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

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

 

Continuing the Conversation with. . . Marisa Vitali: Part II

 Marisa Vitali returns home to Northport, LI to show the premier screening of her movie, GRACE at the John W. Engeman Theater.  To raise awareness of the plight of recovering addicts Marisa shares her film and her courageous story of recovery in order to donate funds for the Northport-East Northport Drug & Alcohol Task Force. Listen to  interviews about the debut of GRACE:  Marisa Vitali (Actor, Producer, Writer GRACE),, Kevin O’Neill(Managing Director John W. Engeman Theater), Scott Norcott (Public Relations Coordinator, Npt.-E Npt Drug & Alcohol Task Force), Gabriel Manzueta (Sra NY Natl. Guard Counterdrug Civil Operations), Carissa A Cantone (SSG, NY Natl. Guard, Counterdrug Civil Operations), Irene McLaughlin(Asst. Supt. Human Resource Npt-ENpt School Dist), Darryl St. George(HS History Teacher Npt.-ENpt School Dist) and Anthony Ferrandino(Chariperson, Npt-ENpt Community Drug & Alcohol Task Force).

 

 

Take it Away! GRACE, the movie at the John W. Engeman Theater

 

The premier of the movie GRACE at the John W. Engemann Theater was held on June 7, 2016 to raise funds for the Northport-East Northport Drug & Alcohol Task Force.  Here are some of the reactions audience members”Took Away” with them after seeing the movie.

 Max Fulton-Peluffo, Video Editor

Georgia Stitt: Her Need to Tell. . . through Music

Georgia Picture

Her love of literature coupled with a flair for creating her own melodies as a child pianist coalesced into becoming the career choice for composer/lyricist Georgia Stitt.  “I have always been a musician.  When I was seven years-old, I remember trying to play Bach and then [wanting to] improve it.”  Her innate talent to invent variations on a theme became the natural course for Georgia’s professional pursuit as a musician; nevertheless, she did not even realize that it was something you could actually DO for a career. “It was ‘extra-curricular’.” And it wasn’t until college that music would be something she considered undertaking as a livelihood.  Her passion for all types of music and a fervent love of reading convinced Georgia musical theater was “all the things that I loved [coming] together. It was really a light bulb going off when I realized that you could tell stories with music, and the more you knew about musical structure and narrative structure the more they fed each other.”

And storyteller she is!  Her focus is not so much on what stories she likes to tell through music, but “what kind of story can I tell?”  The two current projects she’s working on illustrate the range of her fascination for interesting tales to tell; one, Snow Child, commissioned by Arena Stage to be directed by Molly Smith, is set in 1920s Alaska. The score is Bluegrass because “that is what the music of Alaska is and was – that’s what they would have had – banjos and mandolins, fiddles.” While her other piece is a WW II swing band and “there is no way that music for one of them could fit into the score of the other because that’s not who those people are; that’s not the world we’re creating.  The sound of the show is very specific to the world that you’re creating, the people you’re creating and that’s interesting to me.  That calls on all the skills I have as a classical musician and as a pop musician, as a listener of all kinds of music- understanding musically what the differences are in those worlds, but also character-wise.”

Like a playwright, Georgia begins with crafting a character.  “Who are these characters and what are they involved in, what are they trying to do?  And then, what do they sound like? What music do they sound like?” Snow Child has a husband and a wife from Pennsylvania who move to Alaska during the 1920s to homestead the land.  “They’re new to Alaska and they’re trying to find their way.  And then, their neighbors are people who have been in Alaska for a long time and so they have a much more laid-back vocabulary.  They don’t speak in such big wordy sentences.  It’s like when you write New Yorker characters and they talk more quickly than non-New Yorkers. There’s less space in their language and that sort of thing.  So we have a little more folk music for the characters from Alaska as opposed to these people who are finding their way into Alaska.  And part of the synthesis of the sound is, musically, you watch these characters find their way.  Whether you are aware of it as an audience member or not I can’t say, but I think you feel it – you feel the ‘otherness’ in the music just as much as you do in the language, the costumes, in the way that characters behave and all those things.  The music is telling as much of the story as all the other elements.”

When working with students, Georgia credits her experience as a Musical Director to process a breakdown of a song.  “I think a lot of what I know about writing is because I had to sit in a rehearsal room and explain something to an actor. ‘But why do I come in on beat 4? I want to come in on the downbeat?’ And I want to explain not just that you do, but why you do.  Why has the composer anticipated—is your character anticipating something? Is your character in a hurry?”  Those are conscious, literal decisions composers make.  “Are you back-phrasing because you are reluctant to get where you’re going? Is it because we’ve got 4 bar phrase-4 bar phrase-4 bar phrase and then we’ve got a 6 bar phrase? What are those 2 bars about? Why are they there?” And so as a Music Director I’m dissecting those things, and that made me start thinking about what a composer has to do to put those clues in there for actors to dissect.  A good actor– a good singing actor– knows to look for them.”

