Friday, August 31, 2012

Modern-Day Griot Theatre Company

The Modern-Day Griot Theatre Company presented some searing and timely work this season that offered important social commentary on current events.

We asked Modern-Day's Founder and Artistic Director, 
Pharah Jean-Philippe to tell us about their work and the audience response.

What are the origins of the Modern-Day Griot Theatre Company?

As a little girl, I’ve always loved stories; whether it was in having stories told to me by my father or making up my own stories when I played. Years ago, my acting teacher said that acting is telling the story of the character in your truth. It changed my life forever. It freed me to marry the two things I love most: acting and the art of storytelling. It also gave me my purpose for life. My love of telling the story has led me to all work in all aspects of the performing arts; which includes: acting, directing, filmmaking, writing, teaching and producing. But make no mistake about it; I am not singularly any of these titles. I am more than that. Simply put, I am a storyteller. I am a passionate artist who is in love with her art and this is why Modern-Day Griot Theatre Company was founded. It is my desire that Modern-Day Griot Theatre Company produce works that will entertain, educate and heal.

Why name our theatre company “Modern‐Day Griot”? A griot (GREE oh) is a storyteller, singer, musician and oral historian who wandered from tribe to tribe, singing songs that tell stories of cultural heritage and traditions. I wanted to create an entity that preserved this storytelling tradition. We exist to tell stories that express the struggle to understand ourselves and the world around us; to create works that excite, inflame and heal as we recreate the intimacy and tradition of the storytelling art‐form.

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Homicide When the Streets Were Too Much is a strong piece that examines the street life of several black men. Why is it important to have this conversation and present this work?

Playwright Keith Antar Mason once said, “African American men aged 24‐40 are the most likely to die from homicides than any other ethnic group in the United States.”  I just couldn’t get that harrowing statistic out of my mind.  It was with that statistic in mind that I felt compelled to produce for black boys who have considered homicide when the streets were too much written by Mason.

for black boys… is evocative work that explores the inner landscapes of six Black men attempting to reclaim their humanity and redefine their masculinity while grappling with the harsh realities of street life, violence and racial and economic injustice in the wilds of the United States.

It was imperative that we, as a theatre company, produce this because unfortunately timeless, this powerful piece of American theatre continues to reverberate with meaning in this society full of Sean Bells, Oscar Grants, Troy Davises and Trayvon Martins.  for black boys… is a brutal yet beautiful testimony that effectively communicates the ongoing struggles with which the American black man grapples and America needs to hear. This piece shows us, in essence, that in spite of what we want to believe, free really isn’t free.

Through poetry, the spoken word and dance, we got to examine this phenomena, as told to us from the perspective of men who were condemned for being black and male in America, as each journeyed through inter‐relational landscapes and moved steadily toward healing and transformation.  Black boys, young and old as well as those who want to understand them, needed to see it and experience this.

What has the audience reaction been to the production?

Opening weekend, we had talkbacks with the Playwright, the actors as well as myself with the audience members. The piece resonated with them on so many different levels. For black men, it was cathartic to see their stories up on stage. They appreciated the vulnerability displayed by the actors as they emotionally went places most men refused to go in public, much less in private.  For everyone else (regardless of color), there seemed to be a new form of understanding that was cultivated and they were happy to experience the raw intimacy displayed by the men.

For Black Boys... is nominated for Outstanding Ensemble. Why was ensemble so important to this project and how did you achieve such a cohesive effort?

When I read the play, I was struck by the openness and raw emotion of it. To me, they weren’t just words on a page; they were a door to a secret room that, although I had an idea it existed, I never took the time to imagine. I saw the men move from institutionalism to individuality within the piece. I saw both the individuality of each man, as well as, the friendship that existed between the men. I wanted to bring that camaraderie onto the stage.

We had a table read where the actors got to see themselves and the piece as a whole. I explained my concept to them and where I saw them fit within the piece. Then, I met with the actors individually so as to work on their character development. We explored the actor’s relationship with each of the monologue as well as how each monologue drove their character. We discussed the fact that each monologue was a part of a through-line of their character and where did they see their character growth, if any, at the end of the play. We had some intense one-on-ones and, believe me, it was not for the faint of heart. One or two actors withdrew from the piece, unable or unwilling to deal with the emotional commitment that I envisioned. The rest that stayed were uncomfortable, because we spent weeks on the one-on-ones. I felt that since for black boys… was such a strong ensemble piece; I wanted to hold of on the male-bonding for as long as possible because I wanted each actor to be strong in their choices made within their character development and not be influenced by the group as they worked together.
The actors trusted my vision and went along with it and for that I am glad cause it was truly tested when one actor quit opening night. I called three phenomenal actors (David Roberts, Duane Boutte and Michael Alexis Palmer) to become Brother #5, the drill-sergeant, the overseer, the storyteller for these men, the perpetual outsider. The remaining brothers had to band together, feed off each other’s energy as well as the ever-changing energies of the different Brother #5s each show. I felt that this raised the stakes for all the actors as well as heighted their emotional awareness (of themselves, of each other and of the story as a whole).

