Friday, September 26, 2014

"Urban Momfare" - FringeNYC Encore Series

By Byrne Harrison

I get a lot of invitations to see shows, so many that I would basically have to quit my day job to be able to see them all.

Which is why I love getting photos from shows.  Even if I know I won't be able to see them, it's fun to look at them and try to figure out what the show must be like.

So I offer you two photos from Urban Momfare, which is part of the FringeNYC Encore Series, after its critically acclaimed Fringe NYC run.  It's produced by Emerging Artists Theatre, a terrific company, and is being performed at the Soho Playhouse.

Here is the description of the show from the press release:

Why don't we ever hear songs about moms not actually liking their kids? This romp through motherhood on Manhattan's Upper East Side spans 17 years: "Music For Gifted and Talented Babies" to bra straps and Bellinis. Strap on your stilettos cause this is war!

The production stars Tiffan Borelli (More Of Our Parts/The Kennedy Center), Antonietta Corvinelli (The Reunion/Hudson Guild), Sandi DeGeorge (Camelot/National Tour), Cheryl Howard (The Sensational Josephine Baker/Theatre Row), Izzy Hanson Johnston (Billy Elliot/Broadway), Christine Toy Johnson (The Music Man/Broadway) and Christiana Little (The Bardy Bunch/Theatre at St. Clements).

The creative team includes choreography by Janine Molinari (Artistic Director, DanceMolinari), assistant choreography by Ann-Marie Sepe, set design by Tim McMath, lighting design by G. Ben Swope, costume design by Nicole Wee, sound design by Nick Gossett, projection design by David Bengali, and stage management by Berit Johnson.

Final performances are:

Saturday, September 27th at 7:00 pm
Sunday, September 28th at 5:00 pm

For more info visit or

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What you should be doing tonight

Sadly, I will have to miss tonight's Hotsy Totsy Burlesque tribute to Doctor Who.  But I went last year and had a grand time.

This show is highly recommended for the Whovians and burlesque-aficionados out there.

Joe the Shark and Cherry Pitz Present:
@ The Slipper Room (our new venue)
167 Orchard St, (at the corner of Stanton, on the second floor), New York, NYC
Wednesday September 24th
Doors 7:00 / Show at 8:00
$10 for tickets go to
Advanced Tickets will be available on the Slipper Room website!
For more information about Hotsy Totsy go to

Sponsored by Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum who promise drink specials and awesome swag!

It’s Cherry's birthday and the Tardis is determined that the Doctor will not miss it. He's always back for her birthday... he hasn't missed one of them in over 90 years! He may have a new face, a new coat and a new accent, but it’s still anchovy frosting for everyone! What could possibly go wrong when the attack eyebrows come out to play?

Featuring performances by: Cherry Pitz, Cubby Hall, Liberty Rose, Lucky Charming, Matt Knife, Miranda Raven and Ruby Solitaire. With Cherie Sweetbottom warming you up with her incredible gogo skills, additional entertaiment by Living Statue Galatea and hosted by Handsome Brad as a very Scottish Doctor

Following on the footsteps of Hotsy Totsy Burlesque’s successful The Big Lebowski, Mad Men, Harry Potter and Star Wars 1978 Holiday Special tribute shows, Cherry Pitz and Joe the Shark present a burlesque tribute to the BBC's masterful series, Doctor Who. The show has been on for 50 years, how can you not be interested in what a burlesque tribute of this show would be?!?!? Hotsy Totsy Burlesque is New York’s only episodic, monthly burlesque show featuring a different script each month and a rotating cast. Hotsy Totsy is a high camp soap opera featuring some of the best burlesque talent New York has to offer.

Once a month you are invited to the basement of The Home For Wayward Girls and Fallen Women. The residents of the home need money to keep their hotel open and to buy G-strings and glitter. Sadly, the shows have had their technical difficulties and in the past as they’ve had to combat, zombies, gangsters, human-animal hybrids, televangelists and snake oil salesmen. The performers promise you beautiful, clothing-averse women, lots of laughs, spinning tassels, and flying underpants. So join us for Hotsy Totsy Burlesque at The Home For Wayward Girls and Fallen Women where the motto is “We’ve fallen, we can’t get up, and we like it that way!”

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

10th Annual New York Innovative Theatre Award Winners Announced

By Byrne Harrison

Last night, the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation celebrated the best of Off-Off Broadway theatre with its 10th Annual NYIT Awards Ceremony.

Over the past ten years, the IT Awards has honored over 1,800 individual artists, over 500 productions, and 420 theatre companies. The 2014 Nominees include 133 individual artists, 59 different productions and 56 Off-Off-Broadway theatre companies.

