Thursday, September 18, 2014

Candide – The Musical

Candide – The Musical
By Leonard Bernstein
Directed by David Fuller
Produced by Theater 2020

Nomination: Candide – The Musical is nominated for Outstanding Production of a Musical


       Photo by David Fuller

About this Production
A fanciful story about a young man, Candide, whose journey of improbable misadventures leads him ultimately to love, manhood and the meaning of Life. War, natural disasters, unnatural assignations, torture, pirates and disease are among the many obstacles Candide overcomes, in a paradoxically comedic satire. This was a site-specific production at St. Charles Borromeo Church.

Director, David Fuller; Choreographer Judith Jarosz and Music Director Ming Aldrich-Gan talk about staging this larger than life musical as a site-specific production and on a shoe-string budget.


What attracted you to this project?

David: Hal Prince, who is on our Advisory Board, had directed this version 40 years ago out at BAM. I knew that version well and have always loved what he, Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim had done with what to my mind was an unwieldy 1950's Lillian Hellman book. The property was available and the timing seemed right for a 40 year anniversary remounting back in Brooklyn where we are based, with Hal's enthusiastic blessing. Moreover, I have always adored the score. And that final song: how glorious!

Judith: The score is sublime. I played/sang Cunegunde in a production in school while getting my undergrad degree and fell in love with the entire piece. The humor is just the way I like it, a little shocking and unexpected, as well as very infectious. Lenny Bruce meets the good humor man.

Ming: As a classically-trained pianist working in musical theater, I have a special place in my heart for works like Bernstein's Candide that straddle the operatic and musical theater genres.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

David: We had great collaborators, from our wonderful, extremely talented cast, to our crew and designers. Auditions were highly competitive and the caliber of our cast was astounding. Working with Judith as choreographer and Viviane Galloway as costume designer is always a joy and Ming as a new team member was just terrific. Dana, Marilee and Gaby were invaluable backstage and on spotlights. It was just a blast from the first rehearsal to the final curtain.

Judith: Working with the artists. It was magical getting to hear Ming’s amazing playing and the singer’s stellar voices in the acoustically fabulous Saint Charles Borromeo Church. Every single performance they had me in tears during that finale. Good tears!

Ming: Playing a grand piano in a musical is a rare treat! The cast and creative team helmed by David and Judith of Theater 2020 were not only talented and hardworking (which is half the battle when working with such challenging material), but also great to work with.

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

David: The most challenging part was staging a full-scale musical site-specifically in a Catholic Church sanctuary. Every scenic element I designed or set piece I decided to use had to be easily stowed away after every performance. But the leadership at St. Charles Borromeo Church was very supportive and we were able to use the entire space at will: from the choir loft, to the pulpit, to the altar and every space in between.

Judith: The music for this piece is NOT easy, to play or sing. Choreographing interesting movements that help tell the story while being sensitive to this reality is a major task. Also doing a large musical on an indie theater shoestring budget always tests the boundaries of patience. You want to do more. Like everyone, we beg, borrow, and scrounge. Viviane Galloway works miracles with costumes.

Ming: Bernstein (to my knowledge) never intended Candide to be performed with solo piano. The piano reductions supplied by MTI (the licensing company) range from "not easy" to "impossible", and required some reworking on my part for me to render the orchestral score as faithfully as possible with just ten fingers. The Overture, in particular, ended up being practically my own arrangement. You can watch me perform it.

Why do a production of Candide now? (What makes it relevant now?)

David: There's always a need for laughter and wonderful music. And the themes are very pertinent.

Judith: The lessons of Voltaire in Candide are as timeless as Shakespeare’s. We earth spirits just love to keep repeating history, so this material is always relevant.

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

David: I hope our audiences came away from Candide with an appreciation for Voltaire's themes through the lens of Prince/Wheeler, as well as an uplift in their spirits. Quite simply, I hope the musical made them happy.

