Friday, April 19, 2019

Block Talk- Episode 105: Kiki Ball-Change



In this episode, I sit down with recent Ultimate Drag Pageant champion Kiki Ball-Change!

To listen to the podcast, download and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, or Stitcher!


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Review: Get Out of Jersey

By Michael Block

New Jersey is more than just Italian mob families and rich housewives and booze-guzzling shore-goers. There’s a rich landscape of mountains and beaches and farms and gardens. Well, itt is in fact the Garden State. Using Jersey as the backdrop, Adam Bertocci transplants the characters of Shakespeare’s The Tempest into a magical place called Stormville. But what exactly is Stormville? Buckle yourselves in for a two-act adventure called Miranda from Stormville, presented by Random Access Theatre at IRT.
Miranda from Stormville is a version of The Tempest that tells the tale of finding the time to get out and break free into the world. Miranda is a young woman stuck taking care of her decaying father, Pops Milano. Pops has a revered reputation in town where any mention of his name garners an immediate reaction. When a tempest of a storm stalls two travelers on their way to Atlantic City, Miranda takes pals Will and Steve in. Along the way, they are introduced to Ariel, a high-spirited caretaker of Pops, and Calvin, a dark and mysterious handyman of sorts. Bertocci creates a mystery that evolves as to what this world is and how these strangers are incorporated into this specific moment in time. Is it a world of fate or is it all a concoction created by Pops? Bertocci’s writing has a sense of whimsy, but with a twist. He offers a fairly accessible palette of dialogue that breaks into a heightened sense of language at times. By staying close to the plot of the source material, Bertocci has allowed the modern themes to feel reborn, despite the characters being weighed down by circumstance in Props game of chess. What’s missing from Miranda from Stormville is a sense of true urgency. A storm is happenstance in this modern world. A mechanic can easily fix the car and the boys can be on their merry way. They willingly trust the words of strangers when their overall objective of leaving is absolutely achievable. Those keys aren’t lost forever. But the source material needs them to remain even if modern logic says otherwise. If the magic and mystery is truly just a ploy to allow Miranda to go on her own way, she needs to have her moral obstacle arrive sooner as her backstory has informed us that she’s given very little thought to actually abandoning her father and running away with her heart. She seems content to being one of those people trapped in redundancy.
photo by Rachelle White
With a lack of urgency in the text, it’s possible for the stakes to rise up if the pacing gets faster. Director Jennifer Sandella allowed the play, like the set, to feel lived in. She focused in on the relationships of the various duos in the show. With so much wonderful character-focused work, the show desired to be brisker and to move from scene to scene faster. With a brave use of space from Sandella and scenic designer Roni Sipp, maneuvering from location to location with many jump cuts forced the scene changes to lag. And not all scene shifts were accompanied by a musical or ambient undertone. Bertocci’s text plays into a world mystery and magic. Sandella did an admirable job navigating the clarity when defining the rules of the world. Establishing what characters know and believe is essential for the audience to follow along. With pieces of furniture and levels to describe specific rooms and locations, Roni Sipp chose a smattering of old and new. One of the more dynamic elements of the set was the usage of items hanging down from the sky. From shades to plants to the skeleton of an umbrella, they helped to fill the space physically and viscerally.
Even as an ensemble piece, at the center of this story is the titular Miranda. Mackenzie Menter has a very ethereal way about her portrayal of Miranda. She had Miranda waver back and forth in her young emotions, seemingly having a change of heart at the flip of a dime. She didn’t quite have a hunger for more which made her move to leave that much more surprising. As the new entity in Miranda’s world, Gabe Templin’s Will certainly captured the odd man out character. He was a stranger in a strange land. As the way in for the audience, Will gets to be our eyes and ears for the unknown. The character processes a lot in this quick slice of life story and makes a discombobulated decision. Now for the magic of the world, Anna Cain and Brendan Cataldo as Ariel and Calvin respectively played on opposite sides of the spectrum of magical and realistic. Cain’s Ariel had a lot of whimsy to her. She took the playful approach without a flourish. Cataldo’s Calvin was the most interesting character and performance. As we learn in the second act, Calvin personified the legendary Jersey Devil. As a Jersey boy myself, my heart desired a reference to this creature lore so the inclusion of this plot point was icing on the cake. With a brooding demeanor and sense of mystery, Cataldo left you wanting more. And that’s a good thing.
Adam Bertocci allows Miranda to be set free at the end of the play. Even being a safe place, the moral of this story is there’s always a time to leave home for a new life and adventure. There is an ambitious concept within Miranda from Stormville that is poignant today. It just needs some tweaking to resonant further.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Spotlight On...Adam Bertocci

