Monday, October 8, 2018

Spotlight On...Jennifer Piech

Name: Jennifer Piech

Hometown: Cinnaminson, New Jersey

Education: BA in Theatre from the College of William and Mary

Select Credits: originated the role of Kate McGowan, Titanic, Broadway (Friends of NY Theatre Award for Outstanding Broadway debut), The Ride Down Mount Morgan, Broadway (by Arthur Miller and starring Patrick Stewart)

Why theater?:  I have come back to the biz after a motherhood hiatus.  It’s been such a process figuring out what the biz is now and my new place in it in this stage of my life.  Fascinating.  I find I am drawn to plays/stories that tackle some kind of social issue with complex and interesting relationships.  I have always felt that good theatre can shed light on anything about the human condition, really.  I’m drawn to good writing and compelling stories.

Who do you play in The War Party?:  I play Laura Smith, the incumbent Senatorial Republican candidate who just lost the election in a landslide.  And I curse like a sailor – I am loving it.

Tell us about The War Party The short answer is it’s basically a parable for our broken two-party system.  It is also about these two broken, smart, fierce women and how they connect and how they give each other something the other needs.  They are better and stronger for being together.  Not to be Pollyanna, but it also, I think, makes us laugh at ourselves and both parties and asks us to look beyond partisan thinking for the sake of our country. 

What is it like being a part of The War Party?:  I love this play, the players, the creatives.  Odelia Avadi (who plays the young woman) and I started working on this play in scene study class and were encouraged to do something with it.  It is empowering to take an idea and put a team together and make it happen.  I am honored that the playwright entrusted it to us and am honored that these creatives – director, designers, etc., all loved it enough to throw their creative juices into it too.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?:  Right now I want to be a part of plays that resonate socially – even if they are from another time period – that they speak to what is happening today.  Great writing, complex relationships, interesting ideas.  And I am completely inspired especially by women who are creative producers – who find the stories that are meaningful to them and figure out a way to tell them, in whatever medium. 

Any roles you’re dying to play?:  Right now:  Nora in Doll’s House Part 2, Tracey in SWEAT, Margaret in Good People (this one was produced when I was not back in the biz but now I’m the right age to play it!), anything by Shaw, Rosemary in Outside Mullingar (not really social issues but a beautiful love story, fun part), The Other Place by Sharr White, another play by Vincent Delaney that deals with gun violence, I’m shopping it around for a production now, etc. 

What’s your favorite showtune?:  Oh gosh, not sure I have a favorite…

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:  Joe Mantello as a Director, Tommy Kail, Director, Ken Lonnergan, Director,  Sam Mendes, Director, I could go on.  I want to work with the companies who are developing new plays, new voices, new playwrights. 

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?:  Oh goodness.  Well if a girl can dream – Sandra Bullock – and it would be called “A Balancing Act:  Act Two” as a woman tries to balance motherhood, being a real estate broker, and coming back to the entertainment biz after many of the folks she knew died – literally.  It’s starting over but not starting over in a weird way.  It would be about discovering what she was meant to be now at this stage, finding her voice, while still making dinner and doing everyone’s laundry, of course.  Bullock would have the sense of humor needed:).  And dang, she’s cute.

What show have you recommended to your friends?:  A show that is playing now?  I really liked “The True.”  Beautiful performances, New Group producing it.  Of course, Come From Away (I am a Co-Producer on it!), Harry Potter – loved!  The Ferryman – which I haven’t seen yet, but it’s a great read and I can’t wait.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?:  anything from Hamilton.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:  Chocolate turtles.  I ALWAYS have emergency chocolate in my freezer at all times because you just never know.

What’s up next?:  I’m working with an independent Producer, Stephen Blanch, on his full length feature film called "Discovering Savannah" (I’m cast as Savannah – my first lead in a feature!) which is set to shoot spring of 2019. 

