Monday, August 22, 2016


Written by Stephen Kaliski
Directed by Stephen Kaliski & Amanda Holston 
Produced by Adjusted Realists

Nominated for: Matt Sherwin Outstanding Original Music & Outstanding Sound Design

About the Production

Adjusted Realists wants to tell "theatrical stories about slightly unhinged worlds."
In Stephen Kaliski's 
Gluten! they explored a future world where sterilizing your environment, sterilizes your soul. For one couple, the desire for healthy living has been corrupted with fears and insecurities. This funny, thought-provoking, and touching satire achieved AR's mission while making fun of our current society's fascination with health and safety.

Producer Eric Vigdorov, Writer and Co-Director Stephen Kaliski and nominee Matt Sherwin shared their thoughts on creating this timely production.


What attracted you to this production?

Stephen: I have an abiding love for dystopian worlds, so I wanted to write something in that storytelling tradition. Also, as someone who has tried to eliminate this or that (including gluten) to feel like a healthier person, I'm really fascinated by our cultural behaviors when it comes to feeling safer in a dangerous time.

Matt: Stephen Kaliski, the Director. We’d already collaborated on three projects, and I consider him a great talent…as well as a joy to work with. When he told me about the new theater company he’d co-founded, I was thrilled to be involved any way I could. I was honored to be given the chance to work on one of the company’s first productions.

Eric: One of our founders is the playwright, our team is tight and we loved the story.

What was your favoite part of working on this production?

Matt: Working with the theater company, Adjusted Realists, was a pleasure - they are a true team, with each member going above and beyond his or her ‘role’ in the company. And the cast was truly game for anything - they approached the prospect of trekking out to middle-of-nowhere Staten Island to record voice-overs in a damp unfinished basement with the same humor and aplomb as they approached their roles onstage. Additionally, this was my third time working with the folks at 59e59, and they were - as they have always been - extremely courteous, professional and supportive.

Eric: The team is a family. We work with actors, creatives and members who always support our work. It's wonderful.

Stephen: I got my A-team of actors and designers for this, so the collaboration was a thrill from start to finish. Also, producing at 59E59 is a luxurious experience for an indie theater company. They took such good care of us and eased some of our normal grassroots stress.

What was the biggest challenge of working on this production?

Eric: Producing a new play is always difficult, and designing one that is set in the future comes with its own unique set of challenges.

Stephen: I'm pretty mainstream as a director, but as a writer, this is the first play I've put together with a broad audience in mind. My writing has been somewhat esoteric in the past, so I wanted to create something that had widespread comedic reach. Moving the play from something I found funny and profound to something the audience found funny and profound was an ongoing challenge.

What did you want the audience to come away with after watching Gluten!?

Eric: We wanted the audience to think about our world today and our choices now could affect how it will in the future.

Stephen: I want them to question their impulses to safety. What are the choices we make to keep ourselves at a distance from the dangers of the world? And are those the right choices? I did not want the play to be moralizing; both points-of-view from the two bickering parties have merits and downsides. I just wanted to encourage the act of communal doubt.

What was the weirdest part of working on Gluten!?

Eric: The whole show was weird, innovative and funny!

Stephen: The title is a bit of a misdirection, and a commercially potent one at that. We had a lot of outreach from the gluten-free community, including a French magazine, thanking us for tackling this subject matter. I was never quite sure how to respond. The play is anything but an advocacy piece for or against that irksome protein.

Why was sound and music so important to the production and what was unique about Matt Sherwin's contributions?

Stephen: I've worked with Matt many times before, starting with a production of Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room or the vibrator play at Yale University. On that show and all the ones to follow, Matt has contributed transformative moments to the story I'm trying to tell. His musical talents are breathtaking not only for their final beauty but also for how quickly he arrives at the abstractions I have in my mind--he always seems to nail it on the first go.

The world-building in Gluten! is completely dependent on evocative sound/music, especially in a lower budget production in which we can't 100% get the set/lights/costumes we want. With a quirky theme that evolves as the play matures and a detailed soundscape that captures the play's hyper-technological world, Matt crafted a design that inspired many audience members to mention the sound/music first in their responses. I still find myself humming the theme around my apartment! 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Fatty Fatty No Friends

Written by Christian De Gré, Reese Anderson, and Serrana Gay
Directed by Christian De Gré
Produced by Mind The Art Entertainment

Nominated for:  Outstanding Costume Design, Ashley Soliman; Outstanding Original Music, Christian De Gré; and Outstanding Production of a Musical

Photo by Ze-Castle Photography

Nelson Diaz-Marcano of Manhattan with a Twist described Fatty Fatty No Friends as “a dark operetta that explores the effects of bullying, classism, and the fragile mental state of human beings through the eyes of an overweight child living in a gothic version of our reality.” For a company like Mind the Art Entertainment, the subject of school-yard bullying seems to align perfectly with their mission to “question the principles and ideals of our society.”

