Category Archives: Artist Select

CRAIG SMITH ON ORTON—50 YEARS LATER: THE PRODUCING ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF PHOENIX THEATRE ENSEMBLE AND ‘ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE’ (ONLY THROUGH MAY 14), ADVANCING THE STORY, AND DIRECTING A MODERN CLASSIC ·

Craig Smith is Producing Artistic Director of Phoenix Theatre Ensemble.  He was an ensemble member of New York’s prestigious Jean Cocteau Repertory where he made his artistic home for more than 3 decades appearing in over 200 productions from Stoppard to Shakespeare and Sophocles to Williams. In 2004, Craig and four colleagues founded the award-winning Phoenix Theatre Ensemble.   Now under the direction of Mr. Smith and Artistic Director, Elise Stone,  Phoenix presents  3 to 6 productions of new and classical works annually, a reading and new play development series, and an arts-in-education program for NYC public schools.  He is the recipient of the President of the Borough of Manhattan’s Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Arts and Community Service.

Craig Smith talks with SV’s Bob Shuman about his new production at the Wild Project.

One question you’d ask Joe Orton if he was around?

Your work in Entertaining Mr.  Sloane has a tragic through-line that has the emotional impact equal to that of Arthur Miller.  You moved away from this with Loot and What the Butler Saw–why? 

One of the early reviewers of Entertaining Mr. Sloane called it a “dirty highbrow play.”  Is it? 

Orton was a 1960’s rebel–Ed and Sloane are in the words of critic Randy Gener, “rapacious bisexuals”–the play’s raw treatment of sexuality was new and titillating in 1964.  But the real dirt is the way family members treat each other–no one can inflict pain the way your family can.  “Highbrow”:  the language is sophisticated, like Wilde, Coward, and Pinter, such as “you superannuated old prat” coming from undereducated people who live in an isolated house, situated in a rubbish dump. This anachronistic use of selected words, here and there, is delicious. About the language:  It is a challenge to memorize in the way all really good language is—it does not come easily.  It is a singular voice.  When done well, it crackles. Language that is easy to memorize often comes off as ordinary and a bit uninteresting.

How would you describe what Entertaining Mr. Sloane is about?

A love story.  Four deeply wounded people in need of love.  It’s about a family–a family with very old wounds–hard facts that they have tried to ignore or forget.  But the introduction of Sloane to this family unit proves explosive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s more interesting?  Joe  Orton’s plays or his life (and death)?

Very difficult to compete with the colorful—some would say the outrageous–life of Joe Orton.  The plays have order–even the chaos has a choreographed order to it–but Orton’s life was not choreographed.  

Your greatest satisfaction from being in the theatre?

Breakthroughs in the rehearsal room.

Biggest obstacle for theatre companies today?  

The extraordinarily entertaining work being done on cable television.

 

Tell us about the casting process:  What kind of actors were you looking for—and tell us who finally won the parts?

Good actors . . . I knew I wanted Elise Stone (my wife and Phoenix Theatre Ensemble Artistic Director) to play Kath and John Lenartz to play Kemp–both great, talented actors who I have worked with for decades.  Ed is the most challenging role in the play, and I asked PTE artist, Antonio Edwards Suarez, to play this complex man who struggles with his sexuality.  But . . . I did not have a Sloane.  Then we went to see some director scenes that friends were working on–and I saw this good looking, interesting young actor with very intense eyes.  We asked him to join a reading we were doing of Cocteau’s The Infernal Machine.  Once cast, I could see that he had excellent instincts, took direction, and was a really nice guy–so after that, I asked Matt Baguth to play Sloane. 

At Phoenix Theatre Ensemble do you typically work with the same artists?  Who are your current collaborators?

Yes, we have an ensemble of resident artists, but casting is not exclusive to that group.  Over time these artists have developed a creative shorthand and a knowledge and appreciation of each other.  It is a great way to work and btw, I won’t work with difficult people.  

Does the company look for a certain kind of play to produce?   How does the ensemble decide on a season?

Many think that you just sit down and pick out some favorite plays or playwrights that you might want to produce.  It is a very complicated process, though.  We have to consider budgets, performance rights, plays that complement each other–we like a mix of new works and classics—spaces to perform in, and the challenge the season will be to our actors and directors.

How much liberty do you believe a director can take with an established script?

In 30+ years of theatre work, this is my directing debut.  I’m enjoying it immensely.  I take more liberty with scripts than others do or would.  As an actor, I’m legend for paraphrasing–particularly with scripts in translation–perhaps this has given me a sense of entitlement, some would say a “false entitlement.”  I am not of the opinion that actors and directors are interpreters only.  As a jazz musician will riff on a piece of music, I encourage the same thing in theatre.  Lots of people disagree with this–some vehemently, but I don’t really care. 

