REVIEW: Fueled by a nostalgic rock soundtrack and a charismatic storyteller, Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Wild Horses’ a lively and momentous tale

Nothing brings back memories quite like a song.

The power of music is in full force in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s (MRT) production of Alison Gregory’s Wild Horses streaming on demand through Sunday, October 17.  Merrimack Repertory Theatre previously offered the production in person from September 15 through October 3 at Western Avenue Studios in Lowell, Massachusetts.  The show contains mature language and some adult themes. Click here for more information and tickets to this virtual performance.

Directed with heart and humor by Courtney Sale, Wild Horses delves into the life of the mother of a teenage daughter, portrayed with a blend of lively charm and excitable nervousness by Leenya Rideout, as she gets wrapped up recalling her story of a special California summer during her 13th year in the 70s while onstage at an open mic night.  Rideout evokes a sense of adventure during this musically-fueled Moth Radio Hour featuring lyrics from 70s greats Rolling Stones, Heart, Van Morrison, America, and more.

Having delivered a likable performance in the 2020 indie film, Love, Repeat, Rideout further showcases her dynamic range in this meatier Wild Horses role with a humorous, heartfelt and sometimes raunchy performance.  See what Sleepless Critic had to say about Rideout in Love, Repeat here

With a love for music almost as much as horses, Rideout sings, strums an acoustic guitar, and proves an energetic and engaging storyteller sharing her experiences from a studious perfectionist to a teenager not afraid to break a few rules with the encouragement from her daring friends.   With no shortage of excitement, scandal, humor, and heartache, Rideout’s onstage demeanor switches from responsible mother in need of a night out to wide eyed, youthful innocent with all the angst that goes with it.  She blends what she remembers with her current wisdom, dwelling in the sacredness of youth. Ranging from teenage pranks to rites of passage, Rideout recalls these stories with wistfulness and passion, interacting with the audience like old friends.

Costume designer A. Lee Viliesis has Rideout ready to rock in an animal print scarf, Fender T Shirt, and ripped jeans and accompanied by guitarist Rafael Molina, she slips right into this adolescent spirit longing to be wild and free.  All that is necessary is a little courage.

Here’s to the ‘freedom takers’ with Merrimack Repertory’s production of Wild Horses continues streaming through Sunday, October 17.  Click here for more information and to get a closer look on MRT’s new season.

Company Theatre’s Michael Hammond reveals his favorite part of theatre, a secret project, and ‘Fun Home’

Just prior to the pandemic, an award-winning, intriguing production not only made its debut but closed in one night on the Company Theatre stage in Norwell, Massachusetts over a year ago.  Onstage as the meaty role of Bruce, Company Theatre’s Director of Development Michael Hammond experienced that incredible and bittersweet night and what it meant to the cast of the musical memoir Fun Home. Click here for our full podcast conversation.

Aimee Doherty as Alison, Michael Hammond as Bruce, and Riley Crockett as Small Alison Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The Company Theatre is offering a chance to see Fun Home for the full run they had originally intended in October.  Michael talks about his experience as Bruce, his favorite part of theatre, and a secret upcoming project. 

Click here for Sleepless Critic’s Fun Home review and here for tickets and further information about the Company Theatre.

Sleepless Critic: So you’ve been in theatre since you were a kid and now that we have had the pandemic, what was your favorite part of the theatre before and was there a change in your favorite or what you miss the most when we had a break?

Michael Hammond: I think we take a lot for granted in life.  We forget how much fun it is to sing with an orchestra or to perform on a beautiful set someone built.  Ryan Barrow does amazing sets at Company Theatre and it’s thrilling to perform on one of his sets.  It’s thrilling to perform with Steve Bass conducting an orchestra and thrilling to perform Sally Forrest’s choreography under Zoe Bradford’s direction. 

