I will be directing Bubby's Shadow with the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. The web site for the show is still under construction, but you can still check it out for show times: www.bubbysshadow.com.

“An unexpected knock and Jonny’s home again… to his sister, his niece, and the past he left behind. Join the Cohens as their Bubby guides them on a journey, traversing darkness, finding light… After all, Bubby’s not one to let a little snag like death stop her from fixing her family.”

CREATIVE TEAM:
Andrew Rothkin: Playwright/Producer
Greg Cicchino: Director
Neal Kowalsky: Assistant Director
Kaitlin Nemeth: Stage Manager
Adam Samtur: Assistant Stage Manager
R. Allen Babcock: Set Designer
Scott Federman: Projections Designer
Porsche McGovern: Lighting Designer
Karen Raphaeli: Jewish Culture Consultant
Tony Sokol: Sound Designer/Composer
Paul Siebold: Press Agent

CAST
Rosie Cosch: Debra
Jeffrey Farber: Norman
Isabelle Goodman: Cara
JJ Pyle: Christine
Gloria Rosen: Bubby
Paul Murillo: Eli

 
I recently stumbled upon a free ticket to Nice Work If You Can Get It. I admit that I would never have seen this show on my own. It is essentially a song and  dance show with a very vanilla plot. But you can’t turn down a free ticket – especially to a Broadway show. But it was a lot of fun! 
Of course the music is genius. But the staging was also very clever. The beautiful set of a Long Island beach house provided  for a number of great sight gags. Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara both great performances, though I don’t think Mr. Broderick is much of a dancer. Though he can “complete the steps”, he looks rather unnatural alongside the seasoned dancers.  Not that it was much of a distraction. He was spot on with the comedy of the piece and his voice is perfect for that jazzy sound. I do wonder though also how the show would have been different if the leading male would have been more of a handsome playboy then a “cutey”. Not a critique, just a thought. Kelli O’Hara was also quite charming, though thoroughly unconvincing as a masculine bootlegger. Really
though, she was a beautiful one who sings the hell out of a piece so who cares?

However, many of the best performances came from the supporting cast. Michael McGrath and Chris Sullivan were delightful as the fellow bootleggers-come-servants. Robyn Hurders also stood out as the vampy showgirl who hang around looking for a “duke.”

There are bound to be a few problems with any musical that is cobbled together, whose music comes from a preexisting canon. That said, for the most part writer Joe DiPietro did a great job putting the show together. The book scenes were hilarious, and did a great job balancing the
comedy that was inherent to the shows of that era blended with the more “PG-13”  humor of today. However, there were still a few lead-ins to songs that prompted an eye roll or two from me. I understand that those clunky intros were ok in older shows. But we can do better than that I think.

All in all, if you come upon a free ticket, don’t hesitate to go. If you like these kinds of shows, don’t hesitate to pay for a ticket!

 
I just directed a piece with Nylon Fusion’s One Act Festival entitled The Kiss. I had applied for a directing position with them years ago and they must have kept my name on file. I had heard some good things about the company and was excited to be a part. I didn’t do any of the casting until one of the cast had to back out a few days before and I tapped my friend Michael Poignand. It was a very brief process, only 2 rehearsals. But the group made some amazing choices and I think we created a great little story. There were a couple of confusing points in the process where I probably didn’t understand the information conveyed, so we had to make a couple quick changes, but I think we really rose to the occasion. I think them all for their flexibility.

Of course it was one of those processes where tech happens a few hours before the show. We had a few curveballs at that point in the process as well (didn’t realize it was in the round…) but my actors were real pros and  handled the quick changes so well. The entire evening was a lot of fun, with  some great quality short plays. Congratulations to Nylon Fusion for a good fundraiser. I didn’t get to speak with the playwright (who came all the way  from Oregon!), but I hope he enjoyed seeing the piece as much as we did creating it.

 
I saw the graduate thesis of a Columbia MFA candidate this weekend. The piece was Brecht’s The
Good Person of Szechuan.
I am not going to go into Brecht theatrical philosophy, but in brief, it has a disjointed feel to keep the matter intellectual rather than visceral. From a narrative perspective, it makes the story a little difficult to follow at times, though I wouldn’t necessarily blame that on the direction. I think the very high pitched music they chose was a little grating, but that is a purely aesthetic comment. It as a choice did what it was intended to do. There was also a lot of shouting, which made it a bit harder to focus at times. I wonder if there was a way to make it a little less
“frontal assault” so the intellectual shifts would be a bit more pointed. 

