“Performing is a necessary form of expression for me. This artform allows me to express my observations about human behavior, but more importantly it encourages me to be present, silly and vulnerable simultaneously,” says Zara Zeidman who plays Jacls girlfriend and catalyst for his nervous breakdown in Rollin Jewett’s THE BIG DREAM. “Acting allows me to connect deeply with myself while connecting many people together; the cast, the crew and the audience come together to create a fleeting but intimate community,” she concluded.
Zara, another college student like her co-star, Matt Frenzel, is now bursting on the New York theatre scene in a big way. Coming off an acclaimed performance in A Doll’s House, Zara now gets to explore her sillier side as Jack’s long-suffering girlfriend.
While she has mastered the comic elements of her role, she had some deep comments about returning to live theatre:
What are the challenges of doing an interactive play? And what are the challenges of doing one NOW?
The opportunity to connect with an audience post-lockdown is very thrilling, it is a reminder that the actor-audience relationship is precious and mutually beneficial. I look forward to the familiar feeling of anticipation that fills the room. I am hopeful that the experience will be positive for all who come and that people will feel comfortable enough to relax into the interactive experience. I want to encourage audience members to lean into it, remembering that the audience is always just as much a part of the experience as the performers. That relationship is going to feel new to all of us, but it is an opportunity to appreciate the experience with new eyes.
What’s next for you?
I am so grateful to be reopening and deepening my relationship with performance. I hope to continue acting in new works like “The Big Dream” whilst pursuing my BFA in Acting at Brooklyn College. This summer I will return to the Shakespeare acting workshop that I participated in my teens to Assistant Direct “Twelfth Night”. This program at the West Kortright Center is the perfect place for me to learn and grow while giving back to my community and encouraging young people to explore this artform.
“I am a Dancer, Singer, Actress and Voice Over Artist from Toronto, Canada… and I started dancing at Martino Centre of Dance … my mothers dance studio.” This was Paris Martino’s opening salvo as she sat down for an interview.
She elaborated that at age three she couldn’t stop dancing until age seven … where she still kept dancing but now it was in musical theatre (thanks to a production of The Jungle Book in which she was cast).
She continued her studies in the United States at arts programs and intensives, including the Performing Arts Project and New York City Dance Alliance. She danced all the way to The Boston Conservatory at Berklee – studying with some of the industry’s most prominent figures, such as Broadway Alum Laura Marie Duncan, Broadway Conductor and Musical Director Eric Stern, and Broadway Alum and Director and choreographer Larry Sousa – earning a BFA in Musical Theatre.
Immediatrley she moved on to take on featured and princo=lem roles regionally including Heather Duke in Heathers the musical, Billie Bendix in Nice Work If You Can Get It, and Bebe in A Chorus Line. What was next … New York!
We spoke to the ambitious emerging professional about the pandemic and the challenges that await.
What did you do during the pandemic?
During the pandemic like many artists I tried my best to stay in shape vocally and physically by taking class and staying creative however the impossible happened! At the start of the pandemic was offered several roles with The Weathervane Theatre in New Hampshire for their 55th summer season. There I played Penelope Square in Polkadots: a Cool Kids Musical, Billie Bendix in Nice Work if You Can Get It and Heather Duke in Heathers the Musical. Shortly after my time at The Weathervane Theatre I made the big move to NYC. I knew the city was still recovering from COVID-19 however I Wanted to get a head start making connections and adjusting to city life. I also looked into other opportunities to stay creative and use my training. Having studied several Voice Acting technoques in College I knew I should give it a try. I was lucky enough to land a voice over vocalist spot with the brand Gillette Venus. I voiced a few of their ads for their new Pubic and Body razor for their various social media campaigns. I have also had the opportunity to be a dance adjudicator with the nationally renowned dance competition Legacy Dance Championships. I have since travelled all over the U.S. providing my expertise to many dancers nationwide by assisting them in their early dance careers.
Work seems to be returning for you. What’s coming up?
I recently booked a role in a production of Footloose at The Rev Theatre in Upstate NY so I will be spending most of my summer performing in that production. Otherwise I will be continuing to choreograph, Adjudicate, audition and live the life of a young artist.
How do you think the theatrical climate will change in NYC and beyond now that we are easing back to reality?
