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"Call Me Adam" chats with...

Entries in Broadway (258)

Tuesday
Jul302013

Jeff Whiting: Open Jar Institute Interview

Jeff Whiting is one of Broadway's most prominent rising directors/choreographers whose talents have been seen in The Scottsboro Boys, Hair, Young Frankenstein, and Wicked (5th Anniversary). This season Jeff will be represented with two Broadway productions: Big Fish and Bullets Over Broadway, both directed by five-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman.

Five-Time Tony Award winning Director/Choreographer Susan Stroman teaching a Master Class at the Open Jar InstituteJeff is also the founder of the Open Jar Institute, a musical theatre training program founded in 2003 for the development of music theatre artists of all ages. Celebrating their 10th Anniversary, Open Jar Institute will be celebrating on August 2nd with a Special Master Class Press Event At The Pearl Theatre In NYC with Susan Stroman. In addition to Jeff and Susan, other Broadway professionals featured this season will be legendary composer John Kander, Tony Award winners Joanna Gleason and Karen Ziemba, Tony nominee David Thompson, casting associates from Tara Rubin Casting, casting director Bob Cline, director/choreographer James Gray, Stacia Fernandez, Thayne Jasperson, Robert Hartwell, Andrew Fitch, Joshua Buscher, Tina Marie Casamento, Michael Goddard, Joseph Mitchell Parks, Jay Rhoderick, Eric Santagata, Scott Taylor, and many others. 

For more on Jeff be sure to visit http://www.jeffwhiting.net and for more on the Open Jar Institute visit http://www.openjarinstitute.com and follow them on Facebook and Twitter!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a director/choreographer? When I was twelve I worked with a director named Xan Johnson in Lanford Wilson's HOME FREE. I played "Lawrence" who was a young man battling extreme agoraphobia in the show and I was having trouble really finding the truth in that fear. Through rehearsals this director found some amazing ways to help me discover this fear that gripped my character. When I finally made the connection (thanks to the director) I remember thinking "I want to do what he does" - he somehow found a way to help me connect to the piece. From that day forward I always had my eye on the director - watching and observing - taking mental notes about what qualities or skills I would incorporate or NOT incorporate into my own directing style. I love working with people and helping each performer become the best they can.

2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? I'd really love to work with two master storytellers of our day - Alan Menken and Steven Schwartz.

Open Jar Institute Students at a Broadway Dance Master Class3. You founded The Open Jar Institute in 2003. What made you want to start this venture? When I first arrived in the city as an actor there were so many lessons I had to learn the 'hard way'. I had good training but there were so many things about auditioning and marketing myself that I just didn't know. In the end, I'm very grateful to have learned those lessons but always said if I had the chance I would want to share with other up and coming actors some of the realities of the business so they wouldn't have to make some of the mistakes I made.

About that time, I had read a study about fleas. A group of scientists took a group of fleas, who have an amazing capacity to jump, and placed them in an open jar. With the lid closed, the fleas tried to jump but quickly discovered they wouldn't be able to jump as high as they had intended. After a week went by, the scientists took the lid off of the jar and the fleas, who had adjusted to the new height, didn't jump out of the jar, and never jumped out to their freedom.

As artists, we often fall into the same trap that the fleas did. There are a lot of 'no's in this business and it's very easy to adjust to those perceived limitations. All too often we, the artist, stop jumping, or auditioning, performing, with our entire potential. At The Open Jar Institute we believe that you must approach every performance, audition with all of your might - approach it as if the jar is open - the possibilities endless. That is the Open Jar Philosophy and became the name of the Institute - The Open Jar Institute.

Tony Award nominee John Tartaglia teaching a Master Class at the Open Jar Institute4. Now The Open Jar Institute is celebrating it's 10th Anniversary. What does this milestone mean to you? It's hard to believe it's really been 10 years - they've really flown by - but it's been amazing to see how many young artists I've seen come through the program and who have already started incredible careers in the business. I think the significance of our 10th Anniversary is to see that we've really built a solid team of teaching artists as well as our 'dream team' staff at open jar. I think another wonderful byproduct of our 10th Anniversary is the wonderful reputation for excellence in education we have been able to attain and to attract the very best Broadway professionals to work with our students.

4a. Did you imagine 10 years ago, the institute would become what it is today? I'm thrilled to see how the institute has really grown and yet we are still able to provide intensive one-on-one training with Broadway's best professionals. Yes, I think if you told me 10 years ago that theatre legends Susan Stroman, Joanna Gleason, and John Kander would be teaching artists for The Open Jar Institute, well, it still blows my mind to have them as a part of The Open Jar Institute.

5. How do you decide which professionals you are going to ask each year to participate in The Open Jar Institute? It's important to me that every student who attends the institute works exclusively with Broadway professionals that are currently IN the business. The industry changes so much that it's important that they are learning from those who have found success in the business and who also bring a positive and encouraging spirit with them to teach the students.

Open Jar Institute student Jonatas Faro works on audition piece.6. What do get from teaching these students who attend the institute? I am always so overwhelmed to see how much these students grow in our time together - not just professionally and in their craft as they work in their classes, but even more importantly, to see them finding themselves as artists and to find comfort in being who they are, whatever that is.

 7. What has been the most rewarding part about being the owner and artistic director of The Open Jar Institute? I'd say the most rewarding part of being a part of The Open Jar Institute would be to know that so many talented students are getting the opportunity to learn more about their dreams - to work one-on-one with Broadway professionals who are doing what they want to be doing - and to see the student learn and be inspired by the guest artist - and, most importantly, to see the student learn that they are completely capable of finding the same kind of success with hard work and determination.

7a. What challenges have you faced? One of the biggest challenges we face as the Institute is when we go on our audition tour to schools around the country. Sometimes folks have a hard time believing that they will actually have the opportunity to work with the kind of professionals that are on our Guest Artist List (Susan Stroman, John Kander, Joanna Gleason, etc.). I suppose there are a number of scams out in the world today and it's natural for people to be on the watch for another one and it's always my thrill to see the students who come from around the country to learn one-on-one with these amazing guest artists from the Broadway community.