Producer and writer Serrana Gay and nominees Ashley Soliman and Christian De Gré talk about the process of creating this macabre musical that explores cruelty, revenge, and consequence.


What attracted you to this production?

Ashley: Christian and Serrana Gay had approached me to illustrate the children's book of "Fatty Fatty No Friends" and as it was being developed as a musical, I was very interested in translating my illustrations into costumes for stage. Costume design had always been very appealing to me and I saw this as a chance to try it out and see if it was something I could indeed pursue.

Christian: The idea of bullying, othering and the systematic cycle of violence. We had this story of this tormented overweight kid and we really wanted to explore, using high aesthetic and almost fairy-tale storytelling, how his oppression could lead to a violent explosion. Sadly this is an all too familiar tale but we wanted to tackle it as an adult fable.

Serrana: We started with a title. Serrana called herself a "Fatty fatty no friends" one day and Christian said that would be a great title for a musical. As we discussed it further we decided we wanted to write a show about an overweight kid who eats all his friends. When we began, we considered writing a dark comedy, but as the story started to come together, we discovered that we were writing a piece about how humans treat each other. And as it developed we found that we wanted to write a piece that showed all sides of bullying. The bullies, the bullied and the aftermath of retaliation. What emerged we think is something very relevant and poignant.

Photo by Ze-Castle Photography

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Ashley: I enjoyed collaborating with the production team- it was lovely to see the show develop in its many incarnations. The cast was very sweet and enthusiastic.

Christian: It was the symbiosis between the cast and the band. Oftentimes musicians are not considered part of the creative team and get pushed in a pit or in a corner. This piece worked like a true ensemble where the Bass Clarinet player was as integral to the piece and the narrative as the lead actor. That for me was truly magical.

Serrana: The collaboration between the three cowriters. We all have very different skill sets, but somehow we are all able to communicate our visions with each other and that is where the magic happens. I couldn't ask for a better team.

What was the biggest challenge of working on this production?

Ashley: Building three pairs of last-minute stilts pants in less than two days and figuring out ways to conceal all the fabric "gore". It's like making your own rules as you go along because what you're doing hasn't existed before.

Christian: Finding the right tone. People often assumed that Fatty Fatty No Friends by title was this glorious comedy but the show is actually quite dark and an allegory for school shootings. The hardest part was engaging the audience in the fun that is had in the beginning of the piece and keeping them engaged as the piece gets darker and darker.

Serrana: Figuring out the ending (which we still debate.) The question of whether to kill Tommy (the kid who eats everyone) or not to kill Tommy, has been the topic of many a late night argument. It is the one question that the book writer, lyricist and composer/director have different ideas about. We still don't know if all three parties agree.

What was the strangest part of working on this production?

Photo by Ze-Castle Photography
Ashley: I figured out how to make a cheesecloth eyeball!!!

Christian: Due to some crazy last minute circumstances I ended up having to work like numerous jobs on the show. By the time we closed I had worked at different times as the Producer, Composer, Stage Manager, Box Office Manager, Director, Marketing Director, Prop master, Usher, Bartender and at the very end even stilt walker in the show as a replacement. I guess that's the beauty of indie theater!

Serrana: One of my favorite moments working on this show was teaching the voices (Tommy's inner demon) to stilt walk. It was a journey of terror to overcoming fear to learning a new skill and eventually to fun. It ended up being a huge bonding experience.

What did you want the audience to walk away with after watching Fatty Fatty No Friends?

Serrana: We would love every person who sees the show to walk away considering what kind of person they want to be in the world and whether they want to perpetuate hate or compassion.

What was it like working with Mind the Art Entertainment?

Ashley: I appreciated the amount of creative freedom I had working with Mind the Art Entertainment.

