John Grissmer: Renaissance Man
John Grissmer Interview by Jen Bush
John Grissmer may not think of himself as an artist, but his body of work speaks otherwise. He’s as steeped in the arts as a person can be. He’s a novelist. In his book The Ghosts of Antietam, he reimagines an event in political history. He’s so musically inclined (thanks in part to Steven Sondheim) that he’s written several musicals, one about the invention of basketball. He’s a filmmaker having written, produced and directed multiple films of the horror kind. Let’s add respected theatre professor at major universities to his list of artistic endeavors. He speaks the language of music fluently and he can explain to you how notes speak to each other. It was a pleasure to get to know the man and his work better.
“I don’t think of myself as an artist. What would be the point? I ‘m a guy who loves to play with words in the service of telling a story. The story may be from my imagination, or from documentary history. The most fun I have is in playing around with the conjunction of words and music. I like to start with lyrics that express the content, and let them lead me into a melody idea, and that melody leads me into a blend of chords. I love all the tried and true standard chords, majors and minors. How B flat speaks to F Major. Richard Rogers talks about the pull that B has on C. I understand that.”
Mr. Grissmer’s work has elements of fantasy but it’s all very diverse and stems from real things. “Fantasy? I’m not even sure what that is. Certainly, it’s not on my target list. Basketball is real. So is the Civil War, and so are Irish Plays.”
Mr. Grissmer’s creative process is really an intense thought process. “Creative process? For all forms? That’s easy. I think the hell outta anything I do. Finally I reach a point where there’s nothing left but to start to laying it down on paper, or on a screen, like this.”
With all his given talents, writing music is what Mr. Grissmer likes to do best. “Favorite medium? Song writing. I could spend all day at the keyboard if I let myself. Love the interplay between words and notes”.
Mr. Grissmer has some heroes that we might not have heard of, but he has also been inspired by some of the greatest musical geniuses ever known. He once was given some words of wisdom by a pretty iconic Broadway composer and lyricist. “Heroes: Oscar Hammerstein, Richard Rogers, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, and hundreds more unknown. Once I had a pep talk from Stephen Sondheim. It was at the old bar in Lincoln Center. He sat down next to me and started working on a cross word. “Mr. Sondheim, I really liked your presentation at the Dramatist Guild Gala.” “Oh, well thank you for your support.” “I’m a member.” ” Are you a playwright?” “I am, but what I’m focused on now is music. I’m learning all I can about music.” “That’s great! It’s never too late to learn music. Actually, it’s easier to learn music than to learn French. “So now I brag that Stephen Sondheim encouraged my study of music.”
There have been numerous changes in the theatre and film industry over the years. Mr. Grissmer weighs in on the positives and the negatives. “Everything in the traditional modes is crazy expensive now. But there are cheaper short cuts. Such as streaming, and digital cameras that don’t require much light or film.”
Mr. Grissmer has more interesting projects in the works. One of them sounds like a hell of a lot of fun! “Just finished a re-write of a novel, HORROR MOVIE, based of course on my experience directing BLOOD RAGE. Then there’s another musical play coming up. HAIL MARY. It takes place in Judeo-Christian Heaven. The Leading Lady is The Holy Spirit. She has some trouble when she closes down Hell. It’s a comedy.”
Our greatest president — his greatest love
Abraham Lincoln – our greatest president — his greatest love
Terence L. Cranert’s stirring new musical,
THE LINCOLNS OF SPRINGFIELD
A musical for the entire family
Premiering in Springfield, Illinois, with sights set on New York.
Performances begin June 15
Hoogland Center for the Arts – Peggy Ryder Theater 420 South Sixth Street, Springfield, Illinois
Historically significant as the State Capitol AND the place Abraham Lincoln called home from 1837-1861- when he began his tenure in The White House as one of the most lauded presidents in history-will serve as host for a joyous and riveting new musical love story.
The Lincolns of Springfield tells the love story you won’t find in the history books. The audience is led down a delightfully romantic path leading to the marriage of the most unlikely of couples, Mary Todd and Abe Lincoln, a Southern Belle and a backwoods genius. The Lincolns of Springfield chronicles the incredible story of one of America’s greatest President and his much-loved wife, from their first meeting through the end of the Civil War.
They were America’s first power couple! Like of mind and heart, Mary Todd assisted her father’s house slaves with the Underground Railroad and President Lincoln wielded his governmental authority to abolish slavery once and for all.
The Lincolns of Springfield had its successful world premiere at the Center Stage Theatre in Santa Barbara in October 2022. Critics said hail to the chief with comments like: “A unique and amazing production, one of the boldest portrayals of Lincoln and his legacy.” (Michael Kenney, Nashville Universe) and “Spectacular, uplifting music in the grand style of a Rodgers & Hammerstein or Lerner & Lowe.” (Chris Daniels, The Show Report)
From the moment the curtain rises, audiences are drawn into two very different worlds… Mary’s tumultuous world of the antebellum South—with gentility and honor juxtaposed against the backdrop of the scourge of slavery—and Abe’s vibrant, fearless world of possibilities that is America’s new frontier.
Currently scheduled to perform throughout June, July and August at the Peggy Ryder Theater of the Hoogland Center for the Arts, the producers are currently in negotiation to bring the production to the New York stage.
TERENCE L. CRANERT — BOOK, MUSIC, and LYRICS
Terence worked as an actor in New York and Los Angeles and attended the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop under the tutelage of the Dean of the Broadway Musical, the late Lehman Engel. Terence was associate producer of the Broadway productions of A Night with Janis Joplin, On The Town and The 39 Steps. In addition to The Lincolns of Springfield, Terence has composed the musicals Joan of Arc, Pinocchio in Tinsel Town and When The Fat Lady Sings. He continues to perfect his craft as a member of the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop at Dreamworks under the direction of Stephen Schwartz.
