Call Redialed: Cara Reichel: Prospect Theater Company + "One Thousand Nights and One Day"
I'm so excited to catch-up with Cara Reichel, Prospect Theater Company's Producing Artistic Director. It's been eight years since our last interview and so much has changed for the both of us.
Prospect Theater's latest production is Jason Grote (Book & Lyrics) & Marisa Michelson's (Music) One Thousand Nights and One Day, a new musical set in mythic Persia, where a daring young woman spins tales to save the kingdom and her life. In modern-day New York, a Jewish man and Palestinian woman fight to find love in a fractured world. This world premiere musical, adapted from Jason Grote's critically-acclaimed play 1001, reinvents "The Arabian Nights," colliding the contemporary and the ancient. Through a genre-bending score, it questions past and present images of the Middle East, exploring the power of story in our everyday lives.
One Thousand Nights and One Day will play ART/NY Mezzanine Theatre (502 West 53rd Street between 10th & 11th Avenues) April 4-29. Click here for tickets!
1. It's so great to catch-up with you Cara! Our last interview together was in 2010. What has changed for you the most over these past eight years? Hi, Adam! Thanks for asking! A lot has changed, but a lot has stayed the same. I'm still here running Prospect Theater Company Off-Broadway, passionately pursuing our mission to bring to life new musical theater by emerging artists. The company has continued to go and grow -- we have an ever evolving network of artists we serve. I love seeking out new voices and meeting new artistic collaborators. Personally, I left my part-time day job in 2013 to focus full time on managing Prospect as well as my own artistic and freelance projects. Just recently I had the chance to teach a university course at my alma mater, Princeton, and that was an exciting new challenge! I've also recently had the chance to do some international projects as a director/writer in France and Italy, which were wonderful experiences.
2. What has been the biggest growth for Prospect Theater Company? In November 2017 we launched a new Off-Broadway residency at 59E59 Theaters, which is providing the company a regular home for the next few years -- which is very exciting! In tandem with this move, we also grew into a new level of Equity contract. It's not easy to make that leap, but I'm proud that we're continuing to develop in our professional capacity and support our artists at a higher level than before. We also started a new works concert series at the Times Center in midtown in 2015, and that's been an ongoing addition to our programming. This upcoming year is Prospect's 20th, so we're in the process of putting together some exciting projects as we look ahead to that celebratory year.
3. What has been or continues to be your biggest challenge running a theatre company? The answer is always fundraising. As a non-profit, we rely on donations and grants to make ends meet. We've been grateful to have a wonderful and generous core of supporters that has grown with us over the years, but as we continue to build the company our budgets also grow. So, we have to constantly be working to also expand our network of support to meet these growing needs. I think, for me, the challenge is finding a balance between this producing work and the creative work which really is my first passion -- its the creative work which fuels my spirit. Soon, I hope Prospect will be able to expand our ongoing staff to have more help on the fundraising front as well!
4. This April, Prospect Theater will be showcasing Jason Grote & Marisa Michelson's new musical One Thousand Nights and One Day. What made Prospect Theater want to produce this show? I saw Jason's play, 1001, when it premiered Off-Broadway with P73 Productions back in 2007. It's one of those theater experiences that really stayed with me through the years; Jason's text challenges audiences to think deeply to interpret the piece and reflect on their own perspectives. Also, I am a great fan of Marisa Michelson's musical composition and cross-genre work in musical theater and choral arenas. Together, I think these two artists are making a truly innovative, thoughtful, and unusual musical that grapples with some really big and important questions. As a theater-goer, I want to be challenged to think and to feel, and this piece engages on both levels. Our mission at Prospect is to provide a place for artists to collaborate on this sort of compelling work -- and then to share the outcome with audiences, continuing the collaboration.
