J.E. Robinson is a STRONG MAN at DUAF

This year marks the Season Sweet 16 for the powerful Downtown Urban Arts Festival. The five-week art & culture showcase supplying audiences with live stage works, independent film, cutting-edge music and envelope-pushing poetry, will take up residence in some of lower Manhattan’s most thrilling and celebrated spaces. Running from April 7 through May 12, artists with their finger on the pulse of what the city is thinking will present their works at Theatre 80 St. Marks, Tribeca Film Center, New York Live Arts, Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater, and Nuyorican Poets Café.

ArtsIndependent will be doing a series of interviews with some of the stage artists prior to showtime. At THEATRE 80 ST. MARKS, 80 ST MARKS PLACE, NEW YORK CITY, a powerful, literate, and engrossing piece goes up by an author who is the same.

J. E. Robinson, at almost fifty-two, by Eric Pan, DPharm, former student (1)The articulate J.E. Robinson shared some brilliance with us recently …

FRIDAY, APRIL 20 @ 8:00 PM

THE STRONG MAN BY J.E. Robinson
Decades ago, at the head of his gang, Pearl Crabtree was strong enough to kill any man. Is he now strong enough to kill one of his own?

Also featured: CORPORATESTHENICS BY Baindu Dafina Kalokoh

Tell us about yourself as an artist.

Robinson-EricMy aesthetics believes strongly that, in order for the work to live for the audience, it must live for the artist. Without this predicate, the work fails to become art. In every medium in which I have worked (fiction, poetry, essays, plays, history, even within the classroom), I strive to see my audiences sit wide-mouthed, and to hear them say “it’s not just like I met these people; it is like I was actually there!” Perhaps this impact leads them to consider my work “historical,” or even “autobiographical.” Whatever. My audiences, however, do see dimensions beyond the moments I present. Their visions vindicate my trust in them in telling these stories. The gone are not gone if we remember them, if only as parts of a fiction.

Where did you get the idea—the inspiration—for the play?

Perhaps I could explain THE STRONG MAN as being set in my ancestral home in South Carolina, from which my great-grandfather moved around the turn of the twentieth century, or I could explain that the governor of South Carolina who incited and failed to arrest the Honea race riot in the early 1900s shares his birthday with me, but those would elude the true inspiration of a play about how men die.

At fifty-two, I find myself approaching the end of my life. How shall I be remembered? How will I die? Each of us asks those questions. In THE STRONG MAN, Victor has started answering them, and he has resolved not to die cheaply, with the life of yet another person on his head. Perhaps a person arriving at that conclusion serves as the real inspiration for this play. Perhaps I sought to see it represented as religious allegory. That sounds good! “Perhaps so.”

Are you an historian or a history buff—I ask as the play has element of events of decades ago.

That is an odd question. In it, might you reference my profession or my material?

What are your hopes for this play…and goals in general?

For THE STRONG MAN, I should hope an appreciative audience would see it well. I should hope that it inspires thought for someone. I should hope someone seeks to redeem themselves. After all, ever since the time of Aeschylus, drama has been a most redemptive art.

Any ideas for a full length play?

Currently circulating is a longer play, set in Ashante country, in Ghana, between the 1500s and the twenty-first century. In it, Mother Ashante sends storms across the ocean to regain her stolen children, and she rejoices when her children return. It is called MOTHER ASHANTE GATHERS THE WAR CLOUDS FOR HER CHILDREN. I would wish it be seen somewhere beyond my flash drive.

What’s next?

My current project is a screenplay set in the 1930s, featuring a trouser-chasing director forced into a relationship with a starlet to save his job at the studio. Its title remains in flux. Who knows? Perhaps it would interest Kevin Spacey…

 

 

 

 

 

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Dan: One-on-one about his one-man show

This year marks the Season Sweet 16 for the powerful Downtown Urban Arts Festival. The five-week art & culture showcase supplying audiences with live stage works, independent film, cutting-edge music and envelope-pushing poetry, will take up residence in some of lower Manhattan’s most thrilling and celebrated spaces. Running from April 7 through May 12, artists with their finger on the pulse of what the city is thinking will present their works at Theatre 80 St. Marks, Tribeca Film Center, New York Live Arts, Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater, and Nuyorican Poets Café.

