Thursday, August 15, 2019

MEET THE 2019 NOMINEES: Befuddled 101

Befuddled! Or, 101 Reasons to Thank Your God for Donald J Trump, Vladimir J Putin, and My Dad Who's a Dick!
Written and Directed by Rob Reese

Rodney Umble as The Monologist
Lexi Orphanos as The Stage Manager
Monica Furman as The Russian Translator

NOMINATED FOR: Outstanding Performance Art Production
Photos by Rob Reese

L-R: Monica Forman, Rodney Umble, Lexi Orphanos


Monologist Max Silver is jolted from his mundane existence into a schizophrenic Max Headroom style dystopia. An immediate intersection of his parental resentments, his painful breakup, a deficient understanding of American politics, Russian history, artistic manifestos, and every bit of media he’s ever consumed result in a hilariously failed journey of self-discovery.

A manic, multi-media event featuring vodka shots, vaudeville dance, slapstick and wholesale theft from established artists.

Join Max as he endures breakneck cue-calling and biting criticism by his antagonistic Stage Manager Laventry Beria, and incomprehensible heckling by Ivan The Translator.


What attracted you to working on this project?
After touring through much of eastern Europe with The Wooster Group, Piloblous Dance, and other companies I became fascinated with the effects of Communism and dictatorships on peoples' lives. The piece that resulted is an expression of those ideas through my own biographical filter.

What was your favorite part of working on this production? And why?
The incredibly creative collaboration from the performers is what made this piece stand out. Their individual artistic visions and playful professionalism were fundamental to this process.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production? And why?
The performer (Lexi Orhpanos) embodying the 'role' of the Stage Manager was not only performing her character, but was actually firing the tech of the exhibition as a real Stage Manager would. This is >100 cues on several different machines interactively displaying video, audio, and lighting cues.

What do you want the audience to come away with after watching your production?
Confusion! Any entrenched opinion an audience member has about any of the topics addressed in our exhibition should have at least been shaken.

Why are the nominees from this production awesome?
They are talented, engaging artists who also couldn't be nicer, smarter, or easier to work with.

Was there anything odd, quirky, innovative, funny or otherwise noteworthy about your experience with this production?
Almost nothing about this show wasn't odd, quirky, innovative, or funny. I'm sorry the honest answer is the least press-worthy.

What does this nomination mean to you?
Amnesia Wars has been doing Comedy and Theater for >20 years and Performance art for merely 3. This nomination gives us some level of "credential" in performance art.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Duke Oldřich & Washerwoman Božena, the True Story

Produced by GOH Productions in association with Czechoslovak American Marionette Theatre (CAMT)
Created & Directed by Vít Hořejš

Nominations: Outstanding Costume Design - Michelle Beshaw, Outstanding Sound Design - Beata Bocek, Outstanding Original Music - Beata Bocek

About GOH Productions:
GOH' mission is embodied in their logo, which is the Japanese character meaning “working together under one roof.” That definition informs their collaborative and expansive work. Founded in 1979 as 7 Loaves, Inc, GOH Productions received its new name in 1988. GOH embraces the challenge of nurturing artworks and artistic collaboration, testing the boundaries and borders of all categories. Their primary goal is to work with experimental and interdisciplinary artists to develop a variety of genres. Bonnie Stien is the Artistic Director of GOH Productions.

About Duke Oldřich & Washerwoman Božena, the True Story
This non-traditional staging of a 374 year-old marionette play is based on the story of love at first sight of the 11th century. Duke Oldrich braved stout opposition from friend and foe alike to marry the exquisitely fair washerwoman Bozena. However, he forgot to mention some details of his own marital status to his beloved. The two legendary lovers were truthfully represented by fine hand-carved marionettes and life-like mechanicals fashioned expertly two centuries ago from the choicest linden wood; their manipulators in period costumes were artfully composed in flesh and blood.

