Melissa Mowry: Visionary Woman of the Arts 2019

“The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are.” cited Poet-Laurette, Maya Angelou. These words rung in the ears of Melissa Mowry and Jessica Fichter as they shepherded an original piece of theatre. It’s more than that. It is a derived play. A new and exciting form of art that visionary companies are now creating.

Melissa Mowry with the help of her colleague, Jessica Fichter, bring, If Women Rose Rooted, an organic ensemble-created piece about the wisdom of women as old as time and as fresh as today. Fichter, having scored tremendous kudos for DANDELION, a new female-empowering musical that brought down the house at Feinstein’s earlier this year, joins with Melissa Mowry to bring her brainchild to life. Another female focused piece,) If Women Rose Rooted is set in both modern day and the “Otherworld (a mythical land of the fairy folk), this piece explores femininity and culture through the shared wisdom ancestors and our experiences today. Drawn from mythology and folklore, If Women Rose Rooted delves into the power and pain of femininity and reminds us all of those powerful women who came before us.

What looks like a fantasy is a veiled parable of the true dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

Directed by Melissa Mowry, assisted by Jessica Fichter, the women’s ensemble includes Marcella Adams, Titania Galliher, Jessica Panora, and Lucy Lewis. The special limited run will be Friday, September 6 @ 7pm; September 7 @ 3 and 7 pm; and Sunday, September 8 @ 3 and 7 pm at the cutting-edge arts incubator, The Tank, 312 W 36th Street, in New York. For More information, visit https://www.thetanknyc.org/calendar-1/2019/9/6/if-women-rose-rooted

We connected with Melissa and Jessica for a few moments to learn more of their play and this new artform.

Tell us about yourselves as artists

53570925_10157097448995909_1251957072426172416_n.jpgMelissa Mowry: I have always believed in the transformative and healing power of theatre. Unlike any other art form, theatre has the ability to place a person into the mind and experience of another. There is a beautiful relationship that can be forged when honest and truthful representations of humanity are placed on the stage and the audience is welcomed on the journey to explore the intimate world of those, they might call strangers. That is what I strive for in my art, to make those connections, to find comfort in the discomfort, and strength in change.

62499347_10101858799997156_9073342004502462464_n.jpgJessica Fichter: I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina and was always a self-proclaimed theatre nerd.  I think I feel in love during a school production of Really Rosie when I was five years old- I played a bluebird (and no that is not a real role).  After graduating from Winthrop University with a degree in theatre education, I taught theatre in both middle and high school public schools for 8 years in addition to acting as the artistic director of a theatre company in SC before moving to the city to pursue my MFA in directing. I am a mother of 2 small children, 8 years old and 4 years old, and have been navigating the NYC theatre world for 2 years.  I recently directed The Eleventh Hour at Townstages, and Assistant directed Shadows: A Dance Musical at the Connelly Theater. My sister and I debuted our new musical at Feinstein’s/54 Below on August 14th. I love art that pushes boundaries and asks questions.

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What is a “derived” play and what was your inspiration in writing it? —

Melissa Mowry: So, a devised play is different from the traditional play form, as the process doesn’t start with a script, but rather a theme, idea, or concept that is then explored with actors (in this case) and from the there, the script/story emerges. What I love about this type of theatre and exploration is that it allows me as a director to engage in the material and my actors in a unique way. Whatever skill sets they have, interests they bring to the table, it allows me opportunities and avenues to explore and play. If Women Rose Rooted has been on my heart for over 7 years, when I was first introduced to the Mahabharata, an ancient Indian text that is extremely important to the Hindu faith, while working in India. I realized that so much of how we look at the world around us is shaped by these ancient myths and histories, whether we recognize it or not. And as a woman who has been fortunate enough to see and explore her femininity in many different cultures and communities, I wanted to really explore the power and importance of honoring the feminine and to find balance in a world that is extremely unbalanced. 

Jessica Fichter: A devised piece happens entirely in the room, making it a wholly collaborative effort.  Because a script doesn’t exist when we start, we have a lot of ability to explore in terms of text, movement, style, rhythm!  Truly the sky is the limit.  The opportunity to work so closely and collaboratively with such brilliant woman is so fulfilling.  Melissa is truly the brainchild behind this piece, she has such a deep knowledge of mythology, and cultures around the world she wanted to draw from the universality of the role of women across time and space.  

