Friday, November 20, 2020

Spotlight On...Grace McLean


Name:
Grace McLean

Hometown: Costa Mesa, CA

Education: I went to the Orange County High School of the Arts, and got my BFA in Drama and Art History from NYU.

Favorite Credits: Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812; In the Green; Alice by Heart; Bedbugs!!!

Why theater?: I grew up in a family of musicians and so performance was a big part of my life growing up. But I was (am) also quite shy and introverted. I found that in theater, by being able to inhabit and perform and live for a while as other people, I'm able to explore and express myself in a way that feels safe and revelatory.  

Tell us about In the Green: In the Green imagines the origin story of Hildegard von Bingen, one of medieval Europe’s most powerful figures. Before Hildegard was a composer, artist, visionary, confidante of Kings, mystic, and saint, she was a little girl locked in a monastic cell with an anchoress called Jutta von Sponheim. The story is really about the relationship between student and mentor, mother and child, zealot and acolyte and the ways these kinds of foundational relationships shape a life. What do we do when we are forced to contend with our own darkness? Do we fight against it, or do we embrace it and find the light within? 

What inspired you to write In the Green?: I was initially inspired by Hildegard von Bingen when I encountered her work in college, as I was studying Medieval art. Her work stands out as totally original, personal, feminine, in a time when most art was quite homogeneous. My fascination with her art lead me to learn about her music, poetry, philosophy, her books on the natural world and healing, and her communications with so of the powerful people of her time. I was struck by her accomplishments, particularly in her being able to accomplish them as a woman in the 12th century, a time when to be a woman was to be, generally speaking, non-existent. In my research, I kept being struck by the fact that none of her accomplishments really began until she was in her 40s (she lived to be in her 80s, almost unheard of for her time).  And before that, not much is known because she was living in that cell with Jutta, an extreme situation even at the time. And I became fascinated with Jutta – who was SHE, and how did she influence young Hildegard? Clearly they spent a LOT of time together during Hildegard's formative years, and in a highly unusual, highly intimate situation – but for all Hildegard’s talk (which is a lot, I think there are something 400 of her letters that we have, not to mention all her music art and three big books of visionary theology) she doesn't talk much about Jutta.  She calls Jutta "a pious woman who was crowned with a good death."  We know Jutta was a little older than Hildegard, that Hildegard was given to be a sort of hand maid to her when she was quite young, that Jutta came from a family of rank and had potential suitors. I decided to look at Jutta's choice to cloister herself in such an extreme manner as a sort of radical feminist act – if to be a woman in the 12th century was to be erased, Jutta chose to reject that notion HARD. By locking herself away from the world, that was a powerful act of control. We also know that Jutta rejected all kinds of creature comforts – she didn’t wear shoes even in the cold German winters, she lived on a diet even more restricted than the prescribed Benedictine diet, and she was a big fan of self-flagellation. She wore a hair shirt (clothing made from coarse animal hair, designed to irritate your skin), and when she died she was found to have a barbed chain around her body. Hildegard did not prescribe to ANY of this, and in fact she lived a life of abundant curiosity about life, surrounding herself with a community, learning about natural world, singing in harmony, getting her hands dirty. There’s a lot to celebrate about Hildegard – but I found myself continually curious about this shadowy figure of Jutta. WHY did she want to lock herself away from the world and mutilate her body and take in and care for a young girl? I kept looking at her with sympathy and curiosity and tenderness, and I wanted this to be just as much her story as Hildegard’s, because I think that she had a profound effect on Hildegard, even if that was to show Hildegard what she didn’t want to be. 

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love theater that really uses the magic particular to the form. I want to see bodies being used, space being revealed, voices filling the hollows of a space!  Some of my favorite theatrical experiences have been Home by Geoff Sobelle, Brief Encounter by Kneehigh Theatre, seeing The Great Comet when it was at Ars Nova (I got very lucky and saw the closing night performance and I mean it when I say it changed my life), anything that Steven Hoggett makes... I am inspired by innovation, by people who are pushing forms. My favorite musical group at the moment is Roomful of Teeth – they’re an a cappella group but they are using their voices in ways that blow my mind and inspire me to test the boundaries of conventional singing, group singing, songwriting, and storytelling.

