SPOTLIGHT ON… Musical Memories with Teresa Fischer

The Founder of the New York Theater Festival returns with RISE OF THE PHOENIX: The 2017 Spotlight-On Festival, running April 17 – 30 at The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, NYC. Frank Calo, founder of Spotlight-On Festivals, the first organized theater festival in New York City, pre-dating the New York Fringe Festival by one year, was a leader in presenting new and exciting works, rarely seen plays, and even classical presentations during the late 1990s and early part of the 21st Century. Its high production values and locations in areas such as Times Square made Spotlight-On a popular facet in the NY theater scene. Spotlight-On returns with a series of works from some of its prominent alumni. RISE OF THE PHOENIX features works from previous participants who have gone on to great things and who are thrilled to return to where it all began.

We spoke with a few [more] of the playwrights and producers (and members of their casts) about their inspirations and why Independent Theater is so valuable to them … and to us:

Cabaret Chanteuse Teresa Fischer has been part of the musical escapades of Spotlight On since its inception. Her event, THROUGH THE YEARS … LAUGHTER AND TEARS serves as a musical memory lane of some of the finest and funniest of Spotlight On’s cabarets and concerts. Introspective and witty, Ms. Fischer handed us a few pre-show anecdotes now.

What inspires me as an artist? The joy and power of telling stories. Storytelling – especially through music – joins humans in a special way. As a cabaret singer, I find songs that tell stories both of my life experiences and stories outside my life experience. Audiences come together and share their common humanity in those moments. It is thrilling to be part of that.
Why Independent Theater? Two reasons – I get to tell the stories I want to tell. I don’t have to wait for an agent or casting director to decide if I’m worthy and/or can fulfill a role in their production. I adore Frank Calo. He has been the artistic “kick in my butt” when I’ve needed it. I’m not a huge fan of “festivals” – the rush in and out of the show is difficult for me personally. I’m one of those actors who likes to roam the stage a bit before the audience arrives. I have to make a mental adjustment when I do festival work. On the positive side, Frank engenders an atmosphere of support and “we’re all in this togetherness.”
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Brilliant Thoughts on Dirty Words

14650717_10209469014415102_8354681989046482290_nDrama Queens readers have heard many things about Rev. Mary’s exciting cabaret tour of GRANNY’S BLUE-MERS: bawdy Blues from Back-in-the-Day, culminating where it all began at the Duplex Cabaret theater on Saturday, April 22 @ 9:30 p.m., but not enough from the fearless leader herself: Let’s hear some gospel from the Madam herself. Get ready to be impressed! 

Joining Rev. Mary is the ukulele-jammin’ Liz Rabson. That name might ring familiar with blue-ians as she is the daughter of the legendary blueswoman, Ann Rabson. Carrying on the tradition – and just carrying on with Rev. Mary, Liz is a featured player in the GRANNY tour, so we wanted to get a few notes from her.

I was there at the last Duplex run, you guys were awesome. I screamed with the rest of the crowd. Why is this so popular… especially when you can say just about anything anywhere? 

REV. MARY: I think there are a lot of different factors involved.  The music is good and people just love the blues, rock and swing. We are all good musicians and singers who take their work very seriously and that adds to the music! The music is simple and that allows us to really add our own ideas into it.  I never sing the songs the same way twice and that’s alright!  The interpretation can always move and change and it does based upon my mood or experiences.  The audience senses that freshness too.

I also think it’s about nostalgia and the desire for a time when everything wasn’t as blatant and up front as it is today. It’s just sexier to have some clothes on than to be butt naked! Burlesque is having a big boom now because of that as well.  Stripping is now not just sexual or a turn on but an art form!  I like seeing sexuality taken in that direction.  The woman or the man is no longer an object but an artist! This work is like that too I call it Burlesque for your ears!

14522736_10209387217250224_1237902421564509902_nThese songs were also written (many) by women and sung by women as well.  Women were not allowed to express themselves sexually, especially in music, so the need for double entendre was pretty obvious and people became masters of it.

Women find it fun and empowering.  I mean, it’s still not common for women to be upfront about their sexuality and desire for their partners and men love it because it makes them feel desired too after all we are singing about their…parts and sex!  I do think it goes further than Burlesque which is about expressing one’s self in a physical way.  This is someone talking about desire, sex in all its aspects in good music with good performers and a whole lot of laughs. It is truly very funny.  Filthy and funny.

Also, in the times we are living in people just want to LAUGH! That is what I provide.

