Friday, December 14, 2018

Spotlight On...Judy Frank

Name: Judy Frank

Hometown: Fort Thomas, Kentucky; Indianapolis, Indiana

Education: Indiana University, Yale Drama School

Favorite Credits: Mary in Mary Mary, Shirley Valentine, Desdemona etc.

Why theater?: It is the most immediate art form for me; I am drawn not just to it, but intoit.

Tell us about Notes To Wherever: After my husband’s death, well meaning friends gave me a number of “how to deal with loss” books, and though I found parts of them somewhat helpful, my overwhelming reaction was that grief is a highly individual process, so I followed my instincts and began to write notes to my husband, with the underlying idea that if what I was writing turned out to be a book – I had been published previously – the reader could take what helped and leave the rest. The surprise for me, though it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise since my husband was wonderfully witty, was how much humor there is in even the bleakest situation. It gets me, and I hope, an audience, through.

What inspired you to create Notes To Wherever?: The transition from book to stage happened because after so many – don’t ask – years in the business, I guess theatre just sort of leaks out of me. Professionals who read the original draft kept saying, “Judy, this is a theatre piece,” and so it became one.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Comedy. And theatre that reaches the cerebrum through the heart. There are so many things, so many people – but first was a wonderful professor at IU whose love of theatre was absolutely contagious.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Doug Hughes I think. But first I’d like to work with a number of people I’ve already had the good fortune to work with, including my current director, Kathryn Markey.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Come from Away recently, though I am rather ashamed to admit I’ve been too involved in my own work to do my usual amount of theatre going.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I have no idea who would play me in a movie, but I think as I look back, in spite or perhaps because of some bumps and bruises, I would call the movie “Lucky Girl.”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Opening night of Oklahoma, or anything with the Lunts or Laurette Taylor.

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

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be?: Dreaming…

What’s up next?: The great (or maybe just interesting) American novel, which friends will probably turn into a play.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Drag365: Fav 9 Photos of January!

To commemorate Drag365, I've compiled my favorite nine photos for each month during Drag365. Now's the time for you to tell me YOUR favorite from each month! All you have to do is head on over to Instagram, follow me @michaelblocktalk and comment on the January Fav 9 photo grid! It's so simple! 


1- Miz Cracker (@miz_cracker)
2- Marti Gould Cummings (@martigcummings)
3- Aquaria (@ageofaquaria)
4- Prada G. Major (@pradagmajor)
5- Stephanie's Child and Brita Filter (@childofstephanie // @thebritafilter)
6- Gloria Swansong (@gloria_swansong)
7- Petti Cake (@petticakenyc)
8- Vanna Deux and Misty Mountains (@vannadeux // @mistymountainsnyc)
9- Terra Hyman (@terrahyman)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Spotlight On...Tracy Weller

Name: Tracy Weller

Hometown: Cambridge MA

Education: Hamilton College, BA, Columbia University, MFA

Select Credits: Jarring, Holiday House, Most Sincerely, Edward Albee, Heist, A Christmas Carol: A New Musical, The House of Bernarda Alba, Twelfth Night, etc.

Why theater?: Creation is the best way to respond to destruction – and in 2018 we all know a thing or two about destruction.  My awareness of mortality and the brevity of life compels me to stretch every millisecond and molecule to find the truest expression of the human experience. Without theatre, I am tormented by everything left unexpressed, unspoken.  When I think of the stories that slip through the cracks and the increasing lack of intimacy and human connection, my heart races and I feel sick.  Creative expression is an imperative, a matter of survival. 

Who do you play in Consumption?: I play Elena Hoyos, a 1950s sitcom actress whose marriage is on the rocks, a cop in tragic love with her partner, an occasionally stoned volleyball-playing teenager, and a cruise ship psychic.

Tell us about Consumption?: The show is inspired by the true story of Elena Hoyos and Carl Von Cosel, which goes something like this: a German immigrant, masquerading as both a doctor and count, falls in love with a married dying girl while working in a tuberculosis sanitarium. She dies, he exhumes her body and lives with it in various stages of decomposition and marital bliss for nearly a decade.  BUT, their story is just the launchpad for a bigger exploration of love, traveling through time and space, sickness and health.

