Posts Tagged ‘ARTLOG’

soothing pooches and comfort dogs

March 3, 2015

mes amis,

i recall many years ago sending out an email to some friends requesting they think good thoughts and send good energy / vibes / prayers to my mother who was undergoing a scary surgery. william burke was one of people that replied with a surprisingly heartfelt and deeply moving message. surprising, perhaps, because i did not consider him a dear friend but merely the beloved of a dear friend and so–to my limited mind of a year’s ago–he was a friend by proxy. in any case, my estimation of william changed after the brief but potent email he sent. this was a man of depth and a man who offered incredible solace while i was fretting for my maman.

since then (and before then, for that matter) i’ve always enjoyed le burke, weather (wink!) it’s when i see him hosting one of this famous polar bbqs, or out and about cheering at a doll parts concerto or guffawing at a theatrical ouvre. william is unafriad to march to his own beat, grow out his beard, or cackle when others remain silent.

his latest piece de theatre, comfort dogs, barks at jack theatre through mar. 14 and features not only his splendid wife (and aforementioned dear friend) julia sirna-frest (of doll parts lore), but also a host of other marvelous performers canine and human alike. i caught up with william and julia over email and here’s what we discussed.

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a burke, a beard, and his bronco. photo by kevin frest.


william, what sparked the idea of Comfort Dogs for you?
I read an article about a nursing home that was being over run with people who had been displaced from their home and didn’t have the means to recuperate their losses. They had been given a therapy/comfort dog who was trained specifically not to be afraid of wheels, machines and certain smells to give solace and comfort. After six months it was taken away because of lack of funding and I found that to be incredibly heartbreaking and it made me interested in exploring  why that was heartbreaking. Dogs and other pets are probably confused by us 90 percent of the time but we put such a huge expectation on them to give us comfort and solace.  We put such a personification or anthropomorphism onto dogs where we analyze the hell out of an eyebrow movement or a scratch and lay our human behavior on top the animal. I started to wonder if that is a fair thing to do. So I thought I wanted to see what it was like to create world where we put the microscope on that and see what happens.

mmm you always twist things in an interesting way. like complicating the tale of elmo in times sq. tell me, what was your writing process like?
I don’t write straight linear or plot driven plays. I depend on an emotional trajectory as opposed to an obvious throughline. Until I figure what the structure of each piece I’m kind of drowning in my own words and ideas. Levon Helms of The Band died while I was just compiling lists of dog mannerisms, needs and movements. I went down a bit of rabbit hole of The Band videos and thought he and his bandmates were very dog like.

curious! i must familiarize myself with this musical group.
They also sing songs that had very comforting or cathartic intentions behind them. I rediscovered Martin Scorsese’s concert documentary of the their last show in San Francisco. I was taken by how fluid it was and how it seamlessly moved from their performances to moments of them kind of rambling and reminiscing about certain aspects of their experiences together. I laid that over any text I had realized that the dogs should be a band and be able to try and reach people with their music. I brought the first couple pages into my writing group (Wook Taut Majesty) and heard it out loud and realized that the dogs should be reading letters from humans asking for comfort and the music could be a response. Then I got Shane Chapman to compose the music and it kind of went on from there.

Let’s talk about the dogs .. who are they? What are their tails ? (wink!)
Bluet: chihuahua. instigator. Artist living in Brooklyn. The David Greenspan of Dogs.
Gypsy: Lab mix. Grand Dame. Loves her hedge hog chew toy. The Zoe Caldwell of Dogs.
Bronco: Too many mixes to Count. Dog of the People and of the earth. Always trying to improve his craft. The Reed Birney of Dogs.

william i am obsessed with these descriptions. i have a tear in my eye. how i love these dogs and our theatrical tribe! julia, you are performing in the piece ..

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jsf is in the building. photo by kevin frest


how is it to co-star with your dog bronco? are animals hard to work with?
Working with the dogs is pretty exciting. You don’t know what they are going to do so it keeps you very present on stage which I love.

“presence is the inversion of ghosts” (#pointyreckoning. continue.)
‘Tis true. The strangest thing is Bronco is my dog so relating to him as a dog not his loving caretaker is different–I sniffed his butt one night because it was there and that is what a dog would do. All the dogs in the piece are incredible and have been a total joy to work with. I don’t know if I can ever do a tech without dogs again–it was amazing!

(perhaps this is an obvious question but .. ) what do we gain from having live animals in the piece?
jsf: There is an energy that the dogs bring that humans cannot.  There are truly always in the moment.

wb: I think the dogs are there to guide through these kind of cloudy difficult questions of existence and meaning and purpose and kind of put a mirror onto ourselves that blurs the lines between species and just accentuates idea that we all just living beings, sharing the earth together. Or…They are just fun and cute.