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ArtsIndependent will be doing a series of interviews with some of the stage artists prior to showtime. At THEATRE 80 ST. MARKS, 80 ST MARKS PLACE, NEW YORK CITY, a one-man show featuring actor, writer, renaissance man, Daniel Damiano, will premiere entitled AMERICAN TRANQUILITY. We took a few moments of his precious time to hear about Daniel, his play, and the art of storytelling.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18 @ 8:00 PM

AMERICAN TRANQUILITY BY Daniel Damiano
A southern retiree, an Iranian subway station poet and percussionist, a talk-radio show host and a Brooklyn existentialist reflect on the human divide in 21st century America.

Also featured that night: SUBLET BY Alisa Zhulina

Tell us about yourself as an artist.

I’m an Actor, Playwright and Poet based in Brooklyn, NY. As an Actor, I’ve played a wide array of lead and character roles and have always relished the opportunity of doing different things in different styles and playing a variety of roles, and working with nice, creative people. As a Playwright, the same holds true, pretty much. Stylistically, I do not marry myself to a specific genre or style, but really savor the opportunity of telling stories about different types of people in different parts of the world that I have a personal connection to, somehow.

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Where did you get the idea – the inspiration – for the play?

I wrote AMERICAN TRANQUILITY over the course of a couple of months in the late Winter/Spring of 2017.  It was born out of a combination of my desperation to get back on the stage and not wanting to wait for someone to hire me combined with the post-election climate that fed into some of the themes in the piece, along with other themes that I thought meshed well in terms of how they relate to modern America.

The one-person show is gaining GREAT notoriety. What do you consider yourself … an actor or a playwright first?

Very much both. Admittedly, I’ve often kept both very separate in that I love writing plays for other actors – not for myself. However, I’ve fused the two together when I wanted to create a performance opportunity for myself, as I did with my first solo show, THE HYENAS GOT IT DOWN, and my new one, AMERICAN TRANQUILITY. But I love being an Actor (and need to be doing it much more) as I love being a Playwright.

What are your hopes for this play … and goals in general?

For AMERICAN TRANQUILITY, having my druthers, I would love to perform this for a few weeks at a single venue.  I think it’ll be timely for a while, and would just love to have the opportunity to share this with more people.  I’ve done this a few times already, but just for 1 or 2 night stints. But the thrill of doing this show and having the audience with me in this particular piece is deeply thrilling, so I hope there can be some interest generated by it so that it can have other lives. As far as myself, the goal is always for the opportunities to come a little more easily, both in terms of finding homes for my plays and working as an actor. Anyone who does one, the other or both will tell you that that’s often the biggest challenge because it’s the one thing you can’t control – UNLESS you create your own opportunities, which I’ve done. But it’s certainly nice to have more people know of your work and who will give you opportunities as well, and so making my work known is always something I have to keep at because it simply helps your career.

Any ideas for a full length play? Or at least one with more characters

29244398_10155441936791239_8958831051040358400_nMost of what I have written has been multi-character plays, of which I’ve written a lot, and I’ve had plays done throughout many parts of the U.S., as well as London, England and Sydney & Melbourne, Australia. And I always look forward to what the next one will be, what will inspire it, how do I connect with it, etc.

 

 

 

What’s next?

My play HARMONY PARK will receive it’s World Premier with Detroit Repertory Theatre in late March and will be running through May 20th.   I’m also continuing to work on my first (and probably only) novel, called BUBONIC PEG.  There are some other up-in-the air projects that may or may not come to be, so we’ll just see what happens.

 

Getting to the meat of Anghus

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Personable, powerful, and pulsating with ideas. Anghus Houvouras is displaying his playwright skills at the DOWNTOWN URBAN ARTS FESTIVAL next month. 

