2014 Best Director of a Play: Michelle Aguillon for Hovey Players' "Rabbit Hole"

Although we have announced our 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award Winners, we continue our Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Michelle Aguillon directed a strikingly moving and simple production of Rabbit Hole, a Tony Award winning play about loss, grief, family, and moving on.  The play resonated with audiences because of her careful direction, expert character work, and subtle directorial decisions in both the acting and design.  In her Interview, Michelle discusses her theatrical background, her love for food, and her favorite moments in Rabbit Hole

Michelle, wonderful to speak with you.  Can you introduce yourself to our readers?  Can you tell us a little bit about who you are, where you are from, and what brings you to Boston? 

MichelleAguillon

Hello, Brian, and thanks so much for Hovey’s nominations and recent wins for Rabbit Hole. We had such a great time at the ArtsImpulse Awards evening.  And thank you for these interviews. I have really enjoyed reading them.

I have been involved in theatre in the Boston area for 20 years.  I’m a transplant from California, where I discovered theatre in high school.  I followed some friends one day who were auditioning for the high school musical.  I dared myself to do something outrageous, having been a very shy kid, and I auditioned. I was cast in a major role, and I was hooked. After continuing theatre in community college, I was accepted into San Francisco State University’s Communications Program, but it didn’t take long to switch my major to Theatre.  After my summer studies at the National Theatre in London in 1992, my daughter’s father was accepted at the A.R.T. and so, we moved here in 1993. I discovered that the area was rich with a very enthusiastic theatre community. I had found my theatre home.

What is your performing and directing background?  What have been some of your favorite projects?

I performed for many years, never once thinking I should direct. I was an actor, focusing on gaining as much experience as I could, trying to evolve and learn as much as I could.  Being an actor of color had its advantages, but mostly disadvantages, especially in this area, but I loved that challenge.  I am so grateful to those directors that saw past my “type.” I auditioned for a variety of roles, regardless of the character’s ethnicity.  I felt fortunate to work both in town and in community theaters.  But. in time, I grew weary of myself, and I admit that I really started to get sick of myself on stage. I know that’s harsh, but it’s true. 

In 2003, a friend of mine, Leigh Berry, encouraged me to direct a Vietnam drama, G.R. Point. I had submitted it for Hovey’s season, and I found a new place for myself.  I just loved it.  The IRNE committee awarded the production for Best Supporting Actor, Best Ensemble, and Best Director. I was honored -- I was content enough with the experience and I was happy that the production was received well by our audiences, but wow! I was completely surprised our wins.  That experience has stayed with me since, and I’ve rarely been back on stage. 

As far as favorite projects, I have loved so many, each with their unique experiences. I had the good fortune of collaborating with so many different groups of actors, designers, and crew, I don’t have a favorite.  Besides Rabbit Hole and G.R. Point, I also loved working on Looking for Normal, Kimberly Akimbo, Miss Saigon, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Sense and Sensibility, God of Carnage, Good People, and, most recently, Of Mice and Men. I would love a do-over with Looking for Normal.  It seemed audiences at the time weren’t ready for a play about a long-time married man becoming transgendered, and how it deeply affects his wife, family, and community. 

What drew you to directing Rabbit Hole?  Had you seen the play before?  Had you watched the movie?

I was looking for a great script to submit for Hovey’s 2007-2008 season. I had already worked on David Lindsay-Abaire’s Fuddy Meers.  Because I loved his writing, I looked at the rest of his body of work.  Rabbit Hole had just been on Broadway, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Its description seemed so different that the rest of his work.  I discovered that the play’s dialogue and characters were far more realistic than anything else I had read from Lindsay-Abaire.  I plowed through that script so quickly. I could hear it and see it. The characters and relationships were so rich. Needless to say, I submitted it.

The Board loved it too, and it was selected. But the rights were pulled because Nicole Kidman bought the rights to make the film.  I was so disappointed. I was so ready to direct it. Instead, I submitted Kimberly Akimbo, and I loved working on that.

In 2008, I moved to L.A.  I saw the film out there.  I liked a lot of it, but I missed a lot of what was cut.  I longed to direct it on stage someday. 

How do you feel that your production was different or unique?  What did you want to focus as a director?

I had never seen it on stage, so I didn’t try to be unique or different. I only knew what I envisioned. When I moved back to Boston in 2013, I submitted it again to Hovey for its next season, knowing the play had been produced many times in the area already.  I was really itching to direct it, to “get it out of my system.”  I hadn’t directed a major stage production since I left Boston, and I found that the downtime gave me time to reset as an artist.

In rehearsals, I focused on the relationships, on how they were trying to move on despite the tragedy. We worked hard to get the dialogue to sound as conversational as possible. I didn’t want to focus on the tragedy itself, instead almost ignoring it, so that when it did present itself there would be a natural and sudden shift to make it disappear again. I felt the play represented a phase of the Corbett’s daily lives, not the end of them because of the tragedy. I wanted the ending of the play to be ambiguous – leaving the audiences to feel that there was hope, but also that perhaps Becca and Howie may not make it. My biggest goal was to have the audiences relate to any of the characters at any given moment. Lindsay-Abaire’s script is brilliant that way.

Talk to us about the rehearsal process.  What were the biggest challenges?  What were some of your discoveries?

The biggest challenge was getting the set design right in Hovey’s intimate space.  It was important to me that the environment wasn’t only functional, but that it was also an extension of Becca and a reflection of her inner life. Having a limited budget and resources is always a challenge, but I’m proud with what we came up with.  The set reflected the Corbett’s daily lives, like nothing was wrong. Most of the set had colors of the desert to reflect Becca’s desolation & loneliness, splashed with bits of color from Danny’s things, his toys & books. Being so intimately involved with these people, I wanted to include subtle set dressing that wasn’t obvious to the audience, but was symbolic of Becca. I discovered that I really enjoyed being part of that side of the production. 

Because none of the actors knew each other, my first goal was to get us as comfortable with each other as quickly as possible.  We didn’t do a lot of table work. I wanted to work through their back-stories on their feet.  I wanted memorization out of the way as quickly as possible, too, in order to build the relationships and tweak them all along the way. Thank goodness, the cast was on the same page. We bonded very quickly, laughed a lot, and we have been close since.

What stories are you drawn to as a director?  As an audience member?

I like stories with characters to whom I can relate, but I also love being introduced to foreign yet relatable experiences.  I enjoy having common experiences with audiences, finding great joy laughing together, and I enjoy the opposite extreme of experiencing sadness together.  It makes me feel more alive, less alone. Theatre makes me very emotional. I cry over the smallest things.  I recently saw On the Town on Broadway; I wept over a dance number!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Spare time?  What’s that?

What is your favorite dessert?  Homemade or store-bought?

I guess this answers the previous question because I’m a huge foodie. My family loves to cook, and we will try anything. After fulfilling a lifelong dream to go to cooking school, I worked in restaurants and for large events, and I catered. I am also a private chef. 

Picking a favorite dessert is just too hard. There are so many! I go through phases.  I have always been into ice cream, and sometimes I make my own.  My favorite to make is buttered popcorn ice cream with a salted caramel sauce and chopped peanuts – a play on caramel popcorn, which I loved as a kid. I have been into gourmet donuts for a couple of years, too, and I have sometimes made my own.  I also love crème brulee and crème caramel.

What advice would you give to other directors?  What about to actors?

I feel that I still have so much that I want to learn, how can I offer advice?  I only offer advice to directors if asked; it is the same for actors. 

For actors, I would say to keep an open mind and an open heart, not only to the work, but to your director, your fellow actors, your crew - don’t shut anyone out.  It’s a collaborative art.  Always be open to learning more.  Practice your craft even in the smallest of ways.

For auditions, be as prepared as possible.  It’s competitive, right?  You want to stick out! So, be as educated as you can with the play, its characters, dialogue & relationships.  I always look for context in auditions, a through-line. Go into your audition with nothing to lose, confident in your research and in the practice of the dialogue. Serve the play, not yourself.  If you don’t get the part, come away from it being as content as possible that you did your best despite what the director and/or casting committee may be thinking.  Hopefully, you’re on the same page. An audition is an opportunity to evolve and learn, if nothing else. And if you’re cast, that’s the icing on the cake.

But hey, there are some brilliant actors out there that don’t need to do any of that!  Maybe I’m projecting, or talking to my younger self!

What was your favorite moment in Rabbit Hole?  What are some other favorite moments in other plays that you’ve directed?  

Wow, this is a tough one.  I loved so many. The one that comes to mind at the moment is Act One, Scene 3, celebrating Izzy’s birthday. The scene takes an ugly turn and somehow becomes an intervention for Becca.  For all that has happened, she has barely kept it together choosing to grieve in her own way, which the rest of the family seems to misunderstand.  Nat, Becca’s mother, tries to pry her open. Nat feels that she identifies with Becca, having lost a son herself.  At this point, Becca feels cornered, and she unleashes her anger and pain, but quickly recoils, trying to take it back.  Instead, she excuses herself from the situation and leaves.

Katie handled this beautifully; we worked together to ensure that Becca had a lot of restraint, keeping her in a place of neutrality. When this moment came, she had built up a damn of emotions. Becca is not mean, but hurt from being so misunderstood by her family. The cast was great in helping to build up the tension leading to that moment.

