Thursday, September 26, 2013

Director Kel Haney on the Ride that is Jon Caren's Play, The Recommendation

 "Go out and be social--remember why you are writing a play and not the next great American novel."
-Kel Haney
Director of The Recommendation

How did you meet Jon Caren?

Jon and I were both selected to participate in the Old Vic/New Voices Exchange Program, helmed on this side of the pond by Stephen Stout. We were paired together: Jon to write and me to direct a short piece to be performed by American actors at the Old Vic in London. Our first meeting reminded me of a TOP CHEF competition: we had to select actors (based solely on their headshot & a quick blurb from Steve) with whom we would collaborate. It was stressful, it was weird, but we ended up with a phenomenal team: Celeste Arias, W. Tre Davis, Nathaniel Kent and Ariel Woodiwiss & produced by the incomparable Adam Blanshay. Jon wrote a brilliant little piece about the social anxiety of networking at a theatre party, which took place mostly inside the central character's head. He essentially gifted me and the actors with a playground--it was an awesome collaborative experience. And the piece went over extremely well--we had 700 Brits connecting to (and laughing at!) our work.

What drew you to The Recommendation? 

I first read the play during the Old Vic trip, on the plane ride over to London. I immediately loved how Jon plays with expectation. To me, this play feels like an amusement park ride, you don't know where you'll be transported next or how the tone will evolve or which established conventions will be broken. The uncertainty of Jon's play felt simultaneously playful and dangerous, funny and moving, and innately/uniquely theatrical--all of which was very intriguing to me. I also immediately responded to Jon putting individuals on stage whom we don't regularly see in plays produced in New York City. 

It's extremely important to me that I collaborate on work that explores unheard/lesser-heard voices in our culture. I also personally related to the character of IZZY--when I moved to NYC in '04 I was suddenly introduced to world of wealth and connections that I truly didn't even know existed and found myself 'behind the curve', and struggling to fit in.

How do you work with the writer in and outside of the room? Is it different with different writers?

I feel like I could give a really long and complicated answer to this question, but it really boils down to every experience being vastly different. There are countless factors that affect how I work with writers: what is the overall objective of the process, where the writer feels like s/he is in the development process of the work, what is the nature/length of our collaborative relationship...I like getting to know writers as well as possible, as people, first. I find that learning about a individual's personality, sensibility, sense of humor, tastes (in anything and/or everything) and asking questions about what inspires, what frightens, what confuses him/her, connected to the play, and in life, in general, is exceedingly helpful to understanding the work at hand and this particular person's world view.

You are a director in residence at the Flea. What has that experience been like?

The Flea, led by Carol Ostrow & Jim Simpson, has giving me an artistic home for the past 10 months. In that time, in addition to directing this production of THE RECOMMENDATION, I directed ROMEO & JULIET (with Liz Carlson) for The Shakes, a few episodes of a #serial by Christopher Sullivan, and over a dozen readings and workshops  (including work by Jessica Dickey, Jen Silverman, Michael Walek & Micheline Auger). 

I also had the opportunity to use The Flea's space to rehearse outside projects, including pieces for Rattlestick and Rising Phoenix Rep. Maybe most valuable of all, I've gotten to know roughly 150 new actors, through The Bats (the Flea's resident acting company). I'm sure I will be working with many of these actors throughout our careers. 

What has been inspiring to you about working in the theater? 

Basically, everything. I'm being totally serious. As a kid, I wanted to 'do the play' everyday and would do everything in my power to convince my brother, my cousins, the neighborhood kids--anyone, to join me. If there was a group of people around, of course they'd want to put on a play, right?! But nobody was terribly interested, which made me pretty sad and more than a little lonely. My 5-year-old version would be beside herself if she knew my grown-up version gets to 'do the play' with other people who are just as passionate and tenacious. I try to keep this in mind and bring that enthusiasm into the room everyday.

What has been frustrating to you about working in the theater? 

The financial side, most of all. It is beyond depressing and disheartening to witness such a plethora of talented individuals chasing after such a small slice of the pie. And it's disheartening to see theatre tickets costing so much and so vastly limiting the percentage of the population that can actually afford to attend. And obviously, who is attending is the largest factor in what work is actually being produced, whose stories are being told. 

Any advice for up and coming playwrights? 

The most 'successful' and (dare I say) 'happy' writers I know have a daily writing schedule. And they stick to it. Also, I think hearing your work read aloud, in a safe/no-stakes atmosphere, as soon (or sooner) than you are ready is crucial. And make friends with actors, directors, designers, and other writers. While I've never had a strong impulse (or maybe the courage) to be a writer myself, I'd imagine that spending so much time alone, with the characters you're creating, can be lonely and isolating. Go out and be social--remember why you are writing a play and not the next great American novel.

Any advice for up and coming directors? 