Name: Adam Bertocci

Hometown: Bronxville, NY

Education: Northwestern University

Favorite Credits: The Shakespearean mashup Two Gentlemen of Lebowski. Although I am still proud of my work as the Wolf in my high school production of Into the Woods.

Why theater?: I come from film, where everything tends to get a little literal. I love how on stage you can create a world through suggestion, through the audience’s imagination, even just an actor’s words.

Tell us about Miranda from Stormville: It’s a modern take on The Tempest. Miranda Milano is nineteen years old and trapped in an isolated little town in the wilds of New Jersey, caring for her overprotective father in his state of mental decline. What happens next... well, we don’t follow the original beat for beat, but fans of the original will get a kick out of spotting the connections, I hope, and people who are unfamiliar with the original should be able to enjoy it as a self-contained show.

What inspired you to create Miranda from Stormville?: I recently reread my diary from the day the idea hit me which seems to confirm that it just kinda popped in there, although at the time I envisioned it as a short film, and (I’d totally forgotten this part) an animated one. What can I say... I always found “The Tempest” fascinating and mysterious, I love how people are drawn to tinkering with it in surprising ways, and I could easily see the original from Miranda’s perspective. The rest, who can say.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Theater that literally speaks to me: words! I love a nice big speech, a snappy dialogue, a big argument with sentences popping off like fireworks. Changes by the project, but I guess it always comes back to my own life and memories. Even when I’m riffing on Shakespeare, everyone is really based on someone I know...

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:  Right now Brie Larson is high on my list. Shamefully,  I haven’t seen “Captain Marvel” yet.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I am thinking here more of my friends who are not into theater than those who are... I try to make it a mission in life to get people who had Shakespeare ruined for them in high school to give him a shot. A solid production of, oh, one of the romantic comedies can be both delightful and totally accessible to the novice.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: At present Tom Holland seems right to tackle my formative years. The title, to quote my best friend about me: “Stranger as the Years Go On”.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?:  Lately I have been kicking myself for missing Annaleigh Ashford in Sylvia. She has been wonderful in everything I’ve seen her do, and I have a weakness for people playing animals.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: In art, silly/sappy teen comedies. In life, literally everything I eat.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Working in film, as I do, so, boring answer, huh. Outside the arts, I guess some kind of number cruncher, finance sort, though I fear I lack the killer instinct.

What’s up next?: Whatever someone wants to go forward! Right now I’m writing a couple of short stories for fun. I enjoy the challenges that come with trying one medium or another, seeing what you can do on the page or the stage or the screen. Sometimes, as I found with Miranda, something that begins as one kind of project you realize works better as another...

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Drag365: #8- Witti Repartee

Name: Witti Repartee

Where can we find you out and about?: I’m often seen at Rockbar (where as the “Queen Mum” I’ve starred in staged readings, judged competitions, co-hosted fundraisers and where I throw my annual 39th Birthday Party), but can also be found at Excelsior in Park Slope hosting the Oscars, their annual Pie Baking contest and other special events, the Eagle, where I’ve been the host of Halloween and numerous Team Eagle events, and as a member of New York’s chapter of Drag Queen Story Hour.

Why Drag?: Drag gives me an opportunity to play a character and perform songs that a guy generally wouldn’t do.  It’s a fantastic outlet for someone with a theatre background who never followed that path as a profession.

What made you start drag?: When I was thirteen, I was rooting through the costume collection during summer theatre camp and chanced upon a purple suit that was very similar to the one worn by Dana Carvey’s Church Lady on "Saturday Night Live."  One or two “Isn’t that Specials” later, and I was hooked.  I started doing it more seriously in college, and then performed around New Jersey before meeting my drag mother in a production of La Cage Aux Folles in 1997.

