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Entries in Off-Broadway (352)

Thursday
Mar302017

Call Answered: Nathan Lee Graham: The View UpStairs

Nathan Lee Graham, Photo Credit: Andrew Werner PhotographyWhile I was first introduced to Nathan Lee Graham when I saw him tear up the stage in the Tony nominated Broadway musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Nathan Lee Graham's name has been circling my view for quite some time. Everybody was talking about his talent long before I got to know it for myself.

Well, to see him in The View UpStairs is truly remarkable. Nathan Lee Graham gets everyone's attention whenever he is strutting his stuff on stage. From his fantastic acting to that golden voice he belts out night after night. His talent is like no other!

The View UpStairs is a provocative new musical that pulls you inside the UpStairs Lounge, a vibrant '70s gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The forgotten community comes to life when a young fashion designer from 2017 buys the abandoned space, setting off an exhilarating journey of seduction and self-exploration.

Currently enjoying a critically acclaimed run, The View UpStairs will play The Lynn Redgrave Theater in NYC (45 Bleecker Street), through May 21 only! Click here for tickets!

For more on Nathan Lee Graham be sure to visit http://nathanleegraham.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube!

For more on The View UpStairs, visit http://www.theviewupstairs.com and follow the show on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? Well I've been working professionally since I was six, and I come from a very performative family, I just decided I should get paid to do it! Also I knew instinctively that I was good at this...so my grandparents Rev. DeWitt Hulin Graham and Cecelia Pearl Whiteside Graham (love their names) really encouraged, supported and put me out there! My parents are very supportive too, but they're way too nervous for me all the time...still!

2. What made you want to be part of The View UpStairs? This an easy question to answer. Max Vernon wrote this beautiful part "Willie" for me and it happens that he also wrote and composed a brilliant book and score! I love history and bringing folks together, The View UpStairs does both of those things.

Nathan Lee Graham backstage at "The View UpStairs"Nathan Lee Graham as "Willie" in "The View UpStairs', Photo Credit: Kurt Sneddon3. What do you identify most with about your character "Willie" and what is one characteristic of his you are glad you don't have? Always seeing the positive in everything! I really do see the positive aspects of any and everything. The one thing "Willie" does that I absolutely can't do is have "alternative facts" to help him cope with life's trials and tribulations. He lies a lot, LOL, but it's for good. Nathan Lee Graham can't do that...I have to face reality head on. It makes me a better human and better performer.

4. What have you learned about gay history from being in this show that you did not know before? Well, primarily the story of these 32 dead people in New Orleans in 1973! I mean, why don't we know this story?!? Also little significant things like it was illegal to wear what seemed as "women's clothing" or that when you were "outed" they'd put your name in the paper and there went your job! Insane!

5. Why do you think this story doesn't get talked about as much as Stonewall? Easy. Shame on all fronts. The people who bared witness to this tragedy were fearful and shamed into not talking about it....understandably so, to a degree. And the people who watched or whom were in a place of authority didn't give a damn.

Nathan Lee Graham as "Willie" in "The View UpStairs", Photo Credit: Kurt SneddonJeremy Pope, Taylor Frey, Nathan Lee Graham in "The View UpStairs", Photo Credit: Kurt Sneddon6. The View Upstairs shows you how the past can help guide us through an uncertain future. What is something in your past that has helped guide you through your future? Dealing and not dwelling with loss. I have a very small family so when someone dies it's a lot. Also all of the people that I've lost to disease in my chosen family of gypsies and the like. How I've been able to cope and not become bitter has informed how I go about my life in a very significant way.

7. The View Upstairs also examines what has been gained in lost in the fight for equality. What have you gained, but then lost as a result of the move forward from said gain? Well I've gained a true identity from this struggle of equality. Of course those who are not as strong or inclined you lose along the way, so mine is a somewhat lonely life at times but so fulfilling and I wouldn't change anything.

8. If you were to open a lounge like in the The View Upstairs, what would you name it and where would you establish it? "Willie's Corner" on the Lower East Side baby!!

9. I saw The View Upstairs a few weeks ago and can tell just how much fun everyone is having. What is one of the funniest, most impromptu things to happen during a show thus far? Me as "Willie" suddenly deciding to put my leg on top of the piano during my soliloquy...LOL, I just did it once spontaneously and it stuck!

Nathan Lee Graham, Jeremy Pope, Taylor Frey, Frenchie Davis, Benjamin Howes, Nancy Ticotin, Michael Longoria, and Randy Redd, Photo Credit: Kurt SneddonJeremy Pope, Nancy Ticotin, Nathan Lee Graham, and Benjamin Howes, Photo Credit: Kurt Sneddon10. In addition to The View Upstairs, you have starred in other gay-themed shows Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Hit The Wall. As a gay man, do you feel or approach these projects differently or with a other feelings compared to non-gay themed shows? No. I always feel I have a responsibility to do my very best whatever the role or genre. My only requirement is great material.

11. 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 reaction to people not getting things as quickly as I do, i.e. some more patience, some more compassion before I tear into them...LOL.

