Women in the Arts 2019: Director Strange

Holly Payne-Strange hails from the United Kingdom but is currently a proud New Yorker.

She is a nationally ranked sailor (Townies, 2015) and adept at lucid dreaming.

In addition to being a milliner, she is also an origami artist and has made over 2,500 paper cranes to date!

She volunteers at GallopNYC, a stables dedicated to helping people with disabilities learn to ride horses, where she also planted their garden.

She is also proud to be the director of youth outreach at the Aldo Tambellini foundation.


It is obvious that Holly brings unique diversity to all the plays she directs. She has teamed with Anthony J. Piccione again for A Therapy Session with Myself, Piccione’s semi-autobiographical tome about a young man with mental illness forced to literally confront himself to help in his recovery.

Considering her British origin, our discussion of what its like to be a female director in NY has as much uniqueness as the speaker, herself.


Tell us about your journey as a director in New York

Well, my first experience directing in NYC was  at the Players Theatre Short Play Festival. That was about five years ago. Since then, I’ve done a lot of festivals, a lot of indie stuff, and once every couple of years I self produce something. I love having total creative control, but I can’t do it often- it can be a very stressful process. Generally I’ve found my niche in plays about mental health- I’ve worked on shows about anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and psychopathy, among other concerns. I think that’s because I love playing with perspective, and am fascinated by how the same thing can mean different things to different people.


You and Anthony have worked together often – tell us about your arts partnership?

Yes, Antony and I have worked together a few times now.  At first on his children’s play “Energy Tale” at the Midtown international Theater Festival. I was really proud of the work I did on that, it was a pleasure to direct non-human characters, there was a lot of creative license with it. I’ve also been able to work with Anthony closely  A Therapy Session With Myself. This alone has been a long process, about seven months so far and still going. It’s been great to be able to develop a creative relationship with someone.

Do you plan to be hands-on for the entire run or do you foresee yourself “letting go.”

This is something Anthony and I have talked about a lot. Eventually, I do foresee myself letting go. I don’t know when that is exactly, but I do know life as a creative in NYC is exciting, but very chaotic, and i can’t commit very far in advance. But I am proud of my work on A Therapy Session With Myself, and im very proud of the awesome cast and crew behind it.

As an artist, and a woman, how has “reality” of working in New York differed from your original expectations?

Well when I came here, I started out as an actor and now I’m a director and writer, so in that sense, it’s very different from what I expected. But really, I don’t think I had many expectations when I arrived in NYC. I planned on spending the first year in school, making as many connections as possible and seeing what happened, and that’s what I did. It’s taken me in a lot of different directions, and I’ve developed myself as a creative in ways I didn’t expect (for instance, recently I had a visual art exhibit on governors island), but I think that allowed me to be open to new experiences and try a lot of new things.

What are future plans … new shows? being a producer, artistic director, etc

A play I wrote Perfect For Me is currently performing, and I’m very proud of it! It’s about the real life science and ethics behind head transplants,a  procedure which is currently being developed. It explores disability, LGBT rights, and developing technology.

Its touring different locations throughout the month. Mainly very small, intimate spaces. I’m excited to be able to connect with very small audiences and what you can do outside of a proscenium stage. For more information and tickets, please see our website https://hollypstrange.wixsite.com/perfectforme

Women in the Arts 2019: Jessica Francis Fichter and the female-driven, emotional, and very original … “Dandelion”


The 2019 summer season is presenting “scores” of new musicals. The Fresh Fruit Festival is currently presenting the fascinating “Metropolitan” and a new musical based on the events in the life of Harvey Milk, rev. Mary announced a new musical about female-empowerment called “Between the Sun and the Moon,” even Laura Sisskin Fernández sings out in You Hold a Pole Everyday. AND over at the posh Feinstein’s/54 Below, Jessica Francis Fichter spearheads a stunning concert version of an engaging, romantic, fascinating musical piece called DANDELION

For one night only, August 14 @ 9:30 p.m. we get the story of high school senior, Jane, and her mother, Delilah, and how the two are forced to confront profound questions of guilt, responsibility, and sacrifice as Jane must decide between attending college in pursuit of her lifelong dreams, or staying home to care for Delilah – who is locked in a desperate battle with severe mental illness and opioid addiction. For further info, visit www.dandelionmusical.com.

