Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Drunk Girls in Heels on Unlimited Champagne Brunches, Drunk Proverbs, and Writing Their Own Web Series

"But then she got wasted and texted me later that she had gone to the grocery store and just bought a sheet cake. "
Recently, Theaterspeak Editorial Assistant Charlotte Brook sat down with the ladies of the new web series, Drunk Girls in Heels, to discuss how they created, wrote, and starred in their own original web series.

What is Drunk Girls in Heels (or DGIH for short)?

Julia Sherman: Drunk Girls in Heels is a web series, a pretty incredible web series, if I do say so myself, that is about three women in their mid-twenties just trying to navigate this crazy, unlimited-champagne-brunch world.

Nora Fullmoon: How we describe it on our website is, “A web series now, a lifestyle always.” It’s really a mind-set, a perspective!

Julia: It’s about having fun and friendship.

Nora: And about looking good! Wanting to strut yourself in New York City.

Keely Flaherty: It’s about fashionable alcoholism.

So along with the web series, what else does your group do?

Keely: It started off as a twitter that we all kind of wrote on our own (@DGIHTweets). 

Julia: Our tweets are like drunk proverbs. 

How did it begin? What has the developmental process been? 

Julia: I was out one night at Crocodile Lounge, and I saw - across the street at Artichoke Pizza - another staple, this very drunk girl in huge heels, and she was falling. But she was trying very hard to turn this fall into a turn; she tried to melt to the ground a little bit, as if she meant to do it. And then her friends are sitting there in line telling people, “Go around, just go around”. And she’s just sitting there on the ground saying, “I’m fineeeeeeee”. And I was just thinking that’s hilarious! That’s a drunk girl in heels, which is a term Nora had come up with a few weeks before. She used to joke that that was going to be her memoir titles; sorry I stole it! 

Nora: You know with your friends how you have those inside jokes and when you say them you know what you’re talking about? So, for us, we would always go out and be like “drunk girl in heels, drunk girl in heels” so it became this kind of mantra. 

Keely: Our ultimate hope is that it becomes an exhibit at MOMA. Just like one girl perpetually falling yelling “just go around, just go around”. That’s when you know.

Julia: And then, from there, I would say a large part of it came out of desperation to just make our own thing. 

Keely: Yeah, post-graduation, “What do I do now?” There’s not like a set structure for it. 

Julia: It’s like, 'I have a theater degree and a day job that I don’t like, what do I do now? How do I deal with this?' You make web series about getting drunk with your friends. 

How did you guys meet and decide to work together?

Keely: Well Nora and Julia were…born together!

Nora: We are basically Siamese twins. 

Keely: One of the first interactions I had with Julia was at a party and I was like “You’re Nora right?” and she was like “Close enough”. 

Nora: Yeah, we were roommates at NYU and then obviously they [Julia and Keely] met at a party…

Keely: Julia and I met because we both slept with the same person (laughs from all]. But that was way before Drunk Girls in Heels. We’re all connected through NYU. 

Nora: And then we [Julia and Nora] were talking about doing Drunk Girls in Heels and we decided we needed somebody else because we realized we’re Siamese twins and we need somebody to cut us apart. So Keely has this hilarious blog and Julia had read it, and I read it, and we were like, 'this chick is so funny. Let’s be best friends.'

Julia: So we were like, 'let’s go out to brunch!'
And at brunch Keely was like, 'I’m not going to drink because I have things to do today.' But then she got wasted and texted me later that she had gone to the grocery store and just bought a sheet cake. 

When did Drunk Girls in Heels start?

Julia: I know we had our first writer’s meeting on a Valentine’s Day. 

Nora: Obviously a sign that we had nothing going on in our lives!

Julia: [to Keely] You had a boyfriend!

Keely: Yeah, I was even in a relationship at that point which is even sadder. I don’t even remember it being a big deal that I was out on Valentine’s Day with two women getting drunk. 

Julia: Nora and I started talking about it in January of this year. We started writing it in February. 

Nora: We had the whole series written by…March 30th. I just have a feeling that it was that day. For some reason I just know it was March 30th

Julia: Then we started workshopping it from there. And we shot it in four days in July and had it up by September. 

What was the workshopping process like?

Nora: We’d have people come over for brunch and then were like “Here, read this!” 

Julia: The key is if you offer anyone alcohol, they’ll read anything. 

Nora: I must say at writer’s meetings there should always be alcohol. Hemmingway knew it. And look where he is now! 

