Party With the Babylonians After Work on Monday

March 30, 2008

Hope Cartelli in “Babylon Babylon”

You like that picture? That’s Hope Cartelli, co-artistic director of Piper McKenzie Productions and co-star of their next opus, Babylon Babylon. In fact, that’s the main marketing image for all the show’s publicity materials. Not bad, huh? Yeah, I thought it was pretty sweet, too.

I mention this because we’re having a Babylon Babylon fundraising party this coming Monday, and you should all come. There will be hookahs, bellydancing, dance lessons, special musical performances, and a teaser film – all for a mere $10. You will undoubtedly be supporting a good cause: a theatrical production that bills itself as “the most arrogant, grandiose theater project ever attempted!” Tell me you have something better to do after work on Monday – I dare you. Here are the details…

Come support the destruction of Ancient Civilization at
The First Ever Babylon Babylon Fundraising Fete!

to be held at…

Kush Lounge
191 Chrystie Street (in Manhattan)
Monday, March 31
7pm to 9pm

A mere $10 gets you all of the following:

Drink Specials!
1/2 Price Hookahs!
Little Tchotchkes!
and Performances such as…

Bellydance by Babylon Babylon‘s illustrious choreographer Amantha May!
Co-star Adam Swiderski‘s painfully earnest singer-songwritery goodness!
The inimitable Cousin Hubie and that musical stuff he does!
A Middle Eastern dance lesson from co-star Rasha Zamamiri!
A special musical appearance by Bill “the Yeti” Yetison
And, the pre-YouTube World Premiere of the Babylon Babylon Coming Attraction Promo Trailer Film Teaser!

AND MORE!!!(!)!!

(are you excited yet?)

All proceeds go directly to the ever-mounting production costs of maintaining a thriving mercantile/religious/political metropolitan center on the eve of its spectacular downfall. So come hang with us before we all die in a gruesome, wince-inducing manner or are enslaved in humiliating lifelong surfdom. (What else could you possibly be doing on a Monday night?)


Random Friday Babylonians

March 28, 2008

nytheatre mike at “Babylon Babylon” rehearsal

They say a picture speaks a thousand words. So I’ve decided to make this week’s Random Friday post top heavy with photos for a change. Like the one above – that’s me at Babylon Babylon rehearsal a couple of weeks ago, on the day we got our first script pages. Very exciting. Our official production photographer, Ken Stein, was on hand snapping away.

Here’s another one from our rehearsal on Wednesday night, courtesy of our lighting designer, the ubiquitous Ian W. Hill

“Babylon Babylon” rehearsal

In the foreground, from left to right, are Fred Backus, Michele Carlo (sitting on the floor), assistant director Jessica McVea (standing with her back to the camera), and writer-director-grand poobah Jeff Lewonczyk. (The image here is slightly cropped. You can see the full image – which includes yours truly and fellow cast member Toya Lillard – on Ian’s blog.)

So, if a picture does indeed speak a thousand words, what do these two say to you?

While you ponder your answer, here’s this week’s Random Friday Top 10, courtesy of my trusty iTunes music library

  • “Solitaire” – Suzanne Vega (Songs in Red and Grey)
  • “Two Against Nature” – Steely Dan (Two Against Nature)
  • “Athena” – The Who (It’s Hard)
  • “Bad Sneakers” – Steely Dan (Citizen Steely Dan 1972-1980)
  • “Harbor Lights” – Bruce Hornsby (Harbor Lights)
  • “Up the Junction” – Squeeze (Squeeze: Greatest Hits)
  • The Towering Inferno (Main Title)” – John Williams (Great Composers: John Williams)
  • “Pure and Easy” – The Who (Who’s Next)
  • “The Phone Call” – The Pretenders (Pretenders)
  • “Dripping Dream” – Sonic Youth (Sonic Nurse)

Happy Friday and have a great weekend. Spring is finally upon us, and it already feels like it. Enjoy the coming warmth and renewal. In the meantime, I leave you with one final rehearsal photo from Wednesday, also courtesy of Mr. Hill.