Tell us about your background. How did you get started in the theatre and how has your career evolved?  

As a young man new to the city, I auditioned for Jean Cocteau Repertory and then attended a performance of Waiting for Godot, 10:00PM on a Friday night.  The play was at their 50-seat storefront theatre in a neighborhood that I considered the downtown “murder district.” It was indeed a pretty rough area. I had never seen anything quite like that performance before; I went back the next day and asked if they needed help sweeping the floor. I stayed with them for 30+ years.

Most unlikely problem you’ve faced during the rehearsal process—and how has it resolved or how is it resolving?

The pauses–I have worked on quite a bit of Pinter and Beckett–masters of the power of the pause.  Orton was a fan of Pinter, and the script is littered with “pauses” and “silences”–way too many of them. If he had written this later in his short career, I think he would have been more selective. But regardless, I thought I had a good handle on this–the non-filled pause–the power of nothingness hanging in the air—but it is a challenge.   We continue to work on them.

Most influential director, person in theatre, or mentor in your life? 

Eve Adamson and Elise Stone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does knowing about the early ‘60s in England help in understanding Entertaining Mr. Sloane?  Or do you feel it’s not necessary to explain?

Well, young Matt, in rehearsal one night, referred to the time of Sloane as “way back then”–like it might have been an 18th-century play, which I found both humorous and sobering at the same time. There is a generation that doesn’t know who Orton is, who think that “edge” is only contemporary to the last few years.  In a way, this play could have only come out of that culture-changing decade–a decade I am so glad that I experienced. But the play is not stuck in that time period.  In my opinion, it is worthy of being considered a modern classic.

Does knowing about the current political or cultural environment in the U.S. inform your production in any way? 

I didn’t think it would.   We did Brecht’s Arturo Ui right over the election–it could not have been more timely, and we reaped the benefits.  I was relieved we were doing Sloane, because I thought it would be a break for us–and for our audience–from the overload of politics and the plethora of new works coming out in response to this U.S. administration.  But, in a very short time, we are now in a culture of repression and regression:  from the progressive victories of same-sex marriage to the horrors of Chechnya; from the rise of domestic hate crimes to the overall demise of compassion. So, unfortunately, we once again find our work being very, very relevant.

Give the answer to an essential question about yourself that you realize won’t be asked here.  

I find beauty in what others find to be gross and disgusting.

Best piece of theatrical advice you ever received? 

Don’t retreat–advance the story.   And also from a director, who gave me this note:  “it is, of course, complete hokum, but you must imbue with complete truth.”

Thank you very much.

Entertaining  Mr. Sloane by Joe Orton

When:   May 4–14; performances Tues-Sat @8:00 PM;  Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2:00 pm; Sunday matinee at 3:00 pm.

Full Schedule: Thurs 5/4 @ 8pm; Fri 5/5 @ 8pm; Sat 5/6 @ 2pm & 8pm; Sun 5/7 @ 3pm; Tues 5/9 @ 8pm; Wed 5/10 @ 2pm; 8pm; Thurs 5/11 @8pm; Fri 5/12 @ 8pm; Sat 5//13 @ 2pm & 8pm; Sun 5/14 @  3pm.

Information: http://www.phoenixtheatreensemble.org/;  212-465-3446

Tickets:   Tickets are $30 each; Call 212-352-3101 or visit www.PhoenixTheatreEnsemble.org.

Where: The Wild Project @ 195 East 3rd Street (Avenue A and Avenue B)

Transportation: By Subway: F Train to 2nd Avenue; by Bus A14 to 4th Street and Ave A; 8th Street Crosstown. 

(c) 2017 by Craig Smith (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

Phoenix Theatre Ensemble production of “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” photo credits: Gerry Goodstein.

ANDY BRAGEN: ‘THIS IS MY OFFICE’ (11/5-12/8, NY) ·

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(via Patrick Leonard/Blake Zidell & Associates)   

This Is My Office is set in a disused office that becomes a character unto itself. One night, hunkered down in the office provided to him by an arts grant, eating his way through a box of donuts and battling intense writer’s block, protagonist Andy Bragen (played by David Barlow) discovers an old photograph that spurs a revelation: the very office he currently inhabits was once that of his father. As Andy delves deeper and deeper into his complicated and conflicted relationship with his recently deceased father, strange things begin to happen to him in the space as family and writing take on a symbiotic relationship. The office bridges the two Bragens’ lives, and ultimately becomes an epic symbol of redemption, faith and love. 