I believe that the theatrical climate will change immensely when we fully return to life without COVID-19 and I think it is for the better! There was an enormous call to change in 2020 that I believe Theatre Makers cannot ignore. The pandemic forced us to stop and think about our industry in a way that we only could with the time the pandemic gave us to be introspective. I believe there will be a real push moving forward to create a better, more equitable and diverse industry. One that values actors time, spirit and well-being.
Writer Sophie MacIntosh and director Cassidy Kepp have given us a play so simple yet so devastating. Zoom plays and playwrights are consistently looking for ways of enhancing and invigorating their zoom play. MacIntosh and Kepp have done just that – by tearing our hearts out. They have turned those little boxes into purgatory.
Wounded is innovative. Wounded is deeply moving. Wounded in brilliant. Wounded takes place in a void. Maybe it’s a group of zoom squares it might in a biblical middle-ground, it might be in some dark part of our minds or souls.
We meet a group of five women stranded in this place for the duration, sharing their stories and offering solace to each other. Their stories: how they were murdered at the hands of someone they may have known.
We arrive along with one woman who may have known her killer. Her four commiserators attempt to ease her slowly into her new reality.
Vacillating between caring for each other and uncontrollable rage, Wounded tells the stories of these five victims marinating in regret, guilt, and fury. Each supporting the other out of thinking it was their fault or that the man who did this was “not like that,” we come face to face with gory details and emotional agony with every line.
The ensemble of five gave us superior acting and extreme reality. The hints of make-up showing bruises to bullet wounds was just enough to make us feel their pain without the effects being the star as one might find in a filmed version of something like this.
Lily Brenner as Lauren, the newcomer, gave us a sense of terror with each new discovery, her sense of realism was stunning; Juliana Cerón, implying she was a victim of a hate crime brought the audience to a sense of rage by letting her own fury burn deeply over and over; Elena Cramer broke our hearts with a strong sense of delusion over her assailant (ironically a perfect compliment to Ms. Cramer as both made us want to kill these men ourselves); Paulina De La Parra, a standout, became some form of support to them and whose reaction shots brilliantly amplified all of their pain. Her accent and implied death (gunshot) allowed us to mediate on the world’s view of women; and Sofía Figueroa’s frailty and melancholy allowed the tone to pervade every second.
The only criticism is the pacing. Virtual performance is difficult to gauge in terms of pace and speed and there were times when the show lagged a bit. Maybe a bit of cutting to bring the piece to a solid hour would help that. However, the dialogue was so engrossing, one hardly notices.
Wounded – with a few slight edits – should be sent to schools and organizations; made required at universities; and broadcast wherever ignorance and misogyny prevail.
“I am an actress and writer but first and foremost I consider myself a storyteller,” says Swiss-born film and TV actress, Chantal Cassutt. “I love playing characters that show surprising power and resilience that you would not expect based on appearances,” she continued. She enjoys playing villains and underdogs as they present the challenge of finding the humanity in “the imperfect.”
Getting to the point, she declared: “something that is personally very important to me is empowering women and I want the roles I play to reflect that in some way. I believe the stories we tell have personal impact on others and that is what I always strive for in my performances. I hope that my work can provide some sort of value to the viewer, no matter how small.”
Chantal is already exemplifying her point by appearing in several films as a take charge kind-of person. She played a mysterious young woman commanding a quiet dinner in Thank You; one of the last women on earth in a dark piece called Alone, basically showing us what could have happened with Covid-19; offering up a bit of personified karma in an ode to the surreal and to silent films, Trapped; and even the Devil HERself in Call Me Devil.
DQR wanted to learn more about an enigmatic actress that plays enigmas.
What event in your life made you make the decision to be an actress?