What first attracted you to the subject of this production?
Bonnie: The subject matter and the fact that 2018 was the Centennial founding of the Czechoslovakia. We created a festival to celebrate two auspicious anniversaries: the Centennial Anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia (1918) and the Millennial Anniversary of the unification of the Lands of the Czech Crown, under Duke Oldrich (1018). The play was proposed by Director and Marionette Master puppeteer Vit Horejs, and was created by the company with his direction. As a producer of many of the company's productions, I was particularly attracted to the stellar creative team including Beata Bocek (music/vocals) who we worked with for the first time; and brought over from the Czech Republic; and Michelle Beshaw a wonderful costume designer and performer who has worked with the company for a while; and Federico Restrepo, lighting designer.

Michelle: I have been working with CAMT for 20 years as a performer and designer.

What was your favorite part of working on Oldřich & Washerwoman Božena?
Bonnie: I loved watching the play unfold.. as the characters developed; and casting took on many exciting twists; like Bozena being portrayed by a man. The set elements were great too. Ben Watts is a wonderful physical actor. The whole company was fun to watch as the play took form. It was a tough script, and when it was finally done, I wish it had run longer. The music was one of my most favorite elements; Beata Bocek is a genius!

Michelle: Our process was organic and left room for everyone's creativity.

What was the biggest challenge of this production?
Bonnie: Creating a new play from a story; with no existing script, which is not a new process for this company, but presents challenges in terms of knowing when it is ready for the audience. The space was gorgeous at Jan Hus Church House, but we had to transform the space from a church to a theater and back again, after many of the shows. The company most often works in theater venues, but because the antique marionettes originally came from the Jan Hus Church collection, it was important to perform in their space. So in short the space was a gift and a challenge.

Michelle: Time. I was scheduled for a trade trip to Japan just before tech rehearsals so had to be completely finished before I might normally be. It left too little room for final fiddling.

What did you want the audience to walk away with after watching Oldřich & Washerwoman Božena?
Bonnie: A bit of history that they might not know; a bit of the Czech sense of humor and musical traditions, with some twists. I would like the audience to enjoy and consider how the company presents traditional aspects of marionette theatre with contemporary texts. I also would like them to recognize the complexities of the actors/puppeteers presenting characters that both as puppets and as themselves. This process has been developed by director Vit Horejs with his company members in a very unusual way, that is not often seen in the puppetry world. Horejs is a leader of innovative puppet / marionette techniques and his company are great at performing this style. Also, it would be great if they are stimulated to study a bit of Czech history.

Did you gain any insight or learn anything new throughout this process?
Michelle: Always. I learned a good deal about Duke Oldrich and Washerwoman Bozena.

What would you say is the quirkiest part of working on this production?
Bonnie: Actually the set was comprised of mannequins which we got from Materials for the Arts, painted and repurposed by designer Roman Hladik, in a creatively wonderful way; expressing the forest setting of the play. I was a bit skeptical about this set idea, until I saw what was created and how well it worked onstage.

Michelle: I built costumes for the puppets for this production as well as the cast. I love costuming puppets -- if things don't fit or lay exactly right, you have the option of fixing it with a hammer and tack. Not something live performers take kindly to.

Why are Beata and Michelle so awesome?
Bonnie: Beata Bocek is one of the most unique young voices in the field of a style of folk music that both relies on tradition and is contemporary. She makes her own music as well as singing old songs in a new way. Her voice is mesmerizing and magical. She was the perfect choice for our production. And a total pro to work with. Michelle Beshaw is one of the most under-stated smart costume designers I have ever met. She is fearless, creative and always coming up with great ideas within a minimal budget, by combining found pieces with her own touches. I always enjoy watching Michelle develop her ideas as the play unfolds; and she is not afraid to change things when they don't work well seeking the best of all possible costumes for each character, including the puppets!

What is it like working with this company of artists?
Michelle: We've built up a lot of trust as a company over the years which frees us to try new things, take risks and challenge ourselves and each other.