AI caught up with Anghus for a quick rap-session on his views and works.

Tell us about yourself as an artist.

I used to be extremely skeptical of the word ‘artist’.  At one point in my life i found it pretentious to apply that label to yourself, but i think it was actually because i didn’t understand what being an artist was.  I started writing and had some success, but a lot of my motivation and inspiration came from seeking success and validation.  The work wasn’t coming for a place of artistry.  It’s not to say that all the work was bad, but it was lacking something.  It took me about 10 years to figure out the voices in my head and what they were trying to say.  I stopped writing and i started listening, and that’s when i think i transitioned from a guy who makes stuff to someone pursuing artistic endeavors.

I think if you look at my body of work, there are a few themes that consistently emerge.  First is a fascination with society and our perpetual hypocrisy.  How no one ever thinks of themselves of the villain or will take even a fraction of responsibility for the horrors happening in the world around us.  We are a species obsessed with self and have created this amazing, opulent society that is a living visage to our narcisissm.  We create institutions to bring structure to our beliefs and then forego any sense of responsibilty for the terrors they unleash upon the world.  I suppose that’s a very verbose way of saying I enjoy exploring the cracks and fissures in the foundations of everything we hold dear.  These dark areas are where i find inspiration and its where the best characters are usually hiding.

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SATURDAY, APRIL 21 @ 8:00 PM

A CIVILIZED WORLD BY ANGHUS HOUVOURAS
An opioid addict is sentenced to death in the near future where being an unproductive member of society is a capital offense.  The play centers on the condemned, Eleanor Reed, and her final conversation with Andrew Goodman, a life long government shill tasked with explaining the value of her sacrifice.

Also on the program: HELP ME GET OVER YOU BY ROLLIN JEWETT

 

Where did you get the idea – the inspiration – for the play?

I’ve always been disturbed by how comfortable we, as a society, are with the suffering of others, so long as it doesn’t impact our day to day lives.  You can walk down the street and pass a dozen homeless people, many of whom probably suffer from mental illness, and it won’t even register.   Or we can sit back and hear ghastly statistics of the number of innocent people killed by a drone strike and it doesn’t even register as upsetting.  Most people put more thought into their daily lunch order than the plight of the disenfranchised.  I find that equally disturbing and fascinating.  At some point in our lives we accept that human suffering is ultimately tolerable as long as it isn’t happening to us.

Then i started thinking about the divide between those living in polite society and those who are deemed as ‘uncivilized’, i.e. anyone we are comfortable with being abused and destroyed as long as it doesn’t interfere with the trappings of a civilized world.  I wanted to see these horrors play out in a very simple way; A conversation between someone whose job involves invoking death sentences and someone who has just been sentenced to die.  How would it work? What it would be like being told you no longer have a place in this world.  That your life holds almost no meaning.  And it all kind of started flowing from there.

For the characters, I was inspired by some of the circumstances around places i’ve lived in recent years.  I went to college at Marshall University in Huntington, WV which has the highest rate of opioid addicts in the nation.  From there i moved to Wilmington, NC which also ranks in the top five nationally for opioid abuse.  The idea of making the unproductive member of society an opioid addict felt perfect.  And her punishment isn’t based on being an opioid addict, it’s that she’s stealing people’s medication.  In my near-future dystopian scenario, you can be addicted to opioids, you just can’t steal them.  Much like today, we’re fine with addiction so long as its done through a Doctor’s office and a prescription pad.  You can be strung out as you want, as long as its done legally.  God bless America.

Futuristic? Are you a sci-fi fan or

Absolutely a sci-fi fan. There’s a lot of A Civilized World that feels rooted in Orwell and Huxley. The idea that someone can be deemed as an unproductive member of society and be sentenced to death felt like a good, dystopian sci-fi premise.

The longer i developed it the more it felt like it was something from a very plausible, very near future. We already live in a world where the disenfranchised are cast off. Where we watch people die needlessly and do nothing to help. We watch kids getting gunned down in schools and nothing changes. We are ambivalent about suffering so long as we are spared the impact. The idea that one day we could begin to push these pour souls off the edge rather than wait for them to step off themselves doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch.

