Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Ice Factory Cometh (to a new home) - Talking to the New Ohio Theatre's Managing Director, Marc Weitz

For those that don't know, how did the Ice Factory come about?

Ice Factory started in 1994. Back then there was far less going on in NYC in the summer in terms of theatre. It was pretty quiet, and Soho Think Tank, the theatre company behind the Ohio Theatre, thought it would be good idea to produce a festival of new work downtown.

The name “Ice Factory” was ironic – it was very hot in the theatre, so they picked the coolest name they could think of. And that’s the story. The festival has kept going ever since. 2012 is our nineteenth season. And now, of course, the summer is packed with theatre shows and festivals. It may be the busiest time for theatre in the city! (And, I hasten to add, we now have air conditioning, too.)

What is exciting you about this year's Ice Factory?
Well, every year is exciting, because the work is so different from year to year, but this is the festival’s first year in our new home, the New Ohio Theatre, so it’s been fun to see it growing and adjusting to its new environment.

One brand new thing this year is something we’re calling Fridays on Ice. Every week the theatre company in the space will produce something extra after the show on Friday, and the public can come by and hang out. It’s a chance to develop a festival community. We’re very excited about it.

 In the New Ohio Theatre's mission statement it says that the New Ohio "believes the best of this community operates at the core of the contemporary aesthetic conversation (in terms of both content and form)..." Can you expand a little upon the nature of this conversation and perhaps where you see it going or developing?

One ongoing topic surrounding content and form in the theatre is the question of what makes theatre unique and/or relevant in an age of movies and television. Many theatre artists are not comfortable putting a kind of realism on stage that could just as easily be turned into a movie, so they’re continually experimenting with new ways to tell a live story.

As far as trends go, we’re seeing a lot more ensemble created work, I think. There may be one playwright helping to shape the final product, but the material is being generated by the group.

Where or how do you see the work "expanding the boundaries of the public imagination"?
I think the work inspires audiences with what can be done in terms of new or different ways of storytelling. Surprising people with new answers as to how we can have a shared experience as a group. I haven’t seen Peter and the Starcatcher yet, but one of its co-directors, Alex Timbers, directed some work at the old Ohio, and I’m told that Starcatcher uses downtown storytelling techniques that are rarely seen on Broadway. It’s not the goal of most artists to make it to Broadway, I don’t think, but it is nice to see imagination trickling up, so to speak!

What is your background?
My background is pretty boring! I have an MFA in Acting from the American Conservatory Theatre. I moved back to New York City in the 90’s after grad school and have been involved in the New York theatre scene since then in many capacities as an actor, director, or producer.

How did you come to the New Ohio?
I came to the New Ohio in the winter of 2011. I had been an independent producer and director in the city for many years and decided I didn’t want to be independent anymore. Soho Think Tank was in flux because it had just vacated the only home it had ever known after 20+ years. I knew their work pretty well, of course – the Ohio was a vital part of the theatre community – but I had never met Robert. We were introduced by mutual friends, and the timing was right. It was really a pretty happy accident.
What is it like being in a new neighborhood? Are new relationships developing?
Oh, absolutely. We’ve worked with many wonderful artists and companies in this first year who were never at the old Ohio. And the community leaders and businesses in the West Village have been incredibly supportive of our work, as has our landlord, Rockrose Properties.

There’s an exciting theatre district developing in the West Village. Much of it has been there for a while, but it’s starting to come together more as a community. On the flip side, we weren’t sure if the audiences and the artists and the press would follow us during this journey, but they have. So the old relationships are still strong, too.

What are the challenges facing downtown theater today?

Money and marketing. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. The funding situation seems much worse since the 2009 recession. Corporate, foundation, and government funding is all down. And it’s so hard to get people’s attention! There’s so much competition for people’s leisure time. You’d think in a metropolitan area with a population of something like 12 million people that it wouldn’t be hard to get 80 people to see a show on any given night. But it’s incredibly difficult.

What are your hopes?
I hope we sell out every show in the festival!

Ice Factory 2012 begins June 27th - August 4th at its new West Village space, the New Ohio Theatre, located at 154 Christopher Street between Greenwich and Washington Streets. 

