If you’re like Gothamist and you enjoy new theatre in small venues (with small ticket prices), theater festivals are unbeatable. If you don’t go to shows much but want to get a taste for what’s out there, again, these gatherings of innovative voices and acting talents are the way to go. In the summer months, festivals arrive thick and fast; the first wave begins this week.
In Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Marathon 2005, which started Wednesday, 11 one-act plays in three series (2 nights of four plays and one night of 3) are showing. Last year EST didn’t put on this festival for the first time in more than 20 years, but it’s back, and it has some really great stuff. A new play by John Guare, Madagascar, is in Series A; Series B is anchored by David Mamet’s Home and Series C by Horton Foote’s The One-Armed Man. Plus, their hiatus must have made the company keen for publicity, because Rosie Perez will be acting in Crazy Eights, by David Lindsay-Abaire (Series B) and Amy Irving is in Leslie Lyle’s The Great Pretenders (Series A). Get your tickets while you can.

2005_05_arts_springfever.JPGAlso starting Wednesday was the Spring Fever festival, which runs for three weeks and features new plays, multimedia variety works, and oddball performance art. Some of the pieces’ titles should give you an idea of what’s going on: A Spalding Gray Matter, Six Characters: Too Cancelled for TV, Freaking Out. The breedingground collective is behind this festival; it’s only five years old and clearly has energy and creativity to burn. Since all these shows are basically new, Gothamist can’t vouch for them, but we think there’s a high probability of enjoyment with shows like Bunnies: Part One (about a woman who – true story! – convinced people she was giving birth to, well, bunnies) on the playbill.

Next week is the beginning of the Moral Values festival in Williamsburg. These 30 shows may actually take the cake from Spring Fever when it comes to sounding hopped up on something, but we mean that in a good way. Most are on for only a few days; on the first, you can see 5, including the surrealist This Is Not a Burlesque, Mr. Nobody (a “manifestation of all things beautifully violent in this world”), Mahamudra (or Post-Consumer Waste Recycled Paper), Carmen Mofongo’s It Came From New York, and Tom X. Chao’s Freak Out Under the Apple Tree. Some performances are less tied to the “moral values” theme – not that there’s anything wrong with that – but you can hear a “Q&A” with the Christian Coalition’s Roberta Combs, who will explain the Christian right to us New York heathens. It’s about time.

Two more festivals begin in the early middle of June. Gothamist will have more to say about them then, but here’s a heads-up. The 5th annual Hip-Hop Theater Festival starts June 11. It’s only a week long but it looks like it’ll be packing a lot into that time, with a lot of international artists rhyming, dancing and beatboxing alongside performances developed in the festival’s “Critical Breaks” workshops. 2005_05_arts_pentecostal.JPGThen there’s terraNOVA Collective’s One Solo Arts Festival, which is 2 weeks of solo performances like Bronwen Coleman’s Mrs. Barry’s Marriage, about an Australian housewife at the end of her rope, and Ryan Paulson’s Pentecostal Wisconsin, a musical comedy about “religious ecstasy and bashful Scandinavians.”
Off-off-Broadway isn’t waiting for the weather to get nice before getting into its exuberant summer groove. Festivals like these ensure there’s something for everyone onstage – and we haven’t even gotten to the Fringe Fest yet.

Details: Marathon 2005 is at 549 W. 52nd St. until June 26. Series A is running exclusively through Sunday and Series B starts the following Tues., but A will continue sporadically through June 11. For the full schedule see this PDF.
The Spring Fever Festival is at the Flamboyan in the CSV Cultural Center, 107 Suffolk, until June 11. See the website for individual showtimes.
Get your Moral Values from June 3-July 3 at the Brick, 575 Metropolitan Ave., Williamsburg. The schedule is too convoluted to spell out here, so just see it online.