What does this nomination mean to you?
Bonnie: The nomination is very very important to our company. Creating and producing marionette and innovative puppet theater is a really growing field. We have been around for over 20 years; and Vit Horejs is a leader in the field, always bringing on great collaborators. For Beata Bocek it is a recognition in the USA, since it was her first trip here and she and her music were so well received. Michelle has one IT Award, but I feel like she deserves as many as there are to give. She always hits the mark in the costume design area. This means the world to her and to all of us.

Michelle: I think of the downtown theatre community as my home planet. It means so much to me to be part of this community and I'm glad and grateful to the New York Innovative Theatre Awards for their continued commitment to and recognition of the work we all do, often with so little. I'm honored and delighted to be included in this year's nominees.

Monday, August 12, 2019

MEET THE 2019 NOMINEES: And Then There Were None

Annie Garrett-Larsen, nominated for Outstanding Lighting Design
And Then There Were None
By Agatha Christie
Directed by Christopher Noffke
Produced by The Secret Theatre

Outstanding Lighting Design - Annie Garrett-Larsen
Outstanding Revival of a Play

Before CLUE! Before Murder, She Wrote! One writer penned the mother of all murder mystery whodunits, with an ending that still shocks readers today!

PHOTO: Reiko Yanagi

Produced by: Richard Mazda (The Secret Theatre)
Stage Managed by: Kat Vaccaro
Assistant Directed by: Ethan Henry
Set Design by: Brice Corder
Lighting Design by: Annie Garrett-Larsen
Original Music Composed by: Zev Burrows
Costume Design by: Ethan Henry
Special Props Designed by: Sarah Pencheff

Vera Claythorne - Zoe Abuyuan
Phillip Lombard - Dan Fenaughty*
William Blore - Adolpho Blaire*
Dr. Armstrong - David Engel*
Sir Lawrence Wargrave - Richard Mazda
Emily Brent - Peggy Lewis*
Rogers - Richard Iverson*
General Mackenzie - Albert Baker
Mrs. Rogers - Kelsey Sheppard
Nathaniel Ansbach - Anthony Marston
Fred Narracott - Aaron D. Van Skyoc

*Denotes member of Actors' Equity Association

PHOTO: Reiko Yanagi

PHOTO: Reiko Yanagi

PHOTO: Reiko Yanagi

Sunday, August 11, 2019

MEET THE 2019 NOMINEES: Dad in a Box

Kim Katzberg
Dad in a Box
By Kim Katzberg
Directed by Raquel Cion
Produced by Eat a Radish Productions

Nominated for:
Outstanding Solo Performance: Kim Katzberg
Outstanding Short Script: Kim Katzberg
Outstanding Innovative Design: Raquel Cion, Maia Cruz Palileo, Jacqueline Reed, Kim Katzberg

About the Show

When your father’s death explodes the cracked myth of a loving family—in improv comedy class.

Acclaimed artist Kim Katzberg (Darkling, Strays) most revealing—and hilarious—work. A prestigious improv comedy workshop seems like an ideal career boost for Katzberg, until she finds her fervid imagination hamstrung by generic critiques. ‘…Suicidal girl on a date? I’m not sure it’s a network thing.’ But the real improvisation starts when Katzberg’s emotionally distant father dies, paralyzing her psyche and forcing her to confront her California-cool brother and erratic prodigal sister. Katzberg, playing a plethora of characters, struggles to become more real onstage, be truthful to her father, and express her inexplicable love for him.

Photographer: Maria Baranova

About Eat a Radish Productions and Kim Katzberg
My voice, as a queer female theater artist, uses comedy to address disturbing problems common to the female experience, through heightened, tragicomic characters with unconventional physicalities, imaginations, voices, and rhythms. I want to arouse, frustrate, and re-educate the male gaze. Owning my experience with trauma empowers me. I mix uncertainty with irreverent humor to create discomfort, instigating a challenging emotional experience. Comedy provides relief and breaks down walls around provocative issues. The more I risk uncovering the unbounded core of my soul, the more effective I am in neutralizing shame and finding celebration.

