A Symphony For Portland: Christina Hemphill

Interview by Jen Bush

Christina Hemphill is the writer and composer for an exciting new musical opening in August called A Symphony for Portland.  This multi-instrumentalist and singer marched her way through high school with a trumpet in hand.  The key to her success has literally been the keys.  For the past decade she has added composing to all her other musical talents.  “I am primarily a musician, a pianist and classically trained organist. I played trumpet in high school marching band. I sang in a symphonic choir, and managed large church music programs. In the past ten years I’ve been composing.”

If you want to remember something, write it down!  Ms. Hemphill subscribes to that philosophy as part of her creative process.  “I have always struggled with memorization and focus. So, if I am sitting at the piano and trying to find a chord progression I really like and then suddenly find it, I have to write it down right away, or two minutes later, I won’t remember what I played.  Creating a new song is a stress-filled process. Writing dialogue is easier but my best writing has come when I outlined what the characters needed to convey. Otherwise, I find myself writing superfluous story arcs or worse, having the characters setting up puns, forgetting the arc all together.”

 Some of the greatest artistic creations come from a place of tragedy and heartbreak.  Ms. Hemphill’s compassion coupled with a tragic familial event provided the impetus for this musical being composed.  “The inspiration for the musical came from an encounter with a young homeless man, one very cold, wintry evening in downtown Portland, Oregon. Stunned by how young he was, I went home and began researching homelessness among young adults. I knew I wanted to do something, so I thought, well, I’m a musician, I’ll compose something. So, I did, a three-part string quartet piece called A Symphony for Portland. And while that satisfied something deep in my head, I was still troubled in my heart.”

“Then this contest came up for an original, unique Christmas Carol. That’s it, I thought. I can enter the contest and if by some chance my entry wins, I can take the prize money and donate it to one of my favorite shelters that specialize in caring for homeless teen and/or young adults.” 

“A few months later, I’m sitting at my oldest daughter’s kitchen table setting the lyric of the carol to music. I was comparing the Biblical Mary giving birth in a stable to that of a homeless girl giving birth in an abandoned warehouse. My daughter and her husband had gone to the OB/GYN for one final sonogram before being induced. I’m working with these lyrics: “In a Warehouse, lays a girl without a home…” and the phone rings. It’s my daughter. They are on the way to the hospital. She was a week past her due date and so I thought, “grandson time!” But she tells me the baby is dead, stillborn.  So instead of a baptism, we had a funeral.” 

“The poem, the lyrics, ended with a lullaby, which I had planned to sing to my grandson. And in time, it was that lullaby that propelled me back to the story, that poem about a homeless girl, alone in a warehouse. How did she get there? And when I figured that out, I had written a musical.”

Ms. Hemphill is hoping that the audience gets a lot out of this production including making personal connections, becoming more accepting of people in their lives and even becoming inspired to help make societal changes regarding some of the difficult issues addressed in the show.  “It is my hope, my purpose in risking so much to get this musical staged, that someone in the audience will connect to the story on a personal basis. Maybe they have a teenager with behavioral issues, maybe mental illness. Maybe it’s an addiction in the family that needs to be addressed. Maybe it’s a mom or dad, who is having difficulty reconciling their beliefs about LGBTQ+ issues and their faith and they’ve just learned that their child is now identifying as being “gay.” I want them to leave a performance moved to think beyond their preconceptions and to realize that they can love unconditionally their own child and still have a good relationship with God. Or maybe for troubled families, they recognize that the family needs help and seek it.”

“Finally, I hope families will research sex trafficking, homelessness and issues affecting the characters in this musical and then decide to do something, by volunteering or donating to their local charities that deal with these issues, thus helping reduce the instances where teenagers and young adults find themselves homeless.”

