Thursday, October 25, 2012

You Will Make A Difference - AliveWire's Immersive Theater

  "...it reached back to something much more fundamental and basic – more powerful – in the human experience."
-Creator and director, Jeremy Goren on You Will Make A Difference

Perched on a corner of the Starbucks and Gap-riddled streets of the Upper West Side, AliveWire has poked into the forgotten rooms of the West Park Presbyterian Church to present You Will Make a Difference. The building, so easy to pass on a morning commute without a thought, is in actuality a labyrinth of strangely mismatched rooms and levels, creating the stage for a unique theatrical experience.

I won’t give away the surprises, but do go in with open mind and a willingness to immerse yourself in the experience. It left me with much to reflect on, so I posed a few questions to some of the key players in the creation of You Will Make a Difference: Creator/Director Jeremy Goren, Co-fonder/Producer Chana Porter, and Director of Development/Producer Eric Borlaug.
-Alex Rubin
You Will Make a Difference reconstructs the ritual of Theatre. Instead of sitting in a seat in a single space, we are moved through many rooms. What came first, the concept or the discovery of this space?

Chana Porter: The concept, definitely. It our early, pre-residency talks Jeremy was very clear on the movement of the piece and the audience as passing through different rites of passage, until the line between audience and actor becomes totally blurred. We just really lucked out with finding this gorgeous old church and being made so welcome there.

Jeremy Goren: You’re right to refer to reconstruction – rather than, say, innovation. First, though, let me mention that we’ve only scratched the surface of this, and there are many more serious people who know much more about “the ritual of Theatre” than I. In fact, it would be presumptuous for me to use the word “ritual” here at all, so I won’t. It’s not actually part of the intention. For me, this is merely art. I never took a theatre class. Everything I know came from other sources, reading, instinct, and my mentor, director/master teacher Polina Klimovitskaya.

On to your question: The dynamic of moving through rooms was, initially, an intuitive discovery for me while the concept of the piece was in the early stages of gestation. I took myself to task for it – famous projects utilizing this concept already existed after all. Was I sure that this was not just a theatre gimmick? I knew instinctively it wasn’t but had yet to understand why. Then, I found a dirty paperback in the $1 bin at a used-book store. This book – a seminal anthropological work from 1908 that I’d never heard of – made clear the ancient connections between my initial thematics – life transitions (particularly adolescence) – and the passage through distinct physical spaces. I felt comfortable to go ahead, knowing the concept was founded in something real and wasn’t just some smart idea I’d made up.

Months later, I visited West-Park Presbyterian and knew it was the place – not a theatrical void, but a grand, lived space that housed a remarkable and varied history and whose current residents were engaged in the same struggle as we, in a way. Then, while researching medieval miracle pageants in another old book, I read backwards to the chapter on Catholic liturgical drama and discovered that even 1000 years ago some Catholic clergy – to whom we hardly look for innovation or creativity these days – were staging progressive performances throughout their churches. I became ecstatic, much to the confusion of some around me who tried to reassure me that what we were doing was indeed innovative or special. It’s not – and that’s why it’s exciting. I was thrilled to discover that what we were attempting was not new or innovative or avant garde in the least (what is?) – but that it reached back to something much more fundamental and basic – more powerful – in the human experience.

Another reinvention of the rituals of Theatre is that instead of applauding and leaving with no interaction between audience and artist, the performance rolls right into a community activity. Why do you feel this is an important component of the experience of You Will Make a Difference?
Eric Borlaug:  The ending (which is my favorite experience of the piece) allows the audience to digest their experience in a truly non-theatrical way, but rather a personal one.  The “Living Installation” portion, where performers are stationed around the room telling personal stories to strangers, in which participants can move between performers, often mid-sentence, is such a unique and intimate closing.  Instead of applauding performers you get the opportunity to share in their lives as individuals, break bread with them, and on some nights join them for a ho down.  Did I mention that they tell different personal stories every night?



CP: Personally I never want people to feel experimented on in experimental theatre. You want to extend an invitation, to follow the white rabbit. I love the kind of village social vibe we strike at the end of the piece, because you’re not forced to talk about what you’ve just seen. You can talk about Doctor Who if you want. But then the experience keeps bubbling up into conversation. I think that’s the piece’s greatest success.

How do you go about organizing a theatrical experience like this?

