Company Theatre’s Director of Development Michael Hammond discusses returning to indoor theatre and the power of positivity to conquer your next audition

Michael Hammond may change the way you look at life.  Are you afraid of the audition?  He’ll show you a way to succeed.  Having a bad day?  He’ll show you a way to lift your spirits.  As the new Director of Development at the Company Theatre, a role he calls a lifelong dream, his positivity may help others the way Company Theatre has helped him since childhood. 

The Company Theatre, located at 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, joyously held their first indoor production since their absorbing musical, Fun Home early last year.  Rock of Ages was an edgy and energetic rock jukebox musical that took place last month.  See Rock of Ages review here and click here for Sleepless Critic’s full podcast.

Sleepless Critic:  Please tell me what it was like to be back in the indoor setting for Rock of Ages

Michael Hammond: It’s so fantastic.  It’s emotional, exciting, and the energy in the air was just electric.  You were there.  You saw it.  People were cheering and screaming.

The show starts with Sally Forrest’s voice doing her standard announcement which we are all accustomed to hearing.  It was such a welcome back and to hear her voice and I think people cheered over her entire announcement.  Just to be back inside, hear that familiar voice, and to know we’re about to see a really fun and exciting show was just great.

SC:  I know this was the opening weekend for indoor theatre, but you did have some outdoor theatre experiences like Avenue Q before this show. 

MH:  Avenue Q was incredible.  The kids were so talented.  Their commitment to what they were doing and their characters were dynamic.  It was Broadway-type quality coming out of these kids on the outdoor stage of the Company Theatre out back.  We have had other things like Divas with a Twist and Donny Norton’s band, The New Band there.  That’s been a really nice addition to the Company Theatre as well as now being back inside.

SC:  So getting back to Rock of Ages, you had your opening weekend and you felt like everything went as smooth as can be?

MH:  Absolutely!  So many new people in this show and as is typical of the Company Theatre, they are already saying this is my new home.  It’s this overwhelming feeling that you’re home and you found your family at the Company Theatre even if you did one show and you never come back, it still feels that way.  I’ve been involved since I was 19 years old. 

Shane Hennessey as Stacee Jaxx Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  I was going to say that you are familiar with that feeling.

MH:  I’m very familiar with that feeling.  I don’t know what my life would have been like without Company Theatre.  I would have taken a completely different path. 

SC:  It’s hard to replicate the kind of friendly and welcoming atmosphere you have when you’re in theatre.

MH:  Absolutely!  Such a nice group of people too that do theatre especially the teens.  They just stay out of trouble.  They have a common goal they are working towards and they enjoy each other’s company and make lifelong friendships.  I can’t say enough about it.

I’ve just seen so many kids, even this summer just come through the doors and they leave just completely changed and confident and more themselves.  It’s just a beautiful thing to witness.

SC:  When you said you had been with Company Theatre pretty much your whole life, you said it was a lifelong dream to do something like this as the Director of Development now.  I’m really excited for you.

MH:  Thank you!  Like a lot of people during the pandemic, you start to question ‘Am I doing what I want with my life?  Is this fulfilling and rewarding?’  Like many people, I came to the conclusion that what I was doing was not for me anymore. 

It had run its course and I needed something new and Jordie Saucerman, one of the founding partners of the Company Theatre, had passed away and that really accelerated my thought process because her wake was attended by so many people.  I thought ‘Look at all the lives that she touched.’  The impact that Jordie had on people is immeasurable.  Even if I make just a little sliver of that impact on people, I would feel great about my life.  That set the wheels turning. 

I approached Zoe one day and said, ‘I will be your janitor.  I basically don’t care what you have me do, if there is a spot for me here, I am coming.’  That seed was planted awhile ago and it sort of blossomed into Director of Development.  I’m so excited to try new things and just give back what I got from this theatre. 

SC:  Not only that, but you have a similar positive way about you like Jordie had.  Where do you get your positive outlook from?  Where do you draw it from considering I’ve also seen videos of you on social media?

I’m not attempting to fill Jordie’s shoes in any way.  That’s not a task that anyone could accomplish.  She is a unique individual who I feel is still around in the atmosphere and in the joy of the theatre.  If I’m upset or have a bad day, it makes me feel better to brighten someone else’s day.  That is such a nice feeling to buy someone in line a coffee or just compliment someone or encourage someone to do something they didn’t think they could do.  I live off of that.  If I am having the worst day of my life and I do something nice for somebody, I instantly feel recharged.  I think that’s how I basically go through life.