I feel that the work that we did as well as the adversities we faced in the production bonded us (cast and crew) together and taught us that it wasn’t about us. It’s about the telling of these men’s stories; the repairing of souls; and the witnessing of raw intimacy the likes that is seldom seen. 

What was it like working at the Schermerhorn Center?

The Actor’s Fund Art Center at the Schermerhorn was a tremendous place to house our first production. Not only was the space beautiful, Matthew Brookshire, the Activities Manager, and his crew were amazing and patient.  It is the ideal theatre space for those who want to produce in Brooklyn. I will gladly produce more shows in that space.

What is next for Modern-Day Griot Theatre Company?

For our second season, we are working in the theme of social justice; so we are currently looking at several plays, shows and concepts that speak to that thematically. We are also looking to work collaboratively with a couple of theatre groups and artistic organizations this year: Reel Sisters of the Diaspora, Soul of Brooklyn Consortium, and Artistic New Directions, just to name a few.

We are currently in the process of updating our website: which will be up by October 2012; so please feel free to stop by to see our new season as well as pictures of our past season.

Contratulations to everyone at Modern-Day Griot Theatre!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

F*It Club

F*It Club
has nominations again this year for Outstanding Original Short Script. 

We asked Executive Director Allyson Morgan to talk to us about the success of their short play festival and some of the philosophies of this bold company.

What was the inspiration for The Spring Fling: My Best/Worst Date Ever.

F*It Club started The Spring Fling in 2011 as a collection of 8 short plays themed on a very general idea of dating, hooking up, etc.  For our presentation in 2012, we wanted to specify and refine that theme to tighten the show and make the pieces more cohesive, although we didn't want to lose the universality of relationships. As we were brainstorming, we kept coming back to awkward first dates, which made all of our company members and our playwrights excited - we knew we had hit on something.

What is your favorite line(s) from these plays?

Here are my favorite lines from our nominated plays:

A Map of Broken Glass
by Anna Ziegler: "Israel is a map of broken glass. And the pieces, the shards, don't fit together to make a whole. But it is the knowledge is the understanding that that is the case that makes us each whole. Do you see?"


by Lucy Boyle: coincidentally, my line :) "Find, somehow, all I wanted was still to find, Mr. X--someone, whomever he would be and he could be--you?"


You were nominated last year for your festival as well. What is it about your short play festival that you think judges and audiences are responding to?

We strive to be more than just another "festival."  All of the work is commissioned and carefully vetted, along with the entire artistic and production staff.  We also aim to speak to an under-represented twenty and thirty-something theatre going audience, and want to present work that feels visceral and exciting that can compete with online entertainment that pervades the zeitgeist. Additionally, we continue to work with colleagues who are at the top of their game in our community.

It seems that we are seeing more festivals in the Off-Off-Broadway community.  Why do you think that is?

Short plays are, frankly, easier and cheaper to rehearse and stage.  Additionally, they bring in a diverse and larger audience. The more participants you have involved, the bigger the potential for a wider reach.  There is also a hunger to work amongst the community and short play festivals or collections allow the maximum amount of participation.

F*It Club is one of the most creative names for a production company. What was the origin of that name?

F*It Club was born from the idea of "Why are we waiting for people or circumstances out of our control to give us work? F*ck it, let's make our own work."

What is F*It Club currently working on?

We're in pre-production for a short film, a web series, a fall site-specific theatre project, and Spring Fling 2013, tentatively titled The Spring Fling: The Morning After.

Congratulations to F*It Club!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Gideon Productions

Gideon Productions did some groundbreaking work this year producing a trilogy of sci-fi plays and negotiating a group discount on a performance space.

We asked Executive Producer Sean Williams to tell us about these exciting developments.

What are the origins of Gideon Productions?

In 1999, Mac Rogers was having a bit of writer's block at the same time as I was drowning in booze in Los Angeles. He wrote a play called Dirty Juanita and sent it to me to read, it was three characters and three hours and I was completely in love. Jordana and I had just been cast opposite each other in a short film and she was flying back to New York, so I told her I wanted to move and start a theater company, and would she like to produce plays with me and Mac. To both of our surprise, she said yes.

Mac and I had produced a play the summer after our last year in college in 1996, a musical version of As You Like It with a bunch of Chapel Hill bands playing the music, and we called the company "Gideon Productions". When we initially talked about starting the company in New York, Mac called it Gideon Productions as a shorthand and we just never came up with a different name.

