It's time once again for the Under the Radar Festival, which we consider to be the most exciting theatrical event of the year. Curated and founded by former P.S. 122 director Mark Russell, the international festival is packed with 12 days and nights of genre-busting productions from around the world. It kicks off January 9th at The Public Theater and rages on through the 20th, with a dozen shows from seven countries. There's a lot to choose from, so to help sort it all we spoke with Russell about what's on his Radar this year.

Are there fewer productions this year? Yes. And it's down to a perfect 12, or so. Last year was 14, and the year before that was like 20-21. And one reason we've been reducing is partly because of budget, but also focusing. In the beginning we were trying to wrap a string around the whole field. And now that there's Coil, and there's the Prototype Festival, I don't need to wrap around the whole international downtown scene. So I can be very specific in what we're trying to say and it makes it easier to really put our energies behind these particular artists and make sure they're all happy with their performances.

It does seem more manageable. Yeah. I think there's a certain point right around 12 performances where people's eyes fuzz over and they don't think they can make it. And this is just about right. Actually, you could see all these and not feel completely worn out within the two weeks. And that's what I'm kind of going for. As a matter of fact, I have to see all of them in two weeks. [Laughs] But also, we're trying to pay our artists better and give them a better technical situation, and that's what we're trying to build towards.

Before we talk about each one, do you want to say something about how this year is different from last year or from previous years and what you think a common theme might be? Oh, boy. Yeah, no. I'm not a theme guy. It's an interesting... I look at these things, and the way the festival comes together, we're looking around for the most interesting work, around the world that's available to us and fits into our general idea of what we're trying to get around here. And the main question is: Why are we trying to do theater now, in this time? What makes a theater piece relevant to now? Why should I make you stay away from Mad Men for a night just to see theater, which may not work out, you know?

And so, that's what I'm asking each of these artists to sort of answer that for themselves, and for us. And each of these things has moved me, in a way that I feel that I need to bring this to my community. Now once we've got them assembled, they sort of bump up against each other and themes come out, and in ways that I'm taking the ride the same way my audience is. I don't know what this festival is going to say at the end, because that would kind of bore me. I'm interested in how these pieces speak to each other.

Click through on the photos for more on what each show's about. And be advised that shows from the higher profile companies—particularly The Debate Society and Nature Theater of Oklahoma—WILL sell out, so buying tickets in advance is recommended.