Though Covid is not over, Ms. Hemphill is grateful that the performing arts have made a comeback.  She has some sound ideas about what theatre should look like post-Covid.  “Two things I see for theatre, post covid. One, I hope that the trend for more representation on the stage and behind the scenes continues and becomes commonplace in theatre. I do wonder if five years from now, this will still be true. Real change takes hard work, including safe, but possibly uncomfortable conversations. Simply stating “we are making a commitment toward more inclusive theatre making” doesn’t mean long term meaningful action will, in fact, take place. Unless all voices are part of the decisions on just how to make inclusive theatre happen, this will be just a false signal blip on the social justice radar. I do read about good and positive change happening. Good work is getting done. I just hope it continues.”

“Two, I think you will see more musicals including original ones. Covid didn’t cause the deep divide that exists in our country, but it gave time for this terrible wound to fester and grow in its virulence. As we move past the direct effects of the illness, I think audiences are going to crave more feel-good stories, love stories and stories that inspire them.”

Next on the horizon for Ms. Hemphill is time with family, more productions of A Symphony for Portland in bigger venues and finishing two very interesting sounding musicals.  Her talent and experience will surely guide her to further success in the arts.  “I am looking forward to quality time with my family. If the show is as successful as I hope, I will be pushing it to the next level, with performances back home in Utah and with hope, Off-Broadway. Then surrounded by my wonderful husband, two dogs, two cats and family visits, I will be busy working on completing two more musicals. One is a love story that began when my late aunt asked me if that “internet-thing” could look up an old boyfriend, a soldier she knew who died during WWII. And the other musical, an interactive fun show written with a friend of mine, Bill Forrest, centering around the guests in a fictional piano bar on a cruise ship. It will be a combination of real piano-bar type audience sing-a-long and the story arcs of the characters sitting around the piano one night, forced to re-examine their lives when the ship’s emergency whistle begins to blow. “

Shranjay Arora Interview Part I: the lens is his lab

Shranjay Arora Interview by Jen Bush

Scientifically speaking, the lens is Shranjay Arora’s laboratory.  He is a filmmaker, editor and content creator who has amassed numerous international awards for his work.  Among his accolades, he was recognized by the Paris Play Film Festival and The New York Movie Awards.  Mr. Arora is currently the editor of The Shuttlepod Show.  It’s a Star Trek podcast hosted by two main cast members from Enterprise.  He accomplished the amazing feat of making an entire short film in under 48 hours.  In his own words, we will hear about his fascinating artistic journey.

“I admire science and still study it intensely, and I firmly believe “Art is Science, Science is Art,” so I find ways to combine it in my storytelling. I was on a path to becoming a doctor. However, midway through that journey, I realized I wanted to tell stories to heal and inspire people.” 

“Storytelling has intrigued me all my childhood, especially Visual Storytelling. Having edited visual content for 14 years, I can confidently say I can feel the footage and sounds individually and understand their impact on the viewer. In addition, I find it very interesting that tiny Pixels can make people feel and even move them. These two elements interact with our human behavior and psychology, and great films use them well.”

“I believe Filmmaking is as technical as it is creative. When I am finished editing my films, I make my trusted reviewers watch them with an eye-track setup to see how I retained them and what portion of the frame was a hotspot and improve from there. It’s all about the interactions of the senses.”

“What You See Is What You Believe,” “and even in our studies, we were told that “Whatever a human eye or ear sees or hears, our brains don’t know whether it’s on a virtual screen or really happening in front of them,” and I take that very seriously. I believe it can be a powerful tool to tell the story through two human emotions that are pillars of humanity itself – Hope & Fear.”

“Without hope, there is no progress or growth; without fear, there is no change. As an artist, I find myself telling stories about technology and how it interacts with us, and the modern issues we face due to technological advancement. I find it my moral duty to keep the audience aware of where we come from and, most importantly, what we have become?”    

“Films & stories are a mirror we can look at and find ourselves within. So, to me, as an artist, my projects need to have a reflection of something real or something I went through. Because if people don’t relate, you are not telling a story.” 

Proxy was a recent short film I directed, wrote & edited, and it was about what happens when the lines between reality and fantasy get mixed. When VR gets too real… “Spotted” was another short film I directed, wrote, and edited, which was a social commentary on how viral influencers of today’s world may become too close to the cults in history. It revolves around what differentiates a “Cult” from “Culture.”