Christian: Mind The Art Entertainment has a history of doing work with social consciousness that is highly aesthetic but remains accessible. We believe that art must remain collaborative and idyllic but that above all it must remain accessible. Whether our shows deal with school shootings, rape culture or the lives of the homeless it is important that the audience still see the work as relate-able, that way they are coming to the theater to be entertained but walk away with a message and hopefully a conversation starter. I love these artists for this bravery and tenacity.

What was it like working with Christian and Ashley?

Serrana: They are not only creative but they are also a pleasure to work with and actively try to build a family within the company.

You can follow Mind the Art Entertianment on Twitter - @mindtheart

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Gordy Crashes

Written by Sam Byron
Directed by Sherri Eden Barber
Produced by Ricochet Collective

Nominated for:  Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role, Dave Klasko;  Outstanding Set Design, Kate Noll; Outstanding Sound Design, Mark Van Hare; Outstanding Lighting Design, Serena Wong

Photo by Erik Carter

About the Production

Ricochet Collective’s mission is to produce “Visceral Storytelling Events that explore and expand the potential of live art.” In their production of Gordy Crashes, the devastation of Hurricane Sandy is reflected in the life of a young man who is dealing with his own insecurities.

Ricochet’s Executive Director, Brandon Pape, Designers Kate Noll and Mark Van Hare, and actor Dave Klasko talk abou t their work on this compelling psychological exploration.


What attracted you to this production?

Brandon: This was Ricochet Collective's inaugural production, and one that we were fortunate to produce in its world premiere. This would also be Sam Byron's professional premiere as a playwright.

The play speaks to the restlessness and frustration of the younger generation, those "new" adults who are becoming members of a society that both doubts their ambition and depends on their resilience.

Dave:  At first, it was the script. I love the way Sam Byron writes, and the places he takes his characters in this play.

Kate: The winning interview/meeting I had with Sherri Eden Barber and Brandon Pape, who's enthusiasm and smarts won me over immediately.

Mark: I have worked with the director, Sherri Barber, many times before and she is absolutely my favorite person to collaborate with. Sherri has a wonderful sense of how music and design can help tell an effective story onstage. She has a remarkable ability to communicate a broad vision for a play, set the tone for the production, and then synthesize the best ideas from her actors and designers.
Photo by Erik Carter

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Dave:  I wish I could do 100 plays with Ruffin Prentiss and Jody Flader. Such exciting, dynamic actors to work with - I always felt both taken care of and challenged at every step.

Brandon: Ricochet Collective was founded with the intention of supporting designers and other artists in realizing a vision that pushes the boundaries of what can be accomplished on a stage. To see three of our designers and our lead actor nominated for our inaugural production is a wonderful affirmation of this mission.
Kate: I really loved creating the peripheral space of this apartment. The play starts off relatively commonly, but as it goes on, we begin to realize it's not quite what we thought. I love it when a play allows a set designer to alter the viewer's perception of the world they have been watching. Sam's play had a great turn in it, that Sherri really took by the horns. I think that was the funnest part, trying to create that perception switch at the climax of the play.

Mark:  My favorite part of working on Gordy Crashes was the process of writing music. Sherri and I had long conversations about the political and social implications of the play and then she gave me a free hand to develop the score. I tried to put Sherri's concept into a concrete, musical form that we could then bring into the rehearsal room to help shape the tone and shape of the play.

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

Mark: We produced Gordy Crashes at IRT Theater on Christopher St. It's a wonderful space but it has a few unique challenges for staging. It is a very small theater with low ceilings so placing speakers in unobtrusive locations was difficult. This limitation actually led to one of my favorite aspects of the sound design: the audience sat very near the playing space and in an "L" shape, allowing me to localize the music in a 360° field around the audience. In larger theaters this would not be possible because some audience members would be too far away from the stage to be inside that field of sound.

Brandon: The venue we performed in presented some interesting challenges, including a very limited electrical capacity (and therefore a limit to the number of lighting instruments we could use) and a small stage area. The designers tackled this challenge with aplomb and developed some inventive ways to both work within the parameters of the space and also heighten the theatricality and impact of the overall design aesthetic. The results were nothing short of extraordinary and served the piece in amazing ways.

Kate: The budget was a real challenge, and I always feel bad when I can't pay people what they deserve for the work they put forth. That being said, I think that the professionalism throughout the whole production was really remarkable, and it allowed everything to run really smoothly. It was one of the best produced shows I've worked on so far, and I'm including the large budget shows.
Photo by Erik Carter

What was the weirdest thing about working on this production?

