Random Friday Pandora Top 10

February 23, 2008

Absolutely brutal day at the office job. I’m exhausted, and still have to work on my lines, so today’s entry is going to be short and sweet. Here is this week’s Random Friday Top 10, courtesy of the trusty reliable Pandora Quick Mix:

  • “I Thought I Was a Child” – Jackson Browne (For Everyman)
  • “Wicked Gil” – Band of Horses (Everything All the Time)
  • “Mean Street” – Van Halen (Fair Warning)
  • “Addicted to Love” – Robert Palmer (20th Century Masters: The Best of Robert Palmer)
  • “Hail Hail” – Pearl Jam (No Code)
  • “I’m Not Sure” – Johnny Winter (Second Winter)
  • “The Post War Dream” – Pink Floyd (The Final Cut)
  • “No Reply” – The Beatles (The Capitol Albums Vol. 1)
  • “I’ve Told You For the Last Time” – Eric Clapton (Eric Clapton)
  • “Million Dollar Bash” – Bob Dylan (The Basement Tapes)

Happy Friday, y’all. Don’t forget to come see 3800 Elizabeth this weekend. See you there.


3800 Elizabeth Goes From Boneless to the Knickerbockers

February 20, 2008

Shaquille O’Neal

Okay, I just read the funniest thing on ESPN.com: Shaquille O’Neal‘s comments regarding his role with his new team, the Phoenix Suns:

“I’m more like a senior adviser so I don’t like to come in here and try to take over,” O’Neal said. … “Just like your basic karate movie where the young guys come to the old guys with beards who have them do weird stuff to get to the other side. That’s who I am, the old guy with a long beard.”

Teammate Steve Nash‘s response to that statement comes in a close second. You can read the rest of this hilarious article here.

In other news, it’s been a quiet week here at the ol’ blog. The Companion and I have both been a little bit under the weather (numerous folks at both our workplaces are sick) and we’re persevering as only we know how: she’s rehearsing a staged reading that goes up later this week; I’ve been convalescing at home with Season 5 of The Shield, courtesy of Netflix. The weekend also brought with it repeat viewings of two old favorites, Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose and Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, neither of which The Companion had seen before. Good times.

Otherwise, it’s just been non-stop 3800 Elizabeth around here. Last Sunday saw the debut of Episode 3, “Sonja the Boneless,” which brought our biggest crowd yet. Lots of friendly faces and repeat visitors. Also a trio of regular civilians (i.e. not theater people or friends of ours) who showed up because they saw our listing in the Village Voice. We were even visited by an honest-to-God reporter from New York Press who’s writing a little something about us for an upcoming issue. (Don’t worry: I’ll be sure to let you know when it runs. In the meantime, you can enjoy this little write-up we recently got in The Brooklyn Paper.)

As happy as I was to see so many people in the audience – it’s great to see that we’re actually building an audience, and in record time – last week’s performance was a little lacking in the energy department, I must admit. ‘Twas wan. Boneless, as it were. We let it slip away from us a little bit due to a panoply of factors, all of which we identified and are confident we won’t repeat. I mean, everyone’s entitled to an off night every now and then, right?

Meanwhile, it’s full steam ahead, as usual. This week we’re brushing up for the rerun of Episode 1, “Knickerbockers” (for those of you who missed it because you were watching The Super Bowl instead), featuring special guest stars Hope Cartelli (filling in for Iracel, who’s on vacation this week) and Ian W. Hill (reprising his turn as Bob Slebodnick, the H.R. guy for the Knicks). We had a read-through with Hope on this past weekend, and she was typically outstanding. Peter and I remembered our lines pretty well, so this ought to be a real fun time.

In the meantime, I’m hoping to get a leg up on the following week’s episode, “The Man on the Silver Mountain.” This one showcases Peter’s character, AJ, so I thankfully don’t have as much script to memorize as usual. Ideally, I’d like to have Episode 4 under my belt by Sunday so I can be a week ahead of schedule. Fingers crossed. Let us pray.

Footnote: Ian subbed in as our stage manager on Sunday, and did a splendid job (check out his blog for the recap of the live commercial he and Gyda Arber did for us). He even took the time to photographically record the proceedings for posterity. I’ll leave you with one of the images he preserved in time for us – namely the entire 3800 Elizabeth crew in tech rehearsal action!

Aaron Baker, nytheatre mike, Iracel Rivero, and Peter Handy


Random Friday Spielberg Top 10

February 15, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 

It’s Friday, so let’s get the important things out of the way first, namely: the brand new trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Can you say, “HOLY $#*%?!?!?” Thank you, Jesus!