“I want to make people question the world, their behavior and actions through my films, and that’s what I have devoted my life to.”

PART II: The American Experience

Big Talent … Big Heart, That’s JUDY

Judy Pancoast Interview by Jen Bush

Judy Pancoast is a singer, songwriter, recording artist, and Grammy nominee for Best Children’s Album.  She loves everything about creating songs but likes writing lyrics the most.  She wrote an exciting musical called Girl On The Moon.  Ms. Pancoast is a little bit Country and a little bit Rock and Roll!  After formal training and a degree in music she paid her dues performing different genres of music from Honky Tonk to straight up Rock. Ms. Pancoast’s Christmas spirit paid off when her one hit wonder Christmas song took the world by storm and can now be heard outside countless homes with synchronized holiday decorations.  She even spun vinyls and then discovered that writing and performing music for children brought her great joy.  She’s hoping Girl On The Moon, her youth musical geared for 10-18 year olds reaches stratospheric popularity. 

It’s typical for mothers to sing to their infants.  In Judy Pancoast’s case, it was the other way around.  “I was born musical- my mother would say that I sang before I could talk.” Ms. Pancoast feels “on top of the world” whenever she hears a Carpenter’s song.  “I began writing songs at age twelve and thought I was going to be the next Karen Carpenter. She was my idol, and The Carpenters were my main musical inspiration, along with all the top 40 hits of the 70s. My musical journey after attaining a BA in Music from the University of Maine took me through piano bars, rock bands, jazz bands, and a foray into Country in Nashville in the 80s. All this time I was working full-time as a radio deejay to support my music. In the mid-90s I decided to leave music and radio and become an elementary school teacher in order to give my daughters a more stable life, but Music had other ideas. During my studies, I began writing music for children, and by the time I earned my Master’s in Education in 1997 I had a new career as a children’s musician, which eventually led to a Grammy nomination for Best Children’s Album in 2011.”

“While focusing on children’s music I also branched out into Christmas music, and my song, “The House on Christmas Street,” became a world-wide phenomenon, playing at the houses of decorators all over the planet who synchronize their outdoor light displays to music!”

“In 2016 I was asked by the author Joe R. Lansdale to adapt his novella, “Christmas with the Dead” as a stage musical, and thus began the latest phase of my career!”

The inspiration for this musical came from Ms. Pancoast wanting to empower little girls creatively and vocationally.  “When my daughter was performing in theater in middle school I realized that there were far more girls involved than boys, and I thought I might write a piece that would have several very good leads for girls. I’d often told my two daughters how fortunate they were that they could choose any career they wanted because back when I was young things were different for girls. I used to say, “Barbie could be a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary. Never a doctor or an astronaut.” From that saying sprang the idea of a girl growing up in the 60s-70s who wanted to be an astronaut, so she invites her best friends over the watch the moon landing. I knew it would focus on the growing awareness of women at that time that changes needed to be made in the way they were treated.”

 For the premiere of Girl On The Moon Ms. Pancoast began performances locally till the pandemic had other plans.  Like much of the performing arts during the lockdown, a virtual show was possible.   Ms. Pancoast was over the moon when in-person productions began once again.  “It was slated to premiere at my local school- Mountain View Middle School in Goffstown, NH- in spring of 2020. Rehearsals were already underway when the pandemic shut everything down. We were able to pivot to a virtual show, and that premiered on YouTube in the spring of 2021. From there the show was performed by the Luminescent Moon Theater Company in Massilon, OH in August, ’21, then at Parkside Middle School in Manchester, NH in November, ’21, and at Mojave High School in California in April, 22. The show was such a success there that they are planning to present it again this fall.”

 Some productions worked better than others.  Though this is a play targeted at a youthful demographic, it’s important for the people involved to be cognizant of the historical perspective associated with this show.  “It’s really important that the actors understand a little bit about the history of women’s rights, especially during that time. I want them to feel what it was like to have their choices limited just because of their gender. Of course, the songs are very important and so the music director will need to work closely with the cast on learning the music!”