For more on The War Party, visit http://thewarpartyplay.com/

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Spotlight On...Deya Danielle Drake

Name: Deya Danielle Drake

Hometown: Oh boy! We moved a lot growing up so this has always been a tough question to answer.  I was born in Carson City, Nevada and then spent time in Texas, Nebraska and Illinois and I went to college and started my career in California. I guess I consider wherever I’m currently based to be home.  Which, right now, is Jersey City. 

Education: University of California, Berkeley.  I studied Philosophy.  I remember very little of it other than a lot of reading, writing and existential confusion.  (Not that different from now, I guess.)

Favorite Credits: My first professional theater credit was as an actor in Romeo and Juliet: Antebellum New Orleans 1836.  Many, many years and lifetimes ago but I still think about the experience and the people involved all the time.  I even have literal dreams about it! It was the inaugural production at Boston Court Pasadena in Pasadena, CA. I played Rosaline and was in the ensemble (so, yeah, no lines) but it was such a wonderful experience. I was so young and just felt so incredibly lucky and energized to get to go to work in a professional theater everyday and hang out with cool theater people. I got chills during every performance. The best memories!

Why theater?: Initially I think it was the sense of camaraderie you get from creating something from nothing with a group of unique individuals who share a likeminded goal.  I imagine it’s similar to the feeling one gets from playing on a sports team (though, I’m not an athlete, so this is just a guess). As I’ve gotten older my drive to make theater goes far beyond that.  I don’t even know where to begin.  There’s truly nothing like it—the sense of play, exchange of energy, exploration of humanity, power to connect with other people and (hopefully) make them feel something surprising. I think the potential impact of theater, on an audience, is boundless – it can be entertaining, healing, resurrect long forgotten memories, shine a light on a new part of oneself, help problem solve, open connections, spark conversations, ignite new ideas and new perspectives, provide an escape ;)…etc etc etc…I’ll stop now. (P.S. it’s super fun to make.)

Tell us about Escape?: Escape follows a female airline CEO and female flight attendant who battle to control the narrative of a sensational news story following a violent incident onboard a commercial jet.  It’s about the constant and overwhelming noise of the modern news media, the dubious impact of social media, and the unique struggle women face when trying to reach/maintain positions of power. It’s a fast moving play that’s fun and kind of wild and I think everyone will leave with a different opinion about who’s right and who’s wrong. 

What inspired you to create Escape?: An amazing actress named Rhonda Ayers whose work I have admired for a long time.  I’ve never seen anyone like her and I think more people need to see her work.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about when I sat down to write this play, but when I decided that I wanted to create a vehicle for her, Escape is the story that followed.  (I hope I’ve done her justice.) Rhonda plays the airline CEO and she is incredible.  Complex, smart, with a biting wit and fearlessness, and deep internal life that she teases on and off throughout the show until she’s ready to serve it all to us piping hot. 

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I was just talking to another writer about this.  I love the kind of theater where all the actors end the performance sweating through their clothes, completely exhausted, and in that strange state of bliss that comes from leaving it all out on the stage. When an actor is required to give that much of themselves, physically and emotionally, to a performance, it is nearly impossible for the story not to have a lasting impression on the audience (in one way or another).   Vulnerability. I’ve been in an improv based acting class called Ballistics with Kelly Kimball at Kimball Studio in NYC for a long time. It’s a class for actors and non-actor creative type people, and it is so much more than just an acting class. It teaches you to use and challenge the bounds of your imagination by pulling back the layers you’ve built to protect yourself in the world and get to the core of who you are so that you can find yourself as an artist. And you can’t be successful in doing that unless you take risks. People share a lot in class.  The courage to share and be seen by other people is truly amazing.  Watching other people do that is beyond inspiring. I wouldn’t have the guts to be a writer without this class, it’s really shaped who I am and who I hope to be. 

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: The list is long, but I would say my top three at the moment are: 1. Marin Ireland, 2. Elizabeth Banks, 3. Viola Davis. 