THE PLAY COMPANY BEGINS 2013-14 SEASON WITH
WORLD PREMIERE OF ANDY BRAGEN’S THIS IS MY OFFICE,
NOVEMBER 5—DECEMBER 8 AT CHASHAMA

Site-Specific Production Directed by Davis McCallum,
Performed by David Barlow

The Play Company Presents
This Is My Office (World Premiere)
Written by Andy Bragen
Directed by Davis McCallum
Performed by David Barlow

Performances:
November 5–8, 11, 13–15, 18, 20–22, 25–26, 29 and December 2, 4–6 at 7:30 p.m.
November 9, 16, 23, 30 and December 7 at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m
November 10, 17, 24 and December 1, 8 at 3:00 p.m. & December 1 at 7:00 p.m.
Press Previews: Saturday, November 9 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, November 10 at 3:00 p.m.
Official Opening: Monday, November 11 at 7:30pm.

chashama (210 E. 43rd Street)
Tickets: $30-40 at playco.org or 866.811.4111; due to the intimate space, tickets are extremely limited.
85 minutes, no intermission

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EXCLUSIVE: READ FREE EXCERPT FROM JOANNE BRASIL’S NOVEL ‘BIG MAMMA’S #1 WITH COLESLAW, TO GO’ ·

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Thanks so much for visiting Stage Voices for the latest in Theatre news and writing. Currently, we are privileged to be offering a free chapter from playwright JoAnne Brasil’s first novel–in a series of four–called Big Mamma’s #1 with Coleslaw, To Go.

The revised and expanded edition is set in Phoebus, a small military town in southeastern Virginia and told by the narrator and protagonist Cecelia O’Malley.  As the inside cover of the original novel puts it, “Raised by the Irish immigrant owners of Billy’s Bar-B-Que . . . Cecyl escapes after high school graduation and moves to Boston where she supports herself by working as a janitor. Ill-prepared for the larger world of late 1960’s America . . . Cecyl is usually caught off-guard, but she always rebounds with a tenacity and love that draw us to her spirit.”

Originally titled Escape from Billy’s Bar-b-que–the book went into a second printing–Alice Walker (author of the Pulitzer winner, The Color Purple)–who published the work through her Wild Trees Press in 1985—has written “To those who have wanted to dismantle racial pigeonholes and leap over social barriers in a single bound, this book will offer special insight and encouragement.” 

Additional praise includes:

“This is a novel written the way people talk. That leads us into the way people feel, and we are rewarded with one woman’s story and a valuable reminder that hearts and times do change—and for the better.”–Gloria Steinem 

“This fragile novel packs a surprising wallop you’ll feel for a long time afterward.”–Patricia Holt, the San Francisco Chronicle

“Brasil has written a brilliant story about the way people talk, the way they feel and, as Cecyl puts it, the way they should ‘treat each other normal’.”–Publishers Weekly

 “Cecyl is funny and sad, brave and devastatingly honest. JoAnne Brasil is uncompromising and true. So is her brave heroine.”–Dorothy Bryant (self-published Berkeley literary icon)

“Off-beat Characters on the Mark. . . . Brasil’s story is both hopeful and convincing, and given the size of the social walls Cecyl runs into this is no small accomplishment . . . perceptive and well-written. . . . Daily Californian (UC Berkeley paper)

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JoAnne Brasil is a writer living in Salem, MA. She’s worked as a news reporter for the Brattleboro Reformer in Brattleboro, VT, was a letter-writer for Smithsonian, wrote an astrology column for Poets & Writers magazine, and was the host of a Sunday morning radio program for WBUR Public Radio in Boston. She has written numerous plays, scripts and short stories, and is now in the process of completing the third in the Escape from Billy’s Bar-B-Que novels.

Copyright 2013, JoAnne Brasil. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For rights inquiries contact: Bobjshuman@gmail.com

Visit JoAnne Brasil’s Web site: http://www.joannebrasil.org/

JoAnne Brasil at Hildegard's Wander Theater: http://wandertheater.org/index.htm

Photos: Top of page, German production of The Wander Theater:  JoAnne Brasil (r) and actor Andrea Rump (l) at the Project Theater (it was part of the Dresden Yiddish Theater and Music Week). Above, American production: JoAnne Brasil (r) and Georgette Beck (l) in front of the Griffen Theater in Salem, MA. Photos courtesy of JoAnne Brasil.