Melissa, we looked you up and we’re very impressed. You’re a renaissance woman – having done film and live work. What’s your mission?  

Melissa Mowry: As a creative person, I simply want to share stories and give voice to people who are often unseen or unheard. And because of that, it is really important to me have an understanding and experience of different types and forms of art. Not every story should be told the same way, and not every character’s voice should be supported in the same medium, so I am constantly seeking ways to better hone my storytelling skills and interests to best give the strongest and most dynamic voice to the characters who interest and inspire me. 

A term I hear a lot these days is teaching artists – as you are as well. What is a teaching artist? 

Melissa Mowry: A teaching artist, is an artist who makes the creative process of their art form accessible to other people, giving students the opportunity to expand their understanding of an art form. For me, being a teaching artist is not only about going into classrooms and teaching students how to stand on the stage, or how to act, or how to dissect a script; but it is about preparing young people for the world and giving them the ability to take up space in a way that instills confidence, awareness, and empathy. As a theater teaching artist, I have the unique opportunity to help young people explore the lives of so many people, who are both familiar and unfamiliar, and it is important to me that I help guide them to giving their whole heart to that exploration not only for the performance, but because they could leave changed people, better people, after getting to know their character so intimately. 

Jessica, from your vantage-point as a producer, how do you feel it makes this play “different” from others?

Jessica Fichter: In this piece movement, text, music, personal experience is all woven together to create a tapestry which allows the audience to dive in based on their favorite artistic medium, story, myth.  It makes the experience both deeply personal and widely universal which is tricky and rare.  This is the kind of theatre in which the audience is drawn in not just by story but by the means of storytelling.  

Ladies, what’s next? —

Melissa Mowry: Devised pieces can take years to solidify, so If Women Will Rose Rooted will continue to be workshopped and explored, and hopefully tour within the next year. I will also be directing a show, Trouble in Mind by Alice Childress, at Rutgers University and will being working on another devised piece exploring identity, within the next year. 

Jessica Fichter: We hope the journey of If Women Rose Rooted is just beginning!  We are looking at multiple options for next steps!

 

Women of the Arts 2019: Naya James & Lucia Bellini – Celebrating Two Art Entrepreneurs

It speaks volumes when word of a particular show peeking it head out of the seas of well-done works at a prominent festival like Theater for the New City’s Dream Up.

In this case, that show is ABDICATION! 

Screen-Shot-2019-08-05-at-2.38.35-PM (2)Handing us on stage chills and giggles like you’d find in a quality Black Mirror episode and the don’t-let-this-happen thoughts we see around The Handmaid’s Tale, the live anthology show, Abdication!, is a multi-cultured, multi-media dark comedy looking like more than just a featured event at the 10th anniversary THEATER FOR THE NEW CITY DREAM UP FESTIVAL 2019 but a really hot ticket. Limited run at TNC’s Johnson Theater at 155 First Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets) in New York City. It opens and runs right after Labor Day – 09/03 @ 9pm; 09/04 @ 6:30pm; 09/05 @ 9pm; 09/06 @ 6:30pm; and 09/07 @ 8pm. 

https://abdication.brownpapertickets.com/

IMG_4142 (1)This production is produced by Three-Headed Lion Productions. Two of those heads are Naya James and Lucia Bellini (with Trenton Clark as the completing head). We wanted to show our support to these two entrepreneurs on the start of their new show … new company … new beginning.

 

 

 I’ve had so many different answers to this question,
so I look forward to your answers.

What’s it like to be a woman in the arts in NYC?

