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Entries in Playwright (76)

Saturday
Apr152017

Call Answered: Facetime Interview: Michael Zam: "Feud: Bette and Joan" Writer

"Call Me Adam" and Michael Zam at The Algonquin HotelLive from The Algonquin Hotel, "Call Me Adam" goes face to face with Feud: Bette and Joan writer Michael Zam! From the story lines to the characters to clearing up misconceptions about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, I get the inside scoop on what it takes to bring the hit FX show to life. 

Michael & I had so much fun together that we had to divide this interview into two parts. The second half, where we discuss left out plot lines, the show's brilliant intro, and other cutting room floor items, will be released soon.

Feud: Bette and Joan airs every Sunday on FX at 10pm!

For more on Feud: Bette and Joan be sure to visit http://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/feud and follow the show on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

"Call Me Adam's" interview with Feud: Bette and Joan writer Michael Zam:

Michael ZamMore on Michael:

Michael Zam, BFA/MFA, author of the Black-Listed screenplay, Best Actress, has been developed into the hugely popular and highly-acclaimed 8-part miniseries, Feud, for FX, starring Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford and Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis. He has also written scripts for DreamWorks, Plan B, and many others. Michael wrote the book for the Off-Broadway musical The Kid, based on Dan Savage’s memoir, which won the Jerry Bock Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre and the Outer Critics Circle Award. The musical was nominated for a Drama Desk Award, Lucille Lortel Awards, and GLAAD Media Awards. Michael has been honored twice with the SPS Award for Teaching Excellence. He teaches screenwriting, film, and television writing at NYUSPS in the Center for Applied Liberal Arts.

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
Apr052017

Call Redialed: Joe Tracz: A Series of Unfortunate Events & The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical

Joe TraczEver since I first interviewed playwright Joe Tracz a few years ago for his musical (with Joe Iconis) Be More Chill at Two River Theatre, I have kept my eye on what he has been creating. It's such a joy to catch up with him on his latest endeavors: Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events (starring Neil Patrick Harris) and the new, original Off-Broadway show The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, currently playing at The Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street), is an action-packed theatrical adventure that will rock your world. "Percy Jackson" has newly discovered powers he can’t control, monsters on his trail, and he is on a quest to find Zeus’s lightning bolt and prevent a war between the Greek Gods. Normal is a myth when you’re a demigod. Based on the best-selling Disney-Hyperion novel by Rick Riordan. Click here for tickets!

For more on The Lightning Thief be sure to visit http://www.lightningthiefmusical.com and follow the show on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube!

1. It's so great to catch up with you after our Be More Chill interview a few years ago. Now you are back with two big projects. The first one is your new musical The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical and the second one is the hugely successful Netflix show A Series of Unfortunate Events starring Neil Patrick Harris. Let's start with A Series of Unfortunate Events. How did the writing process for this show differ from the writing process for your new musical? It's great to catch up with you too! The musical and the TV show actually have a lot of similarities -- they're both adapted from a beloved series of books and they both received movie adaptations that left fans, shall we say, unsatisfied. As one of those fans, I was excited to get to adapt these worlds in a way that, hopefully, captures what readers loved about them in the first place. Also, they both have awesome musical numbers! (You don't cast Neil Patrick Harris and NOT have him sing!)

2. What is A Series of Unfortunate Events that has happened to you that you feel would make a great TV show? I'm getting to work on two dream projects at the same time, so I feel pretty fortunate. And since fortunate events tend to make dull television, I think I'll just focus on continuing to put fictional children in terrible danger.

3. Now, let's get into the depths of your new musical The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. Let's start at the beginning, which is always a good place to start. What initially made you want to take the The Percy Jackson story of The Lightning Thief and adapt it for the stage? What did you see in the books that made you go, this would make a really great musical? I discovered the Percy Jackson books while working in the Young Adult section of a bookstore and I immediately fell in love with them. The premise is brilliant: the Greek Gods are still around and still having kids with mortals -- but what happens when those kids grow up, feeling abandoned by their parents and unsure how to deal with their strange powers? It's a superhero story, an orphan story, a summer camp adventure...It takes the confusion, awkwardness and terror of adolescence, and places them in a story of gods and monsters and quests. The world is big, the characters are big, the emotions are big, and to me, those are the things that make a great musical.