It was definitely not one event alone but many small things that started piling up. Growing up I always loved novels, theatre, movies and TV shows. I had drama classes in elementary school and adored them, however, living in Switzerland it never occurred to me that working in entertainment could be an actual job. Switzerland is a country that while valuing the arts, doesn’t necessarily encourage creativity or creative jobs and so becoming a professional actress never even crossed my mind. As a teenager, I took dance and singing classes and so I knew I loved performing, but again, I never thought of these things as more than a hobby. Something changed when I moved from Switzerland to the UK to get my undergrad degree in Management and Marketing. During my studies I spent one year in London where I worked at a large beauty company as a marketing intern. For the first time in my life I was living in a diverse, cosmopolitan city that had everything to offer and so I jumped at the opportunity to take acting classes. Within a couple of weeks I was hooked. I would commute every weekend and sometimes after work to take as many classes as possible as they gave me such creative fulfillment that I couldn’t get from other things in my life. When my internship came to an end, the company offered me a full-time position to come back, something that is rare and was a huge honor. But instead of being over the moon like I should have been, alarm bells started ringing in my head. And that was when I knew deep down that my current path was not the right one for me. The following summer I attended an intensive four-week acting workshop in Los Angeles and I realized there was no going back. Acting was what I wanted to do with my life. Collaborating with people to create something of value. Entertaining people. Creating fully formed characters from words on a page. I flew back home, completed my degree, packed my bags and moved out to L.A. to go to acting school. Taking that plunge was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Was it a difficult transition in joining the entertainment community of the United States?
It is always difficult. Simply moving to a different country is tough because you encounter so many obstacles you never even thought about. Culture shock is a real thing and it is exacerbated when you are working in an industry like entertainment where it is all about the culture. Adapting to how things are done here was definitely a steep learning curve and I am still learning every day. Fortunately, I have met many incredible people who have helped and guided me along the way and it has made the transition a lot easier.
What are some of the obstacles you faced?
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to the entertainment industry in the United States specifically, is the overwhelming amount of information. There are hundreds of acting studios in Los Angeles, thousands of coaches that give both craft and career guidance. Every person you meet that is involved in the industry in some way will shower you with advice. Every day a new advice article is released. Agents, managers and casting directors give daily advice on social media. It’s a lot. The majority of these people are of course well-intentioned but I found it to be incredibly overwhelming at first. As someone with a Type A personality, I had to learn that while it’s great to listen to people who have more experience, it’s also okay to not take every piece of advice and be selective about who and what I listen to. Ultimately, this industry is a lot about gut instincts and I had to learn to trust in mine. Another big challenge is one that I know all actors can relate to and that is the constant rejection. You put yourself out there, show people the most vulnerable side of you and never hear back. That was tough in the beginning for sure, however, it has since become something that I have started taking in stride and do my best not to dwell on. Being rejected is part of the job and it should have no effect on how you feel about yourself or your ability. I remind myself of that daily and am fortunate enough to have incredibly supportive friends around me who always uplift me.
What are you working on now and what’s next?
One of the things I both love and hate about my job is that you never really know what’s next! Things can change at the drop of a hat. However, I do have some things coming up that I am very excited for. I’m going to be shooting a short film in a month’s time called “On The Line” which is the story of a relationship that is falling apart. I’m also attached to another short film that I’m very excited about but cannot give any details on yet. A few weeks ago I also got the opportunity to be part of the recording of a fictionalized podcast called “Sentinel” and hopefully if the first season is successful we’ll be able to do a second season soon. On a writing level I am currently redrafting the script of my first feature film that I am hoping to produce in the coming year. I am also working on a short film and am outlining for a new feature.
I’ve also recently co-founded a production company and we are working on getting that up and running. We already have a few projects lined up in the coming months that I’m very excited for.
Susan Agin and the Queensborough Performing Arts Center will present Henrik Ibsen’s classic play, A DOLL’s HOUSE for an invited audience in April as part of an arts and education program.
Ibsen’s play still projects a substantial message – one of female empowerment, abuse, misogyny, and – as we look at it through the lens of post-Trump America – high crime and corruption.
Ms. Agin brought Jay Michaels aboard to direct the production. Michaels, a professor of communications and theater are various universities, is also known for his direction and production of much of Shakespeare’s canon felt right at home with Ibsen: “the play cause controversy when it first opened in the late 19th Century. It brought-to-light issues that many were not ready to deal with,” he said, “sometimes history is made on stage before it’s made in reality,” he added. Rose Zisa, an actress and teacher herself concurred: “I myself work with students and I try to expose them to all matter of material. I find that young people embrace it. In the last few years my students have worked on Our Town, Waiting For Lefty, Twelve Angry Jurors and various works by Shakespeare. I like to expose them to modern work, original work, the classics, drama and comedy as it really opens their eyes to the world beyond their own four walls. Students who learn about the classics, learn about history and are able to get in touch with the common thread of the human condition. It’s exciting to see young people process how the world changes and, maybe more exiting to see them realize how so many things stay the same.” Zisa, an Ibsen scholar and prominent actress for more than two decades, began with musical theatre but moved to the “legitimate” stage quickly. Trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and HB Studios, Zisa has been doing zoom works like this and short films during the pandemic, eagerly awaiting the time when she can get back in “the room where it happens.”