What is it like being a part of Consumption?: It’s a bit of a whirling dervish.  Very intense, very joyful in all its truth and morbidity.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?:  My inspiration to make my own theatre comes more from artists working in other artistic mediums: “outsider” artist Henry Darger (an incredible artist and an incredible story), Dare Wright (writer, photographer and creator of The Lonely Doll series), expressionist painters like Munch and Schiele, the work of my own father (who is a brilliant painter), the choreography of Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp, composers such as Bernstein, Bartok, Bach, Satie, Prokofiev, and jazz musicians/performers Nina Simone, Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Errol Garner, Thelonious Monk.  But the real, pure drive comes from the wonder of just observing humanity – the people we see every day, who are struggling, carrying secrets, grappling with dreams, and simply trying to survive.  All the untold stories locked away in the souls of the forgotten, overlooked and disregarded – that’s inspiration.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Though my work of late has been very much of my own creation, I do have a huge hunger to play anything by Tennessee Williams (I need to play Blanche before I die), Chekhov and Ibsen. 

What’s your favorite showtune?:  “One Hand, One Heart” from West Side Story.  It seems absurd to call a song this serious and deep a showtune, but I guess it is.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: A puppet.  I love puppets.  They have a humanity that humans often lack. 

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: It would be a stop motion movie made by my kids with whatever they could scrap together.  I would be played by a bunch of clay, yarn and paper clips and it would be called "No More Weird Plays, Please!' I really can’t answer this question.  Maybe Gena Rowland – so long as she is willing to work with clay, yarn, paper clips and my kids.  Maybe I can’t answer this question because my work is the deepest of expression of who I am.  A movie about “me” just doesn’t quite compute.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I recommend anything by Target Margin Theatre, Phantom Limb or anything produced at The Bushwick Starr, but , with two children and my own work, I honestly don’t have much time to see theatre.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?:  I don’t really listen to iTunes, I play records or CDs or dusty old tape cassettes – so I generally listen to albums not just individual songs.  As a family, we listen to Revolver, Rubber Soul and Abbey Road a lot.  One song, when I’m alone: Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, as sung by Nina Simone.  It’s a beautiful aching, fascinating piece of poetry.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Dessert in bed.  Every damn night.  But I don’t actually feel guilty about it. 

What’s up next?: Hart Island – a piece I have been working on for a long time, inspired by NYC’s potter’s field.  Also: The Mason Holdings Radio Hour – stay tuned.

For more on Consumption, visit https://mason.holdings/consumption/

Monday, November 26, 2018

Spotlight On...Maya Jacobson

Name: Maya Jacobson

Hometown: Clearwater, Florida

Education: BFA from The Boston Conservatory

Select Credits: Woman 1 in Amerike The Golden Land, Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel, Brenda Strong in Catch Me if You Can

Why theater?: I love that theater is an art form based in relationship and human connection. I freaking love people. Discovering and exploring different types of people by embodying them, collaborating with the people involved in the project(s), and then of course having the privilege of sharing that work with an audience. Also, the kind of people the theater community draws in are the people I want to spend my life working with.

Who do you play in Fiddler on the Roof?: Bielke

Tell us about Fiddler on the Roof: Fiddler on the Roof is one of the most beloved shows in the musical theater cannon. It centers around a milkman, Tevye, and his family living in the town of Anatevka. Our production, directed by Joel Grey, choreographed by Staś Kmieć, and music directed by Zalmen Mlotek brings the human relationships of the show to the forefront. The simplicity of the set and the richness of the yiddish language, as well as the superb direction of the show allow those relationships, and the heartbreak and joys of the story to flourish.

What is it like being a part of Fiddler on the Roof?:  It is magic. I am blown away by the dedication, professionalism, and kindness of the cast and crew. On top of that, it is such a gift to speak and sing in yiddish, which is the language that my great-grandparents spoke after escaping Germany during WWII. They felt so betrayed by Germany that the German language felt violent, whereas yiddish connected them with other Jewish immigrants. To tell the story of Fiddler in the language that so many Jewish immigrants spoke/speak is such a privilege. Not to mention that I share a toilet with the infamous Jackie Hoffman. (Joking-she absolutely rocks).

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Theater that can answer the questions “Why this play? Why now?” speaks to me most. I am most inspired by theater that is daring, exposed, and simple. There is nothing more beautiful or exhilarating to me than watching actors live and breathe in real time, exposing their flaws and asking the most difficult questions. Some theater artists I am inspired by are Sarah Ruhl, Lynn Nottage, David Yazbek, Paula Vogel, Jeanine Tesori Mark Rylance, Kelli O’Hara, Laura Benanti, Jessie Mueller, Katrina Lenk and truly so many others. This community inspires me.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Dot in Sunday in the Park with George, Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, and woman who says “and in a bed” in Les Miserables

What’s your favorite showtune?: "Sunday in the Park with George" from Sunday in the Park with George and everything in “Waitress.”

