Let’s Chat! With Nikole Beckwith @ Colt Coeur

HEY Y’ALL! theater-words is back! After a summer hiatus, it’s time to dust the footlights… so LET’S GO!

photo by Dave Thomas Brown

photo by Dave Thomas Brown

First up for the fall is Colt Coeur’s Everything Is Ours, the funny/sad story of a sorta happy couple facing a very unexpected new member. (Favorite line: “I’m not crying — my eyes are allergic to feelings.”) Artistic Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt helms the production which runs thru September 21st at HERE. (You may remember the interview Campbell-Holt gave theater-words for Colt Couer’s last show — it’s a great read available HERE.)

Everything Is Ours playwright Nikole Beckwith was nice enough to answer some questions about her current play, as well as London vs. New York and what to see this season. Check it out…

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What was the inspiration for Everything is Ours?
I sat down to write it because I wanted to write the play that I most wanted to be in. Also, I learned from my mom that you are never really ready to have kids and I learned from my youngest sister that you are never really ready to be one, either.

In the play, an egg donor is presented with her biological daughter, and asked to take her in. If you were in a similar situation, what would you do?
Probably what happens in the play. I’d like to think I can rise to any occasion. With comedic timing.

The design is very striking in its off-kilter way. Did you always envision the set that way, or did it come in collaboration with set designer John McDermott?
I didn’t talk with John before the show, but I’m sure Adrienne did. A close friend of mine came to first preview and said, “It looks just like your first apartment in New York,” (where I lived when I wrote the play), and though I hadn’t thought about it before, she was right. The colors and feeling were very much the same, though my apartment didn’t have additions or tilted/odd sized doors. So John is just a very intuitive designer.  And a fair amount of the set dressing comes from my own home.

What is it like to work with Colt Coeur?
It’s great and exciting. They work really hard and really fast. I think we rehearsed two weeks for this show, and they built that set in two days — it’s crazy. They really go for it. And they are all also very charming and nice to be around, which is equally as important if you ask me. The cast and creatives and behind the scenes are all terrific human beings, putting so much of themselves into this work. It’s wonderful to be a part of.

You’ve done some work in London. What is it like to be a playwright over there versus in the States?
Theater happens so fast there. I wrote a play [Seven Sisters] at the National Theatre Studio January – March, and by May it was slotted to premier at the Royal Court Theatre in July. The RC came to The Studio, saw the reading, and programmed it based on the reading. They don’t have the same development culture we have; they like a play, they do it. Also, everyone sees plays there, everyone. Theater is much more a part of their pop culture and national identity than it is for us. They devour plays the way we devour movies and television. So, being a playwright in London feels a bit like being a part of a much bigger picture.

You write/draw comics in addition to plays. Are the skills needed for one similar to those needed for the other?
Kind of. It’s telling a story in a finite amount of time. It’s actually more similar to film than it is playwriting because the writing of it is so visual and you are telling the viewer where to look and what to see. Whereas on stage one audience member can have a completely different experience than the person next to them, based on what jumps out at them, who they are watching and how. When I’m writing a comic or a film, I give you your window and open it only as much as I want to. When I write a play, I leave the door wide open.

Seen any good theater lately?
MR BURNS at Playwrights Horizons. It is huge, and scary and true, while also being magical and funny and almost other worldly. But we are that world. I can’t recommend it enough.

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Find more info about Everything is Ours HERE.

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LET’S CHAT! Joshua Conkel & “The House of Von Macramé”

Yes, that's a Snicker's bar... (photo by Crystal Arnette)

Note the Snickers bar. (photo by Crystal Arnette)

Without question the wittiest, best-dressed bunch of bitches currently playing New York is the cast of The House of Von Macramé, a “pop horror fashion show” currently strutting its stuff at the Bushwick Starr. The musical is a grunge-glitzy slasher with generous doses of kitschy sass and bite, and springs from the talent of playwright Joshua Conkel, composer Matt Marks, and director Nick Leavens. Conkel, known for the plays MilkMilkLemonade and The Chalk Boyrecently answered some questions via email about the show, the state of theater, and where to find one especially potent piece of costuming—the vagina jegging.

Where did the idea for Von Macramé come from?
I’ve wanted to write something with built-in runway shows since college. I love fashion, and costumes are always one of the things little theaters have to skimp on. I wanted to write a show that celebrated costumes, that paraded them.

When I got invited to make work for The Bushwick Starr about a year and a half ago, I knew I could do whatever I wanted. Nobody could say no. The most painful thing for me as a playwright is people saying “no.” (When you’re relying on theaters to produce your work, but your work is naturally sort of crazy and queer, it can be really frustrating.) Whether explicit or not, a pressure has started to build to begin writing smaller, more naturalistic plays.