I think we take that for granted in some ways and as much as I enjoy it and maybe as I got from show to show to show, I think I just liked performing specific roles for the experience of getting to know a new cast.  I did a Christmas show at Company Theatre and just recharged my energy to be around such beautiful people and exciting kids and talent.  You’re in a flow and you are doing shows and enjoying it. 

The cast of Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

You get what you get out of it, but when the pandemic was coming, I was doing Fun Home with an extremely talented cast.  Riley Crockett was playing the youngest Alison.  I was re-experiencing theatre through her eyes and she had never been on a big stage or performed with an orchestra which is shocking because she is so talented.  She would ask me, ‘Are you nervous for your solo tonight?’  I would say, ‘I am a little.’  She would say, ‘Good, now you know how I feel.’  Ok, she needs a little more support and encouragement in that moment. 

Then we were standing on top of a staircase and we were about to walk down for our first entrance and she said, ‘Michael, I’ve never performed on a set like this.  This is a big deal.’  I said, ‘Yes, it is a big deal.  You are right. This is a beautiful experience and you’re about to sing live with an orchestra for the first time in a big theatre on a beautiful set.’  It made me look at what we are doing and not take it for granted. 

So we were fortunate to open and close Fun Home on the exact same night because the pandemic had really hit.  That day everyone was cancelling their performances but we went on because we had a feeling this would be it.  I’m so glad we did because it was one of the most exciting and electric experiences of my life.  People were rebellious and excited.  They knew this might be the last time they ever saw this show and Fun Home is not a super positive and happy experience.

Riley Crockett as Small Alison and Michael Hammond as Bruce Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  It is melancholy.

MH:  Right, but the audience treated it like it was a rock concert! 

SC:  Yes, I was there to review your first and final performance.  I felt so comfortable and wonderful and I had saw this show in Boston before.  What I liked about watching this particular show is that you can make it so different every time you perform it.  The parts can be portrayed very differently and you can do so much with the show.  In a way, if you had to say goodbye to theatre for awhile, I felt like that was such a poignant thing to do in that moment.

MH:  It was.  It was one of the most beautiful experiences I think I ever had and it was just so bittersweet because it was the last show with Jordie.  How thrilled and grateful am I that I got to have Jordie’s final show be Fun Home and I got to be a part of it. It was just such a fantastic experience and she loved the show. It was such a joy to go through that process with her. 

SC:  It is one of those shows that sneak up on you unexpectedly.  You’re experiencing the show and you enjoy it, but once it’s over, it is really thought-provoking. 

MH:  I saw it on Broadway and loved it.  I thought that I don’t necessarily need to see it again.  It was beautiful and moving and I think of it like a beautiful film.  You watch it and then you watch another film.  When this opportunity came around to work on the show, I have such a great appreciation for it.  I think it’s just one of the greatest things ever written where you’re dissecting and it personally and really in the trenches on it.  It’s so much more brilliant than I realized. 

SC:  It has such multi-layered performances as well. 

MH:  I was thinking today that there were so many things about Bruce,  I almost feel like I just left my body.  I personally couldn’t be any part of this character because it just wasn’t anything like me.  Sometimes I think about it and it feels really difficult to do it again because I remember it as ‘What did I even do?’  I feel like something else took over and performed the role for me.

SC:  I don’t often see you play parts like that.  Not to reveal anything, but your character is very complicated.

MH:  Then to hear compliments like you should do roles like that more often is such a compliment because people think of me as a song, dance, and musical theatre man.  Not that I shy away from roles like that, but it was very gratifying to play that part especially opposite such a talented cast.  It’s unbelievable.

SC:   I know you’ve written a few works with Jordie and Zoe over the years.  Please tell us how that came about.

MH:  I co-wrote Paragon Park the Musical with Zoe, Jordie, Sally, and Michael Joseph for the first production and Steve Bass for the second who worked on the music.  I love amusement parks and I loved Paragon Park. I went there so many times in my life. 