Judith: An appreciation for Leonard Bernstein’s astonishing abilities and Voltaire’s lessons. Shit happens to everyone. This too shall pass. Be grateful for your life. Be kind to others. And laugh at yourself…always remember to laugh.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


By Nora Woolley
Directed by Raquel Cion

Produced by Eat a Radish Productions in association with IRT Theater

Nominations: Nora Woolley is nominated for
Outstanding Original Short Script as well as for Outstanding Solo Performance

           Photo by Sarah Rogers

About this Production

Hip is set in the early aughts, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, ground zero for the modern hipster movement. Wythe, a struggling musician, is convinced his songs have been co-opted by the increasingly popular buzz-band, The Strokes. His single-minded quest for fame is diverted by three women who are also longing for their own brand of recognition. In an increasingly self-aggrandizing community, Wythe must decide what is lasting and what is simply–hip. A story for anyone who has ever wanted it so bad, they could practically fake it.

What attracted you to this project?

Nora: I wrote this piece in an attempt to express the longing for recognition that so many artists feel.

Raquel: When Nora approached me to direct Hip there was no way I could say no. Nora and I worked together in 2009 for her and Christine Witmer's play Selling Splitsville presented at PS 122 as part of the undergroundzero Festival. Working with Nora is a complete joy. We challenge each other, share a sense of humor and she is not afraid to dive deep into places that transcend humor to a deliciously 'should I laugh or weep' place. The subject matter of the piece was also, perhaps sadly, very resonant for me. That yearning to live life as an artist and feeling that life is just running you over.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Nora: Over a two year rehearsal process, I often rehearsed with Kim Katzberg (also a nominee for the Outstanding Solo Performance category) as she was simultaneously rehearsing her own piece. This process pushed me to be accountable for my work and in many ways encouraged me to move beyond my comfort zone. Kim is a very special performer and I knew that sharing a rehearsal practice with her would push me in very specific directions I had not yet allowed myself to venture. Kim is an extremely hard worker and has a brutal, raw, challenging, and moving aesthetic that opened up a new permission in me. I've learned so much about timing from Kim.

Hip was my first solo piece and I set out to make a work that included a number of narrative, physical, and emotional elements I had never previously tried on stage (i.e. slow overdose, be a young man, be sexy). Additionally, I was interested in being challenged by director Raquel Cion, who I knew would not let me get away with anything sub-par in terms of comedic and tragic elements. Raquel is an exceptionally intelligent and open person (a powerful combo), who is able to respectfully step into a multitude of diverse worlds with ease, fascination, and a specific sense of craft.  I have worked with Raquel as a director on previous original projects and feel grateful that she continues to humor and mold my work.

Raquel: Nora came to the first rehearsal with such a clear vision of the work. She had developed incredibly funny and heartbreaking characters that were profound without being heavy handed. Since the piece was stepping onto the boards for the first time we really allowed ourselves to play while honing the text. It's a short piece (for which Nora is also nominated for Outstanding Original Short Script) so, we really needed to be incredibly specific with the text and find the ways into the meat of the show with immediacy. Nora is such a facile actress and brought such emotional range, risk, outlandishness and reality to each of her characters. Seeing these characters really come to life was beyond satisfying.

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

Raquel: Hip ran side by side with Kim Katzberg's Darkling (Kim is also nominated for Outstanding Solo Performance) and both shows needed to aesthetically stand on their own. Though they do share certain themes they are very different shows. With our shoe-string budget we needed to find ways to give each show its own look and feel. Hip due to its length had to be incredibly tight technically because of the sound and video components as well. The play itself feels very much like a film in its approach. The challenge was how to establish place, character, time, without pandering or getting lost in exposition. I believe we were very successful in creating this within a half hour running time. As Nora said our technical team, Josh Iacovelli (who designed our sets and lights) and Laura Detkin our stage manager did wonders.

Kim and Nora were also so incredibly supportive and available for each other in both the process and in performance. Their dedication to the work and generosity toward each other was simply astounding. They ran each other's shows; were willing to do whatever it took to bring both their visions to life. As we all know putting up one's own work is a vulnerable, challenging experience. Nora, Kim and the whole team faced those challenges with graceful ferocity.