4. What was the easiest part of the story to turn into a musical adaptation and what has been the most challenging? I love adaptation because it's like putting myself in another writer's brain, discovering how their story works and then reconstructing it for a new medium. Rick's characters are so iconic and layered -- he's continued to develop them over several series now, so we had a lot to draw on, which made it easy to find the characters' voices. (I give full credit for this to my collaborator Rob Rokicki, whose songs cut right to their beating hearts).

The plot was the bigger challenge: The Lighting Thief is both a quest and a mystery story, with "Percy" crossing the country to stop a war between the Gods, while solving the mystery of who stole Zeus's lighting.  It's a 400 page book so there are a lot of locations and plot twists to include!

"The Lightning Thief", Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniels"The Lightning Thief", Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniels5. Was there any part of the story that you really wanted to include, but it just didn't translate as you had initially thought? One of the most fun parts of the book is seeing how the ancient Greek Gods live in the modern day. The book reveals that the current location of Mount Olympus is the secret top floor of the Empire State Building. It's a detail we really wanted to fit in the show, but alas, every time we tried it, it was one location too many at the end of the show. But otherwise, we fit an insane amount of story into a less-than-two-hour running time.

6. The show started off as a one-hour production. After having it tour for two years, why did you and your co-writer, Rob Rokicki want to expand it to a full length show? What do you feel works better in this longer form that you couldn't get into the 1 hour version? Expanding the show was always the dream, but it seemed like an impossible dream until the amazing response from fans and audiences who saw the one-hour version helped create the opportunity. We were excited to have more time to let the story and emotions breathe. If the one-hour version is a roller coaster, then the new version is an entire theme park, a full and immersive experience with something for everyone.

"The Lightning Thief", Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniels"The Lightning Thief", Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniels7. In this show, "Percy Jackson" has newly discovered powers that he can't control. What is something you've just discovered that you can do that you didn't know you could beforehand? Well, at the time I started writing this show, I'd never written a musical before. And now I've written several, with more on the way. So I would say that's a power "Percy" helped me discover! Who's the Greek God of writing musicals?

8. "Percy Jackson" also has monsters on his trail. What are some monsters you've had to fight on your life trail? Self-doubt and insecurity are scarier than Medusa any day.

9. The song "Good Kid" is available for download on the show's website. In the video featured on the home page, Chris McCarrell is told, in thinking about the song, "What does it feel like when the world is against you?" When has there been a time in your life when you felt the world was against you? How did you fight back? I think anyone who's trying to make a career in the arts knows what it feels like to face impossible odds. And I think anyone who grows up feeling like an outsider knows the secret of finding inspiration in fictional characters. Since working on this show, "Percy" has been that inspiration for me -- and, I suspect, for the many readers and audience members for whom his story resonates.

10. "Percy Jackson" is also on a quest to find Zeus' lightening bold to help prevent a war between the Greek Gods. If you were possess Zeus' lightening bolt, how would you use it to bring some peace back into this chaotic world we live in? Both the Percy books and the Lemony Snicket books tell a story that feels very timely: how kids grow up in a world where the adult authority figures who are supposed to take care of you are instead corrupt and self-absorbed and responsible for the chaotic state of the world. The Lightning Thief ends with "Percy" realizing that he and his friends can't rely on the Gods to fix things: it's up to the next generation to learn from their parents' mistakes and not repeat the cycle of war and hatred that's got us into this mess. It's a message that I feel very glad to be putting out in the world right now.

Joe TraczMore on Joe:

Joe Tracz is a playwright with an MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Williamstown Theatre Festival: the original musical Poster Boy with composer-lyricist Craig Carnelia (2016), Song for a Future Generation (2015). Joe’s adaptation of the first book in the Percy Jackson series, The Lightning Thief (with composer Rob Rokicki) received a Lortel nomination for Outstanding Musical and toured nationally with Theatreworks USA. His musical adaptation of Ned Vizzini’s novel Be More Chill with composer Joe Iconis premiered last summer at Two River Theater. Other plays have been developed with Manhattan Theatre Club, Second Stage, Roundabout, Ars Nova, and The Flea, and published in Best American Short Plays.

