My Three Hats: Producer, Director, Publicist

CaptureOver the last few weeks, I have had several conversations on my contribution to the world of theatre. My favorite description of my experience is one I use in many a bio:

She’s served the theatre in many aspects of which she’s very proud – actress, director, producer, stage manager, costume designer, prop designer, theatre reviewer, publicist, radio presenter, and writer/monologist.

I remember thinking that it seems very broad. The cliche “a Jill of all trades, a master of none” sometimes crosses my mind but then I think to myself that I have been on an amazing journey. I learned so much about what I love and what I excel in and what I am not comfortable with and not as passionate about anymore.

I love is creating and promoting theatre. I love producing as I get to figure out how I am going to make a show happen. When I direct, I am lost in the words of the playwright and get to collaborate with actors and designers on bringing a show to life. If I am producing and directing, I am innately promoting. That’s my personality and as a result, all three resonate strongly within me.

When I decided to become a director in undergrad, I knew I wanted to go to grad school. I knew it was the only way I would be able to immerse my mind, body, spirit in the craft. My MFA in Directing at the Actors Studio Drama School was the foundation I needed before embarking on the next leg of my journey.

After graduation, my husband, Ian, some friends and I started Black Henna Productions. For 12 years and counting, I learned how to be a producer and a publicist. All of it through trial and error and taking a class here and there. When you are running a company, directing the show, and promoting it, you get really good at a few things:

  1. Creating a schedule;
  2. Building a team; and
  3. Developing a product.

After the death of my best friend and co-collaborator, Cas, I took a step back to see my vision. I thought I had to have one role in this world. However, my one vision for my world of theatre is a to be able to promote and support artists in their truth and craft so that they can pay it forward to the next artist. All too often we forget about why we create by focusing on competition rather than specialization. My mentors, Michael Roderick and Ken Davenport, said that to me years ago and I never forgot it. It’s a personal mantra. And with that, when I am working with any artist as a producer, director, and/or publicist, I ask: Why are you doing this show? The answer then propels me to ask: What sets you apart from the several other shows being produced?

These are the questions I ask myself and my team when are developing any project. Then without fail, I sit down and draft the schedule. Then I set out to build the team. Then we begin developing the product. What ties us together is the vision and trust. If we don’t have either then we have a rough road ahead of us.

In a conversation with a fellow producer, we touched on some points about why I created Theatre Beyond Broadway, my PR company and community. I created it so there would be a connection and the fostering of relationships. I told her about my 3 hats and she said, ” We have three people doing your job.” I said, “I know. It’s a lot to juggle but I love it”.

Truth: I didn’t have a choice. I jumped in and just did it. As I continue to do this day.

Friendship: Cas, What is Happening Right Now?

61302_435788954421_135800_nOne of my last conversations with my dear friend friend, Cas, included the phrase “you’re the asshat with cancer”. It’s not important what the context was but just the fact that I could say that to him. We both nodded and and then busted out laughing. Well, I had a good belly laugh. He did his raspy/silent laugh and trying not to feel pain. Two days later we had brunch at the diner. After hugs and kisses goodbye, we had this text exchange:

Cas and I laughed, gossiped like no one’s business, read each other’s beads (hands in the air and neck rolls), cried together and sometimes sat in the dark in silence. I was spoiled. We lived down the road from each other before he moved to midtown for a spell (near my job). Then he moved back to “Town “, his affectionate nickname for Forest Hills.  Cas was just always near. We could sometimes go for weeks or months without physical contact because of our many ongoing projects. But we knew that we were good. The check in text was our big thing and we tried our best to see each other’s shows. The best times were when we were collaborating together.
Cas was a passionate artist. A brilliant mix of actor and diva. He could turn it on for an audience without effort and then yell at us all backstage for moving his eyeliner a millimeter to the right of his wig. Then he would find it and tell us how much he loved us and then bake us monkey bread or something crazy for the next performance. That was Cas. It was a consummate love fest.
I met Cas in 2002. Ian and I went to see a show in Middle Village called Some Enchanted Evening (Beari Productions). We had just learned that there was theatre in Queens, after years of working in the city. We were so happy to have theatre near home. We were excited to see new work. So, we are enjoying the show when this talented creature belts out “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from Kiss Me Kate. A huge Cole Porter fan, I fell in love. I turned to Ian and said, “Who is that guy.”  After the show, we waited for him. We had to tell him how much we enjoyed his work. It began there.
In 2004, Cas and I finally got to share a stage together in South Pacific. He was Billis to my Bloody Mary. That was a fun show where many friendships began. Ours shifted as we talked theatre and dreams. And Torch Song Trilogy. Cas always told me that I needed to direct and produce it. We’d work on other shows. There were barbecues in his backyard. There were road trips to see our friends’ shows. There wasn’t an instance of him not mentioning Torch Song Trilogy.
Finally in 2008, I had enough. We were hanging out in his house and he brought up the show again. I said to him, “Fine, let’s just read the third act”.  We did and I was moved. We then proceeded to order Japanese and read the first two acts. We laughed, we cried, we yelled. It was magic. At the end of the night, I said to him, “Let’s do this. I’ll direct you and we’ll do it under Black Henna Productions.”
That began a 5 year collaboration on the many shows that Black Henna produced. That collaboration, infused with our big dreams, led to many wonderful opportunities. We met with Broadway producers, went to the Tony’s, supported many fundraisers, and met many other independent artists with same dreams. Our dreams were also coming true.
Cas pushed me as I pushed him. I feel incredibly blessed to have had him in my life. My career would not be where it is now without him as my one of cornerstones. My relationships wouldn’t be what they are without his nuggets of advice. My faith wouldn’t be as strong if I didn’t see the strength in him.
I did ask his advice before he left us. I asked him if I should take a specific risk. Cas said, “You set these two goals for this year and they are moving along. See them through. Do the risk next year.”
Cazzie, I will. I promise.

TBB: Planet Connections Final Week, Our Bar, Newtown Literary Release

CaptureBelieve it or not, I do actually do activities that are non-theatrical. This past week, I decided to take a night off and hang out with some fellow artists at an open mic for Inspired Word.  I read three poems that are in the running for my performance at the Kaufman Studios Block Party.  I don’t perform as much as I used to by choice.  I really enjoy being behind the scenes producing, directing and promoting. However, it is important for me to feel  the butterflies and fear of speaking in front of people, so I can effectively communicate with fellow artists. It is one of the reasons I asked my friends to be my guest bloggers. I like to read and share their experiences with you.

As of this Friday, Valerie G. Keane will by my First Fridays guest blogger. Valerie is a passionate and opinionated artist whose work is published in Newtown Literary Magazine. She is also the curator of Poetry and Coffee, a monthly poetry salon where people discuss great poetry.

I want to thank Josh Rivedal, Nick Radu, Adam Kern, Kate Powers, Dawn Slegona McDonald, Ian McDonald, Isaac Klein,  Linda Gnat-Mullins and Cas Marino for being my guest bloggers.  I appreciate them taking the time to share about their wonderful work.

And on to June. Keep me posted on your shows as summer has Fringe, Midtown International Festival, NYMF and so much more.

See you at the show!