Ms. Pancoast would like to have an impact on the young ladies who come to see the show who might not be aware of the past struggles of women.  “I’m hoping the girls will have an appreciation for all those who came before them who had to fight to get equal rights, and that we aren’t even there yet. I worry sometimes that the current generation of young people doesn’t realize that people didn’t always have what they have now.”

The current political climate is having an influence on new artistic works.  It just so happens that the subject matter of Girl On The Moon addresses some of the same issues that America is dealing with right now.  “We are in a strange era where hard-won women’s rights are being threatened. Freedoms that we’ve had for generations are being taken away. It’s more important than ever that young women and girls know about what it took to get to those rights and that we need to work that fiercely once again to hold on to them.

 Ms. Pancoast gives her regards to Broadway but her ultimate goal is to share her musical with the impressionable youths of the world.  “I would love to see “Girl on the Moon” performed at every middle and high school in the country! It will be far more valuable to the school community than yet another “Jr.” version of a famous musical because it has an important message that needs to be heard now more than ever. And, of course, I’d love for youth theater groups to present it as well.”

Ms. Pancoast has some more musical delights in the works.  If you’re good, Santa may bring you a ticket to her Christmas show!  “I’m currently working on a new musical for general adult audiences, and that is going to be ready for its staged reading in early 2023. I already have plans for my fourth musical, a family Christmas show based on a song I wrote called “The House on Christmas Street.”  Whether it’s cheering children or entertaining adoring adults, Ms. Pancoast has enough music and passion to go to the moon and back!  

Rewarding RELAPSE

Review by Bob Greene

There are many ways to unveil a new and exciting stage work. One of the most accessible – and safest – is the industry presentation. An invite-only event where a new and topical piece – in this case, a musical – is unveiled to a crowd, educated in the artform for feedback and networking. A recent and quite successful case is RELAPSE, THE MUSICAL.  

Producer Jay Michaels – possessing vast and commendable knowledge of the independent theatre scene – placed this event at the well-known Playwrights Horizons, and kept his shrewdness going by gathering a strong team to helm it. Two-time Tony-nominated director, Joe McKneely, banded with Broadway musician, Mark Galinovsky, to present a superior example of this type of presentation.  

The piece itself is powerful and certainly timely. Book & lyric writer, Justin Giachetti, and music composer, Louis A. Josephson, offered us a deeply moving exploration into the souls and psyches of six denizens of a drug rehab center. Clever word-play by Giachetti was enhanced by soaring melodies supplied by Josephson.  

These two young up-and-certainly-coming musical artists’ work would have been commendable in the hands of any qualified professional (it’s that good), but when given to the likes of the skilled and inventive McKneely, the project benefited grandly.  

Utilizing simple tricks with music stands, subtle movement, and strong choices for his actors, McKneely peppered the emotional material with an edginess that made for an entertaining and engrossing evening. Galinovsky’s hand with the artists and on the piano was both subtle and striking, opening the doors for beautiful harmonies (supplied by Josephson) and leaving enough room for Giachetti’s banter in both song and scene to be delivered with power.  

The cast rose to the occasion of the material and the team. Audree Hedequist brought a pain that was deafening amid her more-often silence as Melinda; Ryan Hurley (as gay bulimic Bryan) and Ava Diane Tyson (as pyromaniac Kendra) found humor (very dark humor, that is) before bringing down the house with their own musical numbers; Steven Makropoulos echoed the “doctor” in Michael Cristofer’s The Shadow Box as an omnipresent therapist with his own mental issues; but it was Jacob Ryan Smith and “Voice” celebrity, We’ Ani McDonald who served as the anchor as Andy, the budding songwriter, who suffered the titular “relapse” and the therapist who saw something in him that even he didn’t. It was their stunning vocals that allowed them to step out of what seemed to be an ensemble piece.  

That fact that this “seemed” to be an ensemble piece, is its undeniable flaw. It seems to be ensemble only in that no one seems to be designed as the lead. Maybe it’s Jacob that seems to be the lead but We’ has the show-stopping tune but Ava has that stronger story, but Ryan offers the most pathos, but Melinda … you get the point. Focusing each storyline and making tough decisions as to what the prevailing plot needs to be would turn this into a winning piece – even at this early gestation.  

