Category Archives: Events


(Maya Phillips’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/30; Photo: Robert Cuccioli as a Massachusetts pub owner who fancies himself more in Eugene O’Neill’s “A Touch of the Poet.”Credit…via Irish Rep.)

Irish Repertory Theater’s ambitious virtual rendition of the O’Neill drama finds a family trapped by a father’s grandiose illusions.

It’s all Byron’s fault. Before James Dean and Gary Cooper and Heathcliff and Rochester — all the real and fictional men lounging at the center of the Venn diagram of “bad boys” and “sad boys” — Byron made such a career of drinking, lusting and gallivanting that he became a type. The Byronic hero: temperamental, hedonistic and romantic. “I am such a strange mélange of good and evil,” the poet once wrote of himself, “that it would be difficult to describe me.” Save it for your Tinder profile, bro.

Byron also embodied a masculine ideal defined by paradoxes. A man of society who scorns status. A virile lover made impotent by ennui. A dreamer plagued by disillusionment.

These contradictions sit at the heart of Eugene O’Neill’s 1942 play “A Touch of the Poet.” Irish Repertory Theater’s new online production, with its cunning use of technology and design — each actor filmed separately but sharing the same virtually rendered set — provides a hearty serving of digital theater that nearly matches the real thing.

But first, back to the sad boys. O’Neill wasn’t exactly known for happy plays, and “A Touch of the Poet,” one of his later works, bears that signature. A lengthy domestic tragedy about toxic pride and futile posturing in an American society that won’t validate delusions of grandeur, the play makes Byron its patron saint, heralded and prayed to and emulated as the “poet and nobleman who made of disdain immortal music.”

(Read more)

Visit Irish Rep for tickets.


Don’t miss Jim Turner & Ellie Covan’s Unbirthday!
A Very Merry Unbirthday To Us
The Raising Cain Campaign Wrap Party
Field Marshalled by the Birthday Kids
Jim Turner & Ellie Covan
Friday, October 30, 2020 at 8:00pm EDT Virtual Live
Join Ellie and Jim for a hair-raising virtual mutual birthday Raising Cain wrap party. This one time special event includes a special edition Bingo competition and special surprise guest, Deb Margolin, who, with Jim, will perform a special teaser from their special show Switcheroo — they perform each other’s solo characters… very special. And, of course the raffle stops here! Winning tickets WILL be drawn! Have your cake and eat it too, but it’s up to you to bring it, too. BYOB, BYOC, BYOW, BYOFB, BYONS, BYO?….
If you can’t make it, we’re eternally grateful for your kind donations!
And don’t forget, this is free if you bought a ticket to any other event this month  you’ll receive the link soon!
Check out the whole shebang….
The Raising Cain Campaign
The Opening Act
Sat, Oct 17 – 2pm & 3:30pm
Can’t wait any longer for real live theater? Nancy Giles
hosts a socially distanced Raising Cain kick-off, in a paved paradise!
Scavenger Hunter
Sun, Oct 18 – 6pm
ChameleoNYC’s frequently educational yet always hilarious scavenger hunt will fire up your imagination &
engage your wits!
Sexy Clinico
Mon, Oct 19 – 7:30pm
Behold Dr. Carmelita Tropicana & Nurse Marga Gomez as they answer your most intimate quarantine queer-ies. 
StylePointe Retrospective
Tues, Oct 20 – 7:30pm
This exclusive event is a
tribute to the gifted
dancemakers & fashion
designers who bring so
much innovation & glamour to the DP runway! 
Boy Bar
Weds, Oct 21 – 7:30pm
Nora Burns & Connie Girl 
host a ‘live documentary’ on the infamous East Village drag club, featuring boy bar beauties, backstage betties,
& high-heeled high-jinx!
Thurs, Oct 22 – 7:45pm
Does sitting thru the debate seem like a daunting feat? Don’t go it alone! Grab a drink & check out this
aberrant instantaneous tweeting & drinking game.
Paved Paradise
Sat, Oct 24 – 2pm & 3:30pm
Contemporary ballet, hip hop, contemp South Asian and modern dance on a stage, in a parking lot, on the Lower East Side. Live! Safe! Remarkable! 
Sun, Oct 25 – 1, 2, 3pm
Take a walking tour with Peculiar Works Project thru the Lower East Side streets & experience real live theater, music, dance & more!
Wayward Cooking Show
Mon, Oct 26 – 7:30pm
Doyens Richard Bach &
Michael Howett shepherd a virtual Donor Dinner! Cook along or simply simmer in their brassy banter & scandalous stories!
CovidSex Encounters
Weds, Oct 28 – 7:30pm
Christen Clifford & Tom Cole host an evening of stories & performance about finessing sex during the pandemic… stimulating, educational, inspiring!
A Merry Unbirthday!
Fri, Oct 30 – 8pm
Jim Turner & Ellie Covan host their mutual birthday Raising Cain wrap party, w/surprise guest Deb Margolin, special edition Bingo, and the raffle stops here!
The Mini-Auction
Online all month! 
Something for (almost) everyone — theatergoers, foodies, body worshippers, collectors, and pet lovers… The holidays are coming!
Follow us!


