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"Call Me Adam" chats with...

 

 

Wednesday
Apr052017

Call Redialed: Joe Tracz: A Series of Unfortunate Events & The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical

Joe TraczEver since I first interviewed playwright Joe Tracz a few years ago for his musical (with Joe Iconis) Be More Chill at Two River Theatre, I have kept my eye on what he has been creating. It's such a joy to catch up with him on his latest endeavors: Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events (starring Neil Patrick Harris) and the new, original Off-Broadway show The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, currently playing at The Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street), is an action-packed theatrical adventure that will rock your world. "Percy Jackson" has newly discovered powers he can’t control, monsters on his trail, and he is on a quest to find Zeus’s lightning bolt and prevent a war between the Greek Gods. Normal is a myth when you’re a demigod. Based on the best-selling Disney-Hyperion novel by Rick Riordan. Click here for tickets!

For more on The Lightning Thief be sure to visit http://www.lightningthiefmusical.com and follow the show on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube!

1. It's so great to catch up with you after our Be More Chill interview a few years ago. Now you are back with two big projects. The first one is your new musical The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical and the second one is the hugely successful Netflix show A Series of Unfortunate Events starring Neil Patrick Harris. Let's start with A Series of Unfortunate Events. How did the writing process for this show differ from the writing process for your new musical? It's great to catch up with you too! The musical and the TV show actually have a lot of similarities -- they're both adapted from a beloved series of books and they both received movie adaptations that left fans, shall we say, unsatisfied. As one of those fans, I was excited to get to adapt these worlds in a way that, hopefully, captures what readers loved about them in the first place. Also, they both have awesome musical numbers! (You don't cast Neil Patrick Harris and NOT have him sing!)

2. What is A Series of Unfortunate Events that has happened to you that you feel would make a great TV show? I'm getting to work on two dream projects at the same time, so I feel pretty fortunate. And since fortunate events tend to make dull television, I think I'll just focus on continuing to put fictional children in terrible danger.

3. Now, let's get into the depths of your new musical The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. Let's start at the beginning, which is always a good place to start. What initially made you want to take the The Percy Jackson story of The Lightning Thief and adapt it for the stage? What did you see in the books that made you go, this would make a really great musical? I discovered the Percy Jackson books while working in the Young Adult section of a bookstore and I immediately fell in love with them. The premise is brilliant: the Greek Gods are still around and still having kids with mortals -- but what happens when those kids grow up, feeling abandoned by their parents and unsure how to deal with their strange powers? It's a superhero story, an orphan story, a summer camp adventure...It takes the confusion, awkwardness and terror of adolescence, and places them in a story of gods and monsters and quests. The world is big, the characters are big, the emotions are big, and to me, those are the things that make a great musical.

4. What was the easiest part of the story to turn into a musical adaptation and what has been the most challenging? I love adaptation because it's like putting myself in another writer's brain, discovering how their story works and then reconstructing it for a new medium. Rick's characters are so iconic and layered -- he's continued to develop them over several series now, so we had a lot to draw on, which made it easy to find the characters' voices. (I give full credit for this to my collaborator Rob Rokicki, whose songs cut right to their beating hearts).

The plot was the bigger challenge: The Lighting Thief is both a quest and a mystery story, with "Percy" crossing the country to stop a war between the Gods, while solving the mystery of who stole Zeus's lighting.  It's a 400 page book so there are a lot of locations and plot twists to include!

"The Lightning Thief", Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniels"The Lightning Thief", Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniels5. Was there any part of the story that you really wanted to include, but it just didn't translate as you had initially thought? One of the most fun parts of the book is seeing how the ancient Greek Gods live in the modern day. The book reveals that the current location of Mount Olympus is the secret top floor of the Empire State Building. It's a detail we really wanted to fit in the show, but alas, every time we tried it, it was one location too many at the end of the show. But otherwise, we fit an insane amount of story into a less-than-two-hour running time.

6. The show started off as a one-hour production. After having it tour for two years, why did you and your co-writer, Rob Rokicki want to expand it to a full length show? What do you feel works better in this longer form that you couldn't get into the 1 hour version? Expanding the show was always the dream, but it seemed like an impossible dream until the amazing response from fans and audiences who saw the one-hour version helped create the opportunity. We were excited to have more time to let the story and emotions breathe. If the one-hour version is a roller coaster, then the new version is an entire theme park, a full and immersive experience with something for everyone.

"The Lightning Thief", Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniels"The Lightning Thief", Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniels7. In this show, "Percy Jackson" has newly discovered powers that he can't control. What is something you've just discovered that you can do that you didn't know you could beforehand? Well, at the time I started writing this show, I'd never written a musical before. And now I've written several, with more on the way. So I would say that's a power "Percy" helped me discover! Who's the Greek God of writing musicals?

8. "Percy Jackson" also has monsters on his trail. What are some monsters you've had to fight on your life trail? Self-doubt and insecurity are scarier than Medusa any day.

9. The song "Good Kid" is available for download on the show's website. In the video featured on the home page, Chris McCarrell is told, in thinking about the song, "What does it feel like when the world is against you?" When has there been a time in your life when you felt the world was against you? How did you fight back? I think anyone who's trying to make a career in the arts knows what it feels like to face impossible odds. And I think anyone who grows up feeling like an outsider knows the secret of finding inspiration in fictional characters. Since working on this show, "Percy" has been that inspiration for me -- and, I suspect, for the many readers and audience members for whom his story resonates.