REBECCA POWERS CRANERT — PRODUCER
Rebecca Powers Cranert brings a multifaceted background to our production team, having served in leadership positions in The Arts, Education and Business. Rebecca served as Director of Theater Programs for the Los Angeles County Arts Counsel supervising all professional theaters throughout Los Angeles County, including those at the Los Angeles Music Center. She also produced and directed professional theatrical productions throughout California. As a professional singer, Rebecca headlined at major venues throughout the West Coast with her ten-piece, Grammy-winning show band.
JONATHAN HOGUE — EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Jonathan Hogue is a NYC-based playwright, director, performer, and producer, and has collaborated on a number of festival productions, developmental labs, and industry readings. His musical “Stranger Sings!: The Parody Musical”, for which he wrote book and score, played two sold-out concerts at 54 Below in 2019 and is now in development for an off-Broadway run in the 2021-2022 season. He is also producing a virtual production of his play “The Nations”, loosely based on his experiences serving as a short-term missionary/aid worker in 12 countries around the world, to air in late March 2021. Other written projects include “The Resurrection of Walt Disney’s Frozen Head from its Cryogenic Slumber in the Year 2066”, “The Substance of Matter”, and “Til Morning”. He is also developing the new children’s musical “Lykz”, as well as a musical audio drama about the life of William Penn alongside Broadway’s Christopher Smith. Jonathan is most interested in telling stories that tackle complex contemporary issues, unpack cultural idiosyncrasies (especially with satire), and provoke dialogue among people of all backgrounds. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild.
KEN DAVENPORT — EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Ken Davenport is a Tony Award-winning Broadway producer whose credits include A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical, Once On This Island (Tony Award), Gettin’ the Band Back Together, The Play that Goes Wrong, Groundhog Day (Tony nomination), Deaf West Theatre’s Spring Awakening (Tony nomination), It’s Only a Play, Macbeth starring Alan Cumming, Godspell, Kinky Boots (Broadway – Tony Award, National Tour, Toronto, Australia, and West End), The Visit (Tony nomination), Mothers and Sons (Tony nomination), The Bridges of Madison County (National Tour), Allegiance, Chinglish, Oleanna starring Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles, Speed-the-Plow, Will Ferrell’s You’re Welcome America (Tony nomination), Blithe Spirit starring Angela Lansbury (Broadway, West End and National Tour), and 13.
Ken’s productions have been produced internationally in over 25 countries around the world. In his mission to continually educate, entertain, and inspire the world through theatre, In 2019, Inc. 5000 named Ken’s production company, Davenport Theatrical Enterprises, one of America’s fastest-growing private companies.
He is the founder of TheaterMakers Studio, a one-of-a-kind “masterclass” community that provides training and inspiration from Broadway’s best to writers, directors, producers and more. Ken also serves as the Executive Producer for North America for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group.
Outside of theatre, he has produced the award-winning These Magnificent Miles: On the Long Road with Red Wanting Blue, a documentary on one of the top unsigned rock bands in the country, and an award-winning TV pilot entitled The Bunny Hole which has appeared in the LA Indie Film Festival, the Orlando Film Festival, the LA Comedy Festival and more. Ken was featured on a national commercial for Apple’s iPhone, named one of Crain’s “Forty Under 40” and is one of the co-founders of TEDxBroadway. He created the best-selling Broadway board game Be A Broadway Star. His blog, The Producer’s Perspective, has been featured in Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, The Gothamist and more. He has written articles for Forbes, Mashable, and many others. Ken’s unique production and marketing style has garnered him international attention, including two front page articles in The New York Times and features on MSNBC, Rock Center, Fox News, BBC, and his favorite, a mention in Jay Leno’s monologue on The Tonight Show.
Upcoming projects include The Griswolds’ Broadway Vacation, Joy the Musical, Harmony: A New Musical written by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman, The Ten, and a musical based on the life of Harry Belafonte.
MARIA DEL BAGNO – CHOREGRAPHER
Los Angeles Jazz Dance Foundation listed Del Bagno one of LA’s top choreographers. She worked with renowned Choreographer Alan Johnson where she co-wrote and produced a retrospective of his life’s work, Alan Johnson – Let Me Entertain You! She collaborated with actress Alicia Silverstone on a new project and her choreography for other musical theatre productions include Les Miserables, Fiddler On The Roof, Legally Blonde, Grease, Peter Pan, Shrek: The Musical, Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Little Shop of Horrors.
STEVEN APPLEGATE – MUSICAL DIRECTOR
An award-winning musical director, he has worked in almost every theatre and concert hall in the LA area, as well as many prestigious concert halls throughout the United States and in Europe. He has had the honor of performing for Kings and Queens, and United States dignitaries, as well as private celebrity functions, presidential candidate fundraisers, and numerous benefits around the world. Some of his favorite memories include being the guest conductor for the Dallas Symphony and the Denver Symphony in concert with singer John Raitt. Others include working with Christina Aguilera, Sandy Duncan, Cybil Shephard, Maureen McGovern, Sally Struthers, Adrianne Barbeau, Jack Jones, Alexis Gershwin, Frank Gorshen, Lorna Luft, and Christine Ebersole.