Another view of “Babylon Babylon” rehearsal


Synesthesia’s Artistic Collision Comes Calling Again

March 27, 2008

Ashlin Halfnight 

Electric Pear Productions, the upstart company responsible for the FringeNYC 2006 hit, Diving Normal, as well as a recent revival of Lisa Kron’s 2.5 Minute Ride this past winter, is swinging back into action next week with its 2008 edition of Synesthesia, a multi-disciplinary performance piece inspired by the old grade school game of telephone that examines how artists influence each other. The inaugural edition in 2007 featured an eclectic lineup of contributors including writer Benjamin Percy, comedian Rebecca Drysdale, singer-songwriter Jeremy Parise, New Yorker editor Ben Greenman, and members of the theater company Performance Lab 115. This year’s roster promises just as much variety, with contributions coming from playwright Clay McLeod Chapman, dancer-choreographer Jo-anne Lee, DJ JayCeeOh, and filmmaker Gregory Stuart Edwards, among many many others.

Electric Pear’s co-executive producer, playwright Ashlin Halfnight, stopped by the ol’ blog for a chat about Synesthesia and some of the other things the company has in store for audiences this year. He is briefly joined by Electric Pear’s other co-executive producer, Melanie Sylvan, a little later on. Take a read… 

This is the second installment of Synesthesia. What made you decide to do it again?

Well, we actually always envisioned Synesthesia as a yearly event – with a consistent format but different artists – so deciding to put it up again was contingent on two practical things: the success of the first show, and the ever-present budgetary concerns. As it turned out, we had a great sold-out run last year, and we managed to scrape the cash together in 2008… so here we are.

Aside from that, putting up a show like Synesthesia is incredibly gratifying on a number of levels, a factor that always enters into a discussion about re-mounting. As producers, we get to work with some incredibly talented people from a myriad of creative fields, which keeps the project fresh and exciting; each time, we get to watch these people work, hard and fast, and what they come up with is always stimulating and surprising. On a more philosophical scale, Synesthesia was also unlike anything that we’d seen before in a performance space – and the idea of letting this artistic collision drop out of existence was somehow just not an option.

What does the word “Synesthesia” mean?

Exactly? I’ll need to cheat here, with a little help from my dictionary – Synesthesia is “a condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as when the hearing of a sound produces the visualization of a color.” So, I guess, the process of our project mirrors this kind of stimulus-response set-up. There’s a reactive quality in both cases, but there’s also a creative one; a new piece of art (or poem, song, dance, etc.) is created in response to the previous one in our project, and in a synesthetic brain, a new sensation (color, in the example above) is created in response to a separate stimulus.

What was the impetus for this project? What made you decide to use the game of telephone as a means of exploring how artists influence each other?

The impetus for the project was, as always, alcohol. No, just kidding. It was actually a long and serious night of heavy drugs. Lots of heavy drugs. Which is why I don’t remember what the impetus for the project was. Who are you, again?

In all seriousness, I don’t recall when I first hatched the idea, but it definitely had to do with the overwhelming amount of information that’s out there, and how artists are influenced, either implicitly or explicitly by it. We have such extensive and easy access to all forms of media that it’s really impossible to create anything in a bubble – or even to be trained in or disposed towards any one tradition. And so I got thinking about this idea of borrowing (or stealing) from current culture as a whole, and from other artists in particular – I wrote a play that was set up and inspired by Edwardd Hopper’s “Summer Interior.” It was awful. And then I wrote one that was inspired by The Master and Margarita – and I worked with PL115, who ended up performing it… and it was much better, probably thanks to them. In any case, I find it fascinating when pieces of art are in conversation – The Grey Album, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Sunday in the Park With George – and so why not frame the conversation in a way that brings this kind of mash-up to the surface and lets the audience inside the creative process.

What made you decide to include participants from all types of artistic disciplines, not just theater?

Well, it certainly could just be a theater project, but we thought it was crucial to reflect the cross-disciplinary conversations that are going on in the world right now. Theater and other arts are guilty of a certain amount of navel-gazing – and there’s a boring and corrosive insularity that can be bred out of that kind of limited scope. Think of a cocktail party where everyone stands around talking about theater, exclusively… that’s great for the practitioners, but the person who came as a date, well, they’re going to be in the corner sticking a fork in their eye after ten minutes. Perhaps that’s a little extreme. Maybe just a toothpick. Anyway, Electric Pear is interested in projects that bring some kind of multi-tasking to the table. We’re attracted to international collaborations, mixed media, site specific stuff… anything that’s just a little different. Synesthesia fits that bill, and we want to have as much of the creative world involved in the conversation.

How do you go about picking the participants?