SC:  I hear that from a lot of comedians as well.  It makes them feel better to make someone else laugh even if they are upset or having issues.

MH:  I tried standup comedy once.  I did it more for the writing aspect, but I did perform.  It was an interesting experience because you come out onstage and you look at a sea of faces who want you to succeed because if you succeed, they have a fantastic time.  You have an overwhelming amount of support that you just want to hold onto and it was an incredible feeling.

SC:  What did you did before this that you wanted to walk away from and join the Company Theatre?

MH:  I was the station manager at a local cable television station.  I was so grateful because it was also a non-profit.  I probably learned so many skills that I could apply to this job I didn’t necessarily have before.  Just the behind the scenes stuff, the QuickBooks, the budgets, and managing a non-profit was extremely helpful and then also applying my video experience to the job as well.  Filming and creating events and learning special effects. 

So all of that which at the time was a perfect job for me, but nine years later I felt like I needed a change and so I am going to apply what I learned there and bring it to the Company Theatre.  We can offer acting for camera classes and improv for camera classes. 

I’ve been on auditions and in commercials.  We want to provide those skills to kids who like to act and be on camera.  We want them to be able to go into an audition and know how to slay what they are going to be asked to do and be prepared for anything.

I actually started with a class over the summer.  Some of the kids were auditioning so they got immediate training for those auditions. When they came back, they would tell the other students that they did just what Michael showed us.  I asked if they felt more prepared.  Did you do a better job with the audition?  Their faces lit up and they said, ‘Absolutely!’  That was a nice thing.

We want to get in touch with the local casting agencies which we already have a good relationship.  We want to create a talent database where you can see video auditions and we can send those out so we kind of want to be a bridge between the local movie and theatre scene.  We’ll provide students with the training.  They’ll have the skills to go out and nail professional auditions and maybe get cast in movies and commercials.  We just really want everyone to have new and exciting opportunities to excel in a career in film and theatre if that is something that they are interested in. 

‘Ragtime’ (L to R) Barbara Baumgarten, Cristian Sack, Hilary Goodnow, Brenna Kenney, Finn Clougherty, Jillian Griffin, with Hannah Dwyer as Little Girl and Michael Hammond as Tateh Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  Let’s face it – the audition process is the most nerve-wracking and hardest part I think to convey right off the bat because in your head, you are saying,’ I know what I can do for you’ but then you get up there and it is not exactly what you picture. 

MH:  Having directed before, people come in and they are nervous. The reality is the casting company is nervous and they have roles to fill.  So, the second you come in, put them at ease, and they know they have options, they feel better.  I always say in my mind when I got into an audition, ‘Here I am!  You can relax.  I am going to be that person you need.’  I think it’s an interesting way to keep yourself calm to think I am exactly what you need instead of I hope I’m what you need.

SC:  I never really thought of it like that.

MH:  Think about it.  You have a reputation.  You have a project.  You want to cast the right people because that makes you look good as well.  If you find the right people not only are you confident about the project, but it brings excitement. 

When I direct a show, I’m not very excited about it until I know who is in it and then I can tailor their performances to their talents. It is such a thrill to watch people blossom. 

Please tell me about the projects you are working on now and upcoming projects.

I don’t think I’ll be directing anything for a little bit.  I’ll probably take on some projects here and there.  I definitely can’t leave that part behind.  I’m really going to focus on the video classes.  I’ll be working with Christie Reading.  She is extremely talented with anything video related.  So, I will be teaming up with her teaching improv for camera, acting for camera, and getting people ready for auditions. 

I think it will be really exciting if we get someone cast in a major motion picture which has happened at Company Theatre.  Andrew Mackin was in Mystic River, Jonathan Togo is on CSI, Michael Morlani is the casting director for Disney.  There are a lot of success stories that come out of this theatre. 

We want to nurture and encourage that.  That is kind of my goal.  It’s to really push people to excel in any way that they can.

SC: You can’t forget about Boston Casting.  How convenient is that!  There are all kinds of films going on in the state.

