Friday, July 21, 2017

Ridin' That Train with...Chanel Karimkhani

Name: Chanel Karimkhani

Hometown: Denver, CO

Education: BFA University of the Arts

Who do you play in The Goree All-Girl String Band?: Ruby Mae

Describe your character in three words: Spunky, heartfelt, daredevil

Tell us about The Goree All-Girl String Band: This musical is about women working to build a better life for themselves. It's a story of hope in the middle of a prison. Women who dare defy the odds.

Describe The Goree All-Girl String Band in three words: Country, Fun, heart

What instruments do you play in the show?: Cello!

What's your favorite country song?: “Back Home Again” - John Denver

Who's your favorite country artist of all time?: John Denver. I was raised listening to this man sing while driving up the mountains of Colorado. It's something I'll never forget.

What is your favorite moment in The Goree All-Girl String Band?: Playing music with my girls.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a part of the Goree team?: The Goree team is the most rewarding part! EVERYONE involved is pure gold. And there's nothing quite like doing a musical with a good group of people while also being in a band with them. Not only the Goree girls, but the whole cast play instruments together. It's absolutely amazing and I thank my lucky stars that I get to be a part of this story!

Why is this show important now?: Empowering women!! If we work together we can create something grand.

Why should we come see The Goree All-Girl String Band?: The show is just incredible. A small cast who not only sing, act, and dance, but also double as the pit orchestra. Come see the roots of the Texas 1930's sensation, The Goree All Girl String Band. Plus, it's pretty rare to hear a cello in country music, just sayin'.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Spotlight On...Brianna Kalisch

Name: Brianna Kalisch

Hometown: Three Lakes WI

Education: The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (UK)

Favorite Credits: How to choose!? These two stand out very memorable and challenging productions; Seline in A Serious Case of the Fuckits by Anna Jordan (dir Sarah Davy-Hull) Mother Ubu in Ubu Roi at the Garage Theatre Group (dir Micheal Bias)

Why theater?: I feel like it’s always been theatre, I’ve tried to quit a few times and get a “real job” (whatever that means..) but I can’t stay away. And in this age of technology I can’t help but feel that the arts are all the more important; to connect, to remember we are human, to practice empathy. The arts, not just theatre, make a space for that. And I think that’s an important job.

Tell us about The Anthropologist Save The World: The Anthropologist Save The World is a triptych of plays exploring the precarious role of the individual in an age of climate change via the struggles of a smokers’ cessation group, doomsday preppers faced with their moment of truth, and future interactions between human and robot. We are on at the New Ohio as part of the Ice Factory Festival and run July 26th-29th

What inspired you to be a part of The Anthropologists Save The World?: I was part of the first iterations of The Lecture and The Blackout (which make up two pieces of the triptych) back in 2012.  The mission of the Anthropologist is to create a space “where art meets action”. These plays were born out of our quest to discover what the role and responsibility of the individual is when it comes to climate change. The recent political climate (no pun intended) has once again made climate change a hot topic (okay maybe a pun here..) and has us retackling it. Personally, I’ve learned so much from the research and development of this show and am just excited to share it with other people and hopefully ignite the conversation in a new way.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I’m really happy that these questions are so easy…yikes!  what kind of theatre… what inspires me…new, courageous, unapologetic theatre. I know it can be stressful (understatement) to make work that doesn't necessarily have dollar signs stamped into it but I love and am inspired by theatre that doesn’t play it safe.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: So many people I’d love to work with! Very keen to work with The Public Theatre and The Guthrie Theatre along with many others.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: People, Places, & Things by Duncan MacMillan. I saw it in London and its coming to St Ann’s Warehouse in October. Very moving, challenging, and dynamic. Denise Gough is a powerhouse.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I think a “yet-to-be-discovered” talent would play me and I hope it would be her big break. I like that idea. It would be called… Flying Elephants And Other Improbabilities…actually I have no idea, there’s still lots of life to life yet - lord willing!

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I would like to go back and see the opening night performance of Cradle Will Rock where due to the WPA temporarily shutting the show down everyone walked a couple miles uptown to a different theatre and the actors performed from the audience with just Marc Blitzstein playing the piano on stage. I’m in love with this story and the ballsy-ness of the artists.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Chocolate, always.