What attracted you to working on this project?
I made this play to connect with my Dad, something I struggled to do when he was alive. It wasn’t until after the first three performances, when I got a 24 hr stomach bug and had to just be home with myself, that I felt acute grief as a result of the subject matter of the show. Reliving his death opened me up and connected me to my Dad. Reflecting back, I think I initially wrote the show to avoid the grief, but of course because of the show, I am now feeling the grief. The structure of the show gives a form to explore the grief safely, and my director Raquel helps me with that.

What was your favorite part of working on this production? And why?
I make theater to communicate what I can’t express in my everyday life. Characters have always been a safe container for me to go wild, be bold and explore what’s underneath the surface. I feel most in my body when I’m in character. The direct address was scariest for me because I’ve never been just myself onstage. I was worried that I would disassociate and I wouldn’t be interesting to watch. This play is my attempt at expressing what is real for me around my father’s death. When I’m talking about what’s real, I’m not dissociated, and that's when I feel most connected to the audience. My favorite part of working on this production was feeling deeply and profoundly connected to the audience.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production? And why?
I have issues to confront with my Dad, within myself, and the final scene of "Dad in a Box" is about how much work I still need to do. I was in the process of facing some of those things, like his alcoholism, my codependency and my fear of him. But he had to go and die on me! (I’m joking.) I have a long way to go until I come to terms with my troubled relationship with him, and I wanted the final speech to be both a release for “Kim” and portray how disturbed the relationship still is for me even though he’s gone. The most challenging part of working on this production was getting in touch with my vulnerability around my complicated relationship with my Dad.

Photographer: Marina Zamalin
What do you want the audience to come away with after watching your production?
I want the audience to feel less alone in their complicated feelings around dysfunctional familial relationships. I also want the audience to feel less alone in having irreverent and inappropriate feelings around death.

Why are the nominees from this production awesome?
Raquel Cion, my director, is nominated for Outstanding Innovative Design for her work on the commercial parody videos in the show. She took my ideas for the videos and made them outrageous! We had so much crazy fun shooting the videos in rehearsal spaces around Brooklyn. Raquel fiercely committed herself to this production in a way that gave me permission to be vulnerable in the work.

Was there anything odd, quirky, innovative, funny or otherwise noteworthy about your experience with this production?
Maia Cruz Palileo (Outstanding Innovative Design Nominee and my wife!) and I shot one of the show videos in her studio building in Sunset Park, Brooklyn around the Christmas holiday. Because there was no one around at that time, I was able to be bottomless and rocking back and forth holding myself out in the open! I was Donald Ducking it!

What does this nomination mean to you?
I had been feeling so despondent about "Dad in a Box" over the past few months. I felt like I had poured my heart and soul into the production, that it was my best work, and yet it wasn't getting any recognition and had no future. Now that it has been nominated for 3 NYIT Awards I feel validated and reinvigorated to continue to develop and deepen it for a future run. It can be challenging to keep making work without external validation, so being nominated for Outstanding Solo Performance, Short Script and Innovative Design puts much needed wind in my sails!

MEET THE 2019 NOMINEES: Cannibal Galaxy: A Love Story

Cannibal Galaxy: A Love Story
A New Play by Charise Greene
Directed by Jenn Haltman
Produced by Between Two Boroughs Productions

Nominated for:
Outstanding Sound Design - Fan Zhang
Outstanding Set Design - Tim McMath
Outstanding Innovative Design - Yana Birÿkova

About the Show
It’s business as usual at the Washington D.C. Science Museum where the employees’ personal lives keep getting in the way. Jo wants a child but is unable to secure an inseminator. Chet longs to make love, but dating kinda sucks and gaming is way more awesome. Claire searches for purpose by digging directly toward the center of the earth. Vadim prioritizes the needs of others but wouldn’t know his own if they crawled into bed with him. Eloise lives in a treehouse and brushes her teeth with space particles. When chaos ravages a perfectly average day, these co-workers are flung into a cosmic galactic shift, rearranging their internal cartography. In these desperate times, Cannibal Galaxy: a love story is a new play about how we keep breathing as America eats itself alive.

