Monday, December 31, 2018

My End of the Year Letter 2018

2018: Feast or Famine
It's that time again: the time to reflect back on the year past, take stock and set new goals for the year to come.

The first thing to celebrate, I suppose, is having survived year two of the Trump presidency.  We are still here!  I can't deny that, like many Americans, I find his oppressive omnipresence stressful and exhausting.  Sleep does not come easily these days.

At the same time, I see all the chaos in our government and the tension in our society as a spur to create what good I can, and to continue to pursue my goals and dreams.  In addition to generating more theatre work, I continue to branch out into other areas: writing, directing, coaching and teaching, and TV and film.

My Year in "England"

Looking at the season past, I realized that every show I did this year was set in England (with a detour to Neverland!).  



As Feste, with the company of "Twelfth Night"

I enjoyed a Florida winter happily immersed in the challenging rep season at Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, where I played Mr. Fennyman in "Shakespeare in Love" and Feste in "Twelfth Night."  The latter was a landmark production: the first EVER American professional production of a Shakespeare play with an all-male cast performing original Elizabethan stage practices and in original pronunciation!  We were blessed to be instructed and coached in the Elizabethan dialect by acknowledged master David Crystal and dialectician Paul Meier.  I also got to sing my Feste songs with a consort playing Elizabethan instruments.  What a thrill, and a rare opportunity to perform Shakespeare as it might have been done 400 years ago.  Audiences adored it.


As Captain Hook, "Peter Pan," NSMT
Summer brought me another of my ultimate dream roles: the dual part of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in the classic musical, "Peter Pan."  Director Bob Richard and choreographer Diane Laurenson gave me complete freedom to chew the scenery apart as this hammy, flamboyant and delicious ultimate villain.  I was also so fortunate to work opposite a young woman who is destined for stardom: Elena Ricardo as Peter.  North Shore Music Theatre mounted a truly unique and magical production and it will forever be one of my favorite things I've done.


Greeting the audience at the Folger Theatre with the T-Punks
In the midst of our brief run of "Peter Pan," crazy me flew down on a day off and performed my seventh Bootleg Shakespeare with my brilliant friends of Taffety Punk Theatre Company.  This was the third play in the War of the Roses saga, "Henry VI, Part 3" and I again took on the role of Warwick.  In this play, Warwick is the driving force, and memorizing 300 lines of Shakespeare while learning Captain Hook was a test of the old brain cells.  But, as always, Bootleg was terrifying, exhilarating and unforgettable.  I love going to DC and throwing myself headlong into this one day theatrical stunt.


I returned to New York in time for busy audition season.  Many appointments and callbacks but nothing clicked... until I was invited to take part in a first full production of a zany new musical, "The Wrong Box," as part of Theatre for the New City's annual Dream Up Festival.  The show, an English black comedy based on a Robert Lewis Stevenson novella, and written by clever Kit Goldstein Grant, was one of those grass roots, micro-budget, fast and furious labors of love, and I got to play a handful of silly characters.  It's always a pleasure to be a part of the development of new work and contribute to its growth.

The "Write Stuff"

Screenwriting has become an exciting and creatively fulfilling path for me, and this year one of my scripts was honored with an award.  "T," my 10 page short script about a man coping with addiction, was recognized as Third Place Winner at the Big Apple Film Festival here in New York.  Attending the festival screenings and events and receiving my award was a huge boost to my writer's ego!  "T" is now in the ScreenCraft Fund grant competition, and it is my hope that I will win the money to produce the film!

My other two scripts--my feature, "The Girl in Green," and my short, "In Helen's Room," are entered in multiple competitions and my producing partners at Changing Film are working diligently with me to get them in front of production companies and potential talent to move the projects forward in 2019.  To check out my log lines and synopses, visit my FilmFreeway profile.

"SVU and Me"

As a theatre actor, it can be difficult to break into film and TV.  The catch-22? You can't get an audition for film and TV without footage of you acting in film and TV... but you can't get the footage without the film or TV project!  This year, by good fortune and the efforts of my agents at Avalon Artists Group, I auditioned for a speaking role on "Law & Order: SVU" and BOOKED IT! I played Oscar, an intellectual at a book signing, in the teaser opening of Episode 10 of the 20th season, entitled "Alta Kockers."  What a thrill to work on that set and to see myself on TV, on a show of which I am a genuine fan.  This small appearance, and my scene in the indie film "Till We Meet Again," now comprise my demo reel, which I hope will bring more opportunities in the new year.


I also got to do some commercial shoots and concept videos this year for various products and creative ventures.  These have been great fun, and I am excited to do more. I've become defined as a "Silver Fox" and wear the label proudly!

Director/Mentor/Coach

Directing the debut solo act of the wondrous Sierra Rein, "Running in Place," was one of the highlights of the year.  Sierra KILLED IT in her two engagements this year at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, garnering glowing press and a nomination for a Broadway World Award.  The show will have a reprise performance at Don't Tell Mama on March 6, just in time for MAC Award voting.  Don't miss it!

