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"Call Me Adam" chats with...

 

 

Monday
May012017

Call Answered: Bruce Sabath: "Cagney, The Musical"

Bruce Sabath, Photo Credit: Matt Simpkins PhotographyWhen I saw Cagney, The Musical a few months ago, I was so taken by the show. A great old-fashioned musical about one of Hollywood's biggest actors as well as a whole lot of top-notch tap-dancing! One of my favorite characters in the show was that of "Jack Warner" (head of Warner Brother Studios), played so eloquently by Bruce Sabath. I loved the way Bruce portrayed Jack's excitement, wrath, and business tactics. His chemistry with Robert Creighton's "James Cagney" is spot on and I loved the scenes when they sparred.

Cagney: The Musical plays at The Westside Theatre (407 West 43rd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue) through May 28 only! Click here for tickets!

For more on Bruce be sure to visit http://brucesabath.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube!


For more on Cagney, The Musical visit http://www.cagneythemusical.com and follow the show on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and YouTube!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? I can answer that in two ways. In the more conventional "inspirational performances" sense, it started with movie musicals I saw as a kid - Sound of Music, Westside Story, Oklahoma, and of course Fiddler on the Roof. Then I remember being amazed by Kevin Kline and Kevin Spacey (the Kevins). Kline who starred in Sophie's Choice and then A Fish Called Wanda, and Spacey who starred in, well a gazillion films, both amazed me by the depth of their craft, AND that they seemed to defy pigeonholing. They were simply great actors. I remember thinking that if I was an actor, that's the kind of actor I would want to be.

Of course being an actor was never on the table for the first part of my life. That wasn't something people in my world did. I believed (really believed) that if you had the ability, you should pursue a traditional profession - doctor, lawyer, business man. A Job-job. And I had that kind of ability, so that path was the obvious choice! At least it seemed that way until I found myself very unhappy and lost. So when a high-powered high-potential colleague of mine at American Express told me one day that she was leaving the company to pursue painting, it blew my mind. I think that moment may have been one of the most inspirational moments of my life.

Bruce Sabath, Photo Credit: Matt Simpkins Photography2. You had quite an interesting journey to becoming a full time actor. Prior to acting, you were a businessman, but very unhappy with your work. After one of your "I hate my job" rants with your wife, she helped you find the strength for you to really pursue acting full time and that was over a decade into your business career. Do you remember the exact day you had this discussion? What do you think it was about this particular talk that made you go, "I can do this!"? I remember it well! I knew I wasn't happy on Wall Street, in strategy consulting or in the corporate world. I was trying to figure out what I should do next, but everything on my list was really more of the same. I had literally written a spreadsheet to compare the pros and cons of various unattractive options. So one morning, Karen said "toss out the spreadsheet for a minute. If you could do anything, anything at all, what would you do? How would you spend your time?" And without even blinking, I responded, "Well, if I could do anything, of course I would be an actor." Pause. "But of course I can't do that!" I proceeded to list all the logical reasons why "I couldn't." And then she hit the nail on the head. She said, "But you KNEW, in a split second, what you would want to do. How could you not pursue that? And as I let that sink in, All my belief systems and "rules" melted away. I had always acted as a kid, I was GOOD, and there was nothing I loved to do more. But "the rules" said to put that away, "grow up." But that morning, I realized I had to do this. And it never even occurred to me that I couldn't make it a reality. It was truly who I was.

3. What was that first morning like when you woke up, not having to go to work, but actually getting up to pursue your true passion? I remember telling my boss at American Express that I would be leaving to pursue acting, and surprisingly, he thought it made perfect sense. I had several weeks during which I finished projects I was managing, but that whole time I was figuring out exactly what it meant to really pursue acting. The most important part of that was finding The Wiliiam Esper Studio. But while I was still working I remember going to the theatre, and instead of that despondent feeling I had experienced before, I now felt euphoria, thinking, "I'm going to do that!!" Chicago was one of those shows, and coincidentally, Chicago was one of the first shows I did as an Equity actor (playing "Amos Hart" in summer stock at West Virginia Public Theatre).

But the greatest feeling was when I walked into The Esper Studio that first day, knowing I was going to learn the craft of acting from one of the greatest teachers in the world. I was ten feet off the ground. I spent nearly three years studying with Bill Esper. His mentoring was critical to my becoming a skilled actor.

4. What made you want to be part of Cagney the Musical? Here was a show about a legendary film icon who played gangster after gangster AND he could tap dance! The minute I heard the concept I thought, "This is perfect! How is it possible that no one has ever made a musical about "James Cagney" before now!?" Well, lucky for me they hadn't. When I read about the character of Jack Warner and how he figured into Cagney's story, I knew I had to be a part of this.