What is the best production that you saw in 2014?

Next to Normal directed by my friend, Donnie Baillargeon, for Vokes Theater in Wayland.

What makes you laugh? 

I laugh at a lot of things, but a dark, almost sick, sense of humor, or pure goofiness makes me laugh. When actors enjoy a great moment on stage together, that can make me laugh.  Bill Murray makes me laugh; he can just sit there, do nothing and I just laugh.  I love impersonations, too, either of famous people or people I know personally! And no, I don’t do impersonations.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

I will be directing True West by Sam Sheppard for the Umbrella in Concord this summer.  It opens in late September.  I will also direct Gina Gionfriddo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn in the Spring of 2016 for Vokes Players in Wayland.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Thank you, Brian, for your continued support of professional and community theatre! I hope that your readership continues to grow.  It’s great to hear another perspective/voice in our community. 

I would encourage readers to continue to support theatre, and the arts in general, as it is an integral part of our society and culture.  Theatre gives us the opportunity to explore & understand different worlds, different voices, and to see how the “other half lives.”

2014 Best Director of a Play Nominee Interview: Nancy Curran Willis for The Umbrella's "Angels in America, Part I and II - Millennium Approaches and Perestroika"

NancyCurranWillis

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews.

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Nancy Curran Willis boasts many years at directing theatre at all levels across the Eastern Massachusetts region.  Her ability to create epic plays and musicals, while sustaining the humanity and rich storytelling, make her a cut above the rest.  In her Interview, Nancy describes he work on Angels in America through motifs and directing moment to moment; her theatre adjudicating experience; and her busy  2015-2016 season!

Nancy, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?  Who are you, what do you do, what are some of your theatre experiences and background?

Theater is something that’s been in my blood since early childhood. I grew up in Wakefield, MA with actor parents who met working at a professional theater in Lowell (well before MRT), my father’s hometown.  My Dad was an actor/singer who specialized in comedy, and Mom was a brilliant dramatic actress and a real “actor’s director.” That ended when they got engaged and my Grandfather took my Dad aside and suggested that he “find real work” to be able to support his family.  But the love of performing was never really left behind. My mother had lied about her age in high school and was cast in a show for The Quannapowitt Players (“QP”), a community theater formed by the two contiguous towns of Wakefield and Reading. She returned there as an actress/director as soon as I was old enough to play in the parking lot with the other theater brats, while they rehearsed. It wasn’t surprising that 20 years later when I had a family of my own, I followed in Mom’s footsteps and dragged my kids to QP to play while I worked on sets, sold tickets, ushered and served as President and member of the board for twenty years. It was there that I learned everything I know about producing, directing, stage managing and running a theater company. A theater brat with larger-than-life crazy actors for ‘rents, meant that my life was full of comedy and tragedy. A burnt roast became fodder for my Dad’s imitation of Julia Childs while Mom fumed, tossed the roast on the floor and stormed out the door and my brothers and I laughed hysterically. So, I guess my ability to work with actors was learned at an early age!  

The first play I directed was The Boys Next Door for QP, 25 years ago. We took a cutting to the New England Theater Conference drama festival held back then at Brandeis University, and won Best Production. It had been 38 years since QP had won the festival and that show had been directed by my Mom. Things do come full circle!  I had many years and much success in community theater while building a career in “Corporate America” and raising my three children as a single mom.

Anxious to see how professional theater worked, I had the pleasure of being the Assistant Director for Rick Lombardo at New Rep on a play called Beast on the Moon, my first professional experience. Not long after, I left Corporate America (and the salary) behind, and I began my journey into Boston area professional theater as the Managing Director of Gloucester Stage, which led to my joining with Jason Southerland in a collaboration of many years with Boston Theatre Works, the highlight of which was winning an Elliot Norton Award for Direction in 2008 for BTW’s Angels in America. Since then, I have directed for many professional, community and high school theaters with almost 10 years as guest director at Newton South High. I have been an adjudicator for Eastern Massachusetts Association of Community Theatre, Irene Ryan, and area high school festivals, as well as directing 3 to 5 shows a year, which retirement has allowed and my husband graciously puts up with.

What is your history with Angels in America?  How did you decide to direct these plays?

As mentioned above, my history with Angels started with my collaboration on BTW’s production. While that shared experience was highly successful professionally and personally, I never quite got over thinking on a purely personal level, there were some things left on the table that I wanted to explore further given the opportunity. I also felt that performing this important piece of theatrical history in the midst of Boston’s theater community in the South End was a little like preaching to the choir. I wished for the opportunity to bring this epic, important play to the suburbs but knew it had to be for a company that could provide the technical support and resources that I wanted to explore further in a production of my own. And then it happened. Brian Boruta, Artistic Director for The Umbrella in Concord, put out a call for directors for their 2014 season and Angels was on the list.

Talk to us about the story.  It’s epic. How did you make it manageable for yourself, your actors, your production team, and, more of all, the audience?

I actually had a very simple theory on that and not a very original one: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.  I found that if you approached this material from the outside edge and got caught up in the magnitude of its themes and issues, it was easy to get lost in the hugeness of it. Instead we focused on managing that by working in small beats, each with its own journey and objective; stringing them together beat by beat, and hoping that three hours later, you’ve told the whole story and done justice to Kushner’s words and world.

On the technical side, keeping the world of the play in one location supported simple scene changes indicated merely by furniture placement and lighting. This allowed the theater magic called for in Kushner’s “Gay Fantasia” to be captured through creative/inventive costuming, lighting, sound and specific special effects.

For the audience, I felt it was important to bring out the humor of the two plays, especially the absurdity of Perestroika, which is a crazy mess structurally in comparison to Millennium. I felt strongly we needed actors who could personalize this journey for our suburban audience. Not from the perspective of an AIDS play but from the perspective of the relationships: of caring for a loved one with a terrible disease; of marriages that fall apart; of trying to fit in where you don’t belong; and of coping when your religious beliefs are in conflict with who you are. I directed a play about the hope for “more life” and wanted to use the power of drama and comedy to reinforce that theme.

How were these productions different than your other directing projects?  How were they similar?

Angels in America is rather typical of the type of theater that I like directing the most. I tend to gravitate towards epic storylines, dramatic through lines and big ideas. I also tend to like dark comedy that comes out of tragic storytelling. Some of my work along those lines are: Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, The Laramie Project, Cabaret, A Piece of My Heart, Jekyll and Hyde, to name a few. I also love material based on real people and true stories such as Diary of Anne Frank, The Miracle Worker, Grey Gardens, and Breaking the Code. And, anything by Sam Shepard or David Mamet!

AngelsinAmerica

What were some recurring ideas, images, or motifs in the plays for you?  How did you reinforce these in your directing?

Probably the most recurring image for me in thinking about Angels was the importance of the Angel of the Waters atop the Bethesda Fountain in NYC’s Central Park. The statue references the Gospel of John, which describes an angel blessing the Pool of Bethesda and giving it healing powers. Kushner places several scenes at the fountain throughout Angels Part I and Part II. In fact he ends the play at the fountain with Prior Walter wishing for “more life.” That image drove the set design and the importance of the Angel to our production.  I wanted to make the Angel of the Water a metaphor for “more life” at the end of Perestroika, thereby giving hope to anyone needing to wash themselves clean. As a living metaphor, it would be enacted by the actress playing our Angel, Sharon Mason, who was swathed in a concrete dress, atop an 8 foot platform, covered in grey make up to replicate the statue. At the end of the play, with a nod of her head and a slight smile, she motions to Prior and as the fountain came to life with water flowing. We owe a huge thank you to set designer Brian Boruta and costumer Elisabetta Polito for pulling that one off.

What are you reading right now?  What is on your “To Read” list? Do novels or non-fiction ever inform your directing decisions?  

I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t do much reading for “fun” these days. Most of my reading is based on research for upcoming or proposed directing projects. Presently I’m reading two books on Bonnie and Clyde, my next directing project: Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde, and My Life with Bonnie and Clyde, a biography of Blanche Barrow, married to Clyde’s brother Buck who became one of the gang and the only survivor who wrote her memoir from prison. I have a vast library of play scripts and librettos and one day hope to actually read all of them!

Take us through a typical Saturday for you.  What are you doing?  Who are you with?  What do you have planned?

Well this particular Saturday, I am in my office, in front of my computer answering your questions. Other than that I would either be at a theater working on tech or spending time with my kids and grandkids. Most Saturday evenings, find me either attending a performance of my own show or supporting friends by attending their productions.

Tell us about your adjudicating background.  What is that like?  How does it help you as theatre artist?  What are some of the challenges?

I’ve been a consultant for Eastern Mass Association of Community Theaters (EMACT) for 20 years and have adjudicated Irene Ryan and several high school level festivals. It means that I see a lot of theater, which drives a curiosity and interest in the growth of our theater community and the nurturing of the next generation of theater artists. Key to being a good adjudicator is in being able to mix criticism with praise. At all levels of adjudication, you want to encourage good work while pointing out areas for improvement.  Finding that balance is a huge challenge of the job.

Another challenge is being in the position of adjudicating the work of your friends and peers making sure you are always evaluating without prejudice one way or the other.  My own directing work has benefitted greatly from being an adjudicator. Having to think about why a production or performance resonates or why it does not is something I use to inform my own projects. It continues to draw you into the role of observer (audience) and always reminds me that is the most important role of all.

