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Angela Theresa Egic reviews The Buffalo Hero of WWI by Kenthedo Robinson at the American Theatre of Actors
My arrival at the American Theatre of Actors was memorable. It is a space this reviewer, as an actor, has performed at some time ago. At the end of the hallway, I was told there were two performances. The man at the box office informed me, The Buffalo Hero of WWI, was cancelled due to a sick Lighting Person, or Sound Person. The actors and crew only learned about it an hour before. Before I left, I told the friendly box office volunteer I was here to “review the show”. He allowed me to go in for what would be a dress rehearsal. The first time the cast would be in the bigger theater.
My first impression as the only audience member, until there were two when my friend arrived; I was impressed with the changes in this theater. The last time I was in this space, a few years ago, there was no balcony or spiral staircase. What a great space, and doing my own plays there, danced in my mind.
I walked in early enough to catch the Writer/Director, Kenthedo Robinson, a truly talented man. Also, the Lighting Technician and various cast members preparing. Ms. D (Mamma Miner) being in full rehearsal on her own.
The assistant, whom, I’m sorry to say, I did not remember to identify between Mark Robinson or Michael Banks. One was absent and they are both noted, respectively, in the playbill as Sound, Lighting and Projection. The playbill lists them both twice each. If the gentleman there was another person, it is not noted, or one is not identified in the paper playbill.
During this dress rehearsal, the lights were used, and the sound was spoken, by the assistant (on book), when there was no sound set-up.
The missing person, and the cancelation of the performance for audience, much like sound and a missing props, here and there, marked the overall performance. It is an interesting true story of Wayne Miner, the last soldier killed in World War I. Mr. Miner was an African American Kansas City fallen Buffalo Soldier Hero. Mr. Miner was boldly portrayed by the handsome and excellent actor, Alton Ray. He fit what I would imagine this hero to be, a strong performance in every way.
The cast is strong, throughout, and Mr. Ray I would say a great lead for this play. All entrances and characters were strongly identified by the actors. Particularly in Act I. Some small uneven moments in scenes as the play progressed, not as distracting to most audience members, I would think. Just as a theatre professional, fixable with tightening; the unevenness could be removed by a bit more focus to the story. Michael Julius who had a wonderfully diverse character as Franklin B. Seymour, fantastically portrayed an act of being abused very well. Yet, in describing the actual horrid act by fellow white soldiers, he lost a bit of the anger of the act. Where it seemed his anger should be growing, his ebbed during the description of the act. The event that drove him to the anger. I would have liked to see that description itself to be expressed even more strongly. Julius chose to express it more like an observer, at the moment, it would seem better to grow more there, instead of using it as calm recall.
Kassime Fofana, as Rafius Rucker, driven into shell shock and fear and cheating on his wife, was fully a great performance into this type of mental illness. There were a couple of moments, seeing the true angst on his face, softened into clear vision. I would have liked to see the incredible coming insane fear stay on his face until his decision to do what he must do, to end his internal terror.
Some may be excused due to last minute changes; for example, coming ready to perform for an audience and ending up in a dress rehearsal. Secondly, moving from a smaller space to a much bigger space. Considering this, the cast, without full sound and having some of it just being read from the front row out of the script, it was excellent. There were only a few small stops and delays, to find a missing prop or get to the right light cue.
They ran almost straight through, with a needed intermission. I would say the ending was a bit lengthy. I would not want to have missed the information, yet it felt like The Buffalo Here of WWI could have been shorter, a little long to get to the end.
Nicolas Dodge as Captain Quincy Blu is to be commended for his performance as the prejudiced, closed-minded Captain! His changes felt natural and never broke who he was as a person. He was truly the guy you hate, and eventually, almost understood he was merely the victim of his time and may have changed by the end of the war. Maybe he told the story of these men he lost?
Ms. D played way beyond her years. I felt every time she was on stage. I felt the love for her son. And if not for her performance, I would have thought, she is too young to be the mother she portrayed.
Shani Tabia as Angelica was a joy every time, she entered the stage. Her energy was the glue and if there were any lags, her performance brought up the room. Overall, the energy of all the actors was fantastic. Ms. Tabia had this and more reminding us of our purpose, no matter what others may say. That can do and will do attitude.
