Closing Notice

June 25, 2009

As some of you may have noticed, this blog has been on hiatus for about six weeks, during which time a lot of introspection has occurred. Initially, I suspended operations because the nationwide economic downturn was taking its toll on me (i.e. a need to focus solely on finding steady income after several months without). But, in the weeks since then, other reasons have arisen, leading me to finally announce the official closing of this blog.

One reason is simple: I need money. Plain and simple. Like many of you, I blog for free. But, as you know, blogging can be very time-consuming, and there’s only so much pro bono work I can do nowadays. I have to start transitioning all aspects of my professional life into paid working-hood. So, in that regard, closing the blog is a no-brainer.

Another reason is simply that there are plenty of theater blogs out there that are better and more regular than mine. I don’t really feel like I’m contributing much to the blogosphere that you can’t find elsewhere. Why be redundant, right?

On a more personal note, I originally started the blog about a month after an unexpectedly painful romantic breakup. I needed something to keep me busy so I wouldn’t sit in my room sucking my thumb with the shades drawn, so I accepted my then-employer Martin Denton‘s invitation to start an blog that would be a companion to his.

What’s happened since then? Well, among other things, I am no longer in the employ of NYTE; my broken heart was healed by the arrival of The Companion into my life; and the-lady-in-question-whom-I-broke-up-with and I have long since resolved our differences, become friends again, and worked on a few shows and readings together. All of which is just the long way of saying that the initial impetus for the blog’s creation ran its course a while ago.

Also, a very wise arts journalist friend of mine once asked me what I wanted to be: an actor or a journalist – the implication being that trying to do both for money full-time would be damn near impossible. So, a choice needed to be made. I didn’t think then, nor do I think now, that I had choose between the two. On the contrary, having spent the past few years as both an actor and an arts journalist has convinced me that most of the best reviews and arts coverage comes from the artists and practitioners themselves. For the most part, I think arts journalism would be better off if it were taken away from the academics and petty, short-sighted gossip hounds and starfuckers who practice it now, and handed over to the folks who actually do something artistic as their vocation.

But, as I continue to transition slowly into full-time actorhood, I’m learning how much focus and attention it takes to build a career (i.e. one that will pay you enough to make the rent), and I need to dedicate as much time as possible to making that happen. Now that I’m starting to make some money at this racket – but am still unable to pay my bills on a regular monthly basis – it’s becoming real easy to identify and trim the extra fat in my life. And, unfortunately, this blog falls into that category.

However, I still think it’s possible to be both a practitioner and a journalist. To that end, I’ve started cultivating some leads that may eventually lead to some paid writing work. So, while this blog will cease to operate, I may eventually turn up in the pages of your favorite arts/theater rag. Or maybe I won’t. Who knows?

Needless to say, I am enormously grateful to everyone who has read this thing regularly and kept up with it. I’m also grateful to everyone who agreed to be interviewed on here – there would be no blog with you all, so thanks a million.

Special thanks to Martin Denton for suggesting I try this in the first place. I didn’t end up accomplishing everything I intended for the blog, but blogging opened up whole new worlds of opportunity for me – and that wouldn’t have happened without the encouragement of The Grand Poobah.

All of the content posted here will remain online indefinitely. I’m sure it’ll eventually come down, but I couldn’t tell you when. So if there’s something on here you want to keep for posterity, start copying and pasting now.

And, once again, thanks for your readership. It’s been fun, and I wish you all the best. No doubt we’ll run into each other at the theater, on the road, or elsewhere.

On Hiatus

May 11, 2009

on hiatus

You may have noticed the irregular intervals at which things get posted here on the ol’ blog lately. That’s because the current shaky economy has taken its toll on your friendly neighborhood theater blogger, forcing me to shift my focus to more practical matters (like performing CPR on my bank account) and think about some re-prioritizing.

