Friday, August 29, 2014


By Imre Kertész
Directed by Gia Forakis
Produced by SceneHouse Productions and Gia Forakis&Company

Nominations Adam Boncz is nominated for Outstanding Solo Performance

       Photos by
Jonathan Slaff

About this Production
Fatelessness is the world premiere of a solo performance adapted from the novel by Imre Kertesz, a Nobel Prize-winning author who is himself a survivor of the Nazi death camps. The 75-minute monologue is performed by Hungarian actor Adam Boncz, who is the first to have exclusive rights to adapt the novel for the stage.

In the summer of 1944, the 14-year old Hungarian boy, Gyuri Köves, is taken off a bus on his way to work and sent to Buchenwald. In a place called a “work camp” he finds starvation, selfishness and death but he also discovers a sense of order, wonder and camaraderie, along with something he had never understood before –what it means to be Jewish. It is a story, told with the guileless perspective of Gyuri, as he is introduced, step by step, to a place unlike any he has ever seen before -at once an establishment of extreme order and efficiency while at the same time a strange nightmare of new experiences and unfathomable realities. The result is an alarming, charming and uncharacteristically ironic tale of one of the darkest examples of systematic cruelty, and calculated horror of the 20th century. It is through Gyuri’s naïve, and sometimes indignant, point of view that his steps toward freedom are set in motion: this is his gift, and the fate that no one can take away from him as long as he continues to remember…

Performer Adam Boncz and Director Gia Forakis talk about their multi-year journey to take this world renown work about the Holocaust and adapt it for the stage.


What attracted you to this project?

Adam: Our company, SceneHouse Productions is dedicated to enriching the American cultural life by introducing new, eastern European works to the New York stage and film scene. Our productions are always a collaboration of international artists in order to experiment with cultural dialogue and artistic influence between the two continents.

Our production of Fatelessness is the world premiere of the stage adaptation of the only Nobel Prize winner Hungarian writer, Imre Kertesz. Fatelessness is one of the most famous novels of the contemporary European literature and it is probably the most significant piece of literature of my native Hungarian culture. We were the first ones who got permission from the author to make a stage adaptation, and I was fascinated to see if we could translate this piece of literature to the stage. The book has a very unique and one of a kind perspective on the darkest times of history, and it was a tremendously fascinating challenge for us to adapt this renowned book and faithfully communicate this perspective on stage.

Gia: When Adam invited me to help him adapt and to direct Fatelessness for the stage as a one man show, the first thing that attracted me to the project was simply Adam Boncz himself! I did not know the material, but I trusted Adam's taste. I had worked with him in the past so not only did I know he was a terrific actor with great instincts, but I also knew him to be a wonderful collaborator. Adam happens to possess a special kind of charisma that I knew would carry a 75-90min one-man show. Additionally, Adam happens to be a physically expressive actor, which matches my own directorial aesthetic. He has studied One-Thought-One-Action with me, so we already shared a common vocabulary, and Adam also happens to be one of the founding member actors of GF&CO (Gia Forakis & Company), so his proposal to create an original production not only matched GF&CO's mission, but it was something that, in the back of my mind, I thought would be a strong choice for a co-production with Scene House Productions.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Adam: One of the favorite part of the process was to assemble and work with a group of international artists on this project. We had Romanian playwright Andras Visky as our dramaturg, American director Gia Forakis, Colombian born Federico Restrepo as our lighting designer and Hungarian Balint Varga as our composer. All of them brought their own, very unique perspective that resulted in a real collaboration between international artists. It was fascinating to work with this diverse group and I was extremely happy with the result.

Even though it is a solo performance, I do have partners on stage. We used countless sound, music and light cues as well as projections to create a full theatrical experience. When all these elements started to work like a clockwork and were in sync with me on the stage, it was an amazing experience. I was performing alone on stage but many people backstage supported my work and performance. This collaboration was truly great.