10. "Percy Jackson" is also on a quest to find Zeus' lightening bold to help prevent a war between the Greek Gods. If you were possess Zeus' lightening bolt, how would you use it to bring some peace back into this chaotic world we live in? Both the Percy books and the Lemony Snicket books tell a story that feels very timely: how kids grow up in a world where the adult authority figures who are supposed to take care of you are instead corrupt and self-absorbed and responsible for the chaotic state of the world. The Lightning Thief ends with "Percy" realizing that he and his friends can't rely on the Gods to fix things: it's up to the next generation to learn from their parents' mistakes and not repeat the cycle of war and hatred that's got us into this mess. It's a message that I feel very glad to be putting out in the world right now.

Joe TraczMore on Joe:

Joe Tracz is a playwright with an MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Williamstown Theatre Festival: the original musical Poster Boy with composer-lyricist Craig Carnelia (2016), Song for a Future Generation (2015). Joe’s adaptation of the first book in the Percy Jackson series, The Lightning Thief (with composer Rob Rokicki) received a Lortel nomination for Outstanding Musical and toured nationally with Theatreworks USA. His musical adaptation of Ned Vizzini’s novel Be More Chill with composer Joe Iconis premiered last summer at Two River Theater. Other plays have been developed with Manhattan Theatre Club, Second Stage, Roundabout, Ars Nova, and The Flea, and published in Best American Short Plays.

Film/TV includes the Netflix series A Series of Unfortunate Events starring Neil Patrick Harris and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Epic (20th Century Fox) and Lights Out (FX). Joe is a former Playwrights Realm writing fellow, an alumnus of Theater Masters and the Ars Nova Play Group, and, with Two River Theater and Joe Iconis, a recipient of a 2015 Doris Duke Foundation Commissioning Grant. He has a BA from Kalamazoo College.

Tuesday
Apr042017

Call Answered: Adrienne Truscott: THIS at New York Live Arts

Adrienne Truscott, Photo Credit: Richard HardcastleIt's taken me almost two years to make this interview with Adrienne Truscott happen, but I am beyond thrilled to finally have the chance to sit down with her. Adrienne first came on my radar with her one-woman show Asking For It, a show about the rules and rhetoric about rape, comedy and the awkward laughs in between. When I first heard about this show, I, like most people, didn't know what to make of it, so I pushed it off. Well, after seeing it come back around a few more times, I decided to open my mind and go see it. It was one of the best evenings I had ever attended. Adrienne had found a way to bring some humor and laughs to a very tough subject. I left that evening having the upmost respect for Adrienne, her comedy style, and braveness in tackling a subject such as rape.

So when I heard that Adrienne was developing a new show, you bet my ears perked up and I jumped at the chance to interview her. Adrienne's new show THIS is a solo performance which may not always be a solo, created specifically for Live Arts stage. THIS is a small or large or medium act of artistic survivalism and an ever-evolving work that writes, in real time, the libretto of the performance the artist is attempting to do which changes with each performance to reflect the new context brought by the performance at hand. THIS is a run-on sentence. THIS is a grift. THIS is a piece of cake.

THIS will be performed at New York Live Arts (219 West 19th Street) from April 5-8 at 7:30pm! Click here for tickets!

For more on Adrienne be sure to visit http://www.adriennetruscott.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

Adrienne Truscott, Photo Credit: Carmine Covelli1. It's so great to finally get to interview you after seeing your show Asking For It. It was so good and I hope it comes back around again. But, we're here to talk about your new show THIS. THIS is an ever-evolving work that writes, in real time, changing with each performance. What made you want to have a show that changes with every performance as opposed to Asking For It, which had a more firm script? Well, it was actually that I was focusing on writing stuff that seemed more appropriate for the page than the stage, but I wanted to find out more about what I was writing, so I just gave myself the rule that since I had started this new writing focus, anytime I was asked to do something, I'd do this new written material - that was still developing - wherever I was asked to see how it behaved in different contexts or venues. To date, I've done it as a seven-minute spot in a performance series, as an hour-long "cabaret" show behind a piano (I don't play piano), as a sort of diplomatic artist's address at the Australian Consulate. So it sort of takes the shape of it's container, and it is sort of always in process. So now, at NYLA, it has to figure out how to behave in a big performance space which comes with a whole other set of institutional expectations, audience tropes, etc. Really, it's just me writing a book, but putting that process on stage or something.

2. What challenges does this style of show present for you? What freedoms does it give you? It allows me to play around with form and context, which is really what I'm interested in. And the writing is a lot about the slipperiness between fact and fiction, time and presence - from a vantage point of memory and competing narratives, attention, and other things. I find my memory of things and time are quite challenged from moving around a lot, some childhood dramas and traumas, etc. And I've only recently begun remembering lots of things. I've been finding that writing clarifies memories and sometimes is the key act that helps excavate them. I think the same is true of performance - it educates you about yourself - even when the work isn't autobiographical or if it's really abstract. That can be a bit beautiful and also a little scary. But I have the freedom to choose what writing is included as I continue to write - because the piece is more about form, content, structure and attention. It's also been interesting processing the difference between events you are certain have happened and events that just have vague memories or details attached to them in the current political climate of "fake facts." Plus, it's just been really hard for me to focus on artistic stuff because I sort of at the moment, just wish I was a lawyer or a journalist!

Adrienne Truscott, Photo Credit: Ian Douglas, Courtesy Movement Research3. You just came back from performing THIS in Australia. What did you learn from doing these shows that will enhance your upcoming NYLA run? I think the main thing I'm learning is how to make writing that was meant more to be read work on stage. And how much - as a theater piece instead - I can use the craft of theater and performance to assist in that, and play around with what's real or not, "true" or not, present or past. In Australia we did the piece in a tiny funny little makeshift "theater" - a room with a "stage" and two lights at a festival with 15 minutes to bump in. NYLA is a huge huge space - not a space I would originally choose to do a solo in, but that's how this particular project worked out timing-wise and stuff. So I was also trying to learn about how a sort of intimate personal piece would work in a huge space for NY audiences during a time of insanely preoccupying political upheaval by doing it in a tiny room in a pop-up venue in the basement of an abandoned postal building for gregarious Australians! What I learned is to let the piece adjust itself to the context. Thankfully, I am working (for the first time) with an amazing director called Ellie Heyman, and she has been helping it have a shape and structure. It's ironic to be an artist in NYC and find yourself with "too much" space.

