When 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).
BEYOND BROADWAY: TO RUSSIA WITH LOVE
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,
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.
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 www.minibroadwaybites.com
It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for solo shows. I find them interesting and challenging at the same time I am usually in awe. As an actress, I have always done shows with multiple character rather than a show with one performer playing multiple characters. This time around I have the pleasure of working on the one woman show, The Pawnbroker, written and performed by Kaitlin Wilcox about the women in the life of Bertolt Brecht. I didn’t know Brecht’s back story rather just his work in the theatre and his plays. Today’s guest blogger, director Jennifer Curfman discusses her work.
Truth be told, my upcoming article for The Write Teacher(s) is about participating in the many theatre festivals offered in our country. I wrote about the experiences of being in a festival and the benefits of having your show as part of it. Then Ken Davenport wrote an excellent blog on the many festivals around the world but went even further and listed them. I want to personally thank him for doing this because I had started the research.
This morning I sat down with a printout of the shows participating in FringeNYC. There’s no way I am going to be able to see all of them but I did highlight 45 of them including The Pawn Broker (I’m doing their PR). The next step is to then cull from those 45 what will fit in my schedule. When I did the Fringe tour last year, I think I saw about 15 because I didn’t fully plan the tour a month in advance. I was busy working on Naked In Alaska and See Jane Give Up Dick that I totally spread myself thin. I also was working with the EstroGenius Festival on their season. Festivals are great way to get your production in front of an audience. Like Ken says, you are definitely one in a million and you have to work 5 times as hard to get your piece to stand out. At the end of it, though, you come out ahead because you’ve learned how to produce a show.
Here’s the list:
Theater Festivals From Around The World
The Big Ones:
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh, Scotland
Festival of New Musicals, New York, NY
London International Festival of Theatre, London, England
New York Musical Theatre Festival, New York, NY
New York International Fringe Festival, New York, NY
Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
Other Awesome Ones:
Bard SummerScape, Annandate-on-Hudson, NY
Barrington Stage’s Musical Theatre Lab, Pittsfield, MA
Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, MA
BSU Discovery New Musical Theatre Festival, Muncie, IN
Children’s Musical Theatre Festival, New York, NY
Contemporary American Theatre Festival, Shepherdstown, WV
Dorset Theatre Festival, Dorset, VT
Downtown Urban Theater Festival, New York, NY
Dream Up Festival, New York, NY
Dublin Theatre Festival, Dublin, Ireland
Estrogenius, New York, NY
Festival of New American Musicals, Los Angeles, CA
Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival, Auburn, NY
Fresh Fruit Festival, New York, NY
Frigid Festival, New York, NY
Junior Theater Festival, New York, NY
KO Festival of Performance, Amherst, MA
Midtown International Theatre Festival, New York, NY
Minnesota Fringe Festival, Minneapolis, MN
National Black Theatre Festival, Winston-Salem, NC
The New York Children’s Theater Festival, New York, NY
Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR
Pacific Playwrights Festival, Costa Mesa, CA
Planet Connections Festivity, New York, NY
Revolutions International Theatre Festival, Albuquerque, NM
Rogue Festival, Fresno, CA
The Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival, New York, NY
Spoleto Festival USA, Charleston, SC
Strawberry One-Act Festival, New York, NY
Thespian Festival, Lincoln, NE
United Solo Theatre Festival, New York, NY
Village Theatre: Festival of New Musicals, Issaquah, WA
The West Village Musical Theatre Festival, New York, NY
World Stages International Theater Festival, Washington, DC
I’ll be honest. I don’t watch web series. It’s not that I don’t want to watch them but because I don’t hear much about them within my circle. Now it is completely plausible that my friends do talk about them but I am not paying attention. So when Ian – not my husband – was brought to my attention, I figured I would check it out. Especially since its star, writer and director is Ross Evans, Associate Director of the Award-winning Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
How many times have we had a moment that drifted us off on a magic carpet ride to a galaxy far far away? Then when we return to reality wondered if we narrated the whole scene aloud? That’s a moment in the life of Ian. Each episode delves into Ian’s moments and plays them out through our favorite cinematic genres. In 25 Candles, Ian takes us back to John Hughes’ 16 Candles; A Light, Doll reignites film noir; The Fly Goddess harkens to the sci-fi style of The Fly; Egg, Roll, & Fight (my favorite) is Kung Fu hilarity; Clean Up Your Plate features the Chicagoesque legginess of the Broadway musical – you always need one musical episode; and The Showdown is your favorite Spaghetti Western.
Each of these episodes are about 5 minutes long and absolutely delightful. I enjoyed the absurdity, the pop culture references as well as the humor. And now I am hooked. So watch them with me. Click on the thumbnail below to see the whole series.
It’s not too often that I hear about a show, plan to see it, the opportunity passes and then the opportunity reappears. Last summer, They Call Me Q was on my list but I just couldn’t make it with all the shows on my summer tour. When I saw that Q (Qurrat Ann Kadwani) was doing an Off-Broadway run, I knew I was going to make it happen. And I did and Theatre Beyond Broadway became a sponsor. All very fast and very exciting.
