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Entries in Actor (131)

Saturday
Jun042016

Call Redialed: Courter Simmons: Under The C: Cacophony Daniels Sings The Songs of Howard Ashman at The Duplex

Courter Simmons, Photo Credit: Brian Ray Norris I first met Courter Simmons four years ago when I saw him in an Off-Broadway show. I was so impressed by his talent, that I knew I had to interview him. We had a great time talking back then that I was super excited for the opportunity to interview Courter again, except this time around, we are focusing on his alter-ego, Cacophony Daniels. After a triumphant debut, Cacophony will be returning to The Duplex (61 Christopher Street at 7th Avenue) in NYC with her show Under The C: Cacophony Daniels Sings The Songs of Howard Ashman which will be taking place on June 10 at 7pm. Click here for tickets! 

For more on Cacophony follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

For more on Courter be sure to visit http://courtersimmons.com and follow him on Twitter and Instagram!

 1. This June, you are returning to The Duplex with your show Under The C: Cacophony Daniels Sings The Songs of Howard Ashman. What made now the right time to bring this show back? Last month was the very first time I did the show…in fact, it was my first solo show EVER! The audience response was fantastic, we had a wonderful review on Bistroawards.com, and I had an amazing time! The folks who run the Duplex loved it too and wanted me to get the chance to do it again, so we’re striking while the iron’s hot.

2. It's been 4 years since we last spoke. So, we have to play catch up for a moment. How did you come up with the character Cacophony Daniels? Cacophony was born on the road when I was with Jersey Boys. We threw a big drag party and the whole cast showed up in drag. But people had been telling me almost all my life that drag was something I should do. So when I found myself back in New York between theatre jobs, I started creating looks. I sew; I learned how to style wigs, and the rest is history. As for Cacophony herself, the word literally means "a harsh, discordant mixture of sounds" and that pretty much sums her up. Not that I sing off-key or anything, but when people think of Cacophony I want them to think of a loud, overbearing noise that can’t be ignored.

Courter Simmons as Cacophony Daniels3. What makes Cacophony stand-out from other drag performers? Cacophony is above all a live singer, and a good singer too (she’s won contests!). Not only that, she sings female songs in female keys. She’s a belty broad, in the style of Bette Middler, who is a huge influence. She also presents some pretty crazy looks, from a dress made out of 80 pairs of earrings to one made out of garden-gloves to a giant coin-purse! She’s also funny and is never mean - she can be good-heartedly bitchy, but that’s different. Don’t go to one of her shows expecting a pageant or an insult comic.

4. In Under The C, you are singing the songs of Howard Ashman. With so many composers out there, why did you want to do a show dedicated to his music? Paying tribute to Howard Ashman this year is especially important-this year marks the 25th anniversary of his passing due to complications from AIDS. But no matter how long it’s been, his music is STILL influencing us today. He STILL has music on Broadway (in Aladdin), and I haven’t been to a cabaret show or piano bar that HASN’T featured at least one of his songs. And don’t even get me started on his influence at Disney. Disney wouldn’t be what it is today without Howard’s guidance in the 80’s and early 90’s. (Watch the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty).

Courter Simmons as Cacophony Daniels5. Two of my favorite Howard Ashman songs from The Little Mermaid are "Part of Your World" and "Poor Unfortunate Souls." When in your life did you want to be part of something that you weren't? and Was there ever a time in your life when you felt like a "Poor Unfortunate Soul"? Well listen, we all wanted to be on Broadway before we were. There are lots of talented performers who I respect so much who STILL haven’t been part of THAT world. And hell, I’m still trying to get back into it too! I think that song resonates so much because just about every human being has felt at sometime that they stood on the outside of a group, club, lifestyle, or world that they longed to join.

As far as being a "Poor Unfortunate Soul," I can sit around and feel sorry for myself with the best of ‘em. But when I really examine my life, I see that I’ve been VERY fortunate.

6. Another favorite Howard Ashman song I have is "Somewhere That's Green" from Little Shop of Horrors. When you need to escape and get away from the world, whether it be physical or mental, where is your "Somewhere That's Green"? Escaping into another world through a good piece of theatre is always my go-to. I love entering a world that someone else creates on stage and watching what happens there. When it’s done right, you forget all your own troubles and live someone else’s for a while, and that’s very rejuvenating.

Director & Lyricist Howard Ashman (on the set of Little Shop at Indiana University (his alma mater).7. A lesser known Howard Ashman song is "Hero" from his unfinished musical Babe. Who is your hero? I’ve got a couple of heroes. My Mom, who raised us on her own and has always supported me. My husband, who truly strives every day to make the world a better place for those in need. And Carol Channing.