The House of Von Macrame is very, very me. I got to toy with clothes, blood, new wave music, camp… all the weird things that I’m passionate about. For better or worse, it’s probably the most pure expression of my obsessions and interests as I’ll ever write, and that’s because nobody could say no to me.

The show began in a serialized format at the Flea Theatre. How did those beginnings shape its development?
Most of the characters and a lot of the jokes come directly from The Flea serial. It pained me to have to cut some favorite characters, like a model named Corvette Summers who was actually a killer android, or kooky plot lines, like Topaz’s secret anal pregnancy.

The structure of a successful serial and a successful two act play are very different, but the new musical does contain a lot of those fun, soap opera-ish elements. In the end I probably kept too much of the serial, and now begins the long slog of perfecting the show.

Joshua Conkel House of Von Macrame The Management

Conkel

You’re better know for your straight plays. What were the major challenges in making a musical?
Well, I don’t know about “straight.” Most of my work is pretty over-the-top and kitschy. MilkMilkLemonade, for example, is about five seconds from being a musical. It even has built-in dance breaks.

Our composer, Matt Marks, and I have so much in common. We both love disco, girl groups, new wave and horror films. We both have an interest in work being less pretentious and “dumber” if that makes sense. Working together was so natural and right.

The challenges on working on a musical, for me, are logistical. It costs a lot more, takes more time and there’s a greater chance that things can go wrong just because you’re spinning so many plates. This shit is hard. Just sitting with Matt Marks and director Nick Leavens and dreaming up songs or tasteless jokes? That part is easy and fun.

What’s it like being the producer AND the playwright? [Conkel is co-artistic director of The Management, which is producing Von Macramé.]
My greatest successes have been plays I produced myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so happy I’m a widely produced playwright. I’m so, so lucky to get produced as often as I do and in so many cool places around the globe. But the old adage comes to mind: if you want something done right, do it yourself.

I think it’s really useful to produce your own work, particularly in first productions. It gives a chance to work on things. Then you can perfect it by trial and error and send it out to other people. This was my model for MilkMilkLemonade and it worked really well.

Now we’re working on The House of Von Macramé. After this production closes we’ll make some tweaks and cuts and hopefully be able to send it on to somebody else to produce. We already have interests in out-of-town producers, so it’s looking hopeful.

Of course another part of this equation is the audience. I’ve built a perfect support for my work over the years and have a strong following that is young, queer, adventurous etc. If any of my wilder plays, like The House of Von Macramé, premiere before a general audience, they tend not to do as well. In short, these are cult plays and written for the cult. The cult nurtures and supports the work and sometimes it can move onto a general audience and sometimes it can’t. But this is the only way I’ve found to do adventurous work.

photo by Kate Hess

photo by Kate Hess

I love how some of your plays have this fascination with pop culture. What is it about that world that interests you?
Really, all of my plays are rooted in pop culture because I live here and now. The simplest reason is that I love it. I love B movies, comic books, pop music, fashion, television… I tend not to separate high and low brow culture and none of my pleasures are guilty.

In a larger context, I’m kind of floored by the theater’s unwillingness to move forward, by its obsession with the past. This is just my opinion, but our devotion to Shakespeare and Chekhov and Ibsen is killing us. Even most new plays I see feel dusty as shit to me and now it’s getting worse because everybody is falling in love with naturalism again and every new play is about rich honkies on vacation. Blergh.

I know it’s just my personal taste, I know, but there it is.

Where do you think “VM” lives in relation to other pop-horror musicals like, say, Carrie or Little Shop?
I actually don’t know Carrie at all, but I was obsessed with Little Shop as a kid. I still know every lyric and line of that show and—I’m not afraid to say it—I think it’s as moving as it is funny.

“(Downtown) Skid Row” is the best chorus number ever, as far as I’m concerned. I think of it all the time when I walk along Broadway in South Williamsburg, with its above ground J Train, and I’m feeling particularly down and out.

In terms of other musicals, I think we owe a debt to Richard O’ Brien, who created Rocky Horror. Having said that, the musicals that Matt and Nick and I discussed the most are relatively obscure. They were Phantom of the Paradise, a 1970’s take on Phantom of the Opera, and O’Brien’s follow-up to Rocky HorrorShock Treatment, a criminally maligned and overlooked new wave musical. God, Shock Treatment is good. I wish more people appreciated it.

What’s your favorite model/housewives TV show?
I love them all. I watch basically anything Bravo puts out, but I have a special place in my black little heart for Kim from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. She’s such a tragic figure, and any shot of her riding in a limo alone after being ditched for the thousandth time is like food for me.