Relapse looks like it can fit into the current level of Broadway musical if we assume the trend formulated by RENT, Jagged Little Pill, Dear Evan Hanson, and A Strange Loop continues – and if some wise moves are made in future generations of this promising piece.   

“Shot” hit the mark.

A Shot Rang Out Review by Jen Bush

I have a black friend.  In fact, I have many friends of diverse ethnicities and sexual orientations.   When I was learning to ride a bicycle, this one particular friend held on tight to the back of it so that I wouldn’t fall.  We played together and our families socialized on a regular basis.  He enjoys a successful career as an elementary school teacher and we are still friends to this day.  Sadly, in many cases, if a black boy approached a white girl on a bicycle and held the back of it, I don’t have to spell out the rest of the scenario for you.  An assumption might be made.  Assumptions is a germane word here.  The police officer in A Shot Rang Out held many assumptions about boys of color to the detriment of his moral and ethical obligation to serve and protect ALL in his community.

A Shot Rang Out takes place in a warehouse.  While a violent protest is happening outside, a police officer is trapped in the warehouse with a young black man and an angry white teacher.  The young black man was simply trying to stay alive and seek safety from the escalating protest.  The police officer assumes that he is a thug and acts accordingly attempting to arrest him.  The word thug is thrown around a lot in this play to emphasize the perception of people of color.   The teacher enters the warehouse, surveys the scene and tries to protect the boy.  She is angry that so many innocent lives are being taken.  The situation spirals out of control and the lives of all three characters are changed irrevocably.

This contemporaneous commentary on social injustice and the abuse of authority in law enforcement will bring to the surface a whole host of emotions from audience members.  FYI, the feelings won’t be warm and fuzzy.  You will be saddened and enraged which is the desired result of seeing this play.  For a nation that has made so much progress in so many areas, the continued divisiveness is confounding.  This production highlights a racially motivated epidemic problem in the current state of law enforcement nationwide. 

Michael Hagins is an African American playwright, director, fight director, actor and producer.  He used to write more lighthearted plays, but societal ills have caused this talented playwright to take his work in another direction.  This play was inspired by the real-life incident in Ferguson, Missouri when a white police officer killed a young black man.  His brilliant script demonstrates that he has his finger on the pulse of contemporary issues plaguing society.  He is a voice of social injustice.  This play is raw, emotionally charged, and necessary.  Mr. Hagins is using his artform as a platform to educate and draw attention to a problem that needs to change.

The actors that were cast all shined in their roles.  Marquis Neal played Terrell Brown who sought refuge from the protest.  This passionate performer has been connecting with audiences since the tender age of eight.  He crafted a convincing and compelling portrayal of an innocent young person just trying to survive among the dangerous chaotic situation outside.  Another early starter, Samantha Simone has been in the industry since the age of 10 and her professionalism shows.  Her interpretation of a frustrated and compassionate teacher was riveting.  It was smart of the casting director to put James Smart in the role of Officer Randy Kilmer.  He knocked it out of the park and evoked a lot of emotional responses as he acted his way through difficult subject matter.  Intuitive direction by Rachael Langton was the cherry on top of this production.  Well done all around.

Coral Mizrachi: Can’t Kill Me Now

Can’t Kill Me Now Review by Jen Bush

Coral Mizrachi began her artistic journey in her birthplace of Israel.  She took her passion for acting and telling stories to the stage where she starred in shows like Into the Woods.  In 2017, she was accepted into The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, one of the most prestigious acting institutions in the world.  In 2020 she had the lead role in a television serios Trippin Stacia and then the unthinkable happened, a cancer diagnosis.

