A Conversation with …Marcina Zaccaria, Playwright/Director VILLAGE, MY HOME

Being a playwright, a critic, and a theater director has given me the opportunity to work with such smart, creative people, who every day search for deeper meaning.  The world can be a challenging place, so I ask myself: What role does our belief structure play?  Is it our friends who lift us out of difficult times?  
Marcina Zaccaria is directing the debut of her new play VILLAGE, MY HOME at the DREAM UP FESTIVAL at Theater for the New City.  We had a chance to chat about her play and what it means to be playwright, director, and arts advocate.
MARCINA PICTURE
Share with us a little bit about the germ of the play.  How did it come about?  What was its evolution? 
I used to live in Greenwich Village, and my first husband was a filmmaker who later won an Emmy Award for his work as an Editor for television.  Greenwich Village is sort of Mecca for artists.  When I reflected on what is like to live in such a creative environment every day, I, of course, experienced a wide range of emotions.  
I was so impressed by how “interconnected” the world can be, particularly when you involve people in different stages of their lives.  Also, I thought a lot about the difference between theater and film.  Both are truthful, and shed light on the human condition.  With theater, you can hear the voice re-bounding in space, so it’s very differently “live” than film.  I kept interrogating these ideas about the difference between theater and film, and I tried to find a way for sight to be as important as sound.  Also, I love multi-media art.  So, what began as a concept for a multi-media play became a theater piece, with a Facebook component. 
We were thrilled when the show got accepted to the Dream Up Festival at Theater for the New City.  This would provide a possibility for a live audience in a physical theater space, while, at the same time, not completely abandoning the notion of “live” camera coverage, that would be in use on stage. 
What outcomes do you hope to have with the premier of VILLAGE, MY HOME? 
I hope people will find humor in the show.  Also, I hope that plenty of people will chat with their friends about Village, My Home, and talk about the images. 
The play struggles with the notion of enlightenment, and I hope that the audience can find some recognition in the every day dilemmas they see onstage.
How have The Arts personally impacted your life? 
The arts have had an enormous impact on my life. When I decided to go to Drama School at Tisch School of the Arts, I had no idea that I would wind up feeling so rewarded by the journey I have taken over the last 20+ years.  
Being a playwright, a critic, and a theater director has given me the opportunity to work with such smart, creative people, who every day search for deeper meaning.  The world can be a challenging place, so I ask myself: What role does our belief structure play?  Is it our friends who lift us out of difficult times?  
I do believe in the transformative nature of theater, and I was so glad that Village, My Home is going to be performed the East Village in NYC.  It’s just a very spiritually sound place.
Dream Festival

VILLAGE, MY HOME BY MARCINA ZACCARIA
An exploration of the Village’s many colorful characters

August 27 to September 3, 2017
Theater for the New City,
155 First Avenue

Community Space Theater

Sunday, August 27 at 5:00 PM 

Tuesday, August 29 at 9:00 PM,

Thursday, August 31 at 9:00 PM 

Friday, September 1 at 9:00 PM,

Saturday, September 2 at 2:00 PM 

Sunday, September 3 at 8:00 PM


Tickets $15. Box Office: (212) 254-1109, http://www.dreamupfestival.org
Running Time: 45 minutes. Critics are invited to all performances.
Buy Tickets

In preparation for the New Year, a Village housewife joins businesspeople, locals and tourists as they question what matters to them. As technology continues to fascinate, isolate and shape our lives, how do we encounter our New York City? Village, My Home,  written and directed by Marcina Zaccaria, embraces the very human experience of what it means to live and survive in the 21st century against the backdrop of cultural and political uncertainties.

With theatrical movement and state-of-the-art sound design, Village, My Home promises to warm the heart and calm the most unsettling times.

