Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Sweeney Todd

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Directed and Choreographed by Judith Jarosz
Produced by Theater 2020

Nominees: Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role, Zack Krajnyak; Outstanding Ensemble: Adam Baritot, Jefferson Behan, Amber Dewey, Samuel Floyd, David Fuller, John Jeffords, Zack Krajnyak, Samantha Kronenfeld, Lorinne Lampert, Tom McDonough, James Neufeld, Chrysten Peddie, Catherine Purcell, Mary Thorne, Tyler Whitaker


 

About the Company:  Theater 2020, Inc., Visions for a New Millennium is dedicated to producing classic and contemporary plays and musicals for a 21st Century audience and to providing a nurturing atmosphere for both emerging artists and seasoned professionals. We are dedicated to reaching out to the community and to producing quality theater at affordable prices, utilizing established professionals and fostering young artists as they emerge into the theatrical mainstream, with a particular emphasis on providing more opportunities for women in theater.


About the Production: Originally done in 1979 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet
Street
is a musical thriller with music by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. The musical was based on the 1973 play by Christopher Bond. There have been numerous revivals and a film adaptation.


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What first attracted you to this project?
Baritot: I worked with this company the previous year and had a wonderful time!
I am a great lover of Sondheim's works, and I always jump at a chance to do
them.

Purcell: I am a huge Stephen Sondheim fan and I have never had the chance to
work on one of his shows, so when this presented itself I jumped.
 
Fuller: The show itself. Stephen Sondheim.

Jarosz: Sondeim is brilliant.
 

Peddie: Sweeney Todd has been one of those bucket list shows for me since I
first got into theater as a young person. I was also drawn to the idea of gender-
blind casting the role of Pirelli, as if it were a pants-role in an opera. It can often
feel like there are not nearly enough opportunities for women in musical theater,
so creating one by making this role available to women, I thought, was so cool. It
was so much fun to be able to swagger around like a true lothario, while singing
high C's in the process!


Lampert: That's easy! Mrs. Lovett has been a dream role of mine since I was in
high school, and Sweeney Todd is my favorite show.
 

Thorne: I love singing Sondheim!
 

Behan: This score is a masterpiece, it is a dream to sing.
 

Krajnyak: Sweeney Todd has always been one of my all-time favorite pieces and I jumped at the chance to work on it.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?
Baritot: The opportunity to work with such a talented group of actors and producers. I feel blessed to have been a part of such a production!
 
Purcell: I fell in love with the show itself; every night something new revealed
itself to me in the script or the score, it's a real treasure trove.
 

Fuller: Working with the great people involved.
Jarosz: The staff, the cast, the crew, and ... did we mention SONDHEIM?

Peddie:
Singing Sondheim's glorious score. That music is unparalleled and it was a joy to come to rehearsals and performances and get to sing it for hours!
 
Lampert: As a self-proclaimed Sondheim freak, it's always amazing noticing new internal rhymes and really analyzing the lyrics. It's difficult material musically, and - and this is going to seem overly obvious , but - it's always fun hunkering down and really learning all the notes! Mrs. Lovett has a lot of patter that the ear glosses over, and it was great nailing those notes down.

Behan: Working with this incredible cast. Some of the best voices I have ever
worked with.

Krajnyak: The score is masterful in every way and I loved being in the room with
such talented artist who really breathed life into the piece. It was also thrilling to work and tell this story in such and intimate space.

What was the biggest challenge of working on this production?

Purcell: Stepping into the role of Johanna with only 3 days of rehearsal provided
a unique challenge; it was certainly thrilling but lots of memorizing and blocking
crammed into that period.

Fuller:
Learning the tricky parts of Sondheim's music.

Jarosz:
The staging (it's a small venue, so we "wrapped" the audience) and the music, it's very challenging, but it pays off, big time.

Peddie: Singing Sondheim's glorious score! Haha! The man is revered in this
business for a reason. The way he writes isn't for the feint of heart. It challenges
you as a musician and you really have to work hard at it, because you want to do
it perfectly.

Did anything unique or memorable happen during this production?


Purcell: We only had one piano to play that entire score; our music director
handled it wonderfully.

Jarosz: Well..it was funny when audience members jumped up and down or shrieked with delight when caught off guard by some the the staging...hee, hee, hee.....
 