Female-driven, emotional, and original, “Dandelion” features music and lyrics by Colleen Francis and Bill Zeffiro, book and direction by Jessica Francis Fichter and Sean Riehm, and has been developed in collaboration with Hailee Beltzhoover. Musical Director, Nevada Lozano guides artists Hailee Beltzhoover, Lillie Ricciardi, Allison Siko, Brenden MacDonald, Brianne Wylie, and Miranda Luze.

There is a $35 cover charge and $25 food and beverage minimum. Tickets and information are available at www.54Below.com. Tickets on the day of performance after 4:00 are only available by calling (646) 476-3551.

The mind behind the story and its presentational vision is Jessica Francis Fichter. We are thrilled to chat with her for a moment

FullSizeRender.jpegTell us about yourself.

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.

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

This musical is a story that is close to my heart for many reasons.  At its core it’s a story of a young woman finding her own way- forging her own path despite obstacles far beyond what a seventeen year old should be faced with.  But as we all know, what should be and what is do not always align. This positive, high school female-driven story of strength is begging to be told and I am grateful to have the chance to tell it.  And on a personal note, this is a story of someone I know and love, and the truth of her struggle may be what another family needs to find their way through the labyrinth of mental health and drug addiction. It’s also a story of responsibility and family and what we owe ourselves versus what we owe those closest to us.  They are not questions that can be answered in 2 hours but they are certainly worth asking- and I honestly can’t tell you if everyone will agree with Jane’s decision in the end but maybe that is the point.

Tell us what it’s like building a musical NOW in NYC

Complicated.  What I realize more and more everyday is that there is no recipe for creating success- the market is inundated with work.  I think the key for us is believing in the story we are telling, and being open to a variety of opportunities for production and workshops.  As a woman, one of the things that I am constantly working on is ASKING- it’s okay to ASK, as a matter of fact its important. I have to remind myself, if I believe in what I am doing- its more than okay to promote my art.

What is it like being a woman in the arts today? 

It’s exciting- opportunities are becoming more and more available to female artists.  Female directors are still the minority but I see more and more producers willing to hire the female talent that is abundant in New York City and beyond.  As a mother, I am still battling some of the stereotypes about commitment to my art, but there are mothers forging a path in the arts and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to be working during this time when the trajectory for female artists is changing.

What’s next?

We are hoping to find a lead producer who is excited about the story we are telling and the right fit for the Dandelion team.  We are thrilled to follow this journey in whatever direction it takes us.  For me personally, I am working on a female driven devising piece called If Women Rose Rooted


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Fine Acting comes out of the Grindr


Maya Avisar of the Alliance of Alien Artists assesses BORDERS

As we approach a new decade, there is definitely a sense of change in the theatre scene. More diversity, more representation and more accuracy towards our present and current events, lead to original material that is more relatable than ever to the millennial audience.

Borders, by Nimrod Danishman, presented by Dirty Laundry Theatre, tells the story of two young men who encounter over the popular app Grindr.

At the beginning of the play we meet Boaz (played by Eli M Schoenfeld), an Israeli man visiting his parents in the Kibbutz. The other man, George (played by Adrian Rifat), is in Lebanon – just across the border. The first scene is as charming as the situation can get – when the horny Boaz expects George to meet him that night, just to find out he cannot even enter the country of Israel, being a Lebanese man.

As the play goes on, the perfectly-told story leads us to fall in love with both men, finding similarities which are easy to relate to in both storylines, such as patriotism, the desire to be accepted as who you are, cultural differences and complicated love. The story is truly making us, as the audience, wish for a happy ending.

As for the creative and unique concept, the play itself is written as it is all happening on Grindr. We hear the actors read their texts out loud, which gives an interesting sight into what we think we sound like when we write our texts, including our use of emojis, and sometimes even sexsting (sex-texting). I think the best example for this perfect use of texts as a script is the scene where Boaz and George try sexting, and we as the audience burst out laughing along with the characters as we see this is not working for them.

It is well seen that Michael R. Piazza did a spectacular direction job on this play. Taking such an original concept and making it into something we can understand, follow and be mesmerized by, is truly a work of art. You can truly feel the creative eye of a man on this piece – which I believe was a good choice on behalf of producer Maera Daniel Hagage (who is also the Founding Artistic Director of Dirty Laundry Theatre). Balancing the male point of view as an assistant director is Avigaïl Bryger.

