Arts Independent

Robert Viagas is in 2071

2071 by Duncan MacMillan and Chris Rapley

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

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There’s a lot of talk about the upcoming 2020 presidential elections, and sometimes those in 2024 as well.

But America as a culture—once upon a time enthusiastic about the future—now rarely collectively thinks about or plans for what our world will or should or could be like in the late 2020s, let alone the 2030s or 2040s, where many of us, our children and our grandchildren will be living. Perhaps it has become too scary to contemplate.

It takes an author from Great Britain, Chris Rapley, to jolt us into thinking hard about that future in his theatrical monologue 2071. And it is indeed scary. Human activity, especially the burning of coal, oil and other carbon-based fuels, is driving up the temperature of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere in ways that are already being felt, and which, if not checked, will create flooding and violent weather in the decades and centuries to come. Rapley, as impersonated Off-Off-Broadway by actor Robert Meksin, asks us to contemplate that future anyway, so that perhaps, if we wake up and act wisely, it won’t be quite so scary in the end.

Presented successfully in London in 2014, and now hosted in it U.S. premiere by the environmentalist theatre group Ripple Effect Artists, the 90-minute solo show tells a compelling story, though it is weighted down with statistics. The word “percent” makes up a way-too-hefty “percentage” of the script. Rather than focus on the real-life impact of these changes—that global warming will raise sea level to the point that the 29thStreet location of the theatre could soon become waterfront property, or that our most productive farmlands could turn into desert, or that summertime temperatures in New York could regularly bake in the 110s—the script harps on the fact that average global temperatures could rise one to three degrees—which makes it sound to the layman’s ear like no big problem (though it certainly is).

Not helping is Meksin’s schoolmarm-ish delivery that robs this drama of its drama. The bottom line is that humanity is indeed very quickly running out of time to return the planet to normal weather patterns, and that radical changes in the way we generate energy and grow our food will be required—immediately—if we want to bequeath a better world to the people of 2071 and beyond. That’s the story 2071 wanted to tell in a theatrical way, but lost in its dry, symposium-like format.

Directed by Carin Zakes, 2071 is playing a limited run through August 11 at the Episcopal Actors Guild at 1 East 29thStreet in Manhattan.

William Hand and HUNGER

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When a manic episode prompts a struggling artist to create a YouTube Live persona and disappear into Times Square for four days, he emerges with a primer on how to survive Late Capitalism.

That is HUNGER presented by The How at IRT Theater, running through August 19. With showings on August 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18 at 8:00 pm (75 Minutes. Tickets: $15 General and $25 Patron). IRT: 154 Christopher st. NYC #3B (third floor).

This fascinating exploration is brought to you by William Hand (author/performer),
Polina Ionina (performer), and Paulina Jurzec (designer/videographer).

Tickets available at https://hunger.brownpapertickets.com/

Hunger specifies theater-making as an act of labor, and examines the collective reimagining of labor in our digital fame economy.

William Hand says “I am exploring the work of Knut Hamsun, whose extraordinary novel, Hunger, shares my assumption that artistic endeavor is a means of survival. Hamsun and I believe that art making is a high wire act. My production of Hunger is a schizoanalysis of Hamsun after Deleuze and Guattari. I got hungry to superimpose that analysis onto the contemporary mode of celebrity guru status, i.e. for everything that is a job, there is someone on the internet who plays at that job as a performance for extra cash.”

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The How joined forces for this residency with Dirt[Contained]. We took a moment to speak with Mr. Hand about HUNGER. 

William Hand: Polina and I run this little org, The How. We work with a lot of different artists from around the world, in different disciplines, and it informs a lot of what we make and how we make it. What We Do and Hunger are very different pieces, but we collaborated with each other on them both. Polina performs in mine, and I in hers. We’ve trained together with our friends and colleagues for three years in our junky little rehearsal space in Brooklyn, and even though Hunger is a text-based multimedia piece, and What We Do is a wordless dance theater piece, they share influences, collaborators, and themes. Both pieces are definitely about alienation, both pieces are definitely about trying to find meaning in a very lonely world, and both pieces place the human body as the center and starting point of this search.
When asked about his creative process, Mr. Hand shared a story that began in Munich and included so deep personal details
William Hand: I was in Munich at a theater festival and seeing how freely the German theater talked about labor in their work. I started attempting to make a play about the labor of being an artist in the 21st century- the eerie pull of the digital fame economy, the vertigo-inducing loneliness of social media, and the ongoing alienation of American culture from honest creative theater. 
A year prior to this, the first friend I had made in New York City committed suicide. He suffered from treatment resistant mania, and throwing himself into the theater with a wild abandon gave him the strength to weather his mental state. He was one of only a handful of people I have ever met to have the true artist’s spirit. The more I continued to write a piece about YouTube and celebrity gurus, the more obvious it was to me that the reason I was writing this piece was that it seemed as though my friend’s genius was wholly incompatible with this current modern dystopia.
Discontent to write solely from a place of rage,  I dove into Knut Hamsun’s novel Hunger, about a writer who’s subconscious mysteriously wills him not to eat. His inability to eat cuts him off from writing, which cuts him off from money, which further inhibits his ability to eat. Eventually he becomes completely incompatible with society, but this mysterious subconscious drive also seems to be a source of power for him as well. He sees through illusions of society with greater clarity, and while his writing doesn’t get any more marketable, or even any better necessarily, it starts to provide him a kind of almost religious joy. I realized that the romantic aspect of this book comforted me greatly. It seemed to portray a radical psychology that didn’t exist in our world until the author willed it to exist, and I recognized it as having a resemblance to the type of revolutionary psychology that might have kept my friend alive. So our piece Hunger is a kind of contemporary adaptation of this novel written as a vision of hope. 
To create the world of this piece, Polina and I have developed a half ingenius half insane multimedia apparatus to convey the digital perspective of the characters. One character seems to live entirely in a VR simulation of his own life, which he watches on repeat. Another stares into a smart phone’s reflection of himself as he records a philsophical podcast which slowly deteriorates into a painful personal trauma. A third interacts only with her viewers, who send her gifts but only on the condition that they get to watch her unwrap them. Three smartphones broadcast these three worlds live on stage. 
The How delves where few companies go. 
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William Hand: Created by William Hand and Polina Ionina, The How aims to be a place for artists of different disciplines and backgrounds to come together to create pioneering pieces of theater. 
December 2016: The Vyuga Project was an ongoing series of ‘studies’ of Sarah Kane’s Crave directed by Polina Ionina with dramaturgy by William Hand. We premiered the piece at Dixon Place featuring the musical direction and composition of Laura Bowler. Bowler’s enigmatic and challenging score, featuring two violinists, highlighted the texts remixed from Wim Wenders, T.S. Elliot, Knut Hamsun, and others. By creating an associative landscape around Kane’s piece, and by diving into her original source material (Elliot), Ionina and Hand created a context for the ensemble to reignite the flame of Kane’s work.

