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Entries in Theatre (316)

Thursday
Apr272017

Call Answered: Emily Kratter: Dead End at Axis Theatre 

Emily Kratter, Photo Credit: David PerlmanAnother rising actress that has recently come to my attention is Emily Kratter. From theatre to film to TV, Emily is appearing everywhere! She's currently starring in Axis Theatre Company's revival of Sidney Kingsley's Dead End, a Broadway hit in 1936, which was later turned into a film starring Humphrey Bogart which included the first appearance of "The Bowery Boys" who went on to become the iconic "kid gang" of American movies.

Dead End takes place in a New York where tenement houses and luxury apartments stand side by side and extreme wealth and abject poverty intersect every day. Gangsters and bankers, prostitutes and lost children, failure and dreams of the future all live on this street. Axis Theatre Company illuminates these stark contrasts with an understanding of their mythology as well as their contemporary mirror in the city of today.

Dead End plays at Axis Theatre (1 Sheridan Square) through May 20. Click here for tickets!

For more on Emily be sure to visit http://www.emilykratter.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? My earliest memory is seeing Peter Pan...I must have been four or five. "Peter" took off and started flying and it was magic. So, I guess at the time you can say I just wanted to fly? But now, I can tell you for sure that I am inspired every single day to stay a performer by my brilliant friends and collaborators and fellow artists. The theatre community in New York City inspires me.

2. This spring you are starring in Axis Company's production of Sidney Kingsley's Dead End, about the legendary kid gang, "The Bowery Boys" who grew up on the streets of NYC during the Great Depression. What made you want to be part of this show? Well, for one the Axis Company is a group of fearless artists who march to beat of their own drum and create stunning work that is unlike anything I've seen elsewhere. Their artistry is only matched by their hearts and overall awesomeness as humans whom I genuinely always want to be around...So there's that. Working with wonderful people is a huge factor. But also -- immediately when I read this script, I was so taken with the characters, particularly the kids. There is this raw energy that excited me. Their emotions live entirely on their sleeves. They are silly, and scared, and yearning, and manipulative, and just trying to survive. The piece has so much going on. Our director, Randy Sharp has said, "It's like there is one miracle after the next" and I feel that to be true. There's not one moment in the play that does not propel us forward and nobody is ever on even ground. I felt that potential in my first read.

3. What do you relate to most about your character? What is one trait of theirs, you are glad you, yourself, don't have? Hmm well, "Milty" is hilarious. I think I definitely see elements of myself as a kid in him...He has a wild imagination that I know I had, and hope I still do. He is not self-conscious, and fully self-expressed and I love that, and it's a thrill to play. He also looks up to the gang leader, "Tommy" with such fierce admiration. I DEFINITELY did that as a kid. I had a group of older friends that I thought were the coolest. I upped my "cool" cred, just by being around them. As far as one trait I don't have? He is a SPAZ. And honestly, I guess I am too...but he takes it to a new level. I think I can say I'm not quite that bad...(I hope).

Cast of "Dead End", Photo Credit: Pavel Antonov4. How do you feel "The Bowery Boys" story resonates in today's world? Dead End takes place in the 1930s where luxury apartments and tenement housing stand side by side. It examines the intersection of wealth and poverty and at the heart of it is the impact on this gang of kids. It's astonishing how much and how little has changed since that time. I live on the west side of Manhattan where buildings of grandeur are going up every day, and at it's base lay homeless men and women. It is our hope that while these characters might have once been labeled as archetypes, "gangster," "prostitute," "lost boy" etc, that we are examining the humanity underneath. And that humanity, I think will resonate forever.

And one more point of note: While "The Bowery Boys" are certainly a pillar in this play, there are 14 ACTORS making up this ensemble. I'll repeat: This is a downtown theater that hired 14 ACTORS to produce this baby. I think that's awesome and worth emphasizing.

5. What is something you learned about "The Bowery Boys" in preparing for this show that made you go, "Oh wow, I wonder how I would have faired or what would I have done in this situation? Hmm...I'm not sure how to answer this question without giving too much away. But there is a theme regarding "survival of the fittest." How far are you willing to go to build the life you've dreamed of? Or how far are you willing to go to for love? For a friend who's in trouble? And what is that point when one makes the decision to do what's best for him/herself despite everything else?