12. I can't do an interview with you and not ask you about Zoolander, or at least I'm going to ask a question inspired by the film. Since Zoolander takes place in the fashion world. What is one of the worst costumes you have ever had to wear? What is one costume, you were like, "How can I keep this for myself?" I had to wear an ape inspired costume in a musical called Riverview by John Logan, directed by Robert Falls, choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge and starring Marin Mazzie, my dear friend. At the Goodman Theatre in Chicago fresh out of conservatory I was...so happy but that costume was not cute! Now I had a fabulous burgundy plaid double-breasted bespoke suit for the Opening sequence of The Wild Party on Broadway, thank you. Toni-Leslie James, that was lovely! But to be honest, I've had so many wonderful costumes over the years it's hard to keep track...I have a very special relationship with costume designers. I love what they do and they complete every character I've played on stage and screen. Hat's off to Anita Yavich for The View UpStairs!!

Nathan Lee Graham, Photo Credit: Andrew Werner PhotographyMore on Nathan Lee Graham:

Nathan Lee Graham is an American cabaret artist, stage, television and film actor, singer, writer and director. His roles in feature film include "Todd" in Zoolander and Zoolander 2, "Frederick Montana" in Sweet Home Alabama and "Geoff" in Hitch. He has appeared in independent films like Confessions of an Action StarBad Actress and Trophy Kids. On the small screen he originated the role of "Peter" in The Comeback, and had guest starring roles on ScrubsAbsolutely Fabulous and Law & Order: SVU. His stage appearances include "Phil D'Armano" in the original Broadway cast of the Tony and Grammy Award nominated The Wild Party and as "Miss Understanding" in the original Broadway cast of the Tony nominated Priscilla Queen of the Desert. He received a Drama League Award nomination for the role of "Rey Rey" in the off-Broadway production of Wig Out! and won an Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Feature Performer in a Musical in The Wild Party LA Premiere in 2006. More recently, he has appeared in the role of "Carson" in Hit the Wall at the Barrow Street Theatre. He earned a 2005 Best Classical Album Grammy Award for Songs of Innocence and of Experience as a soloist. Nathan Lee Graham is a graduate of Webster University in St. Louis, MO.

Friday
Mar032017

Call Redialed: Mrs. Smith: While My Guitar Gently Shrieks at (le) Poisson Rouge

Mrs. Smith and The RageI first came to know Mrs. Smith when her Off-Broadway show BROADWAY CAT-TACULAR! decended upon New York City. It was that show that made me fall in love with Mrs. Smith. I'm so excited that we have now had the chance to reunite to talk about her new concert, starring in a GUCCI Eyewear ad, and being crowned the winner of "Shred for Your Life."

Mrs. Smith & her band The Rage will be presenting their show While My Guitar Shrieks at (le) Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker Street) on Tuesday, March 7 at 7pm. While My Guitar Gently Shrieks will sonically delve into the traumatic life events that have made Mrs. Smith the guitar virtuoso she is today. From her Little House on the Prairie-style childhood to her kidnapping at the hands of a Norwegian Death Metal band, Mrs. Smith will leave no stone unturned and no note unplayed. Featuring the music of ABBA, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Taylor Swift, Van Halen, Sia, and Metallica, among others. Click here for tickets!

For more on Mrs. Smith be sure to visit http://www.worldofsmith.com and follow her on Facebook, Instgram, and YouTube!

1. It's so great to catch up! Last time we spoke, you were premiering your Off-Broadway show BROADWAY CAT-TACULAR! Now, you have switched gears, formed a band, and started doing concerts. What made you want to go this route? When it comes to the guitar, no other instrument gives such clear voice to the Grief and Rage. I never planned on becoming a guitar goddess! Last summer in Provincetown I started performing with my guitar on the sidewalk and it changed my life. The initial impulse behind this "sidewalk guitar show" was survival. I'd lost my entire fortune because of Brexit—my accountant couldn't explain why that was exactly but I was destitute. I found myself living in a mule shed behind the house of a local comedian named Ryan Landry. (A new low). The rent was due on this mule shed and so I took to the street! I was shocked at how the people gathered, huge crowds of them, clogging the streets and blocking traffic to see me "shred" on my guitar. I thought, "we might have something here..."

2. You recently were crowned the winner of "Shred for Your Life" at Webster Hall. What did it mean to you to win this contest? How did this help validate your path of music? The winning of this contest was coming off of my "sidewalk guitar shred" concerts in Provincetown so my "chops" were sharp. Even so, I was terrified. I almost left before the concert even began! There were so many tremendous players in a variety of styles and tones and all so much younger than me. I did make use of Geritol XL for some added energy and the judges determined that was not a performance-enhancing drug (it's b-vitamins). I battled it out over three excruciating rounds and just when I felt like my fingers were going to fall off I emerged the "Queen of Shred." It was definitely validating and helped me have the confidence to start this band and put this new show together. Around the same time a video of me playing in the East Village went viral on Guitar World and got 1.2 million views and then guitar companies started sending me equipment to review and I eventually wound up in this ad for GUCCI.

3. How did it come about for you to be featured in the GUCCI eyewear ad? I was playing guitar in Tomkins Square Park in the East Village this Fall and was spotted by fashion "it girl" Petra Collins. We were inspired by one another. She asked if I would be willing to wander into a GUCCI dreamscape with her and of course I said yes. I was whisked away to Budapest, Hungary, dressed up in gorgeous GUCCI clothes and sunglasses it was ultra-glamorous. You can look at stills from the shoot and read about Petra's inspiration here and here and here.