Hosted by 
Jason Kravits (ADA Richard Bay on ABC's Emmy Award Winning Drama "The Practice”), the presenters included luminaries from the theatre community: Tracee Chimo (Lucille Lortel Award recipient for Bad Jews and currently on Orange is the New Black); Laurence O'Keefe (Bat Boy: The MusicalLegally Blonde: The MusicalHeathers: The Musical); Mariah MacCarthy (Executive Artistic Director of Caps Lock Theatre and 2013 recipient of the Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award); Craig Lucas (Award winning playwright of Prelude to a Kiss, Blue Window; The Light in the Piazza among many others); Andre De Shields (Actor, Director and Choreographer best known for his work in The Full Monty, Play On!, Ain't Misbehavin' and The Wiz); Paul Kieve (Harry Potter Films); Stephen Cabral (Director of TDF's Costume Collection); Jen Schriever (Award winning lighting designer who has worked with MET Opera, Center Stage and the Public); Andy Lang (Sound Designer and Composer who works with the QLab team); Jim Rado(Actor and Composer, Co-Author the rock musical Hair); Elizabeth A. Davis (Tony nominated actress for Once and recipient of the 2011 NY Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role); Terry Schreiber (Award winning director and founder of the T. Schreiber Studio); Jennifer Conley Darling (Producing Artistic Director of terraNOVA Collective); Robert Gore (member of the New York Innovative Theatre Awards Honorary Awards Committee); Marshall Mason (one of the original Off-Off-Broadway directors and Founding Artistic Director of Circle Repertory Company); Omar Sangare (United Solo Theatre Festival); Tim McMath (scenic designer); Arthur Aviles (choreographer); Meghan Finn (director); Dan Markley (New York Musical Theatre Festival).

Special awards were presented in the following categories:

Artistic Achievement Award Recipient: 
Dan Bianchi (RadioTheatre)

Ellen Stewart Award: Woodie King, Jr. (New Federal Theatre)

CaffĂ© Cino Fellowship Award: Blessed Unrest

Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award: Kevin R. Free (The Fantasticks)

Outstanding Stage Manager: Haejin Han (Don Juan in Hell, Phoenix Theatre Ensemble)

The 2014 ** Recipients ** (includes Nominees in each category):

Outstanding Ensemble
** At First Sight (and Other Stories), Broken Box Mime Theater
Becky Baumwoll, Dinah Berkeley, Seikai Ishizuka, David Jenkins, Meera Kumbhani, Tasha Milkman, Marissa Molnar, Dan Reckart, Joe Tuttle, Leah Wagner **

As You Like It, Happy Few Theatre Company
Ellen Adair, Nat Cassidy, Eric Gilde, Patrick Mulryan, Anna O'Donoghue, Christopher Seiler,Alexander Sovronsky

The Complete and Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O'Neill Vol 2, New York Neo-Futurists
Cecil Baldwin, Christopher Borg, Roberta Colindrez, Cara Francis, Dylan Marron, Martina Potratz

Magic Bullets, Buran Theatre Company
Caitlin Bebb, Abigail Blueher, Donna Jewell, Jud Knudsen, Catrin Lloyd-Bollard, Erin Mallon, Michael McKim Karp, Kate Schroeder, Mari Yamamoto

Old Familiar Faces, Tin Drum Productions
Tandy Cronyn, Marianne Miller, James Patrick Nelson, Sam Tsoutsouvas

Pirira, Theatre 167
Adrian Baidoo, J.Stephen Brantley,  Todd Flaherty, Flor De Liz Perez

Outstanding Solo Performance
** Sandy Moore
The Simple Stories, WorkShop Theater Company **

Adam Boncz
Fatelessness, SceneHouse Productions and Gia Forakis & Company

J. Stephen Brantley
Chicken-Fried Ciccone: A Twangy True Tale Of Transformation, Hard Sparks

Aizzah Fatima
Dirty Paki Lingerie, Aizzah Fatima

Kim Katzberg
Darkling, Eat a Radish Productions in association with IRT Theater

Nora Woolley
Hip, Nora Woolley

Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role
** Noel Joseph Allain
Luft Gangster, Nylon Fusion Collective **

Joshua Levine
Wild, Sanguine Theatre Company

Brendan McDonough
Beckett in Benghazi, Less Than Rent Theatre in association with Horse Trade Theater Group

Tony Naumovski
Sawbones & the Diamond Eater, Days of the Giants LLC

Lyonel Reneau
Wild, Sanguine Theatre Company

Dwayne Washington
Rent, The Gallery Players

Outstanding Actress in a Featured Role
** Jenny Seastone
The Gin Baby, Kid Brooklyn Productions and Mermaid Sands Productions **

Milee Bang
My Father's Ashes, Original Binding Productions

Manna Nichols
Allegro, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Diana Oh
Frankenstein Upstairs, Gideon Productions

