Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Spotlight On...Noam Shapiro

Name: Noam Shapiro

Hometown: New York City

Education: I attended the Bronx High School of Science and then double majored in History and Theater Studies at Yale. Coming out of Bronx Science, I thought I would major in chemistry and potentially pursue a career in academia. I always loved theater but my high school offered very few curricular and extracurricular theater opportunities. During my first semester at Yale I took theater classes alongside some of my other courses and realized I enjoyed reading and talking about plays as much as I enjoyed lab work and writing essays. I’m still fascinated by science and am actually developing a play based on the race to develop a vaccine against a major virus.

Favorite Credits: A couple of years ago I directed the U.S. premiere of Caroline Bird’s adaptation of The Trojan Women. Caroline Bird is primarily a poet (she was one of the five official poets for the London Olympics 2012) and her adaptation is modern yet lyrical. The play is set in the mother-baby ward of a prison following the fall of Troy and the chorus is re-imagined as a pregnant woman. The play created an important space for the performers and audience to grapple with the persistent crisis of sexual violence against women, particularly in war zones across the world. Another favorite directing credit was a minimalist production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible that I directed in the round without any modern technical elements. Lighting and sound were created by the cast using found objects and instruments. The production also featured fourteen Puritan hymns that were arranged in four-part harmony and sung a cappella by the actors throughout the show. The production sought to explore what it might have felt like to live in a world of darkness, fear, and superstition. I really enjoyed the ensemble work that emerged out of that production and hope to revisit The Crucible again sometime in the future.

Why theater?: I make theater because of its capacity to build communities and bring people together. I believe that theater has the power to break down barriers and initiate conversations in a way that distinguishes it from other art forms. I also believe that theater is one of humanity’s greatest ways to teaching empathy, inspiring action, changing perspectives, and transforming lives. As a theater maker, I love how live performance binds audiences and practitioners together as partners in the creative process. Lyra Theater was created with this actor-audience relationship in mind. Lyra aims to empower early-career theater artists to find their own voices and share their work with the public. As we strive to launch the next generation of artists onto the New York stage, Lyra also committed to lowering barriers to entry by paying our artists for their valuable work and offering affordable tickets to the public. I hope that Lyra will become an environment where artists and audiences can come together to grapple with the pressing ethical, cultural, political, and social questions that keep us up at night. Lyra was named after a constellation because we aspire to cultivate a constellation of artists who serve as advocates for the theater as a fundamental force for good—a force that has the capacity to shape the way we think about the world.

Tell us about this translation of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui: Jennifer Wise’s translation of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui modernizes much of the archaic language in some of the earlier translations of the play without sacrificing the the script’s speed, political satire, and dramatic action. Although Wise’s translation is textually accurate, it is also highly actable and speakable for actors in 2016. Unlike earlier translations, Wise’s translation is primarily in prose, with occasional passages of regular verse. The translation also captures the Depression-era Hollywood gangster-talk of the 1930s by incorporating period-specific slang and idioms into the dialogue. Like other translations, Wise maintains Brecht’s references to Shakespeare, Goethe, and Al Capone, however, she also draws from contemporary sources of inspiration, such as the Great Recession and Iraq War. Throughout the play, Wise encourages productions to resist the temptation to overplay the allegorical relationship between Arturo Ui and Hitler’s rise. Whereas other translations retain the original Brechtian signs between each scene, which comment on the events that led to Hitler’s rise, Wise recommends that directors create signs that relate to the production’s current political moment. As a result, Wise’s translation becomes more than an allegory about Hitler. Rather, the translation serves as cautionary tale about the conditions under which fascism and populism can triumph anywhere, even in democracies with legal institutions. To quote Wise, “The resistible progress of fear-mongering gangsterism is the true story of Ui, and this story can be kept quite clear of swastikas and Hitler mustaches.” For Lyra’s production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, we have drawn from Donald Trump’s “Trump Cards,” his business maxims from "Trump: The Art of the Deal", to create the Brechtian signs that comment on the action of the show. We’ve also incorporated references to Trump, classic Hollywood gangster films, and the Nazi regime throughout the production.