Who are you drag inspirations?: Easily, the “Charleses” – Busch, Pierce and Ludlam.   Beyond that, it’s a blend of Agnes Moorehead, Bette Davis, Bette Midler, Rosalind Russell and Bea Arthur.

Your favorite part of drag is _____?: Giving newer queens a platform to take the stage, own the spotlight and shine!  The shows I produce are always variety-style revues, and I always have a couple early-career queens in the lineup:  I wouldn’t be who I am if Victoria Weston hadn’t taken me under her wing in 1997 and given me a slot in her show on Fire Island.  I was untested, untried and made a mistake or two, but with guidance learned who I was, where my voice was and how to hold an audience.  It’s my job to help provide that for others, when and how I can.

What is your number one makeup secret?: Let the lash glue dry completely.

The three must haves of drag are _____?:  Lashes that fit your face, shoes that you can stand in on a concrete floor for three hours, and confidence.

Who are some of your favorite drag artists, designers, stylists, producers, etc. to collaborate with?: My sisters Pepperica Swirl and Farrah Moans are amazingly fun to plan and host shows with.  Excitingly, Pepper (PlanetPepper) designs almost all of my custom clothing, and Farrah (MOANS) is an amazing jeweler!  My hair designer, Izzy Decauwert, is phenomenal:  5 years at Hairspray and she makes fabulous structural wigs that hold up!  I’ve had a lot of fun working with Jason Romas at Rockbar on staged readings, and my favorite producer is the co-founder of Kaleidoscope Collaborations, Nick DiCeglie, who is a gem and a gentleman.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your drag career?: There are two that vie for it:  stepping down in 2013 after a year as Empress XXVI of New York:  my Emperor, Ritz Kraka and I made over 160 appearances, 16 trips around the country and gave away or made possible over $120,000 in grants through our work with the Imperial Court of New York.  Emotionally, though, it would have to be Folsom Street East 2016.  It was a week after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, and instead of the comic number I’d planned, I had to sing "I Am What I Am."  We were all scared, and singing that song with an audience of thousands of people was such a unifying and grand moment.  I hope the audience remembers it as well as I do!

If you were to do one character on Snatch Game, who would it be and why?: Oh lord.  I consider myself an actor and a singer, not an impressionist.  The perfect character on Snatch Game has to be A) someone you can do well, B) someone who has enough catchphrases or tics that they can be exaggerated, and C) someone who is enough of a pop culture icon that the audience is going to buy in.  The two that have worked best on the show, to me, were Bianca del Rio’s Judge Judy and Jinkx Monsoon’s Little Edie. (Although Ben Delacreme’s Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley and Paul Lynde were also exceptional.)    Who would I do?  Bette Davis or Bea Arthur, probably.  My Holland Taylor would slay, but these days people just know her as Sarah Paulson’s wife.  Which is sad.

How can drag change the world?: Right now, we all need to smile more.  Drag can add joy.  Marie Kondo approve.

What is the biggest tip you can give a queen starting out today?: Know who you are.   You’re not playing yourself in a dress, you’re creating a character:  who is she, where does she come from?  Every song, every costume choice, it all needs to hang on something and the arc of a well developed character is it.