Sierra's musical director Bill Zeffiro and I have become a really strong creative team and we are collaborating with my dear friend, Goldie Dver, on her comeback cabaret.  Goldie is a brilliant singer with whom I have done numerous projects, including our MAC Award winning show, "Crazy World: Songs of Leslie Bricusse."  Look for Goldie's show in late spring/early summer 2019.

I continue to coach auditions for talented actors, who've booked everything from Broadway to TV to film projects this year with my input and mentorship.  I love working with actors and bringing out their best!  Visit my Facebook Coaching Page for more info and to book a session! 

The Year Ahead

2019 will start with a reading of a new musical, "Houdini Among the Spirits," with music by Bill Zeffiro, starring Bob Cuccioli as Houdini and Nick Wyman as Arthur Conan Doyle. 

In February I fly south to Vero Beach, Florida and one of my favorite venues, Riverside Theatre, to play the Hungarian charlatan Zoltan Karpathy in "My Fair Lady."  This will be my third production at Riverside, and my sixth collaboration with brilliant director Jimmy Brennan.

After that, I will play drag diva Miss Tracy Mills in Matthew Lopez's "The Legend of Georgia McBride" at Theatre Squared in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  Bruce Warren, with whom I performed years back at the York Theatre Company in "The Road to Qatar!" is directing this play about an Elvis impersonator who transforms into a drag sensation.

There is nothing for an actor quite as empowering as starting a new year knowing that there's work booked!  Wishing you and yours a powerful 2019 full of opportunity!







Friday, October 19, 2018

Another Birthday Approaches

Mea culpa, dear reader.

I have been a negligent blogger since the wonderful rush of playing Captain Hook this summer.  These periods of uncertainty and flux are always a challenge for us actors.


A week from now will bring the occasion of my 53rd birthday, falling in my 25th year in New York City.  It feels like a moment to regroup, reassess, and look to the horizon.

I hit the city at the end of July, still buzzing from my adventures in Neverland, and launched into audition season.  There were quite a few opportunities, but nothing really clicked.

I did, however, get to enjoy taking part in the first full production of Kit Goldstein Grant's "The Wrong Box."  This rollicking musical black comedy was part of the Dream Up Festival at Theatre for the New City and it was a grass roots affair--shoestring budget, wild and woolly festival atmosphere--but a delightful group of artists and a smart and clever director in Michael Chase Gosselin.

Cast of "The Wrong Box." (photo: Jeremy Daniel)

"A plot that is dark and comical but not necessarily funny, with characters who are wacky and unpredictable but all who become very familiar, "The Wrong Box" is an incredibly clever piece of theater that definitely gives the audience a run for its money (pun intended)." ~Kristen Morale, BroadwayWorld

With the merry hi-jinks of "The Wrong Box" over, I embarked on a series of fascinating short term jobs: Emcee of an event to launch the new line of Harry Winston jewelry at The Rainbow Room; Speaking to the Audition Bootcamp participants from Goodspeed Musicals; performing in a concept video for a spectacular new show for a European resort.  I launched my new Facebook audition coaching page, boosting my visibility and attracting talented new clientele. 





My screenwriting took on a new dimension when I completed work on a new short film script, "T," which explores the shadow life of a gay man getting hooked on crystal meth and sex.  The script has been awarded 3rd Place Winner in the 2018 Big Apple Film Festival Short Screenplay Competition!  Awards take place November 3. 


I continue to submit my feature, "The Girl in Green," to various contests and work with my producing partners at Changing Film to move it toward next steps.  The screenplay finished in the top 10% for the Academy Nicholl Fellowship, the industry's most prestigious screenwriting fellowship.

Diversification.  Creativity.  And good old fashioned survival skills.  The order of the day as I embark on my 54th year on this old planet.  

One last thing: PLEASE VOTE ON NOVEMBER 6! So much is at stake for all of us.  


Saturday, June 30, 2018

Do You Believe?

Children separated from their parents.  A land in turmoil. Indigenous people under attack. A theatrical and lawless tyrant run amok. Sound familiar?

This is the state of affairs in Neverland.

Now, I am not trying to be cute.  Nor am I trying to impose dark and political significances on to "Peter Pan."  But, as I have been rehearsing this first whirlwind week at North Shore Music Theatre, I have been continually moved by the way this bittersweet children's classic has resonated with me, in light of the increasingly tense and frightening reality of American life.

An actor friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that he feels our work--namely, entertaining audiences through live theatre--is frivolous, useless and almost an insult in light of the grave challenges that face our nation.  But I disagree.  Theatre, and art in general, are here to lift us up in times of darkness, and to remind us of our common humanity: the experiences of being human that we all share.  

