MBS Productions begins 7 Plays in 7 Days theater festival tonight at Stone Cottage in Addison

Mark-Brian Sonna will be undergoing an ambitious theater project in, oh, about five hours. Tonight begins the first of a week’s worth of new plays and staged readings for the inaugural 7 Plays in 7 Days festival. Each weeknight at 8, MBS Productions will put on a new show or reading, but if school nights are too tough to make it, all the new shows will play throughout Saturday and Sunday.

All productions will be at the Stone Cottage Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison.

Here is the official word from MBS:

7 World premieres will be presented from Monday, Sept. 19 through Sunday Sept. 25.  Every night, Monday– Sunday at 8 p.m., a new play will be presented.  On Saturday and Sunday, throughout the day the plays will be presented on a rotation basis should audience members wish to see several of the plays within one day.

The plays will be either fully mounted productions, or fully rehearsed staged readings.

Tickets for the event will be $14 per performance or $50 fora festival pass which will give you full access to all the plays.  To purchase tickets or a festival pass go to www.MBSProductions.net.

MBS Productions 2010/11 or 2011/12 Season Pass holders can use their punch card to attend any of the performances or if they may simply present the card and purchase the tickets at half off!

Below is the full schedule.

—  Rich Lopez

Stepping up

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BACK IN FRONT | Bruce Wood, above, has launched a new contemporary ballet company which debuts Friday. He will continue his signature pairings of male dancers, including former company member Doug Hopkins, below center.

4 years after closing his acclaimed dance troupe, Bruce Wood is back — this time in Dallas, and more defiant than ever

MARK LOWRY  | Special Contributor
marklowry@theaterjones.com

It was a sad day in 2007 when — after 10 seasons of delivering some of the most exciting contemporary ballets North Texas had seen from a local dance outfit — Fort Worth’s Bruce Wood Dance Company folded.

Officially, the reason for the closing was that Wood had spent the previous few years running the whole show himself; he simply didn’t have time to devote to both fundraising and dance-creating.

But it has also been suggested that the edginess of his work, notably the frequent pairings of male dancers, shocked and offended some audiences. While same-sex groupings are nothing new in contemporary dance, Wood’s frank use of it may have driven away some of Cowtown’s big-money donors.

All of which makes Wood’s reemergence (this time in Dallas) after four years away all the more exciting. The Bruce Wood Dance Project debuts Friday at Downtown’s Arts Magnet, with two world premieres and a revival of one of his best-known works, 2001’s Bolero.

One of the new dances — called Our Last Lost Chance and set to the music of contemporary Finnish composer Ólafur Arnalds — does feature a duet between two men.  But Wood sounds almost defiant about it this time around.

“There are things I was afraid to do in Fort Worth because of [reaction from] donors,” Wood now says. “Now I don’t care and I’m going to do them anyway.”dance-2

Nevertheless, Wood, who is gay, says he never pairs same-sex dancers to make any kind of statement.

“It’s simply a part of who I am and I give it no more thought than I would about having gray hair,” says the silver-maned Wood.

“Having said that, I have found that the general audience often feels it is some kind of sexual thing. It generally doesn’t occur to some that it could simply be a dance between two men that explores their relationship as friends, brothers, father and sons.”

The nature of dance, however, is admittedly imbued with a certain degree of sensuality that can provoke visceral reactions among its audiences.

“I don’t try to be subversive, but dance by its physical nature has dancers touching, holding and supporting and that can lead to all kinds of interpretations. As long as I approach the dances with honesty and integrity, I find that the audience does as well,” he says.

Wood’s new company features 16 dancers, with two of his former collaborators, Kimi Nikaidoh and Doug Hopkins, onboard. Hopkins, the longtime partner of Q Cinema founder Todd Camp, will showcase his comedic skills in the other new work on the program, Happy Feet, which features onstage music by Fort Worth Euro-gypsy band Ginny Mac.

Wood insists this is not a one-shot pilot program. Even before his official return to the stage debuts, Wood has already begun planning the next performances of his company (the dates will be announced later). And he has committed to one twist in particular: Using all male dancers.

“I have been wanting to do this for a long while, and I now have the resources to do so,” Wood says. “It will be a full evening of dances where the cast is all men. It will explore the concepts men have about themselves — what it is to be a man, and how others see them.”

But he’s not considering it a “gay night of dance.”

“Men deal with the physicality of dance very differently than women,” he says. “They’re heavier, they deal with gravity differently, they deal with each other differently, and they can be physically rougher. All of these things will make the dances in this new project completely different from anything I have ever done before.”

