Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spending An Evening With The Queen

The Queen of England has moved from the West End to Broadway in Peter Morgan's play The Audience. Morgan who penned the film The Queen (which also starred Helen Mirren) gives us snapshots into weekly private meetings with Queen Elizabeth II and the Prime Ministers. During her 60 year reign, there have been 12 Prime Ministers and we become privy to conversations that show a side to the Queen we may not know and how her relationships were different with each new leader. Of course, no one knows what these conversations actually were except those people in the room, but it makes for a very entertaining night of theater.

Everyone in this show is wonderfully cast. From each actor playing Churchill, Thatcher and Blair (to name a few) to the young girl playing a younger version of the Queen that often talks to the older version of herself.


But it is the Queen, Helen Mirren, that makes this theatrical experience something not to miss. She is utterly amazing as she ages right in front of our eyes in a non-linear fashion. Often doing complete costume/wig changes in 5 seconds right on stage. Her entire persona changes from the early days of her coronation of an unsure young woman to the rigid royalty that we see on television now. 

Yet Mirren gives this queen heart, humor and humanity…and you can't help but fall for her. Of course she is no stranger to the role and won an Academy Award for the film, but that just means she wears this role like a well tailored dress. 


Speaking of…the costumes & design by Bob Crowley are stunning. As are the other elements from hair & makeup to the music composed for the play. Director Stephen Daldry has taken all of these elements and created an evening fit for…a queen - that gives the audience a bit of a history lesson along the way.

The Audience runs at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater through June 28th. theaudiencebroadway.com

Monday, March 30, 2015

Independent Ed

I recently finished reading Independent Ed by Edward Burns. I have always loved how it appeared to us mere mortals that he could slip back and forth between indie and blockbuster films so seamlessly. Now he has shared a book which reads much more like a memoir rather than a "follow my plan and you TOO can be an indie success"! 

I much prefer his approach.

He lets us into his world by saying "hey, this is what worked for me..." That voice of that laid-back guy we see on screen or in interviews comes through loud and clear in this book. I loved it. I felt like I was sitting having a beer with him as he shared his story with us. The man has made so many indie films and many of those have been with very little budget. And somehow, he was able to make it happen. While reading it on my kindle, there was a passage that jumped off my screen and I actually highlighted it. Something his dad said to him which really grabbed me. (Obviously I hadn't read the subtitle on the cover nor did I realize he would return to that over and over so it was meant to grab us.)

He would often reference the young filmmaker that he knew was reading the book which
made me realize something. I missed that gene that says only young people can dream. So many believe once you hit 30, you stop. You switch gears and you give up on whatever that early dream was. I'm 45 and continue to reinvent myself again and again. I'm not afraid to dream. Well let me rephrase that - the fear may be there...but I push through it and just try. 

It was only this past year that I directed my first film and I sure hope it's not my last. I'm excited that it's already been accepted to a few film festivals and that people are responding
positively to my storytelling. But part of being on this independent track that I've been on the past several years as an author is all about putting it out there and knowing that some may like it...some may not. But even as Mr. Burns shows through his successes and failures, it's all about enjoying the ride and loving those moments of bliss that you find in the midst of the project. 

Thanks for sharing with all of us that feel indie is the way to go. Truly an inspiration, Mr. Burns.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Overwhelmed to OverJoyed

I'm one of those people who tend to get involved with too many projects. This drives my spouse crazy, it often causes my own body to revolt against me as stress works its way throughout, and it makes me question my own sanity. I can go for days feeling completely overwhelmed by too many projects in my life and then a corner can turn, that project comes to fruition and I feel overjoyed.

As my mother has always told me, I'm not happy unless I'm being creative. That creativity doesn't always need to come from my own projects - sometimes it's assisting others in any ways that I can. Call it paying-it-forward, call it trying to be helpful (or call it insane for involving oneself in so many things), but I look back at other's accomplishments and I'm excited for being a small part of it.
Visting Stephen in Key West

I've helped several authors over the years get their books published as I wanted them to experience what I have as a published author. Recently I was talking to another author and he described it perfectly - it's a lonely profession! So having someone else to talk to, bounce ideas, and navigate the terrain is a welcomed connection to break the loneliness. Excited for my friend, Stephen, this week as he experienced that and so glad that I could be involved in any way possible.