5. As you mentioned, your primary role in Cagney the Musical is that of "Jack Warner," President of Warner Brothers Studios. How did you prepare to portray such a famous figure in entertainment history? Originating a character in a new show is one of my favorite things to do in the theatre. When that character is an actual person, it brings in additional elements. Of course I researched Warner through biographies, documentaries about him and his brothers, references about him from those who knew him, and video clips - everything from news reels to home movies. The trick was to be true to the real Warner, while developing a compelling character for the musical theatre. I was doing this research while we were rehearsing the play, so sometimes a historical tidbit would resonate in a scene we were working on, and help shape my approach to it.

Bruce Sabath and Danette Holden in "Cagney, the Musical"6. What do you relate to most about "Jack"? What is one characteristic of his you are glad you don't possess? "Jack" and I are both incredibly persistent. Some might say "stubborn." But "stubborn" people hold onto their positions even when they are wrong. Like" Jack," I'm never wrong (joking).

But seriously, I do admire his tenacity, his perseverance. He and his brothers forced their company into existence in an environment that did everything possible to make them fail. There was rampant anti-semitism in the early movie industry, and the Warner Brothers fought tooth and nail to succeed in spite of it. As he progressed in his career however, he became disloyal, cruel and deceitful. He betrayed almost everyone in his life: his colleagues, his son, his brothers, his wife (well, wives, actually). He had a sense that people were either stupid and not worthy of his respect or had wronged him, and deserved vengeance. That ain't me.

7. "Jack Warner" really helped make "Cagney" a star by casting him in all his films, even though "Cagney" wanted more after some time. What has been the best part about playing out this storyline opposite Cagney creator and star Robert Creighton? What is one funny story that has happened between you and Robert since the show started? Bobby and I have a ton of fun on stage. We are both so comfortable in our characters, that our scenes are never the same twice. We're just like Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal, fighting it out, in one grand slam after another.

We've never had any real "bloopers" between us, though early on in the run, Bobby had trouble making a quick change for a scene in Warner's office, so as I sat alone at my desk, I picked up the phone, called the commissary and ordered a cheeseburger, with mustard, and an order of french fries, well done. THAT'S WELL DONE - NO MUSHY FRIES! Aaaand slammed down the phone. Just as Bobby entered.

Bruce Sabath as "Jack Warner" in "Cagney, the Musical"8. If you were "Jack Warner" today, who would you want to take under your wing and make them a star? I'm a big fan of acting craft (as I said before, talking about Bill Esper). I've continued to study over the years, with brilliant teachers like Larry Moss and Bob Krakower. I've seen so many amazing performances from fellow actors in these classes. The point being: if I was searching for the next big star, I'd sit in the back of a great acting class.

9. With the success of Feud: Bette and Joan, on FX, have you altered your portrayal of "Jack Warner" or been influenced by Stanley Tucci's portrayal? Have you learned anything about "Jack Warner" from the show that you didn't know or realize beforehand? I'm a huge fan of Stanley Tucci, and have been ever since that great TV series Murder One back in 1995, and his film Big Night the following year. He's also a neighbor (he went to the same high school as my kids), so I've always been interested in his great work. I love what he is doing on Feud.

The mini-series format really lets Tucci (and all the actors) delve into subtleties of character, as they interact over hours of scene work. In that time, they tell a fascinating story that unfolded over months. In contrast, at Cagney, we have 135 minutes to tell a life story that unfolded over 20 years! Including songs! So each moment, while real, represents just the critical moments of Cagney's career. As a result, nothing is casual - every interaction is pivotal.

The other big difference is that our story takes place mostly in the 1930s and 40s. Jack Warner is in his 40s and 50s, and he and Warner Brothers Studios are still clawing their way to the top. Warner's ego makes him seem like a tycoon, but things were always on the verge of disaster. In contrast, by the time of Feud and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Warner was nearly 70, and without question the king of the hill. He could afford to relax a bit, and we see that (at times) in Tucci's portrayal.

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? Just over two years ago, I started running. I was working on a show out of town, and I discovered the Map My Run app on my phone. Suddenly, I could see how far and how fast I was going. And I could listen to podcasts while I ran (I'm a big fan of This American Life, RadioLab and many others)! It all seemed so much more fun than the gym.

Over time I kept it up, gradually increasing my distance from three to four to five miles. Currently, I like to do six mile runs along the Hudson, between shows on two show days. My friends on Facebook and Instagram are used to my frequent posts with hashtags #betweenshowrun and #bwayrunners. Last year I heard that Cynthia Erivo ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon on a two-show Saturday. She really inspired me, so this May 20th, I'll be doing the very same thing! Cynthia - if you're running this year, I'll see you in the BK!