What are your hopes for this play … and goals in general?

I hope the play makes an impact on people.  That at the end you have to swallow a little sadness and realize that at times in are life, we are both characters in the play.  There are days where we are the young, idealistic person who believes things can change for the better.  And there are times when we grow older and become more accustomed to how the world works, and we become less empathetic to those in need and more tolerant of terrible things being done and become comfortably complicit.  And it’s as true of me as anyone else.  I am the vapid, self-absorbed consumer who understands that every day people suffer and die because of my ignorance, my tolerance and my inability to find the strength to be better to my fellow man.

There are brutal truths in this story and i hope audiences walk away with a little more perspective.

For me, the goal is always the same; continue writing honest work, find cool people to collaborate with and find an opportunities to get the work out there for people to see.  I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with the Downtown Urban Arts Festival twice now and a number of other festivals who have showcased my work.  There’s no better motivator for creativity than finding people who appreciate the stories you’re trying to tell.  I had my first festival showcase at DUAF in 2016 and it has led to a number of other opportunities.

Any ideas for a full length play?

I’ve been working on a full-length play called Beard, about an actor trying to rehabilitate his career after being outed as gay at a time when it was a career death sentence. His plan involves getting an actress pregnant to quell rumors of his homosexuality. It’s a very intimate story about someone so obsessed with what other people think of him that he’s willing to forego his personal happiness to maintain a certain public image. As their relationship develops, she becomes intent on helping him become honest about who he is, but the harder she pulls the further into the closet he recedes. It plays with similar themes in A Civilized World, the examination of how we define ourselves in a society and the pressures of living within certain boundaries of acceptance and the lies we tell ourselves to maintain our sanity.

What’s next?

I’m hell-bent on getting A Civilized World onto more stages.  I think the story is ridiculously relevant today and brings something new to the conversation.

I’ve also been meddling in a lot of different mediums lately.  I have a novel that should be out later this year called The Fence Mender.  I haven’t made a film in a few years, so i’m looking at dusting off the cameras and filming something soon.  I’m one of these horribly obsessive creative types.  There’s always an idea bouncing around my head and i don’t feel right until I find the best medium for it and get it done.

Spotlight On: RICHARD SKIPPER by Anthony J. Piccione

img_2534.jpgRichard Skipper takes his guests seriously.

