FAIR GAME: Patrick Hickey Jr.

At GeekFest in Bay Ridge Brooklyn, just over six weeks ago, a tall imposing professor of literature with a young man’s presence stands in front of a computer screen as scores of avid fans sit in rapt attention.

“You think you know about video games … think again” the booming man-kid voice exclaims. What continued was a lecture of the fine art of the video game… from a scholarly viewpoint. From the history and evolution – which bore a striking resemblance to the evolution of the American comic book – to the intricacies of each game, its developers, and even producing organizations.

We bore witness to the inauguration of a new historian for the newest American art form. Patrick Hickey Jr. and his book For the Love of Games: Cult and Classic GameDevs Discuss Projects That Influenced And Entertained Millions” [working title].

The eloquent professor Hickey, with equal parts intelligence and research and equal parts genuine affection gave us a unique and – to this point – almost never-before seen look into the most iconic video game developers of every console generation. His book can easily bring generations together with familiar names like Atari to the widespread PlayStation 4. This book, which also features a forward by Video Game historian, Brett Weiss, is probably the first of its kind to delve so deeply into the foundations of the industry.

Iconic names such as Howard Scott Warshaw, David Crane, Michael Brook and Eric Holmes pervade the book along with ALL video games. This is a strong distinction as many books of this genre deal in the famous or the more commercial at least. Hickey, an obvious aficionado, hands you a full journey, allowing to learn about the past and maybe take the time to find some of the unknown games that existed.

Patrick Hickey Jr. has turned his hobby into a career and a journey. Over the past decade plus, this award-winning editor and writer has interviewed some of the biggest names in video games from Pitfall creator David Crane to the infamous Howard Scott Warshaw and Japanese sensation Yo-Kai Watch, Akihiro Hino. He’s also had his video game reviews featured in national ad campaigns from Electronic Arts, Disney and Nintendo. Scheduled for publication from McFarland Press in 2018, his love letter to retro and modern gaming has begun his book tour.

His next stop is an appearance at BoroughCon 2017.

St. John’s University will host BoroughCon, a new pop culture convention, over Memorial Day Weekend 2017, May 26-May 29. The event, which is expected to draw up to 20,000 attendees, will appeal to enthusiasts of heroic stories in film, television, gaming and graphic formats, as well as to those who enjoy anime and manga.

BoroughCon programming will include panels and autograph sessions with celebrities, gaming tournaments, screenings of both classic and as-yet unreleased films and TV shows, a vendors’ room and an artists’ alley. Professor hickey is slated for Friday, May 26 from 2:30 to 3;30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at https://boroughcon.com/

The Joys of Working Without-A-Net

The Improvisario (Conor Mullen) reviews Buried in Time [played “without a net”] 


Artistic New Directions (AND) Theatre Company are hardly the first group of theatre artists to ask the question “what if your actor had memorized all their lines and created a character, but didn’t know what the other actors in the scene were going to do or how they would react?” but they might be one of the first theatre groups to actually try and answer that question in any meaningful way with the new play “Buried in Time” performed “Without-A-Net”.

The premise of “Without-A-Net” is simple: five directors work with five different casts to put up five unique productions of this play. The set, lights, script, costumes, and props are all kept consistent across the five shows, but the blocking, acting, and casting is all completely unique to each group. When the show is performed one cast member from each show is used so the actors never know what to expect from each of the other people they are performing with.

First of all, this is cool. Anyone out there interested in exploring the nature of acting or studying the craft should already be sold on seeing this project as soon as possible. It’s truly a unique experience in New York and it has the capability, on premise alone, to provide insights on acting that few other types of performance can. The only other place in New York you could see something remotely like this would be at LINE at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre. That show has a large rotating ensemble cast and by virtue of situation can often achieve a similar result since the players rarely play with the same four others every night. But even compared to LINE, “Without-A-Net” is a truly unique premise for a production and worth looking into on that alone.

I’d like to share without a few of the assumptions I made about this show before going to see it. I assumed this was going to be a fairly hokey and silly show. I’m typically sent to review improv-heavy material and I had a strong suspicion this would be a lot like that. The audience laughing as actors struggled to match dialogue to blocking or different performers tripping over each other. I thought that would be the real show to watch. What I got when I saw the show was something very different.

If you’re coming to see “Buried in Time” to watch actors struggle to work together on stage, you’re going to be disappointed. I think those people who opt to see this show one time and then go on with their life will walk away having seen a decent, if a little run-of-the-mill, play. However, if you see the show a few times (which Artistic New Directions and I both recommend) you’re in for a wonderful experience.