The strongest part was certainly the cohesion of the design. The director did a great job steering the team toward a single storytelling goal. The use of projection and staging was absolutely my favorite element. There were cameras located in several spaces and the actors could hit their marks and face the camera yet they would be speaking directly at the audience through the
projections. The most complete design choice was when the speaker on the  projection was upstage left facing upstage right and it was displayed on the  downstage drop that the other member of the scene was speaking to. Its hard to  visualize as I write it, I know. Just know it was a fantastic use of space. The  transitions were smooth and the choreography perfectly fit in with the concept.  (Shout out to my old high school friend Leeanne G-Bowley). 

I left with such an awed feeling actually. I thought “I never would be able to think on that scale.” After thinking about it more, I hope that I was selling myself a little short. Its just funny that I haven’t really been given that opportunity to do so in quite a while. Projections, wow! Its so refreshing to be able to see a young artist (I count myself in this category) be able to worry about ART without excessive limitations. Without having to ask the question “how can we do it with virtually no resources?” Coincidentally, the next show I am scheduled to do, Bubby’s Shadow by Andrew Rothkin, is going to require many of the same elements. I  am looking forward to rising to that challenge, and am glad I witnessed this to  inspire me.

 
I saw Wit at MTC last week. I was planning on doing my usual glowing review and reinforce how important it is to do “confessional shows.” All of these things are true. However, I saw something
today that encouraged me to take on a new angle.

I know that I have mentioned Ted Talks already, but there is one in particular which inspired me as it relates to Wit. The speaker was actually rather bland, but the material is what interested me. (Luckily I had it on in the background so I didn’t have to watch it too much!) It talked about a largely unexplored genre in playwriting. Essentially: medical dramas. Think how successful it is on tv. ER, House, Grey’s Anatomy, even Scrubs. Granted we won’t be able to show all of the exciting surgery bits, but why couldn’t we capture the rest of it a little more often? I mean this is a very relevant topic for us. In his words, as we approach immortality (I’m not quite sure we’re there yet, but we are not under constant threat of an untimely death) we now have the singular gift of watching our bodies slowly break down in myriad ways. Why are we not writing about it more often? Why aren’t we using this glorious opportunity to find moments of grace as our bodies descend from their peak, however bumpy or smooth the decline may be? Its so much of what life is all about – lets let art reflect life in a new century.  

Check out the Tedx Talk here.

 
One more post about Trevor Day School, that I posted with RSVP:

I have been directing a show. I had previously resolved not to talk about it here. I mean, it’s not “relevant theater”, it’s not pushing the limits of what I want to do artistically. But it was nonetheless
a tremendous challenge and workout for me as an artist. And now that opening night has come, I realize that I do actually have a lot to say about it. I  directed Willy Wonka Jr. at the Middle School Trevor Day School.

First of all – some major victories. Not a single curse word or put down. Not once did I say shut up… though sometimes I really wanted to. Really. I think I was able to conduct myself as a professional and a teacher. A good omen for myself as a teaching artist. (This is my first
long-term foray in educational theater at the non-collegiate level). I had to interact quite a bit with other teachers who had a less extensive knowledge of theater. Though I think that could have used some improvement, I think it was successful and I learned a lot as I went. I dealt the most with the gentleman who was hired to cover the T.D./teacher/general everything theater person while
she was on her maternity. Both of these people are saints. He really does everything! We have both pulled a number of late nights over the past few weeks, he certainly more than I. I owe him a lot with the success of this project. But nevertheless -hours, manpower and in some cases knowlege are limited, so a lot became a game of negotiation. And as the time was so limited - an hour and a half a day for three and a half weeks (about 33 hours –less than many equity shows!) for an hour long musical with middle schoolers who have had absolutely no theater experience. I found that I wasn’t able to teach as much as I wanted. So it became “don’t face upstage – because I said so”
rather than giving them the chance to get it viscerally. I think as an outsider I have some good insight for some improvements to the program, I look forward to a post-mortem.

