43 Years Of The Orange Players: An Interview with Pat Miller

Noah Golden

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist

Let’s face it, most community theater groups are lucky if they run for a handful of seasons without experiencing interruptions, budgetary restriction, interpersonal drama or complete shutdown. Yet, The Orange Players which operates right outside New Haven, Connecticut, has been going strong for over 20 years. “We are rumored to be the second oldest continuously performing community theater in CT,” Pat Miller told me just a few days before their production of “Bell, Book and Candle” opens, “we've never had a year when we haven't had shows.”

That’s quite a feat and Miller knows it. She’s a life-long advocate and practitioner of the theater, who was a charter member of the Orange Players in the summer of 1974. She has acted in, directed and produced dozens of shows, and still says she “revels” in these tasks after so many years. “I just love theater and directing,” she says, “and I love, love, love seeing how people develop and bring in their own things and build on. I think it's the most exciting thing in the world to direct.”

To learn more about the longevity of The Orange Players, I spoke to Pat Miller about its history, its future and what’s changed over the years.

NG: Can you tell me about “Bell, Book and Candle?”

Pat Miller: "Bell, Book and Candle" is a wonderful romantic comedy. John van Druten is the author. It centers around Gillian Holroyd, Nicky Holroyd and Auntie Holroyd who are all witches who live in Manhattan and can't fall in love with humans but - oh my God - she falls in love with a human! It's about New York Life in the '50s, Shep the romantic lead is a publisher and wants to publish a book by a drunken, unhinged guy named Sidney who is writing a new book about witchcraft. Of course, he has it all wrong. It's about relationships. It's about love. It's kind of an interesting mix and it was made into a movie with Kim Novak in 1958. I played Gillian years and years and years ago when I was in college, so it's fun, a circle coming around.

NG: Why did you pick “Bell, Book and Candle” for this season?

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PM: We try to do a mix. We just did an original musical fairy tale called "Threads," based on The Emperor’s New Clothes. We try to have a varied program. In August, we had a festival of original one-acts that had never been performed before. So, we've done the gamut in this group from "Fiddler On The Roof," "Pajama Game," "Diary of Anne Frank," - I mean, name it, we've done it. So now we're doing smaller things and we thought this would fit our performing space. Kevin Miller, who is directing, has directed before us before. He's very process-oriented, which attracts me to him.

NG: Tell me a little about how The Orange Players began?

PM: Our first production was "Pajama Game" in 1974. We were rehearsing in the school at night and we stopped rehearsal to watch Nixon's resignation speech on the TVs they had in the classrooms and then we went back and rehearsed. That was our initial production.

NG: What is the key to the longevity of the group?

PM: A core group of very committed people. It's difficult in today's world to attract younger people or 20s to 30s to 40s because they're so busy. So, we try everything to keep things going that will attract younger people. That happens to all volunteer groups. Everyone I’ve belonged today and I’ve belonged to a lot. I don’t' know what will happen when this generation of volunteers dies out. We need a lot of young people getting in and doing stuff.

NG: Do you have advice for other theater companies?

PM: Always grow. You have to grow and change. Do what reflects not only your audience but also the people that are involved as actors and crew. It's exciting but the world changes and sometimes you have to change with it.

NG: What has changed over the years?

PM: We used to do huge musicals in the summer and I directed a number of them. We'd have 60, 70 people onstage. We used Amity High School. Then, over the years, there was an asbestos problem, we performed at few other places for a while, but now there's a very, very active and wonderful theater program at Amity. We didn't want to compete with them. So we're doing more boutique-y thinks. We did "Kick Out Of Cole," which was a musical revue. We do a lot of cabaret performances. We did another one called "Ages and Stages." We performed that at the Jewish Community Centers and at some of the churches, senior centers, libraries. We do a lot of reader’s theater. We're constantly forward, for ways to stretch but still be viable. I hope that it continues on, continues to grow, continues to attract to attract people, continues to inspire young people to love he theater, to keep an annual program of productions. We've had very, very strong friendships develop over the years and it’s been a safe space for people, which in today's world is very important.

“Bell, Book and Candle” runs April 21, 22, 28 & 29 at 8 p.m. at High Plains Community Center in Orange, Connecticut. To learn more, visit orangeplayers.net.

From “Idol” to “The Most Beautiful Room In New York" – A conversation with Constantine Maroulis

Noah Golden

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist

When I phoned Constantine Maroulis for an OnStage interview one early April morning, he was waiting in line to get a coffee. “Can I call you right back, man?” he said with the cacophony of a busy New Haven café in the background.

After coffee was safely in hand and Maroulis was back on the phone, we talked for a half hour and I quickly understood why that caffeine was so necessary. He’s currently in rehearsal for a brand-new musical at Long Wharf Theatre, is out promoting his original rock single “All About You,” produces shows with his company MarKolTop Productions (they worked on the critically-lauded “Spring Awakening” revival), has a few on-screen roles in the works and, oh yeah, is dad to a young daughter. But even with so much on his plate, Maroulis was energetic, affable and very talkative during out conversation (the large cup of Joe may have contributed). He was eager to chat about "The Most Beautiful Room In New York,” an original musical premiering on May 3rd, which he calls a “very modern musical with a classic sensibility.” Now in rehearsals, Maroulis says the experience has been “incredible” and “every actor’s dream” to be originating a role.