The Jack website says that “an ensemble of musicians and live dogs will howl, scotch and poop their way through the evening” .. what does it mean to scotch and do to Humans poop?!
jsf: It depends on the moment….

jsf: scotching is dog language. Make of it what you will. And to answer the second part of your question…Hey, shit happens.

lol! Best part of working as a couple?
jsf: Having both of my loves (William and Bronco) at tech was pretty magical.  It made the 10 hour day feel like home.

wb: This is the first time Julia has performed in my work. The best part is watching Julia using all of her personality traits, talents and quirks that I have come to love and depend on and take for granted during our over 14 years of being a couple to craft such a poignant and touching performance that has truly elevated my writing and work to place I never thought it could go.

Hardest part?
jsf: Knowing when to check my ego because I need to support William.

wb: Trying to figure a way to request that she not ask me get her water or tea while I’m focusing during Tech without getting in big trouble.

Best part of having a pet?
jsf: everything.
wb: Having a remind that you’re with a living being that is always in the moment is never concerned about the bigger things and know that we are here as companions and explorers of whatever that moment turns out to be.
Most challenging part?
jsf: This is dark but just knowing that their life span in shorter than mine make my heartache.  It’s amazing how much unconditional love I have for Bronco.
wb: Cheesy but…Sometimes you love your dog so much it hurts.
Guilty pleasures / secret influences?
Korean Action Movies. George Carlin. plus Jean Claude Van Damme Movies. Particularly Blood Sport. The Arena for the fighting Tournament is a huge influence on my design choices.
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lotta feelings in this photo. pictured: bronco. photo by kevin frest

and there you have it mes amis! i shall be attending Comfort Dogs on March 6 .. when will you be howling?
a bientot,

baals to the wall (artlog #6)

August 2, 2012

my friends and fellow world citizens–

there is much to discuss regarding the mysteries of art, silence, and speech. allow me to work backwards in time.

1. putting the rigor back in sigor rós

tuesday evening i attended un certo concerto given by icelandic band sigur rós. for many years it was a dream of mine to hear them play. (i recall a cousin’s description of seeing them strum their sounds…she had a near religious experience!) in fact, i have often considered marking down sigur rós as my religion on various forms and faxes. (the impudence to even ask a person’s religion!)

i recall first hearing the group’s mystical music at a collective sleep over in dear cape cod. ooh those salad days of late nights and early risings! it felt transcendent hearing this music–and very cool. i was amazed years later when i had the good fortune to travel to island not once but twice. the music made so much more sense seeing the other worldly moonscape of that country.

not the most moonlike of scapes but hopefully you get the drift

and the joys of introducing lovers and friends to the find sounds of sigur rós is a gift that keeps on giving…

anyhow, it was a delight to hear them play. to me, their music is about possibility. possibility of another world to live in. i imagine the elves of dear old island living in a kind of world that is unimpeded by such foolishness as gender dichotomies, class struggles, ethnic turmoils and dreary old capitalism. not to mention war and killing! hmmph! rather, i imagine a space–a universe, even–where the soul–and a searing one at that–is put to the forefront! where everyone can just exist in bliss. perhaps i wax on too much but it is the truth. that is what this kippy hears when i hear those specifically amorphous tunes.

che possibilita!

leave it to a bystander to burst the bubble of my reverie. the young woman (specimen, really) had a kind of “california voice.” you know the kind. it pieces the ear (and the air) with vapid comments and an up talk tick, not to mention an overly confident vocal fry. “i don’t know why i’m even here?” she droned. “i don’t know any songs of their except the famous one. ohmyg-d, is it starting? this is it, right? omg this is it”

ugh. i have never wanted to shhh someone so much! and yet i felt it would not have been in the kindly elfin spirit of sigur rós. so i bit my tongue.

2. baals to the wall

there was no tongue biting at hoi polloi‘s baal–only teeth gnashing! what a marvelous experience it was. everyone should go. and everyone can afford to: it is pay-what-you-can. (and you even put the $ in a can!) one can even do the can-can pre-show in the smartly decored newly minted jack space.

che spazio!

i don’t think i’ve even seen such a crazy play that “breaks all the rules” actually staged (and staged in such a manner that was similarly of an enfant terrible nature!) what a refreshing wind of misogyny that ruffled my feathers. it was almost sweet and quaint to see his treatment of les femmes  (and consider modern dramatists like mr. rapp who aren’t so far from the brechtian apple tree). let us remind these auteurs that misogyny rhymes with gynecology. hmph! go to baal to see a crazy play with similarly terrified participants. the actors careen through the space and there are many of arresting images and sounds. (not to mention a taiko drummer who thrums throughout).