If you weren’t working in theater, you'd be____: running away with the circus! I’m actually working on it…

What’s up next?: Personally I’m working on developing a show that combines theatre and circus and finding a producer who is equally excited by the idea. Otherwise I’m very available to any opportunities! The Anthropologist are also currently developing a show call This Sinking Island, their first kid/family friendly production set to premiere in October at University Settlement!

For more on The Anthropologists, visit

Review: A Beautiful 1888 Tale of Women On The Verge

By Ed Malin

Ducdame Ensemble is now presenting The Enchantment at HERE Arts Center. Lucy Jane Atkinson directs Tommy Lexen’s adaptation/ translation of this Swedish play. The author, Victoria Benedictsson, was a major figure in late 19th Century Swedish realism.  Sadly, she killed herself shortly after completing this play in 1888, just prior to and providing an inspiration for other notable works of the time such as Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and Strindberg’s Miss Julie. She published several proto-feminist works, mostly under the male alias Ernst Ahlgren.
photo by Katrin Talbot
A community of Swedish artists are in Paris (see: Ibsen’s Ghosts for another take on this).  The beautiful Louise (Fiona Mongillo) is convalescing in her step-brother Viggo’s (Paul Herbig) studio where she meets and falls in love with Gustave Alland the sculptor (Matthew DeCapua). Gustave is all about freedom to make art, so the love he wants is free love, love from which he can move on as needed (and indeed we encounter one of his former lovers, Erna).  Gustave says this in a very up-front manner and she says she understands.  As it turns out, she understands that she will eventually not be able to deal with the loss of this man.  Young people will say anything, I suppose, but here we are 130 years later and men and women do not have the same access to education and selfhood. In the world of this play, a woman who is not artist can chase an artist, but she is destined to fail. (Gustave is working on a new group of sculptures entitled “destiny”.) Louise references Scandinavian folklore by implying that troll magic is drawing her closer to Gustave.  Other couples within the circle of artists contrast with Louise’s attitude.   Lilly (Claire Curtis-Ward) loves Viggo and doesn’t know if it will last, but been persuaded to marry him and settle down in Sweden. He will begin a respectable job he hates, and she will be a housewife with few opportunities to express herself. Is this success?  Another couple has been fighting at parties for years.  Bergström (Michael J. Connolly) constantly accuses Erna (Jane May) of not being loving enough. He also curses her, declaring that she should have been a man.  If the author seems to have no faith in socially acceptable relationships, this is probably because she was married off in her teens to a much older man and, at the time of her death, was having an affair with prominent Danish critic Georg Brandes.  The man (such as Brandes) always had the ability to leave a woman and move on, while the woman was mainly raised to support a man. Victoria Benedictsson has structured the heroine’s posturing, suicide and death very similarly to her own.  In 2017, A Doll’s House Part 2 is playing to acclaim on Broadway. Without giving away the plot of that play either, let’s look at an independent woman leaving a man in those days as very theoretical. Madame Rachilde, the scandalously successful Parisian literary personality of the same time period (author of “Why I am not A Feminist”, “Madame de Sade”, etc.), did it all with her husband’s financial backing.  The tension between health and illness, love and loss, life and death for Lousie is palpable.
Fortunately, in this century, a symposium at Columbia University has examined Victoria Benedictsson’s full body of work (including what she wrote under her pen name, Ernst Ahlgren) and refused to see her as merely the unhappy love slave of Georg Brandes.
Adrienne Carlile’s costumes are captivating.  Women have flowy dresses and spend a lot of time pouting in them astride sofas.  One male role,  Lind, is played by a woman (Arianna Karp) who is a pleasantly aggressive and duplicitous colleague of Gustave. I think the point that director is trying to make is that for foreign artists in Paris Art City, male privilege was all they had; but on the other hand, this is not a total denunciation of men or love, but a nuanced tightrope walk.   Mary Hamrick ‘s sets nicely delineate drawing rooms and patios, allowing the audience to observe private conversations. Morgan Zipf-Meister lighting gives us some insight into the hopeful side of art and love and the troll cave of powerlessness.

Ridin' That Train with...Luke Darnell

Name: Luke Darnell

Hometown: I was actually born/spent my first few years in NYC but consider Morristown, NJ my hometown.

Education: Studied at Worth-Tyrrell Studios School Of Performing Arts (my parents' business) in Morristown, NJ, and other studios in NYC and Los Angeles. Currently studying at Matthew Corzine Studio, NYC.

