I realized that I haven’t made the big announcement yet – that I will be directing the middle school musical at Trevor Day school this spring. Central has been gracious enough to allow me to leave
during the day. I’m really looking forward to it, especially since it is one of my favorites: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. We are in pre-production at the moment, nothing with the kids yet, just the teachers. But so far it has been an extremely rewarding process. I’m having a lot of fun just throwing ideas around with them. I am lucky enough to not have to deal with the scheduling, because that seems very  difficult. I am already deeply grateful to the production team. We start in
earnest the middle of next month.

Speaking of kids, my best friend and often my production designer Allen Babcock brought some of his students to New York for the day. Before they did some of the other fabulous things he had planned for the day, he had scheduled a few break out groups with “young theater professionals.” Looks like I fooled them! Seriously though, it was a very rewarding conversation for me. They had a lot of insightful questions and  brought a lot of their own good ideas to the table. They did ask a number of broad questions that were difficult to answer, but nevertheless I SHOULD have the answer to. Stuff to think about for the elevator speech. I came up with a  new way to sum up the role of a director. “Custodian of the Narrative.” What do  you think?  If today is any indication of how Wonka will go, then it is certainly something to look forward to.

 
This sermon was E’mor. You can check out the summary here.

When it first became apparent that there was no way getting around it – that I would have to drash, I was honestly a little panic-stricken. I had avoided it for a few months, but I sit next to the guy who
schedules them and I couldn’t avoid it forever.  I’m not Jewish but my general appreciation of all faiths (I like to brag that I was one course shy of a religion minor), not to mention my other life in the entertainment industry left me with intermediate knowledge about some of the more important stories -  I’d say I was a Torah Top 40 listener. But with the limited scope of my knowledge, for this purpose, one torah portion was as good as any other, therefore my selection method consisted of closing my eyes and pointing. Of course its my luck that I end up picking the one that involves the laying out the rules of several of Judaism’s most important holidays. 

I thought what on Earth am I going to say about this? I’ve already started doing the prep work for the high holy days and its six months away – clearly this is quite important. So how am I going to do
this justice? Then I thought, I have a college degree and if thirteen year olds can do this, so can I. 

But as I researched, it became clear to me that the desire to make something, in this case my d’var torah worthy and special was very much what  E’mor is about. In this portion God lays out a laundry list of dos and don’ts for the priests. Then he gives very specific instructions who can approach to give sacrifice. Apparently God had had a lot of coffee and pulled all nighter to prepare for this strategic planning meeting, because he then gives a litany of how-tos for a number of the major holidays in Judaism. Luckily Moses was taking  notes.

So God took care of all of the hows, so the question that remains is why? Why does God have so many strong commandments to lay upon his people? Well, if anyone knows how easy it is for humans to take things for granted and only call upon them only when they need them, it’s God.
How often do we hear on tv or in movies when our sad hero’s beautiful love interest is in intensive care after a completely implausible yet terribly tragic accident “God, we haven’t talked in a while, but…” and then proceeds to ask for a rather large miracle. And let’s be honest, that doesn’t only happen on tv. Meanwhile, people in our society have become so accustomed to complaining about
every little inconvenience – my train is late, I’ve been on hold for fifteen minutes, that solar panel is blocking my view of the football field (that is from a real NYTimes article) that they completely ignore all of God’s blessings. We go through the motions of living as it completely passes us by. As the wise sage Ferris Bueller says: Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. That is what God is doing here. He is putting up a big STOP sign. He gives us these laws to force us slow down and consider what it is that we’re doing, to make these moments holy. What a blessed life we would lead if we really could make every moment truly special – every conversation, every drash? But in the meantime, God has done us the favor of
handpicking the beautiful moments of ritual that give us the time to commune with Him and each other.