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Mark Rylance. I saw him as Olivia in “Twelfth Night,” and that performance shifted the trajectory of my career goals and ambitions. He is breathtaking.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I would want to cast Meryl Streep because I think one should always cast Meryl in biopics. It would either be called “Hand Me My Bra, I’m Going to Bushwick” or “Funnier Girl” or “Quirky With a Capital Q”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I would want to see Bernadette and Mandy in “Sunday in the Park with George.”

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Come From Away

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Expensive lattes with oat milk or Bachelor in Paradise

What’s up next?: Hopefully a manicure and some very cool theater/film projects

For more on Maya, visit www.mayajacobson.net

Spotlight On...Drew Seigla

Name: Drew Seigla

Hometown: Richmond, VA

Education: B.M. in Voice Performance from The Juilliard School & attended Elon University two years prior towards a B.F.A. in Music Theatre.

Select NYC Credits: Off Broadway: The Fantasticks (Matt;The Mute), Sweeney Todd (Swing for Anthony/Tobias/Beadle), and Fidler afn Dakh (Pertshik)

Why theater?: Theatre has always captured my imagination, and has given me an outlet to express and expand my inner truth. This therapeutic search of self discovery has allowed me to access emotions that would have otherwise been suppressed by standard social norms. Having this emotional availability has increased my empathy for all people, and for that I couldn’t be more grateful. Most importantly, theatre has the power to teach, to transform, to entertain, and to challenge the minds and hearts of audiences so that social progress can continue growing.

Who do you play in Fiddler on the Roof?: I play Pertshik, a socialist rebel student from Kiev.  He is an outspoken, educated, and passionate leader of men who will take a stand for the justice and fair treatment of all mankind.  He is a progressive scholar who’s life purpose is based on changing the world into a just, utopian society.  One day, he stumbles upon the small village of Anatevka, and makes a deal with Tevye to teach lessons about the Torah to his daughters in exchange for shelter and food.  Of all Tevye’s five daughters,  Pertshik is curiously challenged mentally and emotionally by his second eldest daughter, Hodl.  Hodl is strong willed, smart, and able to express her beliefs with a conviction that Pertshik hasn’t observed from anyone else in Anatevka.  He finds his equal in Hodl, eventually falls in love, and proposes to her.  However, he’s caught in a predicament and feels he must leave Hodl and Anatevka in order to fight for the revolutionary cause against the Russian Empire.  He is sadly captured in Kiev, and exiled to the wilderness of Siberia.

Tell us about Fiddler on the Roof: Fiddler on the Roof is a musical based on the writings of Sholem Aleichem’s “Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories,” surrounding Tevye, a Bible-quoting milkman from a Jewish, fictional village called Anatevka. Ultimately, the story follows Tevye’s journey as his religious traditions and customs are challenged one by one through the different suitors that court his beloved daughters. The play is set during the eve of the Russian Revolution of 1905, and danger lurks innocent Anatevka as tensions rise between Socialistic revolts and the Russian Empire.

What is it like being a part of Fiddler on the Roof?: It is a rich, truly one of a kind experience. It is my first Fiddler on the Roof which alone makes it special to me, but to have it told in Yiddish, the language that these characters would have spoken, perfectly captures the essence of the story telling. It radiates in an authentic gesture that I’ve never seen portrayed in any show...it’s as real as it gets. The warmth of family tradition and stability juxtaposed against an inevitably changing world is a theme that anyone can grasp, especially in today’s times. The cast, creative team, and theatre all support the common goal of honestly expressing the beauty of the Jewish people as well as the cruel injustices inflicted on them during this time in the beginning of the 20th century Russian Empire.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I really enjoy all forms of entertainment. There’s a time and a place for it all to exist. Truth and beauty told in an honest dramatic format will always speak to me and to my heart. The value of remembering our humanity through dramatic works is indeed a powerful tool. However, I grew up with a funny bone and I do love being goofy. Nothing is more satisfying than a belly laugh from a ridiculous comedy to remind you that life can and should be taken lightly. It’s a balance of the mysterious and the hilarious that speaks to me. Many different artists, living and dead inspire me. My first idol was Michael Jackson. I listened to all of his albums and still know most lyrics to all of his songs. His singing, dancing, and stage presence is unmatched and inspired me to standout. When it comes to film actors, I have to credit Marlon Brando and Robin Williams. They were titans of their craft and there is so much to be learned by following their examples on screen. Currently, my muse is Seth MacFarlane. He is basically doing what I’ve always wanted: he created a famous cartoon with Family Guy (I also love to draw), he has an incredible sense of humor that he unapologetically exploits, and he can sing like a dream...what a mentsh!

