Beyond Broadway Goes Beyond Broadway

I created Theatre Beyond Broadway as a platform for the many independent artists that invest everything into their craft because they love it. They have an experience, they create, and then they share it with the world.

When I reached out to Megan Minutillo about writing for her site, The Write Teacher(s), my intention was to share theatre that are beyond the bright lights of Broadway. What transpired was a course of study in the world of theatre beyond Broadway. Over the next month, I will share my writings and my interactions with the many artists I know and will know.

Here’s this month’s article:

Reprinted from The Write Teacher(s): March 31, 2015


Hi Friends,
My first professional directing gig was Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias with a local theatre group called Beari Productions. I loved the movie when I first saw it and fell in love with the play. I enjoyed being a dramturg on the piece as well as creating the world of Louisiana in Queens, NY. I immediately became a little obsessed with the history of the state and of course, wondered about the theatre scene there. Besides, Steel Magnolias, my knowledge was limited to their Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras.  I recently caught up with award-winning playwright, fellow alum and friend, John Patrick Bray about his studies and work in Louisiana.

Malini: So I am very interested in knowing what your experience was like as a published playwright leaving New York to move to Louisiana.

John: I think I should start off by saying I have never actually lived in New York City. I was born in New Jersey and lived in Bergen County until I was eight, and then my parents moved us to the Hudson Valley where I more-or-less stayed until I was 29. I commuted to NYC from Poughkeepsie most mornings. I was a bagel baker at New Paltz Hot Bagels (now, New Paltz Bagel Café; same owners, different name), and worked as a means of affording the commute, books, etc. Toward the end of my MFA work at The New School, Dennis Wayne Gleason (who directed my thesis) introduced me to Akia Squitieri, the Artistic Director of the Rising Sun Performance Company. I’ve had a relationship with the RSPC ever since. I got engaged while in a RSPC production of HELLCAB at Under St. Mark’s Theatre. My fiancée, now my wife, was a graduate student at UL Lafayette. So, the move seemed really sudden to a lot of folks, and once I got there, man, it was definitely a culture shock. Even though I was from the Hudson Valley and not NYC, the pace was very, very different. The food was different. The idioms, jargon. It took me a bit to adjust, but because I had attended grad school in NYC and had some plays produced there, folks were eager to have me on board. I ended up getting a commission to write a documentary-style play for Keith Dorwick, an English professor at UL who used to be a part of the indie theatre scene in Chicago, and I directed William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes at UL, where I became an adjunct for a year. From there, I was accepted into LSU’s PhD in Theatre program and my academic life took off from there.

I moved to Louisiana in 2006 which was just after [Hurricane] Katrina and Rita . I ended up getting more productions in NYC because I had a Louisiana residence. One company even called me a “Louisiana playwright” which was really bizarre for me. I had Louisiana calling me an NYC playwright on one hand and NYC folks calling me a Louisiana playwright on the other. I always think of myself as a New Paltz townie!

Malini: You have a PhD in theatre from Louisiana State University. Why did you take those next steps and how did it forward your career?

John: Louisiana State University is a  one, research-one state school (although Bobby Jindal is sure working hard to dismantle it). When I applied, I was an adjunct teaching a 6/6 load plus two independent studies, serving on 4 committees and directing two shows. I don’t regret, nor do I feel I was taken advantage of; I had a great time! But, listening to my wife and her dissertation adviser (Dr. Dorwick again) made me realize that there was this other conversation that I desperately wanted to take part in. I knew that I wanted to teach at the university level, and it seemed like a PhD would help me achieve that goal. I met with Dr. Leslie A. Wade, who was then the head of the PhD program at LSU, and we hit it off! We had a great conversation about playwrights we admired and where our own writing had landed us. Funny enough, after graduation, I learned that he has an MFA in Playwriting from the University of Georgia where I now teach dramatic writing!
When I started my doctoral work, a former teacher of mine from The New School, Dr. Gary Vena, told me that once I earned my doctorate that people would talk to me a little differently. He’s absolutely right!

In terms of forwarding my playwriting career: in doctoral course work, you have to read so many plays. I read more plays in the first two months of my doctoral work than I had in all of undergrad. It was incredibly intense. On top of that, I learned a host of different theories/ways in which to view our work and our work in the world. It’s challenging to describe the effect; it’s kind of like trying to tell a single friend what being married is like, or what it’s like to be a Dad. You kind of have to be there to get it. What I can say is reading all of the different plays, studying the various movements, it has had an impact on the way I write. I very rarely write Realism anymore; when I do, it’s closer to Naturalism, and a little less protagonist-centered. In the practical world, however, most companies aren’t necessarily impressed by a PhD unless you’re looking to be a dramaturg (and I have been a dramaturg for a couple of companies and have thoroughly enjoyed it!). My research areas are new play development and production. I came in just before Todd London (et.als’) book OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE was published. While there are a few issues with the book, the authors were able to confirm some of my suspicions vis-à-vis the way playwrights get produced in the US. I admire playwrights who self-produce and create playwrights collectives/production companies. I think once the pressure was off (ie, once I realized that there was no “formula” for getting a play in the mainstream) I was able to relax a bit more and follow my impulses as a writer.