Therefore, effective immediately, this blog is on indefinite hiatus. I can’t say for how long – all that depends on how long it takes me to overcome the challenges I’m currently facing due to the country’s economic downturn. What I can say is that those challenges have made it difficult for me to focus on much else. So, I’m doing a little streamlining.

Thanks to all of you for your patience and understanding. Rest assured that when the coast is clear, I will be back here with further updates.

The Brick Theater’s Shantytown Ball

April 29, 2009


And now the following plug from the Shameless Promotion Department…

My good pals at The Brick Theater are throwing a party this Saturday night, and I’m personally inviting all of you. I will be there cheering them on, volunteering in whatever capacity they see fit, and dressed in costume (see below for details). You should be there, too. They are one of New York’s leading Indie Theater companies and they do some of the very best work in town. Plus, they’re just damn fine people and know how to party. Come find out what I mean. Here are the details…

Dance around in your barrel
May 2, 8pm to Midnight

A Costume Party where the
Hoity-Toity meets the Down ‘n’ Doity!
At Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO.
A Fundraiser for The Brick!

Limited time ticket discounts below!

from Global Brewer’s Guild and
2-For-1 Drink Specials from 8-10p.m.!!
Great Raffles!! – One free raffle ticket with every admission!

Hosted by Richard P. Scatman and Graspy McTakeItAll (Ten Directions)

Dance to JC Hopkins and his Hopkins Hawkes Quartet featuring Queen Esther!

Rock out to Supermajor!

DJ blackkorea keeps you dancing in the afterparty until 3:30am!

Special attractions including:
Fortunes Told by Pelligrina Leoni and Madama Amore!
Lunatic Fireside Chats with Boxcar F.D.R.!
The Hobo Kissing Booth!
Fish-for-a-Bum Competitions!
A Hobo-Flapper Smackdown!
And more!

Come visit Hobohemia, where the Flappers get goofy with the bums! Doll up and party down! Or dress down and party up! We want to see your best Little Tramp fashion and It Girl-Chic! We’re Equal Opportunity! Hoboettes and Dapper Dans will not be turned away!

Raffle prizes galore! Tickets from Playwrights Horizons, an actual Depression-Era Cast Iron Skillet from The Brooklyn Kitchen, a Surprise-For-Two from Surprise Industries, silkscreen prints from Desert Island Comic Book Store, gift certificates from The Drama Book Shop, Hudson River Massage, Solo Italian Restaurant, Music Lessons from Sarah Engelke, Yoga Instruction from Jenny Schmermund and more! Not to mention the chance to walk away with half the clams in the raffle monies pot!

May 2, 8pm to Midnight
at Galapagos Art Space
Only $30 for all that!
Costumed discount: $20! (online only, with the codeword “EARLYBIRD”)

Tickets available at the door or through TheaterMania (212-352-3101 or 1-866-811-4111)

Galapagos Art Space is located 16 Main Street, located at the corner of Water Street, DUMBO, Brooklyn

Seth Bisen-Hersh Has Writer’s Block

April 27, 2009
Seth Bisen-Hersh

Seth Bisen-Hersh

The term “hyphenate” may have been invented for Seth Bisen-Hersh. He’s a composer-lyricist-accompanist-vocal coach-and occasional performer who has been making quite a name for himself in musical theater and cabaret circles around town for the past few years. He has written and performed six cabaret acts of original material – including The Gayest Straight Man Alive, Neurotic Tendencies, and Why Am I Not Famous Yet? – and composed the original musicals The Spickner Spin, Meaningless Sex, and Trivial Pursuits. He also works steadily as a musical accompanist and vocal coach (whose students, by the way, get their own weekly showcase at Don’t Tell Mama).

This week, Seth reprises Writer’s Block, his cabaret show about…well, just what the title promises. The show’s five-person cast (including Seth himself on both piano and vocals) sing songs about having sex with your co-workers, how your girlfriend’s mother really feels about you, and a multitude of other emotional and sexual barriers.

