Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Shakespearean Season

Thankfully, it’s easy to find the words to describe Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s “Shakespeare in Love”: Romantic, sprightly, joyous, heartfelt. In short, it’s a delight. ~Matthew J. Palm, Orlando Sentinel


I have to own up: I am a very lax blogger.  My last post was before the holidays, a lapse of more than three months.  Mea culpa, dear reader.  2018 got off to such an intense start I haven't had a chance to put my thoughts down.  On New Year's Day I flew to Orlando Shakespeare Theater to begin work on the repertory season-- "Shakespeare in Love" and "Twelfth Night."  The two plays rehearsed simultaneously, and, having not done a rep season in many years, I found it quite the whirlwind!  But what a joy to spend the winter in sunny Florida, fully immersed in the rich and rollicking world of Elizabethan England.

Fennyman takes stage as "The Apothecary"

"Shakespeare in Love," adapted by Lee Hall from the Oscar-winning film, is perhaps the most produced play in regional theatre this season. Will Shakespeare, longing for love and inspiration, meets Viola DeLesseps, a lady who dreams of being an actor--at a time when women are banned from the stage.  It's a comedy with a huge heart; a love letter to the theatre and to Shakespeare.  I play Hugh Fennyman, a moneylender (and, in my interpretation, a piratical thug with a dueling scar across his face) who secretly adores the theatre!  It's a delicious cameo to perform amidst this talented and multifaceted cast, directed by Richard Garner.  

At the final curtain of "Shakespeare in Love," Will is hard at work creating "Twelfth Night," so it was a rather brilliant stroke by Artistic Director Jim Helsinger to pair the two plays in rep.  But our "Twelfth Night" is a rare and special production.  Performed entirely with Elizabethan stage practices in a replica indoor playhouse of the 17th century, all the roles are played--as they would have been in 1602--by men.  And the language is spoken in original Elizabethan pronunciation.  Ours is the first ever professional American production of Shakespeare performed in this way and I am so proud to be a part of it, playing Feste--one of the great clowns.  He's a true jester of wit and wordplay, and I get to sing several Elizabethan songs, accompanied by a live consort. Our cast was blessed to be directed by the sublime Carolyn Howarth.

As Feste, with company of "Twelfth Night"
Why do Shakespeare in this odd dialect?  I think, because it teaches us so much about the language.  Original Pronunciation (Elizabethan dialect) expert David Crystal (who  phonetically transcribed and audio recorded the entire play for us) teaching us that people of the period spelled things the way they sounded. This helps us, as well as the odd rhymes of words like "love" and "move" which sounded like "luv" and "muv"--O.P. helps us fulfill the clever wordplay Shakespeare intended.  As an actor, I find the dialect brings an earthiness, a vitality and speed which make the words come alive. We were all blessed to have the expertise of dialectician Paul Meier to keep us sounding just right.

Orlando Shakes is calling this the "Time Machine Twelfth Night" because audiences are transported to an indoor playhouse during Elizabeth I's reign, lit by hundreds of candles, accompanied by live music played on period instruments, and inhabited by an all male cast in sumptuous period costumes.  Yet never does it feel like a museum piece.  On the contrary, the play comes to rollicking life and the audience is swept into it with us.  For a Shakespeare geek like me, this rep season is a dream job-- stepping back into the Elizabethan era with one of Shakespeare's great comedies, as well as a vibrant fantasy play about the great man himself.  Oh, and did I mention that it's in the 80s and sunny here in Orlando?  That doesn't bother me one bit, either.



Sunday, November 26, 2017

My End of the Year Letter 2017

2017: New Realities

The holidays bring a pause for reflection and a summing up of the accomplishments and challenges of the passing year.  I have always found this annual meditation much more powerful than setting resolutions.  As I get older--and in these times of greater and greater uncertainty--planning or setting myself tasks seem less valuable to me.  Standing in the present, poised, aware--a much more grounding exercise. While I fear for our nation, and our world, in a time of such erratic leadership and national cynicism, I am, at heart, an eternal optimist.

No one is more aware than I of some of the remarkable good fortune I have experienced in recent years as an actor, and the opportunities to work afforded me that many worthy actors wish they had.  But some years are leaner than others.  2017 was one such for me.

But the shows I got to do were choice!  I started the year reunited with my dear friend, director Inés Braun, performing the role of Pheres in her final Columbia thesis, "Alkestis."  I got to play a real SOB, and how often does one get to work on a Greek tragedy?

As Pheres, with Alex Marz in "Alkestis"
 Spring brought me to Fayetteville, NC and Cape Fear Regional Theatre's production of Ken Ludwig's Sherlock Holmes farce, "Baskerville."  CFRT epitomizes the "little theatre that could" story of small professional theatre in America, and with our production they gave a talented group of recent Carnegie Mellon graduates, led by our bright director, Sam French, one of their first jobs in the industry.  As guest artist, I loved collaborating with these energetic young artists and I had a schizo good time playing fourteen eccentric characters.