4. In Asking For It, you had a lot of audience interaction and in THIS, is sounds like you will have a similar interaction if not more with the audience. Hmmm, I actually think I'll have less interaction with the audience in THIS. It's not confrontational like Asking For It, and although there is stand-up in it, it sort of understands itself as a piece for a proscenium stage and fixed audience. But usually I do like to fuck around with the audience. I learned it more from street performing and bringing people up onstage in that context - it's a really strong trope in street performing. I guess I love that the audience is always included in a live show, even if they are just sitting. I saw a Relaxed Performance recently (a performance where people who have all sorts of  behavior "along the spectrum" if you will, are encouraged to attend without feeling like they have to keep their physical or vocal behavior within the norms of most audience behavior), and it was brilliant. I've been pretty obsessed ever since with how traditional audiences behave. There are different implied contracts between the performer and audience in different contexts - i.e., at a comedy club people feel free to react vocally and directly, interrupting and heckling, where as at a "performance venue" the audience has sort of tacitly agreed to only about five responses: silence, laughter, crying, that person who inevitably thoughtfully goes, "Mmmm!"

Thankfully, I have been able to figure out a comeback while onstage. With Asking For It I feel so aware of the audiences tensions and weird feelings and so in control of that show. I've always understood exactly who I am and what to do onstage in that show. Also, when you're up there you sort of go in to survival mode, I think fight or flight type mechanisms kick in. I think I'm good in general in those situations.

Adrienne Truscott, Photo Credit: Carmine Covelli5. The description for THIS, ends with these three sentences: THIS is a run-on sentence. THIS is a gift. THIS is a piece of cake. So, for the next few questions, let's play with each of these. First, "THIS is a run-on sentence." What is something in your life you feel is like a run-on sentence? How my brain works a lot of the time. I've been told that as I start talking about one thing, I start putting it in context and relating it to other things, so I think the analytical part of my brain synthesizes lots of things at once in a slippery kind of way. The writing in THIS has a sort of "run-on sentence"/stream of consciousness aspect to it. Ohmygosh! I love your questions. I'm so glad you didn't just ask me if "I think you can make jokes about rape and why I do it with no pants on!" Which I've answered a thousand times!

6. Next we have, "THIS is a gift." What has been the best gift you have ever received? Oops! I have to correct you on that one, because the copy actually says "THIS is a grift." Which for me was sort of about if this performance, or any performance is a swindle or not. Or a game with the audience's expectations. Sometimes I think living as an independent artist, and the survival strategies you learn falls just on the "right" side of being a petty criminal! A grifter.

That said, I have been given many gifts in my life. The most recent favorites both have to do with art: an amazing grant; a life-size cardboard grand piano.

Adrienne Truscott, Photo Credit: Carmine Covelli7a. Lastly, "THIS is a piece of cake." I'm going to break this into two questions. First, what is something you find so easy to do? I guess one is to work on a lot of different art projects at once.I don't know if that's easy or just survival methods and the result of life as a freelance artist/performer. Also, solve problems.

7b. Second, what is your favorite kind of cake to eat? Hmmm, chocolate cake. Pure chocolate - meaning, I don't like when people fuck around with chocolate cake and put raspberries or something in it.

8. Who or what inspired you to become a comedian/writer/performer? Oh geez. I always loved comedy when I was little. Like, I would nearly die to watch Carol Burnett or Sonny and Cher (especially when Chastity would come out!) That REALLY dates me. And I cried after seeing Singin' In The Rain, because I realized I'd been born too late for that sort of thing (even though I was terrified of singing). But that was the kind of thing I always imagined doing, so it's funny to have instead become a frequently naked comic performance artist weirdo!

Adrienne Truscott, "Asking For It", Photo Credit: Sara Brown Photography9. I know I tried to focus on the new, but I can't do this interview without asking you one burning question I had when you were doing Asking For It. While the premise of that show was about rape and the title is a reflection of that, I'm going to take the title in a different direction. What is something that you are "asking for," still hoping to come true? I think about that a lot now that that phrase is such a part of my life. I think the thing that sticks with me is the power of that phrase meant literally, not as that bullshit excuse for someone else's violent behavior. I did a kickstarter to help me tour that show and it was a strange feeling for me to ask for money from other people to do something that was really important to me, and then I got it. And all this amazing support, and I thought. Wow, I just very simply and clearly asked for something I needed and I got it. So now, I try to think about that, when or if I am asking for something, versus hoping for something, and to be empowered by the notion of just asking for something and seeing if it comes back. It won't always, obviously, but. Right now, I would ask for a little more time to rest and recuperate between projects. But I think that's just something I have to ask of myself!

10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? Water intake.

Adrienne Truscott, Photo Credit: Allison Michael OrensteinMore on Adrienne:

For more than 15 years, Adrienne Truscott—choreographer, circus acrobat, dancer, writer, and as of late, comedian—has been making genre-straddling work in New York City and abroad. She is one of 20 artists selected nationally as recipients for the Doris Duke Impact Artist Award. Her evening-length solo comedic work and group choreographic works have been presented variously at Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Just For Laughs, Darwin Festival, PS122, Joe’s Pub, The Kitchen, Dublin Fringe, Danspace, and Dance Theater Workshop among others.

