NYC actress, writer, and filmmaker Stephanie Iscovitz talks film career and managing annual ‘New York New Works Theatre Festival’ in October

NYC actress, writer, filmmaker, and casting assistant Stephanie Iscovitz is no stranger to a competitive festival, having been on the winning end and a participant.  She is taking her expertise to a whole new level running the upcoming New York New Works Theatre Festival, kicking off Tuesday, October 3 and continuing through Saturday, Oct. 21 at New York City’s Duke Theatre with the final gala on Monday, Nov. 6 at Theatre 80.

With a wide spectrum of diverse, carefully chosen theatre productions from hundreds of submissions and created by Gene Fisch, Jr., the New York New Works Theatre Festival is a give back project to help the arts community.  It’s an exciting, annual event as award-winning representatives from Broadway and beyond judge the next generation’s promising talent.  Click here for the full theatre schedule, tickets, and here for panelist information.

Stephanie Iscovitz delves into her journey as a film festival participant, what to expect at the New York New Works Theatre Festival, and the message she hopes to convey through her work.  Click here for more on Stephanie and her upcoming projects.

Sleepless Critic:  Starting October 3, you are leading the management team at the New York New Works Theatre Festival.

Stephanie Iscovitz:  Yes, I’m managing the New York New Works Theater Showcase and am very passionate about including as many powerful, female and diverse voices as possible.

 The New York New Works Theatre Showcase is a theatre competition that provides aspiring writers the opportunity to present their work in a top tier theatre while being mentored by a group of Broadway, television producers, and industry leaders. The distinguished panelists are Broadway producers, Tony Award-winners, Emmy Award-winners, or industry executives that volunteer their time to help aspiring writers.  Performances take place in the 199-seat Duke Theatre on 42nd and Broadway from Tuesday, October 3 through Saturday, October 21 with the final gala on Monday, November 6.

I’m eager to take all the wonderful parts of my film festival experience while bringing some great new ideas to the New York New Works Theatre Showcase. As an actor and writer, I know what kind of opportunities I would benefit from and am humbled and excited to provide that for the participants in this year’s showcase.

SC:  You bring a broad range of experience to the New York New Works Theatre Festival, including your training at the T. Schreiber Studio and Theatre, a studio that features Edward Norton, Peter Sarsgaard, and Maria Bello, just a few of their renowned alumni.  What was that experience like for you?

 SI:  With only eleven students in the conservatory, it was an extraordinary, life-changing experience.   When you’re part of an intense, raw, and emotionally-challenging program like that, the people you experience it with become your family.  I still study there as part of their on-going scene study program continually challenged with roles I’m afraid to do.  I was most recently working on a character affected with brain damage.

T. Shreiber Studio

T. Schreiber Studio and Theatre graduate Stephanie Iscovitz T. Schreiber Photo Credit: T. Schreiber Studio & Theatre

SC:  What do you think is the most important thing that T. Schreiber has taught you as an actress, filmmaker, writer, and producer?

SI:  Terry Schreiber notoriously says that you must give yourself the permission to let yourself happen, which has become my mantra. The first couple of short films I made as an actor, writer, and producer had potential, but they weren’t great.  However, I wouldn’t be where I am today or learned as much as I did had I not made those short films, which I consider beautiful stepping stones.  Give yourself permission to fall flat on your face and be patient with yourself on this creative journey because in this business, it’s more about the journey than the destination.

SC:  Having attended a number of festivals in your career, you have firsthand experience participating in what can be incredibly competitive festivals.  What was your first film festival you attended?

SI:  The first film festival I got into was for my first film, Ladies Night, presented at a great festival I return to annually, the 2014 Big Apple Film Festival.  It’s a comedy held in a karaoke bar and I’ve learned a lot after that first film, like avoid writing a film where music rights are imperative. To my surprise, it was very well received and screened alongside Jerry Stiller in the festival program.  I had no idea what I was doing at the festival and was so nervous during the Q&A I could feel my shortness of breath while I was speaking.  It’s a comforting thought that no one really knows what they’re doing and just trying to do the best they can with what they’ve got.