Although this about a time before any of us were born. It is proof that we have not grown as much as we’d like to believe. How history, in some ways, repeats itself and even though, from the prejudice Captain Quincy Blu to the ideology of Myles Marable as Lt. Clark guiding us so beautifully, as our guru of taking people from where they are and guiding them to illuminating where we can be, with one step at a time. Marable played that he, as this character, would, ideally, have written this story of the possibilities of the future by meeting people where they are.
Chansons: Piaf, Brel & Me – Musical Cabaret about Franceby the multi-award-winning singer, Stefanie RummelLive at the Town Hall with TGI at the Adelaide Fringe
Chansons means simply “songs” but when in the hands of cabaret chanteuse Stefanie Rummel, Chansons means so much more! The international songstress offers stunning interpretations of Jacques Brel classics including ‘Ne me quitte pas’ and mesmerizing takes on Edith Piaf’s ‘Padam, Padam’ and ‘Milord.’
Audiences in Germany, France, Iceland, the United Kingdom, Finland, and the United States, described Chansons as a ‘heart-connecting experience’. Accompanied by recordings of pianists such as Bogdan Pielanu, Tom Schlueter and Bob Egan, Mrs. Rummel weaves alluring tales of France and “the French way.” Stefanie relates inspiring stories about German, French and international perspectives and cultures. Don’t worry if you don’t speak French, the songs touch universal moments and everything else is presented in English.
Stefanie Rummel has been celebrated for her work: Global Music Award (Silver Medal); Intercontinental Music Award 2022 (Finalist – Best Vocal Performance); German Rock & Pop Award 2021 (1st, 2×2, 2x.3 place); plus, acclaimed appearances at Reykjavik Fringe Festival; Living Records Festival; Edinburgh Fringe Festival and in 2023 at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, to name a few. https://chansons.show/“Great chansons… passionate feelings” – Rheingauer Echo“Rummel’s voice is outstanding: it moves from delicate, lingering notes (in a superb cover of Autumn Leaves) to real moments of joie de vivre in Rummel’s take on the Piaf classic, L’Accordeoniste.” – The Reviews Hub – Helen Tope 4 Star Review ****“A fascinating show, comfortably paced and with the right amount of history, songs and personal anecdotes, it held my attention despite me being far from fully conversant in French.” – LondonTheatre1 by Chris Omaweng 4 Star Review **** The multi-award-winning singer and musical theater actress Stefanie Rummel has won (or been a finalist) in various national and television singing competitions. Most recently she received 5 awards for her work with Chansons. 1st Best Chansons, 2nd. Best Music Video, 2nd Best Composer, 3rd Best Musical & Best Folk Song.
Stefanie Rummel has lived in France, Germany and the USA and shares her intercultural experiences in her show Chansons. Songs from Paris to Hollywood – from “Piaf, Brel, Zaz & Me” are combined with very personal stories about the love of life. Chansons has been invited to festivals such as the Reykjavik Fringe Festival, Lathi Fringe Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Living Records Festival & Sydney Fringe, Adelaide Fringe… Stefanie Rummels’ gala acts, one-woman-shows and musical cabarets have been performed in the US, UK, Norway, Iceland, France, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, etc. Her special quadruple acts “Song, Act, Tap & Magic” went on various tours, sang on cruise ships, variety shows and galas. The shows are performed in English, German and French, depending on where she is. As a vocal specialist and Estill Mentor Course Instructor, she gives master classes internationally and lectures on various vocal styles and their scientific insights. She performed in the musical “Nunsense” for 11 years, 7 of which she played Sister Hubert in the longest running “Nunsense” show in the world. She also appeared in musicals such as “Kiss me Kate”, “Sweet Charity”, “Jesus Christ Superstar”. In 2021, she was nominated for “Producer of the Year” and “Theatermaker Choice” by Tony Award winner Ken Davenports’ Theatermaker Studio. In 2022, she was nominated for “Best Player” and “Best Musical.” https://stefanierummel.com/
Further Press Citations:
“And when the musical chameleon first breathes Brel’s ballad “Ne me quitte pas” into the microphone for the finale of her one-woman show and then encourages the audience to sing along without restraint with her gospel show-down, these are just two of the many highlights of an intimate evening of cabaret put together with much love.”