Mrs. Smith4. What do you like about performing in a band as opposed to a theatrical show? I love both, but for me right now, the band brings something raw and immediate to the live experience that feels relevant. People are raw right now, they're an exposed nerve because of what's happening in the world. (I've always felt like an exposed nerve so I'm used to it.) Along with my stage productions, I have done appearances at stand-up comedy venues where I perform impromptu stories, tone poems, and guitar solos. These appearances were stripped down and unfiltered and thrilling to me. I wanted to take that experience and elevate it a bit and that's what this new show is about, for now anyway. At first I was insecure about not having lots of costume changes and props and puppets. But when the show premiered to a sold-out crowd at Joe's Pub several audience members said they enjoyed the focused simplicity of the piece. I will also say, theatrical productions are a thrill to do but they are expensive and logistically complex. I like being able to book this show almost anywhere very easily and doing it in rock clubs and cabaret spaces means I can keep ticket prices accessible. And finally, it's just really really fun being a rock star!

5. For fans of your theatrical endeavors, what will surprise them about seeing you perform in concert? It's unfiltered Smith. I don't leave the stage, I don't change costumes, I don't relent from the top of the show until the finale. I go on a complete journey from my traumatic childhood in upstate New York to my life in high society to my kidnapping at the hands of a Norwegian Death Metal band and emergence as a guitar goddess. All of these realities are reflected through sound, music, storytelling and, of course, dumb show. The audience uses their imagination to draw the pictures. One song takes place in complete darkness with just the band playing and haunting voices from my past intruding on the loudspeaker! At first, I hired a video designer (who lives in Bushwick) to make elaborate video projections out of these voices but then realized how much more powerful to let the audience dream what the faces of these tormentors look like! That Bushwick videographer spent 10,000 hours working on those projections but we never used them--of course I still paid him! The surprise and delight is re-living these trauma's and triumph's with me. Isn't that what all entertainment is all about?

Mrs. Smith in an ad for GUCCI6. What was the hardest part about learning guitar? How do you feel learning to play guitar helped you grow as an artist? My father had taught me a few chords on a folk guitar when I was a little girl. Everyone could see I showed great promise but his alcoholic dissolution got in the way of my lessons. Then in the '90s I was kidnapped and held for ransom by a Norwegian Death Metal band. This was barely covered in the press because Patty Hearst completely stole my moment. I was kept in a closet for 90 days and there was a guitar in there. I had to learn to play it to survive. I ended up taking over the band and we won the Eurovision contest. I played the guitar when I appeared on America's Got Talent many years ago and it has been featured in my stage shows but I've never given myself so fully to the instrument until now and it's catapulted me into a new adventure.

7. You will be playing songs from quite a range of musical influences: ABBA, Led Zeppelin, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Taylor Swift, Sia, and Metallica. How did these artists inspire your musical taste? What is the common thread of all these artists that make them fit into your concert? I have a passion for all of these songs because they reflect some element of my story. I've become known as a "shred guitar goddess" and the show definitely includes that but the guitar is such a diverse instrument! You can have an acoustic song that is so soulful and tender and then an electric guitar solo that soars like a valkyrie! And this band is so talented and skilled they can play literally anything so we zig-zag from rock and roll to country to pop to disco to jazz. It's like turning the knob on an old radio through all the styles of music.

Mrs. Smith8. Let's take this contest in a different direction. What is something you want to shred from your life? I insist on less fear. I know that seems radical, everyone is fearful of everything right now, especially in our little artistic corners of the world. But I want to create art and a life for myself without fear as the engine! That might mean finally taking the plunge and creating a Senior-Match.com profile and trying an internet coffee date. (I'd sworn off human love but is that just fear ruling me?) It might mean finding a way to finally tour Japan with my one-woman shred guitar opera. Of course, I don't want to strip out the terror, I need that, I think we all do. But fear and terror are two totally different energies as everybody knows.

9. 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? Can I work to make it .0001% better? 1% seems like setting the bar really high. (I'm so exhausted from self-improvement.) Your readers should look into The Miracle Morning, I just started it myself and I'm committing to try it for 30 days and see if it works.

Mrs. SmithMore on Mrs. Smith:

Mrs. Smith is an electric guitar virtuoso, philanthropist, and cat lover who has captured the public imagination with her unbridled creative expression in the face of a life filled with grief and rage. With an improbable life-tale that includes a lonesome childhood of privilege, 14 marriages, and show biz stardom and obscurity, Mrs. Smith is a 20th Century creature who has burst through to the internet age to become a sensation.

Mrs. Smith is the 2016 winner of the "Shred for Your Life" contest held at Webster Hall and was a featured performer at the Guitar Gods Festival in Miami opening up for guitar legends Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai. A video of her shredding on the streets of the East Village was shared by Guitar World Magazine and garnered 1.2 million views. Her unique blend of musical performance comedy has been featured on NBC's America's Got Talent, PBS Television as well as Joe's Pub, American Repertory Theater and Berkeley Repertory Theater. She has also been seen at Feinstein's/54 Below, First Avenue, Webster Hall, Ars Nova, The Laurie Beechman Theater, Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, The Bell House, Union Hall, and the legendary Bushwig Festival, among many others.

