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




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

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 ( and is published in the IPPY award winning The MemoryCare Plays anthology ( 

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


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.



We asked the Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble: What’s funny and how do you BE funny.


STARTING TOMORROW, the multi-award winning improv troupe brings us back to our childhood with their season opener, THE SENSE-ATIONS!.
A cross between your favorite Saturday morning cartoon and your favorite Marvel superhero, the Sense-ations fight evil and break hearts, while saving the world from giant robots or death-ray attacks. In the tradition of Saturday Night Live, IRTE features special musical guests. Parental discretion is advised as Improv can be -well- spontaneous. 

March 17, 18, 24 & 25 @ 8:00pm
The Producers Club, 358 West 44th Street, NYC 

Baumgardner_Robert_vert_webRobert Baumgardner (IRTE Main Ensemble)

What’s funny? Lot’s of things are funny, and lots of people are funny in different ways. Even when you focus on just the craft of improv, this sentence is true. Some people are funny because they’re very good at word play. They see surprising connections in the moment. Others hold your attention, and make you laugh with their physicality alone, whether it’s a made up dialect, or a funny way of doing something.

How do you be funny? How do I be funny? It’s hard for me to pin point. Years of acting and performing have shown me that I can do a dead pan response with pretty good results. I’ve also gotten laughs by playing the hyper-anxious scaredy cat. Partly, it depends on the role whether one type of approach works better than another. I just have to experiment and experiment to find the funny. Lots of experiments don’t work, but when one does, it’s like finding fire in the wilderness. With improv, it’s all experimentation, and if you’re doing it right, you have no idea whether it’s going to be funny until you try it. I think that’s part of the appeal of improv, and acting. You’re walking through an unexplored wilderness, and when you find that fire, it’s an achievement like no other.


Bill BergBill Berg (IRTE Main Ensemble)

I have no f-ing idea! I pretty much just copy what other people are doing that seems to get a laugh. No, really, funny and how to do it is not very easy to define (at least not for me). I think, for one thing, what’s funny comes out of what’s unexpected, but it also has to come from the truth. What usually makes me laugh the most is something that both surprises me and rings deeply true. For instance, in a scene or a story, I may be following the action or the storyline down a particular path, thinking that it’s going somewhere familiar, and then – BAM! – it’ll suddenly take an unexpected turn and reveal something very honest that resonates as true for me. Then I’ll have a big laugh. So, I suppose, when I’m onstage performing what is intended to be comedy, I find it easiest to be funny by not trying to be funny, but to be true to the moment, be honest about what I’m feeling, and to allow myself to go some place that even I didn’t expect. Human beings are pretty funny naturally, so I think the best thing is to get out of the way and let the funny shine through.

Curt DixonCurt Dixon (IRTE Main Ensemble)

Funny is so hard to define because what makes one person laugh might not seem funny at all to another person. I personally am not a fan of very dry humor but can certainly respect it. But I can laugh at really dark humor that other people find distasteful. It’s like food. Some people like sushi and others – like myself – hate it. When I’m performing I do what I think would make me laugh. I tend to gravitate to the odd or silly. I like to keep it more light hearted and try to play smart. But I do like to make people squirm a bit. I try not to get too dark or use a lot of profanity because you never know who is in the audience. Even with an all adult audience it can make people uncomfortable if the language is crass and the subject matter vulgar. And once you lose your audience it doesn’t matter how funny you are.

Jamie Maloney 2Jamie Maloney (IRTE Main Ensemble)

In my life I’ve tried to be funny. I’ve come up with lines and stories that I thought were hilarious, but when I tried them out on people I got nothing. Maybe crickets. Five minutes later I would make an off hand comment about something and people would fall down laughing, and I don’t know what I said. The biggest laughs I’ve ever gotten were when I wasn’t trying to be funny at all. I’m sure there are people who have analyzed the phenomenon of comedy and laughter and figured out exactly why things are funny but I’m willing to bet they still have the same experience that I do. I’ve sat in a crowded theater and been the only person not laughing and peed my pants at the sight of someone putting on a pair of glasses. I do best when I don’t think about it, and thinking about it is sure to jinx it for me, so in all honesty I have absolutely no idea how to be funny.

evie aronson dec 2013 (1)Evie Aronson (GIRTE – Guest performer of IRTE)

The truth is funny. You can be funny by saying what others might be thinking, but wouldn’t  say out loud. In improv, sometimes stating the obvious is the funniest thing.  Being in the moment, listening and reacting without trying to think of something “funny”  is the way to  be the funniest… In those moments you share a special inside joke with the audience that only happens in that moment. It  often can’t be replicated.