DQ was thrilled to get Rosa to share her artistic – and academic – point of view on this play.
Ibsen’s play was groundbreaking. Is it still groundbreaking today? If it is, how?
I’d have to say A Doll’s House is still groundbreaking. The thought of a woman leaving her children because she is not, in her own assessment prepared to do her job is the ultimate move toward self care. Yet even with the “self care” aspect it’s also astonishingly selfless to think that a mother would tear herself away from her children because she doesn’t feel suited to raise them. Of course, even today this would be looked down on. I as a mother would say that even thought I am open minded and see the selflessness in her act I would find it hard to believe if someone I knew did this. Certainly the strength Nora has to exhibit is almost breathtaking. Again, as a mother I don’t think I could ever have the courage to leave my children for a reason such as this one. Ironically, the woman who raised Nora also separated from her child in an act of self-preservation. I think in today’s world Nora would take her children with her. Obviously, her husband is no prize as a father so why leave them with him. Even though her nanny will be loving I think Nora would work it out and those kids would go with her. The leaving of her husband obviously is not so groundbreaking what with the prevalence of divorce in today’s society but, there’s still something in the idea that she would leave such a comfortable situation that is still surprising if not groundbreaking. Of course the honest look at a marriage in turmoil is still very relevant today.
How has your role changed over the century since the play premiered? Are you a villain as opposed to a hero – or vice versa? It is more identifiable? Etc.
While Mrs. Linde is sometimes viewed as a villain in the end for not having accepted Krogstad’s offer to retrieve the letter, I think it’s quite the opposite. I think it’s hope and trust that push her to reject Krogstad’s offer. I believe she becomes so taken and filled with new hope that things are going to be better that she truly believes Nora has nothing to worry about. She feels that she will help restore balance to her friend’s marriage once everything is out in the open. I don’t know that the role has changed but I do know that my view of the role has changed over the years. When I first read this play as a young actor in my early twenties I definitely thought Christine was a villain. I thought, “if she’d just let Krogstad retrieve the letter both she and Nora would be happy”. Now I realize that Nora would in fact be trapped in a sham of a marriage with a guy who is pretty much a jerk had Christine acted differently. Also, interestingly, I have some parallels in my life now in regards to caring for loved ones and maybe sacrificing some of my plans to do so and I think that brings out some empathy for her. Additionally, because I have children and have always wanted to be a mother I can see how someone would be so motivated by the idea of having someone to love and care for.
What are your next projects?
Later this month I will be reading a new short play “Life Expectancy” written by wonderfully talented playwright Kevin Clancy. Then, in May, I will be shooting a film “I Love Your Stupid Face” written another fantastic writer Rob LoManto.
Bree O’Connor and her team of performance artists have been working all through the pandemic to create new opportunities and projects so that when the doors begin to open (as rumor has it they are now entertaining the notion), they are ready to expand minds and open hearts to what’s going on around us through the powerful medium of theatre.
The first project on their agenda is The PS Writers’ Room, a collaborative writing workshop is now in a pilot-testing phase where writers get practical experience pitching and choosing projects and building a successful writers room of their own including navigating the culture of the room, organizing work flow, setting goals, brainstorming, managing expectations and meeting goals. This collaborative, peer-to-peer learning environment is sponsored by Final Draft. Final Draft, A Cast & Crew Company, has published Final Draft® software –the number one screenwriting application in the world –- for 30 years. Final Draft automatically paginates and formats your script to industry standards, allowing writers to focus on what they do best – writing scripts. Used by such industry giants as J.J. Abrams, James Cameron and Aaron Sorkin, Final Draft software is the professional’s choice and the entertainment industry standard. In addition to its flagship software product, Final Draft offers the annual Big Break® Contest, a screenwriting competition that launches careers and awards over $100,000 in cash and prizes. Final Draft also offers Final Draft Mobile for iPhone and iPad, making creativity truly portable. To learn more about Final Draft and its products and services, visit www.finaldraft.com.