Gia: I spent 10 years as a solo-performance artist creating and performing my own work for the stage, before focusing my career on directing. So, one of the things I enjoyed the most about working on Fatelessness was bringing that knowledge to the process---being able to trust the power of the solo performance, and that I was able to pass on all that experience.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production?

Adam: It was a daunting task to adapt a nearly 350 page, well known novel to a one hour solo performance. Dramaturg Andras Visky, Gia Forakis and myself worked for almost three years to develop (through residencies, staged readings and the rehearsal process) a script that is faithful to the original material. The research on the subject and interviewing Holocaust survivors was the hardest part of the preparation for the role. I've encountered many disturbing and horrific stories. Even harder was to relive the story of Gyuri in the concentration camp night after night during the run of the show. It was especially difficult when I knew that there were real Holocaust survivors sitting in the first row, watching me reliving their memories.

The other big challenge was to coordinate all the technical elements we used (tons of light cues, sound and music cues and projections) with a very short tech time. Luckily, thanks to our designers’ professionalism and the immense help from HERE Arts Center we managed to tackle all the difficulties.

Gia: Well, there was defining what the word Fatelessness means, but I'll say that the most challenging part of the project was keeping everyone on the team, including Adam himself, away from the propensity to make sentimental choices.  This meant the original musical compositions, the set, lighting, video and sound design, everything had to steer away from the inclination to reflect the idea of what a Holocaust story should be. It was curious how insidiously the sentimental choice would creep into the work. This caused some tension and required a fim conviction in what we were doing. We needed to trust the writing (after all it had won a Nobel Prize) and that the audience would take the journey despite the inherent irony of the text or the choices to encourage laughter in the first half of the play despite the fear that this might be seen as disrespectful, or that the character of Gyuri was heartless. But, these were the choices that helped to deepen the impact of what was to come.

What was the most interesting part of the production for you?

Adam: Although the show's subject is the Holocaust, we created a productions that has many light, humorous and heartfelt moments. These moments infused in the touching story of Gyuri should inspire audiences to reconsider the meaning of true happiness, how and why do we make our choices in life and what it really means to be different.

Of course meeting and talking to Nobel prize winner Imre Kertesz was an amazing experience. Mr. Kertesz is one of the most prominent figures of contemporary literature and his support and the friendship that developed between us during the development process is invaluable for me.

Gia: Someone said, in describing the book Fatelessness, that it's as if Holden Caulfield (the narrator in the novel Catcher in The Rye) went to a concentration camp and lived to tell you the story. In Fatelessnes our narrator is Gyuri, whose story is told with the arrogance of adolescence and the guileless perspective of a teenage boy. Gyuri does not speak or understand Hebrew, or celebrate Jewish holidays and is embarrassed about the yellow star he has to wear. The world is his playground, and the authority of adults is to be cleverly sidestepped and mocked. When he and his friends are taken off a public bus and rerouted to a "work camp" he sees this as an adventure. What follows is the transformation of a young man as he is introduced to a place unlike any he has ever seen before, at once a magnificent demonstration of order and efficiency and also strange nightmare of new experiences and unfathomable horrors. Through Gyuri’s naïve, and often indignant, point of view we experience his growth from ignorance to awareness as a portal into our own areas of blindness and culpability.

What do you want the audience to come away with after watching your production?

Adam: It is strange to say, but we hope that by seeing this Holocaust themed show, people will leave the theater with a new appreciation for life.