Ionina used a blend of somatic practices and musical experimentation to unite the artists across disciplines and create a language of improvisation and formal experimentation.

June, 2017: In a brownstone/artist collective/gallery space in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Polina Ionina, Akmal Rakhimov and Lucie Vitkova played in Jon Fosse’s I Am the Wind.  directed by Will Hand. Coming off the success of Vyuga Project, the collective wanted to explore the ways in which musicians and actors can deepen their collaborative relationships in the rehearsal process to find new ways of telling stories. Vitkova, a composer and accordionist, created a soundscape that served to translate Fosse’s imagistic poetry into a more immediate, visceral, and inherently dramatic allegorical space. 

Throughout 2017 The How created an experimental music and dance series that premiered new cutting edge pieces throughout Brooklyn. Premiering monthly, the How showcased over 50 different artists on 40 different acts in 2017. 

October, 2017: Again a part of Dixon Place’s summer residency program, the company developed a devised piece around the topic of Confederate monuments in America. With artists Tanya Chattman, David Glover, Weronika H. Wozniak, Linus Ignatius, and Ilker Oztop, Hand and Ionina developed a rehearsal process that allowed for a deeply diverse and international cast to reflect on monumentality in their hometowns and native countries. Discontent with the style of political theater in our current climate, the ensemble attempted to create a space that worked towards utopia in the theater in real time, with art action protests personally devised and performed by every member of the ensemble. The piece was developed over the next year, and premiered at The Tank in Midtown Manhattan in October 2018. Based on the success of this piece, Hand was selected as one of six North Americans to attend the Politik Im Freien Theater Festival (Politics in the Independent Theater Festival) in Munich, Germany.

The Lions of 21st Century Live Art

 

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Jay Michaels,
the host of Terror Talk on Terror TV
conducted the interview

 

Naya James, Lucia (“Lu”) Bellini, and Trenton Clark are the pride of lions that make up THREE-HEADED LION PRODUCTIONS. Amassing decades of experience between them, Bellini, James, and Clark (sounds like a law firm, no?) have appeared, directed, produced, and studied with some of the leading names in independent art: Wednesday Repertory Company (where Trent is a resident director), Anjali Productions, an independent film production company (Naya is an owner), Theater 54, The Paradise Factory, The Algonquin, Richmond Shepard Theater, NY Madness, Planet Connection Festivities (where Lu is an award-winner), HERE Arts Center, Abrons Arts Center, Hudson Warehouse, Papermill Theater, New World Stages Hollywood, and La Mama Experimental Theatre.

Makes sense that they would join forces to create their own theatrical hub.

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The team opens their first production at another laudable festival: Theatre for the New City’s Dream-Up Festival.

IMG_4142Combining all their talents and tastes, Abdication! Is a blend of Retro TV, cutting edge “downtown” art, timely topics, brilliant writing, directing, and acting, and some gallows humor thrown-in. Abdication! is three fantasy based tales on what happens when we [willingly] give up our identity. Imagine Orwell’s 1984 spiced with Handmaid’s Tale and Black Mirror.

I took the reins of interviewing the Lions due to my devotion to all things macabre.  

OK, let’s start with intros… tell us about yourselves as artists.

NAYA JAMES: First and foremost, I regard myself as a storyteller. There are many different ways to tell a story of course—my main mediums are writing and acting, others do it through technical design or directing, etc. But I feel that any valuable narrative art has to service the story above all. Because it is the story that brings people together, lets them experience something as one and create a shared energy space. To me, that is what we in film and theater should always be striving for and what I aim to do as an artist.