I must admit, though, that beyond his new Long Wharf show, I was excited to speak to him for another reason. Like millions of viewers, I distinctly remember watching him on season 4 of the juggernaut singing competition Maroulis reverentially referred to as “American f*cking Idol.” I’ve been a longtime fan and a one-season reviewer of that show, in which Maroulis came in sixth place (the crown went to a little-known country crooner named Carrie Underwood, by the way). Since then, he’s been Tony-nominated playing Drew in “Rock Of Ages” and, in 2013, headed the Broadway revival of “Jekyll & Hyde.” That’s not to mention the dozens of regional roles, on-screen work and rock concerts Maroulis has done.

Now, he’s tacking a new role and “happier than he’s been in many years.” Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

NG: Can you tell me a bit about your new show at Long Wharf?

CM: It's called "The Most Beautiful Room In New York" by Adam Gopnik and David Shire, directed by Gordon Edelstein. It's myself, Anastasia Barzee, Joe Cassidy, a bunch of great actors from New York. It's a great creative team and an incredible design team. Long Wharf has always been a place I’ve wanted to work at. I'm really excited to be here. I first met Gordon 15 years ago when I was an apprentice at Williamstown [Theatre Festival] and he put me in the ensemble of one of the plays. So, I’ve always looked up to him. The play? Honestly, I think we have a modern classic on our hands. It's beautifully done, it's poetic. I play Sergio, he's a very famous chef who has gone on to great success and he's partnered with David Kaplan, who's the hero of our show. His family owns and operates a restaurant on Union Square called Table that I started with them 20 years ago. But I went on to huge success. I left him, but what David doesn't realize is that, before I left, I might have had some interactions with his future wife. It's an exciting role for me because it's very much not a rock show. The music is beautifully subtle. You're not going to hear over-the-top belting. It's very conversational. You can hear David's Sondheim influences throughout.

NG: You've done some producing recently and tour as a solo artist, as well as being a working actor. What keeps you motivated to be involved in so many different facets of the industry?

CM: I think for me I just was always lucky to grow up in such a diverse home that supported the arts. I feel like I learned early on an admiration for different areas of the medium, whether it’s songwriting, producing, standing up on stage with a rock band, doing front of house kind of things, putting good people together – I think it’s all part of it. For me, the opportunity to produce on Broadway with Deaf West's "Spring Awakening" was a show I was very passionate about. It was a wonderful thing to be a part of, to see how the whole machine works from behind the scenes.

NG:  You started on "American Idol," which at the time might have been an unorthodox way to begin a theater career. How did you parlay your “Idol” experience into starring on Broadway?

CM: What not everyone knows is that I grow up in New York and New Jersey. Theater and music are my whole life. I graduated with a BFA in acting and musical theater from Boston Conservatory. So "American Idol," which was an incredible opportunity that presented itself, was like a natural progression. I graduated high school, was going to school part-time, I was playing in rock and roll bands, I was hustling, I was auditioning for shows, I got my Equity card and then I went to Boston Conservatory at around age 22. I went to Williamstown and met Michael Greif and then I booked [the national tour of] "Rent." My band would follow me out and we'd play shows. There, I learned my first heartache as a professional actor, which was "sorry, we're not bringing you back next year." Then, BOOM, basically the next day I was on a China Town bus to Washington DC and auditioning for the biggest show in the world, "American Idol." I didn't get just plucked out of the mall and auditioned for "American Idol" out of nowhere, if you know what I mean.

NG: More than any other televised talent show, "Idol" has been the springboard for so many great theater performers. Why do you think that is?

CM: Part of it is, unlike the other shows which are flashy and fun but they're really just a vehicle for the famous judges – I honestly could not name more than one or two people to ever come off some of these shows – "Idol" was literally the search for the next superstar. It was about the journey of the artist. Audiences have a greater emotional investment in the contestants and that's why they've had success long after the show. But I also think a lot of us from "Idol" have grown up in the theater. Doing musical theater, as you know, is huge right now. What's bigger than "Hamilton?” That's one of the biggest brands there is. When Randy [Jackson] used to say, "I don't know, it's a little Broadway," I was like "thank you." That doesn't mean what it used to mean. It's not a term that should be deemed derogatory in any way.

NG: Do you have any advice for young performers who want to follow in your footsteps?   

CM: Look, man, just do it. Only do it because you live to do it and there's nothing else. Because it's a long, dirty fight. Put yourself in the position to be successful. Work your ass off and be realistic about your own expectations and where you fit in in the spectrum of theater or film or TV. Be productive. Work with your classmates. Better each other. Create opportunities for each other. Make your own content. Go out there and build your own content. Write your own f*cking shows, write your own songs, play instruments. Find other cool people who do the same thing. Play with them. Do it because you love it.

NG: What are you most looking forward to over the run of the show?

CM: I just love getting to know new people. Us theater people get comfortable with each other real fast. I love that collaborative partnership. I'm looking forward to just showing the world this piece and bettering it every step of the way. We're going to be making tons of changes. Once the show is up we're going to make more changes. It’s just going to happen like that, that's the process and we love it.