In short, it is to summarize that Borders is an exciting new piece of theatre brought to the United States – and should be seen by as many audiences as possible, both men and women, inside the LGBTQ+ community and out, for which it can capture the hearts of many with the subject matter being so easily relatable.

For future information follow Dirty Laundry Theatre: www.dirtylaundrytheatre.org

[International] Women of the Arts 2019: Adi Schor on our Shores

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The Alliance of Alien Artists – an organization dedicated to helping emerging artists from other countries explore and succeed at having a career in America – primarily New York – has offered an agreement to actress & singer, Adi Schor. On the heels of AAA’s well-received production of American Dream at the Duplex and Ms. Schor’s own critical acclaim creating the role of Catherine in the play, Heaven Sent, written by Bambi Everson, the two connected and now she is a repertory member committed to projects through 2020!
We wanted to chat with her now while she still has time!
Tell us about yourself. 

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My name is Adi Schor, I was born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel and for the past three years I have lived and worked in New York City. I have studied theater throughout middle school and high school, and eventually majored at it as well. I took part in a very known community theater program in Israel called Chich’s Neighbors, in which I learned a lot about my passion for Musical Theater. I eventually became a director of the younger groups of the program when I finished my military service. Speaking of which, I served for two years in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), during which I took voice lessons, acting lessons, writing course etc. After finishing my service I joined an acting in front of camera course in the Chubbuck Method, founded by the famous Ivana Chubbuck.I participated in these classes for a year, while taking more voice, sight reading and ballet lessons. I moved here to study acting at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) which is one of the leading schools in the musical theater department in the US. I studied here for two years and graduated on February 2018. Ever since I have been working in the field non-stop – I have had the privilege of working on musicals, plays, cabarets, short films and commercials in the city. I performed on Off Broadway stages, performed in famous festivals in the city and outside of it (traveled with productions to different cities and states), I got to know people from the industry with lots of experience in the field and to work with them on their materials.Some of my credits include the original musical Angels at Work that performed at the New York New Works Festival, the musical Annie with Plaza Theatrical in which I played Lily St. Regis, the original play The Spyglass Seven in which I played the deceased Virginia Clemm Poe, wife of Edgar Allan Poe – a show that traveled both to the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival and the International Edgar Allan Poe Festival in Baltimore, MD. I also performed in Israeli productions such as the empowering cabaret iDiva, presented by the Israeli Artists Project (IAP) at the Green Room 42, featuring songs by Israeli divas, and the AVIV celebration, a fundraising event for IAP in honor of the beginning of the spring (=Aviv in Hebrew) and in honor of famous Israeli actor Sasson Gabai (recently performed in The Band’s Visit on Broadway). I have been truly blessed with wonderful opportunities and I wouldn’t replace them with anything in the world. 
What made you decide to brave the USA?
I have been dreaming of studying musical theater ever since I can remember myself. When I was a kid in my community theater program Chich’s Neighbors, Eidan Lipper who is the director of the program kept telling me about the school he graduated from in NYC which was AMDA. He encouraged me over the years to go study there and pursue my dreams, he had faith I will bloom there, and he wasn’t wrong. I only visited New York City twice before moving here, and I was a little girl back then. I can’t explain in words my all-time connection to the city even from miles away, but since it is the capital of theater, I always felt in my soul that I belong. I knew that after finishing my military service that would be my next goal. It took some time (getting accepted, getting ready, making enough money, taking care of personal matters) but less than three years later I was finally here. I think studying Musical Theater in New York City is the ultimate experience- I don’t think any place in the world lives and breathes theater the way this city does. I truly feel like I belong.
How helpful has the Alliance of Alien Artists been to you?
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Super helpful! Maya Avisar, the founder, has been doing anything she can to help international artists and to promote their work, which I find admirable. I am lucky that I know her and that I got the chance to work with her, and will do more projects with her in the near future. I recently took part in a performance of Aliens Off-Broadway that the Alliance produced, in which international artists performed Broadway tunes in their native language. I got to sing The Wizard and I from Wicked and A Part of That from The Last Five Years in Hebrew, and it felt phenomenal. Listening to the rest of the performers singing in their native languages felt empowering. I think the Alliance is a very important organization for international artists in the states because it helps putting the spotlight on us and making us being “foreigners” into something unique and marvelous that should not be ignored. I cannot wait to work on future projects with them.
What were some of the difficulties in working here
61794159_10157315722608454_976498374234603520_n.jpgI think my biggest difficulty was being away from home. I am very close to my family and friends (and my adorable dog!) so living so far away can sometimes be difficult. I have a beautiful niece who is now two years old, I haven’t seen her for over a year! But I am thankful for today’s technology and that I am a phone/video call away from them. The time difference isn’t easy (7 hours!) but we always figure it out. Besides that, I think that in addition to every actor’s struggles that go with trying to book work and not give up every time you get a “no” or every time things don’t work out the way you planned them to, it is even more difficult for an international performer since people wouldn’t necessarily want to put their bets on you when you don’t have the appropriate paperwork. I think it is more difficult for an international actor to find an agency, or to apply for union projects. It can be really demotivating. But let me say this – actors who stay in the profession do so because they don’t want anything in the world more than that. They are willing to sacrifice a lot for the sake of trying their way in the business, even though it is not a “safe” career path. So when it comes to internationals – since we sacrifice so much to come here all the way from our homes, we are much more motivated, dedicated and ready to work hard than we would be in any other circumstances. So it is true the obstacles are there, but so is the will power to overcome them. 
What’s next?
I am so very excited for what the future has in store. In the next couple of months I will be hosting and performing in two cabarets by The World Voice Ensemble, one featuring songs and stories about New York and the other one will be a night filled with Broadway and Pop tunes in international performers’ native languages. Later in fall of 2020 we are expected to revive the musical Angels at Work, in which I played the leading lady. Another show coming up is a production of Heaven Sent – a play written by Bambi Everson. I have performed in an adaption of the play called OMG at Broadway Comedy Club, but this will be the first time of me playing in the original play, working with the playwright herself – stay tuned for details on that one! And of course, I am expecting to perform again with The Alliance of Alien Artists in their upcoming shows such as Broadway Around the World (previously performed at the Green Room 42), so this should be a lot of fun. I am beyond grateful for everything I have accomplished and for the wonderful opportunities ahead! 