LU BELLINI: I started out as a ballet dancer when I was about 3 years old and I remember being so fascinated from that very young age by my teachers and choreographers creating and guiding us all. I would be so proud of being part of the group of people coming into the theatre from the backstage door. It’s like all of a sudden, I knew something mysterious and magical that nobody else could know about. I would ask my mother: “can I please pretty please put up my own dancing recital?” Of course not. I was 6. Maybe 7. Still no. Shortly after I got bit by the acting bug, and it still itches today. But that was not quite enough to fill that “let’s-come up with new ideas make a show tell some jokes and use music to recreate a feeling a situation a though” hole in my heart. It started to fill up when by accident I ended up co-directing for Bad Babies Films. I did research and read books and studied and practiced and I am of course still doing that today. So I would say that myself as an artist is that part of me that searches and listens out for new pieces of information every chance I get to add to my little baggage of knowledge, to then put to practice and experiment, make it my own when I can. Practice, practice, practice. I am not the kind of artist that think I was simply born with a miraculous talent and that I should just go out and spread my amazing gift into the world (you would be surprised by how much I hear stuff like that or along those lines). And plus, why not? I love reading and talking about theatre, and film, and directing techniques, and acting techniques, I find it truly interesting. And if I have to be responsible for a group of 15, 20, or however many people, I owe it to them to be as prepared as I can be. Same goes if I am acting in something, you’re not alone and what you do and what you bring to the table touches so many other people that might not even be in the room in that moment. 

TRENTON CLARK: I started doing theatre when I was in high school. A friend of mine had seen the audition posting for the upcoming spring musical–that year wasAnything Goes–and maybe she thought I would be really good, or perhaps she just wanted to get me to stop humming and singing my way around campus. Either way she marched with me over to the call board and practically put my name down for me. And that was that. I was cast as ensemble and got my first real dose of theatre. Despite spending much of my time in the Musical Theatre world, I really found my passion for the arts in the acting studio. I loved studying the text. I quickly adopted my mother’s father’s appreciation for Shakespeare; I’ve even carted his aging, hardback copies of the Bard’s works across the country with me–three times. I moved to New York to study the craft at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.  I graduated. I worked professionally in regional theaters and tap danced (something I had never done before going to school in NY) my way across Asia in a production of 42nd Street. I was told I should try TV, so I moved to Los Angeles. It was during my time on the west coast that I really began exploring and pushing the limits of my creativty; I did a movie musical, I worked on a green screen project. I’ve grown to love those elements of storytelling that really push the imagination.

What’s your creative process and how do you make the fantasy elements real?

NAYA JAMES: My creative process as a writer is to just try to participate in life as much as possible. To notice the things happening around me. People and the environment are connected in many significant ways that you might miss if you’re not paying attention—so I just try to pay attention, to observe people and situations. From doing this, stories and ideas tend to arise organically. In everything I create, I try to ground it in the reality of the human experience as much as possible. Regarding fantasy, it doesn’t matter if you’re a character in middle earth in the beginning of days, or a character living on Mars hundreds of years from now—your fundamental human emotions and need for love, community, connection and security will always be the same. So as long as characters feel and exhibit truthful behavior, it doesn’t matter how fantastical the imaginary setting is.  

LU BELLINI: Any fantasy element can easily become real if you treat it as such. If you think about it, any reality can be a fantasy for someone else and vice versa. I find it a matter of being able and willing to put yourself in the required proverbial shoes. It can’t harm if you’re stuck with the imagination and curiosity of a small child. First step of the process: having a good relationship with the script (and the playwright). I must love it and believe in it and it has to make sense for me, for my sensibility, humor, etc. I am not fit to direct or act in anything under the sun. With time I found that some things are better fit than others (like most people I am sure). As a director I usually then start to compile visual and musical references for myself and for the rest of team I am working with so we can all start “seeing” the show slowly emerging from the fog. I keep an open mind and more often than not things change quite a bit from those first concepts. Better ideas and/or more effective ways of telling the story might come from anywhere at any time. Not to mention the world of logistics and staying on time/budget which will try your imagination and general process really good. Reason why I find it crucial to have a team you trust and that you feel comfortable with around you. It is sometimes in time of trouble that true imagination and collaboration happen and shine. 

TRENTON CLARK: I always start with the text. I’ve learned over the years that you can study and study and study a script, and there are always more surprises. It’s amazing what information can be pulled from the writer’s chosen words. After learning the script inside and out, the next thing has always been to play; make that weird choic–in the moment. It may not be the best choice but it’ll teach you something, about the material, or about yourself, often both. Fantasy comes alive when you’re uninhibited and unfiltered. The courage to take that risk and do the uncomfortable often results in the most amazing discoveries. In that state of constant discovery, the fantasy is kept alive for me.

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From left to right Naya James (playwright/producer/actor), Lucia Bellini (director/producer), Trenton Clark (producer/actor)

How do you inject humor without losing the message?

LU BELLINI: I don’t think comedy and humor would cause any message to be lost. If anything, I believe it might help getting people to listen or to even get the message across without even realizing there a was a message in the first place. 

NAYA JAMES: A lot of times humor is the message. For example, “laughter through tears” can be seen as the quintessential human behavior—we are complex emotional individuals, and our ability to find humor and nuance in grim or challenging situations has historically been one of our best coping mechanisms. 

TRENTON CLARK: Well, never try to be funny. Again, going to the script will almost always show you where the humor lies. And humor is complicated; it isn’t just slapstick, it isn’t just punchlines, it’s ironies and tragedies and so much more. Then there’s the humor that comes with discomfort. I stick with the message and commit to my choices and the humor flows from things naturally.