Michael Hauschild (1)


Michael Hauschild (GIRTE – Guest performer of IRTE)

Truth [is funny] and don’t try to be [funny].




Brianna Lee (GIRTE – Guest performer of IRTE)

Something very funny is usually just a truth about human behavior or every day life exaggerated, heightened and exposed. I get my funny on when I let whatever wants to come out with full force- whether it be a voice or character, or anything else that resides in the Silly Town that is my brain!

Tara Sargente (GIRTE – Guest performer of IRTE)

Funny is being surprised. It’s the left hook you didn’t see coming. So even if you want to sit there all jaded and too cool, something crazy just comes out of nowhere and tickles you beyond resistance. My gift funny-wise is probably that my mind easily goes to dark places that most people avoid, and I return with unique little mental treasures. Things then go through the very broken filter that is my brain and come out delightfully twisted. This usually leads to an odd laughter that makes you feel a little dirty.

Tara Sargente







It also helps that my life is a joke.


ALIENS COMING: Joe and his NYU Gang are Out-of-this-World!


Brandi has a problem. She’s been abducted by Zooby Doober and his hapless assistant, Smib; aliens tasked with executing the extraction of earth’s most precious resource… the genitals of the entire human race! A pawn of their sinister designs, Brandi delivers hypnotic propaganda disguised as innocuous YouTube make-up tutorials, testing her sanity AND her friendship with lifelong BFF and newly-cool art kid, Clementine. Joe Kelly mixes contemporary tunes and musical theater in an uproarious book for this 90-minute musical comedy, opening at the Peoples Improv Theatre in April. When: April 11th, 14th, 15th and 16th Location: 123 E. 24th St., New York City. You can be taken to their leader by ordering tickets at

So we at OuterStage did not image that the makers of this really clever new musical were as CRAZY as the show itself!

Here are a few wacky words from Joe Kelly (book and lyrics) Jonathan “Lemon” Evans (music), Rachel Deutsch (director) Martavius Parrish (“Zooby Doober”) Maia Scalia (“Brandi”) Andrew Ricci (“Smib”) and Alice Kors (“Clementine”) . Ready… set … 

Aliens Coming Press Packet DRAFT-1

Tell us why you wrote Aliens Coming? It looks like a blast … but is there something underneath that sci-fi send-up wit?

Joe: I don’t want to talk specifically about this TOO much for risk of giving away a lot of the fun of the show but I will say that sci-fi is a favorite medium for me and loads of other writers because of it’s ability to reflect aspects of our own society in dramatic and interesting ways. Black Mirror is really good at that, but sometimes takes itself a bit too seriously. Like Mallory Ortberg said; “what if phones, but too much”. So we wanted to be sharp while still keeping everything fun and crazy. I don’t want to beat anyone over the head with any specific agenda or message. With that said, I don’t think people are going to be breaking their brains wondering just what we’re getting at when we show them what happens when a girl obsessed with popularity becomes the ruler of planet earth with the hep of a massive following of idiots online.

What is your creative process?

Joe: I always start with one obsessive thought. It could be a line, question, image or character. In this case it was Youtubers. People who are famous on Youtube. Specifically beauty bloggers. The whole thing then spirals out from there. I am pretty disciplined in that I always work from an outline. But once the first draft is done it’s all about collaboration. I bring in actors to read as early as possible so I can start hearing it and work on making it sound more human. The script isn’t done until opening night- there’s always room for improvement and new ideas or moments that find their way in throughout the process. I’m all about opening myself up to that.

The NYU Force is strong in this production, Luke? Seriously, you and your company are all from NYU, was that a plan or did that just seem to happen?

Maia: Who is Luke?

Alice: Wait—is this not a one-woman show? Who are you people?