Following that is the PS Writers’ Groups, which has spent this past year fostering developmental readings of Mr. & Mrs. Garbo by Raphael Perahia, Barometric Pressure by Bree O’Connor, Passing and Failing in Paradise by Tori Barron, Setting the Sky on Fire by Niki Hatzidis, and currently, Lauren Lindsey White’s new play CAM (which will be having a reading later this spring) is expanding. Writers’ Groups are currently operating online but will slowly phase in a hybrid model of online and IRL sessions to accommodate playwrights and screenwriters outside of NYC.
Congratulations to Writers’ Group Member, Jacqueline Reason for her essay “House Parties,” receiving First Prize in the Writing Black Joy competition in celebration of Boston’s Black Joy Day.
One-on-one writing/project development coaching is also available, providing practical and artistic assistance to creators putting up their own work. Whether you are writing a novel, screenplay, play or a solo project, our facilitators can help you with everything from organizing your material to going deeper with your character work to helping you find and strengthen your unique voice.
PS will also be sponsoring Zoom performances and readings; the return of their writer’s networking event, Pithy Party, a series of collaborative projects with Infinite Variety Productions, and other classes, workshops, and a new residency project all coming this fall.
To arrange interviews or articles with the company of Playful Substance, contact email@example.com.
The honorable Cristina Garcia, Associate Court Attorney for Kings County Criminal Court, and a member of Playful Substance offered up her excitement at the new chapter in the life of this important company.
SO, PLAYFUL SUBSTANCE IS BACK! WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE NOW TO RETURN?
We would have been out here sooner but we had to wait until it was safe to return. Now that infection rates are going down and people are getting vaccinated it feels safe to share with the world what we’ve been writing, planning and creating before and during the shut down. We miss our audience. We have so much to share with you!
WHAT IS THE OVERALL MISSION OF PLAYFUL SUBSTANCE?
Playful Substance is a safe space to nurture your ideas and be creative with other like-minded people. We are all about making sure that all voices are heard, all points of view respected, and that everyone gets a chance to play.
HOW HAVE YOU -AND YOUR MEMBERS- FARED DURING LOCK-DOWN AND PANDEMIC?
It has been tough not seeing my Playful Substance peeps in person. Rehearsing and sharing new work with them in person is always amazingly inspiring and just plain fun. However, our writer’s groups have stayed active during the pandemic (We’ve got a lot of new and exciting work that came out of all the heartbreak and all the loss that we’ve suffered this past year) and we’ve jumped on every chance to collaborate with each other and other companies via Zoom. We may not have been in physical contact but we’ve still been sharing our work, our thoughts and ideas. I’m excited about putting that out there for our audience to see. Not to toot our own horn, but we’ve got a lot of talent in this company.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE IN THE FUTURE?
In the future, you can expect to see the debut of Lauren White’s Tell Me. We were in the middle of rehearsals when the city shut down. I can’t wait to get back to it. We don’t have a date set just yet but we’ll be sharing this amazing work with you as soon as we can. I’m hoping for a Pithy Party where we can share works in progress with our audience. Those are always a blast! And I’m looking forward to more opportunities for the company to come together and just play (brainstorm, share ideas, etc.). Beautiful things happen when our company comes together.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE NEW ARTISTIC CLIMATE WILL BE POST-COVID?
I’m not sure exactly what to expect. That’s part of what makes our return so exciting. Socially distanced theater audiences? More Zoom readings? I don’t know. What I do know is that both artists and audience are eager for a creative space to process the isolation, the loss, the social upheaval, movements for justice, elections, disappointments, etc. that we all experienced this past year. Artists in general, and this company in particular, have a way of expressing the ups and the downs of life in ways that are uplifting and inspiring. Whatever the new artistic climate will be, it will not be lacking in beauty and creativity.