LIZ: This is a great question. I do think this show that Mary created has something that people are fundamentally drawn to. Yes it’s sexy and funny and the music is great but I think that putting this particular show together influenced by the copulatin’ blues tradition is particularly smart and well curated.

16997955_10210711585038591_4809308389891403506_nThis is so much more than just an “act,” it kind of feels like an exploration of sorts. Tell us about these songs and the singers who did them?

REV. MARY: To me both singing and making people laugh is a spiritual practice.   I call it my “practice” just as people who work in more esoteric music (which I do also) do.  I let the Goddess sing though me. The Goddess of love and sex is in all of these songs and the laughter they bring heals people and clears away all their stress and anxiety. That’s an exploration of sorts for me. I use music to heal in all circumstances both myself and all that hear it.

As far as it being a personal exploration…yes it is.  I am of a “certain age” now and I have come to see my own sexuality and desire as something natural and fun not the scarier, love laden thing it was when I was younger.  I have had a lot of lovers I am very proud of this and I have no need to hide. I like sex. I have always been pretty open about my sexuality because to me it’s always been like eating, just a natural body desire which is sacred certainly not something to be ashamed of. I am pretty eclectic sexually so I can understand many of these songs.  I guess letting that be seen out there on the stage is both a sort of rebellion towards my own healing, healing the fear of not being young or desired any longer that at this point I am washed up as a woman! I get over that when I do these songs.  It feels good to inspire others to do the same.

I love the music and the people who made it.  Knowing who they are and being able to bring their songs out and still make people listen and laugh is an honor for me.  Many of these songwriters and singers have been gone a long time now but when we do their work it breathes again…and people enjoy them. It’s like helping a legacy remain alive.

You’re three shows in on your tour with two more coming and negotiating a bunch more. is it fun? 

Performing is fun! Super fun! It’s why I do this.  Traveling from place to place is fun.  Seeing new audiences and new spaces …totally FUN!  Dragging pianos and other equipment around is NOT fun! Managing an act?  Hard.

14520581_10154670017900955_2252515779941493158_nFor Liz: You’re carrying on the reputation of your mom. You actually represented her recently. How does that feel?

LIZ: It feels great to apply the things I’ve learned over my lifetime in one focused show. I’ve played a lot of different types of music in my life as a musician but this is that stuff I grew up listening to as a kid. Believe it or not I learned to sing a lot of these songs or style of songs from my mom in the car. We used to travel a lot, as musicians do, and we would sing together and she really taught me how to sing just by driving around.

Let’s get deep. These tunes were created in a time when no one could be vocal about such subjects. How have things changed … or have they? 

14522738_10153952603423873_1472787233494383037_nREV. MARY: I don’t think for women that they really have changed.  Sure, I hear it in rap and in lyrics a bit but they don’t feel powerful. It seems like much new stuff is about just shock or doing what the boys are and just femalifying it. I love making up words!  Women are still objectified in the music industry.  I think my rights as a woman are surely different than they were then.  I do think that if I tried to do this in other times I would have been relegated, as so many of these women were, to a less chance to sing and perform.  I would have been, unless I was Mae West, ignored and looked down on by some.  Some of these women were even prostitutes on and off in their lives, singing in brothels to make a living as well.  So, yes things are changed and most times it’s a live and live attitude I come across, like there’s really no bad judgment.   I also think that the many women who have also done this before me have kicked open doors for me to walk into so they changed things.  I am just carrying on changing things!

LIZ: Things have definitely changed. I think some music these days lacks the subtlety of music from this time period. There was an artistry to it. Really many of these songs are low-down and dirty as can be and say it plainly but use a slightly veiled language and humor that required some thought and creativity. I’m not saying it’s a completely lost art, there are some really great folks producing some very smart, thoughtful and sexy modern music, just that some popular artists today skip the double entendre and go straight to indecent.

As I understand it many of these songs grew out of the brothel traditions when the women who could sing to sell their wares brought in more money, so they are intentionally and overtly sexual in every way. The good news for us is there was a lot of material to work with from the time since some of it survived long enough to be recorded. And we are truly the lucky ones to get to perform it for these lovely audiences who have been attending our shows.