(Andrew Kleidon’s article appeared in the Door County Pulse,  10/23; Photo of Hallie Flanagan, Door County Post. )

A Quick and Decisive Blow to Progressive Theater

In fewer than three years, the Federal Theatre Project’s (FTP) Living Newspaper and Negro Theatre Units were making great strides in creating new work for a post-Great Depression nation that promoted social progress and racial equality, but they were not the project’s only branches to produce compelling theater for new audiences. 

When Hallie Flanagan was appointed to run the FTP, she set out to create a program with integrity. In producing new theatrical work for her audiences, many of which had never seen live theater before, it made sense to focus on creating high-quality experiences that spoke directly to those audiences. 

That approach included incorporating themes of social justice, desegregation, workers’ rights and housing reform. Flanagan was already known for being the first woman to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship and for creating Vassar College’s experimental theater program, so she was well versed in the potential of the art form to push societal change by speaking directly to the audience. 

In 1939, only four years after the FTP was established, Congress pulled funding from the program and put thousands of artists out of work nationwide after a series of hearings in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Citing material produced by the Living Newspaper project that promoted workers’ unions, as well as plays created by the Negro Theatre Unit that called for racial equality, the committee launched an investigation into the FTP on the grounds that communist sympathizers may have infiltrated it or that it may have been promoting socialist propaganda.

The FTP’s new works were not the only ones under fire by the committee. Close to 10 percent of all work produced by the project was cited as problematic, including classic pieces and works by Voltaire and George Bernard Shaw. The committee also deemed children’s theater productions unacceptable, including Revolt of the Beavers for its negative depiction of worker exploitation by anthropomorphized beavers. 

(Read more)

These broad-brushstroke accusations against theatrical literature would perhaps seem more fitting a decade later – during Joseph McCarthy’s rise to prominence – but they offered an early glimpse at just how broad the definitions of communist behavior would eventually become.

Congress ultimately pivoted to a conclusion that the average American would not find theater to be a meaningful use of taxpayer dollars. That seems to be a hard line to argue, considering that FTP productions were wildly successful, especially in areas with first-time exposure to theater.

The very nature of being government funded allowed FTP productions to be available to audiences at a very low cost, and often free, which meant that entertainment and progressive messaging was available to the people who needed it most. By defunding the project, the government dealt a blow to both the economy and the social welfare of the country. 

Some of the oldest theater in the world was written as social commentary that poked holes in the status quo, so it’s hardly surprising that when theater artists have the basics they need to create productions without worrying about their success or failure, the work they produce will reflect their place in the social hierarchy. Hallie Flanagan argued on the committee floor that the work the Federal Theatre Program had created was as American as it could have been, and that the program’s messaging reflected democracy. 

“Our Federal Theatre,” she said, “born of an economic need, built by and for people who have faced terrific privation, cannot content itself with easy, pretty or insignificant plays … We have been given a chance to help change America at a time when 20 million unemployed Americans proved it needed changing. 

“And the theater, when it is any good, can change things … Don’t be afraid when people tell you this is a play of protest. Of course it’s protest – protest against dirt, disease, human misery … Here is one necessity for our theater – that it help reshape our American life.” 

(Read more)


(Kate Wyver’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/18; Photo: Clown theatre company Silent Faces would legally have to wait until 2059 (70 years after Samuel Beckett’s death) to perform Waiting for Godot with non-male performers. Photograph: Ali Wright).

Female and non-binary performers deal with issue of playwright’s instructions

A dead man’s voice can travel a long way. In 1988, Samuel Beckett sued a Dutch theatre company for casting women in his existential drama Waiting for Godot. When Beckett died a year later, responsibility for his estate was passed down to his nephew Edward, who has since continued to throttle any production that sways from his uncle’s precise instructions.

More than three decades and multiple court cases after Beckett’s death, the gender rule still stands. With a new show asking who art belongs to, a group of female and non-binary performers are once again challenging the Beckett estate’s rigidity.

“The more we read about the history, the more we realised we’d just get a big fat no,” said Jack Wakely, a non-binary member of the clown theatre company Silent Faces, who wanted to perform Godot. The copyright for a play runs out 70 years after the playwright’s death, meaning women and non-binary performers legally have to wait until the end of 2059 to be able to play Vladimir and Estragon. With an increasingly fluid understanding of gender today, the Beckett estate’s restrictions seem ever more archaic. “The irony of waiting for Waiting for Godot is not lost on me,” said Wakely drily.

“One of the responsibilities of any estate is they must remain frozen in time,” said Lisa Dwan, the Top Boy actor best known for her rendition of Beckett’s Not I. “It’s not as if they can go back and check with the author.” Beckett’s behaviour was changeable, and he’d often alter his work. “But [the estate] don’t have that privilege. They can only respect his final word.”

Like Dwan, many believe Beckett’s exactness is part of his genius, with his stage directions akin to a musical score. Others argue there should be more room for interpretation.

“In order to make theatre live and breathe,” said the director Deborah Warner, “it has to be newly made for not every year or every second, but certainly every generation.”

Warner’s 1994 production of Beckett’s Footfalls with Fiona Shaw, in which they altered the stage directions and switched two lines, led to Warner being banned from Beckett for life by his estate. The Guardian critic Michael Billington wrote that Warner’s transgression was “a bit like doodling on a Rembrandt.” The production’s European run was pulled.

