Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When You Tire of Groveling

Contributed by Stephen Bittrich

I’ve been writing plays for Off-Off-Broadway theatre for about 26 years, and I love it!  But sometimes … like when you can’t cajole the artistic director (no matter how much you grovel) into producing your play, or when you’re having trouble rallying the troupes because it’s primo catering season, or (as in my case recently) when you’ve been hanging out with your mom in Tennessee for a year because she’s doing chemo and radiation … sometimes you just need to diversify your creative portfolio.

As a playwright and lapsed actor, I’ll share several different ways I’ve tried doing this.

1) Play to Screenplay
Opening up a play filled with minimal locations, big ideas and lots of dialogue into a screenplay told with images … and a lot less dialogue … is one route.  Still, it’s a tough road because you always seem to be begging people to read your stuff … or paying them to.  After much coughing up of entry fees, pleading and imploring I’ve had a few exciting chapters on that front – like getting rather close in the first Project Greenlight contest and shaking hands with Harvey Weinstein’s golden boys (Ben and Matt) and on another occasion having a play turned screenplay optioned by a prolific production company (the deal’s still in progress).

2) Webseries
If screenplays that don’t get made start to get you blue, you can always try a more DIY route -- the webseries.  I went that route creating a series called Off Off about 5 guys in their 40s to 50s creating free theatre … perhaps past the age when it’s still sexy.  I had to cut the production of the series short to be with Mom, but we’ve got 7 episodes in the can thus far, and we’ve had about 10,000 views to date.  Do you realize how many Off Off Broadway plays I’d have to do to reach that size audience?  Of course, it’s a little depressing when our most popular episode (by FAR) features a beautiful woman in a tight jogging outfit. We smartly cast someone who already had a big Internet following, and her episode significantly out performs the episodes which feature the mugs of us crusty old guys.  Still, it is cool to know that basically I own the “network” (a.k.a. the website) and can cancel the series whenever I want … or never!  Ha!  (Oh, the seductive allure of power.)




Monetizing a webseries (beyond little dribbles) and building a substantial audience is really challenging.  It’s near impossible to predict something that will go viral.  It takes a lot of relentless work on social media bothering your “friends.”  But I can happily report that the greatest boon is this -- I learned so much about how to tell a story each time we made an episode; in some episodes we were more successful than others, but I always learned and improved.  And I got the opportunity to return to acting in a low-pressure environment with friends. 

Sometimes with a webseries it starts to get exhausting to rally the troupes.  There’s usually one person who is the engine behind it getting made or not getting made.  That’s about the time when the podcast is your friend.

3) Podcast
When I was in Tennessee I needed a creative outlet where I didn’t have to rely on anyone else, and by chance, around this time I started listening to the addictive WTF.  Marc Maron delivers a riveting interview, and I was particularly drawn to the format – long substantial conversations.  Not like the tired late night talk show formula – joke, joke, roll the clip.

I think podcasts lend themselves most easily to comedians or artists who are promoting some sort of ongoing show (perhaps a one person show) because it’s a great way to build an audience.  Marc Maron goes to do stand up in say, Des Moines, and now he’s drawing not only those who like comedy in general, but also those who are fans of his podcast.  And the podcast show can be whatever you imagine for the auditory palette, from straight interviews, to improv, to radio theatre, to current events.

My podcast is an extension of the Off Off world – titled Off Off Pod, and it’s an interview show where I have free flowing conversations with artists of different levels and disciplines.  No matter how high we’ve risen, a part of us is always “Off Off” … the place where true artistic freedom dwells.




The podcast is so much more within my control than anything I’ve ever done.  I can always find someone to talk to for an hour, but their commitment is minimal.  I’m the one in the driver’s seat whose job it is to capture the interview, edit out all the “uhs,” add music or effects, write the website entry, send out the newsletter, and promote on social media. 

The challenge, as always, is building audience.  But the appeal is, I can make it what I want.  I’m thinking of adding in short video segments where I start dabbling with something akin to stand up and calling it “Off Off Topic.”  It is, after all, my world to create!

