By Billy McEntee

About Billy McEntee

Billy McEntee has been fortunate to work for arts non-profits in Boston, Denver, Berkeley, and now New York. His writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Brooklyn Magazine, Indiewire, HowlRound, Eclectica Magazine, and others. He's usually getting wine at Dandelion or eating cookies at Archestratus.

Peace, Love, and Dopeness in The Bushwick Starr’s New Spaceship Spectacular

"The Brobot Johnson Experience" with Darian Dauchan, photo by Maria Baranova
“The Brobot Johnson Experience” with Darian Dauchan, photo by Maria Baranova

“An Unidentified Flying Boombox has landed in Bushwick.”

This announcement, along with a pre-show layer of purple haze, are harbingers for Brobot’s cosmic arrival. Cast out of the planet Nubian, he’s here to share the human — er, robot — experience in order to save planet earth. (The reason our blue marble is in jeopardy is never made clear, but look no further than daily headlines to grasp Brobot’s desperation to save us.)

Brobot arrives, lays down some beats, and harnesses audience enthusiasm à la Tinker Bell resuscitation to refuel his spaceship and return home. This is the flimsy and stilted premise of Darian Dauchan’s new show, The Brobot Johnson Experience, now playing at experimental powerhouse The Bushwick Starr (207 Starr Street) through March 17. Dauchan writes and stars in his a one-robot, existential spaceship-palooza, and though director Andrew Scoville keeps the pacing breezy and the staging kinetic, the show remains rather plotless: After a few numbers, a craving for conflict (or other characters) settles in. Without any dramaturgical verve, all fuel (literally absent from the ship) must come from our trusted time and space traveler.

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Thursday Spotlight: The Cosmopolitan Yet Hyperlocal MRToll

Artist Jamie Toll on the rooftop of his bar, Northern Territory. Photo by Ian Hartsoe.

He might be the last cowboy in Brooklyn. Like those adventurers of yesteryear, Jamie Toll (that’s MRToll to you) wandered to a new land seeking adventure and opportunity. An immigrant from Australia, Toll moved to New York in 2003 and quickly rose from local bartender to worldly artist to social justice guru. His work has spanned continents and mediums; his cracked-open, silicone eggs scattered about the US border highlighting the fragility of the immigrant experience caught the attention of the United Nations who employed Toll to travel to El Salvador and Turkey to build community through street art. Alongside his wife, Toll is also crafting a documentary called I Am MigrationBased on their cross-country journey handing out free DNA tests, the film aims to unearth the perceptions of whiteness and blood purity, tackling racism and xenophobia along the way. Meanwhile in Greenpoint, he creates jubilant birds and clay eggs and cartoonish skulls that are peppered around the neighborhood as Easter eggs for residents to discover.

Toll is simultaneously planning, tackling, and executing a number of projects. Before this interview, he said he prefers to delve into just one and discuss its impact as opposed to scanning over many and diluting their effects. And so we discussed his one true love: Brooklyn. (“I’ve never put up art in Manhattan,” he says with pride.) He’s forthright, but don’t mistake this for harshness; Toll exudes compassion, is masterfully warm, and radiates an envious amount of charisma. Maybe it’s the Aussie accent, or the casual way he sipped a whiskey during our interview. He was in his own bar after all — the summer hotspot and winter hideaway Northern Territory, located at 12 Franklin Street. Perched on a barstool, he’s excited yet at ease, and it’s contagious. After getting to know Toll for an hour or so, it’s not hard to feel gravitationally bound to him, even as he tells you that in two years’ time his cozy bar will close. Come March 2020, Northern Territory’s lease won’t be renewed and the building will make way for a high-rise office space. This is just another verse in the dirge of local bars being bought out, but as with cowboys, another adventure is always on the horizon.

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“Dandy Be Good” Offers Sizzling Tales in Bitter Weather

Photo: Walter Wlodarczyk
G.J. Dowding. Photo: Walter Wlodarczyk

Vital Joint’s venue is tiny, but the amount of pre-show audience chitchat was enormous. Most was facilitated by a a suit-donning and larger-than-life Rhinelander (more on him later), but some was organic: “Did you make that necklace” or “Hey, the bar serves beer” pleasantries were also exchanged. If there was ever a lull, our German friend was quick to fill it with a quip or suggestion that the cash-only bar is steps away. “This is experimental theater,” he said. “You’ll need a drink.”

This is all the prelude to Dandy Be Good, queer artist GJ’s storytelling cabaret now playing through January 27 at Vital Joint (109 Meserole Street) as part of Brooklyn’s Exponential Festival. Like the pre-show banter, Garlan Jude (GJ)’s show fosters community and togetherness. They lip sync to songs from Judy Garland (a fun reversal on the performer’s name?) and interviews from socialite women of yore. But GJ doesn’t hog the stage — they share it with a trio of guest performers: a vaudevillian-reminiscent actress, a consummate orator, and — yes — our chatty German pal.

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Activists Are Real? See For Yourself in The Buswick Starr’s New Comedy, “Cute Activist”

Madeline Wise in “Cute Activist” at The Bushwick Starr

Milo Cramer has made his Bushwick Starr debut.

I’m not just discussing his play, the zippy and zany Cute Activist. Cramer wrote it, but — in a lovely surprise — is also in it. And like his play, the performance is delightful.

Cramer, alongside Sebastian Pray, puppeteers his way through his new comedy, now extended through February 3 at The Bushwick Starr (207 Starr Street). Cute Activist gingerly but probingly tackles capitalist greed, interracial dating, and — yes — activism. (Sound designer John Gasper comically conjures *thunder* each time that forbidden word is uttered.) Or is it slactivism? It’s hard to say. Cramer doesn’t try and pin down the elusive term, but he does winningly show how his heroine Jen — short for Jen-der, or Jen-trification — illuminates it for herself. Continue reading

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New Office Satire “R&D” Comes to The Keep January 11-13

Reversible floor tiles. Sleeve Me Alone. A pencil that’s also jerky.

