Women in the Arts 2019: Maera gets international on us!

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International arts professional, Maera Daniel Hagage, has joined the ranks of independent producer in NYC with her new company, Dirty Laundry Theatre. A clever name when you consider that she and her artists shine a light on things that we need to see, feel, and address – airing our “dirty laundry” as it were.
Taking PRIDE month to inaugurate her company with a play about two men who meet on Grindr and now have to figure a way to meet. as one is in Israel and one is in Lebanon, it is literally its title – BORDERS – that stops them. Not to mention precarious and perpetual history.
Running this week at the lovely Hudson Guild Theater, Maera hopes this play starts people talking … about a lot of things.

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Tell us about yourself.

Hi =)

My name is Maera (‘My-Rah’) and I’m an Actress, Writer, Director, Producer and a Customer Success Manager. I was born in Texas, raised in Israel and had the privilege to live in Germany and Egypt, and travel much as I was leading ground security for the Israeli airline, before moving  to NYC six years ago. I was always very passionate about storytelling as well as connecting people and cultures through the arts. That was my drive to study Visual Communications at the Bezalel academy of art and design in Jerusalem, my passion to take acting at Beit Zvi school of performing arts in Ramat- Gan as well as with Mr. John Anthony in NYC, and my ambition to develop a career as a customer success manager at SundaySky, a successful, cutting edge start-up, specializing in personalized story-telling. At one point, it all funneled down to founding Dirty Laundry Theatre. Luckily for me, I found myself surrounded by wonderful people who share this passion and were happy to join me in the mission of opening minds and hearts and hopefully drive a change.

 

Tell us about this play … why did you choose to produce it?

This play is about communication and the tension between the virtual image we create to ourselves and the actual physical reality. I must admit that when I first heard of this play, I was skeptic it’ll fit our mission. I didn’t want to tell another story of “the conflict in the middle east”, I wanted to tell a human, personal story that people could connect to. But when I read the play, I realized, it is exactly it. The playwright crafted this story so profoundly, that although I am not a gay man, and I was never on Grindr, I immediately connected to it and could see myself and my own experiences’ reflection in it. The fact that we were given only the virtual conversation to play with, was genius, and gave us tons of room to explore. Whether we like it or not, in this day and age, most of our communication happens in the virtual, almost fantastical space. The same conversations we see in the play happen every day, uncountable times, in various locations all around the world. The Israel- Lebanon political environment adds to this tension and pushes the story to the extreme, but at the end of the day, we remain with the one opinion we imagined, created to ourselves of what the other side’s like. Can we change that? On my first chat with the playwright, I asked about the audience reaction to this. I could not be more surprised by his answer. He said that after each performance, gay guys came to him to thank him for the first time they’ve been represented on stage as any other “human”. That for the first time people can see what life is, without having to focus the story around stereotypical LBGTQ+ themes. This shook me to my core and only increased the importance of this story needs to be told. I’m grateful I’m able to enable it.

IMG_2928_sm.jpgThis is your inaugural production. Tell us what it’s like starting a theatre company NOW in NYC

Huh. We’ve only started, and I can already give you the same advice other theatre leaders gave me during my initial research as I asked to consult; if you want to open a new theatre company- Don’t. It’s hard and exhausting, and it doesn’t “worth it”- it’s not going to bring you fame nor fortune. Quite the opposite, most of the time. If, however, it is burning in you, then go for it. It took me over a year of contemplation before I took the first step. And when I finally did, I found so many helping hands around me, giving advice, donating space, time, effort- there are incredible people, in the theatre community and outside of it, who are truly committed to help create the best theatre we can, in a real “Start-Up” fashion.  It’s not easy. We can only get there if we’ll help each other.

 

Maera Hagage 2890_sm.jpgWhat is it like being a woman in the arts today? 

Oh, so easy and fun!  I’m kidding. I think it’s as challenging as in any other field. Unfortunately, many times we’re still not being treated equally, and often need to stay ‘on the watch’ from the big bad wolf. But I’m happy to see more and more women (and men!) support women on this journey and help our voice grow louder and louder.

What’s next?

So many things! First, we’re seeking collaboration to take this beautiful play to as many audiences as possible, in NYC and around the country. Theatre groups, schools, universities, communities- please don’t hesitate to reach out =)  we want to take this play as far as we can! Second, we’re already working on our next productions development; one of which is a wonderful family drama that I believe many of us, no matter where we’re from, will find very close to home. More to come!