Julia: And then we had rehearsals too, which I think is why we were able to do it in such a short amount of time. We had people reading for their characters for a couple of months, so it was a good way for us to see where the character was going and for them to get a sense of what we were trying to do.

Was it all written beforehand or was there improvising on set?

Keely: I would say it was a mixture. We definitely had a script for every episode. Some of the lines are improvised; it’s not an improv-based show, but we are really lucky to have improvisers in the cast. 

Julia: That’s another reason why we had rehearsals, to give everyone the time to improvise with it. 

Nora: A lot of the lines came from that. 

Keely: Claudia and Angie [two characters on the show] are completely Anna Drezen and Ryann Weir just doing weird improvising. 

Julia: They were so funny; they would sit on set and just improvise in character, not shooting anything. They would just be in the green room like eating or getting their make-up done. And it was so funny to have people that were that into their characters. And when they came on they just nailed it. 

DGIH #workspace
You have the first season up online, and I hear there’s a second one coming. Can you talk about the next season?

[Girls shake their heads.]
 Keely: We can’t let our 300 twitter followers know anything! [They laugh]

Julia: I’ll say this, we pick up after Jen’s wedding. And it’s going to be a crazy season. We explore a little more with other Drunk Girl’s in Heels. So we get a little insight into other people’s nights out. 

Keely: And Julia has the very good idea of breaking form a little bit from the first season, so we’re really interested in making it a little weirder. 

Julia: And we’re looking to shoot next summer, so we’re going to give a year to work on it and do live shows. 

How did you find the people that you worked with when filming?

Julia: I have a friend, Morgan Evans, who directed three of the episodes, who was the one who encouraged me to write something. He’s an incredible guy and very well connected, and he went to SVA [School of Visual Arts]. And so I messaged him and was like, “Do you know any female DPs? Because we want a girl” [Drunk Girls in Heels features a mostly female cast and crew], and he put up a Facebook post saying “name your favorite female DPs: Go!” That’s how he got Kali’s name [Kali Riley, Director of Photographer], so he didn’t actually know Kali. From her, and sort of between the two of them, we were able to build this team, and then we got them all in the same room, and they all knew each other! 

Keely: Because they all went to SVA. 

Nora: We met with Kali the most out of the crew, and we met the crew one time before filming and by the end of the four days these people were are family! We made a baby together. 

Keely: A drunk baby.

Do you hope to use the same group next summer?

Julia: Definitely. They were a huge part; we never would have been able to do it without them.

Nora: And they made it so fun! This was our first time really being on a film set for this long, I mean we’ve all done little things here and there, but they were so confident in what they did that they calmed us all down. 

Julia: And we were never in crisis mode, which I think was the best part about it. That really stood out to me as the difference between working in theater and working on a film set. We never had this moment of…

Keely: …this might not happen. 

Julia: It became about problem-solving and not about panicking. Which was like really exciting and made challenges seem…

Nora: …fun. Like you learned a lot from dealing with things. And that’s why we’re really excited for second season because we know so much more.

Keely: I just hope we can get them all back! 

Julia: We’re just going to have to pay them…If anybody has any money they would like to pay us…

Nora: We really want to work with these people forever!

Julia: And they deserve all the money in the world. 

Keely: They really do. 

What would you recommend to other artists thinking of creating their own web series?

Nora: I would say that it’s very similar to this, what I learned in college in this class called Writing the Essay [laughs from the others], which is write about something you love and then it won’t be hard. So I would say the number one thing when you go in to do a web series is don’t do a web series for anything else other than for what you love.

Keely: Don’t do something because it’s marketable. Do it because it’s you! 

Nora: And it doesn’t matter what happens to it. And a lot of times you can sense when people put their heart and soul in something.

Julia: And bring on people from the get-go. I think the thing that really set us up for success was the fact that we reached out to the right people early on, saying here’s what we’re trying to do, we want you to be a part of it. Are you interested? When people feel investment in something, their going to work their hardest on it because what it became was a risky project for everyone. I think that made everyone excited for working on it. And it felt like everyone had a connection to it, I think…I hope! 

Nora: Nobody would film in four days if they didn’t love what we were doing. 

Keely: I definitely think that’s true. You just can’t be too inclusive. I think anyone who wants to be involved, should be involved! 

Nora: Because you always need help. It’s about friendship! 

Julia: And you know it was about, as someone coming from the theater-world trying to do something in this world, the film world, it’s totally about reaching out to people who know more than you do. The first thing I would say to people, and maybe it’s not a very professional approach, but I would say to people “I don’t know what I’m doing!” I don’t but I have this idea, if you like it, will you help us? You’d be surprised how many people there are out there who’d be like I like that idea too, let’s get down. Let’s do it!