“We made the piece speak, I thought, remarkably,” says Warner now. “It was speaking a slightly different language, but nonetheless Sam’s.” At the time, Edward Beckett defended his action. “We’re not trying to produce cloned productions, but we insist they play the play as Sam wrote it,” he said. Warner sees now that she was dealing with a grieving estate. “It wasn’t so long after Sam’s death. [Edward] believes firmly he is doing what Sam wanted.”

How far is the restriction on a performer’s gender simply an extension of this fidelity to the author’s wishes? When Samuel Beckett was asked why the female Dutch company could not perform the show, he replied pithily: “Women don’t have prostates.” In the play, Vladimir repeatedly goes offstage to urinate, which is put down to a prostate problem. But the prostate itself is never actually addressed in the script, and, as Wakely notes, “there are plenty of reasons why you could have an urgent need to wee.”

For Wakely, these flimsy reasons are not good enough. “I think it’s fundamentally about this idea that the only person who can be an everyman character has to be a man. That if you put somebody else in that role, the play becomes about the fact that they’re not a man, as opposed to the fact that it’s about existence.”

Fed up with waiting for Godot, Wakely’s company’s rage and disappointment has fed into a new show, Godot is a Woman, which tackles the gender restrictions around Beckett’s work. If Beckett had lived longer, Wakely asked, “would he still believe that only a man could play that role?”

(Read more)


(via Michelle Tabnick, Michelle Tabnick Public Relations)

Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU) is offering their popular 

Writer-Producer Virtual Speed Date event on Sunday, November 8, 2020 at 2:30pm-6:30pm via Zoom. Writers will have a chance to pitch their work to a Zoom room of serious producers and receive coaching. For more information and to register, visit Submission deadline for the event is October 28, 2020.


You meet a producer at a party and have two minutes to interest him in your work. Do you have the skill to sell yourself? Here’s a chance to practice your pitching with real producers who are open to and interested in meeting you. Okay, they probably won’t option you on the spot, but they’ll give you valuable feedback about your work and your ability to talk about it. And you’ll have the opportunity to start developing a relationship. And that’s what this business is all about: Relationships.


“The Speed Date is the only event I know of that gives writers the chance to meet high level producers one-on-one in a room. To me, that’s what makes the Speed-Dates so valuable. And you do it with kindness, which I value in life,” says Vincent Amelio (How Alfo Learned to Love). 


Apply at, or download application: WriterSpeedDateApp-85-75(new), fill out and email to (PLEASE – add your name to the document name, and put it first when you “save as”).


Sunday, November 8

Session 1: coaching at 2:30, pitching at 4:30 (there will be an hour wait time between coaching and pitching)

Session 2: coaching at 3:30, pitching at 5:30 (there will be an hour wait time between coaching and pitching)


We’ll have eleven producers lined up, from both the commercial and not-for-profit worlds, all with an interest in new projects; we also may have eleven aspiring producers from our Producer Development program. So you’ll be pitching to as many as 22 producers in total! Come with a willingness to learn, because the real value is the chance to practice your pitching. And you’ll be getting invaluable coaching from experts, as well.



  • Patrick Blake, producer (The 39 Steps, Bedlam Theatre’s Hamlet/St. Joan, My Life Is a Musical, Play Dead, The Exonerated), founding artistic director of Rhymes Over Beats Hip Hop Theater Collective;
  • Merrie L. Davis, producer (Olivier Winning Producer Best Musical Revival Company, West End; Company, Broadway; Eclipsed, a 6 Tony winner; Gigi;  off-Broadway Himself and Nora);
  • Jane Dubin, producer (The Prom, Tony winning The Norman ConquestsAn American in ParisFarinelli and the KingBandstandPeter and the StarcatcherAbsolute Brightness of Leonard PelkeyThe 39 StepsAnn);
  • Gene Fisch, Jr.,  Broadway Producing Team (High), 100+ Off Broadway, Off-Off Broadway productions, Carnegie Hall concert Producer, Director of the New York New Works Theatre Festival, Director of 4 episodes of the TV series, “Two Many Moms”;
  • John Lant, indie producer (Fabulous, Frankenstein the musical, Wicked City Blues), artistic director Write Act Repertory, producer The Park Theatre in Union City NJ;
  • Cody Lassen, producer (How I Learned to Drive, Indecent, Spring Awakening; Upcoming: Titanic, A Commercial Jingle for Regina Comet; Co-Producer: Tootsie, What The Constitution Means to Me, The Band’s Visit, Torch Song, Significant Other, Macbeth);
  • Tamra Pica, producer and casting director for WriteAct Repertory, and the new Park Performing Arts Center’s (PPAC) in Union City, NJ
  • Neal Rubinstein, producer (On the Town, The Velocity of Autumn, Hedwig and the Angry Inch revival; upcoming Dangerous the musical);
  • Kim Vasquez/Gray Lady Entertainment (Be More Chill London, Chicago, On/Off Broadway, Broadway Bounty HunterChurch and State; Founding Producer New York Musical Festival, Producing Director Park Square Theatre Mainstage/Saint Paul);
  • Ken Waissman, producer (original Grease, Torch Song Trilogy, Agnes of God);
  • Claudia Zahn, former producing director, Malibu Playhouse.