How have you stayed creatively active during COVID?: I have a few projects I’m working on! I’m finishing an album with my band, working on a music video, working with novelist Kate Walbert to adapt her book A Short History of Women for the stage, working with writer/musician/performer Kate Douglas on a musical inspired by Victorian era medical texts about how music is purportedly dangerous for woman, I’ve started a writing collaboration with actor Adam Chanler-Berat, and am currently rehearsing for an Audible production of a musical that was supposed to be at Williamstown this past summer, Row, about Tori Murden McClure, the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean. My husband and I have also made a couple of very silly, very fun short films together :) But also, I want to stress that in order to do anything at all, let alone be creative, I have been doing a LOT of resting, walking, talking with friends and family, and quiet work to get in touch with my real priorities.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I would love to work with playwright Clare Barron.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I’ve been loving “PEN15” and “What We Do in the Shadows.”

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I would love for a young dorky girl who loves boys but can’t talk to them, who reads Jane Austen alone in her room instead of running around outside, who blushes real hard and always gets cast as the mom in her high school productions to play me. It’s called An Artisan’s Mistake – this was my answer when my husband asked me once “What kind of break would you be?”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The original production of Oklahoma!

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: A boulevardier and a 90’s rom com.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A speech and language pathologist.

What’s up next?: See above!  But next next is the release of the physical album for In the Green, along with a single and music video from my band's new album. I'll be playing a live streamed show at Rockwood Music Hall on December 14th to celebrate all these things!

For more on Grace, visit www.gracemclean.com and follow her on Twitter @thatgracemclean

The new cast album of Grace’s musical In the Green is available from Ghostlight Records and is available at ghostlightrecords.lnk.to/inthegreen


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Spotlight On...Justin McDevitt


Name:
Justin McDevitt

 

Hometown: Boston, MA

 

Education: New York University Gallatin School of Individualized Study, B.A. 2013

 

Favorite Credits: The extent of my performance career was being cast in the ensemble of Guys and Dolls twice… so by default those are my favorite credits. (I don’t know if this question really applied to me)

 

Why theater?: I fell in love with Tennessee Williams at a fairly impressionable age and I think that kind of sealed my fate. I tried to write a novel and made it about two hundred pages in… now it’s hidden away somewhere.

 

Tell us about Honey Fitz: Honey Fitz is a two act drama I began writing seven years ago as an assignment for my senior playwriting class at NYU. I never intended for the play to become what it is today. Honey takes place on the closing night at a local pub where its ghostly regulars return one last time to say goodbye. It is my second play and has changed so much since its first public reading at Theater for the New City in 2018. Since then the show has had three additional readings and a workshop production. I like to think of Honey as my second single, so it’s my “Poker Face.”

 

What inspired you to write/direct Honey Fitz?: I needed to write something drastically different from my first play Submission, which was a dark comedy about S/M with all gay characters. I wanted to challenge myself to write blue collar middle aged straight people. In fact originally there weren’t gay characters in Honey Fitz, but of course now there are, and I am even compared to the bitter gay bartender for some reason.

 

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Theater that is dark and twisty and sexual tends to win the day for me. A friend got me tickets to Slave Play in January and I absolutely loved it. Stoppard’s The Real Thing, Marber’s Closer, and David Hare’s Skylight are major influences of mine. And the umbrella play that sort of guides how I do everything is Schnitzler’s La Ronde. I love the structure and intimacy of two character scenes that take place immediately before or after sex.

 

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Donna Murphy. I would write nine million plays for her. Starting today. If she asked.

 

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I love to recommend Vieux Carre by Tennessee Williams because that play sort of functions as an introduction to all his major character types, and it’s a bit of a ghost story. Second to that would be anything by Joe Orton and the Talking Heads series by Alan Bennett (which I credit entirely for my love of writing monologues).

 

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: If I can time travel for a moment I would like to cast Peter Gabriel circa 1987 as myself in a movie I would have to call The Local Bottom.

 

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Brigadoon. Opening Night. Without question. Although probably Angels in America… I think that’s the more respected answer.

 

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Siesta Key. It’s a terrible reality show on MTV. I watch it with the blinds down. I watch it with the lights off. There is A LOT of shame.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Dead.

 

What’s up next?: I’m trying to write a romantic horror movie for Zoom just to see if I can logistically pull that off. However I could set the script on fire at any moment.

 

For more on Justin, visit www.justinwritesplays.com. And follow him on Twitter @jmcdev128 and on Instagram @justinwritesplays

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Block Talk- Episode 167: Quarantine Check In with Pussy Willow



On today's Quarantine Check In, Pussy Willow joins me to chat all things containment cookie, The Sims, and mental health!