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Spotlight On… Paula Caplan

The Founder of the New York Theater Festival returns with RISE OF THE PHOENIX: The 2017 Spotlight-On Festival, running April 17 – 30 at The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, NYC. Frank Calo, founder of Spotlight-On Festivals, the first organized theater festival in New York City, pre-dating the New York Fringe Festival by one year, was a leader in presenting new and exciting works, rarely seen plays, and even classical presentations during the late 1990s and early part of the 21st Century. Its high production values and locations in areas such as Times Square made Spotlight-On a popular facet in the NY theater scene. Spotlight-On returns with a series of works from some of its prominent alumni. RISE OF THE PHOENIX features works from previous participants who have gone on to great things and who are thrilled to return to where it all began.

We spoke with a few of the playwrights and producers about their inspirations and why Independent Theater is so valuable to them … and to us:
 
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Paula J. Caplan grew up listening to – but not remembering – stories her beloved father, Jerome Caplan, told yearly about being Captain of an all-Black battery in The Battle of the Bulge. Her bewilderment about her inability to remember those stories led her to listen to hundreds of veterans. Her alarm that veterans’ deeply human reactions to war and rape are diagnosed as mental illness drove her to set up free sessions nationwide for a nonveteran to listen in wholehearted, respectful silence to whatever a veteran wants to say, reducing veterans’ soul-crushing isolation and nonveterans’ illiteracy about war and rape listen2veterans.org. Paula takes us on her journey through interviews with veterans including Sgt. Isaac Pope — a 96-year-old man who served with Captain Caplan, archival footage, and visual art.

“What inspires me as an artist is the opportunity to connect with members of an audience through the plays I write, the films I make, the acting that I do, in the hope of moving them, helping them to feel and/or think about things they have not noticed or known about before…or to feel and/or think in new ways about things they have known about before. Often, my work is about a combination of social and political issues and their effects on deeply personal matters and relationships between people. I treasure independent theater partly because, as a woman, I find that many other kinds of theaters are run by people who have little respect for the work of women or other underrepresented groups or for nontraditional forms or formats.” 

Is Anybody Listening [click here]

Featured with Matthew Widman’s STOP AND FRISK short play 
Saturday, April 22, at 8 p.m.
Sunday, April 23, at 5:30 p.m.
Tuesday, April 25, at 5:30 p.m.

Full of Sound and Fury

Mario Claudio reviews HAMLET at Nuance Theatre. 

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A Thursday evening out to enjoy the work of the Bard which the Nuance Theater Co. production of Hamlet provided a unique experience. The stage was set in a unique octagon ring with a half foot dais on all sides and a long corridor down the back of center stage was used to convey a long hall and for the appearance of the Ghost. It was amazing how their set design started simple but with a few tabs and lifts it meta morph into the next necessary scene, chief example was the drawbridge that changed into the Grand Hall doors. The only issue with the design I notice was the lighting scheme, there were moments that the actors would be in complete shadow. I often wondered why the actors would purposely step into the shadows outside of the necessity from the scene they were in.

There are a few issues that I had with the performance overall. Even though it was a decent show, I felt it took a long time, both in the length of the play and in the actors taking too much air in their craft. Most productions of Hamlet truncate the overall works for a modern audience, which I do commend Nuance Theater Co. for going to the full length, but this sometimes shows the flaws in some actors technique. For instance, Jack Wink’s Hamlet was not the best I have seen, though his memorization was phenomenal, I felt his portrayal was more on par with a collegiate performance. Ethan Russell’s Laertes, was much on par with Wink’s as well, not bad but not memorable as well. In all honesty, I felt this was an off night for the group as a whole, except for a few that played multiple roles and Carlo Caparelli’s Polonius. Maybe it was playing the roles too long or just tiredness, it seemed stale and that was really unfortunate.

Comedy is Deasy! A moment with IRTE’s leader and comedian-in-chief

irte1-copyUnder the leadership of founder and artistic director, Nannette Deasy,  the Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble has become one of the leading improv troupes in merry old Manhattan and a welcome and uproarious asset to festivals and other engagements across the country. The innovative group mixes retro humor, clever off-on-the-spot wit, and classic theatrical techniques to present wildly unique and wildly funny shows. 
This month, they’re opening their four-production season at The Producers Club. We asked a few questions of Nannette about her, her dreams, and her art.
We gave her some time to think so she wouldn’t have to improvise.
What was your [and your team’s] inspiration for creating IRTE? 
 