DIANNE K. GRAEBNER — COSTUME DESIGNER
Dianne’s costume design and millinery work has been seen on Broadway, regional theatre, film and television both nationally and internationally. She is a long-time collaborator of the Circle X Theatre Co., Ensemble Theatre Company, Colony Theatre Company, and was on the design staff for Center Theatre Group for 14 years as their Milliner, Crafts supervisor, Associate and Assistant Costume designer on many critically acclaimed productions. She received her MFA in Costume and Set Design from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University and received her BA in Technical Theatre, Costume Design from California State University Long Beach. Dianne has been nominated for many of her designs over the years, most recently from the NAACP, Ovation and LA Weekly awards. She is also a member of United Scenic Artists local 829
Ricardo Melendez surrenders … to vibes and visions
Ricardo Melendez Interview by Jen Bush
The 2023 Fresh Fruit Festival has fresh picked and delicious offerings for the discerning artistic palates of enthusiastic theatergoers. Angel on Eros written by Ricardo Melendez is one of these delights. In Angel on Eros A gay Hispanic painter immortalizes a young restaurant owner, unleashing more drama than anticipated.
Ricardo Melendez is a gifted actor, dancer and playwright. He is one of the founders and artistic directors of TRDance in Norfolk, VA. TRDance is the most premier dance studio in downtown Norfolk that embraces all who wish to express themselves through dance. Mr. Melendez possessed the skills and the drive to succeed as an entertainer from a young age. New York City seemed to agree, and Mr. Melendez became a working performer in one of the greatest artistic cities in the world. Mr. Melendez kindly took the time to tell us more about his career and this exhilarating piece.
“I am lucky fool! After decades of working in the Arts, I pride myself that I get to spend my days immersed in what I love doing. Whether it’s teaching, coaching, creating, or questioning; I am able to spend my days surrounded by humanity. Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I thrived as a young actor. Fate showed me the path of dance as an art form, and I was lucky to ride that wave landing in NYC as a teenager. One job led to another, and I was fortunate to witness and train with pioneers of modern dance and performed with premiere dance companies. Wanting to further my education, I returned to NYC as an actor and rejoiced in the excitement of the city. Now, I am in an environment that allows me to create and take my humble offerings far beyond my chosen confines. As an artist, I find joy in sharing myself, my ideas and crazy idiosyncrasies. My success is measured by offerings, not accolades; and I pride in sharing my flawed character in stories that encapsulate our time, our points of view and our behavior towards one another.”
Ricardo Montalban might not have said “Welcome to Fantasy Island” to Mr. Melendez but along with other iconic luminaries in the performing arts industry, he inspired Mr. Melendez to make his fantasies come true. “I was inspired by actors like Jose Ferrer, Raul Juliá, Ricardo Montalbán; they paved the way for Hispanic actors today. Their passion and knowledge of the craft made them icons to artists like me. Feeling represented and witnessing the examples that others like me could achieve, inspired me. There have been many mentors, Brian Fonseca, David Hochoy; artists that through their example and creativity afforded me the opportunities to succeed. These individuals opened my eyes to the wonders of storytelling and the joy of sharing my talents openly and honestly.
The creative process for Mr. Melendez is amorphic and almost cosmic. He gives up control and surrenders to the imaginative vibes and visions that compel him to create. “A piece of music, a painting, a feeling, a thought. Whether it is writing, choreographing, drawing… I begin without clear destination; stream of consciousness. I try never to judge the flow; I surrender to my imagination, my intuition. At times I veer from the spark; but at times the lightning is so strong I can’t help but let it strike. Then, I step away. Next day, I read it and let it tell me where IT wants to go. The process repeats until I reach the end, the final thought. Only then do I begin the process of cleaning, sharpening, adding and subtracting. Once satisfied, I usually share it with honest friends whose suggestions are invaluable. It is at this time that the work usually shows me my present state of mind. (SCARYYY!) There have been times in which I put away the new work for a long time preventing my present mood to hurt the story. And then someone will say something, or I will hear a piece of music; some outside stimulus will bring the work back to mind; that’s the time for me to pick it back up.”
“I (secretly) collect people’s reactions to events, or circumstances and try to understand, from an empathetic point of view, the root of the behavior. I feed my characters with these reactions which eventually reveal character. I tend to their journeys as protagonists of their own life and respect the final thought without regard for decorum or morality. Then I share the work; with the understanding that I cannot control how it will be received, but yet certain that the work is honest, therefore beautiful; at least to me.”
In a post pandemic world, performing artists are thriving again as people are learning to interact on a personal level again. Fortunately for Mr. Melendez, he found some positives during the lockdown time. “We are working again! I am an introvert, so for me, quarantine was a time to reflect, to enjoy solitary and family walks, to try to catch up with the still endless list of books I want to read. Masks heightened physical traits, but diminished language. People feared each other, their neighbors, and family members. The intimacy of touch was repressed. How has the world changed? We are relearning to share, to listen; to show up. How has it changed for the gay community? Less Jerk Mate and more Grinder?????”
Mr. Melendez is hoping that the audience has a positive reaction to the show sparking thoughtful conversations and an ongoing appreciation and support of the gay arts. “First and foremost, I hope the audience enjoy themselves. I hope they see themselves represented in the story. I wish for the audience to laugh with these characters and listen to their story. I hope for the audience to go home and have an honest talk with their friends and loved ones and perhaps share their views on thoughts or ideas that the play might have sparked. I hope for the audience to smile as they thank the performers for their generous effort. I wish for the audience to continue their support for gay arts and artists because representation is imperative to the wellbeing of our community.”
Angel on Eros is a fascinating depiction of a rare piece of the LGBTQ landscape. This play took a journey from an idea to conversations to production. “There comes a moment in every artist’s journey in which we ask ourselves how did we get here? How many compromises have we made in the pursuit of our passion? How much have we deafened our voices in order to keep working? This play finds the protagonist in that space. Sometime ago, I shared ideas with a friend ( a straight married friend) whose circumstances, though very different, seemed as constricting. While sitting with friends, in alcohol enhanced conversations, talking about what they gave, what they got, what they gain from various relationships, I was fascinated by the sense of transaction in their personal interactions. I set out to write a play that explores the mindset that chants: “We all pay to play and play to win”. Perhaps a very somber look at human interactions which, voided of romantic ideals, sums up our “encounters” into a transaction of give and get.
