An interview with…Cheryl Navo, Playwright LIE OF OMISSION, World Premiere Play

“As a female playwright I believe strongly that I need to concentrate on writing good, strong roles for women.  For each play I write, I’ve made a personal commitment to myself to never allow the male roles to outnumber or outshine the female roles.  I hope that inspires other women to advance the roles of women in all aspects of theatre.”

APCherylNavo

It just does not get any better for an actor than to not only have the opportunity to be cast in the world premiere of a play, Lie of Omission, but also get to meet its playwright.  As arts advocate/host of First Online With Fran featuring ordinary people who do extraordinary things in The Arts and proponent of advancing the work of women through my membership at The League of Professional Theatre Women I felt compelled to share with you the arc of this fascinating woman’s journey from soldier to storyteller.

Here are some clips of our conversation…

How did your career in the military evolve from soldier to playwright?  

Navo Uniform2

The military and military life has been a huge influence on me.  My husband works for the Department of Defense and Germany is where we are stationed.  I’ve actually lived in Germany more than half my life as I came here as an active duty soldier in the early 80s.  After spending three years as a soldier, I worked for the Department of the Army as a civilian until I took an early retirement from government service almost a year ago.  I now spend my time in creative pursuits.

I first became involved in community theatre in 2009, playing Sister Margaretta in a KMC (Kaiserslautern Military Community) Onstage production of  The Sound of Music–which was my first show since I was a child, playing one of the children, in The King and I.  Theatre, on the second go-round, proved addictive.  I have spent the last six years experimenting with being an actor, costume designer, set designer, scenic painter, director, and finally, playwright.

I never considered writing a play until a chance conversation at the theatre snack bar where I was volunteering during a KMC Onstage production (I’ve truly dabbled in every possible onstage and backstage job).  Over a drink order, an actress friend mentioned that someone she knew had written several plays.  I (naively) said that I thought it would be fun, after all “how hard can it be?”  I still remember her pitying look as she explained that writing a play that someone will actually produce is exceedingly difficult.  We moved on to another conversational topic, but I filed the idea of writing a play away in my head, thinking “I bet I could do it.”  Several months later, the artistic director for the theatre offered their first-ever playwriting class and I signed up.  I discovered very quickly just how difficult writing a play can be, but I love it.

I have written four plays to date.  My first one-act play, Parade of Queens, was produced by the Baumholder Hilltop Theater for the IMCOM-Europe AACT 2012 One Act Play Festival.  My second one-act play, Hotline, was produced by Thoreau, NM—A Production Company for the 2013 Pittsburgh New Works Festival and by the Baumholder Hilltop Theater for the 2013 IMCOM-Europe AACT One Act Play Festival.  Hotline was subsequently published by Dramatic Publishing Company in 2014 and is available in their current catalog.  My 10-Minute play At What Price was produced by the Boiling Point Players in Houston, Texas; by the Towne Street Theatre in Hollywood, California; for the Equity Library/Piney Fork Theater Summer Festival in New York; and will be part of the Minnesota Shorts: A Festival of Short Plays in Mankato, Minnesota this month.

Lie of Omission is my first full-length play.  I wrote it specifically for AACT (American Association of Community Theatre) New Play Fest 2015, where it was selected as a top fourteen finalist.  Then, Studio Theatre of Long Island offered a production contract, so I withdrew it from the AACT competition, signed a contract, and here we are.

 Share with us how the germ of the play came to fruition and how it translated to the page.

Lie of Omission began as a one-act play, but the story quickly expanded beyond the one-act format.  The idea began with a newspaper article about an American doctor who was kidnapped in the Middle East.  During his rescue, a soldier was killed.  I tried to put myself in the doctor’s place.  How would that feel–to know that a stranger lost his life saving mine?  I wondered what kind of psychological impact there would be.  After reading the initial article, I purposely departed from the details of the true-life case and started throwing in complications of my own.

I have a real heart for soldiers.  Deployments are a daily reality for military families and that’s the community where I have spent more than half my life.  My husband is a retired Medical Logistics Army officer and a current Department of the Army civilian working in medical logistics.  I also worked for the Army Medical Department in medical logistics, and although I personally never deployed, my brother spent several years driving trucks for the military in Iraq.

What is your vision for the play?  What will be your next play?  What other plans do you have for your future? 

Lie of Omission is scheduled for its next production in September 2016 at the Baumholder Hilltop, a military community theatre in Baumholder, Germany.  Naturally, I’d like to see the play produced in as many theatres as possible.  As a playwright, one of the hardest things for me to do is let go and allow actors and directors to bring their individual points of view to my story.  And, that is also one of the most rewarding parts of playwriting.  Different people bring different perspectives to the work and often teach me things I didn’t know about my own play.