I saw “Buried in Time” twice. Each time with the same light, the same set, the same costumes, the same entrances and exist and words. The only thing that changed was the cast… and I’m amazed how different the two shows were. I found myself sympathizing with different characters and watching different relationships develop the second time I saw the show, and it was amazing. I mean, we all know that who you cast in a show and what they do has an impact on the story you tell, but for the first time in my life I was watching that theory proven true before my eyes. In a world where high tech broadway sets take center stage (ha) and between dancing, singing, and circus tricks, acting seems to be the last thing on everyone’s mind. But this show instead decides to take the time to be a celebration of acting and the power actors have to shape the show they are in. For the part of me that is an actor that’s an empowering experience.

Before I wrap up this review it would be a disservice to not speak a few words about the play itself: “Buried in Time” by Kristine Niven. The play focuses on a small town funeral that brings NYC journalist and cable news star Cherlotte (Jennifer Laine Williams, Mary Monahan, and others) home to visit her brother, Rusty (Alexander Guiney, Josh Marcantel, and others) for the service at a funeral parlor run by her old flame, Zach (David Perez-Ribada, Ian Campbell Dunn, and others). Things are made more complicated when they’re joined by the aging Bernie (Charlotte Hampden, Lucy McMichael, and others) as well as the wanna-be journalist, Cassidy (Rachel Halper, Gina LeMoine, and others).

The play is a perfect fit for the “Without-A-Net” project. On it’s own it might be tough to recommend (it’s not a bad play by any stretch, but it doesn’t do much to draw attention to itself). The script leaves plenty of room for actors to make their own choices and interpret lines the way they want without throwing the play completely out of whack. The characters are all well written and nobody comes across as a stereotype or completely unlikeable. It wasn’t a show I minded watching twice in a single night either, and that’s pretty impressive.

All in all this is a show not to be missed. If you’re an actor looking to be reminded that what you do really makes a difference or just somebody looking to see a well written play with some variable acting thrown in, I think this is an excellent piece of work and I hope Artistic New Directions brings it back again sooner rather than later.



Reviewed by Robert Liebowitz

Finally, finally, finally, there is some hope for the American Theater for the 21st Century, and his name is Mohammed Saad-Ali. Mr Ali is, and will be, a playwright, a force to be reckoned with.
18157460_10154532169008873_4340554109602549724_nHis beautiful new play, “A Lonely Night in Coney Island”, has bite, wit, charm, real drama, and speaks to the issues of our time. In other words, it is must-see theater.
Presented as a staged reading for the ‘Spotlight-On’ Festival in the East Village, deftly directed by Jay Michaels, the play follows Omar Amari (well performed by Thamer Jendoubi) and his two wanna-be, semi-hoodlum friends, who are apparently killing another night smothered in boredom on the Boardwalk in Coney Island. Apparently…but Omar has some business he needs to attend to. Without giving away the plot, naturally, an easy night of teasing, reverie, and getting high gets a little complicated, and the trio get more than they bargained for, by far.
The play swiftly moves forward, the dialogue is cutting and triple-sharp, its street cred neatly tucked away in the playwright’s pocket (“You wanna blaze with those guys?”), rolling off his laptop with relative ease. As opposed to most new works, all of the dialogue happens in the here and now, right in front of you, in the actual moment you are witnessing it. This is, after all, the point, and what it’s all about, and it is refreshing to bear witness to a theatrical work that grabs you from jump street and doesn’t let go until the curtain.
Tip of the hat to the lead cast: the aforementioned Mr. Jendoubi lead the team with immense power, vacillating seamlessly between street punk and world-weary sage; Conor Mullen found the perfect blend of courage, discomfort, and pathos as the white boy wanting to be a thug; and Hector Canales giving us humor and counterpoint with ease. Backing them up were a group of artists worthy of our attention: Jim Kempner was joyous as a homeless kibbitzer; Mario Claudio and Mr. Ali himself as two actual thugs heaped in anger and regret, both playing with startling authenticity; Maritza Renae, as an abused girlfriend, was heart-wrenching when she inquired if she was still attractive even after the beating she received at her boyfriend’s hand; Thaissa Yumi and seasoned character actor, Ken Coughlin, as the good cop and the bad. Ms Yumi’s sharp tone and piercing stare made her a fine good cop but it was Coughlin’s growl and menacing authority that completed the picture as the really bad cop. Karina Tauber Gorodkin lent gravitas to the situation as a serious narrator.  The starkly wondrous photos that accompanied each scene, which added an unexpected flavor of magic to an already magical evening.
We look forward to an actual production of this timely play, and more from the keyboard of Mr. Ali, an astute observer of our times, with plays that speak to everyone.