What inspired you to direct The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui?: In February 2016 I spoke with several theater artists about this year’s election season. We were all concerned about the rhetoric on the Republican side, particularly the statements coming from Donald Trump. A bunch of us brainstormed how we could respond to the election and speak out against hate in our politics. People suggested canvassing, making phone calls, and volunteering. I asked how we could respond to the election as theater artists. I had read The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui several years ago and started looking up more contemporary translations of the text. That’s when I came across Jennifer Wise’s modernized translation and brought the play to my collaborators, Hope Chavez and Kyle Michael Yoder, at Lyra Theater. Lyra had been looking for a production to kick off our inaugural season and decided that Arturo Ui would be the perfect play for this current political moment. The play usually features a cast of 40 actors but we cut the play down to 8 actors to create a tightknit ensemble. We hope the play’s central warning—that demagoguery can arise in any society if people stand by—will resonate with our audiences as they head to the polls this November. Beyond its relevance to the 2016 election, I hope that the play will remind us that we must always remain vigilant against bigotry, violence, and intimidation in our society.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I’m drawn to political and activist theater that makes audiences think and feel. I love comedy and drama, but am most excited by theater that has a sense of urgency and immediacy. I’m especially moved by theater that initiates debates and leaves audiences with more questions than answers. As a theater maker, I feel strongly about bringing new voices and perspectives onto the stage and am particularly excited about developing and directing new plays and musicals. Part of what drew me to Arturo Ui was the opportunity to create a space for early-career artists to engage with and comment on this election through their art. I really admire Lin-Manuel Miranda and Oskar Eustis’ genuinely optimistic and idealistic approach to making theater. For both Miranda and Eustis, making art is an act of goodness, generosity, and compassion that should be shared with as many people as possible. Both Miranda and Eustis’ champion and create work that is driven by a sense of morality, love, and curiosity. I also admire Sarah Benson and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ work, which address the uncomfortable, pressing, and complicated questions that most people try to ignore. With every production I direct, I try to experiment with new and different forms of theatrical storytelling. For Arturo Ui, I was especially inspired by John Collins and ERS, as well as Declan Declan Donnellan and Cheek by Jowl’s innovative and joyful reinterpretations of classic works.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I would love to work with David Cromer, John Doyle, Yael Farber, John Tiffany. All four directors create extraordinarily humane, compelling, and intimate theatrical experiences. They also push theatrical boundaries by re-imagining how we tell stories—whether it’s through re-contextualizing familiar works, minimalist staging, innovative ensemble work, or conceptual design.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Last season I loved Mike Bartlett’s future history play King Charles III. The play ingeniously adopted Shakespearean theatrical techniques, including iambic pentameter and classical tropes, to imagine what might happen following Queen Elizabeth II’s death. I also enjoyed Jordan Harrison’s beautiful Marjorie Prime at Playwrights Horizons. The play explored memory and loss through a sci-fi conceit that was emotionally devestating. This past summer, I had a great time at Jaclyn Backhaus’ hilarious and thought-provoking Men on Boats, which was brilliantly directed by Will Davis, and made the case for less-is-more on stage. This season, I’m looking forward to experiencing The Encounter because I’m curious to experience how Simon McBurney and Complicite transport an audience through sound onstage.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: A young Jason Schwartzman. Since I spend a lot of time in theaters, the movie would be called “Take Ten.”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I wish I could see the original production of Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret. Cabaret really set the bar when it comes to meta-theatrical storytelling and I would love to experience Harold Prince’s original staging. I’m also a fan of memory plays and would be interested to see the original production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. Nowadays we’re so accustomed to writers and directors playing with time, memory, and the actor-audience relationship. I think it would be really moving to experience those theatrical techniques for the first time.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Napping during the day!

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: If I wasn’t working in theater, I would be a teacher. I love learning and part of what excites me about theater is the ability to keep on learning about the world through every project I work on. The same is true of teaching. Whenever I’ve worked with students, I always learn as much from them as from the research I conduct to prepare for each class.

What’s up next?: I am developing a play about followers of the Grateful Dead called Deadheads with my collaborator and friend, Ali Viterbi. Lyra is looking ahead towards our next production, which will be announced soon. We’re aiming to partner with diverse early career writers to bring original, relevant, and urgent theater to the stage. We’re also excited to launch a new theatrical development and reading series later this winter. In November, I will be one of the assistant directors on the 24 Hour Plays on Broadway. This year I’m a 2016-2017 Manhattan Theatre Club Directing Fellow and a member of the 2016-2017 Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation Observership Class, so I’m also looking forward to working more closely with both MTC and the SDCF this season.

Spotlight On...Matthew Van Gessel

Name:  Matthew Van Gessel

Hometown:  Westport, Connecticut.

Education:  BFA in Drama from University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Select Credits:  Jene in Miss Julie by August Strindberg; Bobby Gould in Speed the Plow by David Mamet; Robert in Planet Heart by Hong Yi Tian; Melchior in Springs Awakening by Frank Wedekind

Why theater?: Theater is an artistic medium that stands out from others in its ability to reveal to spectators something about humanity and the world around them. As theater artists, we must train ourselves to be able to reflect and focus our unique perspective of the world into a palatable and accessible experience for the spectator. There are precious few moments in life when a room full of people will silently give their full attention to a person playing make-believe, but theater is one of them. The challenge of acting in theater (as opposed film, where you need only nail it once) is Sisyphean in nature and makes the returning to the playing space an almost holy practice in the struggle for honesty, vulnerability, focus, and specificity .    