Practical or utterly useless, these are a small handful of the colorful pitches in Brouhaha Theatre Project’s upcoming R&D: a nightmare in three flowchartsAnd while these may seem the stuff of Call-Now-and-Save infomercials aimed at sexagenarians comfortable in their recliners, they originate from the fresh minds of one of Brooklyn’s youngest and most promising theater companies.

R&D is basically a portrait of a team of Young Professionals who leave everything behind to devote themselves to this crazy startup called BrainSoul,” said Sam Myers, one of Brouhaha’s five company members and R&D’s playwright.

R&D (as in “research and development”) overflows with exhausting and all-too-familiar corporate jargon that is ripe for comedic satire. Office lingo like “impressive stapling work” and “on the same page” are often tossed around. Somehow, outside of the workplace and inside the theater, these phrases feel like poisonous earworms, which may be the point. 

“Over the course of the play, the YoPros’ enthusiasm for the company becomes more and more cultish,” Myers said. “It’s an office comedy that tries to push the toxic insularity of work life to a really extreme place.”

The show debuted last year at Dixon Place in Manhattan and now comes to the basement of Bushwick/Ridgewood’s The Keep (205 Cypress Avenue), a bar with as much spunk and funk as Brouhaha’s latest project. 

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Essay: Gee vs. Elle, A Tale of Two Subways

Gee’s been in her older sister’s shadow for a while. Like, since 1933. She heard legend of Elle’s flapper-filled carts and smooth shuttling of partiers from soirée to soirée, borough to borough, without ever so much as rattling their champagne, which they could drink whilst riding cause Elle was a “cool train.”

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Standards Manual in Greenpoint Finds Success in Reissuing Relics

Jesse Reed. Photo by Ian Hartsoe

“We had a hint there might be an interest in this book.”

That hint was raising over $800,000 on Kickstarter to reissue the New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual. But before the online support and incredible demand, this lucrative endeavor began more innocently — with buried treasure.

“We found one of the original manuals in our old office’s basement,” Jesse Reed said of the copy he and his business partner Hamish Smyth discovered and — through enormous fundraising — reissued for public consumption.

New Yorkers love griping about the subway, so it may come as a surprise that this manual elicited such fervid response, but these backers are seeking more than just a handsome coffee table book or conversation starter.

Standards Manual storefront on Franklin Street in Greenpoint. Photo by Ian Hartsoe
Standards Manual storefront on Franklin Street in Greenpoint. Photo by Ian Hartsoe


“We knew designers were into it, but once we launched the Kickstarter we found other audiences, and one was people who live in New York City,” Reed said. “They saw the manual and subway signs for the first time as designed objects, and it struck a chord with a lot of people who ride the subway every day. If you were here in the ’70s or earlier, you knew how horrible the signage was, and then you see the manual and how it’s now made.”

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Heather Christian Unleashes a Ravishing Tour de Force in The Bushwick Starr’s “Animal Wisdom”

Heather Christian in her Bushwick Starr show, “Animal Wisdom.” Photo by Maria Baranova.

The richest musical score this season might not be found on Broadway. To add to its allure, it’s created by a “migraine-suffering musician who talks to dead people.”

It’s a bold self-proclamation, but Obie Award winner Heather Christian’s Animal Wisdom is an equally bold work — and one that’s near impossible to pin down. To call it a play lumps it in with traditional narratives, and yet to label it a folksy-Requiem-mass-drama barely trumpets its dynamism, élan, and pure resplendence.

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A Fiery, Absurdist “Chamber Music” Now Playing at St. John’s

Members of the “Chamber Music” cast at St. John’s

“The chair recognizes Joan of Arc.”

It’s hard not to recognize her, in the theatrical sense — like the Joans we’ve seen, this one’s armor-clad, cross-bearing, and all-powerful. But is this Joan? Well, of course not; it’s merely a depiction.

But is the performer (a marvelously focused Bre Northrup) playing Joan, or a character who believes they are Joan? This is one of the central questions in Arthur Kopit’s Chamber Music, now playing through September 16 in the basement of St. John’s Lutheran Church (155 Milton Street).

Director Emily Moler makes dynamic use of her staging Kopit’s absurdist play, setting it in the round and utilizing the subterranean locale’s low-budget though ample space. In fact a church basement may be the unlikely, appropriate setting for Chamber Music: the play actually takes place in a mental institution, so a church (with its rigid mores) lends itself winningly to this story’s strict asylum. The “Joan of Arc” and other lady icons, from Osa Johnson to Pearl White, inhabit this jail, and their meeting of the minds feels echoed in the opening of Top Girls, Caryl Churchill’s feminist anthem. Continue reading

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Self-Help Gets a Lift in “The Protégé,” a New Play at Chez Bushwick

I hope you have the pleasure of meeting Caitlin Bebb, whose addictive and contagious luminosity makes her an ideal artist to write and perform in a show about self-help. Even if you don’t meet her personally, you may feel like you have after experiencing her intimate but wild new show, The Protégé, presented by Glass Bandits and playing June 23–26 at Chez Bushwick (304 Boerum St).

Personal development, therapy, and self-improvement can come with sticky stigmas; by nature, these tactics make us address, confront, and perhaps publicize our imperfections. But in her mysterious yet alluring solo show, Caitlin Bebb rejiggers these ignominies, breaking down the walls of what self-help can expound — well, perhaps not breaking them down, but certainly infusing them with spiritual rejuvenation, a genre-defying performance, and a dance party. Continue reading

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