“The Most Beautiful Room In New York" runs May 3rd through the 28th at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT. For more information, visit: longwharf.org

Sweeney, Skivvies & Squeaky: An Interview with Lauren Molina of Yale Rep’s “Assassins”

Noah Golden

OnStage Connecticut Columnist

Lauren Molina is no stranger to the work of Stephen Sondheim. She made her Broadway debut as Johanna in John Doyle’s “Sweeney Todd” and has since been in “A Little Night Music” and the Sondheim revue “Marry Me A Little.” “He’s pure genius,” she said of the prolific 86-year-old composer, “his characters are like ducks, they’re smooth sailing on a pond but underneath their little legs are kicking, kicking, kicking so hard but you don't see all of this emotional turmoil inside.” Not one to box herself in artistically, Molina has rounded out her resume playing such diverse roles as Regina (in the original Broadway cast of “Rock Of Ages”), Cunégonde and everyone’s favorite blonde-haired plant food Audrey. Besides her stage work, Molina is also an accomplished musician and one-half of the very popular New York-based band (and YouTube favorites) The Skivvies. On March 17, she returns to the work of Stephen Sondheim in Yale Repertory Theatre’s production of “Assassins.”

On a snowy morning just about a week before the show opens, I got the opportunity to speak to Ms. Molina via the phone about how rehearsals are going, what makes now the perfect time to revive “Assassins” and what it’s been like to return to Yale after being a part of a summer acting workshop there her senior year of college.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.  

NG: I first became acquainted with you and your work over ten years ago through seeing "Sweeney Todd.” Before we talk about what you're working on now, I'm curious what you took away from that experience?

LM: Not only was it a life-changing experience for me to have made my Broadway debut but the experience of getting to work with John Doyle and Sondheim and people like Patti LuPone on a totally reimagined production where the actors not only were the characters in the show but also the musicians. I'd never really played my instrument and sang at the same time before. I'd been an instrumentalist since I was in elementary school but to take away from that show the skill of being able to play cello and sing at the same time was huge for me and opened up so many new doors. In addition, I learned that typically huge productions could be stripped down in ways to just focus on the storytelling. Specifically, John Doyle, who I was fortunate enough to work with on a couple other projects, would always say, 'do less.' I think as an actor we always try to work so hard for people to like us and to be impressed by us and he would always stress the importance of just 'do less. Do less. Sing less.' I think that really helped me find my groundedness as an actor and to trust myself. 

NG: Is "Assassins" a show that you had been a fan of previously? And, if so, what drew you to being a part of it?

LM: Absolutely! I love "Assassins!" The first time I saw it was in college at the University of Michigan and I was like, 'oh my God, I have to play Squeaky Fromme someday!' I saw the revival at Studio 54 with Neil Patrick Harris and Alex Gemignani, who’s a friend of mine from college and was actually in "Sweeney Todd,” and Michael Cerveris. I was like a super-fan of his before I got to do "Sweeney Todd" with him. I was blown away by the brilliance of how [Sondheim] and John Weidman, who I believe is a genius as well, took these characters who were all assassins or attempted assassins and put them in this world together where people from different time periods were having conversations. Like what if someone from the 1970s could have a conversation from somebody from the 1800s about their passions and dreams. You emphasize with these crazy characters and you think, 'oh maybe they're not so crazy.' What I love about this piece is that it really opens your eyes to having empathy for these sort of mad characters and the music is incredible. With this one the combination of the book and the music is really exciting and daring. It's a dark subject matter but there's so much comedy, which I love. 

NG: The show was written in the late ‘80s and premiered in 1990, yet the message and themes of "Assassins" seem more timely than ever. Why do you think this is a good time to revive the show and is that something you talked about in rehearsals?

LM: Absolutely. That is definitely something that our director James Bundy thought about when programming it for this season. He said that no matter if Hilary or Trump won, there would be an absolute reaction and response to this piece. We can all relate to being disenfranchised and unhappy with the status quo and feeling unhappy with our own lives and wanting something bigger to blame for it.

NG: How are rehearsals going?

LM: We just started tech yesterday, so we're putting all the elements in place. It's a very stark-looking stage, lots of metal, lots of light. It kind of symbolizes the media and flashbulbs. We have giant projection screens because we live in a society where we're constantly bombarded with news and media.

The process has been really fun. We have built in five-weeks rehearsal here at Yale, which is kind of unheard of. It's such a long rehearsal in comparison to other regional shows that I've done. There's been a lot of time and we rehearse in the evening because the Yale grad students have class and they have to come to rehearsal. I love that too. I'm more of a night owl. The cast is really great and funny and kind. I’ve been friends with Julia Murney [who plays Sara Jane Moore] for a while now. I worked on a show called "The Fortress of Solitude" with Bob Lenzi who's playing Booth and he's wonderful. Stanley Bahorek who's playing Zangara went college with me. I've known him 17 years, which is wild. We've never done a full production together since we graduated. It's been a really great experience.

NG: Have there been any memorable moments in the rehearsal process?

LM: What's wild is that we use guns constantly within the show. So James Bundy thought it would be a good idea to go to a gun range and shoot some real guns and get some real training and feel WHAT it's like to load a gun and shoot a gun.. I've shot a gun before, my family in Texas had a ranch and so I've shot like clay pigeons before. I am not a gun person. I'm very anti-gun. I shot a Colt 45 [which is what Fromme used in her attempted assassination], I shot a 38 and I shot a semi-automatic. It's like 'wow, this is a killing machine.' To feel that power and the reality of it for sense memory to take with me on stage is pretty powerful.

NG: What are you most excited about when it comes to the rest of the run?

