Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Free (or Almost Free) Things That New York Theater Artists Should Know About - Part One

"Honestly, any good thing that has happened to me in terms of my writing career, I can trace back to someone who I met through ESPA."

-Playwright Erika Sheffer

1. Classes at Einhorn School of Performing Arts

Ok, so not exactly free but this is the low down (and it is virtually free – I’ll tell you how later), but to begin with: take a five or ten week class in writing, directing or acting at ESPA with their faculty of award-winning, working theater artists and deepen your craft exponentially.

You’ll meet cool people to play with and put your career squarely on the road to success. How? Let me tell you, or actually, I’ll let playwright Erika Sheffer tell you, who’s kick-ass new play, Russian Transport, is currently being developed by The New Group.

“I began taking playwriting classes at ESPA four years ago. My background was in acting and over the past few years, through continuous study, I have learned how I write plays.

1. keeps lots of snacks on hand.
2. do a lot of yoga.
3. keep going even when what you're writing sucks-
(That one's probably the most important).”

She continues.

“I've learned what my process is starting from the first draft on through to the rewrite stage, right
up to development. But in addition to the nuts and bolts stuff, ESPA has provided me with a community of writers and friends from which I can draw support.
Honestly, any good thing that has happened to me
, in terms of my writing career, I can trace back to someone who I met through ESPA, whether it was a teacher or fellow student. I'm talking about getting an agent, getting my play into a certain person's hands, or getting a fantastic recommendation.

For much of
the time, writing is a solitary act, but you NEED to get your work out there. You need to meet people, and share your voice and get people excited about your stuff. Equally important is to find other writers inspire you. I love, love, love sitting in class and seeing one of my fellow classmates kick ass. It inspires me for that next time I'm struggling to conquer some angry plot-monkey staring at me from my laptop.”

And no one likes an angry plot monkey.


Community is a common theme when theater artists talk about ESPA. Rob Rosiello (pictured), who also has an acting background adds,

The on-going and intimate engagement with other writers keeps me focused on my writing and also offers me an invaluable resource for answers to questions about the business of theater, as well as the artistic questions that can sometimes arise from one's own writing and creative process- it's just nice to know I'm not alone out there!"

His play, Hay Days, about labor advocate and gay activist Harry Hays is going up at Celebration Theater in Los Angeles this month following a reading of another play developed at ESPA called Cold Stun.

This is not a “take a class and wait for someone to call you” type of environment. Most students are doing a variety of projects and doing them well. Take for instance actor/playwright/femme fatale Yolanda Kay who is part of the always exciting Neo-Futurists. While a student at ESPA, she met fellow awesome theater babe and the other half of Theaterspeak's 2011 Sexiest Theater Couple Alive, Mariah MacCarthy, (Purple Rep Theater which was co-founded by her other sexy-half, Larry Kunofsky. They met at ESPA, btw.)

Ms. Kay (pictured) was cast in MacCarthy’s All American Genderf*ck Cabaret which had a successful run last spring at The Pleasure Factory downtown. But since doing two things at once is not enough, Ms. Kay continues to develop her plays, one of which, Inheritence had a recent reading by Red Harlem Readers (and I’ll probably hear from her in a day or two telling me I left out a thing or three).


So yes, you get to benefit from the experience of professional theater artists; you get to join in a rockin' community; but that’s not all! You also get to participate in writing and creating new work. As writer/actress Kathleen Turco-Lyons says,

“ESPA has been a place that I can go weekly to ‘try on’ the new ideas I’ve pondered and written out in the days before class. I am so grateful for their attention to supporting new works for the stage.”

You won’t find Ms. Turco-Lyons lollygagging on the beach this summer, instead you’ll find her playing the role of Queen Elizabeth I in Timothy Findley’s drama, Elizabeth Rex at Stonington Opera House in Stonington Maine. Her recent play Beneath Between (developed at ESPA and Naked Angels' Tuesdays at 9) is being produced by the 15th Floor this fall at the Primary Stages Studios.


ESPA also provides support to its students in a uniquely comprehensive way.

Free programs such as the ever-popular Detention (which Theaterspeak covered in more detail last month and is pictured to the right), as well as the Honor Society and the Practicum all give artists the opportunity to develop work with the support of Primary Stages staff, in addition to allowing writers to meet actors and directors and visa versa. You can also find hugs and candy if you're into that type of thing.


When you take a class at ESPA, you are privy to all kinds of ticket discounts and comps to On and Off-Broadway shows (i.e. Born Yesterday, The Elaborate Entrance of Chaz Diety, Gruesome Playground Injuries, etc etc).

Then, if you decide to take another class the following semester, not only do you get a discount as a returning student, but you can apply to be a teacher’s assistant which is OH SO SEXY because you get the class for FREE for doing some copying and TA-ey type stuff that really doesn’t require much extra time or effort. So if free tickets don't pay you back the full price of your class, TAing most surely will not to mention the invaluable connections you'll make. Those things = great deal.


Oh yeah, and in the interest of full frontal disclosurama, I met the above theater artists in a 2009 workshop given by Second Stage's bad ass Chris Burney (that's right, I said bad ass). Eight of us from that class came together to form the above-referenced 15th Floor, inspired by CB's class and TDF's book Outrageous Fortune. Our goal - fiercely supporting new work and the bitchin' artists that make that work possible.

The 15th Floor by primarystages

We're not the only collective of artists that have come together from ESPA. I hear there's another group going by the name Cusi's Cram and we might have a write-off this fall (alcohol and baked goods will be involved). So, basically what I'm sayin' is, I know of what I theaterspeak. I've gotten hugs; I've eaten candy; I've been a sexy TA and so can you. I wouldn't lead you astray. It's better than Viagra (from what I've heard).


There’s only one catch. You have to sign up. Like now. The classes start next week and there are only a few spots left, so grab them while you can kiddies, cuz if you miss out, you’ll have to wait til next semester which ain’t so bad but who wants to wait when you can have all that as soon as next week. Sweet!

The Einhorn School of Performing Arts at Primary Stages is located at 307 W. 38h Street, Suite 1510. New York City. To take your creative/professional life by the horns, check it out online, contact 212.840.9705 or email

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Free (or almost free) Things All Theater Artists in New York Should Know which includes cool stuff like health care, theater tickets, beauty services, and arts organizations that want to give you money. That’s right, Theaterspeak loves you like your mama does.

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