Mark: We were told by the owners of IRT Theater that a baby lived right next door to the theater and would be woken up by loud sounds. Because of this we could not hang any speakers from the grid overhead or place any large speakers near the upstage wall. We tried our best to fulfill their request and we never heard any complaints from the baby.

What was it like working with the Ricochet Collective?

Dave: If anyone has a chance to work with the Ricochet Collective, take it and don't look back. Starting with the artistic leadership Sherri and Brandon and all the amazing designers and artists involved. It really felt like everyone was working at the top of their game and clicking in a way that I've rarely seen.

Kate: Collaborating with the whole team, and the hard work, talent, professionalism, and respect everyone had for each other was truly inspiring, especially for such a small show. And also the play was compelling, and the strength of Sherri's vision gave us all the conviction we needed to feel inspired by the production.

Mark: I am a company member of Ricochet Collective so I have worked on all of their productions. They have a wonderful enthusiasm for the work and create such a feeling of community around their productions that people genuinely enjoy being a part of the team.

What was it like working with the artists involved with Gordy Crashes?

Brandon: We are so enamored with the artists involved on this production, and are so happy to see them get the recognition they deserve.

You can follow these artists on Twitter
Ricochet Collective - @ricochetnyc
Dave Klasko - @daveklasko

Monday, August 15, 2016

Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey

Written and Directed by Travis Russ
Produced by Life Jacket Theatre Company

Photo by Jenny Anderson

Nominated for:  Outstanding Ensemble Andrew Dawson, Phil Gillen, Aidan Sank; Outstanding Set Design, Carl Vorwerk & Travis Russ; Outstanding Innovative Design, John Narun; Outstanding Lighting Design, John Narun; Outstanding Choreography/Movement, Katie Proulx; Outstanding Director, Travis Russ; and Outstanding Premier Production of a Play

About the Production
Life Jacket Theatre Company strives to create “smart, original, and unpredictable theatre.” Judges,  audiences, and critics alike felt that they achieved this goal with their production of Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey. Three actors (Andrew Dawson, Aidan Sank, and Phil Gillen) all play reclusive artist Edward Gorey — simultaneously. Their performances have been described as “fascinating” and “absorbing.”  This inventive production received raves as it explored the humanity of a “genius.”

Nominees, Andrew Dawson, Phil Gillen, Aidan Sank, John Narun, and Katie Proulx share their insights into creating this “theatrical excavation of the artist’s memories.”


What attracted you to this production?

Aidan: From the moment I first auditioned for this show, I knew I wanted to work with this company. Travis and the rest of the production staff were immediately so warm in the room-and it was clear from the get-go how excellent the writing of this piece was. Whenever you have a chance to work on a show with an interesting subject, surrounded by talented people-you grab it.

John: Initially, I was attracted by the opportunity to work with Edward Gorey's beautiful art work. But after reading the script, it was the story of this mysterious and lonely man that really resonated with me. I couldn't resist the opportunity to help make a world for this great story.

Katie: The writer/director Travis Russ and I met in a physical theater workshop and hit it off, so I was excited to get to work with him. I knew that the process would be very collaborative and ensemble-driven, which I love. Also, I love Edward Gorey's work and was excited to explore his personal story in a theatrical context.
Photo by Jenny Anderson

What was your favorite part of working on the production?

Aidan: I loved most of all how collaborative this process was. Because of the unique nature of a show wherein all the characters are essentially the same person, opportunities were constantly presented to share ideas that may not normally be discussed in a regular rehearsal process. In addition, our writer/director/producer Travis Russ was very amenable to having his actors give their feedback and valued our opinion throughout. The end result was therefore that the show very much felt like it was built organically on and by the four of us.

Andrew: The other cast members, the director and the entire production team were top notch.

John: Absolutely the people were the best part of working on Gorey. Not only was everyone insanely talented, they were a joy to work with as well. There was so much love and passion in the room, and that showed in every performance.

Katie: Working with the team - the actors, the design and direction team. It was a group of amazingly generous, enthusiastic people who were interested in collaboration.

