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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Ben Rappaport

In high school, when the Drama department was putting on a new show, the school would block out an entire day’s worth of English class periods to be spent in the auditorium watching the ‘preview’ of that show. Essentially, a couple of scenes and/or a couple of numbers from the show. Of course, I always looked forward to these days because…duh! No class! An hour’s worth of entertainment! Singing! Dancing! Loud Talking! Sword Fighting! Not to mention the fact that these student actors and crew got to spend their entire school day doing this! It was awesome. My sophomore year, I’m sitting in the audience for the preview of Romeo and Juliet and my mind was blown. In this production, the Montagues were dressed completely goth with eye liner, chains, fishnets, and hair dye and the Capulets wore mostly khaki preppy style clothes. When the lights dimmed for the moment Romeo and Juliet meet at the ball and ‘Colorblind’ by Counting Crows pumped through the speakers, I fell head over heels in love. With all of it. And after a rafter-shaking performance of the ‘Queen Mab’ speech, my fate was signed, sealed, and delivered. I had to be a part of this. I felt it all. The passion, the love, the humor, the rage. All on like a Wednesday at 2:15 in our school’s auditorium in the Northwest suburbs of Houston, Texas! Until then, I’d honestly felt quite lost and passionless. But, in that hour, I fell in love, gained confidence and birthed a dream. ‘I want to do THAT’.

Later that year, I auditioned for Anything Goes with my friend from history class who had been a part of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat the year before. I knew nothing about anything. I didn’t have tap shoes, so I took a bunch of metal thumb tacks from my mom’s sewing kit and stuck them into the soles of my dress shoes. Man, was I intimidated. I was auditioning alongside the actors I had seen in Romeo and Juliet. They were celebrities to me. I even got to read scenes with them! A few days later, after the cast list went up on the bulletin board and my name wasn’t on it, my friend from history class told me that the drama teacher wanted to speak to me after school. I went to his classroom, and he told me I would have gotten the lead role of Billy Crocker had it not been for my subpar grades. I had something special and should be a part of the Drama department. I (kinda) got my grades up, enrolled in Drama class the next year and landed my first role as Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I went on to play many other great roles at Klein High School, but most importantly, I found my tribe. All of us weirdos and outcasts had a safe place to feel free to be us. We loved each other. We laughed heartily. We dreamed big dreams. We took care of each other. The showmances. The nerves. The celebration. The heartbreak. The gaff tape. The musty smell of that old auditorium. The Chinese drive-thru down the street we went to during tech rehearsal dinner breaks. 

And to this day, no matter where I have the privilege of performing…Broadway, Off-Broadway, a reading over Zoom of Ohio State Murders alongside such illustrious talents as Audra McDonald and Kenny Leon…I feel as though I’m back in the Drama department again and everything feels safe and makes sense. The theatre community in New York is full of people with stories just like mine. Who found home in this tribe. 


Ben Rappaport played Perchick in the recent revival of “Fiddler on the Roof” directed by Bartlett Sher and was seen in the Roundabout Revival of “Picnic” directed by Sam Gold. He’s also known for his appearances in television’s “For The People”,  “Mr. Robot”, “Younger” and “Ozark”. Rappaport’s additional television credits include Fox’s “Zoobiquity”, two seasons of CBS’ “The Good Wife”, TBS’ “Do It Yourself”, USA Network’s “Love is Dead”, CBS’ “Elementary” and NBC’s “Outsourced”. His film credits include “Better Off Single”, “Hope Springs”, “The Brass Teapot”, “Ask for Jane” and “Landing Up”.  He can be seen in the Spotlight on Plays production of Ohio State Murders streaming this Thursday through Sunday.

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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Jessica Hecht

Today is my daughter Stella’s 21s birthday. She studies statistics and Italian, vaguely likes theatre, and is utterly straightforward, charmingly so. Naturally I am spending time assessing whether I’ve been a hindrance or help as she walks into a sea of adults never to be a child again.

We started our mother daughter dance in a kind of protective bubble but within a few short months, I was doing a play and carting her to rehearsals so as not to disrupt her supposed sense of comfort. The play on hand was called Lobster Alice and we performed it at Playwrights Horizons back when Playwrights Horizons was a rickety mid-town haunt and the term Hell’s Kitchen had slightly more meaning. The wonderful director Maria Mileaf was at the helm and she was a new mother as well.

Stella and I felt very taken care of. The rehearsals were complete with breaks to breastfeed and the seasoned nanny, I’d met through a friend, seemed only slightly weirded out by the looks of our 46th street rehearsal space. We rolled into previews and I thought perhaps having Stella in my dressing room, or even backstage for that matter, might provide maximum coddling for her 6 month old self.

One evening, I sang to her in the dressing room as I donned the gorgeous period costume Ann Hould-Ward had dreamed up. It was circa 1940 in our play, I was secretary to an animator that  Reg Rogers brilliantly portrayed. I was in love with said animator. During this particular evening, the love scene we were to enact had been slightly rewritten. I was to raise my voice in frustration and then our mutual attraction was to be realized and some of this romance would ensue. I focused on those new lines and the raise in my voice belted over the monitor. The sound woke Stella from her comfy sleep and she began to cry.

Stella cried powerfully and relentlessly and due to the way in which the stage was situated over the basement dressing rooms, Reg and I could hear the crying but those in the house remained oblivious. My body could not take it. My breasts began to express milk in such a forceful way that two round puddles formed  on the front of my swanky suit jacket and I myself began to silently sob.

My attempt to “mother” while on stage, was the first of many miscalculations as a parent. As much as I’d like to think I’m a swell multitasker-there was simply no damn way to do both tasks at hand.. I could not maintain even a slight veneer of the character. I really should have been a magnet for Reg in that moment, but no, my sense was that he was frightened…or perhaps repelled? 

I raced off stage at the end of the show to Stella now howling and Ann Hould-Ward, the kind nanny and several stage hands, trying in vain to soothe her. Maria arrived minutes later with her usual notepad and said : “I have only a few things from the beginning of the play. I want to shift to the final scene and just ask….”What was WRONG with you. Were you sobbing??? It’s a love scene…..”

And in retrospect it was. Between me and my daughter. If I had it to do over, forgive me, I perhaps would have done it all the same. 


Jessica Hecht made her Broadway debut in The Last Night of Ballyhoo and has appeared on Broadway After the Fall, Julius Caesar, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Broadway Bound, A View From the Bridge (which garnered her a Tony nomination) and Harvey. She is known as Victoria in the indie hit Sideways and as Susan Bunch on TV’s Friends. Her recent Broadway credits include The Price, Fiddler on the Roof, and The Assembled Parties.

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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Michael Feinstein

Most people think I’m from New York, especially after years of singing all of those sophisticated show tunes, in Nightclubs and on Broadway and always in a well cut suit. But truth to tell, I’m from Columbus, Ohio and I learned all the classic show tunes from afar, never dreaming I’d have a personal association with the Great White Way and experience the genuine endorphin rush of playing multiple times on Broadway.

But I did have a connection to Broadway. My maternal Grandmother’s brother was a Broadway Property Master for over 70 years who became a beloved legend whom I adored every time he visited Columbus. HIs name was Hymie Gates and you would have loved him too. He regaled me with stories that spanned the entire 20th Century history of theatre, having started in Yiddish theatre on the lower East side working with Paul Muni and other enduring icons of the stage.

Hymie was known as the Mayor of 45th street, having been the Property Master of the Morosco for over 30 years. He gave Joseph Papp his first job in the theatre and eventually became the oldest member of the Stagehand’s Union. They had to create a special 75 year pin for him at his retirement dinner. Hymie knew everybody: George Gerswhin, Al Jolson (for whom he would read the reviews from the Yiddish papers), Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Cab Calloway (“the bum owes me twenty dollars”), Julie Harris (his favorites) and Mandy Patinkin.

In 1977 I came to visit Uncle Hy and Aunt Blanche and happened to be there when a very young Mandy first appeared in “The Shadow Box” at the Morosco. He and Uncle Hy deeply bonded and Mandy was so captivated with him that he wanted to do a show about Uncle Hymie’s life. It didn’t bother him that Uncle Hymie always called him Mandy Potemkin, and he spent hours recording Unclue Hy’s delightful stories and documenting his history, but unfortunately the show never happened. 

However, if you ever saw the film “The Princess Bride” you’ll know what Uncle Hymie sounded like. Mandy literally copied Uncle Hy’s Russian/Jewish accent and it turned it into the voice for his Latin character. Every time I hear it I crack up.

So even though my dear Hymie is no longer here, he will live on in the love he instilled in me for the Theatre, and his voice will endure whenever someone hears Mandy Patinkin say: “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”


Michael Feinstein has built a dazzling career over the last three decades bringing the music of the Great American songbook to the world. From recordings that have earned him five Grammy Award nominations to his Emmy nominated PBS-TV specials, his acclaimed NPR series and concerts spanning the globe – in addition to his appearances at iconic venues such as The White House, Buckingham Palace, Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall and Sydney Opera House – his work as an educator and archivist define Feinstein as one of the most important musical forces of our time.

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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Tracee Chimo Pallero

Before this reading I hadn’t sunk my teeth into a play in 5 years. 

I had forgotten how much of a leap it is to truly dive into a character for the first time, and what a thrilling rush it can be…especially when the writing enables you with infinite possibilities. I don’t believe there’s anything better than that. I was so rusty the first time we read this. I’d completely forgotten how much more challenging theater is as opposed to television. Oh but how awesome it was to be reading the words of one of my favorite playwrights with such incredibly talented people! By the second or third rehearsal I had found my stride and remembered how much fun it is to dig in and play. Especially when working with a director like Anna D. Shapiro who is my personal hero. We did a reading of ‘The Heidi Chronicles’ back in 2013. She’s the woman who taught me to stop apologizing for asking questions in a rehearsal room. I’ll never forget the moment:

We were doing table work and discussing a scene, I raised my hand to inquire about a moment I didn’t understand and when Anna caught my eye I said, “I’m sorry, but, I have a ques—“. She stopped me with this gem of a lesson, “Why are you apologizing to me?? Stop it. Are you sorry for having a question? Do you ever notice how women are the only people who apologize for asking something? It’s ridiculous. Men don’t apologize when they have something to say. TAKE THE SPACE, Tracee. STOP APOLOGIZING. Now what’s your question?” 