Village, My Home stars LPTW Member Frances McGarry; Marjorie Conn*; Michael C. O’Day*; Kelsey Shapira; Jeff Burchfield*; Madalyn McKay; Christina Ashby; Maile Souza Sean Evans; Maria Severny; Stephanie Roseman; Meaghan Adawe McLeod; Rebecca Genéve; and Catherine Luciani. Jak Prince is the lighting designer. Maria Ortiz Poveda is the costume designer. Dana Robbins is stage managing.
*Appears Courtesy of Actor’s Equity

The eighth annual Dream Up Festival is an ultimate new work festival, dedicated to the joy of discovering new authors and edgy, innovative performances. Audiences savor the excitement, awe, passion, challenge and intrigue of new plays from around the country and around the world.

The festival does not seek out traditional scripts that are presented in a traditional way. It selects works that push new ideas to the forefront, challenge audience expectations and make us question our understanding of how art illuminates the world around us.

A unique and varied selection of productions will again be offered that draw upon a variety of performance specialties including singing, clowning, poetry, street music, magic and movement. The Festival’s founders, Crystal Field and Michael Scott-Price, feel this is especially needed in our present time of declining donations to the arts, grants not being awarded due to market conditions, and arts funding cuts on almost every level across the country and abroad.

Extraordinary Women Telling an Extraordinary Story: SHADOWS ROUND THE MOON

“This is a story of incredible love and extraordinary loss. The play is a chance to introduce an amazing woman to the world since Mary Shelley has not received the attention she deserves. People will be astounded to learn about the many tragedies she suffered. And yet, she survived. This play allows her to talk about how she did that, in her own words, her own voice.” ~ Kate Burton

“Many people know Mary Shelley as the writer of Frankenstein, but they don’t know what an extraordinary person she was,” says actress Kate Burton. “I didn’t know until I read Janice’s play.”

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Mary Shelley, author FRANKENSTEIN

Shadows Round the Moon came to Kate after playwright Janice Kennedy presented an excerpt at the Santa Monica Library and an actor in the audience asked her for a copy of the script. “He contacted me later and said he knew someone who would be a great match for the material, ” remembers Janice. “I didn’t know it was Kate, but he was absolutely right. Kate is perfect.”

Janice had a chance to see Kate as Mary Shelley when Kate did a reading of Shadows Round the Moon at a Women in Film benefit in Los Angeles. “It was extraordinary to watch her,” says Janice. “Even with no movement or staging, Kate transformed herself into Mary Shelley and the audience was mesmerized. They gave her a well-deserved standing ovation.”

Flash forward to Spring 2017 with Kate in a critically acclaimed revival of Present Laughter on Broadway. Kate and Janice decided this would be a good time to introduce Shadows Round the Moon to New York people. They set up an informal presentation at the Dramatists Guild and invited several Broadway producers and a rep from the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Janice gave an overview of the play and Kate read a couple of excerpts. The May presentation was so successful that a full reading of the play took place this past Wednesday, July 12th at the Dramatists Guild.

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Janice Kennedy and Kate Burton   Photo Credit Ellis Gaskell 

 

“This is a story of incredible love and extraordinary loss,” says Kate. “The play is a chance to introduce an amazing woman to the world since Mary Shelley has not received the attention she deserves. People will be astounded to learn about the many tragedies she suffered. And yet, she survived. This play allows her to talk about how she did that, in her own words, her own voice.”

 

To find that voice, Janice read Mary’s letters and journals as well as biographies of Mary and her husband, the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Janice found that even though Frankenstein was a publishing sensation, Mary did not receive much money for it. Copyright laws at the time she wrote the book did not favor the “creators” of literary works and music.

After Percy Shelley died, Mary was dependent on her father-in-law for money and forbidden by him to write Percy’s biography, even though she was constantly asked to do so by publishers. “This became the catalyst for the play,” says Janice. “What if Mary, as a way to write about Percy, wrote the story of her own life?”

This story begins with the death of Mary’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, when she was but a few days old. In the play, Mary Shelley talks about this being her introduction to “Mr. Bones,” her personification of Death.

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Kate Burton Photo Credit Ellis Gaskell 

The death of Mary Wollstonecraft reverberated throughout England because she was both revered and reviled as the founder of modern feminism with her book, A Vindication of the Rights of Women. After Wollstonecraft’s death,  Mary was raised by her father, William Godwin, a radical philosopher whose house was often visited by other philosophers and poets of the day, including Percy Shelley. As Mary grew up, she often hid on the stairs to listen to the talk of these men.