Gia: I am going to answer with a personal anecdote. When it came time to prepare my Director's Bio for the program it dawned on me that the general public isn't going to know from my professional list of credits and credentials that I am half Jewish. Although my father's family is Greek Orthodox, my mother's family is Jewish. In the Jewish tradition that makes me fully Jewish -not half. So, I wondered for half a second if it was important to acknowledge my heritage or if it was it "unprofessional"?  And that's when I knew I had to mention it, because I heard in my question that there is no question. If I had lived in Europe during WWII, it would have been highly likely that I would have been deported to a camp because my mother is Jewish. To not share my heritage would be to disrespect the play, those who died, and make me even more like young Gyuri than I already am --for I do not speak Hebrew, nor do I recognize the holidays with any special regularity. Gyuri survived. He didn't experience the fate of the millions who died in the camps. If their fate was to die, then Gyuri was left fate-less--without the fate that killed the others. Thus he was left to live a life of fate-less-ness. The moment that I added my heritage to my bio, this was a fatelessness moment for me. You do not need to be Jewish to find for yourself what fatelessness means for you, but that is what I hope others come away with from the production.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Magic Bullets

Magic Bullets
By Adam R. Burnett
Directed by Adam R. Burnett & Jud Knudsen
Produced by Buran Theatre Company

Nominations: Magic Bullets is nominated for Outstanding Performance Art Production; The ensemble (Caitlin Bebb, Abigail Blueher, Donna Jewell, Jud Knudsen, Catrin Lloyd-Bollard, Erin Mallon, Michael McKim Karp, Kate Schroeder, Mari Yamamoto) is nominated for Outstanding Ensemble
    Photos by David Pym

About this Production

How do you know you are unwell? How do you know you are better? Is wellness a journey to a new place? Or a return to where you've already been? Can you save yourself by coupling with another? Wait. What are you doing and how did you get here?

Magic Bullets situated itself in a playground of suffering to entertain a trip through mental and physical health. With a cacophonous score of language, dance and live music, the show was an overwhelming theatrical experience utilizing Buran Theatre's joyfully anarchic performance style.

Writer and co-director Adam R. Burnett and performers Michael McKim Karp, Donna Jewell and Mari Yamamoto talk about the process of creating this work that explores physical and mental wellness.


What attracted you to this project?

Adam: We were drawn to developing a show about how a person heals or recovers from pain, loss and suffering. It began as an exploration of "exorcism" as a metaphor and ended with an inquiry into fear and insecurity in light of our health.

Michael: The possibility of working with Buran Theater--a company whose approach to theater integrates the head and the heart in a singular cliche-free and meaningful way...

Donna: The talent of playwright Adam Burnett and co-director Jud Knudsen is what attracted me to doing this show. I work in several theater companies in Europe and I appreciate theater that is experimental, meaningful, and courageous.

Mari: I had worked with Buran Theatre on their previous show Nightmares last year and had really enjoyed their immensely open and dynamic approach to "performance" and the themes they were exploring. I was intrigued by the idea of the exploration of "wellness" and "healing" since we live in a world, and a city on top of that that seems to bombard you with what you should and shouldn't do with your own body...Buran also always manages to bring together a fascinating variety of people in a room and utilize the vast range of qualities that the they bring to the table so I was excited to dive into whatever Adam threw at us with this group of fantastic fellow actors.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Adam: We were one of the final companies to present at the now-shuttered Incubator Arts Project. It was an honor to be a part of their legacy.

Michael: Developing the piece... It involved both a sort of free movement improv and a sure directoral hand. It was an extremely supportive way of working, and brought out character elements I never would have thought of... Also, the fact that it was organized like an orchestra: It was truly an ensemble, with actors given the chance to solo... Very cool.

Donna: My favorite part of working on Magic Bullets was the process of seeing the play develop, emerge and unfold. Also in this is watching it come to life in a different way once the audience is present. I loved choreographing for this show because the cast was so open to the movement and the choreographic concepts.