Very early on, the three of us discovered a very specific aesthetic which we don't have a name for but we sometimes call "opposition". There is very clearly a character who is the hero... and we're attracted to when she does something just awful. There's a moment that is clearly very, very comic, and we're attracted to making the audience feel like crying right then. If we want to tell a huge story, we focus on one or two people, if we want to tell the story of a brother and sister, we create a worldwide apocalypse.

Mac and Jordana are particularly brilliant at doing this together. If Mac writes a very dark moment, Jordana fights like crazy to humanize it. If Mac writes a really light comic moment, Jordana does everything she can to find the depth in it. My job is mostly just to sit there and marvel at their genius.

Gideon did some groundbreaking work this year. What was the imputes to produce a sci-fi trilogy?

I think there is a growing group of indie artists who are affected by movies and television more than other plays. We definitely love creating work for the stage and we all want, more than anything, to continue to work in the theater, but we find the pace and plotting and subject material from film and television speaks to us. I might be wrong, it's impossible to know when you're in the middle of a movement, but it feels like the companies around us are excited by Battlestar Gallactica and Breaking Bad, rather than, say, Krapp's Last Tape.

So, we've always wanted to play with established genre. Hail Satan is like an office comedy mixed with a horror movie, Fleet Week is a cry for social justice disguised as a postwar musical, even Dirty Juanita is a discussion of straight male love affairs wrapped in an after-school special about domestic violence. When you use genre specific language, you can skip over a lot of the stuff that drags a play down. If your characters are Ninjas, and you find out that one of them killed the other's master, then you know what the deal is - they're mortal enemies, you can skip all the stuff about why.

Now, I should admit that Mac came to us and said "I think I'm writing a trilogy that's way too big for us to produce, and I don't even know why I'm doing it because it's gonna take a million dollars to create on stage... but I can't stop myself." And Jordana, Sandy and I said, "Do it. We'll figure it out," without having a SINGLE CLUE how we were gonna do it. Tim Errickson at Boomerang came to me and said, "I think we can work together to do this" and he totally saved us. He's the one who made it possible, by suggesting the BFG collective.

What where the benefits and challenges of producing a trilogy of plays?

The challenge is making the decision about exactly how to pace the programs. We have a firm belief that you have to be careful about asking too much from our community without being willing to invest more than you're asking. We are avid theater-goers and we believe strongly in supporting our brothers and sisters in the arts, with money whenever possible but more importantly as audience members.

The challenge was to figure out a schedule that would string together the pieces but wouldn't ask more from our community than they wanted to give. The LAST thing in the WORLD we wanted was to have people grudgingly showing up to our shows thinking they had JUST seen something we produced, but we also wanted to make sure that the last piece was reasonably fresh in the minds of our audience members. Another challenge was convincing audience members that they didn't have to have seen any previous installments to enjoy the current production.

But MAN, once people got invested in the characters, it was an absolute thrill to watch the second and third installment with everyone. Because we're seeing the adult versions, in the third play, of the kids in the first, we get to see how our parents influence our lives long after we're gone and forgotten. Mac got to watch the first play, and it informed rewrites on the second, just as watching the second informed rewrites on the third.

There were so many tiny moments in the last piece Sovereign that delighted the audience. When Ronnie hands Abbie a cellphone and says "I want you to have it", when she twists the alien's ear and says, "it's all right if you want to cry" - these moments were put in the third play by Mac because of the impact of the first play. Nobody ever gets to do that, it's an absolutely singular experience. It makes me feel like we should always do trilogies, exploring different genres. We could do fantasy, we could do a backstager, we could do political thrillers... if Mac would write it, I'd do it every year, regardless of how difficult it is to do.

Gideon worked with Boomerang Theatre Company and Flux Theatre Ensemble to rent a performance space essentially at bulk rate. What was that experience like?

I'd like to be clear about this - we did negotiate a good rate on the space, but that wasn't the most important aspect of working with these other companies. We saved money on several big ticket problems like space - namely, we shared expenses for publicity and on load-in and load-out of the space, we shared physical set pieces and we shared labor on construction - but more than that, we were a support structure for one another over the entire six month stretch.

Normally, you only have your own company to go to for security. But when we hit something crazy, we could write an email to the entire collective and say, "am I nuts? Did this just happen?" and you've got like-minded artists who can say, "yeah, weird..." or just as likely, "I can see why you think that, but I think it makes sense if you look at it this way..."

We had each other's backs. When I saw their shows and liked them, I had a sense of ownership and pride - these were all of us that did this. And when Gus and Heather from Flux saw Sovereign, they just beamed at us, the way my sister and brother beam at me when they see my shows. When any of us found out we had big reviewers come in, we'd send out an email and everyone would rally. It was a really beautiful relationship and the only reason we can't continue is because our three companies are moving at different speeds.