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Stephen Bittrich  is a playwright, actor and web designer who recently moved from NYC to Austin.  He currently helps web clients who want to set up their own podcasts achieve their goals, including the soon to be released podcast All Things Being Equal which will help cross promote a one woman touring show by actor/writer Gioia De Cari. [http://unexpectedtheatre.org]

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Inevitable Magic

Contributed by Montserrat Mendez co-founder of Mozzlestead.com


October 10, 20149:36AM

Shay Gines sends me an email.

“I wanted to know if you would be interested in contributing a post to our blog. In November, we are dedicating our blog to diversifying artistic outlets (in other words, artists & companies that produce theatre as well as films or an online series or other mediums.) I wanted to know if you would be interested in contributing a post to our blog.”


11:44AM

I reply.

"Sign me up."



11:45AM

Inner Monologue: "What the fuck did I just agree to do?!!!!  How does Shay Gines know who I am?  Let’s face it in this community of incredible writers, actors and directors my output has been rather small. And while I do run a company with my incredible business partner Armistead Johnson. Everything we’ve done so far was still in the middle of just getting started. Two film scripts that managed to get optioned, a short film, a web series and lots and lots of dreams is not what I call the recipe for the casserole of success. More like a side dish, we’re the salad that comes with the success."   


Noel Joseph Allain (NYIT Award recipient 2014 Featured Actor), Lowell Byers and Eyal Sherf in Luft Gangster. 
One of the best times of my life.

I’m also coming off the worst year of my life. A year that included a noise so loud in my brain (and it wasn’t the noise of constant failure) that it derailed my year almost completely. The last project I was 100% dedicated to before the noise took over was the NYIT nominated Luft Gangster; a production of the Nylon Fusion Collective. And congratulations to one of my favorite actors Noel Joseph Allain for claiming one of those awards for that masterful production, which was spear headed by its amazing artistic director Ivette Dumeng.

In the year that followed Luft; I hit rock bottom with my health, my writing, my career, my friendships and my passion. My 2014 included a ton of squirming on the floor begging for the pain to stop.  Oh, wait a minute, this is just like all actors at tech. Of course I could do this.

Looking back at two years of noise in my life (and how it was solved it’s a topic for a medical blog) I keep coming back to;

This is exactly how it was supposed to happen. Nothing gives you better perspective on your life than losing the ability to do what you love. 

I can’t write anything too inspirational. Most of you reading this are way more successful than I am and serve as my source inspiration. But I can share some of the things I’ve learned while splitting my time between three mediums. Film, TV, and Theatre.

  1. I take my color in to and out of every situation at the same time. It’s so easy for me
    to say that I don’t have as many doors open to me because I am Latino. The higher you climb up in this business, the whiter it becomes and the harder it is for me to get invited to the party. But if I am constantly looking at what is wrong, I never see what it right.  So YES, I am a minority in a business where the percentages are not good for me. But the best way to stand up to this is to reflect it my own work. I can write an angry rant on Facebook, or I can produce or write something that reflects what I want to see. I am excited to announce here first that MozzleStead has started a new division inspired by our writing of Chisholm, the new division named. MozzleStead BOLD places artists of color in front and behind the camera. Our stories are not about color, but are definitely colored by our characters’ experiences. Our aim is to make screens big and small reflect the world around us. The team is led by myself, Cheryl L. Davis, Mary Hodges, Kevin R. Free, Chandra Thomas in New York, Aja Houston in LA, and Andrew Saldana in Austin Texas, as well as two other incredible artists who will be revealed in 2015. We also have to thank Nicholas Gray – creative contributor, an integral if white part of the team, for encouraging not only its foundation, but opening many doors.
  2. Be your own producer other producers will slow you down. I think this is true whether you’re a writer, director or actor and I’m specifically speaking of the sudden rise of producers who refuse to pay the writer or other artists their value. I’ve developed a huge issue with this. Producers usually hire you to bring their vision to the screen, so if they can’t pay you, they’re stealing time away from your own visions.