LM: You know how it is when you're rehearsing; in the room you can only tell a joke so many times and people will continue to laugh. We need an audience, that's the last piece of the puzzle when it comes to theater. It's that element of connection and communication to the audience and seeing how they react and are moved and tickled and frightened and all these things. This piece really shines a mirror on the audience and asks you to see yourself in these characters. I'm very excited to see how people will respond. Since this is not done very often, I'm just excited to expose people to this piece. I think it's going to resonate with people of all ages and all political leanings. It's going to resonate in a new way if you've seen it before.

NG: Before I go, I need to ask about your work with The Skivvies since many of our readers know you and are fans of yours through that group. I was just wondering how the concept of playing pop/Broadway acoustic mash-ups in your underwear started and are there any fun plans for The Skivvies going forward?

LM: Like I said, I got the skill set of how to play the cello and sing at the same time doing "Sweeney." Then, years passed and I was making music with my best friend Nick Cearley. Five years ago, we were hanging out one day and we were like, 'let's put a cover song up on YouTube because that seems to be really popular.' [Laughs] We wanted to take a really overproduced pop song and strip it down to two instruments and change the vibe of it. I was walking around in my bra trying to figure out what to wear and Nick said, 'you should just wear that.' He was sorta half-joking and I said, 'well, you know, we are stripping down the music. What if we did a whole stripped down music series for YouTube and never really commented on the fact that it's stripped down both physically and musically.' Then my boyfriend said, 'you should CALL yourself The Skivvies.

We started making videos for The Skivvies, inviting friends to join us as special guests and then our videos started to go viral. We were asked to do a show at Joe's Pub and that was our first concert in 2012. We just invited a bunch of our Broadway friends to join us and get silly and be in their underwear and it's like the oldest trick in the book. You take off your clothes and people look at you. [Laughs] it's just taken off organically for the last five years. Incredibly, it's like my day job when I'm in between shows, which has been the greatest gift. I once met Jason Alexander and I was like, 'what's the greatest piece of advice you give to anyone who's an actor?' And he said, 'create your own work. It will change your life. Don't wait for somebody else to give you a job.' I really took that to heart. I know it’s hard to be motivated, it's hard to know what your niche is, but I also encourage everyone to just make shit. Like go with your friends. Do some sketch comedy, make content for the internet. Write. Just do it. Even if you're not in a show. Just keep working. Keep flexing those muscles. It's just been so crazy. It's the greatest gift to be able to play music with your friends and add a twist of comedy to it.

Women Taking the Initiative

Susan Cinoman

OnStage Connecticut Columnist

It’s always a good thing to take the initiative. Without waiting for someone else to do it for you, have the courage and the fortitude to get something going for yourself. Stop complaining when opportunities pass you by, and don’t cry when you’re not discovered among the throngs. Do it yourself! In the case of the Women’s Play Initiative at the Ivoryton Playhouse, that is exactly what they did.

The Executive and Artistic Director, Jacqui Hubbard and her Director of Play Development, Laura Copland had a conversation about providing a safe, nurturing environment for women playwrights to workshop their plays. With the enthusiastic support of the board of the Ivoryton Playhouse, the Women Playwright’s Initiative was born, with readings of four one-acts on March 3 and 4, 2017 at the historic, professional theater: the Ivoryton Playhouse, in Connecticut. I asked Laura some questions about the festival which features plays by women writers around the country.

Q.   Why did you feel the need to highlight plays by women in particular? Did our current political climate figure into your thinking? 

A.Women provide so many roles in American society. We assume the roles often without too much introspection—caregiver, educator, boss, employee, companion, lover, interpreter, thinker, artist. Their perspectives need to be encouraged to be articulated. Playwrights put characters in situations and allow us to see them act and react. As a public we need to see characters from a woman’s perspective. It was of course interesting to have the first woman candidate for president in a major political party, but I have long been interested in supporting women playwrights.

Q. Do you think that women have something to say that is different than men when it comes to their plays? Will audiences be interested in what women have to say on stage? 

A.Every playwright has something unique to offer simply because people have different experiences and values. People are interested in good theater. If the play is good, people will want to see it. 

Q. Why is it that so many plays seem to be written by men? Our greatest American playwrights seem to be men, at least the ones we know and study. Why do you think that is, especially when statistically women above the age of 40 comprise the highest number of ticket buyers on Broadway now, according to a recent statistic?

A. This might be a question better put to playwrights—to talk about their encouragement or lack thereof. But I think maybe women take themselves for granted. Traditionally, women buy tickets to shows they think their husbands and male partners want to see.  We need to encourage women playwrights, so that we get used to seeing plays by women. 

Q. Based on the plays by women you read, what are women writing about? Are they writing within one genre more than another? Can you make a generalization? 

A.The plays covered every topic imaginable—identity, power and powerlessness, money, health, love, aging, beauty, sex, sexuality, politics, revenge, societal mores, dating, motherhood, the military, insanity, despair, friendship. They touched on everything under the sun. They were full of wit, passion, humor, and deep, deep feeling.

Q. Are women as entertaining as men in their plays? Does the fact that women have been socialized differently than men, at least in the past, make their writing more or less engaging than the writing of men? 

A. Human beings are interesting. Good writing is always engaging. We need more opportunities for more women to write, and write, and write some more.  Here are our playwrights and we are so excited! Come join us!

http://www.ivorytonplayhouse.org/women-playwrights-initiative-march-2017

New Artistic Director Sets Fresh Course for Local CT Theatre

Chris Peterson

OnStage Founder & Editor-in-Chief

When thinking about lasting legacies and storied histories of local theatres, I almost immediately think of The Bookfield Theatre for the Arts. Beyond its intimate space, the theatre has been active since 1957 when it moved into its present home. 