Martavius: Totally planned.

Rachel: It’s actually crazy that our cast is all NYU! We all just kinda found each other. Everyone was so down to help out and would add to the process all the time by saying “hey I know someone who would be really good at THIS.”

Joe: And it makes it a lot easier for us to utilize all the resources the university has to offer because we’ve all got the same little purple I.D. cards.

Maia: What is cool about this group is that although we all studied at NYU, we all come from different schools within the university and studied such a variety of different things- and this group is made up of people from all over the world.

Joe: Canada, London, New Zealand, Hong Kong… Oklahoma

Maia: Oh like the force! Luke Skywalker.

Tell me why we should keep independent theater alive?

Andrew: Because as a wise man once said “No matter how hard it get, stick your chin out, keep ya head up… and handle it.” That wise man was Tupac.

Alice: I need something to do between the hours of 7-11, Wednesday through Sunday.

Martavius: Independent theater, in my humble opinion, is just as important as commercial theatre. I believe that theater at its core is about moments of shared experiences – a story, a life, a song. Independent theater makes those experiences accessible. Independent theater also allows a more forgiving playground to play with and develop the ideas of a piece.

Joe: That was beautiful.

Lemon: Yeah and it really just allows for projects like ours to come to light. The freedom of being ‘independent’ means that we can be a lot more creative.

Maia: It allows for art to be challenging rather than safe for commercial reasons.

Joe: We can do weirder shit.




The Father of the New York Theater Festival Returns! FRANK CALO & SPOTLIGHT-ON

This is an amazing year for New York theater festivals. For the first time in 20 years, the Fringe is taking a breather and simultaneously, Frank Calo and Spotlight-On Festivals returns. Mr. Calo began producing what we affectionately call the theater festival one year before the Fringe, making him the first theater fest in New York.

Mr. Calo negotiated the original festival contract with Equity; built what is now the template for multiple productions in one theater; and became the original jumping off point for some of independent theater’s most recognizable names.

Now he returns to New York with an alumni-based program of productions featuring those names now famous … thanks to him. He is about to have NO TIME as the festival is getting ready to begin, so we grabbed him at his office before times got hot!


Tell us about “the early days?” What made you want to create a theater festival?

I originally started in college and community theater in NJ and after moving to NY in the early 90s I met Steven Thornburg and Richard Lay who were part of a theater company called Sage Theatre Company.  Sage Theatre Company would produce one or two major productions a year on Theatre Row [back then it was actually on 42nd street and was considered Off Broadway by many].  Richard was a playwright as well and came to me and asked if I would produce and direct some of his short plays.  He rented a theater [Creative Place on 8th Avenue which is no longer there].  I really couldn’t figure out how we were going to make anywhere near our money back with a handful of one act plays over a two week period.  I invited playwrights in and the “festival” idea was born for me.  That first festival consisted of evenings of one acts and readings.  It was the first time that Richard had ever made his money back on a rental!

Steven Thornburg directed one of his next main productions and I tacked on several additional productions, directing one myself, to create a festival.  That second production we “tacked on” was Andy Warhol’s Secret Girlfriend.  I directed it and Steven and I starred in it with our new group of festival actors.  It was such a success that Richard Lay found financing to produce it in Paris, France, and off we went!  I believe this was the same year that The NY Fringe Festival was founded and we were finding our festival footing.

What did you have to go through?

In the early days we were still finding our footing.  Festivals were new to this area.  I don’t think there was another in NY when I began.  At least, none that actually called themselves a Theater Festival.  One of the difficulties was actually in renting spaces.  They hadn’t dealt with a company wanting to produce more than 1 or 2 events during the rental period.  I was producing 20 or 30!  I had one theater that was adding up the possible hours we would use the space and charging by the hour rather than their weekly rental.  Insurance companies didn’t know where to place us.  I remember one insurance company trying to fit us into a category of vendors in an outdoor festival atmosphere [like they type of insurance they would give a parade event!]  I also remember having multiple conversations with Equity on what exactly we were doing.  Why we weren’t the producer of each piece brought in.  They would look at me like I had three heads!

How has New York independent theater changed over the decades? Festivals in particular?

