Wednesday, September 20, 2017

And Miss Reardon Drinks A Little


Book by Paul Zindel
Directed by Shay Gines
Produced by Retro Productions

Nominations: Outstanding Revival of a Play, Outstanding Innovative Design: Sara Slagle; Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role: Christopher Borg; Outstanding Set Design: Jack & Rebecca Cunningham

Photos by Kyle Connolly

About the Company

It is the mission of Retro Productions to present works of retro theatre. Retro is defined as "involving, relating to, or reminiscent of things past (American Heritage Dictionary)." At Retro Productions, we will tell good theatrical stories which have an historical perspective with an emphasis on the 20th century in order to broaden our own understanding of the world we live in. We believe through stories of human lives and struggles, both dramatic and comedic, we can understand social history and culture and how it affects us today.

About the Production

And Miss Reardon Drinks A Little is a dark comedy of the late 1960s that focuses on the lives of three Reardon sisters whose father abandoned the family long ago and whose mother recently passed away. All grown up and working in the New York City public school system, they have come to a crossroads the youngest sister, who has already barely survived a scandalous incident at school, has suffered a nervous breakdown. When the married sister comes back to the childhood apartment, the two unmarried sisters now share in an effort to commit her sibling to an institution, pushing built up resentment from the last decade to the forefront. Should Anna be committed? Is it in her best interest or is it just easier for Ceil if she doesn’t have to care for her? Is it selfish of Catherine to want to keep her at home? Who is strongest in this fight of wills  and does Catherine really need another cocktail?

2017 IT Awards nominees Sara Slagle, Christopher Borg, and Jack Cunningham, along with Artistic Director and actress Heather Cunningham discuss the joys and challenges of putting this play on

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What first attracted you to this project?

Sara: I was actually scared of working on this show but thought the challenge would be helpful in advancing my prop skills forward.
 Christopher: I had never heard of the play but when I read it, I was really intrigued by this forgotten gem of a character study. I was also attracted to the role of Bob, which is so far from my normal type: he is a hot tempered, mansplaining "old-school" New York guy who is having trouble keeping up with the changes in 1967.
Jack: Love this play.

Heather: Truthfully I've wanted to do Miss Reardon for over 25 years! I think it's such a wonderfully witty play with incredible and strong roles for women of a certain age the kind you just don't find that often. It only amazes me that it's not done more often.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Sara: Believe it or not, tech was my favorite. Up until that point I just had a (huge) pile of props and glassware and it all came together (and had to be choreographed) on stage during tech that's where the magic happened.

Christopher: The director and cast were amazing and very supportive. We all learned a lot from each other.

Jack: Back in the early 1970's I designed this show for Ivoryton Playhouse. Doing the set for this production was nostalgic and very fulfilling.

Heather: Shay Gines is an amazing director I only wish she'd been eligible for award consideration.

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

Sara: The meat. It's a nightmare prop and had to work out a lot of variables such as actor dietary restrictions, cost, being non-perishable due to theater logistics, etc.

Jack: Designing a realistic set; this play demands realism, and it is difficult to do on a very limited budget and working in off-off Broadway venues.

Heather: The most challenging part of any production of MISS REARDON is the props. It stopped me from doing this play sooner, honestly. It has every nightmare prop scenario you can think of: edible food, onstage food preparation, a gun that fires multiple times, props that are thrown, glassware (vintage at that the play takes place in the late 1960s), and so much more. I knew I couldn't do this production until I had a kick-ass property designer and I have one in Sara Slagle and her nomination couldn't make me prouder. The hardest task I gave her was to create a prop that looked like raw ground beef but was not raw and was not beef and was edible for an actress who had to eat it on stage who does not eat beef and she did it!

What did you want the audience to walk away with after watching this production?

Heather: A sense of how far we've come and how far we've still got to go (regarding feminism and the women's movement).

What were the funniest moments of your experience of working on this production?

Sara: Again, the meat. I had no idea that a simple prop such as that would have so much effect on the production. After every performance, it seemed that several audience members were enamored by it, and it was strange for me.