Bruce Sabath, Photo Credit: Matt Simpkins PhotographyMore on Bruce:

Broadway: "Larry" in Company (Tony® Award - Revival). NYC: Hello Again (Drama Desk nom. - Best Revival), The Gig, Countess of Storyville, Platinum, Jerusalem Syndrome. Regional: Fiddler on the Roof ("Tevye," Broadway World Award.Stages St. Louis), Frost/Nixon ("Nixon," Caldwell Theatre), Asolo Rep, Cincinnati Playhouse, Geva Theatre. Graduate of Harvard, Wharton and Esper Studio.

Thursday
Apr272017

Call Answered: Christina Franklin: "New York, New Year: A New Musical," at TADA!

Christina FranklinIn Sunset Boulevard, "Norma Desmond" sings "I've come home at last!" and that is what I loved about Christina Franklin's journey with TADA! Youth Theater. She started out in TADA's! Youth Ensemble and now has come back as the writer and director of their latest production, New York, New Year

New York, New Year tells the story of "Tess" who moves to NYC in the middle of the school year from her hometown of Missouri and wonders how she will fit in. Will she make friends at her new school? Tess has the months of the year to help guide her, but she misses Sarah, her best friend from back home. When she tells 3 NYC kids that she's going to take a bus tour to really get to know NY, they tell her you don't get to know the real NYC through a bus tour, so she asks them to show her things they each love about the city & they become her new friends. Tess thinks that she needs to change herself to be liked, but who does she become? And will she still be friends with Sarah? Can she be the Tess from Missouri with Sarah & the NYC Tess with her new friends? What happens when they all get together for New Year's Eve as a surprise for Tess? Can the “months” save the day?

New York, New Year plays at TADA! Youth Theater (15 West 28th Street) from April 29-May 21. Click here for tickets!

For more on TADA! be sure to visit http://www.tadatheater.com and follow them Facebook and Twitter!

1. This May you are presenting New York, New Year: A New Musical, at TADA!, based upon the original concept by Gary Bagley. What made you want to write the book for this show and direct it? When I was six years old, my older brother Norman, was in the original production of New York, New Year at TADA! I saw the show many times and I loved it. The show takes place over the course of a year and each month is played by an actor. I was very drawn to this concept; it’s so unique and fun. TADA! usually revives show every five-six seasons, but New York New York hasn’t been done since 1999. The script needed more development time. In the summer of 2016, our artistic director Nina Trevens, proposed that I rewrite the book and direct the new production in the next season. I got in touch with the original writers and began rewriting the book. Fast forward 10 months and here we are!

2. One interesting fact I found out is that for 10 years you were a member of the TADA! Youth Ensemble, but while you were a sophomore at Professional Performing Arts School, you found a love for the production aspect of theatre. What was it about the production side that made you go, this is the part of theatre I want to pursue over acting? I discovered that I have a love for creating stories and devising interesting ways to tell those stories. Also, I am admittedly a control freak, so the older I got, the harder it was to let myself be free and vulnerable as an actor.

Janine Nina Trevens (TADA! Artistic Director) and Christina Franklin3. What is it like being back at TADA! after being away from it for a few years? The thing is, I haven’t been away from TADA! very much. Even during my college years, I came back to work on productions when I was on break from school. It’s always great to come home. I particularly love staying in touch with the ensemble and watching them grow and learn.

4.  In New York, New Year, "Tess" moves to NYC in the middle of the school year from her hometown of Missouri and wonders how she will fit in. When did you ever wonder if you would fit in somewhere? I have similar worries and doubts every time I enter a new experience, particularly college. Like "Tess," I was in a new city (Philadelphia), starting a new school year, and feeling very lonely. Fortunately, it was a new beginning for everyone, whereas "Tess" jumps into an environment where everyone is already acclimated, which makes it even harder for her to find her place.

Christina Franklin and Ben Vereen5. "Tess" tells her new friends she's going to get to know NYC via a bus tour, who in turn, tell her, you can't get to know NYC from a bus tour. What have you learned about NYC from living here that you wouldn't have had you taken a bus tour? I think the best things about the city are the non-commercial features. Organized NYC tours tend to hit the standard things the city is already famous for. I value the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, the quaintness of various neighborhoods, and more importantly the character and essence of the city that changes every 10 blocks or so.

6. This show has so many great themes for kids, like how "Tess" feels she needs to change herself to be liked." Have you ever felt like you needed to change to be liked or fit in somewhere? Yes - middle school was particularly tough for me. My new classmates made fun of how I spoke and the way I looked. I was not confident enough to hold my own and stay true to myself so to avoid bullying, I tried to assimilate myself to how they all acted. I was somewhat successful, but 8th grade graduation couldn’t have come soon enough. This was a time that TADA! was vital in my life. Although I had to change myself during the school day, I was able to let go and be free when I got to rehearsal.

Christina Franklin7. Since the show is called New York, New Year. What is something you are going to do or have done in NYC that is new this year? There are always new restaurants to try, so I plan to check some out. Although it isn’t new, I do want to get to the Highline once the weather gets warm again.