I’ve begun work on a new full-length play about a psychic, but it’s early in the process.  I’m also working on a young adult novel.  Also, in early 2016, I’ll be directing Death of a Salesman for KMC Onstage.

Who and/or what do you hope to inspire with this work?  

As a female playwright I believe strongly that I need to concentrate on writing good, strong roles for women.  For each play I write, I’ve made a personal commitment to myself to never allow the male roles to outnumber or outshine the female roles.  I hope that inspires other women to advance the roles of women in all aspects of theatre.

AND a First Online With Fran question:  The Arts are so vitally important to our society; yet, it remains to be perceived as an amenity.  What would you say to challenge that perception?

I’d challenge anyone who sees The Arts as an amenity to spend some quality time in the theatre.  Seriously.  My theatre involvement during the last few years has taught me so much.  I’ve developed a huge amount of confidence in myself and I’ve gained skills in almost every area.  If theatre can do this much for me, just Imagine the effect on a child.  I see kids who participate in theatre develop physical skills and talents beyond that of their peers.  More importantly, they develop invaluable social skills such as how to take direction, work as a team, and get along with others.  What other area of education encompasses so much?

Don’t miss your chance to experience this dynamic dramatic performance of Lie of Omission at Studio Theatre of Long Island.  September 4 – 20.  For performance schedule, tickets, and directions click HERE

 

On the Red Carpet at SOHO International Film Festival

First Online With Fran got to ask the official participants and attendees of the 2015 SOHO International Film Festival how the arts play a vital role in our society. Listen to what they had to say…

Connecting Communities: as easy as ABC

The Alphabet Series at Metropolitan Playhouse

Lillian Rodriguez as Jonas Mekas
Lillian Rodriguez as Jonas Mekas

 

Jason C. Brown as Jeanise Aviles

Jason C. Brown as Jeanise Aviles

Tammy McNeill as Jimmy Webb

Tammy McNeill as Jimmy Webb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. For the past eleven years, Alex carries on with this endeavor to “celebrate unheralded lives in a way that is unique” through its most recent creation The Indelible, a collection of solo performances comprised of six new monologues based on interviews with locals told entirely in their own words.

The process has pretty much remained the same. Alex has the actors seek out “someone who is like them or unlike them, but [to] make a connection with them and then try to identify as best they can with that person’s aspirations, their history, their both physical manifest and more hidden selves. . . And then transform their words through a performance that tries to capture that person’s spirit into a portrait of them. And that very act of meeting someone bonding with them in a sense and then telling their story . . . is a transformative event.”

Actor Lillian Rodriguez speaks of how 92 year-old Jonas Mekas has left his “indelible” mark by founding Anthology Film Archives and “he’s just got a very unique personality and interesting story coming from Europe, escaping from a forced labor camp [and] then coming to America pursuing his dream which was to film what he loves.” Similarly, Jeanise Aviles: hair artist/color specialist/wig maker/performance artist/knit bomber personified by Jason Brown is “just an indelible character all around. Your subject has to have an indelible kind of impression on you for you to be magnetized by them and their story enough to spend all this time with them discovering them, transcribing what they say and creating a monologue around them.” Tammy McNeill as Jimmy Webb, manager and buyer at Trash and Vaudeville (AKA the punk Peter Pan), considers her subject’s unique history is how he leaves his indelible impression: “Jimmy has so much history, it’s brought him to an incredible place in his life, and he’s so much a part of the neighborhood that people recognize him. They know who he is and what he’s been through, but also how his story is a part of the culture in the East Village. His journey and his connection to the neighborhood make him unforgettable.”

Audiences are drawn to this project for its humanity. Director Chris Harcum devised the combination of monologues by focusing on each “character’s” need to tell: “It’s two-third intuition and one-third dealing with what’s being brought to you. Of these three in particular you could literally put this in any order and have something happen, to a degree.” The process is open-ended in that the selection process is entirely left up to the actors; yet, in spite of their not being “assigned a list” actors’ sensibilities guide them to achieve their objective. “Part of it is finding the right people to do this,” says Chris. “Alex trusted me with this project because I’d performed in it twice and we’ve known each other for ten years now. Each of these actors are very different actors; none of these actors have the same process; none of the actors have the same background; they all kind of attack things differently. So my process was how much do I come into this? How much do I back off? I try to steer the ship in a way of project management – this has to happen at this point and we have to have these things. I had to put the people together to make 2 evenings. I was doing that before they actually printed out the monologues. I heard some of the audio recordings at that point. ‘Well, it’s probably going to be these 3 and I’ll see if anything kind of jumps out at me to not be right about that decision and move forward from there’; and so, that’s what we did.”