Nora: Hip was a demanding piece physically, vocally, and emotionally as it was only thirty minutes but included four distinct characters. But more than those acting demands (which I relish!), it was a tough evening to figure out technically in rep with Darkling (additional props to Josh Iacovelli, Designer and Laurel Detkin, SM) during a brutal winter, amidst all of our team's demanding day jobs/schedules. Hey, welcome to NYC.

What made Hip so unique?

Raquel: The films created by Nora and Marieclare Lawson really elevated Hip. What could have been a sketch or ironic nod to Williamsburg in the early aughts was turned on its head due to the quality of the work visually, the novella like quality of the script and Nora's nuanced characters. Again, the show felt very cinematic. Within IRT Theater's black box we managed to bring a breadth of the city, the sorrow and ridiculousness of its inhabitants and had beautiful close-ups of how we all yearn to make a mark or connection.

Nora: The film component was huge-- Mariclare Lawson did wonderful work creating original music videos circa 2000 in a way that would read onstage, sans any sense of cliché. I have known Mariclare since NYU days and she has an exquisite eye for detail and an innate sense of slick editing. We have collaborated a lot and I very much relate to her aesthetic view of NYC, both past and present.

During the rehearsal process, before Hip was a play per se, my brother (George Woolley) and I made a couple of short films centered around early versions of Gloria and Wythe (two characters featured in the piece).  We labeled them, monologues-on-film, and have continued that work as a series. Currently we are in the process of creating more. The series is called "Les Petites Tristesses (The Little Sadnesses)". Our Dad described Wythe and Gloria as tristesse, and we thought that was apt. These early monologues-on-film enabled me to deepen my approach some of Hip's characters on stage. Both Mariclare and George changed my view of film on stage.

Hip allowed me to depict the mundane in all its complexity. Longing is a very human feeling, one that is simultaneously numbing and manic-- a feeling that is rampant and normal in NYC.  I think longing is a hard feeling to express in a compelling way because it is essentially a selfish sensation. I hope Hip pulled that off.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

One is the Road

One is the Road
By Mark Loewenstern
Directed by DeLisa White
Produced by WorkShop Theater Company

Nomination: Mark Loewenstern is nominated for Outstanding Original Short Script

         Photos by Gerry Goodstein

About this Production
Our protagonist drives home from vacation with his wife, whom he has put on a pedestal. He relates to us the 7 things he is thinking and doing moment-to-moment over the course of perhaps 2 minutes.

This was produced as a part of an evening of short scripts titled Super Shorts 2013.

Playwright Mark Loewenstern and Director DeLisa White talk about this production that unravels the mental processes of a man as he contemplates his current relationship.


What attracted you to this project?

Mark: I wrote this script because, back in college, I heard about a series of early cognitive psychology experiments which suggested that on average the human brain keeps track of about 7 different things at once. That idea stayed with me for a long time. What are the 7 things each of us is tracking moment-to-moment? What if you told a story by describing each of those 7 things at key points?  I tried writing it first as a poem, and that didn't work out so well. It had no shape. And then years later I went back and tried writing it as a play and it just flowed. Who the characters had to be, and what had to happen to them, and how the story had to end -- it all just came together like a dream.

DeLisa: I have had the good fortune to work with Mark before and his writing is so deeply compelling to the mind, the dialogue so juicy for the actors, and the questions it poses so close to the nerve it’s always a treat to work on something of his. The rhythm, poetry and deep subtext of this piece demands that everyone involved in any production be at the very top of their capabilities and it’s wonderful to get the kind of script that challenges you to be at your very best. Scary, but wonderful.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Mark: My director (DeLisa White) and my actor (Tom Berdik). Seriously, they were awesome. My schedule at the time was crazy and I was only able to attend about 90 minutes of a single rehearsal. And yet, when those 90 minutes were done, I walked out of there utterly sure that my team knew exactly what they were doing and that my script was in the best possible hands. For a worrywart like me, having that kind of certainty was nothing short of miraculous!