Mari: The process of making this play was like no other production I had ever done. It was roughly a 6 month rehearsal process (although the creation of the foundation had started a few years back in Adam's head) where we met once a week to share our stories and views on the show's theme. We also conducted "experiments" where we prepared each actor's favorite food/something we cannot resist and we all had to sit in front of it for 5 minutes and explore our reactions to suppressing the need to fulfill our desires. My item of choice was music, since I cannot resist dancing when my favorite music is playing and during those 5 minutes while suppressing my physical urge to move I felt so suffocated and deep sadness and even tears at the end. This made us realize how we suppress our urges on a day-to-day basis and that may have a effect on our level of happiness in the long run. The show was deeply personal for everyone involved since we became familiar with each others stories and that was woven into the show. It also made me reflect upon my own wellness and how I did/am healing from different events in my life.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production?

Adam: We had many performers and collaborators working on the production from great distances - Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Albuquerque - and many of them were not integrated until tech week. This was certainly the most challenging aspect of the production as we had to wait till the final week to put everything in place.

Michael: I was the oldest actor in the cast by far. Although it fit the character and the play, it did automatically set me apart from the rest of the cast; it was a good exercise to "blend" as much as possible on stage so my age would not be seen as an anomaly, but as a part of the whole...

Donna: Most challenging is being separate from the directors and cast for most of the time leading up to the performance. I came in ten days before the opening, so getting the ensemble to "gel" had to be quick, and we accomplished it.

Mari: Throughout the show the whole cast comes in and out of these peculiar scenes that are in some ways connected but for the most part not clearly so and as actors we had to play these disconnected scenes as one character so finding a through line, figuring out where my character was coming from and making sense of it to myself was the most challenging and also fun part of it. The big ensemble scene with everybody took a lot of time and effort to find the rhythm and tone and the pauses that seemed just right. But that was also a stimulating challenge, feeling separate but simultaneously completely as one on stage with six other actors.

What was the most interesting part of the production for you?

Adam: Many of the performers in the production doubled as the live band. We also used live blenders and foodstuff, which often flung around the space of the theater in the midst of blending!

Donna: I had an injury that prevented me from dancing in one of the dance sections. It turned out that it was more appropriate for me not to be in that section. I enjoyed the fact that that random happenstance served the work.

Mari: There were outbursts of original music and dance pieces throughout the show and 3 of the actors were onstage musicians as well so we would seamlessly go back and forth from the music and acting.

What do you want the audience to come away with after watching your production?

Adam: Feeling as if they have gotten that itch out from their hand - having gone through something new and inexplicable, feeling rigorously worn out from the exuberance of the performance.

Monday, August 25, 2014

David's RedHaired Death

David's RedHaired Death
By Sherry Kramer
Directed by Michael Rau
Produced by One Old Crow Productions

Nomination: Tony “Grasshopper” Mitch is nominated for Outstanding Choreography/Movement

About this Production
David's RedHaired Death is the beautiful, complicated story of two redheads who find they have everything in common until the death of a brother drives them apart. The redhaired mythology that empowers and glorifies these women leads them into a big love they can't safely get back out of. It's a story about the heaviness of the things we carry. Our version incorporates aerial silks, 3 walls of immersive projections and video that encompasses the audience, and a food and drink menu in collaboration with the restaurant Cantina Royal.

Diana Beshara, Elizabeth Simmons, and Grasshopper Mitch talk about this complexed and poetic work that became very personal for the artists.


What attracted you to this project?

Diana: Co-producing the show, Elizabeth Simmons, was the one who brought the show to me. At first, it seemed like a logical next step from my company's first production, a site specific version of Sam Shepard's Cowboy Mouth in an apartment in the Lower East Side. That was a two person show, this is a two person show plus some silent presences. That was a one act, this is a full length. Neither seem so concerned with things like plot, on the surface, and leave a lot of open space for interpretation, which I love in a piece. Slowly but surely getting a little bigger, you know? When you are a small new company that has no idea where the money will come from next, these are viable concerns. Plus the language is so beautiful and poetic, I just wanted to chew on it. We started talking logistics, and it was rolling right along. But then, my father died. And her aunt died. Within four days of each other. This is a show about grief and loss. It seemed too hot to even think about, so the project went on hold, and I went into mourning. But the more-and-more I held, the more-and-more I told myself I couldn't possibly do this show, the more and more obsessed I became with it. I really believe that things come into your life for a reason. "There are no coincidences," as Jean says in the play, and this show needed me to deal with it right at this time. So, it actually has a beautiful and tragic symmetry to it. My father is the person who inspired me to believe that I could even do something as crazy as make my own work. I never would have started a company if he hadn't given me the idea and pushed me to make it a reality. The last thing he would have wanted is for me to stop doing what I love because of him. So in the end, I'm doing this show for him, in his honor. And I just hope I can do a little bit of justice to all the faith he had in me.