Nora: People want to help. And they especially want to help if you ask for their help. And that was an amazing part of this: finding out how helpful people want to be. That’s why we’re all in this! We’re all in this for friends. You know, we just want to build families. 

Julia: Not Keely. Keely’s in it for bitches and money! 

What else is coming up for DGIH?

Julia: We have this show coming up on the 21st [of November]. It’s at the People’s Improv Theatre at 11 PM. It’s $8, and it’s a killer line-up. 

Keely: It’s seriously such a good line-up. It’s amazing all of the people betwixt the three of us, like all of the talent that we know.

Nora: It’s just you two, I don’t know anyone. [they all laugh]

Keely: It’s great to get to host something because then you get to include people that are much more talented than you. And like the pressure is off! You’re no longer competing, you’re just showcasing. 

Julia: This isn’t one hundred percent confirmed yet, but it’s in the works that it will be live-streamed on Daily Motion, so if you can’t make it to the show, you can watch it online. And then we’re going to have two more shows this year after that, on December 5th and 19th at 11pm, also at the People’s Improv Theatre and those shows will also be live-streamed as well. 

Nora: Tell them who’s in the line-up!

Julia: We have Jermain Fowler from MTV’s Guy Code doing a stand-up set. He’s really funny. Our special guests for the night are Ashley Skidmoore and Lyle Friedman from the web series Hot Mess Moves, they’re hysterical! 

Keely: They’re very funny and very weird.

Julia: And then we have two improv groups that are going to improv off of the interview that we’re going to do with the Hot Mess Moves girls, which are Gentleman Party

Keely: …who are phenomenally funny…

Julia: …and Shadows

Keely: …also phenomenal!

Julia: Just two groups of cute boys.

Keely: Yeah, it’s just a bunch of hot guys! We’re working on interview questions for Hot Mess Moves, but I know for a fact that their will be two stories about vomiting in purses in cabs. One from our side and one from the Hot Mess Moves side.
Salty or sweet?

Keely: Well that’s a loaded question!

Nora: I have an answer, chocolate covered…


Nora: …lays potato chips. 

Julia: Both! On a pizza. 

Nora: In a taco! 

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Julia: We’re currently looking for a hot dog sponsor. 

Keely: That’s really funny actually, a random person read the interview that we wrote and was like is your web series about hot dogs? And I was like, 'did you read the whole article?' I mean, in a way, it is. 

Julia: Hot dogs…Talk about salty and sweet. I retract my previous answer and just say chocolate covered hot dogs. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Theatre 167 & J.Stephen Brantley: Bold, Boundary-Breaking and Beautiful

Jenny Lyn and Ari in their Workspace
"Our mission is to investigate intersections, boundaries and borders - both cultural and artistic"
-Ari Laura Kreith 
Artistic Director of Theatre 167
What is Pirira about?

Ari:  PIRIRA is about the ways we’re all connected—across cultures, space and time.  And it’s about figuring out what to do with that information, and how that knowledge changes us. 

Jenny Lyn Bader: You can even physically see people and their worlds connect in the play, since two rooms on opposite sides of the globe — in Manhattan and Malawi — mix in a single space.

Jenny Lyn and Ari both agree: It’s a play about changing yourself and saving the world. 

What has been the process of developing the show at Theatre 167

Ari: I was lucky enough to get to read PIRIRA when it was a 17-minute, two-character play. And after I read it, J.Stephen said “I’m feeling like there might be more here,” and I said, “yes.”  I feel like that’s often been my role throughout our process—saying yes, or “yes and…”.  J.Stephen is such a deep and adventurous writer and this play takes some big risks, in terms of both style and content. It’s been exciting, as we’ve worked together on the play through multiple readings, a week-long workshop, and now this production, to be able to support and encourage that. 

Jenny Lyn: By the time I saw it, he had more than 17 minutes. We were doing a show with over 50 people involved and asked if anyone wanted to use the theatre on our night off. J.Stephen wanted to hear his rough draft and so we hosted the first read of Pirira.

What was that first reading like?

Jenny Lyn: That reading was done on a split stage, so you couldn’t see the worlds of these two rooms, one in Africa and one in New York, intermingling as they do now in the full staging. But it already had so much beauty in it, so much soul. And it was asking such an important question: what if each of us engaged with each other differently? Could the whole world change?

Can you tell us more about Theatre 167 and the work you do there? What was the inspiration for forming the company?