Open Jar Institute students take over Times Square with impromptu flash mob.8. What plans do you have for the future of The Open Jar Institute? We will soon be launching a semester program for college students who can spend a semester abroad (in New York City). We will offer this semester to college students for the Fall, Winter and Summer Semesters from schools around the globe who want to learn from Broadway's best professionals, to make valuable connections in the city, and to better prepare themselves for a career in New York.

8a. Where would you like to see it go? We're also working towards having a year-round accredited program, complete with housing, studios and a theatre for students who want to study in New York City full-time with Broadway teaching artists.

Jeff Whiting and Susan Stroman9. How did you and Susan Stroman first come to work together? I was first hired by Susan to work as her Assistant Choreographer on the Broadway production of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN in 2007. It's been my honor to work with her on that production and the national tour as well as HAPPINESS at Lincoln Center, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS on Broadway, and now on BIG FISH (Andrew Lippa) and BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (Woody Allen) both opening this season and THE LITTLE DANCER (Lynn Ahrens/Stephen Flaherty) next year.

9a. What has been the best part about working with her and what have you learned from her? I'd say the greatest thing about being in the room with Susan is knowing that you are safe to explore and encouraged to try the impossible. She is incredibly collaborative and it's an amazing environment of creative juices where we get to play together to find the best way to tell each story. It's been one of the the greatest blessings in my life to be at her side in creating some wonderful projects over the past few years.

10. What do you enjoy about working on Broadway and getting the opportunities to work around the country and overseas? I love creating, no matter where it is, but being able to be a story-teller on Broadway is an incredible dream come true for me. I first came to New York at age 12 and the moment the lights came up on Bernadette Peters while watching my first Broadway show (SONG & DANCE) I absolutely KNEW that this environment was my home. I wanted to be able to create the kind of magic that can only be created in the theatre.

"Hairspray" in Brazil, directed/choreographed by Jeff Whiting10a. What differences do you see between working in the states and overseas? Yes, I've also been lucky enough to direct and choreograph around the world - Brazil, India, Mexico, London, China. Each place has it's own blessings and challenges. The biggest difference in working outside the states is the process by which the production is built and the rehearsal schedules are run. My favorite thing about rehearsing in Brazil is that rehearsals don't begin until 1pm. You rehearse from 1pm to 9pm because everyone goes to the beach in the morning. I love that! I'm determined to bring that practice of rehearsal times to the states. I loved having the mornings free to do errands, etc. before starting rehearsals. But, although there are many different challenges and delights in creating theatrical magic in each different country, in the end the audiences always show up at the curtain time ready to be taken on a journey of some kind. I love it!

BONUS QUESTIONS:

11. What do get from being the Artistic Director of The Open Jar Institute that you do not get from being a director/choreographer? I love to teach. Although you do do a lot of teaching as a director or choreographer. You don't often talk too much about technique in the rehearsal process and I love really digging into the technique of acting and communicating when I do classes at the Open Jar Institute. The other thing that I love about teaching is to see the incredible growth, both personal and professional, that the students experience at the Open Jar Institute.

12. What's the best advice you've ever received? The best advice I ever got was this: YOU ARE ENOUGH.  Actors are always trying to guess 'what they want' and trying to fit the mold. The truth is, I want you - whatever that is. Sometimes you are the right 'fit' for the show - sometimes not. But an inauthentic self is NEVER the right fit. No matter what, you need to find confidence in who you are - whatever it is - and bring that confidence in any room you enter. The people that I'm drawn to as a creator are those who are well-rounded and comfortable in their own skin and who are willing to explore without any fear.

13. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? The power to fly. I'm constantly flying in my dreams and would love to live out that dream and not be bound by gravity.

More on Jeff: Recently acclaimed as a 'director with a joyous touch' by the New York Times, Jeff Whiting is a director and choreographer for theater, opera, television, special events and concerts around the world. ​National Tour credits include Young Frankenstein​ (director), Hairspray (assoc. director), The Producers (assoc. director). Having been praised on THE VIEW as 'a truly remarkable talent', Jeff's theatrical direction and choreography includes The Scottsboro Boys (Philadelphia Theatre Company), Hairspray (Brazilian production), Young Frankenstein (National Tour), Kiss Me Kate (Glimmerglass), Tarantella: Spider Dance (Theater for a New City), Bye Bye Birdie (Cortland Rep), Thrill Me: Leopold & Loeb (Southeastern Premiere), Fashion 47 (Minneapolis CTC), All Night Strut (Cortland Rep), My Way (Corland Rep), I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change (Arkansas Rep), The Donkey Show. Opera direction and choreography includes We Open In Paris (Glimmerglass Opera). Television direction includes Disney's Magical Moments Parade, which premiered in Rio De Janiero, Brazil and is continuing on a 15-city national tour. Special Event direction and choreography includes James Taylor Live (Carnegie Hall, co-starring Bette Midler, Steve Martin, Sting, Tony Bennett, Barbara Cook, Dianne Reeves), Stro! Gala Honoring Susan Stroman (Hudson Theater, co-starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Rebecca Luker, Boyd Gaines, Veanne Cox), T-Mobile's Annual Event (Kodak Theater, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones), MAIR! (Inner Circle, Starring Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the Broadway company of HAIR!), Film Premiere of Chronicles of Narnia (Southeastern Premiere). As a member of Disney's Creative Team, Jeff has directed and choreographed over 50 shows and events, including Disney's Mickey Mouse Club (India), Disney's Dream and Fantasy (Brazil), Power Rangers, Disney's Very Merry Christmas, Disney's Enchanted Princess, Disney's 100 Years of Magic, Disney's Magic Mirror

Upcoming projects include DangerousFaustus, and Hope For The Flowers.

Stage Write Software, designed and developed by Jeff, marks the worlds first digital method for documenting staging and choreography and is already in use for many of Broadway shows and tours, including NEWSIES, GHOST, THE PRODUCERS, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, HAIR, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, and THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS.

Friday
Jul262013

Annie Golden: NYMF Marry Harry Interview

I first came to know Annie Golden when she was starring on Broadway in The Full Monty! Ten years later, I continue to be in awe of her talent and am so honored and thrilled to be able to interview her for Call Me Adam.

