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Entries in Family (9)

Sunday
May072017

Call Answered: Sherri Saum: "The Fosters" on Freeform TV

Sherri Saum, Photo Credit: "The Fosters"/Freeform TVFrom The Brady Bunch to Diff'rent Strokes to This Is Us, family TV shows are some of my favorite ones to watch. I love the wide range of family dynamics each show offers. I always see some aspect of my own family in these shows, but am also opened to the different kinds of families out there.

One series I have been enjoying is The Fosters on Freeform TV. I love the show's heart and soul. The realness of the storylines, the braveness of the actors bringing these characters to life, and most of all, the way it pulls on my heartstrings. I was over the moon when I called and Sherri Saum answered. It was great learning what Sherri loves about the show, how it relates to her own life, and what roles she didn't book as well as one role that made her jump up and down with excitement! The Fosters 5th Season begins July 11 on Freeform TV!

Follow Sherri on Twitter and Instagram!

For more on The Fosters visit http://freeform.go.com/shows/the-fosters and follow the show on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

1. For the past 5 seasons, you have been starring in the original TV series The Fosters, which is about teenager, "Callie Jacob," who is placed in a foster home with a lesbian couple (your character "Lena" being one of the lesbians) and their blend of biological, adoptive and foster children. What initially made you want to be part of this show? What has kept you interested in staying on the show after 5 seasons? I was so impressed with the authenticity and fearlessness of the pilot. And the quality of storytelling has remained incredibly strong after all these seasons.

2. What did you relate to most about "Lena" during Season 1 and what do relate more to about her now, being in Season 5? I relate to "Lena's" compassion - I love that I get to be a warm embrace - and I hope the audience feels it as well.

Sherri Saum as "Lena" on "The Fosters", Photo Credit: "The Fosters"/Freeform TV3. What have you learned about family from starring on this show? I've learned about the power of communication - I come from a very loving supporting family, but talking about the nitty gritty was never one of our strengths. I'm going to try to bring what The Fosters has taught me to my own kids.

4. What has been the most challenging storyline for you to learn? Which one has been the most fun that you wish didn't have to end? Dealing with "Lena" losing her child was excruciating - especially since I was actually pregnant in real life as we were filming. I loved the times we welcomed Rosie O'Donnell's character onto the show - she's such a talent.

Sherri Saum as "Lena" on "The Fosters"5.  As a mother, wife, and leading actress in a hit show, how do you balance work/life? I balance the way so many other millions of moms do. Sometimes great, sometimes not so great. I always wonder why men never get asked that question! It should be just as much of a juggle and concern for them.

6. How did having kids change you as person? I just feel things a lot deeper. I can't read stories or see movies where a child gets hurt. It's an overwhelming feeling of worry sometimes. But I also am called to be the best version of myself more than I have ever been. I want them to be proud of me.

Teri Polo and Sherri Saum behind-the-scenes, Photo via "The Fosters" co-creator Bradley Bredeweg7. 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 procrastination

8. You've had quite a career in television, starring in several multi-season TV shows as well as guest stints on many others. What do you like about guest-starring on a show over being a series regular? I enjoy guest starring because it's like being invited over for a play date with all new toys in the sandbox. But there really is nothing like the security and family feeling you get when you work as a series regular. Especially when you love your cast mates and crew as much as I do!

9. What is one role that you really wanted to get, but didn't? Which role did you book that made you jump up and down and scream out loud? I remember auditioning for Avatar in the role that went to Zoe Saldana. That one stung. I jumped up and down for an HBO series I booked called In Treatment with Gabriel Byrne.

Sherri SaumMore on Sherri:

Prior to The Fosters, Sherri starred on the Golden Globe nominated HBO series In Treatment, spent two seasons on the Emmy nominated series Rescue Me starring Denis Leary and starred on Showtime’s critically acclaimed series Beggars and Choosers as well as The John Cassevettes Award nominated Anne B. Real. Memorable guest starring roles include RevengeUnforgettableArmy WivesBody of ProofCSI: NYLaw and Order: Criminal IntentLaw and Order: Trial By Jury and Charmed among others. Film Roles include Ten Stories Tall opposite Josh Hamilton and Relative Stranger starring Eric La Salle and Cicely Tyson.

Sherri was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio and attended Ohio State University and NYU pursuing a degree in psychology. While in school, Sherri landed her first lead role on Aaron Spelling’s serial, Sunset Beach for which she earned a daytime Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Younger Actress.

Thursday
Apr202017

Call Answered: Matthew Montelongo: "Daniel's Husband" at Primary Stages

Matthew Montelongo, Photo Credit: Manolo DoresteAfter seeing Michael McKeever's new play Daniel's Husband I couldn't wait to find out more about it. I was thrilled when I called, and Matthew Montelongo answered. I was so taken by his performance, it's great to delve into Matthew & his portrayal of "Mitchell."

In Daniel's Husband, "Daniel" and "Mitchell" enjoying life as the perfect couple. Perfect house, perfect friends, even a mother who wants them to wed. What isn't perfect is that "Daniel" longs to be married and "Mitchell" does not. A turn of events forces both men to face the consequences of their opposing views, and they learn that they are living in a world where fundamental rights aren't always so fundamental. Daniel's Husband takes an unflinching look at how we choose to tie the knot. Or not.