EB: The key is collaboration.  We’ve had so, so many talented artists working on this project tirelessly over the last six months and we were lucky to have a network of other artists and supporters who came to our fundraisers and contributed to our campaigns.  Also, it didn’t hurt to have a director as passionate about, and dedicated to, this piece as Jeremy Goren.

What does it take to get an audience to follow you into an unknown space? What tactics do you use? What have you seen succeed and fail?

JG: These are huge questions. They’re perhaps the main questions I ask every day and each night during performance. I don’t have the answer. I can say that the indirect path can be the most direct. Then again, sometimes people want a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and so one has to reach out to them. It changes each night and with each person. This is the large experiment in this “experimental” work and the excitement of human interaction.


How do you go about getting people to come to such an out of the norm theatrical experience?

EB: We trick them.  Ha!  I jest.  We have been doing our best to have as diverse an audience as possible.  Some of our dinner night tickets are price prohibitive to some people, and so we also invite high school students for a fraction of the price.  We’ve been trying to invite people from a variety of community groups, people of all ages, and people of all degrees of social views.  Our goal is to get them all there at the same time, too.

Is there a Dream Found Space you want to create work in?

JG: I have no idea. The White House? Petra? Bandelier? The Black Forest? You have to find the space for it to be “found”, right? I really like West Park Presbyterian – it’s a fascinating building with an open and interesting community. For instance, today, I listened to Reverend Brashear and Teddy, a steamfitter by trade and the church’s sexton, discuss the Gov’t Mule version of “John the Revelator”, which led to The Book of Revelation and then into Ingmar Bergman.

CP: Everything I’ve thought of and went, yes! I then scared myself thinking of rehearsing in. Like the big abandoned hospital near my house. I believe in ghosts and residual energies, and you have to take that into account. Dia Beacon, the factory turned modern art museum, definitely. I’d like to do a modern dance piece there, with text.

EB: I’ve always thought it’d be really neat to do a play on the side of a long trail, like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail.  I can’t imagine going hiking for months a time without seeing a play.  Does it count as found if we’re not finding the space but rather the audience is finding us?

Scenario: the Earth is doomed, Armageddon style, and there is a rocket ship that can carry one artist of your choice. Who do you save?

EB: My initial response is Hart Crane, but it would probably be polite to return Lady Gaga to her people up there.

JG: I will assume that the rocket ship can move through space-time and bring back the dead, so: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

CP: Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul. His movies are so expansive and intimate. But is this a trick question? Aren’t you torturing the artist, sending them into space to be alone forever? If so, I have a different answer (which I will tell you in person.)

AliveWire Theatrics’ World Premiere of You Will Make A Difference is a collaboratively devised performance conceived and directed by Jeremy Goren. Performances take place now through November 11th at the West Park Presbyterian Church (165 West 86 St.) in NYC. For more info and tix you can visit AliveWire.

Photo Credit: Charlie Winter

Interview by Alex Rubin: New York based playwright and lyricist. She is a member of the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, 2012 SPACE on Ryder resident, 2012 ESPA*drills finalist, and recipient of the Francis Ford Coppola Award for Excellence in Theatre. Alex's plays have been presented by Primary Stages, Theatre for the New City, The Tank, The 45th Street Theatre, Hofstra University, Temple University, Thunderclap Productions, and Peter Schneider Productions. For more information, please visit www.AlexandraHRubin.com.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Playwright Kara Lee Corthron Takes Us Down the Rabbit Hole

"One pill makes you larger  
And one pill makes you small  
And the ones that mother gives you  
Don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice  
When she's ten feet tall..."
 What is Alicegraceanon about?

AliceGraceAnon is about three oddly connected heroines who each discover that their lives are in some way being authored by someone else.  It’s also about friendship and taking steps toward self-actualization.  Toss in 15 performers, a live band, an interactive installation, beer, and various elements of a 1960s-era happening and you’ll have the truest sense of what AliceGraceAnon will be.
 
What was the inspiration behind it?

When I was a kid, maybe because I was a surprise baby and everyone in my family was much older, I was really into classic rock—specifically the psychedelic 60s.  I also read the book Go Ask Alice sometime in
Grace Slick
my early teens and it riveted and terrified me.  It was fear of that book and my obsession with psychedelia that led me to read the Lewis Carroll books.  I was fascinated by the weird thread that connected these three phenomena: Go Ask Alice is taken from a lyric from Jefferson Airplane’s seminal acid-laced anthem “White Rabbit”, which was inspired by both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. 