8. Another Howard Ashman song people might not know is "The Very Best Week of Our Lives" from his musical Smile. What was the best week of your life so far? That’s a hard one! I guess I’d have to say the week of my wedding. We took our family and closest friends to a tropical island, explored and had fun, and in the midst of it all committed out lives to each other. It was magical.

Courter Simmons with his husband Jason Cianciotto9. One great thing about your show Under The C, is that people have the option to donate the cost of their ticket to Harlem United, a non-profit that provides primary care, substance use, and housing services to over 16,000 New Yorkers per year. What made you want to team up with this great organization? How have they helped you in your life? My husband began working at Harlem United this year after a long career in activism and advocacy. Like other groups that came about during the AIDS crisis, Harlem United was founded to fill a need that wasn’t being met at the time. In the decades since, it has evolved into a full-fledged community health center, providing a wide range of services, including primary care, counseling, support groups and even dental and housing services. I’ve never been a client, but I’ve seen the impact of the wonderful work that they do.

10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? I try NOT to spread negativity on social media. I don’t comment or post about the Billionaire Idiot presidential candidate who-shall-not-be-named. When I have the impulse to put down a bitchy comment, I type it and then delete it before I even post it, just to get it out of my system. There’s enough of that crap out there. But if you’d like to see all the fun stuff I DO post, follow Cacophony Daniels on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! ;)

Courter SimmonsMore on Courter:

You probably remember Courter from his recent appearance as a "Flying Dildo" on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, or in his other life as cabaret drag-queen darling Cacophony Daniels. If not, you may have seen him in one of these other things: Broadway: Jersey Boys (Bob Crewe) National Tours: Jersey Boys (Joey, Frankie Valli u/s), Beauty and the Beast (LeFou), High School Musical. Off-Broadway: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie; The Kid Who Would Be Pope (Ars Nova) Babes in Arms (Musicals Tonight). Favorite Regional: Jersey Boys Las Vegas, Chicago (Mary Sunshine), Singin’ in the Rain (Cosmo), A Chorus Line (Mike), Violet (Billy Dean/Virgil), Barnum (Tom Thumb). Television: The Mysteries of Laura, 2009 TONY Awards ("National Tour Frankie Valli"). Film: The Producers.

Tuesday
May312016

Call Answered: Barrett Foa: NCIS: Los Angeles and "Grin and Barrett" at Feinstein's/54 Below

Barrett FoaBarrett Foa first came on my radar when I saw him replace John Tartaglia as the lead in the Tony Award winning musical Avenue Q. Since then, I've had the joy of seeing Barrett in Broadway's The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Buyer and Cellar at Barrow Street Theatre. 

It's been great watching Barrett on NCIS: Los Angeles as "Eric Beale" for the past seven seasons on CBS! I'm so excited for Barrett's latest venture, during his hiatus from NCIS: Los Angeles, the New York City debut of his show Grin and Barrett, "an evening of pride, desperation, and show-offsmanship in a one-man cabaret that is sure to be…a little over an hour long!" It's a joy to get to hear Barrett Foa sing and I can't wait to see this new show!

Grin and Barrett will be playing Feinstein's/54 Below in NYC on June 3 and 7 and Feinstein's Nikko in San Francisco on June 24 and 25!

For more on Barrett be sure to follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

1. This June you are going to be delighting audiences at Feinstien's/54 Below and Feinstein's Nikko with your brand new show Grin and Barrett. When was there a time in your life when you had to "Grin and Barrett" for something you didn't want to do? To be honest? Putting together this very show. There are these waves ​of "what are you doing, Barrett? A cabaret? That's a terrible idea. No one likes those. For God's sake, change your name, run away to Stockholm, and start your life over!" But life is about about going through the fear and living inside of something scary. That's the thrill. Grinning and bearing it out. It's the only way to grow. Eventually, you come to realize the wave of yuck is actually exactly where you want and need to be.

2. What made now the right time to bring this show to NYC? ​I'm a series regular on NCIS: Los Angeles and we shoot a whopping 24 episodes a season, making our hiatus only 2-3 months long. TV exercises different muscles than the stage, so instead of going on vacation, I love to get back to my theatrical roots. The problem is finding the right project that fits into that narrow time slot. This year, instead of waiting around for something to line up (the way Buyer & Cellar did when I stepped into that off-Broadway two summers ago), I decided to create my own evening. This way, I can book the show in other cities and stay creative throughout the year. Plus, NYC is my hometown so I get to see shows, have oodles of family dinners, and plenty of #nephewtime.

Barrett Foa performing "Grin and Barrett" in Los Angeles3. What are you looking forward to most about performing this show?  I'm pumped to feel that connection with a live audience again - that thrill of hearing, seeing, knowing that family, friends, and fans are out there supporting you. That's another thing you miss with TV acting. I'm also proud of how Grin and Barrett is fun and silly one moment, and then digs down into something a little deeper while avoiding the dreaded "cabaret confessional" territory. One of my favorite songs in the show is a James Taylor folk version of "The Beauty Is" from THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA. It's insanely lovely and I can't wait to sing it.