Diana Calderazzo is an adjunct instructor of Theatre at Fordham University, teaching Invitation to Theatre with a focus in Cognitive Studies from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master’s Degree in Theatre from the University of Central Florida. She has taught Theatre and/or Communications at both of those universities, as well as Central Texas College and Bronx Community College. Diana was also a scholarship recipient at Smith College, where she completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre. Diana has published peer-reviewed articles in such journals as Theatre Topics and Theatre Symposium, and has presented papers at national and international conferences such as the American Society for Theatre Research and the International Federation for Theatre Research. She is also a member of Wardrobe Local 764 in New York City, where she works as a wardrobe technician for various Broadway shows. She worked as a full-time dresser for Spider-Man: Turn Off

the Dark on Broadway from 2010 to 2013. Diana is a former Tour Actor/Director for the Missoula Children’s Theatre and has taught Theatre to over 2,500 children around the country with this company. She has also toured in Europe as a performer with Music Theatre Bavaria.


Emileena Pedigo‘s work focuses on building sustainable careers #AnotherWay, using entrepreneurial strategies that prioritize the artist over their art.  Her company, The Show Goes On Productions provides coaching and artist management, as well as produces workshops, showcases, and events.  Before that Emileena was managing producer of the Midtown International Theater Festival.  She helped expand the annual festival into seven venues, presenting up to 60 shows in one month during her seven-year tenure.  Emileena also general-managed for several nonprofits, assisted Stewart F. Lane on four Broadway shows, including the Off-Broadway transfer of The 39 Steps, and worked on various film and music festivals.  She toured theaters, music arenas, and schools across the country, working with artists from all artistic disciplines.  Emileena has served on the board of Conscious Capitalism NYC, and is currently helping to build Arts programming within the Chelsea Greenwich Village Chelsea Chamber of Commerce.  She is a graduate of the Commercial Theatre Institute, SUNY/Kaufmann’s Fasttrac program for entrepreneurs, and a Purdue University alum. 


Joanne Zippel is a collaborator and communicator who has an extensive network of relationships in both the creative and corporate worlds. She has over 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur, working in theatre and live event production, promotion, sponsorship, B2B and B2C sales and marketing, creative development, literary management and creative coaching in the entertainment business. Joanne ‘s creative coaching business evolved out of her work as a manager of playwrights and screenwriters – guiding their careers and helping them to pursue their passions in what is well known as an often difficult, changeable and sometimes arbitrary business. Through her company Zip Creative, she works with clients helping them to open themselves up to their creative capacity, build a solid foundation from which to make authentic work and life decisions and take practical action on them. For more information go to Joanne graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and did graduate work at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. She is a graduate of the Hoffman Institute.

Theater Resources Unlimited


(TRU) is the leading network for developing theater professionals, a twenty-seven-year-old 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization created to help producers produce, emerging theater companies to emerge healthily and all theater professionals to understand and navigate the business of the arts. Membership includes self-producing artists as well as career producers and theater companies.

TRU publishes an email community newsletter of services, goods and productions; offers a Producer Development & Mentorship Program taught by prominent producers and general managers in New York theater, and also presents Producer Boot Camp workshops to help aspirants develop business skills. Currently, TRU offers a Weekly Community Gathering on Fridays at 4:30pm to help maintain community spirit during this time of isolation. TRU serves writers through the TRU Voices Play Reading Series, Writer-Producer Speed Dates, a Practical Playwriting Workshop, How to Write a Musical That Works and a Writer-Director Communications Lab.

Programs of Theater Resources Unlimited are supported in part by the Montage Foundation and the Leibowitz Greenway Foundation.

For more information about TRU membership and programs, visit





(Friedman’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/15; Photo: Chaotic and farcical … The Pin – Ben Ashenden, left, and Alex Owen – are coming to the West End. Photograph: Oliver Rosser/Feast Creative. )

The stage maestro says the magic of live performance is vital for our mental health. And now she’s bringing that alchemy back with comedy duo The Pin and their debut play The Comeback

It’s seven months since I shut my last show – and most theatres are still completely dark. It’s the longest prolonged closure since the days of Samuel Pepys. Theatre has endured war, riots, depression and, yes, even disease. Its absence is damaging this country and doing harm to the mental health of its people, and I’m determined to do anything I can to help bring it back.

Exactly two years ago, David Walliams took me to see a brilliant young double act called The Pin at the Soho theatre in London. Watching their hilarious sketch show, I cried with laughter. And I wasn’t alone. The whole audience lost it. It’s strange to think back on that evening now. I’m not sure I’ve laughed like that in months. You rarely do while watching TV, or surfing YouTube on your phone, do you? Not in that same sustained and unstoppable way. For that, a joke has to be shared. People have to set each other off. “I wasn’t alone” – that’s the key. There’s something about live comedy, live anything, that you can’t recreate at home. There’s a kind of alchemy to it. Everything’s enlivened.