The Wau Wau Sisters, her neo-vaudevillian collaboration with Tanya Gagne, have been presented by such iconic venues as the Sydney Opera House (Aus), Joe’s Pub and CBGB’s (NYC), Victoria Arts Center (Melbourne) and The Roundhouse (London). The Wau Wausisters are fixtures at among others, the Edinburgh, Melbourne, Brighton, Adelaide, Perth and Philadelphia Fringe Festivals and are seen regularly in the international sensations La Soiree and La Clique. Their contemporaries broadly recognize the influence of their radical and ludicrous take on circus and cabaret.

Adrienne has taught at Wesleyan University Dance Department as a visiting artist, and guest taught at Sarah Lawrence College’s Theater and Dance Departments and Yale Universtiy.

Monday
Apr032017

Call Answered: Sally Schwab: Adventures in Babysitting, The Marvelous Wonderettes, NEWSical The Musical

Sally SchwabFor over 10 years I have been a fan of Sally Schwab. Ever since I saw her star in Tom D'Angora's (Call Me Adam's very first participant) A Broadway Diva Christmas, I was hooked on her glorious vocals! She has repeatedly won me over and over again every time I see her sing.

In addition to being a high school history teacher, starring in the Off-Broadway revival of The Marvelous Wonderettes and being a swing in the long-running hit musical NEWSical the Musical, Sally is bringing back her one woman show Adventures in Babysitting for three performances only at The Laurie Beechman Theatre in NYC! Adventures in Babysitting recounts Sally's story of arriving to the Great White Way as a young, wide-eyed aspiring theatre actress. It follows Sally as she navigates the insane world of auditions while paying her dues working odd gigs, including what would become her go-to survival job: helping to raise NYC's most colorful children.

Joining Sally in Adventures in Babysitting are Alex Ringler (Broadway’s West Side Story, first national tour of A Chorus Line and off Broadway’s Pageant) Dylan Thompson (NEWSical the Musical and Naked Boys Singing!) and Gregory Sullivan (Naked Boys Singing!). Music direction is by eight-time MAC Award winner and Bistro Award winner Tracy Stark.

Adventures in Babysitting will play at The Laurie Beechman Theatre in NYC (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue, in the basement of the West Bank Cafe) on Monday, April 3 at 7pm, Monday, April 17 at 9:30pm, and Monday, May 1 at 7pm! Click here for tickets!

For more on Sally follow her on Twitter and Instagram!

For more on The Marvelous Wonderettes visit https://www.themarvelouswonderettes.com!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? There were a few people in my life that really inspired me to become a performer. My entire family is very musical and has always loved musical theatre. So I grew up watching all the classics...The Sound of Music, Carousel, etc. My grandmother actually recorded the PBS Les Miserables special with Colm Wilkenson and Lea Salonga played "Eponine." I remember just falling in love with the music and studying the way she sang "On My Own." It was the only song I sang between the ages of 11 and 16. Around this same time, I was 11, my Aunt took me to NYC for the first time. Beauty and the Beast just opened on Broadway and we saw that. I remember just crying through the opening number. It was a happy, uplifting number, but I was just so moved and at that moment I knew I wanted to be a performer.

2. This April, you are revising your show Adventures In Babysitting, which recounts your story of arriving to the Great White Way as a young, wide-eyed aspiring theatre actress. It follows you through the insane world of auditions, odd jobs, and finding your go-to survival job. What made now the right time to bring this show back? I decided now was the time because I am so immersed in the performing world right now. Before Wonderettes, I haven’t performed in years. You realize very quickly it all can go away, so one day before a Wonderettes show, Tom D'Angora, my producer, and I just looked at each other and said "It’s Time."

Tom D'Angora3. Adventures in Babysitting is co-written with your long-time friend Tom D'Angora. How did you first decide to have him co-write the show with you? What was it like revisiting this show with him now? Tom and I working together is nothing but laughs from start to finish. We met 14 years ago at a Kinkos my first week in NYC. We have been working together on various projects for our entire 14-year friendship. Tom has always believed in me and supported me. I can’t remember if I said to Tom that I wanted to do my own show or if he said "you need to do your own show," but we decided a few years ago to sit down and write something. There was a restaurant on 48th Street called Mont Blanc…it’s closed now, but that was our spot. We met there one day and just started throwing ideas around and the show was born. Working on it now is just as fun. We couldn't go to Mont Blanc, but our other lucky spot is in Tom’s building. So we went there and just started reworking some bits and once again just started laughing and never stopped.

4. How do you feel the four years of life experience, since the last time you did this show, will alter the feel and style of the show? I truly think every experience in life shapes you as a performer. I have been teaching in a public high school in the South Bronx for the past four years. I have grown so much as a human and learned so much about myself. I think it has made me a much more confidant performer. Also, the past year playing "Betty Jean," in a comedic show, has really helped me as an actor. When I did the show years ago, I wasn’t performing, so I wasn’t used to being on a stage. I didn’t have that same confidence that I am hopeful I do now. Haha! I hope the feel and style stays the same though….I just hope I can make it even funnier than last time.

Sally Schwab5. Let's break down this story without giving too much away! It's no secret that your go-to survival job was babysitting the kids of NYC. Why do you think babysitting stuck where so many other "odd jobs" didn't? What did you learn about yourself from babysitting other people's kids? Babysitting stuck because I am such a family person. My first year in NYC was really hard. I was so homesick and missed my family so much. I was so fortunate to meet a couple of really incredible families right away. Yes, I watched their kids, but they welcomed me and included me as a member of their family and that was exactly what I needed. It gave me a sense of stability at a time when I didn’t know anyone and was figuring out my way through the city. I learned through babysitting that I was really good with kids. Working with kids was the best fit for me.