Film/TV includes the Netflix series A Series of Unfortunate Events starring Neil Patrick Harris and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Epic (20th Century Fox) and Lights Out (FX). Joe is a former Playwrights Realm writing fellow, an alumnus of Theater Masters and the Ars Nova Play Group, and, with Two River Theater and Joe Iconis, a recipient of a 2015 Doris Duke Foundation Commissioning Grant. He has a BA from Kalamazoo College.

Wednesday
Mar222017

Call Answered: Sean Patrick Monahan: DIVA: Live From Hell

Sean Patrick MonahanFor the past 10 years I have been enjoying the talents of Sean Patrick Monahan in Charles Busch's Times Square Angel at The Theater for the New City. It's my one Christmas holiday tradition I look forward to each and every year! Well, after this year's performance, Charles made the delightful announcement that Sean Patrick would be presenting his original new musical DIVA: Live From Hell this spring at The Theater for the New City. As soon as I saw Sean Patrick in the lobby of the The Theater for the New City, I ran up to him asking if we could to do an interview together about this show. At the time he said he'd love to, so after a few months, I'm beyond excited that when I called, Sean Patrick answered! What fun we had talking about everything from DIVAS to legends to angels!

DIVA: Live From Hell is a devilish new musical that charts a high school musical nerd’s descent into madness. "Desmond Channing" is a teenager who’s spent much of his short life basking in the spotlight. As Drama Club President and star of ALL the productions at his Florida public high school, "Desmond" never imagined he could fall so far so fast. But when "Evan Harris," a hotshot transfer student from New York, rips the rug out from under him, "Desmond" responds, as any diva would, with lethal force. Now, "Desmond" is forced to relive his humiliation and insanity over and over again at a cabaret in Hell. As he begins his one-millionth consecutive show, "Desmond" performs with renewed desperation, in the hopes that he can prove he’s learned his lesson and be freed from his eternal, campy torment.

DIVA: Live From Hell will run from March 23-April 9 at The Theater for the New City (155 First Avenue). Click here for tickets!

For more on Sean Patrick be sure to visit http://www.seanpatrickmonahan.com!

Cast of Charles Busch's "Times Square Angel" with special guest Narrator, Joan Rivers1. Who or what inspired you to become a playwright/performer? Whatever it is that made me want to spend my life in the theatre has always been there. When I was two years old, my dad took me to a Renaissance Faire, and I insisted that he buy me a court jester hat. All of the other kids got crowns or Robin Hood hats, but I had to have the jester’s cap with little bells on it. I didn’t know what a jester was, but I wanted to be one. I still want to be one. And along with that, I always wanted to be a storyteller.

But beyond those sparks that have always lived in me, the person who inspired me to become a "playwright/performer" as a career was, and still is, Charles Busch.

2. Your show DIVA: Live From Hell is going to be at Theater for the New City, which I have been coming to for the past 10 years, seeing you perform in Charles Busch's Times Square Angel. Before we get to your new show, we have to talk about Times Square Angel. How did you first get involved with it and what do you look forward to about performing it every year? Yes! It was so delightful to talk to you after Times Square Angel this year. And oh man—10 years! I love that. Pretty much the whole audience comes back year after year, and I have to say that is the thing I look forward to the most—the sense of reunion, of a holiday homecoming at Theater for the New City. It’s an incredibly special event.

I’ve been playing "Jimmy the Newsboy" in Times Square Angel since I was 11 years old. I met Charles at Manhattan Theatre Club, where I did a reading of a play of his when I was a child actor. Charles read the scene in the audition with me, and I will never forget it. Well, I kept in touch with Charles, and that December he wrote me a terrific role in Times Square Angel, which I’ve done every year since. It’s a great feeling to have originated a role in one of his plays.

3. Now, let's get to DIVA: Live From Hell, which you wrote and are starring in. What made you want to write AND star in this show? Why didn't you want someone else to star in it and you just write it? Jeez Louise—so far the answer to all of these questions is "Charles Busch." What kind of DIVA am I? I need to start talking more about myself pronto. But this show really does all come back to him—when I was a kid, Charles suggested that I should write parts for myself, rather than wait around for someone to cast me. So, in 2013, when an opportunity arose for me to develop a solo act with Less Than Rent Theatre for the United Solo Theatre Festival, I jumped at the chance. It became a 45-minute solo comedy called DIVA. A few months later, the wunderkind composer/lyricist Alexander Sage Oyen approached me about expanding it into a one-act musical, and I jumped at that chance too.