Be 'in the room as much as possible.' At the start of your career, I'd suggest basically saying 'yes' to any directing opportunity that comes your way--at that point, any/all experiences are extremely valuable. Also, focus on assistant directing--in hindsight, I wish I had done more of it. I've learned a tremendous amount from assisting artists such as Doug Hughes, Lynne Meadow, Michael Greif and Joanna Woodward. Assisting directors that you admire on projects that inspire you will pay off exponentially--getting to observe another director's process is priceless and increasingly rare, as you get move further along in your own career.

Salty or sweet? 

Definitely both. At the same time. I'm addicted to Kind Bars right now and I need to ration myself--one a day.

What's next? 

Working to get as many folks as possible to see THE RECOMMENDATION (now extended until 10/7!) is my main focus at the moment. I'm also doing a bit of short-term traveling. In November, I will be directing a piece by Theaterspeak's own Micheline Auger for Caps Lock's "Sex with Robots" Festival. 

Oh! I am psyched to participate in Youngblood's Asking For Trouble at Ensemble Studio Theatre (it's basically a "back to school" event for about 100 writers, directors, and actors--there's even a 'Sorting Hat' that determines who collaborates with whom). I love it!

The Recommendation is playing at the Flea Theater until October 7th, 2013. For tickets, click here

Monday, September 23, 2013

(Not Just) 3 New Plays: Why Sharing is Caring (and so much more)

Kevin Armento, Jaclyn Backhaus and Jerry Lieblich
"...what if we shared not just the space, but everything. Designers, fundraising, marketing, everything..."
- (notjust)3NewPlays
Tell me about (not just) 3 New Plays:

We believe firmly that for emerging New York theater artists, everybody wins when anybody wins. It's upsetting to see people approach their art with the mindset of competitive careerism - “there are only so many slots in so many theater seasons, and I need to elbow everyone else out of the way to get it.”

So we've decided to fly directly in the face of that individualistic, competitive model of production by creating (not just) 3 New Plays.

For the month of September, we're producing our three plays in repertory. EUDAEMONIA by Jerry Lieblich, KILLERS by Kevin Armento, and SHOOT THE FREAK by Jaclyn Backhaus are all running in the same space, on a shared set, and with a shared budget.

In addition to this, we've invited over 100 artists to use our space for rehearsals, workshops, and performances of over 50 new pieces - totally for free. Everything from dance, to theater, to stand-up, to improv, to film, to visual art – the whole space has become a buzzing little arts ecosystem.

Where did the idea come from?

We are playwrights who have been garnering attention, but little else. So even though we’ve written plays we felt were ready for production, we knew that sitting around and waiting for institutional support would get us nowhere.

This past spring, Jerry was AD’ing a new play and he noticed a glaring disconnect in a very standard production model. The company raised a ton of money so they could rent a great theater space, but then (with only 4 performances a week) left it dark 90% of the time.

So he came to Kevin and Jaclyn with an idea—what if we produced our plays together, split the rental cost, and shared the space? From there it ballooned out – what if we shared not just the space, but everything. Designers, fundraising, marketing, everything. We realized that if we teamed up, our work would receive a bigger budget, higher production value, and greater visibility—it would be something far bigger than we could ever make alone.

Then, we decided to take this collectivism even further, and offer up our space to all other artists who need it. We could make the most of that rented space, and fill it to the brim with as much new work as possible.

What have been some highlights so far, or what's surprised you?

The space feels like a collective space – when you walk in, you get the sense that a lot is going on here. It's great seeing audiences pick up on that, and come back to see more work they might not otherwise have been exposed to.

The biggest surprise though, was how many different opportunities we’ve been able to provide. We've given space to over 100 artists, established AND emerging. Everyone from our friend Asher who is doing his first public stand-up routine, to Lisa D'Amour, who is holding workshops for her upcoming piece, Milton. Companies like The Amoralists and Naked Angels are showing new work on September 23rd! Everybody needs space, and we are more than happy to provide.

To be honest, it's exciting to have created a model that's a true win-win-win – artists are happy because they get free space, we're happy for the increased exposure and audience traffic, and the venue’s happy to meet all these artists who might one day rent their space.

What are your hopes for the project?

We hope people copy us! Please! We hope we've made something that's repeatable not just by us. And frankly, we'd love to be given free space too!

But seriously, how amazing would it be if this became the new model for production? If artists were always sharing space like this? We'd sure like to live in that world.

Any advice for artists interested in producing their own work?

Do it! Nothing is more important than seeing your work up on its feet. Readings and workshops are one thing, but nothing compares to actually hunkering down in the rehearsal room, to actually performing the play for an extended run in front of different audiences every night.

There's also a lot to be said for the intellectual independence of making your own work. It's incredibly liberating to not have to ask permission to make your art, and realize that you can just do it yourself.