Tech Rehearsal NEXT FALL
Theater is in my blood. I've done it for as long as I can recall, but walked away from directing/producing several years ago. Now my part time job as a theater manager allows me the opportunity to see the work of many incredible organizations and just this week - bring in another that I've worked with in the past. 4th Wall Theatre is filling a spot we needed on our calendar to share a non-musical play with our Irvington, NY audiences and I was amazed after the first night of their tech rehearsal of the play NEXT FALL. I spent over 12 hours in one day with the creative team behind the show and relished in reliving that joy I had forgotten. On top of it all, the show is beautiful, moving, topical and I hope that many in Westchester County will come out to see it this weekend. (Or those in New Jersey can catch it in Bloomfield the following weekend.)

One of Many Dinners with Arthur
At times, I also act as a dramaturge or a sounding board for other playwrights/directors creating a brand new piece for the stage. Arthur Wooten is doing just that with his play DEAR HENRY that will run this spring in NYC. I've enjoyed every single email and phone discussion we've had as he works toward mounting this one man show.

These are but a few projects on my list now and as each of those get the imaginary line drawn through them on my mental 'to do' list, I may sigh a sense of relief - but there is also a true sense of joy for all of those involved. Creative people make me smile. Seeing people succeed in that creativity - that's heaven.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Author Spotlight: Stephen Kitsakos

I can still recall the release of my first novel like it was yesterday. The anticipation and excitement of it all. Now, a very good friend of mine, Stephen Kitsakos, (who has also been a writing partner on musicals in the past) gets to experience that same thing with the release of his book The Accidental Pilgrim. The book is a fascinating read that crosses multiple genres and several decades. It explores the intersection of science, religion, and the unexplainable. Summer of 1974, Dr. Rose Strongin disappears for three hours at an archaeological dig on the Western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Twelve years later, she begins to put the missing pieces together, but it is not until the family gathers to say goodbye to this strong matriarch in 2014 that the family secrets start to make themselves known.

I'm thrilled for Stephen experiencing this moment in his life! Check out our interview below, take a look at his website and if it's a book that interests you, help him climb the Amazon charts!

Greg: Happy Official Book Launch Day, Stephen! You know that I love when people reinvent themselves and try something new. What made you decide to write a novel at this point in your life?

Stephen: Thank you! Up until now almost all of my writing has referenced the dramatic arts: in music theatre as a lyricist and composer, or in opera as a librettist. My work in academia as a theatre professor also led me into theatre journalism and scholarly writing which included authoring textbook chapters or contributing to articles on theatre pedagogy.  So I didn’t actually sit down to write a piece of fiction. In fact I had always been (and am still) uncomfortable with the solitude of the novelist compared to the collaborative nature of writing for the performing arts.

I had worked an idea for a dramatic piece - unsure of whether it was the outline for another opera libretto, a music theatre piece or, perhaps, a liturgical cantata. But as I began to develop it, I realized that I wanted to tell a narrative story for a reader, one that did not need to be performed. That's when the novel itself began to take shape.

Greg: All of that blows my mind, but I've always counted you as one of my smartest friends. :) Let's share a little of your varied background from Corporate America to Professor. Share some of that journey.

Stephen: Well now that I am firmly in my middle age I can look back and see that every
experience I have had, both vocationally and inspirationally, has brought me where I am now. Since I was a youth, I had always discerned a vocation in the arts, but was unsure where the calling would actually be. Turns out it's called from a lot of places. Because I have been a writer in one form or another for as long as I can remember it seemed easy for me to look to the business world, early on in my work life, and write corporate materials, manuals, training guides, etc. in order to be able to support myself.

But concurrently I fed my artistic self by writing for the theatre and working in the theatre as a director, music director, and conductor. At the same time, in New York City, I also made some strong connections within the Episcopal Diocese of New York which led me into a ministry in the Hudson Valley of New York that enveloped both the performing and liturgical arts. Eventually I combined my experience over many years as a theatre writer, generalist and administrator and accepted a position on the Theatre Arts Faculty of the School of Fine & Performing Arts at SUNY New Paltz. I spent fourteen years there as "Prof. Kitsakos" - teaching, mentoring, creating and, in my final two years there, serving as Assistant Chair of the Department. My time in academia nurtured my writing and, I believe, my writing informed my vocation as a teacher. 

Greg: I can't believe that was 14 years at SUNY - but I've known you for over 20, so it makes sense. So what type of reader do you think would be drawn to your book?