Why this show? Well, there isn’t a one woman show written by and starring an Indian actress from the Bronx who talks like a New Yorker. This is something I can relate to as I am an Indian actress from Manhattan who talks like a New Yorker. There aren’t that many of us from our generation (born mid-70s – early 80s) who talk about being the only little Indian girl in our neighborhood.
Q flawlessly transitions through 13 characters (her homegirls, her friends in India, her parents, her caucasian teachers and more) to tell the story of her upbringing in this urban jungle while trying to maintain her Indian heritage. As she transforms, one sees that the true experiences of her past either enhanced or affected her. Q tells her story on a simple set using a few costume pieces to differentiate the characters. The performance is subtly highlighted by sound and lighting which enhances her storytelling. Under the co-direction of her brother, Obaid Kadwani and Claudia Gaspar, Q is pushed to integrate all aspects of her life in this one woman show.
So what I’ll say is the same thing I said when I started my interview with Q on Salon Radio:
1. If you are in New York City, go see this show.
2. If you are a New Yorker, go see this show.
3. If you are a New Yorker of Indian descent (Southeast Asian, Trinidadian, Guyanese, St. Vincent, etc.), go see this show.
And guess what? Q has three shows left.
TBB subscribers! Get 50% off tickets by using Discount Code: MQSpecial
They Call me Q, written and performed by Qurrat Ann Kadwani
11/23 @ 2pm
11/30 @ 2pm
12/7 @ 2pm
St. Luke‘s Theatre, 308 West 46th Street (just west of Eighth Ave.)
For more information, visit www.theycallmeQshow.com.
About 3 weeks ago, I received an email from Lauren Cunfer asking to be connected to Kristen Penner and Lorelei Mackenzie, writers of Pieces. Lauren is a student at CITYterm and needed more information for her final research paper about musical theatre. Now, it’s no secret that I am a part of the creative team of Pieces. I believe in the message of the show (to bring awareness to Dissociative Identity Disorder) and I believe in the team that created this beautiful musical. I thought the exchange was a wonderful mentoring opportunity. Honestly, kudos to Lauren for sending me an email.
Below is some of the questions asked by Lauren and answered by Kristen. You have 4 more chances to see the show.
What was the most difficult part about creating Pieces?
The structure! With other, more standard musicals, structuring the show is much easier. But Pieces hold a different challenge than most. We had to include as much of the structure of real DID therapy while including the internal world of Tabby’s alters and also giving her an outside life. That should be three different shows that we combined into one. And the structure has changed numerous times throughout the show’s life thus far and may even change more as it developed. It’s a process.
Why did you choose to create this specific musical?
The idea sprung from my mind in college as I was deciding on the topic of my thesis. I had actually grown up being very familiar with the disorder (I knew 2 multiples growing up). And so after watching Sybil and reading numerous case studies, I decided on “How to accurately portray DID onstage and why it is important to do so.” From that point on I wanted to write a stage show centering round the disorder. My advisor for my thesis knew my heart had always been with musicals and one day she asked me why I didn’t just write a musical about it. At the time I scoffed, thinking it was too deep of a topic for a musical. But that as where the idea began. And the rest is history.
Was the idea of creating a completely original musical daunting to you?
Yes. Very. It is always scary starting a new project from scratch. But we have an amazing team. And we are passionate about the topic. Combine those two things and you are doing a disservice to the world NOT pursuing your idea.
How did you take into account the many people who would be watching the show when you were creating it? How do you try to gear your show towards different audiences?
We knew we had to make the music and the story accessible to the general public. It’s a tough topic and not something that necessarily cries “Broadway Hit.” We knew we wanted the main focus to be about Tabby and her journey towards healing, we knew we wanted a love story, we knew one of the goals was to have the disorder be more understood by the end of the show. And with those parameters we began work. We also made sure to give the show plenty of levity- it’s a hard topic and we didn’t want to lose the audience by beating them over the head with the abuse. That wasn’t the point of the show anyway. The show is about hope and that’s what we wanted to showcase. We try to make the story and the music accessible. Especially in Pieces, there are so many different styles of music that at least some song should appeal to everyone. Whether they like, rock, musical theatre, or classical, Pieces has it. And the story, although centering around a very specific disorder, is a universal one. Everyone at some point in their life has trouble reconciling the different parts of themselves. Becoming whole. Loving themselves for who they are. Putting the past behind them. All of these things are the basis for the show.
Click HERE to listen to a few songs from the show.
Paradise Factory Upstairs Theatre at 64 East 4th Street
Book, Music and Lyrics by
Kristen Penner, Lorelei Mackenzie and Joni Ernst
Directed by Nick Radu
Tabby doesn’t know why time slips through her fingers like sand. But her alters, created to protect her, know. They know what’s locked away. But when survival depends on confronting those terrors, will Tabby and her alters be strong enough to look? Or will the darkness destroy them all?