Festivals have changed a great deal over the years.  They’ve become sort of standard events.  Some theaters mostly rent to festivals now – what a change!  There are many of them out there and have become, exactly what I thought they should be 20 years ago, venues for producers and playwrights to see their works performed in a reasonably priced fashion without breaking the bank.  What I don’t like is the festival grinder mode that many have created.  Get the people in and out, one company doesn’t know who or what the company after them is or are doing.  What was always important to me is that the companies know and support each other.  I encourage the groups to see other’s shows in the festival.  It is free to them if there is room so why not!  Back in the Paleolithic days of festivals we would rent a large reception room in a complex of theaters [our complex of choice was The Raw Space] so that theater goers and actors could all meet afterwards.  I remember one event back in 2002 where we had War of the Worlds  (produced by Genesis Repertory, currently back in this new fest) letting out as well as several other productions where they all convened to the Reception Lounge and fawned over the late great Ruth Warwick [actress in Citizen Kane and at the time of the festival All My Children] who came to see War of the Worlds.  Those are great memories.

What was your [artistic] goal in producing the festivals … what IS your goal now? Has it changed?

My goal then was to create a safe environment for new playwrights and producers to create their art and for all of us no to lose our shirts doing so!  I remember thinking ‘why couldn’t we have what we had in college but on a grander level?’  Professionals helping newbies.  Everyone learning and progressing in the process.  My goal now hasn’t changed much.  I put out the word this past fall that I wanted to produce another festival and would love to have of the “old gang” come back.   The alumni have been coming from everywhere.  It truly feels like a reunion.  After our first meeting the old feelings came back.  They are started helping each other and looked forward to seeing each other’s works.

Who/What inspires you?

Actually there are so many that inspire me.  I love the new artist coming up.  They are all so gung-ho and excited.  That’s was theater should be about – excitement.  I love seeing the older artists that have come back and have gone on but thirst for something that might be missing from other festivals.  That inspires me to keep going!

RISE OF THE PHOENIX: The 2017 Spotlight-On Festival,
April 17 – 30 at The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, NYC. for more information.




Review by Robert Gulack

Jeffrey Sweet, an award-winning playwright who brings to his genuine passion for history real gifts for humor and lyricism, has set himself an almost impossible task in in his new play, KUNSTLER, now starring Jeff McCarthy in a production at one of the 59E59 theaters.  In this two-hander,  Sweet brings back to this world perhaps the most flamboyant legal firebrand of the 1960s —  one William Moses Kunstler, who, answering the call of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Berrigan brothers, and other progressive heroes of the time, fully lived up to the implications of that reverberating middle name.

The challenge Sweet has set himself is to outline the most important passages in a highly provocative life employing only two actors.  So, as the theatrical event begins — recreating Kunstler giving an autobiographical lecture at a law school — we hear the daunting offstage voices of incensed protesters, who obviously hate Kunstler and wish he had never been invited to speak.  But the members of this mob (who have just lynched Kunstler in effigy) are never given the chance to make clear what has caused them to become so angry.  We then see Kunstler lecture, presenting the story of his life, not to those protesters, but to us — people who immediately become highly sympathetic to him.  He loosens us up with a few opening jokes (“What do you call a lawyer with an IQ of 70?  Answer: Your Honor”) and we’re on his side from there on out.

kunstler6Another County Heard From

It is only in the final section of the play, when Kunstler has completed his presentation to our applause, unmarred by any hostile interruptions, that Kunstler finally has to deal with a critical voice.  The law student hosting the occasion — in private — lists her very serious reservations about his career, and he seeks to answer her.  This is obviously the closest the evening comes to a conventional display of conflict, and it is also one of the most successful parts of the evening.  The law student certainly has valid points to make.  A defense lawyer does have the obligation to defend, on principle, the most despicable people in the world, as Clarence Darrow defended the child-killers, Leopold and Loeb.  But the lawyer doesn’t have to hug such clients in public, as Kunstler hugged John Gotti.  (While Sweet doesn’t mention it, Kunstler himself was a member of a criminal gang as a young teenager.  Perhaps, in hugging Gotti, Kunstler was hugging that part of himself he left behind when he went on from gang life to become Phi Beta Kappa at Yale College, win the Bronze Star as an Army officer in World War II, and earn his law degree at Columbia.)