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

Andrew: Three actors all playing the same man at the same time.
Phil: This was actually my first time playing a real person, which, of course, presents unique challenges. The three of us needed to respect how Edward Gorey actually behaved, which is no easy task when the subject of your play famously hated interviews. And because Gorey was so private, the play naturally makes some educated guesses about him, especially my character - Gorey in his 20s - of whom only one photo exists. And even for my cast mates, who play older iterations of Gorey, the raw material about him does not get much more expansive: a few filmed interviews and a handful of photographs. And so we used all the evidence that our director Travis Russ had masterfully assembled - Gorey's books, his letters, early writings, random quotes, and things said about him by friends and acquaintances - to craft portrayals that were, hopefully, respectful of, and truthful to, this fascinating man and brilliant artist. And though he was a man whose writing style has been described as strange and macabre, he nevertheless lived a complex, human, and beautiful life.

John: I've never designed projections and lighting together before, and I feared that it would be insanely demanding. And it was. I would've been lost without my amazing associates.

Katie: The biggest challenge was making sure the storytelling was clear as we balanced narration with the 3 actors playing Gorey at different ages.
Photo by Jenny Anderson

What was the quirkiest thing about this production?

Katie: The production was quirky in the way it combined traditional acting moments with so many other ways of presenting the story. We had two different kinds of puppetry, dance, singing, interacting with projections. For me - and of course I'm biased on this as the choreographer - the funniest part was in the big dance number. The actors dressed up like Pan Am flight attendants and did a dance number inspired by Gorey's drawings of ballet dancers.

Phil: Pretty much everything in the life of Edward Gorey was quirky. After Gorey's death, his Cape Cod home was found filled to the brim with a hodgepodge of items he had collected over the course of a fascinating life: door knobs, hand-made puppets, Tibetan rings, and cats. Lots and lots of cats. Our production included a beautiful set and props design that hinted at the delightful mess that Gorey left behind, and we invited audiences to join us in an exploration of Gorey's strange possessions, and his even stranger life.

Edward Gorey is nothing if not odd and quirky, I'd say.

What was it like working with Life Jacket Theatre Company?

Aidan: The people that are involved with this company are all remarkably talented and incredibly committed to telling great stories; everyone who was a part of this production performed their job at the very highest level.

It is rare to come across an organization that places such a high value on treating its members so well and I feel unbelievably grateful that I was able to be a part of such a creatively fulfilling process.

Andrew: The absolute highest quality and attention to detail in every regard.

John: Travis Russ is absolutely the best thing about working with this company. He's brave and trusting, and, most importantly, passionate. He provides the love and the drive at the heart of the show.

The commitment to ensemble creation is the best part of working with Life Jacket Theater Company.

Phil: Artistic Director Travis Russ poured his heart and soul into this play and this production. I did not know Edward Gorey and his work before this show, but I certainly know him now. Travis's passion for Gorey was infectious, and I soon found myself sad to leave Gorey at the conclusion of each performance, and especially sad to say goodbye to him after our final night.

You can follow these artists on Twitter
Life Jacket Theatre Company - @lifejacketnyc
Aidan Sank - @theAidanSank 
Andrew Dawson - @ aednyc
Phil Gillen - @philgillen

Friday, August 12, 2016


Written by Lia Romeo
Directed by Michole Biancosino

Produced by Project Y Theatre 

Nominated for: Outstanding Ensemble: Gus Birney, Joachim Boyle, Robby Clater, Ella Dershowitz, Midori Francis, Dana Jacks, Thomas Muccioli, Aria Shahghasemi; Outstanding Actress in a Featured Role, Midori Francis; Outstanding Original Full-Length Script, Lia Romeo; and Outstanding Revival of a Play
Photo by Hunter Canning

About the Production
Project Y is an “outside-the-box theatre company” that experiments with mixed media storytelling.  Their production of Connected by Lia Romeo explores how we build relationships through social media. “A young girl’s most embarrassing moment goes viral; a high school student must choose between real life and role-playing games; two girls spend Saturday night endlessly searching for the ‘perfect party;’ and a teacher is accidentally seduced by her student on an internet dating site.”

Director Michole Biancosino, Playwright Lia Romeo, and Ensemble Members Robby Clater, Ella Dershowitz, Midori Francis, Thomas Muccioli, and Aria Shahghasemi share what is was like to explore how we engage and disengage from social media.


What attracted you to this production?