    This is why I admire writer, actor, producer, director and sexy beast Nat Cassidy so much, he writes and produces plays that he can direct himself. I am sure someday he will do that with a feature and never look back. MozzleStead is currently co-producing his play The Temple which is coming to the Brick in February and this is a super early plug. But it’s a spectacularly scary play by a writer I hope becomes a huge part of the MozzleStead family.

    On the film side, take a look at a self-made film maker like JC Chandor. Who wrote, produced and directed Margin Call, and followed that up with All is Lost. If your script is really good, it will attract the right people, and if you start off small, with one really great script, you can grow from there. If you read the Oscar Nominated script for Margin Call you will notice that it’s really a play that he shot in basically one expansive location. My directing teacher in college Erma Duricko drilled into us, “Limitations free creativity.” I have lived that statement in my work ever since she stated it. Start out by working with the limitation you are given. Only then will you be able to grow.
  3. Never cast stars, create them; I was taught this by TV show runner when I was being mentored as part of a Latino TV initiative program. Your work should be strong enough, bold enough, and creative enough to launch stars. Jennifer Lawrence was just a working actress before Winter’s Bone came her way. The number of people who are trying to land stars for their crap scripts is unbelievable. Write an extraordinary script, be an extraordinary director, cast an extraordinary actor that’s right for the part.  You got into this business to be and work with extraordinary. Get to it.
  4. You’re not going to make it. Don’t even worry about it. What’s making it anyway? For two years of unbelievable pain, my idea of making it, was getting two hours of consecutive sleep. So my life became desperately about the business, and it began to eat at my soul. I began to worry about who would be cast in this movie? How the money would be gotten? Who was going to be the director? Why weren’t things happening?  In a way the noise in my head became a metaphor for all the noise in my life that had nothing to do with the joy of the work. If you’re in this, be talented, be devoted, practice your craft daily, have a goal that is tied to the work,  but admit that you’ve bought a lottery ticket, put it in a drawer and let it decide if and when the numbers are gonna come up. 
  5. Armistead Johnson co-writer of Chisholm
    co-founder of MozzleStead And Cheryl Davis
    playwright, TV writer, and creator with
    MozzleStead Bold. On a research trip to DC.
    Look for the inevitable magic. When Armistead and I were writing Chisholm for producers Bryan Gambogi, Gabrielle Almagor and Grant Anderson out in L.A. there were these moments of inevitable magic. When I was rewriting the entire third act of Chisholm, I really needed to have practical feel of 1972 Democratic National Convention Hall. Well, Armistead texts me that he and his partner were at a wedding reception that was right across the street from that convention center in Miami. He was able to take pictures which allowed me to visualize that entire set of scenes. I took those pictures with me to Bourbon Coffee on 14th, one of my happy writing haunts and was just writing when an older gentleman named Richard, saw me type the name Shirley Chisholm proceeded to lean into me, and said, “When I was 21 I was a delegate. I was at the 1972 Convention,” I couldn’t believe it. I immediately bombarded him with questions. He told me about the atmosphere, the people, the drugs that politicians would send out assistants for, a young Bill Clinton, Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, but most importantly when I asked him, “Why do you think there was so few shots of Shirley on the convention floor?” He looked at me matter of factly and just said, “she was black and everyone knew she wasn’t going to get the nomination. That’s when the camera men took their smoke breaks.” To this day that encounter was one of the greatest creative affirmations of my life. You know a project is yours when it has a grace that can only be called godly. 
  6. Flux it out. I have made Flux into a verb, but it’s also a shout out to Flux Theatre Ensemble, who I have grown to love since I saw Diende by August Schulenburg in 2012. (a play I saw twice in a row) “Flux it out? MozzleTov, what does that mean?” Well, to me it means, surround yourself with people who are better than you are at every level. Better writers, better directors, better actors, better designers, better human beings, more daring, more dedicated. They’ll give you something to strive for.  Flux is artists in loving action. Moving a story forward. Moving their story forward. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? “MozzleTov, they sound awesome, do they have something going up soon?” Why yes, you can get information and tickets to Flux’s Once upon a Bride there was a Forest here. It’ll be an unforgettable experience. 
  7. Catch a Mac Rogers play. I tell people here to be extraordinary. And I live and work amongst truly extraordinary artists, at any one time any of them could be doing something astonishing; be it Nat Cassidy, August Schulenburg, Mariah MaCarthy, John Hudson, Kevin Free, Heather Cunningham, Synge Maher, Kristen Vaughan, Phil Newsom, Helene Galek, Diana Oh, Lizz Leizzer, Cheryl Davis, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a more extraordinary creator than Mac Rogers. He is the real deal. I have had the fortune to cross paths with some really well known personalities in this business. None of them get me tongue tied and make me giggle like a school girl with a crush like Mac Rogers (okay Glen Close gave me nervous hives, and Julianna Marguiles made me head butt a Bleeker Street street sign) but still, I am in awe of Roger’s talent. Whenever I finish a draft of a script, I always ask myself, would I send this to Mac Rogers? If the answer is No. Then I know I am not done. He and his “extraordinary” Gideon Productions just opened Asymmetric, so check it out.
Ultimately, with MozzleStead, Armistead and I are building a company that reflects who we ultimately want to be as people and artists. And because each story wants to be told in its own way, we have to be in harmony with that story and its medium. We are just starting, but where I think we’re lucky is that our training ground has been this incredible Independent Theatre Community which we look forward to incorporating into and working with now and for the rest of our creative lives. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Time to Go Back to Film