And the audience experience is transformative: “It’s like ordinary people doing extraordinary things” injects Jason. “When you’re (initially interviewing) a real live human being you really don’t think about them in a theatrical context and using the arts and putting them into a theatrical context [with] the subject becoming “CHARACTER” and having a voice and speaking to the audience and imparting these messages. I think the one through-line between all 3 of these folks is they talk a lot about hope; they’re very positive; they all have these kind of aphorisms about life that are just kind of universal that the audience relates to and by theatricalizing these people they will go back in their own lives and look at people who impact them in a different way.” Tammy received a Facebook message from an audience member to say how much she enjoyed seeing her portrayal of Jimmy. She said that she would not have understood someone like that; would not have gotten to know someone like that and came away from it with a more open mind; an open heartedness. It was interesting because “I hadn’t even thought of that. I’d been so wrapped up in Jimmy’s story, and thinking ‘this guy’s so great’, that I hadn’t even considered that somebody would come in not immediately agreeing with me, not knowing who he might be.”

“We feature all kinds of people” Alex adds. “Artists, more violent people, more gentle people, healers; invariably, I think, in everyone’s life the way that they put one foot in front of the other and make their way through the world is an inspiration to people who see it. It’s a special combination of actor/storyteller who are telling someone else’s story, but in their persona. And that makes it all possible. And people who get past these superficial who they are, past their details of our history and into something that is human and aspirational, inspirational.”

It is also transformative for the actor. Alex mentioned how actors are not the same having done this project: “I would guarantee they’ll look at things a little bit differently. But when you’re really looking at someone – why did that person choose that word and going down into that really specific place and then that act of absorbing all that material and bringing that out to people. The challenge is not everybody can do this. I think at different places they were challenged to a point of – in a way that they have not been previously and it was something that in some ways really makes you confront yourself in a different way. And so I feel like this will carry on with them in whatever they may do in the future.”

Connecting individuals to each other not only sustains the mission of this project at Metropolitan Playhouse, and one that “we’ll continue to do as an important part of our season,” asserts Alex, but also impacts those communities beyond the East Village: “What has really excited me most is that actors who have done it before have taken it elsewhere and disseminated it as if it were another community. One of the people who went off and did this, as I remember, did it for a camp for LGBT high school students and it was extremely meaningful to them to connect with their own identity and the other people that they interviewed. I’ve heard of other people doing it with family members, particularly, or with homeless members of their community.

Theater provides an opportunity for audiences to witness ordinary people doing extraordinary things and as an Artistic Director, Alex Roe envisions “using this art to not only do all the things that theater does – create a space for ritual performance for a society to examine itself, but actually connect people to one another . . . so that everybody in the room feels that connection whatever they do is incredibly exciting to me. If I could see that happen elsewhere with different communities and see more communities find the virtue in this art and how it brings them together and softens their hearts, brings them to tears and transforms them, then I can’t really imagine anything else I’d rather see and have it go.”

It’s as simple as A-B-C.

East Side Stories
The Indelible
April 14 – May 3, 2015
Metropolitan Playhouse
http://www.metropolitanplayhouse.org/

That’s How Angels Arranged
Written and performed by Lillian Rodriguez as Jonas Mekas,
Filmmaker, poet, and artist. Founder the Film-Makers’ Cooperative and the Film Makers’ Cinematheque, now the Anthology Film Archives http://www.jonasmekas.com

COLORBOMB!
Written and performed by Jason Brown as Jeanise Aviles
Hair Artist/Color Specialist/Wig Maker/Performance Artist/Knit Bomber

Gimme Life
Written and performed by Tammy McNeill as Jimmy Webb
Manager and buyer at Trash and Vaudeville (A.K.A. the punk Peter Pan)

Christ Harcum, Director
Alex Roe, Artistic Director

Continuing the Conversation with. . . Marisa Vitali, actor/screenwriter/producer

SOHO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL WINNER
SOHO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL WINNER

In 2013, Marisa Vitali, Alysia Reiner and I sat down to talk about GRACE, the movie:  its message, its momentum and its moving evolutionary progress.  To bring you all up to date on GRACE, the movie, now with a SOHO International Film Festival premiere, Marisa and I talked about the inspirational arc of this project.

Here are some clips from our conversation:

Fran:  Oh my goodness.  It’s been quite a while since our last interview.  And it looks like you’re on fast forward here and I’m so excited about GRACE being at the Soho International Film Festival. So, how did it get there? What happened?

