Target Margin Theater closes out season with Arabian Nights-inspired “News of the Strange Lab”

For 28 years, Target Margin Theater has been showcasing critically-acclaimed interpretations of classic texts, lesser-known works and new plays inspired by existing source material.

From June 6 to 23, Target Margin Theater’s the Doxsee at 232 52nd Street will close out its current season with “News of the Strange Lab,” a three-week performance festival exploring rare tales from “The One Thousand and One Nights,” along with early Medieval Arab fantasies.

The festival features commissioned new works by composer and choreographer Leyya Mona Tawil, experimental theater company the Million Underscores and Target Margin Theater Associate Artistic Director Moe Yousuf.

“The news sure is strange and it gets stranger,” said Target Margin Theater Founding Director David Herskovits. “Target Margin’s Lab artists fight back by digging deep into tales from the early Arabic tradition, tales of women, adventurers from south of the border and sheer weirdos. This season’s lab celebrates strangers at a time when they need a little love!”    

Since 1995, TMT Labs, curated by Herskovits and Yousuf, has been an essential program of Target Margin supporting over 1,000 emerging artists in the creation of new works in New York City.

At the helm of each production is a lead artist who can be a director, actor, writer, designer, puppeteer or manager and who is commissioned to adapt an existing source or create a new work in keeping with the season’s theme.

“The Lab Festival coming up in June revolves around ‘The Thousand and One Nights,’” Yousef told this paper. “And there’s also a collection of stories called ‘News of the Strange’ which are medieval Arab fantasies that even predate the ‘The Thousand and One Nights.’”

Yousef went on to explain how the program works. “One of the unique things that we do in this lab is highlight a different artist each week,” Yousef explained. “Each artist has their own particular point of view and their own aesthetic. And together, the full three weeks, is what we really think the lab is. You can come to one production and see one thing, but it’s really seeing this articulation from three different perspectives and three different types of storytelling that adds so much to it.”

Yousef was pleased with the depth of the project. “‘The Thousand and One Nights’ comes from an oral storytelling tradition with tales that were transmitted over hundreds and hundreds of years. Now we are asking some of these artists to reclaim some of these stories for themselves,” he said.

Tawil’s “All We Could Give,” being performed from June 6 to 9, a woman-driven response to the resistance strategies and power manipulations of Scheherazade in the legendary “Alf layla wa layla.” The work is situated in the field of Arab Experimentalism which narrates and speculates on culture through transgressive art.

“1001SUR,” written by Nicolas Noreña and Timothy Scott, directed by Nicolas Norena and produced by the Million Underscores, will be presented from June 13 to 16. The work is a reimagining of “The One Thousand and One Nights” as told in a roadside bordello on the frontier of two undisclosed South American countries.

The Million Underscores is an experimental theater company based in Brooklyn led by Noreña and Scott. It was founded in the summer of 2013 and has developed through experimental performances, abstract composition and collaborative writing.

The third and final program is “News of the Strange,” which runs from June 20 to 23. Created by Yousuf, “News of the Strange” is a medieval Arab fantasy suite in the western disco cookout tradition.

Yousef, a Pakistani-American, is a resident of Sunset Park who says he’s proud to have the Target Margin Theater located in his community. Almost all of the artists in the program are Brooklyn natives or Brooklyn-based.

“Sunset Park is such as diverse community, it’s like 10 different types of communities,” said Yousef, “so what we are really trying to do is partner with and find new artists who can bring that wealth and depth of diversity in the space.”

The next season’s programs will be announced in August, with September being the start of the new season.

Photo by Sydney Swanson, courtesy of Target Margin Theater
Leyya Mona Tawil performing in “All We Could Give.

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