With a week to go before the show’s opening night on Restaurant Row, Seth visited the ol’ blog to talk more about it, his background and training, and some other projects he’s working on. Enjoy!

I’d like to start by asking you to talk a little bit about what Writer’s Block is about.

Writer’s Block covers a period in my life from where my fifth cabaret act, Why Am I Not Famous Yet?, left off. The songs cover reasons I felt blocked from being creative. I hesitate to give too much away, but the audience can expect an emotional journey replete with tears and laughter.
Why’d you decide to revive it for a second go-round?

When you do a show, inadvertently, not everyone who wants to come can see it. Thus, I always reprise my shows. Furthermore, the show resonates differently upon a six month reflection, so I can bring more depth to the songs.
The show features 16 original songs. That doesn’t sound like writer’s block to me. What gives?!

The title refers to an existential crisis I was having about what to write next. The show follows my process in trying to figure out the next step on my path, as I tried to work through what was blocking me creatively.
You wrote and star in the show, but there are other performers also. Who do they play?

After doing two solo cabaret acts, friends suggested that it might behoove the material if I wasn’t singing it all myself. Therefore, I took their not-so-subtle hints. For my third act, I expanded to do a two-person show, and since my fourth act, I have settled on the formula of three girls, a guy, and myself. Having a full cast allows for group numbers, harmonies and diversity in deliverance of the material.
How did you first become interested in theater, composing, and songwriting?

My first lead role was in 4th grade as the Giving Tree in The Giving Tree. From there I went to star in 5th grade as Captain Hook in Peter Pan, and the summer after elementary school, as Winthrop at a high quality community theater production of The Music Man. Before I knew it, I was doing two shows at a time, all year round through college.

My first song was called “I Love My Mom.” I wrote it for my Mom’s birthday when I was 12, and to this day it is still my mother’s favorite song of mine. From that moment on, I wrote frequently. I have always been prolific, which I blame on my over-active mind that refuses to relax. I have a Bachelors of Science in Music Composition from MIT (besides the more practical Bachelors of Science in Computer Science and Engineering), and I took classes in musical theater writing and joined the songwriter’s club while getting my Masters in Music Technology at NYU.  Both helped me immensely in honing my craft.
You’re also a successful vocal coach and accompanist. What made you break into those fields as well?

Necessity. Not having a nest egg, I needed some way to garner income. While at NYU, I started accompanying vocal lessons. Some of the teachers told me I could make a career as an accompanist, and rather than get a computer job, I thought I’d make a go of it. It took a few years, but I finally found my niche in cabaret, as well as accompanying auditions – both situations where my quick sight reading skills and flourishing flair were a boon rather than a detriment. I started developing skills as a coach as I watched and listened attentively at auditions to the reactions and feedback given by directors, casting directors, etc. Plus, I am an obsessive cast recording collector, so having over 1600 cast recordings was a big help to clients in finding new repertoire.
What’s up next for you after this?

More pounding the pavement. I have written the score to a children’s musical, Stanley’s Adventures, that is tentatively slated for Manhattan Children’s Theatre this fall. I have almost completed the score to a charming musical comedy, More to Love, which is currently being shopped around to Off-Broadway producers. I have just begun a new musical satire. Starting in the fall, I’m planning to do a series of concerts of the best of my over 100 cabaret songs with Broadway talent. Additionally, I’m working on my seventh cabaret act, I’ll Relax When I’m Dead. Other than those projects, I’m doing my audition workshop again this summer, as well as continuing my weekly talent showcases at Don’t Tell Mama to infinity and beyond!

nytheatre mike Interviewed by Martin Denton

April 25, 2009


Well, the tables have been turned on your intrepid interviewer – now I’m getting interviewed for a change. None other than Martin Denton himself, the Big Kahuna over at, has just interviewed me for his blog, the nytheatre i. The mammoth two-part interview is part of Martin’s “Good News Initiative” for the blog, which he calls “stories from the world of indie theater that make us happy.” I’m glad to bring a smile to his face. My thanks to Martin for doing this. It’s a great thrill and an honor.