Women of the Arts 2019: Laura Sisskin Fernández is winning at “the poles”

The one-person show has become a staple of the independent theater skyline. They began as star-vehicles and are now tour-de-forces for emerging artists allowing the audience to have a “theatrical conversation” on an untold variety of topics.

Laura Sisskin Fernández won great acclaim a season or so ago with this fascinating exploration of a woman who – in order to heal from a traumatic sexual experience – takes [of all things] a pole-dancing class. Peppering this intense subject with humorous moments in dialogue plus music, she created “You Hold a Pole Everyday” written and performed by Fernández and directed by Laura Murphy. “Pole” takes us inside a pole dancing studio, where after a traumatizing experience,  a barista cautiously seeks connection with her own physical power but reluctantly finds herself learning the moves alongside her Spanish Mother and Grandmother.

Part of the Women’s Work Theatre Festival, Fernández revives this fascinating piece for a new audience. Tickets are on sale at https://www.laurasf.com/you-hold-a-pole-everyday

We were happy to speak with Laura Sisskin Fernández briefly before a rehearsal.


Tell us about yourself.

My name is Laura Sisskin Fernandez. I’m a New York City based actor and singer/songwriter and first generation American on my mother’s side. 

I took a wonderful solo writing workshop led by Pat Shay and Mary Theresa Archbold about 4 years ago. To help us find our topics, we were given the prompt “What’s your worst fear?” I put dancing in the middle of a dance circle. The next question was, “How can you amp that fear up?” I wrote pole dancing.  I think being a bit more politically aware now, I have worse fears, but after my like 8th time giving up on this piece, I decided to stick to this original idea, when the #metoo movement came about. It really gave me an opportunity to reflect on my own experiences and how afraid I was to use my own voice. So I wrote this solo show to really figure out, as someone who avoids confrontation like the plague, what I would say if I wasn’t “nice.” 


What inspired you to create this piece?  