How do you think the Greater Boston community theatre scene has changed?  How about the Boston fringe and professional scene?  What has stayed the same?  What do you hope will change in the next year?  Five years?

Frankly, I’m envious of the strength of the fringe theaters in Boston now since I was a part of the fringe companies that didn’t make it back in the day. It feels like Boston is more accepting of the companies that do new work and more opportunities for new directors and actors who want to get a start in the business.  And even more importantly, the number of amazingly talented actors and actresses, (several of whom are fellow nominees here) who have chosen to make Boston their theatrical home.

I also believe that the quality of theater at all levels is consistently reaching new heights. High schools are tackling material like Laramie Project and Spring Awakening. Community theaters are producing New England Premieres like Bonnie & Clyde, the Musical at The Umbrella (shameless self-promotion) and newer works by contemporary playwrights like Mamet, Shepard, Rebeck, Lindsay-Abaire, Dietz, and LaBute to name but a few. I believe the quality of community theater in our area has grown tremendously in the last decade with groups taking amazing risks doing edgy, new and challenging material. As the quality and body of work our audiences are exposed to at all levels continues to rise, I’m convinced the numbers of butts in seats will follow which is the ultimate goal for keeping theater alive.

If your best friend spoke at an award ceremony for you, what is one word that you hope that he or she uses to describes you?  

I think you’d get many answers depending on which friend you asked!

There is really no way to answer this without sounding like an egotistical idiot so I will leave it as a simple: NCW, my friend.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions? Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

My personal projects for next season include: Bonnie & Clyde at The Umbrella in the fall; Proof for Concord Players in the winter; and Israel Horovitz’ My Old Lady for Quannapowitt Players in Reading in the spring.

I’d like to thank you and ArtsImpulse for the attention being given to theater at all levels in our community leading to their success and growth. I also would like to thank The Umbrella for being a huge part of that growth and mostly I want to thank the actors and designers who spent well over a year with us on Angels in America, Parts I and II. A director is only as good as the talent on the team. With special shout outs to: Peyton Pugmire, David Berti, Kendall Hodder, Damon Singletary, Kevin Brown, Jennifer Shea, Liz Robbins, Sharon Mason, Jim Barton, Cathie Regan, Brian Boruta and our amazing tech team who gave Angels in America the wings that allowed Kushner’s words to soar!

2014 Best Lighting Design Nominee Interview: P.J. Strachman for Bad Habit Productions' "Translations"

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Photo by Renee Cullivan

Photo by Renee Cullivan

P.J. Strachman created stunning pictures of light and color on the stage for Bad Habit Production's Translations. From a sunny Irish day to a chilling summer moon, the lighting told a brilliant story of untouched masterpiece to complement the play's dialogue and action. In this Interview, P.J. tells about the opportunities in Boston theatres, the beauty of Translations, and "What if you had a million dollars?"

P.J., thank you so much for joining us for an Interview.  Can you please introduce yourself to our ArtsImpulse readers?  What is your theatre background, where are you from, what do you do?

I'm a Boston-based lighting designer, with a degree from Boston University in the combined studies of lighting design, playwriting, and dramaturgy. I grew up in New Orleans, and originally got involved in theatre through acting in elementary school, switching to lighting in high school.

What motifs or images stood out to you after reading Translations?  How did you incorporate these into your lighting design? 

The sense of the alien invading the homefront, the British who couldn't speak Irish coming in to tell the Irish how to do things differently, was the dominant theme that stood out for me. There was a sense of “our world” and “the usurping foreigners” - even renaming our towns and landmarks! – that lent itself to creating a welcoming warmth into the cozy interior set, which slowly became darker and colder as the British dominance became a foregone conclusion.

What scripts, stories, or projects inspire or compel you to design?  Basically, how do you choose your projects?

Honestly, I choose my project more by how I think the company fits with my aesthetics and professional values. I'm more interested in whether each show will be something I'm proud of than liking each script on its own merits. The only through-line is that I'm looking for scripts that have meat to them, something that leaves me thinking even after I've seen an entire tech week of it.

What is the most misunderstood element of lighting design? 

Flashy and exciting is not the same as good. (More importantly, the reverse is also true.)

Have you tried other technical elements?  What inspired you to pursue lighting design?

As a co-producer for Blue Spruce Theatre, I have dabbled in other technical elements, when the need arose, but I have been a lighting designer since the age of 14. I expected it to be a high school hobby, but found that I wanted to keep doing it, and so went to BU.

What kind of music do you listen to?  Does music ever inspire you as a designer?  How?

I personally listen to every type of music – all the genres that there are stations for, and then as much world music with interesting instruments as I can find. Music unrelated to a show I'm working on does not usually inspire me, but I have found inspiration when hearing sound designers' work that they have done specifically for the show we are working on together.

What excites you most about working in the Boston theatre scene? 

I love that it is intimate enough that I know and have worked with many of the designers, directors, and actors in the city. I also love that designers here are not limited to working in either AEA or non-AEA houses, as both types of process are unique and interesting in different ways.

If I gave you a million dollars (I’m not), what would you do with it? 

That depends – do I have to spend it just on theatre? If not, I would split it up between my favorite charities – GLAD, SPCA, etc – and my favorite theatre companies. If I have to spend it just on theatre, then I would split it among my favorite theatres, buy myself a little new equipment, and set up some sort of trust so that fringe companies can apply for grants.

What other awards or honors have you won for your lighting design? 

I won an award for Best Lighting from broadwayworld.com for Blue Spruce Theatre's Once on This Island, and a Hubby Award for Best Design for Whistler in the Dark's Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth. I have also been honored by the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for my work with Stonehill College.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions? 

This summer I will be designing FUDGE's production of Merrily We Roll Along. In addition, I am cowriting a piece with Jesse Strachman and Dan Rodriguez of Blue Spruce Theatre.

2014 Best Leading Actress in a Play Nominee Interview: Katie Gluck as Becca Corbett in Hovey Player's "Rabbit Hole"

Photo by Michael Rosenzweig

Photo by Michael Rosenzweig

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Katie Gluck tackled the challenging role that no mother would want to play -- a mother and wife who must deal with her grief and family after the loss of her young son in a terrible accident.  Katie brought empathy and layers to her Becca, showing her as fierce as a mother bear and as fragile and unique as a snowflake. Her performance continues to resonate, winning accolades across New England for her strong, collaborative work in Rabbit Hole.  In her Interview, Katie discusses her primary role as a mother and wife, her more than a year and a half journey with her incredible fellow actors in Rabbit Hole, and even a few jokes about the many laughs of doing this play.

Thank you so much for talking with us, Katie. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?  What do you do?  Where are you from?  What brought you to the stage?

Thank you for this nomination, Brian. I was thrilled and very appreciative, especially when I saw the level of talent on the rest of the list, and particularly in my category!

I was born at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA. When I was very little, my parents moved our family from Somerville to Burlington, and, shortly afterwards, signed my siblings and me all up for the Children’s Theater Workshop, run by the Burlington Players and Jen Howard. Jen was my theater teacher and director for my entire childhood. After high school, I took a far-too-long 18-year break from theater, but, after the birth of my second child, I was looking for something . . . else. A creative outlet and a connection to the world around me.

I went back to what I loved as a kid—theater—and auditioned for and won the part of Patti Levaco in the Burlington Players production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s other beauty—Kimberly Akimbo. I immediately knew that I found was I was looking for. The people and the community, but best of all, the work. I’m married to my wonderful husband Bryan Gluck, and we live in Billerica with our two daughters, Sara and Natalie. By day I work in Human Resources at Minuteman Senior Services in Bedford, MA.

Why did you decide to audition for Rabbit Hole?  Had you read or seen the play?  Had you watched the movie?

Rabbit Hole came into my life through a play-reading committee. I was asked to read and perform a scene cold at a membership meeting, and it was love at first sight. So when I saw Rabbit Hole was being produced at Hovey (a fantastic place to work) and directed by Michelle Aguillon (an amazing director) auditioning was an absolute must. I’d never seen the play or the movie (in fact, I still haven’t seen the movie!) but I felt Becca’s voice from the start.   I was always wary of messing with my clarity by seeing someone else’s Becca.

[Becca] is an unusual woman, in extraordinary circumstances. Literally no one in her life understands the whole of her, and I think audiences can have trouble with her too. So much of Becca lies in her interior, yet she’s never alone onstage, no monologue or other more direct route to facilitate the audience’s understanding and empathy. I was interested in making a path from the deep recesses of Becca’s pain, through into her world and how she navigates daily life, while always, always processing and simply living with her grief, and then from there out to the audience to show her to [the audience], and ask them to recognize and understand her so that they might see a bit of themselves or someone they love in her.

In one of my favorite commentaries by David Lindsay-Abaire (DLA), he mentions his motivation to write Rabbit Hole: he wanted to write about something of which he was deeply afraid.  Of what are you deeply afraid?  What would send you down a “rabbit hole”?

I agree! The story of DLA coming to write Rabbit Hole is incredible. Would that we were all be so brave to name our fear and confront it by creating art.

When I look inside myself, I’m afraid for my people—my husband, my daughters. My kids particularly because they are so little. Lots of parents, particularly parents of young children, would say that, but what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in hard truth. After the birth of my first child, I told my mom I was so relieved that the birth went well and the baby was safely out into the world because now I could stop worrying about her. Needless to say, my mom laughed in my face.