Cast of "Dead End", Photo Credit: Pavel Antonov6. Since this story focuses on a kid gang, growing up, did you have your own gang or posse? Oh, I DID indeed. I was so lucky to have the most amazing friends growing up. Most of them are still my best friends today. I had a group of friends that I met doing theatre together, and now they are running the world -- they became attorneys and doctors and entrepreneurs and social workers and parents. Some have become successful actors too! And in school, I was in a group of five girls that were inseparable. We even had a name...We called ourselves, "PENT" because there were five of us. They are going to die a little when they read this. We are bonded for life...well, four of us...(long story).

7. In Dead End, gangsters and bankers, prostitutes and lost children, failure and dreams of the future all live on this street. If we break each of these categories down, when have you felt like a gangster, a banker, a prostitute, and a lost child? WOW. I guess I could most relate to the lost child... given these choices, I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing. I'm holding on to a hopefulness that I'm not going to let this world take from me. As for gangster? I'd be terrible...When I was in high school, my friend and I went through the turnstile together for the subway. A policeman grabbed us and told us not to do it again, and I think I had a panic attack. A banker? I think my soul would die if I worked in a cubicle. They work in cubicles right? or desks? I think I would die at a desk all day too. And prostitute? Yikes. Luckily things haven't gotten that rough yet...Ask me in a few years ;)

Emily Kratter, Photo Credit: David Perlman8. What are some of your dreams of the future? What are some of your failures of the past? I have had so much fun working on this show. It hasn't felt like work for one second. That's what I dream of...To have a fulfilling career "working" and never feeling the labor. To do what I love with the people I love. To tell stories that move people...to laughter or tears, whatever. To make some kind of impact and affect people by sharing these tales of flawed, broken, beautiful humans. I think at one point I told my parents I was going to double major when I was at NYU, have some sort of a "back up plan"...I failed at that promise. I'm not sure I even really tried, but shhh!

9. Let's play with the title of Dead End for a moment. What is a path or an idea you started out on, but unfortunately hit a "Dead End," with nowhere to go? I have gone through so many periods where I have wracked my brain and tried to trick myself into believing that perhaps I could be satisfied doing something else with my life. Something with more security, with structure. It's a dead end for sure. I think this crazy business is stuck with me for the long run.

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 amazing!! I love this!! There are SO many things!! But to keep things light, I need to sharpen my cooking skills. I have a crock pot I bought off of Amazon last year that's still in the box....well, it's actually out of the box, but that's as far as I got :( Terrible....Shameless plug: Our director Randy Sharp actually has a BRILLIANT cooking show on youtube called DINNER PARTY TONIGHT - One day I'll make her proud and replicate one of her to-die-for recipes. Ina Garten better watch out.

Emily Kratter, Photo Credit: David PerlmanMore on Emily:

Emily Kratter Favorite credits: Axis: Dead EndEvening – 1910, The Groundling and Solitary Light. Other Select NYC theatre/workshops: Confederates (LAByrinth Theater Co, The Lark/Workshop); Be More Chill (workshop/Dir. Scott Ellis); Death For Sydney Black (TerraNOVA Collective/Dir. Kip Fagan); Boomer's Millenial Hero StoryBelieber (TerraNOVA Collective/Groundbreakers); The Austerity of Hope (The Barrow Group); Greenwood (NYMF); Progress In Flying (The New Group/New Works); Pooka (Dramatists Guild/Playwrights Horizons); Five Second Chances (The Playwright's Realm/INK'D); The Physicists (Williamstown); The Holy Ghostly (Williamstown/workshop), The Children's Hour (APAC). Film:  Adelaide, Half Brother (Amazon/Itunes) TV: Unforgettable (CBS). Web: Fomo Daily NYU Tisch. 

Friday
Apr072017

Call Answered: Wyatt Fenner: The War Boys at The Access Theater

Wyatt FennerEver since I interviewed Ben Rimalower for "Call Me Adam," he has gone ahead and referred several of his friends my way! Each one has been a joy to talk to and get to know. That brings me to Wyatt Fenner. Ben suggested Wyatt call and I answered!