4. Grin and Barrett is "an evening of pride, desperation, and show-offsmanship." What, in your life, brings you the most pride? What something you are desperate for? What is one skill you show-off that you believe no one else possesses? ​Right now I'm most proud of my Dad. He is going through a lot and he is really stepping up to the plate where others would run or crumble into a ball.​

I'm desperate to get settled. I have been moving around a lot lately. I feel floaty, and that's no fun.

As for special skills, my dog, Scotch, has a circus trick that I can't even take credit for: When she pees, she lifts up both her hind legs and walks on her two front paws for about 8-10 steps. It must take insane core strength. (I'm working on this in yoga, but people are starting to look at me funny).

Barrett Foa as "Eric Beale" on CBS' "NCIS: Los Angeles"5. You have spent seven seasons on CBS' NCIS: Los Angeles. What was your favorite flub that happened to you while filming? What did you learn about your inner nerd from playing "Eric Beale"? Lately, whenever I trip over a word, I've taken to saying "5, 6, 7, 8" to get back on track. I guess it's a comfort and it brings me back to my musical theatre training. But it makes the rest of the cast laugh, especially LL Cool J. ​My character, "Eric Beale" is the resident tech geek. He's a bumbling underdog when he's nervous and yet has tons of confidence because he's so good at what he does.​ That dichotomy is fun to play and makes for some good laughs.

I'm learning that there is power in being the underdog. In not being cool. Funnily enough, I talk extensively about this phenomenon in Grin and Barrett. I'm telling you, we dive deep! This ain't your grandma's cabaret. (Sorry Nonnie - she'll be 99 in August, drinks scotch everyday - and yes, she's coming to the show).

6. Let's combine your worlds of television and theatre. If your character "Eric Beale" on NCIS: Los Angeles, were investigating "Princeton/Rod" from Avenue Q, "Leaf Coneybear" from Spelling Bee, and "Alex More" from Buyer and Cellar, what do you think their MO would be to carry out their crimes? Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick.

Renee Felice Smith and Barrett Foa on CBS' "NCIS: Los Angeles"7. What did you learn about acting from working on a TV series for so long? How do you feel this will strengthen your theatrical performances? I've learned TONS. Since we churn out so many episodes - 170 and counting - you get less precious about your work, which can be freeing.​ Your first instinct is usually best, and you learn to go with you gut. In theatre, there is time to rehearse and polish and finesse, which I love and miss terribly, but there is also something satisfying about doing it and letting it all go - the scene, the lines, the moment. Cut. We got it. Moving on!

8. What shows that are currently playing do you wish you could have auditioned for, but weren't able to because of NCIS: Los Angeles?  The men that originated these roles were all perfection, but roles currently on Broadway that I'd like to take a crack at down the line include: "King George" in HAMILTON (opening in LA in 2017. Hmmm...), "Georg" in SHE LOVES ME, "William Shakespeare" in SOMETHING ROTTEN, "Rodolfo" in A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, and "Richard" in THE HUMANS. I'm dying to do VENUS IN FUR somewhere. The female role in that play ​usually gets all the attention, but I think there is much to mine in the role of the playwright, "Thomas."

9. As an actor, what's it like to go watch a theatrical show? Can you just sit, watch, and enjoy it? Or do you always think, I'd love to do audition for this show or thank goodness, I'm on this side of the stage or I would play the role this way? The goal is to enjoy yourself and get lost in the show, and I'm proud to say that I still WANT to do that and still CAN do that. The moment that ends, I'll stop going to theatre, I'll stop being an actor, and maybe stop being a human being. How horrible to have to sit there with your arms crossed judging. A great example of this is Zachary Levi singing the title song from SHE LOVES ME. I used to sing that song for auditions all the time. I was over the moon not to be in my head thinking what I would have done better, because Zachary was so utterly charming and winsome. I was completely transported. Other transcendent moments from this season for me have been: the opening of SHE LOVES ME, that amazing new choreography in the current revival of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, the end of Act 1 on DEAR EVAN HANSEN, and most of THE HUMANS.

10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day?  My voice, my ability to seek connection, my ability to trust myself.​

BONUS QUESTION:

11. You have done my friend Billy Mitchell's Villain DeBlanks a few times now. I got to perform in it once here in NYC. What did you love about performing in this scripted-improvised show? How did something like this play to your strengths? How fun and silly is that show? I love that no one (the author, the actors, the audience) has any idea what insanity is coming next, which allows for a certain freedom and abandon, and yet it's not improv. That safety net (and some alcohol) allows the actors to make a huge bold choice and just sail with it. It's incredibly freeing. Thanks, Billy!