How did you develop your strong relationships with other characters and actors in the play?

Michelle Aguillon and I knew each other a little, but everyone else was new to me at the Rabbit Hole read-through. While there’s something to be said for a pre-existing level of trust and intimacy, in our case, getting to know each other while we built the foundation for our characters and their relationships was interesting and very fruitful. The ensemble of this show was incredible—Maureen Adduci as Nat, Alex Thayer as Howie, Brooke Casanova as Izzy, and Jordan DiGloria as Jason—and everyone made such wonderful specific choices all the time that there were endless combinations to play with in each moment. We all got very comfortable with each other, and some of my favorite compliments were that we really sounded like a family.

At one rehearsal with Mark Baumhardt (our fantastic Sound Designer), he didn’t realize that Brooke and I had started; he thought we were still chatting. Lots and lots of stuff came up organically and the cast brought a million ideas. Too many, really! Michelle did an incredible job of balancing what we needed in order to feel connected to each other, while always serving the play. Michelle came to Rabbit Hole with such a clear view of it that was both macro- and microscopic. She really has an almost innate understanding of each of the relationships and what they bring to the larger story, while always leaving room for the actors to bring our view into the mix. Michelle is an extraordinary director.

We all got close and laughed way more than you’d think, given the subject of the play.

What have been some of your favorite roles?  What roles would you play again?  What would you do differently?

Well, my acting resume is quite short right now. As my kids get older, I hope to do more theater, but Rabbit Hole was my fifth show at this point in my life. Besides Rabbit Hole and Kimberly Akimbo, I’ve also played Jean in Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Chelsea in On Golden Pond, and Sheila in The Boys Next Door.

I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Patti Levaco in Kimberly Akimbo. She’s absolutely outrageous and a wild blast of a ride to play, but, for me, she is also forever my first part that opened up this wonderful world to me, and I’m grateful to her and to Russell Greene for casting me.

You spent a lot of time with this play.  What changed over time?  What stayed the same?  What did you learn about yourself and the play?

I have! It’s been a long stretch with Rabbit Hole, and it’s been wonderful. The layers of meaning in this script are seemingly endless. We were finding new moments and connections literally right up to the morning of the final performance two months ago, a year and a half after we started. From the beginning, we were all completely committed to honoring the author’s intent, all the time. Michelle reminded us regularly to “serve the play, always serve the play.” Through all this time together, that has stayed the same. We’re there to serve the play, this beautiful script.

What is the scariest thing about performing?  What is the most fun?

Performing is terrifying, but the scariest thing is also the most fun. While you can plan and practice forever, that moment comes when you let it go and leap, and ride the shared energy, the trust in yourself and everyone else’s work, the director’s vision, and the writer’s words. My worst and weakest nights are when I try to hang on to something and control something. It’s an act of faith. It’s a blast and super scary, both at once.

What do you like to order when you go out to dinner?  What do you like to cook?

I’ll eat (pretty much) anything, but I generally order what is special to the restaurant, or the area. Or I’ll order seasonally, which sounds healthy, but it’s really just usually more delicious.

Are you reading anything good right now?  Do you have anything on your “To Read” list?

Right now I’m reading All the Light We Cannot See, and it’s wonderful. Next up is Kate Atkinson’s new one, A God in Ruins. My favorite books I read last year were The Rosie Project and Station Eleven.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

The time away from home can be hard on my family, so I try to only participate in one show a year, at least while the kids are still little. I’m looking forward to auditioning next year, and it’s exciting to see the great season selections in the area. To end this terrific season and start the next one off, I’m directing a 10-minute piece in the Hovey Summer Shorts, at the Hovey Players in Waltham. My first time directing!

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

THANK YOU for your ongoing appreciation and support of local theater! And thank you, Brian, for helping to shine a light on so much good work by so many people.

2014 Best Specialty Ensemble in a Play Nominee Interview: The Weird Sisters in imaginary beasts' "Rumpelstiltskin, Or All That Glitters"

Photo by Molly Kimmerling

Photo by Molly Kimmerling

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews.  

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Something Weird this way comes.  In Winter 2014, Boston experienced the creepy and hilarious talents of three Weird Sisters, Lady Honor, Lady Glory and Lady Marmalade in the imaginary beasts' Winter Panto, Rumpelstiltskin, Or All That Glitters. Not only did they charm us with their one-liners, but they brought fierce diva dance moves to the stage in a show-stopping rendition of Goldfinger. In their Interview, Amy, Molly, and Mikey show us how weird these sisters three can be, including their love for hairspray and gold lame dresses, their inspiration from girl groups and the three fates, and how Boston can improve (hint: it's not through magic). 

Hi, Lady Honor, Lady Glory, and Lady Marmalade, can you introduce yourself to our ArtsImpulse readers?  Who are you, what is your performing history and experience, and what brings you to Boston and the stage?

Hi Everyone! Lady Honor, Lady Glory and Lady Marmalade here. Sorceresses by day and fringe actors by night loving our lives and feeling our fantasy. We have known each other for so many years via various avenues and alleyways (Hogwarts, caves of wonders, stirring pots, those whacky imaginary beasts, etc). But ladies never tell their age, darling. We came to Boston to cast a spell on the community and bewitch reviewers such as yourself, Mr. Balduzzi! We mean, really, who doesn’t like to see hairy Italians in dresses? So, here we flew to and here we shall stay.

Who were the Weird Sisters?  How did they fit into the 2014 Winter Panto? 

We are THE epitome of strange; a trio of benevolent agents who enlisted the audience to help fight for the good right and true! And defeat Rumpelstiltskin.

By the way, what is a panto?  How does imaginary beast do them?

A Panto, by definition, is a traditional fairy tale complete with songs, dances, jokes, exaggerated characters and lots of audience participation. However, a Panto is really the most fun any actor will have on stage. EVER!

How do we do them? With lots of patience, love, care, and laughter. Side-splitting cackling, dare we say.

What is the process for creating this particular Winter Panto?  How much creativity did you have in the process?  What were the biggest challenges?

We start with a scenario and improvise scenes with different combinations of people. Based on our improv, Matthew [Woods] writes the script and finishes by opening night or sometimes the 3rd weekend.  The ensemble has A TON of creative license in the process, and the biggest challenge is always not making it a five hour show.

What makes a Winter Panto more or less successful than others?  How have they changed over the years?

Sometimes, the cultural references that we include are really fun depending on the year. For example “What Does the Fox Say?” was a huge hit, but it definitely would not translate in next year’s Panto. They change over the years based on the audience familiarity with Panto.

What have been some of your favorite imaginary beast productions?  Favorite Boston theatre productions?

Photo by Lara Woolfson / Studio Nouveau

Photo by Lara Woolfson / Studio Nouveau

Pantos, of course. Humpty Dumpty was the first show the three of us did together and we instantly bonded over our weirdness (and love of Lady Glory’s photographic skills). We abandoned our powers for 4 weeks to play other roles. We are versatile, you know.

We're big fans of ALL Boston fringe/theater! If you are putting yourself out there to the masses, we’re a fan of yours. Truly.

What is one thing that you wish that the Boston theatre scene would change in the next year?  In the next five years?

Space, space, and more space!

What or who makes you laugh?

Each other, of course, as well as the liveliness and adventures back stage at the Panto, specifically the goody side.

What was your inspiration for the Weird Sisters?  What were some of your more iconic parts of these roles?  How much did you improvise each night?

Photo by Bruce DiLoreto

Photo by Bruce DiLoreto

Girl groups, the three fates, drunken (Bandit wine sipping) Macbeth witches, our love for gold, etc.  Goldfinger was Shirley Bassey’s iconic James Bond song, so the movements in the video were incorporated in our rousing, titillating number.

Oh Jeez! Every night was different due to the audience reactions so we just played off of them. Especially the children. They are a trip.

If you were stuck on a desert island, what are three things that you would want with you?  What is one thing that you would not with you?

Photo by Brian McConkey Photography

Photo by Brian McConkey Photography

Gold lame dresses, crystal ball, crutches and hair spray (oops, that’s four! Witches aren’t confined to mortal numbering).

And we do NOT want to bring any baddies. *snaps*

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

Lady Honor and Lady Glory have Menagerie with imaginary beasts, and Lady Marmalade is stage managing Dying City with Happy Medium Theatre as well as preparing for her role as Emory in Boys in the Band with Zeitgeist Stage Company.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

STAY WEIRD!

2014 Best Leading Actor in a Play Nominee Interview: Victor Shopov as Liam in SpeakEasy Stage Company's "Bad Jews"

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Victor Shopov had quite the 2014, featured in four award-worthy productions throughout the year, earning multiple nominations and awards for his acting. His Liam in Joshua Harmon's Bad Jews at SpeakEasy Stage Company blended some of Victor's most impressive talents: his versatility, his ability to make seemingly unlikeable guys to be the heroes of their own story, and steady transitions from comedy to drama with the flip of a switch. In his Interview, Victor discusses Liam and his own connection to religion, his acting fears, and his upcoming projects (including The Submission now running through May 30). 