Who do you play in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui?: Arturo Ui

Tell us about The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui: Arturo Ui is a parable play written by Brecht in 1941 as an allegory to Hitler's rise to power transposed to the 1930’s Gangland of Chicago. That's what Wikipedia will tell you. But what it won’t tell you is that it is also a rollicking story filled with outrageous characters and intrigue. We have taken our production and brought it up to speed by setting it in a modern-day campaign office and making clear the prophetic resemblances to Ui and our current demagogic threat: Donald J. Trump.    

What is it like being a part of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui?: It's been a dream working on this show. Not only am I completely jazzed to be playing such an excellent part, the show is very current and gives the work a special weight of importance. I have been continually impressed by the work of the whole production team and the genius guidance of Noam Shapiro, our director. Rarely have I met a director so articulate and generous towards actors. He believes in the fostering of impulses which is something I greatly respect. The acting ensemble is top tier, and it is a gift to be able to work with them. They are constantly challenging me and pushing me to work harder; many of them play 5+ characters over the course of the two-hour evening.  

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: The theater that excites me is immediate. I'm excited by theater that is relevant or captures a moment. I’m inspired by the work of Mike Bartlett and Annie Baker, both playwrights who write in a highly current style that seamlessly marries conversational dialogue and pure poetry. They both examine themes I consider immediate, like isolation in the digital age, defining modern relationships, and even veering into political drama like Bartlett’s recent Charles III.    

Any roles you’re dying to play?:  Lete in The Ugly One by Marious von Mayenburg; Billy Claven in The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh; Richard II in Richard II by William Shakespeare

What’s your favorite showtune?: "Franklin Shepard Inc." from Merrily We Roll Along by Stephen Sondheim

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:  Director: Ivo van Hove; Actor: Mark Rylance.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself, and what would it be called?:  Steve Buscemi would play me, but he would be in his high-school-skater-kid outfit from 30 Rock, and the movie would be titled "Let's Do it Next Weekend; or An Exercise in Futility"

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Probably Elia Kazan's original production of Streetcar. Heard that was pretty good.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui presented by Lyra Theater! duh.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: You don’t want to know.....  America's Got Talent

What’s up next?: Why, what you offering? Next I plan to produce a one man show called The Bread and The Beer by Tristan Bernays that accounts the return of the god of party animals; John Barleycorn.

For more on The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui visit

Spotlight On...Kyle Michael Yoder

Name: Kyle Michael Yoder

Hometown: Indianapolis, IN

Education: BA Cognitive Science, Yale University

Select Credits: Spread The Gospel (Russell), Icarus (Beau), The Crucible (John Proctor), A Midsummer Night's Dream (Lysander), Translations (Doalty), The Lieutenant of Inishmore (Davey Claven)

Why theater?: Having artists and audiences in the same room is one of the most intimate experiences you can have in the arts.  I tell stories and make theater because that intimacy opens people up to ideas and experiences other than their own and creates a space for real conversations to happen. At the end of the day, I want to understand people and to foster greater understanding between them. I studied Cognitive Science at Yale because I wanted to research the psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and economics underlying human behavior; I act, write, and direct theater because I want to continue that exploration and bring people together in mutual understanding.

Who do you play in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui?: I play Ernesto Roma, Arturo Ui's chief lieutenant and right-hand man. (Think Corey Lewandowski with a dash of Mike Pence thrown in for good measure.) Because of the ensemble nature of the production, I also play a number of other characters who I'll leave as a surprise here. :-D Lastly, alongside Noam, I'm a Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Lyra Theater, and as such also in charge of the creative direction for the company as a whole.

Tell us about The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is the story of a demagogue coming to power in a democracy. It's the story of what happens when fear is allowed to rule under the guise of security. It's the story of what happens when imaginations run wild. The play was written in 1941 and the translation we're using was adapted in 2013, but watching this production, it feels like it was ripped from the headlines of the last year.

What is it like being a part of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui?: It's amazing. As one of the Artistic Directors of Lyra Theater, it's such a joy to have such a wonderful and talented group working on our first production. Our designers have created a complex, multilayered world that really gives the actors a lot of room in which to play, and the cast has taken full advantage of that fact. Noam and I worked together during our time at Yale, and getting to work with your friends is one of the great perks of being in theater. :-)

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I am drawn to projects that engage artists and audiences in an examination of human psychology and encourage them to take social action. Artists have a unique position in the world: we are entertainers, but also facilitators of ideas. Whether we are considering some grand policy debate or the personal tribulations of our next-door neighbor, artists have a responsibility to make our audiences not only feel, but think.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Oh man, so many. Right now, I'm really eager to play Kyle in Toni Press-Coffman's Touch. I also really want to play Hamlet in Shakespeare's masterpiece and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. But honestly, I'm always on the lookout for new opportunities explore just what makes a character tick.

What’s your favorite showtune?: It's definitely a toss-up between "Let It Sing" from Violet by Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley and "My Shot" from Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Will Eno. Will Eno. Will Eno. Also Joss Whedon. Just. Yes.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself, and what would it be called?: Can I play me in a movie about myself? And can it be called, "Can I Play Me in a Movie About Myself?"?