– Offenbacher Post
“Evergreens like “Amsterdam”, “L’accordéoniste” and – at the end – “Milord” made the hearts beat faster, as the stormy applause showed. Without encore the duo was not dismissed and gave the audience still “La vie en rose.”
– Rheingauer Echo
“Stefanie Rummel’s choice of songs will evoke memories, collective and personal, even if they are not sung in our home language. Stefanie’s ability to connect to her audience through songs is both charming and seductive. Chansons delivers a simple but moving message: it is through songs that we are finally able to understand each other.” – BroadwayWorld, Helen Tope
“Walter” Gets An A
WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT WALTER? -Review by Jen Bush
When people think about academia, they might envision stuffed shirts sitting around engaged in profound discussions about things that are way over their heads. Not in WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT WALTER? With themes of infidelity, ageism, jealousy and conflict, these stuffed shirts had a lot of interesting things going on. Secret meetings and illicit encounters are just some of what this play has on the syllabus!
The setting is Bridge College Annette is the uptight head of the English department. Walter Knight who has been there for 17 years and was just awarded the distinction of being a Writer in Residence is a thorn in Annette’s side. He happens to be a very well-liked and good teacher. She feels he is too old, completely inflexible and sorely lacking in credentials such as a master’s degree. In academia the saying constantly tossed around is publish or perish. Though Walter is the most published professor in the department, Annette finds no intellectual value in his work since it’s commercial and not academic. She tries to enlist the support of a fellow professor who she is having an affair with and the rest of her department to push Walter out of the college. We see Walter’s inflexibility in a staff meeting where a list of books to use for the next semester is discussed. Walter still values the consummate classic works of literature especially Shakespeare. The college would like to modernize the curriculum with more inclusive, politically correct works with a concentration on female authors. Walter has become Annette’s obsession and she will stop at nothing till he has crossed the bridge for good from Bridge College.
WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT WALTER? was written by Irving A. Greenfield. Mr. Greenfield was a prolific author of over 300 books and several plays. He had a wonderful professional and personal relationship with the American Theatre of Actors and the people employed there. This play was supposed to run in 2020. We all know what happened in 2020 and tragically, Mr. Greenfield passed away before he could see this, his latest work on the stage. Having seen several of his plays produced at The American Theatre of Actors with much of the same talent, I can say this was a brilliant artistic partnership.
WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT WALTER? was funny, dramatic and edgy. It was thought provoking and touched on some hot button topics such as gender, feminism, inclusivity, ageism and political correctness. It’s hard to imagine Shakespeare ever becoming obsolete and irrelevant as was suggested in this play. Whether they went to college or not, adult audiences can find something to enjoy in this well written play.
The powerful cast expertly directed by Laurie Rae Waugh were all ideally matched to their characters. Ken Coughlin gets an A+ for his fabulous portrayal of the mercurial Walter. His stage experience shows. He made an excellent military man in Banned in Bisbee and a completely credible college professor in this. He looked the part and he gave his all in the part. Amanda Cannon goes right to the head of the class with her villainous portrayal of Annette. She’s so good at being so bad, trust me, you’ll root for Walter! From The Merry Wives of Windsor to this, Michael Bordwell provided another acting slam dunk. He rolled a lot of traits into his portrayal of one of the department professors, Steven. He was slimy, savvy, likeable, not likeable and more. Overall, the character was out for himself but there was a tiny bit of heart directed at Walter. It was an excellent portrayal. This was the third time I witnessed a performance with Manny Rey and he is always solid. He was authoritative and funny in his portrayal of the college provost. The cast was rounded out by Vicky Gitre, Ben Guralnik, Alan Charney and Rooki Tiwari who were all fantastic. Every character brought to life was genuine and interesting.
So, what did they do about Walter? A better question might be, what did Walter do about them? WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT WALTER gets a 4.0 G.P.A. which stands for great performance all around!
Gauthier Raad in Focus (Part II)
PART I in InDfilm
Meet filmmaker Gauthier Raad. He is an international, multi-cultural and multi-lingual sensation. He was drawn to the cinematic arts at a young age. Following his passion, he has achieved success on several continents. He has a vast toolbox of skills coupled with cosmopolitan experience to create innovative and compelling content. It was wonderful to learn more about this fascinating artist.