Mrs. Smith's Broadway Cat-tacular! wow'ed audiences Off-Broadway and was hailed by the New York Post as "Purrfect!" Mrs. Smith's performance described as "Off its meds" by the Boston Globe, "Luminous" by Gay City News and "Oddly poignant..." by the New York Times

Tuesday
Feb282017

Call Answered: Conference Call: J. Stephen Brantley and Todd Flaherty: BAREBACK INK

J. Stephen Brantley, Photo Credit: Roberto AraujoTodd Flaherty, Photo Credit: Luke FontanaI interviewed J. Stephen Brantley and David Drake in 2014 for their collaboration on J. Stephen's show Fried-Chicken Ciccone. I was so moved by that show that when I heard they were going to work together again, I knew I needed to do a new interview. Then I found out Todd Flaherty was also going to star in this show and I was like, bam, let's talk with everyone!

Bareback Ink, written by Bob Bartlett and directed by Obie Award winner David Drake, tells the story of a beautiful boy who is forcibly tattooed in this erotic new plays at IRT (154 Christopher Street) from March 4-18. Click here for tickets!

For more on J. Stephen be sure to visit http://www.jstephenbrantley.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

For more on Todd visit http://www.toddflaherty.com and follow him on Facebook and Instagram!

1. This March you are all part of Bob Bartlett's Bareback Ink. J. Stephen and Todd, you are starring in the show and David, you are directing. What made each of you want to be part of this production?

J. Stephen Brantley: I put out a call for plays last year when Hard Sparks was awarded this residency at IRT, asking for a "sinister two-hander." I was hoping for a vehicle for Todd and myself, one that would fit in that raw dark cinder-blocked space. In Bareback Ink, I got it. It haunted me, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Todd and I have done…five shows together? - two directed by David Drake - but it seems like we never really have much interaction. In Pirira, we were both onstage the entire show and never spoke a word to one another. This time we do. I’m all over him!

Todd Flaherty: I would follow J. Stephen Brantley to the ends of the earth. As a writer and artist, he is redefining what American Theatre is and can be and I trust his taste in other writers’ work. Coupled with the fact the David Drake was on board to direct…I didn’t even have to read the script before saying yes. It could have been about toilet water and I knew it would be brilliant. Icing on the cake was reading Bob Bartlett’s poetic story. I jumped at the opportunity.

J. Stephen Brantley and Todd Flaherty in "The Jamb", Photo Credit: Hunter Canning2. While based upon the Greek myth The Rape and Abduction of Ganymede, how do you feel this story relates to the times we are living in today?

J. Stephen Brantley: The play wrestles with some uncomfortable stuff. Bob (Bartlett) wrote it in an effort to make sense of the legacy of a story about kidnapping, basically, and a trove of art that celebrates it. This production is unapologetically queer, so we are mainly looking at the ways gay men pursue and eroticize youth. But it’s cross-cultural. Young people are sexualized. They are rewarded for being servile, and punished for taking power and, often, made to feel irrelevant past a certain "sell-by" date. We’re taking a hard look at that, through the lens of myth, but also pushing it aside to find some love underneath. The relationship of the two guys in Bareback Ink may not be quite as it first seems.

Todd Flaherty: Bareback is incredibly nuanced and layered so there’s actually quite a lot to glean from Bob’s story in relation to our modern times. The play’s nature is very homo-erotically charged, so naturally we are connecting the myth to modern intergenerational gay relationships, daddy fantasies and the journey to manhood, particularly for boys who have no father figures due to displacement from the home. Other times in the rehearsal room, we speak in jest about Melania, but there is some real relevance to our story there as well. Surviving an abusive relationship using tools of beauty and youth…and what happens when those tools are no longer available. Another layer entirely focuses on the outcast in society being controlled and manipulated by unseen powers that be, and the daily struggle for freedom in a world where the cards are stacked against you.

Todd Flaherty and J. Stephen Brantley, Photo Credit: Jody Christopherson3. Bareback Ink is an erotic tale of the struggle between comfortable corruption and the cost of true freedom. This description seems perfect for the post-election climate we live in. How do you feel Trump is using his power under the guise of true freedom, but everyone else views it as corruption?

J. Stephen Brantley: Let me count the ways! Aside from the ban that isn’t a ban? There’s FADA, which hasn’t happened on a Federal level yet, but may still. These "First Amendment Defense" and "religious freedom" laws have nothing to do with liberty, of course, they’re a license to discriminate and the ripple effect of such measures could be catastrophic for LGBT Americans. It’s easy for most people to look the other way, to think that "bathroom bills" have only to do with whether and where trans folks pee – which should be where they want - forgetting that these same laws strip away protections for all sexual minorities. My mother recently wrote her governor voicing her opposition to such a proposed law. It’s not something she’s used to doing, and she was outraged by the condescending, sexist form-letter reply – some bullshit about "protecting her privacy." It pissed me off too, but I was also delighted to have her in the trenches! Even if it’s an uphill battle, it’s infinitely better to be on the side of justice. There’s freedom in the fight. But for anyone joining the fray, you have to know, it’s uncomfortable. All the time.

Todd Flaherty and J. Stephen Brantley, Photo Credit: Jody Christopherson4. Some tattoos are removable, while others are more permanent. Based upon Trump's first few weeks in office, what decisions do you feel he has made that could be considered a removable tattoo and which ones do you think are a more permanent tattoo?