Four years later, the show has evolved into DIVA: Live From Hell, and I’m still donning the sequins and performing the piece myself. Someday I’d like to hand it off to another performer, but for now, I’m the storyteller and the act of me physically telling the story is part of the narrative.

Sean Patrick Monahan in "DIVA: Live from Hell"4. What do you relate to most about your character "Desmond" and what is one characteristic you are glad you don't possess? One trait I share with "Desmond" is that we both feel out of step with our peers and with the times. When I was in high school, and everyone I knew was into Rent and Spring Awakening, I was listening to Dear World and Anyone Can Whistle. It often felt like the only people who knew what I was talking about were the adults—our theatre directors and my English teachers.

I’m not sure that there are any of "Desmond’s" characteristics that I don’t possess—though he does express himself more extremely than I do. When I got dumped for the first time, I dealt with the pain by writing a screenplay in which I brutally murdered the guy who stole my childhood sweetheart. "Desmond" actually does kill his nemesis. So, I’m glad I had healthier outlets to express my adolescent angst.

Sean Patrick Monahan in "DIVA" from 20135. In DIVA: Live From Hell, "Desmond Channing" is forced to relive his humiliation and insanity over and over again at a cabaret in Hell. What has been the most humiliating thing to happen you so far? When I was 11, I once clogged the toilet backstage at the Mazer Theater and blamed it on one of the adult chorus girls. The rest of the cast mocked her relentlessly for weeks. I’ve never told anyone except my therapist, who thinks it’s okay for me to come clean in this interview. If that poor chorus girl finds out, it’ll be the most humiliating thing ever.

6. "Desmond" performs in hell in the hopes that he can prove he’s learned his lesson. What is the biggest life lesson you've learned to date? Slotted spoons don’t hold much soup.

7. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent every day? I love that. I’d love to be one percent more empathetic every day—as a writer, as an actor, and as a person. That might sound trite or simple, but it’s hard to consciously work to access deeper empathy, especially in these trying times. I think it’d be worth it.

Charles BuschPenny Fuller8. An exciting component to this show is that you are having Tony nominees Charles Busch & Penny Fuller voice their parts. Charles is the voice of the manager at the dingy cabaret venue in Hell, while Penny will voice Desmond's grandmother. What made you want to have their parts as voice overs as opposed to live actors? Maybe someday there’ll be a version where those roles are played live, but in this incarnation I want the voices to be recognizable. Charles was a no-brainer, because he’s been like an uncle (or "Auntie Mame") and he’s guided me in developing DIVA from the beginning. It’s very special to have his voice in the show. And as for Penny Fuller—I think it’s very meaningful stunt casting. Penny was, of course, nominated for a Tony for playing "Eve" in Applause (based on All About Eve). Her performance of the song "One Hallowe’en" is, in my opinion, one of the best in the history of musical theatre. The plot of DIVA: Live From Hell is partly inspired by the plot of All About Eve (along with Sunset Blvd), so, it’s incredibly meaningful to have Broadway’s original "Eve Harrington" portraying "Desmond’s" grandmother.

9. In addition to having Charles in your show and you in his Times Square Angel since 2004, Charles was one of your playwrighting teachers. What did you learn from Charles? How did you take that lesson and apply it to DIVA: Live From Hell? Well, Charles came in and taught a master class at Fordham when I was a student, but he’s been my personal writing mentor for much longer. When I was 15, I sent him my first screenplay (the aforementioned murder-y one). He took the time to give me thorough, helpful notes and was very encouraging. All through college, he read drafts of all my early plays and always took great time and consideration in his feedback. When I wrote the first incarnation of DIVA in 2013, he went through the entire script with me, page by page, giving notes. Then, we spent an hour sitting in his living room, listening to monologues recorded by the legendary Ruth Draper. That afternoon, I learned an amazing lesson about camp comedy—the circumstances may be received ironically by the audience, but must be completely truthful within the play. The audience can laugh, but the playwright must take the characters and their conflicts seriously. Ruth Draper has a hilarious monologue called "A Children’s Party in Philadelphia," in which she plays a very silly suburban mother, but Draper doesn’t patronize or mock the character she’s playing. She’s only funny because she’s honest. Charles treats his characters the same way. I saw his play The Divine Sister five times off-Broadway; it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, but there’s an incredibly moving scene in which a daughter is reunited with her long-lost mother. One could play it all as a big joke, but without the emotional truth of that scene, I don’t think the rest of the piece is as impactful or as funny. I try to approach every moment of in DIVA: Live From Hell with empathy and honesty, no matter how ridiculous.