I wrote a version for Planet Connections Theatre Festivity last summer in 6 weeks. I had the idea of taking a pole dancing class after going through a traumatic sexual experience. I knew I wanted to incorporate some original songs, since I was spending more time playing music at the time and also saw writing this solo show as a way to get back into acting. Really, it was all over the place. I had an idea for the lead character’s journey and thought, okay what dialects can i sort of pull off. And that’s how I came up with the other classmates, who had their own experiences or 2 cents to chip in in support of the heroine’s journey. I think creatively it was fulfilling in that I got to play different characters, sing, and sound design for the show. But I knew I wasn’t really saying what needed to be said. I was still dancing around it (pun not intended, ugh). One friend said, why don’t you just have your character take the class with her mother and grandmother. So I rewrote it and did just that. It’s a lot more personal, it’s a lot more Spanish, which means it’s intense but equally hilarious (hopefully). And it says exactly what I didn’t know how to articulate the first time around. Working with my director, Laura Murphy, who is also one of my closest friends was invaluable. There were a lot of revisions being made, because once on its feet impulses changed. The questions, “What are you really trying to say?” “What is this moment really about?” came up a lot. We found ways to get to the point faster and more deliberately. We found the rawness in simplicity.

What is it like being a woman in the arts … in NY … in the 21st century? 

I’m finding that a lot of women in the arts are taking their careers into their own hands more and more. Producing, writing, directing…whether it be a solo show or a web series or a feature film. I feel like I’m constantly surrounded by women or hearing about women who are really going for it. There really isn’t a need to wait anymore. The most powerful pieces I’ve seen recently have come from female playwrights. It feels like to me women are finally starting to be taken seriously and people are finally interested in women’s stories/perspectives, women’s issues, the woman’s experience which has a lot more nuance and color than we’ve seen coming from a male dominated scene. 

Who do you feel is the “audience” for this piece?

The audience for this piece is feminists. Period. I received feedback that men were able to relate to the play, not only women which was beautiful in a really heartbreaking way. And I’d say it’s for mature audiences since it deals with #metoo themes. 

What’s next?

Continuing to work with amazing women creating their own work! I’m part of a sketch comedy group, (currently without name) and we’ll be performing at Under St Marks on August 2nd at 7pm in “Class and Crass: A Sketchy Show” hosted by Classy Cassie. I’ll also be acting in an incredibly moving piece, Still, Birth, written by Coley Campany and Robyne Parrish, that deals with the effects of pregnancy loss. It will be playing in two different theater festivals, Rogue Theater Festival in August and DREAM UP FEST in the fall.  I have a couple opportunities to perform You Hold a Pole Everyday in other cities on the east and west coast, so looking into doing a tour as well!


Women of the Arts 2019: Sarah Elisabeth Brown … Represent!

Sarah Elisabeth Brown remembers when.

Her retrospective anthology, Lovebird Jamboree, premieres next week at the veneable Fresh Fruit Festival. Simply put, one of NY’s leading LGBTQ arts hubs. Lovebird Jamboree
The Wild Project
195 East 3rd Street, NYC
Running Tues. 7/9  8:30 pm; Fri. 7/12  9:00 pm; Sat. 7/13  2:00 pm

Brown has provided us with existence-validating stories of love from “back-in-the-day.” 


As the recent century turned, gay marriage was still a dream and there were those out there fighting for equality and simply the right to love. Author Brown met with more than a dozen individuals, heard their stories, compared the similarities, took-in the differences, and emerged with an eight-character “chorus line” of journeys about just finding that special person. Based on her series of interviews from people in the LGBTQI community – gym junkies, sex workers, academics, softball jocks, and wannabe Jell-O salad aficionados, etc. – all get their say in this heartfelt, funny set of monologues.

12241600_10206644812776378_2517362858927292169_nSupported by the Santa Fe Community Foundation, Lovebird Jamboree strides into NYC sharing how far we’ve come and far we still have yet to go.

Sarah Elisabeth Brown asked questions, wrote answers, which should rise many discussions. We staretd by meeting with her about her process.




Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan and I am a product of a 70s alternative education. I remember writing the script for Annie in sixth grade by taking the synopsis off the back of the record album (yes, vinyl) and writing the scenes to fill it in from there. Theater has always been a serious part of my life. In high school, I attended North Carolina School of the Arts and graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy in Northern Michigan, otherwise known as “Fame in the Woods.” Afterwards, instead of going the path of a conservatory like most of my friends, I set out for the “real world” by way of Chicago with a theater company called Theater Oobleck, a company that wrote all their own work. When I expressed that I wanted to play more substantial roles, one of the writers sat me down and said, “Write your own play and we’ll do it.” I wrote my first short play for Theater Oobleck, then I went on to Hampshire College where I developed my degree, “Playwrighting: An Off-The-Desk Approach.” I used movement, improv, Theater of Images, and traditional playwrighting approaches to develop my own style of playwrighting. Afterwards, I created performances for Luna Sea, BUILD, Bearded Lady, and Theater Rhinoceros in San Francisco. Then later in New Mexico at the Santa Fe Playhouse and at Theaterwork. The last decade I’ve have spent writing and working in New York City participating with Workshop Theater, New York Women in Film and Television, and the Jacob Krueger Studio. 

What inspired you to take on such an undertaking?  

At the time, I was operating as the Playwright-in-Residence at a theater company called, Theaterwork in Santa Fe, New Mexico, run by a man named David Olsen. David had been mentoring me for several years on developing a story-collecting project called, “Spirit Club: Stories of Mental Discomfort and Healing,” which I developed as part of my role as a mental health advocate. That project was built from sixty interviews done with people who’d been diagnosed with serious mental health issues on the key stories in their lives. The Santa Fe Community Foundation had partially funded Spirit Club. They had been very happy with the project so when they put out a call for projects that helped build and empower the LGBTQ Community, our application to do another story collecting project was approved. This time, I took most of the interviews from my friends and people in the community that I knew. This time the interviews were about the key love stories of their lives, which was great fun. 

In terms of that, once the idea is there, how do you write … what’s the creative process?

For awhile, I hoped that the interviews would lead to a storyline that I would then make into a traditional play with dialogue and a plot. At some point, it dawned on me that there was an elegance and simplicity to the stories themselves, plus because of the grant, we were on a tight timeline, so I began the work of honing the individual stories themselves as individual entities. Of the eight stories told in Lovebird Jamboree, there are some that are simply edited versions of what people told me in their interviews. Others are composites from several interviews that seemed to fit together and fill each other out. Still others were given fictional structures that accentuated the humor inherent in the piece, such as in Jell-O Salad and Game Time. 

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Steeped in reality like this, what realizations or epiphanies (if any) did it give to you?

There will always be a part of me that will envy trans men for their courage to step so fully into the masculine. Even though I’ve settled into a more feminine version of myself these days, I take a certain freedom and permission from them to explore my own boi side. I think this has helped me achieve more of a balance within my particular blend of masculine and feminine. Having come up queer or what I suppose would be called “pansexual” now, there were always trans people in my life, my community, and sometimes in my bed. However, having the intimate structure of the story collecting project, gave me access to a confessional side of things. I remember being particularly fascinated by the stories of trans men talking about being woman-born and the differences between their heterosexual experiences versus their lesbian ones, and then experiencing gay male type relationships as a man. I resonate with the idea of being a shape-shifter and have felt very fluid in both my gender and my sexuality, so these descriptions of one being experiencing all these kinds of relationships feels liberating and fascinating to me. 

Who do you feel is the “audience” for this piece? 

When I wrote it, the people who gave their stories came over and over again and there was a beautiful interplay between the actors and the people they played. Certainly, this is a play of celebration of untold love stories in the LGBTQ community. I’m hoping that now, twenty years later, the audience has expanded. Back then, you could never have a presidential candidate like Pete Buttigieg. Gay Marriage wasn’t even on the agenda. People thought it was too soon, too early, and that the world wasn’t ready. It was a different era. We weren’t trying to fit in as much as we were trying to create something different in relationships. Now that LGBTQ rights are much more broadly discussed in wider progressive politics, I think this is a good piece to come to for people in place of acceptance, who’d like to be brought deeper in. People who’d like a more intimate peak into lives of people who may be different from them. I can see this piece being a good educational experience for college age people.

What’s next?

I have a showcase of short plays coming up here in the city later this year.  

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

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







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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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 .


  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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


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. 


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