Jolie Curtsinger, Zachary Clark, Jake Robards, and Kim Wong of “Promising”

InProximity Theatre presents Promising, written by Michelle ElliottThe Republican presidential primary is a clown-car with the lead clown espousing fascism, Sheldon Silver’s just been found guilty of corruption, Rahm Emmanuel’s currently in hot water with the stove turned to “high”…

I wouldn’t blame anyone for being disgusted with politics at the moment.

But the mess of the political world can certainly be excellent fodder for drama in the theatre. In Michelle Elliott’s Promising, we see a City Councilperson on the edge of re-election, who is suddenly accused of sexual assault. As he’s holed up in his fancy Manhattan apartment with his campaign manager, his speechwriter/best friend, and his half-sister against the media scrum outside, truths are revealed that shake their perceptions and relationships with the “Golden Boy” they’ve all admired for years.

Listen in as the show’s four actors—Jolie Curtsinger, Zachary Clark, Jake Robards, and Kim Wong—discuss checking your judgment, drones in the theatre, rationalizing, and just what is the right thing when your loved ones are involved.

“Everyone’s got that person who’s been kryptonite to them in their past that they can’t get away from…”
“…when you’ve made a bad choice, how does it affect others?…”

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Daria Miyeko Marinelli and Elana McKelahan of “Untamable”

Highly Impractical Theatre and The Unsoft War present Untamable, written by Daria Miyeko Marinelli and directed by Elana McKelahanEver wanted to watch as a major heist unfolds in front of your eyes? Not on film, but actually happening right in front of you?

Thanks to the magic of immersive theatre, you can. Daria Miyeko Marinelli and Elana McKelahan, the playwright and directors of Untameable, respectively, give you that opportunity in a Brooklyn church they’ve converted for the occasion.

Plus, you can see it from both sides: those trying to steal the diamond, and those trying to protect it from the thieves. And while those multiple angles come with an opportunity cost—you’re definitely going to miss some action at some point—that just gives you a great reason to meet and compare notes with your fellow theatre-goers after the show.

Listen in as Daria and Elana discuss fascination with “illegal teamwork movies,” what it takes to act in an immersive show, the opportunities for connection that this style of theatre can provide, and how to invite the audience in by breaking all the rules.

“When people leave a show and they want to talk about it, and they’re really excited about it, it is exciting to me as a creator of the show…”

“…and I love theatre that makes people talk to each other. And it’s kind of impossible to see this show with someone else, and not talk about the experience you have, because you create your own experience…”

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Jason Sofge, Serrana Gay, and Christian De Gré of “Fatty Fatty No Friends”

Mind the Art Entertainment presents Fatty Fatty No FriendsOpera tends to be pretty tragic.

And even though Mind the Art Entertainment‘s operetta Fatty Fatty No Friends is about a group of kids, it doesn’t shy away from the dark and grisly themes and action that usually goes along with the form.

But the show also grapples with some very deep, and even distressing issues that our society has been dealing with for a long time. Composer and director Christian De Gré and author Serrana Gay have done the magic of put those themes into a gorgeous, entertaining show—and Jason Sofge, who plays Tommy, leads a brilliant cast that sings and plays it to life.

Listen in as Jason, Serrana, and Christian discuss why the show was set up like a kid’s book, entertaining work with social messages, inspiration from a late-night meal, and choosing between venue-director money or actor money (please note, neither is a good get-rich-quick scheme).

“…I think it’s really interesting that it can have such a stark, different perspective: are we watching a monster piece, or are we watching a piece about a fallen hero that never was understood? Maybe it’s one and the same. I think it’s very important that people see this piece of theatre…I really think this is a conversation that we need to have right now…”

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Jake Lipman and Molly Ballerstein of “The Inn at Lake Devine”

Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions presents The Inn at Lake Devine, adapted for the stage by Jake Lipman from the novel by Elinor LipmanAt the age of 14, if someone told me I couldn’t do something, I might get pretty righteously indignant, but likely would have felt powerless to do something about it, and then moved on to the next thing to be righteously indignant about.

In Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions‘ The Inn at Lake Devine, at age 14, protagonist Natalie is so affronted when her mother receives a letter suggesting, essentially, that there are “no Jews allowed” at the titular inn…well, she finagles a way to get there herself, to see just what’s up with that. That’s the inciting incident for a pretty epic memory play of love, loss, discrimination, and acceptance between three families through the ’60s and ’70s.

Listen in as Jake Lipman, TIC Producing Artistic Director/adaptor of the play/”Natalie” and fellow metaphorical multi-hat-wearer (but literally often sporting a fedora) Associate Producer/Assistant Director/Stage Manager Molly Ballerstein discuss how personal experiences helped to bring TIC to adapting this play, what it’s like to adapt a novel to a play, teaching/practicing space work, the importance of great designers, and what’s next for Tongue in Cheek.

“…there’s that element of my experiencing something [like this] at a similar age to Natalie, and then I just love her chutzpah and her moxie…she has a flair for the dramatic which I really enjoy.”

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Nick Abeel and Becky Baumwoll of “Above/Below”

Broken Box Mime Theater presents ABOVE/BELOW at HERE Arts CenterThink of a mime.

Now go see Broken Box Mime Theater, and let them explode whatever preconceived notions you have.

Their new show is called Above/Below, a series of vignettes about what’s on the surface, and what’s hidden underneath, all done in mime.

Listen in as troupe members Nick Abeel and Becky Baumwoll discuss how mimes mess around, mime-versity, and what they’re keeping in their hearts.

…and even theatre-people [think] it’s boxes and ropes, ‘stop being stuck in a box, and climbing a rope.’ But in that way, we are able to really blow peoples’ minds, because we take it so much farther than that. People are surprised to find how playful, and profound, and accessible, and funny, and deep the form can be…”

“…we all happen to come to this medium because we love theatre, and mime is the most distilled version of theatre, in our opinion. It lets us get at the heart of the work the most efficiently and effectively…”

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Katie Melby, Eric Powell Holm, and Kelly Klein of “Rise and Fall”

BREAD presents Rise and Fall“From the first it has been the theatre’s business to entertain people, as it also has of all the other arts. It is this business which always gives it its particular dignity; it needs no other passport than fun, but this is has got to have. We should not by any means be giving it a higher status if we were to turn it e.g. into a purveyor of morality; it would on the contrary run the risk of being debased, and this would occur at once if it failed to make its moral lesson enjoyable, and enjoyable to the senses at that: a principle, admittedly, by which morality can only gain….The theatre must in fact remain something entirely superfluous, though this indeed means that it is the superfluous for which we live. Nothing needs less justification than pleasure.” —Bertolt Brecht, A Short Organum for the Theatre (trans. John Willett)

I love Brecht.

It felt appropriate to include the quote above in the blog post about this episode—an interview with directors Eric Powell Holm and Katie Melby (who also stars as Jimmy Gallagher in the show), and producer Kelly Klein (who portrays Willie) of BREAD Arts Collective‘s Rise and Fall, their take on Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny—because in my opinion, they’ve succeeded in getting to the heart of Brecht’s moral lesson, while at the same time making a highly pleasurable, superfluous piece of theatre that’s a great way to enjoy a Sunday night on a Lower East Side bar.

Listen in as Katie, Eric, and Kelly discuss creating their production with the people in the collective around them, why this is the perfect show to do in a bar, why you might want to under-rehearse, reading the room, and what to do if someone calls the bar-phone in the middle of your bar-show.

“This shit will live or die on its punk rock spirit. We have to go fast, and hard, and truthful, and we must not give a fuck—that’s the only way this play will work.”

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Dara Silverman and Ren Dodge of Agile Rascal Traveling Bike Theatre

Agile Rascal Traveling Bike TheatreTouring an independent theatre production can be challenging, but also really rewarding—and really fun.

Maybe you’ve been out on the road with a show; if you have had the pleasure of touring, now imagine you’re doing it on your bicycle. All the props and sets and costumes and your camping gear and your personal living essentials are in your panniers. Everything you need for the show, and for yourself, is on that bike.

For three months.