I never forgot that. It’s stuck with me all these years. When I heard Anna was directing this reading of ‘Sisters Rosensweig’ I said yes without skipping a beat. She’s an inspiration.

Hands down the best play I’ve had the pleasure of performing is Joshua Harmon’s ‘Bad Jews’. If you know his work, you are aware of what an enormous influence Wendy Wasserstein’s writing has been to him. Because I connect so well with Josh’s plays, it makes total sense that I’d be head over heels in love with Ms. Wasserstein’s characters as well, and the world that she creates in each of her plays.

I am beyond grateful to have been a part of this. Wendy continues to enrich my soul with her magnificent storytelling. 


Tracee Chimo Pallero appeared on Broadway in Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles opposite Elisabeth Moss and Jason Biggs. Her other major credits include Harvey opposite Jim Parsons and Irena’s Vow opposite Tovah Feldshuh. She starred in the revival of Terrence McNally’s Lips Together Teeth Apart at The Second Stage and originated the role of “Daphna” in Bad Jews at Roundabout Theatre Company, for which she earned the 2014 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Lead Actress as well as nominations for an Outer Critic’s Circle Award and Drama League Award. Her television credits include The Undoing, Madam Secretary, Orange Is the New Black and Difficult People. Tracee can be seen in The Sisters Rosensweig as a part of the Spotlight on Plays series benefitting The Actors Fund streaming now through Sunday.

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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Jason Alexander

I have long heard that the theater is a healing place, a restorative place. I think the person who first proffered that meant that watching live theater can be a healing salve. But those of us who work on the boards have seen the incredible medical miracle that is working on the stage. Yes, it drains and exhausts and demands but it also energizes and often transforms the actor.

Years ago, I was in the original cast of Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound. It was where I met the great actor and extraordinary man, John Randolph. John had been a working actor most of his life despite having been blacklisted during the McCarthy years. He had a distinguished and varied career and now he was a 74 year old man enjoying what was probably the best role he ever had on the stage. He would win a Tony award for his work that season. John was simply a treasure in the role and he loved performing it but at his advanced age, the rigors of eight shows a week were a heavy challenge. So many times, especially on a two show day, I would see John in his dressing room or in the wings before the evening show and he looked utterly beaten. His eyes were baggy and heavy, his head and shoulders stooped, his legs thin and weak. Often I would think, “how can this man get through this performance”? I would actually worry that he might not make it.

But every time, he would walk out onto that stage and transform. As the lights came up, so did his life force. His legs would steady, his posture straighten, his face light up, his voice deepen and strengthen. He would radiate with a vibrancy and passion that had been totally absent a moment before. People would marvel at his performance and his stamina. Then, he would take his bow, walk to the wings and the magic spell would end. As he stooped forward again he would smile and whisper, “Man, I am tired”. I would simply marvel. I once asked him what happened that enabled his transformation. John smiled and simply said, “kiddo,that Doctor Footlights”. 

Over the years, I have performed with gout, a kidney stone, a paralyzed vocal cord, bronchitis and a migraine. Traveling down to the theater, getting ready backstage it would all seem impossible. No way would I be able to make it through the pain or the challenges and give a performance. But, I was willing to try. And each time,I would step onto that stage to serve that piece, to serve that audience, to tell that story — to do my job — and each time, the pain would fade or the symptoms subside just enough to squeak one out. Doctor Footlights, there’s nobody better. So, a shout out and big thanks to my grandpa, John Randolph, for making the introduction. 


Though best known for his award-winning, nine-year stint as the now iconic George Costanza of television’s Seinfeld, Jason Alexander has achieved international recognition for a career noted for its extraordinary diversity from lauded performances on stage, screen and television to his extensive works as a writer, composer, director, producer and acting teacher.  His Broadway credits include Merrily We Roll Along, The Rink, Broadway Bound, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway (for which he won a Tony Award), Accomplice and Fish in the Dark. Jason can be seen in The Sisters Rosensweig as a part of the Spotlight on Plays series benefitting The Actors Fund streaming this Thursday through Sunday.

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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Carla Gugino

One of my favorite things about working in the theater is how fiercely present it forces us all to be. How much courage is required. And what discoveries spring from that.  I was playing Catherine in Tennessee Williams’ SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER  at the Laura Pels Theater (alongside Blythe Danner, Becky Ann Baker, and a wonderful cast)  and one night in the middle of a long speech I went ABSOLUTELY blank. I had zero idea of what I was supposed to say next. Terror struck. I looked around the stage and my cast members were looking at me with expectant eyes. Time extended. In that moment, I decided “Don’t mentally run away, witness this through Catherine’s eyes and see what happens next.” And suddenly (pun intended), my line came to me: “Where was I?” That was the actual line I had forgotten. I realized in that moment how much terror Catherine felt at losing her place (akin to losing her sanity which she was fiercely fighting to protect. Her life depended on it.)

It changed the trajectory of that speech for every performance thereafter. I now understood her on a deeper level than I ever would have had that not happened. It was such a gift.



Carla Gugino
 made her Broadway debut in After the Fall. Other Broadway credits include The Road to Mecca and Desire Under the Elms. Gugino is best known for her portrayal of Amanda Daniels in TV’s Entourage and Sally Jupiter in the 2009 film Watchmen. She recently appeared in the supernatural horror series The Haunting of Hill House, the crime drama series Jett, and The Haunting of Bly Manor. She can be seen in Spotlight on Play’s Watch on the Rhine streaming this Thursday.

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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Jeremy Shamos

It wasn’t until I got backstage that I officially fell in love with the theater, and that was when I was 11 years old. I was born in the city but our family moved to Denver, Colorado when I was very young… We took yearly trips back to NYC and got to see Broadway shows but it felt like a different world and I had never really thought about the making of them. I never considered all of the work and all of the people involved in creating that magical few hours for my family and me. When I was in 4th grade I began to sing in a choir, and the following year the director of the choir recommended me to the Denver Center Theater when they asked him for a child who could sing and perform on stage in their upcoming production of George Bernard Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion. I went in and auditioned at the Denver Center and got the part. Little did I know what I was about to be a part of. From the first rehearsal I knew I had found a world where I wanted to spend a lot of time. Incredibly bright, funny, supportive, creative and irreverent professionals. The set designer showed us incredible models of what the set would look like, the costume designer showed us pictures and materials and drawings of what the costumes would look like. There was a wig maker, there were stage managers keeping track of everything. There was a musical director. Eventually there were dressers, and ushers and light and sound board operators. Everyone working to put our show on! I got to be on stage with Mercedes Ruehl and the other incredible actors who were part of the company (back then many regional theaters had companies who played many different roles for years)… Yes, I loved being on stage and feeling the stillness and focus and magic of a theater full of people all willing a story into being. But what I remember even more, and what gave me the itch to make my life in the theater, was the backstage. The greenroom where all of the actors hung out before the show in their various costumes and makeup, smoking (!) and joking and telling incredible stories, and treating me like a fellow collaborator and colleague. I was 11 and I’m sure many stories went over my head with the smoke, but what I gleaned was happy artists, working hard on their craft, making the show better and better. It was a giant family back there, and though the characters and settings and plays have changed, that feeling has never gone away.

This 15 months has been hard for our community, for our theater family. I include audiences as part of that family, because live theater is not live theater without them. We all miss being in a space together making a story come to life. Until that happens, we are so lucky to have opportunities to create and watch shows however they happen and I feel so pleased to have been included in Watch on the Rhine. I got a little taste of that backstage fellowship and the audience will get a taste of a great story told. Until we are lucky enough to be together let’s revel in the chance to soak up any “theater” we can! I know I’m happy to be “backstage” again if even in a Zoom box!

Watch Jeremy zoom into your living room, den, kitchen, wherever this weekend when Spotlight on Plays presents Lillian Hellman’s “Watch on the Rhine”.


Jeremy Shamos has been seen off-Broadway in Corpus Christi, Engaged, Miss Witherspoon, Race, Gutenberg! The Musical!, 100 Saints You Should Know, Hunting and Gathering, The New York Idea and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). His Broadway credits include Reckless, The Rivals, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Elling, and he earned a Tony nomination for playing two roles in Pulitzer Prize-winner Clybourne Park. He can be seen in Spotlight on Play’s Watch on the Rhine streaming this Thursday.

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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Alan Cox

It was a wonderful opportunity to explore Lillian Hellman’s classic play with such a dream cast as part of this series of online performances. The themes of liberal America and its imperative to combat fascism in all its manifestations feels all too pertinent to the needs of our present times. When Watch On The Rhine premiered in 1941 it served to bring to the theatre-going public a sense of the turmoil that was brewing in mainland Europe and its potential impact on the global stage. 

I was first exposed to the epic dimensions of the American drama when I made my professional theatrical debut in a revival of Strange Interlude by Eugene O’Neill. Written in the shadow of the Great War, this Pulitzer Prize winning drama features the theatrical convention of characters speaking their innermost thoughts as asides. In deploying this classical device in a contemporary setting, O’Neil shows that despite the privileges of modern education, human beings still struggle to communicate directly and truthfully with one another. However, my lasting impression of this masterpiece is not as profound as I would wish. I was thirteen years old at the time and my hair had been bleached a platinum blonde to evoke the archetypal Golden Child. The abiding memory I have is of the cast, which included Glenda Jackson and my father Brian Cox, gently but firmly urging me to go easy on the gold hairspray that I had applied to my side parting when the dark roots began to show. Luckily, I don’t think my besmirching of the beautifully tailored 1920’s costumes could be glimpsed past the front row. 

Thirty seven years later and one of the benefits of being involved in the remote capture of an online performance of a classic play is that this actor can transform himself without having to make a trip to the hairdresser.


