Interact takes The Drake

On this podcast, we catch up with InterAct Theatre Company artistic director Seth Rozin to talk about his first year at the Drake. While his company has only been performing there for the past a year, the conversations about moving there began in 2013. On the edge of completing a $2.97 million campaign, InterAct aims to create an inclusive space where all are welcome, including resident partners PlayPenn, Simpatico Theatre Project, Azuka Theatre, and Inis Nua Theatre.

Seth Rozin and the Drake, a perfect pairing. (Photo courtesy of InterAct Theatre Company)

Expanding vision

Rozin founded InterAct in 1988, and this year marks his 27th season at its helm. The company, always committed to exploring social, political and cultural issues as well as championing new work, left its Adrienne Theater residency last year to build on its vision in a new setting. Rozin hopes the Drake will become a social and artistic hub for the region’s burgeoning “new play” community. The space includes a 120-seat proscenium theatre, a 75-seat black box, and two lobbies. Here, he discusses the reasons behind his company’s move, his plans for the future, and much more.

PlayPenn gets to play on Broadway

On this podcast, PlayPenn artistic director Paul Meshejian discusses the PlayPenn Annual Conference. I spoke with Meshejian in 2013 about the conference; since then, many plays that have been workshopped there have helped shaped the national conversation around contemporary theater. These new plays transfer from the conference to regional stages, and J.T. Rogers’s drama Oslo, about the negotiations surrounding the Oslo Accords, opens on Broadway April 13, 2017, featuring New Paradise Laboratories founding member and longtime Philly actor Jeb Kreager.

PlayPenn artistic director Paul Meshejian. (Photo via PlayPenn.org)

The highlight reel

PlayPenn describes itself as “an artist-driven organization dedicated to improving the way in which new plays are developed. Employing an ever-evolving process, PlayPenn creates a relaxed tension within which playwrights can engage in risk-taking, boundary-pushing work free from the pressures of commercial consideration.”

Some of the conference’s esteemed graduates and awards include:

  • MacArthur Fellowship: Samuel D. Hunter (PlayPenn 2010)
  • Whiting Award: James Ijames (PlayPenn 2013, 2015)
  • Guggenheim Fellowship: Gabriel Jason Dean (PlayPenn 2013), Jordan Harrison (PlayPenn 2005), J.T. Rogers (PlayPenn 2005, 2009, 2015)
  • Lilly Award for Playwriting: Lucy Thurber (PlayPenn 2005)
  • Pew Fellowship: James Ijames (PlayPenn 2013, 2015)
  • Sky Cooper Prize for American Playwriting: Samuel D. Hunter (PlayPenn 2010), Martin Zimmerman (PlayPenn 2012)
  • American Theatre Critics Association’s Osborn Award: Jonathan James Norton (PlayPenn 2012)
  • Susan Smith Blackburn Prize: Sheila Callaghan (PlayPenn 2005)
  • Terrence McNally New Play Award: James Ijames (White, 2015)
  • Barrymore Award for Best New Play: R. Eric Thomas (Time Is on Our Side, PlayPenn 2015), Michael Hollinger (Ghost-Writer, PlayPenn 2009), Jacqueline Goldfinger (Slip/Shot, PlayPenn 2011)
  • Top 10 Plays, New York Times: J.T. Rogers (Oslo, PlayPenn 2015; Blood and Gifts, PlayPenn 2009)
  • Top 10 Plays, Time Magazine: J.T. Rogers (The Overwhelming, PlayPenn 2005)

No business like show business

On this podcast, we meet Mindy Dougherty, co-founder with Dan Dunn of Midtown Village’s musical-theater training program Music Theatre Philly. Both Dougherty and Dunn have Broadway bona fides, and they have worked on some of the region’s best-known stages. The company offers a unique blend of classes for both children and adults with “quadruple threat” aspirations: acting, voice, (several types of) dance, and music (guitar and piano).

A couple of young Music Theatre Philly students get into character. (Photo courtesy of Music Theatre Philly)

Mind the gap

About 20 years ago, Dougherty noticed a gap between what she learned in Philadelphia’s performance-training programs and the skills she saw in students coming out of a comprehensive independent program in Pittsburgh. She worked and attended graduate school in New York, but when she returned home to Philadlephia, she realized nobody in this city had stepped in during the intervening years to fill that gap. That’s where Music Theatre Philly comes in, and Dougherty hopes it will help create this city’s next generation of great stage talent.

Architecture is everywhere

On today’s podcast, we interview Thomas Choinacky to talk about his new work, A User’s Manual. Choinacky is the founder, producer, and co-curator of SoLow Fest, an 11-day festival of solo experimental performance in Philadelphia. He is also a company member of Applied Mechanics, a devised, collaborative theater ensemble. At the time of the interview, Choinacky was on location at Washington College in Maryland with Applied Mechanics for a residency of their FringeArts production, FEED.

Thomas Choinacky spaces out. (Photo by Jen Cleary)

Step into my parlor

A User’s Manual is a solo performance designed to respond to the body’s constant manipulation by the architecture that surrounds us. Drawing attention to structures, sounds, textures, and history, each site-specific performance catalogues the memory of its place. In Choinacky’s own words, he attempts to make “visible how humans are constantly affected by the surroundings we pass through and by the architecture we build.”  This interview goes deep into Choinacky’s philosophy of creating a performance and considers the spaces we occupy.

Rebel/Rebel

InterAct Theatre Company’s world premiere of Mary Tuomanen’s MARCUS/EMMAbrings together Jewish immigrant and anarchist Emma Goldman and Jamaican immigrant and pan-African movement leader Marcus Garvey. Both were turn-of-the-20th-century activists deported from the United States, and in Tuomanen’s drama, they meet in a sort of purgatory for a no-holds-barred, sex-fueled, bloody-minded battle to rekindle the smoldering flames of their legacies.

