Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Spotlight On...Karen Sklaire

Name: Karen Sklaire

Hometown: Madison CT (but currently live in Brooklyn ,NY)

Education: BFA Musical Theater Syracuse University and a Masters in Educational theater from City College

Favorite Credits: Standup Comedy all over the city, Touring and performing with TheatreWorks/USA, shows at the Soho Playhouse, Promenade Theatre and Town Hall, Hosting In the mix on PBS, and directing my kids in various productions at my school.

Why theater?: I believe the best way to understand human nature and develop empathy is to walk in someone else's shoes.  I recently began working for The RFK Institute for Human Rights and am developing a camp for teens that combines human rights education and theater.  I found that reading or listening about stories didn’t have the same impact as taking on that character and living through it.  I love living other people’s lives, developing an understanding through my own lens and bringing it out into the world.  My favorite part of Ripple of Hope is when I take on the characters of my students.  When I began to create this show and really building these characters I developed a deep understanding of who these people were and how they experienced life.

Tell us about Ripple of Hope: One Teacher’s Journey to Make an Impact: Ripple of Hope is the story (my story) of a young idealist from Connecticut who, after 9/11, decides she needs to make a difference in this world and help others.  She quits auditioning and her survival job and joins The Actor’s Work Program- where they place Equity actors as substitute teachers in the south Bronx.  There she begins her journey through the tangled corridors of the New York City Public School system as she travels from school to school dealing with budget cuts, arts programs being replaced by testing prep, and a constant revolving door of administration.  But through the (at times) harrowing experiences with these schools- she develops a deep understanding of the students (whom she thought would be the biggest challenge).   As she begins to realize that it isn’t the teachers or students that are the problems with the system (despite the media’s and conservatives portrayal)- the question becomes what’s wrong with this system and how does one move past the challenges to make an impact on the lives of these students.

What inspired you to write Ripple of Hope?: The story began as a published article that I wrote in the Teaching artist journal in 2010 about my experience with a troubled south bronx student who had a deep love for Michael Jackson. I found the key to helping him break through from a bully to an incredibly inspiring artist and wrote this story.  I was doing standup comedy at the time and missed acting so I worked with monologuist Mike Daisy to create a short piece about this student Le Jean.  It eventually became a 30 minute piece got into the Emerging Artist Festival under the name Drama at the Point and I went on to work with Cheryl King at Stage Left Studio developing it.  I had seen the work of the very talented Padraic Lillis (Bully, A Line in the Sand, and many other really successful solo pieces- he won best director of The NY International Fringe in 2013).He helped streamline the show and strengthen the through -line to explore ,though my one personal experience, what is happening to teachers in this system, arts education and how that is affecting the public school system and what’s happening to our kids as a result.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love so many forms of theater- I have a background in Musical Theater but I try to see all types of theater. Musical-wise I love Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jason Robert Brown but what really speaks to me these days is theater that explores social justice issues.  Part of that is my work in human rights with Speak Truth to Power, and part of that is what I’m left with when I leave a show.  Shows that really challenge my views, make me see the world in a different way or justify how I feel about certain things- those are the ones that stay with me and make me want to go back for more.  I go to the theater so I can leave like I’ve just went on a journey and learned something along the way.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Where do I start? Dream team (this is a random mixture of composers and directors and writers)- Sondheim (who doesn’t?), John Leguizamo (a huge influence as a solo performer), Nilaja Sun  (No Child- another inspiration for me), Michael Mayer, Scott Ellis, any one of the incredible female directors out there today on and off broadway, Anna Deavere Smith, Eve Ensler, Diane Paulus.. honestly there are so many- It would take a long time to list!

What show have you recommended to your friends?: For FUN- Something Rotten was a blast!, Fun Home, Hedwig, anything from the Labyrinth theater and Primary Stages, for solo shows- recently I loved The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, Gary Busey’s Hamlet that’s going to Edinburgh (it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen!), and there is a show down at the Capital fringe I loved called Power- the Stokley Carmichael Story.  So many shows and artists inspire me so again it’s a big list!

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Amy Poehler and it would be called  “The “other” Transformer .. or Who needs sleep?”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: If I could go back in time- I’d like to go to ancient Greece and check out some Oedipus!, Go to England and see some original Shakespeare at the Old Globe (I love reading stories about the Black Plague and the old globe fire to my kids- light topics you know?) and then travel forward and see the opening night of Oklahoma, West Side Story and every great American musical…

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Listening to XM radio the broadway channel to Seth Rudetsky- I blast that station in my Brooklyn neighborhood- I’m sure the neighbors appreciate it..

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Besides teaching- working in human rights-  creating alliances with Social Justice theaters around the world

What’s up next?: An awesome sold out (fingers crossed) run at Fringe NYC, and would LOVE to tour this piece, write a book, create the next "Welcome Back Cotter" TV show based on my story, and continue my work in education and human rights…. I like to be busy..

For more on Ripple of Hope, visit www.rippleofhopeshow.com