Big Apple Film Festival with Jerry Stiller

2014 Big Apple Film Festival – Stephanie won for her first film, which screened along Jerry Stiller. It was a comedy called ‘Ladies Night’ Photo Credit: Stephanie Iscovitz

SC:  Recently, you went to Long Beach Island for a film festival not long ago.  What is it like for you to attend a festival where your production is featured?

SILighthouse International was the best film festival I’ve attended. Each year, the festival champions a selection of new, often unrecognized films from the US and around the world to compete in the festival and for audience award categories, which screen alongside award-winning spotlight films from Sundance, Cannes, SXSW, Toronto and Tribeca. I saw pre-released films and met other NYC filmmakers, sparking collaboration for future projects.

After the screenings, there were Q&A’s with the filmmakers.  We had our world premiere of Bruce Loves You where the shorts programmer, Chip Parham, ran a stellar screening. It was wonderful to have a captive audience interested in knowing more about our film making process and about of course, Bruce the ghost.

'Bruce Loves You' cast at Lighthouse International film fest

‘Bruce Loves You’ team at the 2017 Lighthouse International Film Festival Photo courtesy of Darin Quan

SC:  As you attend these festivals, do you feel like you get better at the process or is every festival different?  What was it like to win at the festival?

SI:  Every festival is different. We’ve started to call it ‘Game of Festivals’ where you win or die and 99% of the time you die. It’s all so subjective and such a gamble, depending upon who’s watching your submission if your submission was actually watched, at what time of day, and what the viewer’s own personal values and tastes are.  When you are actually accepted out of thousands of submissions, it feels like a real lottery win.

I met one of my closest friends and collaborators at a film festival where our film, Catslaughter had been rejected. After speaking with her, it turned out we had the same exact film except hers was about a sweater and ours was about a cat. She had submitted early and was already accepted when we submitted late.  Timing is everything. A rejection doesn’t necessarily mean your film was bad.  There are a number of factors involved and in this case, they had already programmed a similar film. However, it turned out to be a huge blessing because she and I clicked creatively and have gone on to work together on multiple projects.

Stephanie Iscovitz with Cinder Chou

Filmmaker Cinder Chou at 2016 Big Apple Film Festival Photo courtesy of Stephanie Iscovitz

SC:  What is the message that you hope to deliver through your work?

SI:  I really want to drive social change through storytelling and that begins with representation on film, particularly through the female lens and experience.  I hope to enlighten while helping audiences feel a little less alone.

Tickets are still available to this year’s New York New Works Theatre Festival.  Click here for more information and tickets.  New York New Works Theatre Festival is also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Click here for more on Stephanie Iscovitz and her upcoming projects.

Stephanie Iscovitz new role

Stephanie Iscovitz’s new project Photo courtesy of Rutledge Customs

NYC actress, writer, and filmmaker Stephanie Iscovitz talks finding home, making it big, and her latest projects, including ‘Bruce Loves You’

From a southern city to the Big Apple, actress, writer, filmmaker, producer, casting assistant, and T. Schreiber Studio and Theatre graduate Stephanie Iscovitz learned it takes a quick study to make it in the big city.  Working on a variety of diverse projects, Stephanie continues to inspire and entertain through her unique storytelling.  She will run the New York New Works Theatre Festival this October.  Click here for more information on entering the festival and further details.  Submit for free by August 15.

New York New Works Theatre Festival

Film submissions are free through August 15. Festival with Broadway panel takes place in October. Photo courtesy of New York New Works Theatre Festival

Stephanie talks about finding home, her current project, her most challenging and rewarding experiences as a woman in film, and who she would love to work with in the future.

Sleepless Critic:  You are from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, but you decided to pursue your career in NYC.  What do you love most about the city and what ultimately inspired you to stay?