Right now, we need that, maybe more than ever. This year has taken a huge toll on us all: mentally, physically and spiritually. We need the opportunity to let go. We’re craving connection and spontaneity. Live theatre – performance – offers that release, and has done for thousands of years. It lets an audience feed off each other’s emotions, whether laughter or tears, and share in a silence. It’s why Oscar Wilde called it “the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being”.

As social, emotional animals, we need that. Theatre’s vital to our collective well-being and mental health, and the overwhelmingly positive public response to the Palladium Panto and the Les Misérables concert announcement is testament to that.

Now, thankfully, theatre’s making a tentative return – albeit in a limited, socially distanced form. The financial constraints of producing socially distanced theatre are seriously prohibitive and there’s no way our industry can survive like this long-term, but for now, so long as we are allowed, it’s incumbent on us to get our shows back on our stages somehow. It’s a big financial risk, but it’s one we have to take wherever we can follow the health and safety guidelines. Socially distanced theatre will never work financially, but it is vital – in every sense.

That’s why, this December, I’m producing The Pin’s debut play The Comeback in London’s West End. It’s a dizzying and delirious new comedy that tells the story of two double acts fighting for control of the most chaotic, farcical and high-stakes gig of their respective careers. It feels like the right show for right now. Some people say farce encapsulates the human condition: people clinging desperately to dignity as their world spins out of control. Others just see door slams and slapstick. Either way: bring it on. Following all of the government-approved performing arts working guidelines, I hope The Comeback gives theatregoers of all ages the great night out they deserve after this year.

It’s taken a lot to get here, but I have been determined to get back to work. Audiences need a chance to escape. Freelancers, many of whom have gone without financial assistance, need opportunities to return to work. From March to May, I was in shock and survival mode. Having shuttered 18 productions worldwide in two weeks, and paused another 10 in the pipeline, I tried to stay sane by focusing on the other side.

(Read more)


(Brent Lang’s article appeared in Variety, 10/15.)

Tony Awards

“Jagged Little Pill,” a ferocious reimagining of Alanis Morissette’s album of the same name, captured a leading 15 Tony Award nominations on Thursday. The show, which pulls back the curtain on a seemingly perfect suburban family to show their struggles with everything from sexual assault to drug addiction, was a hit with critics and audiences before the Broadway season was cut short by coronavirus.

“Jagged Little Pill” nabbed a best musical nod. To win the top prize, it must contend with “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” an adaptation of the 2001 film that picked up 14 nominations. The show was a huge box office success before Broadway dimmed its lights in March, attracting sellout crowds and celebrities such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Nicole Kidman, star of the original movie.

“Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” was also nominated for best musical. “Slave Play,” Jeremy O. Harris’ searing look at race and sexuality, nabbed 12 Tony noms and set a new record for the most nominations for a new play. It was followed closely behind by Matthew Lopez’s epic “The Inheritance,” a two-part look at the legacy of the AIDS crisis, that scored 11 nods. Other best play contenders include Bess Wohl’s “Grand Horizons,” Adam Rapp’s “The Sound Inside,” and Simon Stephens and Nick Payne’s “Sea Wall: A Life.”

Best play revival nominations went to “Betrayal,” “A Soldier’s Play” and “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” There were no best musical revival nominations. The cutoff for nominations was Feb. 19, which meant that several shows that would have been likely contenders such as revivals of “Company” and “West Side Story” either opened after that date or were still in previews when the pandemic hit. Due to the shortened season, categories had fewer nominees than normal or were skipped entirely, which explains why Aaron Tveit (“Moulin Rouge!: The Musical”) has the leading actor in a musical race entirely to himself.

The year’s acting contenders were sprinkled with some A-list Hollywood talent, including Jake Gyllenhaal (“Sea Wall/A Life”), Tom Hiddleston (“Betrayal”) and Laura Linney (“My Name Is Lucy Barton”).

James Monroe Iglehart, who won the 2014 Tony for best featured actor for his role as Genie in “Aladdin,” announced this year’s nominees on Thursday morning on the Tony Awards YouTube channel.

No date has been set for this year’s ceremony, but sources say organizers are tentatively planning for the first half of December. Most award shows have gone virtual this year due to social-distancing guidelines around the country, and sources say Tonys organizers intend to incorporate live or pre-taped performances of some kind.

See the full list of nominees

(Read more)


(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/13; via Pam Green.)

After 27 years on the job, the writer Ben Brantley bids farewell with one last recommendation: Watch a show as if you were a reviewer.

 “Don’t you ever want to just sit back and enjoy it?”

That’s a question I’ve often been asked during my 27 years as a daily theater reviewer for The New York Times. And now that I’m leaving that position (my last day is Thursday), it comes up more frequently than ever, with the implication that I must be panting to be able to watch plays without having to think about them so hard.

But the short answer to that question is an undiluted “no.” One of the main reasons I never stopped loving this job is that I can’t sit back and go limp, like a passive slab on a massage table. It is a point of honor for me to avoid that state when, if the show is slow, my thoughts might drift to other matters: Where am I having dinner after? What if I left the air-conditioning on? Why is my date so grumpy?

Allow me to make a confession here. I do not like going to the theater. I love being at the theater, and I love writing about the theater. But what happens before and after and in between — the schmoozing, the mingling, the dining, the waiting in the rain for taxis — hasn’t given me a thrill in decades. People who regularly accompany me to plays have often heard me mutter, in a claustrophobically crowded theater lobby, “I don’t know why I’m still doing this.”