Who do you play in The Goree All-Girl String Band?: Nelson Olmsted, host of "Thirty Minutes Behind The Walls", the radio show that made the Goree Girls famous.

Describe your character in three words: opportunistic radio guy

Tell us about The Goree All-Girl String Band: It's a unique story, based on actual events, featuring and exciting original country/folk/bluegrass score played by a superb cast of actor/musicians.

Describe The Goree All-Girl String Band in three words: Girls kick ass.

What instruments do you play in the show?: Mandolin and upright bass, so far.

What's your favorite country song?: "Big River" by Johnny Cash

Who's your favorite country artist of all time?: Johnny Cash

What is your favorite moment in The Goree All-Girl String Band?: When they appear on the radio show for the first time. Will they succeed, will they flop? Come and find out!

What is the most rewarding thing about being a part of the Goree team?: Getting to work with such a talented, dedicated cast and creative team on an original piece of theatre as it continues to take shape.

Why is this show important now?: It's a story of female empowerment set in a time when there wasn't much of that...the fact that they did what they did while in prison makes their accomplishment that much more impressive.

Why should we come see The Goree All-Girl String Band?: Same answer as "Tell us about..." :-)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Spotlight On...Julie Soto, Will Finan, and Ryan Warren

Name: Julie Soto (book, lyrics and story); Will Finan (composer); Ryan Warren (director and story)

Hometown: Sacramento, CA - all 3

Favorite Credits: First time writers!
JS: As an actor, Gertrude in Seussical and Rona in Spelling Bee
RW: Directing Spring Awakening and Spelling Bee
WF: As an actor, Cinderella's Prince in Into the Woods

Why theater?:
JS: We've been asked several times if we would consider reformatting Generation Me for TV/Film, and I think it would be such an interesting medium to try, but there is something about telling this story about a community coping, to a theatre community, that is so much more intimate than other mediums.
WF: Live theater is visceral. It's a two-way street where actors and audiences can both take part in the artistic experience. It's unique every night, with unexpected gasping, crying, and laughter driving the performance.
RW: I just feel like the theatre community is a little more open and progressive in terms of taking something in and not giving it the immediate reaction of a yes or a no. You can't click to the next channel. You can't turn it off. You are there in the moment experiencing it.

Tell us about Generation Me: Generation Me is a new teen musical focusing on this current generation of teenagers, and a high school dealing with the fallout of the popular boy taking his own life. In the wake of his death, Milo Reynold's family and friends question everything they though they knew about him. Generation Me explores the heartbreak, confusion, and survivor's guilt of those left behind. Told in flashbacks that open Milo's story like a mystery, Generation Me identifies  a generation more privileged, self-interested, oblivious... and lonelier than ever.

What inspired you to write/direct Generation Me?:
JS: Ryan and I run a youth theatre company in Sacramento, and when we were trying to figure out what to do with our teenagers next, we were stuck with shows that didn't fit them or their experiences. We had already done 13 the Musical the year before and they were ready for a challenge. We had not directly experienced the death of a teenager in our lives, but I wanted to try to capture the life-or-death perspective of the teenage existence, and I thought dealing with the isolation of losing someone close to you would be a jumping off point for the piece.
RW: I think what excites me about Generation Me is trying something new. I think it's so easy to get stuck in routine. Doing an original show was something new for everyone involved and it was a challenge.
WF: There's something special about being a teenager - first loves and heartbreaks, innocence lost, identities solidified (or broken and remade). It's an age we look back on fondly, but it's also fragile, tenuous, and fleeting. It's great inspiration for a range of musical elements and emotions.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?:
JS: Shows like Spring Awakening and Next to Normal inspire me because they blur the line between what is a traditional musical theatre piece and what is more suited to a straight play format. RENT was just becoming big when I was getting into theatre, and I think it really shaped me as a performer and now as a writer.
RW: Concept is what speaks to me. When I watch a piece I am analyzing the directing and the vision. I appreciate something that is trying to communicate with the audience and leaves them with something to take away. Some of my favorite directors are Michael Greif and Joe Mantello.
WF: Paul Rudd.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:
RW: I would love to work with an actress like Megan Hilty one day, or work on a creative team with Jerry Mitchell.
JS: Joss Whedon, on any type of project. I would clean his carpets.
WF: Paul Rudd.