8. What are your top five favorite things to do in NYC? I love seeing new shows, walking the Brooklyn Bridge, shopping in the Christmas Villages that pop up in Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Bryant Park, checking out various farmers markets in the spring and fall, and going to free outdoor movie screenings in the summer.

9. After being part of TADA! Youth Ensemble and now being back as a playwright/director, why would you recommend someone to be part of TADA!? I would recommend it because there’s always something to be gained. Nina always says it; an 8 year old can learn from an 18 year old and vice versa. It’s the same thing when working on the production side. I’ve learned so much from the kids in the cast and I hope I’ve been able to teach them some things too!

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? I love this idea! I definitely need to improve my patience skills. New Yorkers are always on the go, thinking about the next thing. When things aren’t swift and efficient, we tend to get agitated. I can definitely stand to slow down and enjoy the ride.

Christina FranklinMore on Christina:

Christina Franklin is a theatre artist, born & raised in NYC & has been a part of the TADA! family since she was four years old. As a member of the TADA! Youth Ensemble for 10 years, she performed in 17 main stage musicals in addition to many workshops & readings. Christina found a love for the production aspect of theatre when she was a sophomore at Professional Performing Arts School. She went on to earn a BFA in Directing, Playwriting & Production from The University of the Arts. During her time at UArts, she stage managed multiple productions, wrote plays, produced student work & directed many projects. Shortly after graduation, she began an internship at The Public Theater, which led to working on multiple projects including The Total Bent & Eclipsed on Broadway. Since becoming a TADA! Alumna, she has worked on many TADA! shows as a stage manager & assistant director. New York, New Year marks Christina’s NYC directorial debut as well as her 26th production with TADA! Youth Theater. 

Thursday
Apr272017

Call Answered: Emily Kratter: Dead End at Axis Theatre 

Emily Kratter, Photo Credit: David PerlmanAnother rising actress that has recently come to my attention is Emily Kratter. From theatre to film to TV, Emily is appearing everywhere! She's currently starring in Axis Theatre Company's revival of Sidney Kingsley's Dead End, a Broadway hit in 1936, which was later turned into a film starring Humphrey Bogart which included the first appearance of "The Bowery Boys" who went on to become the iconic "kid gang" of American movies.

Dead End takes place in a New York where tenement houses and luxury apartments stand side by side and extreme wealth and abject poverty intersect every day. Gangsters and bankers, prostitutes and lost children, failure and dreams of the future all live on this street. Axis Theatre Company illuminates these stark contrasts with an understanding of their mythology as well as their contemporary mirror in the city of today.

Dead End plays at Axis Theatre (1 Sheridan Square) through May 20. Click here for tickets!

For more on Emily be sure to visit http://www.emilykratter.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? My earliest memory is seeing Peter Pan...I must have been four or five. "Peter" took off and started flying and it was magic. So, I guess at the time you can say I just wanted to fly? But now, I can tell you for sure that I am inspired every single day to stay a performer by my brilliant friends and collaborators and fellow artists. The theatre community in New York City inspires me.

2. This spring you are starring in Axis Company's production of Sidney Kingsley's Dead End, about the legendary kid gang, "The Bowery Boys" who grew up on the streets of NYC during the Great Depression. What made you want to be part of this show? Well, for one the Axis Company is a group of fearless artists who march to beat of their own drum and create stunning work that is unlike anything I've seen elsewhere. Their artistry is only matched by their hearts and overall awesomeness as humans whom I genuinely always want to be around...So there's that. Working with wonderful people is a huge factor. But also -- immediately when I read this script, I was so taken with the characters, particularly the kids. There is this raw energy that excited me. Their emotions live entirely on their sleeves. They are silly, and scared, and yearning, and manipulative, and just trying to survive. The piece has so much going on. Our director, Randy Sharp has said, "It's like there is one miracle after the next" and I feel that to be true. There's not one moment in the play that does not propel us forward and nobody is ever on even ground. I felt that potential in my first read.

3. What do you relate to most about your character? What is one trait of theirs, you are glad you, yourself, don't have? Hmm well, "Milty" is hilarious. I think I definitely see elements of myself as a kid in him...He has a wild imagination that I know I had, and hope I still do. He is not self-conscious, and fully self-expressed and I love that, and it's a thrill to play. He also looks up to the gang leader, "Tommy" with such fierce admiration. I DEFINITELY did that as a kid. I had a group of older friends that I thought were the coolest. I upped my "cool" cred, just by being around them. As far as one trait I don't have? He is a SPAZ. And honestly, I guess I am too...but he takes it to a new level. I think I can say I'm not quite that bad...(I hope).