They Have Landed!

Reviewed by Improv Specialist, Conor Mullen

You Should Be Coming To This!

A one-act musical written, composed, directed, and starring a group of excited recent graduates (or current college students) at The People’s Improv Theatre (best known for their improv, sketch, and stand up) is the definition of a Hit or Miss show. There’s no way this show is gonna be only “okay”. It’s either going to have me laughing and cheering or mentally identifying all possible exits so I can get out (and to the bar) as soon as possible.

Fortunately this is not all random hyperbole, this is relevant information to this review. Aliens Coming is A one-act musical written, composed, directed, and starring a group of excited recent graduates  at The People’s Improv Theatre. It’s a story about art school kids being visited by aliens with some not-so-romantic reproductive plans for the human race. Along the way there will be songs, alien/human romance, and a plot to take over earth via the internet, one view at a time. So, is this sci-rom-fi-com an instant hit, or does it miss the mark completely?

I’ll say right now this might not be a play for everyone. If you’re the kind of person who can’t stand a set where you can see the seams of the flats then you might not like this show, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t factor how much fun the performers are having into the show then you might not like this show, and if you’re the kind of person who rolls their eyes when people talk about the cultural impact of you tube you might not like this show. Fortunately I’m not any of those people! I loved this show!

Joe Kelly (writer) definitely has talent. I won’t dive too deeply into the plot but his little story about leaving high school to become an artist resonates well and the juxtaposition between that plot and the one about aliens invading earth fits together very nicely. You can tell he has a sense of fun in his work here, and Rachel Deutsch (director) does a marvelous job bringing that out in the production. The way she uses the entire space has a sense of joy about it. It comes across not like “I guess we’ll do it this way” but moe like “oh wouldn’t it be fun if…” The same is true of the dancing and Christine Ferry (choreographer) creates some hilarious sequences and really captures the mood of each song.

This sense of fun extends to the acting too. Everyone is walking this fine line between “over the top” and “this is just how people are in high school” that is played for laughs throughout. It’s very well acted and everyone from the leads to the chorus gives it their all. Special mention must be made of the acting of Maia Scalia as Brandi Boudoir who really nails the sorority hopeful turned internet sensation in all her various forms as well as Andrew Ricci as Smib for his excellent and subtle physical comedy. But make no mistake, there’s no weak link in these eight actors. and everyone (even the four person chorus of art kids) brings it.

If you haven’t figured it out, I loved Aliens Coming. I think you will too. You certainly have to know what you’re in for. This is a funny show with a great premise created by a group of people looking to have a good time in front of you for an hour. If that sounds like fun to you, then like the aliens, this show might also get you to come!

“Divine” had some good “who” but needed more “dunit”

Review by Robert I. Gottlieb

My viewing of Kenthedo Robinson’s The Divine Assignment was sandwiched between my binging of the second and third episodes of HBO’s Big Little Lies. The show – aside from being a multi-million dollar, several-movie-star-headlined, extravaganza – was captivating insofar as it does not give away who was killed until very late in the game. It’s a thriller insofar as we don’t know what the crime will be until the very end, but it’s a mystery because we know there was a crime from the jump. This got me thinking, very much, about the nature of mysteries, and thrillers, and what makes a good crime story in general.

So, okay, I did not like Mr. Robinson’s play. By-and large this is because it needed more practice. Several lines were tripped over throughout the course of the evening and the character dynamics – the changing emotional states of the Allman family and their friends – were awkward. For example, the scene where Bey Allman learns that her son has been killed includes Mrs. Allman, mid-hysteria, remembering to remind her guests to lock the door on their way out. Additionally, Mrs. Allman’s relationship with the detective in charge of her son’s case, the pigmentally named Detective White, moves from extremes without cause. Why is she willing to do anything for the Detective’s help one moment and then unwilling to answer any of his helpful questions the next?  This might be interpreted as the machinations of grief but I just felt confused by who the characters were. I was lost midway through the plot.

That’s not to say that the core is rotten. Mr. Robinson’s play should be celebrated insofar as it pays loving tribute to the mystery genre. The final, Scooby-doo-esque reveal brought a smile to my face for just that reason – it’s a simple moment in a simple play. The acting also has its highlights. Laurie Avant’s grace and presence saves the character of Bey Allman from becoming entirely flat. Segrick Furbert plays the innocent Stephon Thompson with the perfect amount of delicacy. With some refinement, the play could be wonderful.