When I heard that Zoe and Jordie were thinking of writing a musical about Paragon Park, I selfishly just wanted to see it.  I had no inkling that I would be involved or that they would want me involved.  I just wanted to see that production so it got mentioned many times over the years and one summer I designed a poster Paragon Park the Musical coming summer of whatever year it was.  It was a long time ago. 

One day Zoe decided years after the poster even to start doing some research.  She said, ‘Why don’t you come with me?  We’ll get lunch.’  We went to the Hull Library which was incredible.  They put us in a private room and provided us with access to microfiche, boxes of memorabilia, and photographs.  They were so generous.  It just snowballed from there.  We just couldn’t stop.  We were researching and loved what we found.  It did not end up being the musical we thought we were going to write because the ideas we had in mind turned out to be completely not true.  It all got shifted.

We thought maybe there was this seedy underbelly to the park and that once the park was closed, things happened at night.  It was going to be dark and mysterious and then we find out from the park owners that ‘Oh no, we locked that place, sealed it like a drum at 11 pm, and went out for Chinese food.’  Nothing happened at the Park after hours.  So much for that, but the Stone Family provided us with so much information that we were able to write a really interesting and factual musical.  It was 80% true except for the love story we incorporated. 

SC:  Not only did you write it the first time around, but when it came back around, you got to star in it too. 

MH:  I did and it was a thrill!  The nicest feeling about that show and being in it is to be putting on a costume and as I’m by myself getting dressed, I would hear people walk down the hallway singing the songs or they would say that they get to do that scene they love now.  There was so much positivity and to realize we wrote a show that was really fun to perform.  Some of the kids were in Ragtime and we used to make these funny backstage videos.  So I said, ‘Why don’t we make videos during Paragon Park?’  They said, ‘Michael, you and Zoe wrote a show where there is no time to make videos.  When would we do that?’  It was nice to know we had a hand in creating this really fun experience.   It was quite thrilling to be able to perform something that I helped write.

Michael Hammond in Company Theatre’s ‘Paragon Park the Musical’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

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

MH: I’m devoting all my time to Company Theatre and Zoe and I thought, ‘Why not write another musical?’ It’s a completely different project from Paragon Park and we can’t quite announce yet what it is, but Zoe is incredibly inspired by this project. 

Watching her, it’s almost like she is channeling something like I’ve never seen.  She’s a beautiful artist and I’m obsessed with the way she draws and paints.  So she just took out a magic marker and a gigantic pad of paper and drew what she saw in her head for the plot of this show and it was quite impressive to watch.  Her ideas are flowing through her.  It is unbelievable so we’re hoping that will probably be the summer of 2023. 

A celebration of life for Company Theatre co-founder Jordie Saucerman. Visit companytheatre.com to learn how to be part of this tribute. Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, is presenting Fun Home in October as well as devoting a night to their late co-founder, Jordie Saucerman, in November.  Click here for more information and check back to find out about Company Theatre’s mystery original production.

REVIEW: Moliere in the Park’s ‘The School for Wives’ a twist-filled comedy of scheming proportions

What truly makes one person love another? 

Moliere in the Park begs this question while addressing gender stereotypes and takes an at times tongue in cheek look at what makes a good wife in The School for Wives, a classic comedy by French playwright Moliere first making its stage debut in 1662.  Translated by Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Wilbur with French subtitles, this virtual romantic comedy in five acts has plenty of twists and turns on the road to love and made its live streaming debut on October 24 with the recording available through October 28 on Moliere in the Park’s YouTube channel. 

The cast of Moliere in the Park’s ‘The School for Wives’ Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Moliere in the Park is dedicated to inclusive, just, and free theatre.  Click here for more information.

Set in Brooklyn, NY, Moliere in the Park’s The School for Wives uses its creative technical wizardry to meet Covid-19 standards with enhanced, virtual sets by Lina Younes transporting actors from a regal city garden to a carefully-detailed bedroom to an inviting cafe.  At one point, it also gives the illusion that the characters are all together.  Ari Fulton’s colorful costumes stay faithful to the time period while providing a certain modern edge.   