Cast of "Dead End", Photo Credit: Pavel Antonov4. How do you feel "The Bowery Boys" story resonates in today's world? Dead End takes place in the 1930s where luxury apartments and tenement housing stand side by side. It examines the intersection of wealth and poverty and at the heart of it is the impact on this gang of kids. It's astonishing how much and how little has changed since that time. I live on the west side of Manhattan where buildings of grandeur are going up every day, and at it's base lay homeless men and women. It is our hope that while these characters might have once been labeled as archetypes, "gangster," "prostitute," "lost boy" etc, that we are examining the humanity underneath. And that humanity, I think will resonate forever.

And one more point of note: While "The Bowery Boys" are certainly a pillar in this play, there are 14 ACTORS making up this ensemble. I'll repeat: This is a downtown theater that hired 14 ACTORS to produce this baby. I think that's awesome and worth emphasizing.

5. What is something you learned about "The Bowery Boys" in preparing for this show that made you go, "Oh wow, I wonder how I would have faired or what would I have done in this situation? Hmm...I'm not sure how to answer this question without giving too much away. But there is a theme regarding "survival of the fittest." How far are you willing to go to build the life you've dreamed of? Or how far are you willing to go to for love? For a friend who's in trouble? And what is that point when one makes the decision to do what's best for him/herself despite everything else?

Cast of "Dead End", Photo Credit: Pavel Antonov6. Since this story focuses on a kid gang, growing up, did you have your own gang or posse? Oh, I DID indeed. I was so lucky to have the most amazing friends growing up. Most of them are still my best friends today. I had a group of friends that I met doing theatre together, and now they are running the world -- they became attorneys and doctors and entrepreneurs and social workers and parents. Some have become successful actors too! And in school, I was in a group of five girls that were inseparable. We even had a name...We called ourselves, "PENT" because there were five of us. They are going to die a little when they read this. We are bonded for life...well, four of us...(long story).

7. In Dead End, gangsters and bankers, prostitutes and lost children, failure and dreams of the future all live on this street. If we break each of these categories down, when have you felt like a gangster, a banker, a prostitute, and a lost child? WOW. I guess I could most relate to the lost child... given these choices, I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing. I'm holding on to a hopefulness that I'm not going to let this world take from me. As for gangster? I'd be terrible...When I was in high school, my friend and I went through the turnstile together for the subway. A policeman grabbed us and told us not to do it again, and I think I had a panic attack. A banker? I think my soul would die if I worked in a cubicle. They work in cubicles right? or desks? I think I would die at a desk all day too. And prostitute? Yikes. Luckily things haven't gotten that rough yet...Ask me in a few years ;)

Emily Kratter, Photo Credit: David Perlman8. What are some of your dreams of the future? What are some of your failures of the past? I have had so much fun working on this show. It hasn't felt like work for one second. That's what I dream of...To have a fulfilling career "working" and never feeling the labor. To do what I love with the people I love. To tell stories that move people...to laughter or tears, whatever. To make some kind of impact and affect people by sharing these tales of flawed, broken, beautiful humans. I think at one point I told my parents I was going to double major when I was at NYU, have some sort of a "back up plan"...I failed at that promise. I'm not sure I even really tried, but shhh!

9. Let's play with the title of Dead End for a moment. What is a path or an idea you started out on, but unfortunately hit a "Dead End," with nowhere to go? I have gone through so many periods where I have wracked my brain and tried to trick myself into believing that perhaps I could be satisfied doing something else with my life. Something with more security, with structure. It's a dead end for sure. I think this crazy business is stuck with me for the long run.

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? That's amazing!! I love this!! There are SO many things!! But to keep things light, I need to sharpen my cooking skills. I have a crock pot I bought off of Amazon last year that's still in the box....well, it's actually out of the box, but that's as far as I got :( Terrible....Shameless plug: Our director Randy Sharp actually has a BRILLIANT cooking show on youtube called DINNER PARTY TONIGHT - One day I'll make her proud and replicate one of her to-die-for recipes. Ina Garten better watch out.

Emily Kratter, Photo Credit: David PerlmanMore on Emily:

Emily Kratter Favorite credits: Axis: Dead EndEvening – 1910, The Groundling and Solitary Light. Other Select NYC theatre/workshops: Confederates (LAByrinth Theater Co, The Lark/Workshop); Be More Chill (workshop/Dir. Scott Ellis); Death For Sydney Black (TerraNOVA Collective/Dir. Kip Fagan); Boomer's Millenial Hero StoryBelieber (TerraNOVA Collective/Groundbreakers); The Austerity of Hope (The Barrow Group); Greenwood (NYMF); Progress In Flying (The New Group/New Works); Pooka (Dramatists Guild/Playwrights Horizons); Five Second Chances (The Playwright's Realm/INK'D); The Physicists (Williamstown); The Holy Ghostly (Williamstown/workshop), The Children's Hour (APAC). Film:  Adelaide, Half Brother (Amazon/Itunes) TV: Unforgettable (CBS). Web: Fomo Daily NYU Tisch. 