Lia: I was initially commissioned to write the play by a theater in St. Louis. They wanted me to write something that dealt with social media. So I did a lot of thinking about social media and its effects on society. I ended up realizing that it's not a simple thing - it's not just positive or negative; like most technologies, it has really different effects depending on the circumstances it's used in and the people who are using it. That's what inspired the four-part structure of the play. It had a great production in St. Louis, and then a reading with Project Y as part of their TechnoPlays reading series in 2014. When Michole Biancosino told me she wanted to do a full production in New York I was thrilled; Project Y is a fantastic company and I knew the play would be in such good hands.
Aria: It started with the script. The characters were fun to read, the story was fun to follow so I thought I'd have fun being in the production.

Ella: I love, love, love Lia's writing and Michole's direction. From the moment I walked into the audition room, everyone was so open to playing and figuring things out and having fun. I felt like they didn't have preconceived notions, and really wanted to see our versions of these characters, which I loved. I have also always been fascinated by coming of age stories, and stories about the high school years. I was not such a fan of high school when I was actually a student, so I really loved the idea of getting to go back and do it again, especially as two characters that had such different places in the high school ecosystem. I also love that, because there are so many different characters - all of whom are complicated and unique - everyone would identify with this play in some way.

Midori: I was intrigued by exploring the theme of technology and its influence on how we relate to one another and how it is changing our ideas of connection.

Thomas:  The influence of technology on our society. This new generation grappling with identity and societal pressures.

Robby: I felt like the Book was strong, and that's very important to me. It was written very naturally so it was easy to sympathize with all of the characters. It also allowed the piece to get its points across without needing to "push".

Michole: Connected is all about technology and social media and how it makes us feel more lonely even though it is supposed to bring us together as humans. Playwright Lia Romeo poses the question, "If we are now all more connected than ever, why do many of us feel so alone?"

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Michole: Connected was a hugely popular hit, with almost every one of our 20 shows at 59E59 Theaters sold out. We loved watching the ensemble of 8 actors get to play different characters in each vignette, and how the audience responded to that. We also had a bunch of very young actors in the play - many of them were playing high school students - and so the energy of the production was incredible. This show was also laugh out loud funny - the audience loved these outsider characters, each of them struggling to fit in, find love, find a friend, and be "normal."

Lia Romeo is my favorite playwright writing for the theatre. Her writing is so unique - you feel like it is just how people talk, and yet it isn't that. She writes poetically but it feels raw and real. Her work is also dark - so dark - but unexpectedly so, as the audience is laughing, having such an entertaining time, that they have no idea what they are in for.

Aria: The people. My castmates are some of the most interesting and entertaining people I've met since moving to New York. The crew was incredibly good at their jobs and it was pretty cool to get to work with what they gave us.

Ella: I LOVED playing three really, really different characters. This is the first time I've ever played more than one person in a play, so that was just incredibly fun. I've always loved the part of acting that is about make believe and transformation and imagination, and this show was the perfect playground for that.

Lia: It was wonderful to be able to be involved with the rehearsal process from the beginning. When the play was done in St. Louis, I just showed up on opening night, and so it was great to get to see the New York cast work through the play over time. I was able to make some changes and polish the script in rehearsal, and it was inspiring - and also a lot of fun - to be able to spend time with such a great cast and director and see them bring this world to life.

Midori: My cast! They were all so talented and wonderful. It was truly a joy to hang out with them every day.

Robby: I loved the rest of the cast. They were all so talented and kind so it was easy for us to trust each other and let the piece flow.   

Thomas: Being a World of Warcraft dwarf and the research involved. Trying to understand why these gamers choose fantasy over IRL.
Photo by Hunter Canning

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

Ella: Quick changes. Not even kidding. I had about 10 seconds to go from a drunk party girl with lots of makeup to a scraggly gamer in sweatpants. At the same time, my friend was a foot away going from a drunk party girl to a World of Warcraft night elf. I'm surprised nobody accidentally gave anyone else a black eye.

Michole: There were so many moving parts - including a set that moved around as well as projections and videos - so putting all the pieces of the giant interconnected puzzle together was fascinating. We also had an entire scene that was based on World of Warcraft - full cosplay costumes and staging - so it was a tricky balance of what to put onstage versus what to have as multimedia.

Lia: Honestly, I didn't find anything about the process particularly challenging. I was really happy with the cast and had a great working relationship with the director, and so I was just enjoying the ride.

Thomas: The scenes set IRL (in real life) were probably the most challenging. The video game scenes were a piece of the cake, though the quick change was always stressful. Gay teen one minute and a bearded dwarf the next. The reality scenes were difficult because they required a sensitivity that these characters rarley engage in. They are constantly engaged with their phones, games and apps rather than the people sitting in front of them.