Now, with this year celebrating its 60th Anniversary, the legacy of this space is primed for another change, under the leadership of their new Artistic Director, Will Jeffries. 

While Jeffries is no stranger to local stages, this is the first time he's stepped into a role like this. I had a chance to sit down with him to talk about this new role, its challenges and TBTA's exciting new season which includes masterworks such as Damn Yankees, Frost/Nixon and Martin Sherman's Bent. 

CP: Tell me what you're excited about with this season? 

WJ: There isn’t anything about this season that doesn’t excite me. It’s a season of fabulous plays, it’s a huge Anniversary season for the Theatre, I’m performing in a new capacity, and I’m getting to know lots of very talented theatre folks who are here for the same reasons I am.

It is a brand new beginning in a way, and I get to help carry the torch that was first lit in Brookfield 60 years ago. Really, what could be more exciting?

CP: Not many local theatres will produce a show like Bent, what made you choose it for this season? 

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WJ: I moved to New York to pursue an acting career in 1976. I was lucky….by 1977, I had all my union cards, and was making a living as an actor. I saw lots of shows too. But in 1979 I saw BENT on Broadway, with Richard Gere, and it changed what the possibilities that theatre could be for me. It had a visceral impact on so many levels; the story, of course, but in the theatrical sense, the way the story was presented to the audience was breathtaking.

Ten years later, I had moved to Los Angeles, working mostly in TV, and studying with Joan Darling. In her class, along with a terrific young actor, Geoffrey Blake, I did scene work on pieces from BENT. To dig in and play these characters was a profound acting experience.

There are not many plays that have stayed with me so long, or compelled me to see to it that they are produced. I consider myself an actor/director, but I don’t direct as much as I perhaps might, partly because I want to act as much as I can while I’m still able, but also because directing to me is so consuming. It takes me a lot of time. I envy some people their ability to just flit from one directing project to another, several in a year. I don’t seem to have that. It has to be something special for me to devote the time to directing a play. But, I’ve been preparing for years to direct BENT.

CP: It looks like TBTA is poised to get a face-lift soon. Can you tell me about any renovations or improvements you're making to the space itself? 

WJ: There are a number of things that we’re looking at doing with the theatre itself.  First and foremost, the actual stage is in need of a major overhaul, there are squeaks and weak spots, gaps and bumps, the typical aging stage floor. So, we are aiming before the season starts, to rebrace, level, and lay down a new stage floor suitable for any use we may have, from being a comfortable surface for dancers to being accommodating for rolling scenery.

There is redecorating happening in the Annex, our lobby area, as well, with newly installed carpet, and a new color palette being designed to further its use as an art gallery in conjunction with our shows. Of course, we’re also taking a good look at our lighting and sound systems, as well. We have consultants coming in to help us properly use what equipment we have, and develop a plan of what we may look to evolve toward in the future. Technology, like time, marches on.

CP: How has the transition from actor to artistic director been for you?

Will Jeffries

Will Jeffries

WJ: Well, I don’t cease being an actor having taken on the new responsibilities. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to have on the record that in accepting the job as A.D., it was agreed that I would direct at least one show, as well as act in one per season. After all, I’m a seasoned actor with a long professional and non-pro background, it would be nonsensical to prevent me from acting in my home company.

Recognizing, though, that as A.D. I can’t really audition for roles here without at least the appearance of an unfair casting situation, the plan was that I would not audition; I would be precast in a role, in the first season for example, as Nixon in FROST/NIXON, and function as more or less a built in understudy or standby if the need arose. And I would still audition for shows at other theatres.

But as luck would have it, the situation reared its head with our first outing, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, which I had no intention of playing in for all the reasons stated above. In truth, I had my heart set on another role, elsewhere, for which I auditioned, and did not get. Oh well, there are lots of reasons actors don’t get roles, one doesn’t bellyache about it. But when our director for CAT felt she had not seen her Big Daddy except when I was reading with the other actors at callbacks, she asked me to play it. Now, it’s an iconic role in an iconic show, I’m the first to admit. In fact, I thought actors would be lined up to audition for it, but they weren’t.  

So I end up in the show. It wasn’t planned, but it still caused some talk, which is unfortunate, but probably inevitable; you can’t please everyone. But let it be known, all roles are open for every show, unless specifically stated otherwise!

CP: What can people expect from TBTA in the future? 

WJ: I hope that what people can expect from The Brookfield Theatre for The Arts in the future can be summed up in what I think of as my Mission Statement as Artistic Director:

It is our goal that The Brookfield Theatre for The Arts will maintain itself as a place of artistic excellence; that we will present dramas, comedies, straight and musical productions of the highest artistic and aesthetic standards in all areas, the stories we tell, the performers who tell them, the sets, lights, sound and costumes.  We want audiences to know that they are welcome, and that when they share their time and their entertainment dollars with us, they will be the recipients of everything that the theatre has to offer; they will see themselves reflected in the mirror the theatre holds up, as they laugh, cry, and are challenged by our work. We want our theatre to be one where the audiences will come because they know they will be well entertained and moved by truthful, high quality Theatre.