 
My RSVP blog of the week. Check them out here!
The Big-Money Risks

One great thing I forsee about being a theater blogger is that its going to force me to actually see more theater! Otherwise not too much to talk about! Not the worst thing I suppose. I admit I also had a bit of an ulterior motive when I purchased a ticket for On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, but this is was the perfect excuse.

My Ulterior Motive

I can say that I am one of Jessie Mueller’s oldest fans. I was lucky enough to know her in college and it was clear then that she would be something special. In no way did she disappoint. She has a beautiful classic sound that reminds one of Judy Garland. Her presence is magnetic and she was able to maneuver through some campy dialogue with truth and grace. I would not be surprised if I see her performing Every Night at Seven, her “big break”solo at the top of the second acton the TONYs. In addition, the costume designer Catherine Zubin should be commended, she looked stunning – particularly in her final few scenes.

Now that THAT’s out of the Way…


On A Clear Day is certainly a challenging piece. I salute director Michael Mayer and new book writer Peter Parnell on their bold vision with this piece. They updated the piece, not to the present, but to the 1970s.  It allowed for some more heavy exploration of the ideals that were just coming to light during that time period. In order to really do this, they changed the second lead from a woman to a gay man. It has been met with a mixed response. Though I was not 100% convinced that all of the narrative questions had been answered, I think it most certainly shone a new light on the relationships and altered the stakes in what must have been a significant way. At this point I also want to say that for the most part I think the cast did a commendable job. It is so common with these older pieces that the material is rather campy. Its so hard to navigate with any truth. They embraced the campiness and walked the fine line between commitment and overdoing it. That is no small feat. It becomes so easy to editorialize on your own work and that judgment can certainly bleed through. Not in this case.

The Courage Factor


I again want to say thank you to the director and the producers for taking a risk. Sure they tried to sweeten the pot with a star. But he was at least a proven actor and musician, not the flavor of the month from American Idol. They did not back a “reimagined” movie. They put a contemporary twist that added a new dimension on how one defines love. It may not always be successful, but
its important to push the envelope and support new or bold theater, even when its a revival. I also appreciate that this show was actually theatrical. By that I mean that there were no overwhelming special effects, and it really gave the  sense that this was a live experience (albeit from somewhat of a different era). In that respect I think that is the direction theater needs to be going, so it was nice to see that other people still support it, both with their faith and their dollars. 

Now the Bad News

The show’s final performance is January 29 so if you want to see what I’m talking about you’ll have to hurry. I can in all honesty give it a rather mixed review, withas I said, Jessie Mueller bringing up the denominator quite a bit. But if you can get cheap tickets, which you should be able to since its closing. I’d say it would be worth it if for nothing else to watch and consider what new material
the writer/director has added to the work. Because if you leave the theater thinking or even better talking, then theater has done its job.

Well? Has anyone else seen it? Let us know what you think. 


 
My current day job is working at Central Synagogue as the assistant to the associate rabbis. Every Friday we have a staff kiddush, which is the weekly ceremony of challah and wine at sundown on the Sabbath. Each week a different member of the staff gives a drash, a sermon on the Biblical portion of the week.  I did not grow up Jewish, so my perspective is absolutely that of an outsider. But the rabbis have told me that they have really enjoyed what I've had to say, so maybe its good enough to share with the greater public. Granted these are not actually the portions of this week, but hopefully we can find wisom from it at any point in the year and I thought it might be nice to share. Here's a link to a summary of the portion.  What do you think? Did I miss my calling as a rabbi?

Sh’mot marks the beginning of a new book of the Torah. A new generation of Jews now dwell in Egypt. The empire has a new pharaoh - who doesn’t remember, or chooses to forget that a Jew used to be the second in line. Needless to say the emotional climate is a little bit cooler
than before.

What do we see as we begin the passage? Fear. Everyone is terrified. Pharaoh is terrified that the nation of Israel would become too strong and usurp him. The midwives are terrified that either God or Pharaoh will punish them. Moses’s mother was afraid that he would be killed, then Moses’s adopted mother was afraid he’d be killed. Moses grows up. I’m sure everyone stayed pretty afraid
during that span of years. Moses kills the Egyptian. He’s afraid the Egyptians are gonna get him so he high-tails it out of there. 
 