Performances are Wednesdays - Saturdays at 7pm. Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for students/seniors and can be purchased online at  or by calling SmartTix at 212-868-4444.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Playing a Theater Titan, Bringing Life to Lorca in "Olives and Blood" by Gian-Murray Gianino

Armando Riesco and Gian-Murray Gianino

When May Adrales, our director, and I first met after she had sent me the script, I told her that I wasn’t particularly interested in trying to make an exact replica of this man, this historical figure, named Federico Garcia Lorca. 

First off, there is simply not enough video footage of him to be able to copy his mannerisms, patterns of speech, etc. There are pictures, of course, and that allowed me to get a sense of his smile, for instance, and the physical posture that he held but those things are relatively topical and only allow you to go so deep. What we do have, of course, is his writing – his essays, poetry and plays that are just incredible.

My first exposure to Lorca was when Blood Wedding was assigned reading in a college theatre course and to be honest, I found it completely overwhelming. I think it would have been different if I had entered into his world by doing an actual production, but on the page I could not get into it and, in fact, found it insurmountable.
Gian-Murray Gianino and Kristina Valada-Viars

Anyhow, back to my conversation with May, I guess what I was trying to say was that Lorca and myself were going to have to meet halfway – we were going to have to attempt to embrace each other, and that is what the audience was maybe going to get a chance to see – two artists coming to terms with each other in the moment. Obviously, it is his writing that is left to speak for him, so I started to make my way through it, beginning with an essay called “Play and theory of the Duende”, some of the major poems that manifest themselves in Michael Bradford’s play, and the three big plays: “Blood Wedding”, “Yerma”, and “House of Bernarda Alba”. 

This time, I was drawn further in and further in and further in – it really is that deep. What was overwhelming for me when I was younger, now drew parallels for me as an artist. Suffice it to say that I didn’t have enough time to get through the entire cannon and our condensed, two week rehearsal process added to the challenge.

Lorca’s writing and thinking on the nature of man/woman and the artist, specifically, is rich and complex and I just tried to let it work on me. Even now, on the way to the theatre on the train, I will go back through a poem or two and see how they have shifted for me. I think my understanding of the man and the depth with which I am able to embody him on the stage will keep growing through the run and this is really a testament to the great depth of the work that he left for us.

All this being said, I think what has really struck me about the man, and I think Michael has crafted this in the play so beautifully, is the incredible passion and pure will that it took for this man to live the life he lived and die the death that he did.

OLIVES AND BLOOD, written by Michael Bradford and directed by May Adreles with Gian-Murray Gianino as Lorca runs through June 24th at HERE.

Photo Credits: Ric Sechrest

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Stephanie Bok Writes, Supports Writers and Does Other Cool Stuff.

"I loved doing something in a bar where people didn’t think of theatre as ‘high art,’ aka inaccessible...."
- Stephanie Bok

How did you first get involved in theater?

I did a lot of performing as a kid, with community theatre, dance recitals, plays in high school back in my hometown of Dover, DE. I studied theatre at the University of Southern California (a pretty long time ago) and have been working in the industry ever since in some capacity (admin, stage management, acting, teaching, writing, producing) in Los Angeles, Atlanta and here in New York.

How did WRITE NIGHT come about?

Three years ago, Cindy Hanson and I wanted to produce a performance featuring our own writing and include some of our talented colleagues (including Janice Lowe who has been with us since the start). 

I had just finished producing a month long play reading series at Freddy’s Bar and Backroom (it’s since been torn down and moved), and I loved doing something in a bar where people didn’t think of theatre as ‘high art,’ aka inaccessible. I had been a regular customer at Frank’s Cocktail Lounge for a number of years at that point and was excited about the idea of doing a performance there. 

Some of the American Candy writers and directors Patranila Jefferson, Matthew Wise, AC Jermyn, Hollie Harper, Stephanie Bok, Wilkie Cornelius
In 2009, we were in the middle of the Nets stadium controversy, Bernie Madoff had just been busted and the economy was all bad news. So Cindy came up with the theme “How You Doin’? You Okay?” We called it a theatrical ‘check in’ with words and music. 

