REVIEW: Gilda Mercado’s Ella y Yo, reviewed by Jen Bush

Ella y Yo

Written by, directed by and starring Gilda Mercado

Review by Jen Bush

Gilda Mercado is a globe trotting Mexican renaissance woman with international acting credentials. In Ella y Yo, her eyes will bore into your soul as she dissects her own soul.

Ella y Yo is a wildly provocative solo piece that is not for the faint of heart or the fragile of emotions. You will be captivated and disturbed. You will want to look away at times. Don’t look away because the message embedded in the piece is vital. In society before a hello can leave our lips, we are judged, scrutinized and pigeonholed in an instant. The main character in Ella y Yo grapples with that and much more through themes of insecurity, vulnerability, self-examination, and ultimately self-acceptance.

The piece begins with a television at the top of a staircase. It turns on and we see a beautiful woman dressed like the acclaimed artist Frida Kahlo. It’s shot in black and white and is eerily atmospheric as sultry smoke escapes from the woman’s mouth in slow motion. It doesn’t stay beautiful for long so hold on tight and prepare for a disorienting theme park ride through the brain of a mentally anguished woman. Through beautiful, jarring, and surreal visuals, text, graceful dance, disjointed movements and music, we have a front row seat to schizophrenia. The film technique was reminiscent of German expressionism. The character speaks in English as well as Spanish with subtitles. As the main character smokes, moves and dances she questions her sanity, talks about how women are viewed and wonders about her self-worth. In fact, one of the most resonating lines in the piece was, “My self-worth depends on others.” That will stop you in your tracks and make you think long and hard about how you perceive your self-worth.

Not all art is pretty and wrapped up in a cute little bow. The viewer is at the mercy of the creator as the recipient of the message that the artist wishes to convey. In 9 minutes you’ll squirm, you’ll smile, you’ll empathize and sympathize, you’ll relate and your thoughts will be provoked to the outer limits. Ms. Mercado did a tremendous job of helming and executing every aspect of this performance. Ella y Yo may have a particular appeal for women and anybody struggling with self-acceptance. You’ll be thrown off your axis and challenged to think about uncomfortable subject matter. This piece of art did its job.

A Playwright’s View of China Today


TIANANMEN REQUIEM To Open At The Players Theatre

TIANANMEN REQUIEM, running March 10 – 27, at The Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal St, NYC, is already the subject of controversy. An all Asian cast brings to life a deeply moving tale of a young gay couple trying to survive the Tiananmen Square crackdown and how their daughter – more than a decade later – is attempting to uncover one of her parents’ secret ties to the Chinese military during the massacre. This tragic love story set against the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square Massacre displays the brutality of this terrible moment in history.

“I hope to show how gay rights — and all human rights — are so important and so limited in China, especially at this pivotal time,” says the author of the play.

NOTE: The playwright’s family left China because of religious repression. The playwright himself could not leave the country as a child because of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.


What is life like in China today? 

I’m probably not the best source of information — I’ve not lived in China for an extended period of time since I was a child. But I do hear from my family in China. They’re both optimistic (about the country’s economic development) as well as pessimistic (the ever tightening control of the government)

What is it like to be gay in China today? 

When I visited the country in 2016, I had the chance to go to a gay bar. As I walked in, people looked at me with tense suspicion. After learning that I am Chinese American, they did start talking to me, and they explained that they looked at me in that way at first because they thought I was an undercover policeman. I think Chinese gays are living with a certain fear. In a country where LGBT themed chat rooms are regularly shut down, how can you not be suspicious of your fate?   

We are so arrogant in this country even when it comes to our art. What do you fear might happen because of this play.. to you or your family? 

My father has an art studio in China. I’m worried that if the government finds out that his child wrote a gay play about the Tiananmen Square Massacre, he might be denied entry into the country. Or worse, his studio might be shut down, and his artworks might be confiscated. I’m already mentally prepared not to be able to see my family in China.

What should we learn from this play as people, citizens of the world if you will? 

It’s a love story. It’s a very unique love story, particular to the times, but one that everybody can relate to. Uniqueness can be universal.

PATRICK HICKEY, JR.: “Comix is a movement. One to tell important stories.” 