But what I really want to talk about was really what I gained the most from this experience. One of my favorite writing teams is  Ahrens & Flaherty. I don’t know everything they’ve done, but I like everything of theirs that I ever heard. Funny enough, Seussical, one from their  canon was the runner up show for this project. My favorite show of theirs is  not Ragtime, as many others would say, but Once on this Island. A  beautiful story about love and death and gods with fantastic music. It has one  of my favorite lines in all of theater, and one of the reasons I believe art is
such a noble profession:

“For all the ones we leave
 And we believe
Our lives become
The stories that we weave”

Another from Into the Woods “Children will listen”. There are a dozen other clichés that I can
think of off the top of my head, you get the idea. There’s something very important about passing on the story to our children. And to me, they are definitely children now. I at several points said in all seriousness “when I was your age…” (When did I become so old?) But it now becomes clear to me how important teaching theater is. We are moving the magic along. “We are the wishers of
wishers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” and how will our children be those things, if we don’t show them?  This includes some of the theater basics “Don’t talk upstage. Don’t point with your downstage arm. Sing out Louise!” But more than that. Storytelling in one way or another is a defining indicator of a culture. Looking back in history, you look back on the art a people leaves
behind. Seeing those lightbulb moments from these kids, “oh! He HAS to drink the fizzy lifting drink so he can admit his guilt so he is worthy of the factory!” they got it! They understand! The story has been told! Very little is more gratifying than that. There is such power in a good story and now they have experienced making it happen.
 
It was so heartwarming to see the excitement on their faces as opening night came. I was blocking the curtain call and one of the Oompa Loompas said to me, “we get a bow too? The FIRST bow? But we are the least important part of the show!” They were just so overjoyed to be up there, that the thought of receiving applause and recognition hadn’t even occurred to them. I of course neglected to mention why they were in reality getting the first bow… that will be our secret.

One more thing I learned about why it is so important to teach theater, now more than ever… At the beginning of every rehearsal, almost every single student had their laptops out. I set a “no laptop rule”. It was like I had taken away their dog. They had no idea how to occupy their time (is reading out of the question?) We are losing the ability to live independently of our electronics. We don’t feel as comfortable interacting with each other one-on-one. Just being with each other. We cannot allow that to happen. Why else are we here? Not to check facebook, not to play Angry Birds, or whatever game is popular at the moment. That is what theater can do. Bring us back to each other, even if in
this case its only for 58 minutes.



 
Teaching is hard work! Not that I’m not having a great time. Honestly the biggest obstacle at this point is time. We only work for less than  two hours a day – and that’s after the kids have had classes, so they’re already kind of worn out. But nevertheless we are making progress. The first “act” is done. We made it into the factory on Friday. So now we’re starting to work with the Oompa Loompas! We had to do it this way (chronologically) as to give the design team time to figure out what we are actually DOING in each room. I think everyone is pretty excited about some of the solutions we’ve come up with.

I continue to be surprised that this process is what the school subscribes to. In fact they have done so for several years. It seems especially stressful for the teachers, several of whom aren't used to the fast-paced world of theater. I am looking forward to debriefing with everyone after this show is over. I think I have some great ideas to help them improve this important program and maybe alleviate some of the potential problems that I have observed. I do want to commend all of my colleagues though. They are doing amazing work and seem to be ok with the demands of this project. I am having a great time collaborating with them as well as the students.

I’m finding that some of my biggest personal challenges involve the fact that these kids have absolutely no foundation in theater. I am having to teach as I direct. Under most circumstances I’m fine with doing that . In fact I’d prefer it. I get to mold their technique the way I want. MWAHAHA!!! But with time so limited I find that at some times I just have to tell them to do something without explaining why. Why you should gesture more often with your upstage hand for example. Even so, its not in their body after me simply mentioning it a few times, so I have to remind them often.

One other thing that has surprised me, and this doesn’t have as much to do with theater as with generation differences. I was finding that one of the reasons that there may be some focus problems during rehearsals was the fact that nearly every single kid was working/playing on their laptops when they weren’t being used. So I instituted a no laptop rule... It was like I killed their dog. How on Earth could I do that? What would they possibly do? Their lives were on their technology. I got at least three excuses looking for a loophole so they could open them and gaze upon those lovely screens. Which makes me wonder: how did I get through school without one? I am writing this blog on the second laptop I have ever owned, the first not entering my life until my adult years. But to them: going off-line inconceivable. A laptop is essential. I even caught a few of them sneaking a peek in the back.  A very different world. One that maybe needs theater even more. For two hours, you have no choice but to be connected with the other people in the room with limited to no electronic assistance. So in a circuitous way, kids and their laptops are inspiring to me. Of course breaking through the technological barrier presents a challenge. But it is one that I think it is one that we must commit ourselves to surmounting.