What first attracted you to working on this show?
The driving idea behind our company mission statement is to choose projects that scare us. We knew we wanted to produce this play immediately upon reading it. Cannibal Galaxy: a love story is an incredibly ambitious, scary, “impossible play” – the subject matter, the stage directions, the sheer size of the piece (21 scenes in 90 minutes). And it was like nothing we had worked on before.

What was your favorite part of working on this production? And why?
After working on this production for over two years with only our imaginations of what it could look like staged, being in tech and seeing all of the design elements come together to create a beautiful, ethereal, magical world was absolutely thrilling. Finally seeing it all come to fruition was overwhelming, to say the least. It was also the first time our company produced a new play. Having the playwright in the room and working with the cast on a “living” piece was exciting new territory.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production? And why?
This play is a jam-packed 90 minutes with many moving pieces, and there is a lot of magical realism in the script, so we needed to find practical, creative ways to stage those moments. For example, with a stage direction like “Eloise explodes into stars,” we had to figure out how to make that happen through design. We also brought a vending machine to life!

Was there anything odd, quirky, innovative, funny or otherwise noteworthy about your experience with this production?
This play is a jam-packed 90 minutes with many moving pieces, and there is a lot of magical realism in the script, so we needed to find practical, creative ways to stage those moments. For example, with a stage direction like “Eloise explodes into stars,” we had to figure out how to make that happen through design. We also brought a vending machine to life!

What do you want the audience to come away with after watching your production?
We believe that art is a powerful tool for change, and given our country’s current climate of violence, we were eager to bring people together to reflect upon what has become a national epidemic. The play is ultimately about connection and how our own personal worlds – and the world at large – shift when something terrible happens. We wanted our audience to walk away knowing that they might share more with the people around them than they might have initially thought. We also partnered with two advocacy organizations during the run (Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and No Stigmas), collecting donations after each performance and hosting talkbacks. In addition to the cathartic experience that we hope audience members had during the play, we were also eager to create a space in which we could talk about how to be proactive in today’s gun culture.

What is the best thing about working with this company and/or these artists?
The design for this play was vitally important to the storytelling. Our designers brought unique ideas to the table, ready to problem-solve and tackle all the challenges that came our way. All three elevated the work to something we couldn’t have ever envisioned on the page. They transformed the New Ohio Theatre in ways we’ve never seen before!

Did you learn anything or discover anything new while working on this project? If so, what?
We were able to incorporate into our projection design actual models of cannibal galaxies which we received from a NASA scientist! Also, sticking to the science theme, we had a talkback with a Professor of Astronomy from Columbia University all about galactic cannibalism.

What does receiving this nomination mean to you?
It is an incredible affirmation of the years of work we put into bringing this play to life and telling this important story.

Photos: Maria Baranova Photography

Friday, August 9, 2019

MEET THE 2019 NOMINEES: 36 Juniper

Produced by Wrong House Productions
By Jessika McQueen, Shannon McInally, and Alyssa Abraham (The Women of Wrong House)
Directed by Greg Pragel
Nominated for Outstanding Premiere Production of a Play

It's been a decade since high school, so it's probably about time to get the gang back together at their old stomping grounds, right? But as the liquor flows and the weather goes from bad to worse, secrets start to unravel and everyone is forced to confront a shared trauma from their past that most would rather forget. A dark comedy about nostalgia, friendship, and grief.

Starring Brendan Byrne, Shannon McInally, Joe Reece,  Jacob Dabby, Alyssa Abraham, Jessika McQueen, and Luke Joyce

Zach Weeks - Lighting Designer
Alex Duckner - Sound Designer
Kelsey Vivian - Production Stage Manager
Claudia Smith - Rehearsal Stage Manager
Jack Creaghan - Executive Producer

Photographers: AK47 Division (for all production images), Wrong House Productions (for promo image)