 

Photo credit: Stephen Mosher

 

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https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4219242

 

 

Women of the Arts 2019: Another Grand-Visioning Fellini

“They are the abstract and brief chronicle of the time…” wrote Shakespeare in HAMLET when the Prince spoke of actors. Well, Sara Fellini, Adam Belvo, and their own cry of players are taking that statement to heart by bringing to life productions steeped in rich history. Their production of THE BRUTES sailed from acclaim at the Planet Connection Theater Festivity to a New York Times covered run in the West Village. Now, they’re taking the lovely bright summer to whisk us to a mansion during the coldest, darkest summer on record to present MARY’S LITTLE MONSTER. The Mary is Mary Shelley, the monster … yeah well.

1781fe-f49bee1b1eec4e11ae749bc1d2c42fa9_orig.jpgArtistic director, Sara Fellini, is described as “brilliant” by her colleague, Adam Belvo. And who are we to dispute, especially with a record like hers. Sara is an award-winning playwright, actress, and skilled artisan whose work has been featured at The Davenport Theater, The Players Theatre, Paradise Factory, IRT Theater, and Under St. Mark’s. Her own play, Hazard a Little Death, was nominated for six awards at the Planet Connections Theater Festivity and won Best New Script. She wrote and played the lead in her play, In Vestments, which went on to win two 2015 NYIT awards and be acclaimed by the New York Times as “wrenching and visually eloquent.” She also appeared as the titular character in another play of her own writing, The Execution of Mrs. Cotton (called “darkly humorous” and “deliciously ghoulish” by the New York Times) at IRT Theater as part of their 3B Residency. As Artistic Director of spit&vigor (www.spitnvigor.com), she has offered up plays peppered with the booth family and Lincoln’s Assassination; the creation of literartures most feared creations, and oh yeah, Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi in the afterlife. We spoke with her. I hope we could keep-up!

 