Now Annie is starring in The New York Musical Theatre Festival's (NYMF) production of Jennifer Robbins' original new musical Marry Harry (with music and lyrics by Michael Biello and Dan Martin). Once again, Annie steals the spotlight every time she is on stage and when she sings, all eyes and ears are on her. Marry Harry plays at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (480 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue). With only 3 shows left, Saturday, July 27 at 9pm, Sunday, July 28 at 1pm and 5pm, I suggest you click here for tickets!

For more on Annie be sure to follow her on Facebook!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? My idols are the Judys: Garland and Holiday; and Miss Rosalind Russell! The pop stars who record as well as act: Garland, Sinatra and Bowie!

2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? I was so very impressed with Warren Carlyle's rejuvenation and resurrection of FINIAN'S RAINBOW and then I love HUGH JACKMAN ON BROADWAY (or anywhere that gorgeous gifted guy is!) and they were both directed by young Warren!

Cast of "Marry Harry" NYMF 20133. What attracted you to Marry Harry? I was invited to be Debby in MARRY HARRY by Playwright's Horizons, Kent Nicholson, who was directing it up at NY Stage and Film a few summers ago...he brought me on board and I could not be happier! The music is lush and lovely, the story is original and sweet, contemporary, and funny!

Philip Hoffman and Annie Golden in "Marry Harry" at NYMF 2013, Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg 4. What do you identify most with about your character? I identify with long-suffering "Harry, Sr.'s" girlfriend "Debby" because of her loyalty to him and his son and his business, the restaurant...also her denial in being so loyal for so long when it apparently is not doing her any good! Emotional invested with so little return! I can identify with that! Don't ask!!!

Jillian Louis, Robb Sapp, Philip Hoffman, and Annie Golden in "Marry Harry", NYMF 2013, Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg 5. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing Marry Harry? As I said, it is an original story with lush music and it is although contemporary, a throw-back to a by gone era of romantic comedy with a sweet resolve! So audiences will be satisfied and smiling and leave the theatre singing some of these tunes, I am certain!

6. What excites you about performing in NYMF? What excites me about being involved in NYMF is that there is such a palette of original musicals being presented: individual and new! Having been involved with movies into musicals: XANADU and THE FULL MONTY I find it refreshing to discover and interpret new storylines and characters! Plus in the hallways you see your friends coming and going: Malcolm Getz, Luba Mason, etc! Also, it's always good to line up your next job, yo!

Annie Golden in "The Full Monty" on Broadway7. I first came to know you when you were starring on Broadway in The Full Monty. Looking back, what did you enjoy most about that time? THE FULL MONTY was an absolutely exquisite experience: creating the role of "Georgie!" Working with Jack O'Brien and Jerry Mitchell and Terrence McNally and David Yazbek (his first time out!) not to mention: Kim Grigsby and John Ellison Conlee and Patrick Wilson! Just extraordinary! And to experience the trauma of 9/11 through the Broadway experience as a working actor in a hit show...Broadway being dark! Never again...wouldn't wish it on anyone...but the resilience of the performing community inspiring New York City and its people!

Annie Golden in the rock band The Shirts8. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? Speaking of resilience: being a working actor for this many years (38?) is incredibly rewarding but I learn the most about myself when listening to others about this vocation of being a performer. The wisdom I try to impart to the young ones just starting out and the behavior I try to demonstrate by example, hopefully professional and cooperative and satisfying. I feel the love and respect and I try to express the joy I have in being able to continue to grow and improve inside this crazy career!

Annie Golden in the film "Hair"9. What's the best advice you've ever received? The best advice: I give it now and I can not recall a specific person who said it to me as cold comfort, but I have learned: don't take it personally! Rejection, slave-driving, drilling songs, and lines and steps!!! It all will make you better out there and make it look as tho there is no effort or sacrifice behind it! This is a business! It's all about the ticket sales and earnings: just use it to your best advantage and be your own best financial advisor! Ha!

10. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? I think to fly! I am not a dancer God knows, Wayne Cilento, Ed Love, Twyla Tharp, Dan Knechtges, Jerry Mitchell, Denis Jones, they can all attest to the fact that I am NO DANCER! (I guess I can kiss the Warren wish goodbye, then! Kiss Carlyle good-bye Golden Girl!) so I think if I could be light on my feet and soar free in any regard, that would be lovely!

More on Annie: Annie just finished the first season of Orange Is The New Black alongside some of Broadway's biggest divas such as Beth Fowler and Lea Delaria. She begins shooting the second season Monday, July 29, the day after NYMF closes! She hopes to go to the Public Theatre with Taylor Mac in the fall with THE GOOD PERSON OF SZECHUAN!

Annie considers herself the illegitimate child of the legitimate theatre, having been discovered on the Bowery fronting a rock band and cast by Milos Forman as "Jeannie" in Hair, the 1978 film. Some Broadway credits include: Xanadu, The Full Monty, Ah! Wilderness. Also was Sondheim’s original "Squeaky Fromme" in Assassins (Playwrights Horizons). Numerous Film/TV credits—just wrapped shooting season 1 of Orange Is The New Black for Lionsgate/Netflix. Available now on Netflix.

Wednesday
Jul242013

Kitt Shapiro: Simply Eartha Interview

Photo Credit: Debra HazanKitt Shapiro and Eartha Kitt

Kitt Shapiro is the daughter of the one and only Eartha Kitt, who is keeping her mother's legacy alive through Simply Eartha, a home decor website featuring Eartha's image and famous sayings, known as "Kittisms" on various designs for your home all made from natural fabrics, recycled goods, and in America.

Kitt and I had the pleasure of speaking about her mother's legacy, why she started Simply Eartha, and what it was like being the daughter of the legendary entertainer!

For more on Simply Eartha be sure to visit http://www.simplyeartha.com and follow them on Facebook and Twitter! For more on Eartha Kitt check out http://www.earthakitt.com!