Patrick Hickey Jr. is a full-time Lecturer of English and Assistant Director of the Journalism program at Kingsborough Community College and is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of He’s also a former News Editor at NBC Local Integrated Media and National Video Games Writer at where his work was mentioned in National Ad campaigns by Disney, Nintendo and EA Sports.

But that’s not all.

Hickey’s work has been published in The New York Daily News, The New York Times, Complex, The Hockey Writers, Yahoo!, Broadway World, Examiner, Bay Currents Newspaper, where he served as the paper’s Sports Editor, the Brooklyn Papers, the Wave of Long Island, Brooklyn Free Press, Blasting News,, The Lo-Down, the Brooklyn View,, NYSportScene Magazine,,, The Syracuse Post-Standard,,,, and the official sites of the Brooklyn Aces and New York Islanders.

But that’s not all.

His new book, The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult And Classic Video Game Developers is chock full of interviews with legendary developers, in an ESPN 30-for-30 style that allows them to tell their story. Currently, Hickey is working on a sequel to the series.

But that’s not all.

In addition to journalism, Hickey Jr. is a voice-actor, having starred in the 2018 indie hit The Padre (also serving as English language Story Editor), from Shotgun With Glitters and is currently writing the story for the upcoming game, Tr.1.S, where he will also be performing voiceover duties. Hickey also plays the role of Rex in the upcoming indie game “Relentless Rex,” which just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign and the narrator in “The Kaiju Offensive.”

But … well, you get the point.

Hickey now serves as co-creator/founder and writer for the new Comic Book company, Legacy Comix. His bevy of tough world-weary characters reads like anything out of magical realism.

Patrick begins a series of interviews with the masterminds behind LEGACY COMIX:

Tell us about YOU

I’m an author of seven books on video game history that are in over 100 colleges worldwide including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, UCLA and more. My non-fiction work consists of my series plus the comics, Condrey, as well as my new series KROOM and The Job. I’ve also done voice over work in over a dozen video games and am a former NBC Editor. During the day, I’m a full-time college journalism professor. 

You seem to have immersed yourself in pop culture avenues (games, comix), what’s the attraction?

They are two of the most important forms of pop culture media in the world. If you’re a creator, this is what you should be creating. 

Was this always a dream of yours to run a comic book company? 

Absolutely. I’ve been an editor everywhere I’ve ever worked and after my first experience in comics, I knew I was ready for more responsibility. 

Two words: Comics & Comix, what’s the difference? 

Comics is all BLAM and BOOM, a reflection of the times of our great grandparents. Comix is a movement. One to tell important stories. With and without characters that wear underwear over their clothes. 

What’s the mission of Legacy? 

To deliver kick-ass narratives with memorable characters. 

Stan Lee is famous for creating superheroes with super problems. What do you want to be famous for in the creation of the characters in Legacy? 

I want our characters and plots to be remembered. Period. It’s up to our readers to finish that thought for us. 

Comic books are one of those things that looks like every part of it is fun. What’s the truth? 

Comics are not fun. They are hard. They are unforgiving. They are impossible. That’s making comics. Releasing comics and hoping to get the right eyes? That’s even scarier. But when someone comes up to you at a signing and tells you about your work? Now that’s fun. 

Digital comics seem to be on the rise yet you’re going with the old fashioned printing, why? 

We are going with both digital and print because we know there’s a market for each. We know there are diehards that want physical books and then those who just want to read. We will cater to both. 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is based on comic books of 10 or even 20 (and longer) years ago. Do you hope for film and TV versions of your characters?

No hope needed. All of these characters are written extremely cinematically. I can see it happening for all five of our originals and even our Dracula prequel. 

How do you feel about animated series of your characters? 

My characters are more on the mature side, so as long as they are done with that in mind, I’m fine with that too. 

How do you choose artists? How do you choose writers? 

They have to be the right fit. They have to understand deadlines and promotion. If they can’t make deadlines and don’t promote themselves, they aren’t going to last long with us. 

Ten years from now I will go to my comic book store and look for Legacy Comix. What do I find?

My first hope is that comic book stores still exist ten years from now. After that, I’d love to see some expensive key issues and a whole lot of cheap issues that people can purchase so they can get hooked. 

Channel i continues this series later this month. Support Legacy at Kickstarter

Playing with Eli Sundler

Channel I presents a series of interviews and reviews of Web-TV-Series creator, Eli Sundler and his latest creation, an ode to games and gamers, Godlike Gaming.