Interview by Jen Bush
Mr. Raad’s defining moment in life was to go on a journey which paved the way to his career in the arts. It took a lot of guts to do this at a young age but it all worked out in the end. “I feel that the most defining moment in my life is when I decided to pack my suitcase and move to another country alone without knowing anyone there. This happened when I was 19 years old. It has taught me a lot of things… a lot of lessons. I think I became fearless.”
Mr. Raad has a favorite genre and it’s a good one. “My favorite genre is a psychological thriller. It is so difficult to be able to create such a genre but when it is well done, psychological drama movies haunt me for months. I think it needs a high level of maturity, professionalism, and time to be able to do a psychological thriller. This is why there are not a lot of them.”
Mr. Raad has a positive attitude and doesn’t let obstacles stand in his way. “Obstacles are everywhere… but I believe if we really want something, genuinely – not for our ego – It will come.
The biggest obstacle in our industry is always the network and the contacts. Most people stay in the same place and work on expanding their network. My journey is completely different. I have moved many places but this has never been an obstacle or a handicap in my professional life.”
Mr. Raad shared his thoughts on how the pandemic impacted the arts industry. “I think our habits have changed post-pandemic. It is important for us to start pushing back people to go out and meet, and network… I have noticed this in the film festival I manage. I think the virtual shift that happened during the pandemic is a very positive thing, however, I think that people have to put more effort to go out and meet other people. The pandemic made us lazy and so comfortable in our houses… I think venues, associations should help the festivals and the events by giving them more space to do more events so people will little by little get into the habit of going out more.”
“What’s next? My dreams… here I come.” For someone who had the incentive to take the world by storm before the age of 20, I believe Mr. Raad’s dreams will be fulfilled, and we will be the lucky recipients of his art.
FRESH FRUIT FESTIVAL MULTIMEDIA SEASON 2023
ALL OUT ARTS, the producer of FRESH FRUIT FESTIVAL, one of NY’s premier LGBTQ arts festivals for more than two decades is accepting submissions from NYC authors of LGBT-themed short works and full plays in three multi-media categories this year. Thanks to the generosity of New York City’s Dept. of Cultural Affairs and the NYC Council, there are NO Admission or Participation Fees required, but there are numerous financial rewards and prizes
The 2023 FRESH FRUIT MAINSTAGE MAINSTAGE: Performances April – May at the Wild Project, NYC. Looking for Stage Plays of many types; must be self-produced. Tech and FOH staff provided plus production consultation and insurance. Shows receive FREE Box Office Share (last year over $6,000 was distributed). Storage provided. Event curated by Dennis Corsi and Louis Lopardi. Deadline December 15.
The 2023 MONOLOGUES-on-Film Project: A Contest and Exhibit of self-produced monologues on video. This year’s general theme: “Seeing.” Eight to 10 Semi Finalists will be presented for public and technical panel voting. Free technical guidance and limited post-processing. Cash stipends to ALL Semi-Finalists PLUS increased cash award to all three finalists. Early-Spring presentation for votes, plus hosting on our YouTube Channel for two seasons! Deadline January 2. Event curated by Jay Michaels.
The 2023 RadioPLAYS: Self-produced Audio works in two divisions. Radio SHORTS (up to 25 minutes, 3+ characters). Radio SHOTS! (2.5 characters, 3 to 12 minutes). Extensive free technical help at all levels of the production process. Free post-processing and Podcast hosting. Cash stipends $175 to $250 upon completion. Deadline January 15. Rolling production January through May. Event curated by Jay Michaels.
Please SEE our website for Details, Rules, and Links to past winners
https://freshfruitfestival.com/all-entry-fy23/ Note: Online-Application Forms only, per each part. If you submit in more than one division, please ALSO use the Contact form on the website.
Kenthedo Robinson’s powerful drama, “The Buffalo Hero of World War I: The Wayne Miner Story” returns to New York for a special limited engagement
The Buffalo Hero of World War I
The Wayne Miner Story
Returning to New York for a special limited engagement is Kenthedo Robinson’s powerful drama about a group of unknown and unsung heroes of World War I.