This brings me back to Big Little Lies. The character work in that show is so good it serves as an exemplar to the mystery/thriller genre. By neglecting to reveal the nature of the crime until the last episode, the audience is forced to look at the people involved in it more closely. We invest in the characters before we know exactly what happened to them. That way we feel their loss. Divine Assignment lacks that foundation, and so I found myself indifferent to the plight of the Allman’s. If no one care’s who’s done it is it still a mystery?



Conor D. Mullen reviews the Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble

I always get excited when I see kids at an improv show, because for kids, improv is a magical feat. Human beings creating entire stories out of thin air without plans or safety nets where anything can happen is an act of daring unlike any other. Adults… well we’re dead inside and the magic often dries up a bit after one too many cringe-worthy bar basement improv shows, but kids aren’t allowed in bars, so they don’t know yet!

So you can imagine my excitement when I walked into The Sense-ations! created by IRTE (The Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble) and found the first three rows of the theatre at The Producer’s Club packed with excited talkative young kids. That’s when I knew this was going to be a very exciting–and very different–kind of improv show.
L-R Jamie Maloney, Evie Aronson, Tara Sargente, Mike Hauschild, Curt Dixon, Bill Berg, Brianna LeeAlthough The Sense-ations! is an improvised show some things are consistent throughout the performances. The story always follows a pop-group / superhero team called The Sense-ations who are attacked by a supervillain or supervillains. The Sense-ations have to work together to overcome the villain and keep making their rockin’ music. Exactly what form the supervillain and their scheme takes as well as what happens to our heros and how they win the day is different every night.
If you see The Sense-ations! you’re in for a wild night. The back of the stage is made up of tables that are piled high with props of every kind you could need. Wigs and capes and ties and horns and goggles and tarps and tons of silly-string (I believe that theatre trope is referred to as Chekhov’s Silly-String). And although the cast was far from using every prop it looked like there was a prop for every situation and I always laughed at the clever devices they came up with (special shout out to the cherry red tie that “taste” was using as a super powered tongue, by far my favorite).
L-R Bill Berg, Mike Hauschild, Brianna Lee, Evie Aronson, Tara Sargente, Nannette Deasy, Curt Dixon, Jamie MaloneyImprov in general lives and dies by the talent of their improvisors though. So, how do The Sense-ations! stack up in this regard? You’ll be pleased to hear very well. The whole ensemble does a great job sharing the space and accepting each other’s ideas. I never felt one person was controlling or manipulating the whole show. It’s little things like this that take a good improv show and make it great seeing the actors switch back and forth between two simultaneous scenes or watching the whole group use object work to silently build a scene on stage. Your individual mileage may vary (it is improv after all) but I am very confident you’re in for a good time with The Sense-ations!
In the tradition of variety shows like Saturday Night Live the show also features a section with a  special musical guest. The night I saw the show featured Eli Bridges, but the run also includes performances from ReW STaRR, Craig Greenberg, and Carla Ulbrich as well. This was one of my favorite parts of the whole night (surprisingly) but only because watching 30 5th graders wave their cell phones over their head to a folk singer in a small theatre is a truly unforgettable experience.
L-R Mike Hauschild, Brianna Lee, Bill Berg, Tara Sargente, Jamie Maloney, Nannette DeasyAll in all The Sense-ations! is a wonderful night of theatre, comedy, and improv. Hats off to The Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble as well as the wonderful cast for creating something I loved. It isn’t the next great drama, but it doesn’t claim to be, what it claims to be is silly and fun. And if that’s what you need in your life, you couldn’t do much better than this.
IRTE continues with a send up of B Movie Sci-Fi in THE EXPERIMENT at the Producers Club. http://www.irteinfo.com/schedule
Conor Mullen is artistic director of the Shakespeare-based improv troupe, AS YOU WILL, currently performing at The P.I.T. in NYC. 

SPOTLIGHT ON … A Pair of Playwrights who posit positions on performing.

The Founder of the New York Theater Festival returns with RISE OF THE PHOENIX: The 2017 Spotlight-On Festival, running April 17 – 30 at The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, NYC. Frank Calo, founder of Spotlight-On Festivals, the first organized theater festival in New York City, pre-dating the New York Fringe Festival by one year, was a leader in presenting new and exciting works, rarely seen plays, and even classical presentations during the late 1990s and early part of the 21st Century. Its high production values and locations in areas such as Times Square made Spotlight-On a popular facet in the NY theater scene. Spotlight-On returns with a series of works from some of its prominent alumni. RISE OF THE PHOENIX features works from previous participants who have gone on to great things and who are thrilled to return to where it all began.