6. How did babysitting lead to you being a high school social studies teacher? What was it like to bring your love of theatre to these high school kids, who have never seen a stage show before, and start their first ever musical theatre department? I love being a performer, there is nothing like taking the stage every night. However, the work I have done as a teacher in the South Bronx is something I am so proud of. Working with this demographic of student has changed my life. I am the person I am today because of these kids. Babysitting taught me that I really loved working with kids, so getting a Masters in Education seemed like the perfect fit. I have always loved history and I knew I wanted to teach it in a way that could be fun and engaging for the kids. I don’t want to brag, but I was writing historical raps for my students well before Hamilton came out. Haha! The kids love when I rap. Of course, musical theatre was always on my mind and our school has a gorgeous stage that never had a musical on it. I knew my mission. My first year teaching I directed and choreographed Once on this Island. This became the schools first ever musical. Now, they are about to have the 4th musical in a row! There are no words to describe the feelings I felt watching these kids take the stage and perform for the first time ever. These are kids who don’t have a lot. They come from an extremely tough neighborhood and just getting them to rehearsals was a challenge. But they persisted and they were all shining stars. My family and friends all came to town to see the show too. It was probably one of the most magical nights of my life. I cried from start to finish.

Cast of "The Marvelous Wonderettes"7. In addition to Adventures in Babysitting and being a high school teacher, you are also starring in the hit Off-Broadway revival of The Marvelous Wonderettes and as a swing in the long-running hit show NEWSical The Musical. How do you keep yourself balanced with such a varied and demanding schedule? That is the biggest challenge of my life right now. I am working seven days a week and every job that I am working is demanding in its own way. I constantly need to switch the roles I play in life. I hit the stage and spend two hours singing in the Wonderettes and having a blast with the gals, then in bed and ready to be up at 6:30am for a full day of teaching. It is intense, but I find time here and there to sit on my couch and watch some Housewives. The girls in the show Ryann Redmond, Jenna Leigh Green and Laura Woyasz have become three of my closest friends, so after every Sunday matinee we go out for dinner and drinks. It is time I really cherish and long after the shows close, it is something I will continue to do with these girls. They have become family. The hardest part is not seeing my friends I don’t work with. It is hard to find time to see people I don’t do a show with or teach with. Also, one day, one day soon, I would love to go on a vacation.

8. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? Can I pick two things?? Haha!! I need to improve my eating habits. I am always on the go which makes it so hard to cook a nice meal. I love to cook and I don’t have any time to do it. So my bank statement pretty much is all Seamless. So that I need to improve. The second thing is not being afraid to say no to things. I take on too much and I need to say no sometimes.

Sally Schwab in "The Marvelous Wonderettes"9. What do you love about starring in The Marvelous Wonderettes? What do you relate to most about "Betty Jean"? What is on characteristic of hers you are glad you, yourself, don't possess? I love Wonderettes so much. I have been with the show since the beginning and to see how we have evolved this past year has been an incredible thing to see. Wonderettes is such a feel good show. I love making people laugh and smile every night. I mean, when you hear "It’s My Party," how do you not have a good time. Also, the people have made this experience incredible. The cast and crew have become family. I look so forward to going to work knowing I get to see these gals that have become my best friends. We have shared so much and gone through so much together and they will be lifelong friends.

I relate very much to "Betty Jean's" goofiness and how feisty she is. She has such a positive spirit....even when things don't go her way, she tries to fight through it and stay positive. I like to think I am like that. The one characteristic of "Betty Jean" that I am glad I don't possess is her willingness to just go back to "Johnny" after he isn't faithful to her. I doubt I would be so forgiving.

10. In this post-election world we live in, what makes being in NEWSical The Musical so great? There is so much going on politically in the world right now and to have jokes and songs to poke fun at the administration in such a turbulent time is really helpful for all of us. When I stop and think about everything that is going on it really enrages me. Performing in NEWsical gives us an outlet and an artistic way to express some feelings. There is a really great Melania Trump number that is just so much fun to do. Expression through art is a really great way to cope with what is going on.

Sally SchwabMore on Sally:

Sally Schwab made her Off-Broadway debut in A Broadway Diva Christmas, produced by Tom and Michael D’Angora. She later went on to appear in Back in Pictures and as "Queenie" in the Provincetown Theatre’s production of Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party. She attended the University at Buffalo for musical theatre and holds a Masters degree in Education from Hunter College.

She currently stars as "Betty Jean" in The Marvelous Wonderettes and as the female swing in NEWSical the Musical, both playing at The Kirk Theatre. The Marvelous Wonderettes takes a cotton-candied colored musical trip down memory lane with four girls whose hopes and dreams are as big as their crinoline skirts. Their lives and loves from prom night to their ten year reunion are told through more than twenty chart topping hits of the fifties. NEWSical the Musical spoofs all the headlines of the day in side splitting numbers. Both are produced by Tom D’Angora.

Thursday
Mar302017

Call Answered: Nathan Lee Graham: The View UpStairs

Nathan Lee Graham, Photo Credit: Andrew Werner PhotographyWhile I was first introduced to Nathan Lee Graham when I saw him tear up the stage in the Tony nominated Broadway musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Nathan Lee Graham's name has been circling my view for quite some time. Everybody was talking about his talent long before I got to know it for myself.

Well, to see him in The View UpStairs is truly remarkable. Nathan Lee Graham gets everyone's attention whenever he is strutting his stuff on stage. From his fantastic acting to that golden voice he belts out night after night. His talent is like no other!

The View UpStairs is a provocative new musical that pulls you inside the UpStairs Lounge, a vibrant '70s gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The forgotten community comes to life when a young fashion designer from 2017 buys the abandoned space, setting off an exhilarating journey of seduction and self-exploration.

Currently enjoying a critically acclaimed run, The View UpStairs will play The Lynn Redgrave Theater in NYC (45 Bleecker Street), through May 21 only! Click here for tickets!