Wyatt stars in Naomi Wallace's The War Boys, about three vigilantes, childhood friends, enjoy patrolling the U.S./Mexican border. But these youths soon learn that even the most guarded borders are permeable. When the lines between fantasy and reality become dangerously blurred, these young men are forced to decide what it means to be an American, and who has the right to belong.

The timeliness of this play couldn't be more perfect. I'm thrilled to get to chat with Wyatt as this early stage in his career. It will be great to watch what he does next!

The War Boys plays at The Access Theater in NYC (380 Broadway, 4th Floor) through April 16! Click here for tickets!

For more on The War Boys visit https://www.thewarboysnyc.com and follow the show on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

For more on Wyatt, follow him on Twitter and Instagram!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? Stories inspired me to become a performer. When I was little reading with Dad before bed was my favorite part of my day, so I always had a really active imagination. At recess in school I'd lead pretend games; Peter Pan, 101 Dalmatians, The Little Mermaid, anything to get the whole group running around pretending to be seagulls or trolls or whatever - but around third grade, for all of my classmates except for me, recess shifted from being about time for playing pretend to being about everyone playing kickball, and it was like something died for me. When my classmates were so unceremoniously over it with the pretend games I remember being like "Well...what the fuck am I supposed to do with life now.." there was no purpose anymore in my little seven year old existence.

Then shortly thereafter I was at the local library with Mom and we saw a poster for a Children's Theatre production of The Velveteen Rabbit and I realized there was this almost secret society of other kids who liked to play pretend as well and I could go and audition and maybe I'd get to put on some fairytale stories with them. So I went to try out for the company and I got cast as one of the fairies in Sleeping Beauty - then in the next production which was Jack and the Beanstalk I was cast as the cow's bottom, and I just never stopped doing plays because it gave me an opportunity to express what using my imagination to share any kind of stories has always meant to me.

2. You are currently making your NY stage debut in Naomi Wallace's The War Boys. What made you want to be part of this show? When I read the script I realized how timely this play is and I also saw how challenging an opportunity it would be to work on this project so that was really exciting to me. This is a play about three men who are each questioning what it means to be men, to be seen, and to have responsibility in a world where maybe those feelings are eroding for them - and that seems relevant right now.

Sea McHale, Wyatt Fenner, and Gabriel Sloyer in "The War Boys"3. Does the reality of your NY stage debut live up to the fantasy you had in your head? Working on a challenging play like this in my underpants in a tiny theatre four stories above a knock off sneaker factory is as downtown theatre as you can get - and I'm into it.

When I first moved to NY last year I got work right away that took me back out of town. Those jobs were incredible projects with wonderful directors and companies, which I'm really proud of, and grateful to have done, but I knew that to get a foothold here in the city I'd need to begin to turn down opportunities that would take me out of the city and as soon as I made that decision for myself this opportunity came up, so that is exciting, to get to continue to work towards that goal, specifically to get to make cool theatre that people will see and have conversations with one another about in this incredible city. This play is hard work, but everything worth having in life takes hard work and I'm really proud of all that this experience has helped me discover so far. Plus nothing nothing nothing beats riding the train home after a good show. I never knew that specific joy of being an actor in NY before and now I do.

4. What do you relate to most about your character "David"? What is one quality of his you are glad you, yourself don't possess? I relate to "David's" need for friendship and some level of acceptance. I am glad that I resolved my feelings about my own sexuality in a healthy way when I was growing up. "David" had a very different experience regarding his self acceptance - so I'm glad I don't share that with him.

Wyatt Fenner as "David" in "The War Boys"5. Your character literally gets stripped down in this show, all the way to his underwear. When you found out you were going to have to perform in your underwear, what are some thoughts that went through your head? What is it like to be so exposed to an audience like this night after night? As a person there is a lot that scares me but as an actor there isn't much that I'm afraid of doing. I've been entirely naked on stage several times before and as long as it makes sense for the story I believe in going there. It takes a lot to expose yourself night after night like we do in the play - clothes on or off, but I commit to it and go there every night. Otherwise, what's the point?