Contributed by DeLisa White

The idea was to become a filmmaker. It was the decision I made standing in line for two hours to see a movie – to be a “director.” Of films.  Studying theatre – learning how to be a theatre director was how smart people became good movie directors. That was the foundation – the place you train – the way you become one of the best. But at the time, in my tween years, movies were everything.

I went to a performing arts school (Interlochen Arts Academy) at 14 to study “the theatre.”  They have a film program now, but then – theatre was my option for teenage training. While I declared my major on the very first day of film school, those years at Interlochen studying all aspects of the theatrical tradition helped build the person I’ve become in life and art. The theatre was then and is now: a home, a sacred endeavor, an amusement park of creativity and ideas that has given me an extended family everywhere I’ve roamed since. It has become not –as I expected - just the foundation of my cinematic dreams. It has become the foundation of my life.

Lights Narrow
I have never strayed from doing theatre since those days, but did make a valiant effort to make my dent in indie film in my 20’s. Film was different then, the 16mm medium requiring a semi-full crew of volunteers, a ton of gear, time, patience and developing costs as well as printing and distribution. It was cumbersome and overwhelming and such an intensive process that by the time I had finished my feature, it no longer represented the filmmaker I’d become. I will always feel  regret for the character I wrote whose story I still feel a responsibility to tell correctly and know that I haven’t. But after that time, for effectiveness, for impact, for excellence – the play became the thing.

Over the years, I got better at it. Enough to see the impact of a story well told. Enough to feel confident that the work I engaged in was worthy of watching and made a difference to the people who witnessed it. And in the process, I became part of a community of exceptional artists whose work altered my heart and haunted my brain.

And then I got frustrated. Even my own community often missed the miracles its peers put up on the stage. The expense was prohibitive even for the successes and the reach was so limited for pieces which actually benefitted from the intimacy of its houses. I remain rather angry that performances which EVERYONE should see would only exist in memories of a few. At least they should be videotaped for posterity!  It’s so easy to videotape now!  Everything’s digital!  Why doesn’t the Showcase codes draw scads of agents looking for new talent cuz that’s where it is!  The great future of the American theatre is HAPPENING and people are missing it! Why won’t Equity let us…..

 Wait.

I don’t have to load a magazine or a lug around a Beta Max to shoot a scene anymore.  I don’t need to rent a Moviola. I don’t need to have four different kinds of film stock, a truckload of 1K’s and massive crew to recreate a deeply intimate moment from an original playwright, an accomplished actor, a crack design team – all supported by a (now) experienced and supportive (instead of frazzled) film director who actually values the craft of acting and the power of a great text. What Equity won’t let us video, SAG Indie will let us film.