It is also our goal that The Brookfield Theatre for The Arts is a welcoming environment for all the people who come to participate and practice their theatrical craft. We want theatre people to want to be here because when here they will know that their time and contributions are valued. We want them to know that they will be working on projects of merit, excellence and importance. We recognize that as a community theatre, people come with a wide range of goals and experience, and that we endeavor to honor all of those, while striving to do our best theatrical work.  We know that for some, rigorous artistic standards are vital, and for others, a collegial and fun atmosphere is the desire, and so we strive to encompass both, armed with the knowledge that it is possible to do great theatre in a collegial way, and that it is far more fun to work on something that is really great!

Auditions for Bent will be held at 7PM on Sun., Jan. 15 & Mon., Jan. 16, 2017 at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts located on Route 25 (184 Whisconier Rd., Brookfield), just behind the Brookfield Library. Show dates are April 28 - May 13. For more info visit, brookfieldtheatre.org. Photo: TBTA production of Godspell. 

Collective Consciousness Theatre Brings Diverse Stories to New Haven

Noah Golden 

OnStage Connecticut Columnist

In the past few months, we’ve seen an influx of articles on this site about using theater as a way of political activism. In his beautiful note on the 2016 election “The Way Forward,” C. Austin Hill wrote about making theater is a great catalyst of social change. “Ours is an art form devoted to the creation of empathy, compassion, and humanity,” he writes. While many companies are now taking up this mantle, New Haven’s Collective Consciousness Theatre [CCT] has been doing that since 2007.

Founded by a collective of artists, actors and writers from the New Haven area, CCT produces established work, original plays and hosts workshops. Their work has toured schools and theaters across New England. To find out more about how CCT combines art and activism, I talked to its executive director and one of its founders Dexter J. Singleton. A professional actor, director, playwright, producer and teacher, Singleton has worked with Long Wharf Theatre, Yale Rep, Hartford Stage, Elm Shakespeare and other companies both nationally and internationally. He also served as the Chair of Theatre at Regional Center for the Arts in Trumbull and an Adjunct Professor of Theatre at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on Collective Consciousness’ 2017 season, which begins in January, visit: socialchangetheatre.org.

What is the goal of Collective Consciousness Theatre?

It is CCT’s goal to help change the world with theatre. We know that’s a very big goal and nearly impossible to achieve, but we believe if you start with just one person, it is possible to create social change. We want CCT to inspire people. All of our work tackles important social issues in our society. In our nine years we’ve created more than a dozen new plays and presented many others written by internationally known playwrights. Most of our productions deals with issues around race, class and culture. With every project, we want to create the highest quality production with the best talent from our community. 

We have open auditions for both community and professional actors for every production in our mainstage and touring season. We also need many stage managers, board operators, designers, carpenters and painters each year. Our events are always affordable and accessible to all members of our community, offering free or low ticket prices ranging from $10-$25 and Pay What You Can Nights every Thursday for every production.   

How do you choose what shows you produce?

The plays in our mainstage seasons focus on social issues around race, class and culture. In staying with our mission, we choose work that is multicultural and has strong roles for artists of color and women. We are now in our third season of mainstage work. We like to produce new contemporary plays, most are Connecticut premieres. Because we’re still very small and our space has many limitations, we often don’t choose plays with more than eight actors or those that call for huge technical effects. We pick plays we love and think are fantastic, ones that will challenge artists and audiences alike. Our third season opens in January with “The Mountaintop,” a beautiful newer play that was on Broadway a few years ago starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett. It is a fictional retelling of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night on earth before his assassination on April 4, 1968.

Our second show, “Stories of a New America” is a revival of a play we toured for several seasons years ago. The play was created through hours of interviews with refugees from IRIS [Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services], a fantastic refugee resettlement center in New Haven. Our final show of the season, “Milk Like Sugar,” is about a group of high school girlfriends whose lives are altered after making a life change pact between them. It is a beautiful play that is as hilarious as it is heartbreaking.     

Why is it important to create politically-charged theater?

We use our plays and workshops to help spark dialogue about important social issues affecting our community. The theatre is a gathering place of many walks of life of varying socioeconomics, races and lifestyles. It is one of the few places where all of these individuals will sit together and experience something that makes them feel. They can laugh, cry and think together. It’s important for theatre to be socially conscious so that it is relevant to today’s society. Theatre can be a great way to help the world be a better place. Our nation is very tense right now, there is a greater lack of tolerance and understanding. Theatre helps individuals learn about people and experiences outside of their own.  

What advice do you have for other companies who want to start producing these kinds of shows?

Don’t be afraid to create new diverse stories. The theatre is always in need of a fresh perspective. If you don’t see the kind of theatre that inspires you, create your own. 

CT/NY Community Theatre's Top 10 of 2016

This past year was exceptionally strong across the board for Connecticut/Westchester NY community theatre scene. We saw the standard of excellence we've come to know from a few theatres and also some standout productions from theatres we don't get to see as much from. 

But even more than that, we saw theatres take bold risks with their show selections. Whether it was more obscure choices or shows that might not get the guaranteed box office success, multiple theatres rolled the dice and it worked for many of them. 

This past year also saw a lot of social consciousness implemented into these shows. Whether obvious or subtle, the effect was noticed and palpable. 

So here are our picks, in no particular order, for the Top 10 of CT/NY Community Theatre for productions, performances, design and direction. Some of these were honored this past June at our OnStage Critics Awards(**) as well. 

The follow are based on the comments, reviews and selections of the OnStage Critics Circle.