Daniel's Husband plays at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through April 28 only! Click here for tickets!

For more on Matthew follow him on Twitter and Instagram!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? I wish I had an inspiring story to share. You know those stories. A story of discovering my deep desire to act after witnessing a life-altering, transformational performance by some lauded performer of yester-year. Rather, and this is utterly boring (the truth usually is), I auditioned for a play in college and a kind director showed interest, telling me that I had potential. In that moment, for better AND for worse, I became enamored of that rare, thrilling moment when you are told that you’ve done something well. I’m a sucker for a Gold Star. Always have been. As I’m sure you and your readers are well aware, getting approval is a ridiculous reason to do anything. I am nothing, if not ridiculous.

2. After starring in the regional production of Daniel's Husband, you are now performing with it again at Cherry Lane Theatre in NYC. What initially made you want to be part of the show and what made you want to continue on with it? (I mean, after seeing the show, I can tell why would want to continue with it). I loved Daniel’s Husband when I first read it last August. It moved me deeply. And it’s been my experience that when that happens whilst reading something that I may or may not even get cast in, I know it’s something really special. Beyond the emotional connection, the play checks all of my boxes: new play (check), great theatre (check), great director (check). Lastly, I thought the arguments for and against marriage equality made in the play were both provocative and grounded in reality.

As for moving the play to The Cherry Lane, I think this simple rule applies: If given a chance to work with Joe Brancato, Ryan Spahn, Lou Liberatore, Leland Wheeler, and Anna Holbrook: YOU SAY YES.

Matthew Montelongo in "Daniel's Husband", Photo Credit: James Leynse3. What do you relate to most about "Mitchell"? What is one characteristic of his, you are glad you don't have? Like "Mitchell," I don’t shy away from sharing my opinions. This is often one of the ways in which people describe themselves (perhaps especially in interviews) that’s more of a humble-brag than an honest criticism. I don’t mean it like that. "Mitchell," and on occasion, I, can get obnoxious when it comes to proving a point. My mother, when I was younger (okay, like yesterday) used to yell "Life is not a debate!" whenever we argued. It can get tiresome, especially when the stakes for every argument are life-and-death. I’ve learned in the many years (cough cough) since being on my high school’s debate team, that some points don’t need to be proven. Like whether gluten allergies are real; or whether it’s better to stand at the front of the C-Train; or if Cargo Shorts are cool. (My answers, by the way, are: I don’t care. Yes. And YES).

4. What do you think is "Mitchell's" greatest strength and weakness? "Mitchell" is brought low in Daniel’s Husband by his fervent opposition to gay marriage, but is buoyed (perhaps even saved) by his equally unyielding love for "Daniel." I admire the strength of his convictions, even if he is almost destroyed by the consequences of having them.

Ryan Spahn and Matthew Montelongo in "Daniel's Husband", Photo Credit: James Leynse5. In Daniel's Husband, "Mitchell" is not pro marriage because he doesn't want to conform to societal standards. When have you been pushed by friends and loved ones to do something that so many others do, but you say, "No, I'm not going to do this and be like everyone else"? I can’t think of a time when I’ve been pushed by my friends and loved ones to do something that I didn’t want to do. I’m not counting, of course, the fact that I refuse, much to the chagrin of my friends and loved ones, to stop wearing Cargo Shorts (see answer to question #3). For the most part, my friends and loved ones are FAR smarter than I am. If they think it’s a good idea, it probably is.

6. Without giving too much of the play away, there is a turn of events that makes "Mitchell" regret his decision not to get married. What is something in your life that you regret not doing or wishing you made a different decision than you did? I regret eating as much as I did for breakfast. Aside from that, I tend to not let myself dwell on past choices. If I make a wrong choice, I try to learn from it. If I’m able to do that, then perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that wrong of a choice. All that being said, I DEEPLY regret what I had for breakfast.

Matthew Montelongo and Leland Wheeler in "Daniel's Husband", Photo Credit: James Leynse7. "Mitchell" is also a fighter in that he really goes after what he wants, both personally and professionally. What is something you haven't done yet or still want to achieve in your personal & professional life? Professionally, I just want to work. More plays, more TV, projects that I like and that also allow me to pay my rent (I know, I’m a dreamer). For what it’s worth, I’ve always wanted to play a corpse on an episodic television show. Can one of your readers make that happen?

Personally, I want to eat well, work out more, be a better friend, son, and partner. But I’ll settle for eating fewer bagels (my weakness) and spending more quality time with my boyfriend (he comes in a very close second to bagels).

8. What are some stories you've heard at the stage door afterwards? I haven’t been privy to many stage door stories. In general, I duck my head and run. But this show moves people, and I VERY MUCH appreciate their willingness to share that with me after the show. I’ve gotten hugs from strangers on my walk home from the theatre, which is lovely. I’ve also been asked, more than once, if I’m related to Ben Affleck, which I take as a compliment (so long as it’s Argo Affleck and not Daredevil Affleck).