one of the most deliscious moments came during a quieter scene (sadly, these ears managed to hear probably only 60% of the play’s text–but the acting and design were so good it didn’t matter) in it, the characters are in a bar having a quotidian chat and one could detect from a tiny radio operated  by an actor the sounds of a pop song.

the tune was this:

the first time i heard this ditty i was in the back seat of a cab en toot (i mean, route) to omaha, nebraska. one of my many international homelands. it was early in the morning and as the cab driver and i whizzed past hideous brooklyn billboards in the early grey morning light these words caressed my ears: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! … could it be nietzsche’s anthem applied to pop?! how horrifying and meraviglioso all at once! i wanted to burst from a brain jam. then i wanted to tap my foot.

whoever chose this song during baal is a genie.

i will write more on silence and the last 13P play in a following post. for now i am off to see the girl of the golden west.

a bien-toot!

ps. look how i have been noted on jack’s website… grazie tutti!

a FEAST for sore theatrical eyes (artlog #5)

July 13, 2012

My friends and fellow world citizens—

I first met Andrew Ondrejcak in a ratty college classroom while swapping stories about recent real life theatrical moments. Most people in the room (tutti studenti, I should say) traded tales with juicy bits of dialogue they’d overheard while waiting in line at the grocer or shuttling into the subway.

All fine stories but Andrew’s tale marched to a different colour. With a flip of his flaxen hair, and an imperceptible eye roll, Ondrejcak described a far flung road trip with friends and how, circling through the cliffs of—California? or was it Cardiff??—he listened to French hip hop while watching borgonvilla flap furiously in the wind. “You know, just really hot pink,” Andrew said in his distinctive matter- of-fact clipped manner. I do believe he was the only person in the room to mention a color in his story. And what a color it was.

bougainvillea grows in tunis, not in brooklyn

It was therefore unsurprising that when I sped off some questions about his upcoming project FEAST at Incubator Arts Project (July 13-21) he responded in signature style.

I understand FEAST is a retelling of the ancient story of “The Writing on the Wall” … Can you re-familiarize us with that tale? What about it inspired you to put pen to paper? 
I wanted to make a really high-concept play about language and philosophy and history and death and love and hate and then I told Mac Wellman the idea and he was like, “Well why don’t you write a domestic drama at a dinner table instead.”  And so I remembered this old story about a feast with some concubines and I thought that it could be fun to have a stage full of concubines. In the bible, in the book of Daniel, there is a story about a feast held by king Belshazzar and this king took some sacred cups from the temple and that pissed off God, so God brought down his wrath. The tale has been retold and illustrated by artists (most famously by Rembrandt and Handel) yet my version has one foot in the circumstance of the story and the other foot in a very contemporary view of it. 

Oh  my. I still want you to write a domestic drama at a dinner table. But enough about me. Are there other Old Testament tales you’ve adapted or is this your first? 
This is my first and, perhaps, last.

Sacre  bleu! Tell us about your all star cast, what has the rehearsal process been like? 
Our rehearsal process was brief, but 4 of the 5 primary characters have been in a number of my plays so we have a very good understanding of how I work; they were able to cut to the chance and not complain too much and not ask too many questions and that made it all pretty great for me.  

I love to cut to the chance when I can. The Incubator website says your show “focuses on the formal qualities of words and punctuation” … will non-grammarians be lost? I’m already Confucious! 
I like punctuation and I also like when actors do something interesting and unexpected with punctuation. I prefer to give punctuation as a problem to solve rather than some sort of emotional or psychological motivation. In typing this, I realize that I do not know how to spell psychological. 

My governess used a method of inventive spelling with me…You were saying?
Language is dissected into monosyllabic words and then put back together into complex phrases and run-on sentences. And there are a lot of guttural sounds people make when they are eating which I remember from sitting at the dinner table with my father and his father before him. 

The set is done by Leong Leong architecture, what’s that about? 
I am a production designer for the fashion industry and I have a strong emphasis on stage images which can often override my text. In order to force myself to focus on text rather than image, I invited some architect friends to make the stage design.

What are your secret guilty pleasure influences? 
Spreadsheets and other ways of organizing information.

That oddly makes sense to me. So will your fans Robert Wilson and Marina Abramama be in attendance? What other VIPs can we expect to spy at performances? 
My mother will be there and everyone seems to like her a lot.  

Mothers are always the best audience. At least mine sure is. Since you are a man of the continent I will wish you merde as opposed to a broken leg.
Thanks Kippy.