Heather: See my story about meat. ;) We had a few performances where our gun prop could not fire for a variety of reasons. First, it was that we ran out of blanks, and the blanks we'd ordered did not arrive in time. Then the ones we received were making awful sparks long story short we had about three or four performances where we could not have a live gun fire. The cast came together to rally around a foley effect that worked like magic I even had a friend in the audience one night who said he had no idea that there were no blanks in the gun! This cast was an incredible bonding experience all so wonderful, thoughtful and professional.

Christopher: This was one of the smallest theatres I've ever worked in. The dressing area was so small that it could not accommodate the whole cast at the same time so we had to be creative about how we used the space in order to prepare.

Did you learn anything new from your experience of working on this production?

Sara: That I will never, ever, not ever...open another can of spam as long as I live.

What was it like working with this group of artists?

Sara: The entire production team and cast members. It was such a joy to work on this show and everyone had a great time doing it. It's those moments that make working on Indie Theatre worth it. We were truly a team, and I feel that the production spoke loudly that we all worked so hard on polishing the details but also having fun with the material.

Christopher: Retro Productions was extremely professional and really showed their love of theatre artists. We felt valued and well taken care of.

Jack: They were all outstanding professionals.

Heather: How much time do you have? Jack and Beckie Cunningham are some of the most talented set designers you will find In Indie Theatre. Their nomination means so much because Jack says he's retiring after Reardon that this is his last set. Sara Slagle is amazing see my story above about meat. Christopher Borg is an incredible actor he was just so perfect as Bob, and it's incredible because he's nothing like Bob in real life but he just became Bob in a totally seamless way.


You can follow Retro Productions on
Twitter: @RetroProdsNYC


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Cabaret At The End Of The World

Written by Melody Bates
Directed by Joan Jubett
Produced by Hard Sparks in association with IRT Theater

Nominations: Outstanding Choreography: Hettie Barnhill; Outstanding Sound Design: John Salutz; Outstanding Original Full Length Script: Melody Bates; Outstanding Original Music: Melody Bates; Outstanding Original Music: Rebecca Hart


About the Production

The Cabaret At The End Of The World leads audiences through Julius Caesar with the vibrant Flora and Fawna as guides, inviting you to the “hottest club in Ancient Rome” for an adaptation full of burlesque numbers, clever satire and themes of modern society. 

In this exclusive interview, 2017 NYIT nominees Hettie Barnhill, Melody Bates and Rebecca Hart share their process creating new and innovative theatre with a reference point we know so well.



l to r: Melody Bates, Samantha Bilinkas. Photo by Jody Christopherson.
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What attracted you to this production?
Hettie
: The writer Melody Bates and I met while performing at the Metropolitan Opera, I knew of her previous work and loved it. So when she asked me come on board it was a Yes!

Melody: Meg Taintor, Artistic Director of Opera House Arts at the Stonington Opera House, and I started talking about creating a new work that takes off from Julius Caesar. Ideally it would be something musical, something comedic, and something that illuminated Shakespeare’s play in a new way. Meg was into it, and I asked Rebecca Hart to help me write it. When she said yes I thought, “okay, we’re doing a two-woman cabaret based on Julius Caesar” …which turned out to be way more subversive than I expected, as I’ll get into below. So we’re sisters, Flora and Fawna, and we run the hottest underground club in ancient Rome. It’s the kind of place where everyone is welcome and people from all parts of society can mix and mingle with an expectation of peace. We’re just there to do our big Ides of March show, but the events of Shakespeare's play start happening outside and we have to deal with them. It’s a classic clown set-up: we have a thing we’re trying to do, and other things keep getting in our way. Shakespeare’s play becomes the obstacle to ours, and hilarity and illumination ensue.

Rebecca: I love adaptation; I love telling a well-known story from a fresh angle and I loved the sound of "two women do Julius Caesar". I liked the irreverence and the humor of it. I liked writing songs for Portia and Calpurnia. Also, Melody asked me to work on it.


What was your favorite part of working on this production?
Hettie: Bringing the humor into the movement and working with the team, it was very organic, which made it the entire experience a delight!