“I have a lot of experience in performing on stage doing circus shows and fire shows,” smiles Eli Sundler, creator of the new web-series, Godlike Gaming; “I studied circus for a year in Norway and we had acting classes because we were telling stories through circus. Fire shows are something I have done for over ten years, but it’s a very different kind of acting than in movies. You very rarely act through words, but instead through body movement.” An intro like that you don’t often find.

Godlike Gaming concerns four 20-something gamers and their adventures. The comedy webseries about gaming, friendship and dreams centers around a competitive 5 vs 5 game that requires tactics, teamwork and high mechanical skills. It is inspired by shows like Video Game High School, The Guild and Spaced as well as Edgar Wright’s other projects.

The main protagonist, Sky, (Nicole Murray) is a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) player that dreams about being the best of the best, competing on the biggest stages and winning The World Championship in a big e-sport game. Her reality on the other hand is far from that. No money, terrible apartment, and she looks it. She and her team are living their normal geeky lives when they suddenly get into a local tournament, Battle of Legends. This would have been amazing if it wasn’t for the fact that one of their members dropped out. Not only will they have to find a new member, they also need to come together as a team and work with each other like never before if they are going to have a chance in their biggest shot of fame so far.

Eli is creator, writer, director, and one of the producers of this fast-paced series that both lampoons and pays tribute to the lucrative and OBSESSIVE world of professional gaming.

Part I: Getting into the game

What event in your life made you decide to work in film? 

I made up my mind that I was gonna work with film fairly late in my life and I don’t really have one event, but looking back at my life I can see that my whole life was leading up to this. As a kid I used to draw a lot and I wanted to be a comic book artist/writer. Telling stories, creating characters and worlds is just something I have always done. In my teens I started playing music. High Schools in Sweden are a bit different than they are here. You select a program that you want to study just like you do for college. I always thought I was going to study art, but when the time came I was more into music so I ended studying that instead and I did my thesis on storytelling through music. My question for it was how much of a story could come across with music alone. First year of high school was also when I started doing fire performance/circus which became my passion for the next ten years or so. There are times when I would perform something that just looks cool, but what always got me most excited was when it was well thought through and you’re conveying a story/emotion through the show. I started to film/edit videos for my fire duo. With no experience with film I was learning quickly and had so much fun. I started to realize that this is what I was meant to do and that this is probably something I always wanted to do (I used to love to see how film was made, when ever I picture my stories as kid I saw it as movies with clear shots and cuts), but my mind set had been “I don’t know how to do it so I can’t do it”. When I realized that the only way to learn how to do it is to start doing it, I became like a sponge and sucked up all the info I could about film making. My spare time was watching tutorials and testing things out. Even though it took me this long to get into movies I don’t regret it because like I said, I feel like everything was leading up to this and I think it has made me a better filmmaker. Art (and later photography) taught me about composition, framing, colors and values. Music told me about sound, emotion through music and what makes music powerful. Circus taught me about blocking, how to express story/emotion through “show don’t tell” (especially with your body) and storytelling in general. 

Why do you want to work here in the U.S.? 
The film industry in Sweden is much smaller than it is here and the movies that are produced in Sweden are not really the types of movies I am drawn to. I could probably count all the Swedish movies on one hand that really impacted me and that I love, but if I would do the same thing with films from the states the list would go on for a long time. Another thing that I absolutely love about the industry here is all different cultures. It feels like anytime I’m on set I meet people from new countries. I haven’t met as many people from different countries as I’ve done since I moved here in my entire life.

What obstacles have or (or are you) facing here? 

The biggest obstacle coming here is that I didn’t know anyone and even though I have met a lot of amazing people and gotten some of my best friends here it just can’t compare to having contacts from your entire life from all different parts of your life. Here I mostly have filmmaking friends and even when it comes to filmmaking that could be limiting. Back in Sweden I have friends who make costumes, armor, props etc for larps and renaissance fairs, I have tons of musician friends, project leaders, photographers and more. 

How is it different from working in your own country? 

In Sweden the only project I did I directed and as my full time job I was a circus teacher, but here I’m working on other sets as well and it has taught me so much. Seeing other people direct teaches you almost as much about directing as doing it yourself if you’re paying attention. The work I’m doing here is also in general a lot more professional.