6. Part of the shows description is "Even the most guarded borders are permeable." What is something that you have kept guarded, but realize it's time to let the world in on it? That is a tough one, because I am really open as a person. I can understand people who have the inclination to hold things back because we all do that to different degrees day to day but what this play celebrates is allowing oneself to really strip down and be exposed - literally in my case - which is a rare and worthwhile experience for everyone to have, even if it's just for one night in the theatre.

7. The show also asks what it means to be an American. What does it mean to you, to be an American? I have such a hard time with how "us" and "them" the world is right now. We are all people. Countries, genders, religions, I suppose all of these labels can be useful but we've created them ourselves and in a lot of cases they do more harm than good. What matters so much more than what team you root for or where you go to the bathroom is what is in your heart. As a person what is most important to me is that other people feel some sense of happiness or brightness when they've encountered me and that somehow I can make even a simple difference for others in that regard. Smiling, helping the lady with the stroller up the stairs, being kind is what matters most because, no matter how bad your day is, if you lead with kindness you will feel better for it - and so will the people around you - even if you never see them again.

Sea McHale and Wyatt Fenner in "The War Boys"8. The timeliness of the show couldn't be more perfect with that wall that man wants to build. What are some stories you've heard from audience members about the show? Everyone's experience of the play is completely different! It is so cool because this type of theatre really operates like a dreamscape. The play is relentless and bizarre and irreverent and it doesn't allow for a lazy audience. People who come to see what we are doing down here have to make several of their own connections as far as why certain turns occur in the play, what that means to them individually - but everything we do has integrity - so if the audience sticks with us they get a good full meal of ideas, images, and questions to take home with them.

9. The story blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. When has there been a time in your life when you walked that fine line between what was real and what you had imagined? I don't think I've ever confused the two things.

10. Let's play with the show's title a bit, The War Boys. What is one war you feel you are fighting right now? I think we are all always looking for kindness and connection with one another. Right now people seem much less willing to connect outside of our screens and little hand held internets and I think I'm always looking for opportunities to actually connect - eye to eye and face to face - with other people. Being new to the city and discovering who is going to be a part of my tribe is exciting and challenging. The efforts continue to pay off so I'm happy to keep on that road.

More on Wyatt:

NY Debut. Recent Regional Theatre: Michael Kahn's production of Cloud 9 (Studio Theatre), Darko Tresnjak's production of Romeo and Juliet (Hartford Stage), Moisés Kaufman's production of Bent (Mark Taper Forum), as well as the West Coast Premiers of Dog Sees GodThe WhaleNext Fall, Rest, and Slipping. Television: BonesVeronica Mars.

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.

Saturday
Feb252017

Call Answered: Tulis McCall: Are You Serious? A Woman of a Certain Age Inquiries at Cornelia Street Cafe

Tulis McCall, Photo Credit: Flash RosenbergI first met Tulis McCall when we both joined a theatre blogger group. I knew Tulis loved theatre and reviewed shows and that's all I knew. Fast forward to 2017 when I'm asked to come see a one-woman show called Are You Serious? A Woman of a Certain Age Inquiries. Then I'm told that one-woman show is by Tulis McCall and I go, I love Tulis, sign me up!

One Sunday afternoon, I attended Tulis' show and I was blown away by it. Are You Serious? is a show everyone can relate to because we are all aging. There was not one part of Tulis' show that I didn't identify with. Tulis is engaging, enthusiastic, and knows how to draw an audience in. She brought up several poignant points about living, mortality, fear, goals, and accepting yourself for who you are. This truly is one show you don't want to miss.

Are You Serious? A Woman of a Certain Age Inquiries plays every Sunday at 3pm at the Cornelia Street Cafe, being extended through March 26! Click here for tickets!

For more on Tulis and Are You Serious? be sure to visit http://areyouserious.nyc and follow the show on Facebook and Twitter!

For more on Cornelia Street Cafe visit http://www.corneliastreetcafe.com and follow them on Facebook and Twitter!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? Oh good grief - It was always something that was comfortable and easy for me. I liked being on a stage and telling a story. Even in grammar school. To deliver a story and watch it land is a bit of magic, and to be on the initiating side is very powerful. You have to calculate and execute at the same time, and eventually you have to let go of the steering wheel for it to all work.

