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:
aj
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

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