Alyssa Simon
Within Arm's Reach, Going to Tahiti Productions

Jenne Vath
Sawbones & the Diamond Eater, Days of the Giants LLC

Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role
** Jason O'Connell
Don Juan In Hell, Phoenix Theatre Ensemble **

Goran Ivanovski
The Lonesome West, Mark Forlenza Productions

James Patrick Nelson
Old Familiar Faces, Tin Drum Productions

Tom Pavey
The Lonesome West, Mark Forlenza Productions

Brian Silliman
Dark Water, Manhattan Theatre Works (MTWorks)

J. Stephen Brantley
Pirira, Theatre 167

Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role
** Heather E. Cunningham
An Appeal to the Woman of the House, Retro Productions **

Debra Ann Byrd
The Importance of Being Earnest, Take Wing And Soar Productions, Inc.

Tandy Cronyn
Old Familiar Faces, Tin Drum Productions

Christina Pumariega
Sousepaw: 'A Baseball Story', Shelby Company

Lesley Shires
The Gin Baby, Kid Brooklyn Productions

Hannah Sloat
The Glory of Living, Revolve Productions

Outstanding Choreography/Movement
** Carlos Neto
Gymnos: A Geek's Tragedy, Ticket 2 Eternity Productions **

Jim Cooney & Greg Zane
Nothing But Trash, Theater For The New City

Thiago Felix
Infinite While it Lasts, Group .BR

Grasshopper Mitch
David's RedHaired Death, One Old Crow Productions

David Norwood & Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj
Salome: Da Voodoo Princess of Nawlins, Rebel Theater

Christine O'Grady
Allegro, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Outstanding Director
** DeLisa M. White
Lights Narrow, Teatro Oscuro **

Kevin Augustine & Edward Einhorn
The God Projekt, La MaMa in association with Lone Wolf Tribe

Karen Case Cook
Don Juan In Hell, Phoenix Theatre Ensemble

Tyrus Holden
The Pregnancy of Angela Freak, AqUa MeRcUrY Creations

Kelly O'Donnell
Jane the Plain, Flux Theatre Ensemble

Tazewell Thompson
Sawbones & the Diamond Eater, Days of the Giants LLC

Outstanding Lighting Design
** Kia Rogers
Jane the Plain, Flux Theatre Ensemble **

Joshua Benghiat
Pirira, Theatre 167

Joan Racho-Jansen
The Lonesome West, Mark Forlenza Productions

Evan Roby
The Cottage, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Kia Rogers
The Gin Baby, Kid Brooklyn Productions and Mermaid Sands Productions

Alexandra Mannix
Within Arm's Reach, Going to Tahiti Productions

Outstanding Costume Design
** Gail Cooper-Hecht
The Importance of Being Earnest, Take Wing And Soar Productions, Inc. **

Sidney Fortner
A Man's World, Metropolitan Playhouse

Amanda Jenks
Rubber Ducks and Sunsets, Ground Up Productions

Thomas Kleinert
The Pregnancy of Angela Freak, AqUa MeRcUrY Creations

Ryan Moller
The Cottage, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Carrie Robbins
Sawbones & the Diamond Eater, Days of the Giants LLC

Outstanding Set Design
** Travis McHale
Rubber Ducks and Sunsets, Ground Up Productions **

Stephen Karoly Dobay
The Cottage, Astoria Performing Arts Center

Donald Eastman
The Chairs, La MaMa in association with Skysaver Productions

Brandon McNeel
Sawbones & the Diamond Eater, Days of the Giants LLC

Jacques Roy
And to the Republic, The Guerrilla Shakespeare Project

Tsubasa Kamaei & Jennifer Stimple Kamei
Don Juan In Hell, Phoenix Theatre Ensemble

Outstanding Sound Design
** Christian Frederickson
The Awake, kef theatrical productions **

Janie Bullard
The Gin Baby, Kid Brooklyn Productions and Mermaid Sands Productions

Janie Bullard
Jane the Plain, Flux Theatre Ensemble

Janie Bullard
Pirira, Theatre 167

Christopher Loar
Mute, New York Neo-Futurists

Tim Schellenbaum & Alice Tolan-Mee
The Chairs, La MaMa in association with Skysaver Productions

Outstanding Innovative Design
** Nicole Hill
For Puppet Design
Mute, New York Neo-Futurists **

Gyda Arber, Brian Fountain, David Gochfeld, and Allen Hahn
For Phone & Text Design
FutureMate, Brick Theater

Laia Cabrera, Isabelle Duverger, and Ildiko Nemeth
For Video Design
Cosmicomics, The New Stage Theatre Company

Kaitlyn Pietras
For Projection Design
The Gin Baby, Kid Brooklyn Productions and Mermaid Sands Productions

Matt Reeves
For Projection Design
And to the Republic, The Guerrilla Shakespeare Project