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Violet, when it had Sutton Foster in the lead role! I CAN'T BELIEVE I MISSED THIS.

What shows have you recommended to your friends?: Before it closed, I heavily recommended The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as a play that opened its audience's eyes to an experience of the world that is unfamiliar to many, making them more empathetic in turn. Taking a brief detour into the world of television, everyone should be watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. He understands that, by making people laugh, you make them listen, and then uses that platform to showcase stories and issues that need to be discussed seriously.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:  Peanut butter. Right off the spoon.

What’s up next?: I've got a few things in the works that will be announced soon, but I'm really excited to continue building Lyra's constellation of artists with our open-submission platform and our Project Vega lab for new plays. We've got a few other exciting initiatives coming up as well, so stayed tuned!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Review: I Would Go To Hell With Anais Nin!

by Kaila M. Stokes

Anais Nin Goes to Hell is a salacious complex satire on women’s rights, desires, and society’s expectations of the female sex. First of all, if you do not know who Anais Nin is, take a quick trip to Wikipedia – she was the 1920’s version of Ruth Westheimer. She was a titillating writer who lived a bohemian life-style in a time-period where woman just received the right to vote let alone take multiple lovers publicly and write about it. The play begins with Ophelia from Hamlet suspended in the air singing about the setting of the play – hell. This part in the play was not necessarily needed nor did it add to the experience as an audience member, but the actress had a beautiful voice. Then the lights fade and reopen on Heloise, a faithless nun, and Andromeda, the daughter of the Aethiopian king in Greek mythology.  They are telling each other stories back and forth and waiting. Waiting for what? As the audience comes to find out everyone on this island is a woman waiting for a man. Queen Victoria appears with Joan of Arc then joins Cleopatra. The island is divided in two so Queen Victoria can rule with her God and Cleopatra can rule her way, in other words monotheism vs. polytheism. They all wait; wait for men, who after centuries still have not come for them. Yet, each character carries a certain blind hope that even has the audience misty-eyed and optimistic.
The waiting changes when they all see a boat off shore. Joan of Arc swims to retrieve it, even fighting off a sea monster. Who was on this boat? That’s right; Anais Nin was on this boat. This new aged thinker lands on the island turns everyone on their heads. She represents how the women want to feel, but won’t let themselves because they are too occupied with the men. Cleopatra and Heloise immediately take to her and she helps them discover what they truly want in life and how a man won’t fill that void. Ultimately, the island is divided because of Anais Nin’s beliefs. Queen Victoria, Joan of Arc, and Andromeda take off to find their men in vain whilst the others stay to believe in themselves.
Although a comedy, this play portrays all too real problems with the expectations of woman in society. The company of actors was flawless in their delivery in lines, emotions, and dialects. Each character had a story they shared about who they were and each actress delivered it with fearless integrity for the character! It was truly stunning to watch a cast of women play these women from history that we all know to be strong like stone – yet they are all brought to their knees by a man. What a commentary huh? The playwright, David Stallings, should be commended for writing a piece that has amazing female parts that are so flushed out and human. All too often women in shows lack a three-dimensional state because the story is surrounding the man. It is also a lesson in love; self-love. “We love in others what we love in ourselves” (-Anais Nin). Loving others is actually inherently selfish; loving yourself is much harder because it is pure.
photo by Jody Christopherson
The director, Antonio Minino, made the audience’s job very easy. Each moment was captured with no stone unturned. Each character took their time with the words and created a journey we all could take together through these women. Just as these women were discovering themselves, the audience was right alongside them cheering. What society paints you as, as a woman, does not define you. “You died as a mother to be painted by time as a whore” (-Anais Nin to Cleopatra).  In the midst of the heavy topics, Karen Carpenter sings to the audience from her own island in the distance. It is ironic due to the nature of her songs, funny because the cast sings along, and sad because of the lonely life she led as a woman. She was defined by men and now resided on an island by herself stuck in an eternity alone.
The lighting, by Daniel Gallagher, added to the nuance of the show and guided the audience along. Unless you were actively looking for it, the lighting just seemed to be a natural element of the scenes, which is the best kind of lighting. The sound design, by Martha Goode, projected the same thing. Subtle sounds such as the crashing of water, the distant singing, and hearts beating were among the suggestions of how the audience was feeling. The sounds increased everyone’s pulse to create a rise and fall of each scene and character. The set, by Blair Mielnik, was creative and simple. On each side of the stage hung long weathered ropes with decrepit looking wooden steps leading towards the heavens. Placed around the stage was tall golden grass and crates to sit on. The one thing that would have been nice is if those long ropes and wooden steps were used in some way. Anything on the stage should be utilized and as an audience member you were waiting to see how they were going to be used, but they never were.
Overall, Anais Nin Goes to Hell, is enjoyable and a must see at the 14th Street Y. The company is fantastic in their honest, bold, and emotional roles from women in history. One woman’s journey does not define all women, but it can be a guiding light.