Alan Cox recently played Uncle Vanya at the Hampstead Theatre in London and Claudius in Hamlet for the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. He played David Frost in the national tour of Frost/Nixon, for which he received a Helen Hayes Award nomination. He made his Broadway debut in Translations. He made his motion picture debut as Watson in Young Sherlock Holmes. His film work includes Contagion, The Dictator, Mrs. Dalloway, and An Awfully Big Adventure. Alan’s television credits include The Good Wife, John Adams, and The Odyssey. He can be seen in Spotlight on Play’s Watch on the Rhine streaming this Thursday.

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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Casey Nicholaw

I think that the first musical that inspired me to be a director (even though I didn’t know it at the time) was “Ain’t Misbehavin’”.  I wore that album out! When I was in High School in the late 70’s I was obsessed with it – I thought the staging was so simple and thrilling, and the performers were absolutely incredible. I saw the national tour in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and then when it was in San Diego I volunteered to usher for the week it was there.  It was perfectly staged by Richard Maltby Jr. It was seamless and moved so beautifully. It felt like a big show while retaining the intimacy of only 5 performers (with big personalities)onstage.  

 I think this was the first time I watched something and took notice of the direction. In my first 10 years or so in New York,  I concentrated on being a performer and I wasn’t really aware that I wanted to direct – but I’d subconsciously absorbed the shows and experiences where the staging had a big influence on me. A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls, Evita, Once On this Island, Me and My Girl and Ragtime to name a few were shows that wowed and inspired me with their direction and choreography and the way the two were integrated. Never did I dream that I would be creating my own work for the Broadway stage.


Casey Nicholaw is a multiple Tony award nominated theatre director and choreographer best known for his work on The Drowsy Chaperone, The Book of Mormon (Tony Award- Director), Something Rotten!, Aladdin, Mean Girls and The Prom, and for choreographing Monty Python’s Spamalot.

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Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Eric McCormack

One Big Break

In 1981, I was in my last year of high school in the suburbs of Toronto. I’d done a bunch of musicals in theatre class (Godspell, Pippin, Fantasticks) but never worked professionally. I got a job bussing tables at a brand-new dinner theatre uptown, O’Neill’s. The opening show, starring six young actors in their mid-20’s, was a collection of songs (from other musicals) about making it in show biz. It was called, literally, One Big Break. Five nights a week, for months, I’d clear plates and glasses, then sit at the back, by the spotlight, and watch my new, slightly-older friends perform. After one show, I was washing dishes when I overheard the owners, in a kitchen corner, whispering their concerns about Stephen, one of the actors.

“He could barely sing tonight,” said Sandra O’Neill, the theatre’s namesake. “Well, we don’t have understudies, Sandra,” hissed the other owner, “what would you suggest?”

“I can do it,” I blurted.

They looked over at me, in my apron and my mullet. Sandra smiled, like I was an adorable puppy. “Aww,” she cooed, “thanks, hon. It’s Eric, right? We’ll figure it out, sweetheart.”

The next day, in history class, I got called to the front office. This had never happened in my life. The principal’s secretary handed me the phone. Sandra O’Neill was on the other end.

“Were you… serious?” she asked, with hesitation.

“Absolutely,” I replied, with none. The bravado of eighteen.

I met with the musical director at 4:00 and we ran the numbers. Once. When the actors got there, they looked ashen. Sure, I was their favorite busboy, but…this? We reviewed choreography for about half an hour…then we opened the place for dinner.

And I bussed tables.

At 8:00, the waiters (to the surprise of the patrons) suddenly became the performers. One by one they’d put down their trays and start to sing the opening number. I was the last. The first lines out of my mouth, the first words I ever sang in a professional theatre…

“One good break is really all I need to make the world stand up and cheer…”

It was a pretty good night. I played the role for two more months. I will always have a special place in my heart for Sandra.

And for Stephen McMulkin.


Eric McCormack

Best known as Will Truman on TV’s Will & Grace, Eric McCormack made his Broadway debut in The Music Man. He appeared as a mystery guest star in The Play What I Wrote, starred off-Broadway in Neil LaBute’s Some Girl(s) and returns to the Main Stem opposite James Earl Jones in the 2012 revival of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man.

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Stories from the Stage

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Othello.

This may come as a surprise to some, not so much to others, but Othello is a complex role to accept for the 21st century black actor.  On one hand, he’s an incredibly deep, densely drawn character and one of the few that are built specifically for actors of color in the Elizabethan canon.  On the other hand, he’s been reduced to some pretty nasty stereotyping.  The character has a well documented history of blackface, and the optics of a white woman being strangled by a black man brings to mind the gut-dropping feeling we got in those last moments of Jordan Peele’s Get Out (Daniel Kaaluya hands wrapped around the neck of his captor/honeypot/devil in a white dress, Allison Williams, when suddenly red and blue lights wash the screen).  So in my second year of graduate school, when I was called into my department chairs office to talk about playing Othello in the spring…I wasn’t sure what to do.  I mean sure; in the name of the pedagogical experience, in the name of practice (because inevitably it wouldn’t be my last time playing the character) and well, the thing looks good on the resume, so why not?  But does taking the part make me a sellout?  Or worse…is it a full on soul sell?

Around this time, I was reckoning with myself, my artistry and this liquid prison I was attempting to construct. Growing inside me was this festering shadow of insecurity, imposter syndrome, and the ever present doom of letting everyone down, one I tried to bar up with Whiskey, Tequila and Rum.  Little did I know, this shadow loved a drink, and despite my attempts to drown it, grew gills.  I’ll spare you the rest of the bloody details but I can tell you with confidence that some people do indeed crack their skulls open on rock bottom.  Others, however, bounce off stones of despair (it’s my band name, you cannot have it) and are given a chance to change direction.

I started writing letters to Othello in between classes, outpatient treatment, rehearsal and AA meetings on cold Sunday mornings (so much coffee and the squeaking of grey slush on the bottoms of winter boots).  It’s not a ritual I had experienced before, but one of my Sunday Morning Crew was like “I write letters to myself and found xyz”. I thought that was a corny thing for a person to do, so I wrote letters to the characters I was cast as (a practice I still carry with me and yes, it is a far cornier endeavor). 

We all “know” the play, and in that “knowledge” Othello is this larger than life character who looms over the canon/performer.  If the past were to be prologue, he “should” be this gravitational force, the embodiment of strength and “manly-ness”. He’s jealous and angry or something along those lines. So rather than fall in lockstep with the mythic barnacles of the play, I re-read it with the fresh young eyes of a curious child at Disneyworld for the first time. 

The first Act is the portrait of a man in love, a man with purpose, a man who has a grasp on what he wants the world to look like and how he can nudge the paradigm a bit closer to the shores of that promise.  In my letters, I asked Othello to teach me what love was; specifically, to teach me what it was to be in love with oneself and one’s purpose (he later taught me that once you do that, falling in love is relatively easy).  I asked him to remind me of what it means to see beyond what “is” into the realm of what “can be”.  I asked him to demand my radical honesty.  For a time it felt as though the letter went unheeded.  Instead of waiting, I worked my ass off. I scanned and rescanned text, I battled tooth and nail for text to be re-entered into the cut, I linked arms with my castmates/peers to honor the work put in to tell the story as written.  I fought for the story in the hopes that it would fight for me.  And then, out of that big, looming shadow shrank there emerged a man.  He looked a bit like me; a little stockier, a whole lot wiser and a generous smile.  And we walked side by side through the play and he revealed things to me.  Little secrets other people overlook. 

Jealousy seems to be a trait oft associated with The Moor of Venice.  I ask…where though?  He’s one of the highest ranking generals in the nation, he’s got the hand of one of the most sought after bachelorettes in the nation, he talks business, pleasure and war with the Duke.  Iago mentions jealousy, sure…but when does Othello? On the page, he wants to be the change he wants to see in the world.  He chooses to partner with the only other human who sees him as such:  who sees the sensitivity and the vulnerability in Othello, rather than upholding the expectations of manhood set upon him.  With this realization, I felt a little hydrophobic daemon, resistant to my attempts to drown him, squeal away in a puff of brimstone and smoke.  I dug deeper: when it is made known to him the possibility of deceit on the part of Desdemona, there is no time for jealousy when your heart is shattered.  When you’ve been duped, hoodwinked, bamboozled, how can you blame anyone else but yourself?  You can only perform the confusing task of picking up the shards of your heart and fighting through the wincing pain of putting it back together…even though you know it will not refract light the same way. Huh.  That’s not jealousy.  That’s good old fashioned world weary heartbreak and disappointment.  In understanding a bit about him, I understood a bit more about myself. He wasn’t a monolith looming over me, he was right there, next to me, ensuring I honored every step in his shoes. 

It’s a cliché to say that Theatre saved my life…so I won’t (it did though, *insert eyeroll*).  I know that the characters aren’t actually leaping off the page to rescue me (I’m fully aware it’s my imagination+therapy+the work doing some heavy lifting).  As much as I say that the characters are teaching me things, I know that ultimately it’s me, a room full of people, blood, sweat, tears, imagination, and ink on paper.  Nor am I here to suggest that Theatre is a replacement to therapy, psychiatry, and/or AA/NA meetings (it isn’t, shout out to my therapist).  But it can be a supplement (like B12). The gift and wisdom of the playwright is their ability to teach us lessons about what it means to be human.  Sometimes those lessons are about success.  They are often about failure;  but always, there are lessons to be excavated, digested and shared.  There are empathetic bridges to be built; within ourselves, to each other, and to the world into which we wake.  And while that sounds like a gushy Barney sing along, the work is hard. It requires dedication, it requires an open mind and an open heart. Building empathetic bridges to truly see each other can be painful.  Much like a journey to sobriety, it can feel pretty ugly (ha, I did one of those Shakespeare things).  Much like nudging social norms and our existential paradigm towards a just and verdant society, you take it one day, one hour, one minute at a time. 

It’s worth it.


