It’s All A Game: an interview with Erin Cronican, Executive Artistic Director, The Seeing Place Theater

The take away for audiences who come to see The Maids is to “make people stop and think about how they treat people, particularly people who are in service; that our society is built on people in service positions and we can treat people with humanity . . . to understand what it’s like to be ‘less-than’ and to walk out with a new found empathy for those in the service industry.”

Gaia Visnar, Erin Cronican

Gaia Visnar and Erin Cronican Photo credit Russ Rowland

“The Game — can we continue with it?” a question posed in The Maids, an absurdist play by Jean Genet is not so remotely detached from the current complicity confronting both American and global citizens. Pretending to strangle their employer, Claire and Solange, sisters and maids to Madame, struggle for their sense of selves under the guise of a game of make-believe; at first, the fantasy is amusing but then turns darkly tragic for the women who find themselves prisoners of their own diversion.

 

Produced by The Seeing Place Theater, Executive Artistic Director Erin Cronican exposes the dilemmas associated with the abuses of power in the class system. Selecting plays rarely seen, Cronican chooses to utilize her theater programs to focus on “creating edgy and compelling reinterpretations of works by playwrights that reflect the struggles and triumphs of our current society.” Honing a three-phase methodology, Cronican guides the ensemble through an organic two-month process: Pre-Rehearsal “Discovery”; Rehearsal Inquiry; Performance Feedback. One full month is spent “just breaking down the play, talking about it, talking about its impact on society, and what the playwright is trying to say, what he’s trying to do.” The Maids has its singular challenges in that there “are no definitive texts or quotes to pull together the things that have been written . . . hours were spent exploring the play’s meaning.” Once the ensemble creates a vision for its production they then proceed to getting it staged. Rather than have directors bring their singular perceptions to the play, Cronican’s approach invests in the imaginations of its talented cast — Gaia Visnar as Claire, Christine Redhead as Madame. “We don’t have the directors do it separately,” explains Cronican, who serves in both roles as actor/ Solange and director, “[that way] the actors are part of that developmental process.” Once the cast is “up on [their] feet trying out a lot of things discussed in the pre-production period . . . by the time we get to performances we have plumbed the depths of these plays very, very personally, and I think that makes the play very different for our audiences because we know them so intimately.”

The outcome of this organic process compels the cast to answer the major dramatic question: What is the effect of the abuses of power in the class system? In its final performance phase “we want the audience to look at this and say, ‘I recognize this struggle of power, maybe not in my own life, but maybe I recognize it elsewhere and what do we do about it?’”
Gaia Visnar personally shared how “it speaks to me today because . . . [as an immigrant working in the USA on a VISA] it’s about being subordinate and not having power and not being fair.” Cronican adds how artists pursuing their art, be it music, dance, theater feel a sense of “helplessness . . . being an artist in the city, wanting to take care of people but not necessarily have the resources to do so.”

At the close of the fast and furious hour and twenty-minute performance, actors go in the lobby to address audience questions so they “have someone to talk to about what they saw.” Feedback has been favorable: “People so far have really loved the play.” Audiences are encouraged to “come up with the answers for themselves.”

The take away for audiences who come to see The Maids is to “make people stop and think about how they treat people, particularly people who are in service; that our society is built on people in service positions and we can treat people with humanity . . . to understand what it’s like to be ‘less-than’ and to walk out with a new found empathy for those in the service industry.”

For Erin Cronican, the Arts truly are transformative. “‘The Seeing Place’ is the literal translation of the Greek word for theater, theatron: ‘the place where we go to see ourselves’ and if we can open up our [hearts and minds] and really listen to a piece of art, and try to find [ourselves] in it — painting, music, dance, that’s everything; then it opens your heart . . . it opens up your empathy. And it just makes you a better citizen.”

TSP The Maids

The Trauma Brain Project PODCAST!

THE TRAUMA BRAIN PROJECT is a unique theatrical narrative about the personal journey of one of its survivors, playwright Dayle Ann Hunt. Actress Marsha Mason talks about her role in the play and how The Arts can spark a conversation about early sexual trauma.

Following the NYC performance, a panel of neurologists, psychologists, and body-oriented psychotherapists discuss the relationship between early sexual trauma, PTSD and its hidden effects.

Baayork Lee: Bring It ON!

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Photo credit Kacey Anisa Stamats

Happy Chinese New Year! It’s the Year of the Dog and Baayork Lee blew us all away with her own fireworks at the League of Professional Theatre Women’s Oral History series Monday, February 12th at The Bruno Walter Auditorium at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.  Honoring an Asian woman for the first time not only made this an exceptional evening of distinction, but also showcased an actress who is one singular sensation!

Her vast career spans from being cast as a five-year-old in the original Broadway production of The King and I to creating the role of Connie Wong in A Chorus Line.

Baayork’s career arc was consistent and auspicious:  “You gotta know somebody to be somebody,” she quipped when asked about how fortuitous opportunities struck. None of this, of course, happened without the support of her mother, her friends, and her commitment to future generations of artists through her work with The National Asian Artists Project.  In 2017, she was recognized for her work in theatre education globally with the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award.