MH: Exactly and literally a mile down the road they are making motion pictures.  So how can we not be a part of that?  They are working on the new Jon Hamm movie in Cohasset.  I know Angela at Boston Casting who is an incredible woman and I don’t know how she does everything she does, but with all those films going on, eventually they will run out of actors. 

We get casting notices all the time and I’m forwarding them off to everybody I know that I think fits.  For example, I sent a buddy of mine a notice yesterday.  They were looking for an actual butcher with acting experience and I happen to know a butcher with acting experience.  I’m thinking he might get it.

SC: I know. Some of the requirements are so wild.

MH: It’s so specific, but every once in a while I’ll say, ‘Wait a minute, that is me.’ 

Company Theatre is offering theatre classes in the fall. Click here for the full schedule and upcoming events.

REVIEW: Boston Children’s Chorus’ free MLK tribute concert ‘Born on the Water’ a stirring and hopeful virtual journey

Although the Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC) could not physically be together this year for their annual concert, they certainly spiritually united in harmony through innovative zoom technology that helped make this remarkable concert a visual spectacle.  Featuring renowned special guests in music and in the arts, The Boston Children’s Chorus composed a stirring, gripping, and hopeful collection of works including music and poetry honoring Martin Luther King’s historic day.

The 18th Annual Boston Children’s Chorus concert tribute to Martin Luther’s King, Born on the Water was livestreamed on their website and Facebook on Sunday, January 17 at 4 p.m. The virtual concert is still available on their Facebook page and YouTube channel.  Click here for more information on how to support the Boston Children’s Chorus, their upcoming events, programs, digital offerings, and how to join.

Boston Children’s Chorus’s 17th annual MLK Tribute concert Photo Credit to A Priori Photography/Boston Children’s Chorus

In under an hour, the free virtual tribute concert offered a selection of hymns, protest songs, and hopeful melodies.  Broadway actor-vocalist Roman Banks delivered an incredible opening number with the Boston Children’s Chorus in a gripping rendition of the African American folk song, Been in the Storm as Banks exclaimed, ‘Give me Time to Pray.’

Broadway vocalist Roman Banks performed with the Boston Children’s Chorus for this year’s virtual concert, ‘Born on the Water’ Photo courtesy of Boston Children’s Chorus

African American Folksong Joy in my Heart, arranged and introduced by Dr. Rollo Dilworth of Temple University, was a beautiful and hopeful song made more enchanting by the visually-engaging technology and the heart shaped graphics that framed the adorable and angelic-sounding Children’s Chorus.

Boston Children’s Museum’s President Carole Charnow introduced the moving classic African American Spiritual Let Me Fly with Edith Mae’s poem written during for the Civil Rights Movement, Fight on Little Children in memory of Emmett Til.

BCC’s 16th Annual Martin Luther King’s Tribute concert, ‘She Persisted’ Photo credit to A Priori Photography/Boston Children’s Chorus

Other highlights included Nina Simone’s protest song, Mississippi Goddam introduced by KingBoston’s Executive Director Paris Jeffries.  It was a fast paced, quick witted, impactful song mastered by the Boston Children’s Chorus and enhanced by clever, visually-engaging technology.

Boston Children’s Chorus dedicated Alicia Keys’s catchy, meaningful song Underdog to Frontline Workers and everyone who is risking their lives during the pandemic.  The BCC delivered seamless harmonies accentuated by a beautiful montage of Boston.

Actress and vocalist E. Faye Butler performed with the Boston Children’s Chorus for this year’s MLK virtual tribute concert, ‘Born on the Water’ Photo credit to Boston Children’s Chorus

Adorned in an elegant dress, actress and soloist E. Faye Butler joined the Boston Children’s Chorus in a performance of Stevie Wonder’s poignant, yet uplifting rendition of Love’s in Need of Love Today.  It was easy to hear the enthusiasm in Butler’s warm and soaring vocals as she sang, ‘Don’t delay/Send yours right away’ as the group offered a sorely needed message with such relevance today and so in tune with MLK’s continuing mission.

BCC’s Born on the Water is still available to stream on their Facebook page and YouTube channel. Click here to learn more about the Boston Children’s Chorus, their upcoming events, digital offerings, how to join, and how to support their mission.

REVIEW: As clever as it is insightful, make time for Americana Theatre Company’s compelling ‘Man of La Mancha’

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?”