Special Engagement: December 7 – 18 (Wed – Sat. @ 8:00 p.m. and Sun @ 3:00 p.m.)
Tickets $20 (Groups of 10 or more $15)
The American Theatre of Actors is located at 314 West 54th St, NYC
Call for tickets: 212-581-3044 917-523-2823
Black Lives Mattered … even in 1918
Acclaimed playwright, Kenthedo Robinson’s retelling of the true story of three young men enlisted to fight for World Democracy during WWI returns to one of New York only remaining off-off Broadway movement venues (along with La Mama and theatre for the New City), the American Theatre of Actors for a limited run during the holiday season.
Wayman Miner (1894 – 1918) was an American soldier who fought in the Buffalo Soldier regiment during the First World War. He died in the hours between the signing of the Armistice and the symbolic 11 a.m. time it was set to go into effect, after volunteering for a mission to carry ammunition to a machine gun nest. This is his story and that of his fellow Buffalo Soldiers.
They battled many more enemies than many soldier of the time. Most battled the Ottoman Empire, but the Buffalo Soldiers discovered that racism and harassment proved to be their own personal enemy. Their most powerful weapon — the power of brotherly love and the glory of honor.
The cast includes Ms D, Alton Ray, Shani Tabia, Kassime Fofana, Mike Vails, Nicolas Dodge, and Myles Marable
Special Effects by Nikoli Pierre; Sound Design by Mark Robinson; Lighting Design by Michael Banks;
Production written & directed by Kenthedo Robinson
The American Theatre of Actors is located at 314 West 54th St, NYC
Call for tickets: 212-581-3044 917-523-2823
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KEN COUGHLIN: Theatre Dignitary
Ken Coughliin Interview by Jen Bush
Ken Coughlin is an award-winning actor/director. He is an artist in every sense of the word. He is a talented performer and a skilled artisan behind the scenes. Mr. Coughlin got his start at the tender age of 5. When most Kindergarteners are singing the ABC song, Mr. Coughlin was crooning a Nat King Cole tune. Mr. Coughlin is a mainstay at The American Theatre of Actors where he has performed in and directed numerous productions. I had the pleasure of witnessing his talent firsthand both on stage and through seeing shows he directed. He knows his craft well. You’ll be able to catch him at the ATA in November in WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT WALTER?. Mr. Coughlin was gracious enough to take the time to answer some questions about his life and his work.
“I have been performing for much of my life, appearing on stage the first time at 5 years old, singing When I Fall In Love, a capella. In my teens I started playing guitar, after I was gifted one for Christmas. In my 20s I started playing in clubs around New York, both as a soloist and as a member of several different bands. My entry into the world of theater didn’t come until the early 1990s. From acting came the opportunity to Direct and from Directing, I got into the other design aspects of theater. I have been able to use other of my artistic talents on stage. In a production of “The Tale Of Patrick Bannister” by Irving A. Leitner, who passed away during the lockdown, I added a hand drawing I did of my wife Phyliss, to the set. I have performed several original songs I’ve written as well.”
This play and the playwright hold a very special place in the hearts of the artists. Irving A. Greenfield is no longer with us and his memory will be honored by this theatre community. “This play has been in the works since before the lockdown in 2020. Our playwright, Irving A. Greenfield (One More Time, Family Matters, P.O.W. and Banned In Bisbee) was looking forward to seeing this production. Unfortunately, Irving passed away before theaters reopened. There will be a special tribute to Irving after each performance.”
This piece is about rivalry in academia. Mr. Coughlin has some thoughts on the current state of education in this country. “My personal opinion is that education is under attack in this country, by people who despise unions, those who want to turn education into a For Profit model and others who don’t want inconvenient truths taught to our children.”
Mr. Coughlin has a wonderful and productive history with The American Theatre of Actors. It even became a family affair for him. “My very first play at ATA was in February 1994. We had only one performance, before the production was shut down. Since that time I have performed in well over 100 productions at ATA, directed over 20 plays, including 10 – 10 minute One act plays written by another friend/playwright who passed away during the lockdown, James Crafford. I have had the wonderful opportunity to perform on the Sargent stage with my daughter Krista.”