Infinite Variety Productions (IVP) and The WNET Group, parent company of Long Island’s only NPR Station WLIW-FM, have announced the radio premiere of In Their Footsteps, the audio version of Ashley Adelman’s play detailing the experiences of five American women who went to Vietnam to serve their country during the war. In Their Footsteps premieres on Sunday, March 28, at 2 p.m. on 88.3 WLIW-FM and wliw.org/radio to spotlight women veterans during Women’s History Month and to honor their service ahead of National Vietnam War Veterans Day (Monday, March 29). The audio play will also be available to stream on-demand at wliw.org/radio. Check the schedule for encore broadcasts.
Over 50 years ago, thousands of young American women went to Vietnam to serve their country during the war. Infinite Variety Productions interviewed five of these women for In Their Footsteps; two military officers, three civilian employees, setting out to tell the little-known stories of the human side of the Vietnam War. The play had a successful run at regional and other arts institutions before it stopped showing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The audio format of the play was produced for radio during the pandemic allowing for an enhanced story-telling experience.
Ahead of the premiere and to shed additional light on the production, playwright Ashley Adelman and some of the featured veterans will join WLIW-FM’s Gianna Volpe on the Heart of the East End on WLIW-FM on Friday, March 26 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
The audio version of In Their Footsteps is directed by playwright Ashley Adelman and Andrew Dunn (based on the stage play directed by Adelman). Sound editor is Andrew Dunn. The cast features Chrystal Bethell as Lucki; Kate Szekely as Ann Kelsey; Caroline Peters as Judy Jenkins Gaudino; Criena House as Lily Adams; and Niki Hatzidis as Jeanne ‘Sam” Christie. The play is published by Paul Smith of Smith Scripts in the United Kingdom.
About Infinite Variety Productions
Infinite Variety’s Mission mission – to share the stories of women throughout history, always creating a space so the voices of the marginalized, oppressed and unheard can be expressed fostering productive conversations and meaningful change – has been exemplified through their production of In Their Footsteps.
The play became a sought-after piece at regional theatres and other arts institutions.
In New York City in 2017 at Under St. Marks Theatre, then IVP offered up a special workshop presentation for The Artist Co-op in 2018 for International Women’s Day, prior to bringing the production Off-Broadway to 59 E 59 for a sold-out run.
After that, the play traveled to the Edinburgh Fringe before returning to NYC for a special veteran’s Day showing and then began a special event at Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith, Inc.’s Empowering Women Event in 2019.
The production’s final showing (before lockdown) was the Borderlight Fringe Festival in Cleveland, Ohio at the historic Old Stone Church.
During the pandemic IVP produced a “radio version” of the play, which only enhanced the story-telling element and allowed the audience to envision the horrors of war more strongly.
This version – the radio play – will now be presented on the PBS station, WNET on March 29, 2021. The audio version is directed by playwright Ashley Adelman and sound editor Andrew Dunn and features Chrystal Bethell as Lucki; Kate Szekely as Ann Kelsey; Caroline Peters as Judy Jenkins Gaudino; Criena House as Lily Adams; and Niki Hatzidis as Jeanne ‘Sam” Christie. The event is produced by Kelly Teaford and IVP.
Currently, No Intermission: TheatreTravels Festival in Australia is producing the play. It was one of four plays chosen out of more than 500 for this festival. The event is already sold out. Towards the end of 2021 (November), the play will be part of the OnStage Festival in Rome, Milan, and Florence. The festival works with the university to translate the play with subtitles. The play is now translated in Italian and IVP hopes to be able to perform.
There is also a Zoom version of the play that has been streamed at a variety of high schools around the world. On March 24, it will be streamed at the NJ Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial and in April, at the East Meadow Library.
The play is published by Paul Smith of Smith Scripts in the United Kingdom.
Through its new ALL ARTS multi-platform initiative, its broadcast channels, three cable services (THIRTEEN PBSKids, Create and World) and online streaming sites, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than five million viewers each month.
WNET produces and presents a wide range of acclaimed PBS series, including Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, and the nightly interview program Amanpour and Company.
In addition, WNET produces numerous documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings, as well as multiplatform initiatives addressing poverty and climate.
Through THIRTEEN Passport and WLIW Passport, station members can stream new and archival THIRTEEN, WLIW and PBS programming anytime, anywhere.