In the midst of action, suspense, heartbreak, and humor in multiple Tony award-winning musical, Man of La Mancha, lies Don Quixote author Miguel de Cerventes’s wise words, one of many timeless reflections declared during Americana Theatre Company’s moving, insightful musical, Man of La Mancha at the Spire Center for the Arts in Plymouth, Massachusetts through Sunday, July 29.  This show is not for children.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Based on the classic tale, Don Quixote, Americana Theatre Company’s Man of La Mancha by Dan Wasserman is steeped in theatrical riches from its strong, edgy cast, powerful voices, a hint of Monty Python humor, and diverse combat scenes, but the real heart of this work is found in Cervantes himself, a beacon in dark times.  Americana Theatre Company prides itself on its stellar storytelling and this one is for the ages.

American Theatre Company Man of La Mancha

Scott Wahle as Don Quixote and Bethany Lauren James as Aldonza with Ruben Navarro as Sancho Panza

Directed by Michael Kirkland, Man of La Mancha addresses the everlasting battle between idealism and realism through a play-within-a-play.  With the exception of Sancho Panza, portrayed with wide-eyed optimism and unflinching faithfulness by Ruben Nevarro, each character depicts a dark side in humanity, but not without redemption.

Man of La Mancha kicks off without a hitch, showcasing a wide range of comic, stylized, and clever combat scenes by Derek Martin that often take the audience by surprise.  With just two onstage guitars and an offstage piano, the music accompaniment is delightfully subtle and intimate as the musicians melt into the background.  From colorful gypsy costumes and corset dresses to detailed, embroidered vests and leather armor, costumer Brian Kenerson zealously captures the beautiful and harsh Reformation era.

Americana Theatre Company The Barber

Brian Kenerson portrays The Barber as is also the Costumer for the show Photo Courtesy of Denise Maccaferri/Americana Theatre Company

Scott Wahle steps into Cervantes/Don Quixote’s brown leather boots with a natural assurance.  Finding himself among a group of prisoners, author and poet Miguel de Cervantes creates a defense in the form of a play in order to keep his possessions and potentially save his own life.

Wahle has a long history being a charismatic, relatable storyteller as a local television personality and in theatrical roles such as Walt Disney-esque Paragon Park creator George A. Dodge in Company Theatre’s original musical, Paragon Park or as smooth-talking Nathan Detroit in Reagle Music Theatre’s slick musical, Guys and Dolls.  He draws from that and more to deliver a powerful, emotionally-charged, multi-layered performance as a sympathetic admirer in the tender song, Dulcinea to a valiant hero in epic numbers such as The Impossible Dream and Man of La Mancha.  Alongside such dark characters, he is idealistic and compassionate, but hiding a secret.

Americana Theatre Company Don Quixote

Jennifer Martin performs a memorable dance as a Moorish dancer Photo courtesy of Denise Maccaferri/Americana Theatre Company

The chemistry between the cast members crackle, but most notably between Scott Wahle as Cervantes/Don Quixote and Ruben Nevarro as his unfathomably loyal squire, Sancho Panza.  It is a vivid, nurturing friendship every true friendship should strive to be.  Nevarro has his own set of crisp vocals in a warm rendition of I Really Like Him and comical A Little Gossip.

Americana Theatre Company Aldonza

Bethany Lauren James as Aldonza Photo courtesy of Denise Maccaferri/Americana Theatre Company

Wahle shares sweet chemistry with Bethany Lauren James, who delivers a brilliant performance as uncouth, harsh, suspicious, and yet compassionate spitfire Aldonza.  Surrounded by menacing muleteers, she first appears strained and exasperated in a red corset dress for the comical and fiery number, It’s All the Same.  A hard realist who can’t imagine otherwise, James is a wonderful foil for Wahle and holds her own among a cast of powerful characters.  She masters the meaty role and her expressions are a complex web of emotions, her character constantly torn between what to think and how to feel.

Derek Martin is intriguing as a quietly distressed Padre.  Dressed in rust colored robes, Martin is torn by what is right and what is ultimately good for the human spirit, offering a tender and reflective rendition of To Each His Dulcinea.  With vivid, comical expressions and a deep baritone, David Friday is hilarious as a panicked Innkeeper.  Caitlin Skinner as Antonia, Derek Martin as Padre, Erin Friday as Housekeeper, and Jesse Sullivan as Dr. Carrasso lend their impressive vocals to the multifaceted number, I’m Only Thinking of Him.