From the award-winning creators of Pageant Princess, the provocative new musical Pieces tells the story of Tabby Morgan, a woman that has Dissociative Identity Disorder, who is desperately trying to survive in a world that she can’t remember experiencing. But her alternate personalities can. Along with Tabby, her alters bring a unique touch to the story that is all their own. Each of the alters is played by a different actor to give the audience a clear idea of how each personality sees themselves. They each also hold a different style of music; from rock to classic, jazz to contemporary musical theatre, their personalities shine through the electric score.
Back in August of 2013, Josh was awaiting the print version of his book, The Gospel According to Josh: A 28 Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah (based on his one man show). He asked me to join his team to promote the book. When I finally read it, I was so moved and was excited about seeing the performance. Tada! The show is returns with an all new script based on the book. So, I decided to reprint his interview today. If you are interested in joining my merry group of supporters for opening night, comment below and I will get in touch with you.
The Gospel According to Josh is back in NYC Off-Broadway. May 16-18. Fresh of of an international tour and with an all new script based on his book. Josh is a writer for The Huffington Post, an actor, author, and public speaker.
Malini: Josh, you know I love your book. I devoured it one night the way I devour a bowl of pasta. My readers know that I respect those who share their truth. It is difficult to do that. Who really wants to admit their shame or expose their vulnerability? And you’ve shared your truth and vulnerability in two forms: performance and the written word. What was the catalyst in writing the book version of the show?
Josh: Great question. I really wanted to make this story more accessible. In three years I’ve reached about ten thousand people with the show version. But I can only do so many performances in a week or month. With the book it’s low cost and able to be consumed at a pace that suits the audience member. It’s much more easily shared as well. You can hand someone a book but I can’t live in someone’s pocket and put on a performance at a minute’s notice.
The book is also loosely structured as a three act play. It has one more act than the one-man show version. During the final act, the book shows my own spiral into clinical depression and suicidal thoughts a few years after losing my father to suicide. Additionally it shows my recovery from depression and bouncing back from rock bottom. In society we are constantly presented with pictures of people who are struggling but rarely are we shown someone in recovery. I wanted people to see someone who is in recovery and living a well-adjusted and productive emotional and professional life.
Malini: One of my favorite parts in the book, without giving anything away, is the use of voices and dreams. I found that they really enhance the story. How did you come up with that concept?
Josh: Thank you and… damn, that’s a tough question!
First on the conceit to use of dreams. I was having dreams on a consistent basis about my father for over a year after he died. I could understand things he was saying and these dreams drove me, in part, to write my one-man play The Gospel According to Josh. However these dreams were freaking me the hell out and it contributed to my deteriorating mental state. I thought I was going crazy (not true) and didn’t talk about it for a few years. The dreams were also a way for me to say goodbye to my father, something I never got a chance to do.
The voices. I think it came to me one day early in the writing process. I was taking a shower and was trying to think of a way to break up the exposition and give insight to my inner thoughts. We all talk to ourselves throughout the day, sometimes aloud, and often when we think no one else is listening. It’s more normal than you think. My thoughts often sound a little ghetto fabulous. I also quote Bible verses at myself because of my Evangelical youth. And I swear a lot in Spanish in my head. In the context of the book, these three voices (religious, ghetto, Spanish) are my friends and enemies. They’re vulgar, compassionate, needling; and they break up and lighten what can be some serious subject matter. They’re probably the most risky part of the book (as a writer) but they’re my favorite part too.
Malini: You discuss your first performance in the book and you are still touring the show, which I think is great. What has shifted for you, if anything, as you continue to carry your message?
Josh: I think the thing that’s shifted is that this message, carried out with compassion and humor, is snowballing. People are embracing it all over the U.S. and Canada. It’s taken a few years but it’s happening. And I’m somewhat known as “the suicide prevention guy” which is interesting. Not something I ever thought I’d be known as when I got into show business ten years ago. But here we are and I’m totally cool with it.
Tickets for friends of Josh, HERE: http://ow.ly/vVY8Z
About the show:
The Gospel According to Josh is a 30 character, 7 song one man show.
By the time Josh Rivedal turned twenty-five, he thought he’d have the perfect life—a few years singing on Broadway, his own television show, and his face on the cover of the National Enquirer as Bigfoot’s not-so-secret lover. Instead, his resume is filled with minor league theatre and an appearance on The Maury Povich Show—a career sidetracked by his father’s death and a messy lawsuit from his mother.
Tortured by his thoughts, he finds himself on the ledge of a fourth floor window, contemplating jumping out. In turn he must reach out to the only person who can help him before it’s too late.
The Gospel… is a true life tale of one young man’s passage into manhood—his twenty-eight year Gentile bar mitzvah.
Proceeds will be donated to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. A panel discussion on suicide prevention and mental wellness will follow each of the four performances. Featured panelists will include industry leaders from The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Mental Health America, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Men’s Health Network and more. Dates in May: Fri. 16 at 7pm, Sat. 17 at 2pm and 7pm, Sun. at 3pm.