DeLisa: There was a constant discovery process of questions that Tom Berdik absolutely had to answer VERY specifically and communicate in ways that were clear but never too overt. We had a lot of great discussions about why long-term relationships work and don’t work – and in what ways - the kind of discussions that make you a less judgmental and hopefully better and continually growing person. It was a really great rehearsal process and Mark gave us just enough room to find our way into it before we shared it with him. That’s very courageous of him and allowed it to be a deeper experience for us. It’s also the kind of piece that’s repetitive enough that it’s surely astonishingly difficult to memorize. Tom was essentially off-book at the second rehearsal. His hard work was my massive luxury.

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

DeLisa: Knowing that the piece is complex enough that there are probably 20 different ways to do it and still be true to it and sticking to the one that felt right to us, and hoping it would feel right to Mark as well (and what if it didn’t!) Also - how do you create what feels like being on the hood of moving car and peering in the windshield and into someone's mind while on a teeny blackbox stage?  Duane Pagano (set and lights and NY Innovative Theatre Award winner) accomplished that for us with great aplomb.

Mark: A few audience members asked me to explain the conceit to them, because they just didn't get it. For me it is no fun having to explain what I wrote, because it means that for those people at least, the work didn't speak for itself. And then I have to wonder: maybe I didn't do my job as well as I could have?  I suppose anytime you attempt to innovate, you run this risk. But for me, those are the least fun moments of the production.

In your opinion, what is the most innovative aspect of this production?

Mark: Unpacking a moment, and looking at it from 7 different points of view, and then unpacking the next moment, and so on, and using that to tell a meaningful story. It is a different way of looking at time and at the mind. It's not processed and unified like a monologue. It's more raw and impressionistic. And I think it works well in live theater because it has the immediacy of live theater.

DeLisa: Firstly, it’s stream of consciousness times seven. (Read it on indietheatrenow and you'll see what I mean - I'm not even kidding.) THEN it’s stream of consciousness that feels like the most naturalistic off-the-cuff dialogue even though it’s a poetic monologue. Further, it’s stream of consciousness that masks part of what the character is feeling while still giving the actor a chance to reveal that to the audience even while he's not entirely honest with himself!  Lastly, I have never once read or seen anything quite like it.

What did you want your audience to take away from this production?

DeLisa: I think the hope is that the finished piece inspires the kind of discussions that working on it did.  What does being a loving, committed, grown-up, responsible person in a long-term relationship mean and how wide a berth do we need to give ourselves and each other in the course of that goal?

Mark: First, I want them to take away a new way of experiencing their own minds, taking stock of how their attention is split, and what it is split on.

And then, I want them to experience through that prism what it means to choose a partner for whom you are trying to take care of everything, what it means to choose someone whom you put up on a pedestal instead of treating as an equal partner. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

My Father’s Ashes

My Father’s Ashes
Written and Directed by Tom Slot
Produced by Original Binding Productions

Nomination: Milee Bang is nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Featured Role

Photos by Tom Slot

About this Production

On the one-year anniversary of their father's death, three sisters return to their childhood home to scatter his ashes. But a brutal winter snow, their judgmental mother, and years of unresolved baggage threaten to derail the memorial before it even begins. As secrets and insecurities are exposed at every turn, can these three sisters overcome their sibling dynamic long enough to mourn their father? Or will the night leave their relationships so fractured that they can never go home again.

Writer and Director Tom Slot and actress Milee Bang talk about working on this production that dealt with the heavy emotional material of love, loss and family.


What attracted you to this project?

Tom: When I wrote My Father's Ashes I was very interested in exploring the different ways people deal with the death of a family member and how they process grief. On top of all the natural feelings of loss and mortality you suddenly have to layer in the sibling and family dynamics as well. That can be a delicate balancing act during a time when emotions are already running hot. I also wanted to write a show that had strong roles for women, and I was attracted to the idea of explore how sisters would interact in this type of situation. I only have brothers and was curious to see how flipping genders would inform the writing.

Milee: Tom Slot (the artistic director of Original Binding Productions) wrote a play with specific company members in mind. He was kind enough to include me amongst those members writing a beautiful play about love, grief and family. What attracted me to the show was how Tom was able to capture the dynamics of a family during the time of loss and show how everyone mourns and grieves differently.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Tom: My favorite part of working on this production was the cast. I had written these parts for specific actresses and watching them take on the sister and mother relationship was incredibly fulfilling. Meredith, Claire, and Kristi were all friends prior to the show, but through the rehearsal process I came to see them as sisters. And Victoria's work as Edithmarie was wonderful to watch her create. The whole cast was amazing. I really got spoiled working with them.