(3) The Judy RoomOne might think lightly of cabaret, but don’t be deceived. Richard Skipper has elevated the art into a monthly ritual of celebration and total abundant joy. Richard Skipper Celebrates is currently in the middle of an amazing season honoring such names as Carol Channing and — on March 18 — John Kander. Skipper invites talented leaders of music and art to share stories and tunes with an enthusiastic audience in a lavish theater (the Laurie Beechman in Times Square).
Playwright and reviewer, Anthony J. Piccione sat down with the elegant and charming Mr. Skipper who is NEVER at a lose for words!
So to start off, can you tell our readers in detail about your series Richard Skipper Celebrates, and why you were inspired to start this series?
Richard Skipper Celebrates is all about Positivity and fostering an environment of nurturing all within a theatrical setting.  I named the series “Richard Skipper Celebrates” in order to convey to the public my desire to celebrate not only my guest stars but my audience as well.  Each and every day there are many positive things happening, but with our brains always on overload be that via social media, 24 hour News Channels, Satellite Radio stations broadcasting the same news on a continuous loop, etc..  we need to sit back and experience the positive things in our life.   The William Randolph Hearst Style of Yellow Journalism is taking over our collective experience as a society. TV shows go for the jugular, people are constantly being judged, kicked off of islands, celebrity lives “invaded” by quasi and irresponsible paparazzi, and all for public voyeuristic consumption… No real value here, just negativity….. What we have done, however, is to focus on the positive, and it must be working because people flock to our shows, and for that, I am entirely grateful.  I’m sure there is an audience for the “snark” side of things, but that is not my audience. And fundamentally I believe that positive energy will triumph over negative energy…
Your latest upcoming event is a celebration of John Kander. Can you tell us a bit more about this upcoming event, and what audiences can look forward to from it?
We are celebrating John Kander’s 91st Birthday! By we, I mean Donna Marie Asbury who is currently in Chicago. As a matter of fact, after our opening, she has to rush to the theatre for a matinee! She comes to me via David Sabella who was Mary Sunshine in this current revival when it began at Encores and with the transfer to Broadway.  He also had a great show last year at The Metropolitan Room called Loopin’ The Loop celebrating his run in Chicago and his association with Kander and Ebb. LOVED THIS SHOW! Saw it twice. In the first show, he had Jana Robbins and they performed a hilarious duet that was cut from The Visit. I asked if they would recreate this and they agreed. They also will each do a solo as well. Jana did Zorba with two separate tours with Georgio Tozzi and Theodore Bikel AND played Sally Bowles in Westchester Dinner Theatre’s production of Cabaret which I saw long before I knew Jana personally! Lucia Spina of Kinky Boots and others did a Kander and Ebb tribute at Feinstein’s three years ago Created and directed by Scott Coulter.  Sandy Stewart introduced Kander and Ebb’s first song, My Coloring Book. She will be joined by her son two time Grammy nominee Bill Charlap not only on this but another great Kander and Ebb song. Rounding out the cast is Tony Award winner Lillias White recreating her star turn as Matron Mama Morton in Chicago.
As if that isn’t enough, the afternoon will open with a video montage celebrating the life and career of John Kander. We have a very special video tribute from one of their frequent stars! AND we have a phenomenal band all under the direction of Fred Barton. On Broadway, Fred Barton was Associate Conductor of the 1987 revival of Cabaret, directed by Hal Prince and starring Joel Grey, Regina Resnik, and Werner Klemperer. He also served as Associate Conductor of Zorba, starring Anthony Quinn, as well as the national touring production of Camelot, starring Robert Goulet, and the Los Angeles and national touring productions of City of Angels.That is just the tip for him. He will be joined by Rex Benincasa on percussion, Steve Doyle on bass, and Grammy Award-winning saxophonist, Erik Lawrence.
Recently, you also hosted a celebration honoring the great Carol Channing. Can you share some of your thoughts and reflections on that recent experience?
Well, I’m lucky to call Carol Channing ‘friend’. To me, she epitomizes old-time show business like no one else. We both consider ourselves vaudevillians. Each of my shows is built around a specific date. As I started putting this season, our second, I requested January 31st in order to celebrate Carol’s Birthday. She once said to me that as a Christian Scientist, they don’t celebrate Birthdays. I explained that this wasn’t about her. Birthdays are a day in which friends and family can express what you mean in our lives. Carol told me that was the first time it made sense to her!
As it is with all my shows, I’m always thinking towards the next but this, for obvious reasons, was extremely important to me. This past summer, I saw Jerry’s Girls as part of the Mufti series at The York Theatre. I reached out to all three of the actresses in this show. The only actress who was available was Christine Pedi who I adore. I was thrilled when she said yes. Diane Findley, who is a close dear friend delivered the goods and then some with So Long, Dearie and Before The Parade Passes By. The latter received a rapturous standing ovation. Anita Gillette jumped to her feet and rushed to the stage to hung Diane! Wendy Scherl did an arrangement of Elegance written for Carol Channing’s album, Carol Channing Entertains. Also, from that album, Makin’ Whoopie, which I had requested from her show, New Scherl in Town which garnered her a MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs).