Kate Burton says she can relate to this experience of Mary’s. Recently, an old friend of her father’s came to see Kate in Present Laughter. He told her of sitting on the stairs as a child and listening in on the gatherings his father would have with people like Noel Coward, John Gielgud, Terrence Rattigan and Somerset Maugham.

At sixteen, Mary meets and falls in love with Percy Shelley at her father’s house. Janice’s research told her that the relationship that developed was not typical of the times. “Percy was devoted to the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and truly believed the younger Mary was his equal — that she was as smart as or smarter than him,” says Janice. “Percy and Mary fell deeply in love and established an extraordinary partnership where they fueled each other’s ideas. Unfortunately, their life together was marked by tragedy after tragedy that began with the death of their first child when she was but a few days old.”

A few days after their baby’s death, Mary woke to tell Percy that she dreamed their little girl was “only cold and that we rubbed her by the fire, and she lived.” This dream of “reanimation,” Mary would say later, provided the seed for Frankenstein.

Two more of Mary and Percy’s children would die as small children and Mary suffered a miscarriage while in Italy that almost took her life as well. It was in Italy that Mary and the world suffered the loss of Percy Bysshe Shelley when he drowned at age 29 while sailing in the Mediterranean. Mary was only 25.

“These are things I do not want to remember,” Mary says in the play. “But remember I must, as we all must. What we have known, we cannot cease to know.”

Janice says she titled her play “Shadows Round the Moon” because Percy Shelley used the moon as his symbol for Mary in his poetry. And as Mary recounts her life in the play, all of the deaths she endured are like shadows surrounding and haunting her. “I made it a one-woman drama so that Mary is finally the focus of the story,” says Janice. “While Mary was alive, no one but Percy seemed to realize her brilliance. The irony is that he was largely credited with writing Frankenstein, something he consistently denied.”

Critics especially had a hard time believing that a young woman, only 17 at the time, could have written such a tale. One reviewer of Frankenstein exclaimed that “this is the foulest toadstool that has sprung up on the dung heap of mankind.”

“But what do critics, know?” counters Kate, who seems to intuitively understand Mary Shelley since Mary was raised in a “British culture” as she was. And Kate grew up in an artistic and literary family as well. Her father, Richard Burton, was an actor as was her mother Sybil, who became a literary agent and then a theatre manager. Sybil, in fact, founded The Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, NY. But Kate says she didn’t know she was going to pursue the arts until her senior year of college:

I was going to be a diplomat but in my senior year at Brown, I decided to apply to drama schools. I knew that as the daughter of a famous actor, I would need all the proper  training. The basic decision became whether I would go to graduate school in England or  America because I am a British National. So, that was the only big fight in the family. Not with my mom, but with my dad. He wanted me to go to Britain and I said no, I was an American. So I went to Yale. I had a very interesting, good, and hard time while I was there. My first big job after graduate school was playing the ingénue in Present Laughter directed by George C. Scott, which was crazy.

For nearly 17 years, Kate was a working actress and then in her 40s, Hedda Gabler and The Elephant Man came along and “that changed my life as an actress because suddenly I was being moved into a different pantheon: I was no longer an ingénue and I was no longer a character actress. I could do more. That was 16 years ago. Then I went through a fallow period and I auditioned for this television show about doctors called Grey’s Anatomy. I was to be the mom of the leading lady, a mom who had early onset Alzheimer’s. I thought , ‘Oh my God, what a horrible thing.’ And I ended up [with] THAT [changing] my life and that was great.”

What does Kate think about the challenge of doing a one-woman show like Shadows Round the Moon?  “It’s very hard learning an hour-and-twenty-minute monologue and then, of course, I love being on stage with my fellow actors. But it has to be Mary’s story. It has to be her voice.”

Realizing the significance of providing role models, Kate values women writers like Mary Shelley and playwright Janice Kennedy.  “We’re in a time when women are being heralded in a way they haven’t been before . . . I am glad that women are being rewarded not because they’re women but because they’ve done a fantastic job.  We have two plays on Broadway right now written by women and that’s exciting.  They’re both Pulitzer Prize winners from before. They have stayed the course.”