As I shared the early drafts with friends, both gay and straight, the opinions and desired outcomes for the characters were truly polarized. I knew then I had found a story that challenges our ideas of interpersonal play. Further drafts attempted to crystalize the conflicts and create an arc for each character based on the ideas of wins and losses. Beyond moral standards, the play speaks about our need to succeed regardless of who becomes the obstacle, the collateral victim. The play also explores the self-discoveries we make along the journey.”
“Angel on Eros is a LGBTQ+ story because the playwright is part of that community, but I believe it transcends labels because it speaks about the strife of our flawed humanity regardless of our sexual orientation.”
Irish eyes will be smiling upon Angel on Eros because the next stop is Dublin. For Mr. Melendez there are more festivals, more projects, more dancing, more teaching, and full-on embracing f of the artistic life that fuels his passion for living. “Fortunately, after the Fresh Fruit Festival, we travel to Ireland to performed at the International Dublin Gay Theater Festival. After that, a well-earned time in my little Island of Puerto Rico. Then back on the road to various Fringe and Gay Theater Festivals. A few more projects in the burner, a script waiting to be revisited, students, classes, lectures… the Life!”
Angel on Eros
Part of the 2023 Fresh Fruit Festival
April 28 @ 6:30 p.m., April 29 @ 3:30 p.m., April 30 @ 7:30 p.m.
The Wild Project, 195 E 3rd St, New York City
The Doctor is in … North America
DOCTOR WHO AM I
Winner, Best Documentary Film, Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival.
North American distribution begins March 28th, 2023 Opening the year-long 60th anniversary of Britain’s famed sci-fi series, Doctor Who – proclaimed the longest running science fiction series in the world – DOCTOR WHO AM I had its East Coast Premiere at the 48th Annual Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival in February, garnering the coveted Best Documentary Film award.
Documentary filmmaker, Vanessa Yuille tells the story of her friend (and co-director), Matthew Jacobs, who joined the Who pantheon when he penned the – at that time – controversial 1996 TV movie introducing the “Eighth Doctor.” Jacobs – after battling fans who rejected some of his plot and enhancements to the characters and the lore – is reluctantly pulled back into fandom and the franchise due to the 50th Anniversary and the new twists that have appeared during the tenure of Jodie Whitaker – the first female Doctor Who.
The journey not only becomes hilarious and emotionally perilous for the duo but also reveals a touching and quirky face-off between the American Doctor Who fans and Matthew himself. As they explore the fandom, Matthew unexpectedly finds himself a kindred part of this close-knit, yet vast, family of fans. With appearances by actors Paul McGann, Daphne Ashbrook and Eric Roberts, the documentary deals with the desire to belong to a community, and how people can become nourished and enriched by the experience.
The allure of the character is rooted not only in the vast visionary lore, but in the fact that he does not die – he regenerates. To date – on television, there have been 13 “Doctors” including guest showings by John Hurt as the “War Doctor” and two feature films featuring Peter Cushing as the time traveling Doctor.
Making her feature film debut, Vanessa Yuille (Director/Producer/Editor), also won accolades for the documentary, An American Contradiction, as well as gaining notoriety as an editor on projects for Nike, Michelob, and Volkswagen to name a few. Ms. Yuille edited Dua Lipa’s music video for “Lost in your Light” featuring Miguel. DOCTOR WHO AM I marks Ms. Yuille’s feature debut as director and editor.
British writer, director, producer and actor, Matthew Jacobs (Director/Producer) won extensive praise throughout his writing career for projects including The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and Doctor Who among others. He also directed two prize-winning TV movies for BBC films, Hallelujah Anyhow and Mothertime. As an actor, he starred alongside Danny Huston in Boxing Day. As screenwriter, his film credits include Lassie, The Emperor’s New Groove and the cult classic Paperhouse.
DOCTOR WHO AM I has been the darling of film festivals all over the globe after a brilliant UK release in October of 2022 through Kaleidoscope! It was an Official Selection at the Newport Beach Film Festival, the Portland Film Festival, the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival and the Omaha Film Festival. DWAI was the Audience Award Winner at the London International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Film and won the coveted Best Documentary Film Award at the Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, the longest running genre film festival in the U.S.A.
Praise for Doctor WHO AM I from Chris Chibnall, Doctor Who Showrunner:
“Affecting and affectionate, DOCTOR WHO AM I – beautifully directed and edited by Vanessa Yuille and Matthew Jacobs – is a compelling and surprising documentary like no other. It’s a rich and beguiling piece of filmmaking: a revelatory personal odyssey into the heart of fandoms, family and Doctor Who that will bring a smile to your face and a tear to your eye. I loved it. Packed full of wonderful cameos and contributions from beloved Doctor Who faces, this film explores what it means to put creative work into the world, and how the passage of time affects the work, the creators and the fans. It’s essential viewing for anyone whose pulse quickens at the sight of a battered blue police box.”
From Vanessa Yuille:
“It’s very exciting that my first feature as a director and editor is resonating with audiences in both the UK and US. We’ve poured our souls into it and couldn’t be happier that our film will be released in the same year as the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who. It will be quite a celebration!”
“Winning Best Documentary at Boston SciFi was one of our happiest and proudest moments. We were overjoyed by the warm response and being championed by such an established and iconic festival.” photo: Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival spokesman Jay Michaels awarding Matthew Jacobs and Vanessa Yuille with the Best Documentary Award at the 48th annual fest.