Top 10 - Direction (Play)

  • Alicia Dempster – Seminar – Theatreworks New Milford  
  • Margaret Young – Harvey – Elmwood Playhouse
  • Julie Bell Petrak – The Farnsworth Invention – Town Players of New Canaan  
  • Tom Holehan - Now or Later - Square One Theatre Company
  • Lynn Paulella Beard - Over the River and Through the Woods - Warner Stage Company
  • Sherry Asch - Sight Unseen - Town Players of Newtown
  • John Atkin - The Best Man - Curtain Call
  • Cathy Fitzpatrick Linder - Farragut North - Ridgefield Theatre Barn
  • John Schwanke - Speed the Plow - The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts
  • Claudia Stefany - An American Daughter - Elmwood Playhouse

Top 10 - Direction (Musical)

  • Debra Lee Failla – Next to Normal – Elmwood Playhouse 
  • Sharon A. Wilcox – Rock of Ages- Warner Stage Company
  • Kris McMurray – The Last Five Years – Connecticut Cabaret Theatre 
  • Matt Farina - Footloose- Musicals at Richter
  • Ian Galligan - Cabaret - Castle Craig Players
  • George Croom - Ragtime - Curtain Call
  • Todd Santa Maria - bare: A Pop Opera - The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts
  • Dan Checovetes - Heathers - Landmark Community Theatre
  • Eli Newsom - A Chorus Line - Downtown Cabaret Theatre
  • Donald Birely - Beauty & the Beast - Warner Stage Company

Top 10 Overall Design(Costumes, Sound, Scenic, Lighting)

  • Blithe Spirit – Sherman Players
  • Next to Normal – Elmwood Playhouse    
  • The Farnsworth Invention - Town Players of New Canaan
  • Private Lives - Theatreworks New Milford
  • bare: A Pop Opera - The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts 
  • Dreamgirls - Landmark Community Theatre
  • Ragtime - Curtain Call
  • An American Daughter- Elmwood Playhouse
  • Boeing, Boeing - Elmwood Playhouse
  • Beauty & the Beast - Warner Stage Company

Top 10 Female Performances (Play)

  • Nicole Thomas - The Glass Menagerie - Backyard Theatre Ensemble/Landmark Community Theatre**
  • Jean Marie McCormick – Hollywood Arms – Eastbound Theatre**
  • Patricia Michael – Blithe Spirit – Sherman Players
  • Maureen Cummings – Other Desert Cities – Town Players of New Canaan
  • Kristin Gagliardi - The Farnsworth Invention – Town Players of New Canaan     
  • Linda MacCluggage - Doubt - Chestnut Street Playhouse
  • Jill Luberto - Sylvia - Hole in the Wall Theater
  • Stefanie Woerdeman - Sight Unseen - Town Players of Newtown
  • Julie-Thaxter-Gourlay - Glengarry Glenn Ross - Curtain Call
  • Elizabeth Scotson - An American Daughter - Elmwood Playhouse

Top 10 Male Performances (Play)

  • Larry Gabbard – Other Desert Cities – Town Players of New Canaan** 
  • Geoffrey Gilbert - One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – The Bijou Theatre**
  • Andrew Greenway – Harvey – Elmwood Playhouse
  • Eric Regan – The Farnsworth Invention – Town Players of New Canaan
  • Jack Tynan - Farragut North - Ridgefield Theatre Barn
  • Brian Michael Riley - Fox in the Fairway - Eastbound Theatre
  • Christopher Finch - Now or Later - Square One Theatre Company
  • Danny Charest - An American Daughter - Elmwood Playhouse
  • Christopher Cooney - Sight Unseen - Town Players of Newtown
  • Sam Mink - Camping with Henry and Tom - Westport Community Theatre

Top 10 Female Performance (Musical)

  • Katie Sondermeyer – Next to Normal – Elmwood Playhouse**    
  • Rebecca Zaretzky - The Spitfire Grill - Community Theatre at Woodbury**
  • Miran Robarts – Next to Normal - Elmwood Playhouse  
  • Kaite Corda - The Last Five Years - Connecticut Cabaret Theatre 
  • Sarah Giggar - Ragtime - Curtain Call
  • Minuette Griffin - Ragtime Curtain Call
  • Jessica Rohe - Cabaret - Castle Craig Players
  • Lynette Marshall - Hairspray - Downtown Cabaret Theatre
  • Caitlin Mandracchia - Beauty & the Beast - Warner Stage Company
  • Lindsay Johnson - A Chorus Line - Downtown Cabaret Theatre

Top 10 Male Performance (Musical)

  • Michael King – Rock of Ages – Warner Stage Company** 
  • Billy Shubeck – You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown – Darien Arts Center            
  • Nick D’Angelo – The Last Five Years – Connecticut Cabaret Theatre
  • Kevin Thompson - Ragtime - Curtain Call
  • Jon Escobar - The Fantasticks - Connecticut Cabaret Theatre
  • Ed Bassett - A Man of No Importance - Phoenix Stage Company at Clockwork
  • Jason Perry - Cabaret - Castle Craig Players
  • Josh Newey - Evil Dead: The Musical - Warner Stage Company
  • William Sandercox - bare: A Pop Opera - The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts
  • Erick Sanchez - Footloose - Musicals at Richter