9.  I'm just going to put my cards on the table and say, when the play first started, I thought, "Oh great, this is going to be another stereotypical play about a group of gay friends at a dinner party and their lives afterwards." Well, I couldn't have been more wrong. This show has so much depth and deals with some really important issues such as gay marriage, gay rights, what makes a family, & crossing boundaries. It made me think a lot about my life. From starring in this show, how do you feel it has changed the way you look at your life and what you want from it? I have spent a great deal of time in my non-actor life working for marriage equality (I help pay the bills by freelance writing, frequently for LGBTQ nonprofits). Before living in "Mitchell’s" skin eight times a week, I wouldn’t have been able to be in the same room with him – or anyone who so vehemently opposes marriage in general and gay marriage specifically. Now, however, though I still disagree with his opinions, I respect his reasons. And even more so, I respect that his opposition to marriage doesn’t in ANY way compromise his love for "Daniel." Seeing that in "Mitchell," and "living" it every night, has changed the way I interact with others in my non-actor life who don’t share my support of marriage equality or belief in the protections of marriage in general.

Matthew Montelongo, Photo Credit: Manolo DoresteMore on Matthew:

Broadway: A View from the Bridge and The Ritz. Off-Broadway: One Night (Cherry Lane), This Backstage Life (Atlantic), His Daddy (EST), Whore (SPF), God’s Ear (Vineyard Theatre/New Georges), Five Flights (Rattlestick), The Mineola Twins and Arms and the Man (Roundabout), and Tartuffe (NYSF/Public Theatre). Television: Forever, Gossip Girl, Law & Order: SVU (x2). Film: Bear City 3.

Thursday
Apr132017

Call Answered: Monica Piper: "Not That Jewish" at New World Stages

Monica PiperLast week I had the opportunity to go see Monica Piper's one-woman show Not That Jewish, a hilarious heartfelt show about her life in comedy, the Bronx, and being Jew-"ish." From family to relationships to laughter, Not That Jewish has something for everyone! If you want advice on being a comedian, Not That Jewish has it. Have a broken heart, Not That Jewish will help heal it. If you want to see a show with laughter and substance, Not That Jewish is the one to see!

Monica's performance was fantastic. There were so many moments my jaw dropped from laughter, I eventually lost count. Monica knows how to deliver a comedic moment like Willy Wonka knows how to make candy, perfectly! Monica's writing is strong (She has written for such hit TV shows as RugratsRoseanne, and Mad About You), which is what obviously made her an Emmy Award winner and Golden Globe nominee. Through the tears and laughter, Monica still shines bright, center stage, where she belongs!

I love all the behind-the-scene stories Monica shares with me in this interview about her life and the show. Not That Jewish plays at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenue) through April 30th only! Click here for tickets!

For more on Monica & Not That Jewish be sure to visit http://notthatjewish.com and follow the show on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

1. After seeing the show recently, I'm so excited to be doing this interview with you. What made now the right time to write & premiere Not That Jewish? I had written several stories for the Jewish Women’s Theatre Salon Series in Los Angeles and they were received very well. In about 2008, Ronda Spinak, the artistic director of Jewish Women’s Theatre, said, "I’m starting this new theatre; cutting edge writing and performing of the Jewish woman’s voice and I want you to write some original pieces." I said, "But Ronda, I’m not that Jewish." She said, "Yes you are, just create from the heart. Someday that’s going to be the title of your play," and that was in 2008. Anyway, I just kept writing stories for them and performing and we just suddenly started realizing that this whole body of work was really centered on this theme of passing it down and family. I was approached by one of the patrons of Jewish Women’s Theatre who said, "I love your stories and I want to commission you to write a play," and I started writing it in 2014. It opened in Los Angeles, and it was supposed to run for five weeks but it ran for sixteen months.

2. Being Jewish myself, there was so much I could relate to, especially the importance and love of family. In the show, you re-create your family throughout the show. When you are playing them (whether it be your mother, father, grandmother), what goes through your head during these moments? Does it make you appreciate them, miss them more, or just happy you have those memories? I appreciate them more and I think what has gone through my mind so many times is how they would’ve loved seeing this show and how they would’ve loved that I’m honoring them in this way. Every audience is different and they laugh at different things, but they always laugh at something my grandmother says, something my father says, and something my mother says. To me, that’s great because I’m honoring them and that feels really good.

Monica Piper and her dad3. In the show you, you say that Jews tend to laugh even during the darkest times. I definitely agree with that because I tend to find a lot of my humor during rough times and I see that in my dad a lot as while he was undergoing/recovering from triple bypass surgery, he kept his spirits up with his humor and that has definitely made an impression on me. After your mother passed away, how soon after did you and your father find that moment of laughter you portray? How did you feel to laugh again after such a tough moment? It took a day or two, obviously, to get over the shock, but we were sitting Shiva and it was during that time that I said, "Dad, we gotta laugh." There are moments in my life that, just because of time we couldn’t include everything in the play, but when I was growing up my father and I would sit and watch sports together and we would always make fun of the commercials, this was before DVRs when you couldn't fast-forward the commercials and had to watch them. There was an IBM commercial called "What if?" It showed a guy taking a shower and in the middle of the shower he clearly gets an idea and a voiceover says, "What if?" My father shouted at the TV and said, "What if you left me alone and let me take my shower?" Then I shouted, "What if I called the cops? I don't know you and you’re in my bathroom." We would just riff and laugh. The reason I’m bringing this up is because when we’re sitting Shiva and I say to him in the play, "Dad, we gotta laugh. Come on, let’s play." That’s what I meant, I meant let’s do what we’ve done in the past to make each other laugh and that’s what we did.