1. What was it like to grow up as the daughter of Eartha Kitt? I didn't have a lot to compare it to as far as being somebody else's daughter [laughs]. It was an amazing life. Hindsight is 20/20 and now that I'm 51 years old, I look back and think about what an unbelievable experience my life was. When I was very little, my mother was the most attentive parent. She was physically there. She always told me she loved me and she showed me love. She always included me in almost everything she did. She made sure I traveled with her because she felt travel was the best education I could ever get, much better than any textbook could ever give me. So when we traveled, she made sure I saw what the different countries we visited were really like. It wasn't from a tourist or fancy hotel perspective. She would make friends with the waiters, maids, and taxi cab drivers and made sure I got to stay in people's homes, real people's homes, not celebrity people. She made sure I learned the way of life was different in the country we were in. She showed me how different people lived. She wanted to make sure I knew that growing up in Beverly Hills, CA or London was not the way the rest of the world saw things.

Like all children, I certainly had my moments when I didn't want to leave the air conditioned hotel room or complained about going somewhere, but it never seemed to phase her because she knew in her gut, that the way she was showing me the world was far more important than giving into the little bit of complaining I was doing.

Eartha Kitt as "Catwoman" on TV's "Batman", Photo courtesy of Earthakitt.comEartha Kitt with Cher, Photo courtesy of Earthakitt.com2. What did you enjoy most about having a mother who was an international celebrity? What was frustrating about it? I don't think I equated the fact that she was as famous as she was. I don't think I understood that as a little girl. I did understand that she had to travel a lot. As I mentioned earlier, she took me with her most of the time, but there were times when she couldn't take me with her and that was always hard for me because I was so attached to her. 

I grew up going to a French school in Los Angeles and London and so I was around other children who's parents did special things, whether they were diplomats or celebrities, so they didn't have 9-5 parents. It didn't seem that my mother was doing anything different. She may have been famous, but the kids I was around also had unconventional parents, so I was in a world of unconventional people.

I don't think I really comprehended she was famous. Times were much different then. She could go out and be recognized, but people didn't really bother her. The one thing as a young girl that really, really bothered me was that I wanted to go to Disneyland with her. That was one thing she couldn't do, go to an amusement park. She was too famous to have a real experience at an amusement park.

3. You started the website, Simply Eartha after your mom passed away in 2008 from colon cancer. What made you want to honor your mother this way as opposed to writing a book or some other form? How did you decide on which home decor items you wanted to carry? Throughout my life my mother always said to me, "Don't throw anything away. Anything I've written or made, I've done for a reason." She would write down all these sayings, not that she necessarily made them up, but she coined them as "Kittisms." Once she wrote them down, you couldn't tell her she didn't make them up. She wrote ideas and thoughts all the time on little pieces of paper. Before she passed, she reminded me not to throw anything out. "Waste not, want not", she would say.

About a year after she passed, I went to pack up her house and found all of her writings, some of which I've seen before, but many I hadn't. So her words "Don't throw anything away" rang in my head and I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to do with this stuff, but my mother's assistant helped me put these sayings in notebooks and binders and we put them in storage. I had worked for my mother for the past 25 years before she passed, so I was very used to the way her business was operated. I ran Eartha Kitt Productions, producing her tours, albums, books, etc, and so for Christmas 2010, I put little books together with pictures of my mother and her "Kittisms" for a small group of people who meant a lot to my mother. I sent them out as Christmas gifts. Some of the "Kittisms" were my mother's handwriting and some I just did on my Mac. People would call me and say "Oh my goodness, these are so fabulous. What a great thing to do." Then I created the Simply Eartha Facebook Page (because that is what you do in this day and age) and I started posting these "Kittisms" and people would comment on them and ask for more. Then I thought, "Well, what do I do next." My mother always said, "You have to do something with what you have. You can't just let it sit there. You have to give back." Since she passed away from colon cancer, I thought I'll give back by donating the proceeds to the various colon cancer charities. My mother was very much into her home. She was all about her home and her garden.

From there, the site just evolved. What most people didn't know about her was that she was very simple. She would always say, "I'm just a little cotton picker from South Carolina." She truly believed in the earth, in recycling, in composting. She was green before it was chic. I used to call her "The Original Beverly Hillbilly." She had her own garden in Beverly Hills. We raised chickens, made our own eggs, and I was never allowed to eat anything processed. It just made sense to be all about her home life. We started with the line of home decor and now we are going to produce a line of journals and notebooks since my mother was always about writing down her thoughts, feelings, and ideas. It just made sense to stay true to who she was. She was all about "Made in America." I mean, if you gave her something "Made from China," forget about it, she would give it right back to you. When I started to manufacture these items, I made sure of a few things: it had to be green (made with natural material, or made from recycled products) and it had to made in the United States. If I make something from oversees, my mother is definitely coming back to haunt me. 

Me: It's nice that you are able to honor this way and teach people something about her life that, I don't think, many people would know on a regular basis. 

Kitt: With the internet today, people can find out almost anything public about someone, but a lot of people didn't realize just how incredibly profound and instinctive she was. She always listened to her gut and respected herself and always acted that way. People were always surprised at how tiny she was in person and I believe you met her? There was a picture you sent me?

Me: Yes, I met her after seeing her in Nine on Broadway.

Kitt: People would say that they thought she was so much bigger because of the way she carried herself. She carried herself with a sense of respect and elegance. That is something she always felt was being lost generation after generation. To be able to pass on who she truly was, not just her persona, I'm blessed to be able to do that. I was blessed to have a mother like her who was so connected to her environment, universe, etc, and really lived that way, up until her death. I always knew how much she loved me and she knew how much I loved her. I think that's the greatest gift a parent can give a child. I am truly blessed when she was alive and with her death of the memories she gave me and that I have as much closure one could possibly ever have when you lose a parent. 

My husband came in right before my mother died, I think she waited until I wasn't alone, and he called the hospice nurse who asked me if I wanted to clean her up and change her clothes. I said I did and I went into the bathroom to run the water, making sure it was warm, and the nurse came in and said, "I don't think she's going to care if the water is hot or cold." I looked at her and said, "You don't know my mother, if I put a cold washcloth on my mother, I don't care how dead she is, she's coming back and taking us both with her." Even then, my mother had given me that gift. She had only been dead 15-20 minutes and I was still able to laugh with her, even though she wasn't physically there. I just thought that was an amazing blessing. I'm also blessed to know that I was blessed. That's another reason why it's so great to be able to share these "Kittisms." You put something up that people respond to, puts a smile on my face. It's my mother's mark on this planet is still being left. That's pretty cool that I'm able to do that.