Stevens and Davis as Goldman and Garvey. (Photo by Kathryn Raines/Plate 3)

In this REP Radio interview, Akeem Davis, who plays Garvey, and Susan Riley Stevens, who plays Goldman, discuss what their characters’ lives and actions mean today and how much more relevant they’ve become since the presidential election. You might even say the world has turned into the show’s director’s notes! The play is also intensely physical, and the actors discuss how they prepared for their roles, the many contrasts between their characters, and the way those contrasts are highlighted by InterAct’s design team.

Stevens has been acting professionally in Philadelphia since 2001, won a 2007 Barrymore Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance in Act II Playhouse’s production of Bad Dates. She also happens to be married to another Philly favorite, actor Greg Wood. Davis arrived in Philadelphia in 2011, has appeared on area stages almost constantly since then, and in 2015 won the F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Artist.

Act up, write back

On today’s podcast, we met with Stephanie Feldman, Philadelphia writer and coordinator of the Philadelphia chapter of Writers Resist. This movement is designed to engage a community of authors, poets, filmmakers and the like to use their talents and shine a light on the fundamentals of democracy. Writers Resist will host a rally this weekend at the National Museum of American Jewish History with a plethora of local writers slated to speak.

Stephanie Feldman, ready to resist. (Photo by Sarah Miller Photography)

The Writers Resist movement rapidly coalesced after poet Erin Belieu posted on Facebook, “We will not give in to despair. We will come together and actively help make the world we want to live in. We are bowed, but we are not broken.”

Belieu’s call for writers to organize local events in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day has already resulted in more than 50 events throughout the United States and around the world, including a flagship New York City event co-sponsored by PEN America, and additional events in Boston, Los Angeles, Oakland, Austin, Portland, Omaha, Seattle, London, Zürich, and Hong Kong.

Stephanie Feldman is one of the Philadelphia rally’s organizers, with Alicia Askenase and Nathaniel Popkin. She is also a novelist, and a professor of fiction writing at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania.

‘LIZZIE’ takes an axe to Borden’s legend

For today’s podcast, I made my way to South Philly to hang out with 11th Hour Theatre Company. We talked about the upcoming production of LIZZIE, with music by Steven Cheslik-Demeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt, lyrics by Steven Cheslik-Demeyer and Tim Maner, and book by Tim Maner. The show’s director, Kate Galvin, and its Lizzie, Alex Keiper, take us back to 11th Hour’s Next Steps Concert Series, when they first presented the musical, and we return to the present as they prepare to present the full production with some uniquely 11th Hour touches.

From l. to r., the cast of Lizzie: Rachel Brennan, Cara Noel Antosca, Alex Keiper, and Meredith Beck. (Photo by Daniel Kontz)

Perhaps you recall the dark rhyme, “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks/When she saw what she had done she gave her father 41.” LIZZIE takes a new look at the multiple controversies surrounding the 1892 murder of Borden’s stepmother and father. We also talk about the company’s trip to Borden’s home in Fall River, Massachusetts, the power (or lack of power) of women past and present, an artistic focus for 2017, and what 11th Hour is looking forward to in the new year.

Stay tuned.

A theater company grows in Elkins Park

On this podcast, we interview White Pines Productions artistic director Benjamin Lloyd. Lloyd, a B.A. and M.F.A. Yale drama grad, has been a fixture as a Philadelphia actor for decades. He founded White Pines in 2009. The company operated out of the Elkins Park Gilded Age mansion Elkins Estate until 2012.

Benjamin Lloyd participates in White Pines’s long-form improv dinner theater. (Photo via whitepinesproductions.org)

Since then, the company has moved to a storefront in Elkins Park’s bustling business district, where they offer classes to adults, children, and people with special needs; produce original work; host a long- and short-form improv-based dinner theater with a three-course meal; host the Bright Invention improv ensemble; and offer off-site training programs. Here, Lloyd discusses his new model for arts organizations, the role companies like his serve in their neighborhoods, and the guiding philosophy behind White Pines’s “community-based performing arts studio.”

Walken onstage together

On this podcast, we are joined by Two Walkens: Susanne Collins and Kevin Meehan. We talk about the origins of the devised theater performance duo’s mashup, explore some iconic standouts from Christopher Walken’s expansive body of work, and we even get a sample of the show.

Collins and Meehan just walken around. (Photo by Peter Michael Radocaj)

Two Walkens, a world premiere, takes a few of Walken’s best-known big- and small-screen appearances, and combines them with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic children’s book The Little Prince to see if this town really is big enough for the both of them. The show asks the timely question “How do we cope when the world outside gets to be too tough to handle?” Pick your weapon of choice.

Collins and Meehan are Philly theater veterans, but this is their first creation together.

Catching up with Steve Pacek

On this podcast, I chat with Steve Pacek, featured in Theatre Horizon’s production of William Finn and James Lapine’s musical A New Brain. It’s been four years since Pacek won the 2012 F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Philadelphia Theater Artist and the same amount of time has passed since he last chatted with us. Let’s play catch up!

Steve Pacek sings for his life in Theatre Horizon’s ‘A New Brain.’ (Photo by Matthew J Photography)

About A New Brain

Tony Award-winners Finn (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) and Lapine (Into the Woods) based this musical comedy on Finn’s life threatening battle with a deadly diagnosis of arteriovenous malformation. The show, similarly, explores one man’s quest for a second chance at life. After a children’s television songwriter receives a life-changing diagnosis, he struggles to come to terms with his creative ambitions and family relationships. In an unforgettable performance, Pacek leads a cast of Philadelphia’s top vocalists through this gorgeous musical about how we spend the time we are given.