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Hand to God. Such creative storytelling and epic performances. Since becoming a mom sixteen months ago, I read more plays than I see.  There are so many incredible writers out there.  There isn’t a play that I’ve read that hasn’t taught me something about storytelling. 

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Cate Blanchet.  Because who wouldn’t want Cate Blanchet to portray them in a film?  It would be called Late Bloomer (oh, God, that’s so cheesy). 

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I regret not seeing the original cast of Hamilton on Broadway.  Lots of FOMO about that (does FOMO make sense in the past tense?).  And I’d really like to share a cocktail with Tennessee Williams and talk writing and life.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Sweets. Wine.  And I discovered the true (and kind of dirty) joy of reality TV over the summer.  I didn’t miss an episode of Bachelor in Paradise.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: In a dream universe I’d be traveling the world and doing a lot of eating and drinking and sleeping in.  In a realistic universe I think being a nurse would be really fulfilling and I have a ton of admiration for nurses.  They’re badasses and help us during our most vulnerable moments -- sometimes the kind of moments that are life-altering and life-shaping. And they are mostly really lovely humans. 

What’s up next?: I’m working on a play about a married couple who goes on vacation to one of those over-the-top romantic retreats in the Poconos.  It’s a fun play that explores modern romance and the connection between sexuality and creativity while challenging what we mean when we talk about a “traditional” marriage. 

Fore more on Escape, visit http://www.deyadanielledrake.com/escape/

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Spotlight On...Dominick DeGaetano

Name: Dominick DeGaetano

Hometown: West Babylon, NY

Education:  BA, George Washington University; MFA, Stony Brook University

Favorite Credits:  This is my first production as a playwright! I’ve mostly been doing the development circuit, but I’ve also had the privilege of working in the background to bring some amazing projects to life, like working on the NYC team for Broken Bone Bathtub in 2016 and Book Assistant on Bridges of Madison County during its Williamstown run.

Why theater?: Lots of reasons! Superficially, as someone with the attention span of a gnat, I like turning my phone off for an hour and having some constructive silent thinking time along with a few dozen strangers. As a writer, I like sitting down with an idea and attacking it from multiple angles, which theater allows you to do. And sentimentally, growing up as a young guy, theater is one of the few socially acceptable places for you to have feelings. And I have a lot of feelings.

Tell us about Turing Test: Turing Test is the 70s sci-fi thriller I’ve always wanted to make. It’s about a poet that is forced to take part in a secret government experiment to teach a computer how to write poetry. However, the computer starts getting its own ideas, which makes trouble for everyone. It’s smart and thrilling, but with a heart; think Westworld meets Dead Poets Society. Taylor Edelle Staurt, our director, and I have assembled one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with on this. It’s going to be something really great.

What inspired you to create Turing Test?: A lot of things! I always write toward a feeling, something I’m trying to figure out. The core of this play is that feeling that the world just wants to crunch you down into a number and smooth off your rough edges. That’s something plenty universal, and something I’ve struggled with a lot.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I like anything that challenges me not only with content, but with form. I think the Aristotle-Brecht binary is played out, and I’m looking for things that radically reconfigure how I think about what theater is. That’s not necessarily technical stuff like what Andrew Schneider does, or immersive stuff like Houseworld (though both are pretty awesome). I mean, Annie Baker’s John also blew my mind, and that’s all script-based. I’m just looking for good ideas to steal, and they can come from anywhere. I’m a big fan of reading anything I can get my hands on; that’s usually where the ideas come from. Another thing is crossing mediums; most of the important lessons I’ve learned about writing come out of playing guitar badly. Failure in general, and giving yourself permission to “be bad” at things, is a huge source of inspiration.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Lighting designers are the alchemists of theater to me: I don’t know anything about how they do what they do, but when they do it right, it turns a bunch of people in costumes into a thing of beauty. So, I’d love to work with the big guns, like Don Holder, and make some of that magic happen.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I mean, there’s a ton of great artists doing work at this year’s FringeNYC festival. Personally, I’m pumped to see Jessica Creane’s Chaos Theory, which is gonna scratch both my left- and right-brain itches. Outside of Fringe, Caitlin Saylor Stephen’s When We Went Electronic at The Tank (my favorite arts org in NYC) looks awesome, and also looks like it’s the vanguard of late-2000s nostalgia, which makes me feel old.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Instead of a movie, can Taylor Mac do a pageant? I can only trust judy to make the life story of a white cis hetero dude from Long Island who moved to Brooklyn truly fabulous.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: A bit of a theater-kid deep cut, but I would have loved to be at Playwrights Horizons on the day they put “Finishing the Hat” into Sunday in the Park with George.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I’m Italian-American, so it’s carbs, cannolis, and The Sopranos.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Doing more canvassing for the November elections! I’m particularly excited by my hometown hero Liuba Gretchen Shirley, who’s working to unseat an incumbent who’s been in office for as long as I can remember.