Grasshopper: I was interested in working on the production because I was given the opportunity to create a different and unique adaptation of the play.

Elizabeth: I had wanted to do David's RedHaired Death (that capital H is on purpose by the way, we asked Sherry Kramer!) for almost 10 years. Acting in DC, I knew one of the original cast members, and the show always fascinated me; the language, the non-linear narrative, the relationship between these two women. And a two woman cast! Where do you see that? Also, the sense of mystery to it, even in the details, like who are these men who come in and out of the RedHeads world?

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Diana: It was amazing being a redhead! Because, all the reasons you would think :) No, seriously, this piece was a challenge due to some very personal things that resonated deeply with it that were going on in both mine and Elizabeth's lives. My favorite part was watching all of our ambitious moving parts, like the food and drink, projections, aerial, etc, finally come together into a real, quite elegant, cohesive piece. I loved making sense of this stream of conscious non-linear show. We just kept on walking around, in the most high stress times right before we opened, kind of in a daze, just saying "We made a thing!" over and over to each other. It's like a birth, it's difficult and the most rewarding thing you can do, all at the same time.

Grasshopper: The best part of the production was the cast and crew that I was able to work with. Everyone involved in the project was professional and friendly.

Elizabeth: The moment when we were standing on stage during tech and the world just came together. It was really gratifying to see everything go from ideas to reality. It was a great sense of accomplishment, especially for a first time producer. That was pretty amazing.  I also really enjoyed the rehearsal process and just having the space and time to take risks and feel comfortable. There were moments I've never tried before on stage, especially that magical thing that happened when we worked out our monologues with the aerialists, I'd definitely never done that before as an actor.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production?

Diana: It's a two woman show, where I had a very creative producer role and ALSO was on stage for the entire hour and a half, minus like 7 minutes. That was a challenge! It was very scary and very raw and hit me in a lot of my actor scary parts. But we think that those things that are difficult to do are the things that are often the most worthwhile to do. We learned so much, and it was such a joy to dive into this abstract, poetic text.

Grasshopper: The biggest challenge with this particular production was coordinating the aerial choreography. The aerial cast had significantly different experience and rotated throughout the show.

Elizabeth: Well, being a first time producer! I learned so much during the process, and it's definitely a challenge when you're co-producing and co-starring. As an actor, a challenge for me was just letting go and not anticipating. Because the play doesn't have a traditional arc, there's a lot of time jumping and memory scenes, sometimes it was tough to really stay in the moment and not let those transitions wash over you.

What makes David’s RedHaired Death so different?

Diana: We got to collaborate with so many awesome designers and creators. The whole show was basically visually soundtracked by our incredible video/projections designer, Asa Wember. And it was so amazing to watch our stark white box transform for the first time when his immersive projections on 3 huge screens engulfed us into many other worlds. It was also so so incredible to collaborate with our jaw-droppingly talented aerialists, Sloan Bradford, Matthew Stuart, and our amazing Choreographer Tony "Grasshopper" Mitch. It was so interesting to see their way into this piece, and how they translated with our awesome director Michael Rau, in collaboration with us, all these surreal moments in the show. It was awesome to work across mediums like that, and I think we all got to take something special away from that. It was amazing how the space, LA SALA at Cantina Royal, which is quite intimate, just exploded out when we accessed the vertical of the soaring ceilings with the aerial silks collaboration.