64b31b1b-d190-4921-b8b3-a162574dda33-bWFpbi1uLW4tMC0wLTAtMTA4MC0xMDgw (1)Lu: First off, I feel very lucky to be able to call myself and be addressed as “a woman in the arts in NYC.” Total life goal vibes here. Look Ma! But that aside…there’s a big responsibility that comes with being a woman in the arts today. Or a woman in anything really. We fought so hard to get where we are that I believe it is our duty to take full advantage and cherish any opportunity to create and be heard. I am not gonna lie, the pressure is palpable. There’s always that little voice in your head that tries to trick you into thinking you that you are here to prove that you are as smart, that you are as strong, that you are as—fill in the blank—as a man would have been in your place. I have also noticed on more than one occasion that if something bad happens or someone treats you wrong people go to this question: do you think that would have happened if you had been a man? Or if something good or lucky happens: do you think that would have happened if you hadn’t been a woman? And although sometimes fitting, it can be quite a dangerous game to play since it seems to focus on who we are rather than on what we do.

naya-james-238-WEBNaya: Living as an artist is exciting, fulfilling, and often feels like a privilege. However, being a female artist today also comes with a weighty sense of responsibility and urgency. Women’s voices have been underrepresented for a very long time—so now that people are finally starting to pay a bit more attention to those voices, I often feel that it’s up to us to play catch up and rabidly create and tell stories that include women in every step of the process. Personally I know a number of badass women who are doing just that, and I try to work with them whenever possible! 

 

Would you consider yourselves millennials?

If so, what do you find is different for your generation? 

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Lu: About a year ago, my 90-year-old grandmother was helping me curl my hair, you know just two girls getting ready for a night out on the town. I asked her: “Nonna (that’s grandma in Italian in case Joey Tribbiani hadn’t taught you that already, but I digress), when you were little, what is it that you wanted to do when you grew up?” “A math teacher,” she said. “How come you never became one, what happened there?” “It wasn’t really up to me to decide. You know, I was a woman after all.” Which left me wondering because, mind you, the grandma in question here is quite the feisty one. “In fact—she continued—if I could go back, I would wish to have been born a man.” We kept talking about childhood dreams, then parents, then husbands then finally she asked: “How is it for you, my little one, these days? Do you feel like you and your sister are free to do whatever you want?” I couldn’t believe how much pause that question gave me in that moment. It did give me a chance to count my blessing. Yes, Nonna. We are free.

Naya: I am very much “between generations,” which is likely a contributing factor to why much of my work deals with issues that aren’t specific to any one group or age range. It tends to focus more on larger topics lovingly referred to as: “general fears experienced by virtually all humans.” This informs what my advice would be to anyone, of any age—stop focusing on what makes us different, as generations, as genders, as categories of people. In art, entertainment, life, relationships, let’s try to focus more on the things that we all care about, the things we all love, and the things we are all frightened of, as people. Empathy is the artist’s greatest tool. 

Three Cheers for Three Lions! 

 

Women in the Arts 2019: Getting Biblical with Shadi Pourkashef

Shadi Pourkashef Photo.jpgThere are still nice people out there! We had the most pleasant conversation with film composer and conductor, Shadi Pourkashef about her new musical KING DAVID. Collaborating with Gary Morgenstein – a household name in the world of public relations and now as a distinguished playwright – Shadi composed music for six feature films, two short films, five title theme songs and dozens of works of children’s music, commercials, meditations, tv shows, game music and movie trailers. She is also the founder of called Ability Awareness Project, a nonprofit with a mission to build a united interconnected world free of bullying. She was voted the Best Activist of 2018 as the Goodwill Ambassador of World Kindness for the City of Laguna Beach, California. Like I said – there are still nice people out there. More about her at www.anami.co.

Meantime… Tell us why you wanted to write a musical about King David?

Shadi: I am so fortunate to work with Gary Morgenstein, who also believes: why stay inside of a self-created box when you can have so much fun getting outside the lines? I love all musical styles but also love mixing and matching different instrumentations in many forms. I love old ancient instruments and including them into the traditional orchestra while adding some unusual digital samples and loads of ethnic large percussions. All that said, the two songs that are released so far, one is done with a solo piano and the other is a rap! My suggestion is to bring your most open mind and ears and expect to be surprised!

I’m hearing that there are rap songs, disco tunes, as well as conventional Broadway fare. Tell us your thought-process on the score.