Americana Theatre Company Man of La Mancha bow

The complete cast Photo credit to Denise Maccaferri

A clever tale with deeper meaning, Man of La Mancha kicked off Americana Theatre Company’s eighth season and continues through Sunday, July 29 at Spire Center for the Arts, 25 1/2 Court Street in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  In October, Americana Theatre Company continues its season with a one man production of Sleepy Hollow and The Gifts of the Magi in time for the holidays.  Click here for ticket information, fall classes, and more.  Click here to find out how to support Americana Theatre Company’s mission and be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

For Performing Arts news, interviews, reviews, and much more in Boston and beyond, follow us on Facebook @sleeplesscritic and subscribe.

 

Director Igor Golyak discusses the shocking and comical show, ‘Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel’

Taking a rich, multidimensional look at love and the theatre, the Arlekin Players proudly presents Mikhail Bulgakov’s Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel for two weekends from Saturday, March 17 through Sunday, April 1 at Paramount Center in Boston, Massachusetts.  Shocking and comical, Dead Man’s Diary:  A Theatrical Novel is written in Russian and performed by Russian actors with English audio translation, but was created in Needham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Igor Golyak

Director Igor Golyak of ‘Dead Man’s Diary’ Photo courtesy of Igor Golyak Acting Studio

Dead Man’s Diary’s director and head of Igor Golyak Acting Studio, Igor Golyak, discusses this shocking and comical show’s fascinating background, developing the show’s unique style, and what it means to be successful.

Sleepless Critic:  What is it about this show that made you decide to take on this piece?

Igor Golyak:  I fell in love with the novel, a prose piece by Mikhail Bulgakov, which was not published until after his death as it was considered offensive to Stanislavsky and the Moscow Art Theatre. I wanted to adapt this unfinished novel for the stage because I saw it not only as satire on theatre, but as a vow of love to the theatre. Through this production, we wanted to express the conflicts and illusions around realizing oneself in the theatre through Bulgakov life’s work.

Arlekin Players Dead Mans Diary

‘Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel’ Photo courtesy of the Arlekin Players

SC:  Arlekin Players is behind this production and they studied under the Igor Golyak Acting Studio.  Please tell me about your studio and teaching philosophy.  How can people join the Arlekin Players?

IG:  Right now, I mostly cast my students because we develop our own theatre vocabulary during the training period. This takes some time. It is a big advantage as I know the capabilities of the actors and how to challenge them. What’s most important in the theatre is the atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation in the training and rehearsal process.  I aim to create this with the approach I take.  People can join the company by applying, coming to rehearsals, and possibly doing some scenes with company members.  Ultimately, if we mutually agree that the relationship can move forward, they join the company.  We have a family-type atmosphere in our theatre just like in life.  People get to know each other and some join the family.

SC:  This diary is written by a scorned lover.  How would you describe how the show depicts love or the lack thereof?

IG:  I am not sure if there is a better way to express the love for the theatre than through Bulgakov’s words.

The main character, Maksudov says:

‘I returned to the theater which had now become as necessary to me as morphine to an addict.” and “But more important was my love for the Independent Theatre; I was now pinned to it like a beetle to a piece of cork…’  

SC:  The show offers a new perspective on theatre and is at times shocking.  It also can be a bit haunting and bleak.  How did you develop the style of this show?

IG:  Each style of theatre for me is born out of the text, and the world of the author.

The main character says:

‘I started noticing that something colorful was emerging from the white pages.

The vision was not just a flat picture, but something three-dimensional.  As if peering into a little box, I could see the light gleaming and the figures from my novel moving about. Oh, what a fascinating game it was to observe these characters moving about the little room.’

Using this text, we decided to create a box that all the characters live in, and with them, Maksudov, the main character. What kind of box should it be?  Since the play depicts the Moscow Art Theatre in the 1920s, we decided that the shape of the walls of this box should depict the famous portrait foyer of the Moscow Art Theatre with portraits of the great artists of the time constantly staring at the author and characters inside the box.  We then decided that the audience members should portray these portraits, and thus, we have the audience seated around the box, in which characters come alive.  They are looking though their individual windows or portraits as if in a foyer of the legendary theatre.  Maksudov therefore, is forever stuck like Prometheus in the ‘magical box’ or the ‘portrait foyer’ that he loves more than anything in the world.