An Appeal to the Woman of the House
All those people who told me how much they regretted missing Lights Narrow or An Appeal to the Woman of the House (nominated for a total of six IT awards this year with two wins)?
We can give thousands (maybe even hundreds of thousands?) an intimate, powerful experience on film for the same price or less of a limited Off-Broadway run for an inherently limited number of seats.

It’s time to go back to film.


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DeLisa M. White has already shot Lights Narrow (for which she won Outstanding Director), currently in Post-Production. In Pre-Production is a feature film version of An Appeal to the Woman of the House. To donate/contribute to the completion of Appeal contact the producers at atowncalledgracefilms@gmail.com or www.atowncalledgracefilms.com for further info.

To contribute to the completion of LIGHTS NARROW contact DeLisa White at delisa.michelle.white@gmail.com or Vincent Marano at vincentmarano@yahoo.com.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Taking the Chance: So long Mike Nichols

"The only safe thing is to take a chance."                                                                                            ~ Mike Nichols


"There's nothing better than discovering, to your own astonishment, what you're meant to do. It's like falling in love."

"I love to take actors to a place where they open a vein. That's the job. The key is that I make it safe for them to open the vein."

"The reason you do this stuff - comedy, plays, movies - is to be seized by something, to disappear in the service of an idea."

"Directing is mystifying. It's a long, long, skid on an icy road, and you do the best you can trying to stay on the road... If you're still here when you come out of the spin, it's a relief. But you've got to have the terror if you're going to do anything worthwhile."
                                                                ~ Mike Nichols


Mike Nichols, Acclaimed Director Dies at 83


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Future of Theatre is Digital

Contributed by Guy Olivieri

You know that sad feeling you get AFTER you pour your heart and soul into a theatrical production? You workshopped the script. You threw the fundraisers, and licked the envelopes filled with donation pleas. You gathered the team of artists.  You rehearsed for weeks.  You performed for weeks. And then… it’s over.  It’s gone.  It’s done.

Then the ennui sets in.

For most of us, we take that energy, push it way down into our souls, (perhaps eat a Cinnabon or three,) and start again with a new one.




I think of this ennui every year at the IT Awards when I hear amazing things about productions, but it’s too late to catch them. They could be remounted, but lightening never strikes the same place twice.

You know when you DON’T get that post-production ennui?  When you film the damn thing.

This year, I created, wrote and produced a sitcom pilot. I used a ton of the artists I know from doing Off-Off-Broadway theatre, and tried something completely new to me. It was terrifying, but the truth is: I already had the tools I needed, and if I didn’t have them, I knew someone who did. It was a huge leap of faith, but the Off-Off community lent me so much support. Our pilot kicks ass.

AND it’s available to share. 
Check out the trailer.




I can show FreakMe to people to further my career as a writer, a producer, and an actor.  It’s not gone, like the equally awesome production of Bell, Book and Candle I did a year ago with Ground UP, which, like, no one saw.


Me and Kate Middelton
Why don’t we film these things?

How much fun would it be to do try to film with a live studio audience?  The Off Off equivalent of shooting a 3-camera show? Or you could rework the script into a film after we’ve worked out the kinks onstage?

I think that THIS is the one piece we’re missing as a community.

Working with a theatre company, live, provides a lot of the jollies that I need as an artist: a community of friends and collaborators, the thrill of performing, bearing witness to the amazing art that a group of like-minded individuals can only create in an environment of trust.

But with a film, you also get the legacy.  It’s digitally available forever.  And that appeals to me as an actor, a producer, a writer, and someone interested in using these incredibly fulfilling, yet non-paying gigs to lead to incredibly fulfilling, and lucrative gigs.

This is the future.  Who’s in?



(On the set of FreakMe. Me, Erin Fallon, Duane Ferguson, Neil Fennell, Rob Maitner, Kathy Searle, Ben Bentsmen, Patti Goettlicher, and Kevin LLaibson.)