Learn more about GODLIKE GAMING

Playful Substance Theater Company-Pithy Party: Under the Bridge

Playful Substance Theater Company-Pithy Party

Playful Substance, one of NY’s premiere indie arts organizations known for fostering emerging writers, went “retro” and presented a telethon fundraising event of three programs. Writer-at-large, JEN BUSH, covered the event. This is Part I

Under the Bridge

Written by-Jacqueline Reason

Cast-Naila Negron, Brianna Suarez-Thomas, Anastacia Tucker and Jeorge Bennett Watson

Review by Jen Bush-12/7/21

Artists have a voice, a vision and a story to tell through mediums such as art, music and theater. What they need is an opportunity. Playful substance provides those crucial opportunities as well as support to artists. This is what Playful Substance is all about in their own words:

Playful Substance is a New York based theater company dedicated to fostering new works through our Writers Groups, developmental workshops, community events and fully staged productions. We believe that lifelong artist development, work-life balance, and the vitality of an inclusive creative space are integral to the artist’s practice. “Playful Substance” is the mission; substantive work approached with joy, cooperation, sensitivity and humor.

Their Pithy Party is an annual event putting Playful Substance’s writer’s groups in the spotlight with staged readings featuring excerpts of works in progress directed and read by company members and friends. This year’s event was roughly four hours long and showcased 10 writers, 10 directors and 30 cast members. The live performances were spread out over 3 seatings. The online performance featured bonus content such as artist interviews and a more in-depth look at Playful Substance.

If I’m a little biased toward Under the Bridge, kindly forgive me. You see, I was born and raised in The Bronx and remained there till just a few years ago. I was eating up all the familiar references with great nostalgia in my heart. Regardless, my love of the Boogie Down does not detract from the fact that this was a quality production on every level.

The playwright describes this production as a story of 3 women of color living in a white neighborhood in the 70’s. The 3 women are Laura, her mother and her sister. Laura is a teenager living in The South Bronx. That geographical area experienced horrific fires in the 70’s. Laura just experienced her first “house party” while hiding behind the couch. When she couldn’t contain her laughter listening to a Richard Pryor comedy album, everyone got in trouble. Laura’s mom was not pleased. House parties were very popular in The Bronx in that era and gave rise to the genre of music known as Hip Hop. Between the fires and bad influences surrounding her children, Laura’s mother is seeking a better life for her family. She successfully finds a doorman apartment in Riverdale.

Riverdale is considered to be an elite section of The Bronx though it’s still The Bronx. If you ask someone from Riverdale where they live, they will never utter the words, The Bronx. I think it’s forbidden. They always look at you square in the eye and say with unwavering pride, I’m from Riverdale. There is even a line in the play that references that phenomenon. Laura’s friend Yvonne says, “Isn’t Riverdale The Bronx?” Laura says, “Yeah but it’s near Yonkers.” For a frame of reference, Yonkers is very nice but it’s no Beverly Hills. The great comic book artist Howard Chaykin referred to Yonkers as a better Bronx. I would agree with that as I now reside there.

Under the Bridge has themes of urban life, teenage life and race relations. It has substance and heart. This production will make you laugh and break your heart all in one evening. In the 70’s, Riverdale did not embrace having people of color reside there and some very sad and telling dialogue in the play reflected that fact.

The acting was rock solid with everyone matching beautifully to their roles. The actors crafted subtle maturity, tenderness, sassiness and humor. It definitely leaves the audience wanting to see more of young Laura’s journey.

It’s a rare treat to see a play and then get the author’s perspective immediately following the performance. After the production of Under the Bridge, Jacqueline Reason was briefly interviewed. This was the third time that she participated in Pithy Party. It was so interesting to find out that this play began from a poem. It was the author’s desire to bring to life fully dimensional characters. I can say with certainty, this desire was fully achieved.

Familial Laughter

Review by Dara Jemmott

“Black women are not a monolith,” was my immediate take away after seeing the diversity of our thoughts at The Joke Sistas at New York Comedy Club.

Walking into the SOLD-OUT show presented by New York Comedy Festival and Black Women in Comedy Laff Fest, you could feel the energy in the air.

Glo Butler as a host was funny, warm, energetic and interacted with the “Aunties” in the audience like your favorite play cousin.