“When I was 15, I watched Independence Day for the very ﬁrst time. I was so shocked by all the various special eﬀects that were turning imagination into reality. After watching the ﬁlm, I carefully watched the credits at the end. When I noticed the list of names on the VFX team, I knew that I would love to be on that list in the future to make the impossible possible.”
Muyun Zhou has already lent her name and expertise on six independent films. Touching upon the concept of the family – in all forms – she lensed To Be The Father, (official selection: Asian On Film Festival); Jasmine (winner, London Arthouse Film Festival Award and Roma Independent Prisma Awards) and The Hole (winner, Europe Film Festival Award in the editing category.)
Muyun filmed two of her works in Los Angeles where she also works on West To East, a TV talk-show, and a commercial television program called Perfect Project. She also works with renowned filmmaker Chin-Wei Chang on his films, Corn and Dolly. She is sole editor for these projects.
She’s THAT good.
DQR sat with Muyun for a few minutes about her life as a filmmaker here in the U.S.
When did you decide you wanted to be a filmmaker?
When I was 5, my parents own a video shop, and my father would always bring back VCDs to play at home. I used to think that Music Video just changed the form of listening to songs, from listening with ears to hear with eyes. But one day, when I saw Michael Jackson’s Music Video, even I didn’t understand English at all, through his performance, I still can comprehend the meaning of the song. It made me realize that not only language can convey the story, the image also has the power to deliver it, which planted a seed to become a filmmaker at that time.
Do you find it difficult being a woman in this business?
I don’t think it’s a big problem. Now more and more women are showing their talent in the industry. Usually, people expect you to maintain a rational state when you work, but as an editor, especially as a female editor, I add sensibility to the rationality, finding more subtle points to unfold, so as to present a powerful story. And as far as I know, since the beginning of the film era, women have been engaged in this industry as the main editors, because women are more careful. The United States is a very open country, not to mention in Hollywood, the cultural diversity and the rise of female power has created a good platform for us to show our work.
What stories do you like to tell?
Personally, I like to explore some substantive and life stories, starting from the small things around me. Most of the stories are inspired by life, and the characters in these stories are all fresh people. How to better understand people has become my job. And I like to find those precious moments from those neglected footages, and build scenes around the characters, so as to know more about the feelings of the characters. As an editor, I would like to create the ideas that the director wants to express in ordinary events, which make the audience still think after watching the film and feel the change of their life.
What do you hope to do here in the U.S.?
My ultimate goal is to be an editor. As I mentioned, my background has given me a chance to receive Oriental education since my childhood. I have already come to the United States for three years, and I hope to use my unique perspective with Oriental cultural background to show and communicate the world from different views to the west.
Anna Cherkezishvili came to the United States with a clear agenda, and that was to be an artist who gives back. She carefully choses plays and roles that allow her to represent the immigrant experience – whether it’s directly associated as in plays performed for children from other countries or roles showing the plight of the “outsider,” Anna hopes to enlighten while she entertains. She is DQ’s International Artist of the Month. We spoke with her about her journey.
What was it like coming to this country to pursue your dreams?
It definitely has been an exciting journey and hard work. I was fortunate enough to come to this great country all the way from the post-soviet world, which of course was a big cultural change. I graduated here from world famous schools, Seton Hall University and Sella Adler Studio of Acting. In both schools, I gained education, that I always needed and I was trained to be a professional at my work. Right after graduating from schools, I was fortunate enough to have great friendships and networking opportunities. And career wise, it took me a while, but I am very happy to be given an opportunity to do theatre work that I have been dreaming about and have been lucky enough to do. It is huge to be given an opportunity to perform in New York plays and I am so fortunate and grateful of having these experiences.
What do/did your parents think of your desire?
My parents separated when I was young. I grew up with mom. She always knew I loved theatre and film but thought it was a rebellious and risky path to follow. She is an academic herself and mostly she would see me as choosing an academic path. As she watched me grow up and realized just how much I loved to participate in school plays, or go to theatre, or to write poetry and listen to the music, she knew this was what made me feel the happiest. She supported my choice to enter the Georgian University of Theater and Film for my colleague years. Since then every step of the way, she is supportive of my career. I am incredibly grateful for her strength and wisdom which guided me through years.
Who was here for you at this end?