Photo by Joel Benjamin

Photo by Joel Benjamin

Victor, it’s a pleasure to interview you again.  Can you introduce yourself to our new ArtsImpulse readers?  Who are you, what do you do, and what’s new?

Hello, AI readers! I’m Victor. By day, I work in health care, and by night, I act in and around Boston. I’ve been trolling around the Boston theater scene for about seven years now and I am still enjoying (almost) every second of it.

What roles did you play in 2014?  Tell us about the productions.  What was your favorite production? 

I had a somewhat hectic 2014, but a rewarding one. I started out playing Bernard in Death of a Salesman (Lyric Stage Company), then took a little breather until I unexpectedly had to jump into Translations (Bad Habit Productions) following an actor injury. I was also rehearsing Bent (Zeitgeist Stage Company) at the same time, then immediately jumped into Bad Jews (SpeakEasy Stage). So, it was a little bit of a mad dash, but it all worked out, and I had a ton of fun. I enjoyed all of the productions in different ways, but I think I had the most fun with Bad Jews. I mean, going on an eight-minute rant while jumping on a bed and screaming expletives is not something I get to do onstage very often. (Offstage is a different story).

Who was Liam, and what was his story in Bad Jews?  How did audiences react to this character?  To this show?

Liam is the eldest brother in a family that has just lost its patriarch—Liam’s grandfather. Liam feels entitled to a precious family heirloom and engages in a pretty vicious battle with his equally intelligent and obnoxious cousin, who also lays claim to the item in question. What follows is a pretty hilarious and jarring examination of what it means to be true to one’s faith and how family dynamics can break down over the most petty of squabbles.

I think audiences were equally enamored with and repulsed by Liam. Yes, he is a somewhat abrasive (very abrasive) character, but he has a certain charm. Also, I think we all know someone kind of like Liam in our own lives, and people seemed to relate to that. Plus, it is always amusing to watch a grown man throw a childish tantrum of volcanic proportions. 

Are you religious?  How would you define your religious views?  Did you do any research for playing Liam?

Not at all [religious]. I’ve identified as atheist since I was very young. My family never forced religion on me—they let me come to my own conclusions on my own time without trying to persuade or dissuade me from any particular point of view. At present, I simply don’t believe in a sentient, omniscient being that takes a keen interest in the moment-to-moment activities of our lives, let alone our adherence to archaic “rules” that are so grossly outdated that people should feel silly still following them. That said, I do feel a sense of wonder when I think about the enormity of the universe and how tiny we really are in the grand scheme of things, and more to the point, just how much is out there that we don’t know and understand. So, I prefer to keep an entirely open mind about things and not lock myself into a narrow belief system that disregards every other possible explanation or experience.

In terms of research, I did a bit of digging into what Liam’s background, culture, and childhood probably involved. He himself is not very close to his faith, so I didn’t have to focus too much on that, but I did try to examine how that distance might have influenced his actions in the show. I spoke to some different folks about modern day Jewish culture—especially in the younger generation—and how Liam seemed to be very representative of a somewhat more distant approach to faith; a more casual or liberal acceptance of certain cultural aspects, or a simple disregard for them.

What was your favorite show that you saw in 2014?  Why?

I absolutely loved the Lyric’s Into the Woods. It was the first time I have ever seen the show onstage, and I adored every aspect of it.

What scares you most about performing?  What excites you?  What energizes you?

I can’t say that I get scared anymore, honestly. I’ve had to learn roles in three days and then jump onstage. I’ve had fellow actors just start making stuff up while working opposite me. I’ve had sound loud (that shouldn’t have been there) play through entire scenes while catching a designer sprint to the booth to fix it. I’ve had audience members have very loud conversations in the middle of a show, take phone calls, and faint/fall off the top riser of a black box. So, there is not much that can really shock me at this point, I think.

Also, all that stuff I just described? That’s what excites an energizes me—the possibility that absolutely anything can and will happen in the middle of a show, and that I have to be ready to manage it either way.

What is one of your goals for 2015?

I finally, at long last, finish one of the half-dozen scripts I’ve been writing for the last several years. I have a terrible habit of starting projects and not finishing them, and I would like to break that habit.

Do you have any secret skills?  Have you ever been asked to perform any of your skills during an audition?

I can aggressively raise a single eyebrow (but only one—I’m not yet ambidextrous) and I can play a mean ukulele, I don’t know that I’ve ever been asked to do anything unusual in an audition. Maybe to behave like my favorite wild animal, but I really hate that stuff, so I probably didn’t do it very well.

How would you like to see the Greater Boston theatre change in 2015-2016? 

The loss of the Factory Theatre was a huge blow for the small/fringe theater scene in Boston. What is encouraging, though, is the response that was generated as a result, and I would like to see that enthusiasm continue over the next year. People have already gotten very creative in finding new spaces to work in and explore, and while I think that is terrific, I would like to see a bit more dedication from the powers that be to supporting the small/fringe scene—especially emerging companies—so that they can continue producing new work and providing opportunities to up and coming and veteran actors alike.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

I do! I am actually in the throws of rehearsal for The Submission (Zeitgeist Stage Company) that runs from May 8-30th. After that, I’ll be working with Wax Wings productions on the premier of Eyes Shut.Door Open by Cassie Seinuk, then heading back to Zeitgeist in the fall for Boys in the Band.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

I think I’ve droned on long enough. All I’ll say is a big ‘thank you’ to everyone who continues to support the local theater scene—we couldn’t do it without you.

2014 Best Leading Actor in a Play Nominee: Ken Baltin as Willy Loman in The Lyric Stage Company of Boston's "Death of a Salesman"

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Ken Baltin tackled one of the most iconic roles in American theatre with empathy, reserve, and heart. His Willy Loman in The Lyric Stage Company of Boston's Death of a Salesman was the glue that held this well-crafted production together. His intelligence in approaching a role is matched only by his unwavering commitment to the play's emotions. In his Interview, Ken discusses his work preparing to play Willy Loman, his bucket list of roles, and even the strangest thing that happened to him onstage (and he lived to tell about it!). 

Photo by Kippy Goldfarb

Photo by Kippy Goldfarb

Ken, can you introduce yourself to our readers?  Who are you?  What brought you to Boston?  What brought you to the stage?

What brought me to the stage?  Probably a need to tell the truth, to confess combined with an innate talent for acting, and a hidden need for recognition.  I was  a journalism major at Rutgers, but during my junior year I had a lead role in Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author.  The play required the “characters” to bare their souls.  I so much identified with their need to complete themselves, and the pangs of the attempt to do so was something that made me feel very alive and substantial.  I knew then that acting was what I wanted to do.

After spending about 6 years in New York City training and pursuing a career in the theatre, I came to Boston 1975 to study in the Brandeis MFA theatre program with a concentration in directing.  I’d been in NYC studying with Uta Hagen and Herbert Berghof for a few years, working when I got roles, but mostly being told by casting directors and agents that I wouldn’t work regularly until I was older.  So going to grad school and teaching for a few years made sense at the time.  It was a great decision.  I’ve spent my life (since I was 30) combining acting with teaching and directing--a great combination.

Willy Loman is one of the quintessential male roles for the American stage.  Were you daunted to play such a role?  Did you have any preconceived notions about who he was and his story?  What did you learn through playing him?

Of course I was daunted by the role, but actually asked Spiro to give me a chance.  We’d done Glengarry Glen Ross by Mamet back in 2002, and he’d said maybe we’d do “that other salesman play” some day. So I reminded him about two years before we actually staged it.  I’ve had the role in my sights since I was in my 20’s—the journey of that character was absolutely compelling to me.  Whenever I’d seen productions of it I cried through them.  Maybe some of that is because of having witnessed my father’s struggles for so many years (many men have a similar reaction to this play), and had to adjust to his moods and frustrations. 

Other than that, if I had any preconceived notions about Willy, I made every attempt to drop them when I began working on the script about six months before rehearsals began.  My study of the play and research, including reading Arthur Miller’s autobiography and his intentions in writing Salesman (he referred to it as “the salesman play”) and some of the scholarship about the play, was very inspiring.  That in combination with my own powerful and personal response to the play provided a strong basis for interpretation.  What I learned would take many more pages, but keys to Willy are that he is really an orphan looking for recognition and love, but having no way to receive and hold on to the love he does get.  All his lies and delusions are predicated on a deep deep inferiority complex and lack of self worth.  His entire modus operandi is to achieve final victory through his sons, especially Biff.  The fictions he feeds them from birth, the demands he makes of them, his terribly mistaken perception of success and the American dream drives the whole family down a blind alley into ruin.  And yet it is all done for love.

Something else I learned about Willy that, I think, is a common misconception about how successful he had been as a salesman.  There is not one iota of evidence in the play that Willy was a successful salesman at any point in his life (other than perhaps one year just prior to the Great Depression, but even that you have to take with a grain of salt).  Of course if you listened to him talk, you’d think he was at the top of his profession.  But the play contradicts that self-perception at every juncture.  Willy really is and had always been a Biff describes him at the end of the play, just a hard working drummer who ends up in the ashcan of life.

What do you think made The Lyric production award-worthy?  Had you seen other productions of the play before?