Ari: Theatre 167 takes its name from the number of languages spoken in Jackson Heights, Queens, the most diverse neighborhood in the world. 

Jenny Lyn Bader
Artistic Producer
Jenny Lyn: Basically when Ari moved to that neighborhood she was floored by the diversity there, not just how diverse but how much interaction there was between the many different immigrant populations. And she got inspired to create a collaboratively written play, and got a dozen of us together to write it. That was 167 TONGUES. After that, we were hooked. We wanted to continue to do this community-building work, to put people of all backgrounds onstage, to serve under-served communities.

Ari: Over the course of three years, we brought groups of playwrights into the neighborhood, and into a deeply collaborative development process, to create what ultimately became The Jackson Heights Trilogy:  167 TONGUES, which we produced again after forming the company, YOU ARE NOW THE OWNER OF THIS SUITCASE, and JACKSON HEIGHTS 3AM. We produced them individually in Queens and then collectively in Manhattan this past season, in rotating repertory, in a production involving a totality of 18 playwrights, with 37 actors playing 93 roles.

PIRIRA feels like an organic progression from THE JACKSON HEIGHTS TRILOGY in so many ways.  Our mission is to investigate intersections, boundaries and borders—both cultural and artistic—and to explore how the telling of our individual and collective stories inspires us to appreciate a multiplicity of voices.  The TRILOGY allowed us to do that on an epic scale; PIRIRA investigates these questions in a way that is more intimate, intense and deeply personal. 

J. Stephen Brantley is both the playwright and an actor in this production. How has this changed/affected/informed the development/rehearsal process?

Ari: J.Stephen has acted in his own work before, and we’d just come off the Trilogy where we’d worked that way together, so the idea of J.Stephen being both playwright and actor felt very natural.  I will say that J.Stephen wasn’t initially sure that he should play Jack; I was pretty certain from day one, but I think neither of us wanted to push it.  We really wanted what was best for the play.  We did readings with other wonderful actors playing Jack, and just kept coming back to the rightness of J.Stephen in this role. 

J.Stephen has discussed the fact that in the past, it’s always been easy for him to be simultaneously actor and playwright in the room, and that with this project it was sometimes harder to switch from one role to the other. 

What do you think it is about this project that made that more difficult?

Ari: I think that was due to the nature of the play, and just the sheer emotional rawness of it.  As an actor, he had to be free to lose himself in the play and control nothing, and my goal was to make space in the room for him to do that—to be the “keeper of the play” so that he didn’t have to worry about it.

Jenny Lyn: This play is also like a chamber fugue written for four instruments, it has an amazing sense of music and I imagine it must be especially challenging to just be one instrument the whole time when you are trying to listen to the whole composition. But we’re so glad he decided to be in it!

Ari Laura Kreith
Artistic Director
Ari: Yes. Our collaboration on an ongoing basis feels very joyful and rich and exciting.  I think we are both people who prioritize what the play needs above all else, which makes decision-making fluid and easy.  And we both also really care about process and everyone’s experience throughout, which means we usually have similar goals for what happens in the room.  

Neither of us is particularly attached to roles or status, so we really invite the other’s contribution.  I think the most exciting times for me are just when we’re all mucking about (and the actors are very much a part of this too) in the world of the play, finishing each other’s sentences and making discoveries and figuring out how to tell the story.

How did you meet J.Stephen and become aware of his work?

Ari: Oh, this is funny!  I met J.Stephen when he interviewed for a role in a live industrial I was casting—a standardized patient project where actors pretend to be patients to help train medical students develop bedside manner.  And it was a crazy day, my son was sick and so I had to bring him to this huge group interview with probably 20 actors, and some of them were clearly annoyed that there was a two-year-old in the room.  And J.Stephen just charmed him in an instant, and throughout the whole interview just kept making him smile.  And I just was so grateful for his kindness and ability to play multiple roles in the room at once (foreshadowing?) that I cast him, figuring that he’d do an amazing job of nurturing fledgling medical students. 

And then I learned that J.Stephen blogged about theatre, so I invited him to YOU ARE NOW THE OWNER OF THIS SUITCASE and he wrote about it in such a way that I felt like he just completely got what Theatre 167 was about as a company.  And his writing was so beautiful!  So I asked him to join us as a writer on the JACKSON HEIGHTS 3AM.