Spotlight On...Susan Ferrara

Name: Susan Ferrara

Hometown: Rochelle, Illinois

Education: Millikin University; National Theatre, UK

Select Credits: The Wonder, Sans Merci, Then We Got Help

Why theater?: It's immediate; visceral. The best possible conversation to have with people you know and don't know.

Who do you play in The Pumpkin Pie Show?: A very sweet, very kind political rally go-er. There to see, in person, the man she most admires; the man running for president.

Tell us about The Pumpkin Pie Show: It's a house-a-fire ride; a political horror show.

What is it like being a part of The Pumpkin Pie Show?: I've been watching and admiring these actors and this writer for years, so to be in the same room with them is pretty cool. I saw a previous Pumpkin Pie Show a few years ago and was mesmerized by Clay Mcleod Chapman's writing and performance. B-Side was the name of the piece and it just sucked me in. Gave me nightmares for weeks.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Intimate theatre performed in small spaces are my favorite. Straight up storytelling (like The Weir) or something mind-blowing (like Hamilton). I'm inspired by the day-to-day; eavesdropping in New York is its own kind of theatre. Definitely inspired by my friends and family. When I was a kid, I could sit and listen to my Aunt Rosie tell stories for hours. My friend Ace insists that she isn't funny, but she kills me every time we talk.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: I'm looking forward to playing an 80-year old super hero; someone who can bring you to your knees with a paper clip. I'll have to write that one. Am excited about the new work out there. If Sarah Kane were still with us, I'd play anything she asked.

What’s your favorite showtune?: “Right Hand Man”

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Reed Birney, Kathryn Hunter. Jesus - too many to list here.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Imelda Staunton in "I Was Never Young"

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Laurette Taylor in the 1944 Chicago production of The Glass Menagerie

What show have you recommended to your friends?: The Encounter

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Anything with Keanu Reeves (and it's not even a guilty pleasure - I genuinely like the guy and would love to work with him. Wish I'd seen his Hamlet)

What’s up next?: Writing a trilogy called The Silver Kitchen (a dark family comedy); shooting minute-long teasers for a web-series called "Mean Secretary"; introducing our crack BUZZ play and team (with director Carrie Preston and Anatol Yusef, Julie Ann Emery, Susan Pourfar, Marcia DeBonis and Sam McMurray) to the world.

For more on Susan, visit

Spotlight On...Shara Ashley Zeiger

Name: Shara Ashley Zeiger

Hometown: Bensalem, PA (right outside of Philly)

Education: Ithaca College, The National Theater Institute at The O'Neill Center, UCB, etc.

Favorite Credits: Awhile back I got play Toinette in a billingual tour of Moliere's Imaginary Invalid (Le Malade Imaginaire) It's one of my favorite plays.

Why theater?: I love the immediacy of theatre. It's a world that gives permission to play and effect people in ways no other medium can. You can make someone laugh whose having a bad day and feel it because they are in the room with you. You can also teach people or create catharsis. It's cool. Theatre is dangerous because it's live so anything can happen, but in that danger there's a sort of magic that happens. I live for that magic.

Tell us about Roughly Speaking: Roughly Speaking is a play with rap based on 200 interviews with the guests of Xavier Mission, most of which are homeless.  It takes place over the course of one meal service at the soup kitchen through the eyes of Lightning.bolt (lightning dot bolt) a rapper bound only by his wheel chair and a cast of diverse characters on a not so typical day. It's about a group of people over a period of time stuck in the round robin that we call "the system". There are 9 actors playing 13 characters, and there's a little bit of magical realism that takes place. (there I go again with the magic!) It's funny, it's sad, it's a lot of things.

What inspired you to write Roughly Speaking?: My husband is a volunteer director of Xavier Mission in Chelsea, so I've spent many Sundays there over the past 6 years. At first it was let's find the play about the homeless that exists and we'll put it on stage, but I couldn't find the play. I couldn't find a play that spoke the reality of the homeless in a way that was honest and truthful. I also used to be "salad girl" on the serving line a lot. The woman next to me "dessert girl" one day told me her story. This woman whom I had become friendly with I learned was a guest at the soup kitchen for many years before she became a volunteer. It was eye opening. At first it was about exploring her story. Then the more I became comfortable with the guests at the soup kitchen I decided to explore a lot of stories. Other people helped me interview early on, but I conducted most of them, and eventually I realized I had talked to over 200 people about their struggles, and fears, and hopes, and dreams, and eventually Roughly Speaking basically wrote itself.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Theatre that makes me feel something. It's not about a specific genre, its about how I feel when I leave. A lot of people inspire me. Lin Manuel Miranda of course. Someone who makes his own work and plays by his own rules. As an actor, I'm constantly in awe of people like Meryl Streep and Daniel Dae-Lewis who physically become their characters. Honestly I'm inspired by kids a lot. My day job I devise new works with kids through different residencies through the Queens Theatre and am always amazed by what they come up with and how they play with abandon.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:  Do I have to pick just one? There are soooo many.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I'm a big Third Rail Project nerd and recommend everything they do.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Maybe Julia Luis-Dryfus? We have a similar sensibility. My father in law always calls me "The Unsinkable Shara" so perhaps it would be called that.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Maybe back to 70s and see the original production of Hair? I also learned that my great grandmother traveled with a troup in eastern europe when she was young. Maybe i'd go back and see her perform. That would be cool.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Everything on TLC.... it happens.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: When I was younger I wanted to be an animator for Disney because I wanted to create characters. I feel like I'd be doing something with creating characters with visual art for sure.