It was a great success and we knew we had a good thing going. Other themes have been “Free Money,” “Dealbreakers,” “Bad Habits,” My First…” Each theme is just a jumping off point, and I keep it intentionally vague so it doesn’t direct the writers what to write. 

From AMERICAN CANDY: Love is Magic!! Dawn Fraser and Patranila Jefferson perform Bok's sketch “The Perfect Man.”
 It is always amazing to see what everyone comes up with. The best thing about Write Night is that it brings together a nice cross section of the community and while the people onstage and in the audience may look very difference from one another, there is a connection and identification through the work that everyone shares.

How can writers get involved?

We are pretty selective about who writes and performs the shows.  If writers want to perform with us, I’d ask them to send me a writing sample or invite me to a show they are doing. Mostly we use people whose work we know well and trust. The success of the shows is due to the level of talent in our writers. It is definitely not an open mic. 

There are about 16-20 people who have performed with us over the years and about 8 core writers (such as Paul Boocock who has done every performance since the 3rd show) who are with us regularly. 

Shashone Lambert performing “What Happened” at DeLux Gallery.
What's the dealio with the South Oxford Space?

South Oxford Space is an office building for 20 small to midsized theatre companies in Fort Greene. It is owned by the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York (A.R.T./New York), the service and advocacy organization for non-profit theatre in New York City. 

 There are 3 rehearsal studios available for hourly rental and one of the rooms is suitable for recitals and other small scale performances. I have been with A.R.T./New York since September of 2000 and am the manager of South Oxford Space. It’s a beautiful building full of companies creating great theatre every day.

You're a staff writer for AMERICAN CANDY which has a show coming up in July. What sets you guys apart from other sketch comedy group?

If I had to pinpoint one thing that really sets American Candy apart from other companies it’s the diversity of the talent and the subject matter of the material performed. It is produced by two very accomplished women, Hollie Harper and Patranila Jefferson and their standards for writing, directing and performing are very high. 

The cast is ethnically diverse and the sketches appeal to a wide demographic. It’s not dumbed down comedy for teenaged boys. It’s for people of all ages. Bottom line, it’s the funniest thing out there.

Bok's play “I’ve Seen You” performed at the American Theatre of Harlem One-Act Festival with Sandra Berrios and Lorrie Harrison
What is inspiring you right now in terms of other people's work, upcoming shows, art, politics, food...

It’s hard to be specific about this, but I get very excited about work that is brave and honest. When a writer gets to the heart of something and has to make her or himself vulnerable to get there. And when performers take risks, but keep true to the character, when they get rid of the ego, and can make themselves ugly to get to the beauty of the work.  It also goes for art. One of my favorite photographers is Nan Goldin because her work is brave and beautiful even when the subject matter can be ugly. 

I am also inspired every day by people I encounter in my regular life. I eavesdrop everywhere, not for gossip, but for little snippets of language, real life drama and situations that can end up in a story or play.

Do you have a writing schedule and if so, what is it? And if not, what's your non-writing writing schedule?

I am terrible at motivating myself to sit down and write. I need deadlines. So you might say my “writing schedule” is late nights the frantic week before a sketch, play or essay is due. I am thinking of starting a writing group just to be able impose a false deadline on myself. And also for the camaraderie and support of other writers I like to work with.

What's next?

As far as of my work being produced, what’s next is an outdoor performance of my piece called “What Happened” being done by Modern-Day Griot Theatre Company

It’s a monologue for 6-10 very diverse actors that explores the idea, “does the story change based on the appearance of who tells it?” It’ll be performed at Muss Walkway, near the Downtown Brooklyn Marriott on Friday at rush hour, 5:30pm as part of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership’s “Performing the Streets” series. 

I’m really excited to be associated with Modern-Day Griot, an up and coming new theater company who is doing great work in Brooklyn. Their Artistic Director, Pharah-Jean Phillipe is directing. And our next Write Night will be on September 27, with the theme “Going Places,” all about travel and transportation.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Radiance of playwright Cusi Cram

"If there is anything that this week working in a very basic and pure way has taught me is that it's really important for playwrights to get things up on there feet any way they can."
-Playwright Cusi Cram

  What are five things people don't know about Cino Nights?