Some are people we’ve worked with before – PL115, for example, and Jeremy Parise, who wrote the music for a play I directed awhile back. Melanie has worked with Clay McLeod Chapman and Project: Projekt… we have the great fortune of continuing these relationships through an artistic endeavor. And then, some of the participants are people we’ve been wanting to work with – a couple of this year’s artists come as recommendations from last year’s group – and some great folks randomly fall into our laps. It’s really scattershot. There’s a haphazard beauty to that, I think… and it keeps the project from being too heavily weighted in any way.

Once you’ve got the lineup of artists, how does this whole thing work? How do you get the ball rolling on something like this?

Well, it takes about 5 months of intricate schedule coordinating… there are the artists themselves, then the producers, then the documentary filmmaker, and the sound person…not to mention the piece of art itself, which may need to be performed, projected, hung, carried in a box, a truck… and so on…

We always start with a fortune cookie. We always start at Congee Village, a restaurant on the Lower East Side. The first artist picks a cookie, unwraps it, and takes the fortune home to be the inspiration for his or her piece. Each artist is given roughly two weeks to come up with something… then they bring it back, and pass it off to the next person in line. It’s like the schoolyard game of telephone – you only know what the preceding person “gave” you…each artist is blind to the many steps that may have come before.

Each artist is interviewed about their impressions and process – this year we have the wonderful Avriel Hillman doing all the documentary work – and this is then shown in the performance, so that the audience can gain insight into what each artist was picking up from the last. The show is partly live (dancers, singers, theater artists and so on perform live) and partially pre-recorded (the interviews, films, photographs, and static arts), and then projected onto a large movie screen.

Are you still aiming to make this an annual event?

Yep. We’re really hoping that it will grow with each outing. So far, the response from the audience and from the artists has been great…and, although it’s an incredible amount of work – mostly for Melanie this year – we intend to try to make it bigger and better with each iteration. We made some procedural changes after last year, and shortened the show… and we’ll surely have some tinkering to do after 2008’s version.

Melanie Sylvan

You’re doing this year’s edition at Judson Memorial Church, which has a firmly entrenched place in the firmament of downtown theater history. Conscious decision on your part or divine happenstance?

Ashlin: Both.

Melanie: I have worked out of Judson a number of times over the years. I was producing a Chanukah event there in December, and I suppose you could say I had a moment of divine inspiration when I realized that this would be the perfect venue for Synesthesia.  Judson is one of the most majestic spaces I have seen in the city, and it has an incredibly rich history of showcasing experimental art. I’m in awe when I think of the artists that have presented their work in this room since the 1950s: from Robert Rauschenberg to Trisha Brown, and Yoko Ono to Arcade Fire. It’s an honor to be able to bring emerging artists into this space. Synesthesia is an ideal fit with Judson’s “radical art ministry,” and it’s a great honor to now be a part of the church’s history of presenting avant-garde art to the downtown community.  The church staff and community is incredibly supportive and I think this is an awesome opportunity for our company and all of the artists involved in the project.

What does Electric Pear have going on after this?

Emily Long has been spearheading our play development series, The Outlet, and has also initiated our first audio play. The company commissioned a talented young playwright named Gregory Moss to write a piece that was specifically designed for broadcast, which he did – a funny and thought-provoking play called Amanda Tears, Teenage Sleuth. Erica Gould is directing a great group of actors and we’re putting up on the Electric Pear website for free download later this spring. Check it out!

We’re also in the process of developing an acting company. It’s a great step for us right now, because we’re really looking to grow a community of like-minded artists – some will be familiar faces to Electric Pear shows, and some will be new. We wanted to avoid those terrible situations where fifty actors end up being a part of a “company” and then never get to do anything…they do development work, or they volunteer at the benefits, but when the plays go up, they’re not cast. Their affiliation is in name only, which is silly and a little insulting. We intend to commission new works by exciting playwrights that are written specifically for our actors – and that way, we can promise them each a role in a show, every season.

We also have some really exciting projects on the horizon that we’re being kind of hush-hush about until they’re truly solidified, but rest assured we’ve got an incredible season planned that will start with a site-specific show next September.


Babylon Babylon

March 25, 2008

Babylon, circa 600 B.C. 