For many years, these three things have been intimately intertwined in my mind.  So I think it’s safe to say that this play has been gestating in my head for a looooonnngg time. I always had the feeling that I’d create something inspired by Alice, Grace Slick (lead singer of Jefferson Airplane), and the Anonymous protagonist of Go Ask Alice.  But I never seriously explored what that something might be.  I thought “Wow. That would be a crazy mess!” But when Susan came to me back in 2010 with the commission, and when she stressed the idea that this should be my “dream play,” I figured if I’m ever going to explore this nutty concept, this is the opportunity.
 
Can you talk about the title?

I smooshed the names of the three heroines together and shortened Anonymous to Anon, because it sounded better. Super simple.

Alicegraceanon was originally commissioned by New George's Germ Project, how did that commission come about?

AliceGraceAnon was commissioned as a response to the shrinking of new American Theatre: the fact that new play casts are getting smaller and smaller and even the stages where new plays can be produced are literally being minimized around the country (this is discussed in eloquent and distressing detail in Todd London's brilliant book, Outrageous Fortune).  In response to this trend, Susan decided to commission four plays. Four BIG plays.  Four big, bold, adventurous, “un-producible” plays of grand scope.  And she used a bunch of other exciting words that playwrights don’t typically hear from producers. And I’ve been a New Georges affiliated artist for several years so,  Yeah.  That’s pretty much the story.
 
What was your process once it was commissioned?


It was sort of a unique process at least compared to others I’ve experienced.  Susan, Kara-Lynn, and I set up some deadlines early on.  The first one was just for the first 15 pages.  Even the process of putting this play on paper was unique.  When I started, to make the play’s beginning structure of three separate worlds onstage clear, I wrote the play in Microsoft Excel (I eventually learned that Excel is the devil’s playground and had to make other arrangements).  So even its appearance on the page was not the norm.  We continued working like this and in December of 2010, we did the first rehearsed workshop.  I think we worked and staged about 30 pages. 

In June of 2011, The Germ Project premiered. This was an evening of 20-minute excerpts or “germs” from each of the commissioned projects.  AliceGraceAnon was performed with Evening All Afternoon by Anna Ziegler, This is Not Antigone by Kathryn Walat, and Goldor $ Mythyka: A Hero Is Born by Lynn Rosen.  During The Germ Project’s run, on an Equity day off, I sat alone on our set at 3LD and finished the first draft of the play—well almost—all in that one day.  This was a skeletal draft and after a few more workshops and deadlines and dramaturgical discussions, here we are.
 
Where/how did you and Kara-Lynn Vaeni meet each other?

Kara-Lynn and I have worked together on several projects since we first met back in 2008 when New Georges presented a mini-workshop of my play Holly Down in Heaven and Kara-Lynn directed. Susan paired us up for that and it was a pretty wise match.  Doesn’t hurt that we have almost the exact same initials.

Can you talk about how the space is being used and how that idea developed as well as the audience relationship/participation with it and the play?

One of the coolest aspects of the Irondale is how big and old it is. We were instantly intrigued by the idea of using as much of it as possible.  To that end, before the actual performance begins, there will be these interactive installations relating to our three main characters that the audience members can experience. Some things will be obvious, can’t-miss-it-type things. Some will be more of a secret.

I can’t say more than that. But I can say that if people want to have fun with the interactive component, there will be plenty for them to do and if they’d rather sit quietly and wait for the show to begin, they’re totally welcome to do that, too.

Aside from the awesome/fun aspect of playing with the space, we want this to be a chance to give the audience some background for these characters and how they’re connected.  It’s probably most critical for our Anonymous character, the protagonist of Go Ask Alice.  I had an early reading of the play with a writers group and none of them had read the book and some hadn’t even heard of it.  Without any context, they had no idea what she was doing in the play.  So I feel like this pre-show interactive bit is sort of our version of the standard program note.
 
What's next?

After AliceGraceAnon opens, I’m going to have some downtime for a bit, which is probably a good thing.  In the winter, I’ll be heading back to Athens, Ohio to teach the rock star MFA playwrights out there.  BUT my play Holly Down in Heaven is currently running at Forum Theatre in Silver Spring, MD until October 20th.  So if anyone reading this is in/near the area, please go!  The cast is a dream and the production is delightful.
 
What was one of the most helpful things you were told or have learned about the business of being a playwright?