Do you think that more productions will employ this kind of collective bargaining?

It's difficult to say. Boomerang and Gideon have been around for over a decade, and Flux is the new kid on the block at something like eight years old. If other companies want to create a collective just to keep prices down, they might find it difficult to move as a collective because they might not have the same sense of artistic like-mindedness or producerial maturity (for lack of a better word).

In order for a collective to work, you have to be fully committed to producing at the very highest possible level, but you have to be flexible enough to not sweat the specifics too much. Many companies, particularly young companies, feel like they are going to change the world and have a manic sense that NOW is the time for their greatness, but in order to remain open to working in a collective you have to allow for other big thinkers and other leaders to take the reins.

If I am going to conjure up the very worst part of working within our collective, I'd be hard-pressed to come up with anything negative to say. But that's because all of us were capable of allowing the other companies the latitude to do what they needed to.

Tim at Boomerang was always making sure we weren't using our collective bargaining to shortchange anyone, so some of our negotiations would chill a bit under his direction. Flux has its own collective, in a way, so while Gideon and Boomerang could make a decision in 5 or 10 minutes, we'd have to wait a day or so for Flux to weigh in on decisions. My emails are always eleven sentences longer than they need to be.

If we were younger companies these would be obstacles, but we've been around long enough to know that none of these things are even problems, they're just personality quirks and are actually lovely. Think about it - Tim was always making sure we weren't screwing anyone and Flux was always weighing each decision carefully... and these are the worst things we can say about each other.

What is Gideon's next project?

We don't produce by a calendar, we work out of a kind of compulsion. Mac is currently working on six scripts for the stage, a screenplay and a pilot for TV. As soon as one of his stageplays takes on a life of its own, we'll know what we're producing next. More than likely, we're looking at the late spring of 2013. If Mac hasn't written anything, I have a whole host of playwrights I've been dying to produce, so we'll see where we are by the end of the year.

Shaun Bennet Wilson is constantly in demand as an actor, so we're trying to make sure she has the space to take on every possible opportunity. She's so brilliant, seeing her on stage is just a miracle and the rest of Gideon is trying to make sure we have the chance to see it as much as possible before she's on stage in our next show.

Jordana is directing for a whole host of other companies. She's doing Kill Shakespeare at ComicCon this year, and directing one acts and readings for, it seems like, half the indie theater companies in New York. Sandy is designing and building sets for the other half.

Congratulations Gideon Production!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Fault Line Theatre

Fault Line Theatre
has garnered six nominations this year for two different productions: Frogs by Aristophanes and From White Plains by Michael Perlman.

We asked Fault Line's Communications Manager, Matt Clevy to tell us about this relatively new company.

What are the origins of Fault Line Theatre?

Fault Line Theatre is a collaboration between Craig Wesley Divino, Tristan Jeffers and Aaron Rossini, founded in 2010. Craig and Aaron were graduate students at the Brown University/Trinity Rep MFA Programs while Tristan was assisting Eugene Lee and designing for Brown and Trinity. They worked together on several projects, including a production of Henry V that they built together, and about a year after Craig and Aaron graduated, the three decided they wanted to continue producing their own work. Fault Line Theatre was created in August of 2010, and launched with a production of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus in February 2011.

You did a version of Aristophanes The Frogs.  How did you update it so that it would resonate for modern audiences?

J Jacob Goldberg Photo 2012
Aaron was first drawn to direct Frogs because it created an opportunity to combine the two things he loves the most: theatre and cartoons. He saw in Aristophanes’ ancient comedy the origins of the vaudevillian performers that made Looney Tunes so brilliant. With that in mind we set to playing with language and movement to find the best way to nail each joke, which was usually the Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck way. We also added a musical element to the show: replacing what could be dry chorus speeches with hilarious and rousing musical numbers composed for us by Eric Thomas Johnson. Using familiar comedic tropes allowed us to create a world that anyone who's ever seen a cartoon would recognize. Once we'd created that world, our job was to tell the story as clearly, immediately and specifically as we could. Through the rehearsal and design processes, we discovered that Frogs is really a play about the purpose of art, not just in the world of Aristophanes, but in our world. The play literally asks why we make art, and if you’re a producer of independent theatre that’s a question that certainly hits home.

Fault Line Theatre created From White Plains. What was the inspiration for that? and how have audiences reacted to the piece?