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A DAY WITH PLAYWRIGHT CRYSTAL SKILLMAN ·

 

(Jody Christopherson’s article appeared on the Huffington Post, 6/14.)

Crystal Skillman is an award winning playwright, who like her characters, is breaking through all kinds of boundaries. If we were to create a travel map of all the places Skillman's work is being done there would be pins in London, New York, Boston and currently Chicago, as her play WILD's World Premier opens June 15th with Kid Brooklyn Productions, under the direction of Evan Caccioppoli,

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jody-christopherson/cutting-up-the-wild-a-fil_b_1593424.html

 

JO MORELLO: ‘E.G.O.: THE PASSIONS OF EUGENE GLADSTONE O’NEILL’ ·

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Stage Voices’ continued interest in all-out, all things O’Neill takes us to the work of Jo Morello. Currently, she is readying her play on the Nobelist for a reading on June 2 with the Reston Community Players in Herndon, Virginia. A lifelong writer, Jo operates a small public relations agency in Sarasota. She also is the editor of the Eugene O’Neill Society Newsletter and board member of the Eugene O’Neill Society.   

Jo Morello became a playwright in response to a challenge from her husband, playwright Jack Gilhooley. He believed she could combine her talent . . . with her three-year experience as managing director of a summer stock theatre company to create new work for the stage. He was right: She won two national contests with her first attempt and has continued to produce winning scripts ever since.

She has also drawn on her playwriting knowledge to create feature articles in the media including “O’Neill, Lost and Found,” American Theatre magazine, December 2011, p. 14; “Before Breakfast: The Journey of a Minor Play, Eugene O’Neill Society Newsletter, November 2011, pp. 29-30; and “From the Ashes: Yale University to print more than half-century old play,” Syracuse Daily Orange, Syracuse University, November 2, 2011 (interviewed by contributing writer Andrew Muckell).

Jo’s plays have been winners or finalists of dozens of competitions including three individual Artist Fellowships and three Artist Enhancement Grants from Florida's Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs; the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center Young People's Drama Project; two Choate Rosemary Hall Discovery contests; and the Beverly Hills Theatre Guild Children’s Theatre competition.

Among Jo’s plays are full-length dramas, comedies, plays with music, historical plays and one-act, intergenerational plays for families and young audiences. Her newest play, MA, MOONFLOWERS & ME, is subtitled “A Comedy For People Old Enough To Know Better.” Jo has written this family-friendly, full-length comedy primarily for mature actors and older audiences. She is also adapting this stage play for the screen.

Other recent dramatic activity includes the Dallas Hub Theater’s production of THE CRASH AT CRUSH, Jo’s historical play with music, and the selection of her murder mystery, DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL (then titled THE MARKHAM MYSTERY) by Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre (SART) for its 28th Annual SCRIPTFest.

Jo is a member of Dramatists Guild and the American Association of Community Theatres.

Visit Jo Morello’s Web site: http://www.jomorello.com/index.php

Visit the Web site of the Reston Community Players: http://restonplayers.org/

The above bio is from Jo Morello’s Web site.

Stage Voices highlights playwrights and performers–and their work. If you have had or been in a professional production, we will consider a 4-5 minute demo or audition tape for inclusion on this blog.  Please e-mail: Bobjshuman@gmail.com/ with an easily uploadable file or link–YouTube is best.  Also send a short, written biography (a paragraph or two with info on how someone can reach you via e-mail). If we determine that your background/materials meet our qualifications, we will contact you within several weeks–our decisions are final. Help us alert others to your talent(s) today!)        

ALEXEI KONDRATIEV ON CELTIC STORYTELLING ·

 

(The first of six parts on YouTube.  Kondratiev taught Irish language, Celtic mythology, early Celtic Christianity, the history of Celtic traditional music, and related topics at the Irish Arts Center in New York City.  He studied anthropology and linguistics at Columbia University and Celtic Studies at the Ecole des Hautes-Etudes in Paris, and perfected his knowledge of the living Celtic languages through prolonged stays in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany.)