Anyway, the interviews covers everything under the sun: my recent Tartuffe gig, my work as an audition coach, my monthly newsletter, this here blog, and a bunch of other stuff. You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. Enjoy!

Artifacts of Consequence

April 21, 2009

"Artifacts of Consequence" by Ashlin Halfnight

For those of you looking for something to go see this week, allow me to recommend Ashlin Halfnight’s new play,  Artifacts of Consequence. I saw it over the weekend, and I encourage everyone to do the same. It’s absolutely terrific. Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve been following Ashlin’s work for several years now – and have interviewed him on several occasions – so I admit that I may be biased. Nevertheless, the play features many of Ashlin’s wonderful trademarks: compassion, humor, suspense, big picture thinking, and humanism, to name a few. And, as always with his productions, there are great performances from everyone in the cast, particularly Rebecca Lingafelter, Sara Buffamanti, and Jayd McCarty. The play is a co-production between Ashlin’s company, Electric Pear Productions, and his pals over at Performance Lab 115, and they have spared no expense in bringing its tense, claustrophobic setting (a secret underwater bunker filled with the remnants of post-apocalypse America) to life. Director Kristjan Thor does an impeccable job bringing all of the production’s elements together into a seamless whole. Overall, this is an incredibly well done production, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’ve never seen Ashlin’s work before, this is a great place to start. Definitely one of my favorite’s of his.

(By the way: the show runs from now until May 2nd at The Wild Project. You can buy tickets here.)

Adam Szymkowicz Examines Some Pretty Theft

April 20, 2009
Adam Szymkowicz

Adam Szymkowicz

You know those super-prolific writers whose plays always seem to be opening somewhere, or who are certainly always working on something (or several somethings)? Well, playwright Adam Szymkowicz is one of those scribes. In the past couple of years, the author of Nerve, Food For Fish, and Susan Gets Some Play, has invaded the New York Indie Theater scene with quirky, offbeat plays featuring melancholy characters who yearn to connect with each other. His latest work, Pretty Theft, is no different: it follows two bad girls on a cross-country trip that includes an autistic savant and a mysterious thief who claims he cannot be caught. 

With Pretty Theft opening this week, under the auspices of Flux Theatre Ensemble (one of’s 2008 People of the Year), Adam stopped by the ol’ blog to talk about the play, how he manages his career, and the common threads that bind his works together. Check it out…

You’re a pretty prolific writer, it seems, who writes about a wide range of topics and has a wide range of interests. Where do you find ideas and inspiration for your plays?

Sometimes something will just come to me. I don’t remember where Incendiary came from. I think I woke up one day and decided I wanted to write a film noir-inspired play about a female fire chief/firesetter who falls in love with the detective investigating her fires.

Sometimes I just think to myself, I like to write a play about pirates, for example, and then I figure out what is already out there about pirates and what I want to say with my pirate play. Pretty Theft was about examining theft in various forms. Open Minds was an Orwellian tragicomedy about the Patriot Act. Sometimes I’m interested in certain types of people or flaws or maybe I want to write about war or the economy and if I actually do it, I have to find my way in. What is it that I have to say about this thing that needs to be said? I also write about love a lot.

You’re currently living in Minnesota. Taking that into consideration, how hands-on can you be with the Pretty Theft rehearsals here in New York?

I’m actually in the city for two weeks or so and slowly day by day getting a little broker each day I’m here. But it has to be done. My presence is, I like to think, very helpful in rehearsals. So I’m here for a couple weeks of rehearsals and then I’ll see the opening and fly back.  I’m catsitting on Staten Island right now and will be crashing on a sofa in Astoria next week. My parents live in a small town in Connecticut and so I’ll also get to see them while I’m here.

From reading your blog, I get the impression that you are very diligent about promoting your work and your career. What strategies do you use for this purpose? And what’s left over for your agent to do?