What’s up next?: I'm not sure. We'll see :) I've been working on this for so long it's hard to think of a next.

For more on Roughly Speaking, visit For more on Shara, visit

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Spotlight On...Adam Knight

Name: Adam Knight

Hometown: Greenville, South Carolina

Education: University of Evansville (Indiana)

Favorite Credits: Naperville by Mat Smart (Slant, 2014), Exit Carolyn by Jennie Berman Eng (Sans A, 2011), and Beef by Lawrence Dial (Slant, 2008)

Why theater?: I was overseas and was asked this question at a dinner party where I was the only American. I put on my Sam Shepard face and said, “Because it’s the best damned thing there is.” I stand by that answer.

Tell us about In The Room: A teacher once told me, “Your problems in life are your problems in art.” I think that’s what Lawrence Dial is getting at in his play. In the Room finds seven disparate characters in a playwriting workshop. The classroom takes on a life of its own, as alliances are formed and broken, and each writer confronts his or her “unresolved issue.” How do you close that door once it’s been opened?... Also the play touches on a larger thing happening in NYC theatre. How the business of theatre is in conflict with economics and just the strain of the city. What does it say about our art that more people are interested in paying to LEARN the craft than to SEE the craft?

What inspired you to direct In the Room?: I’ve known Larry for a long time and have directed three of his plays. We often meet up and he’ll hand me a stack of pages and a glass of wine and go from there. This play was one of those stacks, and the more we talked about it, the more we realized it needed to be staged. Also it hearkens back to an earlier period of Slant Theatre Project’s history where we’d stage plays in comedy clubs or the hulls of ships, anywhere but a theatre. We’re doing this play in a rehearsal room – which is where the play would actually take place – allowing the audience to experience the piece from an intimate vantage point.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: A great traditional production of Nöel Coward can speak to me as much as something utterly insane and experimental at BAM. The main thing for me is that it needs to feel PRESENT. Why this play, why now? If the artists have answered that question for themselves, the audience is sure to follow… I try to go see a lot of art beyond just theatre. I go to the opera and to museums and particularly love the symphony. When I’m inspired by a piece of music or a painting, my way of viewing the world blossoms out, which in turn deepens my own art.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Athol Fugard’s work continues to resonate beyond the very specific world his writing inhabits. And as a director of his own work, he’s able to cull enormous meaning out of simple actions such as painting a rock or digging a trench. I’d love to be a fly on the wall and watch him work.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I was over the moon recently about Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morisseau, The Body of an American by Dan O’Brien, and Together We Are Making a Poem in Honor of Life by Dean Poynor. I pitch them to every artistic director I know.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I’ve always thought it was so sad that Mozart was something of a secondary character in the movie “Amadeus.” And then F. Murray Abraham wins the Academy Award! Wouldn’t that be terrifying? If, in the movie of MY life, the person playing my RIVAL wins the Oscar!?

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Probably Daniel Cromer’s production of Our Town or Mark Rylance in Boeing-Boeing. I was living in the city at the time so have no excuse. It’s like heroes who’ve died – you keep thinking you’ve got another chance to see them, then they’re gone.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Esoteric studies. I’m in a Russian history phase at the moment, reading all about the Romanovs. Up next is Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Past junkets include Greek vases and Chinese poetry. None of these have anything to do with my work or life, and that’s why I love them.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A professional bookkeeper. (That’s a common answer, right?) I like working with numbers and with accounting. In fact, it’s what I do as my day job. It’s a job which holds enormous trust, and there’s also an elegance to it. At the end of the day it all just has to balance. I like that.

What’s up next?: I’m producing a world premiere in NYC next April by an acclaimed international writer… but that’s all I can say right now! Stay tuned.

For more on In the Room, visit

Monday, October 17, 2016

Theater in the Now at 54 Below!

In case you haven't heard, we are celebrating 5 years of Theater in the Now with a birthday bash at 54 Below THIS SATURDAY! And we want you there. As loyal supporters of the website, here is an exclusive discount. Please show your support and get your tickets TODAY! Here is the direct link to purchase!

Spotlight On...Elena Grosso

Name: Elena Grosso

Hometown: Venice (Italy)

Education: The Lee Strasberg Theater And Film Institute

Why theater?: Theater give me the possibility to be truly myself , playing somebody else, live in front of an audience.