We spoke with a few [more] of the playwrights and producers (and members of their casts) about their inspirations and why Independent Theater is so valuable to them … and to us:

Warren Paul Glover, all the way from Australia, shares his views on NY Theater. His works have gained notoriety of late at the Midtown International Theater Festival and now at the venerable SPOTLIGHT-ON. ELLEN and TROY and ELOISE will be revived during the festival. Look for details at SpotlightOn.org




What inspires you as an artist?

I don’t know really. I’ve lived a full and interesting life and, if I don’t necessarily write about myself or my experiences, I bring my own perspective to bear on what I write. But what inspires my stories? It could be anything! A snatch of a conversation, just one line of dialogue overheard in a pub or a cafe or a carpark, can inspire a whole play. A photograph. A news report. Something that’s happened to me or someone else. There’s no end to where I mine the inspiration for my material. I tend to write dark comedy, but I’ve also written drama, thrillers, psychological mystery and historical fiction. I just tag along wherever my flights of fancy take me!

Why independent theatre?

As an artist you want your work to be seen (I do, at least). So whether that’s my fiction, poetry or playwriting, I’m always seeking an audience for it. In theatre, there just aren’t enough venues for all the productions, so as much as I would like my plays to be staged in front of 1,000 people sitting in a plush auditorium, that ain’t gonna happen (anytime soon anyway). And that’s the beauty of independent theatre. You can still find an audience – much smaller than you’d ideally like, admittedly – for your work, and it can be as good as or better than a big production you’d pay over a hundred dollars to go and see. Independent theatre is where you cut your teeth, learn your craft, gain from the wisdom and generosity of other creative minds and souls, and where you can realise your ambition of presenting your work to an audience. And you get to meet some fantastic people and make magic. What could be better than that?


Adding his clever 2 cents is longtime New York playwright and all-around theater-guy is Duncan Pflaster. A true journeyman, Pflaster is a fixture in the New York independent art scene. He and distingusihed director, Aliza Shane, present “A Touch of Cinema,” a play that blurs the line sbetween stage and screen and reality and fantasy. 

Look for details at SpotlightOn.org

What inspires you as an artist?

I stopped acting and became a playwright years ago because the theater I wanted to be in didn’t exist, and I felt it was up to me, with my unique life experience, to create the art I wanted to see.

Why Independent Theater?

Having trained as an actor for years, and having been in and of the theater since I was a kid, that always seemed the best and most vital expression for my work. I’ve dabbled a bit in screenplays, prose, music, and visual art, but I keep coming back to being a playwright; it’s the most comfortable for me.


Spotlight On … A.J. Ciccotelli and his “Bad Boys.”

The Founder of the New York Theater Festival returns with RISE OF THE PHOENIX: The 2017 Spotlight-On Festival, running April 17 – 30 at The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, NYC. Frank Calo, founder of Spotlight-On Festivals, the first organized theater festival in New York City, pre-dating the New York Fringe Festival by one year, was a leader in presenting new and exciting works, rarely seen plays, and even classical presentations during the late 1990s and early part of the 21st Century. Its high production values and locations in areas such as Times Square made Spotlight-On a popular facet in the NY theater scene. Spotlight-On returns with a series of works from some of its prominent alumni. RISE OF THE PHOENIX features works from previous participants who have gone on to great things and who are thrilled to return to where it all began.

We spoke with a few of the playwrights and producers (and members of their casts) about their inspirations and why Independent Theater is so valuable to them … and to us:
A.J. Ciccotelli, Playwright & Director, of BAD BOYS (two one-acts): 
JOHNNY & PAULA IN A TREE is a hilarious comedy that asks the question can a person really change?  In this love story, NYC style, Johnny has to put his ‘bad boy ways’ aside for the woman he loves Paula, but will he be able to? TWISTER is a dark and edgy drama about a bar owner who is visited by a young woman who has known him in College, he is forced to confront his actions from his past while a huge twister bellows outside the window.
What inspires you?
I’m constantly inspired by humanity and many times humanity in peril.  Put characters in a situation where they are actively seduced into but soon realize they are in danger and you have some exciting theater.  My characters are often described as non-conformists living on the outside of a marginalized society that they desire to be included.  They struggle to get in with everyone but find they don’t fit in.  Then comes the time that they either surrender or die under those circumstances and it’s often unclear which end is worse.   Often times I will hear a conversation or a story and out of the blue a story appears.  In the case of Johnny & Paula it is inspired by the people of my home town, my love letter to Queens, NY — the lovers who do what ever it takes to get in their own way of happiness.  They stumble, fall, laugh, cry in an attempt to avoid the things most sacred to them — really connection which is the scariest thing they know.  Twister is based on a story I heard about when I was in my twenties about a revenge plot between two friends where sex was used as the greatest power tool between them. There was something so sad, wicked, sexy and explosive about these two forces — one so secure in themselves and one bent on destroying the others notions of who they are.  That story inspired me to create the metaphor of the twister outside the windows of Old Charlie’s and the twister happening inside.