Such surly sentiments can persist right up to the moment the house lights dim. But once the curtain goes up, a switch flips on inside me. I feel nervous, expectant and palpably, exhilaratingly in the moment. In that sense, I imagine, I’m experiencing a milder version of what the performers onstage go through every single night.

This is live theater, after all. We’re in this together. Those people up there need us as much as we need them. And I’m being paid to participate, with all senses wide open, in this fraught, blessed exchange of energy. I’m being paid to pay attention.

This means that I am hyper-aware of all the moving pieces that make up a production, and that a part of my mind is assessing how successfully these elements cohere. While this might suggest a cold and clinical detachment, I find that it’s an approach that makes me feel more vital, more connected, more grateful.

Paradoxically, this “objective” assessing perspective enhances the pleasure of my unthinking self — the part that responds viscerally to a work’s beauty or fearful symmetry, and feels elation or pity and terror. When a show is really working, my gut eclipses my mind.

(Read more)










WORKING THEATER, the DRAMA DESK and AUDELCO award-winning Off-Broadway company – now in its 36th Season, under the leadership of Artistic Directors Mark Plesent and Tamilla Woodard – is pleased to announce its digital programming for 2020-2021 beginning late October. Opening with Leila Buck’s ‘AMERICAN DREAMS,’ which is currently on a national virtual tour, WORKING THEATER will also feature the audio immersive experience ‘SANCTUARY’ by Rachel Falcone and Michael Premo, with music by Broken Chord, and a benefit performance of ‘TO THE BONE’ by Lisa Ramirez, a Working Theater Commission.

“Tamilla and I have collaborated on projects for many years, but our 36th Season is the first that we are co-leading the Company as Artistic Directors.  And while the pandemic has been a blow to Working Theater and the theater community at large, that won’t stop us from serving the workers of New York and beyond – be it through a nationwide partnership on a live digital play about immigration or an intimate sound-walk inspired by the intersection of faith, sanctuary and social justice. Engaging our audience of working people and representing their hopes, dreams and challenges on stages, virtual and otherwise, remains the reason Working Theater was founded and continues to survive and thrive,” said Plesent.

AMERICAN DREAMS: October 20-25, 2020

Written by Leila Buck

Directed by Tamilla Woodard

Created and Developed by Leila Buck and Tamilla Woodard with Jens Rasmussen,

in collaboration with Osh Ghanimah, Imran Sheikh, and the Company

With Ali Andre Ali, Leila Buck, India Nicole Burton, Jens Rasmussen, Imran Sheikh, Andrew Aaron Valdez

This playful participatory production will be the first to launch the Working Theater’s Sliding Scale Ticketing Initiative which reflects the Company’s commitment to accessibility and the belief that theater should not be a luxury or a privilege, but available and accessible to all.

Highlighted by The New York Times as ‘thought provoking,’ the production of American Dreams, is presented by Working Theater in an unprecedented national partnership alongside eight esteemed partners — Round House Theatre (Bethesda, MD), Salt Lake Acting Company (Salt Lake City, UT), Marin Theatre Company (Mill Valley, CA), HartBeat Ensemble, The Bushnell and University of Connecticut (Hartford, CT), Arizona State University’s ASU Gammage (Tempe, AZ) and Texas Performing Arts (Austin, TX). American Dreams is written by playwright Leila Buck, and takes a page from America’s favorite game shows by asking audiences to vote on who will be America’s newest citizen.

Kicking off Working Theater’s week of performances are several surround events including a free Town Hall featuring artist, activist and policy makers in conversation about Citizenship and the American Dream. The evening will include a keynote by Broadway/ TV/ Film actor Carlo Alban, followed by a moderated panel with Nura Elgmagbari (Portland Refugee Support Group) Richard Lujan-Valerio (The Latino Network), Juanita Sarmiento (Rural and Migrant Ministry) and actor/ playwright/ advocate for native communities DeLanna Studi (Cherokee).

SANCTUARY: November 16- December 5, 2020

A Soundwalk for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Created by Michael Premo & Rachel Falcone

Developed with & directed by Rebecca Martinez

Music Director Broken Chord

Commissioned by Working Theater

Believers and nonbelievers from all walks of life and faith traditions are welcome at St. John the Divine. In the community of this magnificent cathedral, many people have found home and sanctuary, but in a world of chaos and injustice, what does that mean? In this aural exploration, featuring the majestic Cathedral, audiences are invited to put on their headphones and take a walk that weaves together the aural landscape of New York City and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and to reflect on the intersection of faith, sanctuary and social justice.

Sanctuary is part of Working Theater’s Five Boroughs/One City Initiative and is developed in partnership with the community at St. John the Divine.

Rachel Falcone and Michael Premo (Photo of  Michael Premo by Kisha Bari Horiz)

TO THE BONE: December 7, 2020

By Lisa Ramirez

Directed by Lisa Peterson

Commissioned by Working Theater

With Dan Domingues, Liza Fernandez, Annie Henk Paola Lazaro-Munoz, Lisa Ramirez, Gerardo Rodriguez, Xochitl Romero and Danny Wolohan

Inspired by actual interviews with immigrant workers in the poultry processing plants of upstate NY, To the Bone examines the very nature of equality and justice in contemporary America. Featuring the original cast from the acclaimed Cherry Lane Theater production, this virtual reading of To the Bone will benefit Sullivan County migrant farm workers and their fight for a farm workers’ Bill of Rights.