Brandon Burton is a 2020 graduate of The Yale School of Drama Master of Fine Arts program. He can be seen in Spotlight on Play’s reading of The Baltimore Waltz streaming April 29th

Categories
Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Austin Pendleton

When I first came to New York, with all those aspirations, I, through a fluke of a chance conversation between an actor I know and her agent, learned that Jerry Robbins, who was about to direct, off-Broadway, Arthur Kopit’s brilliant play Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Momma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling so Sad, was having a terrible time casting the part of the young son in the play.  I worked hard on the audition and waltzed in and knocked him out with the audition.  So he asked me to come to a callback audition a few days later.  At which I totally bombed.  I’d never heard of a callback.  It was a fiasco.  Jerry called me the next day and asked me to come see him.  He said. “what happened?!”  He wasn’t angry, he was just bewildered.  I told him that I had no idea, at that second audition, what I was doing.  So he kept calling me back and calling me back, looking for the fire to return.  Then finally, on, I think, the sixth audition, he had me read opposite the magnificent Barbara Harris.  And we soared.

So my career was launched.  Jerry was the launcher and Barbara was the rocket.

Luck. Pure, wild luck.  This business is beyond capricious.  


Austin Pendleton

Austin Pendleton is an actor and director who made his Broadway debut as the original Motel in Fiddler on the Roof. Other Broadway credits include Hail Scrawdyke!, The Little Foxes, An American Millionaire, Doubles, Grand Hotel, The Diary of Anne Frank and Choir Boy as an actor and Shelter, The Runner Stumbles, John Gabriel Borkman and Spoils of War as a director. He was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for The Little Foxes and most recently appeared on Broadway as Mr. Oldfield in The Minutes.
Categories
Long Form

From Younger Than Springtime to Springtime for Hitler: Broadways Infatuation with Spring

By Katie Birenboim

The sun is shining, cherry blossoms are blooming, and many world economies are opening up (slowly but surely).  It seems like spring 2021 has finally arrived, bringing with it the seasonal sense of joy, promise, and new beginnings that has long been lauded by writers and artists throughout history.  While many people may associate springtime with Shakespeare sonnets, Impressionist paintings, or even madrigals, spring has also been the focus of many Broadway composers and lyricists. 

The most obvious example of springtime making its way into the Broadway canon is the song “Younger Than Springtime” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific.  Sung right after Lieutenant Cable and Liat first meet (and make love), “Younger Than Springtime” has all the classic markers of a spring love song.  Cable compares Liat to spring – favorably – saying she is “younger than springtime,” “gayer than laughter,” “sweeter than music,” and “warmer than the winds of June.”  But the song also has a great “turn” – certainly one of the reasons it’s still so well-known today.  While Cable begins the song by saying that Liat is like springtime, halfway through, he implies that she is also transformative: “when your youth/and joy invade my arms/and fill my heart as now they do/then younger than springtime/am I.”  Through Liat’s love, Cable argues that he becomes someone who is “gayer than laughter,” “softer than starlight,” and “younger than springtime,” too.

Another well-known use of spring in the lyrics, title, and imagery of a Broadway song can be found in “It Might As Well Be Spring” from State Fair, another Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration.  The song plays with some of the springtime tropes and patterns used in “Younger Than Springtime.”  The singer, Margy, makes clear that she hasn’t seen any of the typical, physical signs of oncoming spring.  In fact, it’s decidedly not spring: “I haven’t seen a crocus or a rosebud/or a robin on the wing,” Margy sings, “But…it might as well be spring.”  This is a prime example of Oscar Hammerstein’s genius use of conditional thinking.  In the same way Hammerstein implies in Carousel that Julie Jordan is madly in love with Billy Bigelow using the conditional “IF I loved you,” and that Laurie and Curly in Oklahoma! are similarly destined to mate with the conditional “people will SAY we’re in love,” Hammerstein is able to write a spring love song that’s not actually sung during springtime. 

The song grows even more rich and complex in its associations with the season.  While the characteristics of springtime that Cable lists in “Younger Than Springtime” are all positive, for Margy “it might as well be spring” not only because she’s “starry-eyed,” “giddy,” and “gay,” but also because she feels “restless,” “jumpy,” and “vaguely discontented.”  In “It Might As Well Be Spring” you get both sides of the coin: the good and the bad, the positive and the negative, perhaps best summed up by the lyric: “But I feel so gay/in a melancholy way/that it might as well be spring.”  Here, spring is being used as a metaphor for the “nameless” discontent Margy feels with her life at the moment – a vague restlessness which sets up most of the action of the play: while Margy is dating Harry, who wants to marry her, she “keep[s] wishing [she] were somewhere else,/Walking down a strange new street./Hearing words that [she’s]…never heard/ From a man [she’s] yet to meet.”  These lyrics foreshadow her meeting, and falling in love with, Pat at the (titular) state fair.  It’s also hard not to read these lyrics without picking up something of a sexual edge.  When Margy starts the song, she sings of “want[ing] a lot of…things/[she’s] never had before.”  Given the traditional associations of birth, new beginnings, love, and even sexuality, with springtime, “It Might As Well Be Spring” could easily speak to Margy’s desires as a newly minted young woman. 

 Many Broadway songs focus on this deeper side of spring’s transitions.  In Rodgers and Hart’s I Married an Angel, for example, Willy sings “Spring Is Here” when things with his angel-wife (yes, you read that correctly) have gone sour.  “Spring is here/why doesn’t my heart go dancing?/spring is here/why isn’t the waltz entrancing?…Maybe it’s because nobody needs me…Maybe it’s because nobody loves me,” he sings.  It’s another clever inversion of the springtime myth: spring may be here, with its gentle “breezes,” and “lads and girls…drinking May wine,” but because Willy has fallen out of love, he can no longer enjoy it.  It’s a springtime love song that depends on negative space rather than positive space: without “love,” “desire,” or “ambition,” there can be no spring.

“Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf’s 1955 tune which was then incorporated into the 1959 musical The Nervous Set, similarly focuses on the “have-nots” of spring rather than the “haves.”  A send-up of the first lines of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” (“April is the cruelest month…”), “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” implies that spring can actually be the worst time of the year – if you’re single, that is.  “Spring this year has got me feeling like a horse that never left the post;/I lie in my room staring up at the ceiling/Spring can really hang you up the most!” the lyrics read.  The song reverses traditional springtime psychology and implies that the singer was happy and in love in the winter, and now, during the joyful spring season of rebirth, is experiencing loneliness. “Love seemed sure around the New Year,” she sings, “Now it’s April, love is just a ghost;/ Spring arrived on time, only what became of you, dear?”  It should be noted that this song, as well as “It Might As Well Be Spring,” became jazz standards, covered by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.  The season’s failure to deliver on its promise is clearly a recurring theme on Broadway and beyond.

But no discussion of spring on Broadway would be complete without “Springtime for Hitler” from Mel Brooks’ The Producers.  The major song in the musical’s show-within-a-show, a favorable retelling of WWII from the perspective of a disgruntled Nazi, “Springtime for Hitler” shows Brooks’ thoughtful understanding – and appreciation – of spring’s metaphorical function in Golden Age musicals.  As the tap-dancing, sausage-wearing Nazis sing lines like “And now it’s springtime for Hitler and Germany/Deutschland is happy and gay,” Brooks is sending up the positive traits associated with springtime in musicals like South Pacific and State Fair.  And to the Nazis represented in the show, “springtime for Hitler” is indeed positive: it encapsulates their military campaign to take over the world.  Brooks makes clear, however, that this seasonal rebirth is actually extremely dark.  Peppered in with the image of a “happy and gay” Germany are lyrics about “U-boats…sailing once more.”  In the song, springtime equals gaiety, but it also happens to equal “bombs falling from the skies again.”  Combined with the schmaltzy musical style, movie-musical tap-dancing, over-the-top costumes, and of course the late, great Gary Beach’s acting, springtime in “Springtime for Hitler,” repeated over 20 times in the eight-minute song, becomes an absurd (and incredibly funny) dramatic irony.

Brooks’ hilarious treatment of springtime is similar to the season’s representation in a lesser known E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy song, “Springtime Cometh” from the 1951 flop Flahooley.  Like “Springtime for Hitler,” “Springtime Cometh” relies on and leans into the audience’s positive associations with spring and its traditional representation in Golden Age musicals.  Sandy/Penny and her genie (truly – don’t ask) sing about “lilacs growing on the clothesline,” “roses growing in the ashcan,” “hummingbird[s],” “merry maidens,” and repeat the word “springtime” six times in the short song.  Harburg went one step further and even wrote the lyrics in a sort of faux Olde English: “Springtime cometh,” the characters sing. “Hummingbird hummeth,/little brook rusheth,/merry maiden blusheth…springtime cometh for love of thee.”  Harburg pushes this construction even further for comedic effect with “Sugarplum plummeth,/Heart, it humpty-dummeth,/And to summeth up,/The Springtime cometh for the love of thee.”  The faux Olde English language reaches its zenith with Harburg’s tongue-and-cheek reference’s to spring’s inherent sexuality: “Lad and lass/In tall green grass/Gaily skippeth,/Nylon rippeth,/Zipper zippeth…which is to say/Spring cometh.”  Harburg’s ironic send-up of springtime is sexual, funny, self-aware, and, most importantly, irreverent.

Broadway clearly has a long-time fascination – and infatuation – with all things spring.  From the huge number of songs with “spring” in their title (and chorus) – to ones that rely on springtime imagery like the lilac trees in My Fair Lady’s “On the Street Where You Live” –  lyricists have used the season to convey and inspire romance, joy, lust, restlessness, loneliness, humor, and personal transformation in equal parts.  So in this close-to-post-pandemic moment: crank up the Broadway show tunes, smell the flowers, and look forward to a new (and hopefully, better) day. As they say: “springtime cometh!” 


Katie Birenboim is a NYC-based actor, director, and writer. She’s performed and directed at Classic Stage Company, Berkshire Theatre Group, Barrington Stage, City Center Encores!, The Davenport Theatre, and Ancram Opera House, to name a few.  She is a proud graduate of Princeton University, member of Actors’ Equity, and hosts a weekly interview show on YouTube with theatre’s best and brightest entitled “Call Time with Katie Birenboim.”