“Our documentary fits into the 60-year canon as a heart-felt celebration of American fandom. We hope that the universal themes of redemption, regeneration and acceptance will touch a wide audience, including those who want a behind-the-scenes insight into what the Doctor Who 60th anniversary excitement is all about.”
From Matthew Jacobs:
“Just as Sci Fi London truly launched our documentary in the UK, Boston SciFi Film Festival has launched us into the public eye here! We’re so grateful!”
“We feel our documentary stands testament to the simple truth that the American Doctor Who fandom kept the franchise alive in the 90s and have constantly picked up the torch ever since. Without them the show would not be celebrating its 60th anniversary this year!”
North America will be joining the WHOniverse on March 28th 2023!
Lester Cook: Emerging
Lester E.D. Cook Interview
Ercole and Megara is a deeply personal true story of love and family in the face of a partner transitioning. The staged reading of this compelling piece will take place on May 11th at Playwright’s Horizon’s Downtown at 6 p.m. with catered meal being served one hour before the performance. Lester E.D. Cook is the playwright and lead actor. We had an opportunity to chat with Mr. Cook. We appreciate the time he took to share insights about his life and career with us and the candor with which he shared them.
“I’m probably the guy who is more eclectic in my approach. I will admit, I’m really drawn to the Suzuki method. Because I am mostly a physical person as my wife tells me, “You have a kinetic intelligence that is uncanny.” I’m a huge admirer and fan of the golden age of both Broadway and Hollywood; particularly of the musical aspects of that time whether music itself or the dancing aspect. I’m the guy who will say what everyone else is thinking and yet no one will say it aloud. I’m the guy who isn’t interested in stereotypes or believes in monolithic voices. I believe that everything and anything is a complex and complicated story. Because we go by what we see in our society. We all have an inherent bias and theatre is supposed to challenge that bias and the stereotypes that media generally wants to tell us about ourselves as a whole society. I want to focus on what we can’t see. Being a singer as well I’m really drawn to any kind of music. One of my biggest concerns around my transition was what would happen to my voice and my ability to sing. Thank the Goddess I can still sing, and my voice is getting back to where I want it to be. I have an amazing vocal coach in Adam Baritot, and he makes sure I understand my instrument and how it works and how to take care of it. A second voice change is common for men of transexperience. I never use the terminology that is reductionist and is biomedical and doesn’t really encapsulate the experience of transitioning. I was born deformed, and this is just me addressing what I see as an impairment. The issue becomes there is the physical transition, there is also however, emotional, mental, racial and gender norms that you must adjust to when you begin being read as the gender you knew you were always meant to be.”
Sometimes having to take required courses in college can be a drag. In Mr. Cook’s case it led to a poignant piece of theatre and a long and productive relationship with a theatre professor. “Funny you should ask how this came to be; it was a final classroom assignment, and you write it over the course and turn it in at the end of the semester. If you are theatre major at the City College of New York you are required to take Play Writing, this is how this play came into being. I had spoken with my professor who is today the dramaturg for this play, Dr. Kathleen Potts. I had many questions, about what I could and couldn’t do. “What are the rules exactly of play writing?” Kathleen taught me rules and I wrote. The only question I ever asked was, “Can I have two protagonists?” For me, knowing I wasn’t the only one in transition is why I wanted to write and give voice to one group of people who are completely ignored, silenced, and invalidated and are considered important support systems for us, yet they have no supports of their own, no services offered to them. They
are given platitudes and are told condescending cliches as if their concerns aren’t valid.”
Mr. Cook’s creative process is multi-layered and includes cerebral, physical and visceral components. “My creative process is weird as it isn’t linear. I have an idea and I will let it percolate with me for quite some time till I take pen to paper. I still do my 10 minutes a day of free writing like I was taught to do when I was becoming a field researcher. I have a moleskin and a particular type of pen I use when I write. I may use my iPhone and write some notes there and expand on those notes when I can get to paper and put it down on hard copy. My creative process involves using ½ a gummy at night. My process involves I must be physical and get alone time so I can sort things out, listen to the voices, and lessons my characters are trying to convey to me. I always ask, “What or why is this important to my character to say?” My process usually includes long bike rides. I ride about thirty miles a day and early in the morning and I must have my time near the water. There is something about the water that provides both clarity and adventure. The biking provides me the ability to sweat and that sweat provides a detoxing component I need and cleansing my soul and body needs. My process always includes research when I’m playing other characters whether Ezekiel Cheever or the Narrator and Mysterious Man. I will find those answers either on the internet or in the script itself. The Crucible gave me many answers on the internet. With Into the Woods the answers I needed were in the script to create my background story and it was in the script I discovered I was the villain. And of course my process has a ton of music in it.”
“I take the character creation part of my work very seriously and I am adamant that by day one whether memorized or not I should be ready to work when I show up at the studio. I have auditioned and impressed folks and still didn’t get the part because you need to make bold choices no matter what. I’m not ever afraid to make bold choices. Every audition is a learning experience and I see it through that lens, so I am never disappointed no matter how an audition goes.”
Mr. Cook is hoping that the audience gets the message of the piece and leaves the theatre having profound meaningful conversations about what they saw. “FIRST! THIS IS NOT A TRANS STORY!! This is a story about 2 people who choose to stay together. And I resent professionally and personally the constantly believing and the categorizing that it is. And the reason I’m so strongly committed to the narrative that it isn’t a trans story because if we change the context and talk about for example a circumcision that went wrong and that man was forced into being raised as a woman only to turn around and live as nature made him; would we still call that man, “trans”? I know that this definitely who I was born to be. Would we categorize the veteran who was hurt in the war and lost his phallus and had to have it replaced, “trans”? We know that we don’t view it through that lens and my story is no different except for its context. I want people to walk away and go to their barbershops and discuss it, go to a 12-step meeting, and discuss it. I want people to begin to have this conversation in diners and colleges and family dinner tables. There is no place I don’t want this to be a part of a larger conversation as it is part of the human experience. I want people to wonder more about our partners and their stories. I want our partners to be supported and not constantly be dismissed, so maybe, just maybe our relationships can be part of a bigger story in society in general where we really are viewed through the lens we are just like other folks. We have children and we have problems with respect, life choices and other things that happen. It is about looking through something through someone else’s lens. I want them to also look at what’s being done to women who are born anatomically female.”