Why Independent Theatre?
Nothing is more immediate that Independent theater that is raw, uncensored and alive.  I have directed under many different circumstances but it’s my ‘gorilla’ beginnings that seem most authentic, powerful and real.   I apply these ideologies to bigger budget productions I have directed.  It is the immediate connection to the audience is ideal and the stories that reach them are optimal.  Nothing in the universe like it.  A big budget extravaganza can not replace connection and stories that reach.

We were lucky enough to grab him with hjis cast there to weigh-in:

Doug Bollinger (Rock)
What inspires you?
I worked on a documentary about Cerebral Palsy and one of the subjects is a comedian (Josh Blue). I asked him if he realized how “inspiring” he was. He shared a story that sums it up for me: “A guy walked up to him after a show and told him that he was so inspired by his show. This gentleman then told Josh that he always wanted to be a painter. He asked Josh if he had any advice. Josh looked him in the eye and said: “you want to be a painter? Go buy a freaking paint brush!” The point of this tale to me is we can do anything we want if we can first decide what it is that we want. I want to tell stories and I am inspired every day by everything around me to tell those stories. In this story, I can identify with the “former” athlete holding on to the glory days and I am privileged to be a part of this amazing team.

Why Independent Theater?
Independent anything turns me on. I love the idea of bringing new work to an audience. One of the reasons I will continue to work with AJ is his commitment to original pieces. I am committed to working in independent film and theater because of its vitality, energy and spirit. Cashing in would be nice someday but as long as the bills are paid, I’ll be on the indie train as long as anyone will come check out the work.

Kevin Gabel (Uncle Mario)
What inspires me?
Theater inspires me. The art of sculpting yourself into a character that you can portray. I am always looking forward to playing different parts and getting the truth out of the character. In johhnny and paula I was inspired to embark upon a new venture of playing a priest. It is an intriguing role which I have never played before. There is a lot of great research I can do for this role. I am looking forward to play the role and love the challenge.

Why Independent theater?
In independent theater I get the chance to work together with many talented individuals. It’s an artistic support system and a great way to network for different projects as well.

Alexandria Pascucci
What inspires you?
I am constantly inspired by different types of art, whether it be film, theatre, music, or photography. A small piece of a film, a song lyric, or a simple photograph can inspire me to begin creating. I am also inspired by aspects of every day life. It can be the beauty of nature or the actions of a person. As a screenwriter, I draw a lot of my inspiration from the struggles in life and what it takes to overcome them. I often use themes of psychology as well as mental and spiritual awakenings in my scripts. I find art in almost everything and I often utilize what I find in order to create something of my own.

Why independent theater?
I love engaging in independent theatre because it allows us actors to gain a closer connection to the audience. To me, there is nothing like telling a live story and having the audience feel a connection to those characters and the story. I do it simply for the love of acting, storytelling, and the magical feeling it brings to all involved. I believe everyone should have access to theatre and be able to experience it.

Ankit Sharma (Johnny Catini)
What inspires you?
The world: as a whole, everything in it inspires me. From watching the sun rise, to watching the waves crash, to admiring the architectural beauty of a place like New York. Music. There is inspiration everywhere. From animals, to birds to people. Especially people. Watching people go through, pain, sorrow, happiness, anxiety, all those emotions that makes us humans inspires me. And it’s the challenge of taking a character from a piece of paper, and with the help of some truly exceptional and talented people like the director and co-actors and the writer, bring that character to life. Make it real. That’s what inspires me.

Why Independent Theatre?
Mostly because of its intimacy, its raw and the stories told on an independent stage have a newness to them. They are mostly personal, and there isn’t a blue print that you have to follow. That’s what attracts me to the independent stage as an actor, I get to play real characters. It’s not over produced, and I have always been a fan on minimalist theatre. It’s gives me the opportunity to use my craft as an actor to portray the emotions that the character is going through without the help of a light show or sound and music. It’s what made me fall in love with acting, and I’ll always keep going back to it.

