Step1 Theatre Project’s mission is to practice and promote artistic freedom.
It’s easy to talk the talk but they walk the walk. Jazmyn Arroyo & Janelle Zapata, while presenting their own bold, meaningful productions, also help make the creative visions of many independent artists in NYC realities. They know that financial challenges and crew needs can make the difference between a show and no show. So these two stage warriors under the guise of S1TP have made a commitment toward new, innovative ways of supporting fellow artists; this includes sharing resources, promoting new works, donation of funds, rehearsal space, and/or performance space–anything within their means–that will result in one more platform an artist did not previously have. They seek to foster and inspire the next generation of artists and encourage them to produce their projects fearlessly, regardless of the challenges.
One of their star-playwrights, Michael Hagins (and not just them as Mr. Hagins’ name appears on many indie theatre playbills these days – not to mention awards), has offered up a suspenseful piece of live theatre ready for viewing. THE VENGEANCE ROOM.
Step1 Theatre Project opens its 2018 season with his gripping thriller about five strangers afflicted with amnesia find themselves in a secluded room with a table and four weapons – and a set of instructions with only one way to leave. Who will survive the deadly guidelines? And who is behind the torturous game? Vengeance Room features Ariel Cohen, Michael Mena, Mateo Moreno, Kat Moreno, and Ashley Rogers. The production, part of the 11th Annual FRIGID Festival (February 14 – March 5) performing at UNDER St. Marks & The Kraine Theater, will have a run of five-showings:
Thursday Feb 15th – 5:30pm; Sunday Feb 18th – 12:00pm; Thursday Feb 22nd – 10:30pm; Saturday Feb 24th – 8:20pm; Sunday March 4th – 1:50pm
Ticket info and venue will be announced shortly. Visit www.step1theatreproject.org for more details.
We met-up with the founding mothers of S1TP, playwright Michael Hagins, and members of their cast to hear what they think of art in NYC.
You – S1TP – are growing in leaps and bounds. What are some constant hurtles and how do you conquer them?
Jazmyn Arroyo: Speaking from my perspective, I’d say my biggest challenge is securing funding and space consistently! I haven’t found the secret formula yet, but so far the solution has been to think outside the box. For instance, our very first fundraising endeavor was a Karaoke Fundraiser, at a karaoke bar that was willing to let us host our event on one of their slower nights in exchange for all bar proceeds. In terms of performance space, we were also once able to produce a Christmas show at a theater that waived rental costs in exchange for a split of the box office. You have to really do some digging, but folks should be encouraged to explore as many different avenues as possible!
How do you choose the works for your seasons?
Jazmyn Arroyo: We have been very open to the types of works we present, so I’m constantly on the look-out for scripts–published, unpublished, production history, unproduced, whatever! My interest as a producer is not only in the work but in the artists themselves, so we tend to lean toward an open submission process. I’m happy and proud to say that we’ve worked with artists of many different backgrounds, races, and gender identities because of it!
So Michael, tell us about this latest work?
Michael Hagins: This work of mine, The Vengeance Room, has been around for a few years. I’ve been trying to improve it little by little and right now I feel very proud of the cast and crew that have brought new life to it. The story focus on 5 strangers with amnesia who are stuck in a room with 4 weapons and only 1 way out. I like the idea of what a situation like that would bring out in people, and have the challenge of not knowing who you are or what you’re capable of.
Your plays pack powerful messages, and this one by you, Michael, is no exception. Do you feel compelled to write on such topics?
Janelle Zapata: I think it is so important to tell interesting stories from a new perspective. We want to give voices that have been underrepresented the chance to connect with an audience that we know exists and is underserved.
Michael Hagins: I am always compelled to write powerful messages and topics. I only wish I could do it more consistently. I have so many ideas but it sometimes takes a while to spit it out and get it on paper. I used to write more about combat and swordplay, but in today’s climate, I can get so angry that I need to let it out and let people hear it. Maybe this work isn’t as political as previous works, but I hope it’ll still keep people riveted.
Give us your thoughts on the importance of Indie Theatre and Film.
Janelle Zapata: There are so many people who believe that art is for the privileged. Money brings you access to art and being an artist is for people who can afford it and that is just not true. With indie Theatre we are able to create an outlet for those who may not have had access before. The community is so strong and so interesting and innovative and necessary that we work hard at Step1 to both support ourselves and the community as a whole!
Michael Hagins: Everyone must start somewhere. There are so many young filmmakers that are doing genius work out there, and their films go unnoticed, so you can only imagine how unknown playwrights and directors and actors there are out there. I hope everyone takes the time to support even ONE indie production out there that you don’t know someone in. Your one ticket and your presence as an audience member could be the difference in a work of art becoming more than just a project. Every award nominee and winner begin in a school or on a small project, and they didn’t stop. Why should any of us?
Actors, you have the task of creating roles – that’s the biggest joy and probably the hardest task in Indie Theater. How do you prepare for your roles?
Kat Moreno: Whenever I begin the rehearsal process, I really enjoy starting by delving into the psychology of the character, picking out clues in the script and analyzing the things and actions my character does and doesn’t do. Once I feel comfortable with her thought process, I then like discovering what she is like physically. How does this character move, how does this character stand, posture, walk, ect. That way as the rehearsal process continues I learn as much as I can about my character, from the inside out, and in turn learn a little bit more about myself.”
Mateo Moreno: “I know that this is such an “actor” way to respond to the question, but I prepare for this role as I do all my roles: by finding the truth. Since The Vengeance Room is an incredibly high tension play, I have to put myself into that scenario and find out what I would do and then ask myself what this character on the page (without any of my characterization) would do. Once I realize that they are two very different reaction there’s then this journey to find something interesting in the middle of those two and that’s where the magic of discovery has been. There’s a lot of room to journey in this piece (some lines feel like you could say them to completely different people and change the way the character would evolve) and I am continuing to find something fresh and rewarding with each rehearsal.”
Jazmyn Arroyo: Step1’s company tagline is “Artists Supporting Artists”, so I really would like to return to that a little more this year. In our first two years we’ve hosted recurring play-reading sessions (aka R&D: Reading & Drinking) that give playwrights the opportunity the chance to hear their unproduced plays read aloud, and actors the chance to discover new roles in a safe & casual environment. We’ve also launched a free educational workshop series (Step it Up!) for our local theatre community. Our last workshop, Creating Trans & Non-Binary Narratives for Performance, hosted by Ashley Rogers (playing G in The Vengeance Room), gave folks the opportunity to learn valuable perspective from a trans activist/educator and playwright on authentic story-telling & representation within a new/developing script. We’re also working on how to coordinate and launch a grassroots grants campaign! But for now, the very next thing is, our 3rd Annual Fundraiser. Stay tuned!