What attracted you to working on this project?
Jessika: Written by the Wrong House Women (myself along with my partners in crime Shannon McInally and Alyssa Abraham). We wrote 36 Juniper to tell the story of the aftermath of trauma. What happens when the cameras turn off and reporters are gone? When people stop checking in, aren't wondering anymore how you're holding up? When the world moves on to the next tragedy? When the next school shooting happens, and then the next and then the next, and what you lived through is for you to live with, because the world has moved on? We also set out to: 1) Write a play that catered exclusively to a millennial-aged cast with strong roles for young women; 2) Engage our generation and get them out to the theatre; and 3) Explore the state of said generation. This is a show by millennials about millennials. It is about how we handle our grief. It is about how we deal with our trauma. It is about the way the world tends to look at grief as if it were the flu: intense and awful, but short-lived and full recovery expected.

What was your favorite part of working on this production? And why?
Jessika:Creating the world of this project from the ground up is the most rewarding thing we have ever done. We came to the table with an inkling of an idea, went on a retreat to build that idea, built it into a story, spent months working and workshopping and shifting, and rebuilding, and then we brought in some of our favourite artists to be part of bringing it to life with us. We were the creators behind every element at every step, and building that was so rewarding.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production? And why?
Jessika:The content of this play was devastating at times. The production focuses on the aftermath of trauma, and investigating that trauma took a personal toll on many of the artists involved. Particularly as it centers on a trauma that is so prevalent in the world we are living in right now. It was important, necessary work, but it was challenging to say the least.

Shannon: The most challenging part of working on this production was the editing and rewriting process. I think this script went through about 7 or so drafts from conception to the final production, including cutting an entire character and redistributing their track among the others. The rewriting was particularly touchy since we wanted to leave as much open-ended as possible. We love a morally ambiguous story (who's the protagonist/who's the antagonist--in life it's not always so cut and dry, and we like when this is reflected in art), so we had to be really careful about what information we revealed, and when, and this sort of delicate chemistry turned out to be both a nightmare, and a really exciting challenge for us as playwrights. 

What was the most striking characteristic of the production for you?
Shannon: 36 Juniper is the first full length script that we've written! As a company we also produce a lot of original sketch comedy content, so we have experience in writing short comedic scenes, but this was our first foray into an entire world that the audience is invited into for 90 minutes.

What do you want the audience to come away with after watching your production?
Jessika:Ten years after high school, in a flyover state in the Midwest, Theo invites his old friends over for a night of drinking and catching up, with an ulterior motive of addressing some of the skeletons they’ve each locked up over the past decade. But not everybody is on board with bringing things out in the open, and there are some events that most would rather forget. As the night devolves, and a raging snowstorm traps them all in this house for the foreseeable future, everyone is forced to confront each other - and themselves - about the deadly shooting at their school that changed everyone’s life back when they were friends. Dealing with the decade long aftermath of that day has brought each of them to where they stand now in very different ways, yet the people they have become are still bound to one another by their shared past - and it’s usually the people closest to you that can damage you the most. A new millennial tragic-comedy about the wounds time could not heal.

Shannon: We want the audience to come away questioning; 1) What does it mean to be the survivor of a tragedy?;  2) What does it mean to be an "antagonist"? Can they be redeemed?; 3) Is there a correct/incorrect way to deal with trauma?

Why are the nominees from this production awesome?
Jessika:This nomination belongs to everyone involved with the production. We have a small, tight-knit team who did everything. It's incredible when your colleagues become your family because of a project that connects you all in a powerful, life-changing way.

What does this nomination mean to you?
Jessika:It is an incredible honor for us to be recognized for this production. We are a young company, very new to the Off-Off-Broadway scene, and for us to receive this nomination for a work that we fully wrote, produced, designed, and acted in means the world to us.

Shannon: This nomination has been such a whirlwind of nostalgia and emotion for us! We've always known that this play was special (and trust me, I know that NOT ALL PLAYS ARE SPECIAL). Everyone involved in this production put their whole beings into it--baggage, guts, and all--and it's incredible to hear that it's been as affecting to others as It's been to us. We know that this play has a future beyond this production, and this nomination has been a nice bit of validation of that, and is sort of motivating us to start pushing a little harder for the next step!