What’s up next?: I’m in post for a short film, "Emma on the Roof", which I co-wrote & co-directed with the brilliant Maureen Monterubio. Look out for that to hit the festival circuit next year!

For more on Turing Test, visit https://www.turingtestfringe.com/

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Review: Staying Up Late With Mildred

By Ed Malin

New York’s long-running live soap opera It’s Getting Tired Mildred is the brainchild of writer-director Roger Nasser. For thirty-three episodes and counting, a large cast of eager, innovative theater people come together for a late Saturday night show and then stay for a party. Through a continuing series of amazing events (exquisitely like the classic soap operas), the residents of Mildred Springs make love, flirt with death, and, hilariously, strike poses which would normally be directed at a camera but of course end up pointing at the audience. You will laugh as you remember/discover the 1980s.
Fans of “Days of Our Lives”, “General Hospital” and “Another World” will find much to enjoy in the rather dramatic cast of characters at Sacred Corpuscle Memorial Hospital in Mildred Springs. The team thoughtfully starts this episode, entitled “Labor Pains” with a recap of past heartbreaks, accidental murders and what have you; since September’s episode was the beginning of the new season and the first in the show’s new residency at the Davenport Theater, I found this trip down memory lane most helpful. Then, the cast parade onstage to Steve Sabaugh’s theme song, each taking a moment in the spotlight to introduce themselves and suggest their murky pasts. You will chuckle when you meet the extremely handsome and aptly named doctors such as Roderick Donovan (Adam Files), Jasper Stone (Patrick Shearer), his father Angus Stone (Tom Reid), and his love interest, the exotically accented Florence Maxwell (Stephanie Cox-Connolly), who calls him “An-Goose”. Last season, it came to light that decades ago there had been a baby switch at Sacred Corpuscle. Now that Celeste Wilson (Hope Cartelli) is ready to give birth to a baby boy, the entire staff is ready to prevent any malfeasance. Unfortunately, no one has been able to overcome the vengeful hypnosis crimes of Cornelius Milton (Linus Gelber).  Otherwise immaculate nurse Constance Dranreb (Heather Lee Rogers) emerges from smothering Avery Phillips (Broderick Ballantyne) under hypnotic suggestion only to find that his twin brother Brice Phillips (Broderick Ballantyne) loves her so much he will impersonate his dead brother. Local therapist Everett Maxwell (Bryan Enk) was once under Cornelius’s sway but now is his adversary, working with Florence Maxwell to perpetrate different kinds of disasters.
photo by Roger Nasser
The show is not lacking in social commentary. Those delightful gurus of the 1980s are represented by Darvish El Ganan (Richard Lovejoy). Darvish, dressed in sunglasses and a flowing robe, has recruited Bruce Linwood (Bob Laine) and his sister Miranda Linwood (Amanda Lapergola) into his meditation society (“stop calling it a cult!”) which spreads peace and light to the world. Miranda, formerly seen to have an alcohol problem and always found carrying and talking to her dog, Lucius, is now on a healthy kick, except for any risk of hypnosis by Cornelius Milton. Twenty-something Olivia Phillips (Rebecca Gray Davis) feuds with her mother, the ‘80s-inflected Madelyne Wilson-Phillips (Melissa Roth) about her many loves. Olivia also has choice words for her half-sister (formerly her aunt; the baby switch has altered their relationship), the freewheeling Justine Wilson (Lex Friedman).  