Stephanie Iscovitz:  I knew I wanted to move to New York when I was 12. Oprah calls them ‘Ah-ha!’ moments. I visited the city with my family and it wasn’t the bright lights or tall buildings that enticed me, but truly the first time I felt home. I felt connected to the city unlike anything else.  Nine years after moving here, I still love the energy, the urgency, the constant inspiration, and creativity.

T. Shreiber Studio

T. Schreiber Studio and Theatre graduate Stephanie Iscovitz with class of 2011 Photo Credit: T. Schreiber Studio & Theatre

 SC:  You have delved into a wealth of projects as an actress working in New York City, always with enthusiasm for the next project.  Please tell me what it was like when you first arrived.

SI:  I really had to get it together when I first arrived because the competition is too fierce. I awakened to the reality of what it actually takes to be an actor and to stay afloat in the industry. Coming from Florida, I thought I would audition, book this role, and be rich and famous before I’m 30.  It’s so hard.  So many steps on the ladder and hoops you have to jump through to succeed and as a woman, a glass ceiling.  You have to be somewhat naive to get into the business and then an ultimate bad-ass to stay in it.  The first time I felt like I got it right was an audition for a role portraying a very complex, troubled stand-up comedian. I never felt more alive and was still reeling from the audition when the producer followed me out of the room and thanked me for my work, which never happens. I didn’t book it, which is a lesson that talent sometimes has nothing to do with who gets the job.

SC:  You have delved into a variety of female driven projects. What has most surprised you working on these productions?

SI:  What surprised me most was the real, systemic issues preventing women from rising through the ranks. Women graduate from film school at 50 percent, the same rate that men do, so there are no lack of trained, qualified, and willing female directors. Women are held to a much higher standard than men before they are considered qualified. There are countless examples of male directors who were snatched up by the studio after having only directed a very small micro-budget film and literally handed the opportunity of taking on a multi-million dollar studio movie. That kind of risk has almost never been taken on by a female director. I was never aware of these greater challenges until I got into the business which is why it’s imperative to have these conversations about the revolution of women in film.

SC:  Of the various jobs you do, what has been most challenging and rewarding for you?

SI:  Though every role has its own set of challenges and triumphs, the most rewarding is being able to collaborate with other independent female filmmakers to create something that grows organically.  I’ve learned that the film you shoot will be different than the film you write and the film you edit will be different than the film you shot.  It’s movie magic to nurture this idea with a team you respect, admire, and have a final product you never could have created on your own. Each learning experience gives me the confidence to guide me through to the next project.

Big Apple Film Festival with Jerry Stiller

2014 Big Apple Film Festival – Stephanie won for her first film, which was screened alongside Jerry Stiller. It was a comedy called ‘Ladies Night’ Photo Credit: Stephanie Iscovitz

SC:  You have taken on thrillers, dramas, comedy, and other genres in your work.  Just a couple of the comedies you are a part of is OK, Cupid and the web series, Third Wheel.  I understand Third Wheel is doing well and was nominated for an award.

SI:  I enjoy all genres and hope to continue to create a diverse body of work. As an actor, I tend to play darker, troubled characters but also have extensive improv experience having completed The People’s Improv training program. I was on two indie improv teams performing in comedy clubs throughout the city for a few years and loved it.  Improv is a reminder to stay in the moment and inspires a ‘yes, and’ attitude for life. It’s where I met my close friends Sarah and Darin who are part of the Third Wheel team.  On Third Wheel, Sarah plays the lead character, ‘Lu’ and Darin directed, shot, edited and scored the entire project.  We were nominated for Best Ensemble at the NYC WebFest. Third Wheel got distribution through SeekaTV, a streaming platform for the independent filmmaker. See the complete first season here.

Scene from 'Bruce Loves You'

Stephanie Iscovitz in her latest film, ‘Bruce Loves You’ Photo Credit: Darin Quan

SC:  Tell me about your latest film, Bruce Loves You.