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, allow me to point you in the direction of some other cool happenings you will surely want to check out.

First among these is the Plays and Playwrights 2008 Book Launch Party at The Red Room & The Kraine Theatres this Sunday afternoon at 3pm. This event is always a cracking good time – Martin and Rochelle Denton know how to mobilize the indie theater scene better than anyone. You can hobnob and schmooze, catch up with old acquaintances, meet new ones, and see some damn good scenes from the published plays. Here’s what they’ll be doing excerpts from on Sunday:

  • …and we all wore leather pants by Robert Attenweiler. Performed by Ariana Shore and Joe Stipek.
  • Cleansed by Thomas Bradshaw. Performed by Joseph Carusone, Barrett Doss, Siho Ellsmore, Matt Huffman, and Bobby Moreno
  • Fall Forward by Daniel Reitz. Performed by Dean Imperial and Julie Kline.
  • The Telling Trilogy by Crystal Skillman. Performed by Spencer Aste.
  • What Happened When by Daniel Talbott. Performed by Jimmy Davis and Seth Numrich.

Hot stuff, people. You should check it out.

I would be there myself, but, sad to say, I’m going to miss it on account of my afternoon tech rehearsal for Episode 3 of 3800 Elizabeth, which goes up at The Battle Ranch that very night at 8pm.  You should come see it. This week’s episode is going to be particularly funny, I think, and will be a fine showcase for both me and my co-star, Iracel Rivero.

Hell, you could make a whole day of it on Sunday: hit the Plays and Playwrights party in the afternoon, then check out 3800 Elizabeth in the evening. And none of it will cost you a dime, my friend. That’s right: both events are totally and completely FREE. Now do you think you have a good reason to stay home and do housework this weekend? I didn’t think so.

If those aren’t enough for you, you could also take in both of these happening weekend events:

  • Notes From Underground: Michael Gardner remounts his stage adaptation of the classic work by Dostoyevsky at The Brick Theater. Starring Robert Honeywell, Heath Kelts, Michael O’Brien, Alyssa Simon, and Moira Stone. I saw this in one of its earlier incarnations, back in the 1999 New York International Fringe Festival, and I guarantee that you have never seen anything like it. Go see this powerhouse cast in action. Opens tonight for a 6-week run.
  • Nosedive Productions’ Boxcar Social at The Battle Ranch this Saturday from 7pm to 11pm. This is a fundraiser for Nosedive’s spring production of Colorful World, the new superhero play by James Comtois, which numerous people have told me is pretty frappin’ awesome. The Nosedivers are excellent people and a hell of a lot of fun to party with, so you should do yourself a favor and go hang with them. There will be plenty of entertainment – poetry by actor-writer Brian Silliman, magic tricks by the Amazing Amazini, and the newest of Nosedive’s notoriously funny video comedy sketches – and cheap-ass drinks ($2 beers, $1 Jell-O shots). All for $5 at the door. Tell me how that’s not a deal.
  • Happy Endings, Blue Coyote Theater Group’s new evening of short plays about the lives of sex workers. Oh yeah, baby! Featuring new plays by Blair Fell, David Foley, Matthew Freeman, Brian Fuqua, David Johnston, Boo Killebrew, Stan Richardson, Christine Whitley, and John Yearley. The Blue Coyotes are also an awesome bunch that always put on a great show. Knowing them, this one should be no different. Now playing at The Access Theater through March 1st.

Finally, I’d like to wrap things up with this week’s Random Friday Top 10, inspired by Steven Spielberg, director of the new Indiana Jones movie. I hereby give you my Top 10 Favorite Performances From a Spielberg Movie (in chronological order):

  • Robert Shaw in Jaws (1975)
  • Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  • Henry Thomas in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  • Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple (1985)
  • Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun (1987)
  • Sean Connery in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
  • Dustin Hoffman in Hook (1991)
  • Anthony Hopkins in Amistad (1997)
  • Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan (1998)
  • Christopher Walken in Catch Me if You Can (2002)

(Honorable mentions to Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple; the entire cast of Always; Robin Williams in Hook; Djimon Hounsou in Amistad; and Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me if You Can.)

That’s all for now, people. Happy Friday, and enjoy your weekend!


Art Gallery Recommendations

February 15, 2008

Dear Blogosphere:

I need your help.