Eartha and Kitt, Photo courtesy of Earthakitt.com4. With your mother's passing, how did you find the strength to make it on and continue through? I'm not going to pretend it was easy. That first year I barely wanted to move in many ways. Everything that happened the first time was tough. That first Mother's Day was just awful. Everyday I pretty much shed a tear thinking of her and missing her. It is the way of the cycle of life. It is the way it's supposed to happen. Our parents are supposed to go before us and my mother had left this in my head. My mother really engrained in my head, "Don't throw anything away. Don't waste it. Don't let it sit there and do nothing." The more creative and the more into the process I've gotten, and it's been a learning curve because I've stepped into a business I knew nothing about, and my mother who was always happy that she was learning throughout her entire life, and so I look at it as the baton has been handed to me and it's my job to do something with it. I had no choice but to make this all work. To be able to take this energy she exuded and carry on the legacy is just the life path I'm supposed to be on.

Eartha and Kitt, photo courtesy of Earthakitt.com5. Now that it has been a few years since her passing, what do you miss most about her? I miss her talking to me and laughing at my jokes. My mother thought I was the greatest gift to the planet. She thought everything I did was wonderful. She always laughed with me and at me. I miss just sitting with her and laughing the most. I miss her voice too. She would always call me Kittala. I'm lucky I can hear her voice in recordings and movies and TV, but it's not the same just hearing her speak to me.

6. One of the things I enjoyed reading on Simply Eartha is how you mention things that your mother taught you to "be true to yourself, live honestly and with respect for everything and everybody. She also taught you to possess calm in a place of panic and to remember that humor is one of life's most precious gifts." How exactly did she teach you these lessons? Are there specific moments you remember learning each of these lessons? There were many times from big to small incidences that happened where my mother's sense of calm was tremendous. I wasn't and am still not that calm of a person, but I think I've become more so as I've gotten older. That ability to realize that panicking, worrying, getting upset in a situation doesn't change the situation. It only makes it more difficult to see what's happening clearly and to think more clearly. That's one thing my mother always told me, "Don't panic. God may not always be there when you want him, but he's always on time." So that ability to truly trust that every experience we have in life is designed to get us to the next place, even if it's not a place we want to be, we are supposed to be there. There is either a lesson we are supposed to learn or a gift we are supposed to give somebody else. We are not solely walking on this planet in solitude. We are all connected beings. 

Eartha and Kitt hangingWhen I was 13-years-old, my mother and I went to South Africa, during apartheid, in 1974. It was not very well received back home, my mother going into a country during apartheid. But my mother felt the way to truly make change is to go and make change. She felt artists were the true diplomats because they didn't have to follow protocol and political correctness. They could go and actually do something different. When we went to South Africa, she insisted on performing for inter-racial audiences, which of course people didn't do at that time, but she did. We traveled through the country for three months and we were raising money to build schools for the black African children and at one point we were in the town of Durban, South Africa, and there was this amusement park that I kept wanting my mother to come with me to (I had been going there everyday with my road tutor). One day, my mother was able to free up her schedule and come with us. We were in South Africa on VIP status so the rules of the country didn't pertain to us. We were on the bumper cars and all of a sudden the bumper cars came to a stop and one of the workers came over to my mother and said, "Excuse me, are you European?" and my mother said, "No, I'm American." The worker said, "No, no, that's not what I mean. Are you colored?" She looked at her skin and said, "I guess if you think this is colored then yeah, I'm colored." The worker said, "Well this is a white's only park and you are not allowed to be here. So my mother stood up and got out of the bumper cars and very calmly without saying anything started to walk out of the park. And I, in typical teenage fashion, start yelling and screaming and crying, "Tell him who you are. Tell him we are VIP and the rules don't apply, we can go anywhere you want." I remember my mother turning to me and raising her hand and saying, "Don't panic. Everything happens for a reason." We left the park and I cried for the rest of the day, very upset, not understanding why she didn't say anything or stand-up for herself. Well, a few days later, she was having a press conference and the photographers wanted her to take a picture. They asked her to do it on this balcony with the amusement park in the background. She said, "You know it's very funny, I was thrown out of that amusement park the other day." The press went crazy, "Eartha Kitt thrown out of amusement park." The owner of the amusement park found out and was embarrassed and called my mother and said, "I'm so sorry. The gentleman didn't understand. He had no idea who you were. How can I make it up to you?" My mother said to him, "You know we are raising money to build schools, so your donation, a big fat check would be very appreciative. And also my daughter loves the amusement park and she would love to come with some friends." So he sends over a check and sends over some tickets and we go back to the amusement park a few days later and my mother brings two white children, two colored children and two black children. At the time did I understand what she was doing, not necessarily, but I think back on it, that is how she made change. Her ability to stay calm and reacting her way was much more impactful than my way of wanting to make a scene. So, it's those lessons that my mother lived is how she taught me. That is truly how she lived her life.

My mother's given name was Eartha and she truly was "of the Earth." I do believe that there is a lot to be said for when you are really connected to this life source or energy. When you are truly connected to it, you function differently. I really believe that.

7. What have you learned about yourself from creating Simply Eartha and honoring your mother's legacy? I've learned that I'm more capable than I've given myself credit for and that I'm more creative than I thought I was. My mother would also introduce us as "I'm Eartha and she's Kitt." That's a lot to be brought up with, carrying your parent's name. When it's a famous parent, it's even more difficult. I wouldn't say it was a burden, there's a weightiness to it. I think I was blessed to be able to work for my mother, so we were together for our entire lives, but I was also the behind-the-scenes person, you know, I wasn't out on stage with her, so that's why I didn't think of myself as being creative. I've also learned that I'm able to have more faith and belief in what I'm doing. In staying true to myself and my mother, I possess more of a sense of calm than I ever did before and knowing that I am the vessel to carry on the legacy.