J Jacob Goldberg Photo 2012
From White Plains started with an idea for a moment: ‘a man wins an award for a screenplay about the death of his friend, a gay man bullied to suicide ten years before, and in his acceptance speech says the name of the bully.’ Michael Perlman and Fault Line Theatre had wanted to work together for some time, but hadn’t found the right play, and in December 2011 Michael brought us this idea and we decided to develop it together. We brought a cast and design team on board, and for the next four months we talked about what the story could be, who the characters were and what we were trying to accomplish. The entire team contributed source material, including news, pictures, videos and personal stories to a tumblr feed which now serves as a record of the process. Michael brought a first draft of the script to the actors in early May, and that script was collaboratively workshopped and rewritten over the four week rehearsal process, with Michael making his final changes the Thursday of the final week.

The reaction to From White Plains was overwhelmingly positive. Reviews were excellent, and we’re very proud to have received nominations from the NY Innovative Theatre Awards. I think people were affected by the play in very personal and very different ways. From White Plains’ great success is that is not a message play. The characters in the play have vastly different experiences and different perspectives on how to deal with them, and the focus of the action is on their relationships to one another. That allows the play to discuss a very important issue without beating on any particular drum, which in turn gives people a lot of space to choose how they engage. We held talkbacks with scholars from Brown and NYU, and the discussions were very exciting.

Fault Line was nominated for two different productions. What is the unique quality in your work that you think judges and audiences responded to.

I think it comes down to clarity and effective storytelling. We excel at rehearsing plays, we take our time at the table and refuse to let anything go unexplored. Rehearsing well means that we can communicate complex ideas and difficult questions simply and personally, and because we know what we’re doing the audience feels that we’re taking care of them and can relax and really engage. We also prioritize our actors above other considerations, and we’ve been able to assemble really incredible teams of actors for each show. There was a lot of spectacle in Frogs, but its strength came from the people on the stage.

What is Fault Line currently working on?

We’ve got a few exciting things coming up this season. One of our main goals is to find a venue for a larger, longer production of From White Plains, whether on our own or co-produced with another company. The play is important and we want to share it with as broad an audience as possible. This fall we’ll be producing a live performance of a somewhat notorious sci-fi radio show, and we’ve got a great group of people assembled to make that happen. There will be another new play in the late winter, and looking further ahead, we are developing a completely new adaptation of A Christmas Carol that will see production in December of 2013.
 Congratulations to the Fault Line Theatre!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Meet the 2012 Nominees

On July 23rd we officially announce the 2012 New York Innovative Theatre Award Nominees.
The 2012 Nominees include 137 individual artists, 52 different productions and 57 Off-Off-Broadway theatre companies.  

Over the next few weeks, we will highlight some of these amazing companies and artists here on our blog.

List of all of the 2012 Nominees
Montage of 2012 Nominee Announcement by photographer David Fletcher
Photos from 2012 Nominee Announcement
Details about the 2012 Awards Ceremony

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Simplest Gifts

Contributed by Nolan Doran

How did you get to know the Innovative Theatre Foundation?
This summer, I had the opportunity to intern with the Innovative Theatre Foundation.

What, primarily, do you feel you learned?
I learned first hand about the people who make up the Off-Off Broadway community in New York City.

What is unique, in your experience, to the Off-Off-Broadway community?
They bravely make art because they have a burning need to create new and daring works, despite being overworked and under-funded. They amaze me by magically producing on shoestring budgets.

What is unique, in your experience, to the Innovative Theatre Foundation?
The IT Foundation's founding executive directors Shay Gines and Nick Micozzi understand that Off-Off Broadway is a vibrant landscape, populated by the unsung heroes of the New York Theatre Scene. They recognize the need to not only raise awareness of Off-Off-Broadway but to encourage a sense of community.

How do you feel they’re fulfilling that need?
While I was helping put together the nomination party for their annual IT Awards, one thing became very clear to me: each of those people bringing new works to life -- especially in times with little to no funding for the arts  -- must feel included to want to be part of a community.

What was your most surprising or unexpected discovery?
Growing up in the South, I once believed the age-old stereotype that all New Yorkers were cold, untrusting, and unfriendly, but I discovered that theatre people in New York are some of the warmest and most giving people anywhere. I discovered how the Off-Off-Broadway scene is very much a community within itself. They understand that the simplest gifts of someone's time and talent can culminate in spectacular results. Every gift of time or talent helps and it flows like good karma.

Please share with us one of the highlights of your internship experience.
I met veteran director Dan Bianchi of Radio Theatre! One of the things that I love about the Innovative Theatre Foundation is its wonderful network for theatre people to meet and interact with. They freely give of their time and support the IT Awards.

So, is it safe to say you felt inspired?
Yes. I try to dare myself to think outside the box and let go of limitations.