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Guy Olivieri [www.GuyOlivieri.com] has been a producer, casting director, literary manager and actor with Ground UP Productions for 9 years.  He also is a founding member of Off Off Hollywood Productions, for which he created, co-produced, and starred in a TV pilot called FreakMe.  Guy also coaches actors on personal marketing, and co-authored the book SO YOU WANNA BE A NEW YORK ACTOR?


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Developing THE SPIKE

Contributed by Jennifer Gordan Thomas


When Shay asked me if I’d contribute to this month’s blog on diversifying artistic outlets, I jumped at the chance. I’m in the process of producing a feature film. My first. Though I’ve produced shorts and I edit film and video, most of my career has been spent as a theatre person. I am also a woman in her 40s. My chances of “success” in this arena are, percentage-wise, pretty low. That’s why I’m doing it. “Diversifying” or as I like to call it, “trying new things” is an essential component of who I am as both an artist and a human.

In 2008 I acted in a short play written by Mac Rogers. It was a 10-minute play called SPIKE and sci-fi in nature, in true Mac Rogers form. I loved it. I also thought it would make a great film. I kept saying "Hey this would make a great film" and for some reason no one did anything about it.

Fast forward to 2 years ago. I'm stagnant, I'm annoyed with what I'm auditioning for, I have no agent, and I'm having a heated conversation with actress Angela Dee in my car. She tells me I should write my own stuff. I'm immediately indignant. I'm a red head and don't tell me what to do. I am most emphatically NOT a writer. Angela says, "Well, then you're going to have to produce for yourself because you're a woman in your 40s and that's the game." I was furious.

After I stopped being furious, I asked Mac if he'd be interested in developing SPIKE into a screenplay. I had been thinking about it for years and why not? Thankfully, Mac agreed. We first developed what is now called THE SPIKE as a web series, and then made the bold decision to just go for it. It is now a feature length screenplay and it's really good. So, we have a good screenplay and we could stop right there and that would be a pretty big accomplishment. I helped develop a feature film. I’ve done something I’ve never done. Cool.

But no, we won't stop there.  I'm going to Executive Produce this. And not only that, I'm going to play a lead role. I must be nuts. That's what I tell myself every day. "Self", I say, "You're nuts. What makes you think you can do this?" I tell myself to shut up. I tell myself I've produced, directed, and acted in dozens of plays. I edit. I’ve produced shorts. I tell myself that I am a storyteller and this is just that, only on a different scale. I know that my skills at finding the right people for the project, assessing strengths, team building, financials, trusting my gut, trusting in others, communicating clearly, and knowing a good story when I see it, are all I need. ALL of these skills were acquired through my experiences in the theatre. I say these things to myself every day. We've only just started pre-production and I've been working on this for 2 years, so this is a long conversation I’ve been having with me.

Producing a film is very different from producing theatre. Think about what goes into producing a play with a 3 to 4 week run...and then multiply that by 3 to 5 years and add at least 40 other collaborators.  It takes a long time to make a feature film, but if you have a story you want to tell, and it fits the medium of film, you should do it. Should artists work in multiple mediums? Should artists diversify? I’m not a big fan of “should”, but yes, absolutely. There are people who will tell you that the best way to succeed (whatever that means) is to find one thing you do really well and just do that. That’s not for me. I want to stretch my wings. I like to test my abilities. Life is short, so why not try all the things you want to try? Diversifying, working in multiple mediums, can ONLY make you a better artist. Diversifying allows you to test the boundaries of your abilities, and testing the boundaries of your own abilities actually *causes *you to grow.

I want to be the person who’s surrounded by masters. I honestly want to be low man on the totem pole on everything I’m working on because I want to get better. I want to be challenged. Practicing art in multiple mediums allows you to get better in almost all ways: artistically, spiritually, and humanly. And I can promise you that on your deathbed you will never say, “I’m so glad I never tried different things”.


Check out THE SPIKE website...