Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Spotlight On...Elena V. Levenson

Name: Elena V. Levenson

Hometown: Growing up: Oak Park, IL. Now: New York, NY

Education: University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign

Select Credits: Electra in Iphigenia and Other Daughters (Illinois Theatre); Grekova in Platonov (Columbia Stages). Directing: a very-staged reading of Lenin’s Embalmers (Davenport Black Box).

Why theater?: There’s nothing I like more than telling stories with other people, to other people, live. Theatremaking calls on you to use every aspect of yourself: emotional, physical, intellectual, social, personal. Each play is an opportunity to see the world in a new light, both for those making it and for those watching it — and there’s something wonderful about actors and audience sharing space, reflecting on the world together.

Who do you play in The King of Chelm?: I play Dina, one of the very few people in Chelm who thinks beyond the present moment. When she hears that her uncle Chaim-Bear wants to chop down the Tree of Wishes and declare himself King of Chelm, she tries to mobilize the rest of the town to stop him. Her sweetheart Shimmele is the only one who steps up— and Shimmele admits that he’s no hero. He goes off to find a hero to save Chelm— and that’s where our story begins.

Tell us about The King of Chelm: The wordplay and the journey remind me of one of my favorite children’s books, The Phantom Tollbooth. The ideas in Chelm-- especially about the importance of questioning your own assumptions-- are surprisingly poignant.

What it like being a part of The King of Chelm?: It’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventure. We have a game, gifted cast, and rehearsals are a master class in commitment and specificity from my fellow actors and comedic timing and subtext from our director. It's my second time in Chelm and the story has only deepened and grown-- it's been a pleasure.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I’m drawn to plays about identity, intimacy, and ethics (that is, plays that deal with relationships between the self, the other, and the world)...plays with poetic, colorful language, a sense of humor (especially if it's dark or absurd), and a sense of the world (our world, or the world of the play outside of the characters' lives). I'm inspired by Marge Piercy's poetry. Honest, beautifully wrought writing in general, music, and watching other artists, especially ones who are both gifted & dedicated.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: All-time: Evita in Evita, Hamlet. Now: Medium Al in Fun Home.

What’s your favorite showtune?: Right now, the song I have on repeat is “Non-Stop” from Hamilton.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Mary Zimmerman, Rachel Axler, Tony Kushner, Madeleine George, Theatre du Complicite.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: "Léna". (I thought about it! and realized that some of the best biopics are titled with just the subject’s name. e.g. Frida, Chaplin.) I’d be played by a brilliant actor who no one’s heard of today. (How many years passed between Frida’s life and Taymor’s film!)

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: An early performance of Macbeth. It'd be amazing to see one of Shakespeare's plays performed by Shakespeare's company-- and particularly to watch this one with an audience of believers who are new subjects of a Scottish king...

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Theatre: currently running: Hamilton and Fun Home. Previously: Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.. TV: "Les Revenants" on Netflix.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Sleeping in.

What’s up next?: I’m currently writing an adaptation of Evgeny Shwartz’s Obyknovennoe Chudo. Acting? Auditioning. And you can see me every week on Broadway! (and 31st Ave) -- I host trivia at the Break Bar & Billiards in Astoria, Queens every Tuesday at 8:30 pm.

For more on Elenva, visit elenavlevenson.weebly.com