Categories
Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Jonathan Groff

During my run as Melchior in Spring Awakening, I was living a double life. (No wonder ALIAS was my favorite tv show at the time…) On stage, I played a fearless and intelligent rebel who refused to let the world define him. In my personal life, I was living a completely closeted existence. My “roommate” was just a “roommate” – certainly not a “BOYFRIEND.” Backstage at the show, I never spoke of my personal life in an honest way, and blessedly the cast never pushed me for the truth. I performed the show for almost two years. In June 2008, a month after I finished my run, I came out of the closet and started my journey towards self acceptance.  Looking back, I see how much Spring Awakening changed me. Getting the opportunity to grab the mic and express myself every night was the therapy I didn’t even know I needed. Just thinking about singing the song “Touch Me” every night still makes me well up. I found the courage to come out of the closet from cultivating bravery every night trying to be more and more like Melchior. The show changed the game for me professionally, but it hit me harder in a personal way at the exact moment I needed that form of self expression. I think the ultimate legacy of Spring Awakening is the opportunity the show provides future teenagers by taking their struggles seriously and giving them an outlet to express themselves. Every time I see the show performed in community theaters and schools, I can feel the experience is changing the lives of it’s fearless young performers in ways that they might not even be aware of yet. And watching them transforms me all over again. 


Jonathan Groff, recently seen off-Broadway as Seymour Krelborn in Little Shop of Horrors, earned Tony nominations for playing Melchior Gabor in Spring Awakening and King George in Hamilton.  His film and television credits include Disney animation’s Frozen, HBO’s Looking and Netflix’s Mindhunter.

Categories
Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE – Brian Cox

A Memory Lapse

In 1997 I did a one man play about a drunken Irish theatre critic at the Bush theater in London. St Nicholas! Written by Conor McPherson, which I subsequently performed the following year at Primary Stages in New York on 45th street, and for which I was honored with ‘The Lucille Lortel Award’!

But the previous year the play was premiered at the Bush Theatre in London. The Bush was a small intimate theatre with the audience on three sides. This particular night was a sellout performance. The audience were packed to the rafters.

Now St Nicholas is an extremely intricate complicated and fantastical text. With a sinewy comic thread! It demands an incredible level of Concentrated attention from the player. That evening started well.

But…About 6 minutes into the evening I noticed that sitting on front row…in…the middle…to my right was my ex girlfriend. Who I had recently broken up with. I was a little thrown by this …and wondered why on earth she had chosen that particular, really, quite prominent, seat. 

I recovered from this slight ‘hiccup’ and continued, feeling proud of myself that I was not thrown by this ‘obstacle’. So I proceeded with renewed confidence.

After a few minutes, I’d just gotten back in stride when I turned to address my audience stage left and there sitting…in the middle of the left front row was…my ex ex girlfriend. The girl friend previous…to the girl friend…now sitting stage right. In fact these two young ladies were actually sitting…facing…each other. I didn’t panic… but, my anxiety…was, shall we say…mounting.

What on earth was going on? And of course various scenarios began to play out in my mind!

Had they come together?

And as some bizarre joke decided to sit opposite each other? 

Or??….were they there by pure coincidence?

My brain became occupied with, what seemed endless permutations on these shifting scenarios. The text of the play, the main purpose of my attention, was drifting in my consciousness. And..ten minutes into the evening….the inevitable happened. I went up! Dried stone dead.

I struggled like a drowning man seeking a life raft. But after..a beat..which seemed a lifetime. I stopped turned to the audience, and said “Ladies and Gentlemen I’m afraid for reasons I can’t entirely explain, I need to start the evening over again! Apologies!” And so indeed I did…and it was truly scary!

“Will I get over the point where concentration abandoned me.”

And…”Will I indeed get through the entire evening….”

The moment where I had lost my way, was looming like one of those huge fences at the English Grand national horse race. Would I get over the fence? The moment arrived… and I lept the fence.. and..proceeded obsessively to the finish. After it was over, I left the stage exhausted!

I sat in my dressing room. There was a knock on my door. It was my ex-girlfriend. “Brian that was wonderful, what an incredible evening.” I was about to answer when there was another knock at the door. Enter my ex-ex-girlfriend “Brian that was wonderful, what an amaz….Oh hello, blank!

I was about to answer when there was another knock at the door. Enter my ex-ex-girlfriend “Brian that was wonderful, what an amaz….Oh hello, blank! Were you in?”

Ex-girl friend, “Yes, were you, wasn’t it wonderful 

Ex-ex-girlfriend “Amazing!”

I sat there in a state of stupefaction! Me “But weren’t you?… didn’t you? ..Um..ah…see..?”

Both, “What?

Me,  “Oh…Nothing…”

Ex girlfriend “ I was absolutely caught from the moment you came on!

Ex-ex-girlfriend “Oh, Me too! Me too”.

Both “But..why did you stop?”

Me, “Ah!…That!…Momentary lapse of concentration!”


Brian Cox

Brian Cox is an Olivier Award, Emmy Award and Golden Globe winner known for playing Logan Roy on HBO‘s Succession. He has worked extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he gained recognition for his portrayal of King Lear. Additional credits include: Super Troopers, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, X2, Braveheart, Rushmore, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Troy.

Categories
Creative

ARMIE HAMMER WITHDRAWS FROM THE MINUTES ON BROADWAY

PRODUCTION STILL ON TRACK FOR 2021-2022 SEASON

(New York, NY) Armie Hammer has withdrawn from the production of The Minutes for personal reasons.  

“I have loved every single second of working on The Minutes with the family I made from Steppenwolf. But right now I need to focus on myself and my health for the sake of my family. Consequently, I will not be returning to Broadway with the production.” – Armie Hammer

“Armie remains a valued colleague to all of us who have worked with him onstage and offstage on The Minutes. We wish only the best for him and respect his decision.” – A statement from The Minutes

As previously announced, Steppenwolf’s production of The Minutes by Tracy Letts, directed by Anna D. Shapiro, will return to Broadway in the 2021-2022 season.

Categories
Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Pearl Cleage

by Pearl Cleage

In 1990, the year that Anna Campbell would have first performed her protest piece, “Naked Wilson,” at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the word intersectionality was not yet in common usage. The idea that individual bodies can collide with multiple, often overlapping forms of oppression simply because of their race, gender, and sexual identities was not widely acknowledged or understood. For African American women like me, hoping to craft careers in the American theatre, the work of August Wilson presented a special challenge by forcing considerations of race and gender to be viewed exclusively through a passionate and undeniably black male lens. Many late-night sessions examined and reexamined the plays hoping they would reveal themselves to be love letters if we could just break the code. “Naked Wilson” would certainly have been part of those conversations.


Pearl Cleage is an Atlanta-based writer whose works include three novels, What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day (Avon Books, 1997), I Wish I Had A Red Dress (Morrow/Avon, 2001), and Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do, (Ballantine/One World, August, 2003); a dozen plays, including Flyin’ West, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Hospice and Bourbon at the Border; two books of essays, Mad at Miles: A Blackwoman’s Guide to Truth and Deals With the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot; and a book of short fiction, The Brass Bed and Other Stories (Third World Press).  She is also a performance artist, collaborating frequently with her husband, Zaron W. Burnett, Jr., under the title Live at Club Zebra.  The two have performed sold out shows at both the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and The National Black Arts Festival in  Atlanta, Georgia.

She is a frequent contributor to anthologies and has been featured recently in Proverbs for the People, Contemporary African American Fiction , edited by Tracy Price-Thompson and TaRessa Stovall and in Mending theWorld, Stories of Family by Contemporary Black Writers, edited by Rosemarie Robotham.

Categories
Creative

Spotlight on Plays

Broadway’s Best Shows is proud to present Spotlight on Plays, a starry series of livestream readings of Broadway’s best plays to benefit The Actors Fund.

With Debbie Allen, Ellen Burstyn, Bobby Cannavale, Kathryn Hahn, Kevin Kline, Eric McCormack, Audra McDonald, Mary-Louise Parker, Phylicia Rashad, Keanu Reeves, Heidi Schreck, Alia Shawkat, Heather Alicia Simms, Alicia Stith, Meryl Streep, and many more. 

The “Spotlight on Plays” presentations premiere on Stellar at 8PM ET / 5PM PT. Following the live premiere, presentations will be available to watch anytime on-demand for four days ONLY after its premiere.

THE THANKSGIVING PLAY
By Larissa FastHorse
Directed By Leigh Silverman
Starring Bobby Cannavale, Keanu Reeves, Heidi Schreck and Alia Shawkat

Premieres Thursday, March 25th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, March 29th at 6:00PM ET

Larissa FastHorse’s wickedly funny comedy finds a troupe of terminally “woke” teaching artists scrambling to create a pageant that manages to celebrate both Turkey Day and Native American Heritage Month. “A delicious roasting” (NY Times) of the politics of entertainment and political correctness, The Thanksgiving Play puts the American origin story in the comedy-crosshairs.

ANGRY, RAUCOUS AND SHAMELESSLY GORGEOUS
By Pearl Cleage
Directed By Camille A. Brown
Starring Debbie Allen, Phylicia Rashad, Heather Alicia Simms, and Alicia Stith

Premieres Thursday, April 8th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, April 12th at 6:00PM ET

Pearl Cleage’s “funny and hopeful” (Georgia Magazine) comedy is all about aging gracefully and gorgeously. Anna Campbell, now 65, sparked controversy when she bared it all on stage years ago. When a theatre festival asks to re-stage the work with a younger actress in her role, dramatic and comic fireworks ensue.

THE BALTIMORE WALTZ
by Paula Vogel
Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
Starring Mary-Louise Parker, Eric McCormack, and Brandon Burton

A comic and dramatic fantasia based on the love and adventures of a brother and sister, one of whom has a fatal disease.   Winner of the 1992 Obie Award for Best New American Play.

Premieres Thursday, April 29th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, May 3rd at 6:00PM ET (date subject to change)

WATCH ON THE RHINE
By Lillian Hellman
Directed by Sarna Lapine
Starring Ellen Burstyn and Carla Gugino

Written and set during the rise of Hitler’s Germany, Watch on the Rhine is a play about an American family, suddenly awakened to the danger threatening its liberty.  Hellman’s powerful drama won the 1941 New York Drama Critics Circle Award.

Premieres Thursday, May 13th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, May 17th at 6:00PM ET (date subject to change)

THE SISTERS ROSENSWEIG
By Wendy Wasserstein
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Starring Kathryn Hahn

Three very different sisters reunite after a lengthy separation and discover humanity, respect, and love in this definitive serious comedy about sisterhood. 