Malini: What’s the theatre scene like in Louisiana in respects to producing new works and standards?

John:I can only speak for Lafayette and Baton Rouge. I know that Ruby Lou Smith (who graduated with her MFA in Acting from LSU) and her husband have started a theatre company in New Orleans, and Southern Rep. is in NOLA, and a few other companies, but I haven’t spent much time hanging out in NOLA (the few times I visited, I ended up going to record stores and book shops – I love the music scene). Baton Rouge has Swine Palace, the professional company in residence at LSU, and a few excellent community theatres, but there wasn’t really an outlet for new work. Lafayette, on the other hand, has a bunch of companies that either strictly produce new plays or produce about half new and half established: Acting Unlimited, Acting Up, Acadiana Repertory Theatre, the Performing Arts Society of Acadiana, The Plastic Theatre; there’s a truly vibrant scene, and some really great spaces including the Acadiana Center for the Arts, Theatre 810 and Cite des Arts, which I called my artistic home when I lived in Louisiana. There are some truly great people in Lafayette: Steven Landry, Keith Dorwick, Marie Delahoussaye Diaz, Sarah Hitchcock, Sarah Roy, the list goes on. The first production I saw at Cite was Paula Vogel’s THE BALTIMORE WALTZ presented by The Foundry, a group of juniors and seniors in high school directed by Cody Daigle, who also happens to be one of the most talented living playwrights in the US. It was with that production I knew that theatre magic could happen in the Southern US. On one hand I feel bad talking about it here because it feels like I’m betraying a secret: great, risky theatre happens in Lafayette, Louisiana. In terms of the standards? I think a great show can happen anytime, anywhere, union contracts or no. That said, I think the standards in Lafayette are pretty high because the folks there bring out the best in each other.

And the music scene. All of South Louisiana has an incredible music scene: blues, jazz, zydeco, Cajun, etc. The arts survive, despite all odds, because the cultures in South Louisiana are all built around music.

Check out these companies and spaces:

Acting Unlimited

Acting Up –  The company concentrates on character, story, and our relationship with audience by performing in non-theatre spaces.

Acadiana Repertory Theatre –  Focused on the development and production of new works.

The Performing Arts Society of Acadiana

The Plastic Theatre – A place for theatrical and digital productions that make heavy use of technology to create magic and illusion.

The Tea Sippers – A troupe of actors, musicians, and artists who produce theatre of all varieties

Silverbacks Improv Theatre – Theatre company focused on improvisation.

Wanderlust Theatre Company – Dedicated to convening the community to expand imagination and break down the barriers of thought.

The Acadiana Center for the Arts -Serves an eight-parish region with community development, education performances and exhibits.

Theatre 810 – Home to many other local theatre companies, such as Acadiana Repertory Theatre, The Tea Sippers, Silverbacks Improv Theatre, Wanderlust Theatre Company and others.

Cite des Arts – Where cultures connect (où les cultures se rencontrent)

Join the Theatre Beyond Broadway Community.

Read more about it on my blog.

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)

A Festival of Fun (or Tears) or Producing 201

FestivalTruth 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 FestivalStockbridge, 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 MusicalsLos 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

TBB: Festival Season, Madame Infamy, They Call Me Q, Woman at the Funerals

FestivalWe are truly in the middle of New York City’s Festival season. There’s the Fringe Festival (FringeNYC), New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF), The Strawberry Festival, The Brick Comic Book Theatre Festival, The West Village Musical Theatre Festival (WVMTF) and so much more. It’s hard to know which shows to see in which festival in addition to the myriad of shows that have runs over the summer. I have to sit with the months of July and August to balance it out. Luckily, since I do PR and have many friends in the shows, I can narrow them down. However, I do like to see a show in which I’m not connected.

So I’ll start off by saying that I will be seeing Pageant Princess on Friday night and They Call Me Q on Monday (see below for more info on a half off tickets for that performance).
Madame infamy is my NYMF show which, if you haven’t heard yet, I’m over the moon about it. It’s already been lauded as the show to see by the NYTimes this summer. You should definitely check it out.
The Pawn Broker is my FringeNYC show, which is an awesome one woman show about the women of Bertolt Brecht. More info on that to come.
Visit for more info on upcoming shows.
And see you at the show!

They Call Me Q is offering a 50% ticket for the 6/30 show to my subscribers. The more the merrier. Join me and click HERE for more info.
I just joined The Write Teacher(s) as their contributing writer on Beyond Broadway. Click HERE to read my debut article on The Josephine Foundation.
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