Stephen: The book is definitely popular fiction. I make no bones about it. It's a story about a family who had come together to say goodbye to their mother - an enigmatic woman, a scientist steeped in contemporary rationality who undergoes an irrational experience. I've meant the book to be multi-generational literary fiction or at least women's fiction. But since it deals with archaeology, specifically biblical archaeology, I believe it would also appeal to readers who like a good mystery.  Though my story is fictional, some of the events, including the discovery of the so-called "Jesus Boat" in Israel in 1986, and the midair collision of two airplanes over New York City in the early 1960s are real events. I've always appreciated writers like Ruth Rendell who can draw you into a comfortable place and then turn you upside down in the last thirty pages.

Greg: I've said before how smart you are which you definitely display in this book - yet you never made me feel stupid as a reader. :) What is it about those subject that pulled you in?

Stephen: The book is heavily researched. Trust me, I'm not all that smart. The accessibility of the internet has made that logistically so much more convenient. I did also use library sources, looking at photographs and illustrations, and I had profitable conversations with a few scientists and clergy. 

I set the book in two locations I have never traveled to: the Galilee in Israel and the Atlantic Maritimes of Canada. Because the landscape of these places is integral to the plot, I wanted to write with a sense of authenticity. Perhaps because I was absorbing as I was learning I approached the writing by not taking for granted that readers would comprehend certain scientific terminology, semantics or ideas.

Greg: I'm very jealous that you can spend your summers in New York and your winters in Florida (yes, I'm spilling the beans on this blog) - so share a little more about yourself outside of escaping to warm weather.

Stephen: I feel both privileged and grateful to be able to split my time in two locations - especially avoiding the northeast in the deep winter. But this is only a recent transition and based on years of hard work and juggling. Key West is a tropical paradise in many ways and definitely attracts a larger than average population of people in the fine, performing and literary arts. I really enjoy the ability to leave home and travel mot places on a bicycle to parks, beaches, restaurants, and events. Thankfully the island is mostly flat! It's easy to be busy here, but it is also equally easy to be alone. However, when I return to New York City it's a bit like drinking a tall, cold glass of water after a long, hard thirst.

Greg: What's a guilty pleasure that you have?

Stephen: Binge-watching TV shows that are streaming over a multitude of platforms. I recently did that with the show Transparent. I was hooked in an instant.

Greg: If you could sit with any author (living or dead) and talk about writing - who would that be?

Stephen: Probably Graham Greene. His novel, The End of the Affair, was groundbreaking for me. It is said that he saw human existence not as 'black and white" but as "black and grey." Though his reputation is as a suspense writer, especially political suspense, his books are imbued with a sensibility that has always appealed to me.

Greg: What emotion or feeling do you hope readers have when they read your book?

Stephen: I'd be happy if after they finished reading the book they continued to think about it!

Greg: Thanks for joining my blog. AND - he just recently joined social media, so show him some love and follow him on twitter. He's still learning! 

Friday, February 20, 2015

How To Pick The Best

It's awards season for Hollywood and people are placing bets and clambering to get behind their favorite movie, actor, writer - the list goes on.

It's a given that most of us love to win at whatever we are doing, but it's so difficult to compare apples and oranges in some of these races. Many years we see what appears as a clear cut winner and other years it narrows down to just a few (those who have producers with deep pockets to consider their work). But is there really a BEST or is simply a personal preference? What I love, you may hate (and vice versa).  

I don't usually blog or review things that I don't like, so I'll try to make a positive spin on this blog. But wow - I'm not impressed with the movies we get to choose from this year. Yes, there are some amazing acting moments in each of them (Eddie Redmayne, Patricia Arquette,Edward Norton), but it seems we are honoring films that have an interesting plot device,  unique storytelling, or something else that makes them 'different'. Is different always best? I love to be moved when seeing a film, but not made to feel as if I've been on a ride and want to throw-up once the cinematographer has finished taking us on a trip. I've seen five of the nominated Best Pictures and I honestly can't say this season that any one of those jumps out to me and screams Best Picture.  


Star power is another thing that Hollywood loves! Who am I kidding - everyone loves it. So when someone comes along who isn't the <insert biggest name here> of the moment and gives a brilliant performance, their chances may not be so good of winning. Be happy you got nominated because you're not going to make it to the stage. Sad to say, but often true. Hollywood likes to celebrate their own.