8. What future plans do you have for "Simply Eartha"? We're taking over the world [laughs]. We are going to bring even more design items for the home. We are also going to compile a book with all the "Kittisms," some in her writing and some not, similar to the books I gave her friends back in 2010.

9. Do you have other projects in the works to honor your mother's legacy? She has so many writings from parts of her life that were very impactful, such as The Civil Rights Movement, The Vietnam War, meeting Albert Einstein or Winston Churchill. She's another person in history, and I'm not sure a lot of young people know what she did. She wasn't Rosa Parks, but yet she made change in her own subtle ways. Similar to Rosa Parks she did it in a quieter way. I think that is a lesson to remind people. I would love to do a something like a traveling museum to schools. My mother was very connected to children who weren't as privileged and blessed. When she was alive, she had an organization called "Kittsvile" in Watts, in Los Angeles and on the weekend she would go there and teach dance. She taught the kids more than dance. She really taught them how to carry yourself. When you walk into a room a certain way, you give an impression to the people already there and feel differently about yourself. If you feel pride and respect for yourself and carry yourself that way than people are going to treat you that way because you are not giving them the option. That is what she would instill in these young people. She would also teach them to follow your own gut and treat yourself well. That means you take care of yourself. You look presentable. You speak to other people in a respectful way. She was very big on manners and you better give respect to your elders. She didn't care if she knew you or not, she was going to tell you what she thought. She felt you don't call them by their first name and you don't look down when they are talking to you. You shake hands, you look and act respectable around them. I really want this traveling museum to remind people that there was another person who made a difference. I think it's important to remind the next generation of this.

Eartha and KittKitt Shapiro and her family10. As a mother yourself, what traditions from growing up have you incorporated with your family? Once a year, we do a vacation with just the kids (no friends, no outsiders). We go to one place, we all stay together (it's not a beach or resort), and talk and play games. My kids role their eyes sometimes, but I think they'll look back on it later and be happy.

Me: I will say, of the vacations I went on with just my parents and brother, you do remember those times together and it makes a difference. 

Kitt: With all the success of Simply Eartha, my kids are learning something about their grandmother that they didn't know, which is very cool. 

Me: One of my friend's came over for 4th of July and he was talking about his parents and where they came from and my mom mentioned something about my grandfather, that I didn't know. It was nice to hear that fact and learn more about his life, especially since he's not around anymore. 

Kitt: I think we all want to be connected and being connected to family (whether it's the one you are born into, the one you grow up with, or the one you fall in love with) is really, really important. I see more of my friends staying close to their parents and grandparents and having their children do the same. I was an only child and when my parents divorced when I was very young, my mother made sure I stayed close with my father's family. So, I did have aunts and uncles and grandparents. It's just very important to honor your family, whether they are famous or not. My mother would always say, "Everybody's a teacher at some point in their lives and we are all here for a reason to give each other care, love, and fuel for the next generation."

Eartha and Kitt in 2008Kitt and Eartha in the October 2000 edition of Good Housekeeping, Photo courtesy of Kitt Shapiro Facebook Page 11. Your mother represented so many different things to different people. What do you remember most about her? Looking back, I realize how much she accomplished from being one little person with no family. She had the ability to move keep moving forward at times when she must have felt terrified. There is a survival instinct in just persevering, whether you do that on a private level or public. That's been a really important thing to look back and remember and admire her for. That could not have been easy. She didn't have any parental skills. She was an orphan. She was physically and emotionally abused. She lived at poverty level, but through it all she still had the ability to move forward. I saw that in her when she died. The hospice nurse said to me a few weeks before she died, "What's going to end up happening is that she is just going to stop drinking water and eating and just slowly fade away." My mother did ANYTHING but that. My mother left this world literally screaming at the top of her lungs. Of course I wasn't prepared for that. Two days before she died, she lost her ability to speak, but at her death she started screaming, and as a typical daughter I was screaming back at her, "You can go, you can go." My husband is standing in the corner having no idea what to do. She's screaming, and I knew she could hear me because the tears were streaming down her face, I'm crying, I'm telling her she can go, but what I saw at that moment, was how she survived her entire life. It was her survival instinct that took over at every point in her life, even then, at that moment, when there was no survival happening, she was not going to go easily without a fight. That is an amazing instinct that she never lost. It just shows what a truly amazing woman she was and that there was a reason for her to be on this planet.

Eartha Kitt Singing, Photo courtesy of Earthakitt.com12. What do you hope people remember most about her? One of the things I love about Facebook is that people can comment about their memories about my mother. They write about how my mother made them feel when they actually met her. People always had a positive impression of meeting her. When people met her, she really came across as who she was. People who didn't get to actually meet her, talk about how they were impacted by her whether it was by something she said or an interview they saw or just from her voice. It's a pretty neat thing to see how one person can have an effect on many people they come in contact with.

Me: I felt so fortunate when I got to see her in Nine, which was terrific.

Kitt: I loved her in Nine.

Adam Rothenberg and Eartha Kitt in 2003 after seeing her in "Nine" on BroadwayMe: Then to get to meet her afterwards was a real moment for me. I grew up watching her on Batman and then in my twenties I got to learn about her music and it was just wonderful have all those different facets of her life and now to get talk to you and learn even more about her and her legacy is so wonderful to me. I'm so appreciative of your time.

Kitt: You are very welcome. I love hearing how people were affected by meeting her. It just reaffirms my position in that I'm meant to carry the torch forward that she started. That is a really important thing and we all make our differences in the areas of the world we function in. We all have our outlets and we touch other people with them, as you do with Call Me Adam.

Me: I understand exactly what you are saying. It is always wonderful to meet my fans and hear that they have taken time out of their day, when there are millions of blogs to read, that they chose to read Call Me Adam, is just very cool.

More on Kitt:

Kitt Shapiro, only child of Eartha Kitt, introduces a lifestyle brand of coasters, plates, wall art, mugs, pillows, throws, and paperweights featuring the witticisms and images of her iconic late mother.