I then reached out to KT Sullivan who is only the second actress, after Carol, to play Lorelei Lee on Broadway in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She stopped the show with Lorelei’s signature songs, Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, and Little Girl From Little Rock. Rounding out the show was the one and only Lee Roy Reams! He sang Penny In My Pocket which was cut from the original Hello, Dolly!, but reinstated for the current Broadway revival. Lee Roy has a long career with Carol. He appeared in Lorelei, the 1977 revival of Hello, Dolly!, and he directed the 1997 Broadway revival.
Obviously, you’ve had a very accomplished and prolific career in entertainment over the years. Do you have any favorite highlights that stand out that you’d like to share?
I know it sounds like a cliche but I’m always looking forward to what next. I have been fortunate to share the stage with some of my idols. Sharing a stage with Carol Channing in San Francisco, interviewing her at Barnes & Noble, the numerous times she was in my audience. Interviewing Lesley Ann Warren to celebrate the release of the restored DVD of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella from 1965 which was an integral part of my childhood, performing at Carnegie Hall and getting a standing ovation that still resonates with me, headlining in three shows at Atlantic City. I’ve been blessed!
In just a couple of sentences, tell our readers why they will have a GREAT time coming to see a Richard Skipper Celebrates event?
It’s a CELEBRATION! From the moment they walk into The Laurie Beechman Theatre, they will be met by a staff that puts hospitality at the forefront of their experience. The brunch is also superb! The preshow playlist is handpicked by me for each specific show. There are balloons all around in the color theme of that show. The next show on Match 18th is Green, John Kander’s favorite color. How apropo , it’s the day after St. Patrick’s Day! Most audience members know that and dress accordingly. That is great for photo ops. When the show begins, the audience is treated to a 10-minute video montage celebrating the subject being celebrated put together by Michael Masci. All of the entertainers have a direct connection to the subject being celebrated and it is more than just each entertainer coming out and singing a couple of songs and off. We have a short chat and this gives the audience a chance to get to know them a little better. The focus of ALL my shows is ALWAYS the audience. I want to give them the best experience possible. After all, they have invested their time, energy, and money. They deserve a great time!
Looking forward, what are some other events you’re working on that we can look forward to?
The next five events: April 8th, we will be celebrating Firsts: Those who’ve created roles on Broadway. Still formulating that cast. So far we have Lane Bradbury who created the role of Dainty June in Gypsy, Marta Sanders who was in the original cast of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Annie Hughes who was in Closer Than Ever. On April 15th, I will be celebrating Call on Dolly: From Carol Channing to Bernadette Peters (CallonDolly.com) for The Ziegfeld Society at Hunter College 3PM show. On May 20th, we will be performing An Afternoon with Liberace (David Maiocco) and Friends. Those friends are Leanne Borghesi, Peggy Lee (Chuck Sweeney), Jim Speake, and THOSE GIRLS (Eve Eaton, Rachel Hanser, Karen Mack, Wendy A. Russell). June 9th, for The American Popular Song Society, I’m producing Richard Skipper Celebrates Cabaret and Cole Porter on his actual Birthday. Still putting that cast together. Slated to perform are Sally Darling, Todd Murray, and Leslie Orofino.  On June 19th and 20th, Russ Woolley and I are bringing Carole Cook to Feinstein’s/54 Below. I will be ending the Richard Skipper Celebrates season with Richard Skipper Celebrates The Laurie Beechman Theatre showcasing their summer season with a special preview. That is on June 24th
Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Yes, Thank you for giving me this platform. Russ and I are hoping to come back for a third season. The audiences have loved this series and I am grateful for that. I’m seeking sponsors! If anyone out there wants to get involved, please reach out to me! I really do hope to do another season but we need to regroup. Please keep in touch with me on Facebook, Twitter, and RichardSkipper.com. Now, go out and do something nice for someone else without expecting anything in return!
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Richard and his producer, the charismatic Russ Woolley make magic at the Laurie Beechman Theater every month

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Skipper’s comic banter with guests and musicians are as joyous as the musical numbers themselves

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A toast of Broadway toasts the 21st century Toastmaster: David Sabella, from the original company of the current Broadway production of Chicago, raises a glass to Skipper as producer Russ Woolley looks-on with pride.

 

All photos courtesy of Jay Michaels Arts & Entertainment