Photo of Lisa Ramirez: David Green

TheaterWorks! with members of 32BJ SEIU: February 22, 2020

TheaterWorks! is a signature adult education program of Working Theater, which teaches playwriting and performance skills to working New Yorkers. Offered this fall to building service workers at the union 32BJ SEIU, the 16-week course is led by teaching artist Joe Roland, and will culminate in a final performance on February 22, 2021.


Leila Buck is a Lebanese American playwright, actor, facilitator and educator. She has performed and developed her work at the Public, NYTW, Culture Project, BRIC Arts, Brooklyn Museum, Cleveland Public, Cal Shakes, Mosaic Theater at Arena Stage, and the Wilma (Barrymore Award), and performed and taught theatrical tools for literacy, conflict resolution, and intercultural engagement to youth, educators, aid workers, UN delegates and others across the U.S., Europe, China, Australia and 11 Arab countries. She is a member of the Public’s inaugural Emerging Writers Group, a Usual Suspect with NYTW, and teaches Creation and Representation in U.S. Theater at NYU.

Michael Premo is an artist, journalist, filmmaker, and civic engagement strategist. He is Executive Producer of Storyline, a production company building power with story and strategy. Recent projects include the multi-platform exhibit 28th Amendment: Housing is a Human Right, the participatory documentary Sandy Storyline, the short film and exhibit Water Warriors, and the PBS series Veterans Coming Home. Sandy Storyline won the first ever Storyscapes Award at Tribeca Film Festival. Water Warriors has won ten awards and is currently touring film festivals and communities. Premo has produced projects with the Hip-Hop Theater Festival, the Peabody Award-winning StoryCorps, The Foundry Theater and The Civilians, and was an Impact Producer for Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. He is an affiliate facilitator with the Interaction Institute for Social Change, a board member of A Blade of Grass and the Center for Story-Based Strategy, and a recipient of a 2019 Creative Capital Grant.

Rachel Falcone is an artist and filmmaker. Before starting the nonprofit production company Storyline, Rachel traveled across the United States with the award-winning national oral history project StoryCorps, worked as a producer with EarSay, Inc., and was associate producer on Incite Picture’s Young Lakota, broadcast on Independent Lens. She is co-director of the participatory documentary Sandy Storyline (winner of the inaugural Tribeca Film Festival Storyscapes Award) and the multi-platform exhibit 28th Amendment: Housing is a Human Right and a producer of the short film and exhibit Water Warriors. She has directed dozens of short films for organizations like AFSCME and The John. F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Rachel has also taught oral history and storytelling for movement building in collaboration with institutions like the Museum of the City of New York and Parsons The New School for Design. Rachel studied philosophy at University College London and Vassar College.

Rebecca Martinez is the BOLD Associate Artistic Director at WP Theater, an NYC-based director and ensemble member of Sojourn Theatre. Recent projects: I Am My Own Wife (Long Wharf Theatre); Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles (Repertory Theatre of St. Louis), Miss You Like Hell (Baltimore Center Stage), Wolf at the Door (Milagro Theatre, NNPN rolling world premiere), Anna in the Tropics (Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, Henry Award for Outstanding Direction). Rebecca has worked with INTAR, Working Theater, Signature Theatre, the Lark, The Playwrights Realm, New Dramatists, the 52nd Street Project, Radical Evolution among others. Member of: Sol Project Collective, INTAR’s Unit52, SDCF Observer, Latinx Theatre Commons Advisory Committee, 2019 Audrey Resident, New Georges Affiliated Artist, 2018-2020 WP Lab, 2017 Drama League Directing Fellow, Member of SDC.

Broken Chord has written music on Broadway for: The Parisian Woman, and Eclipsed. Off-Broadway credits include Toni Stone at Roundabout Theatre Company; The Lying Lesson at the Atlantic; OZET at Incubator Arts; Bull in a China Shop at LCT3; Party People at The Public. Selected regional credits are Angels in America at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis; Enemy of the People, and As You Like It at the Guthrie Theatre; Ruined at Berkeley Repertory Theatre; Top Girls, and A Raisin in the Sun at the Huntington Theatre; UniSon at OSF; Macbeth, and Hamlet at Shakespeare Theatre Company. Film credits include Fall to

Lisa Ramirez Exit Cuckoo (nanny in motherland)- Working Theater, NYC world premiere. Art Of Memory – Company SoGoNo, world premiere at 3LD/NYC. Pas de Deux (lost my shoe)– Cherry Lane Mentor Project. To The Bone– Working Theater commission, world premiere Cherry Lane Theatre. Down Here Below – Oakland Theater Project commission and world premiere.  Currently working on All Fall Down– a dance theatre/memory play, joan (of arc)- an Oakland Theater Project commission and two original TV pilots.