While in Fayetteville, I taped an audition for one of my dream parts, Nathan in "Guys and Dolls" for Maine State Music Theatre.  I didn't raise my hopes.  Nathan is one of the great comic leads in musical theatre, and the anchor for the entire show.  I didn't expect to be cast from a video--but I was!  While the spring was a lean time for me, come June I was rollicking through Runyonland, in a superb production directed by DJ Salisbury in beautiful Brunswick, Maine.  My co-star was audience favorite Charis Leos, whose talent and comic genius remind me of another of my favorite co-stars, the great Sally Struthers.  Charis made playing Nathan one of the best theatre experiences of my life.



But what goes up, must come down.  Returning to NYC in the full flush of success, I faced an extended drought which stretched my faith, and finances, to breaking point. The protracted and painful three year probate process of the settling of my Dad's estate dragged on, and the small inheritance I anticipated seemed like it would never come.  But necessity is the mother of invention, and while audition opportunities were few, I sought out other work opportunities.  Matthew Corozine Studio invited me to join a select group of Artists in Residence and I used the chance to create and teach my first four week Shakespeare workshop.  I expanded my base of private coaching clients, and participated in readings of new works.  I also completed the fifth draft of my screenplay, signed with a production company and sent the script out into the world to, hopefully, become a film.

I will begin the New Year in sunny Orlando, beginning a 12 week rep season at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater.  Both the warmth and the challenges of the Bard will be most welcome.  What the rest of the year will bring?  Who knows.  I am grateful for my friends, for my work, for surviving the ups and downs of life, for my beloved family, and for a life that allows me the freedom to chart my own course.  Wishing you an extraordinary 2018!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Writing My Next Chapter

Diversification.  It seems to me to be the wave of the future, and the way, in the present, for artists to seek new avenues of creativity and income.  It's not enough to just do one thing anymore--we actors are finding ways to express ourselves through music, visual art, education, and other disciplines.  For me, writing has become a powerful mode of expression.

In 2003, when New York's Museum of Sex was just opening, a good friend who was setting up the retail area of the museum offered me a job managing the place on the weekends. The inaugural exhibit was a multi-media instillation called "Sex in New York" which told the history of sex and sexuality in the city from the early 19th century through the beginning of the 21st.  

The very first piece of history represented in the show was the lurid story of the murder of beautiful prostitute Helen Jewett by her 19 year-old lover, Richard P. Robinson, in 1836.  Due to the scandalous nature of the crime, a nascent tabloid press jumped on the story, and the murder-- and Robinson's sensational trial-- became national news.  The tale of these two tragic young people evolved into American lore, and over the course of a century and a half, would crop up in novels by such eminent writers as Gore Vidal, and would be the subject of in depth historical studies.



Helen and Robinson took hold of my imagination and I began studying everything I could find on the murder, the trial, and the cultural sensation it engendered and I knew it would make a great movie.  I am an ardent cinephile and love films and had long wanted to write one.  So I began, learning over the course of several years the complex craft of the screenwriter.  The first draft of "The Girl in Green" was completed in 2012 and over the past five years I have tussled with the process of rewriting.  With the mentorship of script readers, other writers and industry professionals, as well as the feedback from four major screenwriting contests, I forged ahead through four more drafts to arrive at what is now a lean, taut and I feel, well-crafted script.

Two of my most supportive friends, Linnea Larsdotter and Johan Matton--themselves multi-talented artists: actors, writers, producers, and founders of the Nordic International Film Festival--have, after mentoring me through my revisions over the past couple years, come on as producers of the film!  Changing Film Productions recently announced they are developing "The Girl in Green" and I couldn't be more excited or more blessed to have these amazing people guiding my vision into what we hope will be the reality of a thrilling and epic motion picture.

The next steps are in motion: finding producing partners, name stars, a director, and of course the many, many dollars it takes to produce a feature film set in another time.  I feel that there is something magic happening with this piece and I am so excited to watch it come to life.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Bridging the Gap

"The actor's job is finding work. The fringe benefit of our job is getting to act." ~Samuel L. Jackson

Phew!  It has been months since I've blogged and I have no real excuse except that I had such a darn good time this summer doing "Guys and Dolls"--and since then have been struggling to get to whatever the next thing is.  But first things first.

There is nothing grander than getting to play one of your dream parts.  I've had that opportunity several times in the past few years and no one recognizes my dumb luck more than I do!  This summer, in my debut season at Maine State Music Theatre, I got to play probably the greatest comic lead in musical theatre--Nathan Detroit.