A friend of mine wants to organize a fundraiser for the spring, and wants to have it at an art gallery. She asked me for some recommendations, but I don’t know anything about art galleries. Do you? If you could recommend a gallery or two – or any other location, really – I’d be most grateful. And so would my friend. She’s organizing this thing on behalf of a charity she’s involved with.

Feel free to leave a comment on this post or send me an email at nytheatremike@gmail.com. Thanks in advance for your help.


3800 Elizabeth is Up and Running

February 13, 2008

3800 Elizabeth 

So, I thought I’d check in with a little 3800 Elizabeth update, since I hadn’t really done so yet. We’ve got the first two episodes under our belts already and have figured out what it takes to put this thing together every week. Namely: diligence.

You see, since the show adheres to an episodic sitcom format, we’re essentially doing a brand new show every week. Which means learning a new 22-page short play every seven days. And, since the show is subject to indie theater economics, rehearsal time is minimal – only two days a week, including our run-through/tech rehearsal the day of performance. Which means doing a lot of work on my own, mostly in the form of learning and running my lines wherever I can, whenever I can, and for as long as I can. Obviously, this means a lot of time spent sequestered in my bedroom, pacing back and forth and ritualistically muttering to myself (I hope my neighbors aren’t spying on me – I must look like a maniac). It also means doing much of the same during my lunch break (it’s a miracle that security at the pedestrian thoroughfare across the street from my office hasn’t started following me around the premises as I burrow down with my script). The Companion has been extremely helpful in running lines with me whenever we get together, and with nary a complaint (she’s a good egg, that one). So, all in all, I’m finding ways to get it done.

But still, hard work. Because it has to be done every day. Skipping a day puts one perilously behind. I found this out the hard way last week when I skipped more than one day, and then found myself floundering on tech day. A frustrating and embarrassing situation. I pride myself on being prepared come show day (or, at least, trying to be), and I wasn’t this time. So, I had to make like I was cramming for the final exam and drill drill drill my trouble spots over and over until I could, at least, reasonably paraphrase them without sounding like I was about to go up. A lesson well-learned, I tell you.

So, this week I’m blocking out time to work on my lines at some point every day. Episode 3 is especially line-heavy for both me and my co-star, Iracel Rivero, so we will individually be working overtime all week.

As much work as the show is, it is also mostly a lot of damn fun. Doing this show is like taking a crash course in comedy. Learning how to play the scene and get the laughs without pandering for them (a temptation that is easy to give in to); learning how to time things best and pick up cues so as to develop a good rhythm; discovering which bits of business work and which ones don’t (i.e. body language, facial expressions, vocal inflections, etc.); knowing when to turn up the urgency for laughs and when to dial it down. It’s all pretty incredible. The fast pace at which everything happens – from the speed at which acting choices need to made to the total time it takes to put everything together – gives me a newfound respect for both sitcom actors and soap opera actors. I will never scoff at either again.

And everyone has been a joy to work with so far: my co-stars, Iracel and Peter Handy, who are both talented, funny, and inspiringly dedicated; writer-director Aaron Baker, whose quicksilver non-sequiturs leave me in stitches; stage manager Berit Johnson, who brings a level head and a lot of good cheer and know-how to the proceedings; and our guest stars (so far), Ian W. Hill and Christiaan Koop, both of whom came in on short notice and knocked one out of the park. To think that we’re only just getting started – i.e. we’ve got five more weeks and many more guest stars to go – is very, very exciting.

One thing I’ve noticed is that we’ve run smack up against some other significant cultural happening on both performances thus far. Episode 1 was the same night as The Super Bowl (we played to a small, but appreciative crowd); Episode 2 was the same night as The Grammys (we played to a much larger, but no less appreciative crowd). This week we’re up against The NBA All-Star Game, and next week we’re competing with The Oscars.

Oof.

I hope we can keep that audience-building momentum going. So do your part, people, and come check us out. We’re really good, and we’d love to see you there! (Besides, the writer’s strike just ended so you’ll have to wait a little while longer for your  favorite shows to come back on.)

Episode 3, “Sonja the Boneless,” debuts at The Battle Ranch this Sunday night at 8pm. And, did I mention that all performances are FREE?!?! As in: no admission/ticket price! That’s a deal you just can’t quabble with. Come see us in action, and let us become your new favorite show.