For a time, things seem to be going better for him. He’s a stranger in a strange land, he’s run away from his problems, he’s got himself a family and a flock. Things are looking up. Then everything changes. God calls…and Moses responds. 
 

“Here I Am.” 


I for one can’t think of a more powerful statement, or action. It is brimming with vulnerability yet at the same time full of courage.  “For what it’s worth… Look at me, here I am.”  Moses stands up to be counted before his creator.  How does God respond? The exact same way. “I AM”. But something is different about how God says it. It is a statement of infinite strength. I am whatever I choose. I am whatever I need to be. I am…gonna get you out of Egypt so just trust me. 

When you declare yourself to be something - you cannot hide from it anymore. You own it. Moses owned it reluctantly, and God obviously owned it completely. But look at what even a reluctant hero can perform?  I honestly don’t think that if Moses had refused to go, I mean utterly said “no” that God would have made him go. He  could have find someone else to do it. There were a number of Jews at that point. Aaron could have been put in charge. But it was Moses who declare himself, and that was the first step. God works through, not in spite of. He announced himself a vessel of God’s will, and through him God worked miracles.

So maybe that is the secret? The simple act of declaring something to be so sets the wheels in motion to make it so. Obviously we are not blessed with a serpent staff, but there is power in us nonetheless. I don’t think it’s any coincidencethat most self-help programs, be them religious based or secular have a very heavy emphasis on daily affirmations. It seems clear from at least my practical experience that a lot also depends on how much we believe these affirmations, how much fear is getting in our own way. But even a scared outcast stood before his creator and later saves a nation. And it all began with “I am.”


 
This is the first of my featured blog with the RSVP Revolution! Check them out and let me know what you think!


The State of the Art(ist) in  2012

The “Out with the Old” Cliché


We’re still early in the year right? So I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and start it all off by
talking about new beginnings, resolutions, hopes for the future, that sort of thing. Maybe I was just paying attention a little bit more this year or maybe it was actually true – but I was bowled over by how many people said to me (with the slightest hint of a drunken slur) “2011 sucked. I’m sooo looking forward to 2012!” I suppose I’m lucky in the fact that 2011 wasn’t an overwhelming
suck-fest for me, but I too found myself turning my sights very hopefully towards 2012. I have made a decision that this is going to be an utterly not-sucky year.

Resolutions vs. THEME


 I am always hesitant to make resolutions or sweeping declarations for the coming year. They become so difficult to live up to. Instead, I opt to choose a THEMEfor the year –a phrase or idea that can serve as a touchstone for me as I approach the inevitable challenges that I
will face in the 366 days ahead. My themefor this year is COURAGE.

Now why would I need COURAGE?
Why on Earth Am I Doing This?!?!


 Just In case you missed the bio, I’m a theater director. I’m coming on my 30th birthday. I’m from Rochester, NY, graduated from Syracuse University and I’ve been living in New York City for
nearly a decade. At heart, I think I’m the outskirts of a small city, house with a yard and an attempt at a garden kind of guy. So why am I living here? Living in a small bedroom apartment paying crazy rent (which others would say is really cheap which is even MORE crazy), riding terribly packed trains and having that occasional war or words with the cab driver who you don’t understand one bit. Why??? Because I am an artist and like it or not NYC is a pretty damn great place to be one. And I do actually like my apartment.

Ok, Now the Sweeping Resolution 
 

I’m not the first to discover that life – in addition to inspiring art can also be a major hurdle in
actually making it. It simply gets in the way. No money, no time, no rehearsal space, no piece, the list goes on forever. But I already made the declaration about unsucky ’12. So I say it again, this time with feeling – This will be the year that I will face those troubles head on and be the artist I want to be!!!