With Charis Leos, "Guys and Dolls"
The production was a joy, a sellout, a rapturous time in a beautiful place with wonderful artists!  My biggest advantage was playing opposite MSMT's resident character actress, the superb Charis Leos as Miss Adelaide. Charis and I are kindred spirits: we share a powerful work ethic, and similar (and shameless) comedic instincts.  Our partnership on stage was sheer alchemy and I loved working with her.  Getting to do Nathan as I always envisioned him--thanks to the freedom offered me by my director, DJ Salisbury--was so rewarding.

James Beaman is a lovable Nathan Detroit - a small time gangster with a big heart, an ironic sense of humor, and a wily knack for survival. Feckless as his character is, Beaman is so engaging that one understands why Adelaide is smitten, and he delivers the vocal goods in his two numbers, especially the duet "Sue Me." ~BroadwayWorld



As is the way of this crazy roller coaster career, I returned in the dead of summer to New York City and the slow time before audition season begins.  And it has been slooooowww.  As of this writing I've been back almost seven weeks and have had maybe a half dozen auditions.  And thus far, the next part has not appeared.  So what do you do?  You seek out other ways to be creative and generate income.

I was fortunate in having an opportunity come to me this summer, when Matthew Corozine Studio, where I have studied acting, invited me to become an Artist in Residence.  MCS has expanded their space on 36th Street into a second studio and I have the opportunity to create workshops and to coach actors in this new space.  This fall I will present my first ever four week immersion course in Shakespeare text work, "Decoding Shakespeare."  This class will give actors the tools for breaking down Shakespeare's language--learning to work with blank verse, rhetorical forms, and archaic words to create powerful, clear acting choices. 

Decoding Shakespeare, Thursdays 6-8PM, October 19 & 26, November 2 & 9
Matthew Corozine Studio, 357 West 36th Street, Suite 203

For information and to enroll, go to the MCS site via this link.

I am excited to launch this new venture!  I have also begun the creative work of directing a debut cabaret act for talented singer and actress, Sierra Rein.  Sierra will premiere this show in early 2018.  Stay tuned for more on this project!

Directing, coaching, teaching... these are all creative areas that I love to work in and I hope to find more and more balance between these and my acting career, to create more flow and continuity for earning and for advancing my voice as an artist.  Next time I blog, I hope to be able share the next great part that awaits me!








Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Good Old Reliable

New York is a center, a world's fair, and a den of thieves, and a house of miracles. ~Frank Loesser

I have been blessed in my career, especially the past decade, to be granted opportunities to play dream parts.  An actor's path is an uncertain one, and while we have aspirations, and obsessions with great roles, we sometimes chase them for years and years, hoping that a producer will give us our shot before we 'age out' of some of these gems.  And some of them just pass us by.


Oh, how lucky I have been to get to do John Adams in "1776," and Thénardier in "Les Misérables," Max in "The Sound of Music," Lord Evelyn in "Anything Goes" and Albin in "La Cage Aux Folles." The wish list is not exhausted... and this summer--lo and behold!--I get to do another of those dream parts, Nathan Detroit in "Guys and Dolls!"

No one can doubt that this show is one of the most perfect musical comedies ever written, with a superb book by Abe Burrows based on Damon Runyon stories, and a sparkling score by the great Frank Loesser.  Nathan Detroit and his fiancé of 14 years, Adelaide, are one of the most beloved theatre couples of all time.  


At left, in green, as Rusty, in NSMT's "Guys and Dolls"
I had the opportunity to do an enormously successful "Guys and Dolls" at my hometown theatre, North Shore Music Theatre, about five years ago, playing Rusty Charlie ('But look at Epitaph, he wins it by a half') and understudying the roles of Benny Southstreet and Nathan.  Under the wonderful direction of Mark Martino, with choreography by Michael Lichtefeld, I learned so much about this great piece by rehearsing three roles in it... and I became utterly enamored with the lovable wheeler dealer that is Nathan Detroit.


I've doggedly pursued the part every time I've seen the show being produced and at last, my time has come.  I will be reunited with director DJ Salisbury, with whom I did "Les Mis" in Orlando and "Buddy" at Gateway and Ogunquit, as well as a reading of the new musical, "Bodice."  This will also mark my debut at Maine State Music Theatre and I am truly blessed to work at this esteemed summer theatre in beautiful Maine.