Laurie Waugh is also a staple at the ATA. Mr. Coughlin and Ms. Waugh share a wonderful long standing collaborative working relationship. “Laurie and I first crossed paths when we were on the same bill, her with 2 plays she had directed, and I was there performing a one man one act, which I also directed. I also assisted with the lighting, set and sound design for all three shows, so we collaborated quite a bit on that production. We have collaborated, directing each other, on more than 15 occasions, since then, and never a harsh word between us. Laurie is wonderful to work with, and we have a great deal of trust and respect for each other.”
“On a side note, this is not the first time working with the rest of the cast, Alan Charney, Amanda Cannon, Ben Guralnik, Mike Bordwell, Manny Rey, Rooki Tiwari and Vicky Gitre. I have acted with and/or directed everyone in the cast, and I’m looking forward to being onstage with each of them.”
Several of Irving A. Greenfield’s plays have been performed at ATA leading to a friendship and a mutual appreciation society between Mr. Greenfield, Mr. Coughlin and Ms. Waugh. “ Laurie and I were introduced to Irving and his work with the play One More Time. The three of us quickly developed a friendship and respect for each other’s work. Since then we put up Family Matters, P.O.W. and Banned In Bisbee. We have some other projects of Irving’s that we would like to tackle, but speaking for myself, I’m thrilled for the work that we’ve been able to do, and saddened that we won’t see any new work by this amazing playwright, who led such an interesting life that gave him some of the inspiration to write these plays. Laurie and I have also read the Depth Force series of action novels, written by Irving, which led to the play Banned In Bisbee. Irving inadvertently gave me a great compliment after one rehearsal. During the rehearsal process for Family Matters, my character was supposed to walk with a shillelagh. Irving came to a rehearsal on an evening when I had left my shillelagh home. When I took him down to put him into a cab to go home, he asked me how I hurt my leg. I thanked him very much for the compliment, explaining that I was acting.”
Mr. Coughlin is thrilled that Indie Theatre is thriving once again. “I have to believe that Indie Theatre is alive and well, since I have been running non-stop since restrictions started lifting in September 2021.”
There is much more to come from Ken Coughlin. “I have several things on my plate, but I’m waiting for schedules to be solidified.” In the meantime, check out WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT WALTER? You won’t be disappointed.
WHAT’S SO FUNNY? POST-PANDEMIC EDITION PART 1
Channel I publications is beginning a new series of articles: WHAT’S SO FUNNY!
Returning to the “real world” is not happening with a blast but with a cautious tread. Places are opening to half capacity or full capacity; masks and vax’ing are required/optional/lifted. We’ve heard tales about plays reopening, movies that have begun or resumed filming, etc. The art world is looking the same in some places and vastly different in other. The liveliest of the lively arts is comedy. Shakespeare can be done to a camera lens, but can you do comedy? Jen Bush chatted with a group of comic artists who have shows opening shortly about what they can expect – or fear!
PART 1: Nannette Deasy and Robert Baumgardner
The Improvisational Theatre Repertory Ensemble, LLC, is an award-winning group consisting of comedy actors and writers. They create, produce, and perform a season of original themed improvisational shows. This season they are hoping you’ll be wowed by their newest work entitled Wow Wee! Adventures of a Little Girl Killbot Christmas Special. It’s a post-apocalyptic 80’s sitcom Christmas special. That’s a lot of wow factor right there! Let’s meet some of the cast members and creatives.
Nannette Deasy is the fearless leader of IRTE. She will be playing the role of Andie the Android in this season’s production. Comedy is easy-peasy for Nannette Deasy. She has been making people laugh for years both nationally and internationally. The Founder and Artistic Director of this award-winning and nationally recognized improv comedy troupe has performed at theatres including the Public Theatre, LaMama Etc., Ensemble Studio Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, the PIT, UCB, Chicago City Limits, Gotham City Improv, Gotham Comedy Club, theatre festivals all around the country and the Teatro Franco Parenti in Milan, Italy, as well as in various films and one half of the comedy duo Double-D (with former IRTE company member Graceann Dorse), creating and producing original comedic live shows and films. This month, they will be premiering their latest comedy “The Vole Sisters Invite You to a Peculiar and Intimate Evening of Mystic Spiritualism,” an improvised and audience interactive comedy séance.