Melody: There is a thing that happens in rehearsal when I have written funny scenes, and I am playing one of the characters in the funny scenes, especially when my acting partners are very good. I turn into a giggle monster. It’s ridiculous. But it has the one redeeming factor that it’s also a sign that we’re getting the scene right. So there’s this scene in Cabaret at the End of the World where my sister Fawna is trying to tell a knock-knock joke, and my character Flora doesn’t know how a knock-knock joke works. It’s one of my favorite funny things I’ve ever written. And Sam Bilinkas, who played Fawna, kept making me crack in rehearsal. I just love making people laugh so much! And when I can feel us getting there, I might as well be a three-year-old seeing a pie-in-the-face gag for the first time. It’s sheer delight. I get it together eventually. At least by the time the audience arrives. But the part of the process where the other actors are making the writer in me laugh like a little kid—I’m grateful for their tolerance, and it sure is a good time.

Rebecca: Being a composer/songwriter on a show is a fairly new role for me, and I loved going to see the play and hearing the songs in performance.


l to r: Melody Bates, Samantha Bilinkas. Photo by Jody Christopherson.


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

 
Hettie: Balancing the thin line between "slap-stick" and "silliness". Also making sure that the two main stars were able to confidently deliver their lines while performing my movement.

Melody: In the summer of 2016, not long after the first version of this play was commissioned, J.Stephen Brantley suggested producing it in New York. We were both excited about the prospect. I knew I’d want to do some rewrites, and I knew there was time to do so before the scheduled run in March 2017.

Then the election happened.

After the body-blow of that November day, it took me some time to find my words. The first thing I knew for sure was that the satire in this play about two women dealing with the Roman patriarchy was probably going to take a turn for the darker.

Which it did. And it made the play better. Balancing the bleak reality of inequality with an inextinguishable hope for something better—exercising our ability to find humor in dark times and letting that give us strength to keep going: that feels completely of the moment right now. Negotiating that balance led to discoveries like the standout anthem “Resist,” which was the final song that Rebecca wrote for the show. Satire and ridicule, and the supernova power of art to speak truth to power are essential tools in dark times. So the biggest challenge turned out to be overcoming post-election despair and rage and finding that balance. Even to the point of allowing for hope. Stubborn, stupid, relentless, gossamer hope, knocking from the inside of Pandora’s box to be set free. I feel almost embarrassed to feel the possibility of hope, because what we’re facing is so terrible. But still: get up. Keep going. Resist. Or as a fortune from a fortune cookie that I keep on my dresser says: “Keep charging the enemy as long as there is life.” 

Rebecca: Writing chord charts.



What was your favorite part about working with this group of artists?
Hettie: The shenanigans! No... really the diverseness in talent.

Melody: Hard Sparks is an incredible company. The visionary and brilliant J.Stephen Brantley is a mentor, an inspiration, a gorgeous writer, one of my favorite acting partners, a kick-ass producer, and one of the best human beings I know. Along with Robert Lohman, he runs an independent theatre company that lives up to its mission of championing daring productions of adventurous new plays. They take on the impossible, the improbable, the wild, the jump-off-a-cliff-and-see-if-we-fly stuff. Which is probably why I love them—I’m into that, too. And the company who coalesced around The Cabaret at the End of the World was wonderful. Actors Samantha Bilinkas, Connor Bond, Rachel Murdy (in addition to J.Stephen and myself), our intern Guillermo Sanchez-Vela, our stage manager Darielle Shandler, music director Peter Szep, fight choreographer Dan Renkin, costume designer Liz Kurtzman, our generous and gifted director Joan Jubett, everyone on our production team. And of course the great Rebecca Hart, whom I have known since we spent a magical summer together playing Titania and Hermia in Maine, who is a joy to collaborate with and a musical genius.

Rebecca: How game everyone is to be both totally ridiculous and totally sincere in the same show. Also how much they obviously enjoyed singing the tunes.



l to r: Rachel Mundy, Melody Bates, Samantha Bilinkas, Connor Bond. Photo by Jody Christopherson.


 
What did you learn from working on this production?
Hettie: My love for classic texts. 

Melody: The overall ratio of male roles to female roles in classical theatre is 7 to 3. In Julius Caesar, it’s 49 to 2. 