Wednesday
Apr262017

Call Answered: Part 2: Facetime Interview with Michael Zam, writer of "Feud: Bette and Joan"

"Call Me Adam" and Michael Zam live at The Algonquin HotelIf you loved the finale of Feud: Bette and Joan, then be sure to check out the second part of my interview with Feud writer Michael Zam, who gives us the backstage stories that didn't make it into the show as well as some insight to Bette Davis and Joan Crawford!

Live from The Algonquin Hotel, Michael Zam and I go at it again with even more tales from Feud: Bette and Joan!

Click here to watch Part 1 of our interview!

For more on Feud: Bette and Joan be sure to visit http://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/feud and follow the show on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram!

Part 2 of "Call Me Adam's" Facetime interview with Feud: Bette and Joan writer Michael Zam:

Michael ZamMore on Michael:

Michael Zam, BFA/MFA, author of the Black-Listed screenplay, Best Actress, has been developed into the hugely popular and highly-acclaimed 8-part miniseries, Feud, for FX, starring Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford and Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis. He has also written scripts for DreamWorks, Plan B, and many others. Michael wrote the book for the Off-Broadway musical The Kid, based on Dan Savage’s memoir, which won the Jerry Bock Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre and the Outer Critics Circle Award. The musical was nominated for a Drama Desk Award, Lucille Lortel Awards, and GLAAD Media Awards. Michael has been honored twice with the SPS Award for Teaching Excellence. He teaches screenwriting, film, and television writing at NYUSPS in the Center for Applied Liberal Arts.

Tuesday
Apr252017

Call Redialed: Joe Gulla: GARBO: 2017 Downtown Urban Arts Festival at Cherry Lane Theatre

Joe Gulla, Photo Credit: Jeffrey HornsteinWhat can I say about the man who adores me to no end? I mean, the man who adores "Call Me Adam" to no end. He actually never has said he adores me, Adam Rothenberg, he just loves my site, but I'll take it! I can't believe I've known Joe for eight years and have gotten to interview him, now three times, plus have seen him go from a fellow blogger to an award winning playwright! He writes, acts, directs, and produces. He does it all!

GARBO tells the story of Joe, a Gay New Yorker, who happens upon the tiny, hidden, candle-lit Garbo Bar during his visit to Rome, Italy. An emotional adventure begins when he is introduced to the handsome, enigmatic, (possibly!) closeted bartender/owner. Funny and heartfelt, GARBO explores why life and love may be better lived outside the closet...even (or especially) in the shadow of the Vatican!"

I'm thrilled to bring this new interview to you about Joe's latest play, GARBO, that will be presented in the 2017 Downtown Urban Arts Festival on Tuesday, May 9 at 7pm at The Cherry Lane Theatre! 

For more on Joe be sure to visit https://www.joegulla.com and follow him on Twitter and Instagram!

1. On May 9, you are presenting a one-night only performance of your play GARBO at the Cherry Lane Theatre as part of the 2017 Downtown Urban Arts Festival. What excites you about having your play in this particular festival? I am huge fan of the Downtown Urban Arts Festival! They care about playwrights. They care about "the words." Their festival is curated within an inch of its life. So, I am extremely proud that they selected GARBO. Oh and, um, they are producing us at the Cherry Lane Theatre! Adam, c’mon…THAT is exciting! And, in my case, a dream come true!

2. GARBO has had some previous incarnations already...in 2011 it was a ONE ACT selected for the 2011 FRESH FRUIT FESTIVAL...and then, in 2012 it was selected by the TIMES SQUARE INTERNATIONAL THEATER FESTIVAL for a STAGED READING…and since then, you have added a second act. What made you want to add a second act? What did you feel was missing from the show as a one act or did you just love performing the show so much that you wanted to write yourself more stage time...hahaha? I love this question! Nothing was ever missing from the ONE ACT (short play) version. I wrote about my experience having (what I call!) an "unrequited love affair" with a bar owner in Rome, Italy. I was very pleased with the piece, its message and the early performances.

The fact that the play was only an hour long bothered me. I believe in GARBO and I wanted it to be available to larger audiences and (in my mind) that meant it had to be a proper TWO ACT (full length) play. This stymied me because the original version was true to what happened to me in Rome. It had a beginning, middle and an end!

My director, Brian Rardin, challenged me to come up with an Act 2. I was resistant! Like I said, there was no more "true" story, so I did not know where to go with it. I didn’t rush my feelings about it. I let it all marinate. Then, one day, I was at the gym and it just "came to me." A twist! A freakin’ twist, Adam! One that opens the story up but, at the same time, allows it to go deeper. I am pretty sure Act 2 will come as a big surprise to our audience. It definitely creates a richer…more resonant experience. But, honestly, it also adds another element of just plain soapy fun! So, no! I did not write Act 2 so I could have more stage time! Ha! I am already horrified enough about the amount of memorizing I need to do!