So now that 3800 Elizabeth is over, I can focus solely on my next show, which I’ve been rehearsing for about a month now. The show in question is Babylon Babylon, and it’s the latest brainchild from Piper McKenzie Productions, the folks who brought us last summer’s outstanding production of Macbeth Without Words. Piper McKenzie co-artistic director Jeff Lewonczyk writes, directs, and co-stars in this 30-cast member extravaganza.

Well, he kind of writes it. He sort of mostly writes it. Um…we’ll get to that in a minute.

And yes: I did say 30 cast members – including some of indie theaters brightest all-stars…

And if that weren’t enough we’ve also got video design by Jason Robert Bell, one of the masterminds behind the Caveman Robot empire, and fight direction from – who else?! – Vampire Cowboy Qui Nguyen.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, folks.

Now you may ask: what the hell is this show about? Well, I’ll tell you: it’s about the fall of the ancient city of Babylon, and it takes place on the day of the historic invasion by the Persians. You don’t know anything about that, you say? Never fear: you can read up on it here.

Rehearsals have been quite an adventure since we’ve been improvising most of the show thus far.

That’s right: I said improvising.

The first couple of weeks involved structured improvs centered upon a central location – Babylon’s Temple of Ishtar, which is the setting for our show – and everyone playing an assigned role. Jeff devised general backstories for each of the characters, then set us loose in the rehearsal room to interact and riff as we see fit. He’s been good about giving us free reign, but also guiding us in the directions he wants to explore (i.e. “Let’s see what happens if Character A interacts with Character B over there.”) and for the last couple of weeks he’s been writing script pages based on and inspired by the cast improvs. We’ve been incorporating those pages into rehearsals over the past week or so, and are going to have our very first rehearsal with an actual completed draft of the script tonight.

So, why work this way? Jeff told us he was inspired to do so by the loose, freewheeling work of film director Robert Altman, particularly his 1975 opus, Nashville. He was also inspired by an evocative passage in Herodotus’ The Histories about ritual prostitution in the Temple of Ishtar, and thus the idea for Babylon Babylon was born. The finished product promises to be, in the words of our trusty press release, “an unholy mix of Herodotus, Cecil B. DeMille, Kenneth Anger, Richard Schechner, the Bible, Charles Ludlam, Robert Altman, Busby Berkeley, and much more.” You can find out more in the production’s official blog, Babylblog Blogbylon.

Naturally, I’ll have more to report about the show as we move closer to the beginning of previews (April 11th) and our official opening (April 18th). In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a random shot from one of our rehearsals. Check it…

babylon3.jpg


The Slacker Re-Emerges

March 23, 2008

nytheatre mike in “3800 Elizabeth” 

Hi there. Remember me? I used to blog here? Yeah, me. Geez, it feels like forever since I last posted something. Maybe that’s just because so much has happened in the last week. The update starts right here and now.

First and foremost, however, I would just like to thank everyone who reads this thing. I check my blog stats every day and I see that you’re all checking in daily as well. I don’t know who most of you are, but I appreciate you stopping by. Please keep doing so, and I will do my best to post more often.

Now, on to the usual business…

For those of you who missed it, the final episode of 3800 Elizabeth went off without a hitch. Our guest stars, Alexis Black and Becky Byers, hit one out of the park. Special guest ringers Ben VandenBoom and Gyda Arber stole the show with a new live commercial. We played to a capacity crowd that included many familiar faces – including our core group of weekly regulars – and a lot of laughter. And, I must say, from my own standpoint I thought it may have been our best outing yet. Best to go out with a bang, I say.

There were obligatory celebratory drinks afterwards, where I experienced an unexpected outpouring of love regarding the show. One person after another kept telling me how much they’d enjoyed coming back week after week to watch the progression of the characters and their relationships with one another. I was happily astonished to see that everyone was downright sad to see the show end. One friend told me that he didn’t know what he was going to do on Sunday nights anymore. (To which I can only say: the cast will be happy to come over to your house and improv new episodes every week…for a price, that is.)

Seriously, though, thanks to everyone who came and saw the show, be it one episode or all of them. And thanks to everyone on my side of the stage who helped put it all together: my regular castmates, Iracel Rivero and Peter Handy; our fabulous guest stars – Ian W. Hill, Christiaan Koop, Hope Cartelli, Bryan Enk, Gyda Arber, Heath Kelts, Alexis Black, and Becky Byers; stage manager extraordinaire Berit Johnson; the good folks at The Battle Ranch, Abby Marcus and Qui Nguyen; and Art Wallace for contributing all of the hilarious video commercials. An all-around gratifying experience that I won’t soon forget.