Shadi: Wouldn’t it be lovely to reveal this 3000-year-old ancient story in a language everyone can understand in the 21st century? We’re going for that and at times having a little too much fun with it! King Saul’s outrageous request for 100 foreskins urged me to go a bit over the top with the song “Foreskins” and I love the fact that my friend, Da’Jon James, also felt that vibe and actually contributed 32% to the lyrics. Gary Morgenstein’s brilliant writing elaborates on the complicated rich life of King David in such simple lighthearted but captivating language and my music is an extension of that.

Do you think this will make the Bible more accessible?

Shadi: King David’s story from the Bible will be more understood with this musical. There’s so much to learn from King David’s life. He had to fight many wars; some within himself and some out there in a war zone. I feel the more wars he won in the outside world, the bigger his ego became and ultimately made him lose the many wars he had to fight to be true to his spiritual path. It’s a fight we all go through in any century and this one is no exception. Greed, lust and ego among many other human qualities can distort our spiritual vision and cause us to divert from reaching our full potential. 

What are the challenges you face composing for the musical theater?

Shadi: Composing for this musical is incredibly enjoyable and gratifying for me since I’m so inspired and engrossed in the story. I begin every song meditating on the experience I’m writing for in the story. I want to stay true to that moment in time so I don’t give away a hint into the future of what happens next. That way the audience is experiencing King David’s life as it unfolded for him and can probably relate to his challenges and understand his actions and decisions.

Where do you hope the show goes? 

Shadi: We are giving life to the powerful story of King David and granting him the attention he deserves. I know it will inspire a lot of people and I hope his story continues to reach out to every corner of the world.

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A sample of the reverential irreverence of KING DAVID, the musical. 

Exploring Abdication with Janet and Amanda

The tongue-in-cheek anthology, Abdication!, a multi-cultural, multi-media dark comedy more than reminiscent of Black Mirror, The Handmaid’s Tale, and VR, will be a featured event for the 10th anniversary THEATER FOR THE NEW CITY DREAM UP FESTIVAL 2019. Performances will be at the Johnson Theater Space at 155 First Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets), New York City on 09/03: Tuesday, 9pm; 09/04: Wednesday, 6:30pm; 09/05: Thursday, 9pm; 09/06: Friday, 6:30pm; and 09/07: Saturday, 8pm. https://abdication.brownpapertickets.com/

The Night Gallery of three tales are
STUCK: a close-knit Italian-American family grapples with the idea that one of its family members plans to remove from society by hooking up full-time to a virtual reality network.

LOVE LOBOTOMY relates the story of two hapless souls deciding to undergo Amigdalar Resurfacing, (a “Love Lobotomy”) making them immune to romantic feelings and more productive… maybe.

And finally, COLOR SCHEME takes us to a society where everyone has been classified into a specific color-red, green, blue, etc., and the implementation of this system has ostensibly led to perfect harmony. Until someone mixes and matches.

Filled with gallows-humor, song, dance, and multi-media, each episode shows how abdication of a portion of human existence pulls a piece out of the house of cards that we call our lives.

Appearing in this triumvirate of techno-tales is Amanda Cannon, Trenton Clark, Alan Cordoba, Janet Donofrio, Naya James, Stephen Keyes, Cesar Lozada, Mike Ivers, Sid Ross, Meredith Rust, Tony Scheer, and Topher Wallace.

We caught up with two of the denizens of this Twilight Zone for a few words

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Janet Donofrio

“I don’t think of myself as an artist. I just like to hang out with the cool kids.”

 

 

 

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Amanda Cannon

“I knew I wanted to be an actor when I performed in a play with my high school speech class. I have primarily focused on theatre as opposed to film because I love the collaboration that goes into creating a play, the connection that is developed with the audience, and the way a show is slightly different every single night. 

 

 

What’s your creative process and how do you make the fantasy elements real?

Donofrio: I look to be true to the character I’m playing, with no judgment. Characters don’t know the difference between genres, so every element and circumstance is real for them.

Cannon: To make fantasy elements real, it’s important to stay grounded in the truth. Even though we’re existing in an alternate universe, or a future version of our own universe, we’re still telling the stories of human beings. It’s necessary to really get in touch with who these people are and what they want.

 

How do you inject humor without losing the message?

Donofrio: When a script is well written, the intended humor will shine through with the message intact.

