Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Planet Connections Interview - Hope Weiner of "Smacker and the Highway"

By Byrne Harrison

Name:  Hope Weiner
Show:  "Smacker and the Highway"
Relationship to production: Writer

How did you first get involved in theatre?

I am 44 years old and have been on quite a path I started off in dance and theatre as a kid and continued to participate through my twenties. I then went to law school which subsequently launched me on a twelve year career with the Geneva based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. In 2008 I returned to New York where the bug started to nibble at me again.

Who are your biggest influences?

Artistically I am absolutely in awe of Studs Terkel, Michael Moore, Arthur Miller and anyone who has ever given a voice to the little guy.

What is your show about?

My play is really about taking the one life you have been given into your hands so that you can live in a state of decency. In summary, the play is set in an America where everyone has been thrown out of their house for not being good enough or pretty enough.  The population has been bullied into inertia and now they find themselves wandering the highways of America searching for hope.
What inspired you to write it?

I was inspired by infomercials and being talked at instead of being spoken or listened to.

Who are your collaborators and how long have you been working with them?

The play has really been put in the hands of a visionary and multitalented young director named Molly Ballerstein. 

Why was it important to you to be part of an eco-friendly theatre festival?

An eco-friendly theatre festival is important to me because our role in theatre is to spark thought and to acknowledge our struggles as a community. We are prepared to live more mindfully then previous generations.

Planet Connections donates a portion of the box office for each show to a charity.  What charity has your production chosen and why?

Grand Central Neighborhood Social Services Corporation. The organization is one of the largest drop-in centers serving a diverse street homeless population of single adults. According to the latest statistics from the Coalition for the Homeless the number of homeless persons in New York has nearly doubled since Bloomberg became mayor.  At the same time, rents have also reached an all time high.  In parallel mindfulness, compassion and decency in our city’s policies have become increasingly rare.

What's next for you after Planet Connections?

Protests rallies and campaigning…….

If you could do one thing to change the world, what would it be?

This is easy. I have seen people all over the world and in my backyard who are denied basic needs. IT is actually heartbreaking to realize how hard we work and struggle for basic needs. Among them housing, at present all over the world lives are endangered because the majority of land is held by very few people, as a result we see homelessness, overcrowded and unhygienic slum settlements or people living in areas where they are vulnerable to natural disasters. If I could change the world I would create a common denominator of decency where all resources to have a decent home, health care and education would be available to everyone.  In essence I would have a say and a voice in how my tax money is used and how my country, my city and my community were run and that voice would actually mean something.

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Planet Connections Interview - Daniel Durkin of "Firework for Real"

By Byrne Harrison

Daniel Durkin is a New York-based director, video designer, producer and writer. Directing Credits: "I Loved Sam Stone" (The Tank); :Sticks and Bones," Daria Tavana’s adaptation of "Slaughterhouse-Five," "Self-Torture and Strenuous Exercise" (Fordham University). Video Design Assistantships: "Bonnie & Clyde" (Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre), "The Blue Flower," "All New People" (Second Stage); Second Stage Annual Gala (Hammerstein Ballroom). Other Credits: Five Questions with Sia for (Lead Producer); "Technodoulia Dot Com" at the 2011 NY International Fringe Festival (Asst. Director). Dan has produced shows at various venues, including: The Wild Project, Theatre for a New City, Gene Frankel Theatre, T. Schreiber studios, and SoHo Playhouse, among others. Dan is a proud graduate of Fordham University’s Directing Program.

Daniel will be directing "Firework for Real" in the Planet Connections festival.

How did you first get involved in theatre?

I started out acting in plays and musicals throughout high school. I tried directing in my junior and senior year and was instantly hooked.

Who are your biggest influences?

As a director, I like to explore character, narrative structure and physical action. I’m not big into abstract expression; I associate mostly with well-composed, visceral imagery. I look to film directors for inspiration- Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Sam Mendes, Gus Van Sant & Sidney Lumet.

What is your show about?

"Firework for Real" is about a world-class musical artist whose top-secret writing technique comes to surface after a series of ill-timed events.

How did you get involved with it?

I’ve known the playwright (Daria Tavana) for years now and have been around for every incarnation of the script since 2009 - once as Daria’s fellow classmate and once as a designer. I’ve never directed it, but I’m excited to take what we already know about the play and the character and turn it completely upside-down.

Who are your collaborators and how long have you been working with them?