Mr. Cook weighed in with his opinion of the strides made in the transgender community. “I have very strong opinions on this subject. First issue, is you can’t marginalize a group of people twice. We are currently doing that by how we are treating women of transexperience in sports. We marginalize anatomically born women twice once by being women, and then the coercing of their spaces to accept people that weren’t born anatomically female, and I believe this about men as well. I’m an egalitarian, and I think that’s an important distinction to make. I’m referred to quite often as a TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) we aren’t talking about bathrooms here, we’re talking about peoples lives. I think what is most notable is the absence of the men’s voices and I’m willing to bet that if men of transexperience are beating anatomically born men in competition that they are too ashamed to discuss it because of how masculinity is viewed in our society. The derogatory comment I’m sure is, “What? You couldn’t beat the “tranny”? You couldn’t even beat the he/she.” When we speak of the “strides” exactly about whom are we speaking? If we’re talking about women of transexperience, then yes, there have been strides made there however, what strides exactly? Women of transexperience are more likely to be in television however, the question becomes in what capacity? Most times, we see them as convicts, sex workers or the victims of crimes or the perpetrators of crimes the sociopath who hasn’t been able to transition, think Silence of the Lambs. As far as men are concerned, we aren’t even on the highway that leads to the parking lot to be part of the conversation. Women of transexperience are always part of the mainstream conversation. When I look at Chloe Cole, I think about all the years of reparative therapy I endured. I think why the media focus on those kids who are being coerced into “reparative therapy.” And for the love of all that is decent tell me, why we haven’t also focused on the kids who are happy? Why haven’t we found adults like me and tell those stories. If we’re going to make strides, then the conversations need to be more inclusive and driven by men of transexperience. If there is no voice speaking out, then it becomes the obligation if given a platform to start to a whisper for men of transexperience I’ve given them a big platform where they can begin to whisper among themselves about the biggest medical decision they will ever make. The one about whether they need or want to also have a phallus. I see it as my obligation to give them a place to start real conversations. I pass and I recognize what a privilege that is. So, to whom much is given much is expected. I want our collective whispers to get louder. I want us to have equal billing. Till we are as much a part of the conversation as women are we are erased from the conversation and ergo erased from the society writ large.”
This is a highly personal and emotional project for Mr. Cook. He not only wrote it, but he is starring in it too. He discussed how he feels about sharing his life with the public on this level. “I’ve always wanted to live stealth which means I never admit I transitioned, and I try to bury, erase any part of my former life. That said, there’s no way I can live stealth anymore. It was too important not to tell this story. I also wanted to give couples of transexperience some validation and give them a place to start discussions around bottom surgery. Bottom surgery especially phalloplasty as a surgery is its own beast. It requires much from the couple and can surely test their resolve as a couple to see this process through together. If I can help one couple stay together then this was worth it. If men of transexperience begin to have conversations in their own communities around their physical and emotional journeys, then I did something right. If we can stop lesbians telling men of transexperience they betrayed their communities then that’s an important part of this process. I want people to know they aren’t alone and that things are more complicated than they appear. I want everyone to have a voice and I want all those voices included. I want people to hear the experience of some of the horrors that happen on an inpatient unit. I was raped on an inpatient unit and although I don’t mention it in my monologues I did have it in there and then my wife Debbie who does all my editing insisted I remove it. I mean people are going to talk and people are going to criticize, me, I just rely on what Teddy Roosevelt said about the critic and being the man in the arena. I’m grateful for the strong woman my wife is that I have someone who knows how to help me shut out the outside chatter and make sure only what needs to get through does. I’m a high maintenance man and there’s no doubt there are times I need to be managed. Someone must be bold enough to take a stand and say I will not be moved or silenced. My truth and voice, my humanity is as important as anyone else’s.”
Mr. Cook has a lot of artistic and educational plans to keep him busy for the foreseeable future including potentially being addressed as Dr. Cook. “I do want to take this play, cut an album, and turn it into a musical. I have a history college professor who is very much in my corner and wants me to write a play about the history of Eugenics; since that is what I specialize in social welfare and public policy. Eugenics, disability, and child welfare. I want to act and get some background work, get other work that is related to the stage versus the screen and eventually do both. I also need to prepare for the eventuality that I will return to school to pursue my Ph.D.”
Lilli Meizner picks The Fruit Trilogy
I entered The Triad Valentine’s eve with a hunger for the raw authentic perspective of women
and people AFAB in relation to the reclamation of their sexuality and freedom.
The Ripple Effects Artists are well known for their presentations of media uplifting women as well as
highlighting the subjugation of them. The Fruit Trilogy by Eve Ensler was a visceral
representation of the toils of sexual violence, objectification, and control of women and femmes.
Pomegranate opened the show with grim minimalism; an intentionally vague plot was revealed
through establishing dialogue between the two characters: one being a bubbly optimist with
hope for societal retribution, and the other an unforgiving realist with a cold outlook to their
inevitable fate. They ponderously debate whether it was possible to forgive men for the trauma
they inflict, and whether there are any innately good people left alive. The piece highlights a
struggle; the battle between the desire to be wanted and the realities of living in a world where
to be wanted is to be owned.