And lastly, copy our model! Bring in as many people as possible! Make shit free! If you want to hear more about how we did it, e-mail us. We'd love to chat. (,,

Anything else?

Come see our plays! We're running until September 29th at Tom Noonan’s Paradise Factory (64 East 4th Street). More info at

(For a haiku synopsis of the plays, see below....)

By Jerry Lieblich
directed by Marshall Pailet
Featuring: A.J. Shively (Broadway: La Cage Aux Folles; February House, The Public Theater), Emma Meltzer, Brandon Espinoza (Broadway: Les Miserables, Big, Gypsy) and Brennan Caldwell (Zelda, NYMF)
Wednesdays @ 7PM
Fridays @ 9PM
Saturdays @ 8PM
Sundays @ 2PM

By Kevin Armento
directed by Stefanie Abel Horowitz
Featuring: Katy Wright-Mead (Boardwalk Empire), Rania Salem Manganaro (Hit the Wall, Barrow Street Theatre), John Gasper, Emma Ramos (One Night in the Valley, INTAR), and Chris Thorn (Of Mice and Men, The Acting Company) 
Thursdays @ 7PM
Fridays @ 7PM
Saturdays @ 2PM
Sundays @ 5PM

By Jaclyn Backhaus
directed by Andrew Neisler
Featuring: Ryann Weir (The Collected Rules of Gifted Camp, The Brick), Jamie Effros (Back of Throat, The Flea Theater), Claire Rothrock (Clown Bar, Pipeline Theatre Company), Ben Otto (Debutante, Ars Nova ANT Fest), Maxwell Eddy, and Sarah Todes
Tuesdays @ 7PM
Thursdays @ 9PM
Saturdays @ 5PM
Sundays @ 8PM


EUDAEMONIA (by Jerry Lieblich):

Demon in my walls.

I want to be someone else.

Faust, but for hipsters.

KILLERS (by Kevin Armento):

pretty little bug

sitting pretty on my hand

i'm gonna smash you

SHOOT THE FREAK (by Jaclyn Backhaus):

Wait. You guys? Where's Earl?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Diana Oh & The Fierce Collaboration that is The Sister Rosettas

"Watching other artists be fierce makes me feel fierce."

Diana Oh
Lead Vocalist of The Sister Rosettas

What was the inspiration for The Sister Rosettas?

In July of 2013, I agreed to a theatre space in September of 2013...I didn't have a show yet...but I knew I'd dig something up out of my pile of past projects or some brilliant strike of inspiration would hit. Fast forward one week, I meet a stranger in the street. His name is Eric Miranda. A veteran guitarist who's played with every famed musician under the sun. He used to have a rock band called Ming Dynasty fronted by an Asian woman. He introduced me to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, we bonded over her, four days after we met, we played a set together, I thought, "let's really put together a theatrical event focusing on reviving Ming Dynasty's music, and paying homage to their work." Naturally, that brought up a whole slew of questions about identity and race.  

The Sister Rosettas is a theatrical event that centers around the music of Ming Dynasty, and also features original songs written by Philippe and me. The show, The Sister Rosettas features myself on lead vocals, Eric Miranda (founding member of Ming Dynasty) on lead guitar/vocals, Philippe Arman on bass/vocals, Matt Harrington (previous Ming Dynasty band member) on drum/vocals, Kole Smith (previous Ming Dynasty band member) on guitar/vocals. And opening acts by my friends who I think are a really big deal: Artist, Christopher Gabriel Nunez (9/13), Queer Asian Comedian, Jes Tom (9/20), Performer, Lauren Hennessy (9/27)

What was it's development? How did you get involved with terraNOVAcollective? 

After Eric and I met on the street and played our first set together, I sent Jessi D. Hill (creative director for The Sister Rosettas) a text that said, "Jessi, we are going to make an art baby." I decided I wanted to do this for real, texted Eric as well. He was way down. Eric called in Matt for drums and Kole for guitar (both who were original band members of Ming Dynasty), Eric met this sexy bassist on the street named Philippe after he met me. Boom, band formed. Jessi and I would work on storyline. Eric would work on musicline. Music practice, music practice, music practice, endless music practice. Script rehearsal, script rehearsal, script rewrite, endless rewrite, rehearsal. Tech. Fancy lights. Show. 

terraNOVA has been an artistic home for me over the past year. I was cast in Rob Askins' P.S. Jones and the Frozen City, had a sold-out extended run of my solo show, Diana Oh is GOING ROGUE, the solo show in their 10th Annual soloNOVA Festival, participated in a handful of their Groundbreakers work. Jennifer Conley Darling and Jessi D. Hill (Producing Directors of terraNOVA) saw me first in Mariah MacCarthy's work (The Foreplay Play and Magic Trick).

How do you like to develop material? 