To listen to the podcast, download and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, or Stitcher!


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Block Talk- Episode 166: Quarantine Check In with Coco Taylor



Today, I got to chat with my good friend Coco Taylor! Our topics include Broadway, Video Games, and Pet Peeves!

To listen to the podcast, download and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, and Stitcher!


Monday, March 16, 2020

Block Talk- Episode 165: Quarantine Check In with Gigi Deetz



In a time of uncertainty, it's always important to check in with the people around you. And that's what I'm going to do everyday until things improve. Joining the Block Talk content is Quarantine Check In, a new feature where I'll chat with a friend, family member, peer, stranger, basically anyone who wants to talk, all they have to do is suggest three topics to discuss!

To kick off the series, I'm joined by NYC Drag Queen, Gigi Deetz!

To listen to the podcast, download and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, or Stitcher!


Sunday, December 8, 2019

Spotlight On...Luke Jackson

Name: Luke Jackson

Hometown: Logansport, Indiana

Education: University of Michigan, National Theatre Institute

Favorite Credits: Charlie in The Whale, though the character is in his forties and I would never have been cast in the real world. Thank God for drama school!

Why theater?: We get to practice empathy, either seeking to understand others or soliciting to be understood ourselves. Often doing both simultaneously. And we get to do it while wearing pretty costumes. Which helps!

Tell us about STITCHES: STITCHES is a one-man show adapted from the graphic memoir by David Small. By incorporating other mediums such as sketching, painting, projection, and puppetry, we revisit Small’s tortured childhood; A botched surgery that left him virtually mute, his estranged relationship with his mother, and how his running away from home as a teenager led to a life of art and a prestigious career as a political cartoonist and illustrator. It’s a story of loneliness, trauma, perseverance, and the importance of art; Quite literally, in this case, giving the voiceless an ability to speak.

What inspired you to write STITCHES: This piece has been with me for nearly seven years now. My senior year of high school, I was tasked with devising a short play based off a person's life. I went to my public library with this silly, romantic idea that I would point to a book at random and it would change my life. And much to my surprise, it actually work. That ten minute rendition earned me a scholarship to attend the University of Michigan's drama program, which led to a full production with their student ran theatre company, and now it is making its NYC debut! David actually resides in Detroit, and I had the great honor to have him as a dramaturg and collaborator in the production's creative process. His talent is only outmatched by his unwavering generosity and kindness.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: When the story comes first, when there is an utter urgency to tell it. Indie theatre is hard work! That’s why I love the independent theatre scene in New York so much. These artists are putting on productions, often using personal funds and wearing several different hats to make it happen. But they believe it is worth it---that the time is now and people have to know about it. That's the type of theatre I love to attend.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Oh, I don't think we have enough pages! I have recently joined the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, and I highly recommend checking them out. BAC practices creative justice---using performance art as a way to seek intersectional change and restorative justice. I am really excited to get to collaborate with everybody on a deeper level and get to work!

What show have you recommended to your friends?: It has already closed, but I have told anyone within a ten foot radius to listen to the cast album of A Strange Loop. Michael R. Jackson and Larry Owens, man. Wow.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I would demand to play myself! Get super meta and break the fourth wall a lot. Kinda like Heidi Schreck's What The Constitution Means To Me. But sassier and about a queer ginger from the Midwest.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Fortunately, New York has the Drama Library at Lincoln Center---of which I have spent many hours watching archives! But I would have loved to see Patti as Mama Rose live!

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Hmm, I'm pretty shameless in my pleasures actually. Yeah, I don't have an answer to that! If it gives you pleasure, relinquish the guilt folks! LIVE YOUR TRUTH! 

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: If I wasn't working in theatre, I would be working in advocacy/activism full time. Perhaps working on campaigns until it was my time to pursue public office. Which...isn't completely off the table.

What’s up next?: The future is a mysterious right now in a really exciting way! A couple projects have been in the creative process rotation for a while now. I think a musical is next on the docket. STITCHES will definitely continue to have a life---still figuring out the next steps. As for me personally? I bought a one-way ticket to Paris for February. I thought, "Tickets are cheap and climate change is real. Let's go!" So we will see what inspiration that might stir up.

Fore more on Luke, visit www.lukejackson.org. For more on STITCHES, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/2424398241133709/