Did you make macramé as a child? (Because I definitely did.)
Actually, I didn’t. I didn’t do anything, really, except watch television. A childhood well spent!

And, most importantly, where can I buy a pair of vagina jeggings?
Maybe the costume designer Tristan Raines would make you a pair. You may have found a really lucrative business venture for him.

The House of Von Macrame Joshua Conkel The Management

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LIKE WHAT YOU SEE? YOU MIGHT ENJOY…
The Carrie Counter
Let’s Chat! with Adrienne Campbell-Holt

The House of Von Macramé runs through Februay 16th; find ticket info HERE.

Let’s Chat! with the BASiC Theatre Project


Between Under the Radar and COIL, January is the month for downtown theater. But those two festivals aren’t the only place to get your wintry, under-14th Street fix: The BASiC Theatre Project is having a go at Elizabeth Meriwether’s The Mistakes Madeline Madea 2006 play about twenty-somethings, loss, and growing up in the post-9/11 era.

Mistakes Madeline Made

I recently spoke with BASiC artistic director Zi Alikhan about the play, his company, and about Meriwether, who, since first writing Madeline, has made it big in Hollywood, penning the screenplay for No Strings Attached and creating the Fox sitcom New Girl. Here’s what Alikhan had to say.
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On first encountering the play…
I read Madeline in a class called Contemporary American Playwrights [at NYU] in fall 2008. The class was such a cool experience, but I was having a hard time identifying with any of the playwrights or their plays. It wasn’t until I read Liz’s plays that I was like, “Oh shit, this is a girl who’s not much older than me, who’s lived a very similar experience to me.”

Then she came to the class and was this awkward girl in big glasses who lived in Williamsburg. I was like, “You’re awesome—you’re just like every girl I see walking down the street!”

On Elizabeth Meriwether…
She’s been really supportive of the project. We were having a very hard time getting the rights to the play because her agents didn’t want a young theater company doing her work right now, when she’s so hot. So I wrote directly to her and said, “I’ve loved your plays for the past five years, and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do right now.”

On the play
Madeline is about being in your early twenties, about being in New York City, and not having any idea of your sense of purpose. It’s also about a generation of young adults surrounded by constant war, feeling kind of desensitized to it, and what it means when war personally affects you.

On New Girl…
Yes, I am a New Girl fan—I started watching it and I still dabble in it. That being said, I think Elizabeth’s writing for the stage is what drew me to her in the first place. She’s such a strong stage writer. I actually think this is why she writes so well for someone like Zooey Deschanel—she really likes eccentricity.

On BASiC…
As much as it’s about creating theater, I’ve always been interested in creating community, and I think that’s what we’re doing.

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The Mistakes Madeline Made runs through January 20th at the Theatre at the 14th Street Y
Click here for more info; here for tickets
Interview has been edited and condensed

 

 

Let’s Chat! with Jay Montgomery


Superstorm Sandy did more than ravage the infrastructure of the Tristate area; it threw a major wrench in the schedules of pretty much ever theater production in the region. Especially hard hit was Staten Island’s Harbor Lights Theater Company, whose production of The King and I was thrown in jeopardy when Sandy settled in. Associate Artistic Director Jay Montgomery was nice enough to answer some questions about the challenges Harbor Lights now faces. 

What have been the physical and financial impacts of Sandy?
Harbor Lights produces at Snug Harbor Cultural Center, a New York City Park. When the Mayor shut down the parks, we were shut down, also. We lost six days of build and tech time, as well as rehearsal. We delayed our opening a week, and then another day when Snug Harbor was closed due to the Nor’easter, finally opening Friday, November 9th. We have to close on the 18th, rather than extend a week, due to the unavailability of the cast the next week, which is Thanksgiving.

Financially, we lost a third of our run—we’re a new company in our third season, the only Equity company in the history of Staten Island—and a three-week run is what we’ve built up to in our short history. The loss of revenue puts us in real peril. We estimate the loss at $30,000.

Has the state provided any aid?
The state hasn’t provided any aid as of yet. We do intend to pursue support if available. As of yet, we have not found any sources to help with loss of revenue.

How did your creative team manage to work on the show while public transportation was shut down?
The creative team worked electronically through the storm’s aftermath. Getting to SI was impossible for days—we drove to our Stage Manager’s house—she had power—to recharge and do administrative work.

How can New Yorkers help you guys out?
New Yorkers can help by coming to see the show! One of the great things the arts can do is promote healing, and this production certainly does that.

Have you been in touch with other theaters impacted by the storm?
We have been in touch with other theaters indirectly through David Lotz of Actors’ Equity; he has been spearheading communication throughout the area.

