To Russia with Love: Nicole Kontolefa’s Journey

about nicoleWhen I became a contributing writer for The Write Teacher(s), I knew I wanted to stretch myself with my writing and my topics. My hope over the next year is to visit other cities outside New York City with the intention of seeing theatre. So far I have been lucky to meet many artists who have performed abroad. Since I Am Me is opening this weekend, I wanted to share my article with you.

Originally published on September 11, 2014 on The Write Teacher(s).


Happy Fall, Friends!

This month we travel east of Edinburgh to Moscow.  My friend, Nicole Kontolefa, is performing her one woman show, I Am Me, in two languages – English and Russian.  It’s a site unspecific one woman show that she developed in Russia. Nicole Kontolefa  was born and raised in NYC and is a graduate of the only American Class of the Moscow Art Theater. She is the managing director and a founding member of Studio Six Theater Company – the sixth studio to be born out of the Moscow Art Theater School. Nicole also performs with other theater companies, performance artists and is developing new solo performances. Her favorite places to play have been at The Chekhov International Theater Festival, Baryshnikov Arts Center and the New Stage of The Moscow Art Theater.

My knowledge of Russia is very basic: the history I learned in school, the wonderful community in Brighton Beach, and Stanislavksi and Chekov. I studied at the Actor’s Studio Drama School where the core of their MFA program is presented by Stanislavski‘s books, An Actor Prepares, Building A Character and Creating a Role. As a young and inexperienced artist (specifically, director), I was so hungry to learn the roots of  “The Method” formerly known as the “System”. As I allowed myself to be immersed in this new world,  I fell in love with the short stories of Anton Chekhov. I wanted to visit and actually had a passing thought of visiting Moscow. Now that I am writing about theatre for Beyond Broadway and my circle of international artists is getting bigger, I want to know more and want to share it with everyone. Nicole was eager to share her experiences with me.

Malini: Nicole, what is the theatre scene like in Moscow? How does it differ from the US in your experience?

Nicole: It is very vibrant and robust I would say. There is a lot of theater going on all the time. The biggest difference I would say is that while in America the playwright is often the deciding factor for seeing a show,  in Russia it is the director. Theater is a director’s medium there so you can get imaginative and wildly different stagings of the same play going on at the same time just across town from each other. Also, the repertory system allows plays to live longer. A great production can run in rep for years. As an actor it’s amazing because one night you’re doing Shakespeare the next Chekhov the next a contemporary play – it keeps you on your toes and allows shows to grow over time. My class played Our Town once or twice a month for two years and by the end of that run, the show was more rich and alive than anything we else we had done. This is feedback I got from someone who saw it at the beginning of its run and then saw the very last show.

Malini: Your show, I Am Me, was written by  Alexandra Chichkanova who was from Nizhny Tagil but lived in Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains region. Were you able to visit other cities in Russia and explore?

Nicole: I have been to St. Petersburg to perform – a beautiful city and Kolumna – a pretty small city to perform as well. Pretty similar differences as when you travel to big and small cities here. People are a bit more welcoming and exciting when you come to their small town. I met an acquaintance in Yekaterinburg this June when I was there and she was just so surprised to be seeing an American friend in her home town. Moscow is definitely very different than the rest of the country. Maybe that’s why I felt at home there though. Like New York – it is not a quintessential example of the culture but it still is a big driving force in the country. I’m not sure that makes sense…. I also did the Trans-Siberian railroad through Siberia down into Mongolia into Beijing. Amazing trip. Amazing trip  to Lake Baikal and feel the great expanse of the country.

Malini: Did you get a sense that theatre and the Arts are an important part of the culture?

Nicole: Yes. Absolutely. And importantly, for artists I think, it is a respected and appreciated profession. It is not looked down on as a selfish or capricious pursuit. It is considered great and important work to be an artist. I rarely feel that way here outside of creative circles. I think it leads to an insulated creative community. And that stinks!

I am finding that the more I talk to artists who have worked beyond our borders, the more I am really yearning to take a year off and do a world road trip. I even wrote a blog about it. Are any of you performing in Prague in the near future?

Visit Coming Soon right here on The Write Teacher(s)’ site for more info.

Live, Love, Learn,

Malini & The Write Teacher(s)

TBB: I Am Me Opens Saturday, EstroGenius Festival Opens Two Weeks, King of the Hobos Campaign

Happy Fall! As the leaves fall out my window, I am taking this moment to say…that I really hope we have a normal winter in NY! I want to be able to support all the shows that are now in rehearsal and opening in two months. I am being prepared. I have a couple of discount codes for you.

I Am Me: Use ME10 for $10 tickets. Regular tickets are $18. Visit for more info.

EstroGenius Festival: Use EARLYBIRD for $15 tickets by 10/1. Visit for more info. We have a great season! Regular tickets are $18 plus processing fee.

King of the Hobos: Jara is $550 away from his goal. Consider supporting his campaign. He is giving away Hobo names, tickets to his show, and even juggling lessons. Click HERE for more info.

My passion is to promote independent theatre. If you aren’t a subscriber, please join my mailing list.

And see you at the show!

TBB: New School’s New Visions, The Pawnbroker, I Am Me, Women at Work Festival

I have decided to keep it simple this week. Right now I am focusing on the next frontier for Theatre Beyond Broadway which I think would be beneficial for many artists. This past weekend, I spent time in discussion about the arts and women in the arts. How do we take what we do and share it beyond our boundaries? Sometimes it feels like beating a dead horse but in this day of technology, it’s ever growing and the possibilities are endless. While I continue to come up with answers, what are your thoughts?