Premieres Thursday, May 20th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, May 24th at 6:00PM ET (date subject to change)

OHIO STATE MURDERS
By Adrienne Kennedy
Directed by Kenny Leon
Starring Audra McDonald

Ohio State Murders is an unusual look at the destructiveness of racism in the U.S.  When Suzanne Alexander, a fictional African American writer, returns to Ohio State University to talk about the violence in her writing, a dark mystery unravels.

Premieres Thursday, June 3rd, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, June 7th at 6:00PM ET (date subject to change)

DEAR ELIZABETH
By Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline

Based on the compiled letters between poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, Dear Elizabeth maps the relationship of the two poets from first meeting to an abbreviated affairand the turmoil of their lives in between.

Premieres Thursday, June 17th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, June 21st at 6:00PM ET (date subject to change)


The Actors Fund envisions a world in which individuals contributing to our country’s cultural vibrancy are supported, valued and economically secure.

The Actors Fund fosters stability and resiliency, and provides a safety net for performing arts and entertainment professionals over their lifespan.

Categories
Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE – Estelle Parsons

My First (and Last) Artistic Directorship: 1986-8

I was in a sauna with my husband and 3 year old son on the Dingel peninsula when I received a phone call from Joe Papp asking me to start a multicultural Shakespeare company for him to play for the New York City school system.

Why me? He had seen a multicultural-multilingual production of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA that I had directed at the Womens’ Interart Theater on 52nd Street. I put together a company: 5 Blacks, 6 Hispanics, 3 Japanese, 2 Whites and 1 Turk.

We played in the Anspacher theater at 425 Lafayette Street for one year and then moved to the Belasco Theater on West 44th Street as SHAKESPEARE ON BROADWAY. It was Joe Papp’s dream.

We played daytimes during the school week for high school and junior high school students. On Friday and Saturdays they could bring their families from great grandparents to babes-in-arms. It was all free.

I TOOK FIVE MONTHS TO DEVELOP THE COMPANY

First an hour of relaxation and physical work led by a member of the company who was a dancer.

Then an hour of vocal work led by another member of the company. Then, five hours of free form work to find out who these actors were.

The reason for these five months?

Commercial actors of whatever culture or race learned to “act white” back in the 80s. I wanted to know who these people really were, their customs, their talk, their heritage, themselves. That stuff is the bedrock of compelling theater and fine acting.

One day Rene Moreno, an Hispanic, was showing us something of his heritage when Vince Williams, a big black guy from a family of musicians in New Orleans, sitting near me watching in the audience, piped up with “My heritage is some guys standing on a beach waiting to be brought here to be slaves”. Necessary talk this. Five months of it.

What do high school students like? Sports teams, oh, yes!

We put sweats on the actors and we had a sports team. (Ruth Morley of ANNIE HALL fame did the costumes). THE NEW YORK SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL PLAYERS

AFTER 5 MONTHS, HERE’S THE DRILL!

The actors came out to introduce themselves “Hello. I’m . . .”

But-hold it! Is that theater? What is your moniker, what is your “John Hancock”?

What is yourself? Show me your essence!

Not easy. Maybe impossible. Try.

One actor was really good at juggling. One could do backflips. One had been trained at New York City Ballet. Got it? Too big a challenge? Yes. Try!

By now the kids were into it.

Bess Myerson, a former Miss America, now part of the city government saw just this much of the performance and gave us a big donation.

BLACKOUT. LIGHTS UP. AS YOU LIKE IT.

Natsuko was Rosalind. Celia was Regina Taylor—with a live boa constrictor around her neck. 25 pounds. Had his own dressing room.

“I can’t rehearse all day with this thing around my neck.” Of course not—but it had been her idea.

One matinee, lights came up and a big girl in the front row shot to the back of the house – faster than any animal I had ever seen run.

The snake was still on Regina’s shoulders.

We alternated AS YOU LIKE IT and ROMEO AND JULIET.

We played the Anspacher, the Mobile Unit in the parks all summer, and then added the Scottish play when we became SHAKESPEARE ON BROADWAY. Ching Valez played Lady M.

Oh, but she could.

After the students had seen the productions, the actors, as themselves, visited the schools and “played Shakespeare” with them.

At the end of our second season, I went, as a wife, to Gracie Mansion for dinner with the Mayor. My husband worked in the city government.

Bobby Wagner, head of the school board, was there. He told a story.

“I was in a school elevator and asked a teacher how her year had been. She said ‘Estelle Parsons’ Shakespeare program was the only good thing that happened all year.”


Estelle Parsons received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Blanche Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde, and was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Rachel, Rachel. She is well known for playing Beverly Harris, on the sitcom “Roseanne”, and its spinoff “The Conners”. She has been nominated five times for the Tony Award (four times for Lead Actress of a Play and once for Featured Actress) for her work in The Seven Descents of Myrtle, And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, Miss Margarida’s Way, Morning’s at Seven, and The Velocity of Autumn. 

Categories
Interviews

All The World’s Her Stage (…and Backstage)

Beverly Jenkins is not afraid of a cut show. That’s a performance where there are more actors calling out than there are understudies or swings to replace them, and it requires a last-minute reconfiguration of everything from blocking to costuming to the placement of props.

For many people, this would be terrifying, but for Jenkins, who’s been a Broadway stage manager since the early 90s, it’s an opportunity.

“It’s a challenge I actually enjoy,” she says. “I know it’s a crazy thing to enjoy. It’s not something you wish for, but if you need to make it happen and you have the right people, you can make it happen.”

Case in point: At one performance of Broadway’s A Bronx Tale The Musical, she only had one Black actress available, even though there was a scene that required two. “I had to decide,” she recalls. “‘Do I have one Black female on stage, or do I have a Black female and a Black male in that other track?’ I’d planned for that, because you have to plan for that, even if it never happens. So I made the decision to have a Black male on stage, because otherwise it would have thrown some things off [to just have one person]. I spoke to some people; we made a few changes, and it worked. No problem.”

That solution indicates what a distinct style of stage management Jenkins has developed over her career, which includes landmark productions like Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk; the original Miss Saigon; and her current gig as the production stage manager for Hadestown.

The cast and crew of Hadestown

Crucially, she sees a cut show as a chance to connect. “It’s a community event,” she says. “You check with wardrobe, and they’ll make adjustments. The music department and the dance captains are involved. I always reach out to the director or the AD to make sure my choices are okay. And I take the personal trip to tell people what’s happening. I get a couple of extra steps in on my FitBit, and I’m good. I want to make sure I’m personally letting people know what’s going on before they step on stage.”

Those steps — up and down stairs, into the green room, into the wings — set Jenkins apart “Beverly runs a building, and she doesn’t have to open her computer to do it,” says Michael Rico Cohen, a fellow stage manager who has worked alongside her on A Bronx Tale The Musical, Amazing Grace, and Fully Committed.

“She is the person-to-person contact. She’s the problem solver. She’s the empathy master.”

Or to borrow a phrase Jenkins uses to describe herself, she’s a mom of many. “I’m fine with the tech,” she says. “It’s all good. I’m very calm, and I can call a cue just as well as the next person, but I believe my speciality is about being hands-on with the people. I put a lot of thought and care into everyone — not just the actors, but everyone — coming into that theatre.”

On every show, then, a big part of her job is figuring out exactly what this particular group of people needs. For instance, on Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk, the 1996 dance musical that uses tap to trace Black history in the United States, Jenkins worked with performers who were more familiar with the dance world than with Broadway. “Sorry Equity, but I had to bend the rules for this group of young men,” she says. “I had to assess the rules and see what they needed. Like, ‘I know this is half hour, and if you’re not here at half hour, then I need you to call me and tell me how far away you are. And as Iong as I know you’re coming, you get a five-minute grace period.’ And that’s something I still do, the five-minute grace period.”

On Noise/Funk, she also turned her office into an occasional daycare center, so that parents in the company could bring their children with them when there were no other options. She recalls, “I had Barney tapes. I had a playpen. I was like, ‘You’re not going to be forced to miss work because you’re doing the right thing with your child.’ I have to get my show up, no matter what. I have to figure out how to get the best show on stage today. And on that show, watching kids was part of it.”

For Amazing Grace, the 2015 Broadway musical that explores how the British slave trade inspired the titular hymn, Jenkins knew her job required extra compassion. She says, “Amazing Grace was important to me because of what was happening on stage. How hard is it that the first time you see Black people on stage, they are stuffed in a crate, and then they get pulled out, thrown on the ground, and shot in the back? So when the actors come off stage, how can they not carry that off stage? How do we make sure that these people are not carrying the feelings of trauma off stage with them?

“We had company morale-building events. We had t-shirt day. We made sure the dressing rooms were mixed, and that we weren’t keeping the Puritans over here and the Africans over here. It was good to see everyone put thought into how to make this a harmonious backstage area and still tell that particular story.”

It no doubt helped that Jenkins herself was spearheading the backstage culture. “She is wildly good at creating fellowship and community,” says Rachel Chavkin, the director of Hadestown.

“She exudes exuberance, but also doesn’t beat around the bush when she’s got a problem to work through. And she’s not precious, because she’s focused on problem-solving at every turn.”

Jenkins asserts that small touches help a company avoid bigger problems, particularly when they’re together for a lengthy run. That’s one reasons she runs a “turkey hand” contest for Thanksgiving, getting everyone in the building to trace their hand on construction paper and then turn it into a decorated turkey drawing. “And believe me, there are prizes, honey,” she says.

Cohen confirms, “There’s nobody that loves a turkey hand competition more than Beverly Jenkins. But it’s more than just turkey hands or door decorating contests or the Father’s Day barbecue. She’s a master of the casual-but-meaningful interaction. It creates a camaraderie and an immediate trust. It’s these little things that really make the building a happy place over a period of years. All of those things are just as important — and sometimes more — than announcing what we’re doing in understudy rehearsal on Friday.”


Mark Blankenship is the founder and editor of The Flashpaper and the host of The Showtune Countdown on iHeartRadio Broadway.