I’ve always felt that anything fantasy, sci-fi and horror are cautionary tales. What’s your opinion?

LU BELLINI: I agree. Even if they don’t intent to be. They tap into those big “as ifs” and “what if that happened IRL” and “what would I do if” and they get the conversation going and your wheels turning. “what if” can be a very powerful question. 

NAYA JAMES: I believe it depends on what exactly you’re attempting to caution people against. Pieces in the fantasy, sci-fi or horror genres can absolutely serve as warnings to people of potential or future danger. But in other stories, a more utopian or aspirational alternative can be presented. In these instances, they can have the opposite effect, encouraging people not to proceed with caution but rather to barrel full steam ahead. And sometimes there’s a special hybrid, cautionary tale and heartwarming Utopia story all at once—which is why a movie like Avatar was so popular! 

TRENTON CLARK: So much of human storytelling is cautionary. Warnings of creatures to be feared, stalking in the dark have always been whispered across the campfire. Zombies, one of my favorite creature-villains, are arguably the most utilized characterizations of our fear throughout modernity. Representative of illness, disease, contagion, and death, Zombies teach us to be cautious of infections and new “miracle cures”, the depths of the jungle and crowded public places, and perhaps most of all ourselves and the horrors we are capable of. StarTrek teaches us that no matter how advanced our society may become, we are still human and prone to err. 

What next?

NAYA JAMES: To continue working with my fabulous collaborators. To develop this show to its ultimate creative vision, and hopefully find it a more permanent home. After that, more plays, films, and multimedia. As my production partner says, I am a “bottomless pit of ideas.” So just getting those ideas to fruition in attempt to connect relevant stories to as many people as we can. 

Abdication! explodes with live action and video sequences (From left to right: Trenton Clark as Rick Rarey, Mike Ivers as Joe and Naya James as Mara in the video segment for the episode Love Lobotomy)

LU BELLINI: I am looking forward to seeing Abdication! finally on stage and how to improve it from there. I also can’t wait to start working on Naya’s new full-length play, and who knows… maybe jump on stage, myself, for a bit?  

TRENTON CLARK: I write, I direct, I act. Abdication! will continue to see development and I see a lot more beyond that on the horizon. 

 

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André Vauthey, a doctor turned actor, had a truly unique story to tell. 

The How: What We Do, part of the 3B Development Series, currently running at IRT Theatre 154 Christopher St. NYC #3B (third floor), is a daring and engrossing movement piece developed by the artists in the rehearsal process and explored through improvisation.

What We Do runs the gamut of attention, attraction, separation, and oneness. It is a fluid
kinetic representation of what it means to part of a whole or wholly apart.  Joshua Crone reviewed it in OuterStage saying it is was compelling, organically choreographed and deeply moving.

The mesmerizing experience runs through this week, closing on August 2nd before the next performance piece moves in. Directed by Polina Ionina; William Hand, Shay Wisniewski, André Vauthey, and Rosalee DeHuff are featured.

hd copyAndré Vauthey, a doctor turned actor, had a truly unique story to tell. 

“I am a young Swiss doctor-turned-actor who moved to the states about two and half years ago. My parents are polish and I was born and grew up in the French part of Switzerland before moving to the German part to study med school. After graduating and working as a doctor, I realized that even though I was doing a very meaningful work, I wasn’t living in harmony with myself, mostly due to the amount of administrative work in comparison to the actual patient’s time. I decided to quit the hospital to take time to myself and make sure I was where I wanted to be and it wasn’t just a consequence of my past decisions. As I wandered in my inner self, I remembered that as a kid I used to love acting and would even force my older brother to perform in front of our parents. So I decided to give it a try. I went to the pinewood studios in London for an acting workshop and loved it. Back in Switzerland I started acting in some films but felt like I need more guidance and decided to move to NYC to study at the Lee Strasberg’s Theater and Film Institute. When I first moved here, I thought it would be just to complete a one year program at my acting school and go back to Europe to work as an actor. But I fell in love with both the city and the school and decided to complete their entire two year conservatory program and stay here. I would say I learned as much about the craft of acting as I have learned about myself. This has been an incredible journey and my state of mind has changed forever. By knowing myself better, I am now so much more expressive and open to this world and to the art. It is a wonderful feeling. 

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That is an amazing story! What made you want to come to America and thus, New York? 

Well there are different reasons. First of all, I lived in NYC with my parents when I was 1 year old for a year and always saw those pictures without remembering any of it. So something in me was attracted by it. Secondly, I was/am always attracted by the energy and the chaos of this city. I felt like something truthful, expressive, raw must exist there. I remembered when I first moved here, I was quite disappointed. Everything seemed too normal. But slowly and gently, the spirit of NYC and Brooklyn came to me and I love it. Finally, the opportunities here are different than in Switzerland. I love Europe and want to do projects there too, but it’s a very different way of seeing the work. Both are great, just different.

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Tell us about this presentation, how does movement in it tell the story? 