Peddie: The gender-bending was a fun addition, although it is certainly not the
first time Pirelli has been played by a woman. I thought our costumes, with their
steam punk/goth influence, were particularly cool. Performing such a dark piece
in a church also added a funereal element to it.

What was it like working with Theater 2020?

Purcell: The cast was so perfectly assembled; they were a really lovely group.
 
Peddie: The incredibly talented, supportive and wonderful cast. They made it a
pleasure to come to the show every day.

Did you learn anything from your time working on Sweeney Todd?
Purcell: Of course! Always be prepared for what seems very unlikely was
probably my biggest takeaway.

Peddie: It was a pleasure to re-discover my soprano voice in this show! I
typically get cast in roles where I am required to belt or mix. This was the first
real, high soprano role I have gotten to sing and it was such a joy to get to
reconnect with that part of my voice.

Make sure to follow Theater 2020 on Twitter @theater2020

Contributed by Victoria Muzzio


 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Tempest

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Beth Ann Hopkins
Produced by Smith Street Stage

Nominations: 
Outstanding Revival of a Play; Outstanding Original Music, Clara Strauch; Outstanding Ensemble: Raquel Chavez, Shannon Condon, Kate Eastman, Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy, John Hardin, Patrick Harvey, Brian Demar Jones, Joe Jung, Peter Molesworth, Catherine Mullins, Andrew L. Ricci, Sam Richardson, Nora Rickey, Kate Ross, Will Sarratt, Caroline Smith, JT Stocks, Corey Whelihan


 

About the Production: A revival of the classic Shakespearean play that mirrors the company's commitment to telling classic stories in exciting and imaginative ways.

The team behind The Tempest discusses their journey and process with this classic work.
 

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What attracted you to this project?

Caroline: The wonderful group that is Smith Street Stage

Catherine: The incredible director and artistic team.

Clara: The Tempest is probably my favorite Shakespeare play. I have a weakness for ethereal spirits, tragicomedy, magic, romance, and obviously music. I also love Smith Street Stage's work, and have previously been a part of their "Christmas Carol." When Beth Ann asked if I wanted to compose the music for The Tempest, I was honored and psyched!

Joe: I've been a fan of Smith Street Stage for a long time. Any chance to work with them would be thoroughly worthwhile.

John: Word of mouth praise for the company.

Kate: Smith Street Stage is an amazing company doing inventive, top caliber work. And the role of Prospero was a dream come true!

Patrick: I've loved working with Smith Street Stage since 2011, and the role of Caliban in The Tempest has long been a dream role of mine.

Peter: Smith Street Stage is a company made up of wonderful people. They are interested in the work and have serious grit and integrity. The park we performed in was also a real bonus.

Raquel: Free & accessible opportunity for audiences of all ages to connect with Shakespeare in their neighborhood -- what a fantastically enriching gift for any community.

Shannon: The company, Smith Street Stage, has a great reputation.

Shaun: I have great respect for the company and I love working on Shakespeare.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Caroline: The incredible cast and the amazing, imaginative direction that Beth Ann Hopkins brought to the production

Catherine: The cast! We became a true team and works so well together.

Clara: Composing the music and soundscape was such a joy. Since I'm also an actor (NYU Tisch), a natural first step was to do my usual work on the play as if the music was my character. But then I found myself creating and acting out whichever character sang each song, and that's how the melodies were born. So my little secret is that in this creative process I got to play Prospero, Caliban, Ariel, and all the others. I found how I imagined each character's voice, instrument, sound, and theme, and expanded from there.

And then it was incredible to work with Beth Ann, the team, all the actors and the band, and to hear each song come alive.

Corey: The outdoor environment felt particularly appropriate for this show. Nothing like doing The Tempest under threat of actual storm clouds!

Joe: There's nothing like performing Shakespeare outside. It's a mystical experience.

John: Getting to perform with such wonderful people.

Kate: The cast and the entire team was just a joy.

Patrick: Working with this cast was a truly unique experience. In particular, my comedic co-stars, Kate Eastman (Stephano) and Will Sarratt (Trinculo) were unforgettable scene partners. We recently got together to reminisce about that time last summer where we just goofed around like drunk idiots in front of audiences of strangers. Yeah, that was fun.