Barrett FoaMore on Barrett:

Prior to his role on NCIS: LOS ANGELES, Barrett Foa played the lead in Avenue Q and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee on Broadway, and was featured in the original Broadway cast of Mamma Mia!. Barrett starred Off-Broadway in Buyer and Cellar at Barrow Street Theatre. He also played "Jesus" in the 30th anniversary production of Godspell and can be heard on the recording. Recently, Barrett tackled the role of "Harold Hill" in The Music Man at the Connecticut Repertory Theater. He was also the first official social media correspondent for The 2013 Tony Awards on CBS, giving fans a behind-the-scenes look during rehearsals and on show day. Barrett's television credits include guest starring roles on Numb3rs and NCIS, on the Network, Entourage and The Closer. Barrett's extensive theatre credits encompass both plays and musicals at venues such as Playwrights Horizons, The Public, New York Theatre Workshop, and Ars Nova in New York City. Regionally, he has starred in productions at Paper Mill Playhouse, Bay Street Theatre, Hartford Stage and The Shakespeare Theatre Company, D.C., TheatreWorks in CA, The St. Louis Muny, North Shore Music Theatre, Weston Playhouse, and seasons at Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Maine State Music Theatre and Music Theatre of Wichita. Born and raised in New York City, Barrett graduated from The Dalton School in Manhattan. He attended Interlochen Arts Camp for four summers, studied Shakespeare at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater Performance from The University of Michigan. In addition to his role on NCIS: LOS ANGELES, Barrett is the co-writer, producer and star in For The Record: John Hughes, a unique, live musical event in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago featuring scenes and songs from the movies of legendary '80s film director, John Hughes. The show played multiple sold out runs in LA and NYC.

Tuesday
May312016

Call Redialed: Eric Stang: Polarcode "I Crave You"

Eric Stang, Photo Credit: Mike Danenberg PhotographyI first interviewed Eric Stang in 2012 when he was starring in the Off-Broadway run of the Tony Award winning musical Million Dollar Quartet as "Jerry Lee Lewis." Since then, Eric has left New York City and is establishing himself in the Los Angeles music scene with his band, Polarcode, which he formed in 2010! Polarcode, just released their latest single "I Crave You," featuring Lauren Ruth Ward on lead vocals.

In addition to Polarcode, Eric recently performed with Selena Gomez on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon during her song "Same Old Love."

For more on Polarcode be sure to visit http://www.polarcodemusic.com and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Soundcloud!

1. It's been four years since we last spoke. At that time, you were starring in Million Dollar Quartet as New World Stages and getting the word out about your band Polarcode. Now, you have left the great white way for a life out west in Los Angeles. When was the moment you decided it was time to leave NYC? What influenced your decision to move? I’m originally from Chicago and life in NYC was very new for me when I was in Million Dollar Quartet. Living in Manhattan was exhilarating but very challenging at times. It’s such a hectic place and my aspirations of leading a successful original band and becoming a music producer seemed to fit better in Los Angeles. I always wanted the experience of living in L.A., and I had some friends and family out there that I was rarely able to spend time with so that was a really nice motivating factor. After being in L.A. for the past two years, I’ve found that it suits me quite well.

2. How has the transition from East Coast to West Coast been? What do you like better? What do you miss? It took a bit of adjusting but I think I always had the right temperament for life in Los Angeles. I’m not shy, I like to meet new people, network and I love the climate out here. One of the biggest differences is that L.A. shuts down super early! In NYC and Chicago people are out to all hours of the night eating and drinking and seeing music but in Los Angeles, most people call it a night by midnight. As a musician and night owl, it’s definitely a bit of an adjustment but I’ll admit that it supports a healthier life. I’m very active and I end up going hiking, swimming and being outdoors more than I ever could in the Midwest or East Coast, so that’s been a huge plus. I’d say I miss the changing of seasons but I had enough of that through years of shoveling snow and it makes a musician’s life much easier knowing it’s going to be 75 degrees and sunny most days of the year. Try loading a bunch of music equipment through two feet of snow or the pouring rain, it’s not much fun.

3. How do you feel this move helped your career? The collaborative nature of the music scene in Los Angeles has been incredible. Artists in Los Angeles are very ready to try new things, work in different styles and the vast amount of singers, filmmakers, and musicians in Los Angeles has been very helpful for creating the music that I’ve always strived to make. It took a lot of people to make the song and video for "I Crave You" happen. We were lucky to find so many talented and passionate professionals to get involved. Being in Los Angeles has also opened other opportunities up for me, as I was given the chance to perform in Selena Gomez’s band this past year as her keyboardist/background singer. It was a great learning experience and I had a blast joining her for performances on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Ellen and The Today Show.