“Now that we are slowly beginning to emerge from that bizarre alternate universe in which we were all trapped, funny is going to (hopefully) look like actual smiles. Shows during the pandemic were just weird -It was so hard to tell whether jokes were landing or not. Either our audience was muted on zoom (just a lonely number count at the bottom of the screen) or just pairs of eyes peering out from behind masks. “Smizing” only goes so far. (Sorry, Tyra Banks).”
Robert Baumgardner, her partner on stage and in life, has multiple skill sets in the arts. He is directing this season’s IRTE work.
“I’m Robert Baumgardner, director of Wow Wee! Adventures of a Little Girl Killbot Christmas Special! I’ve directed several IRTE shows, among them The Marvelous Mrs. McCluskey, The Ship Be Sinkin’, and The League of Extraordinary Blondes. I’m also an actor and improvisor, and like most people improvised my way through this pandemic by sharing my work on Zoom, YouTube, Facebook, and however else hackers and cat fishers find you.”
Robert’s response to what funny looks like right now is very fruitful! There is a definite theme going on in his response. It could have something to do with the fact that “gardner” is part of his surname. I’ll stop now.
“These days, “funny” looks like it could be a bumper crop this year. There is so much fertile ground and muck that is out there that the seeds of comedy may take root and soon flourish. (This plant metaphor is growing out of control.) Comedy lives off the fertilizer that is fear and stupidity and anxiety that just seems everywhere these days. Wow Wee’s comedy grows out of our feelings that we’re past the point of no return in so many ways these days. But there is always hope, and hope and laughs are the tasty fruit one can harvest from a good comedy crop. (That is really stretching it thin.)”
At the Piano: Maestro Dan Furman
Interview by Jen Bush
Dan Furman is a Tennessee born and Brooklyn based jazz pianist and composer. His musical journey began at a tender age when he began playing and composing which led him to study jazz, music composition and musical theater. He is the artistic director of The Brooklyn Tavern Theater where you will soon be able to see his exciting new work, Impossible But True for which he was the composer, lyricist and bookwriter.
“I am a jazz pianist who writes musicals. I studied composition back in college, but realized that post-modern classical music just doesn’t reach that many people. And I believe that art has to connect with society in order to really bloom and flourish.”
“Luckily, I had been exposed to jazz in high school and had begun writing for my own bands. After a decade or so working in factories as a political activist, I went back to jazz piano and led World Mambo Mission in Atlanta, GA and the Primordial Jazz Funktet here in NYC.”
“While looking for work as an unemployed pianist in Manhattan, I also discovered music theater. I was lucky enough to get into the BMI Music Theater Workshop, which gave me a good introduction to writing musicals. Impossible But True began in that workshop as a collaboration with Mary-Liz McNamara. (Mary-Liz’s lyrics are still an important part of 4 songs from this show!). When the collaboration ended, I decided to finish the show and it eventually found its place as a tavern musical in 2018.”
Mr. Furman recognizes that there are many colorful characters and scenarios in this world and that’s what he likes to write about. He likes his work to reflect the positive aspects of life and living with the notion that change for the better is possible. “I don’t really like writing songs about myself. I like to have characters to write for–characters who have a reason to sing. I know it’s a bit contrary to the fashion of diving deep into personal experience and identity–but my philosophy is, write what you don’t know. It’s a big world out there and there are so many interesting subjects and stories to write about–to learn about–to discover.”
“But one thing about me that has influenced my writing is the belief that things are possible–that the world can be changed for the better and it’s up to us to do it. Several of the shows I’ve worked on have this as one of their central themes– from Impossible But True to Ybor City (co-written with Anita Gonzalez) to The Joe Hill Revival.”
Some deep thinking outside of the box went into the creation of Impossible But True. The source material for the book was kind of sleepy, pun fully intended. Once the story was spun and told from a different point of view, it worked. “I’m going to tell you what should have inspired me NOT to write this musical. I was a composer in the second year of the BMI Musical Theater Workshop. My collaborator, Mary-Liz McNamara, and I decided to write our first show based on Washington Irving’s short story, Rip Van Winkle. We had a lot of fun writing it–but after a while, we ran into book trouble.
The main problem was, Irving’s story is a terrible script for a musical.