Robert Viagas & Baayork Lee

Photo Credit Kacey Anisa Stamats

Deftly interviewed by Robert Viagas, a journalist and theatre author with more than thirty-five years’ experience on Broadway, Baayork shared her story with energy and enthusiasm, insight and inspiration. The conversation between these two friends who met over four decades ago and became collaborators and biographers on their book, “On the Line: the Creation of A Chorus Line” was funny, smart, and sassy with Baayork never resisting a beat to deliver comical asides to her adoring audience filled with fans and former cast members. But as the entertainer made way for the woman, it was her wisdom about her culture, her craft, and her stamina that was most telling.

She knew from the very moment when her mother brought her from Chinatown to audition for The King and I that “this is what I wanted to do.”  Atypical of “Tiger Moms” who have specific agendas for their children who have no say in their career paths, Baayork’s mom “listened to me at five.  And supported me.”  Encouraging Asian talent that “You don’t have to go to Harvard. You can go to Broadway” is among her mantras.

But in order to make it in this business she gave some practical advice:  “It’s about being ready to survive.  If you want to be in this business . . .  you have to be ready to survive because it is very, very hard to first of all live in New York, the competition is so much more than when I was growing up and you have to have the tools to survive first in the city, and then second of all you have to be ready with your talent which is singing, dancing, acting, taking your classes, and be ready when the door opens for you to walk in. “

I had the opportunity to chat with Baayork about the vital importance of the arts and how they change people’s lives; without any hesitation she emphatically pointed to herself:  “Sitting right here. Changing lives.”  And why she is so dedicated to the National Asian Artists Project, showcasing the work of Asian-American theatre artists through performance, outreach, and educational programming.  Her work as Master Class teacher, the children at P.S. 124 “even if I get ONE [child] in the theatre, then it’s all worth [her time and talent]. “ As the dedicated voice of an Asian role model Baayork has been representing her community for the last 50 years:  “I was one of the very lucky ones to do twelve original Broadway shows, to do television, to do films, to do all of those things.  I always felt that I was representing my community.”

She is best known as a choreographer and director, internationally, although none of her work has been performed in America, she persists. “I love being in the theatre. I keep that spirit, in me. Keep that child within me. [I don’t] get bitter. Don’t give up on your dream.” Her dream project is “to have her company go on to the next level [in order to] sustain itself” and to “open up the eyes of parents – there are choices.”

Proud to be an American, Baayork has no regrets: “I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.” The League of Professional Theatre Women is indebted to her commitment, creativity, and passion for defying the obstacles so that ALL women can create their own fireworks!

The Oral History Project is an ongoing project made possible by generous grants from the Edith Meiser Foundation, the Robert and Betty Sheffer Foundation, and private sponsors. The Oral History Project is produced by Betty Corwin and LPTW Members Pat Addiss and Sophia Romma at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Oral History chronicles and documents the contributions of significant theatre women in diverse fields. Interviews with such outstanding women are videotaped and housed in the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. For further detailed information, kindly email Sophia Romma at sromma@theatrewomen.org or Pat Addiss at paddiss@gmail.com.

 

Review: That’s How Angels Arranged by Lillian Isabella

 

That’s How Angels Arranged: Inspired by Jonas Mekas

The Godfather of Avant-Garde Cinema

Lillian Jonas

 

That’s How Angels Arranged was inspired by the community of people who inhabit the East Village. Alex Roe, Artistic Director of Metropolitan Playhouse crafted the Alphabet City series, a theatrical production that captures snapshots of local personalities whose personal stories make for a fascinating dramatic presentation. Actor/Playwright Lillian Rodriguez crafted a creative composite of how 92 year-old Jonas Mekas left his indelible mark by founding Anthology Film Archives. He’s got a very unique personality and an interesting story coming from Europe, escaping from a forced labor camp and then coming to America to pursue his dream which was to film what he loves.

 

 

Reading Angels is transformative — providing an opportunity to connect with ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Lillian captures his essence, his humanity, his passion. In the divisive culture that now exists we can find virtue in our hearts and realize that through his voice and example, we, too, can reach across boundaries to make our world a better place. In the spirit of the holiday season buy a copy and share with your community.

The review of Lillian Isabella’s play That’s How Angel’s Arranged! Is now officially live on Amazon and over 70 copies have been purchased through Amazon already! Buy your copy now! Click here to order.

To learn more about the ABC Project click on an interview with First Online With Fran

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

There’s No Place Like Art!

First Online With Fran’s First Podcast

There’s No Place Like Art…

FOLWF Podcast Art

The Arts are imperative — a life journey, a life experience that is like no other.  The Arts brings people together all in one space.  The plays I’ve written have touched lives — they’ve changed lives and that’s what Art does. ~Dan McCormick, Playwright

The arts are an essential part of a complete education, no matter if it happens in the home, school, or community. Students of all ages—from kindergarten to college to creative aging programs—benefit from artistic learning, innovative thinking, and creativity. Celebrating National Arts in Education Week is a way to recognize this impact and share the message with friends, family, and communities.

Towards that end First Online With Fran celebrates National Arts in Education Week by launching her first podcast featuring guest Dan McCormick, playwright of The Violin  at 59E59 Theater.

The podcast offers opportunities for you to join her in discussions on how ordinary people are doing extraordinary things in The Arts to make our world a richer, deeper, better place to live. In these divisive times, tune in and listen to how The Arts transforms people’s lives and remind us how vitally important a role The Arts play in tapping into our humanity.