J. Stephen Brantley: All tattoos are removable, I should know. But it’s an expensive, time-consuming, painful process. I still believe that we will, eventually, create a world in which everyone is treated with human dignity. I have to believe that. But I also think the events of the last several weeks have set us way back, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The President has angered world leaders, alienated our allies, and emboldened terrorists both foreign and domestic. He’s lifted all the wrong restrictions from law enforcement and appointed to top-level posts the very people who would dismantle the agencies they now head. We’re headed for disaster. Truthfully, I don’t really expect to survive this administration. But I am certain the damage that’s about to be done can, and will, be reversed someday. The marks may not be removed entirely, and maybe they shouldn’t be: we have a bad habit of ignoring the uglier parts of our collective history. Bareback Ink is a sort of trial by fire. It’s about discovering that the very thing that’s kept you down is actually your ticket to freedom. I hope that we as a nation learn from this moment, use this opportunity to become better informed, fully engaged, more compassionate people. Maybe next time more than half the population will actually vote.

Todd Flaherty: The most permanent tattoo being inked into the fabric of our nation is actually a very beautiful one…however painful the process of receiving it. I did not vote for Trump, but I think he is the president America deserves at this tipping point in our history. As a millennial having grown up with a father in politics and an activist mother, I know all too well just how fragile our democracy is and always has been. But (not unlike our character "Artist") I know many people who have lived comfortably enough, wanting more but never asking for it, for fear of loosing what they already have and ignorant to the plight of those who have even less. Trumps agenda is ruthless and those with half a brain are finally being called to action. The permanent tattoo I’m speaking of is intersectionality. No longer are we dealing with women’s rights, black rights, queer rights, gender rights, etc…we’re dealing with human rights.

J. Stephen Brantley, Photo Credit: Jody Christopherson5. Bareback Ink tells the story of a beautiful young man who enters a purgatory-like tattoo shop where an isolated and withdrawn artist forcibly inks the boy’s back over the course of several months. Has there been a time in your life when you were forced to do something you didn't want to? If so, when/what was it?

J. Stephen Brantley: Not really. I’ve chosen to do a lot of things I didn’t really want to. Everyone does. But I’ve been incredibly fortunate that I’ve never endured the kind of brutality and coercion that so many queer people do.

6. Bob Bartlett has taken The Rape and Abduction of Ganymede and brought it into a modern-day world, touching on the subjects of one being rejected by family, community, and culture. Have you ever been rejected by your family, community, and/or culture? If so, how did you initially react to the rejection, but ultimately find your own family, community, and/or culture?

J. Stephen Brantley: Again, I didn’t have it too bad. But growing up in Texas during the '80s I was surrounded by the message that gay was definitely not okay. A lot of kids don’t survive that. A lot. Those who do, we develop a thick skin and a quick mind, and we use what we’ve got. Todd’s character in Bareback uses his beauty like so many boys do – being objectified is better than rejection, and there is power in sex. If we’re lucky, we have a mentor, a teacher, who doesn’t take advantage. And perhaps we become that person for someone else someday. In that, Bareback Ink is really about family, about finding home.

Todd Flaherty: Luckily I have been blessed to be born into one of the most loving families ever. As an artist, however, I face rejection everyday. Every. Fucking. Day. Sometimes multiple times a day. That rejection used to leave me completely incapacitated. Not because of some idea that the work I was creating was bad, per se, but because the work I was creating was irrelevant. I was irrelevant. My presence wasn’t necessary to the growth of our community. That’s a tough pill to swallow for anyone. A few years ago, I changed my outlook on rejection and started thinking of it as an opportunity. You can’t grow if you're not making mistakes and if you’re not growing, you’re not living. I began to act more fearlessly and I found new friends and communities who felt/worked the same way. That’s how I began working with J. Stephen and David.

Todd Flaherty and J. Stephen Brantley, Photo Credit: Jody Christopherson7. The show is also described as being about desire, possession, and the perversion of power. What is something you desire? What is one of your most cherished possessions? When have you altered/distorted your own power over someone?

J. Stephen Brantley: I did some escorting for a while. This is no secret, I talked about it in Chicken-Fried Ciccone. There was actually very little sex involved, it was mostly Dom-sub role play. It’s a weird dynamic, being paid an hourly wage to humiliate the very person who’s hired you. In the back of your mind, you know you’re not in charge. At the same time, you do wield power or at least it feels like you do and it feels good. That’s why I always said it was essentially site-specific theatre, "living truthfully under imaginary circumstances." But like any acting gig, it can turn into a mind-fuck real quick. If sense-of-self can be possessed, I cherish that. And freedom. At one time in my life I almost lost it. My character in Bareback has given up on ever having it, until this boy comes into his cell. More than anything I fear a loss of control over my own well-being.

Todd Flaherty: I desire water-front property, be it a lake, river, or ocean. I cherish none of my possessions because I can’t take anything with me when I leave this earth. All relationships are a delicate balance of power…I can’t recall any instance where I have unfairly asserted mine, but maybe that’s something I should delve into in therapy.

Todd Flaherty and J. Stephen Brantley, , Photo Credit: Jody Christopherson8. Bareback Ink casts a raw, voyeuristic gaze at the intergenerational homoerotics of Greek myth through a decidedly contemporary and surprisingly sociopolitical lens. Between all of the shows you have either starred in or directed, which one do you feel cast you at your rawest and most vulnerable?

J. Stephen Brantley: Well, I’m was completely naked onstage six nights in Mope at EST, so that’s raw and vulnerable. But actually, once you get used to it, it’s not a big deal. The last show I did with David and Todd, my play The Jamb, was scarier. I was close to that character. And there have been others where I appeared to be transformed – "Doc" in The Night Alive, or "Saul" in Church Of Why Not – but I felt completely laid bare.