Monica Piper in "Not That Jewish"4. You also mentioned that when your dad passed away, you missed calling him when you wanted to bounce a joke off of him or had news to share about your professional life. Who became your substitute for him, if anyone? Yes, I also have great friends. Because I’m an only child, some of my friends are like my sisters. Not only do I have close friends, but I have an entire family of comedians, it’s like a tribe. The comedians that came up in the 80s or 90s, we traveled so much to comedy clubs that we knew each other. Now especially on Facebook, it’s so great. Even if we haven’t seen each other in twenty years, we’re still making each other laugh. Not only do I have great friends from my life as a civilian, but also from my life as a comedian. I had any number of people who could make me laugh on a daily basis. It was different with my family because he came from an old school way of thinking and laughing at things.

5. In writing this show, what is something you learned about yourself or your family that you didn't know while it was happening? It’s really very simple. What I didn’t realize while things were happening in my life is that things were being passed down. My father was not only passing down his humor to me, but his values, and my grandmother had passed them on to him; these ideas of humor, good deeds, acceptance, and compassion. My father always said, "Always think of the other person, kid," and I had passed that down to my son.

Monica Piper in "Not That Jewish"6. There are a few moments throughout the show where you pay homage to Alfred Hitchcock's Pyscho which got me every time. What made you want to format those instances with that tip of the hat? It happens twice: when my neighbor tells me I’m not that Jewish and then my husband tells me later on that I’m not that funny. Those are the two times where the only thing I could think of was the shocking horror, I wanted to show that it was like a horror movie to me. When my husband said, "Did it ever occur to you that you’re not that funny?" Ugh! Like stick a dagger in my heart, why don’t you! I just thought it was a very funny way to communicate to the audience very quickly and unmistakably that this was a moment of horror for me.

7. If you could have a conversation with your parents and Grandma Rose today, what would you want to tell them? First, I would thank them. I would thank them profusely for just giving me these values that are inherently Jewish without being outwardly Jewish. I would thank them for the view of the world they had, and for giving me a funny and compassionate place. I’m really lucky. A lot of comedians say that you can’t be funny unless you had a disastrous childhood, but I have to disagree. I had a funny childhood and that’s what I would thank them for.

Monica Piper in "Not That Jewish"8. What has been the most heartwarming story you've heard from an audience member after they saw the show? I have heard a lot, people relate on different levels. I’ve heard women talk to me about being adopted or being an adoptive mother and how that hits home. I had a birth mother thank me profusely with tears in her eyes for giving the birth mother’s side of the story. I’ve had cancer survivors, people who just lost their father or mother and this helped them get through it because it made them laugh and have a good cry, but I honestly think that the comment that really got to me was from a man who said, "I just want you to know that this is the weirdest thing. I had no idea when I came into the show that it was going to make me feel this way. But I know that I’m now going to be a better husband and father," And that blew me away.

9. When you were climbing up the comedy ladder, what was the most challenging part about being a female comedian in a male dominated industry? Them just always assuming that the female could not be as funny as a male. It was just a natural assumption. You were in these people’s presence knowing that attitude was there, even though you were killing it on stage. It was like that had to be a fluke. It was also challenging when I wanted to get booked at a certain club at a certain time of year and they would say, "We already have a female on the bill that week." There could never be two females and one male, that would be crazy to them and you were either the one female out of three, because there’s always three acts: an opening act, a middle act, and a headliner. It was either that you had one female or it had to be an all female show, "Look at us doing something wacky this week, we have all females!" It was really like that.

Monica Piper "Rugrats"10. What was the best part about being the head writer for Rugrats? What did you learn from being a writer on Roseanne? The best part on a personal level was being able to share what I did with my son. In other words, when I wrote on sitcoms, the hours were really long and when I had a script due, they would send you home. I’d be home writing with a deadline and I’d have to tell my son, "Jakey, I have a script due, I can’t do anything right now, I have to write." Whereas on Rugrats it was the greatest thing in the world, I would say, "Jakey, come here. I need a joke for Chuckie." He would be so excited to talk about Rugrats with me and I think the coolest thing was once he gave me a germ of an idea that I thought was pretty good, I made some changes and pitched it to the producers and they liked it, so I turned it into a story, then an outline, and then a script and I gave Jake story credit when he was seven years old. The show was produced and it said, "Share and Share a Spike: Based on an idea by Jake Piper, written by Monica Piper." I had that credit framed and when he woke up on his 8th birthday, it was hanging on his wall. That was the big difference between writing on sitcoms and writing on Rugrats.