Arlekin Players Dead Man's Diary cast

A scene from Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel Photo courtesy of Arlekin Players

SC:  This show also features its share of absurd comedy as well.

IG:  Correct.  In Maksudov’s eyes, the actors in the theatre hire him to write a play are from a different, exotic, and fascinating world.  It’s as if they are superhuman. The absurdity comes from the heightened level of passion of the characters and their incredible self-delusions, which at times are absurdly vulnerable and poetic, and at times absurdly cruel and self-absorbed. We recognize the faults of the human soul looking through Maskudov’s eyes as if though a looking glass, where the faults become exaggerated and ultimately comical.

SC:  It describes not only theatre, but the writer’s journey and touches upon what it really means to be successful.  What are your views on success?

IG:  My view of success is having a group of artists, a team of sorts, which is united and inspired by each other to produce a specific piece of text.  As a result, they are able to touch the souls of people in the audience.  When this happens, I feel truly successful.

SC:  What do you like most about this show and what is the best reason someone should attend?

IG:  I think the acting, directing, set design, music composition, and collaborative imagination all work together to give this piece an unusual style. We are excited to bring what we believe is a unique contribution to the Boston Theatre Scene. Also, the piece was written in Russian and is performed by Russian actors but was adapted and created here. We are a local company making new work for the last 9 years. We have already had 20 performances of Dead Man’s Diary. For those who have seen and loved it, it has grown even more over time.  See the show and you will not leave untouched.

Click here for more information and for tickets to Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel from Saturday, March 17 through Sunday, April 1 at the Paramount Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  Follow the Arlekin Players on Facebook and Twitter.

South South Conservatory’s annual, family summer outdoor concert series, ‘Wacky Wednesdays’ returns

South Shore Conservatory, known for offering fun, educational, and interactive classes and entertainment for all ages for the South Shore of Massachusetts and beyond, is proud to enliven Wednesday mornings once again.  Sponsored by The Harold and Avis Goldstein Trust with WATD as media partner, South Shore Conservatory’s Wacky Wednesdays has been delivering award-winning, educational, and interactive family entertainment for their 21st year every Wednesday mornings as part of their outdoor Summer Spotlight series.  Wednesday morning concerts also feature free lemonade and chocolate milk starting at 10 a.m.

Kicking off the season on Wednesday, July 5, singer-songwriter and Music Together teacher Vanessa Trien and the Jumping Monkeys return to the Jane Carr Amphitheater stage.  This family concert series includes humorous, high energy, and catchy family pop band Karen K and the Jitterbugs on July 12, multiple award-winning Roots musician, Alastair Moock and Friends on July 19, and imaginative, energetic, and interactive musical storytelling by Debbie and Friends on July 26.  Click here for a closer look at this enchanting series.

All concerts take place rain or shine at Jane Carr Amphitheater, One Conservatory Drive in Hingham, Massachusetts.  With funding from Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, the Jane Carr Amphitheater has been updated entirely.  See the South Shore Conservatory’s summer spotlight concert series at affordable prices and no charge for children under three.  Discounted prices for groups are also available.  Click here for tickets and more information or call 1-781-749-7565, ext. 22.

 

Award-winning journalist JC Monahan discusses her part in Urban Improv’s funniest fundraiser, ‘Banned in Boston’

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Photo courtesy of Urban Improv

What is it like to perform at Urban Improv’s annual fundraiser, comedy, and music revue Banned in Boston?   For the last five years, Emmy award-winning journalist and Chronicle host JC Monahan has taken the stage to support Urban Improv’s dedication to youth empowerment each year while leaving seriousness at the door.  Sometimes the backstage antics are as hilarious as what is happening onstage.

Urban Improv is celebrating its 25th anniversary and presenting Banned in Boston, an evening of delicious food from top restaurants such as Mei Mei, Island Creek Oyster Bar, Eastern Standard, and East Coast Grill, improve featuring guests from business to politics to media personalities, and much more on Friday, April 7 at House of Blues in Boston, Massachusetts at 6 p.m.  This is a 21+ event.   Hosted by WGBH’s Jim Braude and Margery Eagan, click here for this year’s featured guests and tickets.