Sam Levene and Vivien Blaine in "Guys and Dolls"
I am finishing up a rollicking run of "Baskerville" at Cape Fear Regional Theatre and have not yet started my work on Nathan, but I do know that I will be drawing as much inspiration as I can from the role's originator, Sam Levene.  So many great actors have done the role, including the great Nathan Lane (who took his stage name from the part!), but being a purist, I am fascinated by going back to the start, and learning all I can from the guy who was in the studio with the creators as they crafted this truly wonderful character.  Levene did a few Hollywood films, and these give a sense of his streetwise, New York persona.  I will be studying these, and all the wonderful recordings of "Guys and Dolls," as I steep myself in this role of roles!  Stay tuned for more when rehearsals begin in Brunswick in June!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Elementary, My Dear Watson

In recent years, playwrights have gotten very clever at adapting classic stories to be performed by a small handful of performers on a malleable set, with a minimum of stagecraft—relying on the imaginations of the actors and their director to create the world of the story and the people that inhabit it.  This is the essence of storytelling, of course, and the essence of theatre that Shakespeare and his troupe embodied on the bare outdoor stages of Elizabethan England:





Pieces like The 39 Steps, Around the World in Eighty Days and the like bring adventure, suspense and tour de force acting challenges to the stage, and Ken Ludwig, one of our masters of comedy, has created his own take on a classic for five actors.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is perhaps the best known of the beloved Sherlock Holmes mysteries—a bizarre tale of ghoulish legends, spooky moors, and a shape shifting villain who keeps the great detective and his sidekick Dr. Watson ever guessing as they seek to solve the case of the spectral hound.  It’s a story that has been adapted dozens of times on film and television with great actors like Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett and Peter Cushing playing the eccentric sleuth Holmes.


In Ludwig’s Baskerville, three actors portray all the colorful characters that flit in and out of Holmes’ and Watson’s orbit, from familiar constants like Mrs. Hudson and Inspector Lestrade, to the cockney urchins, train conductors, cab drivers, and merchants of Victorian London, to the sinister rogue’s gallery of vivid personalities that inhabit the moors of Devonshire.  As Actor One, I have 14 of these folks to create, using all the vocal and physical tools in my arsenal to transform, sometimes before the audience’s eyes, and what a treat for an actor!

Terry-Thomas
Mr. Peabody
As always, I turn to the great character actors, and even cartoon characters, of the past for inspiration in crafting my roles.  With so many distinct personas to create--sometimes with lightning fast speed--finding a voice and a physical shape, and walk, and gestures is the challenge and stealing from the best is fair game in my book!





Maggie Smith
Gabby Hayes
For example, among my list of characters is the bookish and erudite Dr. Mortimer, who consults Holmes and Watson and introduces the central mystery in Baskerville.  For him, I've used that professorial cartoon dog, Mr. Peabody, as my model.  For Stapleton, the story's villain, who is masquerading as a harmless butterfly collector, I'm doing a straight up impression of the great Terry-Thomas, best known for such films as "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."  His exaggerated British accent and gangly 'hail-fellow-well-met' eccentricity work well for Stapleton and I think will get laughs.  Other cameos I have to perform are the randy Lucy, the wife of message office proprietor Mr. Wilson--for her I am stealing the wry affectation of Maggie Smith (particularly in "Evil Under the Sun"); for the old country farmer who offers a warning on the moors, I am borrowing from Old West character man Gabby Hayes, who was famous for whistling out lines like, "There's gold in them thar hills!"



Obviously, Baskerville is a feast of fun for a ham character actor, and I am so enjoying being part of this ensemble and working with our ingenious director, Sam French.  The show explodes onto the splendid Cape Fear Regional Theatre stage April 6 and runs through the 23rd!  Shakespeare's birthday, in fact.  Seems significant, my dear Watson!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Euripidean Winter

Company of Ivanov and director Inés Braun (back row, second from left)
Last fall, I had the good fortune to be recommended to a Master's Thesis Director at Columbia.  I went in and read for Argentinian director Inés Braun for her project of Chekhov's Ivanov.  Not only did Inés and I recognize kindred spirits in each other, but we have become good friends.  That's why it's such a gift for me to be free as the new year begins to work on her final project at Columbia.




"Hercules Fighting Death to Save Alcestis," Frederick Leighton


Euripides' Alkestis was controversial and innovative in its time, neither a tragedy nor a comedy, a story of myth and moral conflict.  Admetos, King of Pherae, after a scuffle with the Gods, is doomed to die unless someone else dies for him.  Denied by his father Pheres, whom I play, and his mother, Admetos' wife, Alkestis, makes the supreme sacrifice. Enter Herakles, who, out of friendship to Admetos, enters the Underworld, defeating Death and bringing back Alkestis from the other side.
In a powerful translation by poet Ann Carson, our production will incorporate live music and

the vision of an international design and producing team.  We run at the Connelly Theatre from February 15-18.  For more information and tickets click here



My training is in classical theatre and its my first love.  Fortunate as I am in a thriving musical theatre career, I still hanker after chances to do Shakespeare and other classic texts.  I am honored to work with Inés again and to be part of her artistic vision. For more on the lady and her work at Columbia, give this profile a read.