Cannon: I think we use humor in a lot of ways and for many different purposes–sometimes to cover up hurt feelings or sadness, sometimes because we feel uncomfortable or awkward, for example. Understanding why a character is doing or saying something humorous instead of just trying to be funny keeps the message from being lost.

 

I’ve always felt that anything fantasy sci-fi or horror are cautionary tales. What’s your opinion?

Donofrio: Well, I never go down into the basement when I hear a strange noise!

Cannon: I would agree with that, and Abdication! is no exception. I think there’s a warning throughout the play about losing your identity and giving up individuality to fit in with society.

 

They came together with the same answer for “What next?”

“We’ll see.”

Student body … and mind.

Review by Rachel Meza

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I attended A Therapy Session with Myself by Anthony J. Piccione. In this play, we see the main character Alex, suffering from anxiety, depression, among other obstacles, finds himself lonely with no friends and addicted to caffeine and alcohol to assuage – or at least drown – his loneliness and stress he faces in college. At his desk, procrastinating, he receives a visit from the “future him,” coming to help. Throughout this play, they interact with each other, and “older Alex” tries to explain to the current Alex that his life isn’t as bad as it seems and he actually has a lot to be grateful and even happy for. They talk about painful moments in his life, including the ones he wanted to forget like being bullied and breaking up with girlfriend. The underlying meaning to these conversations denote that everything happens for a reason and maybe Alex should simply get out of his own way.

This truly was a great experience. Mental health is something that I believe is important and should be talked about more. The ensemble of spot-on actors were able to display how sad Alex was feeling and how his mistaken opinion that he is uncared-for. The Alex of his memories was a really good actor – he showed how everything affected him and he was able to depict what having anxiety looks like. There was a scene where he was in class and he was talking to his classmates and it was so realistic to something that I have seen or gone through myself.

This play was totally relatable. I think all college students can relate to the stress of school, making friends, and the loneliness that we have to face due to the high school-to-college transition. This effects us mentally with ease. I think this play is authentic in that it shows how exactly how a lot of people — and students — feel.

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Mesmerizing Mary

Melissa Smith reviews Mary’s Little Monster by Thomas Kee

 

Written by Thomas Kee, Mary’s Little Monster, performed by Spit & Vigor, Mary’s Little Monster is heaped in melodrama depicting an evening shared by Mary Shelley and her opium-addicted, sex-craved friends where stories and indiscretions are shared. It is this dark party that allows Mary to indulge in the aforementioned fun and create something that effected the world and made her a stronger, more confident woman.

The unique location of the performance, a room within the old home of the lates, Rip Torn and Geraldine Page aptly named Torn Page, allowed the audience the feeling of being a part of the group’s drama.

During an opening moment depicting Mary’s nightmare, actress and director, Sara Fellini (as Mary), used a plasma bulb to imitate that she was instilling life using electric currents (a nod to her famed work) into her overdosed friends. Her performance was mesmerizing.

I felt the music, mood, and body language of she, and actor/producer, Adam Belvo (as Polidori), allowing me the sensation of the electric shock that never existed. While the entire company was top-notch, it was Fellini that created a feeling of being connected to the story as if we were in the room part of the party.

Delightful, atmospheric, and entertaining all around.

Dates and Nuts

Lystra Besson reviews Date me, Do me, Dump me 

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Four drunken women walk into a bar … and begin a tirade of experiences in the dating world.

Sharing the odd but interesting (wild) dating stories from a series of partners all set to music, the audience was invited to their gab-session and interact.

 

They encouraged the crowd to share their own “fucked up” personal dating stories and to drink after telling them. Each of the four women had very distinct personalities – interesting in their keen observations brought to a froth in stereotype. Steven Mitchell cleverly took the average failed dating experiences that we all face and made them communal and uproarious.

Each of the characters stories matched their personalities. Each more desperate than the previous. There was the gabber; the sex-crazed goth (my personal favorite); and two more a bit more “real.” For them, the failed attempts hit home harder to us. Mitchell gave us women – all women – of different shapes and sizes get rejected or used and have weird experiences with guys and take it. Stereotyping and musicalizing made it palatable as a lesson and not a cautionary tale.

The Broadway Comedy Club lent a comfortable atmosphere for this musical gabfest.