Next order of business: this week’s Random Top 10, which comes a day late because I’m a slacker. Here is this week’s eclectic mix, courtesy of my iTunes library:

  • “Main Theme (From Silverado)” – Bruce Broughton (The Wild West: The Essential Western Film Music Collection)
  • “Gimme Back My Bullets” (Live) – Lynyrd Skynyrd (The Essential Lynyrd Skynyrd)
  • “Slit Skirts” – Pete Townshend (Anthology)
  • “High Wire” – Men at Work (Contraband: The Best of Men at Work)
  • “Regatta de Blanc” – The Police (Regatta de Blanc)
  • “Confessions of a Broken Heart” – Lindsay Lohan (A Little More Personal)
  • “These Days” – Jackson Browne (Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1)
  • “Battleflag (Lo-Fidelity Allstars Remix)” – Pigeonhed (Pigeonhed’s Flash Bulb Emergency Overflow Cavalcade of Remixes)
  • “Pure and Easy” – The Who (Who’s Next)
  • “Right Here, Right Now” – Jesus Jones (Doubt)

And on that note, have a Happy Easter. More updates to follow shortly. Promise.


Random Friday Nonsense

March 14, 2008

Gita Reddy and nytheatre mike 

It’s Friday, which means the end of another long work week. It also means some Random Friday Nonsense. But before I get to that allow me to direct you to the newest “Indie Theater Life” podcast on nytheatre.com, in which I interview actor-director-theatrical Renaissance person, Gita Reddy. Yet another swell conversation, even if I do say so myself, and one that you should all listen to.

Now on to the nonsense portion of the day. No music access today, so I’m totally making this part up. Um, okay…Top 10 Songs Randomly Picked From Albums I Loved In High School. Here we go:

  • “Slow Turning” – John Hiatt (Slow Turning)
  • “Scarecrow People” XTC (Oranges and Lemons)
  • “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” – Public Enemy (It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back)
  • “Eye Know” – De La Soul (3 Feet High and Rising)
  • “Housequake” – Prince (Sign ‘o’ the Times)
  • “We’ll Be Together” – Sting (…Nothing Like the Sun)
  • “Tunnel of Love” – Bruce Springsteen (Tunnel of Love)
  • “Hotdogs and Hamburgers” – John Cougar Mellencamp (The Lonesome Jubilee)
  • “Peter Piper” – Run-DMC (Raising Hell)
  • “Paul Revere” – Beastie Boys (Licensed to Ill)

Now that I’ve completely dated myself, let me throw in an 11th song just for shits and giggles:

  • “Shakin Shakin Shakes” – Los Lobos (By the Light of the Moon)

LOVED that song back in the day.

And on that nostalgic note, allow me to wish you all a wonderfully fantastic weekend. Keep it real, everybody.


Edward Elefterion Goes Down the Rabbit Hole

March 11, 2008

Edward Elefterion 

Director Edward Elefterion has been a mainstay on the New York indie theater scene since the early 1990s, but today’s audiences may know his work from more recent productions like The Night of Nosferatu, Land of the Undead, and The Siblings.

His latest endeavor, A Rope in the Abyss (which he also wrote), is currently playing in a variety of unusual locations including a pair of housing centers, a medical center, and a microbrewery. The production will also run at The Blackbird Theatre in April, and is being produced by Rabbit Hole Ensemble, for whom Edward is the artistic director.

Edward stopped by the ol’ blog to talk about the show, his company, and their signature aesthetic, among other things. Take a read…

A Rope in the Abyss is an original play written by you. But you usually work solely as a director. What compelled you to write this one, too? 

Well, truth be told, it’s not the only play I’ve written.  There was The Siblings which I also directed and which was presented at the Midtown International Theatre Festival in 2006, and there are about a dozen more locked away in a vault.  On my hard drive.  I’ve been writing since the late 90s.  This one came about after several monthly meetings I had with some actors in an empty room playing with the idea of identity.  I’d also been reading a lot of books about neuroscience and how the brain works.  And, since I don’t believe in any sort of afterlife, the idea that one day I’m going to stop existing is pretty powerful.  So, I just sort of played with the idea of how fragile identity really is and tried to share my sense of wonder about it all through making a play.   

What does the title refer to? 