For more on Nathan Lee Graham be sure to visit http://nathanleegraham.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube!

For more on The View UpStairs, visit http://www.theviewupstairs.com and follow the show on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? Well I've been working professionally since I was six, and I come from a very performative family, I just decided I should get paid to do it! Also I knew instinctively that I was good at this...so my grandparents Rev. DeWitt Hulin Graham and Cecelia Pearl Whiteside Graham (love their names) really encouraged, supported and put me out there! My parents are very supportive too, but they're way too nervous for me all the time...still!

2. What made you want to be part of The View UpStairs? This an easy question to answer. Max Vernon wrote this beautiful part "Willie" for me and it happens that he also wrote and composed a brilliant book and score! I love history and bringing folks together, The View UpStairs does both of those things.

Nathan Lee Graham backstage at "The View UpStairs"Nathan Lee Graham as "Willie" in "The View UpStairs', Photo Credit: Kurt Sneddon3. What do you identify most with about your character "Willie" and what is one characteristic of his you are glad you don't have? Always seeing the positive in everything! I really do see the positive aspects of any and everything. The one thing "Willie" does that I absolutely can't do is have "alternative facts" to help him cope with life's trials and tribulations. He lies a lot, LOL, but it's for good. Nathan Lee Graham can't do that...I have to face reality head on. It makes me a better human and better performer.

4. What have you learned about gay history from being in this show that you did not know before? Well, primarily the story of these 32 dead people in New Orleans in 1973! I mean, why don't we know this story?!? Also little significant things like it was illegal to wear what seemed as "women's clothing" or that when you were "outed" they'd put your name in the paper and there went your job! Insane!

5. Why do you think this story doesn't get talked about as much as Stonewall? Easy. Shame on all fronts. The people who bared witness to this tragedy were fearful and shamed into not talking about it....understandably so, to a degree. And the people who watched or whom were in a place of authority didn't give a damn.

Nathan Lee Graham as "Willie" in "The View UpStairs", Photo Credit: Kurt SneddonJeremy Pope, Taylor Frey, Nathan Lee Graham in "The View UpStairs", Photo Credit: Kurt Sneddon6. The View Upstairs shows you how the past can help guide us through an uncertain future. What is something in your past that has helped guide you through your future? Dealing and not dwelling with loss. I have a very small family so when someone dies it's a lot. Also all of the people that I've lost to disease in my chosen family of gypsies and the like. How I've been able to cope and not become bitter has informed how I go about my life in a very significant way.

7. The View Upstairs also examines what has been gained in lost in the fight for equality. What have you gained, but then lost as a result of the move forward from said gain? Well I've gained a true identity from this struggle of equality. Of course those who are not as strong or inclined you lose along the way, so mine is a somewhat lonely life at times but so fulfilling and I wouldn't change anything.

8. If you were to open a lounge like in the The View Upstairs, what would you name it and where would you establish it? "Willie's Corner" on the Lower East Side baby!!

9. I saw The View Upstairs a few weeks ago and can tell just how much fun everyone is having. What is one of the funniest, most impromptu things to happen during a show thus far? Me as "Willie" suddenly deciding to put my leg on top of the piano during my soliloquy...LOL, I just did it once spontaneously and it stuck!

Nathan Lee Graham, Jeremy Pope, Taylor Frey, Frenchie Davis, Benjamin Howes, Nancy Ticotin, Michael Longoria, and Randy Redd, Photo Credit: Kurt SneddonJeremy Pope, Nancy Ticotin, Nathan Lee Graham, and Benjamin Howes, Photo Credit: Kurt Sneddon10. In addition to The View Upstairs, you have starred in other gay-themed shows Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Hit The Wall. As a gay man, do you feel or approach these projects differently or with a other feelings compared to non-gay themed shows? No. I always feel I have a responsibility to do my very best whatever the role or genre. My only requirement is great material.

11. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? My reaction to people not getting things as quickly as I do, i.e. some more patience, some more compassion before I tear into them...LOL.

12. I can't do an interview with you and not ask you about Zoolander, or at least I'm going to ask a question inspired by the film. Since Zoolander takes place in the fashion world. What is one of the worst costumes you have ever had to wear? What is one costume, you were like, "How can I keep this for myself?" I had to wear an ape inspired costume in a musical called Riverview by John Logan, directed by Robert Falls, choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge and starring Marin Mazzie, my dear friend. At the Goodman Theatre in Chicago fresh out of conservatory I was...so happy but that costume was not cute! Now I had a fabulous burgundy plaid double-breasted bespoke suit for the Opening sequence of The Wild Party on Broadway, thank you. Toni-Leslie James, that was lovely! But to be honest, I've had so many wonderful costumes over the years it's hard to keep track...I have a very special relationship with costume designers. I love what they do and they complete every character I've played on stage and screen. Hat's off to Anita Yavich for The View UpStairs!!

Nathan Lee Graham, Photo Credit: Andrew Werner PhotographyMore on Nathan Lee Graham:

Nathan Lee Graham is an American cabaret artist, stage, television and film actor, singer, writer and director. His roles in feature film include "Todd" in Zoolander and Zoolander 2, "Frederick Montana" in Sweet Home Alabama and "Geoff" in Hitch. He has appeared in independent films like Confessions of an Action StarBad Actress and Trophy Kids. On the small screen he originated the role of "Peter" in The Comeback, and had guest starring roles on ScrubsAbsolutely Fabulous and Law & Order: SVU. His stage appearances include "Phil D'Armano" in the original Broadway cast of the Tony and Grammy Award nominated The Wild Party and as "Miss Understanding" in the original Broadway cast of the Tony nominated Priscilla Queen of the Desert. He received a Drama League Award nomination for the role of "Rey Rey" in the off-Broadway production of Wig Out! and won an Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Feature Performer in a Musical in The Wild Party LA Premiere in 2006. More recently, he has appeared in the role of "Carson" in Hit the Wall at the Barrow Street Theatre. He earned a 2005 Best Classical Album Grammy Award for Songs of Innocence and of Experience as a soloist. Nathan Lee Graham is a graduate of Webster University in St. Louis, MO.