Who do you play in Fear Fest?: I play two different characters, one is a young woman who is not ready to “leave “ this word yet, the other is a peculiar girl who is in love with a vampire.

Tell us about Fear Fest: It’s a series of different scenes all related to each other with the theme of the obscure the sinister and the horror , with a comedy twist.

What is it like being a part of Fear Fest?: It’s been very fun  working with such a diverse group of people , the experience of working for a small theater it’s always great because you get to know everyone and you get to work really hard.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love theater in general, i love it when it’s real and dynamic, given my background I am always looking for real life on stage!

Any roles you’re dying to play?: I always wanted to play Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, I’ve played many time at school but i can’t wait to play it in the theaters around us!

What’s your favorite showtune?: Before every show i love listening to music and it’s always different but I have to say that for this character nothing gets me in the mood like some Foo Fighters songs.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I would love to work with Christian Bale, he is now my favorite actor.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I think the movie would be called : “How to make mistakes but always look innocent” and maybe Amy Schumer?

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I would go back to see Kim Stanley in The Three Sisters directed by The Actor Studio.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: The last I recommended was Den of Thieves which is one of my favorite plays.

What’s up next?: My next project is working on my web series that shows how is the life of an Italian Actress in New York.

For more on Elena, visit

Friday, October 14, 2016

Review: The Game of Life and Death

by Michael Block

Rather than opting for a generic family drama, Leegrid Stevens levels up his story by layering in the world of 8-bit gaming in The Dudleys. A cathartic piece about the aftermath following the family patriarch's death, The Dudleys explores human emotion in a nostalgic digital world. Produced by Loading Dock Theatre at HERE Arts Center, The Dudleys is unique in execution but lacks a strong, cohesive story to carry the audience on a two-hour journey.
Told through the unique lens of an 8-bit video game of yore, The Dudleys is a play about loss and grief. A young man returns home to burry his father. He goes into his childhood bedroom and is engulfed by an old Nintendo game that has seemingly come to life. As the gamer plays, the Dudleys, the titular family from the game, engage in the aftermath of the recent tragedy, in classic game form. Between killing zombies to running from the cops, Leegrid Stevens offers a sentimental feel to the story. But there is no mystery or surprise to be had. The moment the gamer walks in and the game comes to life, the big twist becomes instantaneously predictable. While the story ultimately comes together, confusion sets in when the gamer presses start. The biggest roadblock for The Dudleys is the rules of the world. And the rules of this world are integral. Unfortunately, they don’t work. The story is essentially told out of order. The levels, or scenes, are not chronological. But in the world of video games, who is manipulating the level order and why is that allowed. Sure, from a theatrical standpoint, Stevens story order is interesting. But it doesn’t work with the concept he established. Stevens’ mission seemed to be infusing lighthearted humor into the weighty family drama. He found a way to bring that in through the gaming. His characters were defined but the dialogue was often bogged down by metaphor. For a play that relies on relationships, the familiar bond wasn’t as strong as it should have been. While each character had their personal woes and issues, they seemed to live in their own solitary world.
The Dudleys is an ensemble effort yet it was all about the individuals. The standout of the bunch was Erik Kochenberger as Vic. Kochenberger has remarkable presence on stage. He has a command that is effortless, with an ease to crafting a relatable character. Kochenberger has a cinematic charm to his performance. Marlowe Holden had a complex character with Sylvia yet Holden had the sensibility to find the positivity through darkness of Sylvia’s situation. Amy Bizjak’s eccentric Meg was a brilliant antagonist despite the confusing arc her character experienced. Erin Treadway was able to find humor within the death-hungry widow Clara. Despite the outrageous world of the play, Treadway found reality in her character.
The draw of this play is the unique visuals created by the skilled creative team. The set created by Jonathan Cottle was virtually just a canvas for video designer Reid Farrington. Farrington, along with animators David Bengali, David Mauro, Angela “Overkill” Hill, Roger Miller, Dan Monceaux, & Leegrid Stevens, captured the video game vibe effortlessly. It moved succinctly with the choreography from director Jacob Titus. The Dudleys was a tech heavy show. And it’s clear much time and thought went into the logistics. But Titus didn’t seem to handle the story as well as he did the production. Though the text was a giant factor. As much as you wanted to give sympathy to this family and the situation, there was little to give. When it came to costumes, Heather Carey found a color scheme for each individual that popped. Though the brown on Clara was a bit of a letdown in comparison to the vibrancy around her. Even if her character was depressed, a different color would have done the trick. Carey paid attention to fabrics and patterns to match the 8-bit world without becoming forced.
The technical execution of Leegrid Stevens’ play was what The Dudleys will be remembered for. It was a daring production to say the least. Perhaps it was the lack of connection to the material that caused the audience to not get on board for the ride. When the audience is unsure of whether to clap or not at the intermission break, it’s a warning sign that something isn’t working.