Kate’s career arc is one built over the years:  “I came into my own in my 40s,” she says. “For me, now it’s about focusing in on what I really want to do for the rest of my time.”

After taking five years off from being active in the Union, Kate is running for the Council at Actor’s Equity  “because I know that I’m good at that, I know that I’m good at being a Union person. That’s a place that I can be helpful.” She is on the board of Broadway Cares and works with the AIDS Foundation in AIDS education. Her life is good, says Kate, and she wants to give back.

“I am very lucky to be in this amazing Broadway production right now that is going incredibly well critically and financially,” she says. “It’s so thrilling. Now, I’m about to become a “Professor of Practice” at the University of Southern California in August.” Kate’s husband, Michael Ritchie, is the artistic director of the Center Theatre Group (CTG) in LA so she’s happy she’ll be living on the West Coast again. The CTG includes the Taper Forum, the Ahmanson and the Kirk Douglas theatres.

And the best is yet to come with the possibility of her own one-woman show about Mary Shelley. Helen Mirren once said, “Your 40s are good. Your 50s are great. Your 60s are fab.  And 70 is fucking awesome.“ Kate would probably agree with that as she looks forward to more incredible opportunities coming her way.

For more information about the play contact Janice Kennedy

Pan Asian Repertory presents ACQUITTAL

Pan Asian Repertory Theatre expands new ground with ACQUITTAL, building on past explorations of untold stories from countries in conflict, with Shaheed Nadeem’s powerful, acclaimed play from Pakistan, which spurred the Women’s Rights Movement in the 80’s.  We see, daily, new examples of violations against women in all guises globally –large and small, blatant and subliminal, publicized and covert — and ACQUITTAL  affirms that collectively.  In resistance, we can make a difference, for social justice and change.  Pan Asian is proud to welcome this extraordinary work to the New York Stage.

We are all imprisoned in separate places,”  a line spoken from ACQUITTAL, by Shahid Nadeem, expresses the thematic thrust of the play:  tightly woven narratives about four women who lived in Pakistan in the early 1980’s during the aftermath of the military coup led by General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq.

The tautly-talented ensemble of Aizzah Fatima, Shetal Shah, Gulshan Mia, and Salma Shaw, deftly directed by Noelle Ghoussaini exposes each character’s ethical core with authenticity lacking any didactic deference; instead, their camaraderie unfolds with a natural human curiosity to understand each other’s dilemmas thereby allowing the audience to empathize with them and raise their hopes for each of their acquittals.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, other than to encourage everyone to see this play — not only for its candid treatment of the continuing challenge of garnering equal rights for ALL women, but also to “sensitize the masses”  — the notion that theatre brings people together in a dark room to witness the human condition.  And in today’s divisive political climate we can all benefit from stepping in the shoes of these women to consider what change we can bring to our culture.

Opening Night, Thursday, June 15, 2017 at 8 pm

Performances of ACQUITTAL:
The Studio Theatre on 4fl at Theatre Row (410 W. 42nd St.) in New York City June 10-25, 2017.
Tues through Sat at 7:30PM and matinees Sat & Sun at 2:30PM.
Tickets are $62.25 for Opening Night (June 15, 2017, includes post-show reception with cast) and $42.25 for all other performances and can be purchased by calling 212-239-6200 or online at http://www.telecharge.com. For instructions on how to receive discounts for students and IDNYC Members, please call 212-868-4030.

Click here for ACQUITTAL Tickets

 

 

 

 

 

Leveraging Theatre for Social Good

Before it was fashionable to be an advocate or activist, my acquaintance Jessie Fahay invited me to join her very new theatre group. She had a vision to pair advocacy with theatrical productions, taking on socially relevant topics.