Everyone’s path is completely singular.  As singular as your voice as a playwright.  Why is this helpful?  Taken the wrong way, this can seem frustrating, but I’ve realized that it’s actually quite liberating.  My career has nothing to do with anyone else’s.  I don’t have control over how often my work is produced or how people will respond to it, but I can control the effort and heart I put into my work. 

I can say “yes” to those experiences that will support my growth as an artist and person and I can say “no” to anything that won’t.  This business is mysterious; at times rewarding and at other times, painful.  There are days when you will look at what someone else has and you’ll think, “that’s not fair,” because you’re human.  There will be days when someone will look at what you have and think, “that’s not fair,” because they’re human.  If you can remind yourself that your career is uniquely your own, it is so much easier to feel the gratitude you deserve to feel and gratitude leads to greater things. Trust me.

Theaterspeakers get special $20 tickets for performances from October 18th - 22nd. Just click here and enter SPEAK as your discount code.


GO ASK ALICE
- Lyrics by Jefferson Airplane


One pill makes you larger  
And one pill makes you small  
And the ones that mother gives you  
Don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice  
When she's ten feet tall  

And if you go chasing rabbits  
And you know you're going to fall
Tell 'em a hookah smoking caterpillar  
Has given you the call  
Call Alice  
When she was just small
 
When the men on the chessboard 
Get up and tell you where to go  
And you've just had some kind of mushroom  
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice  
I think she'll know  

When logic and proportion  
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards  
And the Red Queen's off with her head 
Remember what the dormouse said  
"Feed your head, feed your head"





Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Going Home - Daniel Talbott, A New Commission and Working with Family


 "When he comes to me with a vision, I know the realization of that vision is surely imminent."

-Actor Jimmy Davis on working with playwright/director Daniel Talbott on Afganistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait

 
  Anyone who knows theater artist Daniel Talbott knows that he's always up to something, and that something is usually a lot of things (i.e.acting, writing, producing, directing, teaching, advocating...), but when I heard he was going to San Fransisco over the summer with his wife and son to work on a new commission, and that his core group of actors (Seth Numrich, Jimmy Davis, Brian Miskell, Jelena Stupljanin, and Wendy vanden Heuvel) were traveling there to work with him, (joined by SF actor Liam Callistor) and live together in an intensely collaborative environment, I wanted to know more.

THE BEGINNINGS

Daniel Talbott: "About a year and half ago, I started getting really obsessed with how detached I felt about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and just how often I could go days on end without ever really thinking about the fact that we were fighting over there, and not just fighting but that many people were dying. The whole thing seemed so far away from me and my life, and I was pretty pissed at myself for being so detached and numb, and I just felt it was wrong and I wanted to try to find a way to begin to hopefully bring it closer to myself and make it hit more.

I started reading a bunch of articles about the wars, and just war in general, and watching as many movies and documentaries as I could, looking at pictures, watching things like videos of dads or moms coming home to their kids and families on Youtube, etc. And I just started kind of falling apart about it all and feeling pretty hopeless and disgusted, and that led me to want to try to write something about it."


Talbott was then commissioned by David Van Asselt and Brian Long of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and Lisa Steindler and James Faerron of the Encore Theater Company for the new West Coast Project.

"It’s this brilliant experience where you get to go out to San Francisco for almost three months and write a new play from scratch," said Talbott. "And then you go into rehearsal with it and fully try to get it up on its feet in this buck-naked barebones workshop with some tech for a few nights in front of an audience."

Talbott arrived in SF with some initial ideas and the beginning of the first scene and worked on completing a draft that would be rehearsal ready.

Talbott: "I was just kinda slogging away downstairs at Addie's mom's house every day with the back door open, listening to the ocean."

The play became AFGANISTAN, ZIMBABWE, AMERICA, KUWAIT (or AZAK for short). "I think of this so much as all of our play," emphasized Talbott. "I wrote it for Seth, Jimmy, Wendy, Jelena, and Brian, and it wouldn't exist without those guys."

FAMILY

"We operated as a family unit," says actor Jimmy Davis. "For three weeks straight, we spent nearly 24 hours, 7 days a week with each other. During the week we rehearsed, improvised, explored, performed and rewrote together. On the weekend, we relaxed and vacationed together. Every night we cooked meals, grocery shopped, cleaned dishes, took showers, and slept under the same roof. Daniel, his wife, his child, a revolving door of other various guests, and his mother-in-law slept upstairs. Me and the other actors slept downstairs in one room on two beds. It was like adult theater, sleep-away camp."

