Itamar Kubovy of modern dance troupe, ‘Pilobolus,’ discusses fascinating footwork and Celebrity Series of Boston return

Ever since Celebrity Series of Boston’s annual, free season opener Let’s Dance Boston at Dewey Square on September 13 featuring dancers that brought the audience to its feet, the 2017-18 has been a non-stop celebration.  Adding to the excitement from Friday, October 27 through Sunday, October 29, international modern dance troupe, Pilobolus, returns to Boston to share their distinctive, always fascinating moves in Pilobolus Maximus: Beyond the Limits of Dance at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

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Photo courtesy of Grant Halverson/Celebrity Series of Boston

Pilobolus has taken the stage in over sixty countries and thrilled audiences with television appearances at the Academy Awards, the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Olympics as well as made film appearances in Little Miss Sunshine, The Devil Wears Prada and Snakes on a Plane.  Executive Producer of Pilobolus, Itamar Kubovy, discussed Pilobolus’s fascinating footwork, its unique name, and the troupe’s love for Boston.

Sleepless Critic:  This is your 12th performance with Celebrity Series of Boston.  You must know Boston pretty well.

Itamar Kubovy:  We love performing in Boston and that’s not just lip service. We’ve always found our audience to teach us a huge amount about our work. The laughs, gasps, and paper rattling teach us about the work we are making.  In Boston, we encounter a crowd that makes us better at what we do and allows us to sharpen our performances.

Celebrity Series of Boston - Pilobolus Maximus

From the program, ‘Branches’ Photo courtesy of Ben McKeown

 SC:  Pilobolus is named after speedy barnyard fungus.  In the dance, I can see the symbolism behind the name.  Is there an interesting story behind it?

IK:  Jonathan Wolken, the co-founder who named the company, had a scientist dad studying the Pilobolus fungus in his biology lab, an organism about ¼ of an inch tall that grows in cow dung and has a large eye at its tip that always leans toward light. When the time is right to reproduce, the fungus shoots its head off of its body at the fastest acceleration known in nature. This alacrity and attraction to the light inspired Jonathan to name their first dance and the fledgling company after the phototropic fungus.

SC:  It seems like a quite a physically demanding job for these dancers.  What kind of routine keeps the dancers in shape and how do they best prepare for a performance?

IK:  When our dancers are in the studio, they work 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. They are lifting each other and working with tremendous physical intensity for close to 40 hours a week. The additional prep involves body maintenance, stretching, group work, and yoga.  Regarding the prep right before the show, we warm-up with an open curtain so the audience coming in watches the dancers move on the stage.  Both the audience and dancers need some time to prepare and we try to share that time. It makes the show all the more exciting when the lights go down.

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International dance troupe, Pilobolus in Pilibolus Maximus: Beyond the Limits of Dance   Photo courtesy of Grant Halverson

SC:  I imagine live performances and sometimes dangerous stunts can hold some surprises every once in a while.

IK:  They do, but the work these people do together day in and day out really limits the risk based on the trust they build between one another. Most importantly, these dancers know how to instantly adjust when something goes wrong. While we certainly have our moments of injury, we have a great deal of confidence going into every show.

Celebrity Series of Boston - Pilobolus Maximus

From the program, ‘On the Nature of Things’ Photo courtesy of Ben McKeown

SC:  Improvising is invaluable.  How is trust developed between other members of the group?

IK:  Trust is mysterious, but there is no doubt in my mind that the physical giving of one’s weight and balance to another person, literally putting yourself entirely in their hands over and over again speeds that process up.  Some of the principals in which our process is based is the human physical connection by sharing, giving, and taking weight.  Trust is a powerful by-product of caring touch.

Celebrity Series of Boston - Pilobolus Maximus

From the program, ‘Echo in the Valley’ Photo courtesy of Ben McKeown

Pilobolus Maximus:  Beyond the Limits of Dance will take the Boch Center Shubert Theatre stage at 265 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts from Friday, October 27 through 29, as part of their national tour.  A free, post artist performance artist talk moderated by Peter DiMuro of the Dance Complex will be held on opening night. Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for more information on Celebrity Series of Boston, their full schedule, and how to support them during their 79th season.  Learn more about their season and get updates through Facebook and Twitter.

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.