Nolan Doran is a Performer and Writer from Cycle 22 of the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

This is Fiction

Contributed by Khadijjah Mote

Summer in the city has always reminded me of two things: live concerts and live theater. Live theater rings bells from every corner in this great city, and the Indie Theater world never ceases to amaze eager audiences looking for something raw and fresh. With so much happening in the theater circuit, one can't help but to hear the buzz going around about InViolet Repertory Company's performance of "This Is Fiction" written by Megan Hart, directed by Shelley Butler and performing at Cherry Lane Studios. Shelley Butler's take on a close to home story; being a native New Jerseyan myself. Aubyn Philabaum plays a young rebellious Amy, returning home to suburban New Jersey after fleeing one bad situation after another. A life that she leaves far behind after her venture off to college to excite herself with more than what home had to offer. Philabaum's portrayal of Amy, a self absorbed damsel in distress, showed much contrast to the other characters, sticking out like a sore thumb in her own home. A home that is being relived in a biographical novel she plans on writing about her sick father and alcohol addicted mother.

Within that home is a bitter big sister, played by Michelle David, who's life lead her to taking care of a senile father and not getting to live the life her younger sister left them for. David effortlessly carries the hurt Celia, with sharp humor and intense emotional hurt, one can't help but to wish to simply give her a hug and thank her for staying behind to care for her family. Something she grudges after her younger sister, Amy.

The most rewarding performance of the night goes to the lovable senile father, brilliantly played by Richard Masur. Seeing him perform live was like finding a four leaf clover, so very lucky. With ticks and quirks, he stole the show with his charm and loving spirit. You felt bad for him because it was never quite certain if he ever really knew the fate of his wife, or if it was something he intentionally blocked out in order to find harmony in his household. Nonetheless, his performance is definitely a must-see.

I'm eager to see what's next for InViolet Rep, but I'm sure if that's what they have to start off with, there's no telling where their season could take itself. All that is certain is that you can definitely count me in attendance.


Khadijjah Mote, Innovative Theatre Foundation OutReach Intern 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Theatre is the Language We Speak

Contributed by Maggie Kissinger

My theatre production professor said to the class one day, “We do theatre because there’s nothing else we can do. If there was, we’d do it.” He doesn’t mean we literally can’t do anything else, but that nothing else would make us get out of bed in the morning. I believe this is true. Can anyone in the theatre business imagine doing anything but theatre? But what’s most interesting about this statement is that if there was something else we could do, we’d do it. Theatre isn’t something people voluntarily sign themselves up for. Why would we? Theatre is a ‘a lot of work for very little pay’ kind of business. It’s a cruel, shove-you-in-the-dirt, sweaty, scruffy world. For an actor, the business is just malicious. It kicks aside and spits on talented people leaving them with salt in their wounds. For directors, the business is like a twisted personal trainer, pushing them into the ground and never giving them a break for water. For designers the business is a cruel parent with a tight wallet, only giving their child a dollar for lunch.

So why do we do it? Because theatre is the language we speak. We can’t help it. It’s how we communicate. Our communication was practiced and honed as we discovered the creative power within ourselves. That creativity that blossomed within us gave us more joy that anything else. It gave us a reason to smile, laugh, dance, read and learn. Without theatre, we’d have little reason to do any of those things.

The message we deliver through the language of theatre has the potential to affect and connect with others. It has the potential to lift their soul, to warm their hearts and stir their mind. This is what we live for. We work our asses off in auditions, in the workshop, in rehearsal to bring our joy and passion to the world and hopefully stir something in someone. We do it because is satiates our own soul and brings joy and excitement into the souls of others.

I was reminded of why I do theatre when I saw Venus in Fur. I was blown away by the performance. It was passionate, invigorating, frustrating, confusing and heart stopping. It lit a fire in my soul. I felt more alive by watching the performance. I thought to myself, “This is how I want to make people feel” And I thought, that’s why we do theatre, to make people feel alive, and make them think.

The play was excellent. It was superbly structured in inducing a thrilling and darkly sensual atmosphere. Hugh Dancy performs the role of Thomas, a frustrated playwright living just on the edge of life, hiding behind society-induced denial and fear of raw power and emotion. Nina Arianda is Vanda, the powerful temptress disguised as an actress aspiring for a role in Thomas’ play. 

The play starts off literally with a bang. A flash of lighting and a crack of thunder signal the removal of the satin purple cover over the set and Dancy grabs the audience, wasting no time to begin the show. Superb lighting and sound execution keeps the storm going throughout the whole show, guiding the metaphor it has against the story. Arianda and Dancy have powerful chemistry on stage. Together they create an erotic tension that leaves the audience rapt and stunned into silence. Simple activities, such as Thomas zipping up Vanda’s dress, or putting on her shoes, carry incredible, unexpected sensual weight and not a single movement was heard in the house.