FEAST runs at the Incubator Arts Project July 13–21.

with performances by Okwui Okpokwasili, Yuki Kawahisa, Cara Francis, Jenn Dees, Peter Cullen & Jason Robert Winfield

Written and Directed by Andrew Ondrejcak
Stage Design by LEONG LEONG Architecture
Lights by Scott Bolman
Costumes by Adam Selman

un certo conferenza teatrale (artlog #4)

June 22, 2012

Mes amis—

Greetings from the land of beans…where there are as many toots as there are legumes! Allora, it is rare for me to report on certain things but today I simple respond to the plaintive cries of fans asking for cutting edge reportage of the Teatrino Communicazione Gruppo Conferenza!

And so it began… with a Chatty Kathy on the Bolt Bus sitting next to moi Wednesday morning. Yes, my friends, this Kippy didn’t take a train—nor a horse drawn pavilion—but an 11 dollar bus driven by a sour puss named Deborah.

“Ah-right. I g-oughtta take care-ah this guy whose goin’ crazee!” Deborah cried out to terrified passengers as a customer, who resembled a geologist, made virulent complaints. He was being forced to stand at the end of the standby line even though he had a ticket. “I have a reservation!” he wailed, flapping his pale wings and stamping a Teva-clad foot. “Buddy you arrived after the depahrture time. I’m n-ought being unfair!” Deborah retorted.

And so we rolled, the Chatty Kathy next to me regaling her youth spent working in the far East.

And so it was with great delight I returned to my home city. One of many home cities I should say, for I am an incorrigible citzen of the world! In my salad days, I do believe I attended a prom in the Boston Park Plaza hotel, official hotel of the Red Sox, which is where this conferenza is conferencing!

more ubiquitous than beans

Wednesday night, after some drawn out administrative announcements, this Kippy found herself sipping an iced tea with pals and enjoying a gluten free feast at Legal Seafoods. It felt positively illeagle!

Speaking of eagles, I have spotted few fellow eagles of the Boston College persuasion. Then again I should just look for a conventionally dressed white person. Ooh wait, that’s most preppy people in the Bean!

unpop that collar!

A prickly-yet-at-times-palatable oration was delivered by a fellow from Woolly Monmouth. He opined on the need to innovate in the theatre and asked whose job that might be. Theatre is really good in Eastern Europe, he pointed out, and that is where the directors rule the school and innovate with each theatrical oevre. Yawn and snore. Tell me something I didn’t know! In America we have an Aristotelian playwright as ruler—though, as my scribe friends can tell me—this is hardly the case! Instead, playwrights in the U.S. are subjected to a nanny state of tyranny, forced to go through endless (and pointless) cycles of development (I prefer a bicycle, fyi) and submit to silly “best intention” decision making by artistic leaders. But I editorialize.

This fellow went on to posit that theatre folk should approach projects more holistically with designers and actors being involved from the get go. A fine idea…when it actually happens! He decried the 4 week rehearsal project—no surprise there. I wanted to offer, “Sometimes the 4 hour rehearsal process is best!” but opted to keep my pie hole shut. As I bit my tongue, sitting in the Imperial Room with its ornate rug and rapt audience, I wondered which artistic leaders would act on any of this speech’s advise.

It is good to have such a speech, which incidentally largely ignored scrappy and not-so-scrappy ensembles who develop and devise work together over short and long periods of time. No mention of Porcine Irondales, the Squad–I mean TEAM–the Wooster Street Gang, Elevator Operator Repair Service and countless unnamable others… Not a single mention!

It seemed perhaps there were many former actors in the audience, furrowing brows, nodding attentively and seeming to be taking in the advice to innovate and make proper ensemble work. Let’s see if any one actually does.

I’m off to day two now and have some hard boiled eggs in my midst.

A presto!

beaucoup des choses! (artlog #3)

June 18, 2012

my friends and fellow world citizens—

il y a beaucoup .. but really beaucoup to cover in this posting! too much garret apartment hunting has made this kippy into a lazy lass when it comes to le plume. allora, let us begin.

1. uncle vanya at soho rep

i took in chekhov’s uncle vanya, in a new translation by annie baker, directed by the halcyon (wink!) sam gold, at soho rep early last week. what a production. while i was wearing a rather tarty get up, it was a great relief to discover i had my tunisian scarf/blanket/towel in my midst. what a useful tool such a swath of cloth can be. since the production is an intimate affair, i was interested in flashing neither actors nor audience members! i swaddled myself, leaned back and took in the story. and what a tale it is!

chekhov sure knew how to write ‘em. and. ms baker seems like a perfect companion to this tragician and comic-ician’s work. the close-up staging, despite one audience member’s lack of yoga practice and a sleeping foot, worked quite perfectly, especially given the fine actors who played upon the off white carpet..

