Coming soon to the island: a powerful arts festival


Isle Park, a $260 million park on the Hudson River opening in 2021, is envisioned as a haven for innovation in the performing arts. But the park’s cultural offerings—mostly piecemeal, one-off pieces—have so far fallen short of these ambitions.

Now Barry Diller, the billionaire media mogul who bankrolled the park, is moving forward with his original vision to fund an annual four-month performing arts festival on the island, the park announced Monday. He did so under the guidance of film, television and theater producer Scott Rudin, who retired from public life in 2021 amid accusations of bullying by office staff.

Diller said in an interview that he and his family foundation are prepared to spend more than $100 million on programming over the next two decades. The festival, one of New York City’s most ambitious arts events in recent years, will promote new works of music, dance, theater and opera. Nine premieres are planned for this year between June and September, including a full-length work by choreographer Twyla Tharp and an adaptation of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, which All the title roles are sung by falsetto tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo.

“I want people to enjoy the island’s originality and adventurous spirit,” Diller said. “I hope it creates a smile.”

Rudin, a friend of Diller and a longtime adviser to the island, was not mentioned in Monday’s press release announcing the creation of the festival, but Diller said he was closely involved in planning the festival.

“He was involved in almost every discussion we had about the show,” Diller said. “It all started with him. This is his project.

Rudin said in an interview that he hopes to help the island reach its potential. He hasn’t spoken much publicly since he apologized in 2021 for “troublesome interactions with colleagues” after former employees accused him of abusive behavior. (Rudin said that since retiring from Broadway and Hollywood, he has been collaborating on projects with friends, including some films and plays.)

“I’m a cheerleader here,” Rudin said of the new festival, “trying to help them find the people they want to work here and, in a way, trying to gently help them figure out how to organize it. .

“This is the end of something that I helped start,” he added.

Diller described his vision for the island as “a park and a performance space in equal parts.” Since its opening, the park has hosted a series of music, dance and comedy performances. The first summer featured more than 160 performances. But Diller felt the quality was lacking.

“We actually did 500 different things the first year,” he said. “None of them – and I don’t want to be insulting – none of them are really good or particularly ambitious. I mean, they’re everywhere, but it’s basically ‘let’s entertain people.

Last year, Diller hired Director and producer Zack Winokur was Rudin’s recommendation (the two had collaborated on pop-up performances during the pandemic). Winokur now oversees programming as producing artistic director.

Winokur said in an interview that the festival will focus primarily on New York-based artists and feature more than 100 performances, generating new work at a time when many cultural institutions are cutting budgets, staff and programming. The Island Amphitheater can accommodate 687 people, and performance tickets are US$25; admission to the 200-seat Glade performance venue in the park is free.

“I hope this will be incredibly useful and incredibly serviceable to the artists who live here – creating bold new work during these difficult times,” Winokur said. “I hope this is enjoyable, interesting and provocative for viewers.”

To kick off the June season, Tharp will present new music “How Long Blues” composed by T Bone Burnett and David Mansfield. Tharp said in an interview that the experience of creating a piece for a new space was daunting but exhilarating. Diller recently attended rehearsals, she said.

“He was very brave about everything,” she said. “He likes to know how things work. He likes to understand the mechanics behind products.

In September, Costanzo will star in a 90-minute adaptation of “The Marriage of Figaro.” He said in an interview that he was excited about the park’s possibilities, calling its “architecture uniquely artistic.”

Summer programming also includes “Oyster Radio Hour,” a live three-act radio show telling the story of the Hudson River oyster, produced by a team composed of composer Angélica Negrón and Yo-Yo Ma’s Our Common Nature initiative.

Bass-baritone Davóne Tines and Winokur will present a project about pioneering singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson. Henry Hawke’s novel Open Throat tells the story of a queer mountain lion who lives in the hills surrounding the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles.

Diller said the festival, which also features comedy and jazz, is a response to what he calls a loss of artistic vitality in New York since the pandemic.

“This great city that was once filled with so much creation has really suffered in COVID-19,” he said. “We don’t want to bring things from elsewhere. We don’t want to copy someone else’s work.

Diller and his family foundation have pledged funding for Little Island’s operations for 20 years. That commitment also extends to music festivals, he said.

“We’re lucky that there aren’t really any restrictions,” he said. “I hope we’re not impractical idiots. But we do have the ability to make it happen and make it happen.

He said public art can bring people unexpected pleasure.

“We’re not here to cure disease,” he said. “But when you see people walking through the city to the island, they start smiling. And when they leave, they’re smiling. How could you not like that?



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