STEPHEN FIFE: ‘SAVAGE WORLD’ (ARTIST SELECT) ·


 

‘SAVAGE WORLD’ by STEPHEN FIFE (Playwright/Writer/Screenwriter)

Steve’s plays have been produced in NYC at The Jewish Repertory Theatre, Primary Stages, Circle Rep Lab, La Mama, Theater for the New City, the Samuel Beckett Theater, others.  Plays include Mickey’s Home, a suspenseful 3-character drama, and New Day, a dystopian satire about a future in which the attempt to eliminate the gene for violent behavior has had unexpected consequences.  His drama about racial strife in America, Savage World, was produced at the Met Theater in Hollywood, where Backstage West named it one of the Best Productions of 2008.  His evening of romantic comedies, This Is Not What I Ordered, was produced in Los Angeles and published by Samuel French.  The Jewish Repertory Theater commissioned him to do a new adaptation of Sholem Asch’s play God of Vengeance and produced it at Playhouse 91 in NYC, where the production received 17 rave reviews.  The play was later produced in Tel Aviv (in Hebrew) and in Atlanta as a joint production of 7 Stages and Jewish Theatre of the South, where it was directed by the late great Joseph Chaikin.  Steve wrote about this experience in his memoir, BEST REVENGE: How the Theater Saved My Life and Has Been Killing Me Ever Since, published by CUNE Press and hailed by American Theatre as “coming from deep inside the heart and mind of a struggling artist.” A graduate of Sarah Lawrence & Columbia’s School of the Arts (MFA), Steve was the first literary manager for the Off-Broadway company Primary Stages and is currently on the Board of Directors of the West Coast Jewish Theatre.  He has written feature articles on theater, film, and painting for The New York Times, New Republic, Village Voice, New York Newsday, American Theatre, many others.  He is very proud of his work with kids and teens in New York and Los Angeles, including in his drama group, The Young Actors Workshop, where he has written, directed and produced several original musicals. 

Visit Stephen Fife's Web site for more info: http://www.wix.com/joestarr4/stealfire-home-page    

(Stage Voices highlights playwrights and performers–and their work. If you have had or been in a professional production, we will consider a 4-5 minute demo or audition tape for inclusion on this blog.  Please e-mail: Bobjshuman@gmail.com/ with an easily uploadable file or link–YouTube is best.  Also send a short, written biography (a paragraph or two with info on how someone can reach you via e-mail). If we determine that your background/materials meet our qualifications, we will contact you within several weeks–our decisions are final. Help us alert others to your talent(s) today!)        

STEPHEN FIFE: ‘SAVAGE WORLD’ (ARTIST SELECT) ·

 

 

‘SAVAGE WORLD’ by STEPHEN FIFE (Playwright/Writer/Screenwriter)

Steve’s plays have been produced in NYC at The Jewish Repertory Theatre, Primary Stages, Circle Rep Lab, La Mama, Theater for the New City, the Samuel Beckett Theater, others.  Plays include Mickey’s Home, a suspenseful 3-character drama, and New Day, a dystopian satire about a future in which the attempt to eliminate the gene for violent behavior has had unexpected consequences.  His drama about racial strife in America, Savage World, was produced at the Met Theater in Hollywood, where Backstage West named it one of the Best Productions of 2008.  His evening of romantic comedies, This Is Not What I Ordered, was produced in Los Angeles and published by Samuel French.  The Jewish Repertory Theater commissioned him to do a new adaptation of Sholem Asch’s play God of Vengeance and produced it at Playhouse 91 in NYC, where the production received 17 rave reviews.  The play was later produced in Tel Aviv (in Hebrew) and in Atlanta as a joint production of 7 Stages and Jewish Theatre of the South, where it was directed by the late great Joseph Chaikin.  Steve wrote about this experience in his memoir, BEST REVENGE: How the Theater Saved My Life and Has Been Killing Me Ever Since, published by CUNE Press and hailed by American Theatre as “coming from deep inside the heart and mind of a struggling artist.” A graduate of Sarah Lawrence & Columbia’s School of the Arts (MFA), Steve was the first literary manager for the Off-Broadway company Primary Stages and is currently on the Board of Directors of the West Coast Jewish Theatre.  He has written feature articles on theater, film, and painting for The New York Times, New Republic, Village Voice, New York Newsday, American Theatre, many others.  He is very proud of his work with kids and teens in New York and Los Angeles, including in his drama group, The Young Actors Workshop, where he has written, directed and produced several original musicals. 

Visit Stephen Fife's Web site for more info: http://www.wix.com/joestarr4/stealfire-home-page    

(Stage Voices highlights playwrights and performers–and their work. If you have had or been in a professional production, we will consider a 4-5 minute demo or audition tape for inclusion on this blog.  Please e-mail: Bobjshuman@gmail.com/ with an easily uploadable file or link–YouTube is best.  Also send a short, written biography (a paragraph or two with info on how someone can reach you via e-mail). If we determine that your background/materials meet our qualifications, we will contact you within several weeks–our decisions are final. Help us alert others to your talent(s) today!)