Ives’ play didn’t suffocate the audience with all of the tension, however. The humor and wit that was deliciously brought out by Dancy and Arianda kept the play alive and surging. Arianda’s performance of Vanda was a brilliant display of energy and devotion to the balance of the erratic, ditzy, caricatured young actress and the elegant, smart, fierce woman living in 1870’s Germany she goes back and forth between. Dancy equals the intensity in his transformation from a composed, solid man who knows what he wants to the confused, aggressive and vigorous person succumbing to the power of lust and love he had hidden from.

This production was truly the definition of theater: giving us something that excites with its raw power, compels with its quiet strain, amuses with its sparkling wit, and stimulates us into action. And seeing it reminded me that we do this because we must. Because if we did anything else, the world would be a duller place.


Maggie Kissinger is going into her third year at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY studying Speech Communications and Drama. She hails from Cincinnati, OH but loves working here in New York City. This summer she’s been one of two Dramaturgy and Literary Management interns for Rising Sun Performance Company as well as the Social Media intern for the Innovative Theatre Foundation. She is the President of Spectrum Players, the on-campus play club. Past credits include dramaturg for Under Milk Wood at Glass Bandits Theatre Company and dramaturg and ASM for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Hofstra University.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I Dreamed a Dream

Contributed by Caitlyn Piccirillo

 Hi all! My name is Caitlyn Piccirillo and I am the Off-Off Broadway Database Intern for the Innovative Theatre Foundation. As this is my first ever blog post, I thought it would be appropriate to tell you all why I began to love the theatre in the first place, and what inspires me. We all know the theatre can be a place of chaos, excitement, story-telling, intrigue, and social change; but for me, it all started out as magic. 

When I was three, my mother took me to go see the original production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on Broadway.  Being a well-versed Disney-child, she figured that it would be the perfect place for an outing with a young kid.  Little did she realize the obsession that would begin to bud from that first night. 

I could not believe my little eyes.  The lights, the costumes, the singing, the utensils were all real; something that I had seen dozens of times on a screen was alive in front of my eyes. If I wanted to, I could’ve ran up and touched them – I knew in that moment that I had to keep connected to this magical life.  The life that brings animated characters from my dreams into reality.

From then on I saw at least one Broadway musical a year; being fed in the meantime with a cassette we had bought from Noodle Kaboodle (Anyone remember that store?) that had all the big numbers from all the popular musicals of that time.  The one song that finally fanned my obsession into an open flame was “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables.  I listened to that song over and over; watched the 10th anniversary religiously.  I was very determined to see that show. Every time I passed that billboard, I would beg my mom to take me to see it, and after so many Maybe’s I figured I would never get my chance. 

But then one day, my mother finally realized I was “mature” enough to understand the show.  That night was the best night of my young life. I watched Valjean sweat and spit; I figured out how the trapdoor worked; I caught the revolutionaries’ fliers; I spoke to the conductor at intermission.  I knew from that day forward that I could not just be connected to the theatre; I couldn’t just be an idle observer – I had to create. 

From close study of the musical Les Miserables, I realized I had a penchant for social justice issues (I mean, give Fantine a break – why can’t she be a single mother?).  I realized as time went on that theatre wasn’t only for entertainment, but could be used to make a difference.  By creating good theatre, I know that I can change someone’s entire life – either by helping a social cause, or by inspiring someone else to join our crazy, chaotic, magical world.


Caitlyn Piccirillo is currently a rising senior in Adelphi University’s Acting program.  Besides working as an actress, singer, and stagehand, Caitlyn is helping develop the Off-Off-Broadway Database through the Innovative Theatre Foundation. Some of her favorite productions worked on include: The Vagina Monologues, Fahrenheit 451, and Who Will Carry The Word.  She is excited to be embraced by the Indie Theatre Community, and hopes to continue immersing herself in its culture.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Theater for Social Change

Contributed by Gabrielle Nieporent

As a current college student studying theater, Stage Management to be specific, I know it would be close to impossible to predict where my life will go once I graduate from school. Sure, I make tons of plans and set goals for myself, but I think it would be unrealistic for me to say I know exactly what I’ll be doing two years from now.  But there is one thing I can say with certainty: I will be making theater. No matter what it takes, I know that theater will always be a part of my life.

Why theater? I often get asked. I do theater because it is living, ever changing, and has the power to reach people in a way nothing else can. By being so immediate, theater taps deeply into human empathy. This power allows theater to be an impetus for change.

I was fortunate enough to experience theater as an outlet for social change last summer. I was interning for Karen Armstrong, the Production Stage Manager of The Normal Heart while the law to legalize same-sex marriage was being put to a vote. The Normal Heart was written by Larry Kramer in 1985 chronicling the early years of the AIDS epidemic, specifically the delayed support of the government due to the demographic [gay men] the disease was targeting. (I highly suggest you read it if you never have). At the end of the play, a mock deathbed wedding takes place between the two lovers. As I watched this play every night for two months I couldn’t help but think ‘yes, we have come so far, and yet we still have so much farther to go,’ in terms of equal rights for the LGBTQ community. And that is why the revival of the play was so necessary at that specific moment in time. The play pulls you in and takes you on a full cathartic journey, making you feel anger, sadness, frustration, and even humor all in one night. It is impossible to see this play and not be moved. The night same-sex marriage was legalized in New York is one I will never forget.