I mean, holy sh*t.

I knew it was bad, but I didn’t realize it was that bad until I sat down with the dramatis personae and counted. On top of that, most of the characters in the play are aristocrats. So it turns out that just telling the story of this story from the perspective of two non-aristocratic women is a revolutionary act. 

The surprises continued thanks to Rachel Murdy’s offer to help with the show, in whatever capacity. I know what’s good for me so I decided to write a role for her. “What if I’m sort of an Anfisa character, like an old discarded servant?” she suggested. I told her I couldn’t be less interested in writing an old discarded woman character. "But," I said, "…what if you’re a goddess in disguise?” Thus was born Feronia, the Sabine goddess “who came with the building,” whose arrival also led to a major discovery about the Sabines and the founding myth of Rome.

Rome was founded through a massive, Boko Haram-style kidnapping and rape. 

I’d certainly seen depictions of the Rape of the Sabine Women in art history. But no one ever taught it to me for what it was: the pre-meditated abduction and rape of hundreds of women, because the Roman generals had established a city of all men, and decided to kidnap and enslave women so they could create future generations of Romans. This is the great Rome, the seat of democracy. Founded on kidnapping and rape. I knew history had a man-washing problem, but researching and developing the play brought it home in a whole new way.

Playwrights make choices about whose stories matter. Our historical accounts, including our literature and art, suffer from man-washing. Check out Livy’s insane account of the rape of the Sabine women if you have any doubts. We’re living in a moment when many male lawmakers seem to have no theory of mind when it comes to women—they fail to empathize with a woman’s experience unless they can imagine it through another man's mind. Hence the “I have a mother/ sister/ wife/ daughter, therefore I don’t want bad things to happen to other men’s mothers/ sisters etc.” nonsense. It’s infuriating. So these discoveries gave us the opportunity to tangle with Roman history in a new way, to give voice to the half of society that has largely been ignored. The Cabaret at the End of the World is subversive because it makes you laugh and takes you on a ride and shows you a good time—and underneath it is a steely demand that you join us in fighting for equality, for love, for a better world.





You can follow Hard Spark’s here:
Twitter: @HardSparks
Instagram: @hardsparks



Saturday, September 16, 2017

Baby Mama: One Woman's Quest to Give Her Child to Gay People

Written by Mariah MacCarthy
Directed by Sara Lyons
Produced by Caps Lock Theatre 


Nominations: Outstanding Original Full-Length Script: Mariah MacCarthy; Outstanding Solo Performance: Mariah MacCarthy



About the Production
Producer, writer, and performer Mariah MacCarthy talks to us about her show, including her motivation for doing it, its impact on audience, and other revealing insights.



Mariah MacCarthy (Photo credit: Kacey Stamats)

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What attracted you to this project?
Mariah: I'd had a unique and incredibly intense experience (placing my baby in an open adoption), and I didn't know anyone else who had gone through this. So I decided to be the role model I didn't have at the time.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?
Mariah: Looking each member of the audience in the eye at the beginning of the show, and eliminating any distance between them and me. Holding audience members in my arms afterwards and hearing their stories.


What was the most challenging part of working on this production?
Mariah: I hadn't acted in nearly a decade. I had rapped and done stand-up and burlesque, but I hadn't been in a show since college — let alone one where I was the only performer. I had to learn how to keep my energy up, how to dance with an audience, and how to not blow out my voice.


What was the quirkiest part of the production?
Mariah: The day of the inauguration, during the first break in the show, I asked the audience from the stage, "How you guys doing? Anyone need to scream into the void?" No one took me up on the offer, but I just needed to do something to acknowledge the elephant in the room, and the very real possibility that the world was ending. Mercifully, the world didn't end that day, and I did the rest of the show as usual.


What was it like working with this group of artists?
Mariah: This show is about the year that I was pregnant with my son. That was the same year that I started Caps Lock Theatre. I'm so glad, in retrospect, that I didn't let my pregnancy and adoption experience stop me from producing my own work. Self-producing has led to everything good in my career. I can't tell you how freeing it is to know that you don't need to wait for a gatekeeper. You don't need permission to do your work. Just find a time and place, and do the thing.