With a director holding my hand, with friends who make me laugh who encourage me to by myself by virtue of them being themselves, with the hours between midnight and 4AM. Songwriting though is different--that takes on more of a form of journal writing, super private weepy stuff.

How did you come to the theater (i.e. what is your background)?

 Oh, you know the usual. Some teacher touches your heart, encourages you, makes you feel invincible. For me, that was my high school Madrigal choir teacher Mr. Pressman, and my acting teacher Ms. Grant. 

How did you get so fierce? (and while you're at it share your definition of fierce for us). 

Fierce. Fierce to me means "I don't give a fuck." Fancy lights make me feel fierce. No joke. A stage is a stage and there is nothing that makes you feel more present than a hot light shining on you. Dancing makes me feel fierce. Drums make me feel fierce. Watching other artists be fierce makes me feel fierce. Eric Miranda is FIERCE. MUSIC. Music makes me feel so fierce. If I'm not feeling fierce, I call my mom, talk to my room mate Leta, I write a song about it, or write a gratitude list. Confidence is fierce. Whenever everything else around me is sucking ass, as long as I can go to that place of knowing who I am, how I want to affect the world, how I want to correspond with people, then it's all good man, I'm gonna be fierce, and you're gonna be fierce. And life is too short--be fierce! 

Salty or sweet? 

OH MY GOD please don't make me choose. Salty and sweet: chocolate covered pretzels, salads with apples! I can't choose--I like both. At the same time. 

When you need inspiration what do you do? 

I leave my effing apartment. I watch a movie. I watch a show (any show--music, theatre, dance, anything). I have sex. I make my friends hang out with me. I read Play by, Dr. Stuart Brown. I go to a new restaurant. I do another Filling the Well retreat. I watch Youtube. Anything that lets me shut off, and allows me to enjoy other people's work. 

What's next? 

Hopefully, a continued run of The Sister Rosettas. Leta (director ofGOING ROGUE) and I are planning a tour of Diana Oh is GOING ROGUE, the solo show. Christopher Gabriel Nunez is producing An EP and music video of my songwriting work. Filling the Well retreat in November. I have some callbacks coming up for acting work that will pay my rent so who knows, really. Something. I'll be working on something.

Where do you see yourself in five years? 

Doing exactly what I'm doing. But on a greater scale. 

Where do you see yourself tomorrow? 

At a callback. Literally. And continuing doing exactly what I'm doing.

Where do you see yourself right now? ;) 

Right now, I'm in bed in my underwear answering these questions. And I'm doing exactly what I'm doing. 

Anything you'd like to add? 

Your support system is everything. Thank you Micheline for your support.

The Sister Rosettas plays two more shows Friday, September 20th and Friday, September 27th at 9:30 PM at IRT Theater (154 Christopher Street). For more information and tickets click here.

Diana Oh (Lead Vocals): is the Lead Vocalist for The Sister Rosettas. She recently closed an extended sold-out run of her solo show Diana Oh is GOING ROGUE, the solo show that was based upon her original music, songwriting, and relationships. MFA, NYU Musical Theatre Writng (Elphaba Thropp Fellow). National Theater Institute Alum. BA, Smith College. As an actor, musician, lyricist, and songwriter, her work has been featured at Lincoln Center, The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, Barrington Stage, Goodspeed Opera House, Caps Lock Theatre, LAByrinth, Gideon Productions, FullStop Collective, the Bad Boyz II soundtrack, BBC National Geographic. She also leads Filling the Well Artist's Retreats.

Eric Miranda (Vocals/Lead Guitar): has sung and played guitar with Rick Derringer and Rainbow's Joe Lynn Turner, played bluegrass with Boo Reiners in the Demolition String Band, written and performed with Jesse Malin and Francis Dunnery, and been on stage with the Counting Crows and Ryan Adams, who called Miranda's The Plums, his favorite band. He's played punk, power pop, rock and bluegrass, drums, bass and guitar and was also the vocalist, songwriter, guitarist, and drummer for Ming Dynasty before the band dispersed in 2009.   

Jessi D. Hill (Creative Director): is Associate Artistic Director of terraNOVA Collective in NYC where she curates the Groundbreakers Playwrights Group. Recent and upcoming directing projects include work at The Public/Joe's Pub, New York Theatre Workshop, Women's Project, Primary Stages, The New Group, Dixon Place, New Dramatists, The Lark, The Playwrights Realm, The Playwrights Center, Chicago Dramatists, New Georges, Ensemble Studio Theatre and others.  She has been a guest director in professional training programs at Yale School of Drama, Fordham University, Long Island University, Powerhouse/NY Stage & Film, NYU/Tisch, NYU/Atlantic, NYU/Strasberg Institute of Theatre and Film, NYU/Playwrights Horizons, Hunter College and others. MFA: Yale.