Categories
Long Form

Looking Back to Look Ahead: How Nostalgia is Baked Into Broadway

Nostalgia has always been a powerful force in the theater – and right now, it’s stronger than ever.

With shows on Broadway and around the country unlikely to resume until the current pandemic’s final phases of reopening, fans and professionals alike find themselves missing almost everything about going to the theater. The sound of a live orchestra tuning up for an overture. The feeling of an audience-wide belly laugh. The hush that falls over a crowd at a dramatic moment. Pretty soon fans might start to miss the bathroom lines at intermission.

Nostalgia is evident, too, in the ad hoc streaming offerings that theater people have produced during the current lockdown. Original casts have reconvened online for readings of shows like “Significant Other,” while Seth Rudetsky’s ongoing variety show “Stars in the House” regularly hosts reunions of TV and film actors. Even playwright Richard Nelson’s just-written “What Do We Need to Talk About?” was performed over Zoom in conversation with the past, bringing together a familiar cast of actors reprising characters they’d portrayed in the four previous shows that comprise Nelson’s Apple Family Play.

“What Do We Need to Talk About?”

“We’re all streaming content that is based in reminding us what it was like to go to the theater,” says Elizabeth Wollman, the Baruch College theater professor whose books include “The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical, From ‘Hair’ to ‘Hedwig.’” “One of the reasons that I thought the new Apple Family play worked so beautifully is because it did exactly what those plays do in the theater.”

All of this is just the latest evolution of the way in which nostalgia has always had a presence theater. It’s baked into the form itself. “Theater is defined by legend, because each performance is once in a lifetime,” says Laurence Maslon, the New York University Tisch School of the Arts professor and the author of “Broadway: The American Musical.” Either you were in the house at “Gypsy” the night that Patti LuPone snatched a cell phone out of an audience member’s hand, or you weren’t.

The memory of a night at theater is more than just the show itself. It’s where you were, who you were with, what you did before and after the performance, and all the sense memories associated with those things. “It’s coming out of the subway and smelling the salty pretzels and getting a drink at Joe Allen,” Maslon says of the Broadway experience.

Joe Allen Restaurant in NYC

It’s no accident, then, that theater has always celebrated its history — its groundbreaking productions and talents — more than TV or film: The impulse rises from the effort to preserve what we can of an impermanent form, and it’s part of why we return so often to classic plays and musicals.

“People want musical art to be timeless, and it isn’t,” notes Raymond Knapp, the UCLA musicology professor whose books include “The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity.” “The impulse to revive is very, very strong. It’s partly based on nostalgia, and it’s also based on the notion that music transcends time.”

Revivals and even new works can draw on nostalgia on both a national level and a personal one. “The idea of doing a revival of ‘The King and I’ or ‘My Fair Lady,’ those tap into a national, theatrical, Broadway-musical sense of nostalgia,” notes Stacy Wolf, the Princeton University professor and author of the book “Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical.” “Broadway can be nostalgic in wanting to revive classics like those that have this aura of Americana, or sometimes, like ‘Jersey Boys,’ a show can speak to individual theatergoers or generations of fans and to their personal feelings of nostalgia for the music they grew up with.”

Adrienne Warren and the cast of Tina! The Tina Turner Musical (photo by Manuel Harlan)

For some critics and scholars, nostalgia raises red flags. Commercial producers and nonprofit theaters alike sometimes ignore new work to return again and again to established sellers like “The Sound of Music” and “Death of a Salesman,” and many new musicals draw on popular song catalogs – The Four Seasons (“Jersey Boys”), ABBA (“Mamma Mia!”), Tina Turner (“Tina”) – rather than original scores. “I get nervous about the word nostalgia, because executives often lean too heavily on it, or it’s their own personal nostalgia that clouds their decision making,” says Ashley Lee, the theater reporter at the Los Angeles Times.

But don’t dismiss nostalgia entirely, warns Chris Jones, the longtime theater critic at the Chicago Tribune. “Nostalgia is a powerful force in why people go to the theater, and some of my most glorious moments in the theater have been really driven by nostalgia either for me or the people around me,” he explains. “I remember being at the opening night of ‘Mamma Mia!’ in London, and the audience on this wave of joy remembering their youths. Or when I was at a press performance of ‘Jersey Boys’ on Broadway where I would say, of all the tens of thousands of shows I’ve seen in my life, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an audience so excited.”

Mamma Mia
Mamma Mia!

Right now, looking to the past can also provide clues to what Broadway and the theater business will look like in the coming months, when they finally reopen. Many point to the post-9/11 popularity of good-time shows like “Mamma Mia!” and “The Producers” as an indicator that in the wake of the coronavirus, audiences and producers will similarly gravitate to escapist fare.

But looking further back suggests that the future might not be all frivolity. Maslon notes that during the Depression, Broadway was a place not just for crowd-pleasing baubles like “Anything Goes” but also for socially consciousness works like “The Cradle Will Rock.” “There was this bifurcation where Broadway was either escapist or very engaged,” he says. “It actually forced theatermakers to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and to be very much in vogue and at the forefront.”


Gordon Cox is a theater journalist and the host of Variety’s Stagecraft podcast.

Categories
Cover Story

Stupid Kids

STUPID KIDS
By John C. Russell
Directed By Michael Mayer
Starring John Clay III, Lauren Patten, Ali Stroker and Taylor Trensch
With Stage Directions By Christian Borle

Stupid Kids premiered Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021 at 8:00PM ET/5PM PST and was available to stream on demand through Saturday, September 25th at 6:00PM ET.

STUPID KIDS follows four students at Joe McCarthy High School as they make their way from first through eighth period and beyond, struggling with the fears, frustrations, and longings peculiar to youth. With his magical touch, John C. Russell turns these familiar stereotypes into moving and provocative archetypes of adolescence whose lingo takes on a lyricism that is both true to its source and revelatory of the hearts and minds of contemporary youth.

Categories
Creative

Dear Elizabeth: Introduction

“Sometimes it seems…as though only intelligent people are stupid enough to fall in love & only stupid people are intelligent enough to let themselves be loved.” – Elizabeth Bishop, from her notebook

Dream

I see a postman everywhere

Vanishing in thin blue air,

A mammoth letter in his hand.

Postmarked from a foreign land.

The postman’s uniform is blue.

The letter is of course from you

And I’d be able to read, I hope,

My own name on the envelope

But he has trouble with this letter

Which constantly grows bigger & bigger

And over and over with a stare,

He vanishes in blue, blue air. 

–Elizabeth Bishop, Uncollected Poems, Drafts and Fragments

“Elizabeth told me about Robert Lowell. She said, “He’s my best friend.” When I met him a few years later, I mentioned that I knew her and he said, “Oh, she’s my best friend.” It was nice to think that she and Lowell both thought of each other in the same way” (Thom Gunn, Remembering Elizabeth Bishop, 244.)

“While we were with her, she managed to finish ‘North Haven,’ the poem [or elegy] for Lowell. She read it to us and walked about with it in her hand. I found it very moving that she felt she could hardly bear to put it down, that it was part of her. She put it beside her plate at dinner” (Ilsa Barker, Remembering Elizabeth Bishop, 344)

“I can remember Cal’s carrying Elizabeth’s “Armadillo” poem around in his wallet everywhere, not the way you’d carry the picture of a grandson, but as you’d carry something to brace you and make you sure of how a poem ought to be.” (Richard Wilbur, Remembering Elizabeth Bishop, 108)


FORWARD 

The great poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell were great friends, and they wrote over eight hundred pages of letters to one other. When I was on bed-rest, pregnant with twins, a friend gave me their book of collected letters Words in Air: the complete correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. I already had a long-standing obsession with Elizabeth Bishop; my obsession with Lowell and their friendship now began. I could not put the letters down. I hungered to hear them read aloud; I particularly longed to hear letter number 157 read out loud. Number 157 is Lowell’s most confessional letter to Bishop, and I think, one of the most beautiful love letters ever written. In it, he says, about not asking Bishop to marry him: “Asking you is the might have been for me, the one towering change, the other life that might have been had.” 

Reading these eight hundred pages, these strands of two lives, intersecting, rarely meeting–I thought: why do I find this narrative so compelling, even though theirs is not a story in the traditional sense? I was desperate to know how the “story” would come out—how each life would progress, how the relation would end. But I also loved how the letters resisted a sense of the usual literary “story”—how instead, the letters forced us to look at life as it is lived. Not neat. Not two glorious Greek arcs meeting in the center. Instead: a dialectic between the interior poetic life and the pear-shaped, particular, sudden, ordinary life-as-it-is-lived. 

Life intrudes, without warning. Elizabeth Bishop’s great love and partner Lota commits suicide without much warning. Bishop has multiple asthma attacks, and often needs to be hospitalized for alcoholism and depression. Robert Lowell dies suddenly of a heart attack in a taxi cab en route to see his ex-wife, Elizabeth Hardwick. As he died in the taxi he held a painting of his third wife, painted by her ex-husband, Lucian Freud. Lowell had bipolar disorder, and often found himself quite suddenly in a sanitarium. Bishop and Lowell’s carefully built, Platonic poetic worlds are intruded on constantly by the vagaries of life and the body. And through such sudden disturbances, their letters were like lanterns sent to one another across long distances. Bishop lived in Brazil most of her life, and Lowell lived in New York, Boston and London. Their friendship was lived largely on paper, though they met at crucial times in their lives. 

Bishop was in New York when Lota commited suicide, and she stayed at Hardwick and Lowell’s apartment. They paid for her ambulance ride through Central Park, a result of a bad fall she took, perhaps induced by too much drink, after Lota’s suicide. Bishop was plagued her whole life with alcoholism; at one point a friend eliminated all the liquor in her house and Bishop was reduced to drinking rubbing alcohol and ended up in the hospital. Lowell visited Bishop in South America and was hospitalized in Argentina for a manic episode. 

Their correspondence spans political epochs—coups in Brazil, the Vietnam war—personal epochs, and literary epochs. Bishop observes Lowell’s trajectory as he creates the confessional movement in poetry. I love, in the letters, the extraordinary dialectic between Lowell’s more confessional mode and Bishop’s formal restraint. Her disgust for the confessional, however, didn’t keep her from loving Lowell’s poetry. They both carried each other’s poems in their minds and in their pockets. Lowell carried Bishop’s Armadillo (a poems she dedicated to Lowell) in his wallet, a kind of talisman for how a poem ought to be. 