The award-worthiness of the production is up to others.  I just know I did my best with the role and enjoyed every second of the experience from beginning to end, and enjoyed working with Spiro Veloudos and the stage relationships with the other actors.  I’d seen at least two other productions of the play, and a few films versions.  None of them, I don’t think, influenced my playing of Willy.  I hadn’t seen any of them for many years and certainly didn’t seek to see any of them to help me with the role.  That would have destroyed any ability to follow impulses or discover something new.

Talk to us about your relationship with Paula Plum’s Linda.  What about with your sons, Happy and Biff?  How did those affect your portrayal of Willy?

A strong influence on my performance of Willy was reading about the Miller’s model for Willy:  his uncle Manny Newman.  The description of Manny’s relationship to his wife and sons gave me an idea of Willy as, to a great extent, an overgrown child—the orphan, if you will, who doesn’t really emotionally mature much beyond about 4 years old.  Willy’s narcissism is really over the top, his need for tending by Linda, and his demands of his sons, are all incredibly draining on the family and everyone else who Willy comes in contact with.  I joked during rehearsals that you wouldn’t want to be a neighbor of Willy’s.  The house was just in too much turmoil—fully of boasting and full of animosity.  And I think Willy, who has absolutely no sense of self-irony, doesn’t see this.  As such he can be infantile with Linda, a bully to his neighbor Charlie, and terribly confusing to his sons, trying to be both their captain and their pal.

Do you have any other roles on your bucket list?  Any roles that you already crossed off your bucket list?  Any roles that you would like to play again?

Willy was at the top of my wish list.  Other roles/playwrights I’d like to do:

Ibsen in general and Solness from Master Builder in particular; Chekhov, in particular the role of Vanya; Odets, Strindberg, Paddy Chayefsky, Tennessee Williams, more Arthur Miller.  Estragon in Waiting For Godot, Lear or Gloucester from King Lear, Shylock.

Roles I’d do again: I’d like another shot at Shelley Levene, Donny from American Buffalo, Herb from I Ought To Be In Pictures by Neil Simon, Mort Golman from Permanent Whole Life by Zayd Dohrn (because it was such irreverent fun).

Also, I’ve neglected directing for acting throughout the last few decades, directing only two productions, both at The Boston Conservatory.  I still love doing it and would like to do a lot more of it in the coming years.

Why do you think Death of a Salesman still resonates with American audiences?  Is it your favorite Miller play, or do you prefer another?

As I mentioned above, it is about our fathers and grandfathers and the myths surrounding success in America.  It is about all the delusions and lies we harbor and want to believe despite the evidence that they are indeed lies.  Today we see such a prevalence of thought that we can create our own sense of the world, filter out what we don’t like or aren’t comfortable with, and somehow by committing to our illusions, we can make it work.  There are so many pitfalls in this kind of ideological projection on the world.   I think audiences of this play years ago were more open to Miller’s message.  Because of the blinders so many of us live with today, Miller’s message may be lost on a lot of us.  In other words, there may be many more Willy Lomans out there who walk around with so little a sense of self-irony.  As Puck says, “What fools these mortals be!”

What has been one of your biggest challenges on the stage?  In your life?

On stage is trusting all my impulses and leaping before looking.  In life, just liking myself enough to, well, trust my impulses and leap before looking.  There’s something to be said for playing it safe, but never on stage.  In life, we must explore the realm beyond our comfort zone in order to find out what we are made of, and what is really possible for us.

What is your favorite thing to do in Boston?

Eat raw clams, great lobster, act, go to museums, to good plays, teach my kids at The Boston Conservatory, hang out in interesting neighborhoods.

If you could meet anyone, alive or dead, famous or not, for a meal, who would you meet and where would you go?  What would you talk about?

My first acting teacher was Herbert Berghof, a wonderful actor and mentor.  He died about 20 years ago. I’d love to talk to him now that I’ve progressed as far as I have as an actor.  I’d love to talk about acting.  Also to Stanislavski, Michael Chekhov.  Abraham Lincoln for his depth of wisdom, courage.

What is the strangest thing that you have ever done onstage?

Years ago when I was in New York City, I had plenty of “strange” things happen:  an actress who felt I’d jilted her somehow tried injuring me during a performance; I was in a production of play in which 5 out of the 6 cast members were cannibalized before the final blackout; I was in a production of Hadrian the Seventh in which 4 different major accidents occurred in one performance.  I don’t know how anyone survived, actors or audience.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

At the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse this summer, a production of a new play by Arnie Reisman called Not Constantinople.  Hopefully in the fall, a production of Blood on the Snow by Patrick Gabridge at the Old State House.   That’s what’s known.  Who knows what else may be in the offing.  Hopefully, much. 

2014 Best Director of a Play Nominee Interview: Lizette M. Morris for Happy Medium Theatre's "Baby With the Bathwater"

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews.

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Photo by Omar Robinson

Photo by Omar Robinson

Lizette M. Morris is no stranger to the Boston fringe scene, and her work has rightfully won her accolades over the year, as she chooses challenging and thought-provoking plays to enliven the Greater Boston theatre community.  In her Interview, Lizette discusses some of the challenges of directing Christopher Durang plays, her rehearsal process, and some of her "bucket list" plays. We're so thankful to have you in Boston, Lizette!

Thank you so much for agreeing to an Interview with ArtsImpulse, Lizette. It was a pleasure to see your work again, especially as one of the final productions in Boston’s Factory Theatre.  Can you introduce yourself to our readers?  Who are you, with what theatre companies do you work, what is your theatre background, and how do you spend your days and non-theatre time?

Thank you for taking the time to interview the nominees! I’m Lizette M. Morris, a local director, stage manager, and performer.  I was formerly a Stage Manager for BMG Boston and an Advisory Board member for Happy Medium Theatre, Inc. but have taken a step back in 2015 to devote more thought and planning to the kind of work that I want to focus on in the future.  I’ve also had the pleasure of working with Fresh Ink Theatre and imaginary beasts in various capacities.  

When I’m not theater-ing, I’m the Minister of Fun for the Research and Development team of a tech company in Watertown.   

What made you choose to direct Baby With The Bathwater?  Are you a Durang fan?  Have you directed or performed in his other works?

Baby with the Bathwater was a script brought to HMT by another advisory board member.  After reading it, I was drawn to directing it because it’s the right combination of dark humor and morbid eccentricity for my taste and aesthetic. 

I am definitely a Durang fan!  In fact, my first foray in to directing was a scene from Beyond Therapy as a senior in high school (Humble brag: I won best director for Senior Scenes 2003!). I got the directing bug and it was all downhill from there. 

What are some of the challenges of directing Durang?  What is enjoyable about it?  How did you respond to these challenges and joys?

I think the challenges are the specificity of stage direction.   It’s clear that he has really strong feelings about exactly what kind of productions of his work that he wants to see and I wish that there was more room to play.  Once you put a piece out there, let people experiment with it; be open.  Sure, sometimes the final product might not look at all like your own imaginings and it’s hard, but sometimes it might surprise you and add to your original intention.

Photo by Karen Ladany

Photo by Karen Ladany

The enjoyable parts are the bizarre characters and completely absurd plot points.  Baby is full of the stuff that makes Durang the most fun to work on.

I responded to the challenges/joys by doing what I usually do in situations where I’m not sure how the playwright would feel about the choices that I’m making:  I assume that they’ll forgive me and stay true to the vision that I’m working with.  I trust my instincts and taste, and I firmly believe that even if the finished product is something that the playwright didn’t intend for, they will still be able to find value in it. 

Do you have a favorite Durang play?  Why? 

I don’t think I could say it with total certainty because I haven’t read the full catalogue of his work, but Baby is the front runner.  I could go on forever about each of the minor things that I love about it, but the major headline this:  the basic plot line and arc is solid and relatable.  “Well-intentioned parents have a child, screw up raising it, child spends years and a small fortune telling someone else about it only to suddenly find himself in the same position.” Layer characters like Nanny and The Young Woman on to that, and you’ve got comic gold. 

Do you have a particular kind of theatre that you like to direct?  Why 

I lean towards work that’s dark and meaty that leaves me asking questions.  The form and style is less important than the meat.  The “why” is more difficult.  I’m sure there are a few folks that might assume that I’m a ranking member of "The Damaged Hearts Club" and write my work off as an adolescent indulgence.  I’d like to think that I care to put out work that I’d like to see. 

The work that I like to see is multifaceted, and easy to slip in to, and full of characters that you can simultaneously hate and sympathize with, and sometimes makes total sense but other times feels odd, and, most of all, deals with subject matter that’s hard, challenging, and difficult to watch and process at times.  I’d rather spend 90 minutes watching that than a feel-good jaunt that I’ve already forgotten about by the time that I light my post-show smoke.  Nothing wrong with the jaunt, mind you, it’s just my preference. 

Photo by Karen Ladany

Photo by Karen Ladany

Talk to us about the rehearsal process.  How did you prepare your actors to handle Durang’s unique style?  What was the most fun?

I think the thing that we focused a lot of time on was not playing right into the joke every single time.  We tried to fine-tune the bits so that some were more nuanced, some read darker, some really hammed it up.  This is still one of my favorite rehearsal processes.  I really lucked out in that my cast was utterly phenomenal and (seemingly) really trusted me so there was time to experiment and push toward the outward limits of what should “stick to the wall.”  I remember laughing all the time and really looking forward to walking into the room to see what we’d come up with that night. 