2. Your show, Are You Serious? is currently enjoying an extended run at Cornelia Street Café, after winning the 2015 United Solo Award for "Best Stand-Up" along with rave reviews. What made you want to create this show? I suppose it harkens back to "write what you know." I have become a "Woman of a Certain Age" and was surprised to have arrived at this juncture. When I looked around I saw not only no one talking about it unless it's as a clinical study - I saw no one who represented me. Not in the movies, onstage, nowhere. We are all over the streets here in Manhattan, but we are not represented in any artistic venue - unless of course you are an icon like the various Dames who keep working or the occassional appearance of a star like Glenn Close. But these are few and far between. I decided to write about how I was feeling, what I was thinking and observing, and see if anyone responded. They have.

Tulis McCall in "Are You Serious?", Photo Credit: Terri Mintz3. Are You Serious? is your story about becoming a WCA (Woman of a Certain Age). What is it like to talk to the audience after the show? What do they relate to most? What has someone told you that made you change something in the show? What I have heard mostly is people, women AND men, say "I am a WCA too. I relate to everything you are saying." The other conversations are with people whose opinion I seek out and we have a conversation around where they were engaged and where they were disconnected from the piece. These are great conversations because as a performer you don't "see" what the audience sees. Just as they don't see from your vantage point.

4. In the show, you say how as a child, you would say, I'm 3, I'm 4, I'm 5, etc, but then you start to hit milestones. I hit 30, I hit 40, I hit 50. Then it becomes I reached 60, I reached 70, etc. At what age did say to yourself, I'm a WCA? After you admitted that to yourself, what was your next thought?  Well, getting my Medicare Card was an eye-opener. I remember showing it to people, and my peers or those older than I responded with, "Congratulations." And people younger than I, and often by not that much, said, "What's that?" As to the "next thought" - there wasn't one. Just carry on. Those next thoughts occur gradually. Reflection. Goal setting. Reality checks. Dismissing of the naysayers in your head and externally. All sorts.

Tulis McCall in "Are You Serious?", Photo Credit: Terri Mintz5. You also talk about how men are considered to always be in their prime, but women of a certain age are considered past their prime. You could run circles around most men with all you have going on. How do you keep your youthful outlook about yourself? I have a very low threshold for boredom. That's why I live in NYC. I remember back in the day Johnny Carson complimented Jane Fonda for how she looked - she was 50 and back then that was old. Her response was, "This is how 50 should look." So I don't think of it as a "youthful outlook" because that belies my age - which is at the center of this whole conversation. The idea of old is slow, withdrawn, frail. In other words, feeble. Time to jettison that and let us all wear our age like a many colored cloak and see what hapens.

6. I love how you talk about the way your bullshit meter changes as you get older. When did you say to yourself, I'm old enough not to have to tolerate anyone's bullshit anymore? What was the most recent bullshit you didn't put up with? If I am in a group of people and someone refers to us as guys, including people IN the group, I correct them. To refer to women as GUYS makes us invisible. People say, "Oh it is just a saying. It doesn't mean anything." And I say if it doesn't mean anything why are you wasting your breath saying it? Call us folks or people or come up with something else. I will also lean into a conversation to tell someone how many times they just used the word "like." It makes them sound so stupid, the way that smoking cigarettes makes people look stupid.

Tulis McCall in "Are You Serious?"7. You also mention how as you age, you do things you may never have done before. What are some things you've done at this stage of your life, you never thought you would be doing? I never planned for the future, really. So whatever it is I am doing is usually a surprise tome. I follow my nose from one path to the next. I never thought I would be reviewing for the theatre (www.thefrontrowcenter.com). I never imagined I would produce a monologue evening once a month at the Cornelia Street Cafe (www.monologuesandmadness.com). I never thought I would be an award winning performer at United Solo Festival (2015 Best story telling script and 2016 Best Stand-Up Comedy). In 2001 I was living out in L.A. and after 9/11 I knew I had to move back. No one thought I could pull it off, move back, find a job and an apartment. Luckily I never asked anyone what they thought about it and only discovered their opinion after the fact.