Spotlight On...Jill Bianchini

Name:  Jill Bianchini

Hometown:  Cheltenham, PA

Education:  NYU (Drama)

Favorite Credits:  Ann in Balm in Gilead, Suzy in Hot L Baltimore and Lee in Marvin's Room.

Why theater?: Because I love everything about it:  the first table read, the rehearsals, the research, the collaboration, putting on the costume for the first time, even the point during rehearsal when I feel lost can be exciting... and of course, the thrill of an audience.  But mostly, it's about the money.

Tell us about The Motherf**ker with the Hat?:  It's just good, wholesome family entertainment.  Bring the kids!  Kidding.  It's a dark comedy about love, fidelity, sobriety, friendship, moral codes and other hard things about being an adult.  It's funny, poignant and beautifully written.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?:  I just want to be moved.  I want to be entertained, to laugh, to be awed.  I am especially inspired by Lanford Wilson, John Patrick Stanley, Sam Shepard, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:  I'd like to do a remake of Midnight Run with Cate Blanchett.

What show have you recommended to your friends?:  Any show directed by Peter Jensen.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?:  Bea Arthur (the Maude years).  "And Then There's Jill!"

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I'd see the original production of Runaways at The Public Theatre, because my sweetheart Evan Miranda was in it.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:  Cookies and cocktails.

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

What’s up next?: Cookies and cocktails.

For more on The Motherfucker with the Hat, visit

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review: A Bloody Circus Mess

By Michael Block

Have you ever wanted to see a spooky dance circus? Well Hideaway has delivered something unique in Slumber, a haunted delight ready for Halloween. With a mix of acrobatic tricks and choreographed treats set to a pulsating score, Slumber brings the audience into their world of visual wonder. But when you remember that directors Josh Aviner and Lyndsay Magid tried to incorporate a story into their little floorshow, the proverbial tent comes tumbling down.
Playing the stunning House of Yes, Slumber is an energetic night of performance from a talented troupe of acrobats and dancers who use the architecture of the space to tell the story of a girl who has a taste for blood. The painfully thin follows Mabel after a kinky night with a hunky guy leads her on a power trip of murderous revenge against her mean girl friends. Throwing in arial acts, contortion, dance, and much much more, Slumber pleases those thrill seekers but dies when it tries to be something greater than it can be. Like another similar New York based company that seems to experience similar traps, Company XIV, Hideaway tries to explore story and theme through the art of circus and burlesque while aspiring to be the next Cirque Du Soleil. The trouble that Aviner and Magid experience is trying to make this a flawless piece. Unfortunately the execution leaves much to be desired. To cover up the holes and set ups for the next act, Slumber suddenly breaks the fourth wall through monologues by Mabel. Whether it was weak writing or Lee Hubilla’s inability to improv, the direct addresses were nothing short of uncomfortable. That’s not to say she’s not charming or engaging, the material Hubilla had to work with was simply not flattering. As an emcee, her banter with the audience needed finessing. The concept is enthralling, but if the draw is the intrigue of circus and dance why even introduce a story?
Directors Josh Aviner and Lyndsay Magid incorporate an electronic pop score to accompany the acts. It’s a smart choice for this style of performance. But once again, concept aside, the execution was what held Slumber back from being successful. When the first image is your performers laying down on a raised stage and the majority of your audience can't see it, you know you're in for trouble. Moving from act to act, you may have had a glimpse of a hope being lowered or a rigger running across the stage to set the Chinese pole. It hurts the illusion. The specific routines were catered to the specific artist. And at times, it destroyed the momentum. Especially when discovering an intermission was about to come. This proved that much needed to be reconsidered. The individual pieces can be restructured as, from a story perspective, one murder didn’t always lead to another. At first glance, House of Yes looks like the perfect venue for this show, but as the night proceeds, you discover there's only so much it offers. Safety is important but when giant glow tape corners are visible at all times, it’s just unfortunate. There’s no denying that choreographers Keone Madrid and Mari Madrid’s dances were some of the most extraordinary and most polished moments. They were fresh and energetic, keeping the spirit the piece alive. The lighting design by Dan Alaimo evoked the feeling of a Brooklyn dance party. But when you walk into Slumber, the mix of reds and blue lights give you the illusion of wearing 3-D glasses, and a bit of a headache.
If you like danger and the potential of a catastrophe, these performers will deliver. And perhaps whip you with a silk. There's no denying the spectacular talent in the blood. Joren Dawson surely knows how to work a pole. You simply can't keep your eyes off him, especially after that magical Spider-Man drop-in. Olga Karmansky was the Queen of the Contortion. Her Act II number was mesmerizing to say the least.
So how do you improve something like Slumber? Bring in an expert that knows how to execute an event like this. Hideaway has something potentially great on their hands but this product was not it. There are far too many flaws that detract from the beauty. But if the goal is to pull the wool over the untrained eye, audiences looking for a good time will likely have fun. But don’t think you actually get a say in who lives and who dies. That’s just a gimmick to attempt to explain the immersive.