We’re presenting this on behalf of True False Theatre, which was founded in 2011 by Anni Weisband and Daria Tavana. True False Theatre (TFT) is a new and exciting theatre company dedicated to exciting and empowering the community. Visit us at or or on twitter @TrueFalseNYC. We’re always have events or fundraisers going on and we love seeing new faces.

We are so proud to have board members in the show (Kahlil X. Daniel, Jessica Lit), our co-founder as the lead character (Anni Weisband), a frequent collaborator joining us (Mia Pinchoff), and the only person besides Daria who has been involved in each of the three productions of Firework for Real (Brandon Zelman). I’ve been working with these wonderfully talented people consistently- some for 5 years now, some for less than a year.

Why was it important to you to be part of an eco-friendly theatre festival?

True False Theatre believes in giving back to the community in whatever capacity we can. We don’t believe in art for art’s sake. Art cannot exist without the community and vice versa; it’s a reciprocal relationship and we strongly believe that. Plus, producing on a dime is always a welcome challenge for us, so we were eager to take the festival up on its offer.

Planet Connections donates a portion of the box office for each show to a charity. What charity has your production chosen and why?

We have chosen The Ali Forney Center as our charity. The Ali Forney Center helps homeless LGBTQ youth who have been ousted from their homes find a second beginning within a warm, welcoming community. For us, it was an obvious choice. First- a large portion of our company identifies as LGBTQ. All of us have been very blessed to say we have received support and guidance from our parents and peers. Sadly, the same cannot be said for others and we want to do our part to extend support to our disadvantaged brothers and sisters.

What's next for you and your company after Planet Connections?

True False Theatre is always hosting events and fundraisers to help us bankroll the art we are so passionate about creating. Next up, we will be producing Daria Tavana’s "A Sleeping Hound to Wake" at a to-be-determined venue. It will be directed by Dmitry Troyanovsky ( and will be presented sometime in early 2013. If you want to do your part to help us realize our goal, consider making a donation at IndieGoGo:

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Planet Connections Interview - Amanda Johnson of "Jennie"

By Byrne Harrison

Actor/writer/producer Amanda Johnson is originally from Seattle where she earned a degree in drama from University of Washington. She began her career performing at Walt Disney World in Florida prior to moving to New York to continue training and performing. She’s performed at Abingdon Theater, Baruch Performing Arts Center, Lark Play Development Center, Astoria Performing Arts Center and The Producers Club among others. Last year she was nominated for Outstanding Actress in a One Act at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity for her role in “The God Particle.” “Jennie” marks her first foray into full-length playwriting.

How did you first get involved in theatre?

I grew up attending theater and dance performances. Theater has always been an interest and passion of mine. As soon as I was old enough, I began taking acting classes and getting involved and haven’t stopped.

Who are your biggest influences?

My uncle is one of my biggest influences. When I was young, he created a hugely successful dance company far away in this city called New York. His creativity and drive is one reason I strive so hard.

What is your show about?

A young woman, Jennie, who is in the process of starting over when she discovers she’s pregnant. She realizes the choice she makes will change her life forever.

What inspired you to write it?

I was first inspired to write the story in 2011 when Jon Kyl stated on the Senate floor that well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does is abortions. Which was so the opposite of my experience with Planned Parenthood and, of course, his statement was completely untrue.

But I’m not a writer. I’m an actor. So I didn’t do anything for a while. But the idea stayed with me. I began to write what became the first draft of "Jennie" and was well into it when the blow up over birth control happened during the presidential candidacy race and when the Komen Foundation decided to cut their funding to Planned Parenthood. It’s a hot button item, but it also let me know that people out there care and that maybe I was on the right track tackling this subject matter.

Who are your collaborators and how long have you been working with them?

Joan Kane of Ego Actus is my director for this reading. She’s fabulous. We’ve worked together many times, including in last year’s Planet Connections Festivity, where our one-act "The God Particle" was nominated for 6 awards.

Why was it important to you to be part of an eco-friendly theatre festival?

It’s important to protect our planet and support our communities.

Planet Connections donates a portion of the box office for each show to a charity. What charity has your production chosen and why?

I’m doing a staged reading, which are free to the public so what we’ve decided to do is to write up a fact sheet to include it in the program. Our charity is Planned Parenthood.

What's next for you after Planet Connections?

I’m shooting a webseries called "Scout & Maggie," which will hopefully come out later this year. Also, I’m in the beginning reading stages of a new play by Scott Decker, which is slated to become a full production.