RoseanneWriting on Roseanne was my first experience writing for a show. It was like being called up to the majors, and it was the number one show in the country so it was pretty cool. However, they kept you there until four in the morning. That was tough because Jake was very young when I was writing on Roseanne. I had a daytime nanny and a nighttime nanny so it was a difficult time for me. On one hand, I was thrilled to be writing for the number one show in the country, but I had made a promise to the birth mother that I would be a great mom and I was feeling guilt about the time I spent away from him. So as soon as Roseanne was over, I left the whole writing world and took my kid with me on the road for two years and it was great because we were never apart. But on the positive side, what I learned from writing on Roseanne was how to structure a story, how important it was to have an arc and a real beginning, middle, and end, and how jokes are not interchangeable. You can’t give a joke for "Darlene" to "Roseanne’s" sister, "Jackie." I learned to write for characters and how the character makes the joke funny. I really believe it was the beginning of me learning to be a really good writer, plus the thrill of getting your joke in a script and having other comedy writers laughing at what you wrote, and I also learned that male comedy writers have no problem farting in the room.

More on Monica:

Monica Piper was a Campfire Girl…in the Bronx. "You sense your life isn’t normal when you’re sitting on the D train with a bag of marshmallows and a twig." Monica began her career as a high school English teacher. While finding it rewarding, she had to move on. "I couldn’t handle the money and prestige." She realized her passion was making people laugh. She studied improv with Second City in Chicago, and performed with Spaghetti Jam, Sons of the Sunset and Papaya Juice in San Francisco. Monica then went solo as a standup and soon became one of Showtime Network’s "Comedy All Stars." It wasn’t long before she landed her own Ace Award-winning Showtime special, No, Monica…Just You. Monica was nominated for an American Comedy Award as one of the top five female comedians in the country. She has opened for Gloria Estefan, Neil Sedaka, Glen Campbell, The Smothers Brothers and Lucie Arnaz. Monica was recruited by Roseanne herself to write on Roseanne. Thus began her career as a sitcom writer. She went on to write for Mad About You and Veronica’s Closet. Now a mother, sitcom hours meant too much time away from her son, so Monica turned to animation. After writing for the adult cult favorite Duckman, she became the showrunner of the #1 children’s animated series Rugrats, for which she won an Emmy. She went on to develop and write series for Nickelodeon, Disney and Cartoon Network.

Monica has returned to her first love, performing. As a stand-up, she headlines clubs and organizations around the country. An artist-in-residence with the Jewish Women’s Theatre, Monica performs original comedy pieces for their acclaimed In-Home Salons. It was there that Monica developed her solo show Not That Jewish, which ran for 16 sold-out months in L.A. and was nominated for Best Solo Performance by the L.A. Drama Critics Circle and Stage Raw. Born and raised in the Bronx, Monica is thrilled to be returning to her NY roots with her show. "I’ve lived in California for 25 years but am still, and always will be, a New Yorker." Monica lives in Santa Monica with her son, Jake, whom she loves and adores almost every day.

Wednesday
Dec072016

Call Answered: Samuel Shem: At The Heart of the Universe

Samuel ShemFamily means the world to me. I am very close with mine and would move mountains for them if I had to. When I heard Samuel Shem, best-selling author of The House of God, was releasing a new book I knew I had to give him a call. Luckily, Samuel answered.

At The Heart of the Universe, is a fictitious story, based upon Samuel's own experiences about the ups and downs of adoption, during the time of Mao's population control policies in China, and the drama that comes when two opposite ends of the world become inextricably intertwined. Click here to purchase the book!

For more on Samuel be sure to visit http://www.samuelshem.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter!

1. You just released your latest book, At The Heart of the Universe, inspired by your own adoption experience, chronicles the ups and downs of adoption, during the time of Mao's population control policies in China, and the drama that comes when two opposite ends of the world become inextricably intertwined. How did writing this book help you reconcile your feelings about what you went through personally? I wrote the novel because I had to. When my wife Janet Surrey and I and our ten year old daughter Katie were standing in the courtyard of the police in Changsha China where she had been abandoned as a one-month old, something happened! A woman walked across the courtyard into the police station and—of all the thousands of Chinese we’d seen so far—she had the same oval face as Katie, the same eyes the same glint of russet in her black hair—she looked just like Katie, and was the right age to be her birth mother. Janet and I, independently, noticed this. We got distracted, and later, when we went looking for her— she had vanished! We were so enraptured by the similarity, we told our van driver to try to find her. We drove around through alleyways and on big streets for a while. No luck. That was the seed of the novel. As Dylan says in his song "Up to Me," "Someone had to tell that tale, I guess it was up to me." Someone had to write this, and—having published novels and plays—that someone had to be me.

2. What do you hope people come away with after reading this book? As the author, I dare not say. Bu here’s what a few others who have reviewed it have said: Bill McKibben: "A gorgeous novel of particulars set against the fascinating backdrop of the Chinese mountains, and a hauntingly universal account of loss, gain, and new beginnings." And the Chinese/American writer Ha Jin: "A moving story that if full of understanding and psychological intensity. This large-hearted novel reaffirms the necessity of empathy, self-discovery, and love." And, finally, Abraham Verghese: "A poignant and tender novel about love, about parenting and the nature of home. This is a lovely, transformative story."