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Yes, a few. I really want to be Quasimodo in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Jamie in The Last Five Years, Raul in Phantom of the Opera, Joe in Damn Yankees, Georg in She Loves Me, Bobby in Company, and George in Sunday in the Park with George.

What’s your favorite showtune?: “Soliloquy” from Carousel

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I really want the opportunity to work with either Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, or Stephen Sondheim. That would be a dream come true!

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Andy Samberg in “Where’s my wallet?!”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The original cast of The Secret Garden.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Fidler afn Dakh! Not because I’m in it, but because it’s truly a beautiful rendition of the classic, and feels completely relevant to our cultural/political climate.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Junk food! It’s a toss up between either Utz Cheese Balls or Slim Jims Original flavor.

What’s up next?: Not exactly sure. Only the universe knows, but I anticipate nothing less than something amazing.

For more on Drew, visit drewseigla.com

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Review: A Modern Party in Ancient Egypt

By Michael Block 

Breaking the mold in theater these days comes with great ambition. We create in a time where we seemingly need to recreate the wheel in order to stand out. And if you can’t recreate the wheel, you just try to do it a little better. If you can’t be better, just make sure your audience is having a blast. Taking over Chelsea Music Hall, Cleopatra takes a historical story and thrusts a modern flair into it to create a flashy theatrical event.
Immersive mania pervades Chelsea Music Hall. Mix a little Great Comet, a dash of Hamilton, and all the glitter, sequins, and rhinestones you can find in a drag queen’s closet, toss it all in a blender and you get Cleopatra. Set up like a theatrical immersive event within a nightlife experience, Cleopatra retells the infamous story of the legendary Egyptian ruler through an electronic pop and R&B score. With music by Jeff Daye and lyrics by Laura Kleinbaum and Daye, with additional material by Drew Fornarola, Cleopatra’s reimagining is less about the story and more about the experience. The creative team has ensured that at the forefront is a strong, powerful woman to reflect the endless struggle women continue to experience, but if an original story was inserted in its place, the glitz, glamour, and pulsating beat will still stand strong. This show is a party. And the way to entice an audience is to intrigue them in with a story that they are likely vaguely familiar with. The score from Daye and Kleinbaum has some club worthy bops. You might not leave the venue reciting them, but the beat is sure to remain with you. For a story about power and downfall, the downfall here is the book, or lack there of. The majority of the piece is sung through, giving it that Hamilton vibe. Unless your ear is completely keen to the words, you’re likely to miss plot points due to the vocal acrobatics in these key parts. Replacing them with pure book scenes would likely suck out the energy of the party atmosphere. Generally, the characters are thin replicas of stock characters. They lack depth and arc. Cleopatra needs to discover how to blend the book musical with an immersive experience. With that, it must establish the rules within the participatory theatrical event. Between pulling random audience members to be tied to chairs for a blindfolded lap dance and a runway walk off hosted by the Mistress of Ceremonies Dusty Ray Bottoms, the audience is invited into the story. However, the audience, some of whom are filled with liquor supplied at the bar, seems to forget that they are at the theater and lack the understanding that you cannot call out your feelings to a moment in the middle of the scene. Even further, moving chairs around to fit your personal seating needs is off limits as well. Finding the balance between the typical piece of theater and the energetic party that it is essential for Cleopatra to maintain its success.
photo by Santiago Felipe
To bring the piece to life, director and choreographer JT Horenstein ensured that the energy was high and there was no shortage of sexy. Horenstein’s choreography was filled with exceptionally athletic dance. In such a tight space, Horenstein and his company did an extraordinary job bringing high level production numbers to the stage. Horenstein’s focus seemed primarily on the choreography as the book scenes clipped along to get back to the dance. Christopher Bowser’s scenic design felt like a stereotypical modern twist on what an Egyptian-themed nightclub would be. Accents of gold were plentiful. The focal point was the almost regal thrown, which dominated the space. Costume designer Nicolas Putvinsky compiled an array of items, many of which had sequins or rhinestones on them, threw them on each performer and somehow the mismatched design appeared cohesive. Putvinsky ensured that there was more than enough skin showing for each performer. The lighting from Joe Cantalupo was theatrical as a nightclub could get. The bulb curtain above the stage allowed for the space to marry nightclub with play. With the score being electronic music, the sound design was no easy feat. Sound designer Drew Levy and electronic music designer and live DJ Lloyd Kikoler worked magic in Chelsea Music Hall.
To play the queen, you have to be the queen. Vocals alone, as the titular character, Nya is a powerhouse. Liken her to Queen B herself, aka Beyonce . She’s the real deal. She keeps a guarded demeanor as Cleopatra that longs to have a bit more emotion in the book scenes. Christian Brailsford is a walking sex machine as Marc Antony. Brailsford exudes a magnetic arura that lures you in with a silky vocal to match. Playing Iris, Sydney Parra is a true stand out, making her voice known. While the scripted character needs a bit of clarity in the book, RuPaul’s Drag Race star Dusty Ray Bottoms is an exquisite Mistress of Ceremonies. Her hosting skills are on full display, as she maintains the party atmosphere all night long. If you’re going to have a drag diva in a show, you better get the crowd gagging and Dusty certainly did. That costume reveal was everything.
The amount of ambition that went into this project is plentiful. The creative team and cast has brought their A game to the show. Cleopatra knows what it wants to be, it just doesn’t know what it is yet. I have visceral memories watching Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 down in the Meatpacking District in the tent and thinking this was a magical production. Cleopatra is probably a handful of workshops away from that. But it can get there. Immersive theater is alive and well. Cleopatra reminds us why we love it and desire more.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Spotlight On...Marlena Holman