This presentation and this ensemble is another blessing that just came to me. As I started studying acting I realized that I was what I was convinced I wasn’t: quite intellectual. It took me a whole year to realize that. During the second year, I gently and slowly started to drop from my head to my body and my acting changed a lot. One thing that helped me a lot with that was movement exploration. I started to go to Butoh, Gaga, 5 rhythms, ecstatic dance and that changed my acting and my life. I became way more expressive and in touch with my body and as all this was happening and found on backstage an audition for a movement piece and felt like everything was aligned. I performed with the ensemble for the first time about three months ago and again now. For me, movement and body language is the key of truthfulness. The body doesn’t and can’t lie. There aren’t any words to support you, to support you at moments you don’t feel it. There aren’t any escapes. It’s just you, your feelings, and your body to express it. No lies, no deviations, no intellectualization, pure truthful emotions and the journey told this way is incredible. The audience response to it is wonderful. It talks to people straight to the core. And everyone feels it in their own truth which is the best answer any artist can get. A friend of mine was so touched by our piece, she felt moved but as well felt compelled to put that energy in motion and start her own journey. It’s wonderful when the audience is not only entertained during the show but when something in them shifts and brings them to change things afterwards. More pragmatically, this presentation explores the self in regard to oneself, to others, the self alone, the self in group, the self-facing itself, and the self being part of the whole. We had the opportunity to bring our personal movements in it as well as explore the movement of others and explore the creation of common movements. It is so interesting and thrilling to be able to explore so much with our body and soul. Working as an actor presents many challenges. Working in another country far from friends and family presents challenges as well. Working as an actor in another country… well you get it. I feel very lucky and humble because I am actually performing quite often and doing beautiful work with wonderful people. 

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What are/were some difficulties in working here?

At the beginning the hardest part was to get a balance in life. As an actor, you are your own boss and make your own schedule, so it’s easy to procrastinate or to feel overwhelmed. But you learn and grow. Now I feel like I have a nice balance between work from home, work on projects and nature and friends. The hardest part now I guess is for me to get people to see my work, to get an agent, I guess to “break through” as people say it. There are so many actors, so many plays being performed, that it is hard to get an agent or manager’s attention, which is understandable. But I am very positive and feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be and things will come along when they do. 

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What’s in store for us from you here?

Well I just came back from an international tour as the lead and am now in this show. As soon as we close, I start rehearsing for two other plays: Cocaine and Dreams and Nightmares. As well as for a short [film] that is being shot in two weeks. I am myself writing and exploring a play about what it means to be an artist and so, to some extent, to be a human being.

FOR FURTHER INFO: http://irttheater.org/3b-development-series/what-we-do/

 

Ai Spotlight: Arts Veteran Laurie Rae Waugh

Independent theater has many heroes but even more unsung ones. The splintered nature of the independent theater scene makes it difficult to truly celebrate some of its more prolific artists. The myriad theaters, companies, and even festivals, make knowing who is making a difference very difficult. You could be seeing a show on a block in Manhattan and still not be aware of all the others shows on that block. Even festivals. Go see a show with a friend in it and look in the playbill – how many people do you know in the same festival but never knew they were there!

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Laurie Rae Waugh has been a  power-players in NYC for near 40 years, but her humble nature and desire to simply do good work has made her one of New York’s best kept secrets.

Well, not everywhere. She is a repertory director at a theater that has been around as long as she has: the American Theatre of Actors. Representing the works of many playwrights including Jame Crafford, Irving Greenfield, Shirley Beth Newbery, and the late Steve Silver, Laurie’s signature soft-touch has given their plays a sensitivity that is  engaging yet organic.

Whether it was out of humility or desire to not age herself, Ms. Waugh – in interview – “accidentally” left out the dates of her first works, but her entrance was easy to figure as she stage-managed a moment in history. Before Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, she ran the show at The Ballroom in 1987 for STAMP OUT AIDS – dedicated to Michael Bennett.   

Share with us your firsts.

There have been several firsts on the acting front.  My first time in an acting role in NYC came about when the late playwright, Steve Silver expanded his one-act play “The Watchtower” and turned it into a full length play. Steve wrote a character specifically for me to play.  The character was his wife’s older sister, Molly McCann. I reprised the role of Molly in the film version he developed and that was also a first for me on film.  Steve later wrote a one act play called “The Tiger of Greenwich Village” and he asked me to play the leading role.  Steve said that he had complete faith in me to pull it off and with the help of Ken Coughlin as the director I was able to do just that.

I first got into directing through the TSI/Playtime Series where I directed 3 one-act plays.  One of the plays “Rage, Inc.” by Le Wilhelm happened to be part of a group of plays that I went to see some friends in.  I mentioned to the man sitting next to me that I would have to leave the theatre before the play started because I didn’t want to see how someone else staged it as I was currently in rehearsal for my vision of the same play.  The funny thing was that I got to meet Mr. Wilhelm that evening and we discussed his play in depth.  My next first was working with EndTime Productions for 2 years on their Vignettes for the  Apocalypse and Naked Holidays NYC Series.  This was a different concept for me for several reasons.  We sat thru a day of auditions and then a day of call backs.  We put our cast list together and had to hope that you got the cast you wanted because other directors wanted the same actors. My next first was responding to an advertisement in Backstage for directors.  The ad was placed by Mr. James Jennings of the American Theatre of Actors.  I had a meeting with Mr. Jennings and was given the opportunity to read many one-act plays until I found the one that I liked.  The play was called “Trailer Trash Deluxe” by Laurie Allen. 