Kaliswa Brewster (Horace), Mirirai Sithole (Agnes) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Directed insightfully by Lucie Tiberghien, ‘The School of Wives’ is punctuated by its intriguing and catchy dialogue as well as its flipped gender roles.  Older and wealthy Arnolphe (Tonya Pinkins) thought he has his love life figured out until Horace (Kaliswa Brewster) makes him rethink his road to love with sweet and virtuous Agnes (Mirirai Sithole).  Each character is well developed, but what truly shines is the fleshed out philosophies and misconceptions of what makes a good woman and a good wife while exemplifying what truly makes a good man and husband.   

Tony Pinkins skillfully depicts the well-spoken and arrogant Arnolphe as a myriad of emotions cross Pinkins face in a single scene.  From a biting temper to soft chuckling to a Cheshire smile, Pinkins seamlessly illustrates Arnolphe’s constant inner conflict.   Ever the focused manipulator, Arnolphe’s vibrant scene-stealing gravitas keeps you engaged no matter how complicated his situation becomes.

Kaliswa Brewster (Horace), Tonya Pinkins (Arnolphe) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Kaliswa Brewster’s thousand-watt smile brings glowing charisma to young Horace, his youth shining through his outspoken candidness and confidence.  Pinkins and Brewster are best as they hide their veiled intentions from each other, carefully holding all their cards at bay.

Virtue takes form in Mirirai Sithole as Agnes, a wide-eyed, sympathetic creature who hides a secret.   Sithole’s carefully delivered dialogue and angelic, learned mannerisms keeps her fascinating and complicated in a demure pink headpiece and dress.

Tonya Pinkins (Arnolphe), Mirirai Sithole (Agnes) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Peasants Georgette (Tamara Sevunts) and Alain (Corey Tazmania) offer comic relief as frenzied servants of Arnolphe.  Anxious, obedient, and scrambling to meet Arnolphe’s demands, they are a fanatical and sympathetic pair whose often bewildered expressions makes one think they may have just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Tamara Sevunts (Georgette), Tonya Pinkins (Arnolphe) and Corey Tazania (Alain) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Moliere in the Park’s The School for Wives takes an enlightened look at love while the play unquestionably sets the foundation for today’s romantic comedy tropes.  Its rich, inherent message never lacks humor or sincerity when it comes to the unpredictable path to true love. 

REVIEW: Theatre Kapow delivers a clever and engaging ‘Feast’

You are part of this feast as an honored guest.

Megan Gogerty’s interactive and dynamic Feast makes you part of this production and it won’t be long until you get reeled into dinner conversation.  New Hampshire’s Theatre Kapow brings back theatre in a unique way all while delivering real dessert (and a little extra) and as a person starved for the arts, Megan Gogerty’s Feast will leave you full while remaining behind the computer. 

Directed by Matt Cahoon who offers an insightful introduction, Theatre Kapow presented Megan Gogerty’s Feast live with select performances from Friday, September 25 through Sunday, September 27.  This show contains mature content and has its own share of dark notes.  Click here to learn more about Theatre Kapow’s 13th season, We Can Get through This and much more.

Feast is an intriguing blend of the classic and contemporary featuring to-the-minute pop culture references while unraveling an ancient mystery.  Cleverly self-aware through its philosophies and contextual principles, Carey Cahoon is the hostess of this part conversation and part confessional one-woman show in 75 minutes – no small feat for one person.  Opening night had a few technical glitches, but Carey didn’t miss a beat, picking up the moment she left off.

Feast acts as much a warning as a mystery and does not shy away from raw and difficult topics, but Carey’s candor makes these subjects easier to swallow.  From government to grief, Feast is not preachy or “political” per se, but you’d be remiss if the conversation doesn’t cause you to look inward.