Bryan Enk: Breasts and the Devil

February 13, 2008

Bryan Enk and Matt Gray

If you’ve never seen actor-writer-director Bryan Enk in action it’s not for lack of opportunities. He is one of indie theater’s busiest and most ubiquitous talents, and also one of its best, having racked up an impressive array of recent acting credits in projects as diverse as Jeff Lewonczyk’s Macbeth Without Words, Ian W. Hill’s Hamlet from Gemini CollisionWorks, Michael Gardner’s environmental staging of Mountain Hotel for The Havel Festival, Robert Honeywell’s Greed: A Musical Love $tory (a very liberal musical adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses), and Frank Cwiklik’s productions of Bitch Macbeth and The Sinister Urge.

As a writer and director, Bryan also has his hands full. He and his writing partner, actor Matt Gray, are the driving forces behind Penny Dreadful, a 12-part theatrical serial inspired by pulp dime-store “penny dreadful” stories from the turn of the century. The series, which started in November, presents a new installment every month, for one night only, at The Brick Theater in Williamsburg. (Penny Dreadful is also another in a long line of film and theater projects created by Bryan’s production company, Third Lows Productions.)

Bryan (pictured above with Matt and several o f their Bitch Macbeth castmates) recently dropped by the ol’ blog to talk about Penny Dreadful, Third Lows, his partnership with Matt, and his trademarked “Bryan Enk elements.” Here’s what he had to say:

Let’s start with you telling us a little bit about Penny Dreadful and what it is exactly.

Penny Dreadful is a 12-part stage serial. It’s a horror-suspense-adventure-mystery that takes place in the early 1900s and chronicles the sprawling story of a second-rate magician, a Detective of the Supernatural, a vampire, the Sundance Kid’s ex-girlfriend, sci-fi author H.G. Wells, a beautiful escape artist, Teddy Roosevelt, a prisoner from the future, a teenage anarchist and a shadow organization called The Alliance that’s probably up to no good.

We’ll be performing Episode 4 on Saturday, February 16 at 10:30PM at The Brick.

What are the origins of this project?

I had written and directed a couple of late-night shows at The Brick in 2005 and 2006, small-scale supernatural melodramas that got really good houses and great reception. Michael Gardner and Robert Honeywell, co-artistic directors of The Brick, approached me in January 2007 about creating an ongoing late-night horror serial. The only parameters they gave me were that it should be 12 episodes – one for each month over the course of a year – and the title should be Penny Dreadful

I brought Matt Gray on board shortly thereafter, and it was his idea that, if the series was to be called Penny Dreadful, then the story should take place at the turn of the century, when the pulpy dime-novel Penny Dreadfuls themselves were at the height of their popularity. We then constructed a rough outline of the 12 episodes and launched with Episode 1: “The Amazing Viernik” in November 2007.

How important is it that the audience follow the story from the very first episode?

Extremely. We videotape each episode and have them available for download on the Third Lows website.Although I talked to someone recently who started with Episode 3 and he said he enjoyed it even without following every little nuance and plot point, so I hope there’s always some pleasures for newcomers who are coming in blind.

You and Matt are the sole authors of Penny Dreadful, but you have different directors for each episode. How come?

There are two reasons; one is practical and the other actually has a “concept” behind it. The practical reason is that, even though the episodes are usually only about 45 minutes long, we’re still mounting a brand new play every month, complete with costumes and tech and a cast of usually around eight. That’s a huge undertaking just as writers and producers, so we thought it best to leave the directing to others, at least the majority of it.

The more official reason is that I see Penny Dreadful as an opportunity to showcase a lot of different directorial styles. It’s a great format for first-time directors, like Adam Swiderski and Christiaan Koop; extremely experienced directors, like Ian W. Hill; and directors that are somewhere in-between, like Danny Bowes.

The format I envisioned when deciding that each episode of Penny would have its own director was that of the four Alien films, which had four very different directors and four very different styles, but they were each telling one part of one large story. It’s amazing to see something you’ve written interpreted and brought to life by someone else. It’s a privilege and an honor. We encourage every director to really put their personality up there on stage. It makes every episode of Penny Dreadful a unique experience.

Matt and I will be wrapping up the series as directors, though. Matt will be directing Episode 11 (September) and I’ll be directing Episode 12 (October). For no particular reason other than it seems appropriate.

Give us a brief overview of how a typical episode gets put together and mounted.

Matt and I will put together an outline of the episode; what characters are in it, how much or how little of the overall story is revealed, how it fits in with what episodes have come before it and with what is yet to come. We’ll then divide up the actual writing duties: Matt will take, say, Scenes 1, 3 and 5, and I’ll take 2, 4 and 6. We’ll then put our individual work together so we have a full first draft, and from there we’ll finalize the script.