If you aren’t a subscriber, you should be! Why? My weekly newsletter is packed with featured shows and organizations that you may want to see or learn more about.

Thanks and see you at the show!


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The Drunken City is Any City, USA

10577142_315592541949393_7407034380125302078_nThe Drunken City is a good title for a play. I want to know more. For instance, am I going to have to sit through a drunk play? Is this about a night of fun gone awry? Is this about my hometown? Yes except that it can be about any city.

Last night I went on a 90 minute roller coaster ride with hills, loops and twists.  The Battalion Theatre Company’s production of Adam Bock’s The Drunken City starts off with music thumping, drinking, screeching, and dancing. I basically had an awesome flashback to my club days with my girlfriends. Then the story unfolds as a the bachelorette party does indeed go awry. Three drunk girls meet two drunk boys and all questions about love are answered in less than 24 hours.

The cast is a strong ensemble, that clearly trust each other and enjoyed their shared stage time. I loved the use of the Basquiat-esque inspired art on the revolving flats, and it worked as an urban backdrop on the empty stage.

They are running until 9/28 at The Kraine Theatre. Visit for more info.

TBB: The Pawnbroker, I Am Me, EstroGenius Festival,King of the Hobos

As a contributing writer to The Write Teacher(s), I have been writing about literally about theatre beyond Broadway. I started local and began moving outside of the five boroughs. The stories about performing in other locations has now piqued an interest in me. I am wildly curious about visiting these places. As a New Yorker, I’ll be the first to admit being elitist about theatre. After all, I grew up going to both shows on Broadway as well as shows in a church basement. I thought I experienced it all which isn’t true. There’s so much to experience. So, readers, I would love to know where you have performed outside New York City and what that experience was like for you. You can either comment below or send me an email at

And I’ll see you at the show!

Guest Blogger: Alice Shapiro on mini Broadway bites

MiniBroadwayBites Large (1)I have never met Alice Shapiro. She and I struck up a relationship via email as we are both women artists and she working on bringing her show, mini Broadway bites, to New York City. I assumed she was based here in New York but alas I was wrong. Alice creates her art in the countryside of Georgia. We had a lovely telephone conversation about her small town that is now starting to have a theatre scene. Imagine that. They are so lucky to have her and she is lucky to be in a place where art is being discovered. Today she tells us about how this all transpired.

I’m writing this story from a gazebo in the midst of tranquil woodlands outside the Dog River Library on Highway 5. Being an abstract person by nature, it is easier for me to write a play than tell you what it is about. When I’m literal others talk in parables; when I make up stories others are literal. Welcome to my world!

In 2011, I received an email from the Estrogenius Festival in NYC seeking volunteers. At the time, I was living in Georgia but helped remotely to gain rehearsal space for their productions. Fast forward to 2013 when another email from The International Women Artists Salon (IWAS) announced that an Estrogenius Festival-affiliated member had formed a new group where women artists from around the world could meet in person and via Skype to share their activities. At the first meeting, Heidi Russell, the IWAS founder, graciously invited me to exhibit the set design paintings from my mini BROADWAY bites musicals at their Off Off Broadway partner venue, The Producers’ Club. Heidi also helped connect me with the venue to mount a showcase of two of the mini musicals. I was suddenly an Off Off Broadway producer/playwright catapulted into a new world of magical possibility. After that amazing sold-out performance experience I was captivated by the bright lights and encouraged to reach out again. Miraculously, we are now presenting the mini BROADWAY bites exclusively at Planet Hollywood Times Square in their Off Broadway Screening Room on Broadway and 45th Street, merely one block away from where we started…. in less than 6 months time!

Originally the scripts were written first as an outline based on scripture from the Bible. This became the structure for all ten plays in the series so that each play has its own theme with a beginning middle and ending while at the same time keeping continuity throughout all ten plays as one linear story.  The songs are from sheet music found in the University of West Georgia Special Collections Library and are popular public domain pieces from the turn-of-the-century.  Making the musical theatre performances into a film with Pridek Studios was an exciting adventure in creativity. We wanted to build something different than a static filming of an on-stage performance so it had to be more movie-like. We hope we captured the essence of both mediums in an exciting new way in our first Musical Film Short, Fountain of Youth.

KC photo TCLF IMG_4175 (1)Alice Shapiro is an award-winning playwright and author of four books with a fifth forthcoming in 2014. A native New Yorker, Alice now lives in a small town in Georgia. You can reach her at


TBB: I Am Me, The Pawnbroker, Fountain of Youth, EstroGenius Festival

labor_day-rosieI am not sure how Labor Day just crept up on us but here it is. As summer slips into Indian Summer, I look back at the last 8 months in wonderment. How in the world did so much happen? Life in all its splendid glory truly blessed me with both great highs and deep lows. However, through all of it, I had you amazing people emailing me about your shows, emailing me about other people shows, following me on Twitter and liking the TBB FB page. I have worked on some great shows this year. No doubt. I have definitely seen some great work. Fantastic. I also have happened to work on female centric pieces this year. I did a recap of my year and each one of my clients have either been a one woman show or a production where there was a strong female lead(s). This means the world to me as I continue to work with The Pawnbroker in Fringe Encores, begin work with Nicole Kontolefa on her one woman site unspecific piece, I Am Me and return with EstroGenius for the their 15th year! It doesn’t get better than that.

As these women continue to rock our artistic worlds, the partnerships I have created with Cheryl King, Alice Shapiro, Heidi Russell and Qurrat Kadwani continue to be my manna.

I highly suggest that if you are interested in connecting with any of these women, let me know. All of them are fierce, inspiring and strong.

Have an amazing Labor Day and see you at the show!

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