Eric Stang and Mario Cerutti4. Your band, Polarcode has also had a lot happening recently. Before we get to what's been happening, let me ask, how did you come up with the band name Polarcode? My drummer and band mate Mario came up with Polarcode. We were looking for a unique band name and he put together two Tom Hanks movies Polar Express and Da Vinci Code. We thought it was a fun name it worked well for us.

5. You just released your latest song/video "I Crave You," featuring Lauren Ruth Ward. What made you decide to have Lauren on lead vocals? What does this song mean to you? We met Lauren last year and immediately wanted to work with her on a song. She has a beautiful voice and a very strong and unique character. We had this jazzy instrumental track that we wrote that was sitting around and we realized her vocal style would work really well with it. We got together with her and she loved it. We wrote the song together in about an hour and half. To me, this song was a great opportunity to capture a classic sound. Instead of leaning heavily on sampled drums and synthesizers we brought in the organic elements of piano, upright bass and a beautiful violin solo performed by Molly Rogers. It was very refreshing and enjoyable to produce as well as create a music video for.

6. Since the new song is called "I Crave You," what is something you crave? Well, since I’m from Chicago and I live in Los Angeles, I end up craving deep dish pizza because nothing out here comes close. Giordanos in Chicago is the best!

Mario Cerutti, Lauren Ruth Ward, and Eric Stang, Photo Credit: Mike Danenberg Photography7. You have another song that features Lauren Ruth Ward, "Nowhere Fast." When were was there a time in your life you felt you were getting "Nowhere Fast"? Although most people could look at that title and think it’s negative, it’s really almost a tribute to the moments in life when you can be calm. I’m so motivated at most times to be learning and accomplishing something that it can be difficult to slow down. As I get closer to my dream of being able to make a living only performing my original music, I realize that at least for the short term, I will have to say goodbye to those moments, goodbye to extra leisure time and vacations because once you start putting everything you’ve got into a band there is not a moment to spare or you’re really just wasting your time.

8. As someone who has been in both musical theatre and the music industry, what are some challenges you face in the music world you did not face in musical theatre? In musical theatre it is very clear what your goal is when you are in a show. You have a script, you have a director. Putting the work in is important but there is a very strong framework for what you are doing. Many times in the original music industry there is no real outline or timeline. Everything is up to you. How hard you work. How far you push the production on a song. How creative you get with a music video or song release. It can be very challenging but extremely rewarding when you succeed.

Eric Stang and Mario Cerutti overlooking Los Angeles9. When you tell people your plans, everyone has an opinion. When you told people you were moving to Los Angeles to pursue your music career, what was the most encouraging thing someone said and what was the harshest thing someone said to you? Most people were very supportive of my move and encouraged me to learn all I could, network and give it my best shot on the west coast. Some people did warn me of the possible negatives of a life in Los Angeles…it’s expensive, the people are shallow and it’s hard to get around town. But I’ve found like anywhere else there are all kinds of people and all kinds of situations out here, and it’s up to you to make a life that works well for yourself. I’ve made great friends out here and have been welcomed into the music community here with open arms.

10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent every day? I would like to improve my creativity by one percent every day. I can sometimes stay in box when it comes to my songwriting and ideas for music. You can’t make great music without breaking new ground, getting out of your comfort zone and getting past the fears that can really hold back your potential so I’d like to focus on that as much as possible.

Eric Stang, Photo Credit: Mike Danenberg PhotographyMore on Polarcode:

Keyboardist/songwriter Eric Stang and drummer Mario Cerutti first met back in 2006 in the practice rooms of DePaul University’s Music School in Chicago where they studied jazz and classical percussion. Since the launch of Polarcode in 2010, the now Los Angeles based duo have played their unique brand of indie/alt pop across the country. Every song is its own experience, featuring different vocalists over vibrant, intricate production.

Over the past year, Polarcode released a series of singles and creative music videos with a variety of singers such as Whitney Myer (NBC’s The Voice) and an upcoming release with KYLE, (singer for Nick Jonas). They also did a remix of "Watercolors" for Columbia Records artist Machineheart.

Their 2013 EP Supernatural received accolades for its poignant and powerful songs. The EP’s first single, "My Best Friend," was featured in a segment on E! News. The title track, rock/funk anthem, "Supernatural," was featured on TNT during NCAA March Madness in 2014. The powerful ballad, "Breaking My Own Heart," was featured by Victoria Secret Pink in its 2014 Fall Promotional College Tour.