I think many people who would have otherwise never heard of me know me because of my blog. I also went to two grad schools and was a member of many writing groups in New York. I have met lots of people in theater and it always helps to talk to lots of people and see lots of theater, both for people to get to know you and for you to get to know them. I think being known is helpful, or at least it doesn’t hurt. Another good thing to do is to submit lots and lots of plays. I have spent the first ten years of my playwriting career sending out bazillions of submissions. Like at least to 100 places per play. I have slowed down some at this point, partially because my agent does more of the heavy lifting and partially because I just got too tired to continue at that pace. I probably sent Pretty Theft to well over 150 theatres. It was done at a couple of small theatres in limited runs and was workshopped at Juilliard, but this is going to be the big deal production and I’m really looking forward to it.

How did you first become interested in writing?
I was an actor since kindergarten, was in over 30 plays before I was 20. But I wasn’t getting what I wanted from it and I decided to be a writer instead. Because I knew plays so well from memorizing them and reading them, when I started to write on my own, I wrote plays first.

In your opinion, what are some of the common characteristics that bind all your works together? What makes each of them an “Adam Szymkowicz play”?

That’s a hard question. Because I see threads in common from play to play but they’re subconsciously there. Plays written close together often have more in common than those written years apart. There is often a romantic relationship. But not always. My plays are usually funny and often sad. I think it’s funny when people are bad at their jobs or when they have trouble relating to others. I like writing about people trying to connect. My plays are sometimes called quirky. I don’t think that’s inaccurate. I like characters who are a little off or in some way outside of mainstream society. I like to write plays that I think are fun to watch too. Pretty Theft and Nerve have dance. Herbie, Poet of the Wild West and Incendiary have shootouts. Hearts Like Fists has hand-to-hand combat. Deflowering Waldo has a monster. I write the kind of plays I would want to see.

For some reason, a lot of my plays have funerals or burials in them. In my newest play, Elsewhere, someone is buried alive. Pretty Theft has an avoided funeral. Fat Cat Killers and Herbie both have a scene where people are digging graves. Food For Fish has a coffin in the center of the living room because the characters aren’t ready to bury their father yet. He’s been there a year. That’s also a play that takes a lot from Chekhov. Herbie is a wild west retelling of Hamlet. Sometimes a line from one play shows up in another play in a different context. Open Minds and Herbie both have characters named Herbie in them. There are three different Bobby’s in three of my plays. Sometimes I don’t see the most obvious connections until years later. I better just keep writing.

What’s up next for you after this?

Well, production-wise, this summer, Herbie is going up in DC, and Food For Fish is getting produced in Atlanta (its 8th production). I have at least one but possibly four development places to go this summer. Four is probably too many, and I couldn’t afford that, but they wouldn’t all be the same play or anything.

Writing-wise, I am writing a novel in spurts and have been for a couple years. I’m also trying to get into TV and film. I have a pilot that is being passed around and I have a film I want to write next. There is also always a new play on the horizon.

I’m in Minneapolis because my wife got a Jerome fellowship there and she was required to be there for it. But the year is almost up. We’re not really sure what happens next. We are trying to think of how to get to where we need to get to next. When I think of the future, it is both fun and scary.

But I’m hoping what happens next is that I will somehow find a way to make a living at this thing. I am still looking for an anonymous patron to write me a large check. Or, you know, whatever really happens.

Chance Muehleck Gathers Up The Nerve Tank

April 17, 2009
Chance Muehleck

Chance Muehleck

For those of you who like your theatergoing a little more risky and adventurous, you need look no further than The Nerve Tank. Billing itself as “the exploratory and development wing” of its parent organization, LIVE Theater Company, The Nerve Tank creates theatrical performances through non-traditional rehearsal and composition methods with its tight-knit band of actors and designers. Their current production, A Gathering, epitomizes The Nerve Tank’s ethos perfectly: the piece is a dark, metaphysical thriller that questions identity and uses movement, spoken word, design elements, and a rotating cast of six actors to smash theatrical conventions.