For the bulk of the play, however, it is just Kunstler himself, without any opposing voice, narrating a number of his most crucial cases as he experienced them from his own point of view.  Some of these memories — particularly, Kunstler’s role in the life-or-death struggle to find a peaceful outcome when the prisoners took over Attica — are so dramatic and moving that they become thrilling theater even presented in this one-sided manner.  Sweet takes us into the realm of real tragedy as he forces us to contemplate how the horrors of prison life, year after year, ultimately issued in the violent response of the Attica mutineers.  But a lot of the cases Kunstler takes us through would have been more compelling if Kunstler throughout had been forced to cope with a rebellious and rambunctious audience.  Give Sweet half a dozen actors to scatter among the audience members, calling Kunstler’s recollection of events into question and forcing him to justify his most controversial choices, and you might really have something.

Kunstler was certainly willing, not only to party hard with the left-wing rebels he was defending, but to go to prison with them, if necessary.  (Kunstler left the Chicago Seven trial facing a contempt sentence of over four years.)  What an audience of law students might have called into question, however, is whether Kunstler was willing to give his beloved clients the hard, unromantic  work of truly thorough preparation for trial to go along with all that showboating.  Or, to give another instance, when Kunstler points out that, following the bloody repression of the Attica revolt, inmates were tortured by the prison staff, a hostile audience could point out the tortures inflicted by the inmates during the brief moment when the prisoners were in control.  Kunstler makes a big deal out of the fact that a former Attorney General of the United States, Ramsey Clark, was denied the right to testify for the defense at the Chicago Seven trial.  A hostile audience could have forced Kunstler to clarify what specific, legally relevant evidence Clark could have provided.  Was Clark — the sitting Attorney General at the time — personally present when Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were making their plans for the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago?  One doubts it.  Certainly, Clark could have stated that his legal assessment of the case differed from that the current Attorney General, who was a Nixon man.  But is it proper for a witness to offer legal advice to the judge?

kunstler2A Winning Production

Sweet is fortunate to have the vital and charismatic Jeff McCarthy, who was recently such a splendid Don Quixote for the Barrington Stage’s MAN OF LA MANCHA, to charm the audience as Kunstler.  McCarthy is, however, fourteen years younger than the man he’s depicting, and looks even younger.  Kunstler was about to succumb to heart failure, and perhaps more could be done to make McCarthy appear sunken and frail.  Nambi E. Kelley certainly conveys the brains, elegance, and discipline of the law student who gets to confront Kunstler; but, again, we could see more clearly that she is surprised to hear herself saying what she’s saying, but that she just can’t help but let it pour out of her, as her passion overwhelms her reserve.

The scenery and lighting (by, respectively James J. Fenton and Betsy Adams) are both handsome and varied.  Special note should be given to the way in which Will Severin’s music and sound design carry us in our hearts from one of Kunstler’s battlegrounds to another.  Particularly effective is an enigmatic grinding noise beneath our feet, that at first calls to mind the sound of the god Mars abandoning Antony in Shakespeare’s ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, but eventually proves to be prophetic of the heart trouble that will fell the hero.

KUNSTLER runs in New York until March 12, 2017, and will also open for previews May 18 as part of the Barrington Stage’s season in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

KUNSTLER by Jeffrey Sweet, directed by Meagen Fay, and presented by The Creative Place International in association with AND Theater Company at Theater B, 59E59 Theaters.

ROBERT GULACK holds an MFA in Playwriting from the Yale School of Drama, where he studied with Mamet and Kopit.  He studied law at Columbia and Yale, earning his JD from Yale Law School. He is the author of numerous plays seen in NYC, including CHURCHILL IN ATHENS, SIX HUSBANDS OF ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, and the award-winning ONE THOUSAND AND ONE.  As an actor, he appeared in a recent NYC staged reading of Jeffrey Sweet’s THE ACTION AGAINST SOL SCHUMANN.

Photo Credit: Jeff McCarthy, Nambi E. Kelley. Photo: Heidi Bohnenkamp.