Saturday
May282016

Call Answered: Michael Raver: Fire on Babylon Fresh Fruit Festival

Michael Raver, Photo Credit: Paul GregoryAs much as I love getting to interview my idols, I equally enjoy interviewing new talent. It's exciting to talk to them about early projects and learn about their hopes and dreams. Michael Raver is a playwright and actor on the rise. This past April, his play Riptide, received an industry reading in New York city. His latest play, Fire on Babylon, was nominated for The Robert Chesley/Victor Bumbalo Foundation Award for Playwriting, as well as being named a semifinalist for The O'Neill Conference in 2015. Now, Fire on Babylon is making its New York City premiere in the Fresh Fruit Festival from July 12-17 at The Wild Project (195 East 3rd Street). Click here for tickets!

1. Your latest play, Fire on Babylon, is getting ready to be workshopped in the Fresh Fruit Festival this July. What excites you about having Fire on Babylon in the Fresh Fruit Festival? I’ve been working on this play since 2012. After the years of pushing this play uphill, it’s exciting to get it on a proper stage. There’s something magical that happens between the process of doing a reading and fully staging something that is pretty indescribable and I’m so happy that we’ve finally moved the play to that point.

2. Fire on Babylon tells the story of two New Yorkers each locked in personal crisis, while the city is having one of its own: the 2003 blackout. What made you want to set this show in the confines of 2003 blackout? Someone asked me that a few days ago and I honestly can’t even remember. Isn’t that terrible? I do vividly remember that blackout and how, when it first happened, everyone panicked that we were being attacked again. But as soon as the word spread that it was an outage, it became this huge out-breath for everyone. People’s lives paused. Everyone, particularly in New York, got to take a pause from the chaos for a hot second. The two characters in Fire on Babylon are afforded that same opportunity. I’m someone who sometimes needs to be derailed in order to see clearly. It’s uncomfortable, but it can be so revitalizing.

Michael Raver and Jeffrey Hayenga in "Fire on Babylon", Photo Credit: Lloyd Mulvey3. What do you relate to most about your character, "Christian"? T hat he’s manipulative. I’m kidding. And I’m not (laughs) Seriously though, I think he’s got a questionable value system, which is something I at one time could identify with. Thankfully these days, life has me in a much more discerning place with what I spend time thinking about and doing. He sticks his foot in his mouth, which I can absolutely relate to. I have a propensity for letting my emotions take the driver’s seat sometimes, which "Christian" definitely does. But I try not to judge him too much because it’d make the task of playing him impossible. I’d be winking and nodding to the audience rather than letting Jeffrey honestly rake me over the coals.

4. In this show, your character get into a psychosexual situation with an older man (a couggay if you will). Has there been a time in your life when you've been involved with an older man? If so, what did you learn from that experience? I’ve never exclusively dated someone who was as far away in age as "Hugo" is from "Christian." When I’ve spent any time with someone older than me, regardless of the circumstances, the second that there’s some kind of parenting happening on the older person’s part, I want to run for the door. It can feel patronizing. I’m all about being a student to someone else’s teacher, but romantically, I get the itch to step away as soon as I’m being placed into a surrogate child role. I get that the father/son roles are easy to recognize in Babylon but the play isn’t really about daddy issues. The same way that it isn’t about a midlife crisis either, despite it centering on a middle-aged person in crisis.

Michael Raver and Jeffrey Hayenga in "Fire on Babylon", Photo Credit: Lloyd Mulvey5. How do you feel the generation gap of these two characters comes into play? The play feels, in some ways, like a pendulum swinging back and forth. The "cat and mouse" thing that’s going on is fun because at any given moment, the roles switch back and forth. Sometimes really quickly. They start the play off in very quintessential behaviors that are indicative of stereotypes for their age. "Hugo" is the rambling older man archetype. A bit of an absent-minded professor. "Christian" is a quiet, potentially simple younger man. But they spend the entirety of the story playing against what might be the obvious behavior for someone of their respective ages. When things get physical, when things get verbal, when things slow down or when things speed up between them, the instigator isn’t always the person who you might assume it’d be. The age gap also proves a really important point: no matter our age, life still can happen to us. At any time and without warning. We can always be embarrassed, feel lust, get confused, lost and also be found and feel love.

6. As the play unfolds and the blackout happens, press notes, say secrets are revealed. What is one secret you have been holding onto that you would like to let go of and finally reveal? Oh shit. I have no idea. I’m a pretty terrible liar so secrets are actually kind of hard for me to keep. I draw a pretty distinct difference between secrecy and privacy though. Privacy is great because I see it as a loving and protective concept. Secrecy is awful because it denotes that there’s some shame somewhere. Shame is harrowing and I’m not into it. Not at all.