Speaking of Hollywood stars…they have popped up so much on Broadway this year. I always want to cheer those that can rise above the hype and the fame and give amazing performances (Jake Gyllenhaal, Bradley Cooper) while others can't seem to save the river they are floating in from swallowing them whole (Love you Mr. Jackman, but I couldn't stomach "The River"). 

But I digress, this is about giving out an award for the best in each field. People will receive Spirit Awards on Saturday night for Indie Films and Oscars on Sunday.  Lives will change as their bankability will go up. Huge amounts of money will be made by studios and yes, I'll be tuned in to watch. I think I prefer those years when I've felt there was a movie I was pulling for to end up on stage.  

If by some grand chance my boyhood dreams place this American in the middle of that game one day…I'll be the no-name-person with whiplash from the experience repeating that old theory: it's great to just be nominated. (Sorry Birdman & Selma - I couldn't fit you in that sentence.)

 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Say Hello To My Little Friend

This week a blogger friend of mine came out of the closet on a subject and I thought it was time I did the same. Those close to me already know this secret, but the rest of the world doesn't.

I have a cat.


Not a real cat - that would take too much effort. My Kitty is a stuffed cat celebrating an 8th birthday this week. What started as a Valentine gift for my spouse has turned into a "Where in the World is Kitty" - a traveling gnome that goes on all vacations with us, often angering friends that think Kitty is treated too highly. My friends vacillate between jealousy over Kitty's travels to sometimes asking why the thing hasn't popped up in one of my vacation photos. When at home, Kitty will get in all sorts of mischief and naturally like a good parent…I grab my camera.
A few years ago, the store where I bought Kitty was going out of a business so I bought a backup cat in case we ever lost the original. (Needless to say, my hubby was pissed and banished the Clone Cat to a different room in the house.)

So that's my big secret. Happy birthday to my little friend. And now you all can enjoy some of the travels of Kitty. 




Maybe someday, Kitty will get a children's book created like Chicken Boy.









Thursday, February 5, 2015

This Application Packs A Punch


If you do not know Christina Bianco, go to youtube right now and see the wonder that is this woman. Known for an incredible singing voice and an uncanny ability to impersonate divas (both Broadway and pop), she has created quite a following on social media with millions of hits to her numerous videos. The musical theater performer is stepping out of that comfort zone of using her singing voice in her latest off-Broadway endeavor, but boy - her brilliance still shines through in the new play running at the Westside Theatre.


The play Application Pending was written by two friends Andy Sandberg and Greg Edwards who have tackled the dilemma of parents attempting to get their children into a prestigious school - all at the age of 5. It is a herculean task for many with an application process that can match that of a college. 


In their one act play, a young woman, Christine, has taken on the job in the application office of answering the phone and fielding all the calls that come into the Edgely Preparatory Academy in Manhattan; nervous parents anxiously waiting to know if their child has been accepted. But Christine also has to juggle teachers calling her, the principal of the school, her own child and his school, an ex husband, outside vendors, people searching for her predecessor, and a major event she has to plan for that evening - all within a days work. It becomes clear quickly in this one woman show that the power of this play is in the actress playing Christine. And what a find they have with Ms. Bianco.


Walking around the set of an office with a headset on, she transforms into every single call that comes in. 40+ characters that she switches back and forth (and returns to them several times throughout the evening). Each character is well conceived, thought-out and created to showcase the multi-talented Bianco. Sweet, sassy, loving, charming, abrasive, male/female - she has it all. She makes it all look so easy when there is absolutely nothing easy about what she is doing. Amazing yes...can anyone do it? Not a chance. The evening harkens back to the era when Lily Tomlin or Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney would do their multi-character shows. Put Christina Bianco right in that same ballroom to dance with those fine character-building impressionists. She is just THAT good.

The wonderful thing about Application Pending is how the writers have created this hectic life for their lead and still manage to tell a story, resolve conflict, and entertain us all under 90 minutes. Even if you are not a parent dealing with private schools, you will find yourself laughing out loud and being completely exhausted for the tirelessly working Christina Bianco. Huge kudos to the producers and creative team for offering such a unique evening of theater. 

Bravo, to you, Ms. Bianco, and all of those people living inside of your head. Each of you need to take a bow and people need to get to 43rd street to see each of them come alive!