Jane Catherine Shaw & Theodora Skipitares
For Puppet Design
The Chairs, La MaMa in association with Skysaver Productions

Outstanding Original Music
** Scott Munson
Sawbones & the Diamond Eater, Days of the Giants LLC **

Scott Allen Klopfenstein
Rubber Ducks and Sunsets, Ground Up Productions

Jennifer Makholm & Ian Wehrle
Relent, an Indie Musical, WorkShop Theater Company

Ellen Mandel
Don Juan In Hell, Phoenix Theatre Ensemble

Alexander Sovronsky
As You Like It, Happy Few Theatre Company

Alla Zagaykevych
Fire Water Night, Yara Arts Group in Association with LaMaMa

Outstanding Original Short Script
** Lenore Wolf
April March, Fragments from an Unintegrated Life from East Side Stories: Movers, Metropolitan Playhouse **

J. Stephen Brantley
Chicken-Fried Ciccone: A Twangy True Tale Of Transformation, Hard Sparks

Kate Gersten
First Love from The Spring Fling, F*It Club

Kate Kertez
Dumbo from Brooklyn Labyrinth, Oracle Theatre Inc

Mark Loewenstern
One is the Road fromSuper Shorts 2013, WorkShop Theater Company

Nora Woolley
Hip, Nora Woolley

Outstanding Original Full-length Script
** David Stallings
Dark Water, Manhattan Theatre Works (MTWorks) **

Nat Cassidy
Old Familiar Faces, Tin Drum Productions

Vincent Marano
Lights Narrow, Teatro Oscuro

Christie Perfetti Williams
An Appeal to the Woman of the House, Retro Productions

Sarah Shaefer
The Gin Baby, Kid Brooklyn Productions and Mermaid Sands Productions

J.Stephen Brantley
Pirira, Theatre 167

Outstanding Performance Art Production
** The God Projekt, La MaMa in association with Lone Wolf Tribe **

At First Sight (and Other Stories), Broken Box Mime Theater

FutureMate, Brick Theater

Magic Bullets, Buran Theatre Company

The Chairs, La MaMa in association with Skysaver Productions

The Maiden, The Nerve Tank

Outstanding Production of  a Musical
** Allegro, Astoria Performing Arts Center **

A Little Night Music, The Gallery Players

Candide - The Musical, Theater 2020

Fire Water Night, Yara Arts Group in Association with LaMaMa

Life on the Mississippi: A New Musical Play, WorkShop Theater Company

The Pregnancy of Angela Freak, AqUa MeRcUrY Creations

Outstanding Premiere Production of A Play
 ** Pirira, Theatre 167 **

An Appeal to the Woman of the House, Retro Productions

Dark Water, Manhattan Theatre Works (MTWorks)

Frankenstein Upstairs, Gideon Productions

Lights Narrow, Teatro Oscuro

The Complete and Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O'Neill Vol 2, New York Neo-Futurists

Outstanding Revival of A Play
** Don Juan In Hell, Phoenix Theatre Ensemble **

A Man's World, Metropolitan Playhouse

As You Like It, Happy Few Theatre Company

Julius Caesar, Smith Street Stage

R+J: Star-Cross'd Death Match, Three Day Hangover

Wild, Sanguine Theatre Company

The Innovative Theatre Foundation is a not-for-profit organization recognizing the great work of New York City's Off-Off-Broadway, honoring its artistic heritage, and providing a meeting ground for this extensive and richly varied community. The organization advocates for Off-Off-Broadway and recognizes the unique and essential role it plays in contributing to American and global culture. They believe that publicly recognizing excellence in Off-Off-Broadway will expand audience awareness and foster greater appreciation of the New York theatre

The NYIT Awards Team

Friday, September 19, 2014

Interview with Nelson Lugo of "Gathering the Magic"

By Byrne Harrison

After a couple of years of seeing him perform, I finally had a chance to chat with award-winning actor and magician Nelson Lugo.  The 11-year-old kid inside me was thrilled at the thought of getting to talk to a real live magician.

I'll be seeing his show, "Gathering the Magic," Saturday, Sept. 19th at The Tank, where it will have three performances through November 15th.

I've seen you perform several times now; both magic and monologue, and have been impressed by both.  But I have to admit, it's watching you do your magic that makes me feel like an awestruck kid.  How long have you been doing magic?

I’ve been performing/practicing magic – on and off – for the better part of 30 years. I got my very first magic kit when I was nine years old and it’s been downhill ever since (wocka-wocka). Seriously though, a lot of my love of magic comes from watching Harry Blackstone and Doug Henning as a kid - which then got cemented in my brain when I watched Harry Anderson perform. But it was that kit that started me on a path - and that path has been filled with twists and turns but it’s where my heart lives.