  • Tell us about your journey as a director in New York
My journey so far is just beginning. I co-directed this exact play by Thomas Kee, MARY’S LITTLE MONSTER, about three years ago in New Orleans. I convinced my friend Kaitlan Emery to co-direct it with me because I was too afraid to do it myself, and we performed it at our friend Pandora Gastelum’s puppet theater called the mudlark public theater. It’s a gorgeous place, kind of like a haunted house, with Pandora’s beautiful hand-made puppets lining the walls of the entryway, and in the bathtub in the bathroom, along with several very babied cats that are the sweetest creatures. It was an incredible experience, and the perfect place to produce such a sexy and mysterious play. From that I had the confidence to direct our next production, THE BRUTES by Casey Wimpee at The Flamboyan as part of The Planet Connections Festivity, and then again at The New Ohio Theater as part of their curated Hosting Program. We were nominated for seven Planet Awards for that production, including Outstanding Direction. I’m very loyal to plays that I adore, and so now I’m directing MARY’S LITTLE MONSTER once again, and now at Torn Page, the historic home of Rip Torn and Geraldine Page, which is an old Victorian type house with a very grand room in which we’ll be performing an extremely intimate chamber production. This play has a way of attracting absolutely perfect venues. 
  • Tell us how you and your partner(s) formed spit&vigor? 
Adam Belvo and I formed spit&vigor in 2015. We had just produced our play IN VESTMENTS at The Center at West Park (in their incredible chapel space that was being renovated at the time, a perfect spot for a play about a crumbling Catholic church) via the theater company Theater4thePeople. At the time the company was comprised of essentially just our friend, who had to drop out of producing midway through the production to focus on directing it, so it was essentially me and Adam producing the whole piece. It was a great crash course in producing, because we got the space about two months before opening and had to throw a huge production together, 12 cast members with live music in a gorgeous space that unfortunately had no light grid. It was thrilling and amazing, and we knew we just had to keep producing theater. Adam is very practical, and I’m extremely impractical, and we had a good push-pull going. So we formed our own company, and along the way we’ve collected many collaborating artists, and just this year added Nick Thomas as third producer, who pushes us to bigger and better things. 
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  • You do “double-duty” by acting and directing; difficult? fun? necessary? desired? etc… 
I really think it’s the only way to do it, at least for me. When I’m reading a play, I see it happening around me, and I imagine every element of it. I also do costumes and set, and each element is so deeply entwined that to me it’s more like I painted a full painting or wrote a whole novel. Other artists have total authorship of their produced works, and I don’t have that, but I do like being able to create a world for actors to live in, and for lighting designers to light. And as an actor myself, I have the ability to negotiate a scene from the inside and out. 
Because I have so much creative input, it kind of frees me up to field a lot of input from actors, and to be flexible with their feelings and desires for their characters. I also get to know every inch of each play inside and out, so I can speak with expertise and give what I hope is valuable advice. It’s important to me to read every stage direction and really get the sense of what a playwright is going for, because so much meaning can be hidden in phrasing and subtle movements and I want to respect the vision of the playwright – and when you expand yourself to your fullest ability, you are much more capable of respecting other artists and their vision because you’re not making yourself small in any respect. 
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  • As an artist, and a woman, how has “reality” of working in New York differed from your original expectations? 
I grew up in New York, and I’ve been kind of producing theater here since I was a kid. I was involved in my church’s youth ministry which was essentially a theater group that did community service on the side. We had a wild group leader, and she always encouraged us to take control of our projects. I directed a scene of our production of Les Miserables and played Eponine, made sets for their production of Dear Edwina, ran the light board for Cats, and contributed to costume design by being an unbelievable snot about all of my costumes. And producing in off-off-Broadway and off-Broadway is remarkably similar to producing in community theater, despite what the Man might want you to think. I think the only difference is that when you produce at higher levels you have to fight a lot more insecurity, and vanity, and “this is the way things are done”-ness, because of the impression that the stakes are higher. But the stakes are what you make them, and I know when I was working in community theater the stakes were deadly to me personally and they are still deadly, and all the more reason to have fun and live fully in your work. 
I think the best thing to do as a woman doing any kind of job is to forget you’re a woman. Don’t expect people to not listen to you, don’t expect your words not to land, don’t feel bad when you need to give hard direction, just expect the same respect that you give to everyone else, and sometimes respect means complete honesty, delivered as kindly as possible. 
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  • What are future plans?
This production will be heading to The Players Theater in May 2020, our company’s off-Broadway debut. So if you can’t see this show, keep your eyes peeled, but you should get tickets now while you can still touch us from your seat. Beyond that, my personal dream for spit&vigor is to own and operate a bar&theater and produce a curated season. That’s a very long-term plan, but I invite any advice (or donations) to that end. 

Women of the Arts 2019: Some great “Shit” from Amanda Levie

23435068_10210153535138467_3512492459862456312_nNO PEEKING THEATRE is full of shit … and they’re taking it to L.A.!  “The Shit Show” By Leelee Jackson is an immersive restructuring of the theatrical experience. Feeling the show NOT seeing it as NO PEEKING restructures its productions to create a sightless theatre experience. A world of feelings, olfactory and audible storytelling, tangible and taste-able moments. Blindfolded, the audience is told the story with the help of rain, wind, sound, smells, taste and so much more. “We couple the audience’s imagination with literal 3D effects to create a sensory, immersive, and stimulating experience,” says Amanda Levie, artistic director of NO PEEKING. “We are planning on being bi-coastal and non-profit, but we need help!” she exclaimed.

Levie has created a truly unique theatrical experience. It hearkens back to the glory days of radio but applies a 21st century “human” touch. Now she is making this sensory experience bi-coastal and bringing this production to California, right in the playwright’s own backyard.

NO PEEKING is actively seeking donors and – if monetary gifts cannot be made – individuals willing to spread the word about No peeking, the Shit Show, and the L.A. Campaign. For more information on how you can help, visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/no-peeking-in-los-angeles#/ or contact Jay Michaels at 347-497-4814 or jmae.events@gmail.com .