My first taste of producing happened when I started a Theatre Company with two partners called Legacy Stage Ensemble.  LSE was dedicated to bridging the artistic and cultural gap between experiences, training and concerns of different generations.  Its productions, both original and revival, tackled topics about personal crisis and social bias. Our two productions were “The Acting Lesson” by Wesley St. John and “The Gray List” by Allan Provost. We lasted for two seasons before my two partners careers went in other directions.

When I moved to NYC in 1980 I got my first Stage Managing job for the show “Notes from The Underground” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I staged managed 21 shows in my first 7 years.  The most notable one was STAMP OUT AIDS a one-night only show at The Ballroom on 7/4/87 dedicated to Michael Bennett.  This was before Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids.

Waugh (center) is flanked by old buddies: The last Steve Silver (left) and character actor, Thomas J. Kane. All winners of the Jean Dalrymple Award – off-off Broadway’s first honor.

Family is an importation factor to Ms. Waugh. Thus, she aims her director’s baton at works with a family foundation. She has mastered stage conversation so her family plays look like real families chatting. 

What kind of plays are you drawn to?

I select plays that call to me.  It might be the subject matter, the way in which it is written or just the dialogue that has me see a vision in my mind’s eye.  Most of the plays I direct are dramas.  The themes are mostly about family conflict.  I have worked with a couple of playwrights on multiple projects and have gotten insights from them about why they wrote the play in the first place.  The great thing is that they continue to hand me meaningful scripts to direct.

It’s that same light touch that has allowed her to take a strong place in the line-up of directors ion NYC. What was once a male-dominated industry, she stood her ground and kept getting the world to listen.

What’s it like being a woman in the arts in the (now) 21st century….and how have things changed?

When I first started doing theatre in NYC back in 1980 almost all the director’s I worked were men. I believe I only worked with one woman director. As a woman, it takes time, perseverance and the right play to stand out in a crowded indie theatre scene.  It takes the help of social media, word of mouth, and publicity to put your project on top and to make you stand out from the rest.  For me personally, I hired a publicist several years ago and he has been able to get my projects in the press, mostly online, and recently I participated on podcasts.

Entering the world of film, she teamed with Steve Silver some years ago to create “The Watchtower” an award-winning independent film that has since seen great acclaim and distribution. As she took many thespian-friends of the stage with her, the transition was relativity smooth.

Film or theatre……differences?  If you had a choice?

The first part is an easy answer, theatre.  Theatre is live, has a pulse, and anything can happen on stage. From forgetting lines to missing cues to enter or exit the stage.  Props not being set in the right place, and having an actor bring props onto the stage for the next scene.  With film, you get to have several takes until the final product looks the way you want it to look.  You also have the benefit of utilizing different camera angles and lighting to forever capture the right moment.  Theatre will always be my first love.  I love to learn new things and improve upon the skills I possess.  For this reason I have a desire to learn more about film production. 

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Laurie Waugh on stage in a Steve Silver play

Stanislavsky-styled, she creates a cohesive situation among her casts/crews so that they feel respected and the process-fluid. One might say she creates a family to play a family. 

What is your creative process?

My creative process evolves and changes from project to project and from cast to cast.  I usually allow the actors freedom to explore their characters through the dialogue and movement around the stage.  With my current project, we are spending time on some of the stage direction that the playwright has written into the script.  Sometimes we have to stop and start a section a few times to make it feel fluid and realistic.  I also share parts of my life with the actors so they can see a human side of how I see the character and my vision for the play.

There are about four or so spaces in New York left from the great indie theater movement that started in the late 50s. LaMama stands at the forefront with The Medicine Show still thriving, but – standing like a beacon in midtown – is the American Theatre of Actors. This is Laurie’s “home.” 

Why ATA?

Easy question as well.   Mr. James Jennings has encouraged me from the beginning to be my best.  He allows me to pick my own projects and he has seen every play I have directed. The environment Mr. Jennings created at ATA is very welcoming and nurturing and provides you with the ability to hone your craft.  ATA is conveniently located at 314 W 54th St. in Manhattan.  The ATA building contains three theatres and ample rehearsal space that we are able to utilize for everything from auditions to rehearsals and on to opening night of the show.  I also get to work with very committed and talented people.

Money-driven societies always have the renegades that simply want to “do the work.” 

WHY DO YOU DO IT?????

For the love of it of course.  I enjoy taking a play from the written word to a piece of entertainment.  Putting my spin on the production and hoping the playwright enjoys what they see.  I believe it’s all about being true to the words of the playwright.  I truly care about the writer’s opinion in my productions because without them I wouldn’t be directing.

And when you love it … you keep doing it.

What’s Next?

I have three more projects in the pipeline.  In November of 2019 I will be directing a one-act in a series of One Acts.  The play is called “Footprints of the Polar Bear” by Phil Paradis.  Early 2020, I plan to be acting in a play called “After the Lynching” by James Crafford. In spring 2020 I will be directing another play written by one of my favorite playwrights Mr. Irving Greenfield. The play is called “What do we do about Walter?”

 

LAURIE RAE WAUGH’S CURRENT PROJECT:

The wit of playwright Shirley Beth Newbery coupled with the steady hand of director Laurie Rae Waugh will make even the saddest occasion a joy in AFTER THE WAKE, running Wednesday – Sundays, August 7 – 18 at the Serene Sargent Theatre – part of the American Theatre of Actors complex of art-houses. Wednesday – Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and matinees on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets $20 at the door. 