Lowell wrote Skunk Hour for Bishop, as well as many sonnets, and a poem called “Water”, about a seminal weekend the two of them spent in Maine. 

After Lowell divorced Jean Stafford in July of 1948, he visited Elizabeth Bishop in Maine. It’s a visit they would both return to again and again in their letters and in their poetry. It’s impossible to reconstruct exactly what happened; we know from letters and poems that they spent the weekend together, at one point standing waist high in water, and Bishop said to Lowell, “When you write my epitaph, you must say I was the loneliest person who ever lived.” Bishop wrote later that they were: “Swimming, or rather standing, numb to the waist in the freezing cold water, but continuing to talk. If I were to think of any Saint in his connection then it is St. Sebastian—he stood in a rocky basin of the freezing water, sloshing it over his handsome youthful body and I could almost see the arrows sticking out of him.” 

We know that shortly after that visit, Lowell told some friends he was going to marry Bishop. Soon after, they had a drunken weekend at Bard where many poets were gathered. Lowell was rumored to have proposed to her that weekend. Bishop wrote to another friend, “Saturday night was worst—a really drunken party, I’m afraid, with everyone behaving very much the way poets are supposed to.” In another account, Bishop remembers that she and Elizabeth Hardwick had helped a drunken Lowell back to his room, taken off his shoes and tie, loosened his shirt, upon which Hardwick said, “Why, he’s an Adonis!” and Bishop said “from then on I knew it was all over.” 

We also know from their friend Joseph Summers that at the end of the Bard weekend, “He and Elizabeth seemed to be very much in love that weekend. He was saying, ‘Now let me know when you are coming back.’ And she said, “I don’t know.’ “Let me know where you are,” and so on.” Another friend reports, “She told us at one point she loved Cal more than anybody she’d ever known, except for Lota, but that he would destroy her.” And from another friend: Lowell “was the one of the few people Bishop addressed in her poems. She said that he had proposed to her, and she had turned him down.” Apparently her greatest regret was not having a child, and she considered having one with Lowell early on, but worried about the history of mental illness in both of their families. 

The gaps between their letters, the mysterious interludes in which Lowell and Bishop actually saw each other, leaves much to the imagination. Their letters are so hyper-articulate that one almost has the impression that no bits of life were lived without been written down. These silences between the letters fascinated me as much as the letters themselves. But rather than invent dialogue for these interludes in which they actually met, it felt important to me to let Bishop and Lowell speak only in their own words. Bishop’s reserve, and her insistence on not mixing fact and fiction, was always with me as I arranged the letters. All the words from the play are taken from their letters and from their poetry. 

There are many ways to do this play. One can imagine the full spectacle I have suggested in the stage directions, complete with planets appearing and water rushing onto the stage, as in its premier at Yale Repertory Theater. I wanted to see the images in their letters made three- dimensional, to somehow see the reach of their imagery. But I’m also interested in how much the language can do all by itself. One can imagine, for example, a simple book club version. I saw pictures of one such event in Illinois and was very moved by the simplicity of non-actors who loved poetry reading the letters out loud to fellow travelers. One could also 

imagine doing the play in a library, at a poetry foundation, or even doing the play on the set for another play on its dark Monday night. You really need nothing more than a table and two chairs for two wonderful actors who could even read the letters straight from the page rather than memorizing them. You might then use someone to read stage directions rather than projecting subtitles. 

Regardless of how the play is performed, in a theater or in a room, when I first read the letters, I felt that they demanded to be read out loud, whether by actors or by lay-people. Bishop and Lowell had unerring, consummate ears, and they wrote poetry for a time when Lowell could command massive crowds in Madison Square Gardens, all gathered to hear him read his poems out loud. I offer this arrangement, then, in the spirit of a contemporary hunger to hear poetry out loud. I think we are starved for the sound of poetry. I wonder if Bishop and Lowell are among the last great people of letters to write out their lives in letter form. Their letters become almost a medieval church constructed in praise of friendship. It’s difficult to write about friendship. Our culture is inundated with the story of romantic love. We understand how romantic love begins, how it ends. We don’t understand, in neat narrative fashion, how friendship begins, how it endures. And yet life would be unbearable without friendship.

– Sarah Ruhl

Categories
Creative

A Show of Titles Preview!

We can’t wait to have you join us for our presentation of Show of Titles, streaming from Sunday, June 13 at 7pm EST to Thursday, June 17 at 4pm EST.

We’ve created a Spotify playlist of some classic title songs you can expect to hear during the show. Check it out below!

Broadway’s Best Shows is proud to present Show of Titles, a musical extravaganza with dozens of Broadway stars performing the title songs from over 20 beloved musicals to benefit The Actors Fund.

With Performances by Annaleigh Ashford, Glenn Close, Len Cariou, Gavin Creel, Darren Criss, Santino Fontana, Kelsey Grammer, David Alan Grier, Jake Gyllenhaal, Isabelle Huppert, Norm Lewis, Patti LuPone, Rob McClure, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Melba Moore, Jessie Mueller, Eva Noblezada, Kelli O’Hara, Laura Osnes, Steven Pasquale, Michael Rupert, Ernie Sabella, Lea Salonga, Phillipa Soo, Will Swenson, Aaron Tveit, Leslie Uggams, Vanessa Williams, Patrick Wilson, and more!

And Special Appearances by Broadway Inspirational Voices, Candice Bergen, Danny Burstein, Bryan Cranston, Sheldon Harnick, John Kander, Angela Lansbury, John Leguizamo, John Lithgow, Lindsay Mendez, Phylicia Rashad, BD Wong & Florian Zeller.

Show of Titles premieres on Stellar at 7PM ET / 4PM PT on Sunday, June 13th and will be available for a limited time only.

Categories
Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Lizan Mitchell

At the heart of August Wilson’s ‘Gem of the Ocean’ is a magnificent ritual that takes place in ‘the City of Bones’ which is located many fathoms deep down in the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic is said to be the largest graveyard for the millions of Africans intended for slavery in America but who died en route during the Middle Passage. I’ve done the role of Aunt Ester, the 300 year old woman in the play, many times and somehow, during this ritual, the separation between audience and actors vanishes and together we make the journey into facing who we really are. The surge of Spirit rushing through the space touches everyone open to the experience. It is profoundly moving. 

There are many places that people choose to gather in large numbers. However, to me, the transcendent power of theater penetrates in ways that can unexpectedly shift our consciousness. I am deeply grateful that I can participate in this miracle. 


Lizan Mitchell has appeared on Broadway in Electra, Having Our Say, and So Long on Lonely Street. Her Off-Broadway credits include: The First Noel, Brownsville Song, Cell, Rosmersholm, For Colored Girls (25th Anniversary), Gum, Ma Rose, and Salt. Her film and television credits include “Detroit”, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Deadbeat,” “We’ll Never Have Paris”, “Golden Boy,” “John Adams,” “The Good Wife,” “The Human Stain”, “The Preacher’s Wife”, “Sesame Street,” and “The Wire.” She can be seen in the Spotlight on Plays production of Ohio State Murders streaming this Thursday through Sunday.

Categories
Uncategorized

The Sisters Rosensweig

Thank you for joining us for our Spotlight on Plays presentation of Wendy Wasserstein’s The Sisters Rosensweig!

If you are able, please consider making an additional donation to the following organizations:

The Actors Fund
Steppenwolf Theatre Company
TDF Wendy Wasserstein Project (Specify Wendy Wasserstein Project in the “My gift is in honor of” box)

Categories
Stories from the Stage

STORIES FROM THE STAGE: Lisa Edelstein

The first time I was on stage, it was to walk a sign from stage left to right. Literally. Me, a sign, one side of the stage to the other. I was in absolute heaven. I was four. There are pictures. I loved it so much it was a problem. When I was nine, I played a willow tree in the Met’s production of Hansel and Gretel. We walked on stage as a group, in relevé, in green face paint with matching hooded onesies, waving our tree branch arms. There are pictures. It was my job to tip toe around the stage to get to my place on the other side, but one night I accidentally tripped on the witch’s cane. HEAVEN. 3,000 eyes, watching me get up. Yes, I thought. Yes. Years later, after being in every show ever made in a 20-mile radius of my hometown, I did a summer stock production of Cabaret. It’s my favorite play, my favorite movie, there are hookers and Nazis and queer people and pervy dancing. I was so thrilled to be on that stage, in that play, that on the very first dance where we dragged the chairs to their cabaret performance places – I smiled so much the director yelled at me. I was way too happy a hooker. But I couldn’t contain my glee! A corset, stockings, a chair, high heels, and messed up make-up??? Absolute heaven for my teenage self. I got it together, though, I started to learn to use all that energy in the performance and not just bounce around with it. But it’s still a wild ride. It’s unpredictable, sometimes even unreliable, but it’s in that unknowing that makes theater a place where the most interesting and wonderful things can happen. And it’s radical. People are affected differently when you put yourself out there in front of them. And when you do that because you actually have something to say, which for me was when I did my show, Positive Me, at La Mama during the height of the AIDS crisis, you feel like you are moving the world. Maybe you only moved it a micro-inch, but you did something, you pushed, and you felt other people change, at least for that moment.


Following her co-starring role for 7 seasons on the world-wide hit Fox medical drama “House,” Lisa Edelstein starred for five seasons in Bravo’s first scripted series “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.”  That show also gave her the opportunity to write, produce and direct and she has since written and directed two short films (“Unzipping”, “Lulu”), written a pilot and is adapting a book for her feature directorial debut.  She recently appeared opposite Rob Lowe in the hit Ryan Murphy series “9-1-1: Lone Star” and reprises her recurring role in season 3 of the award-winning Netflix comedy series “The Kominsky Method” (May 28th Season Premiere).  Lisa is reunited with Jason Alexander in The Sisters Rosensweig as part of the Spotlight on Plays series benefitting The Actors Fund.  They last worked together in 1993 in the notable ‘Risotto’ episode of “Seinfeld”.