W Allen Wrede (Jake)
What inspires you?
Even though I write and act in funny pieces, I am inspired by anger.  If I can take something that I am mad about (including myself) and transform some of those elements into something funny, I think I may end with something each audience member can relate to.  The humor gives us distance, so we can look at stuff without panicking; the anger gives us a reason to look at stuff to begin with

Why independent theater?
The audiences:  I am right there in front of the audience with no hiding.  The audience’s reactions are in my face raw and unmodified – there is no quibbling about anything.  My writing works or it doesn’t.  Also, independent theater means I can travel light.  My pieces can work in any space and with any company.

bad-boys2-2-copy CLICK HERE for tickets

Spotlight On … Matthew Widman

The Founder of the New York Theater Festival returns with RISE OF THE PHOENIX: The 2017 Spotlight-On Festival, running April 17 – 30 at The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, NYC. Frank Calo, founder of Spotlight-On Festivals, the first organized theater festival in New York City, pre-dating the New York Fringe Festival by one year, was a leader in presenting new and exciting works, rarely seen plays, and even classical presentations during the late 1990s and early part of the 21st Century. Its high production values and locations in areas such as Times Square made Spotlight-On a popular facet in the NY theater scene. Spotlight-On returns with a series of works from some of its prominent alumni. RISE OF THE PHOENIX features works from previous participants who have gone on to great things and who are thrilled to return to where it all began.

We spoke with a few of the playwrights and producers about their inspirations and why Independent Theater is so valuable to them … and to us:

Stop and Frisk Matthew Widman - Playwright - PlaywrightMatthew Widman is a New York playwright and screenwriter.  Matt’s award winning plays have been produced at theaters and festivals throughout the country.  His bittersweet drama, In the Garden, about a family coping with Alzheimer’s disease, is part of the national MemoryCare Plays project (memorycareplays.org) and is published in the IPPY award winning The MemoryCare Plays anthology (Amazon.com). 

Stop and Frisk, part of a stage and screen night called American Stories/Forgotten Voices  at the Spotlight On Festival 2017 

What inspires you as an artist?

What inspires me?  People.  Events.  Culture.  Our history and mythology.  Putting it all together to try to tell stories that both entertain and engage with the world.   When I set up characters in dramatic situations I have to ask myself a million questions.  Why is this character acting the way that they do?  What motivates them?  What is their psychology?  Their moral code?  Their philosophy?  It forces me to explore human nature in a way that often results in something surprising – I learn something that I hadn’t thought much about or I’m forced to confront a perspective that changes the way I think.  That’s the inspiring part of the process.  And it’s something I want to share with the audience.  To have them wrestle with it too.  Humans are incredibly complex and interesting and unpredictable.  It’s all there.  The good, the bad, the beautiful – and the ugly.   And as artists, we get to tell stories about it.

Why Independent Theater?

The independent theater is a really unique cultural space.  Audiences come wanting to be entertained and challenged – and artists have the freedom to go places and take chances.  It’s the theatrical mad science lab where lots of things are tried, lot’s of different voices are heard, and lot’s of stories are told that wouldn’t be told anywhere else.  At its most basic, it’s just a dark space with an audience, actors and a “stage.”  But add in that uniquely human live element, different every night, and often something exciting – and occasionally even extraordinary – can happen.

We then met with members of his cast and got their thoughts on our pair of queries:

Stop and Frisk - Cast Photo - 2017 Spotlight On Festival

Lenny Thomas – Actor/Stop and Frisk Cast Member

What inspires you as an artist?
What inspires me as an artist are the extraordinary efforts made by ordinary people. I truly believe there is no such thing as impossible. It’s more like “we haven’t figured it out, yet.” Humans are capable of incredible things, and I feel like it’s our job as artists to live in a way that calls attention to that potential we all possess. Actors are fortunate enough to play in front of dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people in a heightened sense with tactical, purposeful action. The opportunity to reach someone’s heart or mind in that space is exhilarating – and what can come of that is like food for the spirit.
Why Independent Theater?

Independent theatre is like a communal garden. It’s where people come together, plant seeds (ideas) and tend the soil with the hopes to produce flowers and produce to share with the community. I believe everyone deserves exposure to the arts, but not everyone can afford the “Great White Way.” With independent theatre we can bring theatre to the people, which is crucial to the longevity of the arts.

Pharaoh King Champion Actor/Stop and Frisk Cast Member

What inspires you as an artist?