Jessica Jennings, Development Director of Ripple Effect Artists proudly talks about how they have stayed attuned to the most relevant issues pulling on the collective social conscience of all Americans:

That was in 2010. Seven years later, I could not be more proud of our endeavors and accomplishments at Ripple Effect Artists. Aside from the administrative feats, like becoming a 501(c)3 and earning grant funds, I mean that I am proud that we have stayed tuned to the most relevant issues pulling on the collective social conscience of all Americans. For example, we presented Tea & Sympathy, a play from the 50s about the bullying of homosexuals, and raised funds for the Trevor Project’s suicide prevention call center.

With each of our productions we both raise awareness with our audience, and make a financial donation toward an advocacy organization. We have worked with 11 different organizations on issues of heath care, suicide prevention, hospice, marriage equality, women’s rights, technology unemployment, sex trafficking, and now we will be looking at racism.

Our productions are paired with audience engagements such as talk-backs. While our dramas are wonderful for getting people curious about issues, real-world information and solutions from experts leave the audience empowered, informed, and pointed in a direction of taking action. Our audiences have reported taking these actions after our events: volunteering, signing petitions, conversing about these challenging issues in their own communities, and ending their participation in buying sex.

I am honored to have my work with Ripple Effect Artists as part of my artistic legacy. I like to say, in the spirit of Martha Graham, that there is no higher calling than to be fully used by our art.

Please get to know us better! We have a FREE event on May 11th, and a fundraiser on May 30th. Details and links are below.

Guarding the Bridge

May 11th @7pm

250 Park Ave., People’s United Bank.

FREE reading of Chuck Gorden’s GUARDING THE BRIDGE

Click here to RSVP

The Edge of Everyday

May 30th @ 8pm

Elektra Theatre, 300 W. 43rd St.

$45-$60 Tickets 

Rippleeffect.Jennings@gmail.com

 

Here’s What You Can Do To Protect National Arts And Culture Funding

Claire Fallon Culture Writer, The Huffington Post

In just six easy steps.

<> on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Amanda Edwards via Getty ImagesAn arts-inspired sign, painted by artist Panhandle Slim, at the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21.

Champions of the arts bristled last week at a report from The Hill that President Donald Trump’s agenda might include axing the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) ― along with many other severe budget cuts.

A report, however, is not a budget plan, and a president’s proposed budget is not a final policy. Citizens remain a crucial part of government; vocally and energetically supporting or opposing specific policies can sway elected officials. (Not sure about this? Check the NRA’s influence over gun control, backed by millions of highly mobilized members.)

So what can a mere individual do to save national arts and humanities funding? We talked to a few organizations working in the trenches to advocate for cultural institutions, and here’s what they said:

1. Know the stakes.

Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of PEN America, pointed out that though the budgets of the NEA and the NEH are small, “the impact is significant. They fund things that can’t attract for-profit dollars. Even more than that, the signal [axing these institutions] sends … is dangerous in a way that reaches far beyond even the impact of these important agencies.”

“The NEH … has a national mandate,” said Stephen Kidd, the executive director of the National Humanities Alliance (NHA), in a phone conversation with HuffPost. “So it’s supporting humanities work in small towns all around the country … there really aren’t other funders out there that are supporting that kind of work on that kind of scale.”

He pointed to support for local museums, educational access to historical newspapers, and even veterans’ programs that use the arts and literature to help veterans grapple with the traumatizing experiences of war as they return from combat.

2. Sign a petition.

“The most important thing will be signing petitions so it’s a real show of force in numbers,” Nossel told HuffPost.

And don’t stop at one, as issues may arise. The Independent reported Monday that the official White House petition to save arts funding did not appear to be registering signatures. At the time of the article’s publication, only 27 signatures had been counted despited hundreds of tweets from self-proclaimed signatories. Today, the count stands at only 42, and the link to “share with others” leads only to a landing page inviting users to sign up for updates from President Trump.

Not to worry: PEN America launched a petition on Tuesday, addressed to Congress, which urges representatives “to reject any budget brought before Congress that eliminates funding for the arts and humanities.”

A Change.org petition addressed to NEA Chairman Jane Chu, Trump, and several other lawmakers specifically pleads for the NEA, stating, “These great organizations must be spared and should not go quietly into the night.”