And finally, if a genie were to grant you one wish, what would you wish for?

A dishwasher.

For more information, visit

Sunday, May 6, 2012

"You Better Sit Down: Takes From My Parents' Divorce" - Stories Lost In The Telling

By Judd Hollander
Photo by Joan Marcus

The usually reliable acting troupe the Civilians makes a rather large misstep with You Better Sit Down: Tales From My Parents' Divorce, a work that has all the elements of being either a heart-tugging drama or a hilarious comedy - depending on how one chooses to use the material - but instead comes across as four people sitting around talking in a way far too matter of fact to really care about.

The hook here is that four members of the company (Caitlin Miller, Robbie Collier Sublett, Jennifer R. Morris, Matthew Maher) each interviewed one or both of their parents about their divorce, and used the transcripts of those interviews as the text of the play; the actors also playing their parents on stage. The blueprint for all four interviews is essentially the same: the parents growing up amongst the turbulent backdrop of the 1960s, falling in love and getting married, only to find out that happily ever after doesn't always last. Also mentioned is their changing of priorities, falling out of love and the eventual decision to separate. Reasons for the splits include infidelity, alcohol, denial of what was going on right in front of them, etc.

There is much potential here, with many of the stories often feeling like they could leap off the page. Once such moment occurs when Sublett, playing his mother, recalls what happens after her soon-to-be-ex cleaned out their joint bank account. Realizing late one night that all she had left was the money in her wallet and, since her spouse was still living with her at the time, she had to get out of bed, creep over to her wallet without waking him, hide the money and get back into bed with him being none the wiser. The possibilities in the execution of this situation can be either dramatic or comedic gold.

Sadly, there is no real passion expressed in regards to any of the characterizations offered. Rather the audience is only treated to very small bits and pieces of angst about what went on, all related way too clinically to make any great impression. Granted, in all cases the divorces in question happened over two decades earlier, but there still needs to be some emotional power or impetus behind what's being told. It's possible the people involved in this project were too close to the subject to really get to the heart of the matter or conversely, tried too hard to be objective, but what we are left with feels tired and flat.

It also doesn't help that the actors are, for the most part, only telling the stories of one of their parents; Maher is the only one who looks at the matter from the perspective of both his mother and father. As a result, most of the conversations and takes on the various divorces are rather one-sided. There are reasons given for this; i.e. one parent refused to be interviewed, another was in jail and another had passed away. However none of this takes away from the simple fact that what was presented still should have been more interesting than it ultimately turned out to be.

The acting is fine as far as it goes, the four performers all creating the individual personalities for their parents on stage. It's just that there's nothing under the surface for the audience to latch on to. Anne Kauffman's direction is also at fault here for not using the transcripts as a jumping off point for something more, rather than as the be all and end all of the tale. There are nice bits of business when the various actors go offstage to get coffee, a drink, or simply to answer the phone before getting back to the business at hand, but none of this does much for the overall scheme of things.

You Better Sit Down: Tale From My Parents' Divorce is pleasant enough, but ultimately the show is about as exciting as spending an hour in a library. On a personal note, the night this writer saw the show there was an audience talkback with the cast; one which proved to be far more entertaining and enlightening than the show that had just been presented.

You Better Sit Down: Tales From My Parents' Divorce

Featuring: Caitlin Miller (Mary Anne), Robbie Collier Sublett (Janet), Jennifer R. Morris ( Beverly ), Matthew Maher (John, Frinde)

Written by Anne Kauffman, Matthew Maher, Caitlin Miller, Jennifer R. Morris, Janice Paran and Robbie Collier Sublett

Conceived by Jennifer R. Morris
Directed by Anna Kauffman
Set Design: Mimi Lien
Lighting Design: Ben Stanton
Sound Design: Leah Gelpe
Costume Design: Sarah Beers
Projection Design: Caite Hevner
Production Stage Manager: Megan Schwarz Dickert
Assistant Stage Manager: Danielle Teague-Daniels
Graphic Designer: Jaime Vall├ęs
Associate Set Designer: Caite Hevner
Associate Lighting Designer: Alejandro Fajardo
Associate Sound Designer: Arshan Gailus
Props: Kate Foster
Light Board Operator/Wardrobe: Elana McKelahan
Sound and Project Board Operator: Jim Armstrong

The Flea Theatre

41 White Street
, Tribeca
Tickets: 212-352-3101
Closes: May 6, 2012
Running Time: 65 minutes, no intermission