The entire show was giving family reunion vibes, set by Glo and continued when founder of BWICLF, Joanna Briley hit the stage. With over twenty years of experience, she sparkled and delighted the audience with her radiance, joy and crazy stories working for the MTA.

Creative Director of BWICLF and late night talk show host, Hollie Harper lit up the stage with her honest and hilarious stories of motherhood. Special guest Moonie had the entire audience on her side, which is not something every lawyer can say! 

Getting the chance to watch comedy veterans that I’ve seen on TV, all performing on one show, in real life was such a treat!  Calise Hawkins (That Damn Michael Che Show, HBO), Erin Jackson (They Ready, Netflix), and Mugga (Manifest, Power, Orange is the New Black) all took the stage and owned the room, with the crowd sounding more like a laugh track than a live audience. Their comedy covered so many different experiences and watching them finesse each punchline, it’s evident why each of them have lasted and excelled in the game. 

The headliner who is also a writer for Nickelodeon, Mechelle “The Indie Mom of Comedy” gave a master class in shutting a room down! Closing out the show with such a wave of infectious and explosive laughter, it was no surprise she left the stage to a standing ovation. There was a genius to her ability to have act outs, layered with call backs and surprises, creating a rollercoaster of entertainment, leaving the audience hanging on every word.

From beginning to end the Joke Sistas felt like the food for the soul we have all been missing in quarantine.


All Out Arts, Inc. dba the Fresh Fruit Festival, are calling for submissions in all its disciplines: live theatre; indie film; and radio play. What kept this visionary organziation alive during one of theatres darkest times since the medieval era is now something that puts them in thre forerfront of the new theatrical paradigm. For further information, contact Louis Lopardi at

Labels:  LGBTQ, NYC authors,  festival, 

Company Website:

An official part of the 20th Annual Fresh Fruit Festival of LGBTQ Arts

Tags/Labels: festival, full-length plays, LGBTQ, musicals, one-act plays, self-production

Submissions are now OPEN to producing-authors for MAINSTAGE-22, the staged portion of the 2022 Fresh Fruit Festival of LGBTQ arts. Early May 2022.   NO-FEE Deadline 12/31/2021. FINAL Deadline 1/24/2022. Apply Early! – we assume all scripts to be “in-revision.”

Categories this season: Full length plays; One-Act or short Plays; Musicals; Opera; Cabaret; all featuring LGBTQ characters or situations.

[For Solo and other works please see our website for the Monologues in Film Development series]

The CREATIVITY is yours; the OVERHEAD is ours. And thanks to the generosity of New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the Mayor’s Office, there are no application fees or participation fees required, and ALL productions earn a box office share.

We provide:

> ADA and AEA approved performance venues following Covid-19 safety guidelines

> AEA approved VENUE Insurance

> TD/Booth, & Front-of-house Staff

> Repertory Lighting Plot & Sound system, with Video available

> On-line, real-time ticketing service with full audit trail

> Color Festival-wide brochures

> Marketing assistance for all shows

> Decades worth of photos, plans, examples, Rep. lighting plots, etc.

> Optional co-production plans for higher box-office shares

Deadlines: NO-FEE Deadline 12/31/2021. FINAL Deadline 1/24/2022.

Please go to our full-season breakout page and choose the Mainstage division:

Download a study copy of the application forms so you can later complete the form in one online session. Note: Your planned production cannot have been produced in the NYC area for 15 months preceding the Spring Festival. If you are an Out-Of-Town producer (20 miles from New York City) be prepared to prove LOCAL contracting and accept one of our co-production plans.


All Out Arts, Inc. dba the Fresh Fruit Festival, CALL for MONOLOGUES

Labels:  LGBTQ, NYC authors only,  monologues, contest, films, new media, paid,


An official part of the 20th Annual Fresh Fruit Festival of LGBTQ Arts

“The invincible shield of Caring is a weapon from the skies against being dead.”  – Lao Tzu

The Fresh Fruit Festival, nearing its 20th consecutive year, is presenting works in the following format for development in filmed virtual presentation: LGBTQ MONOLOGUES, on the THEME: “Caring”

Are you Cared for? Do you Care enough to send the best? Is your character Careful? WHY do you CARE!? What’s in a Care package? Are you Caring for Pets? -Roommates? -Galactic Visitors?