What was the weirdest thing about working on this production?

Aria:  The integration of World of Warcraft. Having a game like that used in a professional production I got to be a part of was awesome.

Thomas: I mean I mentioned it already but the vignette I was in by far was the most innovative. The Cosplay was on point: Night Elves, Dwarfs, and Warriors of World of Warcraft. Also, swinging a flail weapon every night was fun and a little violent.

Ella: Yes! I played a World of Warcraft addict, and another actress played my avatar. The Warcraft scenes came to life! There were awesome projections, lighting, costumes, and weapons, and the coolest part was the actors playing avatars incorporated the physical vocabulary of the game into their blocking. And I mouthed my avatar's lines in sync with her. I wish I'd gotten to see those scene (well, the whole play actually!) from the audience because I bet it looked pretty trippy and awesome.

Michole: The audience loved the actors so much. They would all in unison say "awwww!" or "oh no!" as they rooted for each of them. People told me afterwards that they had "fallen in love" with this or that actor.

Lia: Since the play deals with social media, we wanted to integrate social media into the audience experience, so we used kind of an innovative technique - there are four parts of the play, and then the company had me write a fifth part which existed only online - we filmed the scene and it was available on Project Y's website during the show, so the audience could go online and continue their experience of the play outside of the theater.

What was it like working with Project Y Theater?

Ella: It literally never felt like work. We all were - and still are - kind of obsessed with each other. The fact that the show is so fun allowed us to have so much fun, and the fact that our characters are in those vulnerable high school years and are all so honest and complicated and weird allowed us to be our strange and crazy selves from day one. Also, Michole and Lia both gave us so much creative independence with our characters, and let us take all sorts of risks and do weird things and make these people our own. And yet, every single direction or note they gave ended up being the perfect solution / the key to it all.Aria:  Project Y is good because they're driven by what they want to see. They produce what they'd be interested in so it's always interesting to audiences.

Lia: I love working with Project Y. They produced another one of my plays four years ago, and I've also been working as the literary manager of the company for the past two and a half years. It's hard to pick one "best thing" - Project Y has given me a theatrical home in New York, and I'm so grateful. But if I had to pick one thing, I guess I'd say that I always know I'm going to get a really high-quality reading or production. Being a playwright means trusting your work to others - often strangers - which can be really nervewracking, but when I work with Project Y there are no nerves involved - I know they're going to bring my play to life in a way that's true to my vision for it (and often even better than my vision for it), and so I feel really comfortable and secure.

Robby: There was a lot of freedom in the rehearsals, or at least it felt like there was. It's one of the advantages of working with a strong Director, great writer, and intelligent actors. We could all feed off of each other to create something meaningful and organic.

Thomas: Project Y and the folks at 59E59 take care of their performers. Both artistically and logistically they ensure the actors can fully delve into the work.

Midori: Project Y supports new works! Project Y supports women! Project Y is awesome.

You can follow these artists on Twitter
Project Y Theatre - @ProjectYTheatre
Midori Francis - @midorifrancis 
Thomas Muccioli - @ThomasMuccioli

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

By Rebecca Feldman and Jay Reiss
Music and Lyrics William Finn
Directed by Artistic Director
Produced by Astoria Performing Arts Center

Nominated for: Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role,  Becca Andrews; Outstanding Costume Design, Jennifer A Jacob; Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role, Lee Slobotkin; Outstanding Production of a Musical

       Photo by Michael Dekker

About the Production
Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) strives to bring professional theater to Astoria, Queens. With their production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee they revealed the dreams and struggles of a group of lovable and eclectic sixth graders, all eager to win the spelling bee.

Dev Bondarin, and nominees, Becca Andrews, Jennifer A Jacob, and Lee Slobotkin discuss the excitement and challenges of bringing this hysterical and moving musical to life.


What attracted you to this production?

Becca: Spelling Bee has always been a dream show for me. I think the music is so brilliant and the script is so funny. I also really wanted something challenging for me as an actor and as a singer and Olive definitely had her fair share of challenges.

Jennifer: I was really excited to work with the wonderful team of people at the Astoria Performing Arts Center again, especially director Dev Bondarin. I was also really drawn to the concept for this production, embracing the theater space that is a gym and finding the reality in these characters.