 
I did something I rarely do. I got an e-mail invite for a reading that I got on the mailing list for somehow. I didn’t know anyone associated with the group at all… I went. I say that I don’t do that often with a twinge of regret. I’d love to be able to do that more. But with time and money constraints its hard to put a reading of stranger high on the list of priority theatrical experiences. But all things nature have increasingly become a second passion of mine. And this was about just that. I have over the past few years become mildly obsessed with the romantic prospect of hiking the A.T. (Appalachian Trail). It’s actually become a recent activity for a number of the past several weekends. Not the same as walking 2,150 miles, but a step or two in the right direction.
Anyway, I went. I’m very glad I did.

In the talkback afterward, the largest bit of constructive criticism was that the beginning took a little long to get off the ground. From  a dramatic angle I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that assessment. It was  an awful lot of “trail talk” – getting us used to the world that we would be
living in. In all honesty I didn’t mind too much, I liked hearing about it in this way and there was certainly going to be something that allowed for the NYC audience to get acclimated. But the show clocked in at two and a half hours. I think a little gentle shaving could stand to be done. Also, when we get into the real meat and potatoes of the show it wouldn’t then be so obvious that “ah we’re talking about relationships now, this is the REAL play” and people start to pay  attention. As it stood, perhaps that shift was a little jarring, especially in  a reading.

That said, I was in the end really satisfied dramatically with the relationships. There was a large arc, obviously, they walked the trail. I don’t want to spoil it since you should see it, but I will say that they at the very least make it a good chunk of the way. On the road there are the wizened
elders who don’t say too much, the quirky guy that is harmless but we’d rather not walk with, the mysterious hot girl. But through this walk and these people, a very simple, touching story is told and the idea posed that “the real journey is within”, which can so easily become a cliché, was very elegantly told. 

I was more than happy to see two of my favorite things in life come together. I am very much looking forward to seeing this piece continue and can’t wait to see those actors with 60 pound packs on their back!

Check them out: 
http://stateofplaytheatre.com
http://www.brentonlengel.com/

 
I have been inspired by seventh graders.


I’m not the first to say that they are far smarter than we give them credit for. I am completely aware I
am nowhere near the first person to make this assessment. I’ve done several master classes in middle and high school and I never fail to be impressed by a number of their ideas and impulses. But today, I was really and truly inspired.

I haven’t done a musical in a long time. To be honest, I haven’t directed a full-on, with a substantial
budget three-some-odd week run show in a while. And even though my colleagues are in the seventh and eighth grade at this point, I found myself getting really jazzed. The juices were flowing. I know that maybe it won’t end up with an  option to move, but its wonderful to talk about. It’s creation. And they get  that. The genius moments that are in my head may not translate onstage for a myriad of reasons, my inability to articulate not being the least of them. But I am all too happy that they are there, churning their way through my head, spawning new and exciting ideas. Even in the finished product I know I will see the art and the growth. There are no impossibly high standards and vicious critics. The whole experience reminds me of Plato’s cave somewhat, but from
where I am looking at the moment, even this feels pretty good. 

It’s only the second rehearsal. Honeymoon period, I know. Today I mostly spoke with the design teams. There are three: costumes, tech and set/props. We threw around ideas about how
to make some of the truthfully rather difficult sequences even for a seasoned designer work with our limitations. I started talking about the magic and the danger of Willy Wonka, the importance of truth, the real themes of this piece. They are ingrained in the piece no matter what the Oompa Loompas look like. That’s the work I get to do with these kids! I asked one of the designers “how are you going to make Willy Wonka look dangerous without looking scary?” And she shot five ideas back at me rapid-fire. Where does that go for  us as artists? Would they all have worked? Of course not. But in a matter of seconds, she was able to tap into limitless possibilities and lay them right
down.

My other favorite moment of the day: I was telling the kids about what the “rules of the world” of this
factory and specifically the Oompas inside. We then proceeded to discuss one moment specifically when she pointed out that I was misusing the Oompas in the rules that I had just laid out. I stared at her dumbstruck for a moment. She was  absolutely right. What made it more impressive: she had gleaned that just from  the read-thru. When I suggested she must have watched the movie before she  replied: “Nah. Oompa Loompas creep me out.” Ok then. Well played young lady.

I don’t see myself as an educator, at least not below the college level (better get cracking on that MFA  then…) but this could very well become a big “filling of the well”for me. I  want to direct plays, regardless of something as meaningless as the age of the  cast. And right now it looks like I have a great bunch of collaborators. 

And blocking starts tomorrow.

 
An exciting little mention of a show that I worked on a year ago in the Wall Street Journal!