Saturday, September 23, 2017

Such Nice Shoes

Written by Christine Renee Miller
Directed by Andrea Dantas
Produced by FrokieCo


Nominations: Outstanding Solo Performance: Christine Renee Miller; Outstanding Innovative Design: Lianne Arnold


Christine Renee Miller


In this exclusive interview, 2017 IT Awards nominees Christine Renee Miller and Lianne Arnold share the process of creating a unique one-woman show that explores what it’s like to walk in someone else's shoes.
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What attracted you to this production?
Christine: I started writing this show over four years ago when I was struggling with being overworked and wondering how my creative outlet as an actress disintegrated. I was directing and championing other people's work but somehow allowed my own to fall by the wayside. Initially, this production was meant to "showcase" my talents but as I started to connect to the characters I'd see around me like the subway buskers, the growing amount of homeless on the street, my very wealthy yoga clients who had it all but didn't have happiness, the everyday New Yorkers trying to get by (this is just a sampling of the 27 characters I portrayed) — I realized this show was so much more than just about what I was experiencing. It became about connecting all of us to one another, learning what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes, seeing how similar we all are on this journey. SUCH NICE SHOES became a (funny) show about empathy and community and once I realized that, I knew it was something that was worth sharing.

Lianne: The way Christine was interested in using video and projections to act as another character on stage.


What was your favorite part of working on this production?
Christine: At first, I thought it was crazy to write 27 characters but then I got to work with my director, Andrea Dantas, and diligently created 27 real people. Even if a character only had one line, they needed to be a real person who behaved authentically. It was a true joy to see who lived inside me! And it gave me a deeper perspective on the lives of those around me.

Lianne: It was so much fun to run around New York filming for the show.


What was the most challenging part of working on this production?
Christine: It might be the same answer as my favorite part of working on this production. Bringing 27 characters to life is no small feat. One character in particular that would elude me sometimes was the role of the doctor. Sometimes the doctor was a woman, sometimes a man, sometimes a masochist, sometimes aloof. It was difficult to pin him or her down, and I think it's because in reality, the doctor was a frustrating person to connect to. Ultimately I stopped trying to perfect him and just allowed him to speak through me, humanly, honestly.

Lianne: Figuring out what the character of the projections was and how it supported Christine's journey.





 

What was an aspect of this production that is unique to the project?
Christine: I enjoyed working with my projection designer Lianne Arnold to get the footage for her incredible imagery of New York. She outfitted me with a Go-Pro camera, and we took the actual route I do in the play when I leave home at 5:30 am to teach my yoga clients throughout the city. We journeyed from my apartment in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn to Midtown, to the UES, across the park to the UWS and down to TriBeCa then returning in the evening back to Brooklyn. We learned a lot about one another and spent a pretty awesome day trekking this crazy city together, seeing many of the characters I portray in the show.

Lianne: Running around New York and on the subways with a hidden Go-Pro on my actor's chest!


What was it like working with this small group of people?
Christine: As a solo show performer, I've had the privilege of collaborating with many awesome people on my shows. This particular team was made up of almost all women, and we bonded so much on our own struggles of "making it" in this city while also staying true to our creative purpose. It took a village to put on a one-person show and I couldn't have done it without them. It was an inspiring, hilarious, laid back, fierce group of women.

Lianne: Everyone is so nice and supportive.


What did you learn from working on this production?
Christine: It's funny, a big aspect of the show is about letting go of control in order to survive a harrowing day. I had to let go of a lot in order to stay sane on the production side of things. For instance, I hired a stage manager months in advance but one week before opening night, he had another project he wanted to work on, so bailed. In an intense scramble to find someone new, the creative gods gav me Gahlia Eden — a young, motivated, never-before stage manager who rocked it. Honestly, I felt so safe in her hands and was happy that things didn't go exactly as planned with the previous SM. Sometimes, we really don't know what surprises are in store for us. And for Gahlia
and I, a beautiful friendship and working relationship was created — something I will forever be grateful for.

Lianne: How much footage you can process from a Go-Pro in a single day.

 
 
 


Follow the production on Twitter:
Such Nice Shoes: @SuchNiceShoes
FrokieCo: FrokieCo



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



Monday, September 18, 2017

Ragtime


Book by Terrence McNally; Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens; Music by Stephen Flaherty
Directed by Mark Harborth
Produced by Gallery Players

Nomination: Outstanding Production of a Musical




About the Company: The Gallery Players’ mission is to provide the Brooklyn Community with professional-quality theater at an affordable cost, to nurture and support theater artists, and to cultivate an appreciation of theater in future generations.

About the Production: Three sets of characters, each representing Black, Jewish, and White America collide in a turn of the century musical that explores what it means to be American and how we treat each other has immense consequences on history.

Producer Jonathan King tells us about staging this historical musical with 36 actors and a real car!

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What first attracted you to this project?

Jonathan: The timeliness of this show.

What was your favorite part of this production?

Jonathan: Casting 36 actors to sing in a 99 seat theater and having a wall of sound immerse our audience in this musical masterpiece.

What was the most challenging part of this production?

Jonathan: Casting 36 people and the logistics of that in such a small space.

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

Jonathan: Seeing themselves in these characters. Also feeling that high quality theatre can live in Brooklyn, not just on Broadway.

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

Jonathan: We built a real car in our theater!

What was it like working with this group of artists?

Jonathan: I think this is the best show I have worked on with Gallery Players and think the cast and creative team did a stellar job.

Make sure to follow the Gallery Players on Twitter @tgpbrooklyn



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

 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

In the Event of My Death


Written by Lindsay Joy
Directed by Padraic Lillis
Produced by Stable Cable Lab Co. in association with IRT Theater

Nomination: Outstanding Actress in a Featured Role, Kara Young


Photos by Katy Atwell
About the Company: Stable Cable Lab Co. strives to create an environment for new work and theater artists to flourish. We do this through developmental readings and workshops, ensemble laboratories and training, and productions. We are dedicated to producing new plays that are intrinsically theatrical, ensemble-driven and bold.

About the Production: Eight small-town twenty-somethings who know each other from high school share an impromptu time of mourning and celebration after the suicide of a mutual friend.


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"Kara Young as Kate packs a great deal of intensity and complexity into her time onstage..." ~ Leah Richards, Culture Catch 

What first attracted you to this project?

Kara: It's a beautiful play that really hit home for me.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Kara: Being challenged to get to a certain emotional level every night and make it come from the most truthful place.

What was the most challenging part of this production for you?

Kara: Crying.

Did you learn anything new during your time working on this production?

Kara: I discovered so much of myself during this production.

What was it like working with this group of artists?

Kara: They are incredibly supportive.

Make sure to follow Stable Cable Lab Co. on Twitter @stablecable