that michael shannon…hubba hubbah! he could be my doctor any day. is he married? not to mention that makes-me-dizzy maria dizzia. what a star. ooh and sonya—poor sonya!—played with an understated gentle purity by the fine merritt weaver. i wonder if the character/actress is a cancer on the zodiac? for she had the fine and tender devotion of one. the other players were all quite remarkable as well. paul thureen and matt maher what verve. those songs! that reed birney could rock himself into oblivion on a ratty arm chair any day and i’d be all the luckier to watch. hmph!

dr. i need a physical!

another etoille of the evening, pour moi, was of course the inimitable mr. hilton als. if the new yorker is my lodestar, then hilton is my pilot. he presented an essay on chekhov in the over-heated theatre post-show and a rapt audience sat cross-legged and on the edge of risers listening to him opine, recall and synthesize ideas. the unlikely personal tale of racist ruffians on a train twirled back to chekhov’s dispassionate eye for observation in a most unusual and potent manner. and the final image hilton described of people walking about a train station in the midst of his own quotidian tragedy will stay with me for some time yet. i cannot wait to read mr. als’s review of the baked gold vanya. let’s have a latte soon, hilt!

est ce que tu prends un cafe avec moi?

2. ntusa’s the golden veil at the kitchen

a whippersnapper i’m in cahoots with already conducted an interview with the playwright, normandy raven sherwood, here so i will offer only what it was that i saw. another day of house hunting had left this kippy depleted, so it was with some rejuvenating zest and vigor when i ran into friends outside of the kitchen.

this west side venue is one of my faves. though it is always more of schlep to get to than it should be (damned 10th ave!) the space is indeed quite nice and some of the coolness of the meatpacking and highline districts (impossibly) rubs off on the theatre.

plus, i love the press tickets they give me.

the hip folk with asymmetrical haircuts were gathered outside on the breezy almost-summer evening. catching up, sizing up and posturing abounded. a new york scene to behold, love and loathe all at once! making my way into the theatre, i was struck by the swirling fog smoke and decorous—not to mention decorative!—curtains that hung in late 1800s style. “i love it already,” i stage whispered to a companion.

i cannot tell much of the tale beyond that it was about a young shepherdess and her lover—played with hilarious lank by ean sheehy. maggie robinson took turns as a narrate-ress, reading with olde english abandon from a book and even taking a turn conducting a silent fruit puppet theatre play. this was a story told from many points of view and my point of view was that it was a fine spectacle of a most original nature calling into examination the “simple” past with tongues firmly in cheek. stupid—but genie—staging gags abounded. my favorite included tree branches held by actors which part for one character and then suddenly impede another (the long drink of water sheehy). this antic had me slapping my knee! the final stage picture with ribbons was arresting. the music, done by jesse hawley, was quite something as well—simple eerie harmonies and melodies floated in the air and—like the fog—entranced those who bore witness.

i will say i was a bit disappointed the musicians were not in costume. the stage hands, one of whom bore a striking resemblance to ms. sherwood—wink!—,were dressed in fitting edward gorey attire and garb, so why not les musiciennes?? a tiny detail to be sorted  when this piece bows again on what i’m sure will be the international touring circuit. 2014 zagreb!

croatia’s capital

3. something by you nakai and no collective

my friends, have you ever received an email from “you?” it is a most confucius-inducing  thing to see in one’s inbox. “did I send myself something?” you wonder. then you remember: “you isn’t me, or you, but a person named ‘you!’” (who’s on first??)

anyhoo (and who) .. ((not to mention how now brown cow…!)) .. my amante had convinced me to attend a showing of no collective and participate with him as some kind of volunteer. there were a number of emails sent with directions about how to greet the audience. naturellement, i didn’t read any of these. this kippy is too busy attending an office mondays through fridays and keeping up with personal correspondences to be bothered with such details!

i arrived at the incubator arts project—that building which boasts the most specific of smells—with my chicken enchiladas from san loco. mmm i’m loco for san loco. you (the person, not you the reader, mind you!) was holding court with a number of female volunteers. my man was no where to be seen. “you will have a conversation with the audience on a telephone and relay the information to your friends,” you told everyone. “you have to guess what is going on inside the theatre but at no point are you to improvise. please, don’t try to be funny.” i knew this direction would be most difficile for my beloved, who has been known to hijack performances—not to mention seders—on occasion!

you intoned at length going over a myriad of rules and regulations about how the performance would proceed. i was confucious to the extreme and salivated over my enchiladas. finally i could concentrate no more, plopped myself on a bench wielding fork and knife and dug in.