Sean Patrick Monahan in Ken Urban's "Nibbler"10. If you were sent to hell and could only bring one diva with you who you had to watch one million times consecutively, who would you take? Preface: I’m using the word "diva" here to mean an unbelievably talented songstress, not a narcissistic, unkind one.

When I was in high school, I would have had an impossibly difficult time choosing just one. It would have been a four-way tie between Merman, Lansbury, LuPone, and Stritch. But now, I can answer 100%, without hesitation: Grace McLean (currently in Natasha, Pierre…). I met Grace last year at the Johnny Mercer Writers’ Colony up at the Goodspeed Opera House, and I find her voice, her persona, and her talent to be absolutely electrifying. I have since seen her in concert five times, and after each and every song, I jump up and down in screaming delight like I’m a sixteen year old girl watching Elvis on Ed Sullivan. I could certainly stand to see her perform another 999,995 times. But that sounds more like Heaven than Hell to me.

Angela Lansbury, Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times11. I have heard you are a HUGE Angela Lansbury fan. What is something about her that only a super fan would know? Have you met Angela Lansbury? If so, did it live up to what you had pictured in your mind? Well, I celebrate Angela Lansbury’s birthday every year (October 16th). I even wrote it into DIVA: Live From Hell. The last scene of the play takes place on October 16.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet Dame Angela four times, and she is even more wonderful than I ever could have imagined. Charles knows her, and he’s taken me to see her in every show she’s done on Broadway since Deuce in ’07. Each time, we’ve gone backstage, and every encounter has been magical. Talking to her after A Little Night Music was especially so. Charles told Angela how I was having a hard time deciding where to go to college. She sat me down on the sofa, took my hands, and said, "This is your time. Go where you want to go, and don’t ever look back." I picked Fordham University—and thank God I did.

A couple years ago, someone approached me about producing DIVA with a big TV star in the lead role. I wasn’t sure what to do—I really wanted to originate the part myself. I told Charles that I was wrestling with this dilemma, and he happened to be getting dinner with Angela that night. He mentioned my predicament to Angela, who said (with grave, Manchurian Candidate-style seriousness, according to Charles), "No, he must hold onto that for himself." So, the bottom line is—I’m doing DIVA: Live From Hell because Angela Lansbury thinks I should.

Sean Patrick MonahanMore on Sean Patrick:

Sean Patrick Monahan is a playwright, performer, and hopeless Angela Lansbury addict. Plays include RODHAM/SADE (Sanctuary @ HERE Arts Center), AUNT JACK (Wide Eyed Winks), WHAT DO YOU CALL A—? (Rhapsody Collective), LITTLE MAC, LITTLE MAC, YOU’RE THE VERY MAN! (written w/James Presson, Less Than Rent), 6B (Fordham University), and GALLOWS TREE (Winner Best One-Act 2012, Manhattan Repertory Theatre). As an actor, Sean Patrick has performed at the Vineyard Theatre, the Helen Hayes, New World Stages, and, most recently, The Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in The Amoralists’ world-premiere production of Ken Urban’s NIBBLER. Other acting credits include THE VAST MACHINE (Axis Theatre), FMK (Under St. Marks), LITTLE TOWN BLUES (The Wild Project), OUTLAWS (le Poisson Rouge), and A STOOP ON ORCHARD STREET (Mazer Theatre). Sean Patrick is thrilled to be returning to Theater for the New City, having performed there every year since 2004 in Charles Busch’s TIMES SQUARE ANGEL. Sean Patrick’s greatest theatrical achievement was crafting the high school club constitution for Thespian Troupe 132, which was never enacted due to the short-sightedness of the club’s administration.