With the show currently in the middle of a three month run at The Brooklyn Lyceum‘s downstairs theater – which is a 4,000 square foot former public bath – Chance Muehleck, co-founder of The Nerve Tank and author of A Gathering, visited the ol’ blog to chat about the show, the company, and what the heck it all means. Check it out…

I’d like to start by asking you what A Gathering is about and where the idea for it came from.

The idea came in a recycled thought. I had this raw, cavernous warehouse in mind, and was imagining who might live there. They would need to seem like extensions of the space. So I settled on three personas, and they started coughing up all this language. They became physical manifestations of things that were evoked by that stripped-down warehouse. Then it really got strange, because I began treating the narrative as a liability. I thought: What happens to a computer program when it gets infected? It goes haywire. There are different levels of infection in the piece; some of it is generated by the presence of an audience, and some by the nature of the space itself. I always considered A Gathering a performance first, something living and changeable, so that’s where my private work ended and the collaborative work began.

A Gathering is in the middle of a three-month run, which is an unusually long time for an Indie Theater show. How did you manage to secure such a long run and what made you want to do that?

The long run was both a marketing tactic and an aesthetic choice. The Brooklyn Lyceum is a great, unique space, but it’s not as well known in the Indie Theatre community as, say, The Brick or Collapsible Hole. We wanted to give audiences time to discover a very cool Brooklyn venue. The schedule is actually an extension of our residency—instead of rehearsing every Thursday, now we’re performing. And it gives the company time to discover things about the piece. I think there are things you can learn in three months that you simply can’t in three weeks. Questions that seemed resolved can resurface in different ways. And with A Gathering, which is so much about individual perception, those questions are essential.

The show features a rotating cast of actors, all of whom take turns doing the show. Could you elaborate on how that system works and why you chose to do the show that way?

Melanie Armer, the director and my co-conspirator, had to make some practical decisions based on our 16-week run. There are six actors and three characters, but rather than creating an understudy system, Melanie allowed each performer to find his or her own version of a role. Which means the show can be radically different depending on which configuration you’re seeing. And we have an amazing company that’s very much up for that challenge. So we’re approaching questions of identity in two ways: Within the text (where age, gender, and other signifiers are traded), and within the constructs of the show itself.

Your theater company, The Nerve Tank, is in residency at The Brooklyn Lyceum. What does that mean exactly and how did you score the residency?

The residency means many things for us. We can play, experiment, fail, fail better. We can develop work that uses the space to its best advantage. With A Gathering, we kind of just wanted to get out of its way. I think you can fuck up a perfectly good theatre by imposing too many elements on it. Our designers really understand this; they respond to each set of givens with open eyes and open ears. And we have the freedom to move into more elaborate, multimedia kinds of projects. Kismet had a lot to do with how the residency came to pass; we were looking for a home, and the Lyceum was looking for a company to help raise its visibility. We happened to contact them at the right time!

The Nerve Tank is the development wing of its parent theater company, LIVE Theater. Could you explain further the difference between the two and elaborate on their relationship to each other?

As it relates to The Nerve Tank, “parent” is the right analogy for LIVE. We produced some wonderful shows under LIVE, and may do so again. But it was founded with a traditionally text-based agenda. I started feeling that it couldn’t keep up with the directions we wanted to go. The Nerve Tank is a rapidly-growing, insatiably curious child, and as such requires our full attention. When we say it’s the developmental wing of LIVE, we mean that we create projects in a non-hierarchical way, rather than starting with The Play and ensuring that its message is codified and delivered. I guess that sounds nebulous, but there’s a great deal of rigor involved in the process. When so many things are on the table, you begin to see what’s truly essential for an engaged experience.

You and Melanie have been collaborators for a long time now. What do you two bring to each other’s work that no one else can?