Milee: My favorite part of the working on this production was being involved from the start. From the first reading of the play to closing night, I saw how the play evolved and became this incredibly moving piece. It's rare to be part of a play from start to finish and it's such a treat for the actor.

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

Milee: The most challenging part of working on this production was the issues it dealt with (love, grief, and family). It wasn't easy working on the play without thinking about how love, grief and family affects your own life. That's what makes the play so intriguing to watch.

Tom: It's a heavy play emotionally. There were nights in rehearsal were we could only get through a scene once or twice and have to stop. It brought up a lot of memories for all of us and we often left rehearsal emotionally worn out.

What was the most memorable moment for you during the creation of this production?

Tom: Every night of the show when the sisters and Anna (Milee) would pack up the house between Act 2 and 3. They moved with such sensitivity, letting the emotion and music play through them. There was no spoken text, but their physical dialogue with each other was crystal clear. It was an incredible cathartic moment every performance.

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

Tom: I wanted the audience to come away from the show looking at their own lives and family relationships. I hope the play served as a mirror that asked them what's working and what could be better in those relationships.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Beckett in Benghazi

Beckett in Benghazi
By Ben Diserens
Directed by James Presson
Produced by Less Than Rent Theatre in association with Horse Trade Theater Group

Nomination: Brendan McDonough is nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role

Photos by Hunter Canning

About this Production
Beckett in Benghazi is a satire about the relationship that the arts and theatre community have to current events. In the play, a downtown theatre troupe tries to re-engineer their production of Endgame to mirror the ongoing events in Benghazi with only one week till opening.

Playwright Ben Diserens and actor Brendan McDonough discuss their work on this production that uses humor and satire to address important and emotional political issues.


What attracted you to this project?

Ben: I tend to shy away from controversial subject matter when it comes to my writing. It's as though I want everyone to like me (wonder why I also got into acting). But I am a firm believer in doing things in life that terrify you so it was there that I began writing Beckett in Benghazi. I began writing the play about six months after the attack on the embassy and I thought that the political aftermath would probably die down by the time the play actually premiered. But as I continued to write the piece, the inquiries and allegations from the right wing only intensified and because of this, I could not let myself off the hook when it came to having a point of view on the issue. It was a great exercise in standing behind your writing as opposed to making silly jokes and hoping no one will have any follow up questions.

Brendan: James Presson (director, artistic director of LTR) approached me and asked what I was doing with my summer and I, as usual said "nothing," so he said "wanna do Ben's new play?" And I said "Ben knows how to write? Should be interesting. I'm in." Ben and James had also assembled an incredible cast and creative team that made it impossible to resist. Not that I tried to resist. I said yes before I knew the title.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Brendan: Clowns. And also showing up to rehearsal every day and having no idea what to expect from anyone involved, James, Ben and especially my cast mates. Maybe this was also my least favorite part. I also enjoyed Hanging out with a troupe of clowns every day. Becoming a clown. Clowning around with my clown friends. We did a lot of clowning around, all parties involved.

Ben: Every actor brought such creativity and commitment to their roles. Watching the characters evolve into something I hadn't imagined before was really special. Brendan was especially enjoyable to watch because every rehearsal, every run of a scene he would try something completely new. And no subtle changes here or there, but he had the courage to go 100% in a completely new direction. Everyone in the cast supported each other whenever someone wanted to go in that other direction.

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

Brendan: Learning a Bollywood dance number. If you've seen a Bollywood dance number this is self-explanatory. Also forgetting shorts and having to rehearse said dance number in jeans in a space with shotty A/C in July.

Ben: Since it was my first play to be fully produced, there were many challenges. First and foremost was literally slapping my hand over my mouth whenever I began giving someone a line reading. But other than that I would say the biggest challenge for me personally was finding the balance between politics and comedy.

What was the craziest part of this experience for you?