What show have you recommended to your friends?:
JS: Waitress and Come From Away are currently my favorite musicals on Broadway. We just saw Play That Goes Wrong and that was spectacular.
RW: Waitress and Come From Away
WF: Yes, I'm still quoting Play That Goes Wrong days later. "Good god! I needed that."

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?:
JS: Melissa McCarthy. "Never Date A Man From Bakersfield."
WF: Paul Rudd, and it would be called "Everyone Shut Up. I'm Talking."
RW: Matthew Morrison. "Do It, Don't Talk About It."

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?:
WF: Opening night of Les Miserables on the West End
RW: The most recent revival of Noises Off
JS: Opening night of Ragtime.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: 
JS: Netflix binging.
WF: *NSYNC Christmas album, circa 1998
RW: Wicked.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: 
JS: Working for the State of CA, as that's currently my day job. But probably writing in a different art form.
WF: Owning and operating a bar/music venue.
RW: a professional wrestler.

What’s up next?: We are completely open! We are hoping that we get the right eyes on the show that can help us move it to the next level.

For more on Generation Me, visit and

Ridin' That Train with...Lauren J. Thomas

Name: Lauren J Thomas

Hometown: Wallingford, PA (outside Philly)

Education: Acting BFA from Boston University

Who do you play in The Goree All-Girl String Band?: Georgia

Describe your character in three words: Tough & sexy with some wooden-teeth!

Tell us about The Goree All-Girl String Band: An amazing true story about how a radio-show helped people see the humanity in these young women behind bars, and how music gave them back their lives.

Describe The Goree All-Girl String Band in three words: perseverance, sisterhood, resilience

What instruments do you play in the show?: violin (and maybe a little mandolin!)

What's your favorite country song?: "Landslide"

Who's your favorite country artist of all time?: I never listened to much country music before this show, so this show has introduced me to the genre and many styles of fiddling, thanks especially to my cast-mate Kendra Jo!

What is your favorite moment in The Goree All-Girl String Band?: It's pretty exciting when the 6 of us play for the first time together at the end of Act I for the song "Riding that Train"

What is the most rewarding thing about being a part of the Goree team?: Getting to learn part of American's prison history and work with an incredible group of artists and musicians. I've also gotten to hear a lot more blue-grass bands in NYC, thanks to the cast!

Why is this show important now?: For me, this show is an important reminder of what music can do for people, and why funding for the arts is so important!

Why should we come see The Goree All-Girl String Band?: You'll learn about a part of American history you might not have known before, and you'll get to hear some great music!