A big reason for creating IRTE was the realization that as a performer I needed to start creating my own work. I was tired of waiting around for other people to invite me to the party – their projects – so I threw my own party, invited people I really enjoyed, and stopped being a wallflower. I realized I was free to create the shows I wanted to see and collaborate with the people I wanted to collaborate with.  Looking around I felt that there was something definitely missing from both the local improv and traditional theatre scenes (both of which I loved), a bridge between both worlds. What I wanted was a new form of comedy theatre, melding traditional theatrical elements – staging, props, costumes –  with the fun immediacy of improv. IRTE’s  look and aesthetic is pretty basic and raw, but it’s also colorful, silly and over the top. While the meat of our shows is created spontaneously, the shows are grounded by a character-driven structure.
 
irte3-copyIRTE loves the retro. How does that work with various audience demographics? For example, do you get better responses from those that remember Scooby Doo and the old late night soaps or does it resonate better with those looking at it with fresh eyes?   
 
It’s a funny thing – we do often gravitate towards the retro and nostalgia. Perhaps because our worlds are uncertain we enjoy looking to the past..? Perhaps what we absorbed as kids has become ingrained in us as adults..? Maybe we just watched waaaay too much tv when we were young. For me, definitely the latter. I was an addict. At any rate, the internet has become a great equalizer. There was a time when different audience members might not necessarily have had the same point of reference when it comes to pop culture. Since the explosion of the internet, just about any show can instantly be called up and consumed on You Tube or Netflix or Amazon or whatever. Just the other day, I overheard a conversation between two young women in their late teens/early twenties. One was bemoaning the fact that Netflix had just pulled 80s tv show Murder She Wrote from its menu and she “hadn’t finished the last season!!!” Who knew that 30 years later, people would still be intimately familiar with the antics of Jessica Fletcher!
 
irteHow does today’s world effect your work? 
 
It seems the world is HUGELY uncertain. Everyday, there is some new outrage or something new to fear. The worldview of many of us in the cast has probably changed quite dramatically from just a year ago (or even a month ago or a week ago). Right now, I don’t know how that’s going to affect our work as we begin the new season. It will, though. The type of theatre we perform is not agitprop or overtly political. Usually, it’s escapist. (Maybe a little escape is what we need now more than ever). However, our shows are improvised and live “in the moment.” What the actors feel and what we see happening around us can’t help but be channeled through the characters we play, especially since our words and actions aren’t scripted. We’ll see.
 
At any rate, I believe that live theatre is important. Sitting alone, yet together, in a darkened theater, sharing an experience and hopefully some laughter connects and builds us up as a community. It’s the closest thing I know to real magic.
 
irte2-copyTell me about your journey as a female entrepreneur  
 After graduating from college in New York (I attended Columbia University as an English major), I began studying and auditioning as an actor and performing wherever I could, whenever I could. I eventually joined the union (Actors Equity Association), and was cast in shows and readings in numerous lower East Side store front theaters and some professional theaters including the Public, LaMama, and New York Theatre Workshop and in various indie films. However, when you start off in a market as dense as New York, it can be hard to be seen and get to do work that you actually find fun and rewarding. Eventually, I discovered that New York had this whole other alternative comedy scene and I was hooked. I became involved with improv comedy and sketch, which allowed a certain amount of freedom that was eye-opening, not to mention hugely addictive and fun! I was a cast member of numerous comedy groups and theatres, including Gotham City Improv for many yearsI also performed with various comedy duos and trios. (Currently, I also perform with comedy partner Graceann Dorse as one half of the comedy duo Double D.
 
As I described earlier, waiting around to be invited to the party and cast in other people’s projects can be dull and frustrating – especially as a female performer. Women are so under-represented, that we damn well better start representing and creating space for ourselves. It felt a lot better, more fulfilling, to start taking control and initiating one’s own creative work and roles. At one point, I had been asked to be the Artistic Director of another improv theatre company. At first, it was exciting, but it quickly became apparent that because I didn’t have any ownership of the company, I couldn’t make the changes or ask for the help I needed to make it succeed in the way I thought it should. It was then that it dawned on me to start researching production and create a theatre company. I pulled together and outlined all I had learned from working on other people’s projects, took out every book I could from the library on producing, which was challenging – There wasn’t a whole lot about producing small indie theatre – mostly there were books about community theatre outside of NYC or large commerical Broadway production. However, I learned what I could from my peers and took advantage of a free seminar on small theatre production offered by AEA. I also made sure to surround myself with bright, like-minded talented and hardworking performers with whom I share IRTE. They are the main ensemble members and as such work with me to develop what we know and understand and research what we do not. It is very important to find good people you trust and want to work with. 
 
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What’s Next?
 
Well, we’re opening our sixth season next month, so what’s next is four brand new shows, hopefully more festival appearances, a renewed and re-energized ensemble and a wider audience.
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