Name: Marlena Holman

Hometown: Tucson, Arizona

Education: BFA in Drama from NYU Tisch

Select Credits: Plucker (Company of Fools), Macbeth (No Name Collective), The Possibilities (dir. Tim Carroll) and Danni in the Gageing Noel series

Why theater?: Live theatre performances require the actor to emotionally bungee jump every single night. I love working in that atmosphere of extreme courage.

Who do you play in Mary Stuart?: I play Lord Burghley. Some may call him a misogynistic, infantile villain, but I would never pass that kind of judgement on my character. I think he's a loyal, passionate man who is simply trying to keep his country safe and prosperous. And he's a little misogynistic.

Tell us about Mary Stuart: Oof. Okay. Big ask. Here's the Spark Notes version: Mary Stuart became Queen of Scotland when she was six days old. She got married three times in a few different countries basically to gain power. When she fled to England, she was imprisoned for 19 years because she had become the focus of various plots to overthrow her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. This was especially delicious because Mary Stuart was Catholic, and Queen Elizabeth was Protestant (her father had created the Church of England). Our play begins after Mary Stuart has been imprisoned for decades and has recently been found guilty of plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth and filch her throne. The next two hours are full of Mary trying to prove her innocence, Queen Elizabeth not being able to make up her fickle mind about whether or not to kill Mary off, and a whole mess of other characters plotting some sneaky stuff. Oh and we dance the Volta somewhere in there, too.

What is it like being a part of Mary Stuart?: Mary Stuart is one of those plays that young actors in University programs wish to one day perform. And here I am getting to do it, with an incredibly powerful all female cast. As far as the process goes, one of the notes our director gave those of us playing male characters was to observe the men in our world and all the traits they are allowed to exhibit in public that women cannot without being discredited (such as rage, directness, petulance) and to layer that on to our characters instead of showing we are men by huffing up our shoulders and deepening our voices. It has been a wild ride taking in how easily men can assert themselves, and I must say, it is awesome to have the permission to emotionally and physically manspread every night.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I appreciate creative lighting designs and elaborate costumes and boy do I love a good revelation of space, but at the end of the day, really specific, truthful acting is what will haunt me (in the best way), and I guess that's what I want when I see theatre…to leave a little bit haunted.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Stevie in The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?

What’s your favorite showtune?: Oh man, I'm actually not so much of a shuffle ball change kind of girl. I don't know any!

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I'd act in something with Kathleen Turner, directed by Ivo Van Hove.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Steve Buscemi, definitely. The movie would be called Sitting in Bars Drinking Beer. It would be a silent film, where he sits at bars in 60 different countries, drinking the local beer (because this is, fun fact, something I have done). 

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I recently saw The Lifespan of a Fact and I really appreciated the acting and the timeliness of the show. I also love everything out of BAM's Next Wave Festival.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: I'm actually really into quietly devastating music because haha crippling social anxiety. My most played is Þau Hafa Sloppið Undan Þunga Myrkursins by Olafur Arnalds.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Eating Hawaiian pizza in my bed while watching home renovation shows. Yeah, I said Hawaiian pizza. Don't @ me.

What’s up next?: I'll be in Twelfth Night with No Name Collective going up at The Alchemical in December.  Mary Stuart runs November 7 – 11 at Pushkin Hall on the Upper West Side. More info can be found at https://www.pigeonholedtheater.org/