Todd Flaherty: I recently wrote and acted in a web series called Undetectable (www.undetectabletheseries.com). The story follows a young gay man navigating personal and romantic relationships with the stigma of being HIV positive. It was one of the most horrifying and rewarding experiences I have ever had, showing up to set every day, saying words I wrote, constantly questioning whether or not they were good enough, and trusting that my need to tell the story was greater than any one person’s reaction to it…good, bad or otherwise.

9. Bareback Ink is an erotic play, but with an underlying horror. What has been your most pleasurable erotic encounter? What has been an erotic encounter you wish to forget?

J. Stephen Brantley: I have never had an erotic encounter that was as pleasurable as what I’m imagining right now. And there are none I wish to forget. Actually, I wish I could remember more.

Todd Flaherty: Adam, they’re all so pleasurable…I couldn’t possible pick just one. One that I wish to forget involves a barely 17-year-old me, two high school girlfriends, the back seat of my car, a mall parking lot, and a security guard nearly calling the cops on us for public lewdness and indecent exposure.

10. Since the show is called Bareback Ink, if you could tattoo your back, what would you get drawn on it? 

J. Stephen Brantley: I’ve long wanted a big bird of prey on my back. I have songbirds on my forearms, and I love them, but I’m feeling more falcon than sparrow these days. Of course, for the price of such a piece one could produce Bareback Ink so, for now anyway, I’m going with that.

Todd Flaherty: A watercolor-like scene of the dunes leading to the secret beach in Provincetown.

J. Stephen Brantley, Photo Credit: Roberto AraujoMore on J. Stephen Brantley:

Off-Broadway: Mope (Ensemble Studio Theatre), Murder In The First (The Directors Co. at 59E59), and Theatre 167’s Pirira (West End Theater). Regional: The Night Alive (Guild Hall), Of Mice And Men (Bay Street), Slap & Tickle (Provincetown Theater), and Romeo And Juliet with its zombie sequel R & J & Z at Stonington Opera House. J. Brantley has also worked with Big Dance, Blessed Unrest, CapsLock, and Jewish Plays Project, and at venues including Queens Theatre, LaMaMa, Metropolitan Playhouse, The New Ohio, and P.S.122. J. Brantley is an eight-time New York Innovative Theatre Award nominee, and winner of the Micheál MacLiammóir Award for Best Actor at the 2013 Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival. He is the Producing Artistic Director of Hard Sparks and a member of the Indie Theatre Hall Of Fame.

Todd Flaherty, Photo Credit: Luke FontanaMore on Todd:

Off-Broadway: Pirira (NYIT Nom) also by J.Stephen Brantley, Fresh Kills (59E59). Other New York credits include: Sleep No More (Punchdrunk/ Emursive), Dead Letter Office, I Like To Be Here (Theater167), We Are Nebenienander (American Laboratory) and Hard Sparks’ The Jamb. Regional: Slap & Tickle, also directed by David Drake. Film/New Media: Pretty Girls, The Fuzz, Tracy&Cal. Todd wrote, produced, co-directed and appears in Undetectable, recently nominated for seven Indie Series Awards.

Tuesday
Feb282017

Call Answered: Matt Cox: PUFFS or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic

Matt CoxI've never read nore seen a Harry Potter book/movie, but I'm a big fan of magic/fantasy and am very intrigued by the Harry Potter phenomenon we live among. When I heard about Matt Cox's show PUFFS or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic (which has recently been extended until June), I cast a spell for him to answer my call and voila, this interview ensued.

Some people are born with the capacity to do great things. Some people change the world. Some people rise from humble beginnings to defeat the forces of darkness in the face of insurmountable odds. PUFFS or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic is the story of the people who sit in class next to those people.

PUFFS or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic plays in the heart of NYC's theatre district at the Elektra Theater (300 West 43rd Street) every Friday (7:30pm), Saturday (3pm & 9:30pm) & Sunday (3pm) through June 25th! Click here for tickets!

For more on Matt be sure to visit http://www.mattcoxland.com and follow him on Twitter!

For more on PUFFS visit http://www.puffstheplay.com and follow the show on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

1. Your show, PUFFS or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic moved to the Elektra Theater after a triumphant, sold-out run at The PIT last summer. What excites you most about moving this show to the Elektra Theatre, located in the heart of midtown? So, a bit further removed from that now, but the most exciting thing that has certainly happened is that our reach to new audience members has been much larger. Not only just due to more seating, but with a midtown location, we're a bit more likely to be stumbled upon which is great!

Along with that, we have been able to dedicate a bit more of the space to the show, including some decor in the theater itself (we've got some floating candles!) and the lobby, which we've decorated with various posters for other wizard themed shows.

2. What did you learn from the run at The PIT that helped inform this bigger run? I will be forever grateful for the run of the show at The PIT, and the many things we learned. We also did a workshop at the University of Florida back in May of 2016, as well, which was very helpful to the story. At the PIT, I was able to make changes from show to show just to try new ideas out/figure out better ways of doing what we were already doing.

It left us with a script with humor that had so many different versions tried that I believe we have the best possible versions in the current iteration. And it was just a lot of fun, and has kept the show fun.

Puffs also has a certain playfulness when it is at it's best, which was definitely something that was developed running at the PIT.