1)  Sometimes you have to stop rehearsing at Jimmy's because there are beer deliveries.
2) There are some tubes in the alley behind the bar that supply beer to three different bars. I find this both fascinating and a little scary. Now when I drink a beer I will wonder where it is coming from in a whole different way.
3) People who come will see a whole play that has been rehearsed for less than twenty hours.
4) Addie does a lot of mopping of that back room where we perform. She is a magnificent mopper. And also just generally magnificent. As is Daniel.
5) No one is making a red cent. No one is getting reviewed. No one is in it for the glory. All that is very liberating and a good place to begin to make something interesting.

 What are five things you wish you knew?

1) I wish I knew how to make a soufle
2) I wish I knew a martial art really well. I would like to be a little bad ass.  l am not in the least bad ass. It might be too late for bad assery. But I remain hopeful
3) I wish I knew how to write intensely and exercise regularly. I can do one, but not both at the same time.
4) I wish I could figure out a way to live by the Mediterranean a chunk of the time and still be able to do all the theater things I love and be near the people I love. I might need to start some kind of martial arts/theater complex in Italy, France or Greece. It could solve a lot of my problems.
5) I wish I knew a language that has a completely different alphabet, any one would do, Russian, Greek, Arabic.
Originally, you thought the play would be titled Blind Tiger. Is it still and if not, why did it change?

The play is not called Blind Tiger anymore, though I have a big chunk of that play. This is something totally new and weird and different. It's called Radiance but you know it could be called Blind Tiger....Hmmm...I really like that title.

Are you still going to offer free Hooch and get the audience to participate in a drinking game?

I really do want to do that sometime. There is a lot of drinking in this play but it's a little more serious. The next one is all about figuring out a way to do audience participation drinking. Don't you want to go see a play that does that?

What is your play about?

It's set in 1955 and is based on a really weird piece of American history. In a very broad, big, sweeping sense, it's about shame and how and if people can forgive themselves after doing terrible things. It's set in a bar. I've never written a play in a bar before, which is weird because there is a lot of drinking in all my plays. I think I will be able to answer this question more eloquently next week, after we have performed it. I am still trying to figure a lot of it out. This is definitely a first, messy draft. It's terrifying to me that people will see it. But I think it's a good terror.

Advice for theater artists?

If there is anything that this week working in a very basic and pure way has taught me is that it's really important for playwrights to get things up on there feet any way they can. I think it's very easy to get lulled into waiting for other people to produce you. And then feeling bitter and angry when that doesn't happen. So much has been written of late about the whole culture of developing plays--and I think a lot of emerging writers learn how to develop plays but not actually put them up. Putting something up is so much more satisfying and edifying.

 I don't write plays to have readings of plays. I do this because I love making theater, collaborating with people who are smarter than me and help me make my work better, and through that process ultimately make me a better and more interesting person. I love making theater, not developing it.  I appreciate that plays often do need development and laud the theaters and institutions that do it well, but that is not my end goal when I write something. I want to do it in front of an audience for real.

My advice is this: beg borrow and steal to make your plays happen. And do it simply if you have to, but stay connected to the impulse that drew you to theater in the first place.  For me it has always been about finding a safe and creative place to play and romp with artists that fill me with awe. I can do that in a 500 seat theater, or the back room of a bar. My most satisfying creative experiences have often been in unlikely places. It's the making that is important. The rest is less important than one would imagine.

Anything you'd like to add?
I am so deeply grateful to the artists who have dedicated their time, energy and artistry to this process. Ana Reeder, Peter Hirsch, Kohl Sudduth, J. Eric Cook under the guidance of the amazing Suzanne Agins. And of course to Daniel and Addie and the good folks of Rising Phoenix Rep and the genius impulse that created this series. It's very wise and necessary. I don't say that about many things.

Get your Radiance on June 10th at 7pm at the Seventh Street Small Stage, 43 East 7th Street between 2nd/3rd Avenues

All Cino Nights performances are free, and space is extremely limited. Reservations will be available starting one week before the performance by calling our voicemail at 212.946.5198.

Radiance is written by Cusi Cram, directed by Suzanne Agins with J. Eric Cook, Peter Hirsch, Ana Reeder and Kohl Sudduth.