Actor Seth Numrich agrees, "There was a lot of time for us to be able to share things outside of the rehearsal room, there was one section of the play where after rehearsal Daniel and I were talking and I told him a story from my childhood that reminded me of it and he put it in, word for word."

"There's a  shorthand between us," adds actor Brian Miskell. "I've known Daniel for three years and I think that still makes me the newest to the group.  But we all know each other, everyone knows what makes the other person tick; the things they're passionate about, plus a ton of our baggage.  Some of that's in the play.  Some of it informed rehearsals.  And some of it was just helpful when we needed to blow off steam during a break or over dinner.  I was really grateful to have people I could trust this much and who knew me this well on such an intense play."

"Since Daniel and the Rising Phoenix Repertory people (Addie Johnson, Denis Butkus, Sam Soule, Julie Kline, Brian Roff) invited me to become a member of their company," says actress Jelena Stupljanin, "I think we did probably 4 or 5 shows together for RPR and then for other theater companies in NY where I worked with Daniel as a director. The latest one was in South Hampton early this Summer where we worked on Wickapogue Plays by HardSparks and I was in the piece written by J.Stephen Brantley which Daniel directed, and I was acting alongside Seth and Brian. With Jimmy we did "Much Ado about nothing" together for Boomerang theater co, also directed by Daniel. I've never acted with Wendy before and I was so excited about that!! I also met for the first time Liam Callister who is a SF based actor."

"Comfortability with each other allows us to work faster in the abbreviated rehearsal process without having to sacrifice the laughs that keep a rehearsal room boyant and fun for all involved," Davis adds. "Incidentally, Daniel's play covers some of the very heavy subject matter that is war. Keeping the lightness is essential...for me at least."

"There is a great vibe in the room that Daniel sets up that is both playful and also open enough for the floor to fall threw and your heart to break, it holds it all, and that I found to be unique," says Vanden Heuvel.  "I have worked with a few directors like that but the chill, not too self important or serious vibe wasn't there, and that, I think, is unique to Daniel."

Talbott: "They're family to me and some of the most brilliant and huge-hearted people I know. It so instantly felt at ease and at home. It never felt showy, or like any of us had to prove anything. For the whole time we were working on the play, I was just like, 'this is how I hope things will always be. How did I get so lucky to be surrounded by these guys?'"

"And Addie (Talbott's wife) and her mom and our family busted their asses to make it possible for me to be able to mostly just be a playwright while I was writing the play. Especially Addie was really great about making me do that cause I like doing a ton of things at once. We do everything together, and it’s a constant wonderful balancing act of who’s going to do what, and I wouldn’t be able to do any of what we do without A and our son B and our friends and fam, and their love and support and insanely hard work. I just felt blessed to be there."


INTENSITY AND COLLABORATION

"Daniel's written a play that shows us what it feels like when you're about to die," says Miskell, "and it's ugly and desperate and animal, but it's also so beautiful.  Watching people take care of each other as well as themselves in a situation like this is heartbreaking.  The way they interact is what makes them special, not just the cards they've been dealt. 

I was scared that if I didn't do my job, my performance would seem trite. But with 11 days of rehearsal, we didn't have time to placate that kind of fear, or get comfortable.  And it wouldn't have served the play.  There's nothing to hide behind.  These characters are starved down to exposed nerves and muscles and bones.  And trusting myself to leap into that place, embracing the fear of not knowing what the fuck I was doing rather than trying to manipulate it, was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do as an actor.  But it was also the most exhilarating when we performed it for an audience.

Talbott: "I really try to help lay down enough tracks or monkey bars to grab onto, physical actions and stuff, within hopefully a strong, specific, and defined world so that the play is moving forward and the story is hopefully being told, and then always try to balance that with trusting actors to do their work and find their way from bar to bar and track to track.

I also really try to make sure there’s tons of communication and trust and respect in the room, and to try to know when to shut up, or when to throw something out there that will hopefully be helpful. In the room, it’s a lot about intuition, and also trying to have a very flexible game plan to jump in with each day, and if there’s not a ton of respect and love and belief, I think you’re fucked. Actors have extraordinary instincts, and trusting them to do their work and not micromanaging them or trying to manipulate a performance out of them is so important."
 