Mariah MacCarthy (Photo credit: Kacey Stamats)

What will you take away from your experience working on?
Mariah: I learned that even if your entire first row of audience has resting bitch face, the back rows might be getting a phenomenal show, and you're not allowed to give up just because you're not getting anything back in the moment.

 


Please follow Caps Lock Theatre:
Twitter: @CapsLockTheatre

 

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Infinite Wrench


Written, Directed and Produced by New York Neo-Futurists


Nomination: Outstanding Performance Art Production
 



About the Company: The New York Neo-Futurists is a collective of wildly productive writer/ director/performers who create theater that is fusion of sport, poetry, and living-newspaper. Their work is “non-illusory,” which means that all the characters are the performers themselves. Their performances are interactive, energetic and timely.

About the Production: The Infinite Wrench is a mechanism that unleashes a barrage of two-minute plays for a live audience. Each play offers something different, be it funny, profound, elegant, disgusting, topical, irrelevant, terrifying, or a song; all are truthful and tackle the here-and-now, inspired by the lived experiences of the performers. With new plays every week, The Infinite Wrench is the Neo-Futurists’ ongoing and ever-changing attempt to shift the conventions of live performance and speak to audiences including those unreached or unmoved by traditional theater.





Make sure to follow the New York Neo-Futurists on Twitter and Instagram @nyneofuturists


Thursday, September 7, 2017

One Fine Day


Written by Junshin Soga
Directed by Peter Jensen
Produced by Junshin Soga

Nominaton: Outstanding Original Short Script, Junshin Soga

Photos by Melissa Payamps

About the Company: Junshin Soga endeavors to express an authentic human experience and represent minority voices and problems without characterizing or simplifying them.

About the Production: Kenta receives a phone call from his mother to find that his grandfather has just passed away. As Kenta leaves for a flight back to Japan and is caught in a downpour of rain. While he waits for a break in the weather, he has random thoughts and lost memories come back to him. In his imagination he sees his grandfather and is able to tell him that he’s sorry and that he loves him.


________________________________________________

What first attracted you to this project?

Junshin: I was trying to write a different script, but I could never focus. I was wasting a lot of time. One day, I started thinking "What if grandpa dies? He will probably die pretty soon." And I wrote the first draft in like one week.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Junshin: Working with the director Peter Jensen was an absolute pleasure. He understands actors so well that you can just tell him anything that's happening to you while acting and he gets it. We also talked a lot about life, society, and relationships.

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

Junshin: Fighting the fear. The piece is full of mundane experiences that are very significant to the character. I was worried that the significance wouldn’t come across, and the audience would not care about what Kenta is experiencing.

What was the most noteworthy aspect of this experience for you?

Junshin: It all came together because I was avoiding working on the other piece. The other piece is finished now, it's called "In Dreams" and will be premiering on September 25th at the Hudson Guild.

What did you want the audience to walk away with after watching One Fine Day?

Junshin: If the piece made the audience want to go see their family, or to make a phone call to them, then that makes me very happy.

Make sure to follow Junshin on Twitter @JunshinSoga


 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Wine and Spirits


Written by Thomas Ott
Directed by Mel Williams
Produced by Red Shark Productions  


Nomination: Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role, Carla Briscoe


 

About the Company: Red Shark Productions is passionate about producing projects that encompass and unite all performance-based mediums. Whether re-imagining a classic or revealing new work, RSP is committed to creating a safe space for actors, directors, and designers to explore and expand their creativity. As the shark swims through the sea, we move forward - curious, insatiable, and hungry for the next opportunity.

About the Production: Many years ago, Selina, Beth and Kate’s lives were changed forever. They just didn’t know it. That is until tonight, when a long kept secret is revealed. Pay attention or you might miss the clues, as Felicia and her three daughters embark on a hysterical and heartwarming journey through their past. Full of laughter and surprises, this limited engagement comedy is sure to leave you satisfied… and a little suspicious.



Producer Jennifer Yadav and nominee Carla Briscoe talk about their journey in staging this family comedy about discovery.

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What first attracted you to this project?