8. There is a great scene where you talk about regret and the doubts that fill your head. We all have those voices. How do you keep those voices at bay instead of allowing them to flood your mind? Like I say in the show you have to get a little crazy - well craziER than the negative voices. And this is something you learn over time because eventually, if you are honest, you get bored with whining about all the bad shit that is affecting your First World Life. I am in no way Pollyanna and perky people, frankly, give me a PIA. Instead I have figured out a way to grab these voices and shake them till they are silly. You do have to give them some attention because they, like our president, are narcicistic and need attention. If you just ignore them they fester. There is a fine line between acknowledging them and giving them power - you have to strategize, get out ahead of them, just like Congress has to do as soon as it pulls it's collective head out of its own butt. The way that people are coming together to demand town hall meetings - that is what we have to do within us.

Tulis McCall9. When you become a woman of a certain age, you get to see all the gifts you've given yourself. What are the top five gifts you've given yourself? Appreciation for my fantastic sense of humor and my point of view. Quiet time and Meditation experiments. Two women's groups with whom I meet regularly. Hope. Writing.

10. What do you think is next for Tulis McCall? I am already thinking about the next incarnation for this show. It will be called All The Queen's Horses.

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? Oh yeah - my fitness. I have been carrying extra weight around for awhile and I KNOW it is a protective coating. So I am using one of my women's groups to be accountable using Weight Watchers which works for me because it is all about numbers. I was always terrific in math.

THANK YOU ADAM FOR THESE GREAT QUESTIONS.

Tulis McCall, Photo Credit: Flash RosenbergMore on Tulis:

Tulis McCall is an actor, writer, producer and performer. Her first one woman show, What Everywoman Knows, was produced at the Public Theater by Michael Moriarty and the Potters Field Theatre Company, in Los Angeles by Dan Lauria, and toured nationally. Running With Scissors, directed by Philip Proctor of The Firesign Theatre, was produced in Los Angeles. She is the recipient of the 2016 Best Standup Award from UNITED SOLO™ for Are You Serious? and the 2015 Best Storytelling Script Award from UNITED SOLO™ for her show All Aboard! Since 2007, she has hosted Monologues and Madness, an evening of original work read by 12-15 actors, each month at the Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village. Tulis is the creator and editor of the theatre review site www.thefrontrowcenter.com that features 20 writers and covers over 500 shows per year.

Sunday
Jan152017

Call Redialed: Martha Wash: It's Raining Men, RuPaul, + Fresh Grind Festival

Martha Wash, Photo Credit: Sean BlackI have been a fan of Martha Wash for a long, long time. From "It's Raining Men" to "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" to "Strike It Up" and my all time favorite "God Bless The Road." I was fortunate enough to interview Martha in 2010 at the "QSAC Got Talent" benefit gala (a non-profit organization providing comprehensive services to individuals with Autism and their families).

It's a real honor to have the opportunity to catch up with her now as she gets ready to show us her acting chops in the 10-minute staged reading of I Want to Eat Brains (or the Day I Killed All My Friends), as part of the Fresh Grind Festival, a festival of public staged readings at Theaterlab.

I Want to Eat Brains (or the Day I Killed My Friends) is a musical parody about a zombie apocalypse and will play at Theaterlab (357 West 36th Street between 8th and 9th Ave) on Friday, January 20 at 8pm. Click here for tickets!

For more on Martha be sure to visit http://www.marthawash.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter!

1. This January you are starring in a 10-minute staged musical reading of I Want to Eat Brains (or the Day I Killed All My Friends) as part of the Fresh Grind Festival. After all these years of being a singer, what made you want to turn to acting at this stage of your career? I’ve always been open to other avenues in this business. I’ve done theatre before, back in 2003 I did a production called Love On Layaway. I have auditioned for many Broadway shows over the years. I just completed a movie called Wholly Broken. It’s a faith-based movie musical that can be turned into a TV series.

2. What do you get from acting that you don't get from singing? More of a challenge for myself rather than anyone or anything else.

3. What made you want to be part of this particular musical? My manager James Washington sent it to me and I read the script and thought it was funny and said yes.

Martha Wash, Photo Credit: Gor Megaera4. I Want to Eat Brains (or the Day I Killed All My Friends) is a musical parody about a zombie apocalypse. What is the best part about living in a zombie world? Well as long as there are humans still alive, you have food!