Janet, Katie, and Samuel Shem3. At The Heart of the Universe is described as "A journey of how we humans can walk with each other through suffering to heal." With what just happened with the election, the timing of this book seems all too perfect, in that, primarily we as a nation are walking around suffering while looking for ways to heal. Aside from that statement, how would you correlate what happens in this story with the results of this year's election? Ahhh! This election! Hey readers—this novel may help: it affirms, deeply, the joy that can come from walking through sharp differences, together, to understanding and, in this case, love. This is the story of how differences can either divide or connect. We in the USA are living in a nation that is fractured among many differences. By adopting a four-month old Chinese girl, very quickly we were opened up to difference—and as we went on we saw how difference, through love, can be turned into greater, stronger connection—of the shared human spirit. For instance, after our first month of looking into our baby’s Chinese eyes, when we went out and saw white babies, we thought: "How strange their eyes look." We had crossed a divide of perception—what was normal for us, then, was different from us, and it was who we were now. We were in a new normal. And we saw through her eyes the way sometimes people treated her: (to Janet) "You can’t be her mother!" And at a 5th grade visit to school we were startled to see, in her "Draw Your Family," two stick figures with white faces, and one dark brown. How surprised we were! The world of division opened up, and we embraced it. The terrible stresses in this country, mostly huge economic inequalities, don’t allow us to see differences as adding, rather than diminishing. The oppressing group can’t readily see the daily feeling-experience of the oppressed; the oppressed can often see clearly that of the oppressors—their lives literally depend on this clarity. Working in face-to-face live (not screen) dialogue through these differences is required—and actually, from all our work on the difference of gender, healing.

Samuel Shem4. In the book, Xiao Lu, gives birth to a baby girl, but with the laws the way they are in China at that time, can't keep her, so she abandons her in a pile of celery in a rural market, hoping someone who could care for her would find her. What do you think was going through her mind as she was making this decision? Here is what I wrote is going on in her head at the end of the first chapter:

"She takes the carefully calligraphed note and ties it firmly into the swaddling clothes and smells her one last time, that smell like no other, baby-soft and fragrant, like spring’s own hair, and puts her lips to the soft skin of her face her little nose her rosebud lips, and then she seems to float over the sidewalk over the dirt of the alley of the market crowded at noon and hiding the baby in a fold of her dress she goes straight to the vegetable stand trying to blend in and yes the celery is piled high and the stalks healthy and easily parted and, yes, safe, and she places the tiny bundle in the little nest she makes for her and without looking back rushes off, away, resolving not to watch what happens but then at a safe distance from behind the pile of iron and tires and pumps of the bicycle-repair stall, she watches. It takes no time at all. Vegetable sellers know their vegetables. She watches a short, stout woman wearing a blue bandanna go to rearrange the celery and suddenly look down, recoil, look again, and realize, and pick up the baby and shout:

"Whose baby? Whose baby?" People turn to look. "Whose baby?"

Mine! To keep this from escaping she puts a fist to her mouth, jams it hard, smashing her lips against her teeth.

"Whose baby?" the woman shouts. People stare, look around for the mother.

Mine! Fist to her mouth, she turns away.

"Whose baby whose baby?" echoes and echoes.

Turns back, blood on her hand now, on her fist.

"Whose baby whose baby whose babywhosebabywhosebaby . . ."

Turns away, huddles up inside, crouches over as if the fist is coming down on her head, her back, her belly, runs away.

Samuel Shem and his wife Janet5. Later in the book, it's revealed that when the adoptive parents return to China with their daughter, 10 years after they adopted her, they find the birth mother living alone in a forest. How do you think the decision of Xiao abandoning her daughter like that, sort of caused her life to lead her to a place of loneliness and despair? The birth mother is so overwhelmed by the horror of abandoning her beloved that for years she refuses to get pregnant again—to try for a boy, who would be valued by the husband’s farming family, because boys stay and work the farm, while girls leave to get married—and she is ostracized. Finally, after years of suffering in the family, she flees to the wilderness of a sacred mountain, thinks of suicide, but survives, and works a caretaking job at a Buddhist Temple. She lives alone on the mountain in a tiny, old stone hermitage, and she makes friends with the deer, and the birds, and, as her loneliness turns to solitude, returns to her girlhood talent, for calligraphy—trying to heal from this profound wound.

6. Going back to your own story, what was it like when you were visiting China with your daughter and you found out the birth mother wanted her to stay and she kind of wanted to as well? How did you get through that? This is a novel. We did not meet the birth mother. Of the hundreds of thousands of internationally adopted Chinese, almost zero meet the birth mother. That’s another reason I was called to write this novel—to fill the big blank space. As our daughter put it, at age eight, "It’s like my life is a movie, but I don’t know the first part of it."