Grasshopper: Personally, the most amusing part of the production was the first aerial rehearsal and the awe and excitement in the actors' and crew's faces.

Elizabeth: Well, the flying men were pretty different and the amazing projections, and there was delicious food in a theatre behind an amazing Mexican restaurant. Oh, and the writing and the acting too lol! Sherry Kramer's words are just beautiful, there's a sense of poetry and love and heartbreak. There's this relationship between her characters, between my Marilyn and Diana's Jean that I haven't seen before in other plays.

What do you want the audience to come away with after watching your production?

Diana: We hope we surprised people a little, we hope they saw a little magic, had a little awe, and were able to get as swept up in this magical, mythical redhead world as we all were, designers, crew and performers.

Elizabeth: Hope! That you can move on, that you can go through so much heartache and confusion and still come out on the other side, just maybe not exactly the way you thought you would. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Maiden

The Maiden
Conceived by Chance D. Muehleck
Directed and Choreographed by Melanie Armer
Composed by Admiral Grey
Produced by La MaMa in association with The Nerve Tank

Nomination: The Maiden is nominated for Outstanding Performance Art Production

       Photos by Raymond Haddad

About this Production
The Maiden was constructed to explore questions of power and showmanship in the context of a trailer park nightclub. We blended found text, choreographed movement, and live music to reboot the myth of Persephone’s abduction, creating a visceral, overlapping experience of her journey to the Underworld. That journey took her from ignorant bliss to the realm of pure knowledge, allowing her to turn the tables on her captor.

The show featured a three-piece band of Chorus members who played a variety of instruments, all of which were literally built into the set design. Hades rode an absurdly tall and specially designed and constructed bicycle contraption. And Demeter was present in voice only--heard over a unique audio speaker suspended above the audience--until the show’s final moments when she made a slow and silent walk across the playing space.

Melanie Armer talks about how the creative team reimagined this classic Greek myth.


What inspired you to create The Maiden?

Melanie: The Maiden grew from an element of Glory Road, which was our installation piece about Sisyphus that was presented by Arts Brookfield last year. Persephone was there as overseer, but she wasn't the focus of the project. Our way in to Persephone's story was through the psychic wormhole of innocence to pure knowledge--that is, knowledge untethered from moral or practical concerns. The versions of the myth we’re familiar with don't give her much of a voice. She's taken to the Underworld, she's tricked (or not) into staying there half the year, and her mother wanders the earth crying after her. But approaching it from the perspective of Hades as a knowledge-giving source complicates Persephone's journey in all sorts of ways. It tends to come back to the nature of power: Who wields it, what feeds it, and how is it transferred?

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Melanie: The Maiden was conceived by Chance D. Muehleck and then workshopped over one full year in its development with Director/Choreographer Melanie S. Armer & Composer/Performer Admiral Grey. This was a slight shift in the collaborative process for The Nerve Tank which allowed these three collaborators equal impact prior to the written text and rehearsal process. The addition of a collaborator, new to the Nerve Tank at this core level was another joyful and exciting change. The Maiden is a true culmination of the work the Nerve Tank has been doing for the past 6 years incorporating evidently strong design, and a more audience- accessible finished piece than ever before.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production?

Melanie:The main challenge for us is often: What’s the conceptual frame for the themes we want to explore, and how much explication of this frame does an audience need to feel engaged? With a classic Greek myth, you’re starting with something that many people have some familiarity with. But they might not know the details, or even the most important twists in the story. So we kept that balance in mind throughout our process.

What makes The Maiden so different?