Once the final draft is complete, the script is given to that episode’s director. The director then distributes the script to the cast and works with The Brick regarding when the episode can be rehearsed in the space. From there, it’s the director’s show and Matt and I are strictly producers (securing costumes, props, etc.) and/or actors, if our characters are appearing in that episode (Matt and I both have semi-recurring roles in Penny Dreadful).

There are usually two or three rehearsals, and then tech is the morning of the performance. Ian W. Hill and Berit Johnson of Gemini CollisionWorks work their technical wizardry on lights and sound. The episode performs that night and is videotaped from two different camera angles. A couple of weeks later, the episode is edited and posted on thirdlows.com.

Repeat.

You and Matt have been working together for a long time. What’s the connection between you two?

Matt and I actually have very different interests and styles as writers and directors. Matt likes the sweeping romantic tragedies, the women in trouble but refusing to compromise their independence. He has a great sense of romantic longing, of melancholy tone and old-world wit. He’s also extremely interested in history, almost obsessively so, and a lot of the period detail of Penny Dreadful comes from him. He’s a smarty-pants and a charmer and one of the funniest people I’ve ever known.

As for me, an old friend of mine came to see a play I wrote and directed last fall, and he said, “That had some of the familiar of Bryan Enk elements.” I asked him what “Bryan Enk elements” were, and he said, “Oh, you know. Breasts and the Devil.” He’s exaggerating, but I do go for the more pulpy stuff, but I love doing in-depth character studies in such environments, finding the human soul in over-the-top worlds.

So Matt and I meet somewhere in the middle and sometimes come up with something that we both like and that audiences like. And as different as our styles and interests are, I think we understand each other’s work better than anyone else. For me, there’s no one better than Matt to call for help when I’m suffering from writer’s block or just need to discuss a particular idea, no matter how vague.

And we’ve been close friends for 15 years. How wonderful is it that you also get to work with a friend? The answer is, “Quite.”

Tell us a little bit about your company, Third Lows Productions, and what kind of stuff you guys specialize in.

I founded Third Lows in 1992, when I was a freshman at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. I don’t know if we necessarily have a specialty – I’ve made, I think, to date, 18 films, and they’ve covered lots of different genres, as have the stage productions I’ve put on over the years. I suppose our specialization is, if anything, putting up projects with hardly any money, but I know a lot of production companies that do that, and do it more often than I do. I suppose I lean more towards the supernatural stuff: horror, sci-fi, comic-book kinds of things. I love intense character dramas. I love monologue plays. Breasts and the Devil. You know.

Any plans for more episodic shows of this nature in the future?

We’ll see if The Brick requests a Season Two after we perform the 12th and final episode in October. Penny Dreadful is still in its testing period; we’re only just performing the fourth episode this month, and there’s a lot more to discover about what works and what doesn’t in terms of this kind of serialized storytelling.

What’s up next for you and Third Lows after this?

I have something I’m working on called The Ballad of Jeliza-Rose, a beautiful and painfully frustrating piece of work that refuses to be tamed or categorized. It’s a devious and seductive beast, and something of a shape shifter: sometimes it’s a stage play, other times a feature-length film, then it’s a short film, then an art installation, then a music video, then a graphic novel, then an HBO pilot. It might be some or even all of those things, but the question is: what should it be first? For a while I thought it was a feature-length film, but it’s escaped and changed again, so now I’m back in the forest hunting for it.

How’s that as metaphors for the creative process? “Beast.” “Shape shifter.” “Forest.” “Hunting.” Ha! Ah. Hmm.


Hunting and Gathering Review

February 12, 2008

Hunting and Gathering

My long overdue review of Brooke Berman’s new comedy, Hunting and Gathering – now playing at 59E59, courtesy of Primary Stages – has just been posted on nytheatre.com:

Playwright Brooke Berman charmingly chronicles the trials and tribulations of transient New York thirtysomethings in her new comedy, Hunting and Gathering. Her protagonists spend life on the run, hopping from one sublet to the next, holding down multiple jobs to make ends meet, and trying to make meaningful connections in between. One character claims to make ‘transience an art project.’ That’s the playful, unpredictable, and somewhat melancholy essence of Berman’s play, which may wind up being as epochal about present-day New York as Woody Allen’s Manhattan—a film referenced often here—was about the New York of the 1970s.”

Check out the rest here, yo.