I was sitting in the green room with some of the understudies, refreshing our phones as many times as we could, searching for the conclusion of the vote. As the play ran on the TV monitor. It was the second the actors stepped on stage to do their curtain call that the vote was passed. Those of us in the green room jumped up in celebration and proceeded to run down onto the deck of the stage to tell the crew as well as the actors as they filed off stage. It was a moment of triumph—a moment that made us believe change for the better was coming, and that our show playing at that time was not just some coincidence. After hearing the news, our actors proceeded to walk back on stage and notify the audience for the first time of this historic moment. That mock wedding that took place at a deathbed could now become a reality in the state of New York. Re-experiencing the past struggles and devastation of the gay community through this play made this moment that much more triumphant. Everyone in the theater that night experienced history being made. It was a thrill to be there. We couldn’t help but feel that this play and this vote happened at the same time for a reason; that somehow the education and experience we had provided really did make a difference. If a theater production can change at least one audience member’s perspective in some way, then it can lead to change. Change comes from the individual. From people becoming educated and seeing something in a way they hadn’t before, and then acting differently because of it. Due to its empathetic nature, theater is an incredible way to accomplish this. We create social change by altering one perspective at a time, and by enabling people to see a situation in a new way by appealing to their desire to be entertained and their ability to feel.

I will remember that moment in that theater for the rest of my life. It reaffirms why I do theater. What I already believed—that theater has the power to facilitate social change.


Gabrielle Nieporent is a current Theater and Sociology double major at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. Her main area of interest is Stage Management. Last summer she was the Stage Management Intern for The Normal Heart and The Addams Family National Tour. Past college credits include: Self-Fictionalize (stage manager), The Intruder (stage manager), Dog Sees God (assistant stage manager), Romeo and Juliet (assistant stage manager), and The Servant of Two Masters (assistant stage manager). She is the Co-General Manager of the Skidmore Theater Department. This summer she was the company management intern for the Innovative Theatre Foundation.

Friday, August 10, 2012

We Love Our Interns

We have a truly awesome group of amazing theatre creators helping us out this year.  Our entire staff keeps saying how incredible they are. They are smart, responsible, capable, fun and very talented.

In honor of them, next week will be "WE LOVE OUR INTERNS" week here on our blog.

We will be featuring posts by these wonderful artists.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Like most Indie Theatre organizations, we have many ways you can "keep up," "stay in touch" and "be in the know" about the actives of the Innovative Theater Foundation. We are live and virtual. We are diversified, multi-channeled, multi-mediaed and socially networked.

Here is some of the ways you can "connect" with us:

Facebook: Events, activities, photos, quotes, updates, interesting Inide Theatre related stuff. We share it with our friends. Do you like us? or do you "Like" us like us? Friend us on Facebook.

We're twitterpated. Almost like Facebook but in 140 characters and forwarding stuff we think you'd be interested in. Follow us on Twitter.

Blog: We ask some of the most interesting artists working Off-Off-Broadway to contribute to our blog. And umm, it kicks ass. Want to know about creating gore for the stage? We've got a blog about that. Want ideas about how to green your productions? We've got a blog about that. Do you want to know why theatre is like Cosmology? Yep, We've even got a blog about that. Want to know what is on the minds of theatre artists just like you, check out our blog. Look at that, you are already here.

Show us yours and we'll show you ours. Follow us on Pinterest. We share some of our favorite photos, graphics and images. We'd like to see some of your favorite theatre images as well. 

YouTube: Videos from the Nominee Announcement Parties, Ceremonies, tribute videos, interviews with theatre people and other stuff that we've recorded. Check us out on YouTube.

Update: Our Update is sent out once a month and includes stories about the community, information about important events and happenings, details about our activities and spotlights OOB artists. It is currently going to 21,000 theatre lovers in the NYC area. If you want to be one of them, sign up today.

MySpace: We do actually have a MySpace page. If you do too and you feel we've done a crapass job of updating it, you're right. Leave a comment and tell us that you use MySpace and we should do a better job of keeping it up to date. Our MySpace page.

Website: Our website is really the hub of our activity. From there you can: register your productions, vote on shows, take the surveys, read the results of the surveys, check out community events and news, read about us and find shows that you want to attend. AND we are planning a big redesign to be launched very soon.

Our busy season is upon us and we have some really exciting things that we are currently working on. If you want to stay connected, choose your poison.