Monday
Mar272017

Call Answered: Laurence Maslon: Broadway & Musical Theatre Historian

Laurence MaslonWhile I'm thrilled to be done with my schooling, education has always been an important part of my life, which is why I continue to keep my brain active and learn as much as I can. 

For as much as I know, there is always someone who knows more than me, and that's why, these people are experts. When a request came in to interview Laurence Maslon, an expert on Broadway/Musical Theatre, I jumped at the opportunity to speak with him. We talked about teaching musical theatre history, famous students, favorite Broadway shows, PBS specials, and so much more!

Laurence is the host of the weekly NPR radio show Broadway to Main Street, which just featured special guest Steven Pasquale. Broadway to Main Street airs every Sunday at 3pm on NPR affiliate NY/Long Island station WPPB/88.3FM.

For recent episodes and more on Broadway to Main Street visit http://www.broadwaytomainstreet.com and follow the show on Facebook!

1. You are one of the leading experts on Broadway/musical theatre history and an Arts Professor at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. What made you fall in love with this genre? I was very lucky to: A., grow up 52 minutes from Manhattan on the Long Island Rail Road and B., have parents who were still very enamored of theater and movies from their youth. So, the first two albums I listened to as three-year-old (they were on these flat black circular things called "records") were Noel Coward in Las Vegas and Oh Captain!, a 1958 musical with Tony Randall. My parents didn’t go to Broadway much, if at all, so a friend’s mother took us to see 1776 in 1969, from the back row of the 46th Street Theater. I was totally hooked; I remember writing, directing, and starring in my own 12-minute version of the show in my 5th Grade Social Studies class. I thought all musicals were about guys in wigs yelling at each other; a few years later, when I saw shows with chorus girls and tap dancing, I had no idea what they were doing in a musical.

Laurence Maslon2. What do you get from teaching? What is something one of your students taught you? For me, it’s about sharing enthusiasm and passing along a history that you love. Context is so important, especially in our perspective-challenged times. I don’t (necessarily) expect a student to share my passion for Noel Coward or 1776, but if he/she can understand or appreciate the context for Madonna or Hamilton, respectively, her/his appreciation of what’s in front of them might be more meaningful. Facts are not, in and of themselves, important; seeing how things fit together in a cultural continuum is important.

When I started teaching my NYU Graduate Acting class called "The Now of Then" (back in 1995), I taught two plays written and set in the 1930s, Golden Boy and Stage Door. One of the students in the second class I taught was black and he said, essentially, "There’s nothing about me in these plays." So, I went out and looked at what black playwriting was like in the 1930s and discovered an unproduced play by Langston Hughes called Little Ham. It kicked off my love affair with the Harlem Renaissance and both the play and its cultural context have been an essential part of my curriculum ever since.

3. One of your former students, Mahershala Ali just won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Moonlight. As his teacher, what went through your head when you saw him win? Had you kept in touch with him over the years since you taught him? Hersh was always a kind, thoughtful gentleman and well-deserves his success.  Our jaws dropped when he thanked three of his NYU teachers—and I can only assume he ran out of time before he thanked me. (That’s a joke).

4. You are the host/producer of the weekly NPR radio show Broadway to Main Street where you interview Broadway performers. What is something you've learned about Broadway from your interviews that you did not know before? Who do you still hope to interview? My radio program is more about programming topics and themes around music that made its debut on the American musical stage: in addition to original cast recordings, I play renditions from films, cabaret, jazz, pop recordings. Interviews are just a part of that programming. I’m very lucky when I can get folks into the NYC studio (I usually record in Southampton) to talk about their work and, more interestingly, talk about what music inspires them and what music they put out into the world. I do an annual holiday show and my guests have included Jordan Gelber, Ann Harada, Malcolm Gets, Veanne Cox, and Lewis J. Stadlen for each holiday show over the last five years; I love what they bring in as the songs that influenced their holidays growing up (or what holiday material they have performed in their careers). It’s fascinating to me the range of music that influences a Broadway performer—not everyone grew up with The Music Man. (I always hated that show; give me Oh Captain!)

I haven’t learned that much about the "biz"—because it’s not really that kind of program. I have learned that performers often don’t love the recordings of their own work that I love. Both Marin Mazzie and Veanne weren’t totally in love with some stuff of theirs I picked for the show, but I think, in context with their other recording work on the program, they came around. Through a wonderful bit of serendipity, William Daniels—who I saw in my first Broadway show—has written a new memoir. I reached out to his publicist and—voila!—he’ll be my guest for an hour-long program in June. The idea that I could interview a lifelong hero on my own program, listening to his performances and talking about them is amazing to me.

5. If you had to choose eight Broadway shows (one for each day of the week + a matinee) to watch on a loop, which shows would they be?

Monday: Pal Joey (to get the rhythms flowing)

Tuesday: A Little Night Music (something a bit more reflective)

Wednesday: Do Re Mi or Top Banana (a little Phil Silvers to get through the hump)

Thursday: Golden Boy (a good night to be thoughtfully engaged)

Friday: On The Twentieth Century (because it’s the end of the week and let’s have fun!)

Saturday matinee: 1776 (so I could take my nine-year-old son)

Saturday night: It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s…Superman! (maybe my wife would let him stay out late…)

Sunday: Sunday in the Park with George (because, well….)