3. Call your representatives.

Not sure how to contact your congressional representative, or even who that is? Find your representative by zip code here, and other elected officials here. The best bet is to call your own representative ― even if they already hold your own position, to ensure that support is being shored up ― as well as congresspeople from relevant committees.

When lobbying one’s representatives directly, “the most important thing is to talk in specific terms about what’s going on in their own communities, in their own districts,” said Kidd. “That’s what members of Congress are really most concerned about.”

Nossel suggested that voters “talk about the value of arts and culture in their lives, for the economy, for education, for tourism.” She added, “The fact that really from a fiscal perspective, this makes no sense. These cuts are far too small to make any dent in the federal budget, so it can’t be justified as an austerity measure.” That’s because the NEH and the NEA budgets each make up a fraction of one percent of the federal budget ― not to mention that their dollars have a stimulating effect on the artistic economy.

Arlene Goldbard, chief policy wonk of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC) (which is not a government agency, but a grassroots-oriented national arts advocacy organization), argued in a phone conversation with HuffPost that the practical angle might not be the strongest. “What we need to argue is for cultural values […] for what we stand for and how we want to be remembered,” she said, noting that pushback against NEH and NEA defunding would work “if people are successful in connecting arts funding with arts education for kids in the community, with freedom of expression, larger expression of cultural rights.”

4. Go see your representatives in person.

Phone calls, as seasoned political activists know, make a stronger impression on politicians than emails. Pages of angry emails simply don’t have the same direct impact as phone lines clogged by voters, each waiting to have the same forceful conversation with their representative’s staff.

So it makes sense that talking to representatives (or their staff) in person would have an even stronger effect. In a November tweet thread immortalized on Lifehacker, writer and former Congressional staffer Emily Ellsworth pointed out that often the same few people would come to town halls. “If you want to talk to your rep, show up at town hall meetings,” she tweeted.”Get a huge group that they can’t ignore. Pack that place and ask questions.”

You may be able to join forces with an organized effort. For example, Kidd told HuffPost, the NHA is heading to Capitol Hill in March for Humanities Advocacy Day, an annual excursion which may have extra significance this year. The event, he said, would be an opportunity to personally lobby congresspeople to support the NEH.

5. Organize an event in support of cultural institutions.

A peaceful march, a rally to restore sanity, a flash mob to save arts funding ― coming together to publicly show solidarity and support can build force behind a political initiative.

If you have thoughts about the state of culture in America today, the USDAC offers one outlet: their third annual People’s State of the Union, a national event that seeks to elevate people’s voices and give an alternative vision of America.

“What we do is make free training, and a lot of free ancillary material, available to anybody who wants to host a story circle in their community that gives people the opportunity to reflect on their own perception of the state of our union,” explained Goldbard. “People upload their stories to a portal, and those are available both for everybody to peruse and for people to base their cultural policy on.” (Plus, the resulting insights on American culture are transformed into a lyrical, collaborative address by a team of poets.)

6. Remember that your voice could make a real difference. 

“These efforts have failed in the past,” Nossel said. “It’s far from the first time these cuts have been proposed, and every time they’ve failed.”

Goldbard agreed. “This is a total reprise of something that’s been tried before and not succeeded.” She also argued that the NEH and NEA cuts, floated just as Trump’s administration geared up to take drastic steps on other controversial issues such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, might merely be a distraction for activists. “It may just be a tactic,” she said, noting that it’s important to contextualize possible arts cuts within a constellation of other urgent issues. “But if it’s not just a tactic, it’s important for groups like ours to hold the line.”

Victoria Hutter, a spokesperson for the NEA, told HuffPost via email that the NEA “is operating under a Continuing Resolution for FY17, which goes through April 2017,” much like other federal agencies. She added. “We look forward to participating in the usual budget process for the FY18 budget with OMB [Office of Management and Budget] and The White House.” As that process goes forward, anyone concerned about the arts ― or other parts of the budget ― can make their voice heard by contacting their representatives.

As the Trump administration moves forward, with a flurry of executive orders and proposed budgetary measures, there are a lot of moving parts for progressives to keep their eyes on. Should changes to the NEH and NEA actually be among them, at least the game plan for saving them seems clear: Dial early, dial often.