In In Search of Lost Time, Proust describes something universal: waking up.  Not a psychological sort of waking or a spiritual sort…but just waking up from a deep sleep.  There are sometimes a few seconds where you don’t know anything, not where you are or what time it is or even who you are, until something catches your senses like a curtain or a glass of water next to the bed and, effortlessly, everything comes back to you.  We all know this experience.  And it’s quite unremarkable when it happens, because it happens so often.  Proust describes the trigger that restores you to yourself as a “rope let down from heaven” that brings you up out of the abyss of non-being, where you just slumbered for a moment or two.  It’s that rope, that way out of nothing and back to your self that interests me.  Because I don’t think this only happens upon waking up.  I think it happens throughout a life.  People change every second, really.  But no one notices until there’s some event to mark the change: a new job, a birth, a break-up, an accident, a return from afar, a move away, all these big life things…they’re all markers of change.  And a person going through them is just as strange to himself as he is to everyone else.   

Luckily, we have hairstyles and clothes, a myriad of exterior cues that keep us comfortably identified.  We have consistent tastes and preferences that express who we really are, regardless of circumstantial change.  Or at least that’s how it seems.  We assume that our characteristics, preferences and behaviors express who we really are on the inside, but maybe, just as often if not more, we look outside for cues to tell us who we are inside.  For instance, maybe the kind of music you listen to is an expression not of who you are but of who you want to be?  Maybe your taste for mint chocolate chip is an instinctual way back to some otherwise lost version of yourself?  Maybe your 9 to 5 gig is what really shapes your attitude towards life and if your job were different maybe you’d be different?   

There are ropes are all around us gathering us up into a sense of self and maybe without them we’d be as utterly lost as we are those moments of waking up.  It’s fascinating to me because it throws the whole idea of “who I am” into the wind like confetti.  It scatters all the million little bits that make up who I am and rearranges them, and potentially makes me a stranger to myself.  We think we know who we are.  Maybe we need to think so because the true nature of identity is really very slippery and fragile? 

Where does your interest in neuroscience stem from? 

It stems from my interest in what makes us who we are.  Discoveries in neuroscience speak so directly to questions of identity that once I found out about it, I couldn’t read books fast enough.  I suppose that I was introduced to neuroscience by RadioLab on WNYC.  Check it out if you’ve never heard of it.  www.radiolab.org. 

You’ve partnered with the Brain Injury Association of New York State to produce this show. How did that come about? 

A friend of a friend works at a rehabilitation center in Connecticut and when he heard about the subject of this show he told me about the Brain Injury Association in Albany and recommended that I contact them.  They’ve been wonderful.  Really supportive and instrumental in connecting us to several interested venues. 

The show is being performed not only in a traditional theater space, but is also traveling to a pair of housing centers, a medical center, and a microbrewery. Why the non-traditional locales, as well? 

Throughout the month of March we’re doing the show for FREE at various locales in Brooklyn.  Why?  A few reasons. 

  • 1.  The folks who live in the medical center don’t have the opportunity to go to the theatre and if they did, they wouldn’t see anything that addresses their situations and/or experiences regarding brain injury.
  • 2. The folks in the housing communities don’t exactly get out much either and couldn’t afford even cheap theatre (even I can’t afford going to what’s considered affordable theatre).
  • 3. The people who make their homes in these facilities (and their families, who are greatly affected too, don’t forget) know a thing or two first-hand about sudden and severe changes in circumstances and identity…so we hope to communicate with these groups directly and learn something from such an audience.
  • 4. We really wanted to open these performances up to the public in the surrounding neighborhoods because, frankly, they are underserved neighborhoods and we wanted to reach out and create an opportunity for people to see some theatre. 

And for the record, we are doing a performance at an assisted living center which we do not advertise since it is intended specifically for the residents of the center and is not open to the public. 

The microbrewery stepped up and offered their space because the owner’s son suffered from a brain injury after a cycling accident that eventually killed him, so he’s got a personal interest.   

Come to think of it, the more people I talk to about the subject of this play, the more I’ve learned that brain injury and/or sudden shifts of identity are not as uncommon as they might sound.  It seems everyone knows someone with a related illness.  My own grandfather did not suffer from a brain injury.  But in the last months of his life, he often forgot what he’d just told you.  I mean entire conversations and stories.  I bet you and your readers all can relate to, if not know someone, who is suffering the effects of old age, or alcoholism (any addiction really), road rage…people change in a heartbeat.   