My friends, I have met at both of my schools, with whom I bonded over the years are always here for me. My acting teachers and mentors have always been there for me as well. I stay in touch with them and on occasions reach back to them for guidance, for which I am very grateful. My colleagues who I have worked with and met through several years of my stay here are the people I have great support from as well. Moreover, friends of my family who live in New York, stayed in touch with me all the way as I arrived here and started my journey until this day. I cherish these people, and have great appreciation for all their support.
Was it difficult getting hired once you came here? –
At first the audition process was not easy, as this is a big city and theatre industry center, where it takes a while and hard work to book the part. I would feel nervous at the auditions. But, after practice of auditioning often, I started to trust myself more. It’s not easy to bring all the skills under two minutes of monologue and song. But with energy and belief in my dream, I managed not to feel discouraged, if no was being said to me.
In 2018, I joined a great organization for actors, ActorIndex for one year. They helped young actors with workshops and recording studios, to help them find the way in the industry. I remember one time they had a famous Broadway producer invited for the workshop, where he talked about importance of how actors can approach not booking the part. He said it is important not to take it personally, if no is said to an actor. He said to accept politely when not booking the part, and think of it, not as a defeat but as an opportunity to move on and find different chances. I would say this is how I think of auditions. And I learned over time that when I started to trust myself more that’s when I started to gain more approval at the auditions.
How is it being a woman in the arts here in NYC?
I am usually comfortable as a woman in the arts. I believe in the talent and intelligence women bring into the arts world. I would be happy to see more females in the position of directors as well as playwrights and producers. Something that I am working on as a woman in the arts is to always grow and improve. I work on letting myself just be and not over critically approach myself. Sometimes I catch myself on trying to be perfect and fear that I should not be less than perfect in terms of how I look or work. But I realized over time that this kind of approach can paralyze my work instead of benefit it. So, now I strive towards progress but not perfection.
Are you looking to move into directing, producing, writing, etc.?
One day I would be happy to move into directing and writing. As an artist, I believe I can create work, not just look for work. I would like to create work that is culturally relevant, political, as well as entertaining. I would like to master how to pitch projects as a producer as well and find collaborations with great co- producers. I would absolutely enjoy the process of forming the cast and crew with strong professionals and produce high quality work.
If you like things like Sex and the City and The Real Housewives series, it is likely that you’ll enjoy Pink Arts Peace Productions, Inc., production of John Patrick Shanley’s play, Women of Manhattan. This production presented on Zoom was Produced by David Jung and Directed by Sunflower Duran who both also star in the production.
Women of Manhattan was written by John Patrick Shanley, one of the most respected playwrights and screenwriters alive today. He holds the distinction of being awarded the Tony, the Oscar and the Pulitzer. In addition of Women of Manhattan his credits include Doubt and Moonstruck among many others. In other words, the material was there and substantive. Now let’s examine the execution.
Three successful Manhattan based women gather for dinner. Their love lives are complicated and entwined. Billie is a married traditionalist. Rhonda Louise is a Southern Belle who recently broke up with her boyfriend but can’t part with his dirty sneakers. They reside in the living room to serve as a reminder of the relationship. Judy is a flirty hopeless romantic who goes on plenty of dates. Unfortunately, all her suitors end up being gay. Though the play centers on the lives and love lives of the women, we also meet Bob, Billie’s philandering husband and Duke who serves as a straight date for Judy. This play contains themes of love, friendship, dating and infidelity. The women have deliciously clever and witty dialogue as they explore their own unique situations in life and love.
John Patrick Shanley would be pleased. The cast and creatives took great care to bring forth a quality production in the new but hopefully temporary virtual venue of Zoom. At times the production was fun, compelling and heartbreaking. Each cast member was well suited to their roles. An absolute standout was Kingsley Nwaogu as Duke who was being set up with Judy on a date. He radiated smoothness and charisma. By the time the scene between he and Sunflower Duran who played Billie was over, I wanted to go on a date with him. Ms. Duran did a fine job of directing and portraying her ever optimistic character. Antonette Hudak gave a strong and compelling performance as Judy. Nicole Miranda as Rhonda Louise skillfully delivered some of the funniest lines of the play. David Jung produced a wonderful show and displayed fine acting chops as Billie’s husband Bob. If the opportunity arises, joining the Women of Manhattan for their dinner party should be on your agenda.