Justine is engaged to be married to Dr. Roderick Donovan but, according to Olivia, will probably break it off as she did her previous engagement to Edgar Milton (Paul Black). And then there is Madelyne’s ex-husband Baxter Phillips (Fred Backus), with whom she has reconciled.  Baxter discovers in his desk drawer the diary of a mysterious lady, Ramona Fauxdalm. (In past episodes, Baxter was hypnotized and took on the cross-dressing persona of Fauxdalm, leading to much romance with many other men at the hospital.) Dudley Vance (C.L. Weatherstone), local male stripper at Studley’s, supplies nose candy to the razor-sharp Charmaine Milton (Morgan Zipf-Meister), who forges an uneasy alliance with her sister, Justine Wilson. While OBGYN Bianca Franklin (Toya Lillard), head nurse Cassandra Phillips (Amy Overman) and surgeon Antoine Bassets (Adam Swiderski) assure everyone that there will be no security issues around the birth of Celeste Wilson’s baby and Miranda and Bruce Linwood intone positive mantras, smug Cornelius Milton (whose life was altered by the swapping of his own baby) insists on meddling yet again. Whom does the dastardly Cornelius dare manipulate this time, and would it complicate the plot if he succeeded?
If there’s a boring moment in this show, I haven’t been able to find it. Roger Nasser’s direction of the cast of 24 [including a phone call appearance from Olivia’s love interest, Max (Erik Olson)] is laugh-out-loud funny. The monthly episodes have grown to about 75 minutes in length, which really allows each character to develop (and to engage in multiple love affairs). It’s Getting Tired Mildred is an homage to soap operas, even for people who might not be addicted to soap operas. The cast is full of men with well-defined jaw lines and women with legs who know how to use them. Holly Pocket MacCaffrey has tirelessly costumed this army of performers in chic and sexy style; there were many new costumes this season, down to Bob Laine’s meditation toga. Impromptu “commercials” within the show advertise delicious Roger’s Crispie Treats, while the episodes usually culminate in a group synth dance number. The new season opened with a sell-out show. Fortunately for you, the Davenport is larger than the previous venues (Under St. Mark’s and The Brick), but you should try very hard to get a seat for the next show in the series.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Block Talk: Episode 74- Adriana Trenta



She's sassy, so it's fitting that her latest endeavor is called the Grapes of Sass. I sit down with Adriana Trenta as we chat about her new cabaret, life in NYC, and how drag came into her life.

To listen to the podcast, visit iTunes or SoundCloud. And don't forget to leave a five star review!

And head to patreon.com/theaterinthenow to learn about becoming a Patron today!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Block Talk: Episode 73- Witti Repartee


Another year, another birthday! And this year, she's celebrating with a tinge of politics. I sat down with Witti Repartee to talk about her incredible career and what we can expect to see at her annual birthday bash!

To listen to the podcast, visit iTunes or SoundCloud! And make sure you leave a five star review while you're there!

And check out patreon.com/theaterinthenow to become a patron today!

Block Talk- Episode 72: Hibiscus


Oh isn't she just the fishiest! I got a chance to chat with Hibiscus about her amazing life as well as the incredible things she plans to do as Miss Stonewall 2018!

To listen to the podcast, visit iTunes or SoundCloud, and don't forget to subscribe and leave a review!

And take a look at our Patreon page at patreon.com/theaterinthenow.