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.

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.