As the guest list grows longer each year, this exciting, highly-anticipated event get sillier and more inventive.  Anything can happen.  Emmy award-winning journalist JC Monahan talks about her experiences.

Sally Taylor and Charlie Baker

Onstage at Banned in Boston – Governor Charlie Baker and musician Sally Taylor

Jeanne Denizard:  Last year, I interviewed returning musician, Sally Taylor.  Sally said she had a blast at Banned in Boston.

JC Monahan:  She participates every year and is such a big supporter.  I think a lot of the fun happens backstage, but we also have fun onstage too.  It’s a chance to connect with so many other people in Boston behind the scenes talking and getting to know each other, laughing at the costumes we’re wearing and the lines that we’re saying, and it’s a blast seeing some of these people put into crazy situations.  For example, one of my all-time favorite memories is Aerosmith’s Tom Hamilton, dressed in this fantastic blue prom dress, as one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters.  Tom has achieved so much in his life and it’s so great he is totally willing to get onstage and be silly all for Urban Improv.

JD:  He’s local too.

JCM:  We have amazing people right in our backyard and it’s fantastic they all get onstage for this cause.  We’re all from different walks of life contributing in our own way in our personal lives, but we are also contributing together onstage.  I am as much a fan as I am a participant.  Sally Taylor is so sweet, so down to earth, and so talented.  I’ve become good friends with WGBH’s Jared Bowen and that is completely through Banned in Boston.  Emily Rooney is hysterical and Matt Siegel, who I only hear on Matty in the Morning.  I usually don’t get to see him face to face.   It’s a little reunion every year.

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Urban Improv presents their annual fundraiser, Banned in Boston Photo courtesy of Lisa Kessler/Urban Improv

JD:  This year, Banned in Boston is hosted by WGBH’s Margery Eagan and Jim Braude.

JCM:  They are two of my favorites and I listen to them all the time.  Jim usually gives me a hard time which is perfect.  It’s a great night and I love everything about it.

JD:   It’s such a great cause.  Urban Improv helps youth cope with real life challenges such as bullying and violence through topical improvisation.

JCM:  Exactly, you’re there to support the arts in many ways, but you are also using the arts in such a constructive way to help kids learn to communicate.  We can all benefit from being better communicators.  I love that they are starting young and reaching kids who may not know how to solve a problem.  Maybe Urban Improv will be that change in their life that sets them on a new path.  How can you not want to be behind that?

JD:  These kids may lack the guidance and are not in an environment where they can get it.

JCM:  Exactly, it takes all of us.  Urban Improv steps in and reaches those kids.  If I can help keep that program going in a very small way, I’ll be there.  I’ve participated for four or five years, but I feel like I’ve been there since the beginning since they make you feel like part of a family.  It is a very inviting, warm, environment and it allows you to be even sillier that you would be.

JD:  Oh, I know!  The funny things I have heard.

JCM:  When you have the congressmen get up onstage and act silly, the Governor, and the people I know through charity events as well, it’s just fun for everybody.  One of the funnier ones is Sonia Chang-Diaz who was funny as Miley Cyrus one year.  Banned in Boston oftentimes have a ringer who is an actual actress or actor that will blow us all away.  Kathy St. George will be there this year and she’ll be amazing.

JD:  You need a few to keep people guessing.  Are any of your characters created with you in mind?

JCM:  No, I think they work hard to keep us outside our comfort zone.  Politicians don’t play politicians most of the time, though last year I did get to play a reporter a little on the nose.  Then, years ago, I was a bratty yoga devotee.  I’m all for putting me in the most uncomfortable, craziest role because it’s much easier than something that’s close to who you actually are.  I’d rather play Miley Cyrus than have to play myself.

JD:  Do you have certain people that you click with better onstage?

JCM:  Anyone who is all in is the person I want to work with and I don’t think there has been anybody who hasn’t been all in.  Lisa Pierpont is always all in.  She came one year in a big, long wig.  If you take yourself too seriously, this might not be the place for you.  The list of people who have said yes are ready to be silly, ridiculous, and get people to laugh and enjoy themselves because we want people to come back year after year and continue to support Urban Improv.

JD:  I know it is an improv show, but do you do any preparation for it?

JCM:  We get the script less than a week before the show, but they do give you a costume comment.  One year I played a judge, so I overnight shipped a graduation gown on Amazon for the show.  I played the yoga devotee and they said to please come in yoga clothes.  You have no rehearsal time and we walk onstage with our scripts.  We are pretty much a mess, and that is the fun of it.