We provide a high degree of hand-holding in the development process of moving your creative vision to film. And thanks to the generosity of New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the Mayor’s Office, there are NO application fees or participation fees, and ALL 3 Finalists receive a $150 author/producer’s stipend.

Works should range from 4 to 8 minutes in performance length, and relate to the LGBTQ experience and the above theme. Eight written monologues will be chosen from applicants, who later resubmitted as short videos for entry into the development program. All of these receive:

> Hosted presentation of 8 finished works as a feature in the All Out Arts Network.
> Full-Series PDF Program, for download.
> Basic Audio Post-processing: Including our own, customized intros; basic sound FX or ambient sound.
> Basic Video post-processing, for titles, continuity & quality.
> Marketing on Social media.
> 1:1 Technical consults: For SOUND (check balance, dynamic range, ambient problems, clarity, mic use) and for VIDEO (placement, ambiance, and setting).
> Last year’s Program Book and video samples available on website.

All participants are also eligible for our equipment purchase/upgrade subsidy program. 8 semi-finalist videos will be hosted on a high-definition platform for a set span of 15 days, during which the public will vote for a later Audience Choice Award. A panel of judges will also vote on more technical criteria to help select 2 more finalists. All 3 Finalists will receive at minimum a $150 cash stipend, and national promotion. All 8 entries are eligible for awards in several categories at our future awards ceremony, and remain fully hosted for 2 seasons.

Please go to our full-season breakout page and choose the Monologues division:

Note: All dates subject to extension.  Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis, with more complex projects postponed to Spring. Anticipated schedule for 1st wave: Semi-Finalist scripts chosen by 11/24. Revised scripts by 12/15. First video tests by 12/29. Public Voting 1/17-1/31 2022.


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All Out Arts, Inc. dba the Fresh Fruit Festival, CALL for SHORT RADIO PLAYS

Labels:  LGBTQ, NYC authors only,  short plays, 1-acts, paid, self-produced, no fees


An official part of the 20th Annual Fresh Fruit Festival of LGBTQ Arts

It’s that “Old Time Radio” time again . . .

All Out Arts is accepting script applications for a new series of RadioPlays, to be presented this winter, as part of the Fresh Fruit Radio podcast. January – April 2022.  
These can be original drafts for radio, or adapted for Radio from your existing works.
The play must have a running time of 25 to 55 minutes, in either a 1 or 2-act format, and involve a cast of 2 to 6 principals.

> 3 to 4 Accepted plays will be given a $250 producing-author stipend upon broadcast, and All NYC artists involved will be eligible for our Equipment Purchase/upgrade Subsidy program.
> The Festival provides technical rehearsal, and performance recording on a high-quality audio channel if desired, plus technical guidance and audio post-processing for your recorded tracks.
> We can work with YOUR sound designer to enhance movement or ambiance cues.
> The schedule allows for roughly one play monthly, for January to April of 2022. We provide a full program book which expands to cover the entire RadioPlay series as above.

Note: Rolling Deadlines – End December, Mid January, Mid February.  But Please apply as early as possible; you can always revise scripts later.

Last year’s Program Book and RadioPlay podcasts are available on our website. We provide a high degree of hand-holding in the development process of moving your creative vision to a Radio format. And thanks to the generosity of New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the Mayor’s Office, there are NO application fees or participation fees, and ALL accepted producers receive the  $250 author/producer’s stipend.  

Your team MUST include a Director, Sound Designer, and Stage Manager (see website for details).
Apply for “Early Decision” if you can be ready for a late January broadcast premier. Please go to our full-season breakout page and choose the RADIOPLAYS division:

Experience Kaitana Magno (Part I): Variety [is the spice of] Life

It’s been a while since someone with such abundant imagination and creativity stepped onto the independent theatre stage. Kaitana Magno, who descibes herself as a classically trained ballet dancer and nightlife creatrix, who presents dazzling, experiential productions for folks who think they’ve seen it all, but ain’t seen nothing yet. What’s great about this monger is … it’s correct.