SI:  I reconnected with Sarah and Darin after Third Wheel to film Bruce Loves You. Chris Roberti of HBO’s High Maintenance and Comedy Central’s Broad City is Bruce, a charismatic and handsome ghost in a complicated relationship with a young woman who happens to be alive. When he begins to compliment her roommate’s speaking voice, it becomes clear he is not a one-woman ghost.  I portray the roommate.  The inspiration behind Bruce focuses on improbable or ridiculous stories and how they can help alleviate the inevitable problems of time and money in film production.  A blender was also always breaking down, so this story was a natural expression of all those elements in a true ‘indie’ spirit.  See the trailer here.

'Bruce Loves You' cast at Lighthouse International film fest

‘Bruce Loves You’ team at the 2017 Lighthouse International Film Festival Photo courtesy of Darin Quan

SC:  You also work for the Donna Grossman Casting Agency.  How did you get involved in that line of work?

SI:  I am so grateful I got the job through my best friend.  Every actor should have an opportunity to work in a casting office.  You learn nothing is personal and the best person for the job doesn’t always get it for reasons beyond anyone’s control.  Once we were casting for a luxury eye-wear company and the model they wanted to book had a small cut on her finger and lost the job even though it would have been healed and completely unnoticeable by the shoot date.  Another time we were casting a commercial and booked an actress in her mid-40s.  The client changed their mind and wanted the role to be for an 80 year-old actress. So even after booking it, that actress didn’t get it. You’re not in it ‘til you’re in it.

SC:  Please tell me about projects you are currently working on and who you would like to work with in the future.

SI:  I’ve been working on a virtual reality (VR) project in narrative form for the past year. VR experiences have an unprecedented potential to elicit empathy, which makes it perfect for a story I’m exploring about unconventional love and “otherness.”  It’s the first time I’m focusing more on myself and creating a role that showcases my acting range instead of a more ensemble piece where all my friends have equal screen time.

Right now I’m dying to work with Ana Lily Amirpour. Her debut feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is a huge inspiration for my VR project. She also spoke at the Nevada Women’s Film Festival in March where my film, The Man with the Western Hat, was accepted. I admire her work and she offered some real insight into navigating this industry. Her sophomore feature, The Bad Batch was just released June 23rd. I hope our paths cross one day.

 

 

REVIEW: Cohasset Dramatic Club proves life is too short to miss the insightful musical, ‘If/Then’

Mix in a dash of the Tony award-winning musical, Rent, a hint of HBO’s hit show, Sex and the City, and stir in the thought-provoking film, Sliding Doors, and what emerges is a real treat in Cohasset Dramatic Club’s musical drama, If/Then.  Set in New York City and based on a book by Tom Kitt, If/Then is an unpredictable, immersive tale that explores destiny, love, happiness, and the complexity of navigating through life’s surprises.

cdc-if-then-pic

Cohasset Dramatic Club is thrilled to debut “If/Then” through Saturday, March 25 Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

 

Cohasset Dramatic Club is thrilled to be the first in the US to present this stirring, humorous musical after its professional Broadway run and national tour.  Directed by Lisa Pratt and technically directed by Mark Bono, If/Then continues at Cohasset Town Hall in Cohasset, Massachusetts through Saturday, March 25.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Is the path to happiness completely random or is destiny derived from the right choices?  Elizabeth Vaughn, portrayed masterfully by Ann McCoy, is a successful urban planner who decides to make a fresh start in New York City.  Everyone seems to think they know what is best for her, which helps lead Elizabeth onto two, unexpected paths.

Featuring a vibrant cast with realistic conflicts and fleshed out characters, Ann McCoy as conflicted, soulful Elizabeth Vaughn is the heart of the show, a meaty role originated by Idina Menzel on Broadway.  Dressed in a sharp black pants suit, McCoy is more than up to the challenge, portraying a woman who was once certain of life’s direction, but lately, her confidence has waned.  McCoy impressively depicts Elizabeth’s cautiousness through a shift in her eyes and yet, also brings out the character’s lively impulsiveness.  She heeds other people’s advice, but ultimately follows her heart.  A soprano, Ann McCoy’s vocals dip and soar, hitting challenging notes with ease.  This is especially evident in the numbers, You Learn to Live Without and Always Starting Over.