For more on Lauren, visit

Review: The Dentons Are Never Tired of Going to the Theater

By Ed Malin

Martin Denton Martin Denton is an oral history of an amazing man and his mother, who brought exposure and recognition to so many indie theater artists in New York. The indefatigable Chris Harcum (Martin) and Marisol Rosa-Shapiro (Rochelle) are directed by Aimee Todoroff of Elephant Run Productions. They have all seen enough of the local theater scene to tell any story, and yet here they are lovingly transmitting these tales about a family which spent so much of their time bringing us the news about other people’s theatrical productions. I am one of those thousands of artists touched by Martin and Rochelle Denton. It’s kind of meta to be writing a review of this play. During the show, Chris as Martin asked if anyone in the audience received their first play review from Martin Denton and his websites and That was very telling. There is no doubt that this man and his internet skills in the late 1990s kept so many artists on track to create their work; several thousand plays from Off-Off-Broadway, including FringeNYC and other festivals, have been published on the Dentons’ site
But some who encountered Martin Denton on the Lower East Side in the ‘90s may appreciate the play’s reference to Brigadoon: he seems to have appeared out of the mist and then vanished at the end of the weekend.  You will want to know what Martin and Rochelle told Chris, so head to that beehive of theater, the Kraine (Erez Ziv, Godfather).
In 2014, the Dentons are moving from New York City to sunny New Jersey. In this time of packed boxes and transitions, we hear of Martin’s happy childhood in Washington, D.C. with Rochelle and his father, Bart, who liked theater. He would act out all of the roles in The Iceman Cometh, sing songs from Kiss Me, Kate in a unique way, make everyone aware of the importance of Our Town and took the family to see Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! at the newly-opened Kennedy Center. At George Washington University, Martin studies political science, then law, and finds both unconcerned with objective truth. Soon he is running systems for Marriott Hotels, and taking his widowed mother on weekend trips to see Broadway shows up north.  While that’s a great place to start, the Dentons soon discover the many smaller productions happening all over New York.  There are so many new shows looking to attract an audience. Sometimes, these risk-taking productions are quite amazing, and they are willing to give free tickets in exchange for a review, to be shared on one of those new things called websites.  They joke about what “Off-Off-Broadway means”; it’s worth walking two blocks away from Broadway to see something good.  A few years later, the Dentons are running a small press and publishing anthologies of new plays; one of their first acknowledged innovative playwright, Kirk Wood Bromley, urges everyone to use “indie theater” (like “indie film”) to emphasize the spirit of these efforts.
Martin’s boss at the Marriott used to be in the Army, and notices that Martin is coming in to work later on Mondays following extended weekend theater sorties. Instead of the expected court-marshall, Martin is encouraged to move to New York and work remotely.  Rochelle is retiring from her pottery business, so the two find a nice apartment together on John Street, in the financial district. Life is quite convenient until the day when the World Trade Center, two blocks away, is destroyed. Evacuated without their two cats, Martin and Rochelle find an unexpected welcome at the midtown Marriott, which is empty except for them and the Fox News team. Soon they are reunited with their furry roommates and find a new place in Murray Hill, to which they invite their community of reviewers for holiday parties.
Now, the sincere phrasings of Chris Harcum and the rapier-sharp repartee of Marisol Rosa-Shapiro aside, why should you care about this story?  Maybe you are a Millennial-American and take online coverage of things (let alone theater) for granted.  Maybe you are pleased with the subsequent gentrification of every corner of New York. Please consider how (comparatively) little online coverage there was for any kind of New York events.  Gradually, the site recruited an army of reviewers who for many years covered every single one of the approximately 200 FringeNYC shows each August plus more plays year-round.  (For FringeNYC, festival co-founder Elena K. Holy arranged for their reviewers’ paper tickets to be manually pulled and delivered.)  These shows included Urinetown, the pleasantly grotesque dystopian laugh-fest which this reviewer got to see in 1999, which a certain someone advised Martin might be OK to skip, and which went to Broadway in 2001 and did a lot for the community and for the economy of New York.  After Martin and his clan reviewed some of my shows in FringeNYC, I started reviewing other local plays along with them.  They were looking for people who were not professional critics, just experienced in some part of the artistic process.  Letting this army of non-destructive observers loose on the New York scene is what I will always thank the Dentons for; by 2011 they had begun publishing these once-overlooked plays online.  Now your play could succeed (or not) in the Big Apple and then be selected to play in Peoria.  Remember that this was the Dentons’ second revolution. Since 2000, they were already publishing annual anthologies of 10 plays. They happened to be willing to increase that number exponentially.
photo by Cilla Villanueva
Such a community fosters memorable personalities. Martin recalls the awesome absurdist work of Brian Parks, Kelly McAllister, Julia Barclay-Morton, Boomerang, Mac Rogers, Offending the Audience, Horse Country and on and on. At one of his book launch events, Martin becomes aware that Vampire Cowboys Head Priest Qui Nguyen has smuggled a pair of dueling swords past security. Martin’s two creative nieces also accompany and inspire him: one teaches him how amazing it is for a ten year-old to see Shaw’s “Candida” while the other alarms him by walking around the Lower East Side on her way to drop off  thousands of dollars of FringeNYC box office money. (I recall feeling safer doing this with a bicycle.) As we approach the present day, during a Taylor Mac performance the star shows intent to kiss Rochelle, but kisses Martin instead. It is important not to give away too much of the play.  To find out what is the best dish at Monty’s, go see Martin Denton Martin Denton.
Like many a production described herein, this wonderful show does a lot with an inflatable couch and a few boxes and posters.  Elephant Run is all about preserving the history of avant-garde theater.  In this show, they go where even they haven’t gone before. Judging by the joyous atmosphere in the theater, and by the online comments of the very approachable Dentons, this show struck quite the chord. Director Aimee Todoroff has transformed her subjects quite believably into a bunch of theatergoers who for 17 years knew exactly which venue they were going to be in every night. I hope you get to spend an evening listening to them.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Ridin' That Train with...Robert Ariza

Name: Robert Ariza

Hometown: Richmond Hill (Queens), NY

Education: LaGuardia Arts HS, The University of Michigan

Who do you play in The Goree All-Girl String Band?: Paul (& Bud)

Describe your character in three words: Sweet, regretful, romantic

Tell us about The Goree All-Girl String Band: It's a fun, inspiring, new musical based on real people, played by a crazy-talented cast.