Kaitana Magno helms Variety Life Productions, a dynamic new NYC-based experiential theatre company, driven by the belief that art is essential. Kaitana is also driven by an insatiable desire to illuminate the human condition and challenge audiences psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually so that they will ultimately leave genuinely moved.. Kaitana and VLP productions marry live music, dance, nightlife, variety, circus, and immersive entertainment in spectacular site-specifc performances. Their maiden voyage: Carmen: To Havana & Back, a Cuban-infused re-imagining of the opera, Carmen, premiered in 2018 to critical acclaim and sold out performances until its necessary closing due to Covid in March, 2020. Forbes magazine called it “… a tremendous combination of concept, music and choreography that makes for an incredible evening.”

Now, Kaitana and partner, James Sutherland, join Broadway in the greatest live entertainment comeback in recent history, with a fantastical re-imagining of Shakespeare’s own “rom-com” called Midsummer: A Shakespearience.

Again, music, magic, vaudeville, spectacle and artistic innovation, marinate – this time – in a souffle of Shakespearean prose.

Magno & Sutherland both come from strict & rigorous – and highly disciplined – dance backgrounds, and have performed professionally for around the world for more than two decades and were mentored by prolific innovators in the field. It was the inspiration gelaned from these artists that laid the foundation that today is their path.

Ai: Tell us about the genesis of Midsummer a Shakespearience.

Kaitana: Several synchronistic events came together as magically as the characters and the circumstances in the play itself. During the pandemic, we moved near family to a little town in northern Georgia that sits in a national forest. To keep ourselves connected to our love and sanity, we hosted a weekly virtual gathering of actors where we read full plays, one of which was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Not long after, I was outside on my porch as this summer storm rolled through. I listened to the sounds of the birds as they quieted with the dimming sky and the sound of thunder in the distance. I was reminded of the suspenseful feeling of being in a theater and hearing the orchestra warm up before the lights dim and the curtain opens. I saw this hazy clearing within the forest, the sounds of nature becoming sweet melodies of a saxophone, with thunderous rhythms of drums, and a singer crooning effortlessly. I saw fairies dancing, aerialists dangling within the trees, and a jazz band swinging hard. I just started seeing it. The characters and the whimsical plot lines unfolding.

MIDSUMMER: A SHAKESPEARIENCE presented by Variety Life Productions
OPENING OCTOBER 13 (Wednesdays thru Sundays at 8:00pm)
CASA 51 located at 625 W 51st Street, NYC
Tickets start at $99
More Info:


INSIDE IRTE: The Return of Improv’s Innovator

Edited by Natasha Dawsen

Theatre closing for more than 18 months was a devastation to NYC and to the industry itself. Many artists and organizations rallied and produced zoom readings and showings; symposium online; and even resurrected old recordings of plays and showings. But what if your ENTIRE business required the audience to be right there in your laps – like Improvisation?

The art of improv was slowly fading prior to the pandemic with several companies leaving NYC or leaving completely. One stayed strong and became one of the leaders of that industry. The Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble.

IRTE, the Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble, LLC, is an award-winning collective of comedy actors and writers who develop, produce and perform a season of original themed improvisational shows, following the basic model of traditional repertory theatre. What made them distinctive is that they are a theatre company wrapped in an improv troupe – of visa versa. Inspired by the Theatre of the Ridiculous movement, the work of Viola Spolin, and the indie comedy scene of turn-of-this-century’s NYC, they create – before your eyes – full plays. Incorporating simple costumes, dollar store props, and broad (irreverent) characters, IRTE manages to take audience suggestions and their own clever memories (usually of pop-culture) and create a new play – every night.

Staying a float with workshops and videos of past shows, IRTE held on tight for a year and a half and now – ready with a favorite of audiences – returns to NYC’s Producer’s Club for a longer run of a longer production.

The Marvelous Mrs. McCluskey (yes, a take-off of the Amazon hit show)
FRIDAYS & SATURDAYS: October 22, 23, 29 & 30 ; November 5, 6, 12 & 13, 2021
8:00pm – 9:30pm
Tickets $20 Online / $25 Cash Only at the Door

The Producers Club
358 West 44th Street, NYC

We begin a four-part series, interviewing the power-players of the company and what it feels like to return to being “live from New York.”

Robert Baumgardner is one of the founders and one of the lead-directors and writers of the company.

Tell us about IRTE

IRTE stands for the Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble, and it was founded by Nannette Deasy ten years ago. Over the years we’ve developed a style of improvisational theatre where the players develop a story right before your eyes with characters they’ve developed in rehearsals, and suggestions from the audience, too.