So it was the kit that got you hooked.

After getting that first kit I was pretty much a kid obsessed with magic. My family did not have a lot of money when I was growing up so that kit was a major purchase for a gift-giving holiday. After I learned everything in that box, my library card became my greatest resource. At first it was just curiosity, I was the kind of kid that hated not knowing things. It then exploded pretty quickly into something I that always had to do.

Are you mostly self-taught?

For the most part, yes. Growing up, I was always aware of the various magic clubs, but I’ve never been much of a joiner. I’m pretty much an introvert off stage so I tend to learn magic on my own. I did have a mentor for a very short time when I was eighteen. He was an older magician – one of the first to ever play Vegas actually. He taught me magic – but more than that he taught me how to be an artist who happens to use magic as his medium. As a result, I tend to approach magic differently than my peers so it’s just easier to create on my own. It’s both a liberating and completely frustrating creative process. Magic, like writing, is such a solitary and lonely art form – but the payoff for me is creating that “awestruck kid” feeling that you love so much. That’s what makes it worthwhile for me.

So the first time I saw you perform, it was at Hotsy Totsy Burlesque.  How did you get involved with the NY burlesque scene?

I was kind of discovered actually. I was doing magic acts for the Floating Kabarette at the Galapagos Art Space when it was in its original location. This was about ten years ago. One night the host didn’t show up and I was given an opportunity to MC the night. A burlesque performer named Veronica Sweet asked me to host a show she co-produced called Red Hots Burlesque and the rest… as they say… is history.

And you ran Epic Win Burlesque for several years, correct?

Correct, five years ago I got a bunch of my nerdy burlesque friends to put on a one-off show that I never intended to take any further. It was so well received that we did it again… and again… and again. Until basically I created a thing, that unbeknownst to me, was at the forefront of a whole burlesque movement called Nerdlesque. We were just having fun putting on goofy shows about Batman and Ghostbusters.

So you have a new show, "Gathering the Magic," which will be at The Tank in midtown.  Tell me a little about it.

It’s basically a show in two parts. There’s slice-of-life storytelling along with sophisticated stage magic. I tend to describe it like this: I like to imagine that if NPR’s “This American Life” where to put on a magic show… “Gathering The Magic” would be the result. The show is a collection of true stories from my life that are paired up with magic acts that I’ve been working on for over 15 years. The show is in its essence a love story which attempts to ask if there can be truth in deception, because to me it’s not always so important HOW a trick is done, but WHY.

How did it come about?

THIS is a very loaded question and probably way too complicated and too long of an answer for an interview like this. But, here are the bullet points: I wrote a show back in 2006 that wasn’t very good but not entirely bad either – I vowed never to write a show again – I got married – I started a burlesque show – I got divorced – I got testicular cancer – I beat testicular cancer – I retired the burlesque show – then I wanted to create something that was mine - something that, success or fail, was my sole responsibility. "Gathering The Magic" is essentially a culmination of my ten years on burlesque stages while being influenced by New York vaudeville and The Moth storytelling shows. I didn't want to do another boring magic show that was just a display of skill - I wanted to say something meaningful with my magic.

If you could say anything to your potential audience to encourage them to see this show, what would it be?

If you love magic, then there is a little bit of everything in this show. There's sleight-of-hand, mentalism, and even a card trick from a slightly different point-of-view. If you don't like magic, then there's something for you too. There are stories packed with drama, pathos, humor, and more than enough to make you think about the world and your place in it. If you hate magic and stories... Then there's a Dave and Busters down the street that is open pretty late.

Finally, what else is coming up for you this year?
Mostly, I'm focused on getting my show in front of as many people as possible. I'm looking into touring it and submitting it to festivals here and overseas. But beyond that, I started the tentative process of writing a new show. I found that after Gathering The Magic was done I had a whole lot of material left over. So I've decided to create a new show that is much darker in tone and far more vulernalble that I've ever been before. Right now it's just a bunch of ideas but be on the look out for announcements in late 2015.

"Gathering the Magic" runs September 19th, October 18th, and November 15th at 9:30 PM at The Tank151 w. 46th St. (b/t 6th and 7th Ave), 8th Floor.  For tickets, visit The Tank's website.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Behind the Scenes with Blue Man Group

By Byrne Harrison

Tomorrow, young creatives (13+ and, with parental guidance, even younger) will get backstage and behind-the-scenes access to the famous Las Vegas stage production of the Blue Man Group.

But they aren't the only ones who get to see how the magic is made. 

Maker Camp (from Google+ and MAKE Magazine) is back for the third annual six-week virtual summer camp for quirky tinkering, building and exploring fun STEM projects. Everyday at 11am PT (2pm ET) until August 15, millions of people around the world can join live on Maker Camp’s Google+ page for 30 DIY projects (think building glowing bikes, stroboscopes, and taking field trips to NASA, Lego and Cartoon Network studios).