"One of the reasons I love working with Daniel is that each time I've worked with him on a play" says Numrich, "he welcomes opinions and he's very open to hearing your thoughts even if it's not about a scene that you're involved in and when he disagrees he'll say that, but it so nice to feel like we're all on a level playing field in terms of creative input and thought. That kind of collaboration really makes it feel unique in that it gives your a very strong sense of ownership when you're performing it - I mean we only had two performances but if we had more, that sense of ownership, when you really feel you've helped create it, keeps developing over time."

"I think the main challenge for me in Daniel's work is this idea that you really can't hold onto anything ever," adds Vanden Heuvel, "Although don't get me wrong, there is character, story , musicality, language, etc, but his plays demand you to go out on a limb and risk in the ether, or you will fall smack dab on yo' face!  My character's journey is pretty much two big monologues, and I think that was challenging to keep on that train and not fall into tricks, but to give over to it and trust the ride. I also think the nature of the material is challenging because it is about War and Daniel wants everyone to experience that, not just talk about it."

"One evening Daniel suggested that Brian and I should go with him to the beach to work, to have rehearsal of our scene there," says Stupljanin.

"It's a scene where my character, Leadem's pretty far gone," adds Miskell, "and he imagines asking a girl on a date, and describes to her what that date would be."

Stupljanin: "We stayed there at that beach for maybe an hour or so working while the sun was going down 'into' the Ocean."

Miskell: "We sat on the rocks, ran through the surf, and waded out to watch the sun set.  It was one of those moments when I felt really profoundly grateful for what I get to do.  And part of appreciating that kind of beauty means realizing that one day it will be gone.  Which fed back into the play.  The dread of what it would be like to have to give all of that up, but the dream of getting someone like Jelena by my side at that moment?  It's one of the richest moments I've ever gotten to work on.

Stupljanin agrees, "It's something I'll always remember."

"Working with Daniel is always a whirlwind," adds Davis, "and it's always personal. His brain moves super quickly. He's an idea man always in the pursuit of making and creating art. And, unlike many, he has the uncanny ability to 'get it done.' When he comes to me with a vision, I know the realization of that vision is surely imminent."   

YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN

Talbott: "It was such an amazing thing for me to be back here, and especially to get to rehearse at A.C.T. at 30 Grant and stuff cause it’s where I started in the theater in Craig Slaight’s incredible Young Conservatory program. I kept walking the halls and being in those gorgeous rehearsal spaces looking out into the city and feeling so thankful for the folks in the Bay like Craig Slaight, George Maguire, Amy Potozkin, Ken Ruta, Bruce Elsperger, and Ed Decker who believed in me, especially when I couldn't believe in myself. And I just wouldn't have any of what I have now without them and the Bay Area theater community, and being back there reminded me so much of that."

"My parents actually moved to the Bay area so I've spent some time out there but hadn't seen any theater before this trip,"says Numrich. "We saw Lorenzo Pisoni's one man show Humor Abuse at ACT which was fantastic and the theater was beautiful. We also went to the Marin Theater Company and saw Circle Mirror Transformation which was really great. I was really impressed by the quality of work that I saw.

Also Lisa Steindler and James Faerron of Z Space were so awesome and so supportive of us. They gave us so much - whatever we needed and had such a lovely, welcoming feeling, and in terms of SF as a theater town - the two audiences that we had were really supportive of the play, which is great as it's really challenging and uncomfortable to watch in certain aspects and people responded to it really well. In New York, you find those audience as well but you also can sense a removal from the audience, it's harder to get people on board when your doing something more challengeing and we didn't feel that, people were with us from the get go, which was really great."

Adds Talbott: "Lisa also teamed up with the wonderful folks at A.C.T. (Mark Rucker, Carey Perloff and everybody) so that we had rehearsal space and got to perform in those guys' beautiful new black box on Market Street, The Costume Shop.

I also literally can never say enough amazing things about David Van Asselt (Rattlestick Playwrights Theater's Artistic Director), or ever express how much I love him and thank him for what he’s done for me, and the same goes for Lisa Steindler and James Faerron. Getting to team up together and work with them has been a dream come true. They are both always fighting the good fight and are unwavering, even in the face of these increasingly f***ing hard times for the arts in this country. They never give up; they make things like this project happen against all odds, by hook or by crook. They do it for the love of it and they always have your back, whether you take off and fly or you fall on your face and burn up. I really can’t say enough great things about both of them or say how much they both mean to me and how much I look up to them; they’re the real deal and neither of them get the credit the deserve - they aren’t fancy, they’re real.

BEST OR MOST MEMORABLE MEAL(S)

Stupljanin: "Jimmy's home made vegetarian spaghetti."