Michael Raver and Jeffrey Hayenga in "Fire on Babylon", Photo Credit: Lloyd Mulvey7. Press notes also state that the character of "Hugo Thomas" is a recluse. Was there ever a period when you were a recluse and if so, how did you emerge back into the world? When I was about fifteen or so I was dealing with a lot of things and stayed in the house for most of the summer of that year. Wasn’t eating much either. My poor family didn’t know what to do. I’ve had plenty of moments where I’ve wanted to drop off the radar. It’s a hard thing for us to do, right? We’re addicted to our phones and our computers. And I get it. We like feeling connected to each other. Communication is one of the great advantages to being human. I’m also temperamentally highly sensitive so the idea of being without connection to other people can totally freak me out. I do also need the balance of alone time and as surprising as it might seem to people who see me as extremely talkative, I have plenty of long stretches where I don’t open my mouth at all except to eat or brush my teeth.

8. In addition to writing this play, you are also starring in it. How do you divide actor/playwright when rehearsing and performing the show? Do you ever blur the lines or are you able to keep things pretty separate? I think the only thing I need is a clear picture about the story I’m trying to tell and to be directed by someone who wants to tell that same story. And trust. Respect also goes a long way on both parties. Thankfully, I have a truckload of respect for Paul Mason Barnes and I’m greatly relieved that he’s trusting me to wear both hats. I’ve taken the "kill your darlings" concept to heart as a writer and am not precious about any one, single line. I check for accuracy as opposed to better-ness. As long as the text in the script is accurately telling the story, then I’m all for it. As a castmate, Jeff Hayenga has been super helpful with that too. Neither of them are afraid to tell me that they don’t like a certain line or that something needs to get cut. At the end of the day, my job as a writer and an actor still have to deal with one very important bottom line: is this the truth?

Michael Raver and Jeffrey Hayenga in "Fire on Babylon", Photo Credit: Lloyd Mulvey9. Who or what inspired you to become a playwright/performer? I love this question. I never thought there was anything odd about wanting to do more than one thing. It wasn’t until I got out of school that I was ever given a "should" or a "you can’t" by anyone about it. For some reason, culturally, we celebrate Bob Dylan, Sting, Alanis Morissette and Lady Gaga for writing and performing their own material. Richard Pryor wrote his own jokes. The performers on Saturday Night Live are expected to write sketches. But there has long been a stigma against actors writing work that they perform. Shakespeare did it. And thankfully, the multi-hyphenate thing is starting to normalize a little more. Thank you Lin-Manuel Miranda. Thank you Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen. Thanks Kate Hamill. Renaissance people. I respect when playwrights don’t want to perform their own work. But I think to dogmatically say that it’s not possible to be in my own play is a bummer. Trust can go a long way.

10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? Staying in the present moment as much as possible. I think I’ve got my head up my own ass a little more than I need it to be. I have moments of being an ostrich and I’d be willing to let some of that go. I’m down for it.

Michael Raver, Photo Credit: Paul GregoryMore on Michael:

Michael Raver is an actor, playwright and journalist. His performance as a young "Richard Feynman" in the film How We Built the Bomb received rave reviews. His Off-Broadway debut was in Ellen McLaughlin's adaptation of The Persians with Tony Randall's National Actor's Theater. His most recent television appearance was on TURN: Washington's Spies. As a playwright, his adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray was produced by Sonnet Repertory Theatre at the Signature Theatre Center in 2012, and a reading of his pre-WWII adaptation of Chekhov's The Seagull was seen at the Pearl Theatre Company. He has also served, for three years, as a judge for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction. He regularly contributes cultural arts journalism for Classical TV, as well as pieces for Hamptons York Monthly, Dance Magazine, Cool Hunting and Nature's Post.

Saturday
May212016

Call Answered: Sven Ratzke "Starman" at Joe's Pub

David Bowie was an icon on so many levels from his music to his impact on society! Everyone has a story as to what David Bowie meant to them. Sven Ratzke, transgressive European Entertainer Extraordinaire, is no exception to people who have been inspired by David Bowie. In fact, Sven is presenting the New York premiere of his internationally acclaimed show Starman at Joe's Pub from May 23-26! Click here for tickets!

Inspired by the iconic musician and songwriter David Bowie, the program combines many of the artist’s famous numbers such as "Space Oddity," "Rebel Rebel," "Heroes," and "Rock and Roll Suicide" with album deep cuts and inspired original songs by Sven and Rachelle Garniez. More than a mere tribute show, Starman is a one-man rock musical with unique characters and bold reinventions of glam rock classics!

For more on Sven be sure to visit http://www.sven-ratzke.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube!

Sven Ratzke as "Starman"1. By the time your new one-man show Starman hits Joe’s Pub, you will have already performed it in 30 cities worldwide. What has it been like to perform this show? How has the show evolved over this tour so far? It's a triumph! It's so great to see that we've found a great balance with this show to make people laugh, cry, dance and just think and listen. The show makes me very happy because it makes other people happy. We've put so much hard work into it and it's payed off. And it’s evolved also. In the beginning, for example, I was wearing a wig because I wanted to transform into this character, but as we went further I became more and more myself in this show. So the wig is gone!