Can’t Kill me Now is a biographical music video of this beautiful young artist’s struggle and ultimate triumph over cancer.  It’s difficult to watch yet uplifting overall.  Wes Aldrich composed a haunting and stunning piece of music that provides a wonderful companion to this poignant video.  We see the pain, the anger and the fear associated with this horrific illness when we see this beautiful young lady screaming under water receiving hypodermic needles and IV hookups.  Make no mistake, even without hair, Ms. Mizrachi looks beautiful and even healthy, but your heart will break when she looks at her own reflection with such deep anguish.  In this video we also see a strong, brave, and resilient warrior who reclaims her life as she gets better and stronger.   She takes paint and transforms a canvas into a gorgeous seascape.  She laughs and dances and finds joyous moments by the ocean.  This story had a happy ending.  There are many more stages and screens waiting for the artistry of Coral Mizrachi.  May the rest of her journey unfold with the best of health, joy, and prosperity. 

Just in time for PRIDE: “Here We Are” by Seda Anbarci & Lissette Camacho

Here We Are-Web Series Review by Jen Bush

Seda Anbarci journeyed from Istanbul to Los Angeles to fulfill her dream of being in the arts.  She went from lab flasks to lens filters when she said goodbye to science and hello to filmmaking.  Seda is the talented director and co-writer of Here We Are, created and produced by Lissette Camacho

Just in time for Pride Month comes an LGBTQ+ family drama/romance web series called Here We Are.  There are two short episodes so far with more to come.  In addition to Seda Anbarci’s expert direction and writing, this series was created by Lissette Camacho who also stars in it..

In the opener set on a gorgeous beach, we see Evie, a college age adult sitting on a blanket writing poetry.  Lia, also a college student but premed, approaches Evie for some sunscreen.  The two strike up a conversation and end up exchanging phone numbers. 

In Episode two, we meet Evie’s mother and sister.  Evie is struggling with texting Lia.  Evie’s mom gets a little nosy and Monica interferes in her sister’s affairs.

It will be exciting to see where the diligent director takes this summer love series.  The trailer suggests a lot of mama drama.  The acting was solid with the cast all well suited for their roles.  Lissette Camacho is delightful as the angsty Evie.  Katy Corbus is wonderful at the assertive Lia.  Barbara Saba provided some fun comic relief as Evie’s mom.  Johanna Martinez was great as Evie’s feisty sister.  The cinematography is stunning.  You will want to be transported to that beach immediately upon seeing it.  The music was upbeat and complimented the scenes nicely.   

The short episodes leave you wanting more.  Will Evie be able to send a text?  Will Lia return to school in New York?  Stay tuned! 

A very merry “Wives”

The Merry Wives of Windsor Review by Jen Bush

The American Theatre of Actors has been in operation for 46 years.  This supportive institution provides a creative playground for new playwrights, directors, and actors to nurture their work.  Edie Flaco, Dennis Quaid and Chazz Palminteri are just a few of the many notable artists who have worked with this theatre.  They present this version of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The Merry Wives of Windsor centers around the characters of John Falstaff, Mistress Ford, Mistress Page and Anne Page, daughter of Mistress Page.  The unscrupulous John Falstaff is after the fortunes of the mistresses’ husbands.  He endeavors to seduce the two unwitting housewives to flee with the fortunes.  Anne Page is courted by three suitors but she only desires one of the three.  Mistress Ford and Mistress Page get wind of Falstaff’s scheme and come up with a scheme of their own to humiliate him.

Undertaking a Shakespearean play is a challenging endeavor, and this company was certainly up for the challenge.  Every pun, metaphor and simile in this play was delivered diligence.  The Bard’s beloved boisterous comedy was in excellent hands with this international, multi-ethnic talented cast.  Each and every one of them deserves a shout out and that’s exactly what they’re going to get. 