Marisa:  I’m really excited, too; actually, it’s like a week away, at this point. Just through the festival submission process.  Soho was on my list of festivals that I wanted to submit to right here in NYC and just patiently waited to hear back.

Fran:  When did you hear?

 M:  I think it was probably about the second week in March which is awesome because most festivals you hear back from like 3 weeks before the festival.  So, I feel that I’ve had enough time to prepare for the festival and the festival run.  So I’m really excited about that.

F:  And this is the first time you’re doing

 M:  Yes, this is the first time GRACE is coming out into the world.  Yes. It’s her premier; we’ll be screening here in New York and really I’m just kind of over the moon about it.  I can’t believe it’s happening.  It’s surreal.

F:  And it is happening!  And now that it’s happening, how about some updates? How has this process given you clarity in terms of your objective?

 M:  I realize more and more that this film is not my film in the fact that I realize it’s so much bigger than me.  And, yes, I’ve taken all the actions I could possibly take in having her come out into the world, to tell this story, and show up for her.  But at the end of the day, it’s totally in God’s hands, you know, and I really, really truly believe that.  And I feel that as I’ve gone on this journey since we last spoke I see that and believe that, and have trust in that more and more.

F:  And in terms of your original intent of this movie, about this movie being about a movie about hope and about celebration.  Could you talk a little bit about that?

 M:  I really feel that there is a billion dollar industry built around the problem of addiction and I really want to be part of the solution.  And in talking with a lot of people it’s always kind of brought up about addiction and the problem and I really want to change that and talk about the solution.  I feel that in being in the hope and being GRACE, a story of recovery, it kind of allows us to settle into that conversation.

F:  What is it about film, as a genre, that can affect change and achieve that objective?

 M:  I think there is something to be said about sitting in a dark room filled with people you know and people you don’t know, and it being comforting in a way.  But, at the same time having your own experience watching a story unfold and that it’s safe to be able to kind of go on this journey and to find identification with these characters and kind of see how you really feel about addiction, and recovery, and like what you question, and what you think about it. And the fact that you are in this dark room with all of these people, it’s safe to explore your own feelings about that.

F:  How is GRACE  your way to measure success by taking positive action?

 M:  It’s so interesting that you say that because going into the last week before the festival is really what I’ve been sitting with is this idea of celebration.  I have really truly come to understand that every tear, every joy, every defeat, every victory in my life has been leading me to this one point.  Of GRACE.  And so, with that thought that I’ve been sitting with is just kind of being open to that kind of experience.  And really celebrating that life which has led me to this point.

F:  People have watched your film.  How do you know GRACE has already been a success by taking positive action?

M:  Well, I can share one story in the fact that there was a young man that had seen the film and it was in a business situation so he had seen the film and I was speaking with someone else, and there was no comment, no feedback given about the film and then when the other person was no longer present this person began to share with me his own journey of sobriety and how only his family knows about it and how professionally he hasn’t come out and shared it with anyone.  I just thought that was so beautiful that here is this stranger that I’m somewhat working with who felt comfortable enough to share his own experience and his own journey and how he was moved by GRACE and that in itself touched me so much.  I felt that by sharing GRACE with him that he had an opportunity to kind of come out and share his experience.  Intellectually, you know that will happen that’s what you desire to happen when you’re creating something, but not until you’re actually in that moment with that person and just sharing that unspoken bond does it really have a whole effect kind of thing.  And it was just so beautiful.  We kind of just stood in silence and we both shared a tear and a hug and it was like I didn’t even need to know all the details of his story.  We just both knew.  I think that is the beauty of recovery and being on the other side of all of this and what I shared with this young man is that bringing compassion to this disease and allowing ourselves to feel that much more comfortable talking about it, expressing our feelings about it.  I think that’s really beautiful.

F:  And you’re really beautiful.  See you on the red carpet!

http://www.grace-the-movie.com/

http://www.grace-the-movie.com/trailer

TWlogo

Here Come The Tempest Ladies!