Melanie: We first encountered Admiral Grey's work when we saw a bizarre version of the film Metropolis projected with live dance, costumes and 4 bands. One of these bands was Admiral Grey's "Glass Lamborghini" We were smitten, and began stalking her online. When Mio Yoo at LaMama asked us to pitch a project for the Club space we proposed a joint venture and when Mia expressed interest in the project, we connected directly with Admiral Grey hoping she'd love the idea. It turned out that she had recently completed a solo performance project centered on Persephone and was delighted to delve deeper into her mysteries with us. From such auspicious beginnings, deep collaboration was no surprise.

What do you want the audience to come away with after watching your production?

Melanie: If the audience comes away with anything from The Maiden, we’d like it to be these 3 things: A light mind. A deeper breath. Full ears and eyes.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde
Directed by Kevin Connell
Produced by Take Wing And Soar Productions

Nominations: Debra Ann Byrd is nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role and Gail Cooper-Hecht is nominated for Outstanding Costume Design

                    Photos by Hosea Johnson

About this Production
In order to give classically trained actors of color center stage opportunities Take Wing And Soar Productions, in partnership with New Heritage Theatre Group, created a main stage production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. This production of is transported to 1920's Harlem with high style, dynamic dialogue and the music that changed a nation.

Producer and actress Debra Ann Byrd
and Costume Designer Gail Cooper-Hecht discuss how they brought a fresh perspective to
Wilde's classic story of social hierarchy and class structure by transporting it.


What attracted you to working on this project?

Debra Ann: I was attracted to working on this production of The Importance of Being Earnest for two reasons. First, I really love this play and it's quirky characters and secondly, it was while performing the show, as a senior in college that I was inspired to start my production company.

Gail: Since I like working with Debra Ann and Take Wing And Soar Productions, I decided to do this play that I love. I had done several projects with them including Lorey Hayes’ Massinissa.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Debra Ann: My favorite part of working on The Importance of Being Earnest was having the opportunity to work on period and style with the director Kevin Connell. He is an exceptional teacher of this style of heightened language theater and I loved every moment of collaborating with him to find the similarities in upper class British manners and those of the American Black Bourgeoisie.

Gail: Taking this play, set in England at the turn of the century and changing it to Harlem in the 1920’s was already an interesting project. The idea that I was possibly designing the first all-black production of this Oscar Wilde play made it even more challenging and fun.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production? And why?

Debra Ann: The most challenging part of working on The Importance of Being Earnest is linked to my favorite part of working on the project. I had a difficult time working on Oscar Wilde's text and not using a British dialect because that is how I learned it at college. The challenge was to find an American way of saying these words while still keeping the pace and rhythm of the style they were written in. I eventually got it by finding a living American person who I thought matched all of Lady Bracknell's qualities, BIG, BOLD BRASSY, WEALTHY and WISE. I found her and she just so happened to be someone I loved and admired. A woman who had mentored me. It was perfect! Challenge conquered, it became a great joy to perform the role with her in mind.

Gail: Scheduling a fitting with Debra Ann Byrd, who not only played Lady Brackenell, but was also the Producer and Company Manager was the most challenging part of designing this play.

What do you want the audience to come away with after watching your production?

Debra Ann: Our production of The Importance of Being Earnest was wildly innovative and funny. It called for many creative artistic minds to conceive it, create it, produce it and perform it. It was great reimagining history by taking a classic and transmuting it to create a new American classic. I really wanted the audience to come away with joy in their hearts at experiencing such a funny show. But, I mainly I wanted them to come away with the thought that we have more in common than we do differences. I wanted to inspire understanding and unity through the arts, and we did that by setting a traditional British play in a new Black American setting. It made people think. It gave great history lessons. It made many proud.