Michael Bordwell is no fool, but he pulled off playing one.  His comedic command of John Falstaff was a pure joy to watch.  Amanda Cannon, Amber Brooks and Jake McMichael all took a page out of the Shakespeare book of fine acting with their portrayals of members of the Page family.  Amy Losi was a worthy adversary for Falstaff with her cunning portrayal of Mistress Ford.  Tom Kane gave a fine performance as Shallow.  As a self-professed late bloomer in acting, what he lacks in time, he makes up for in talent.  Alan Hasnas was so good, I didn’t even realize he was playing two characters until further into the play.  Gabe Girson played Slender with Slender loving care.  Having seen Manny Rey in a previous production, it’s evident that he’s got range and a strong command of the characters he portrays.  Ken Dillon gave a solid performance as Sir Hugh Evans.  Well done, accent and all.   Dustin Pazar was a winner as the winning suitor, Fenton.  The third time was a charm for Sky Spallone (great name!) as this was her third production with A.T.A.  Vicky Gitre handled their three roles with keen expertise.  Having studied biochemistry, Riyadh Rollins definitely had a lot of chemistry in his roles of Pistol and Second Servant.  Nicole Arcieri was simply the best in her role of simple.  The multilingual Marc Martin wowed the crown with his French Doctor Caius.  Jake Minter’s double duty playing two characters was doubly good.

The actors utilized two levels of the stage.  Shakespeare plays do love a good balcony scene.  The fact that there were minimal set pieces was of no detriment.  It made it easier to concentrate on the fine acting.  The costumes were clever and inventive.  The finale was illuminating.  The production was directed and co-directed by a pair of A.T.A. veterans.  Award winning director Ken Coughlin knows how to direct an actor because he is an actor and a good one at that.  He gave a memorable performance in Banned in Bisbee as a military man also at A.T.A.  Laurie Rae Waugh, also an award-winning director, handled assistant directing duties expertly.  You have until July 3rd to make merry with this production of The Merry Wives of Windsor.  I would suggest you make haste and see it.

The World According to Antonia

Antonia Kasper Interview by Jen Bush

A highlight of Pride Month is all the exciting happenings in the performing arts world.  From lively stage productions to passionate songs sung loud and proud, entertainment is in full swing. 

Antonia Kasper happens to have a wonderful show playing this month.  Antonia Kasper is an award-winning writer, producer, director, and actress.  The comedy that she wrote and directed, True Confessions Of The Straight Man is currently playing at The Laurie Beechman Theatre.  Through her craft, she endeavors to feature people who are usually in the shadows.  Her pieces are humorous with a message, and she considers her job well done when her work resonates with people.  “My mission as a writer is to give a voice to people that are sometimes not heard.  For me, personally, it’s women and men of a certain age, or that may have had a turbulent past that isn’t visible to most. I like to write edgy or quirky material and now especially with all the hardships in the past few years, I feel comedy is really needed right now. Because I’m from a comedy background, I love writing comedy with some dramatic or poignant underlying message. Connecting with people and connecting people through writing is my most important mission.” 

Ms. Kasper doesn’t have to look far to find her keen observations for her works.  “I get most of my ideas and observations from my personal experience or experiences of people I know around me. The everyday man or woman struggling for their own integrity, purpose or truth in an environment that doesn’t support those honorable traits. At this time, like with True Confessions of The Straight Man, I’m redefining older writings that originated in a past time but that still feels timeless in many ways.  Some topics I have written years ago have messages that are still relevant today.”

The pandemic has most certainly changed the arts, but it also presented a challenge to artists to be more creative with limited resources.  Ms. Kasper rose to that challenge and came away with added techniques.  “Well, as far as stage productions, Covid has obviously really hurt the theatre.  But I do try to look for any positives or take aways from challenging times. Though people still aren’t going to live performances like they used to, artists have learned how to pivot with their art.  For instance, learning how to live-stream and have adjusted what was once a stage performance to more film/tv or camera type styles.

At least, that’s what I learned for myself. In the middle of the pandemic, I performed my one woman show “45 Coffee Dates” and restaged much of it for camera-type streaming. I found some interesting choices that I would have never found without the pandemic.  A few months ago, I performed the show live and took some of those acting choices I found through zoom performances that also worked well on stage. So, I believe many artists and the art supporters have had to “think outside the stage box” which has opened up alternative and interesting ways of interpretation and expression.  But performing at home in front of your computer or phone is daunting. On the other hand, what’s theatre without an audience’s laughter, gasps or applause? It’s hard to hear or see how people are reacting to your art when you are performing to a blank screen. Nothing beats live performing. While directing “True Confessions of The Straight Man” I found the initial auditioning process more convenient for both the creatives and the actors auditioning because everyone is using zoom now.  But live call backs and rehearsals are more challenging with vaccination card checks, regular Covid testing and mask wearing. Though all the compliance is slowly being phased out in theatre and the arts, it’s still difficult to say where we are all headed in the future.  Hopefully, artists, the arts (and the world) will get back to normal times…like the way we lived BEFORE the pandemic.          