This is a tricky one. It depends on the day. We’re both quite stubborn, but we tend to find things together that we wouldn’t have otherwise. There’s a scene in A Gathering that consists of five words. And one of them is a nonsense word. I usually attend rehearsal, but I was absent the day that scene was worked. What Melanie and the cast(s) came up with was astonishing to me. She built a physical vocabulary that enlarges the moment and touches many other aspects of the piece. So, while I wasn’t in the room, my text was, and so was the foundation we’d laid. It comes back to those old tropes: Trust and perspective. Or trust in perspective.

What do you have lined up next for yourself, The Nerve Tank, and LIVE?

We’ve just determined that the next piece will be about the Bauhaus. It’s now called City on the Edge of the World, and we’re developing it with German dramaturge Lutz Kessler. It’s a dense, loaded subject that involves many different theories and personalities. The company is taking a retreat in June to do some research and formulate a working method. It’ll ultimately be a trans-national project: At the same time we’re working at the Lyceum, Lutz will rehearse with a group in Germany. The plan is to videotape our efforts and start a conversation that will become part of the performance. Next, for me, is a large glass of wine and some Celebrity Apprentice. How about you?

I’m going to hunker down with some Yankees baseball myself. But that glass of wine sounds good. Thanks.

The 1st Theater Bloggers Social

April 14, 2009
Ken Davenport

Ken Davenport

I’d like to take a moment to do my part in getting the word out about the 1st Theater Bloggers Social that’s happening next week. Yes, you read that right. Broadway producer and theater blogger Ken Davenport has taken it upon himself to organize this gathering in the hopes of starting some long-term conversations about the state of our art (and the art we blog about), and maybe plant the seeds for some long-term change for the better throughout the industry.

For those of you who haven’t already, I suggest checking out Ken’s blog. He’s a damn fine blogger who doles out frequent helpings of common sense with inspiring regularity. And, having also met him in person, I can tell you he’s a gentleman, as well, and very smart. So, this ought to be an event worth making time for.

There will be ample time to schmooze and network with your fellow bloggers, tips from a bona fide blog consultant, free munchies, and free tickets to some Broadway shows that very night. (Yeah, Ken knows how to pull some strings…) Here are the pertinent details, straight from Ken’s initial event announcement:


Thursday, April 23rd.
6 PM – 8 PM
Planet Hollywood
Broadway at 45th St.

To RSVP, comment to this blog with your name and the URL of your blog. Confirmation and final details will be emailed to you. Oh, and to qualify as a “Theater Blogger”, you should:

  • Have a blog devoted primarily to theater
  • Post regularly
  • Be an independent blogger (not sponsored/paid to blog by any organization)

I mean, honestly people: how often do you meet up with your fellow bloggers in person? And how often does a Broadway producer invite you to his party? Need I say more?

If you meet the aforementioned criteria, you can RSVP directly to Ken here.

Eisa Davis Makes a Mixtape

April 8, 2009
Eisa Davis

Eisa Davis

In case you haven’t noticed, actor-playwright Eisa Davis has been on quite a roll the past couple of seasons. Her play Bulrusher was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and she starred in both the Broadway and Off-Broadway productions of the hit musical Passing Strange, for which she won an OBIE Award. This week, theatergoers can experience both her acting and writing talents simultaneously when New Georges and the Hip-Hop Theater Festival launch the premiere of Eisa’s new play, Angela’s Mixtape, which spans three decades in telling the autobiographical story of the author’s radical Bay Area upbringing in a family that includes her famous aunt, the professor and activist Angela Davis (whose notoriety in the early 1970s reached such great heights that both John Lennon and The Rolling Stones wrote songs about her).  Eisa plays herself in a production that moves, according to the show’s press materials, “as smoothly as a DJ fading from song to song. Each track, each memory, has a built-in switch to the next, for theatrical momentum that keeps on building.”

On the eve of the play’s opening, Eisa visited the ol’ blog to talk about its origins, the challenges of playing herself, and, of course, her legendary aunt. Check it out, people…

This is obviously a very personal project for you. What inspired you to write it?