Describe The Goree All-Girl String Band in three words: Fun. Inspiring. Tuneful.

What instruments do you play in the show?: Guitar

What's your favorite country song?: "Here I Am in Love Again" by John Hartford

Who's your favorite country artist of all time?: John Hartford

What is your favorite moment in The Goree All-Girl String Band?: Every time Lauren Patten belts.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a part of the Goree team?: Collaborating with my amazing fellow actor-musicians. But also being an actor of color playing a man who was known to be Caucasian. Breaking the mold is something I value and try to achieve as an actor.

Why is this show important now?: Feminism, man! Never underestimate the will and power of a woman! Also, how often do you see a show with more women than men in the cast??

Why should we come see The Goree All-Girl String Band?: -It's on almost every Top Pick list re:NYMF -Our multi-talented cast -Lauren Patten's belting -To have a good ol' toe-tappin time.

For more on Robert, visit

Monday, July 17, 2017

Spotlight On...Milo Manheim

Name: Milo Manheim

Hometown: Los Angeles California

Education: High School Jr.

Select Credits: Disney's "Zombies", Spring Awakening, Rent, A Chorus Line.

Why theater?: I get to step into the shoes of someone else. I get to feel what they feel and I find it exciting to be able to express their emotions in my own way. I get to tell stories that have an impact on people.

Who do you play in Generation Me?: Milo Reynolds; a guy who is misunderstood and who is very dependent on what other people think of him.  He is unable to express himself to the people he loves and keeps all of his frustration inside of him.

Tell us about Generation Me: Generation Me addresses the fact that things aren't always what they seem. The play brings up the difficulties of high school and how the emotional pressure teens feel, can take a devastating toll on them.

What is it like being a part of Generation Me?: It feels like having a second family. There's no one In the cast that I would hesitate to go to for anything. It feels very fulfilling that we are talking about important issues that affect teenagers.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I enjoy comedies the most, but I am most impressed by dramas. It's amazing to watch good actors portraying characters. I'm obsessed with Jim Carrey because he can make almost anyone laugh with his comedic timing.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: I would love to play Elder Price in the Book of Mormon because I've loved that show and that character since the day it came out. I would also love to play Saint Jimmy in American Idiot, because he is a very dynamic character and it would be a challenge to play him.

What’s your favorite showtune?: My favorite show tune right now is, "If I Could Tell Her", from Dear Evan Hansen. Not only does the song sound beautiful, but the lyrics are extremely impressive to me because every line has a double meaning. It moves me every time I hear it because the character singing it finally gets a chance to confess his love honestly without hesitation.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I would Love to work with Lin Manuel Miranda. I think he's a genius and the passion he's shown in his work is very inspiring and It would be an honor to be alongside him one day.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: If a  movie was made about me it would be called,  "My Life From 3rd Row Center." I would be played by a young Jim Carrey, and the movie would be about how I spent all my life going to the theater.  I started doing musicals when I was 7 years old and it has changed my life for the better. It's important that Jim Carrey plays the role because he finds the humor in everything like I do.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I would have loved to see Rent when it was first and Broadway. I used to perform the whole musical in my garage with my best friend. It was a dream come true when I got to play Roger A few years ago.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I think Spring Awakening is a very important show to see at my age. It is always an exciting show no matter what age, but I feel like it is more impactful to see it in our teenage years because it's relevance at this point in our lives.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I'm not sure this is really a guilty pleasure but I could spend hours in my room alone playing my guitar. Eating junk food.

What’s up next?: 11th grade. Volleyball and a new musical movie for the Disney Channel called Zombies.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Spotlight On...Johnny Walsh, Qais Essar, and Marina McClure

Johnny Walsh, Composer & Lyricist
Qais Essar, Co-composer
Marina McClure, Director

JW: Washington, DC
QE: Phoenix, AZ
MM: Brooklyn, NY

JW: MA in Near & Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University; BA in History, Harvard University
QE: BA in Political Science, ASU
MM: MFA in Directing, CalArts; BA in Theater, Dartmouth College