An Interview with Stella Berg & Katherine Elliot

By Frances McGarry

In 2008, six Syracuse University Acting students imagined a novel approach to presenting Shakespeare.  Inspired by a semester abroad program at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, Stella Berg,  a co-founder/producer/actor of the company, experienced Shakespeare in an entirely different light. “I saw what it was like to really witness a Shakespeare performance done the way that he would have done it; full of music, dancing, humor, life — and it was electric.” Growing up in Istanbul, Stella was taught to dissect and analyze Shakespeare’s plays line-by-line: “I hated Shakespeare in school; it was so boring and I couldn’t understand anything.” Everything changed the moment she saw her first Globe production.  For their final assignment, their class performed a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the Globe stage. The founding members were all paired in the same group and since there were no men in their troupe, the women assumed all the roles.  Having a mutual affinity towards the Bard and playing roles they never would ordinarily be cast in, the ladies decided to continue working together as an ensemble.  Being a group of only six, they developed a unique way to cast their shows.  “We switch roles constantly throughout the play.  So no one is cast in any given part, but rather we share the roles and switch often throughout each play.”  The switches happen at very deliberate points – whenever there is a change in the status quo of a character.  Because of this, each actress is given the opportunity to play a wide variety of characters, both male and female.  Thus, became the creation of The Tempest Ladies.

Stella envisions a three-fold approach to achieve this undertaking:  first, to strip away gender stereotypes; second, to embolden young people to access Shakespeare’s plays in real and practical ways, and finally have these aspirations coalesce to be a source of entertainment for their audiences.  Katherine Elliot who recently joined the ensemble this past year was surprised at how audiences embraced this gender-friendly presentation of Shakespeare.  As Producer for The Taming of The Shrew, Katherine was concerned that a 3-hour performance would have audiences streaming out during intermission; in fact, “People were blown away!  The audience was entertained and very active the whole time. They wanted to come again.  They were upset that there wasn’t a longer run.”  As performers, both Stella and Katherine spoke of the dynamic nature of switching roles as well as gender onstage.  “Every actress brings her own idiosyncrasies to that character,” says Katherine, “it’s also fun to have the opportunity to play male roles and to get into their heads.  You learn that men and women are very similar in a lot of ways.”  “These stereotypical elements that we attribute to the male versus the female actually become irrelevant,” Stella explains, “because at the end of the day we’re all human beings [thereby bringing a transparency to] human sexuality. . . It doesn’t matter if it’s a female character or male character; they have the same wheel of emotions. For instance, there’ so much strength and so much murderous and treacherous energy in Lady Macbeth – qualities typically attributed to men. Simultaneously there are moments of intense vulnerability and childlike behavior, of dread and fear from Macbeth – emotions usually attributed to women.  When I play Lysander and play opposite of another who’s playing Hermia, we’re two people in love, regardless of their gender of who’s playing what.  You feel the same jitter and excitement for someone you adore – an element of fear.”  Katherine interjects, “Kate [The Taming of the Shrew] is written as a very masculine character, she’s tough and won’t submit, so she’s seen as this “shrew”. . . and watching actresses in our company play her is interesting.  She is psychologically masculine and biologically feminine, and since we are an all-female ensemble, she tends to be played as a male character would be.  It was a lot of fun for me to watch every night.”  No matter which female is playing which role—audiences suspend their belief and their perceptions are altered by this artistic invention.

The arts can transform people’s lives and this is why The Tempest Ladies are intent on making this accessible to students.  “It can be a bit intimidating to play Shakespeare in English for Turkish students attending a French school in Istanbul,” reported Teaching Artist Laura Borgwardt in her testimonial:

The idea of a language barrier begins to creep into your subconscious. The key is remembering that movement is a universal language. It can convey feeling, story; meaning. Using our bodies to express is innately human. We ‘jump for joy,’ we ‘tremble with fear’. There is a shared understanding of the way we use physicality to communicate. It no longer matters if the audience comprehends every single word that we were saying – they follow the meaning through the movement.

Our workshops in Istanbul focused on ensemble-building and using movement to help tell a story. As a companion to seeing the play performed, they allowed different access points to the material and to the experience. To delve into the themes and physical vocabulary beforehand left the students more prepared for what they were going to see. It gave them ownership over their own experience and allowed them to take part in the process.

I was impressed by how willingly the students jumped into exercises, trusting us and trusting their peers – their fellow ensemble members – and in doing so, creating something so beautiful together. The joy of self-expression, and of working together to accomplish a task, permeated the classroom. It is the same joy we have as an ensemble when we rehearse together and create. It was incredible to be able to share that passion with future storytellers.

After raising $10,000, The Tempest Ladies are readying for their Off-Broadway production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this April.  Looking to the future, they would like to take A Midsummer’s Night Dream back to Turkey, but for now, The Tempest Ladies will set the NYC theater world afire with their talent, their passion, and their tempestuous tale of comedy and gender subterfuge.

For more information about The Tempest Ladies visit: http://www.tempestladies.com, http://www.facebook.com/TempestLadies

To purchase tickets to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream visit: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1382019