There were a few sparks. I wrote it in 2003 when the Hip-Hop Theater Festival asked me to present a reading of a new piece and this was the thing that fell out. Particularly because my mentor, the playwright Adrienne Kennedy, had urged me to write about Angela and my family. Another important reason was that I wanted to document how and why I’d evolved, as it seemed to be a specific story that many may not have seen before yet could identify with. And last but not least, I wanted to have a conversation with my family about some of these issues and as you’ll see in the play, that hasn’t always been the easiest process for me to initiate.

This is a memory play with the musical structure of a mixtape. Why did you choose that particular structure? And how does it specifical ly serve the narrative?

It’s always funny to answer questions about plays as if there was rational choice involved. I follow urges, needs…and then once the play is down on the page looking entirely alien from what I expected it to be, I get to work with brilliant directors and actors and hear back from friends, audience members (and in this case, family) to shape it into what the work itself wants to become. So the mixtape was the natural form for the content of play because it’s intensely personal, it’s idiosyncratic, it’s rhythmic, and it isn’t linear. Like a lot of plays, the narrative is about a kid trying to figure out how she fits in the world, and a mixtape seemed the perfect way to share her epistemology on her own terms.

I imagine that the task of playing yourself in a piece you’ve also written is a slippery slope. Why did you decide to do that? And what are the challenges you’ve faced, so far, in playing yourself?

I don’t know how to play myself. I really don’t. I’m six years old in parts of the play, and I don’t remember that. So I’ve tried to just feel like I did then. And I ask Liesl, the director, if it’s annoying. I wrote the play as a fun thing to do with my cousin Cecilie, who’s also an actress. But she and I don’t have to be in the play for it to land, thank goodness. We actually had a production in Atlanta last year with the actor Ayesha Ngaujah playing the character of Eisa. And it stood on its own. In this production in New York, Ayesha is playing my cousin Cecilie and I’m playing Eisa. One of the hardest challenges in the process has been delineating when I have to be an actor and when I have to be a writer, learning how to protect each from the other.

How aware were you of your aunt’s notoriety when you were growing up? And what kind of influence has she had on your life?

I knew that she had an aura about her, gave inspiring speeches, that there had been a trial and an international movement to free her and an acquittal. I knew that everyone else treated her as a woman of significance. But I didn’t really understand her in the way that other people saw her until I left home and went to college and studied her and the movement and philosophical schools she was part of. Her influence on my life is impossible to measure–my mother and I in particular are in a dynamic with her that is symbiotic. You know, it’s a two way street. It seems to me that Angela’s always taken pains to keep her public stature one thing, and her relationships another. This is not to say that she isn’t personal in her political engagement, as she is, very much. But any burden I’ve ever felt is something I’ve taken on myself.

What first drew you to playwriting? And what made you decide to pursue a career as both an actor and a writer?

I always acted and wrote little stories. They were inextricably connected in my mind. I would make up shows to do with Cecilie, as well as with any and all available children after dinner. My former stepfather is a filmmaker so I even started writing a screenplay when I was six–in which I was a character. Just kid fun, you know? But it continued to be something that I enjoyed and took refuge in. So these hobbies became how I make my living–but not without hesitation. I may have fantasized about being on Fame like every other kid in the 80s, but I didn’t really imagine that I’d have to (or want to) put in the work Debbie Allen was talking about in the immortal words “You want fame? Well fame costs. And right here is where you start paying. In sweat.” I had a lot of fear about pursuing an artistic life–because it would mean taking major risks daily. But being happy, and helping the people around you become happy, is worth any sacrifice, and creating live performances is what I love to do.

What’s up next for you after this?

This summer I’m working on another new play with director Liesl Tommy, who did both Angela’s Mixtape and The Good Negro at the Public. It’s called The History of Light. The Contemporary American Theater Festival in West Virginia is putting it up. I’d really like to go on a surfing trip. Paying rent would be a good idea too.