From Three’s Company to I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry, a straight man pretending to be gay has been a concept utilized on stage and screen time and again.  Through a careful balance of comedy and character depth, Ms. Kasper found a way to convey an important message using this concept.  “Three’s company revolves around a living situation, whereas Todd in True Confessions of The Straight Man is always pegged as being gay because he’s handsome, sweet, sensitive, and still single in New York City and plays gay to get the girl. Kate, who has been burned by guys, almost projects her wanting Todd to be gay onto him. It’s farcical and though an outlandish story it is based on some of my own experiences in Hell’s Kitchen in the 1990’s. All the great guys I knew and could relate to were gay. I thought the concept of a straight guy pretending to be a homosexual “to be cool” was a twist to the homosexual guy pretending to be heterosexual to be “accepted”. So basically, Kate makes Todd gay, and he plays along to get to know her better but gets in over his head playing this charade.  It escalates when everyone in the show takes on different personas. The show twists and turns with mistaken identities and disguises.  But through wearing different masks, the characters begin to understand each other.  The show is a farce but does have a poignant message about living in someone else’s shoes for a time being – about understanding each other and acceptance.”      

With projects galore coming up, Ms. Kasper will be keeping busy utilizing her artistic gifts in the arts world.  “Though film and television work is ramping up for me right now, understandably so, I hope to do more live theatre once we can get through this still unpredictable time.  

It would also be nice to see “True Confessions of The Straight Man” extended or continued after the summer. With Kasper Productions, I have some new works in development which includes an exciting new musical with original music and relaunching another period piece. In October,I will be directing Phyllis Gordon in her one woman show, “Em-Pathetic” at The Emerging Artists New Works Series. And when theatre is more robust, (crossed fingers in the fall/winter of 2022) I plan to perform my one woman show “45 Coffee Dates- In search of my soulmate through cyberspace and beyond!”

“I hope we all continue to rise through this prolonged tough time and everyone feels more confident going out and seeing theatre again soon!”       


Bill Eisenring reviews GIDION’S KNOT

REVIEW by Bill Eienring
Gidon’s Knot
Theater Row (6/16-6/27/22)
Johnna Adams. Playwright
David E. Shane, Director
Nicola Bertram
Laura King Otazo

(Photo provided by Dan Lane Williams (DLW Photography)

If you are a lover of theater, and not triggered by the suicide of a preteen boy, then rush to get tickets to
Gidon’s Knot at Theater Row. Johanna Adams has written a play of extraordinary quality, Director David
E. Shane has embraced Adams text and actors Nicola Bertram and Laura King Otaza do a fantastic job
transferring Adams words and Shane’s vision to the stage.

This 90 minute gem is far better than much that has made it to Broadway and has writing as good as How I Learned to Drive.

Gidon is 11 years old and suspended from school. A day later he commits suicide by handgun. His mother
wants to understand why. She shocks his teacher by keeping the appointment she was requested to make
after the suspension. The confrontation is both “gentile” and devastating.

A grieving mother striving to understand why an institution where she had sent her son to be both safe
and academically challenged failed him on both counts. Gidon’s mother would love to untie the Gordian
Knot that triggered her son’s death, but, when she leaves her meeting, we are fairly certain she has
recognized that she needs to cut it.

Adams challenges the audience to recognize the difference between who Gidon’s teacher presents herself
as and who she actually is. Just as Lucas Hnath in Dana H. required audiences to reject their vision of
what a mother “must” be, Adams, more subtly than even Hnath, needs the audience to see through teacher “Heather’s” veneer and see who “Heather” is.