Miskell: "After several days of contemplating starvation in the desert for hours (punctuated with burpies and sit-ups and insane Talbott-devised exercises) it felt amazing one night to go to Jasper's Corner Tap and Kitchen and just get a grilled cheese with pulled pork.  And Addie Johnson makes a mean mess of pasta for an army of hungry actors."

Vanden Heuvel:  Addie Johnson's pasta!!!!!!! Jimmy's pasta was good too but not as good, sorry Jimmy!!! At one point during on of our communal dinners, my 12 year old daughter and Jimmy Davis broke out in a dance routine with huge laughs and joy and I think for me this was a huge highlight. It doesn't get better than this I thought!

Talbott: "Blowfish Sushi is pretty badass and also the breakfast burritos at Coffee Bar, and I think the best meals we had while we were our here were the things we all made together with stuff from the Marin farmer's market - they were pretty amazing too. We ate really well and together, and it sucks not to all be having dinner together every night. I really miss everyone being out here."

Numrich: "We went to a really great restaurant in Sausolito called Le Garage. Daniel's family and Addie's mom Jan go there fairly frequently and they had fantastic food but a lot of the best meals where what Addie and Jimmy would whip up. Addie and Jimmy were the chefs of the house and they would always  come up with something seemingly out of nothing."

WHAT'S NEXT

Jelele: "Zack Calhoon wrote a play for Sara Thigpen and Sevrin Anne Mason and me that will be directed by another RPR member Julie Kline and produced by RPR. Also, as a creative producer I'm developing a feature film that is a collaboration between several filmmakers from 7 different countries who are all alumni of the Berlinale Talent Campus 2012."

Miskell: "I'm doing two different pieces at Jimmy's No. 43 in the beginning of October.  The first is a few scenes from Hamlet on October 2 and 3, directed by Knud Adams. Then on the 8th and 9th I'm in Barn, a new play by Charlotte Miller directed by Michael Padden, and I get to act with two of my favorite people (and fellow Lit Associates at Rattlestick), Diana Stahl and Sanford Wilson.  And then I'll head to Washington, D.C. for the rest of the year to do Annie Baker's The Aliens, directed by Lila Neugebauer at the Studio Theatre. And I really hope we get to do AZAK again soon.  I'm hungry to dive back into it."

Numrich: "I just started rehearsals for Golden Boy presented by Lincoln Center at the Belasco which opens December 6th, with preview starting on November 8th. I'm having a great, great time. It's a beautiful play with an outstanding cast. It's a dream."

Vanden Heuvel: Marty Moran's  "All the Rage" at the Peter J Sharp theater in January which is a co- production with piece by piece, Rising Phoenix Repertory, and The Barrow Group, also we are doing Daniel's play Slipping out in Los Angeles in March/April with Rattlestick. Also work on a project with the Lake Lucille Chekhov community that was started by Melissa Kievman and Brian Mertes in the soon to be future.

Talbott: "I’m heading back home to NY in a couple weeks and the Stick’s season is starting up with Adam Rapp’s amazing and completely badass new play Through the Yellow Hour, and we have a ton of Rising Phoenix Rep stuff going on too - our next Cino, some shows at Jimmy’s we’re trying to figure out dates for, and our next Off-Broadway show: Martin Moran’s stunning All the Rage.

We’re also editing the new Cino book, and I’m starting rehearsal on a new play by Crystal Skillman that I’m directing and working on with her, along with the wonderful Lanie Zipoy and also especially Addie who’s going to be in it. And Seth and Jimmy and Jelena and I are all starting to work on a couple of film projects together too, which we’re all really excited about.

I hope the next step for the play is that we all get to do it together in SF and hopefully at the Stick maybe next season, and I just want to keep going on it with these folks and get back in the room with them all as soon as possible."

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Why Broadway Needs the Independent Theater Community - Brad Burgess on the NYLit Fund

"I see this project revolutionizing arts funding in this country and being the tip of an iceberg that will improve our entire country's culture."
-Brad Burgess
Actor, Advocate

How did you get involved with the League of Independent Theater Fund?

John Clancy emailed me about a month ago to ask me about some things I had said at the Players Club several years ago, when I first addressed the independent theater community after Judith Malina spoke about crisis management (at the last minute, in place of her good friend Olympia Dukakis, who is also very supportive of all of this stuff, and just a great advocate for theatre in this city and country and world wherever she is).