Oftentimes, Georgia will take away the music and have students translate the lyrics into a story, “put it in [their] own language.  Explain the journey of the song in [their] own words that don’t rhyme and don’t have meter so we can be clear what we want.”  Part of the job of a songwriter is to craft a song so that an actor can identify the highest climactic moment of the song.  “Songs are structured and the bridge is the middle point and that is usually where the meat of the song is.” A character must have a Need to Tell; she refers to this as “I Want” songs where early on in the show especially a lead character will say ‘I want this and I can’t have it.’ And then the whole show is about how do I get that thing?  And it’s really that basic.  You can look at almost any successful musical where there is a character who wants something and the whole show is about how they get it.”

Wanting to be the best in her field is no easy task, especially for women.  Jeanine Tesori said at the Tony Awards, “You have to see it to be it.”  Despite Georgia not having many female archetypes, she credits the support of teachers and parents for her success. “Nobody told me I couldn’t do it.”  Her advice is straightforward in terms of making it happen:  “I have learned you can’t wait for someone to call you and say, ‘I have a job for you.’  You have to look around for whatever opportunity and say, “I should be doing that job. Who do I call to get that job? How do I MAKE that job? What do I do to make sure they think of me in that context?”

Georgia raises awareness of the plight of parity for women composer/lyricists as a Board member of the Lilly Awards.   Six years ago, as a way to recognize female playwrights who were being overlooked, Marsha Norman, Julia Jordan, and Theresa Rebeck started this not-for-profit organization to honor their work.  It’s not just an Award Ceremony, but it has “grown to [represent] the statistical analysis of what the numbers really are all around the country.  How many women are being produced? How many directors are being hired? How many female composers are being hired? And how many female lyricists/playwrights/etc.? How many female protagonists are in the show? What are the stories being told? And the number hovers around 22% female, which is unbelievable when you think about how many women are in the audiences and how many female playwrights there are.”

Programs range from providing writing retreats to a mentorship program, led by Susan Stroman.  A Fall Fundraiser is scheduled every year. Georgia is the co-producer and music director for the November 9th event, The Lilly Awards Broadway Cabaret, which features Broadway stars performing the works of women writers. You can learn more about this event at http://www.thelillyawards.org/thelillyawards/.

What Georgia loves most about being a composer/lyricist is communicating.  “I love using music to communicate an idea and then having someone say afterwards, ‘I really get what you were trying to say.’” We DO get it. Thank you, Georgia for making us all feel something special through your music!

Georgia Stitt is Composer/Lyricist and a Music Director. Her musicals currently in development include Snow Child (commissioned by Arena Stage); A.Jax (written for Waterwell with Kevin Townley and Hanna Cheek); Tempest Rock (written with Hunter Foster); The Danger Year (a revue of original songs, directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle); Big Red Sun (NAMT Festival winner in 2010, Harold Arlen Award in 2005 and written with John Jiler); The Water (winner of the 2008 ANMT Search for New Voices in American Musical Theatre and written with Jeff Hylton and Tim Werenko); and Mosaic (commissioned for Off-Broadway in 2010 and written with Cheri Steinkellner). She has released three albums of her music: This Ordinary Thursday: The Songs Of Georgia Stitt, Alphabet City Cycle and My Lifelong Love. Her songs and arrangements are represented on the solo albums of Susan Egan, Lauren Kennedy, Kate Baldwin, Robert Creighton, Stuart Matthew Price, Caroline Sheen, Daniel Boys, Kevin Odekirk and composer Sam Davis. Her choral piece with hope and virtue (using text from President Obama‘s 2009 inauguration speech) was featured on NPR as part of Judith Clurman‘s Dear Mister President cycle, and her most recent orchestral piece, Waiting for Wings, co-written with husband Jason Robert Brown, was commissioned by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and premiered there with conductor John Morris Russell. Georgia has degrees from Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music and NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts. She is on the theater faculty at Pace University the Board of Directors for The Lilly Awards. Other fun credits include being the music supervisor of the Anna Kendrick/Jeremy Jordan film The Last Five Years, conducting Little Shop of Horrors on Broadway, writing arrangements for Tony Bennett‘s 80th birthday party and playing a nun in The Sound Of Music Live! on NBC with Carrie Underwood and Audra McDonald. www.georgiastitt.com