Working Theater believes the transformative experience of live theater should not be a luxury, but a staple. Now in its 36th season, Working Theater continues its mission to produce theater for and about working people — the essential workers of any city or town — and to make play going a regular part of our audiences’ cultural lives. By making productions relevant, accessible and affordable regardless of geography or socio-economic status, Working Theater strives to always acknowledge the city’s diversity while seeking to unite us in our common humanity. Working Theater is under the leadership of Artistic Directors Mark Plesent and Tamilla Woodard, and Managing Director, Laura Carbonell Monarque.



(Vinson Cunningham’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 10/5.)

With so much time away from in-person performance, we are undergoing a worldwide reconstrual of what it means to be a member of the crowd.

Alot of work goes into seeing a show at home. For one thing, it’s impossible to settle on a seat. I’ve watched plays while sitting at the desk where I write, or on the floor next to the desk, or on the couch across the room, or at the kitchen table, or, least proudly, lying in my bed, under the covers. I’m never even close to dressed up; I’m there to see but not be seen.

One of the preoccupations of theatre-makers and critics during the past six months has been the construction and presentation of plays to be performed on laptop screens and smart TVs instead of on stages. “Virtual theatre”—a sprawling category, more experiential than formal, which ranges from high-quality performance recordings, such as the recently released filmed version of “Hamilton,” to staticky live Zooms, and is unified as a genre only by its reliance on Wi-Fi—is still in its vulnerable infancy. But something else, perhaps even more important for the future of the art, is happening, too: we are undergoing a worldwide reconstrual of what it means to be a member of the crowd.

It’s easy to forget that, in the theatre, each ticket buyer plays a role. The quality of our attention—silent or ecstatic, galled or bored—is a kind of freestanding, always improvising character, and makes each in-person performance unrepeatable. Call it the congregational art, and remember how you once practiced it: it has something to do with location, and feeling, and your invisible relationship with individual performers and the whole panoply of action on the stage.

The particulars of the audience member’s role change over time, often because of extremity in the wider world. In the nineteen-thirties, during the New Deal, when the Federal Theatre Project cropped up under the umbrella of the Works Progress Administration, Black performance groups, called Negro Units, helped build a bridge away from minstrelsy—which was still very much alive on the mainstream stage—and from other exploitative portrayals of Black characters and performers, toward new, more complex forms of societal and political expression. In a book released earlier this year, “Radical Black Theatre in the New Deal,” which explores the output and the outlook of the Negro Units, the scholar Kate Dossett shows how, by using “folk dramas, domestic tragedies, black realist dramas,” and other forms, they “pushed generic boundaries and explored what it meant to be a black hero in American culture.”

The new plays—like Theodore Ward’s Marcus Garvey-influenced family drama “Big White Fog”—were received gratefully by Black Americans, who, for the first time, could “imagine themselves as the audience for a drama.” In turn, F.T.P. playwrights always had their new public—which, in addition to individual theatregoers, included “federal agencies, unions, professional associations, and civil rights organizations,” along with “poets, novelists, essayists, politicians, and activists”—in mind as they went about their work. If the crowd was unsatisfied, the manuscript changed; these new spectators were also collaborators. The result was a dramatic reimagining of what a theatre audience could be. And, because of the racially integrated nature of F.T.P. audiences, communities who were usually isolated from one another were now brought uncomfortably together in the seats. “For many Americans,” Dossett writes,

a Negro Unit drama was their first experience of theatre as a black event for black communities. In Harlem, opening night of a Negro Unit production was the place to be, and be seen, for black celebrities and political figures alike. But what was embraced by black communities could be alienating and even shocking for whites: white critics and audience members who traveled uptown were fascinated, and often troubled, by the vocal manner in which African American audiences asserted their ownership of a production.

The discovery of our own time, when it comes to audiences and the performing arts, feels like the diametric opposite of the one Dossett describes. Our great crisis, the coronavirus, forces us to watch plays alone, in the crannies of our homes, instead of drawing us into proximity with strangers. Our current government, unlike that led by Franklin Roosevelt, doesn’t see a connection between economic privation, social estrangement, and the kind of nourishment that can come only through an encounter with art—and has no sense of responsibility to encourage the flourishing of art and public life. And so, in a very real way, each of us is on her own. The work of playwriting, acting, and theatrical production today might be to reintroduce us to one another, one at a time.

Ifound myself startled by interaction during “Theatre for One: Here We Are,” a program of very short plays commissioned by Arts Brookfield. Before the social-distancing era, “Theatre for One” made its name with productions of uncomfortably intimate works which paired one performer with a single audience member. The latest iteration of the program features plays written by women of color, and brings actor and spectator together via Webcam. I’d somehow forgotten about my end of the bargain while getting ready for the show, and, as my Webcam lit up, I jetted into my bedroom and changed from my grungy T-shirt into the blue chambray button-down number that I’ve come to think of as my “Zoom shirt.” It felt strange to dress for the theatre again.

But, before the performer for the first of my shows popped up, I was plopped into a digital “waiting room”—just a dark screen with a bar to type into. Other audience members sent messages into the seeming void. Some asked where the others were from. Others got more speculative. “When do you think we will be back in theatres together?” somebody asked. “When a vaccine comes,” the deadpan but still somehow hopeful answer came. “I feel like I’m being punked,” somebody else said.

(Read more)