5. How do you feel this show will help understand some of the things going on in today's crazy world? I think that, much more than other musicals, this is going to be a performance where people come into the room with their own individualized set of life experiences that impact how they interpret and respond to the material. I think the show is intentionally asking viewers to examine their own view points. I think the more we can be made aware of our own "stories" -- the ones we believe, the ones we assume, the ones we tell and perpetuate -- the more we will be able to apply this awareness to today's world and all the messages we receive.
6. If you could have One Thousand Nights and One Day with someone, who would you want spend it with? What would you like to do with them? I'm very lucky to be married to my primary creative collaborator, Peter Mills. Recently we've been spending a lot of time working on projects with other people, but I'm hoping that soon we will be able to return to our long list of projects -- we have four or five different new shows we've started working on over the past few years, and it seems harder and harder to find the focused time to work on finishing one! However, it's our great hope that next season we will be premiering a new piece. So I'd like to use those one thousand nights and one day to move forward on these projects...and also to travel more. Pete and I love to explore new places -- it's very inspiring!
7. The show explores the power of story in our everyday lives. What is an everyday story about yourself you have not shared yet? As it relates to the show, I think this is really an observation about how there are so many aspects of our world which we take for granted or presume to be true, but in fact are constructed narratives that have been passed on to us. But an everyday story about myself? Well, I'm really spending more time taking the bus lately, and I love the new perspective on NYC and its neighborhoods that the bus has been giving me. Also, I've found its often more convenient and faster than the subway. So - here's to the bus!
8. This production also questions past and present images of the Middle East. What is something from your past that makes you question your present life? Most folks in my theatre world don't know that when I was a teenager, I wrote and illustrated a children's book. Every so often I think about turning my love of storytelling back to fiction (another very stable career choice!). I'm sure someday I'll return to prose as a medium, but for now all the creative projects remain theatrical.
9. Another plot of the show is in mythic Persia, a daring young woman spins tales to save the kingdom & her life. What is one tale you've spun to get you out of a situation? OK, I have a good answer for this one! When I was 11 years old, I really really really wanted to have a dog. I asked my parents for a puppy for Christmas and instead I got a book about dogs and how to care for them, and was told I first needed to pass a test on dog care before they would consider letting me have a dog. As it so happened, I knew my school friend who lived about a mile away had a dog that was about to have puppies. So, one day in early Spring, I arranged to visit my friend and told her family that my parents had agreed we could adopt two of the puppies. I walked home with them in a cardboard box, and told my father, a Lutheran minister, that I'd found the dogs abandoned by the side of the road, and that clearly God had meant for me to save and rescue these two puppies. I embellished: a 3rd puppy had already been hit by a car and I had to push the carcass off the road into the woods with a pair of sticks; dog food had been carelessly scattered about, crushed by the tires of passing cars. It worked! My dad was convinced, and we kept those adorable puppies, naming them John Newton and Amazing Grace ("Gracie" and "Newton") because they "once were lost but now were found." I came clean with a Christmas Eve car ride confession nine months later, but by that point the dogs were part of the family.
10. Part of One Thousand Nights and One Day is a Jewish man and Palestinian woman fight to find love in a fractured world. How do you think we can fix this fractured world we are currently living in? I wish I had a good answer to this one. I think we need to listen more, and find more and better ways to get past the superficial boxes we often confine each other in... Also, I think singing together helps. So - more music!
More on Cara:
Cara Reichel is a director and writer of new musicals, and the Artistic Director of NYC's acclaimed Prospect Theater Company (2016 OBIE Award grant). With composer/lyricist Peter Mills, she has created 12 shows, including ILLYRIA, THE UNDERCLASSMAN, DEATH FOR FIVE VOICES, and others. She has collaborated with numerous other artists on new works, both across the country and internationally. She has been honored to receive “New Directors/New Works” Grants from the Drama League, a prestigious Bogliasco Fellowship, and the “Lucille Lortel Award” from the League of Professional Theatre Women. Member: Stage Directors and Choreographer's Society.