Ben: It was a strange experience trying to put together a show within a show, especially one that was meant to be performed in poor taste. So at points during tech we'd be rehearsing with fake blood, toy guns and brown face make up while thinking to ourselves "If this gets taken out of context..."

Brendan: James got us all to find and release our inner clowns and once that happened most everything got a little odd and quirky.

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

Ben: If they leave laughing, that's one thing. But if they leave wondering why it made them laugh, that would be even better.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Written, Performed & Designed by Nicole Hill, Christopher Loar, Daniel McCoy, Mike Puckett & Yolanda K. Wilkinson
Produced by New York Neo-Futurists

Nominations: Christopher Loar is nominated for Outstanding Sound Design; and Nicole Hill is nominated for Outstanding Innovative Design for Puppetry and Shadow Design

          Photo by
Lorikay Photography

 About this Production
Do you remember a time when you were expected to be seen and not heard? The New York Neo-Futurists have created a show that illuminates these times, using every theatrical tool at their disposal save one: speech. Drawing on images and impressions from their childhood memories, the creators of Mute will take you on a trip into their early years, reflecting on forces that silenced them, and bringing you back to share these immersive moments on stage. Using shadow puppetry, clown work, video, live music, soundscapes, and three-dimensional “GIFs,” the Neo-Futurists ask what remains of the artist when the physical voice is removed.

Christopher Loar, Daniel McCoy and Nicole Hill talk about creating a production about communicating without words.


What attracted you to this project/subject matter?

Nicole: The mandate for the NY Neo Futurist's production of Mute was to create compelling work sans the avalanche of words that we normally use as writer/performance artists. So the challenge of storytelling without the benefit of using the spoken word was key and of utmost interest...

Loar: I liked the creative restriction very much of not using any speech. It provided an opportunity to challenge myself to create something I have never attempted before, a solo movement piece. I also loved aiding and assisting the sound design of other peoples' projects.

Dan: The idea of creating a Neo-Futurist show based entirely in non-verbal theatrical forms. I wanted to challenge us, a very verbal company, to create an evening of theatre in which not a word is spoken, but to do it in such a way that the audience wouldn't even miss hearing our mouth-voices.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Dan: Discovering what it was about. In the initial conception, the short plays were each to revolve around the idea of restriction - societal, artistic, self-imposed, what-have-you - and as we worked on building our plays, we realized that each of them was in some way about childhood. All five plays in Mute were about memories, artifacts, or impressions from our formative years, moments in which we felt silenced in one way or another, and how we dealt, and still deal, with that feeling.

Loar: The free and supportive spirit of the creative team

Nicole: I was inspired by the work of the Chicago company "Manual Cinema" (who I saw perform in the Fringe Festival in 2013). They create visually stunning work that looks amazingly "high tech" via the use of live shadow puppetry and the very 'low tech" overhead projector. Exploring and discovering the complexities of working in this medium was a mind expanding joy!

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

Loar: Creating a sound design that I performed live as well as being a live body in the show.

Nicole: Learning to think in terms of light and shadow & negative and positive space with a mind to projection.

Dan: Probably just the sheer amount of stuff we used for the show. Two digital projectors, two overhead projectors, a live internet feed, a bunch of balloons, a TV/DVD combo, a chandelier made of umbrella frames, about 30 different shadow puppets, a giant rotating screen made of PVC pipe and butcher paper, and so on. Oh, and we had to do a complete set-up and strike every night because we were renting the space by the hour. Yay independent theatre!

What was the craziest thing that happened during this production?

Loar: Tina Howe came to the show. I don't really think that's so "crazy" but it was great to meet her.

Dan: Despite all the material elements listed above, we had a surprisingly smooth run (much credit to our technical director and stage manager). Nothing unexpected ever happened during performance outside of a few inevitable glitches. I guess the craziest thing is that nothing crazy happened. Crazy, right?

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

Loar: I would like for the audience to feel something and have a good time watching it.

Dan: With the feeling that they've experienced something unique. True to the Neo-Futurist aesthetic, the plays in Mute come from the personal experiences and points of view of each of the writer/performers. I hope the audience left each night knowing that they've been let in on something honest and real.