Cast of PUFFS, Photo Credit: Hunter CanningCast of PUFFS, Photo Credit: Hunter Canning3. PUFFS or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic, is alternate narrative of the Harry Potter series so to speak. What was it about the Harry Potter that made you go, "I want to write my own version of this series?" What did you identify most with about the Harry Potter saga? I was of the lucky age of people that ended up growing up alongside the books, and alongside Harry. So, the characters continued to stay relevant throughout my adolescence. It was also just very influential to my developing love of storytelling.

The idea for Puffs manifested while I was on a train, and it was more of a: Wow! It really would have been terrible to be another kid at that school during those seven years. Then it was a quick skip to the idea that the story would focus on "The Puffs," who pop culture has always deemed the not so great house. (Less so in recent years, which is great!) I had to look it up immediately, and was surprised no one had done it, and figured I should go ahead and do it.

4. When did you become interested in magic? What was it about magic that drew you in? I have always been a fan of Fantasy books, movies, and whatnot, so that kind of magic has always been very interesting/magical to me. I don't have a particularly deep interest in magic-magic but if someone is very good at it, then I am certainly impressed.

Cast of PUFFS, Photo Credit: Hunter CanningCast of PUFFS, Photo Credit: Hunter Canning5. In PUFFS or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic, "some people are born with the capacity to do great things. Some people change the world. Some people rise from humble beginnings to defeat the forces of darkness in the face of insurmountable odds. PUFFS is the story of the people who sit in class next to those people." If you could name people or events in your life that describe each of these scenarios, who or what would be assigned to each phrase? The idea is that that pretty much applies to almost everybody. The crux of the play is that ultimately, most of us don't get to be the "Harry's" in life. But there's something to celebrate about the heroic victories of normal existence. So we are all the people who sit next to those people in the grand scheme of it.

6. As the writer of this show, did you grow up feeling as though you were living in other people's shadows never shining for yourself? If so, when did you shine your own spotlight? I definitely put some of my own school experiences into the show, as I was definitely not one of the "cool" kids growing up. Not sure when that stopped, I think I just stopped necessarily caring too much about it, and focused more on the things I enjoyed.

Cast of PUFFS, Photo Credit: Hunter CanningCast of PUFFS, Photo Credit: Hunter Canning7. Which Harry Potter character best describes you? I believe we all should strive for the wisdom of "The Headmaster." So I'd hope him. "Ms. Granger" is another good one.

8. If you could cast a spell today, what spell would you conjure up? Like most people, I can only assume, it would be the spell that turns stairs into slides.

9. Aside from Harry Potter characters, who are some of your other favorite magicians from stage or screen? I'll always be a Gandalf man. (Not a conjurer of cheap tricks).

Matt CoxMore on Matt:

Matt Cox is a New York City-based playwright, actor, improviser, sometimes comic book retail associate, and probably/maybe one day, novelist. His plays include Puffs Or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years At A Certain School Of Magic & MagicAdult Mutant Ninja TurtlesThe Madness of Captain Dread, and the 3-part epic Kapow-i GoGo. He authored the radio play El Hombre Bovino for WNYC’s The Greene Space, and contributed to The Flea Theater’s The Mysteries. His work has been produced at The Peoples Improv Theater, The Tank, and The Flea Theater, among other places. His acting credits include: Kapow-i GoGo (The PIT), Blogologues (Lively Productions), The Mysteries (Flea Theater), Sarah Flood in Salem Mass (Flea Theater), and Restoration Comedy (Flea Theater). Matt has studied at The Upright Citizens Brigade, The Stella Adler Studio of Acting, and Tarleton State University.

Saturday
Feb252017

Call Answered: Lexie Braverman: Dark Vanilla Jungle

Lexie Braverman, Photo Credit: Leslie Hassler PhotographyA few years ago I interviewed Laura Abbott about her play I Am Not I, chronicling the story of a girl struggling with gender dysphoria. When Laura gushed about a show her friend Lexie Braverman was starring in called Dark Vanilla Jungle, my ears perked up and I knew I wanted to delve deep into this story.

Dark Vanilla Jungle is about a young girl just trying to stay alive amidst an act of violence that alters her existence and everyone she touches. "Andrea's" yearning for love and a family takes her to the darkest of places and she just wants to tell you the truth, will you listen?

Presented by Brave Artist CollectiveDark Vanilla Jungle will play a limited run at The Flamboyan Theater at The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center (107 Suffolk Street) from March 14-26. Click here for tickets!

For more on Lexie be sure to visit http://lexiebraverman.com and follow her on Twitter!

For more on Dark Vanilla Jungle visit http://darkvanillajunglenyc.com and follow them on Facebook!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? My mom. She introduced me to Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Spencer Tracey, Vivian Leigh, and Maximillion Schell, Hamlet, Ordinary People, you name it. I know I love the arts in every way because of her. Also -- I auditioned to be the "Cowardly Lion" in the Wizard of Oz and that was my first role when I was 11. I have wanted to act ever since. My dad also bought me a tool belt when I was about four, and I put on a show fixing everything in the kitchen and my dad taped it all. I felt completely myself and comfortable in front of other people, way more than I did being alone.