Tell us about your major/minor league model for theater funding.

 Those of us not on Broadway, do not necessarily want to go to Broadway. We can do and say things outside Broadways confines. However, like sports, the people on Broadway are developed outside of Broadway, so just like the majors need the minors, Broadway needs us, even though some of us don't really intend on being there. There are too many examples to name from the Living Theatre, La Mama and TNC alone, that it's pretty clear this is the case. Just read Martin Sheen's story of how he got his Equity Card, right on their website.

How can we make this mutually beneficial relationship happen?

It is going to happen for the above reason alone. If not immediately, Broadway will see how absolutely cheap an idea this is, compared to what we really could be asking for, once you really understand the answer to the above question. Otherwise, other cities that support the arts will do stuff like this first, and NYC will have to do it later. But, there are too many smart people for that not to happen here pretty quickly, I think. Judith Malina and Edward Albee said so...what else do you need to know? They know best.


What is your background as a theater artist?

I'm gonna give you the whole story, hard to separate it out in any way.

I started theatre in high school in response to my early retirement as a ball player, ha! I looked at my chances at 5 foot nothing and 100 pounds as a freshman and realized my time had come to try something else, as I could no longer be excellent in sports, and in fact, stood probably to get hurt if I continued to participate, haha.

My favorite teacher in high school, and my first mentor, Mr. Tom Murphy, was the head of the drama club. I loved performance because of sports, and rehearsals were like practice. He suggested I try it. It was a natural fit but I was not sold permanently on it for a while.

I was president of the debate club for a while. I wasn't going to do theatre in college and was a psychology, education and literature major at Hampshire College.

Someone I knew told me her sister was stage managing a play at Smith College and they needed guys. So I went and auditioned and got a part in Mother Courage as Swiss Cheese, loved it, but was focused on school, so that was that.

Then, I got a call to go to a callback for an audition I hadn't even attended, at Smith, so I felt obligated to go and the director offered me this part on the spot based on Mother Courage, and gave such a speech, I couldn't say no. It was Alan in Equus (before Radcliff) and I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

After that, which was just a huge success beyond what I ever imagined - first time male nudity had been presented at a Smith College mainstage production in its 100 year history but I thought I would be a musician, and was not sold on the whole thing. I was at least convinced I wanted to be an artist of some sort.

Then, before I was to go on tour with a band, I got a call from someone saying a theater in Key West needed an Alan, and they were recommending me, and before I knew it, I had the part and was leaving college in the middle of my sophomore year, to go be paid to act in Key West. I was doing another part at Smith, and also received this incredible recommendation from a Russian director Venyemin Smekov, who gave me the courage to just go for it, kind of, "wow, if this guy, who has worked all over the world thinks this, I have to go to Key West and try this out with adults."

After Key West invited me back to do The Graduate, someone mysterious named Harvey Rockman, from Key West, called me and started to connect me to people in New York. Driving to NYC and Long Island to meet with important producers, famous actors etc. The one connection that stuck was Sondra Lee, an amazing acting coach. The first thing she ever said to me, when I walked into class before I even made it around to the stage to look her in the face, was "I hear you are doing The Graduate, I remember coaching Dustin before he did the role and..." I was into it.

I studied with Sondra for a year hard, and we hit it off. Then, browsing Craigslist I found, amidst the 90% porn auditions, something called The Brig. Then I read Judith's essay on The Brig. It blew my mind. I knew I had to be in this play and in this company (that I had never heard of). I went to the auditions, busted my ass in those extremely physical and psychological trials and tryouts, and I new I was going to get it.

We opened The Living Theatre on Clinton Street, won two Obies for the production, then took it to L.A. to the same critical praise. Came back from L.A. to sleep on the risers at the theatre, and a week later Hanon had a stroke, I was in the back of an ambulance with Judith, and he was dead one month later, just as we were about to move him to physical therapy and rehabilitation.

I have lived and worked with Judith for almost exactly 4 years since, and all that that comes with is the entirety of my theatrical experience.

What can the average Joe/sephina do to help?

Attend more theatre. Get more cultured. Challenge their personal standards and opintions and become involved in the arts, which are a necessary part of life. In fact, with better arts and culture, including education, every other industry stands to improve from smarter, enlightened individuals.


Brad Burgess is the executive producer and associate artistic director at The Living Theatre.  Since 2008 he has taken care of Judith Malina and been her assistant, student, collaborator and friend. Shake your money maker here for more information.