Social Media: @wittirepartee on Instagram and Twitter

For more on Witti, visit wittirepartee.com and follow @titndrag365

Friday, March 1, 2019

Review: The Many Hauxs of the White House

By Michael Block 

Throughout the history of time, the true backbone of the American presidency is the First Lady. And we’ve had some iconic ladies filling that position. Offering her unique viewpoint on history and drag, Heidi Haux has compiled a “best of” list of First Ladies sharing their story in First Haux, which made its debut at The Duplex.
photo by Michael Block
Using Melania Trump as a framing device, Melania seeks help from First Ladies of the past to help her through her newfound title. Unlike a Dickensian drama, not all of these “ghosts” have wise words to spare. From Martha Washington to Jackie Kennedy to the Bushes, the array of women offer a slice of their journey that played an impact to their moment in history. Playing into intelligent storytelling through each wifes' music and sound clip selections, Heidi takes pop culture and history and marries them into a subversive theatrical evening. There’s a fairly formulaic structure to keep this solo cabaret moving. Heidi goes from wife to wife with a number and a costume change, accompanied by an oft comedic history lesson. She has room to play with order and stray away from a mostly complete chronological timeline. At the end of the day, tone is key and insuring the balance of the hilarious moments between the dramatic bits heightens the arc of the piece. With Jackie O, Hilary, and the Bushes coming so close together, the latter half of the night becomes heavy-handed. That being said, Heidi, a campy queen at heart, delivers some extraordinarily winning heartbreaking moments. See Jackie O. Move over Natalie Portman, Heidi Haux has taken your gig. As she continues to develop this powerful piece, there is an opportunity to dive deeper into characterization and voices on mic. Distinguishing from Heidi neutral and individual First Lady assists with storytelling.
First Haux goes beyond a solo cabaret. This is a work of theater. First Haux deserves a larger stage. Heidi Haux has managed to entertain while educating through the art of drag.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Spotlight On...Brandon Raines

Name: Brandon Raines

Hometown: Manchester CT

Education: Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts

Select Credits: Film: Sam “Neighbors”, Vin “Geeble”, Evan “Live”, Sam “your invited”
Theater: Monkey “Journey to the West”, Benedick “Much Ado About Nothing”, A-RAB “West Side Story”. Select Television: Blue Bloods, The Blacklist, Fosse/Verdon, Law and Order SVU, Instinct

Why theater?: I love all forms of acting, in all different kinds of projects, but theater definitely holds a special place in my heart. Something about being in the room with your audience, it allows you to reach them, play off of them, communicate with them in a way thats only possible when doing live theater. Which I love because I feel like I can really effectively share my characters story.

Who do you play in Ms. Delight?: I play Roy Young JR in Ms. Delight

Tell us about Ms. Delight?: Ms. Delight is a play about the fictitious famous NYC drag queen, Ms. Stella Delight, coming back in contact with her son, Roy JR, after more than a decade of being estranged. Roy unexpectedly breaks into Stellas dressing room one night, and the two are left to try and resolve years worth of  abandonment, regret, anger, fear, persecution, and see if the two can infect have a relationship.

What is it like being a part of Ms. Delight?: Being part of Ms. Delight has honestly been a blast. The cast and creative team are all some really rad individuals. I have really enjoyed working with Cammerron Baits as our director, he really has given the actors space to breathe and discover our characters and play with new thoughts and ideas every single rehearsal. Additionally sharing the stage with Witti (Repartee) and Rebekah (Wilson) is such a gift in its self, they are both so much fun to work with and because of their fantastic talents I have really been able to develop my character so much further.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love really intimate, raw, unapologetic, original pieces of theater. When I am an audience member, I never want to leave the theater happy. I don’t like where there is a crystal clear resolution, or a “villain” and a “hero”. I don’t think that that is reflective of how life really is. We all have a story. We are all doing our best with the light we have at the time. We are all multifaceted and complex and beautiful and I think having characters and plots like that is important, and thats the kind of work I’m interested in doing. As for who/what inspires me thats a very loaded question because I’m inspired by something/someone new every day. I will say the three performances that I have seen that really have stayed with me as an actor, and that I think about constantly are Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter in Angels in America on Broadway, Alex Sharp as Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time on Broadway and Christiane Noll as Diana in Next To Normal at TheaterWorks in Hartford CT.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: All of them.

What’s your favorite showtune?: None of them.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Marianne Elliott

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Cameron Monaghan and it would be called “Sleeping On Subways, a series of questionable choices leading to one hell of a story, the life and times of Brandon Raines. Part One.”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Not that far back but I would go see the 2009 Broadway production of Peter and the Starcatcher

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Once on this Island at the Circle in the Square

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Sitting in my living room and watching horror movies and eating a whole sleeve of Oreos at 11am on a Tuesday.

What’s up next?: Not a clue, I am in the process of auditioning for some really exciting stuff so hopefully one of those!!