The best part is... It did what it was intended to do.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fire. Water. Night

Fire. Water. Night
Conceived and Directed by
Virlana Tkacz 
Produced by Yara Arts Group in Association with LaMaMa

Nominations: Alla Zagaykevych and Lemon Bucket Orkestra is nominated for Outstanding Original Music; Fire. Water. Night is nominated for Outstanding Production of a Musical

    Photographs by Volodymyr Klyuzko

About this Production
Fire. Water. Night by Yara Arts Group adapted spring and summer rituals into a World Music Theater piece that moved throughout the lobby, risers and playing areas of La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theatre, reveling in the imagery of the spring thaw, of awakening forests and of midsummer fire rituals. The work, conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz, interwove performances in English and Ukrainian, including fragments drama, poetry, dance and song. It featured a score by electronic music composer Alla Zagaykevych, traditional ritual songs from Ukraine and raucous dance music by Toronto’s Lemon Bucket Orkestra. The experience was highly visual and musical and is completely accessible to all audiences which followed the performers to witness and take part in the scenes.

Director Virlana Tkacz, and composers Alla Zagaykevych and Mark Marczyk (of Lemon Bucket Orkestra) give us some insight into the creation of this sight specific production that explores the relationship between nature and technology.


What attracted you to working on this project?

Virlana: I wanted to address our disruption of the cycles in nature and the simultaneous disappearance of an entire layer of traditional culture. The production moves through the spaces of La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theatre to explore our relationship to water, trees, fields and our entrance into a digital landscape. I wanted to retrace this journey viscerally for the audience, make it engaging and fun, yet chilling. Through various levels of engagement the audience becomes a participant or witness to the constantly moving performance, becoming immersed, activated and taking part in the action. We move from elements deciding to turn into a frozen river, to a rushing spring flood, to the first entrance of people into a forest, to the transformation of this landscape into an agricultural field, to a harvest that becomes mechanized and digitized to the elements deciding to freeze.

Mark: The opportunity to work with Alla Zagakevich and living in New York for a few weeks

Alla: I was excited to work with such a wide arsenal of artists. As a composer, I was given the opportunity to work with all a variety of performing artists - instrumental group "Lemon Bucket Orkestra", vocal group, performing Ukrainian folk songs and soloists that sang in different manners ... and - the possibilities of electronic music.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Virlana: I loved the moment when the women appeared high up on the bleachers and sang the traditional songs that were used to chase the spirits into the forest. Then they come down the steep seating platforms of La MaMa clapping and chasing our living forest through the audience that was sitting on carpets on the floor. Then the curtain in back opened to reveal the three-sided huge projections of a magical forest and as we turned, we found ourselves sitting almost in the center of this beautiful and strange new world.

Mark: Making music.

Alla: The most interesting part of the project was creating the music for the different performance mediums. We created music for projections, and actors, and dancers and an interaction of these elements

What was the most challenging part of working on the production?

Virlana: The challenges were many: I had to convince one group of performers that they were going to play trees and have them work for hours on movement with our choreographer, Shigeko Suga. Another group performed songs in a language they did not know and in a manner that was totally foreign to them with Alla Zagaykevych. It was also hard to rehearse a site-specific piece in a rehearsal hall. But once people really understood how everything related viscerally and in space, it all came together.

Mark: Sitting around and waiting to make music.

Alla: The most difficult part was the combination of different cultural environments in this production. The main text was originally Ukrainian that was adapted by Lesya Ukrainka into English but there were still lines and lyrics in different languages and the artists themselves were from a number of different cultures.

What was the most interesting part of working on this production?

Virlana: Working with so many people from so many places many quirky and funny things happen, but I was most moved how all these very different elements and people came together in the performance.

It was also great that the midsummer night party we created as an intermission in our show that involved the public singing and dancing often spilled out after with the performers singing and dancing in various parts of New York.

Alla: It was very interesting to watch the performers discover how to sing with the "voice of the wind" or the “voice of fire" And I was very impress by how quickly and masterfully everyone learned all of the elements.

What do you want the audience to come away with after watching your production?

Virlana: The environment and culture are deeply linked. Traditional culture, with its special magic and joy, disappears as agriculture transforms into mechanical and our landscape becomes digital. I want the audience to think about, or more importantly to feel and experience what we are losing and what we are gaining.