Carey Cahoon is refined, biting, powerful, but most of all compelling as Agathae, an upper-class socialite getting to know the company she is keeping.  She handles this complex personality with zeal through her gripping, slow-burn performance and combined with Megan Gogerty’s innovative script, keeps the tension rising as revelations are unveiled.

The show could have been one note and a bit long, but Matt Cahoon’s discerning staging and Tavya Young’s ominous lighting made interesting use of the limited space and various props, especially for an evocative scene involving a curtain.  Multi-faceted, shrewd, and on its own calculated mission, Feast also markedly holds onto the famous proverb, ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold.’

Theatre Kapow presents Lauren Gunderson’s ‘Natural Shocks’ from October 23-25 Photo courtesy of Matthew Lomanno Photography/Theatre Kapow

Theatre Kapow continues its 13th season with a live stream of Lauren Gunderson’s Natural Shocks from October 23 – 25.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Magic, mischief, and classic romantic comedy rule Company Theatre’s wondrous ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

It is not difficult to see why A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most performed and beloved plays.  It is everything but tragic.  It features magic, mischief, romantic comedy, action, and under a harvest moon, a haunting twist perfect for October and Halloween.

This particular play holds historical significance to the Company Theatre because it was the first show they ever produced 40 years ago when they were working with very little money.  Company Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an opportunity to transform the production into what they have always hoped it to be and what a dream it is.

Cleverly directed by Steve Dooner, Company Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues through Sunday, October 20 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  Click here for a closer look at show and here for more information and tickets.

Company Theatres A Midsummer Nights Dream set and cast

Samantha McMahon as Queen Titania and fairies Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre

Under a gigantic moon, Ryan Barrow’s enchanting set design and Zoe Bradford’s beautiful art design unleash a picturesque, woodland world full of frolicking fairies, sword fights, romance, and more surrounded by a moving and glittering landscape.  The show’s fanciful Ravel and Mendelssohn-infused soundtrack, some high flying special effects, Paula Ninestein and Anna Splitz’s authentic costumes with a bit of a contemporary edge, and Ethan R. Jones’s stirring lighting design seamlessly combine to enhance this captivating work.

Company Theatre A Midsummer Nights Dream Theseus and Hippolyta

Dan Kelly as Theseus and Sarah Dewey as Hippolyta Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre

A Midsummer Night’s Dream has multiple story lines, but the cast translates Shakespeare’s work with gravitas and humor.   For those hesitant about understanding Shakespeare’s work, this production is lively, lighthearted, and manageable to follow.

Part play within a play, part intrigue, part comedy, and part mystery, A Midsummer Night’s Dream essentially explores love in all of its forms from unrequited to true love to romantic comedy to love potions.  This production is the source of some of Shakespeare’s most famous reflections on love such as “True love does not see with the eyes, but the mind,” and “The course of true love never did run smooth.”  The show’s witty dialogue is a wonderful reminder that Shakespeare’s story lines are timeless and can translate into any contemporary story line.

Though A Midsummer Night’s Dream boasts a dignified and dynamic cast, it also excels at improvisation, hilarity, and absurdity.  Dan Kelly is a regal and charismatic Theseus and Sarah Dewey a radiant Hippolyta.  They glide onstage like today’s royal family.  Declan Dunn delivers a remarkable performance as wild, mischievous, and mighty Puck and his conspiring moments with Jermaine Murray as King Oberon make for a clever and cunning pair.

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The women in this production are strong, beautiful, and fierce.  Ariel Wigfall portrays sympathetic, yet courageous Hermia while raven-haired Joan Raube-Wilson is virtuous and stunning as Helena.  Samantha McMahon is as glamorous as she is amusing as Queen Titania.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ also has a wealth of wonderful, improvisational moments.  Suraj Ranhbhat as headstrong Demetrius, Bryant Marshall as Lysander, and especially Marco Zenelli as the energetic, bombastic, yet benevolent Nick Bottom along with his group of madcap, merry Mechanicals all demonstrate some excellent physical humor, improvisation, and zany comic relief.  Where would today’s humor be without these classic comedic moments which stand as the foundation of what we are all laughing about today.