What experience could be more universal than the experience of childhood?  "Peter Pan," more than perhaps any other fairy tale, speaks to us from the deep recesses of a time when we were all wide-eyed, innocent youngsters.  It isn't all sunshine and treacle; the story vibrates with other, deeper themes: the fears of parents that they might not be able to protect their children... the terror of growing up and growing old... the possibility that magic can't save everyone, even the most magical of creatures, Tinkerbell.  Yet, there is one panacea that pierces all darkness, and that can bring fairies back to life: our belief.

Some might define the opposite of Fear as Courage. Others might define it as Safety. Or Acceptance.  I think the opposite of Fear might be... Wonder.  I've heard Fear being described as an acronym: F.E.A.R. False Events Appearing Real. And in a way, our Fear is often more Dread than anything... the fear of the unknown.  And Wonder is our ability to remain curious, open and playful... to believe that magic exists even if everything in our adult lives tells us it's fantasy.  

Wonder is what J.M. Barrie wanted to tap into with "Peter Pan."  When Tinkerbell is at death's door (after drinking Peter's medicine--poisoned by Captain Hook--in order to save him), Peter tells us to clap if we believe in fairies.  Our applause, indicating our willingness to declare our belief, brings Tink back to life.  Of course, Tinkerbell is a flickering light... Peter is a woman dressed as a little boy, who flies through the ",magic" of machinery, and wires, and stagehands.  And yet... young and old... we clap.  We clap because we believe.  We clap because we want Tinkerbell to live... we want her to be real.  We clap because we all want to be children once more and to have that natural, effortless, and thrilling experience of wonder again.

I think our country and our world need theatre more than ever.  We need to commune as humans from different walks of life, from different experiences of the world... to gather together in the dark, and return to that time when everything was magic. To see with the eyes of a child and to believe in innocence, in hope, and in possibility.  When we do this, we discover our common shared experience as human beings and we reinvest in our hearts and our sense of tenderness and compassion.  

I believe with all my heart that our production of "Peter Pan," so exquisitely crafted by director Bob Richard and choreographer Diane Laurenson with honesty and soul, devoid of sentimentality and falseness, will take our audiences, young and old, back to that sense of wonder.  I am so proud to be a part of this show, at the venue where I as a small child had my first wide-eyed experiences of theatre--including seeing my first "Peter Pan."  I hope it softens hearts and opens minds, and brings home to people that children are the purest and best of what makes us human.  They deserve to be cherished and to be safe and secure.. with their parents, free of fear, enveloped by love.

"Peter Pan" runs July 10-22 at North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, MA. Come fly with us!



Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Hooked!

"The man is not wholly evil; he has a thesaurus in his cabin."
~J.M. Barrie


If you follow me on social media, you gotta know by now: I AM PLAYING CAPTAIN HOOK.  So geeky am I about it, I have been posting biweekly photos and profiles on Facebook of all the great actors who've played the character over the years.   I am now blogging about  it.  But those friends of mine not irritated by the overkill will attest to two things: this is one of my dream parts--and I am only sharing my enthusiasm.

In an industry where material benefits are rare, and fame is for the lucky few, one thing we can pursue and sometimes land is our dream parts.  The parts you want one crack at before you go.  The parts that you spend years planning your glorious interpretations of.  And of course, those parts are the same parts every other actor dreams of doing.  The line forms to the left.  So to get even one shot at a John Adams, a Thénardier, a Nathan Detroit.... well, you TAKE IT. And I have been blessed to do all of the roles listed, and more.

So yes, indeed, I am playing the dual role of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in the musical classic "Peter Pan" at North Shore Music Theatre in my hometown of Beverly, Massachusetts.  This will be my fourth production for North Shore, and how I love the special energy and challenges of this in-the-round arena.  And having my close family living a few miles from the theatre is pretty fantastic, too.  So, there's a full circle story that's kind of magic about my doing this particular role at this particular theatre...
George Rose as Hook with Sandy Duncan on Broadway

As a kid, our school field trips would occasionally be to a show at North Shore.  And in 1978, my twelve year old self saw "Peter Pan" with Tovah Feldshuh as Peter and the great George Rose as Hook.  I remember seeing this show so vividly, but all I remember is Rose and how brilliant and shameless and colorful he was. Seeing him perform struck me like I was a tuning fork.
It was one of the moments I determined to be an actor! So to return to North Shore Music Theatre 40 years later to play Hook myself?  Wow.

Captain Hook is the greatest of all stage villains (except perhaps Richard III) and he is everything you'd ever want to be to chew the scenery down with over the top zeal. He's vain, petty, ferocious, melodramatic, prone to operatic depths of melancholy, and the snarling, cackling embodiment of evil any ham actor could wish for--all wrapped up in velvet, ostrich plumes and black Charles I ringlets.  I am tickled to pieces to get to play Hook and I know I am in for a workout.  It's an epic role.

"Peter Pan" runs July 10-22 at North Shore Music Theatre, directed by Bob Richard.  Bob has shared some of the designs and concepts for this production and I gotta tell you--it's gonna be spectacular.  

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!