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  • Tell us more, Amanda! About you, your journey as an artistic director, and your concept-company. 
This idea actually came out of my final thesis for my undergrad degree in 2011-2012. I was chasing my degree in theatre production with a concentration in lighting design and although I wanted to take directing I’d been denied from the class three times.  Instead I was placed in theatre administration.  Feeling left out and marginalized in the department, when I started learning about Theater’s “attempt” at equity and accessibility, I realized our whole industry had a LOT of work to do, especially in terms of adhering to ADA.  For our thesis, we were charged with creating a concept that would change “the world of theatre”.  As someone going into theatre for lighting design, I essentially fired myself for this concept.  I think it was a scary concept for me but it seemed so much more worth it if we could include more of the world rather than the few stuffy elite, taking what has now become a luxury commodity for granted.  For our entire 4 years we’d been told that theatre was “dying” but the model we were using was set up to exist and cater to the lifespan or a few unchanging generations.  How was Visual Art able to move so quickly and sharply into these clear cut eras and that hasn’t seemed to happen for theatre?  Because we were accepting the structure and appeals of the wrong group.
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  • Tell us how you created this show and the company? 
This show, as many of our shows, was submitted to us, very grassroots style.  We post on facebook we share out website and we tell people if you have something written worth telling, lets read it and lets produce it.  The Shit Show was written by Leelee Jackson who is based in Los Angeles and when we received her work last fall, a new opportunity presented itself: the opportunity to bring a play across country.   This is the first full length show proposed that was so far away, so we thought, why not?
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  • Quite an ambitious move … taking the show to the West Coast. Difficult? Fun? Necessary? Desired? etc… 
All of the above.  Many people who attend our shows believe that No Peeking Theatre is doing well because they have heard of it.  The truth of the matter is that we are still really very grassroots.  When I tell others they are not only surprised but encouraging in the idea that it needs to going elsewhere and expand.  I agree but as a woman of color every move I seem to make is a modest and self negotiated move.   Much of that is because the budget has always derived from my paychecks and monthly saving goals.  How I pay our cast and crew is accumulated in the form of $5 and $10s in a small can that I have set aside over a number of months.  The other and I’d say primary reason my goals have been modest is trying to better my odds of hearing “yes”.  It’s very easy for someone with this kind of ambition to be denied based on the idea that I am out of my league or way ahead of myself or too big for my britches.  This is true for me in technical theatre, production, directing, etc.  So this year I did something I consider daring.  I set the biggest goal for the company to date.  And even now people have commented that this goal is not only totally realistic but reasonable.  I’ll get better at aiming higher.  It’s been a tough habit to break!   
  • As an artist, and a woman, how has “reality” of working in New York differed from your original expectations? 
I think people create a legitimacy around New York theatre that is extremely hard to dispel.  I think ‘d been disillusioned back in 2006 when i was living working and going to school at Marymount Manhattan College.  The idea of success in New York seemed to indicate inevitable victory and happiness.  But it’s not like that.  Much of New York life was suffering for me.  I wasn’t able to afford food, I walked around with holes in the bottoms of my shoes for months during the winter.  I wasn’t able to afford my books.  Nonetheless I made the Dean’s list had a 3.89, auditioned my butt off, increased my credits.  But i did look around and I  realized that much less determined, ambitious, intelligent, and hard working people were skating by effortlessly.  i had realized well before No Peeking who was getting the keys to access the world of theatre.  I don’t think I knew the full extent but I’d definitely witnessed it on a smaller scale.  Our industry was not searching for new innovative minds, especially those who were not only ambitious, but also in need.  I think it’d be even a bit erroneous for me to even call it “our industry” because people like me and much of the people who work with No Peeking, the world of theatre very much does not include them in any level or department of theatre.
My reality right now is to change it and although i know people want me to change it in NY, I want to do it everywhere.
  • What are future plans?
iconsquare110D2EFE-D9DB-4B92-9482C832137AFEFB.jpgThis year we are going non profit!  We are in transition from having fiscal sponsorship through Fractured Atlas to having our very own 501c3.  This will open up so many opportunities for us to create the programming we’d like and make more theatre using new technology, concepts, stories, etc.  We have three works in development which is the most we’ve ever had at one time and we’re hoping to do at least one show out of the NY/NJ area at LEAST once a year.  In addition we’ve created a podcast to give perspective and insight to different disciplines of art and what its like to be an artist nowadays.  We did this to tear down stereotypes that are harmful to artists and the arts industry.  I don’t have any intentions of stopping that so I also hope that grows in the upcoming months and years. 