2. This March you will be making your NYC debut in Dark Vanilla Jungle, a show you starred in this past summer in London's Camden Fringe Festival. What excites you most about making your NYC acting debut in this show? I am the most excited to be in NYC because it is exactly that, New York City. Also I'll be able to reach a wider audience. This play is something special. It's raw, gruesome, beautiful, and tragic. I think more people should get to see it, especially with a fear-mongering sexual predator in the White House.

3. Why did you want to be in this show initially? This play is something people are afraid to talk about or see. I wanted to show people that "Andrea's" story needs to be told and not silenced. Also, I had never been in a one-woman show before and I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to challenge myself mentally and physically, which this play does, it's like running a damn marathon.

Lexie Braverman in "Dark Vanilla Jungle", Photo Credit: Tiphaine Betscher4. What do you relate to most about your character "Andrea" and what is one characteristic of hers you are glad you don't possess? I relate mostly to her child-like innocence and naivety. She reverts back to being this kid because it's the only time in her life she really felt like she knew who she was. It's easier then to let other people take care of you, and you over-trust unskilled people to watch out for you. One characteristic of hers that I do not have is "Andrea's" suffering. I thank God every day I do not have that in my life. It's become a part of her and you can see how it leaches on to every aspect of her life.

5. Since this summer's run, do you feel your portrayal of "Andrea" will be altered in anyway, now that you have lived in her skin for a time? You know what I do. I don't think it'll be drastically different but I definitely think it will be more at ease and I'll be more comfortable. That piece stays with you, but it's in a drawer you only open when you need it. It's very tough and intense, so you need to be careful or you'll be overwhelmed. I'll be working with a new director who is brilliant and beautiful. Sybille Bruun, and I cannot wait to see what she helps us find.

Lexie Braverman in "Dark Vanilla Jungle", Photo Credit: Tiphaine Betscher6. Dark Vanilla Jungle is about a young girl just trying to stay alive amidst an act of violence that alters her existence and everyone she touches. What is an event in your life that altered your existence? An event that altered my existence was finding out about my parents' divorce from my sister over a Skype conversation (because I was in grad school in England at the time). She was so far away, and so clear on my computer screen at the same time. It was a nightmare and completely out of the blue. I remember going right to the window because I couldn't breathe and I leaned out and just tried to suck in as much air as I could. A lot changed for me after that.

7. In Dark Vanilla Jungle Andreas yearning for love and a family takes her to the darkest of places and she just wants to tell you the truth. What is the darkest place you've ever gone to and how did you get back to the light? Yikes! Darkest I've ever personally gone to? I'm afraid I can't answer that one. Unless I can pay you by the hour, I'm afraid that answer is for my therapist and her therapy dog. I can say that I've played characters that torture, kill, and poison for love and I've found good reasons (as those characters) to do all those things. When I'm on stage, everything is justified for me, no matter what. It's not that simple in real life.

Lexie Braverman, Photo Credit: Leslie Hassler Photography8. Vanilla is my favorite flavor in the world. Vanilla coke, vanilla coffee, vanilla tea, vanilla anything is just delicious. What is your favorite thing to add vanilla too? YUM Cinnamon. I love mixing vanilla with cinnamon specifically in coffee. Heaven for sure. One of my favorite spices and also my best friend's name.

9. Dark Vanilla Jungle is being presented by the Brave Artist Collective, which you helped co-found. What do you get from running this theatre company as opposed to just being an actress? It's nuts. I never thought I would be on that side of the coin. We are just getting started, this being our NYC debut season of Dark Vanilla and my dear co-founder's play Junebug (also running at the Flamboyan--shameless plug!). It is insanely hard and my production hat, although brand new, is already taking a bit of a beating. There is so much responsibility and you feel like everything that goes wrong is your fault. What I've realized though is that I cannot do this alone. As an actor and now a co-founder, I must surround myself with people that I love and support and they love and support me right back. Being an actress is hard enough, why do I do this to myself? Same reason I get rejected all the time, because I can't get enough.

10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? That's so awesome! I want to improve my self-talk one percent better every day. I'm reading Amy Poehler's book Yes Please currently and I already adore it. She talks about the little demon voice inside of you that says you're not thin enough, or you're too Jewish, or your hair would look way better straight, or you're not funny enough and that you will always have that voice but you have to work on talking to it, calming it down, and controlling it. My self-talk, my own head, I would love to improve that each day. Once I stop caring what other people think I'll be able to conquer the world. First I have to destroy this little demon though, then I'll work on everyone else.

Lexie Braverman, Photo Credit: Samantha Leonetti PhotographyMore on Lexie:

Lexie Braverman is a critically acclaimed actor born and raised in Philadelphia. Classically trained in Shakespeare, she has performed theatrically everywhere from London to Los Angeles. She is a graduate of Ithaca College and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Her first role was the "Cowardly Lion" at day-camp in the Wizard of Oz when she was 11, because her hair was so big and her voice was so low. She went on to graduate from Ithaca College, performing in fantastically reviewed Underground productions like Boys’ Life by Harold Korder and Fat Pig by Neil Lebute. After graduating with her BA, she found her love of Shakespeare and Chekhov when she attended the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s MA program overseas. After graduating from the Old Vic, she was lucky enough to work with the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater, the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, and the American Shakespeare Center. She recently finished the 2016 Actors’ Renaissance season at the American Shakespeare Center performing five plays, in three months, with 12 actors, and no directors. That season changed her life.

In her off time Lexie volunteers at dog shelters and helps socialize them. She is also a movie quoting expert, no one can out quote her.