American Theatre of Actors is located at 314 W. 54th Street
New York City, 212.581.3044

Universal Themes that are all in our heads.

Review by guest-writer, Dan Woods
Head First, a new play by Dennis Bush, starts out as a sex-drenched, gay coming-of-age story but ends up addressing universal themes about love and relationships.
The story is told as a sequence unbridled sequence of gay sex encounters that are used to develop characters and illustrate the deeper story about protecting boundaries and overcoming barriers to deeper, lasting commitments.
imageThe play, directed by Lester Thomas Shane, premiered last week at the 2019 Fresh Fruit Festival and ran for four performances. Cooper Koch, a Pace University Theater alumnus, played Kyle, the lead character. Austin Larkin, who hails from North Carolina, played Second Actor, portraying Kevin, Greg, John and several other parts. Both actors have worked steadily commercially and in a variety of New York, regional, and experimental venues.
The story follows Kyle as he moves to NYC in the wake of an abusive act by Greg, a childhood friend. As a student he develops a close relationship with John, his roommate, who wraps his good advice and caring intentions in frat-bro braggadocio. As the first semester rolls on, Kyle starts to understand his allure and power, revels in the opportunities available to a young, attractive, gay man, and meets Kevin, a stable and secure middle-class man from Queens.
But Kyle also experiences a series of seizures, due to an automobile accident in which he is propelled head first through a windshield. At first the seizures bring Kevin and Kyle closer together, but eventually tear them apart. At the same time Kyle, with the help of John’s ribald and brusque analysis, comes to understand and address the nature of his abuse at the hands of Greg, and confronts him with the help of a non-ironic selfie. In the end, Kyle absorbs some of Kevin’s security, and Kevin overcomes his fear of loving someone who has a deep and frightening affliction.
The dialogue and word play in Bush’s script have a rhythmic quality, using tag lines such as “one truth at a time”, “I don’t say shit I don’t mean, and “let’s cuddle it all away” that move from character to character.
Bush, who lives in Phoenix, is an obsessed playwright who has published more than 40 plays and monologue collections. His plays have been produced hundreds of times and this one feels tight and crafted in ways that compare favorably to well-known writers. For example, Bush has full command of the fast-paced, Aaron Sorkin-style back and forth between intelligent and driven characters.
Like John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus, Bush uses detailed verbal depictions of sex as a vehicle to move the drama forward. But unlike Shortbus, which purposefully delivered lots of visuals of gratuitous sex as a celebration, Bush deploys his sex microscope at the service of the characters and plot.
The production is a triumph of minimalism. With four chairs and a rolling screen the size of a doorway, we move from sick bed, to driving a car, to riding in a bus, to a dorm room, to Kevin’s apartment, to the subway, and so on, all the while knowing exactly where we are. While Cooper Koch moves Kyle moves through his hero’s journey, Austin Larkin plays eight other characters. All through this we know exactly where we are and who is on stage.
Anyone who has seen Shane’s work as an actor or director, as I have several times, can immediately sense his devotion to serving the play. In this way, he carries on as a director the tradition of theater critic Eric Bentley, who judged direction, production, and acting based on how well they realized the vision of the playwright. This is a far cry from many of the gimmicky productions now on Broadway where the director in effect writes a new play.
The minimalism extends to the acting as well. Cooper Koch, who has worked as a model, is truly beautiful as Kyle, and brings him to life first as an ingenue, thrilled with the attention he is getting, and then as someone who learns how to stick up for himself and value what is truly important. Austin Larkin conveys in small movements, precise accents, and vocal queues exactly who is talking, then he inhabits the characters in such as way that in retrospect it is shocking to realize there were only two actors in the play. Bush’s script provides a new form of language for each character, which makes this task easier. In addition, the theater was small enough so we get both the complex facial movements of a movie acting along with the demonstrative movement, postures, and posing need for theater. I felt as if Tad, John, Kevin, Greg, were all on stage as completely different people.
Both Cooper Koch and Austin Larkin deliver believable, precise characters. They complete the construct that starts with Bush’s script and continues through Shane’s direction to create characters that are fully coherent and real.
The truly touching moments in the play transcend the homo-normative backdrop, and leave us witnessing universal humanity, such as Kevin reaching out to apologize for withdrawing, or Kyle understanding how to communicate he has been violated. Kevin shows us how to reach out sincerely and politely. He asks for permission to sustain a chance intimacy, “you good?”, and expresses interest in Kyle punctuated by the phrase, “I don’t say shit I don’t mean.” Kevin withdraws in fear but then returns in love and regret. Kyle who at first is a bit passive, fielding a steady stream of offers, grows stronger and understands how to be a man, both confronting Greg who has abused him, most of all, saying shit he really means to Kevin.
In the end, Head First gets its message across without ever getting preachy. The lessons of the play didn’t hit me over the head, but came to me days after, as the scenes rolled around in my mind. May we all grow as naturally as Kevin and Kyle and always say shit we really mean, even when it is a bit scary.

Dan Woods loves theater and writes about technology at www.EarlyAdopter.com and in other publications.