Your company is a hybrid of theatrical technique and long form improv. How do you create material?

For me personally, I start with a very small idea. It’s often a phrase that sounds like a show title just popping into my head. Then I ask myself what is that show about. From there, I start building an initial structure which guides players in a very general way in building a story. As rehearsals progress, and even sometimes during the run, the structure, and certain other items, like character backstory solidifies, but not to the extent where we have a scripted play. Often, I see our shows as TV episodes where we have the same characters from night to night, but something different happens to them each time. So, it goes from one person’s idea to a collaboration with a bunch of improvisers and sometimes designers. Everybody’s individual experiences lend a uniqueness to each performance. We’ve had the opportunity to remount shows at festivals, sometimes with different cast members, and something new and different is always developed.

You are very visible across the country. How’s it look outside of NYC? 

For this year, we’re not planning any performances outside of NYC. As much as we love going to festivals, there’s more research to do, and more responsibility to bear, when considering a location to perform in. Of course, I’m talking about the whole Covid thing. Some areas of the country just aren’t taking it seriously enough, and major outbreaks are still occurring in many states. I don’t think it’s that wise to ask an entire cast and crew to put themselves at undue risk. Next year, I hope, the world will start looking like a different place, and we can start performing in other places. I’ve loved being a part of many of the Fringe Festivals around the country.

Will you still be doing audience participation? Have you augmented that? 

Audience participation will always be an important part of our work. It may come in different forms. Sometimes audience is up on stage, sometimes we’re just asking them for suggestions in the middle of the show. Sometimes, we just ask them to write suggestions down before the show, and we grab the suggestions out of a bowl during the performance. Covid isn’t going to stop any of that. We may ask people to wear masks. We are definitely telling people they have to be fully vaccinated before they enter the theater.

Audience participation and connection is important for us, and I think it always will be.

PART II will appear NEXT WEEK in

S.U.N. in the U.S.A.

Review by Edward B. Marlowe

Michael Hagins has created the literary version of a wake-up slap in the face.

S.U.N (Shut Up Negro) in the U.S.A. is a stunning one-act work serving us the rhetoric Africans have heard and felt on the road to becoming an American, molded into a powerful closed-fist punch in our deserving faces. Each scene – interludes of the words and thoughts of each time period from the dawn of slavery until modern time – is marinated in a host of dogma about freedom and equality in America – well sorta. It is made abundantly clear that African-Americans contributed to it every step of the way, putting their lives in jeopardy but – in clever twists and turns in dialogue – don’t get to be part of it. It was this irony that distinctifies this from other works of its kind. In each sequence, they salute this country as a bastion of freedom, but Hagins deftly shows us how the African American’s exclusion in that freedom was allowed to be made justifiable – that we soothed ourselves by blaming African-Americans themselves. Interspersed with spiritual music as well as jazz and blues, the play became a parable – one we need to heed.

Hagins built in numerous history lessons by offering up speeches (quoted and created) from notable figures in bigotry to total stereotypes like three bloated buffoon KKK members, an hysterical “Karen,” and even a totally ignorant “liberal.” He also played the surreal card by putting the African American cast in white (including a bold touch of white face) and the caucasian players in black.

Stephanie Cox-Connelly staged the play with the same blunt-force for which Hagins offered up the words, allowing us to feel the impact of each scenario. Duane Ferguson uttered maybe a half-dozen words in the entire piece but his countenance – each grimace, frown, pain – registered like an earthquake when juxtaposed with the threatening, condescending, and always shocking dialogue.

The ensemble cast of actors and singers including Alex D, Kofi Mills, Gigi Principe, Michael Pichardo, Jeremy Goren, Michael Joseph Whitten, Tiffany Knight, Aaron David Kapner, Beth Griffith, Mary Sheridan, Alaina Hammond and Tucker Dally Johnston should be collectively lauded for holding the mirror up to nature so clearly. In this minefield era of cancel-culture, their bravery is exemplary.

This powerful work seems to have been designed to be a parable as – beyond its chronical content – there is no basic plotline. This does not negate its impact and – if anything, enhances – its message.

No one – repeat – no one should leave this theater without regretting every time they thought the world was a better place.

The piece was presented by the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival and stage managed by Sara Minisquero and Adam Sherwin.