Favorite Credits:
MM: I directed Sara Farrington’s Leisure, Lust – a play inspired by the life and work of Edith Wharton – at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, MA. It was both intimate and impactful. It’s just a home, so there’s no “backstage.” The playwright and I sat in Edith’s bathroom during the shows, listening to the actors bring to life these people that actually inhabited that place. It was a magical experience.
QE: Playing the Kennedy Center. For a kid who grew up in DC and used to go there for field trips, that was a huge deal. In elementary school we’d get dressed up, we’d take buses with all the other kids from across the school district. I vividly remember lining up against the wall of the building. I remember watching the symphony as a kid and looking at the stage, 7 years old, and thinking “that’s what I want to do. That’s where I want to be.” The first time I performed there, it happened to be a field trip day for local school kids. I got there, I saw those kinds lined up. They were on a field trip, and they were there to see me. That blew my mind. Playing there brought everything full circle for me. And I’ve played there three times now, including in May when we performed a concert of music from this show, Tear a Root from the Earth.

Why theater?:
MM: The world is messy and incoherent and beautiful, and theater artists can try to make sense of it. Audiences can come together to be in dialogue with those artists and with that beautiful mess. The immediacy of being in a room, making things with other people. The elements of time and space, bodies and voices, are incredibly compelling. I think of myself like a painter, and those are what I put on my canvas. Because it’s collaborative, and because a director ultimately removes herself from the product, ceding control and handing off the work to others, it is exciting that a part of the work is helping everyone to become their best artist and their best self so they can take the thing up, and offer it to the audience.

Tell us about Tear a Root from the Earth:
JW: This began life as a body of songs I wrote in my trailer while serving as a diplomat in Kandahar, a province in southern Afghanistan, at the height of the American troop surge. I observed such fundamental decency in the average Kandaharis caught in the middle of an awful conflict between the US and the Taliban insurgency. I came to believe that the only political ambition of most Kandaharis was to be left out of it, to live quietly and protect their families, and this was what neither we nor the Taliban could offer them - we each used the means at our disposal to pull families, villages, and tribes to our side of the war. It was difficult to convey this in a diplomatic cable, so I began writing songs after hours to depict it, on a mandolin I had taken out there with me. I've since teamed up with some incredible collaborators, from my band Gramophonic to our theatrical team to the Afghan-American virtuoso Qais Essar, who have helped expand this story into a sweeping epic about one family's journey through 40 years of Afghan history in which global geopolitics repeatedly tear their country and village apart. As large and ambitious as the story has become, it is still at its core the same story of those Kandaharis I knew - always decent, sometime flawed human beings thrust into impossible circumstances, trying to make the best of a conflict that is inextricably tied to Americans and our own choices.

What inspired you to write/direct/create Tear a Root from the Earth?:
QE: The war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in American history, but most Americans (based on my travels around the country) have no idea about the war, or the country, or the people. It’s not even real to them. It’s so far, so detached from their normal lives. It’s almost like Narnia. I tour all over the country, and I am often the first Afghan that people have met. But it’s something that we should address, that we should reckon with. This war is so much a part of modern American life, and it doesn’t seem like America is leaving Afghanistan any time soon. So to be able to put that conflict into a way that we can access it, understand it, grapple with it is incredibly vital. Something like this show (and my own independent work), is about making this far-off, “exotic” place that people have heard of, but have no real idea about, it’s about making Afghanistan real for them. Our countries are intertwined, and will remain intertwined. We need to recognize the people, the country, the situation. The lack of recognition is part of what has allowed it to go on as long as it has. It’s not like Vietnam, where people were invested. Without a draft, there isn’t the same investment in this war, and so people don’t take the time to understand Afghanistan or other conflicts we are engaged, because at the end of the day how much does it impact their lives personally?