Matt Webster goes forth with BACK

A featured event in Ken Davenport’s inaugural Rave Theater Festival is BACK, a new play written by and featuring Matt Webster with Terra Mackintosh and directed by David Perlow

This 90-minute drama will perform on Saturday 8/10 @ 2:15pm; Tuesday 8/13 @ 8:45pm; Friday 8/16 @ 7pm; Sunday 8/18 @ 4pm; Friday 8/23 @ 9:15pm with tickets being available at http://www.BackThePlay.com (further info at @BackThePlay)

Leah travels to New York City to reconnect with her best friend Derek. Their undeniable chemistry and inherent trust would otherwise make these two a perfect match, if it weren’t for something in the past keeping them apart. Leah tells Derek about an incredible opportunity: a chance to go back in time and change the course of their lives. But there are rules about altering the past that could have devastating effects on the present. Will they risk everything in search of a second chance at life?

Matt Webster 2.jpgPlaywright/Performer Matt Webster recently performed on Broadway at the Hudson Theatre in DGF Toasts: Stephen Schwartz. In addition to singing in the show, Matt contributed the vocal arrangements.

So that makes him a Broadway actor and arranger.

Matt has been seen onstage as Glad Hand in the Broadway Tour of West Side Story and won BroadwayWorld’s Best Actor Award for his portrayal of Johnny Pope in A Hatful of Rain.

So that makes him an acclaimed Broadway actor and arranger.

Matt can also be seen on screen in various feature films, commercials, web-series, and short films.

So that makes him an acclaimed Broadway actor, film artist, and arranger.

As a writer, Matt’s first musical, Kingdom Come, won Best Musical at the Downtown Urban Theatre Festival in NYC. Since winning the festival, Kingdom Come has been featured at the New York Theatre Barn and the Secret Theatre in Long Island City. Kingdom Come made its regional premier at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota. His second original musical, Propaganda! The Musical was produced at the Pearl Theatre on 42nd St. as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. It won several awards, including: Best Featured Actress and Best Choreography. It had its regional premier in Orlando, Florida at the Winter Park Playhouse in 2017. Propaganda! The Musical made its international debut at the Gaetnerplatz Theatre in Munich, Germany in July of 2018. This summer, Propaganda! The Musical will be released as a one of a kind, fully produced, podcast musical, featuring a full sound design, complete orchestra, and a cast filled with Broadway stars. Matt’s children’s show, a fast-paced, four-actor version of Cinderella, featuring songs from the Great American Songbook, premiered in March 2017 in Washington, DC with the American Pops Orchestra. He is currently writing several projects including: a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing featuring chart topping country hits; a film called “Super,” about the opioid epidemic in Ohio; and a new play called Jay and the Contest. He received his BFA in Acting from West Virginia University where he was named the outstanding graduate from the College of Creative Arts. Matt is a founding member of the Magic Forest Theatre Company – a traveling children’s theatre that performs at pre-schools and daycares across the NY Metro area. Matt won the 2016 Johnny Mercer Award for Songwriting and currently works as assistant to Broadway’s Andrew Lippa.

Well, that makes him an acclaimed Broadway actor, musical writer and arranger, film artist, with a diverse portfolio of projects befitting innumerable demographics. 

Not too shabby.

So we wanted to chat with Matt about BACK. This foray into fantasy and realistic romance is a featured piece at Broadway producer, Ken Davenport’s inaugural festival in NYC.

Tell us about yourself as an artist?

I’ve always had an interest in storytelling. When I was in second grade, our elementary school published a calendar that had a page dedicated to what all of us wanted to be when we grew up. I said I wanted to “be an actor, because it’s fun and it makes people happy.” I’ve always held on to that. I now realize that other emotions are appropriate too, but as a second grader, I think happiness was all I had experienced from stories. I use the word storyteller when I think about myself as an artist, because in addition to acting, I write, direct, produce, sing, compose, music direct, arrange – any opportunity to tell a story. Before I do any of the things I just mentioned, I always start with a story. I think stories can change the world.
Interesting spin on a love story … how did you come up with it?
I was sitting on the subway and it sort of just came to me. I pulled out my cellphone and starting to free write in my notes app. The process is basically a conversation with myself. I ask questions, come up with ideas – I end a lot of sentences with “maybe?” When I started to form the story, I as inspired by an invitation to my high school reunion. I didn’t want to go because I didn’t think people from high school knew the real me – they just knew their own version of me that they had created in their heads from social media. So that sparked the idea of everyone in the world having the ability to create their own private universe.
Do you feel you have a mission or scheme in writing?
To connect with people. To spark conversation.
You also are acting in your piece. What are the pros and cons?
This is the only time I’ve written something knowing that I wanted to play the role. Derek, the character I play in the show, is very close to me. I knew that his words would be the most true coming from me. It’s sometimes hard to take the writer hat off during the rehearsal process, but I have a great team of creatives around me who are very supportive.
What’s next?
It’s sort of happening at the same time, but I’m currently working on the Stage Around Tokyo production of West Side Story. It opens in Tokyo during our run of BACK in NYC. I’m assisting the director. I performed in the Broadway revival tour of West Side Story several years ago, so it’s been really fun for me to join the show again, just on the opposite side of the production table. When BACK closes, I’ll head over to Tokyo to see the show. It’s an epic production, unlike anything American audiences have ever seen. The whole show is in 360 degrees. The audience sits in the center of a circle of 8 stages, and the audience revolves on a turntable throughout the show to all of the sets. There’s the Hudson river, two story buildings, motorcycles. It’s massive.
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