How have you seen the Greater Boston theatre scene change in the last five years?  The last two years?  How do you see the scene changing in the next year? Five years?

The hard hitting questions. 

In the last five years, I think I’ve seen greater diversity of work and that makes me excited for the future of theatre here. 

In the last two years, I’ve seen companies that I know and love struggle because the city doesn’t make it easy to be successful.  And that’s great because “[i]f it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.  It’s the hard that makes it great” (Jimmy Dugan for life). That being said, would be so much to ask that venues have a sliding scale of rates that are based on what a company can actually afford?  I think not.  Would it be too much to ask that fringe companies rally together in a way that they never really have to accomplish tasks rather than talk around the same issues we’ve always faced?  Nope. 

I’m really not sure what the next year brings since we’re still down a venue; the only venue that was affordable and perfectly positioned to be a home to the fringe, specifically.  I think we’re going to lose companies and that’s heartbreaking but the reality of doing this kind of work off the side of your 9-5 desk. 

I can’t really think five years ahead in a meaningful way, but I’m feeling reasonably optimistic so let’s say that I’d like to think that in 5 years, we’d have filled the void that the Factory [Theatre] left behind.     

If you had to eat one thing at least once a day for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Rice and Beans.

Mountains or beaches?

Beaches.

Do you have any plays on your “bucket list” to direct and/or perform?

A Long Day’s Journey into Night – Eugene O’Neill

Stone Cold Dead Serious – Adam Rapp

What is the hardest thing about acting or directing for, or managing a fringe theatre company?

Reminding yourself in moments where making the time to do it feels like torture, for whatever reason, that this is what you love and it’s worth it. 

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

Performing in Lifers with HMT and Argos Productions – we open on Friday (March 20)!  Come check us out!

2014 Best Student Actor Nominee Interview: Ben Salus as Tom Whitmore in Boston University CFA's "The Whitmores"

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Photo by Jun Tsuboike

Photo by Jun Tsuboike

Ben Salus joins us from London, where he is studying in the Classical Acting Diploma program at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art ("LAMDA").  As a junior in the Boston University College of Fine Arts' BFA in Theatre Arts program, Ben shone as the charismatic and manipulative Tom Whitmores in the original play by Ben Ducoff, The Whitmores, at Boston University.  In his interview, Ben describes the process for rehearsing a new play, the rigorous but fulfilling theatre program at Boston University, and some of his favorite productions in 2014. We wouldn't mind sharing a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats with Ben!

Tell us about yourself, Ben.

So, I’m originally from Philadelphia, and I’m currently in my third year at Boston University pursuing my BFA in Theatre Arts. Right now, I’m in London studying Classical Acting at LAMDA, but I’ll be back in Boston for all of my senior year. My Mom and Dad support me so much in pursuing theatre (they knew nothing about it when I into college), and so does my sister, who graduated with a BS in Bioengineering. My friends from high school keep me sane and they’ve shaped my sense of humor and sense of joy. I spend most of my free time listening to Kanye West, Mozart, or Dave Matthews. I’m a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan and could talk an ear off about random sports history. You may have seen me either in a BU production or on Boston Harbor, as I was a tour guide in the summer of 2013 for Codzilla. I really like gummy bears and, to top it all off, I drive a 1994 gray/purple Toyota Camry.

What is your professional training?  What does the program at BU College of Fine Arts ("CFA") involve?  What are you doing now in the program?

Apart from BU, I’ve trained at the National High School Institute at Northwestern University the summer before my senior year in high school. Also, I’m completing the semester-long Classical Acting Diploma at LAMDA. Regionally, I’ve been in two shows, Our Class with the Boston Center for American Performance (BCAP), and Les Misérables with Cortland Repertory Theatre in New York.

In the Theatre Arts track at BU, I not only have the opportunity to study Acting, but I’ve also taken courses in Directing, Musical Theatre, Playwriting, and many other facets of the theatrical art. Right now, I’m gearing up for a packed senior year. First, I will be in STAMP (Senior Theatre Arts Major Productions) in which the Theatre Arts BFA class of 2016 will produce a full season of theatre, which will be coming in April/May of 2016. Also, I’ll be prepping for our showcase in New York City in March. In the meantime, I’ll be in shows at BU, and hopefully working a theatre internship this summer in either Chicago or New York City as part of my graduation requirement.

I really have to thank the School of Theatre for pushing me to become the artist I am today and who I look to be in the future. My training there has really transformed me as an individual and it is preparing me to succeed in any field of the theatre that I wish to pursue. It’s one of the best programs in the country and I’m blessed to be a part of it.

Who are The Whitmores?  Describe Tom, your character, for us.

The Whitmores are a middle-aged married couple living in a suburb of Cleveland who simply want things to go their way and go to any means necessary to get them. Tom and Mary love each other deeply, and they are very zany and fun, but I would never want to be on their bad side as they both have a short fuse when things don’t go according to plan. I think that’s all I can say without spoiling the play.

Tom Whitmore is a guy who really loves power. In dealing with people, he has an awareness of status, race, and manners, and he allows the three to flow masterfully in order for him to get what he wants. He is a riff off of any suburban man in this day and age, really. He’s got a rooted traditionalism in the sense that he’s a host and a fun loving partier/conversationalist, and, in that, comes his patriarchal power and force.

Photo by Kal ZabarskY

Photo by Kal ZabarskY

What was the process like for rehearsing a new play?  What were the challenges?  What were the benefits?

It was really cool being a part of a new play development as an actor, especially a play like this where I was in love with both the content and the style of writing.

One of the challenges was that, because it’s a new play, there was no existing definition of what it was. So, every day I had to come in and give 100% or else the production would take a step back, and it was evident when I was “off my game.” There wasn’t really time to take it easy in this process, which left me inextricably exhausted. It took a lot of effort on all of our parts to circumnavigate the process. Patience is a virtue, and really discovered that during this process.

The benefits were huge, so get ready:

I can’t begin to describe how lucky I was to be in the room with this team. Ben Ducoff (playwright) and Michael Hammond (director) really gave me free reign to explore what Tom was and wasn’t through the script. Ben was really open to have a dialogue about the characters and some of the lines. Every so often I would go off of a line, Ben and Michael would hear it out and we’d have a talk about even the smallest choices of words. Ben was really open to collaborate and share his character with me, ultimately letting it build into this monster that I didn’t even realize I had inside of me. Ben’s writing is supreme and I really loved being a vehicle for the words of someone who was in the room.

Getting to play alongside Lucy (as Mary Whitmore) was really a gift. We had some incredible chemistry, and when we were really cookin’, we operated on another level. We pushed each other every day and kept pushing each other’s buttons to get the best work from the other. The play was able to take some pretty huge jumps merely because the entire cast came in ready to explore and trusted each other to play.

New plays are interesting because the story is being cultivated in the room. Ben’s, Michael’s, and my ideas about the story that we were telling are all linked and similar, but definitely different. I really got to find this character and what he was about. I hate to say it like this, but I genuinely think everyone who plays Tom Whitmore will be playing a bit of Ben Salus at the same time. Developing a character for a new play requires putting your fingerprint on the character, more so than any other role. Finding my own way to tell my side of this story, that still agreed with Ben Ducoff’s and Michael Hammond’s, was the coolest experience I’ve had in theatre to date.

What are your biggest challenges as an actor?

Line memorizing. Oh my god. I get distracted very easily, so memorizing lines can get very tedious for me. Past that, I put a lot of attention into not relying on charisma or showmanship to get me through a scene, so that I have to really play from within the text.

What is the best production that you saw in 2014?  What is the best production that you have ever seen?  Why?

Thinking back, there were so many productions that blew me away this year. I fell in love with Finding Neverland at the American Repertory Theatre. I think Diane Paulus is a genius and helmed a gorgeous production that story onto the stage. Also, The Magic Flute presented by the Isango Ensemble at ArtsEmerson was one of the heartiest shows I have ever seen. I love Mozart, having just taken a class on his work, and I really was in awe of their storytelling and passion for the community that was presented on stage. In London, I got a chance to see City of Angels at the Donmar Warehouse, and it might be the best production I’ve ever seen. Seeing Hadley Fraser live was one of my favorite theatergoing experiences because he exuded so much ease and really embodied his role.

Waiting for Godot at the Cort Theatre starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart is probably the greatest thing I’ve ever seen on stage. Getting to watch two friends act on a stage together in my favorite play put me in awe. It was so human and so beautiful. The connection they had on stage transcended the script and the performance as a whole and was an exhibition of humanity, which is the root of theatre. It still sends shivers down my spine to think of the final scene between Vladimir and Estragon as they say good-bye to each other. Simply beautiful.

Why do you think that it is important to support university productions and students?  How do you think that the Greater Boston community can do a better job supporting these productions and students?

I’m estatic that ArtsImpulse is including us students in the fray. As a 21 year-old kid that hasn’t experienced that much exposure into the theatre community, it was really cool to see my name on the same webpage as Jeremy Jordan, Kate Burton, and Diane Paulus, among others. That definitely gave me a huge sense of accomplishment as a nominee. That support alone is incredible.

It’s essential that university productions be looked at in the theatre scene because it’s part of the city’s theatrical identity. The idea that we have the space to examine works without pressure of commercial interest is wonderful. In that, it allows us to do our work in the public without fear of criticism, but with hope of praise.

