UP CLOSE Festival 2019: Review by Hannah Singer

Sometimes I think I am younger than I am, after all, I write for Motherhood Later! (In my case it was later and later and later!) But I also forget I have a moody tween, and I never know if she will enjoy anything. But, when I was offered tickets to review this 2nd Annual UP CLOSE Festival show, which is very interactive for all ages, I jumped at it. And I am glad I did!

Before the matinee on Saturday January 4th, we went across from the New Ohio Theatre for a bite to eat in a mom & pop coffee shop. I had a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. (This detail will become important later on in this review.) We then explored the Hudson River Park a few blocks away. The day was foggy, we could not see Jersey, nor the boats whose foghorns we heard. It was drizzly, but it felt good to be walking there.

We walked to the New Ohio Theatre (which once house the National Archives Record Center — which inspired this work) and walked one flight down. There was a small waiting area where we could get our tickets as well as purchase snacks. We could also get an explanation about the different areas we were going to see in the show. There were kids books that could be referred to. The inspiration, we learned, was taken from Jane Jacobs and her book on the rules of a healthy community. So this play casts us, the audience and the young people, as lead characters in the reimagined real moments in the play. They hoped to give us a feeling of connection to each other as well as an appreciation of our land.

Tori Munez, a performer, asked us if we would like to go in the back way. Of course we did! We were given blue wristbands and others joined us. We were greeted and escorted by our host “Pizza Rat” (remember the rat in the news a few years back?) Marisol Rosa-Shapiro. She was very entertaining and funny. We passed a scientist listening to the wall, which we as yet did not understand why.

We were told we could walk around and look at, touch, and smell everything. There were three sections. One with games, a laboratory with specimens, and a garden/sanctuary section. For 20 minutes we explored everything, with many others.

We were first drawn to the games section. We were greeted sweetly by a performer who asked us what game we would like to play. We opted for dominos, which I really never knew how to play. He taught us and we had a lot of fun!

Our next stop was the garden sanctuary where we were drawn to a performer (she is also lead writer and director of this section), Lauren Sharpe, crocheting material with her hands and making a circular rug. She taught us how to do it and we crocheted a bit! More fun!

There was also a performer manning a recording mechanism, asking us to record sounds. We decided I should record the sound one of our cats makes. “Mmmrat!” (Yes, an odd sound for a cat.) I had to say it 3 times. Well that was cool, I thought. The performer, the man with the microphone, Ben Weber, was a standout. He is filled with personality and humor, which emerged throughout the “show”.  You will know the name and face one day!

We headed to the lab section where we saw endless jars labeled with sounds from across NYC and throughout history. We were told by a “scientist” that we could find two jars of sounds that we thought should be placed together, and give them to her to place.

After 20 minutes, we were all asked to come to the front part of the huge room and the “Pizza Rat” spoke to us. She was very funny and engaging. She had us turn to our neighbors and ask each others’ name. Then all together we were to scream it out.

She gave some history of the island of Manhattan and specifically the West Village and oyster shells were passed around (which were abundant years ago). We used them in the next section to make sounds.

We all proceeded to the next section, the garden/sanctuary, where we learned more history about the West Village (did you know the Bell Lab was not far away?) through the soil and nature in the urban sanctuary that is St. Luke’s in the Fields’ community garden. The history stretched through 450 years. There was puppetry and song-making and we used our senses throughout. We learned of the indigenous communities and more.

We were asked questions and made sounds with our shells. And suddenly we heard what we were told were sounds from the street back in time, in the West Village. And one of the sounds we heard was  “Mmmrat!” three times!

Our next group stop was the game area or the 219 Thompson St area where we learned of the two local chess shop wars in 1995. We watched performers give history through some performance poetry. One performer in a line, looked at me and pointed and said “…bacon, egg and cheese sandwich…” in one of her poetic stories. (See, I told you! – Had she sat next to me at the mom & pop coffee shop?)

There were also children with chess piece hats showing how the pieces moved on a big chess board. Very cute and fun for the little ones and the rest watching!

Onward then to the Bell Labs with sound scientists from an imagined experimental wing.  Each performer was unique here and with a specific personality and some with fake accents as well. There was the nerdy nerd and the tough German and so on. The lead scientist of the Society of the Historic Sonic Happenings (SHSH) is Alec Kirazian, played dazzlingly by Alec Kirazian, was a standout. But all of the actors in this section, with their various characters, were very funny. They passed around some jars that were labeled and we could actually hear the sounds when put to our ears! How did they do this!?

We all split up into different groups. Our group, the blue group (as designated by our given armband), went with the lead technician and boy this was fun. He engaged with each of us. We were to find sounds, catch them, label them and add them to the collection. We all had our roles. Truthfully, it felt so real as I could hear the found sound in the jar. And audience members decided where to look for sound and what was the type of sound they heard. So how did the cast know? I am still perplexed by this!

All in all we had a lot of fun. All ages were there. There were chairs strewn around if anyone wanted to sit at any time. We saw kids with parents and grandparents too. Take your little ones to see the UP CLOSE Festival each year. They will be glad you did!

New Ohio Theatre: http://newohiotheatre.org/

154 Christopher Street, #1E, NY, NY 10014


UP CLOSE Festival 2019


Lead Artist and Festival Host “Pizza Rat”: Marisol Rosa-Shapiro. Devised and performed by: Esteban Rodriguez-Alverio, Brit Lenae Gossett, Tori Muniz, Lulu Elliston, and Mary Jane Elliston.

Spellbound Theatre’s Sanctuary/Garden 

Lead Writer and Director Lauren Sharpe. Devised and performed by Asha John, Ben Weber, Lauren Sharpe Devised by Robert Thaxton-Stevenson.

219 Thompson St. 

Written by Tiffany Zorrilla. Directed by Marisa Blankier. Devised and performed by: Christopher Rashee-Stevenson, Tyler Diaz, Jahmorei Snipes, Tiffany Zorilla. Project Advisors: Oye Group’s Modesto Flako Jimenez and Perfect City’s Aaron Landsman

The Society of Historic Sonic Happenings 

Written and Directed by Adrienne Kapstein. Devised and Performed by: Rachel Confrancisco, Brit Lenae Gossett, Alec Kirazian, LaToya Lewis and Akash Seeramreddi. Sound and Installation Design: Bhurin Sead. Visual Design: Hillary Verni. Research: Paul Parkhill


Produced and directed by Peter Musante and Sara Morgulis.

70 minutes, no intermission.


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