One of McCoy’s greatest strengths is the natural, unique chemistry she shares with each cast member.  Elizabeth is single, but not lonely.  Michelle Margulies portrays Kate’s incredibly charming and outspoken friend.  Margulies as Kate is engaging, fun-loving, and a bit of a scene stealer.  She is Elizabeth’s biggest fan and only has her best interests at heart.  Perpetually optimistic, Margulies offers a soulful and comical rendition of the number, It’s a Sign, playfully engaging the crowd.

CDC If Then Ann McCoy and Michael Warner

Ann McCoy as Elizabeth and Michael Warner as Josh depict great chemistry in ‘If/Then’ Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

Ann McCoy and Michael Warner are local community talents known for various productions on the South Shore, shine in their roles.  Michael Warner is compelling as caring, forthright, and unassuming army surgeon Josh, a man also clearly torn between two life choices.  He delivers a touching rendition of the song, Hey Kid.  Elizabeth and Josh’s chemistry is hopeful and passionate.  They create great harmony together, especially during the song, Here I Go.

While Josh is practical, Ricky DeSisto is a natural as impulsive and endearing Lucas.  With his earnest, idealistic nature and fair share of cynicism, one cannot help but root for him through life.  Through lighthearted teasing and sweet glances, Elizabeth and Lucas have a warm, playful chemistry.    Their song together, Some Other Me is moving.  Rob Buckel-Gillis portrays hopeful, supportive David, a surgeon.  He is hopeful, likable, and optimistic.  Lucas and David share a tender duet, The Best Worst Mistake You Ever Made.

CDC If Then Michelle Margulies Ann McCoy and Ricky DeSisto

Michelle Marguies as Kate, Ann McCoy as Elizabeth and Ricky DeSisto as Lucas in ‘If/Then’ Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

Elegantly dressed in a suit and tie, Mike Nakashima portrays Stephen, a complex character with mysterious intentions.  Determined and serious, Stephen and Elizabeth share a career-minded camaraderie as he encourages her to follow her dreams, seeing her boundless potential.

With music and lyrics by Brian Yorkey,  an intimate band including Music Director Sarah Troxler on piano, guitarist Jack Byrne, percussionist Michael Hobbs, bassist Jon Lay, Clarinet/Flute/Saxophone Glenn Silvia, and Cassie Sulbaran on Viola bring to life this upbeat, contemporary musical with a libretto.  Clever blocking brings part of the band onstage.

Costume and props designer Irene Vifides lend to New York City’s urban vibe and signature style through big, designer purses, fashionable shoes, and impressive, colorful costumes that vary from sophisticated, city attire to a casual night in.  Scenic artist Denise Feeney and Scenic projection designers Erin and Patrick Dzierzak and Dramatic Sounds create urban ambiance with recreated city sounds, black and white city skylines, and a wealth of broad, colorful landscapes depicting a few of New York City’s most famous landmarks.  One of this show’s many highlights is the humorous depiction of NYC’s tiny apartments.  Cohasset Dramatic Club brings to life a captivating musical depicting how complicated life can be and proving it’s also too short to miss If/Then.

Directed by Lisa Pratt, musically directed by Sarah Troxler, and choreographed by Tara Morrison, Cohasset Dramatic Club presents If/Then through March 25 at 7:30.  All performances will be held at Cohasset Town Hall 41 Highland Ave in Cohasset, Massachusetts.   Click here for more information and for tickets.

Other ways to support Cohasset Dramatic Club is to become a volunteer and make a donation.  Sign up for their email list to learn about upcoming events and more.  Click here for more about the Cohasset Dramatic Club and follow them on Facebook.