Samuel Shem7. What did you learn about yourself from writing this book that you didn't know beforehand? In a way, everything! I’ve been a writer for five decades, and I’ve learned that the only way that I really, deeply learn from writing (and from good mutual relationships) is how to live and write on my edge. (What could be more audacious, trying to write with Shakespeare on the shelf, taunting you with astonishing lines like "parting is such sweet sorrow.") This story demanded I write it, and writing it demanded I live on the edge of all of it, in my experience in China and in the USA, over a decade of our daughter’s life, writing a draft and reaching my edge and putting it away for a year or more, picking it up wiser, an edge further, and so forth. Seven drafts worth. I read everything I could about all these Chinese things—and we took in Chinese graduate students to live with us and after a while the magic worked. I also learned that I could write in the present tense in the heads of four main characters—the edge of my technical ability—which, I am grateful to say, I learned from the modern master, my dear late best friend John Updike. I jumped in whole-heartedly, and came out with an even more full heart. A novel may or may not be true, but it is—and this one is—real.  Oh, and the grad students? We asked them to teach Katie Chinese. She refused--"All my friends are taking Spanish"—but she taught the grad students English!

Samuel Shem at SoHo Playhouse8. Everyone says that becoming a parent changes you. How did becoming a parent change you? I got a little wiser and kinder, and accepting. Not totally, of course—I had to stay deeply flawed enough to write novels. I found out that the two reasons that I write are:

1) to resist injustice, do good in the world

2) to show the danger of isolation and the healing power of good connection.

All of my eight novels and plays and non-fiction and speeches are about just that. Last year’s novel/commentary I wrote with my wife Janet Surrey—THE BUDDHA’S WIFE: A PATH OF AWAKENING TOGETHER—and my novel THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE—are more explicitly about that theme. And my first novel, THE HOUSE OF GOD—about medical internship, as well. (It  was just named by Publishers Weekly in its list of "The 10 Best Satires of All Time" Number 2)

9. What advice would you have for parents going through the adoption process that you wish you had? It’s not easy, and you have to persist—Janet and I at one point labeled the process: "The Adoption Olympics." But follow your heart, and you will find the baby meant for you. There is how a remarkable story about how "our baby" was "meant" for us, at the center of the novel.

10. What is something your daughter has taught you? Along with my decades-long year relationship with Janet, Katie has taught me just about everything human of value at my core. And, because of her love of animals, she taught me how incredibly much I could love a dog. I’m talkin’ really love a dog. And he’s getting old!

Samuel ShemMore on Samuel:

Best-selling and literary-award-winning novelist Samuel Shem is known as the author of the three million copy–selling modern classic, The House of God, recently named second on Publishers Weekly’s list of "The 10 Best Satires of All Time." A visiting Artist/Scholar at the American Academy in Rome, a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard Medical School faculty member for over three decades, Samuel is currently a Professor of Medical Humanities and Literature at NYU Medical School. He has given over sixty medical school commencement addresses on "Staying Human in Medicine,” and has been described in the press as "Easily the finest and most important writer ever to focus on the lives of doctors and the world of medicine." His other books include The Spirit of the Place, named 2009 USA Book News Best Novel of the Year as well as Independent Publishers Best Novel of the Year. His award-winning play Bill W. and Dr. Bob, co-written with his wife Janet Surrey about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, ran for ten months Off-Broadway in 2013. Surrey and Shem are co--authors of the 2015 book The Buddha's Wife: The Path of Awakening Together. He lives in Boston, New York, and Costa Rica, together with Janet and their daughter Katie. Follow Shem on Facebook, and read about his upcoming events at www.samuelshem.wordpress.com.

Thursday
Nov032016

Call Redialed: Will & Anthony Nunziata: The Gift Is You

It's always great catching up with entertainers/recording artists Will & Anthony Nunziata, not only because they are so talented, but because they are my friends and I love seeing my friends climb the ladder of success! On November 16, they are releasing their holiday EP The Gift Is You and on December 16 & 17 they will be making their Carnegie Hall debut alongside The New York Pops + Liz and Ann Hampton Callaway!

Kick off the holiday season with Will & Anthony at Barnes & Noble (86th Street & Lexington Ave) on November 16 at 7pm for their EP release celebration with a performance and signing! Click here to order The Gift Is You!

For more on Will and Anthony be sure to visit http://willandanthony.com and follow them on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram!

1. You are about to release first holiday EP, The Gift Is You, featuring three original songs and two classic holiday tunes. What made this holiday season the right time to put out your first holiday EP?

Anthony: I love Christmas! The thought of writing original Holiday music and record these songs during the sweltering summer months felt like the perfect time. My hope is the original songs capture the universal sentiments of love and family tradition.

Will: The holiday season has always been about spending time with family for me - immediate family and family of friends. That sentiment combined with our Carnegie Hall debut coming up in December made this the perfect time to release the EP.

Will and Anthony Nunziata2. With the thousands of holiday albums out there, why should someone buy your holiday EP, The Gift Is You over, say, Mariah Carey's?

Anthony: There are three original songs I co-wrote on that I'm really proud of and I think they offer a fresh look at what the season is all about. My hope is that the new songs become a new addition to your Holiday playlist.

Will: Our EP has an intimate sound and familial feel and hope that people will enjoy listening to the songs to get into the Holiday spirit!

3. This is also the debut of your songwriting skills. What was that process like for you? What do you like about songwriting? What are some of its challenges?