On Friday, August 8th, Maker Camp will feature a team of Blue Man Group's performers and technicians who will show campers their creative process and demonstrate how their customized instruments are created and played. Want to see how it's done? Then watch Maker Camp’s weekend project, Raspberry Pirate Radio! Tune in to +MAKE at 11am PT (2pm ET) for the live field trip.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Interview with David Lawson of The Astoria Bookshop Storytelling Show

By Byrne Harrison

Most people who live in New York know that the performance scene is not limited to Manhattan.  Travel to any borough and you can find outstanding shows featuring some amazing talent.

David Lawson
In Astoria, actor David Lawson hosts The Astoria Bookshop Storytelling Show, a monthly series which offers anyone the opportunity to tell their story in front of an audience.  Having seen several of David's past projects, I was eager to get a chance to discuss this latest venture with him. 

How did the Storytelling Show come about?

I've been doing one-man-shows consistently for seven years now. Yet only in the past year I've realized so many comedy clubs and other venues in New York have events where I could frequently perform, and develop new material, in the same vein as the solo shows I've been doing. Obviously, yes, there are many venues to work on jokes and stand-up. But places like UCB East on the Lower East Side and The Creek and The Cave in Long Island City and Over The Eight in Williamsburg host events where you can tell stories to an audience of strangers. Not only can you develop work and see if that idea you had actually works well on its feet, but often at these shows you hear incredibly well-crafted stories done by great performers. I decided to host such an event in my home neighborhood of Astoria.

The Astoria Bookshop is a great local venue.  How did you start working with them?

Around Valentine's Day this year I performed some of my solo show about porn, VCR Love, at an "erotic" themed event at the bookshop. That very night I asked Lexi Beach, the muscle and brains behind the bookshop, if she was interested in me hosting an open-mic-style storytelling show at the store. She said yes. The first show went great and every one since has been better and better.
Given the number of actors and other performers who live in Astoria, it seems like an ideal location.  Are most of the people who have participated locals?

There's a lot of people from the neighborhood. Yet I've been pleased with how many people from Manhattan and Brooklyn come to the bookshop for the show as well.

Do you have a particular theme for the shows?

There's never a theme for the show. Anything and everything goes.

If someone wants to get involved, what should they do?

Decide what story to tell, say it out loud to yourself and make sure it's 5 minutes (which is the time limit at the show), then show up to 31-29 31st Street in Astoria (right near Broadway on the N/Q), write your name on a scrap of paper and put it in the glass fishbowl. That easy.

What have been your favorite stories so far?

So many. Oh god, so many. It's why anyone and everyone would love going to a storytelling show. You hear all sorts of wild stuff. A few highlights: The one about the Afghanistan War vet being let off from a speeding ticket by an emotionally patriotic cop. The one about not knowing anything about sports and talking to someone for 20 minutes only to later realize that "someone" was Lebron James. The one about having to run half naked out the fire escape because the person you're in the middle of having sex with tells you they have a girlfriend who just walked through the front door.

What are the next dates for the show?

Tuesday August 12th at 7PM is the next show. The one after that is on Tuesday, September 9th.

The Astoria Bookshop is located at 31-29 31st Street between Broadway and 31st Avenue, a short walk from the N/Q Broadway station.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

"The Blood Brothers Present... Bedlam Nightmares, Part Three: Losing Patients"

By Byrne Harrison

The final curtain is drawing closer for the latest Blood Brothers show.  The four-part series ends in October with the much ballyhooed execution of the Blood Brothers.  Will it happen?  Well, Sister Blood doesn't survive episode three, so it appears it could. (If you want some background on the Blood Brothers, see some of the previous posts.)

"Losing Patients" features less gore than previous installments, but more intrigue as the stakes get raised.

As with previous installments of "The Blood Brothers Present... Bedlam Nightmares", "Losing Patients" features some short plays built into the framework of the Blood Brothers' incarceration in a hospital catering to the criminally insane.  The evening begins with an outstanding solo piece by Nat Cassidy (who often appears as a ghoulish troubadour in the Blood Brothers shows).  Directed by Patrick Shearer, "Who's There" features the talented Rebecca Comtois as a cop from a previous installment of the show, who is trapped in an abandoned area of the hospital, wandering through the halls with only her walkie-talkie to connect her with a partner who may or may not be there.  Comtois is a consistently strong actor, and she shines this creepy and claustrophobic piece.