Upon her mother's passing from colon cancer in 2008, Shapiro discovered hundreds of whimsical thoughts scribbled on papers that they had referred to as "Kittisms"; Eartha said to her daughter, "When I'm gone, do not throw anything away – use it." So with part of the proceeds benefiting The Colon Cancer Alliance, Shapiro has preserved her mother’s legacy by weaving "Kittisms" such as "What I do today is how I am interpreted tomorrow," and "When life becomes confused, step aside and think" into this unique and collectible line of Simply Eartha home goods.

Simply Eartha also follows the entertainment icon’s strong feelings that Americans should be making products in America. These are all created in the Southeast, primarily Alabama. Being eco-friendly, and green-minded was also at the core of Eartha Kitt’s philosophy, and Simply Eartha’s products keep her passion for the environment alive.

Shapiro says "My mother was organic way before it was chic. She had a vegetable garden that she tended to, and a yard with chickens and roosters in Beverly Hills. She would be very happy with how these products are made. The coasters are natural tumbled stone. The plates are made from recycled glass. The throws are created from recycled T-shirts, and the dyes are all non-V.O.C. (non-toxic)."

Thursday
Jul042013

John Chatterton Interview: Midtown International Theatre Festival (MITF)

John Chatterton, created the Midtown International Theatre Festival (MITF) in 2000, a Midtown alternative to other theatre festivals, as a way to present the finest Off-Off Broadway talent in convenience, comfort, and safety. This year's festival will once again take place at 312 West 36th Street (The Abingdon Arts Complex/Workshop Theaters) from July 15-August 4. For shows and tickets be sure to visit http://www.midtownfestival.org.

Follow the Midtown International Theatre Festival (MITF) on Facebook and Twitter!

1. Who or what made you want to start the Midtown International Theatre Festival? I was publishing OOBR ("the off-off-broadway review") when FringeNYC was founded. One of my writers said, "Someone should start a Midtown Fringe festival." Of course, no one did, so a couple years later I did it. I'm an irrepressible theatrical entrepreneur and can't resist an opportunity.

2. What has it been like to watch the festival grow to what it is today? Stressful? Exhilarating? Satisfying? I knew 14 years ago I was onto something, so I've mainly had to see that I followed my strategic vision without making any fatal mistakes. 

3. What has been the most rewarding aspect of running the Midtown International Theatre Festival? What challenges have you faced over the years? People start businesses with strategic visions that usually prove to be an illusion. I started the MITF knowing that theatre-rental costs were going up faster than inflation, so if I offered producers a chance to mount plays for considerably less than it would cost on their own, I'd be successful. I've been wrong about a lot of things but not this. A successful business plan is intellectually (and financially) satisfying.

The challenges have been to get the capital together every year, manage cash flow, and keep reinventing the company with new people (though our turnover has been a lot less than some festivals). 

4. How do you decide which productions you accept to the festival? What is your favorite part of this process? I have 3 artistic directors who curate the shows. We don't have committees, so I let them choose whatever stirs their passions. I also curate all the one-acts, keeping me in touch with the process. I think this is my favorite part of it. Curating the one-acts is a year-round process, linked to the Short Play Lab (every month in season) and the Midwinter Madness Short Play Festival.

5. What is your future vision for the festival? I want to be bigger than NYMF and at least half the size of FringeNYC. 

6. If you could have any playwright, director, producer, or performer be in the Midtown International Theatre Festival, who would you choose? We've had famous people in the Festival. They've been known to ride roughshod over the rest of us. Next year I want to have a commercial division (a separate venue devoted to 5-6 shows with commercial ambitions), so we'll see. As for any particular person, nah, I'm not going there. A new Stoppard play, maybe. Any of a dozen or so Broadway producers who return my phone calls.

7. In addition to being the executive director of the Midtown International Theatre Festival, you are also a playwright, have produced several Off-Broadway shows, and run a rehearsal/theatre complex. What do you get from these other endeavors that you do not get from being the executive director? All this stuff shares my drive as a theatrical entrepreneur. I was also going to start an entertainment-insurance company, but issues of health intervened. Maybe I'll start a play-publishing company specializing in short plays that have appeared in my festivals.

As for being executive producer of the MITF, what I like about it is I force myself to delegate as much stuff as possible, though I haven't given up curating the one-acts and I'm back as editor of the Festabill and brochure. I like the idea that my only duty after the Festival starts is to see all the plays. It's a blast!

8. What's the best advice you've ever received? "Don't go into the humanities -- stick with Chemistry!" Unfortunately, I didn't follow it. Seriously, Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends And Influence People." Followed very closely by Robert J. Ringer's "Winning Through Intimidation."

9. What have you learned about yourself from your various careers? I'm observant, clever, patient, flexible, fair, and I can take a punch. Also impulsive, over-confident, too trusting, not the most organized, and incautious.

10. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? X-ray vision. I could be the greatest poker player in the world. But that would be cheating.

More on John:

In 2003, the MITF moved its activities to their current location, the Theatre Building on W. 36th St., where it has been successfully ensconced since. In 2008 the Festival expanded from two theatres in that building to four, at the WorkShop Theater Company and Abingdon Theatre Company spaces. The MITF’s artistic emphasis is on the script itself, and therefore the Festival focuses on effective but minimal production values.

In addition to MITF, John started OOBR ("the off-off-broadway review") in 1993. John has also run a rehearsal studio/theatre complex, Where Eagles Dare; produced Off-Broadway; and is a playwright. He also runs the Short Play Lab and the Midwinter Madness Short Play Festival.

Thursday
Jun132013

Danielle Grabianowski: Duplex and Night of A Thousand Judys Interview

Danielle Grabianowski is an award-winning singing actress whose performances have been likened to "Barbra Streisand at the Bon Soir and Bette Midler at the Continental Baths."  This June, she is making two very special appearances.

On June 17, Danielle will be performing in the third annual Night of A Thousand Judys benefit, hosted by The Meeting's Justin Sayre (Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Center, 129 West 67th Street). Night of A Thousand Judys will donate all proceeds to the Ali Forney Center which is the nation's largest and most comprehensive organization dedicated to homeless LGBT youth. Joining Danielle in this extraordinary evening are original "Weather Girl" Martha Wash, three-time Tony Award nominee Carolee Carmello, Glee's Telly Leung, Justin Vivian Bond, Lea DeLaria, Christiane Noll, Tituss Burgess, Karen Mason, and many others. Click here for tickets!