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?:
MM: Theater that is grappling with important societal questions is inspiring. When I go to the theater, I want to feel like I am in conversation with the artists who created it. I want to see playwrights, composers, directors, and performers wrestle with a question they have relating to how we live, whether today or in the past. There are wonderful, visionary female directors who are doing this: Rachel Chavkin, Rebecca Taichman, Phyllida Lloyd, Katie Mitchell, Julie Taymor. I come from an experimental background with training at CalArts, so I also love work by the Wooster Group, Robert Wilson, Anne Bogart.
JW: The greatest musicians can inhabit a character for the 3 minutes it takes to perform a song. Springsteen can become a factory worker who is down to his last dime. Little Richard is an 18-year old meeting a girl at a sock hop. Even without staging, with just the music, their performance is enough to transform the situation in a way the written word alone could not. Musical theater lets you expand on that phenomenon, letting our performers inhabit characters over the whole night, to tell a story that the music alone cannot.
QE: The kind of art that interests me lately makes a statement that reflects the current geopolitical climate and where we are with civil rights. I feel that we are at one of those times in history when we will look back and identify it as a significant moment, just as we did with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. A lot of that bigotry has swelled up again and now we are facing a different set of issues – not simply a black/white issue – but these are trying times. Art gives you a platform, it gives you an audience. I like seeing art that is reflective of what’s going on and that is trying to bring awareness of certain issues in another medium.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:
JW: Emmy Lou Harris. In all the music world, she is the most perfect interpreter of traditional American forms (folk, bluegrass, country), and hers is my single favorite voice. I’d love to work with her over any other musician.
MM: Sia uses fascinating storytelling methods in her videos and concerts that really illuminate the emotion behind her music while also building a feeling in the audience. It is transporting and vibrant and strong.
QE: I’d really love to work with Devendra Banhart. He was at the forefront of the new wave of American folk in the early 2000s, and he uses his music as a kind of inter-cultural dialogue. Oh, and Jimmy Page. Always. Every week, I ask God to not let Jimmy Page die before I can meet him.

What show have you recommended to your friends?:
JW: Hadestown blew my mind. I had literal tears because the music was just so good. It totally hung together as a musical, but it was also a perfect use of natural, authentic instruments and the tropes of country music to tell a story. Wild romps with 12 acoustic instruments, tender moments with songs down to a whisper. Incredible. We approach that problem set very differently, but it was inspirational to see how successful they were able to be at telling a powerful story whose subject matter had nothing to do with the American south, or traditional American forms or characters, but they could use that musical form to tell that story so convincingly and emotionally.
MM: Indecent. It’s exciting how you can feel the personal relationship to the material of the creators and artists involved. It unabashedly takes a point of view. It deals with the impact of politics on culture, and exposes some of the ugly bits of American history in a very artful way. It doesn’t shy away from emotion in its narrative and visual storytelling. I’m thrilled that it got an extended run – everyone should go see it.
QE: Angel Olsen is amazing live. Check her out.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?:
QE: Russell Brand, obviously. He’d have to wear a nose prosthetic to play me. It would have some sad title. “Gone Too Soon.” Even if I live to be 99, I still won’t be ready.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?:
MM: The original West Side Story on Broadway. And early Wooster Group, from the 1970s.
JW: The Sun Studio Road Show that toured the country in 1956-57. Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins. This was before Elvis went into the Army, before the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly.
QE: Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden in 1973. They played there three nights in a row, filming "The Song Remains The Same."

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:
JW: Does 90s hip hop count? That’s all I’m listening to right now.
MM: I’ll see anything with puppets. I don’t care what it is.
QE: "Ugly Betty" reruns on Netflix.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?:
MM: An architect. One of the things I love about theater is its ephemerality – you have to be present, or you’ll miss it. Architecture is interesting because it’s communicating with people across time.
JW: This project is my answer to that question. I’ve lived a life in government service, diplomacy, and policy making. My first love was always music, and now I’m indulging that in a serious way with serious people, and having an absolute blast. It also makes me not want to go back to my day job at the State Department, working on Afghanistan, although I do love that job.
QE: Librarian. I like books, and would love being able to make people whisper when talking to me.

What’s up next?:
QE: I composed music for The Breadwinner, produced by Angelina Jolie. As far as I know it’s the first animated feature film about Afghanistan, and it should be coming out toward the end of this year. I also scored another animated film in Australia that should be out later this year. And I’m always writing new music. Look for a new album this fall. Then a European tour in the spring. And hopefully more interfaith work. I’m doing some church shows, which is something I really like to do.
MM: I’ll be directing Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill by Steph del Rosso at the Flea early next year. And Sara Farrington’s Leisure Lust at Art House Productions in New Jersey this fall.
JW:  Most immediately, I still have a day job as the head of the team at the State Department working to broker a peace process for Afghanistan. That wonderful country so desperately needs and deserves peace and it means the world to me to try to help. At the same time, we hope to keep putting on Tear a Root from the Earth in ever-more-finished form. There is new music we want to present, and we still have not staged the whole piece.  I hope and believe it has a long life ahead of it.

For more on Tear a Root from the Earth, visit or For more on Qais, visit For more on Marina, visit