Tell us a little bit about the background and history of your theater company, Rabbit Hole Ensemble, which is producing A Rope in the Abyss. 

Since I graduated from NYU in 1992, I’ve been self-producing in Manhattan.  Over the years I’ve used different aliases: Lefty, Chimera, and Rabbit Hole, because I didn’t want to come out and say Edward Elefterion produces “Blah” directed by Edward Elefterion.  I was shy or afraid that people would think I was an ego-maniac or that I was a novice…or a combination of both.   

The first time I used Rabbit Hole was back in 1993 with a show called Buried Treasure by Stanton Wood, who is now a resident playwright at Rabbit Hole.  Then I went off to grad school at Indiana University, got my MFA in directing, moved to England for about 18 months where I worked with the Midlands Refugee Council and developed a pair of plays with some Bosnian, Afghan and Albanian refugees (this was during the war in Kosovo).  When I returned to NYC in 2000, I got a job at Hofstra University, and I’d resumed self-producing theatre in the city.  Finally, in 2005 I brought some of my colleagues together, namely Paul Daily (and actor whom I’d met in Indiana) and Emily Hartford (one of my very talented former students at Hofstra), to form a theatre company.  We all liked the name Rabbit Hole Ensemble, so that’s what we called it.  Of course, the name is a reference to the portal that takes Alice to Wonderland.   

Your press release refers to Rabbit Hole’s “signature minimalist aesthetic.” What is that, exactly?  And how did you go about developing it? 

Rabbit Hole’s mission is to emphasize the communal nature of theatre through a distinctly minimalist aesthetic that focuses on space, audience, and the performer (especially the basic tools of physicality and voice) to produce a uniquely direct and candid experience.   

Our basic working method is “if it’s not absolutely necessary, cut it”.  That applies to text, design, gesture, blocking, everything that is part of the performance.  I challenge the actor to do as much as possible and work to emphasize the immediacy of the performance by stripping it down to its essentials.  It’s our emphasis on ensemble-creation that really invites and stimulates audiences’ imaginations.   

People constantly tell me that they’re amazed at how much we do with so very little.  That’s the amazing thing right there: it’s not how much we do, but how much they experience.  We just use our skills to create what we need, to suggest enough to each other and the audience so that the production actually happens in the shared imagination of the actors and the audience.  That’s what I think “experience” really means. 

Also, I got into theatre because I like creating something with other people, not waiting in a blackout for the scene to change or the historical accuracy of a hat or buckle on a shoe.  There’s a place for that kind of historically-oriented, design-oriented, spectacle-engineered theatre, but it’s not what I’m interested in.  I want to go to an intimate space and take part in something playful and serious that challenges me to use my imagination and that provokes my mind and body into emotional and intellectual action.  I want something to remember not because it was visually stunning, but because I took part in it, I was involved with it and I’m going to re-experience it to varying extents in the course of time.   

To me, the success of a production cannot be judged by the performance as much as by the re-experiencing some aspect of it the next day or the next week or ten years later.  I want to be a part of people’s lives, and I feel that the more distractions you put in front of an audience, the more you’ll distract them…and why would I want to distract you while I’m trying to commune with you? 

What are your plans for Rabbit Hole after A Rope in the Abyss? 

Big Thick Rod by resident playwright Stanton Wood.  It’s a sex farce about exploitation and the cost of narcissistic capitalism.  It’s a riot and if neither FringeNYC nor the Midtown International Theatre Festival picks it up, Rabbit Hole will produce it in September.  But it’s such a hilariously poignant play I sure hope that it gets the benefit from being included in a festival.  It’d be a shame for such a potentially wide audience to miss out on it.   

After that, we’re considering an adaptation of Woyzeck by Matt Olmos and a new play by the internationally acclaimed poet Jay Wright.  There are a lot of irons in the fire.   

I’d like to add that if people would want to get in touch with us, shoot an email to ed@rabbitholeensemble.com.  We’re always looking to meet new artists and especially folks who are just interested in the mission of the company: strong stories, told simply and theatrically, without much technology.  It’s funny where you might find your next General Manager or Producing Director or Fund Raiser.  Since we’re mostly a group of artists, we sure could use that kind of management-collaboration.  Visit us at www.rabbitholeensemble.com.