the resulting performance was a most strange one, wherein audience members were led into the theatre and seated by the “volunteers,” of which i was one. we folded up all the empty chairs and tucked them away. then, the volunteers exited the theatre and made phone calls to two of the audience members. (were these audiences plants? one cannot know.) we asked them a series of questions to find out what was happening inside, what kind of music was being played, etc.) then we entered, silenced the noise making instruments and switch boards and bowed. when some audience members left the volunteers replaced them, and more phone calls ensued. all the while two young boys (9-year-olds dressed as techies) marched around the theatre sushshing and hushing anyone on a phone or futzing with an instrument/switch board. the result created a kind of zany concept performance which devolved into an increasingly pointless anarchic event. perhaps it would have been more fun had i felt in on the joke or had a wall of fatigue not struck me down.

my main food group

4. what i wish i’d seen: pig pile and will eno’s title and deed

in my salad days of high school my amici and i would sojourn in cape cod. on these revelrous—and highly tame, not to mention nerdy—excursions we’d call out “pig pile!” and topple atop one of our unsuspecting friends. it was always a glorious belly laugh of a time that produced strong feelings of kinship and camaraderie. another pig pile is afoot of late, helmed by ms. sibyl kempson. i’ve had the good fortune of tooting about with ms. kempson and she is a playwright (and performer) to behold. the pig pile brings together such fine austin talents as jenny larson, rubber repertory folk and composer graham reynolds. had I not been ‘neath a golden veil, i’d have surely scooted north to new dramatists to catch the latest iteration in which I am told todd london himself performed! i look forward to catching pig pile’s full iteration at austin’s fusebox festival in the years to come.

also i am very sad i missed will eno’s title and deed. sigh, harrumph and quel dommage. with any luck, will and i will play tennis soon enough and over some small ball or a good old fashioned rally, he’ll tell me how it went.

only the best playwrights play tennis

c’est tout..ciao for now..!

ps go see space/space while you can.

a good year for gingers (artlog #2)

June 10, 2012

mes amis

i’ve scooted around with the likes of jess barbagallo and chris giarmo, starlets of new york city’s downtown theatre scene, for a number of years now. they are as cute and talented as they are smart-as-whips and funny to boot. naturellement, it’s with great excitement and curiosity that i look forward to their upcoming collaboration in 2012’s ice factory at the ohio theatre.

good year for hunters–and for gingers too, i might add!–plays june 27-30 and owes influence to tori amos’s 1992 album, “little earthquakes.” the show is described as “a queer horror play about a mysteriously orphaned brother and sister who fall in love with a closeted husband and wife in a world of fractured time and secrets.” quel horreur … and queer horror! this sounds like the stuff of memorable theatre making…

les petites earthquakes!

long time pals chris and jess are sure to leave audiences with big ideas to mull over (and carpets to munch on!) as well as belly aches from laughter over clever twists, turns and delightful players who alight the stage. yes, my friends, they have assembled an all star terrific team of collaboratorrés: including mike cacciatore, tina satter and becca blackwell: just look at this punim!

gingers always get the last laugh

i caught up with the dazzling duo over the interwebs recently for a brief q&a and here’s what they (mostly jess, i believe) said.

This is not your first time collaborating … is it? Can you talk about your artistic relationship? You two met in college, n’est pas?
Chris and I met when we were sophomores in college. A for real meeting. I think we got high and I came out to him. Over the course of the next three years, we made a lot of performance art together and did a Charles Busch bit for a scene study class. Highlights include a video piece called Haiku d’Etat and Chris dropping me (naked) repeatedly on a studio floor.

Let’s have a repeat performance of that! J/k. That sounds most painful…! Anyhoo, what proved to be so influential about Tori Amos’s “Little Earth Quakes” … does she bear any relation to Famous Amos of the cookie empire? Will Tori Amos come to see the play?
I wish I knew more about cookies. I like to eat them, especially Mrs. Fieldsat Penn Station. Tori was a big deal for me and Chris because he’s a fag and I had my first formative lesbian experiences listening to that album. I wish she would come. Do you have her e-mail address?

Bien sûr! I will see if Tori is in town and be sure to invite her. Tell fans a bit about the story of the play and the artistic process–Jess did you write this piece and Chris are you doing the music?
Chris and I wrote the first draft of the show together five years ago. Then I was asked to do an artist-in-residence at favorite downtown incubator, Dixon Place.

Suck up!
We spent three months earlier in the year at Dixon Place tackling the old script. After we broke, I re-wrote the second half of the play because I realized that we had done some serious growing up since the last incarnation. Chris has contributed sound ideas, but Mike Cacciatore is actually designing.