Sammy Davis Jr.6. Another project you have going on is a documentary for PBS about Sammy Davis Jr. You have worked on several programs for PBS. What do you love about creating projects for them? PBS is by far the most thoughtful and well-produced venue for historical context of any kind, particularly the arts. I’ve been most fortunate in collaborating with producer/director Michael Kantor on most of my writing projects; he makes it easy and fun and jam-packed with integrity. PBS also provides a context: I’ve done two American Masters shows, one on Richard Rodgers, one of Sammy Davis, Jr,, about two decades apart; but what makes them each masters of American culture? How do they fit together as part of a continuum?

7. Why did you want to do a documentary about Sammy Davis Jr.? What is something about Sammy Davis Jr. that you can share with us, that the average fan would not know about him? For one thing, the current generation knows practically nothing about him, but in many ways, he defines popular culture of the 21st Century; he set the terms. Sammy has always been a source of pure joy for me. I tend to favor "cool" performers--Noel Coward or Chris Connor or Mabel Mercer or Bill Evans—but Sammy always gave 110%; he’d "pulverize you" with his talent as one of our interviewees, George Schlatter, said. There’s something terribly attractive about that. He was also incredibly complex, as a black man living through the most racially charged times of the 20th Century: when he was trying to make it in the first part of his career, he had to fight white audiences; when he became a success, he then had to fight black audiences. The struggle never ended for him, so he kept re-adapting his identity: "I’ve Gotta Be Me" is our subtitle. But which "me"?—that’s the question, and it’s something we can all relate to. There are a million things in his life that people don’t know—he was a fantastic photographer, he marched at Selma, he was the first black actor to have a dramatic show on television, on and on—but, a lot of people remember nothing about Golden Boy.  Here was Sammy—a major recording star, think of John Legend meets Chris Rock—giving up hundreds of thousands of dollars in club dates, etc., to star in a demanding role on Broadway in 1963, in a show created just for him, about civil rights in America. He had eight songs, plus two fight sequences, and he did eight shows a week for eighteen months, then did it on tour in Chicago and London. So he spent three years at his prime on the stage, in one of the most challenging roles in Broadway musical history: where’s the credit for that? Who would even think of attempting that today?

8. Another series you worked on for PBS is the Emmy-nominated Make 'Em Laugh. What makes you laugh in these post-election times? What has been the funniest thing to happen to you during one of your interviews? Nowadays, the only thing I find vaguely amusing are the three political musicals of the 1930s by George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind and the Gershwins: Strike Up the Band, Of Thee I Sing, and Let ‘Em Eat Cake. They are all timely and timeless and prefigured the American infatuation with being bamboozled nearly a century ago. They are always worth returning to. 

We interviewed Jerry Lewis, actually for the Sammy Davis documentary, and he talked about being funny: "I was funny when I was four, I was funny when I was fourteen…I was funny when I was 74, I was funny when I was 84…" And I said, "So, Jerry, that means you were funny only once every ten years?" And he laughed: really, really hard.

George Carlin (who was interviewed for MEL) signed my album cover of Class Clown: "To Larry—Fuck You, George Carlin."

9. One of your books that really peaked my interest was Superheroes! Capes, Cowls and the Creation of Comic Book Culture. If there was a film or comic book created around Trump winning the election and the dark times we are living in, what superhero or team of superheroes do you think could help save us? Maybe "The Flash" could get on the Cosmic Treadmill and run really fast and take us back in time to the summer of 2016 when we could think more seriously about what we were in for. ("Kang the Conqueror" could do that, too, but he’s a bad guy.) Maybe "The Joker" could just show up somewhere to remind us how dangerous a clown can be.

10. Since you are an interviewer yourself, what is one question I did not ask you that you wish I did? (Please provide the answer to that question as well). How did you get to be here, Mr. Shepard?

It’s just amazing to me that all the things I loved growing up—Broadway shows, music, comic books, comedy, old-time radio, the world of the 1930s, Kaufman and Hart, Hollywood movies—I not only still get to "play" with, I get paid to do it. I just had fun with all of this, and got more and more curious about it and read more and more about it, and—lo and behold!—I became an "expert" in it (although there’s always someone who knows more than you do about anything). The responsibility is to share that knowledge and enthusiasm with the next generation.

Laurence MaslonMore on Laurence:

Laurence Maslon is the Associate Chair/Arts Professor at the Graduate Acting Program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, with an affiliation in the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program.

His most recent publication is American Musicals (1927-1969), a two-volume set of sixteen musicals which he edited for Library of America. He is the host and producer of the weekly radio series, Broadway to Main Street, broadcast on the NPR-affiliate station WPPB-FM. Among his books are Superheroes! Capes, Cowls and the Creation of Comic Book Culture (Random House); Some Like It Hot: The Official 50th Anniversary CompanionThe South Pacific CompanionThe Sound of Music Companion (2007; revised with foreword by Julie Andrews, 2015). With Michael Kantor, he co-wrote two episodes of the Emmy-winning Broadway: The American Musical as well as the companion volume (updated edition published by Applause in paperback) and the liner notes for the five-disc box set for the series, released by Sony/Decca.

He also cowrote the six-part PBS series Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America with Kantor, as well as the companion volume; they were nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing of a Non-Fiction Series for this show. Laurence wrote the acclaimed American Masters/Thirteen documentary Richard Rodgers: The Sweetest Sounds and is the editor of Kaufman & Co., the Library of America edition of George S. Kaufman’s plays, as well as the official website, www.georgeskaufman.com.

He has written for The New YorkerThe Huffington PostThe Daily Beast and Slate; created concerts and programs for Lincoln Center Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall; and served on the nominating committee for the Tony Awards from 2007 to 2010. He is currently working on an American Masters documentary on the life of Sammy Davis, Jr. for PBS.