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

Theater Review: Theater Barn Cast Definitely Not Phoning It In

FB_IMG_1547936324714
A wrong number leads to some interesting possibilities for Verna (Linda Seay), Kathy Ann (Stefanie Rosenberg), Diane (Frances McGarry) and Rose (Laurel Letteri), in a scene from Old Ringers, playing through February 23rd at Ridgefield Theater Barn.
(Paulette Layton photo)

By Elizabeth Young

February 07, 2019 at 07:00 am

The Newtown Bee

Frances McGarry is a brave scene stealer. A gifted comedic actor, she takes hold of her character and plays her at full tilt.

RIDGEFIELD — The phones are ringing off the hook at Ridgefield Theater Barn, and for good reason. They are being answered by crafty women of a certain age who provide a certain kind of comfort for lonely souls. Joe Simonelli’s Old Ringers is on stage for a full-on hilarious evening of theater.

A group of New York women gather frequently in the Bronx apartment of one very sassy and bawdy Diane (played by Frances McGarry). Diane lives in the home she shares with her religious and uptight daughter, Amanda (Sarah J. Ahearn). Constantly at odds with the other’s concept of a good life, they exasperate each other.

Diane is well fortified by her drop-in lover, Harry (Mark Rubino), her cadre of likeminded friends, and vodka. Amanda is appalled.

Sexually charged Verna (Linda Seay) has not been active for some time and is highly motivated to end this drought. Rose (Laurel Lettieri) suffers from a sore hip and rejection. Rounding out this posse is Kathy Ann (Stephanie Rosenberg), a youngish widow with a naïve charm, until she gets the hang of her calling.

Financially fragile, these women gear up to earn some cash in a modestly illegal immodest manner. With support from Harry, in chaps, the calls for their services just keep coming, until Police Officer Tony Rumson (Joshua Adelson) starts stopping by to woo Amanda, with whom he is instantly infatuated.

This adorable play is a very funny in the hands of this comedic cast, who appear to be enjoying every minute of the ribaldry. The direction of Carol Dorn allows the determination and unity of this group of sisters in kind to shine. The laughs are as easy as the action is unforced.

Frances McGarry is a brave scene stealer. A gifted comedic actor, she takes hold of her character and plays her at full tilt.

Linda Seay is gorgeous as the long tall wannabe seductress, Verna.

Rigid and demanding, until she is not, Amanda is wonderfully rendered by Sarah J. Ahearn. She energetically lets her character loose with expert timing.

As a shy and very innocent Kathy Ann, Stephanie Rosenberg is sweetly befuddled. The reticence of her character is the perfect contrast to her enthusiasm as she gets the hang of her new job.

Laurel Lettieri is lovely as the older and more worn out Rose.

Playing the sidekick to Ms McGarry, Mark Rubino is a hoot. He is gleeful in this role and super fun to watch.

The soulful performance by Mr. Josh Adelson, as his Tony falls in love for the first time, is authentic.

The set, designed and constructed by Nick Kaye, is wonderfully cozy and worn. The design provides large spaces for the actors to gather and move, yet retains a small-space feel. Much credit to Will Heese for fabulous and funny costuming.

The Barn is the absolute perfect venue for this light-hearted fare that pairs excellently with a snack and beverage. Make the call, ring the bell, and get yourself a ticket.

Performances continue weekends through February 23, on Friday and Saturday evenings as well as the afternoons of Sundays, February 10 and 17. Visit ridgefieldtheaterbarn.org for full performance and ticket details, directions, and reservations.

 

OLD RINGERS: a new comedy by Joe Simonelli

old ringers revised outside

A Hilarious Comedy By Joe Simonelli

Directed by Carol Dorn

It’s Golden Girls meets Calendar Girls in this semi-sequel to Men Are Dogs where four senior women try to fight the shrinking economy and their shrinking pocketbooks by investigating alternative means or generating income.  
A wrong number leads to interesting possibilities in this adult bawdy comedy.

*Mature Audiences Only*

.fran on phone mouth open

February 1 ~ 23
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Sunday February 10th & 17th at 2pm

GET TICKETS

Cabaret Seating ~ Bring Food & Drink

Doors open one hour prior to curtain 

Featuring:
Frances McGarry
Linda Seay
Laurel Lettieri
Stefanie Rosenberg
Sarah Ahearn
Mark Rubino
and Joshua Adelson

JAC ANNOUNCED IT IS PUBLISHING MARCINA ZACCARIA’S VILLAGE, MY HOME

In a chaotic business world, do we know the difference between astrophysics and Buddha? Can it all be solved with yoga? Featuring characters at various points of their lives, Village, My Home questions how we choose New York City and what are the comforts that draw us back home. We meet the Old Woman, a matriarch who loves to paint and remembers the horrors of greater storms. We get a glimpse of out-of-towners and travelers from other boroughs, willing to take the City. Just when you yearn for your fax machine, we meet a new school, techno-tribal Computer Geek who threatens to interrupt the very subways that connect us every day.
With theatrical movement and state-of-the-art sound design, Village, My Home promises to warm the heart and calm the most unsettling times.

NEW YORK, October 15, 2018 – JAC Publishing announced that it is publishing Playwright/ Director Marcina Zaccaria’s critically acclaimed drama Village, My Home, a provocative and timely play about New Yorkers confronting cultural and political uncertainties.

Village My Home Poster

When it originally ran for a special limited engagement at the Dream Up Festival in August 2017, critics said,“The great thing about writer/director Marcina Zaccaria’s reportage is its humor” and “it will make you consider to slow down and rethink what home really is.”

With theatrical movement and state-of-the-art sound design, Village, My Home promises to warm the heart and calm the most unsettling times.NEW YORK, October 15, 2018 – JAC Publishing announced that it is publishing Playwright/ Director Marcina Zaccaria’s critically acclaimed drama Village, My Home, a provocative and timely play about New Yorkers confronting cultural and political uncertainties.

Village, My Home is available at  https://www.amazon.com/Village-My-Home-Marcina-Zaccaria/dp/1605132853  It’s also available on Kindle:https://www.amazon.com/Village-My-Home-Marcina-Zaccaria-ebook/dp/B07JVPBC8F

More information can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/VillageMyHome.

Photo of Marcina ZaccariaMarcina Zaccaria is a writer, director, and arts administrator. She has directed readings and performances in venues that include New Dramatists, TheaterLab, HERE Arts Center, 13th Street Repertory Theatre, Soho Rep, Dance Theater Workshop, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage.  She curated a Salon at Dixon Place, which featured visual artists, spoken word artists, dancers, filmmakers, and theater artists. Zaccaria has written monologues, published in InterJACtions: Monologues from the Heart of Human Nature (Vol. II), available on Amazon.  She has been published in the New Crit section of Howl Round, and her clips can be found on Twitter.  An editor at The Theatre Times, Marcina is a member of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

 

Baayork Lee: Bring It ON!

image3

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.