5. What do you relate to most about your character? What is one aspect of your character that you say to yourself, "Girl, you keep that part of you to yourself, I'm glad I don't possess that trait."? Well the only trait is that she’s sultry, so I can play that! Lol. Her lover loves her so much (although he just shot her in the head) she’s able to turn him into a zombie.

6. Since the show is called I Want to Eat Brains (or the Day I Killed All My Friends), I have to ask, have you ever eaten brains? If so, what did it taste like? And has there ever been a day where you thought, what would I do if all my friends were killed and I was alone? No, I’ve never eaten brains. I haven’t thought about losing all my friends, but if I did, I would be very sad because I’d think of our pasts. Life and time goes on and I would hope to make some new ones.

7. Now we have to switch gears and talk about your music. You have been singing in the music industry for over 40 years and it has changed a lot. What has been the hardest thing to adapt to? What do you feel is better now than when you first started out? I won’t say hardest but social media is the biggest thing. The internet. You can hear music anywhere and anytime now. The best thing is you can listen to so many more artists that you would never hear on mainstream radio.

Martha Wash, Photo Credit: Gor Megaera8. You are well known for so many songs such as "It's Raining Men," "Everybody Dance Now," "Strike It Up," and dozens more!

  •  If the world could be "Raining Men," who would you want to be pouring down all around you? Idris Elba.
  • When you want to "Strike It Up," how does Martha Wash accomplish that? A club.
  • One of your more recent songs is "Something Good." What is something good that has happened to you in the past year or two? Expanding my record label "Purple Rose Records" to include Heritage Artists. "First Ladies of Disco" which include myself, Evelyn Champagne King & Linda Clifford. We recorded a single ("Show Some Love") which reach the Top 10 on the Billboard Dance Club Charts. Our follow up success was with "The Ritchie Family," who happen to be THE first girl disco group to chart on Billboard Dance Charts 40 years ago, making them literally the First Ladies Of Disco. Their new single "ICE" hit the top 40, and both songs can be found on ITunes and CDBaby.
  • On that same album you recorded a song called "Dream On." What are you dreaming of still doing that you haven't done yet? I’d still like to do a Gospel and a Christmas CD

9. One of my favorite songs of yours is "God Bless The Road." There was a time I made a survival mix, it was a mix of songs that helped me through rough times and "God Bless The Road" was at the top of that mix. The song is all about believing in yourself. This is a three part question.

  • What do you ask God to Bless the Road you are walking with these days? For strength to continue to walk in His light. To still love one another. Sometimes that is easier said than done.
  • What did you used to want him to bless you with? I would probably say material things. Now I can say, "Don’t have to have it."
  • What was going on in your life during the time you recorded that song that made you go, I need to record this song? Not a thing. I just believed that everyone could relate to this song if they really thought about it.

10. One of your biggest hits was "It's Raining Men," which we briefly talked about in question 7. In 1997, you re-recorded this song with RuPaul, which I love! What made you want to re-record this song with him? The head of the label suggested it would be a good idea. I thought yeah. Everyone knew who RuPaul was and the thought of us doing it together would be big fun, you know putting his spin on it!

11. What's next for Martha Wash? I’m still working on the new album. It will be out this year. Continue to build the record label and reintroduce artists that you haven’t heard from in awhile. Work on more acting. We are in pre-production for my new Youtube show called 10 Minutes with Martha Wash, which I am very excited about, and will debut this summer.

12. 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? Getting a better hold of my time and things that I need to do.

Martha Wash, Photo Credit: Sean BlackMore on Martha:

THERE IS ONLY ONE MARTHA WASH. Martha Wash’s unmistakable voice has been capturing the hearts of millions of people around the world for decades. The two-time Grammy nominee is responsible for some of the biggest-selling, most beloved pop and dance hits in music history, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the irresistible charm of her astonishing répertoire. Think of her legendary backup work as part of Two Tons Of Fun for Sylvester’s disco classics, such as "(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real." Remember how you celebrated the unrestrained joy of "It’s Raining Men," where she performed as one half of the Weather Girls. Recall the sizzling heat of her powerhouse rendition of "Gonna Make Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)," the highlight of C+C Music Factory’s career and a number one pop smash. Re-live that feeling of rapture you felt from her performance on the Dreamland album by Black Box, which featured three Top 40 Billboard hits, including "Everybody, Everybody." Is it any wonder today that Martha is considered the very heart and soul of dance music?