2. What was it about David Bowie and his music that influenced your own style so much? Bowie was always present but I was never a mega fan. I was intrigued and I admired him. But as I did all this research on him I discovered a new Bowie: he's a theatre maker. His whole life is like an opera. He was always in charge. I mean, look at his almost-staged death, the last album and all these clips. It's so amazing that somebody had his total artistic control.

Sven Ratzke3. What excites you about bringing this show to New York? How do you feel New York audiences will react to it over other audiences you’ve played for? The show will be different because in Europe we play in big venues with my own band and there is a light show. Now we have the intimacy of Joe’s Pub. You can only perform on a stage like that when you know your shit, and especially in New York City. You better kill it. But since the first time I was on a stage in New York, the audience gave me so much love and understanding. They just know what I'm talking about and what I'm doing. I have to come to New York at least twice a year to perform because it gives me a lot of inspiration.

4. If you had the chance to perform this show for David Bowie, how do you think he would have liked the show? Which song would you have wanted "Starman" and David Bowie to collaborate on? I think he would have loved the show. He got the CD just a month before he died. But I know a lot of people who knew him and they told me also that he would have loved the show because it's not a tribute show. I’m not just singing his songs, it’s almost a re-invention that utilizes fiction and fantasy. His name is not even mentioned, but his soul is there and his great songwriting is the basis of this show.

I never ever thought an actual collaboration with Bowie. That’s not what this is about for me: this show is meant to bring his music to life. I also think that he would have laughed a lot at our show. Bowie had a great sense of humor and he would have loved all the bizarre and wicked thoughts in this show.

Sven Ratzke5. Which songs do you think he would have wished you put in the show that you did not? Mmmh, I think he just would be happy. Maybe he would have said: "I have a song that I never used, it's in my safe. I'm gonna give it to you." But I'm just dreaming now.

6. How is Starman similar and different from David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust? I take you on a trip…a journey where fantasy and my life mingle with the magic of Bowie. The journey is told through his songs from the seventies, from London, NYC and finally Berlin. It's sometimes really funny and sometimes the songs themselves can move you to tears. And we meet characters like Andy Warhol, who is a white rabbit, and Liz Taylor, who's a wax figure of a child star. We start in the stinking streets of London and end up in a drag club in Berlin, so it's quit a fun night. And filled with rock 'n' roll of course.

Sven Ratzke7. You are internationally recognized for starring in the first-ever Berlin production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. What was it like to premiere this show in Berlin? How did you make the role your own, after so many other actors have performed that role in other productions around the world? First off all, to get the blessing of the creator John Cameron Mitchell helped a lot. But I'm also a bit torn like "Hedwig" because I'm am both an entertainer and half from Berlin. It's the strangest and hardest show I’ve ever done. People are so in love with it. But it's also hard to explain what the show is to people that never heard of Hedwig. As "Hedwig" you have to win them over, you have to be authentic - you have to BE "Hedwig!" We are bringing the show back to Berlin this fall, but also to Hamburg for the first time. That's really exciting.

8. What was it like when John Cameron Mitchell declared you were the best "Hedwig" he had ever seen? How does something like that influence future performances? Oh it made me so happy because I know it's John’s baby. And he was so amazing. You can't top that. It's makes me so incredibly proud that he's so fond of it.

9. Besides David Bowie, who were some of your other influences that made you want to be a performer? Well I've already worked with some amazing people and it's always; just watch and learn like Nina Hagen. She's crazy, but she's amazing. I work with so many different people like classical and jazz musicians. With New York City legends Joey Arias and Justin Vivian Bond. They are such beauties! And The Tiger Lillies – they’re so great! I really love my job and I am looking forward to meeting more people. I hope I get to meet Liza soon.

Sven RatzkeMore on Sven:

Sven Ratzke crosses musical genres and traverses decades with panache and a unique style that blends high culture with elements of glam rock, classic Weimar cabaret with vaudeville. The Netherlands-based entertainer tours the world’s biggest theaters, festivals and nightclubs from sold-out shows at Lincoln Center in New York and the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam to the famous Berliner Ensemble in Berlin. He has released five albums and has worked with legends of the European arts world such as Nina Hagen, Hanna Schygulla, and The Tiger Lilies. Sven is internationally-recognized for the title role in the first-ever Berlin production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. John Cameron Mitchell, the musical’s creator and the original star, declared "Sven is the best "Hedwig" I’ve ever seen." After its smash run in Berlin at the Admiralspalast, Sven brought the show to Utrecht and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Basel and Vienna. Ratzke’s Hedwig returns to Berlin in October and travels to Hamburg in November.