Will: The process was fantastic and thrilling. I had a blast collaborating with Anthony and composer Jeff Franzel on creating the melody and lyrics for a song that is deeply personal for me, for us, and, hopefully, for everyone else in some way.​

Anthony: Songwriting is soul-writing. Writing "The Gift Is You" with Jeff Franzel and brother Will was an emotional and gratifying experience, as the song was specifically written with my mother in mind. The idea of someone being a "gift" to you is a sentiment that I hope rings true in a universal way for listeners. I co-wrote "Mama's Little Angels" with Maria Christensen, and the song was inspired by my mother who every Christmas Eve, puts atop the fireplace mantle the family angel collection that has been passed down from generations past. Maria famously wrote "Waiting for Tonight" which was covered by Jennifer Lopez, and her songwriting style is free-flowing and so organic. I've learned from Maria to "just go for it" and not second guess your instincts. We wrote this song in her New York City apartment with Maria at guitar, and that's how the song was born. The third song I co-wrote was "Love Is What We Celebrate" with Jeff and Maria. It was a few days after the shooting at the Orlando nightclub and we all were thinking that "Love" is the real meaning of the Holidays. When we were writing this song, we actually wrote two songs, that then morphed into one. You never know what's going to happen when it comes to creating something -- you just have to go for it and trust your instincts.

4. You are celebrating The Gift Is You with an in-store performance & signing at Barnes & Noble on November 16. Barnes & Noble is also where you launched your debut CD a few years ago. What do you like about launching your CDs at Barnes & Noble?

Will: There's an old-school feeling in doing a Barnes & Noble Event - to be able to sing a few tunes, then sign and sell CDs, and greet friends, family, and fans is really fantastic. 

5. Since you are brothers and this EP is all about the holidays, what is your favorite part about performing together and how does performing during the holiday season take on new meaning for you as opposed to other times of the year?

Will: The holidays are a time to celebrate life and loved ones​...

Anthony: I'm excited that we both will be​ able to celebrate both of these sentiments ​for audiences with our upcoming concerts this Holiday season.

Anthony & Will Nunziata, Photo Credit: Stephen Sorokoff6. One classic song you sing on The Gift Is You is "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." What do you both love most about the holiday season in NYC?

Will: I love the tradition. NYC has so many amazing "Holiday hotspots" that have been around for generations that I love to go to - the Radio City Rockettes, a Broadway show, ice skating at Rockefeller Center and Central Park - the list goes on and on!

7. Another classic Christmas song you sing is "O Holy Night." What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions you like holding onto from your childhood?

Anthony: Putting up the family Christmas tree and Christmas ornaments with the entire family on Thanksgiving-Eve is a tradition that I love. Mom and Dad reminisce about early Christmas's with the family. This time of year reminds me how lucky I am to have such a loving and close knit family.

8. One of the original songs you wrote is "Mama's Little Angels." Who are some of "Mama's Little Angels" watching over you? Of your family members that have passed, what do you miss the most about them during this time of year?

Anthony: All of my grandparents are my "angels" that watch over me and I feel them with me and their love and words of support and encouragement are driving forces.

9. The next original song you wrote for this album, is the title song, "The Gift Is You." Some of the lyrics you sing are "Even in the darkness, your voice, shines through." What has been your darkest Christmas and through that darkness, whose voice shined through to get you back into the light?

Will: The darkest Christmas' has been the ones without grandparents who had recently passed. Celebrating the memory of them was and still remains what gets me through the times of missing them greatly.​

Anthony: I pray for people who may not have a home or family to go to during the Holidays and that during this time of year we all find ways to bring light to people who need it most.

10. Another original song you wrote was "Love Is What We Celebrate." What are you celebrating this holiday season? What are you most grateful for this year?

Will: I am celebrating my health, my happiness, my friends, my family, and my great fortune to get to do what I love to do most - to try and entertain and inspire as many people as possible through the power of music and art.​

Anthony: I'm celebrating the recent marriage of my sister and her husband, the good health of my parents and family, and I am grateful for doing exactly what I love to do.

Anthony & Will Nunziata, Photo Credit: Stephen SorokoffMore on Will & Anthony:

Entertainers, recording artists, funny-men and advocates of arts in education, Will & Anthony Nunziata are the Brooklyn-born, classically trained singing and comedy brother duo hailed by The Huffington Post as "a nearly impossible pairing of talent, stage presence and charisma."

Will & Anthony will be headlining Carnegie Hall on December 16 & 17, 2016 with the New York Pops and Broadway stars Liz & Ann Hampton Callaway.

The brothers have brought their distinct take on classic and contemporary songs to performing arts centers and theaters, as well as symphony concerts with orchestras such as the Detroit Symphony, Cleveland Symphony, Colorado Symphony, Lancaster Symphony, Annapolis Symphony, Cape Cod Symphony, Toledo Symphony, and Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, to name a few.

Featured on Good Morning America and The Rachael Ray Show, Will & Anthony are extremely proud to have created their Arts in Education Outreach Program "Arts Matter!" in which they visit schools and conduct master classes with students, providing education and inspiration in supporting the arts as a significant component of young peoples’ lives.

Separately, Will is an acclaimed stage director and is the concert director for many of Broadway’s Leading Ladies, including Tony Award Winner Lillias White. Anthony is an emerging songwriter whose songs are featured on the brothers’ Christmas EP - The Gift Is You – which is available on their website.

Get social with Will & Anthony on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @willandanthony.