Avocado followed and quickly shifted the mood from vague analogy to literal musings of an
adolescent woman experiencing a range of PTSD symptoms that kept me captivated from start
to finish. The retelling of her upbringing was intense, oscillating rapidly between
lightheartedness and the gruesome representation of psychological and physical torment the
character endured. A fair warning to any would-be avocado viewers, this monologue is about
sexual violence and minors.
Coconut closed the show by first grounding you from the whirlwind of emotion that was the
show prior. This was done effortlessly with comedy and comfort. The actress starts out slow,
enjoying the meditative act of massaging herself, and slowly it transforms into a reminder of
what womanly traumas haunt her. To connect with yourself is to connect with the good and the
bad. There is also a desire to be observed without judgment or to receive anything from it.
Ultimately Coconut is about escaping the male gaze, and experiencing life, joy, and pleasure
purely for yourself.
Much like the Vagina Monologues, these fruity stories, although hauntingly bleak, are meant to
inspire hope and motivate change; they foster a sense of unity in the audience. They transcribe
and retell important stories that need to be shared. One thing that would have been appreciated
was more content warnings, if one wasn’t familiar with the Vagina monologues or content
similar, it could be triggering.
Visit https://rippleeffectartists.com for more information on their season and body of works, including an upcoming reading of ROE. https://www.facebook.com/events/556062866484005?ref=newsfeed
Hari Bhaskar: A Man for All Stages (Part I)
Hari Bhaskar Interview by Jen Bush
Bhaskar is a multi-faceted actor on stage and screens. He can currently be seen as the star of the web series Thadayam . Between a combination of his lineage and the geographical location he happened to end up in, Mr. Bhaskar was destined for a career in the arts. We had a chance to chat with him and find out all about what’s going on in the life of this interesting artist.
“I’m originally from Kerala, India, which is a very cultural place in terms of it having many influences, and that is reflected through its art and cuisine. My family is also very culturally inclined, with my maternal grandfather being an amateur actor, and my parents both proficient in singing and dancing. I was always in love with the spotlight, which was I always tried being the class clown, and my objective was always to make people’s lives memorable, which I’m glad I could hear when one of my friends said that after we graduated. I never wanted to be known as “the academic”, which was why I wanted to enter this field, but it was also I felt my true calling.”
Acting is a collaborative endeavor. It can be invigorating to be around a plethora of creative energy which often leads to positive relationships among artists. This is exactly what happened to Mr. Bhaskar in high school which started him on his artistic path. “I did a production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ in high school, where we had late night recording sessions that went from 11 am to 1 am the next day. The camaraderie that I developed over there with my fellow co-actors made me realize that acting is what I want to do for the rest of my life, and I haven’t looked back since.”
Part II: Coming to America, in OuterStage.com
Lillian Meizner entered ELLIPSES orbit
Everything has been the same for millennia. There has always been the bleakness of the void, a single father trying to keep his children fed and safe, and the control strained on them as a result.
The Milky Way Theatre company is founded for and by students to shed well deserved light on young artists across the country. On January 26, 2023 author David Quang Pham was given the opportunity to debut his first project Ellipses, directed by indie arts veteran, Jay Michaels, and excited chatter filled the audience as everyone found their seats. The owners of the 71st Theatre first came to thank everyone and gave insight on their journey renovating a church into a beautiful venue. Just before the show began a heartfelt appreciation for the production was also given from artistic director Jamiel T Burkhart.
Ellipses is an interstellar musical about the birth of a new era and a new onset for a family who has been stuck in the comfort of stagnancy. Metaphors for familial struggle, insecurity, and growth are wrapped in the concepts of our universe in an intelligent yet whimsical way.
Before the big bang we are introduced to our otherworldly family. Singularity is a strong father figure who wants the best for his young ones, and that includes keeping them from exploring the depths of the cosmos around them. For most, that’s just how it’s always been, but for HD1, the eldest galaxy with an unquenchable desire for the unknowable, it’s unacceptable.
With the encouragement of the family pet Gravity, HD1 decides to reach the edge of the universe by any means necessary, even if that means starting something irreversible. And thus the big bang is initiated, rocketing the family apart in more ways than one. The other galaxies are left in the wake of a scuffle between forces and try to pick up the pieces without any direction. This narrative also follows the youngest galaxy, Milky Way, on their journey of growing past adolescence into puberty, and how they haven’t been taken seriously yet.
Each actor gave a stellar performance both in singing and monologue save a few moments of lines being delivered too quietly. You could tell the cast had a sense of comfort working together in the read through. HD1 (Isaac Williams) had palpable emotion in each line and song, the viewer rooting for them to find what they’re searching for. Milky Way (Yasmin Ranz-Lind) depicted the struggle of growing past adolescence in a very relatable way. These two characters shared a frustration of not being seen in different aspects, and that connected them in a beautiful way.
One scene, which had a particular emotional resonance, depicted the planets orbiting the Milky Way, throwing insecurities that shifted almost imperceptibly into heartfelt compliments. This representation of internal struggle was played out aesthetically in both acting and placed onstage.
One small complaint was how many lines relied on specific astronomical and mathematical terminology. This can be charming and funny in smaller doses, but if one didn’t have prior knowledge on the semantics of space you may find yourself a bit confused.
Otherwise it was easy to absorb yourself into the delightful sidelines of even non main characters, like Whirlpool (Kristen Amanda Vargas Smith) and Cartwheel (Karina Ordóñez). The two of them were an electric and hilarious duo that bounced off of each other seamlessly. The score was beautiful, tense, and powerful. It captivated attention from the first tentative notes that welcomed the cast into their first pose.
The collaboration of Musical Director (Simon Brooke) is extremely impressive, it gave a new personalized depth to the project with magical results. Even in moments without song, the added effects of sharp staccato notes and intense drums kept the viewer fully invested in the plot.