Monday
Mar062017

Call Answered: Brad Zimmerman: My Son The Waiter, A Jewish Tragedy at Bucks County Playhouse

Brad ZimmermanI first heard about Brad Zimmerman's show My Son The Waiter, A Jewish Tragedy when it had it's New York run here in 2014, but never got to see it. I'm so grateful for second chances because when I called, Brad answered. My Son The Waiter, A Jewish Tragedy is the hilarious and inspiring story about the grit & passion it takes to "make it" as an artist & the sweet rewards that come from never giving up! If you ever longed for something, if you ever desired it with all your heart, if you were willing to wait tables for 29 years to pursue your dream then My Son The Waiter will give meaning to your life!

My Son The Waiter, A Jewish Tragedy will be heading to Bucks County Playhouse from March 23-April 9. Click here for tickets!

For more on My Son The Waiter, A Jewish Tragedy be sure to visit http://www.mysonthewaiter.com and follow the show on Facebook and Instagram!

For more on Bucks County Playhouse visit http://bcptheater.org and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

1. This spring you are bringing your one-man show My Son The Waiter, A Jewish Tragedy to Bucks County Playhouse. What made now the right time to go back on tour with this show? I began the tour in 2014 in Phoenix. I think that with a few exceptions the show has really resonated both artistically and financially all over the country. The experience of doing it in a theatre rich area of the country one hour and 30 minutes from where I live is sublime. There is really no wrong time to do a tour of a show like this that is real, authentic and very very funny...it has a message that if you are willing to pay a price, and believe me, I have, that life can be extremely rewarding and meaningful. That is how I now feel about my life so I'm sharing that knowledge with audiences all over the country. And its universal...not just for Jews..but for anyone who wants to find purpose or desires to lead a rich life.

2. What are you looking forward to most about performing it at Bucks County Playhouse? I love the area of Bucks County...I grew up in New Jersey so Bucks County is just across the river. It is rich in both culture and the town is so artsy and beautiful and the theatre is legendary. I know I'll be taken care of by the wonderful people who really know what I need...that makes me feel in really good hands..wow!!! And I love the Northeast more than anything. I have so many people who I know in Jersey and Philadelphia who want to see it, some of whom I went to camp with in the Poconos so it should be a sublime expereince...all I need is a Starbucks, a gym and a nice Jewish lady who enjoys loaning money.

Brad Zimmerman in "My Son The Waiter, A Jewish Tragedy"3. My Son The Waiter, A Jewish Tragedy is your hilarious and inspiring story about the grit and passion required to 'make it' as an artist and the sweet rewards that come from never giving up on your dream. When did you realize you had a story that could be told in a show format? In 2005 I was approached by a friend who said he would produce a one person show should I ever have the desire. So I began work on the show in 2005. Its been an evolution...I didnt know right away that my story would resonate for so many people...I think my growth as an artist combined with my realization along this journey that my life was devoted to mastering a craft made me over the years feel like the story could resonate for so many people who have not found themselves...have not found what they were meant to do. That is the hardest thing in life, to find what you were born to do...if you have a little determination and are willing to really commit to getting the most out of your ability, the rewards can be truly remarkable and I'm not talking about financially. I'm talking about success on a much deeper level...which is the best kind of success...so I think it wasnt until a year ago, after working on the show for a decade or more, that I became aware in part due to the audiences response that I had a show that really inspired people and made them think and in some cases to reassess their own lives (break).

Brad Zimmerman in "My Son The Waiter, A Jewish Tragedy"4. In creating this show, what did you learn about yourself that you didn't realize living through it? The answer to this question is somewhat similar to question three. I learned that practice does make perfect...I never improved in sports and I was a truly great athlete, but I never improved because I never practiced...I took up acting and I wasn't nearly as gifted at acting as I was at hitting a baseball...but the challenge of trying to get great obviously had meaning for me...as my therapist once said to me. "You have only been inspired by the best. You have never been inspired by competence." Truer words were never spoken. I also learned that I love connecting...that is everything in art...really making the attempt to connect with the audience...to really talk TO THEM...I also learned that each human being is possessed of genius...in so many ways...we just have to be willing to pay the price to tap into it...(paycheck)

5. You spent 29 years waiting tables while pursuing your dream of becoming an actor. How many times during those 29 years did you consider giving up? What kept you going each time? What ultimately kept me going more than anything was that underneath the self doubt and the lack of confidence and the fear of failure which served to literally paralyze me for many years, I had a small little voice that told me, "YOU HAVE SOMETHING." At the time, my feeling was the something I had, was in the comedic arena so I think I needed to stick with it to find out if I was right...and I was...yeah me!!!

