“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.
Artistic 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.