Carla: I was drawn to the story, that the play centered around three very different, often antagonistic sisters, who were dealing with the loss of their mother. I never had sisters (but desperately wanted them)--and having dealt with the loss of my own mother when I was in my 20s, I saw it as an opportunity to examine how we all, despite our best intentions, can't help but grieve differently, and always alone. The loss of a loved one is never the same for any two people. The relationships we have with the people we love are so singular--even within a family you can feel like you're grieving in a vacuum...that no one understands what you've lost.

Jennifer: Red Shark Productions is a New York City based production company creating theatre, film and music, which explore the depth, intensity, and power of the human spirit. We believe in the challenge of deepening and awakening our understanding of complicated emotions. Our goal is to foster new artistic talent in all disciplines. This play gave us the opportunity to showcase the work of a new writer, Thomas

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Carla: The cast and production team were such a joy to work with. It's true that that often happens, that you fall into family mode on a show...but working with Christine Seisler and Zoe Anastassiou was so special. I love those women with all my heart. They stripped themselves bare every night, giving so much of themselves on stage. We'd lose time with one another...we'd step on stage and disappear into the play with one another. And, as a result, we developed a sisterhood offstage that was far more loving than the one on it.

Jennifer: The actors and creative team were fabulous and collaborated well.

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

Carla: The actress who was originally supposed to play the role of Selina stepped out due to another professional engagement, and I was asked to take her part. (I was supposed to play Kate originally.) Then, we lost our director just before beginning rehearsals. These things can feel extremely stressful at the time. I remember initially being sad that I could no longer play Kate, it was such a fun comedic role--and I'd grown attached to it the part-- but Zoe came on to play that role brilliantly, and become an incredibly dear friend to boot. So it felt like a gift in the end...the way the chips fell. And losing our director right before going into production was really hard for everyone (especially our producers) but Melvin Williams came onboard and brought his spirit and vision to the production--and we all, everyone of us, just pushed and worked harder to make it the very best we could. There's something.

Jennifer: This was my first experience as a producer and handling the details is a challenge!

What was the most noteworthy aspect of this production for you?

Carla: We actually had to drink an obscene amount of a wine-like substance on stage every night, 4 bottles worth. This is noteworthy for three reasons. In real life I'm not a big drinker, and when I do drink I lean into whiskey (so I had to do a little personal research with wine)... secondly, the three of us were all on stage for almost the entirety of the show...thirdly, there are no restrooms backstage at The Playroom Theatre. So whenever we finished a performance, if a friend or family member was there and wanted to chat with any of us sisters, that exchange tended to feel like a long car ride with a boy armed with a bottle while all I could do was squeeze my knees together as I scanned the road for the nearest gas.

Jennifer: It was a great joy to bring together a group of people who had all worked together in different capacities before this project.

Did you learn anything new from your experience of working on this production?

Carla: I learned that sometimes it's the moments of silence on stage that can be the most powerful. All the sisters having to be on stage all the time...we weren't always speaking during those moments. It was a really interesting choice that Mel Williams made as a director, and it forced each of us to live in these solitary extended silences while two of the sisters spoke...or else all three of us quietly performed mundane mourning tasks (packing, going through photos, the deceased clothes, drinking heavily) while the ghosts of past characters were onstage--all three sisters not acknowledging this other spirit world; and there was something those extended and active silences required that felt incredibly rich. A dance between those worlds (and the actors who lived in those separate worlds) that was so dreamy and perfect. I looked forward to those moments most.

What was it like working with this group of artists?

Carla: Christine and Scott Seisler of Red Shark Productions are amazing to work with. This is my third production with them. They treat their performers with tremendous dignity and trust, and they're incredibly loyal. Just last week they called to see if I was available to do a show coming up in the Fall, written by the same playwright of "Wine and Spirits," Tom Ott. If they believe in you, they want to bring you in on every project they can. That's pretty extraordinary, to feel you're loved and supported in that way as an artist. I'm very grateful to them both.

Jennifer: Carla is great to work with--she is always happy, motivated, prepared, and professional.


Make sure to follow Red Shark Productions on Twitter @RedSharknyc