Peter: Speaking with people from the neighborhood. It showed that the company makes an impact and has started a beloved tradition.

Raquel: The rest of the cast made the experience so magical and illuminating -- it was a fantastic reminder of the community-building power of theater, both on the stage and off.

Sam: This was my first time working with professional actors outside of a school environment, and it was wonderful to see everyone's process (and how the work is no different once you're out of school).

Shannon: The cast because it was filled of good hearted, fun people that quickly formed a tight bond.

Shaun: Our director, Beth Ann Hopkins, is clear eyed, imaginative, and generously collaborative, which made the rehearsal room a joy to be in. Smith Street Stage also has a great deal of respect for the work they do and the artists they hire and it showed in how we were treated. Lastly, performing outdoors for a wonderfully supportive community was an unbelievable experience.

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

Caroline: Mastering the puppetry of the "spirit orbs."

Catherine: This was the first production I had done in a park. It took some time to adapt to the wildness and unpredictability of the park and how the affects a performance.

Clara: The weather. Outdoor theatre, you know.

Corey: The outdoor environment. You have to compete with a lot of ambient sound. So many environmental factors are outside of your control and you have to do your best to work around it, while maintaining your focus and the focus of the audience.

Joe: Performing outside - the ice cream trucks, car horns, ambient noise.

John: Getting myself to leave at night! I was having so much fun.

Patrick: I had the personal performative challenge of playing the most physically demanding role of my career on a concrete stage.

Peter: Filling the space with all the existing distractions.

Raquel: Because all Smith Street Stage shows go up in a non-theater space, we sometimes found ourselves competing with sirens, playground-shrieking, and ice cream trucks for control of the soundscape. During a few performances, the big crowd of the audience was so alluring to the ice cream truck drivers that the producers had to persuade them to turn off their music. But in the end, it made our resolve to maintain the audience's attention and sense of wonder that much stronger and creative.

Sam: The outdoor space was very challenging because it was difficult to feel truthful and also be loud enough that I wouldn't have to worry about being heard/seen all the way at the back of the crowd

Shannon: Being outdoors for rehearsals and shows made a lot of the work unpredictable.

Shaun: Working out of doors at the mercy of the elements. Also, since we were in a park we had to project quite a bit more than I was used to. However, the challenges made me a stronger actor.

Did anything unique or memorable happen during production?

Catherine: The cast became a family.

Clara: I wrote all the music over the winter and spring on a little Swedish island in the Baltic Sea, called Gotland.

Joe: It was nothing but a delight. I guess that's an oddity. Most of the times when working on a production, something gets under your skin. SSS allows its actors an open space to explore, experiment, fail, and create. That's incredibly special.

Peter: When we staged Ariel's confrontation of Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio-- I told Beth Ann that I really wanted wings.... so she and Sherry Martinez (our costume designer) made these awesome black wings that moved during the speech that we blocked at the back of the theater on a picnic table.

Shaun: One day, as I was putting on makeup before the show, a sparrow flew into my lap. It scared the living daylights out of me. Our director came in, chased the bird down, and lovingly escorted it out of the dressing room in her cupped hands. I was hugely impressed. It was a Disney moment.

What did you learn from your time working on The Tempest?

Catherine: I learned how to amplify a smaller role and be present even when you are in the background.

Clara: I learned the accordion.

Joe: 6 year olds are great at interpreting Shakespeare!

John: I learned more about how to play a romantic lead -- I had to play simply and be emotionally open. It was a welcome challenge!

Patrick: I'd worked on Shakespeare quite a lot before beginning this process, but I'd never fully appreciated just how playful you can be with his language before beginning rehearsals on the comic scenes in this play.

Shannon: I learned of how taxing it can be working with an ensemble and exactly what it takes to put on a show without the safety or background provided by a university. I was surprised at how hard working the team was and truly had to be to pull it off.

Peter: Dive in first, then think/talk about it... not the other way around.


Contributed by Victoria Fernandes 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Titus

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Monique Holt
Produced by New York Deaf Theatre


Nominations: Outstanding Original Music: Daniel Steffey; Outstanding Sound Design: Daniel Steffey; Outstanding Lighting Design: Luther Frank, Russ Bockemhuel; Outstanding Innovative Design: Luther Frank, Russ Bockemhuel





About the Company: New York Deaf Theatre (NYTD) is a not‐for‐profit, professional theatre organization that gives Deaf and hard-of-hearing-artists in the New York City area a creative and artistic home where they are the number one priority. We believe in using theatre to break down cultural barriers for the Deaf and provide equal access to all of our artists and audiences, to give them the positive and enriching theatrical experience they deserve. We are a cultural home for the Deaf community to see their own lives and experiences reflected on stage, and we prove that there is a place for Deaf actors, creators, and designers in the vibrant fabric of New York City’s theatre community. 

Our productions vary in degrees of accessibility for our patrons, including language access in ASL and incorporating spoken English or projected subtitles for either language. In providing a variety of language access, we experiment with the level of access a patron might receive so that people of all abilities can understand the experiences of one another.

About the Production: TITUS reimagines Shakespeare’s original work as a whole in a new physical and visual world, needless of spoken English or ASL. A sharp talented cast of eight actors, four Deaf and four Hearing, use non-verbal elements such as Mime, Visual Gesture Communication and Visual Vernacular to tell the story. The unique manipulation of light, shadow, and projections presents all audience with a widely accessible experience of Shakespeare’s first tragedy, through a new visual language.


Artistic Director JW Guido talks about the unique and innovative qualities of his company's production of TITUS.
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What attracted you to this project?

JW: As the Artistic Director, I’m searching for a new way to present a story onstage that gives a FULLY accessible experience for our audience, without the need of interpreters or voice work overlapping with American Sign Language (ASL). As Shakespeare’s work is heavily visual, NYDT chose to experiment with the classic play Titus Andronicus, our goal being to create a visual-experimental theatre work titled TITUS, helmed by Director Monique Holt. It was clear to me of this play’s thematic timely relevance, and for our team, essential to translate the play onstage in a new innovative way, challenging our audiences while providing access, and presenting a less frequently-produced Shakespeare play.


What was your favorite part of working on this production?

JW: Since this was our new, experimental work, it presented big challenges for us to explore and discover a new method of communication, without spoken English and ASL. It required a lot of teamwork. It was really amazing to see all of the cast and crew working together, in this new unique way, to make the production possible.





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

JW: The whole concept of the production was entirely new. We heavily relied on non-verbal communication and projections/lighting. We were not able to bring all of the technology together until weeks before the opening night, so the cast/crew needed to work together throughout rehearsals to understand the story and how the show would be running. With design elements that included original video content, projection, and even shadow puppetry, this all had to come together quickly in tech!



What was the audiences' reaction to the work?

JW: I wanted audiences to understand how a story can be presented in any type of language, including non-verbal languages! Also, I want them to know that anyone, Deaf or Hearing, can create a story onstage without specifically mentioning or addressing our Deaf culture or common issues about Deaf people. No matter who they are or where they came from, everyone should able to create stories about anything, without changing audiences’ perspective but challenging audiences to see theatre in new ways.





What insight did you gain while working on this production?

JW: As the Artistic Director for NYDT for 5 years, this is our first time to get nominated for our work! This is also the first time NYDT has worked with both designers who are nominated!




Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Woman Who Was Me



Written by Peter Grandbois
Directed by Jeremy Williams
Produced by Convergences Theatre Collective

Nominations: Jeremy Williams for Outstanding Director and Outstanding Choreography/Movement; Kate Jaworski for Outstanding Lighting Design; Liz Stanton for Outstanding Solo Performance; The Woman Who Was Me for Outstanding Premiere Production of a Play


Photos by Lloyd Mulvey

 About the Company: CTC is an incubator for the research and development of new theatrical work. They work as collective, using interdisciplinary techniques to challenge the traditional roles of theatre makers and audiences.

About the Production: The kiss of a stranger awakens the desire and creativity of a middle-aged wife, mother, teacher, and writer; launching her on a journey exploring a life outside conventional marriage, motherhood, and sexual appetite. Her identity fragments as she embarks on a sexual odyssey filled with risk, questioning, and confused boundaries. In wandering, how can she put down roots, find a voice, and craft a new story of herself and those with whom she shares a kinship? The Woman Who Was Me is about the many choices women make throughout life, consciously and unconsciously.

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What first attracted you to this project?

Liz: The story, the conflict, the beautiful language and images.

Jeremy: I love that Peter created a character that can ask tough questions about herself, explore her sexual desire, and not have to die for her journey of self-discovery. It's a story that breaks the cycle of violence that condemns women to being voiceless. Lanie discovers and owns her voice which allows her to make choices. It's great to see a character making her own choices. We really need that narrative in the world right now.

Kate: A director I respect and trust, and a compelling script. I knew that Jeremy Williams was directing this show, and I trust him as an incredible creative director and as a leader. My first reading of the script moved me to tears several times.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Jeremy: Liz and I approached this process as a collaboration to realize Peter's play. The collaboration has been incredible! We are both creators, designers, and inventors so our work together started with exploring the physical and image worlds of the play through some really fun experiments in the studio. As the team has grown to include our amazing designers, dramaturge, managers, and producing partners we have expanded that collaboration with listening at the core of our work together. It's been amazing to share this piece and this process with an audience and then listen to the audience's experience and relationship to the challenges that the character faces. It's been incredible to hear so many stories that people want to share after seeing Peter's play and Liz's performance.

Liz: I loved creating the life of this play with Jeremy Williams, the director of the show.

Kate: My favorite aspect of the show was working with this particular team. My fellow collaborators were such a joy to work with and very inspiring. I felt that Jeremy expected a lot of me and trusted me; two qualities in a director that promote me in doing my best work.

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

Jeremy: One-person plays are always a challenge. How to create and sustain dramatic tension, provide interesting variety in storytelling,

Liz: Because it is a one-person show, working with image is essential to the audience's experience of the play. Incorporating those images into the movement in a fluid and embodied way was challenging and rewarding.

Kate: Time limitations were a challenge. There is always more I want to do to tweak or perfect my lighting cues, and there never is enough time for all of it.

What was the craziest part of working on this production?

Liz: Originally I held the projector in my hand (I wanted to try this), but I was so happy to get it out of my hands so that I could interact with the projections.

Kate: The first time I ran the lights for this show at a festival, I had to do it on a 2 scene manual fade console. I don't think I breathed for the entire run of that iteration of the show. I remember Jeremy putting his hand on my shoulder at one point and saying, "looks great", which helped prevent me from totally losing it! I much prefer programming cues into a light board and then pressing go, which was the way it went at Theatre Lab.

What did you want the audiance to walk away with after seeing this production?

Jeremy:  The understanding that we have the power to embody our voice and make choices.


Did you learn anything from your work on this production?

Liz: Time passes when we really take a breath. Two minutes per page is not an accurate way to time a script. I learned that this piece continues to speak to each of the audience members. It turns out that it's audience is more broad and diverse than I expected.

Kate: When I first read The Woman Who Was Me, it seemed like a poem. The way Jeremy and Liz created choreography for this piece really opened my mind. It felt like the show came off of the page not only with Liz's character work, but with this expressive, movement that fit the tone so well.

What was it like working with these nominees?

Jeremy: Liz is a multi-disciplinary theatre artist who is an incredibly powerful actress as well as designer, composer, and performance writer. She brings a vast imagination and set of collaborative tools to the process. She's also a clown and a brilliant collaborator.

Kate is a Lighting Designer who also sings, composes, manages, and creates original work. Her vision is focused and, mutli-layered, and rich with imagery. She has great ideas and loves to share them. She's one of the nicest people in the world in and out of the theatre.

I am a director and choreographer who loves to put together teams committed to collaboration. My vision is driven by the story and character. I ask a ton of questions and love to take on challenging topics in beautiful ways. 

What was it like working with Convergences Theatre Collective?
Liz: Convergences Theatre Collective is totally supportive of artists' ideas and desires. The entire creative team was amazing. I love going to rehearsal every day to create this piece.

Kate: The people! Not only are these people extremely creative, talented, hardworking and unique...but there's a strong sense of freedom I feel when working with CTC. I know I have a voice, and my collaborators encourage my ideas and experiments.



Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Origin Story

Written by William DeMeritt & Elia Monte-Brown
Directed by Anne Haney
Produced by Old Sound Room

Nominations: William DeMeritt & Elia Monte-Brown for Outstanding Original Full-Length Script; William DeMeritt for Outstanding Solo Performance



Photo by Mizuki Iwase

About the Company: Old Sound Room is a performance ensemble that builds new work. They endeavor for their work to spark thought and inspire action. They honor the past in order to reach the present and strive to remind audiences that they are not alone by celebrating shared existence with courageous abandon.

About the Production: Origin Story is an expansive theatrical memoir that explores how we incorporate loss and weave the seemingly discordant elements of life into a harmonious glow.  This one-man show tours us through space and time, painting a self-portrait through the lens of the motley crew who shaped the performer into the man he is today.

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What attracted you to this project?

William: My mother's death was the genesis of the show.
   
Elia: I was hosting a summer of table reads of my friends’ newest work. "Bring the thing that you're scared to share. Maybe you're not even sure if it's a play or not." Bill answered that call and brought pages of monologues and asked actors to read the voices. My response was immediate. This is a solo show and I want to help bring it to life. It was a NY story, we're both New Yorkers. It was a story of living between two racial identities, which is an experience I also shared. It's about loss and about immense hope. I wanted to help bring this story to life.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

William: I loved the collaboration with my co-writer and my director.

Elia: During our first workshop preview, I sat in the back of the audience and was memorized by people's responses. It seemed like everyone connected to this piece that had seemed so deeply personal to Bill and I.

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

William: Confronting the deep pain some of these memories held was incredibly challenging for me. Working on this piece forced me to think about the many losses I've suffered in my life in a more contemplative and detailed way than I ever had before.

Elia: It's a one-man show and Bill does an amazing job transforming into the different characters. Weaving together one story, told by multiple voices, each with their own perspective was an exciting challenge.

What was the strangest part of working on this production?

William: My collaborators certainly learned an awful lot about me in during this process. It was as if every one of the voices in my head was given a physical voice and was walking around the room.

What insight did you gain while working on this production?

William: I learned a great deal about myself. But most importantly I learned that if you tell a truthful story which really means something to you, no matter how personal and specific it is, people will find something relatable in it.

Elia: Bill and I are the odd couple. We are immensely trusting of each other and that affords us room to disagree and push back. This was our first time working together but it inspired us to continue as a writing team. Our next project is an episodic script that follows mixed race siblings dealing with the loss of their mother and a hunger for love and companionship in NYC. It's an ode to NY and to those of us who don't fit in a singular box.

What was it like working with Old Sound Room?

William: We all are very passionate about the goals, achievements, and aspirations of all the other members of the company.

Make sure to follow these artists on Twitter

    Old Sound Room - @oldsoundroom
    William DeMerrit - @demeritt
    Elia Monte-Brown - @Msbrownisanicon


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Whales


Written by
Hit the Lights! Theater Co. 
Produced by Hit the Lights! Theater Co.

Nominations: Outstanding Innovative Design for Puppet Design; Outstanding Original Music; Outstanding Premiere Production of a Play ( HTL! is: Samantha Blain, Casey Scott Leach, Mikayla Stanley, Kristopher Dean, Carli Rhoades, Claron Hayden)


Photos by Ambe J. Photography
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About the Company: Hit the Lights! Theater Co. is an award-winning artistic agreement based in New York City that makes theater, music, and online content and is committed to telling simple stories in unconventional ways.

About the Production: Using handmade shadow puppets, vintage overhead projectors, and a punk scum house band, Hit the Lights! Theater Co.  created the world that brought us a certain legendary white whale and the men who hunted him.

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What attracted you to this project?


Mikayla: This show is the passion project of company member Kristopher Dean, who came to the rest of the HTL! crew with a desire to make a staged adaptation of Moby Dick. He had read it that summer and had become obsessed with the story. So obsessed, in fact, that he has now taken up sailing and is licensed to man small vessels (at my counsel he has abstained from getting into whaling). That was our starting point. Then we added punk rock. And then we added game shows. And then we added alcohol. And shadow puppetry. And rope. And mohawks. And temporary tattoos. And somewhere along the line, Whales came into being. We were attracted by his passion for an epic story and telling it in an epic (and fun!) way.

Kristopher: I fell in love with the novel Moby Dick and just had to bring it to live theater.

Casey: Kristopher Dean told us he wanted to make a show inspired by Moby Dick. He got to talking about the culture of whaling in America, and how fascinating and terrible it was, and the rest of us were all like 'yep, we want to make a show about that.'

Samantha: When Kristopher, who also happens to be my husband, approached us about Whales and shared all these incredible insights into Moby Dick and the men who hunted whales at that time I was hooked. They lived incredibly difficult and dangerous lives, which makes for rich and dynamic theatre.

Claron: Kristopher Dean dived head first into Moby Dick and the history of whaling - his zeal and knowledge were highly inspirational and got the whole company very excited to apply our creative energy towards realizing a piece focused on those issues.

Carli: When I joined HTL! this show was actually already in its baby steps of creation, so I was in from the (my) start! Immediately I was enamored by Kristopher Dean's enthusiasm for the text of Moby Dick and as I read the story I found myself drawn into the storytelling as well. What I loved was the variety show style, which really echoes the amount of detail and varied perspectives in Moby Dick and while it's packed with tons of facts and details about the world of whaling, Whales is fast and energetic and a raucous, intoxicatingly good time for audiences.


What was your favorite part of working on this production?
Mikayla: Creating the music for this piece was a blast. We were influenced by the sea shanties that whalers used to sing to pass the time and wanted to combine it with our love of punk rock music! The result was a score that both informed the work while also bringing it to life in a new and modern way. I also love working with the people in the company. We all work together so well and push each other to be the best artists we can be.

Samantha: The music was so fun and challenging to explore old sea shanties and compose music to go along with the lively puppetry and storytelling. Being able to play so many instruments and sing together as a company brought a touch of magic to the ensemble.

Casey: Whales is the first time HTL! came together musically as an ensemble: in every show we've done, self-generated music has played an integral part, but Whales was our first outing where we all played music together.

Claron: Composing music is always a joy for me, so that has to be stated, but I think overall my favorite part would have to be building the raw ideas into working scenes with the ensemble.

Kristopher: Doing all the research into whaling as an American industry.

Carli: I have loved the opportunities we've given ourselves to find content within the entire world of whaling. There is so much to research and so many specific, interesting areas within this topic and time in history, there's always more to find and explore. Figuring out how to share these with an audience is a blast.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production?
Casey: Figuring out how to tell the essential plot of Moby Dick in shadow puppets.

Samantha: Everyone had a chance to write sections of this script that fit their voice. It was a juggling act to find what fits where and decide what information we had to absolutely share. There is so much about the golden age of Whaling that we wanted to include, but only had a short amount of time to share it.

Claron: Distilling a plethora of knowledge and history down into an engaging and fun forty five minute audience experience.

Kristopher: Learning to play the Cajon.

Carli: Working on a piece "inspired by" an existing (and classic) piece of literature was a challenge. I think it's clear we aren't trying to retell the story of Moby Dick, and yet, in fact, we are. There's a bit of grey area surrounding the question of what things do we directly share or imitate from the text and what things do we forgo in the interest of capturing the style of storytelling of the original piece that we love so much for a new audience.

What did you hope the audience would take away from this production?
Mikayla: Whales is part punk-rock concert, part drinking game, and part staged adaptation of Moby Dick. You will see a coconut getting destroyed with a drill. You will see 60 + feet of rope. You will most likely be given a temporary tattoo. It is the direct mission of HTL! to make sure you walk away from Whales with (at least) three things: 1.) a belly full of whiskey (if you're old enough to imbibe!) 2.) a new curiosity surrounding one of the first major American industries, and 3.) one heck of a good evening.

What was the quirkiest part of this production?

Mikayla: All of the puppets made for the show are original! They are all made of found recyclable materials (if you saw them up close, you'd see several PBR boxes and a couple of pizza boxes!)

Samantha: It was the first time we used two vintage overhead projectors for our puppetry. It gave a unique aesthetic quality to the story telling that was effective. Kristopher, who helmed this passion project, became obsessed with nautical... EVERYTHING. Since reading Moby dick, which inspired him, he has purchased a harpoon, nautical maps, sails, and convinced me, his wife, to get married in Mystic, CT, one of the most famous Whaling Ports. He knows a lot about Whaling. And beer. He knows a lot about beer too. Also, we learned that everyone loves drinking games. We play one during the show.

Claron: Thematically underscoring a bearded man drilling into a coconut is certainly an enjoyable first for me.

Carli: There’s a part of the show that involves.....fresh fruit juice.....and on more than one night we've opened the fruit onstage to find it empty!! It's always a laugh moment for the audience and us, and we've gotten better at judging which ones will work when picking them out at the store, but knowing the possibility certainly keeps us on our toes!

Casey: As a part of our preshow, the company comes out and assigns the audience members duties on the ship and applies temporary harpoon tattoos. I had a company member give me a tattoo for every show we performed. So by the end of the run I had 10 harpoon tat's on my shirtless belly.

What in
sight did you gain while working on this production?

Casey:  I learned an incredible amount about American history, and of course whaling in America. I also learned about the basic tenets of punk songs, how to apply cinematic techniques to shadow puppetry, how to keep both arms in your silhouette looking roughly the same size, how to make grog, and how to be a better company member and performer.

Samantha: I think I learned how musically we can raise the bar. We all challenged ourselves to get out of our comfort levels with this show musically. I think it was successful. If we played it safe I don't think it would have been that effective, but we came out with tambourines flying and grog in our hand. Also, how important it is to set an atmosphere for when your audience walks in. We didn't want them to feel like they were just walking into a theater. We wanted it to feel like the belly of a ship or them waiting at a pub on the port before they sail off. We added soundscapes, music, set dressing, lights and sailors grog to help invite them into our world before we even began.

Claron: Cheese cloth is a highly effective material for creating shadow water.

Carli: I learned tons about whales and whaling!! I've also taken the opportunity to learn about and fine tune some comedic timing and audience playback; it's an exploration, but it's very fun. I feel now like I have a much better grasp on balancing a good variety show!

What was it like working with this company?
Mikayla: Hit the Lights! is fascinated with mixing traditional theater forms with our other influences: Shadow puppetry plays side-by-side with video game aesthetics, live music blended with drinking games, or shakespeare remixed with jay-z.

We are into heightened stories. We are deeply fascinated by atmosphere, by music, by color and shape and pattern, the texture of a light as well as the texture of a guitar pedal. We find that language at times holds us back from the deeper, more powerful world of images, feelings, and atmospheres.We are drawn to images, characters and worlds that express a multitude of meanings while saying very little. Whether it is the violence of the open sea, the quiet terror of a dark cave, or the dusty magnificence of an abandoned building, Hit the Lights! thrives in landscapes and atmospheres where language falls away to reveal something deeper, older, and more profound. It is with this interest that we have turned towards the American West; landscapes filled with both splendor and dread, stories rife with images just waiting to be cracked open and played with. The work focuses on the interplay between darkness and light, which is why shadow puppetry is the lifeblood of the storytelling. The company is currently comprised of six experienced multidisciplinary artists: puppeteers, actors, musicians, vocalists, artisans, and everything in between. HTL! is committed to developing each member into a full artist that serves the work, serves the creative process, and embraces the unique demands of each new work created. The company is continually challenging themselves to master new skills, styles, aesthetics, and technology as they move into more and more innovative work.

Samantha: The passion, dedication and discipline we all have. There are a lot of talented individuals in NYC, but finding the right mix of artists who are multi-talented and are committed to meeting up to 2-4 times a week for rehearsal is rare. We don't get paid for rehearsals, yet. We take whatever free time we have and decide to spend hours in a dark basement creating art in a way that is unique to us and to the theater world.

Casey: We make up the most fun games in rehearsal.

Claron: HTL! is my family, and all our individual strengths and weakness weave together to produce a very invigorating work and play environment in and out of the rehearsal room.

Carli: We are an artistic agreement first and foremost, which means a few things. 1. We are individual artists first and we value that in one another. Every time one of us takes an opportunity to grow artistically or otherwise in our own lives, it inherently enriches the group, so we really support each other's outside work. 2. As an agreement between 6 people, no one of us has an executive decision making power. It's a constant exercise in give and take, standing your ground on ideas you believe in and learning when to let go for the sake of the whole, which is beneficial for all of life.

Kristopher: This company is creating new work that makes me proud to call myself an artist. It is collaborative, clear, and moving.

Follow Hit the Lights! Theater Co. on Twitter @hitthelightsTC and Instagram @hitthelightstheater.