Women in the Arts 2019: Stephanie Windland on TV

36957639_10160517216825514_1230539736968331264_nPs in a Pod, a new web series, created by and starring Alex Pires, co-starring Stephanie Windland and executive produced by Richard Wingert starts on a blind date between Pete (Pires) and Polly (Windland) at a bar in Brooklyn. At first, they seem to be “two peas in a [neurotic] pod” but something is off. After a ton of awkward fumbling – including an uproarious attempt at sex – they simultaneously realize they are perfect as friends. As luck would have it, Polly is looking for a room and Pete needs a room-mate. A best friendship is born! “Pod follows how funny and real it is to have a close, platonic friendship between a man and a woman,” says executive producer, Richard Wingert.

“By eliminating the “Will they? Won’t they?” dynamic we make room for a ton of very funny and very touching situations that audiences have been deprived of in an episodic sitcom format,” creator and star, Alex Pires, exuberantly exclaimed; while co-star, Stephanie Windland chimed in with “The world is going through a paradigm shift in terms of the roles men and women play separately – this series shows how they come together under this new way of thinking,” she said regarding the evolving friendship the series depicts.

Pod follows the characters through semi-story lined episodes “a day in the life” style. We see them struggle – both comedic and realistic – with germaphobia, stereotypes, cultural-diversity, identity, romanticizing the past, relationships, depression and so much more.

We learn something new about the Ps – Pete & Polly – every episode. Things that we know or will learn about ourselves as well. It seems the stronger their friendship, the wilder things get. They just want to be happy and healthy but between self-sabotage and the universe who knows what will happen!

Stephanie, voluble and excited, had plenty to say about the fun she’s having on Ps in a Pod

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Tell us about yourself.

This is the annoying answer, but I’ve been performing since I was able to speak. At any family party or public event, you can bet that I was in the center of the room singing Old McDonald had a farm like it was my 11 o’clock number. I grew up in the Theater world doing musicals and plays, and it wasn’t until recently that I decided to try my hand at film. Comedy in particular is something I’ve always gravitated towards so I’m really spending time exploring that now, with improv and variety shows and P’s in a Pod of course. Alex approached me at the perfect time in my life because I had just decide to switch focus to film and comedy. He was like “Hey I’m working on a sitcom, would you…” and I was like “yes yes I’m in let’s go”.  -Stephanie

What inspired you about Ps in a POD?

Alex had the original inspiration, and approached me with the concept and characters. In building the world from there, I was very inspired by shows like Broad City and Friends and Seinfeld. I’m also constantly inspired by the things I see in NY every day, and the characteristics of the people I meet. I’m very attracted to the minuscule things that everyone has in common but no one talks about. 

51237947_10213864101333766_7334328489589342208_n.jpgIn terms of creating Polly, I’m most inspired by comedic actresses who aren’t afraid to be silly and look ugly. (Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, Julia Louis- Dreyfus) Comedy has to be free of vanity and that’s something I really want for Polly. -Stephanie

Share with us, your creative process. Collaboration, delegation, storyboards, brainstorming, moral/message, etc.  


When Alex asked me to be his partner, he already had a lot of the show written. So we started out by reading through some of the episodes and getting a feel for their relationship and quirks and their individual perspectives on life. Then over a few weeks, we started to carve out what it was we wanted to say with this show and with our characters, and how to do that while still making it funny. My favorite part of the creative process is when we disagree strongly with each others ideas, and then and even better idea comes out of it. 

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As an actor, the challenge is forgetting what has to be done on the production side and really focusing on the character and what they’re thinking in the moment. We have a team that’s really dedicated and focused, which makes it easier to just concentrate on acting for shoot days. But sometime you can’t help but think about whether or not you ordered enough food for crew, or if you ever sent that important email to your editor. -Stephanie

Tell us about your vision for the future in terms of TV, sitcoms, programming, networks, etc.

We just finished crowdfunding so now we’re working to complete the rest of our season. We’ve started meeting with future directors, and discussing ideas and it’s all very exciting. First and foremost, our goal is to get our show out there and make people laugh. However, to be able to do that on a larger scale, requires some major support. Our ultimate goal is to be picked up by a major platform that will want to produce P’s in a Pod and show it to the world! I’d love to see our show somewhere on Comedy Central, or explore these characters in a raunchier way with a platform like HBO. I’m just excited to see how people react to the characters and where this adventure takes them (and us). -Stephanie

Watch the Pilot and tell us what you think.

Send comments to Jmae.Happenings@gmail.com.

Make a Differnce … Watch TV

click here for the pilot: Ps in a Pod PILOT