And when Bruce Wood says he’s headed somewhere new, no one who cares about dance can be anything other than thrilled.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Opera with an edge

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MUSICAL HOWL | Allen Ginsberg’s poetry spoke to ‘Hydrogen Jukebox’s’ out cast members Dan Kempson, back left, and Jonathan Blalock, center. (Photo courtesy Ellen Appel)

Ginsberg & Glass team up for ‘Hydrogen Jukebox,’ the latest in FWO’s out-of-the-box operas

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

What do you get when you combine the Mobius-strip music of Phillip Glass with the vulgar, passionate lyricism of gay poet Allen Ginsberg? Believe it or not, you get an opera. Or an opera of sorts, at least.

Ever since converting to a festival format four years ago, the Fort Worth Opera has established a rep for doing edgy, unusual versions of that most august of theatrical forms: Opera. Yes, they have done grand operas in the classic vein (Carmen, Don Giovanni, Turandot), but they’ve also introduced world premieres and unheralded new works with complex, modern (often gay) themes: gay composer Tom Pasatieri’s dark Frau Margot, Jorge Martin’s challenging, frank adaptation of gay Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas’ Before Night Falls; the reimagining of an opera based on Angels in America.

Up this time is perhaps the most unusually named opera in a while (Hydrogen Jukebox) composed by a master of minimalism and set to the granddaddy of the Beat Generation.

This is not your father’s — or your grandfather’s — idea of opera. Or, for that matter, the director’s.

“I never thought I’d direct a Philip Glass piece,” admits Lawrence Edelson, who is choreographing and directing Hydrogen Jukebox for his debut at the FWO. “They do not follow linear narrative arcs, and I personally tend to drift toward the more narrative type of opera as a director. As much as I’ve enjoyed his music, I never thought it was something I’d dive into. The conventional ideas about storytelling are put on hold.”

But Edelson was drawn to the piece, in part after meeting Glass.

“It was something quite unique — he’s an icon in American music,” Edelson says. “There’s usually not a tight relationship with the text [and his music], so what’s really fascinating about this work is, it’s Ginsberg’s poetry, and there’s a tremendous respect for the treatment of it.”

Setting the Howl author’s poems to music might seem like a foolish exercise, but actually, it’s a natural fit.

“Ginsberg really believed in the performative aspect of poetry, that poetry should live off the page,” Edelson says. And his poems, culled over 40 years for this opera, still speak to contemporary issues.

“Ginsberg’s poetry really spoke to me, and many of the issues he was struggling with in the ‘50s, ‘60 and ‘70s are among the same issues we still struggle with today,” says Darren Woods, general director of FWO.

“Ginsberg was a very out gay poet — his poems are about freedom from sexual repression and gay lib, and though this isn’t a gay piece per se, there are a couple of poems that” address those issues, Edelson says.  “As a gay man, to be able to work off of material that has personal relevance, but I am not the same sort of gay man Ginsberg was! My life is not so colorful,” Edelson says. “Hydrogen Jukebox could be gayed up; I think that would be wrong. Ginsberg was not writing just for gay America, but for everybody.”

Interpreting poetry for the stage posed an interesting dilemma for Edelson: As a director, he’s accustomed to creating a specific reaction in an audience; poetry, however, is subject to multiple interpretations, none of which are wrong.

“My job [this time] is not to impose a specific interpretation but rather to set up an environment where the audience is able to take in the poetry in a way that’s meaningful for them,” he says. “All these things will inform the way you receive it.”

For out cast members Jonathan Blalock and Dan Kempson, the work has personal significance.

“I find it interesting that the portion of the opera that deals with a gay love story [“Green Automobile,” an elegy to Neal Cassady, with whom Ginsberg has a long-term affair] is presented as just one story,” Kempson says. “It speaks to a universality of love, not just presented as ‘We’re gay! Notice us!’ It’s as normal and as painful and as lovely and as beautiful as any love story.”

“I think it’s wonderful Fort Worth Opera is brave enough to attack off-the-beaten path operas, both musically and topically,” says Blalock, who also appeared in Before Night Falls. “It can be scary for a number of reasons, including financial, but the FWO has brought their audience along with them to the 21st century.”

Blalock was in the closet when he first met Kempson four years ago, so doing this production together has brought him full-circle in more than one way: “In this show, I kiss someone, but it’s a girl. It’s OK, though,” he says, “I’m a good actor.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 20, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas