Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Queen

Written by Aditya Rawal
Directed by Gwynn MacDonald
Produced by Aman Soni in association with Juggernaut Theatre Co. and Theater for the New City 

Nominations: Outstanding Original Full-Length Script, Aditya Rawal; Outstanding Costume Design, Joseph S. Blaha; Outstanding Actress in a Featured Role, Sharvari Deshpande

Photos by John Barragan

About the Production: Set in 16th century India, at the peak of the Mughal era, The Queen is the story of Durga, who is consigned to the west wing of the palace after her husband, the Rajput king, marries a younger woman. She battles against the loss of her beauty and relevance as she resolves to burn the palace down and avenge her husband’s betrayal. The play draws inspiration from Macbeth, Medea and the works of Rabindranath Tagore. It explores themes of power and the position of women in society, an issue that in four centuries has not lost its importance.

What first attracted you to this project?

Aditya: I am immensely interested by the period in history that this play covers (the late 16th century in Northern India) - so that is the thought with which I began working on the play. Also, the fractured relationship that drives this play is based on one that I witnessed, and was deeply affected by, in my own life.

Joseph:  The script. I read it and I had to do it.

Gwynn: It's a rare opportunity to present a new play that feels like a classic, one that dramatizes South Asian history that is India in the 16c, and a piece about war and power that has a woman as the central figure.

What was your favorite part of this production?

Aditya: Apart from the joy of writing a new play, it was the pleasure of working with the wonderful cast and crew. We worked on a shoe-string budget - and everyone made a ton of compromises to be a part of the project. If it was not for their talent and amazing attitude - this play would not have been possible.

Joseph: The close-knit cast and creative team.

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

Joseph: The tight budget for a show with such specific needs.

What was the weirdest thing that happened during this production?

Aditya: The final show was definitely the most interesting one. Our lead actor, Nilanjana, had her bag stolen from the venue an hour before the performance and we went around the neighborhood searching for it as she prepared to go on stage.

I remember thinking as I was driven around Union Square in the back of a police car - I may do many more plays in the future, but I don't think any one will be as exciting as this one. In a fittingly heroic manner, our producer and actor, Aman (who played her son), chased after the thief and got the bag back.

The play began on time, to a full audience, and went very well. Apparently, the tension helped Nilanjana perform in a manner she had never done before.

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

Joseph: I learned how quickly I can work on my feet. Also, was able to learn something new from each of my fellow artists.

What was it like working with this group of artists?

Gwynn: They are all -- in my opinion - young and brilliant. So it's a thrill to see talented artists at the beginnings of their careers; for Sharvari and Aditya this production represented their New York City debut.

 Check out The Queen on Twitter @TheQueenTNC

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Book by Robert Nemiroff & Charlotte Zaltzberg

Music by Judd Woldin
Lyrics by Robert Brittan
Directed by Dev Bondarin
Produced by Astoria Performing Arts Center

Nominations: Outstanding Production of a Musical;
Outstanding Director, Dev Bondarin; Outstanding Set Design, Lawrence E. Moten III;  Outstanding Sound Design, Emma Wilk; Outstanding Costume Design, Jeannipher Pacheco; Outstanding Choreography/Movement, Tamrin Goldberg; Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role, Warren Nolan Jr.; Outstanding Ensemble: Maia Bedford, Aaron Casey, Shabazz Green, Chris Gwynn, Marcie Henderson, Greg Horton, Brandi Knox, Billy Lowrimore, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Sarita Amani Nash, Warren Nolan, Jr., Chinua B. Payne, Tony Perry, Joi Danielle Price, Vanessa Robinson, Alicia Thomas, Cartreze Tucker
Photos by Michael Dekker
About the Company: APAC’s mission is to bring high quality theater to Astoria, Queens and greater NYC, and to support local youth and senior citizens.

About the Production: Raisin is a musical adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun.

The cast and crew of Raisin share their experiences of bringing this timely work back to New York City for the first time in 40 years.


What first attracted you to this project?

Joi: I was intrigued by the opportunity to work on a show so rarely discussed and barely ever performed. The source material is very well known and I felt it had an important message. The opportunity to musicalize the world depicted in that play presented a unique artistic challenge. I also felt that the opportunity to present a slice of African-American life on the stage was very timely. We are living at a time where people are turning inward to examine their own experiences and communicate with others who are from their own community - especially on the internet - and band together with people who have similar points of view. Giving audiences a chance to step into a world which may have a very different viewpoint with different struggles helps us all to empathize with each other and respect differing experiences.
Lawrence: I have always been drawn to opportunities to tell the stories of underrepresented people, people on the margins. I find the story of Raisin in the Sun to be an honest portrayal of life that allows actors of color to take center stage and not be stereotypes. To take that story and transform it into a beautiful musical is the great work of the book and music writers and I jumped at the opportunity to be involved.

Marcie: Musical of a Lorraine Hansberry masterpiece
Chinua: My mom telling me the history of the play Raisin/A Raisin In The Sun.

Horton: The rarity of working on this particular piece.
Thomas: Being able to share this story with everyone that hasn't been told in NY for more than 40 years.

Brandi: It's never done and I think its an important story and piece of literature.

Gwynn: The "working" part. Seriously, I was thinking about leaving the profession all together at the time I auditioned because I haven't worked consistently.

Emma: That the show hadn't had an NYC revival yet, and the theater's location in Astoria

Jeannipher: The relevance: working class and race. A Raisin in the Sun was one of the first plays I read in high school. I remember relating my living situation with the Younger's, in terms of space, money and family. I was not aware that a musical adaptation existed till Dev Bondarin, the director, emailed me seeking for a costume designer. I was excited to get the opportunity to work on something that touches close to home, that is still relatable, and a musical (something, I don't have much experience with).

Maia: I was first attracted to the story itself. How awesome to have a musical adaptation of the iconic A Raisin in the Sun.

Sarita: I loved that Raisin is the classic story we all know in the play Raisin in the Sun, but with music added, which gives the characters the opportunity to sing and express themselves in a heightened, beautiful way. That really excited me.

Shabazz: Raisin is a rarely produced musical based on the incredible play A Raisin in the Sun. Both have been favorites of mine for many years, and the opportunity to bring the musical back to life in New York City was an opportunity you can't pass up.

Tamrin: Raisin in the Sun is such an incredible and well known piece of theater, but so many people have never heard of the Tony-Award-winning work of genius that is Raisin. To make my New York theater choreographic debut in such a unique way was an opportunity not to miss. What a gift to be involved in bringing this show back to New York for the first time in over forty years!

Tony: Its a legendary piece and is rarely done.

Vanessa: I've worked with APAC before, in Ragtime, so I knew they were a quality company. Also, Raisin in the Sun is an iconic play and to take part in a musical version of it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Warren: I've been a fan of the play since I read it in Highschool, but the musical I was less familiar with, I head of the production once 20 years ago and so when presented with the opportunity I was excited to be a part of a work with such history that was rarely presented.

Dev: I was drawn to Raisin for its important and timely story, its characters and the love among them, the music, and to have the opportunity to direct a beautiful show which centers about a Black family struggling, striving, and supporting each other.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Chinua: Singing, I like to sing and watching us, the cast, grow into a real family.

Horton: Working with Dev Bondarin.

Joi: I love working in a different time period. The moment we saw the costumes and examined that language that was very unique to the period, it raised all kinds of new awarenesses about what life must have been like for these people in that decade.

Lawrence: I loved the collaborative process with Dev and the rest of the creative team. It felt very communal and that we were all on the same page.

Marcie: Morphing from the character of Mrs. Johnson to Ensemble, never a dull moment.

Brandi: Getting to know my castmates! They were a riot and a lot of laughs were shared.

Gwynn: Watching the other artists create magic with their performances. It was and still is super inspiring. It is so refreshing to work with such talented and humble actors.

Emma: The performances by the actors.

Maia: My favorite part was getting to work with such a wonderful, talented group of people. The cast was predominantly Black, and Raisin is a universally human story in the context of the Black American experience. It was so fun, and beautiful, to discuss our own experiences and family histories and then be able to use those stories to help bring Raisin to life.

Shabazz: Reviving History. In today's social climate and change, it's important to remember what we've come from and what we want to grow toward. We want to grow toward maturity, equality and purpose. Raisin exuded those constant themes, and the chance to produce that purpose through art was a joy.

Tamrin: Judd Woldin's beautiful score combined with stage directions from the original production presented such a wonderful choreographic roadmap. Each number I worked on drew from different dance styles, and I found myself deep in the history of black dance as I found the movement vocabulary for this show.

Tony: The spirit of the company members.

Vanessa: Being in a mostly black cast. It's something that most of us don't get to experience that often.

Warren: I loved being a part of a mostly black cast of Artists. That's rare! And I am so grateful to have been able to present that in Astoria.

Dev: Having the opportunity to delve into this story and to bring it to life with my collaborators. Working with the actors was especially meaningful as we neared opening and were able to delve deeper into the story. Watching their performances evolve over the four week run was amazing.

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

Brandi: My character could easily slip into the background as the housewife, and the way this piece is written, everyone has to be strong in their choices and be interesting. The challenge is being interesting within boundaries of my character and her dialogue.

Horton: It was a very small role, so keeping engaged at the level it required was a challenge.

Vanessa: The choreography. It was more intense than I assumed it would be, but absolutely necessary for the exposition. Each move was very detailed and well thought out.

Chinua: I was the only child....but it was ok

Lawrence: The show has so many locations and yet we spend so much of our time in the Youngers' house. It was the ultimate challenge and goal to create a world that was specific enough to be the tiny apartment of the Youngers while also allowing us to go to all of the other locations and not feel clunky.

Marcie: Traveling to Astoria in the Winter...from Brooklyn!
Tamrin: Commuting to Astoria every day from Brooklyn was the biggest challenge! So many late night delays and shuttle busses... But it was all worth it!

Tony: Working out a schedule with paying work.

Dev: Raisin is a big show! It's Hansberry's play with music and so all of that goes into the rehearsal process--which is a lot on the Showcase contract. As the weeks went on the actors especially rose to the challenge of what the production demanded and their success was visible in the results of a solid production.

Capturing ALL the types of emotions within it. There is such range of emotion from rage, to passion, to love to tenderness. The challenging but still fun part, was making sure to touch each of them and making sure our audiences understood and felt them as well. Because while these characters were fictional, their struggle is felt by everyone and we really wanted to bring those to the surface.

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

Warren: I learned to trust myself more. I'd spent a good number of years performing as a cruise ship singer, and this role scared me, but I found my voice and saw that the limits I thought I had, weren't true! I learned some boldness.
Brandi: Everyone was perfectly cast and we really felt like a true family. That's rare and to slap that aspect on to a classic piece is just refreshing. I have learned that I want to work with and for people who make interesting choices. I want to be apart of and strive for the 3 dimensional representations of black characters in theater and especially musical theater, and I feel like I got a chance to do that with Raisin.

Gwynn: I can't tap dance. It's so sad.

Marcie: Many different ways of getting to the theatre when the subway stopped working.
Shabazz: My eyes really opened up to the importance of art. That our work as actors or artists can inspire dialogue and emotions. Tall back sessions with audiences helped me see that our work DOES entertain AND inspire.
Tamrin: Raisin is a show about dreams, about love, about sacrifice and loss. It is a human story that so many are able to directly identify with. And to sit in that audience, in a room full of people on the edge of their seats, was a reminder of the importance of sharing this story, and of creating art, especially now.

 Chinua: Don't let the play overwhelm you emotionally.

What was the most memorable part of this experience for you?

Marcie: Working with a talented group of people: cast, crew and production staff
Tony: The way the ensemble was used to broaden the scope of an intimate family story.

Thomas: The dressing room "held it down!" I had great experiences in the dressing room with such gifted, uplifting, and hilarious group of women.

Gwynn: They are all HI-freakin-LARIOUS.

Chinua: Telling each other jokes and riddles in the dressing.

Brandi: Well, I'm not a mother in real life but it was a joy to have a little boy at my hip! We had our moments and he's such a talent. room

Lawrence: Figuring out the space, every theatre has its quirks and this space was no different. I was lucky that I lived so close to the space, I was able to spend a lot of time in the room finessing things with the oddities of the theatre.

Dev: We had the opportunity to welcome an original member of the Broadway cast to the production as well as family members of the composer and co-librettist. They all had not seen a production of Raisin in many years and so sharing it with them was a wonderful gift.

Shabazz: The best memory was meeting Ernestine Jackson, and originator of the role of Ruth and original production. To meet, speak and hear her interpretation of the Raisin and how it's grown to this production was outstanding.

What did you want the audience to walk away with after watching Raisin?
Dev: That love among a family is strong, that striving against adversity is possible, that racism still exists and that Raisin's story is more of a current event than a piece of history, that Lorraine Hansberry was one of the most important creative minds of our time, that the musical adaptation of her work is wonderful, and that the lives of these characters need to be seen.
What was it like working with this group of artists?
Horton: APAC is a very warm, professional company to work with.

Chinua: They understood me and where I was coming from - the director was an only child, like me, so she helped me make the character come to life.

Joi: This was my first time working with the Astoria Performing Arts Center. I was very moved by their dedication to putting the highest caliber of work on the stage and the way they stay connected with with the community that supports them. IT is a beautifully executed symbiotic relationship.

Lawrence: I was an Astoria resident, so working with a company that is focused on bringing theatre to this neighborhood was amazing.

Marcie: APAC takes chances and I like that

Aaron: APAC's Raisin
had such a strong family bond and made every experience of building the production unforgettable.

Maia: The team at the Astoria Performing Arts Center is committed to excellence and creativity. It was such a gift to be a part of creating such a dynamic theatre experience in what initially seemed liked such an unassuming space. The space went from a gym to a theater, and come showtime, it became a home, a bar, a bus stop, and a church in Chicago. That transformation was amazing.

The best thing about this company is that we truly became a family - not just the characters who play family in the show, but everyone. It was a treat to work with such a talented and loving team of actors and creatives.

The intimate, professional and heartfelt nature of it. Astoria Performing Arts Center was so dedicated to producing a quality project, in an intimate space with truth and love in everything they did. Sometimes that passion for the arts and passion for the story can be missed, but not with APAC. I loved being around such talented and devoted individuals.

Each person involved with this production is filled with a special kind of passion. It became quickly clear in that room, that we were there working together towards a shared vision. I am incredibly grateful to be a part of the APAC family, and to have been able to learn from our music director Darius Smith, and director Dev Bondarin.

Tony: It's like a family.

Vanessa: It was an honor to be a part of the production, and it's an honor to be recognized for the work we put in!

Warren: You truly get the sense that the people involved are passionate about the work! It's a labor of love, and it's infectious! We were all determined to make theatre that mattered!

Dev: All of the nominees from Raisin deserve this recognition (as well as everyone who collaborated on the production---we would not have been nominated for Outstanding Musical without everyone's work!) Everyone gave 110% to bring this story to vivid life and with such authenticity.

Make sure to follow APAC on Twitter @APACNYC


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hedda (Gabler)

Written by Henrik Ibsen
Adapted by Matt Minnicino
Directed by Joseph Mitchell Parks
Produced by Wandering Bark Theatre Co. in association with IRT Theater

Nominations:  Outstanding Costume Design, Jason E Frey

Photos by Jeff Farkash

About the Company:  Wandering Bark Theatre Co. is a New York City based group founded in 2011, dedicated to exploring and adapting classical theatre, highlighting the universality of its themes with bold and experimental productions, often incorporating live music, multi-media design, original text, and stylized physicality.

About the Production: Sealed in the coffin of a big house, a convenient marriage to a boring husband, and a ded-end existence as a woman in a man’s world, Hedda can do nothing but dream and decay. But when an old flame flickers back under her palm, her hungry heart ignites a blaze of lust, deceit, and manipulation that could consume more lives than just her own.

Producer Valerie Redd and Nominee Jason E Frey share their insights about staging this piece about a giving in to desires.


What first attracted you to this project?

Jason: The time period attracted me at first.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Jason:  Seeing how relevant the story line is still today, even after all these years.

Valerie: It was thrilling to tell a story that puts a complex, powerful, dangerous, flawed woman at the forefront- a female anti-hero is a rare thing.

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

Jason: Balancing working in television and theatre at the same time. The hours of each can be very challenging. Who needs sleep right?

Valerie: The epic scale and depth of the character's histories and relationships was a huge challenge to explore. It's a spider web of secrets and there are lots of decisions that need to be made and agreed upon between the actors to make the story work.

Did you learn anything new from your experience of working on this production? 
Jason: I learned that there is a little bit of Hedda in all of us, if we were honest with ourselves. And I learned that zippers were invented the year we set the play, so I was able to use zippers in my costumes.

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

Valerie: Our goal was to break the story and characters free from the audiences' expectations and preconceived notions. The script was very contemporary and relatable, which removed the distance sometimes felt between the audience and these characters. Hedda Gabler is a play that takes place entirely in a private house's sitting room, and we wanted our audience to feel like they had a seat in that room and a view into the characters' most private, vulnerable, dangerous, and complicated moments.

What was it like working with Wandering Bark?

Jason: By far the people are the best; it is like working with family. We may fight like family, but most of all we love like family.

Make sure to follow Wandering Bark Theatre Company on Twitter @WBarkTheatreCo

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Gun Show

The Gun Show (part of the Women in Theatre Festival)

Written by EM Lewis
Directed by Shelly Butler
Produced by Project Y Theatre Company 

Nominations: Outstanding Solo Performance, Andrew W. Smith

About the Company: Project Y produces new and innovative theatre with a focus on social issues by diverse voices, women, and LGBTQ artists. We support new plays and playwrights that appeal to an audience interested in such themes as race, feminism, technology, and community.

About the Production: From a farming community in rural Oregon to the big cities of Los Angeles and New York, playwright EM Lewis takes aim at her own relationship with firearms in The Gun Show. Actor Andrew William Smith shares Ms. Lewis’s unique perspective and true stories about America’s most dangerous pastime as if they were his own, with brutal honesty and poignant humor. Leaning neither right nor left, “The Gun Show” jumps into the middle of the gun control debate, and asks “Can we have a conversation about this?”


What first attracted you to this project?

Andrew: This play tackles the issue of gun violence in this country from the middle. It is neither left nor right leaning, and instead allows you to have a glimpse into what the other side is thinking, and perhaps begin to see a human being on the other side of a polarizing issue.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Andrew: It was incredible working on a piece of theatre that resonated so strongly with the social issues currently plaguing our country. Also, since this story approached the issue from the center as a means to bring people together, the audience was constantly begin taken off guard by the humanity within the arguments of the "other side." Also, as an actor, it was my honor to present these true stories with the playwright in the room, which dramatically amplified the power of the storytelling. With Ellen Lewis in the room each night, there was nowhere for the audience and performer to hide -- we were all in the mix together.

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

Andrew: The emotional content of this story was extremely difficult to work through without letting it overtake me. The stories in the play are brutal and 100% true -- and this demanded an emotional honestly that sometimes was a challenge to keep myself honed and on target.

What did you want the audience to walk away this after watching The Gun Show?

Andrew:No matter how strongly you believe in something, those that disagree with you have honest, true, and good reasons for doing so. We need to see the humanity in the other side, and allow the demonetization of the other side to dissipate.

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

Andrew:For an audience member to realize that 1) the brutal stories in the play are 100% true and 2) the playwright is in the room was a magical moment only possible in the theatre-- it turned the play on its head and each night there was a shudder of truth that infected each audience member when these two facts were revealed.

What is it like working with Project Y Theatre Company?

Andrew:No one was doing this for personal attention. We all care deeply about the issue, and strove to tell the story in a way that allowed for the greatest sense of discovery for the audience. It wasn't about impressing or entertaining an audience. It was about challenging them to challenge themselves.

Make sure to follow Project Y Theatre Company on Twitter @ProjectYTheatre


Saturday, August 26, 2017

King Lear

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Alberto Bonilla
Produced by The Secret Theatre

Nominations: Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role, Zachary Clarke; Outstanding Revival of a Play

Photos by Steven Speliotis

About the Production:
King Lear director Alberto Bonilla, known for his timely twists on classic Shakespearean dramas, transports this classic into a world of New York City's wealthy elite real estate titans. King Lear, suffering the beginnings of Alzheimer's disease, must divide his empire amongst his feuding children, while wrestling with his own mortality.

"Small independent Shakespeare productions are generally difficult to pull off. Short run time doesn’t generally allow for a heavy investment in difficult roles or elaborate production quality. But not so with The Secret Theatre which, under the guidance of director Alberto Bonilla and executive director Richard Mazda, continues to produce outstanding Shakespeare plays"  ~ JK Clarke, Theater Pizzazz 


Friday, August 25, 2017


Written by Lillian Meredith
Directed by Rachel Karp and Jaki Bradley
Produced by The Living Room, in association with IRT Theater

Nominations:  Outstanding Set Design, Frank J. Oliva; Outstanding Lighting Design, Scot Gianelli

Photos by Ben Vigus

About the Company: The Living Room is an ensemble of theater artists dedicated to making work about the contemporary American female.

About the Production: Zumba. Wine. Takeout. Porn. In the quest for personal and sexual empowerment, the Sister Support Group for the Daily Trials of Being a Woman tackles them all. But acts of feminist revolt rarely go unpunished, and the women find themselves caught up in something much bigger than their own liberation.

Director Rachel Karp and nominee Scot Gianelli share their insights into creating this ensemble driven piece about women claiming their own liberation.


What first attracted you to this project?

Scot: We had actually done this production together once before in a festival lineup at Ars Nova, but I love working with these 2 directors any chance I get. They are both such terrific energy and collaborative partners, and the opportunity to do a group-devised piece about using feminism to reclaim pornography for women in a way that combined realism and heightened abstraction in the same space was just so much to say yes to. From the very first reading of the script, I very much admired how much it was willing to lean into a voice that was unabashedly hysterical as well as very dark and dangerous.

Rachel: #liberated was conceived by Lillian Meredith after she read an article in New York Magazine that looked at the effects of porn on American culture. She gathered her most trusted female theater collaborators to form The Living Room, and together they created #liberated through a multi-year developmental process that relied on research, conversation, improvisation, and physical exploration.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Scot: My favorite aspect of this production was definitely the collaborative nature of this team. As a group devised piece (by the acting and directing team), the departmental lines were all more blurred than usual in a very exciting way. This usually leads to having way too many cooks in the kitchen and can hinder a process, but this time around, from having performers who helped write the piece give input on on the world they envisioned when writing it to working more closely with Frank (Scenic Designer), Ben (Sound) and Heather (Costumes) and the rest of the team to develop ideas together versus off of each other's ideas was a very special experience.

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

Scot: The most challenging aspect of this production was the scope of internal changes/locations/time of day against the limitations of the venue. This play covers 2 distinctly different locations, several times of day as well as 5 or 6 internal fantasy sequences in a venue with very limited inventory and power. I think we had something like 12 lights and as many dimmers in the venue to tell this story, so it was a challenge (albeit a very fun one) to figure out how to stretch a small rig into a story that didn't feel stagnant or repetitive. We ended up leaning a lot on a rented LED package to help drive time of day and fantasy elements, and on using a different arrangement of practicals and set electric fixtures in each scene to drive the energy in the room and keep it feeling fresh and new instead of familiar and stagnant.

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

Scot: As a group devised piece (The ensemble of performers and directors being the collective writer in sense) was definitely noteworthy. It meant that the show evolved somewhat by committee and was more fluid and subject to change, even as we got into technical rehearsals. It was interesting to see a show grow and evolve as a result of so many equal voices in the room as opposed to a more traditional theatrical pecking order.

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

Scot: Because the inventory and venue was so limited, this show was an excellent exercise in distilling down to design basics and trying to figure out what the heart of the story was and telling it as fully as possible with the tools available. Without any form of frivolous or extra gear to play around with, I had to really figure out what the most vital elements of this story were, and flesh them out as fully as possible.

What was it like working with these artists?

Scot: Definitely the organic collaboration. This was definitely a room where all ideas were considered thoughtfully and everyone had a really intrinsic idea of what this show was to them, which was a terrific amount of fun to work with.

Rachel: Frank and Scot completely transformed IRT Theater to create the world for #liberated. As one reviewer wrote, Frank and Scot created "one of the best overall designs in the space’s history."

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Red Room

Written by Morgan McGuire
Directed by Jenny Beth Snyder
Produced by The Shelter 

Nominations: Outstanding Sound Design, Aidan Meyer; Outstanding Set Design, Christopher Bowser; Outstanding Lighting Design, Joe Cantalupo; Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role, Meghan E. Jones; Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role, Michael Kingsbaker; Outstanding Director, Morgan MacGuire; Outstanding Premiere Production of a Play

Photos by Michael Bernstein
About the Company: The Shelter is dedicated to growing and protecting the creative class.

About the Production: The Hodges have gathered at a family house in the northern reaches of California. As the sentencing of their son and brother’s murderer nears, questions of justice and forgiveness arise and the family seeks to sift through what has been lost. As they pull at the threads of these questions, new truths begin to unravel.

Producer Dave Lankford and nominees Christopher Bowser, Meghan E. Jones, Michael Kingsbaker talk about creating this family drama about truth and forgiveness.


What first attracted you to this project?

Christopher: The amazing design team and director who I am proud to call friends and collaborators.

Meghan: I was first attracted to the show after hearing some of the pages Morgan brought in to the Shelter's Sunday night workshop. The characters were so rich and the dialogue was fearless.

Michael: The script. I love plays about family, and the situations in this play has everyone fighting for what they think is right which creates a lot of blinders and lot of conflict, but underneath it all was a whole lot pain, and underneath that a whole lot of love.

Dave: The Red Room, like any great drama, operates at a socio-political level and a human level, and the narrative of each unravels is a way that grabs the audience by the shirt collar and never lets go.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Christopher: Having the freedom to create the world of this naturalistic play in a more expressionistic style and feeling the full support of the company behind our vision.

Meghan: The Red Room is a family drama. Myfavorite part of working on the play was developing that familial relationship with the cast. We all got to know each other intimately and developed bonds through the funny, annoying, and lovable behavior we all carry around. By the end of the run, we really were a family I loved working with the ensemble. They were an amazing group of actors, each one bringing a special sparkle to the family dynamic.

Michael: It's rare that I get to perform with The Shelter, as I'm the co-artistic director of the company and am generally handling a lot of producing responsibilities. This was the first full length I got to do with the company that I consider my family, and I got the opportunity to share the stage with my co-artistic director Meghan Jones. I love acting with her, and we hadn't had an opportunity to do so on stage before this. So for me my favorite part was to get to perform in a show surrounded by all the people that I love.

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

Christopher: Executing a design on this scale with limited resources and staff in midtown Manhattan is always a challenge from parking to sourcing to brute strength.

Meghan: In the same way that building a family was my favorite part, it was also challenging. I mean, families can be rough, loveable but also crazy-making!

Michael: This was by far the biggest set and light design we had assembled to date, so a lot of time was spent getting those things right, but it was absolutely worth it.

Dave: The budget was small. The resources were limited. And as an all volunteer staff of artists, our manpower was spread thinly. Every person in the cast and crew made very real sacrifices to bring this production to stage. This was truly an independent production, both in nature and in spirit

What was the most unique part of this experience for you?

Meghan: I was seven months pregnant when I performed this role. It wasn't originally scripted for a pregnant person, but the writer and director went with it. I am eternally grateful for that. Sharing the stage with my soon to be born daughter was an experience I will forever cherish.

Michael: I use music a lot and generally make playlists for myself and sometimes other folks as well. I've made Meghan Jones mixes in the past for shows she's working on. For this one we played a married couple who met in college in the 2000's. So I made two mixes, one for where our lives are now, and I also made her mix via 2003 that I thought my character could have made for hers when our characters first started dating.

Dave: We had a single day to load in. And on that day, we found out that our truck rental had been mistakenly given to someone else and the company was out of additional trucks. I was in NJ at the rental company and ended up calling (and sometimes visiting) every truck rental in the tristate area. I walked approximately 3 miles in the process and finally found a truck that was HUGE and difficult to drive. I then proceeded into NYC to a pickup location in the LES. The, my phone died and I lost access to GPS (and had no map of the LES). After getting lost for an hour, and relying on prayer and good luck, I finally made it to the pick up location

What did you want the audience to walk away with after watching The Red Room?

Meghan: I would like the audience to come away with empathy for people when they make “wrong” decisions and an understanding that grief looks different on everyone and that the process isn’t always graceful or simple, and that rage is real.

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

Meghan: I discovered how much more I want pie when it's prop pie and I'm not allowed to eat it!!

Michael: It got me thinking a lot about the things we hold onto. Where does forgiveness live within myself, and what does justice actually look like.

What was it like working with this group of artists?

Christopher: The Shelter has a team of members who believe in the mission and show up to make things happen.

Meghan: The Shelter is more than a company, they are a family. That was sort of the theme of the show, a play about a family produced and performed by a family. They are welcoming and inclusive and put out excellent work.

Michael: It’s really a joy to go to work with people that you just think are amazing people, and then when they're as talented as everyone is in The Shelter, then it jumps up to something even greater. I've been around this company for sometime, and to see it grow is always really moving to me, and to see all the people that are a part of this company show up for all the little things things that need to be done whether or not they're in the show fills me with pride. There is a real sense of community at The Shelter

Dave: This was truly a work of artistic collaboration. Each artist brought something unique and incredible to the project, and each artist was amplified and driven by the other. I cannot imagine working with a finer group of people on any project, and the proof is in the work. This was a work of love, and the results were both stunning and heartbreakingly beautiful.

 Make sure to follow The Shelter on Twitter and Instagram @theshelternyc.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Jamb

Written by J.Stephen Brantley
Directed by David Drake
Produced by Hard Sparks in association with Horse Trade Theatre Group

Nominations: Outstanding Director: David Drake; Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role: Nico Grelli

Nic Grelli (left), J.Stephen Brantley (right). Photo by Hunter Canning.

About the Company
HARD SPARKS champions daring performances of adventurous new plays. Since 2011, the company has worked with fifty-one actors, nine playwrights, six directors, and eighteen designers on eleven productions in thirteen venues. Hard Sparks has been nominated for eleven New York Innovative Theatre Awards including Outstanding Premiere Production for EIGHTYTHREE DOWN, Outstanding Short Script for CHICKEN-FRIED CICCONE, and Outstanding Revival for R & J & Z. In trying times, Hard Sparks tells tales of transformation and redemption, mining our darkness for light.

About the Production
Set in 2008, gay punks Tuffer and Roderick are turning forty. Both can’t face it, leaving them to cope in different ways. Tuffer continues on his journey of smoking, snorting, and screwing Manhattan men while Roderick goes completely straight edge. When Roderick comes to his wits end in dealing with Tuffer's shenanigans, Tuffer agrees to get sober at Roderick's folk-singing mothers house. Both hit bottom on the high desert, on the edge, in the jamb.

David Drake and Nico Grelli talk about their experiences working on this project.


What attracted you to this project?
J. Stephen: THE JAMB was a long time coming. As both playwright and producer, I'd seen this play through seven years of readings, workshops, and near-misses with full productions. It was a chance to work with David Drake that inspired me to resurrect it, and the opportunity to tell a story that was deeply meaningful to me personally - about addiction, anger, identity, and love - that made it worth doing.

David: I love working with playwright and actor J.Stephen Brantley. After developing and directing his NYIT-nominated solo "Chicken Fried Ciccone" for the Frigid Festival a couple years ago, he handed me the script for THE JAMB and we started work shopping it over the course of two years. Over that time, I feel deeply in love with delivering this fresh, sexy, funny, and very unexpected punk-rock romantic friendship story to an audience. The Jamb pushed me into unknown emotional and theatrical territory as a director.

Nico: J. Stephen's incredible writing, talent, and spirit. And the ferocity and complexity of the character.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

J.Stephen: The director-playwright dynamic on both THE JAMB and THE CABARET AT THE END OF THE WORLD was so dynamic. There was tremendous energy, urgency even, around the telling of these stories. Directors David Drake and Joan Jubett brought such unique and engaging visions to each of these productions, and their passion for the plays they were staging was contagious. Everyone aboard made brave and fearless choices. I can say, certainly, as both an actor and a playwright, working with Joan and David has made me a better and bolder theatre artist.

David : Harnessing the trust of these four amazing actors — Nico Grelli, Todd Flaherty, J.Stephen Brantley, and Carole Monferdini — and letting them soar.

Nico: The role itself was just fun to play, and I loved the characters. My co-stars made it all the more so being so incredibly generous, brave, and open. And my director David Drake gave us so much space, structure, and support to safely create this world and these people.

Carole Monferdini (foreground, left), Todd Flaherty (foreground, right), J.Stephen Brantley (background).
Photo by Hunter Canning.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production?
J.Stephen: Speaking as a producer? Money. And Space. And space. And money. But as an artist I have to say that the challenge with both The Jamb and Cabaret At The End Of The World was in knowing how short the lives of these shows were going to be, and choosing to be okay with that. It's the nature of indie theatre. Accepting that after 12 to 16 performances these plays might be put permanently to bed is hard, but it also requires that you give everything you have to telling these stories while you have the chance.

David: Finding the range and paces of the play's two-act heartbeats. Making certain that, although Act One was as frantic and speedy as a three-day meth run, that Act Two in the New Mexico desert didn't flat line. Emotionally, I had to guide ways to keep the subtext and super-objectives very active, very present throughout, while also building to a violent love fight-to-the-finish between the two leading men — one that clinched their hearts together.

Nico: The role itself was incredibly demanding physically, emotionally, and technically in itself. And having to work on the show while also working like four different side jobs was tough only because I'd have loved to have only had the show to work on. But so it goes in indie theatre and living in NYC. However, again, my costars, director, stage manager, fight directors, and designers made the show such a joy to be at every day that it made it well worth the challenge.

What did you want the audience to walk away with after watching THE JAMB?
J.Stephen: Hard Sparks produces new plays about personal transformation. We champion characters coming into their power and using it for good. I hope our audience members choose to emulate the weird and wonderful subjects of our plays and make a positive impact on the world in whatever unique way they can.

What was the quirkiest part of the production?

J.Stephen: Each of Hard Sparks' 2017 nominees — Hettie Barnhill, Melody Bates, David Drake, Nico Grelli, Rebecca Hart, and John Salutz — are true muckers. They are each and all visionary artists, certainly, but they are also collaborators, true teach players, who find and bring joy to the shared process of creating performance.

David: In looking towards production, J. Stephen and I had looked at numerous spaces over a two-year period. None were right for the piece until Horse Trade approached us [Hard Sparks] and asked if we had anything they could produce with us in The Kraine. That's when I knew the time was right to mount this play: The Kraine was the perfect beat-up, worn-but-surviving, testosterone-spewed space for THE JAMB.

Nico: Most specifically, the alacrity, grace, and professionalism J.Stephen employed in wearing writer, actor, and producer hats. The Kraine theater space posed all kinds of interesting challenges and quirks that actually lent quite well to the aesthetic of the show.

What was it like working with this group of artists?

Nico: The love we had for each other, the laughs, and the story we were telling.

J.Stephen Brantley (left), Carole Monferdini (right). Photo by Hunter Canning.

What will you take away from your experience working on?

David: The trust, collaborative environment, and professional standards of Hard Sparks. One of the best indie companies I have ever worked with. We've done three productions together now, and I hope we never stop.

Nico: I learned what magic can be created from a place of love, passion, and support. And how a safe environment can allow artists to explore the reaches of their potential and what is possible in storytelling.

Anything else?

David: The genius of fight director Dave Anzuelo. I loved working with him, gliding in and out of our staging together to make our numerous sex and fight scenes snap, crackle, and pop. He taught me more about "less is more" than I already thought was possible — and I love that rule, by the way. Indeed, Dave showed me how to achieve a deeper level of simplicity in the meaning of a stage touch.

Please follow Hard Sparks on:
Instagram: @hardsparks