Joe Gulla, Photo Credit: Jeffrey Hornstein3. Without reading a description of the show, one might think GARBO has something to do with Greta Garbo, but in actuality, it's about your time in Rome where you had an unrequited love affair with the owner/bartender of a tiny candle-lit bar called GARBO Bar. Has there been any confusion about this? Yes! All the time! But, to the confused, I say…"Was MOBY DICK really about a whale?"

4. Now, let's get into the intricacies of the show itself! As stated in the previous question, GARBO is about the three years you spent in Rome, but you initially went there for just three months, until you "fell in love." You original reason for going to Rome was because you felt it was your duty to visit the homeland & get to know your history. What happened in your life that made you feel this necessity? It sounds like something "negative" happened but, actually, it was the opposite. In the mid-90’s, I took a trip to Spain that was supposed to last a month. I ended up staying there for a year and a half! As a native New Yorker, I was astounded by how "out" the gay guys were. I lived in New York all my life and, obviously, New York is a great place to be if you are gay. But, I had never seen men holding hands in the streets, kissing and making out in public spaces until I lived in Spain. This stayed with me.

Moving to Spain was sorta random. I never expected to stay that long. But, when I was back in the States, I started to feel guilty. I mean, there I was, I had lived in Madrid and Ibiza, but never even visited Italy. As an Italian-American, I knew I had to remedy this! In planning my trip to the "homeland," my goal was to "get in touch" with my Italian heritage and, ideally, fall in love with a sexy, hot Italian guy. Ha! At the very least, I’d experience that same European, gay (Spanish-like!) openness…only, this time, I’d be in the country my family is from!

Cast of GARBO: Joe Gulla, Kate Greer, and Aristotelis Ambatzidis5. How long into your three-month visit, did you meet the owner/bartender of GARBO? Then how long after that, were you like, I should stay longer? Ok, well…in real life, I was there for three years! I met the guy about a month into my trip. I knew I was staying for an "extended holiday," but I was not familiar enough with Rome to know exactly where I should settle. I’d read a memoir called, Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. The author wrote rhapsodically about a part of Rome called Trastevere. All I remembered was that you could enter Trastevere from a bridge named the "Ponte Sisto." I bought a map (This was before I had an iPhone!) and I made my way to that damn bridge. I crossed it, fell in love with the neighborhood and got an apartment almost immediately. I went to Garbo the first night that I lived there...and, well, that’s when we met!

To be clear, I did not meet this guy and fall "head over heels." It wasn’t like that at all! I liked him! We became friends. As a foreigner, I appreciated his friendship and it made my acclimation that much easier. I never really "decided" to stay longer. I just sorta lingered!

6. Three years is a long time to stay somewhere for someone, who you say is an "unrequited love." What indications did he give you that he was in "love" with you too? Why do you feel it took three years to realize it was time to go home? What was the moment that made you say, "It's time to go"? First, I agree! It was a ridiculously long time to stay! I mean, besides him, I was enjoying every aspect of being in Rome. It lives up to everything you hear about it: gorgeous, magical.. "eternal!" So, the backdrop helped me stay stationary…for sure. I guess my answer is: Everything happened so slowly. It took time for my emotions and feelings to catch up with the friendship that already existed. I won’t say too much more because it’s pretty well-illustrated in the play. Oh and, in terms of leaving, the play is very specific about what happens and why I finally check out! Besides, Adam, you are going to be there May 9th! I want you to have an unfettered experience.

Joe Gulla, Photo Credit: Jeffrey Hornstein7. As an out gay man, what was it like being in a country that was so closeted? Adam, it is just horrible…and ridiculous. I was shocked!

8. When did you decide this experience should be made into a play? What did you learn about your time in Rome writing this play that you didn't know going through it? That’s easy! While I was there, I became friends with an Irish painter. She was a lesbian and she spoke English. Both of these facts were a huge relief to me. I would spend my nights hanging out with the bartender/owner and I would spend my days gossiping and bonding with her. As months went by and the drama heightened, she would often say, "Joe, this is a play!" When I returned home, I sat down and wrote it! I loved the concept of telling a fully wrought story by simply juxtaposing two ongoing, yet separate, dialogues.

In terms of what I learned creating the play….Well, I didn’t learn much when I first wrote it. I just regurgitated my experience. I was "fresh" from it. But, when we started rehearsals, my director and my fellow actors had a million (understandable!) questions. This forced me (on a daily basis!) to relive it. Full on, intense therapy, Adam! Not fun! It is interesting because there are still a lot of questions unanswered.