My name is Pharaoh King Champion. I love art. Acting is a living breathing art form that allows you to reach so many people. It allows you to tell your story and the story of so many others. I believe it can be used as a tool to teach and empower. I believe in using this power to impact social justice and social change. I am a former US Army Military Police Officer and I plan to start CUNY Law School in the fall so justice means a great deal to me. Along with this wonderful project Stop and Frisk, I am working on two other personal projects. My play 1 American N America covers the real life stories of Americans from different cities in the country ranging from the age of 5 to 36 and the extreme racial incidents that impacted their lives. My second project is a documentary of a young black man in his 30’s who was wrongfully convicted of crime he did not commit and denied his constitutional right to a trial, as he struggles to become free from his felony conviction through education. He currently has a masters degree and CUNY is providing him the means to go to CUNY Law School where he can continue to fight for justice for himself and others. I believe this documentary will help him get a pardon – and possibly over turn his conviction. I call this doc

Pardon Johnny.Why Independent Theater?Independent theater helps individuals like myself, who don’t have commercial backing, bring important projects to life. It allows artist the chance and break from formulaic genres. With independent theater you can explore and test boundaries. You have room for growth and creation. It is a beautiful place to build up concepts and ideas into finely tuned


Stop and Frisk - Promo Art - American Voices - Spotlight On 2017




Kenthedo is “Divine:” New Spiritual Piece has hopes of Television

kenthedoTeacher & Playwright, Kenthedo Robinson, has taught English and Theater in the New York School system for twenty five years. He taught creative writing at the College of New Rochelle and Empire State College.  Concurrently, he has directed, produced, acted, and especially wrote for the theater. His latest added a healthy dose of spirituality into a murder mystery plot. 

Bey & Charles’ son is found dead at the door of their church… only the Lord knows why… for now. Join us as we solve the murder mystery by Kenthedo Robinson, The Divine Assignment.

Performances play The John Cullum Theatre of the American Theatre of Actors, 314 W. 54th Street, NYC on Thurs. April 6 & 13 @ 7pm; Fri. April 7 & 14 @ 8pm; Sat. April 8 & 15 @ 2pm & 8pm; Sun. April 9 & 16 @ 3pm & 7pm. Tickets available on Brownpapertickets.com.


He is founder of The Crystal Image Performing Arts Company, winner of four Dalrymple Awards (the first award given to Off-Off Broadway), presenter of this drama. His cast includes Laurie Avant & Phillip Iweriebor as the Allmans; Stefon Thompson as Sedgrick Furbert, Ms. D as Reverend Virginia Tate, and Timothy Walsh as Detective White. As if he’s not busy enough, Kenthedo is also one of the production designers.

Before his opening in a couple of weeks, we asked Mr. Robinson so enter our confessional.

Tell us about the play. Why did you write it? … and what does the title mean? 

I wrote the play by asking a couple of compelling questions:

  1. What would have happened if Mary and Joseph had gone to the manager and baby Jesus was not there?
  2. What would my mother do if someone took my life?

Would she pursue justice or be complacent?  Would the family fall apart or become stronger?  Would she forgive the person responsible even if the person was a member of the family or neighbor?

The title is inspired from the one law that Jesus left for us that he thought was most important: to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Now, I took that divine law and laid it into the hands of a mother who discovers that someone very close to her family has murdered her son.  What would she do?  Would she still follow the law?  Would she forgive him-love him as if he was one of family members, even possibly as if he was her son?

The play obviously has spiritual undertones. Is that something important to you in life? 

Yes, the play has a spiritual overtone.  I don’t know anybody who is honest, who doesn’t need someone or something that is bigger than them to navigate throughout this life.

However, I have blended a perfect world of the secular and sacred – a blend that surrounds us that we often are not aware of.  This becomes a perfect backdrop for the mental state of the main character (Bey) as she tries to balance the scales of her secular and spiritual world after the death of her young son.

You have a history with the American Theater of Actors. How is it to work there.

My history with the American Theatre of Actors goes back to when I first landed in New York from the heartland (Kansas City) in 1980.  While working at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, I was introduced to Jim Jennings, owner of ATA.  He produced my play, Nicky the Unknown Man, about a boxing coach suffering from brain concussions, whose desire was to develop a boxing champ from the disparaged youth in his community.

What inspires you as an artist? 

What inspires me is the many opportunities to take an issue (theme or conflict)  or person (character) in life that can be magnified to be an inspiration or light or to help navigate through life.

What’s next for you and for The Divine Assignment. 

My ultimate goals are to receive glowing reviews, to have the play published and more so, to inspire people and artists from all aspects of the arts. I am planning to create a TV series from the play.  I think this is a great vehicle for TV with each character being common but also intriguing in nature one the backdrop of a rural town.