Boston is a fantastic city for theatre, especially in the collegiate circuit. The support from the community is already there and is growing, but I would love to see some more of the professional actors in the area check out our work.

What is the best part about studying in London?  What do you miss about Boston?

Seeing the theatre in London is my favorite part about studying here. The theatrical risks they can take here, because of the government-subsidized theatre, allows for really inventive and beautiful stories to be told on stage. In my classes, I really like the culture behind Acting. They make everything about the work and less about you. It’s very business-oriented without seeming too distant from being personal. Also, professors here are really blunt about everything, which is hilariously intimidating.

I definitely don’t miss the snow or the T, that’s for sure. I miss seeing the familiar smiles of my friends in the halls of the College of Fine Arts and my professors immensely. I miss looking at the John Hancock Tower a lot. I also hope the Starbucks across from CFA misses me as much as I miss it. Oh, and I miss the burritos from the Whole Foods by Symphony Hall. That was my go-to during the run of the show and my secret get-off-campus-and-get-lunch-away-from-everything place.

What is one role that you want to play?  What is one role that you probably would never play, but you would still want it?

I really want to play Sweeney Todd one day. A few dream roles that are a little nearer in the future are Hamlet, Ken in Red by John Logan, and Mitch in Tuesdays With Morrie.

I wouldn’t immediately cast myself as Emile de Becque is South Pacific, but I would love to sing that track one day.

What is your favorite breakfast cereal? Sell it to us.

Honestly, give me some Frosted Mini-Wheats and I’m set for anything. The idea of health and sweetness don’t usually coincide, but the ratio between wheat and frost is sublime. And please, don’t get me started on when the sugary coating melts into the bowl of milk, leaving someone with a mouthful of sweet, sweet victory.

What are your post-graduation plans?  Do you want to stay in Boston?

My plan is to work as an actor and director, wherever that may take me. Hopefully, I can settle down at some point and start a family. As long as I’m doing material that stimulates my own artistry, I’m down for (almost) anything. Even though beggars can’t be choosers, I would love to stay in Boston if the right opportunity arose, but I’m really intrigued by the opportunities Chicago, NYC, and LA might have for me, too.

What is one thing that you want to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Ben Ducoff is a godsend. Watch for The Whitmores to go somewhere. It deserves to.

And thanks, ArtsImpulse, for the nomination and this interview!

2014 Best Actor Nominee Interview: Peyton Pugmire as Prior Walter in The Umbrella's "Angels in America, Part I: Millennium Approaches"

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Photo by Matt McKee

Photo by Matt McKee

Peyton Pugmire joins us with his Southern charm and impressive theatre knowledge for an Interview to discuss his latest role as Prior Walter in both Parts I & II of Angels in America at The Umbrella in Concord, Massachusetts. Not everyone has the opportunity to tackle these roles in quick succession, but Peyton brings his keen script analysis and acting talents to bring empathy and understanding to the complex role.  In this Interview, Peyton discusses his rich and diverse history onstage, his preparation for the role, and some of his dream roles.  Look for his directing work on The Umbrella's stage this Spring in La Cage Aux Folles.

Peyton, thank you so much for agreeing to an interview.  Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Thanks, Brian!  I feel so honored to be nominated and be in such great company.  I’m from Georgia, so I’m a southerner at heart (after a cocktail or two you might hear the accent).  I moved to Boston in 2002 for graduate school at Emerson College where I received my masters in Theater Ed.  I taught public school drama for a few years, started my own small fringe company, served as Producing Artistic Director of the award-winning Watertown Children’s Theatre, and then landed my current job at The Boston Conservatory (“TBC”) where I am the Associate Director of Theater.  I’m lucky to be so inspired by TBC’s remarkably talented students and faculty on a daily basis.  I act when I can, I really love directing, and I still teach and I coach acting privately.  I love the ocean, Stevie Nicks, my car, my friends, tarot cards, and cooking, and I have three guardian angels around me at all times.   

I believe that Angels in America defies description, but why don’t you try?  How would you describe the plays?

“Gay Fantasia” comes to mind, which is the first play’s subtitle.  The phrase justifies the play’s stylistic topography – dreamlike, poetic, hilarious, serious-as-hell, scary, wacky, historical, etc.  It’s like a musical fantasy.  Very rhythmic, too, with each word and pause carefully placed with tweezers.  It’s mysterious, open to many levels of interpretation.  We joked a lot in rehearsals, wondering what the hell [playwright] Mr. Kushner was thinking as he purged his brilliance onto the page.

What do you think that Mr. Kushner was trying to say with these plays?  How does your character, Prior Walter, fit into these themes and ideas?

To me the story is about surviving adversity.  And refusing to remain stagnant and succumb to sexual, medical, political, social, and religious garbage.  It’s also a period piece, spotlighting the conservative early ‘80s.  Prior is a victim of AIDS, a metaphor for the stigma of homosexuality.  And he’s abandoned by his boyfriend.  Poor guy, and all in Part I!   In Part II, we learn that the Angel actually is trying to recruit Prior to bring humankind to a screeching halt.  Heaven can’t handle the earthly chaos, and thankfully Prior says “hell no” and that he’d rather be sick and feel pain than to stop living.  “More life,” he says.  Hindsight’s definitely 20/20.  I sure as hell wasn’t that clear while rehearsing (laughter)!

What was your favorite moment or scene in the plays?  What was your least favorite?

In Part I, I loved the “KS baby” scene with Louis, although that one really stumped me at first.  It’s a beautifully written scene that lasts all of two minutes but really packs a wallop.  My heart broke each night (backstage lying in the hospital bed) when Joe came out to his mom over the payphone.  And Roy Cohn’s chilling monologue to the doctor in which he demands that he has cancer (and not AIDS).  And a touching, hilarious scene at the end of Act 2 between Ella Chapter and Mother Pitt when Mother Pitt is planning to move to NYC.  And Louis’s and Belize’s café scene in Act 3 with Louis’s monologue-from-hell.  Actors Kendall Hodder and Damon Singletary nailed that comedic timing.  I was never really comfortable during the-man-in-park scene in which Prior (doubling as a hustler) has sex with Louis.   Especially when mom and dad were in the audience.  We didn’t talk about that scene afterwards over dessert. 

Part II was one big blur.  Hahaha.  That script is just crazy.   Overall, I have to hand it to our fearless director Nancy Curran Willis.  She handled the entire piece with such care, patience, and intelligence. 

Did you do any special preparation for the role?

I read Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On, which reads like a suspense thriller.  Reading it helped me to grasp somewhat the outbreak’s painful mystery for everyone involved, primarily the virus’s earliest victims.  I read some essays by Kushner.  But mostly I was religious about reading the script and defining Prior’s actions.  Line by line, word by word. 

I wanted to avoid the trap of playing only emotion, which would be so easy to do with this intense play, so I pulled out my thesaurus and pencil, and I’d saddle up at a neighborhood bar, people watch, and mark up my script.  Writing an action word for every line.  I was kind of obsessive about it.  Lol.  But it helped me stay physically in each moment.  And not get lost.  But a lot of trial and error.  My erasers got a work out!   

I know that you are also a director.  How do you choose your projects, whether it be acting or directing?

I recently made a list of genres and themes from the movies in my Netflix queue.  They include classics, period pieces, supernatural, drag, gay, journey, overcoming hardships, relationships, comedy, family dynamics, culinary, fantasy, youth, adventure, romance, and theatre.  I particularly like to direct plays and musicals that embody those themes. 

And, if the piece is a play, I like to add choreography or movement and some awesome music.  I like high concept.  I’m not really a political activist so I leave those themes for people who do it much better than me.

What have been some of your favorite roles?  What roles would you love to play?

Some favorite roles:  Prior (obvi), Sister Amnesia (Nunsense A-men), Miss Lynch (Grease), Brick (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Frankie (Forever Plaid) . . . and Peter Pan.

Some roles I’d love to do:  Tom (Glass Menagerie), Kipps (The Woman in Black), Father Flynn (Doubt), Jeffrey (Jeffrey), Brad (Rocky Horror), Atticus (To Kill a Mockingbird), either dude in Greater Tuna.

What performing or directing advice would you give young theatre professionals?

Study, read, and just do it as much as possible.  Create your own opportunities.  And, never ignore those instincts.

If I gave you $1 million (I’m not), what would you do with it?

Buy a deluxe, lake house ‘escape’ somewhere in New Hampshire.  

What inspires you?  What disappoints you?

Inspires:  Music videos, music (particularly disco), running, movies, a really good show, nature, the angels.

Disappoints:  fear of failure.

Do you have any upcoming theatrical projects or productions?

I’m directing La Cage Aux Folles at The Umbrella in Concord!  We open April 17.  Next fall, I’ll be directing once again at The [Boston] Conservatory.  Acting wise, I’m still in recovery from “Angels”.  Ha!

Do you have anything else that you would like to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Thank you for your readership and support of Boston’s diverse theatre scene!  From community all the way up to regional theatre, this city has a lot to offer its artists and audiences.  And since moving to Boston, I always have found the theatre scene very welcoming, with exciting opportunities just around the corner.  We’re lucky for such abundance. 

I hear the ‘higher ups’ in city hall are currently re-assessing the climate and health of our arts scene, and that is wonderful to hear.  I look forward to innovation and continued growth and being a part of it.