Then, on June 19 (and August 28), at 7pm, Danielle will grace the stage of NYC's historic Duplex Cabaret Theatre at in the West Village for an evening of eclectic, impromptu set of standards, stories and pop tunes. Click here for tickets!

For more on Danielle be sure to visit http://daniellegrabianowski.wordpress.com!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? My family moved to Florida in the middle of 6th grade and I had come from a really small school and had trouble making new friends in my new school. I was really shy. In 8th grade, I was picked to do a short solo at our chorus concert. The song was "Voices that Care." The teacher was Ms. Jury, we're Facebook friends now. Figuring out I could sing made the future look a little brighter.

2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? I'd like to continue working with my pianist, Nate Buccieri forever, he is amazing. And, I worked with a band at Sleep No More, but I've never worked with a band on my own show. I would love to collaborate on arrangements with a bunch of musicians in that way. I'm hoping to do that later on as our monthly gig at the Duplex gets underway.

3. What excites you about your upcoming cabaret show at The Duplex on June 19? Just that I don't know what's going to happen! It's a little more impromptu than other shows I've done, we're making it a monthly thing, so we're switching things up a little bit every time, so I find the unpredictability of all of that pretty exciting.

4. What do you like about performing at The Duplex as opposed to other venues around the city? THE STAFF!!! They just have a great way of making performers feel really welcome.

5. On June 17, you are taking part in the third annual Night of A Thousand Judys, benefiting the Ali Forney Center. What made you want to be part of this evening? How does it feel to know you are helping so many GLBT Youth? It's just a great thing. I've sung at The Meeting a couple of times and being a part of any evening where Justin Sayre is at the mic is bound to be a blast. Beyond that, I was actually pretty familiar with the Ali Forney Center through my efforts in social work. Someone came to speak about homelessness in the LGBT population in one of my classes and I really came to understand what a huge issue it is. I think living in Manhattan, especially if you're not gay, it can seem like being gay is totally easy, but a lot of these kids are coming from cultures and school settings a lot different than what we accept as the norm at places like the duplex or in the theater district. They are made to feel unsafe in their schools, they're ostracized by their families, and what's most startling is the rates of suicide that we're seeing. That tells you something about the predicament these kids and young adults are in - if the trend among this population is that life is so hard at 18 that the only way you can make it better is to attempt suicide, then clearly we really need to rally and give them the support they need. It's an important issue, it doesn't get nearly enough attention and I hope we make a lot of money!

Danielle Grabianowski at the 24th Annual Mac Awards, Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN.COM6. You are the recipient of the 2010 MAC Award for Outstanding Female Vocalist and the Bistro's Ira Eaker Special Achievement Award given to a "Star on the Rise." What do these honors mean to you? It was a great feeling to be recognized. The cabaret community in NYC is such a warm and fascinating group of people - I love being a part of that.

7. You took two years off from performing to go back to school to get a master's degree in Social Work. What made you want to pursue a degree? Do you feel this experience enriched your performing at all? My desire to do social work is totally related to my experience as an artist. When I was going through all the struggles as a performer, there were a lot of people who helped me: my acting teacher, my Alexander Technique teacher, my therapist. Mostly they helped me grow and change, which is what I needed to do. Most of the time, it's really hard to change on your own. No matter how much you want to change, a time will probably come when you don't think you can do it and you give up on yourself. It's a natural part of the process for a lot of us, which is why we need people around believing in us when we don't believe in ourselves and fighting for us when we lack the strength to fight on our own. On a very simple level, that is what social workers do. I wanted to give back to people what had been given to me. I'm still at the beginning of things but at some point I plan on working with other performers on all of this stuff. Social Work School has really shifted the way I see the world and other people and I'm guessing that will come across as I get back into performing.

8. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? When I first moved to the city, so much of my confidence was wrapped up in my identity as a singer and when I didn't have success the first few years, my self-esteem took a huge hit. It was really bad, at the worst point, I couldn't even sing without crying. On some level, I thought that singing was the best thing about me and if no one found it valuable, I didn't know what to do with myself. Eventually I had to learn that there was more to me and more to life than performing. So I actually learned the most about myself through the rejection, which I think is the case for a lot of artists. Ironically, when I stopped grasping at the need to be successful, something more natural and innate took over that people really responded to.

9. What's the best advice you've ever received? It's so simple, but when I was auditioning for musicals and making myself miserable, I knew I had to make a change, but I'd been doing it for so long, the idea of simply making the 'right choice' about what to do next seemed impossible. My husband said to me, "it doesn't matter what you do, it just matters that you do something." And it's true. Soon after that responded to a Playbill add for an internship for Miller Wright & Associates. They specialize in PR for Jazz and Cabaret artists. While I didn't become a PR maven, I was exposed to amazing performances that I would have never had the chance to see and I also learned how to promote other people's shows which made it much easier when it came time to promote my own. I eventually got a job there and was surrounded by cabaret all the time and I think that played a huge role in all the great things that have happened to me cabaret-wise. And it all started by a small step of responding to an internship add.

10. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Time travel!!!!

 

More on Danielle:

Danielle Grabianowski won the 2010 MAC Award for Outstanding Female Debut, the Bistro’s Ira Eaker Special Achievement Award given to a “Star on the Rise” and the first-ever 1930s Idol competition. She was last seen as the jazz singer "Josephine Grant" in the award-winning Off-Broadway sensation, Sleep No More. Danielle took a two-year hiatus from performing to pursue a master’s degree in Social Work from New York University and has performed with various theater companies around the country including the Georgia Shakespeare Festival, Bakerloo Theatre Project and Bigfork Summer Playhouse as well as in various readings and workshops of new musicals and plays in New York City. Some of her favorites include "Thea" in Fiorello!, "the Porter" in Macbeth, "Fiona" in Brigadoon and "Angelique" in The Imaginary Invalid