That sounds excellent…wish I could have seen the early stages at Dixon. I understand Half Straddle’s Tina Satter is acting in this production … ?! How did this come about?
Elizabeth Dement, an amazing dancer and frequent collaborator of Big Dance Theater, originated the role of Candace in the show. When we first began working on the piece, we had no idea we would be picked up by the Ice Factory Festival and unfortunately, Liz couldn’t continue because she had another summer gig. We auditioned several amazing actresses, but I wanted Tina because she resonates a kind of vulnerability so in keeping with the tone of the larger work.

Aye, that Teeny is a ruby in the rough. So, do you have any secret/guilty pleasure artistic influences?? Dish!
I like Robyn and the film Wave Babes.

I won’t pretend I know what those are…anything I’m leaving out??
Please come to our show!

Wouldn’t miss it for the world!

Good Year for Hunters runs June 27-30 at the new Ohio Theatre at 7pm. Tickets $18 for adults and $12 for students/seniors

Story by Jess Barbagallo & Chris Giarmo
Written by Jess Barbagallo
Additional Writing by Chris Giarmo
Directed by Jess Barbagallo & Chris Giarmo
Sound design by Mike Cacciatore

un peu de arts writing (artlog #1)

June 7, 2012

mes amis–

you may be alarmed by the capital letters i employ in the below posting. fret not! this is an example of what a postess with the mostess might look like were i to win an arts writing grant. let us keep our fingers crossed! or, as they say in il bel paese, “incrociamo le ditte!”

Kippy Composite #2

Omaha Stakes

The Great Plains Theatre Conference gets site-specific

By Kippy Winston

Mes amis

Travels, travails and le théâtre recently landed me in Nebraska. The bread basket of gli stati uniti is a dear place to me. As a girl I imagined an Atlantis—and antithesis!—to my East Coast upbringing.

I recall wailing to my parents, while fitfully filling out college applications, “Why don’t we live in Omaha? That way I’d only apply to Nebraska State and the University of Nebraska and stay with all my friends!” (Ten percent of my high school class attended Wesleyan—a fact that horrifies and fills me with pride.)

As Atlantis would have it, for the past three summers I’ve joyously attended the Great Plains Theatre Conference (emphasis on Great!). First I went as a giornalista (see American Theatre’s 2011 May/June issue), then as an attrice (I performed a monologue by Sibyl Kempsonc’est vrais!) and most recently I tooted about as a composite artista. Yes, my friends.  I moderated panels, led a post-show talk back, acted in a few readings and performed in a piece of my own terrifying writing.

2012 marked a new direction for the GPTC. It said farewell to traditional theatre halls and embarked on an ambitious site-specific component. The results were resoundingly successful with only one flopping flailure. (That’s a failure that flails!) Thank heavens, the flailure was not malevolent—just full of rookie mistakes. Each show gained momentum and verve and the Great Omaha Stakes.


Kira Obolensky’s Raskol, a riff on Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, bowed in Omaha’s Burlington Train Station—a cavernous, crumbling structure whose stage possibilities seemed limitless. The première problem pour moi, however, was the creation of a set. Why not use the abandoned station’s corners and crevasses? If it is site-specific embrace the site, do not build something else. We may as well have been in a black box with the bed and cubist set. In fact, a black box would have better suited this production whose articulateness and artfulness was lost in echoes of the spacious train station.

Quel dommage—for this was a production to be heard! (not just seen) and Obolensky’s vowels and consonants bounded around heads but not into ears. I cannot comment on the script since I couldn’t hear it—and what a Crime and Punishment that is!

Take heart. This year GPTC hosted its first ever Design Wing, helmed by such tech genies as Peter Ksander and Justin Townsend. One imagines this Design Wing will take flight (!) in future years and include sound designers (from which Raskol would have immensely benefited.)

Raskol was not without rapscallion elements to enjoy. Take, for example, the changing color palate behind the enormous once-ornate train station windows. The setting twilight tones became purple and blue before darkening into a most beautiful jade. I yearned for a tornado!

burlington train station of omaha


Constance Congdon’s Tales of the Lost Formicans was slated to be performed on a prairie hill but driving rains moved the show indoors to Creighton University’s Lied Center for the Arts. C’est la vie… et la pluie!

What a marvelous and moving play. The actors were tip top—I particularly enjoyed Erika Hall’s crimped hair and hot pink 1985 jacket. I suspected such stylings were at the behest of the actress and when I caught up with Erika later that evening at a GPTC porch party, my intuitions were confirmed.

In a post-show talkback I learned that Congden wrote the tragicomic, alien-narrated Formicans (about life in the suburbs) in a swift two months. Listening to the playwright talk about her life and artistic process was most moving. Not an eye was dry! Director Cindy Melby Phaneuf also took a tearful turn discussing the play.