But make no mistake—Ms. Wash’s reputation isn’t just built upon the past. She has remained one of the world’s most in-demand vocalists and continues to command the attention of millions of fans, far beyond the confines of vintage dance music. After establishing herself as a celebrated solo artist with the release of "Carry On," another number one Billboard dance hit in the early ’90s, Martha released a string of hits that made her one of club land’s most enduring and prolific vocalists. The award-winning duet with Jocelyn Brown, "Keep On Jumpin’," and the glorious anthem "Catch The Light," paved the way for Martha to ignite the dance floors of a new generation.

Some of Ms. Wash’s most creative efforts have come to light in recent years. In 2012, she released her stunning and critically acclaimed LP, Something Good. This collection adventurously expanded the artist’s musical boundaries with unexpected journeys into pop and rock, such as her stellar rendition of Aerosmith’s 1973 gem "Dream On." Soon after she reached number two on the Billboard dance chart in a special remix of "I’m Not Coming Down" that set floors on fire. In 2015, she was back at the number one spot on the survey with "Free People," a riveting collaboration with famed DJ Tony Moran, bringing her Billboard number one count to a staggering 14.

Also in 2015, Martha teamed with dance icons Evelyn "Champagne" King and Linda Clifford under the moniker First Ladies of Disco (inspired by the book of the same name by James Arena). Their anthemic song of unity—the Top 10 Billboard dance hit "Show Some Love"—was a victory for heritage artists everywhere, thanks to the visionary efforts of Ms. Wash and James Washington, business manager and A&R executive of her independent recording label, Purple Rose Records, which released the project. The group First Ladies of Disco has been touring and selling out shows across the country ever since.

Martha Wash, Photo Credit: Sean BlackDue to this recent success Purple Rose records has started a Heritage Department and recently released its next project with the legendary group The Ritchie Family (Best Disco in Town and Brazil) and their new pop/dance single "ICE," www.theritchiefamily.band. As the owner of Purple Rose, Martha is actively promoting both her own excitingly progressive projects and the talents of vocalists who have shared her incredible journey over the years. She’s also launched a new show called Hot ’n Retro, in which she serves as a unifying focal point that melds the soundtrack of her astonishing history in dance music with those of her special guests—some of the greatest artists of the genre from decades’ past.

Martha Wash has a level of experience in the music business that few artists can claim. She knows a thing or two about the struggles performers endure. Ms. Wash has encountered more than any vocalist’s fair share of adversity, and is widely lauded as a model of perseverance.

Martha famously filed suit against Black Box and C+C Music Factory for failing to give her due credit for her lead vocals on their albums. This lawsuit ran in tandem with another case, which centered on the Milli Vanilli lip-syncing scandal of 1990. As a result of the lawsuits, record labels were forced to assign proper vocal credit for all albums and music videos. Wash had become an unwitting industry pioneer. Martha is an accomplished speaker about this and other aspects of her life and career, having lectured to audiences at a wide range of organizations and public events (including NYU Clive Davis School of Music, Billboard Music Conference and SAGE Center Harlem).

Martha Wash, Photo Credit: Mike RuizMartha also stays busy with her charity work as a spokesperson for QSAC, Inc., a non-profit organization providing comprehensive services to individuals with autism and their families. The You Can Play Project, a not-for-profit dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.

Martha Wash is a star. But she’s not about to trip on it. "You have to pay so much to be a 'star,' I don’t take the hype seriously." Unquestionably, hype can be a flash in the pan—Martha Wash is anything but. Her voice is one of the very few in contemporary music that has been taken seriously, endured and grown ever more rich in beautiful and unexpected ways, earning the respect and admiration of fans and peers worldwide. Hers is a voice that has been honed to perfection with songs that lift the spirit and inspire the soul.

And for Martha Wash, the best is yet to come.