Moving away from the hurricane, what are the challenges for a young company like yours?
Our biggest challenge is simply carrying on. This production of The King and I was a strategic choice to get us to the next level in audience development. We invested significant money in advertising and production value — specifically choosing a classic piece of theater. Besides the loss of four performances, the last thing on the mind of Staten Islanders right now is to do anything pleasurable, and with good reason. This has caused a slow down in ticket sales for remaining performances resulting in additional loss of income. Whether or not we can survive the financial loss is unknown, but we remain determined to have a glorious closing week.

We’ve offered blocks of tickets to displaced people, relief staff, and volunteers in Staten Island to two of our performances  encouraging them to let us transport and lift them for an afternoon or evening; Harbor Lights was created to be an institution to serve the community, by bringing the arts to our underserved borough. We hope to continue to fulfill that mission.

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The King and I plays through November 18th at The Music Hall at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden
Tickets are available HERE.
More at http://theharborlightstheatercompany.org/
Hurricane photo, above, courtesy of NASA
Pictured below: Hansel Tan and YoonJeong Seong in the Harbor Lights production of The King and I.

Let’s Chat! with Adrienne Campbell-Holt

Enough about the Tonys, already—let’s go back Off-Broadway!

While lots of big, downtowny institutions sit dark over the summer, plenty of scrappier companies buckle down and brave the hot months. Case and point: Colt Coeur, a can-do ensemble founded in 2010 now on its third production, Eliza Clark’s Recall.

Colt Coeur’s first outings, Steven Levinson’s Seven Minutes from Heaven and Lucas Kavner’s Fish Eye, earned the company the kind of pull quotes many an uptown theater would kill for. The Times called Heaven “so real you almost believe it was written by one of its characters” and New York Magazine titled its review of Fish Eye, “Bringing Sexy Back to Off-Broadway.”

Behind this bringing back of sexy is artistic director and founder Adrienne Campbell-Holt, who directed all three productions. I chatted with her after catching a preview of Recall, a chilling, dystopian take on childhood psychosis (think We Need to Talk About Kevin meets Minority Report). Our phone conversation covered the play, the downtown scene, falling scenery, and everything in between. Enjoy excerpts, below.

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Why did you want to produce Recall?

I’ve always been a bit of sci-fi nerd—I love Philip K. Dick—so when my agent sent me the script, I fell in love with it right away. I had also just read the book Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, which made me feel drawn to Recall’s alternate presence world and the menacing possibilities of it. I also really loved the book The Road, and I felt Eli’s writing had elements of that sci-fi alternate presence, while also being really firmly grounded in reality and truth. At its core it’s a mother/daughter story, a love story where all the characters are trying to protect someone.

The play’s pretty freaky—how do you go about making scary theater?

In theater there’s this opportunity to let things go unseen—it’s scarier what we don’t see, like in The Blair Witch Project. So, [in the play’s climactic final moments] not seeing the room fill with water is scarier and makes us think of more different things. Some people have said, “It made me think of the gas chambers,” or, “It made me think of burning people.” All these horrible things!

It’s so delicate. If we had a much a greater budget and unlimited resources, maybe we would’ve had to choose to be sort of expressionistic. Instead, our constraints forced us in that direction.

What’s the terrain like for young companies like Colt Coeur—is New York hospitable, or are things tough?

You probably got a sense on Saturday night of how tough things are. Everybody worked around the clock in the few days before previews started to build the set, but part of it fell on an actor’s head five minutes before 8 o’clock. That’s terrifying for me because, of course, safety first, and because it rattles the company. That night was also a really small house, and we had been full the night before—I feel like that’s representative of how hard and uneven it is.

When I was twenty two, I started a company in New York called Nest. It did well and it was fun, but I was naïve and had no idea how hard it was. When I started this company, I was in a different place maturity-wise and with connections, and it really helped to start it wish a group of artists that I trusted. I think that’s the most important thing when you’re starting a company, that you’re all working around the clock for zero dollars, and believe in it, and that you’re having a good time with each other.

Fortunately, the first two shows were received well. Some of the powers that be, like the Roundabout people, have been really positive, which helps. Also, a lot of the actors in the shows ended up signing with big agents and our costume designer just won a Tony for Peter and the Starcatcher. So, it’s cool that they still want to work on these shows.

Do you get the sense that the things for downtown companies are different now than they were 10 or even 20 years ago?

I used to work at the Wooster Group, and when they would talk about the 60s and 70s, I would get so jealous and nostalgic for that time—it must’ve been great for there not to be like 300 million different downtown theater companies! Now there are just so many.

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