The next short play, "Leslie and Sonia Forever" by Mac Rogers and directed by Pete Boisvert, features Leslie (Ivanna Cullinan), a character who has been integral to the "Bedlam Nightmares" series.  A disturbed woman who cheated on her husband with another woman, Leslie is normally the victim of the sadistic hospital guards.  At the bidding of Doctor Queen (Kristen Vaughan), the equally sadistic supervisor of the hospital, the older Blood Brother (Patrick Shearer) is left on his own to torture Leslie.  In a terrific twist that will clearly play out in the final installment, he breaks through to Leslie, pulling her out of her psychosis.  Troubled Leslie was a victim.  It looks like the new Leslie won't be.

The final play, and the longest of the three, is an outstanding piece full of teen angst, online betrayal and same-sex longing.  Deftly crafted by playwright Mariah MacCarthy, "Incitement" features a young, unpopular girl,  Shannon (Stacey Raymond), with a devastating crush on a popular classmate, Samantha (Sarah Matteucci).  After an initial sleep-over encounter that leads to a brusque rejection, Shannon creates online characters, a hot guy (Colin Waitt) to flirt with Samantha and a CIA agent (Stephanie Cox-Williams) who forces the naive Samantha to continue the relationship, with predictably disastrous consequences.  The play is a nice mix of ripped-from-the-headlines plot with a good eye for using theatricality to enhance a story.

The play that serves as the framework for the evening is "Losing Patients" by Mac Rogers, which features more of the interactions between Doctor Queen and the Blood Brothers (along with another inmate-turned-henchman, who is at Queen's beck and call, played by Roger Nasser).  In this Queen continues to drive a wedge between the once-inseperable brothers, finally winning the more brutal of the two (played by Pete Boisvert) over to her side.  While it is fun to watch Boisvert's usually brutal and thuggish Blood Brother regress into childlike behavior, it's amazing to see how Shearer's normally haughty and humorous Brother is stripped of all his power (and more importantly, his audience).  Watching Shearer play a a clever and desperate serial killer who is being backed into a corner is a delight, and I can't wait to see how the series ends.

Above all else, I hope it's bloody.

"The Blood Brothers Present… Bedlam Nightmares Part Three: Losing Patients"
Written by Nat Cassidy ("Who's There"), Mac Rogers ("Losing Patients" and "Leslie and Sonia Forever"), and Mariah MacCarthy ("Incitement")
Directed by Patrick Shearer ("Who's There") and Pete Boisvert ("Leslie and Sonia Forever" and "Incitement")
Featuring: Rebecca Comtois, Pete Boisvert, Patrick Shearer, Kristen Vaughan, Roger Nasser, Ivanna Cullinan, Stacey Raymond, Sarah Matteucci, Colin Waitt, and Stephanie Cox-Williams

Production Manager: Stephanie Cox-Williams
Production SM/Board Op: Robyne C. Martinez
Assistant Direction: Stephanie Cox-Williams
Fight Choreographer: J. Robert Coppola
Costume Designer: Karle J. Meyers
Gore/Prop Designer: Stephanie Cox-Williams
Graphic Designer: Pete Boisvert
Lighting Designer: Morgan Anne Zipf
Sound Designer: Patrick Shearer
Original Music: Larry Lees and Nat Cassidy
Producers: Pete Boisvert, Stephanie Cox-Williams, Roger Nasser, Patrick Shearer

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Lynne Wintersteller and Robin de Jesus star in Mother Jones at NYMF

By Rob Hartmann

Mother Jones and the Children’s Crusade, with book, music and lyrics by Cheryl E. Kemeny, is currently in rehearsal for its run as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. The show focuses on turn of the century labor activist Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, as she leads a march of mill children from Philadelphia to the home of President Theodore Roosevelt in New York, protesting child labor conditions — young children were routinely injured while they worked in mines and mills for starvation wages.

The NYMF production stars Lynne Wintersteller, perhaps best known for her iconic performance in Maltby & Shire’s Closer Than Ever; the cast also features two-time Tony nominee Robin de Jesus.

I spoke with Benjamin Edward Simpson, an actor who stepped into the role of producer to bring Mother Jones to New York, and also with director Michelle Tattenbaum (who directed Nobody Loves You at Second Stage and the Old Globe.)

ROB HARTMANN: Ben — I understand that you were actually in this show when you were a kid?

BEN SIMPSON: It’s kind of a crazy story how it all started. So the author, Cheryl Kemeny, runs a not for profit children’s performing arts center in Norwalk Connecticut, the Crystal Theatre. So, growing up, instead of doing Annie or Bye Bye Birdie, you’re doing one of these original musicals that she writes. And they’re written for a cast of sixty so everyone has a part. So this show was one of the shows I just signed up for as a kid. Robin de Jesus was in it as a kid as well.

These days, I’m primarily an actor — I was in between shows and I just kept thinking about this show, and how it’s really relevant to what’s going on in the world today.