Lee: When I saw Spelling Bee at the Circle in the Square in 2006, I left the theatre so touched and inspired. The show is a gem, and Leaf had always been a dream role of mine. This show was instrumental in taking my passion for theatre to the next level. I identified with the quirky misfits of Putnam County, and vowed to spend my life on stage doing work that brings people joy. A decade later, this dream came true in the form of my NYC debut!

Dev: I’ve always love the excellent writing and characters, high stakes, and the ability to create a world in which the hopes and dreams of the spelling bee contestants resonate and connect to an audience.

What did you want the audience to walk away with after watching Spelling Bee...?

Dev: I wanted the audience to connect with the characters and their hopes, fears, and dreams and to reach the memories within all of us when we struggled and won in our own way.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?


       Photo by Michael Dekker

Dev: My favorite part was creating an exciting and vivid world with the actors and designers while also fostering an environment where four audience members could go up on stage every night and feel safe and happy with the actors. We also transformed our theater space at APAC info the actual setting for the Bee, which was great fun and served the production well.

Jennifer: I loved digging in to the fun, quirky, original characters in this piece. All of the kids are such individuals, and it was fun to work with the actors to find the look and feel for each of them in the world of this production.

Lee: I loved harnessing my inner child and letting him run wild. It was a very creative, imaginative, and fun process chock full of positive energy from the entire team at APAC. Dev, Misha, Michael, and Katie gave us all the freedom to play and a safe haven to try new things, fall on our faces, get back up, and try again.

Becca: My favorite part of working on Spelling Bee was telling the story every night. I'm a huge anti-bullying advocate and have always said that that 12 year old time is so hard for kids. They have so much to say and struggle with so much that I think it's so important for their voices to be heard.

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

Lee: The music was definitely the most challenging. William Finn's score is whimsical and complex, expressing the deepest fears and fantasies of adolescence. We only had a month to put the show together, and sang with very little amplification over the band. It took a lot of patience and perseverance to drill the harmonies and get our blend just right, but the payoff was worth it.

Becca: The most challenging part was the music. Those harmonies are so intricate and perfectly written and it was quite a challenge to perfect them and to blend them. It was also the first time in a while I had to carry a vocal line by myself and that's always a huge challenge.

Dev: Rehearsing the improvisational part of the show enough so that the actors were ready for four additional audience members at each performance. Also, the show has deceptively challenging choral music which took some time to master.
       Photo by Michael Dekker


What was the most exciting part of working on this production for you?

Becca: I think the similarities between Olive and 12-year-old Becca are astounding. I wasn't obsessed with books and words but I was certainly obsessed with other things (musicals and theatre) that alienated me from a lot of other "typical" kids. I often felt during the performance that I was just sitting there as my middle school self and it was an odd sensation but a very cool one.

Dev: Instead of dropping the black curtains that we usually use at APAC to create a theater space, we took them down and painted the entire room in which we perform! 
Jennifer: I was really thrilled to work with a custom knitter who created a sweater for the character Leaf Coneybear. We made a piece that looked like a 12 year old could have knit it himself out of leftover yarn, and what she created really fulfilled my vision of this character.

Lee: THE WHOLE DARN THING! The production itself is hysterical, and truly came to life in APAC's "churchnasium" space. We just had to arrive open, honest, and ready to play. The audience participation and improv aspects of the show kept it different each night. One matinee, I was asked out on a date by a handsome guest speller. The next performance, someone whipped out their iPhone and started taking selfies with us. Never a dull moment at the Bee.

What was it like working with APAC?

Jennifer: Everyone at APAC is fantastic! They have such supportive staff and volunteers, and it's such a fun, collaborative environment.

Becca: Getting to do a show in Astoria was awesome because so many actors live there and I got to meet so many people because of the accessibility of the location.

Lee: It was fantastic. Working on a dream role, exploring and eating my way through beautiful Astoria, and creating some new friendships I'm sure will last a lifetime.

What was it like working with Lee, Becca, and Jennifer?

Dev: They were all a joy to work with! Lee Slobotkin was ready to try anything and continued to strive for greater specificity, humor, and truth. Becca Andrews is a workhorse in the best possible sense of the word. She was always interested in going deeper with her character for both comic and tragic effect. Jennifer Jacob is creative and innovative and her specific touches made this production the success that it was.

You can follow these artists on Twitter:

Astoria Performing Arts Center @apacnyc
Jennifer A Jacob @jifjacob77
Lee Slobotkin @leeslobotkin (@leeslo-instagram)