–Rip Van Winkle is a nice guy who doesn’t do much of anything except fall asleep and then wake up 20 years later. What kind of hero is that?
–There’s very little action or almost no dialogue in Irving’s story. Some nice descriptions of the Catskills and the quaint residents of the little town. But there’s no romance and no villain. What kind of musical is that going to be?
–Finally: not only are we missing romance, but in Irving’s short story, Rip hates his wife, who is described a terrible nag. When he comes back to the town 20 years later, he is relieved to discover that she is dead. And he lives happily ever after. His wife doesn’t even merit having a name in the story. Just wife.
That is not a story we want to tell today.
So, as I worked on it, this show moved further and further from the quaint confines of Irving’s story. Since Rip fell asleep in the hills before the American revolution and then woke up years after it was over–some interesting possibilities are raised. Revolutions are more interesting than long naps. In our show, the revolution becomes the engine–or, horsepower– propelling the whole story. Although Rip is still a lead character, It became more of a story about how the revolution affected him and his small town in the Catskills.
Impossible But True is different from other shows that deal with the American Revolution–like 1776 or Hamilton—it’s not about the Washingtons, Jeffersons and Hamiltons—it’s about ordinary small-town people who carried out the groundwork during a great historical change. And through that process, what seemed impossible–became possible.
We had to make it clear from the beginning of the show that this is not going to be quite the Rip Van Winkle story you’re used to. We did it like this: our acting troupe welcomes the audience into the bar where you’re seeing the show. The character of Nicolaus Vedder is in charge. He’s introducing the characters and thinks the show is going to start with a song from Rip. But we discover that Rip’s wife, Rebecca, has rewritten the script. She’s given herself the opening song, which she proceeds to sing. In fact, she also leads the final song of the whole show–so if you want, you could look at this as the story of Rip Van Winkle and the American Revolution–as told by Rebecca, his wife.”
Mr. Furman would like people to leave the show with the message that one change can produce a wonderful and positive domino effect leading to bigger and better things in this world. “I’ve been a political activist for most of my life. There are always people who say that fundamental change, let alone revolution, isn’t possible. We grow up in American schools learning about the founding fathers–these great enlightened men who framed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and tend to assume that if we were all living back then, of course we’d be for the revolution, right? Well, no. It started out as a minority. If you grew up in a small town in the Catskills in the mid-1700s, you might think it was insane to take on the British army.”
“When the pandemic hit in 2020, many of us found ourselves temporarily trapped in our homes and apartments, contemplating the world outside our windows–and we didn’t always like what we saw. To those who said the American revolution was impossible, this show has an answer: as soon as we start to change the world, new things we could not have imagined can become possible. After a night full of music, dance, tragedy and comedy, this is the message that we want the audience to walk out the door with.”
Covid is still present, but Mr. Furman agrees that the timing was right to see the return of the performing arts. “I think it’s time to open back up. Unless there is a significant upsurge, we will notbe requiring negative COVID tests or proof of vaccination. Everyone should look out for their own safety, and certainly wear a mask if they like.”
Post-Covid Mr. Furman thinks that we should dispense with the tunnel vision of the past and embrace inclusivity in all aspects of theater. “Coming out of the pandemic, I think theater should continue the movement toward inclusiveness in casting and what is produced. I do not think we should throw out the Western canon–but this is a great time to break free of the limitations and narrowness we’ve inherited from the past.”
There is no sleeping on the job for this talented artist who has plenty in the works for the future of the Brooklyn Tavern Theater and beyond. “Brooklyn Tavern Theater premiered The Joe Hill Revival last fall and I would like to bring this show to a larger venue. It is a revival of the story of Joe Hill–a retelling of the story of the union activist and songwriter Joe Hill in the light of what’s going on in the world today. There’s real activity going on in working class politics now and I think it’s a good time for this show.”
“I’ve also been working with director Christopher Noffke on The Proust Virus, a musical about video game characters who come to life inside a young woman’s computer. This is a much more contemporary show than Impossible But True!–one that we’d like to workshop and move towards a production.”
“But Impossible But True is a really fun and moving show to do–so we’ve discussed making it a regular Fall tradition of Brooklyn Tavern Theater if we can find the venues and financial support to do so.”