These days, with so many shows that wink and smile at audiences in self-aware insouciance of a post-dramatic nature, it was refreshing to experience a smart, narratively curious play that nevertheless managed to pull on heart strings despite non-traditional trappings like narration by aliens!

Apparently the prairie set had a Cadillac for the road trip scenes: le sigh! Audiences got to see the show bow the next night in prairie land…but this Kippy was on top of a parking garage. Quel horreur!

some drive, others are driven


Before anyone saw it, Jeanette Plourde’s YOU’RE LOOKING GOOD (cabin pressure) inspired dread. Plourde had made a nervy showing at a lunchtime panel discussion the day before her show’s debut, proclaiming, “I have no idea what it is you will see!” with Elaine Benes herky jerky flair. Perhaps it was a foreshadowing of the dance show to come? Buzz indicated Plourde and her actors only managed eight rehearsals on a parking gararge roof in sweltering heat. Plus, there was nervousness that Plourde was filling in for the inimitable David Neumann, who had been pulled away to choreograph a Broadway-bound Sponge Bob Square Pants. [c’est vrais…!]

It was a brisk 55 degrees Fahrenheit the evening of YOU’RE LOOKING GOOD. Audiences sat in two groups facing one another atop the garage, including such VIPs as playwrights Kira Oblensky, Rebecca Gillman and Omaha-based playwright Ellen Stuve, who snuggled and huddled under a large comforter of an orange blossom pattern.

The performance began 30 minutes late. Hmph! This is irksome and most disrespectful to audiences, yet, a small part of me loves the ostentatious disregard for time, the sheer rudeness. Late starts always raise audience expectation and consternation.

Communque, Allora and Nevertheless, Plourde’s team of talented young movers and shakers proved that patience inspires virtue. First the actors—each more cute than the last—performed a bike parade with commedia like characters and animus. One girl, in harlot red lipstick, gave a bored expression while pushing up the incline. A sultry toss of her curls sent a ripple of laughter throughout the audience. Another young woman wore an exasperated expression and huff-hunched over her vehicle, the bun atop her head bobbing all the way. In a poetic turn of gleeful mishap, her skirt later got caught in the wheel of her bike. Watching this simple parade reminded me of how fine commedia and clowning can be when done with such precision and committment. Bravi!

Later a rolling luggage dance had actors moving, courting and caressing their bags. Plourde purred into the microphone, “Aaaaand blossom like a flower,” as the actors obeyed and their luggage trailed behind them. A shopping cart sequence produced the sounds of simpler times—new grocery store carts made of plastic don’t create the same cacophonous, tinny rattle on cement that older models do.

[Later, at another infamous porch party, I caught some iPhone footage of the show a wily onlooker had taken. In it, an elderly patron “walked out” by wheeling herself away on a rocker. It looked strikingly like the performance—as if her walker were a shopping cart. Ho!

A clown car bonanza face off was another highlight for this Kippy, but the final moment was the best. The actors lit a miniature hot air balloon made of magenta paper and sent it skyward. Not only was this image beautiful and arresting but—like the performance itself—it defied logic.

paper hot air balloon

the one i saw was hot pink


2012’s honored playwright Rebecca Gilman—or Old Gillyboots as I like to call her!—rounded out the shows. The Crowd You’re in With is smart-as-a-whip funny with great one-liners and caustic jibes about bourgeois issues set in a backyard BBQ. In other hands, this play might have been a tired look at white people and their middle class problems. (yawn) [(Fears and anxieties over societal pressure/expectation to have children abound in le script.)] But potential triteness was cleverly subverted with a nearly all black cast. Under Denise Chapman’s sly direction, the ensemble elevated what might otherwise have been philistine sitcomish language into something subtly profound. By not talking about race, the play reached new depths, heights, and shades of meaning—even, perhaps, pointing to possibility.

I was also most charmed by the actors who delivered such lines as “A diaper cake isn’t something you eat,” and “You thought George Elliot was a man,” with dignity, zest and great aplomb.

i hankered for a burger!

The heartland comes with its own set of perils: tornadoes, gluten, and a penchant to talk about new plays in an Aristotelian—and increasingly outdated—model. (No offence to my fine Greek feathered friend!) Nevertheless, GPTC producing artistic director Kevin Lawler and his band of cohorts are moving in interesting directions. They are getting out of the black box and opening up stages for the community and its members.

At the first performance I attended an older gentleman with a monastic haircut asked me why so many people were wearing name badges. He didn’t know about the conference—he was just grateful to learn about free theatre performances from the local paper. “My daughter did a bunch of theatre in high school,” he recalled fondly. I spotted him in cheerful attendance at each subsequent show and we waived to each other each time.

a bientot!