I still remember our first phone conversation about JACKSON HEIGHTS 3AM, where he said he probably didn’t have time and of course, I’d never read any of his plays and did I want to…and then somehow from there he said yes.  And he never actually sent me any plays, so we went into development for 3AM with my never actually having read anything he’d written, which sounds utterly crazy, except I think there’s something important about trusting your intuition in a creative process and in this case I just knew. 

Then he wrote a character in JACKSON HEIGHTS 3AM that I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing so he became an actor on that project. And when we brought the show to Manhattan in February, he played two utterly different roles back-to-back, which was amazing.

Jenny Lyn: I first met J.Stephen when he joined us as a co-author on JACKSON HEIGHTS 3AM. As a playwright, I worked on all three of the trilogy plays. Following real-life meetings and research sessions, we shared characters and stor- lines on a Google document. Of course, not all playwrights like sharing. Some are more suited to a deeply collaborative process more than others. J.Stephen turned out to be wonderful at working with other writers, an especially generous and ingenious collaborator. It was such a pleasure working with him, we wanted to again. And we keep finding ways to work together.

In the play, two separate scenes are occurring simultaneously. What was the rehearsal process like to bring these two worlds together on one stage?

Ari: It was so exciting to figure out how to do that!  After our first read-through, we rehearsed the worlds separately for a week.  We spent three days just investigating the Chad-Gilbert relationship and arc in New York, then spent time exploring just the Jack-Ericka story in Malawi before bringing everyone back together.  

J. Stephen Brantley
Although the two stories are distinct, one of the most beautiful things about this play is the way the arc of one world impacts the arc of the other.  Once we started bringing the stories together, there was a period where it felt very challenging to take them apart. 

We were all very interested in the moments of simultaneity or resonance, and working together allowed us to discover those.  For example, there’s a moment where Ericka says “ouch” in Malawi, and in the next breath Chad pricks his finger on a thorn in New York.  Jack talks about the challenges of digging wells in Malawi while water is being poured (loudly!) into a bucket of roses in Manhattan.  So we got to find those things in the room together, which was really exciting. And then, much later, we pulled things apart again.  The question then was, “Am I really playing the truth of this relationship or am I letting the text of the other scene take me where I need to go?”   

It felt like our process mirrored one of the major themes of the play—that our individual experience is impacted by and connected to people across the world, whether we realize it or not.

How did you both get involved/or exposed to theater?

Ari: I grew up out in the country, and there was a theatre in a barn about a mile from my house. The summer I was six (and I don’t know exactly what inspired this) I decided to go pick up cigarette butts in their driveway and see whether if I did that they would let me in to see a show. And they did!  

This little tiny barn turned out to be a nationally known stop on singer/songwriter, folk-jazz-blues concert tours, and it housed a resident company. And they happened to be doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Somehow I got cast as a fairy and they made me a costume out of an old t-shirt with plastic dry-cleaner bags stapled to it.  When the lights hit those bags, they turned the most beautiful colors.  I remember running through the audience and leaping off of furniture, and it was just so joyful.  What I didn’t realize until later was that the space was started by a group of people who had met in recovery.  So they were changing the world and saving each other at the same time. That was my first theatre home.

And then, in the third grade I told my teacher I wanted to direct a play and she said OK.  Thinking back, it was astonishing because I was a really shy kid. But she basically let me take over the class for several days (embarrassingly, I think I also cast myself as the lead) and then we performed for the entire school.  

Jenny Lyn: I also started putting on plays at a tender age, but at home. My mother was an actress so I grew up around theatre even when I was small and she had a few steps built in our living room that were like a platform, in case anyone ever wanted to perform when they came over. So I had a tiny stage right at home where I created and staged my first plays.

What's next for the company?

Jenny Lyn: First on our list is letting the world know about our world premiere of PIRIRA! The play has just been published by Indie Theatre Now, which is very exciting.

Ari: Then in January we’re bringing the Trilogy to the Queens Museum, where we’ve been invited to participate in the International. We’re re-imagining the plays plays as a site-specific performance for their grand re-opening.

Jenny Lyn: Parts of the Trilogy will be staged in different galleries, in the cafeteria, in the elevator… watch out!

Ari: We’re also incubating some new projects, as always!  More about those soon...

Salty or sweet?

Ari: Both always. One gets you to the other.

Jenny Lyn: Yes, they’re good in combination, but I have to go with salty. I think there should be a Halloween for salt!

Pirira, starring Adrian Baidoo, J.Stephen Brantley,Todd Flaherty and Flor De Liz Perez and directed by Ari Laura Kreith has been extended from November 15th - 24th at the the West End Theater in NYC. You can get tickets at