston-Jones and Emily Wexler will premiere their 13 Love Songs: dot dot dot, a savage attack on cloying pop songs. It’s a rage that unites them across the generations—he’s in his sixties, she’s in her thirties.

Sure things: Dancer Miguel Gutierrez is at the pinnacle of his virtuosity; his myendlesslove, a work about the end of a relationship and the “poetics of gay sex,” ought to keep the January chill at bay.

Insider rec: For those feeling overwhelmed by the 50-plus offerings, organizer Thomas Benjamin Snapp Pryor advises: “Don’t try and see everything. Don’t think you should. Do your research. Go see something you don’t know anything about.”
January 8–19, 2014 at various locations ( $15–$25, Proto Pak pass $75–$90.

The deal: This opera and musical-theater jubilee, a response to the sudden explosion of great new chamber works, is a collaboration between HERE and Beth Morrison Projects.

Breakout: Kick up your heels with Sky-Pony, a cabaret-cum-rock-concert endeavor from writer-musician Kyle Jarrow (A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant) and new-opera diva Lauren Worsham.

Sure things: Opera is proving fertile new soil for serious playwrights: Kathryn Walat (Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen) and composer Gregory Spears are collaborating on Paul’s Case, an adaptation of a Willa Cather short story.

Insider rec: Coproducer Kristin Marting has been spotted across the street from the Public, getting fortified at French-Vietnamese spot Indochine; she credits “wine and french fries” with helping her through festival madness.
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