Sounds like quite an adventure to me. And that’s just what Agile Rascal Traveling Bike Theatre did with their play Sunlight on the Brink. Beginning from their home-base in Oakland, CA, the Rascals finally landed in New York City a couple weeks ago for shows in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and celebrated reaching the Atlantic with a trip to Coney Island.

Though sadly I missed their show, I sat down with Rascals Dara Silverman and Ren Dodge for a coffee and an interview; listen in as we discuss the leap from bicycle touring to bicycle touring with a play, logistics, preparation & adaptation for an epic journey, finding venues across the country, and the kindness of (quirky) strangers who become new friends.

“…there was an intention to write a play where the themes of the play would hypothetically sync up to the themes of the biking as well…so that as we rode across the country, the play would deepen and change based on what we were experiencing…” Continue reading

The Playwright, Director, and Cast of “Poor People”

The Present Theatre Company presents POOR PEOPLE, written by Lavinia Roberts and directed by Irene KapustinaEven being as into independent theatre as I am, I always seem to miss most of Fringe each year.

Thankfully, I was able to get out to The Kraine with a microphone for just one show in this year’s festival, and had the pleasure of talking with some of the creative people behind this heartbreaking theatrical adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel Poor Folk, here entitled Poor People.

Listen in as the playwright Lavinia Roberts, creator/director Irene Kapustina, and actors Alan Altschuler, Jarrod Zayas, Jennifer Stepanyk, and Eric Doss discuss adaptation, perception, killer mustaches, the difference between “bad guys” and “guys who make terrible choices,” the challenges of putting up a show in a festival, and the relationship between Dostoyevsky’s 1845 St. Petersburg and our 2015 New York City.

“…I really fell in love with Dostoyevsky’s humanist lens, and how perceptive he is about people, and able to really appreciate them for who they are, even when they behave in dubious ways. He has such a beautiful understanding of humanity…it was just such a really exciting world to dive in to…” Continue reading

The Cast and Playwright/Director of “Shakespeare’s Presidential Primary”

Pulse Ensemble Theatre presents Harlem Summer, Shakespeare's Presidential Primary, written and directed by Alexa KellyNo robo-calls.

No obnoxious, omnipresent ads.

No idealistic young campaign workers knocking at your door, interrupting dinner.

Just a good, ol’ fashioned, wholesome (and of course, often antagonistic) debate between some of your favorite Shakespearean characters—Phoebe, Bottom, Malvolio, and Lady Macbeth—as they try to win your vote as candidates in Shakespeare’s Presidential Primary.

On this episode, listen in as the show’s writer/director Alexa Kelly, along with co-conceptualist Brian Richardson (who plays Malvolio), and the rest of the cast of Karim Sekou, Marcia A. Berry, Denise Marie Whalen, Samantha Osborne, Celine Havard, Colleen McGloin, Camille Mazurek, and Michael Gilpin, discuss writing your free summer Shakespeare piece to your convention-hall-like setting, how the audience affects their participatory show, the friendly competition between the candidates/actors, and Chris Christie as an actual ass.

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J. Alphonse Nicholson, Howard L. Craft, and Joseph Megel of “Freight: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green”

Freight: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green, written by Howard L. Craft, directed by Joseph Megel, and featuring J. Alphonse NicholsonPlaywright Howard L. Craft was tasked with creating a 10-minute play based on a work of art from the Ackland Art Museum’s permanent collection, and he chose Slow Down Freight Train, a painting by Rose Piper.

Actor J. Alphonse Nicholson tore into the script with the help of director Joseph Megel—and when it was over, they all wanted more.

So Craft when back to the page, and expanded a short play about a minstrel into an epic of the African American male across the 20th Century in America. That’s all I can really say to describe it: you’ve just got to see it. Seriously, you really should go see this one. It’s powerful, original theatre, and incredibly performed.

And before you go, listen in to this episode of the podcast as Alphonse, Howard, and Joseph discuss finding connections with characters across a century, old souls, chemistry with your collaborators, basketball metaphors for your team, and finding new things with every new incarnation of your production.

“…you live them. You don’t act them. You live them. And this is a piece that allows me to do that. I tell people all the time, ‘I hate acting. But I love living.'”

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