We were rehearsing with our current cast last night. Kate Greer plays "Anne," the Irish painter. Aristotelis Ambatzidis plays "Ario," the sexy owner of GARBO! Adam, wait until you see the shocking amount of talent these guys possess! They are spectacular! Anyway, we were working through the script as a group and, once again, I found myself learning new things about what went down back in Rome. I mean, this was literally last night! Thankfully, the emotional stakes are lower for me these days! It’s a freakin’ relief…but, I promise, the impassioned potency of the material is strong as ever!

Joe Gulla, Photo Credit: Michael Arthur9. After GARBO, you have another project already coming up called GAY.PORN.MAFIA, a collection of your award-winning, nationally produced plays. What made you want to name this collection of your work GAY.PORN.MAFIA? Ah, yes, and how lovely to have a project that is completely separate from my personal life! Ha! Keep in mind, my autobiographical monologues (THE BRONX QUEEN TRILOGY) and GARBO are what’s been keeping me busy these days. GAY.PORN.MAFIA is a lot of crazy fun! Yeah, there’s heart and layers, but we are going for some big laughs! The name derives from the simple fact that each of the six plays contains at least two of following themes: GAY, PORN and/or MAFIA. For instance, one of the plays, REEL WOOD, is about a gay married couple who are forced to live in the basement of their Hollywood home because the rest of their house has been rented to a straight porn production company! Fastidious gay men descended upon by straight porn stars, Adam! Ha! Chaos ensues!

10. Since this collection is called GAY.PORN.MAFIA. if you were to star in a gay porn movie, what do you think your porn name would be? "Moby Dick," of course!

11. How does one transition from porn to this next semi-serious question? I don't know, so I will just ask it. 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? First, I would like to be able to swipe my Metro Card once, as opposed to the three or four times it takes me to get that damn turnstile to unlatch. If I can get one percent better at doing that, I would be be a much more calm, affable and content subway rider.

Second, I am firm believer in the "pay it forward" movement! I am that corny guy who buys a latte for the lady behind me on line at Starbucks! And um, yes, that is ME receiving her suspicious/awkward/nervous glance when I do it.! We all have the power to be positive. I suggest being bold, being creative and being direct…be DYNAMIC in putting that positive energy out there!

I mean, I read someone’s Blog, Twitter and Instagram who does this ALL OF THE TIME….yep, I call him…ADAM!!!! Thank you for dialing me up, my friend!

Joe Gulla, Photo Credit: Jeffrey HornsteinMore on Joe:

Joe Gulla is an American playwright, actor and reality television participant. He is best known for the autobiographical monologues that he writes and performs for the theater. His best known work, Bronx Queen Trilogy is based on his experience growing up as a gay boy in the Bronx.

The Bronx Queen, first in the series, won the 2016 Downtown Urban Arts Festival "Audience Award" for Joe's sold-out performance at Joe's Pub at The Public Theater. The Bronx Queen was also awarded Best Comedic Script and Most Popular Show at NYC Theater Row's 2012 and 2013 United Solo Theatre Festival, respectively.

Faggy at 50, second in the series, was awarded Best One-Man Show at NYC Theater Row's 2014 United Solo Theatre Festival.

Daddy, the series' final installment had its World Premiere at NYC Theater Row's 2015 United Solo Theatre Festival. Joe won the 2015 United Solo Award for Best Comedian for his performance.

His play Garbo was based on an unrequited love affair experienced while living in Rome, Italy. Garbo was selected to be part of the New York City's Times Square International Theater Festival in 2012. He played the role of "Frankie" in Off-Broadway's long-running hit, My Big Gay Italian Wedding.

REEL WOOD, a short play written by Joe, had its World Premiere at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in June 2015. It was also selected by NYC's Village Playwrights to be performed in their "Re-Inventing Family" series commemorating Gay Pride.

Joe's play, Knock Off!, had its world premiere in Houston, TX at Theatre Southwest. 

Christmas Caroline, Joe's newest comedy had its World Premiere at Studio C Theatre, Hollywood, CA in November 2015. His play, Gayfever had its World Premiere at the Funky Little Theatre Company in March 2016. Sleeping With The Fish by Joe Gulla opened the Village Playwrights' "Gay Pride and Prejudice" series in June 2016.

In June 2016, Joe's play, Fall and Rise had its World Premiere at the Carrolwood Player's "One Act Weekend" in Tampa, Florida. Later that month, Fall and Rise premiered at the 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Fall and Rise was awarded "Best Play" in 2016 at the Acadia University Mini Fest in Nova Scotia, CN.

The Advocate named Gulla its "Anti-Bullying Hero" in 2012.

Joe was a contestant on the NBC adventure reality series Lost in 2001. The show followed three teams of two as they made their way from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia back to the United States.