Company Theatre A Midsummer Nights Dream Mechanicals

From L to R: Marco Zanelli as Nick Bottom, Declan Dunn as Puck and Caroline Kautsire as Peter Quince

Company Theatre’s classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues through Sunday, October 20 at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support Company Theatre’s future.  Also follow Company Theatre on FacebookInstagram and Twitter to learn all about their upcoming events.

REVIEW: Multi-talented Hugh Jackman wows at the TD Garden

Is multi-talented Hugh Jackman better on film or onstage?

Is it worth seeing him when he comes back to Boston?  Is he the Greatest Showman?

One thing is certain – Hugh Jackman is the genuine article.

Some actors who decide to go on tour put on self-indulgent shows of their history in show business and share their general musings about life to promote their next album or film.  They might even sing a song or two.  However, outside the studio, they can’t really sing or dance.   People cheer, even if the show isn’t what they were expecting, but they remember that guy in that film or show who was so great in those roles, and that is enough.

Hugh is one talented guy.  He is a Tony, Emmy, and Grammy award-winner as well as a Golden Globe and Academy Award-nominee.  He has also been on the other side of acting as host of the Academy and Tony Awards.  For his 50th birthday, he wished to go on a world-wide tour.

Hugh Jackman’s ‘The Man. The Music.  The Show’ will continue through October 20, 2019. Click here for show dates.  He’ll also return to Boston’s TD Garden for one more performance on Tuesday, October 1.

Hugh Jackman the Tour

Photo credit to Hugh Jackman The Show

The morning of Hugh’s appearance on Thursday, June 27 at the TD Garden, Hugh Jackman made a surprise appearance serving coffee from a coffee truck in Boston to promote his charity work with ‘The Laughing Man Cafe and Foundation.’  A loyal Bruins fan, he called performing in Boston one of his big dreams.

As superhero Wolverine (in which he demonstrated an onstage pose or two), he showed his dynamic range.  Decked out at first in a white tux, he ran the gamut of styles from flashy costumes to more casual attire with no ringleader costume in sight.  Though he reminisced about his career with a realistic look at his dogged pursuit to find success as an actor, he seemed like a humble, funny, and approachable guy.

A family friendly show, he kept the crowd moving with a broad range of music.  From reaching into an old school vibe with selections such as I’ve Got Rhythm and Mac the Knife to tap dancing to AC/DC to performing a vast selection of musical theatre including lighting up the stage with selections from ‘The Greatest Showman,’ the show had a universal appeal though especially tailored for the theatre buff.  He joined Kaley McKnight onstage to perform a stunning, powerful rendition of This is Me and a sweeping ‘Les Miserables‘ medley.  He also joined members of the Boston Children’s Chorus for a stirring rendition of You Will Be Found from the hit musical, ‘Dear Evan Hansen.’

Hugh Jackman stage

Hugh Jackman at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

The second half of the show did not outdo the first, but he demonstrated his range further in the second.  It actually became a bit trippy during his ode to his Australian idol, Peter Allen in which Hugh won a Tony Award for his portrayal as Peter in ‘The Boy From Oz.’  Peter was not only known for songs such as Don’t Cry Out Loud and Arthur’s Theme, but for his over-the-top stage performances.  He also welcomed the audience into his native Australia by recreating the outback, claiming it as one of his most out-of-this-world experiences he has ever had.

So, to answer those questions, I prefer Hugh in his epic films, but he is undeniably a wonderful performer.  The very best is a lot to ask, but his dynamic range is truly great and worth watching on tour or when he returns to Boston in October.  You will no doubt recognize the sheer talent that he has developed over decades of being a singer, a dancer, theater actor, movie star, and a hero.

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