Backpedal? No Way!

Whoa.
I put that out there. I feel rather vulnerable. Am I yet again setting myself up for a publicly
embarrassing failure? Maybe, I’ll let you know. But in the meantime, I have two strategies that will help me see that it doesn’t. Maybe it well help you too. The first of course is my theme. When choices come my way, I ask myself: “is this the decision a COURAGEOUS artist would make?”
You’d be surprised how often once you simply decide to ask the question that it bubbles up in your memory at an opportune moment.

The second tool is actually very much in tune with the mission of RSVP and the Days of the Week Blog. They endeavor to offer an holistic approach to wellness. I marvel when I meet people who are unhealthy, is always broke (but can find money to go out for drinks) seem to invite drama into their lives with open arms, yet balk at the mere idea that all of these issues may be somehow related. I can’t believe that. As much as we compartmentalize our lives – it simply can’t be done. How much I drink the night before effects my workout which effects me going into the work with the right attitude which effects the work itself. Start the circle wherever you want, but in the end its all connected.

The Challenge


 Can’t have an inspirational New Year blog without one of these! This year I am going to take care of my holistic artist. How does what I eat reflect who I am as an COURAGEOUS artist? How does what I spend my money on reflect who I am as an COURAGEOUS artist? These are the “resolutions” I am putting into practice this year. These aren’t lofty goals that leave me disappointed and on a course for failure.Rather, it is a line of questioning, suggestions that ultimately lead me in the direction I want to go. Because I for one am here to be an artist. So everyone…I leave you with this challenge – choose your Holistic Theme for 2012! Apply it to your daily life. See what amazing changes happen with just asking the one simple question – is what I’m doing in sync with who I’m looking to be this year? And please, share it with us! Who will I wish you the COURAGE to make big changes in 2012!

 
It has been a big few months for Syracuse grads. A number of Broadway roles, starring roles. How proud I am to have be in a community with them. I was going to write a blog about Bonnie & Clyde, but now its rather moot. In short, I liked it. It wasn’t perfect, but I had a good time. In all fairness, many people I talked to disagreed with me - so between that and the critics, the show didn’t stand much of a chance.  Congratulations to Marissa McGowan (SU grad) for what I thought was one of the most outstanding featured roles. I did not get a chance to see Lysistrata Jones, but the reviews were pretty universally positive but didn’t get the audience. Nonetheless, Patti Murin is on the map again with fantastic reviews, congratulations. And an extra special fan shout out to Jessie Mueller for her role and great review from Ben Brantley and fans. That one I have to see.
 
Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone is finding this time around the sun to be an exciting one. It certainly has been for me. Some big changes already that have definitely caused me to live up to my theme of “Courage”, both personal and professional. More details coming soon, but at this rate, I won’t even recognize myself by 2013.

The next project is coming up. It is a piece called Playboy, based on Synge’s Playboy of the Western World. It is the story of the nerdy everyman who gets himself a reputation for something for which he (or anyone really) would rather not be getting attention. All for the love of a woman… who is kind of nasty. It was written by an SU grad from a while back, Jack Gilhooley, who has had a number of plays workshopped in the city. I met him through my associate Katie Zaffrann (www.katiezaffrann.com) who was doing a show down there. Funny enough, he had actually seen another fellow SU alum from my time there, and we have asked him to be in the reading as well! I’m looking forward to working with some new friends as well as the old. Two readings on January 20 and 21. Check out the homepage for more details.

I have also been invited to be a guest blogger for The RSVP Revolution. This is a business being created by my friend Shelleen Kostabi and some of her associates to create a holistic wellness regimen. It is so clear that fitness is more than just the body. It seems that they are also looking to really create a niche for themselves and identify their target markets. I will be writing for Theater Thursdays. Guess what their target market is? Now I have to figure out what the hell I am going to talk about. More universal topics than my narcissistic ramblings here! Check them out at thersvprev.com.