MICHELLE TATTENBAUM: That was one of the things about the script that I really responded to — this feeling of utter timeliness. I think the Gilded Age is on everyone’s mind right now, and I think that is very telling. To have the chance to tell a story from that era — well really, it’s a plea for trying to change things for the better. That we can’t just sit by. That, to me, is the universal message that needs to be heard right now.

I feel this incredible sense of fatalism about how things are right now, in terms of income inequality, in terms of the ways in which our society is completely unsupportive of families. The indignities of that are everywhere and daily — trying to operate in a world where you need to have both parents in a family working full time, or otherwise you can’t afford to have a safe and comfortable life. And yet at every turn the culture is not set up to support that.

BS: I always thought Mother Jones was Cheryl’s best material — I’ve grown up loving big Broadway musicals like Ragtime and Parade, and I thought that this show had that kind of epic story. It’s a star vehicle, but it also has the kids — they’re the heart of this story. I would tell anyone to come see it, whether you’re ten or seventy five.

MT: It was originally written to be performed by kids — but, while I think it’s still quite suitable for a family audience, it’s not a “kid’s show.” We’re not approaching it in that way. We’re approaching it with a greater level of complexity and sophistication. Obviously, people can bring their kids — there are four kids in it — but we’re not approaching it in a “family theater” kind of way.

RH: And you have Lynne Wintersteller as Mother Jones.

BS: Lynne Wintersteller is so amazing. She’s gone through this script and score so thoroughly, finding all the dimensions of the character. The truth of the matter is that Mother Jones wasn’t always likeable. Cheryl has tried to stay true to that, really showing all her flaws. Lynne sounds amazing — she’s so game for anything. What’s exciting is, she’s really inspiring some of the changes we’ve made. We’re tailoring it to her — she is our Mother Jones.

MT: Cheryl is incredibly open — she’s a very smart writer. She’s written a lot of shows, so she’s not precious about any of it. She brings a lot of experience and maturity to the table. She’s a pragmatist.

BS: Cheryl’s been staring at this piece for years and years. And I’ve been attached to it for so long that I thought it was really important to have Michelle, who could be fresh set of eyes on the show. On the first day, she gave us all a little history lesson about the world of this show. Like, “I’m wearing this new pair of pants — these were made in some factory by some person who has a story – and that’s the story we’re telling.” All her detailed research and her excitement for the piece — she’s just so invested, it gets everyone excited.

MT: I talked about individualism, and how deeply ingrained this idea is — that everything that happens to you is based on your worth as an individual. And if you work hard enough, and if you’re a worthy enough person, then you will get ahead. And nothing has anything to do with the societal structures we’re operating in or the water we’re swimming in or the air we’re breathing in, it’s all your personal worth. I talked about that, and laissez faire economics and social Darwinism (laughs.) Those are my three things. And I wanted to talk about Calvinism, because I feel it really goes all the way back to the Calvinistic attitudes of the Puritan and the other folks who founded this country — that sort of judgment — “you deserve what you got” —it feels so pervasive, and we don’t even talk about it.

RH: How are rehearsals going?

BS: We’re just taking it day by day. Cheryl never had this dream to be a big Broadway composer or anything — we were actually talking about this in the car. She used to perform, and traveled the world with her sister, singing. And she found this calling, you know, teaching and composing — and she never cared about the glitz and glamor. But now that we’re getting a taste of working with Lynne Wintersteller and Michelle and people who are challenging her creatively, I think it’s just incredibly exciting. And the piece is only getting stronger and stronger.

RH: And you’ve got Robin de Jesus in the cast.

BS: We’re really good friends — he’s just the sweetest guy. He’s at a point in his career where he just goes from job to job to job, but he really made sure that he could clear his schedule to do this. For him to turn down these big movie auditions and these big readings and workshops that he could easily have been doing  — that’s such a big thing. He said, it’s not about the money, it’s not about the credit, it’s about honoring the woman that gave him his start. I mean, Cheryl got him the audition for Camp, where his career took off. So it’s like coming full circle for him, and for me.

Mother Jones and the Children’s Crusade.

Book, music & lyrics by Cheryl E. Kemeny. Directed by Michelle Tattenbaum. Music direction by Micah Young. Choreography by Clare Cook. Produced by Benjamin Simpson and The Crystal Theatre, Inc.

Featuring Lynne Wintersteller, Frenie Acoba, Tessa Grady, Robin de Jesus, Lizzie Klemperer, Lulu Lloyd, Zachary Mackiewicz, Robert Mammana, Johnny Marx, Grace Matwijec, Marissa Miller, and Kevin Reed.

For tickets, Performances at PTC Performance Space, 555 W. 42nd St. Thursday, July 17 at 8:00 pm; Saturday, July 19 at 1:00 pm; Sunday, July 20 at 12:00 pm; Monday, July 21 at 1:00 pm; Thursday, July 24 at 9:00 pm.