Brad Zimmerman in "My Son The Waiter, A Jewish Tragedy"6. During the run of this show, when did you realize you had something that would allow you to quit waitering? Then, what did that moment feel like? I was waiting tables until 2007...had to return five years later becuase I could not afford a haircut...three months later my ex-manager got me a three-week run of the show in Coral Springs, Florida and the show was extended four months. My producers Dana Matthow and Philip Roy flew down and after seeing the show offered to buy the touring rights to my show...I'm not certain but one of them wanted to buy the show and one of them didn't...so they asked me to cast the deciding vote. Haha...they gave me an advance and I have had a savings account ever since...yeah!!!

7. You been working on My Son The Waiter, A Jewish Tragedy since 2005. How do you keep the show fresh? Keeping the show fresh is the hardest thing I have ever done next to killing a deer...only because I keep missing...my mind wanders many times and the key is that the audience can't know that. For instance I could be talking about my father and at the same time thinking about what flavor ice cream to get that night...but if I wander I have to remind myself to connect...that is the key. When you have done a show as much as much as I have it's natural to have the mind wander.

Brad Zimmerman in "My Son The Waiter, A Jewish Tragedy"8. What has been some memorable "missed moments" during the runs of the show? Missed moments : When you expect a loud laugh and you get silence...that is a moment that can really test your composure. I have to adlib something...I try to say something that might get a laugh, like "they didn't get that in Alabama either."

9. As a comedian, you got to open for two of my all time favorite comics: Joan Rivers and George Carlin. How did you get to be their opening acts? What did you learn from working with them? What is one funny story about your interaction with each comedian you can share with us? Opening for Joan and Georgre was an honor...both were the most professional of professionals...Rolling Stone Magazine just came out with the list of top 10 comedians of all time and they were both in top 10. I think Georgre was 2. So to say that I worked with both of them, wow. By the way, I was number 2,000,346,900,111.

10. Since you were a waiter for 29 years, did you wait on any celebrities? If so, who? What are your top five favorite things to order when you go out to eat or drink? Celebrtities I waited on: Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore. Julianne Moore, Glenn Close, Chris Noth, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dustin Hoffman, Ron Howard.

Five favorite things to order when I go out: a great steak, veal parmesian, warm apple crisp with vanilla ice cream, bagel and nova, carrots!!!!!!!!!

Brad ZimmermanMore on Brad:

Brad Zimmerman is a very unique and original voice in the world of comedy. Watch a few minutes of his comedy and you will know you have never seen anything like Brad. He works all over the country, doing theatres, comedy clubs, casino’s, country clubs, comedy festivals, JCC’s. I mean, you name it, he’s done it. He has worked with many well known comedians and entertainers such as Brad Garrett, Dennis Miller, Susie Essman, Julio Inglesias, and was Joan Rivers’ opening act of choice for over seven years. In fact Joan had said "I’ve had three great opening acts in my lifetime: Billy Crystal, Garry Shandling, and Brad Zimmerman." In the year 2006, Brad had the great honor of opening for George Carlin, and that relationship lasted until George passed away in 2008. The first time Brad opened for George, at the Paramount Theatre, just outside Chicago, right after finishing his act, George approached Brad backstage, and said, as only George could have said, "f**kin great!"

Brad combines years of acting training and standup, which is evident in Brad’s true pride and joy; his one man show. It is called MY SON THE WAITER, A JEWISH TRAGEDY, and he has been working on it since 2005. In this part standup/part theatrical piece Brad tells a story of one man’s lengthy, and we do mean lengthy struggle to make it as an actor in New York. His send-ups on his childhood, his family, his misbegotten love life, and his career are as warm and poignant as they are hysterical. He has done the show all over the country. In addition to this show, Brad has done work in both television and film, most notably playing Johnny Sack’s lawyer in one of the best television shows of all time: THE SOPRANOS.