JC Monahan onstage at Banned in Boston

JC Monahan during an improv sketch at Banned in Boston as a judge with cast Photo courtesy of Lisa Kessler/Urban Improv

JD:  What kind of surprises stick out for you over the years?

JCM:  You don’t know what character you are playing opposite until you get there, so it’s always fun to see who got what character.  A couple of years ago, the chefs in Boston made this awesome music video.  Nobody knew they had done it and it wasn’t part of the program.  That took some coordination, preparation, and effort for people that are super busy, but it was hysterical.  This year’s Banned in Boston’s theme is offense, misdeeds, and comedic infractions.

JD:  That sounds dangerous.

JCM:  Yes, you never know.  When I see the script in my inbox, it’s Christmas morning for me.  You find out where they put you, the songs we sing at the beginning and the end and coming up with new lyrics to fit the always Boston-centric theme.  Anybody from this area will get the jokes.  The jokes are always about Boston accents, Boston parking, Boston drivers, Boston politics.  Nothing will be missed and the audience will get it all.

JD:  You talked a lot about what you look forward to each year and what drives you to return.  What do you think is the best reason people should see Banned in Boston?

JCM:  There are a lot of wonderful Boston fundraisers, so it’s hard to capture people’s attention, time, and money, and Banned in Boston has found a really unique way to do it that captures the spirit of what Urban Improv is.  It has great food, great drinks, and a fantastic space at House of Blues in Boston.  There’s no better mix than that.

Urban Improv kids

Youth improv work in action Photo courtesy of Urban Improv

Click here for more information and tickets to this hilarious, one night only event starting at Lansdowne Pub for a cocktail reception at 9 Lansdowne Street on Friday, April 7 at 6 p.m.  Banned in Boston at House of Blues, located at 15 Lansdowne Street, kicks off at 7:45 p.m.  Click here for more on Urban Improv and its mission.

Zumix will celebrate 25th anniversary on grand scale with ‘Boston DJs with Zumix’ benefit

Music lovers unite!  Zumix, East Boston’s non-profit organization geared toward empowering youth through music, has saved the best for last.  Featuring 20 Boston DJs past and present, live performances, special guest sets, silent auction, and much more, Zumix brings their 25th anniversary year to a grand close with ‘Boston DJs for Zumix’ on Friday, March 31 at 8 p.m.  This sensational benefit will be held at Zumix, 260 Sumner Street, East Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and more information.

Zumix radio

New radio station 94.9 FM Zumix Radio Photo courtesy of Zumix

After streaming online for 10 years, the evening benefit will also celebrate their new, growing community station, 94.9 FM Zumix, a station that serves a bilingual audience and features a wide range of programming.  All proceeds of ‘Boston DJs for Zumix’ support Zumix’s dynamic, free teen music programs in songwriting, community radio, creative technology, instrument instruction, and performance.  Click here to make a donation.

zumix radio

Youth DJ on the mic Photo courtesy of Zumix

The featured DJs are as follows:  Adam 12, Akrobatik, Baltazar, DJ Bean, Jim Braude, Julie Devereaux, Fast Freddy, Mike Gioscia, Lori Grande, Merilee Kelly, George Knight, Carolyn Kruse, John Laurenti, Dana Marshall, Jess Phaneuf, Matt Phipps, Morning Guy Tai, Nancy Quill, Neal Robert, Nomadik, and Zumix DJs.

Zumix White House

Zumix accepting an award from Michelle Obama Photo courtesy of Zumix

Winner of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Programs Award from the White House and providing music lessons and other technology to lower income families, Zumix’s mission is to empower youth to express themselves through music and make positive changes throughout their community and the world.  At first started as a songwriting program, Zumix students enjoy in-school and after school events throughout the year. Songwriting, radio, audio technology, and performance are among the renowned programs offered by Zumix for youth ages 7 through 18 and over 1,000 students attend classes.

Zumix Walk for Music

Annual Walk for Music community event Photo courtesy of Zumix

For tickets to ‘Boston DJs for Zumix,’ click here or call (617) 568-9777.  Click here for more information on their upcoming concerts, events, and festivals. Follow Zumix on Facebook and Twitter.