Ellipses is ultimately a story of acceptance. Accepting that you cannot quantify or calculate fear, puberty, or family. The search for the edge of the universe represented the wish for freedom. Insecurity manifests as the aspiration to be seen as who you are. No family is perfect; not even the celestial bodies themselves, but they find harmony through working together. Leaving the theater, you’re left with an understanding of the beauty of nothingness.
Nothingness is an opportunity to create anything.
Nothing “mezzo” about this Soprano
Amanda Reckonwith Returns Review by Jen Bush
A countertenor is a type of male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to a female contralto or mezzosoprano. It is the rarest of all voice types and David Sabella happens to be one! According to his bio, he is cited as one of the “originators of the American countertenor sound” and the only one working in the popular music genres of Broadway and the Great American Songbook. His wildly impressive 4-octave range affords him the ability to sing in a traditional male breadth as well.
Sabella’s biography is vast and impressive to say the least. Here are some highlights. He originated the starring role of “Mary Sunshine in the 1996 revival of Chicago and remained in that role on Broadway and with the touring company for a decade. He won the Luciano Pavarotti International Voice Competition. He’s performed throughout the world in opera companies, has done voiceover work and has performed in extensive cabarets. Just to drop a few names, he’s worked with Ann Reinking, Joel Grey, Patrick Swayze, Chita Rivera and countless others. As I found out tonight, this award-winning artist is indeed a man to reckon with!
David Sabella has an equally talented alter ego named Amanda Reckonwith. Amanda graced the stage of Pangea this evening and brought down the house with her vocal prowess and comedic ability in Amanda Reckonwith Returns. Amanda’s story is that she has been “away” for 25 years. Tonight was her triumphant return to the stage but she seems to be living in the past. Political correctness seems to have escaped her which led to some of the funniest moments in the show.
The set began with How Lovely to be a Woman from Bye Bye Birdie. Amanda energetically jutted through the audience, established the lighthearted tone of the evening and immediately revealed what a talented entertainer she is. Next, she teased the audience a bit with opera classic, O Mio Babbino Caro opting out of all the high notes with ingenious humor.
The 13-song set consisted of a mix of Broadway, Opera and the Great American Songbook. David Sabella deeply connected with the captivated, super enthused SOLD-OUT audience. His ability to hit the high notes and to hold the notes is just astonishing. He is a vocal powerhouse who can belt like nobody’s business and then bring a tear to your eye with a tender ballad. The comedic elements in the storytelling were both clever and saucy. Amanda could easily be Dame Edna’s more skilled singing cousin or Angela Lansbury’s naughty little sister. Sweet and subversive all in one package. Case in point and a nod to the costuming, in the first half of the set, Amanda wore an elegant sparkly cocktail dress. By the end of the show she was in a leather outfit with a flowing kimono and holding various dominatrix implements. In between songs were stories told by Amanda but that were biographical to David Sabella’s life. Amanda Reckonwith Returns was a fabulously fun foray into song and storytelling delivered by a versatile luminary in the entertainment industry. He brought the sold-out crowd to their feet as they praised him with deafening applause and cheers. Amanda Reckonwith Returns will return to Pangea on April 15th. Do yourself a favor and snag a seat early before they’re all gone. David Sabella and Amanda Reckonwith are both forces to be reckoned with in the best possible way.
A Star Studded Cast bids us all, “Bon Jour”
Richard Hackley’s new musical, “Bonjour Mon Amour the Musical,” scheduled for two special showings – 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. – on Thursday, February 16 at CAM Studios, 115 West 45th Street, Suite 603, in New York City (visit www.bonjourthemusical.com for further information), sports a star-studded cast:
James D. Gish plays the lead, Mike Mercy, a 21st century everyman, whose life includes a rocky love life and a stressful job. Gish currently appears on BROADWAY in WICKED and has been on the national tours of Les Mis and Beautiful.
The cast also includes Alec Michael Ryan (NATIONAL TOUR: Jersey Boys, REGIONAL: From Here To Eternity); Emily Trumble (OFF-BWAY: Soft Power, TOUR: Sound Of Music, Something Rotten); Rob Richardson (BROADWAY: Jekyll and Hyde, A Tale of Two Cities, OFF-BWAY: Kinky Boots); Haley Swindal (BROADWAY: Chicago, Jekyll and Hyde, OFF-BWAY: Sweeney Todd); Max B. Ehrlich (BROADWAY: Aladdin, TOUR: Miss Saigon, King and I); Joseph Peterson (NY: It Shoulda Been You, Angel of the Amazon, Save The Palace); Leah Platt (TOUR: Fiddler on the Roof, REGIONAL: The Prom, Which Way To The Stage).
Hackley’s clever domestic dramedy, sporting a 70’s/80s rock style score, is directed by Jamibeth Margolis, whose theatrical directing credits include Broadway/Off-Broadway and regional. Jamibeth served as assistant director to Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks on The Caine Mutiny Court Martial (Broadway) and also on Jules Feiffer‘s A Bad Friend (Lincoln Center Theatre). She has also helmed developmental productions of the following new musical works: Save The Palace, Owl Creek, Great Googly Moo, and Warsaw.
Andrew Wheeler serves as Musical Director
Jared Six is the stage manager
Bonjour Mon Amour, the Musical, is a contemporary story that follows Mike Mercy through ups & downs of love & life. Mike has two friends showing him both sides – an older neighbor with advice to clean up his act or risk losing the love of his life; and his burnout buddy’s much more relaxed opinions.
Richard Hackley is a distinguished member of Broadway producer Ken Davenport’s acclaimed TheatreMakers Program.
For further information or to request an invitation to the presentation, please contact Jay Michaels Communications at 646-338-5472 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.