Top 10 Plays    

  • Harvey – Elmwood Playhouse  
  • The Foreigner - Two Planks Theater Company 
  • The Farnsworth Invention – Town Players of New Canaan     
  • The Best Man - Curtain Call
  • An American Daughter - Elmwood Playhouse
  • Fox in the Fairway - Eastbound Theatre
  • Speed the Plow - The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts
  • Now or Later - Square One Theatre Company
  • Farragut North - Ridgefield Theatre Barn
  • Sight Unseen - Town Players of Newtown

Top 10 Musicals

  • Next to Normal – Elmwood Playhouse**
  • The Last Five Years – Connecticut Cabaret Theatre  
  • bare: A Pop Opera - The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts
  • Ragtime - Curtain Call
  • A Chorus Line - Downtown Cabaret Theatre
  • You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown – Darien Arts Center
  • City of Angels - Curtain Call
  • Beauty & the Beast - Warner Stage Company
  • Heathers - Landmark Community Theatre
  • Footloose- Musicals at Richter

McMahon High School Could Fund Their Theatre Program But Won't

Chris Peterson

  • OnStage Founder

Just as is the case with many high schools across the country, theatre at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, CT is unfunded by the school. Now before you get all up in arms about a school not supporting theatre, understand that high school budgets can be complex. Funds need to be allocated to cover not only expenses and salaries but also repairs to facilities and new educational materials.

However, even with the way funds need to be allocated at the school, the theatre program isn't asking for much. In fact, a recent Gofundme campaign stated that they are only looking for $15,000 to cover the expenses for the next 5 years. That's $3,000 per year, not exactly a king's ransom and the amount is quite significant for reasons you see in just a moment.  

While there are certainly places where McMahon needs to spend their funds, there is one blatant way the school could fund its theatre program but won't. 

Freeze Administrative Salaries

According to their 2015-16 Operating Budget request, the school was requesting a raise of $15,658 for their administrators. That $15,658 would be spread out among five individuals, one Principal and four "Housemasters" who I can only assume are Vice-Principal-eqsue roles. 

Now I certainly support raises for any employee, but when it comes at the expense of basically letting an arts program starve to death, it comes off as incredibly selfish. 

And before you say, "Well these people have to eat too". Trust me, the administrators at McMahon High School are eating incredibly well. 

Last year the Principal and Housemaster salaries totaled, $795,934. Here's how it broke down:

  • Principal - $180,451.94
  • Housemaster 1 - $158,372.45
  • Housemaster 2 - $156,727.61
  • Housemaster 3- $154,466.91
  • Housemaster 4- $150,641.32

So, while theatre students are wondering whether or not they'll perform this year, the funds that would support bare bones productions for the next half-decade were instead given to five individuals who were already making six-figure salaries. 

And while this scenario seems a bit egregious, it happens more often than not all over the country. While arts departments are being told that times are tough, they're only made tougher by increases in already high salaries for administrators. 

When budgets are tight, sacrifices need to be made, I would just like to see the administrators at McMahon High School sacrifice a small percentage of their salaries to allow their students to perform. 

So I hope all the readers of this page will certainly help the theatre students at McMahon High School. OnStage is fortunate enough that we have almost 100,000 likes on Facebook. Wouldn't it be wonderful if every single person who follows us, donated $1? If that happened students at McMahon could perform theatre for years to come. Think about it, won't you? 

https://www.gofundme.com/bmhsdrama

What I Expect From Theatre...

Jack Rushen

  • Connecticut Columnist

Okay, I know I’m going to come across as somewhat of a snob, but I’m going to lay it out from my perspective, what I expect when I sit down in a theater and anticipate a “transcending” experience. A moving experience. An experience that is not going to make me wish I could have two hours of my life back. 

Ninety-nine percent of the time, plays don’t reach that level for me.   

First, don’t bore me. I didn’t come to the theater so I can stare at my watch. I can see it fine during the other twenty-two hours of the day, thank you.  Writer’s, don’t think you are clever and try and charm me with words, and not have any action, conflict, or compelling story-line. (thank you Mr. Stoppard). I know there are certain people who go to the theater for a slow moving, non-emotional experience just because reviews praise it (you simply must see this five hour long version of Oedipus!). I have been to many performances where people sit, look at their watches, applaud politely, and think they are at a “wonderful cultural event.” Bravo! Engage me…make me feel something…let me identify so well with a character that I’m moved to laughter or tears.  

Most classical theatre doesn’t do it for me, either. Chekov, Shakespeare, or Strindberg, unless done very well, again have me looking at my watch, hoping the hands move faster.  

Stunning theater is hard to come by these days. Plays are strange, and theaters expect me to be involved in a surreal play about bisexual space travelers turning into birds that have endless monologues about life and death. Beckett boars the living crap out of me. I went to see a production of “Happy Days” a while back and half of the audience left at intermission, so it’s not just me. We owe it to an audience to give them a fascinating experience. Make them feel exhilarated, as if they just stepped off a roller coaster instead of taking a slow ride around playland in the caboose of a slow moving train. 

What kind of theatre excites me?  A well written play about real people in real situations…ALL MY SONS, 4000 MILES, anything by Jeffrey Hatcher, Donald Marguiles, or Sarah Ruhl. A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, or THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. I saw a production of RED at the Westport Country Playhouse that blew me away. I was the first one standing at the curtain call. I wasn’t bored, it didn’t drag, I didn’t “check out” and think about my grocery list. I was with it from the beginning. I wish more people would write that way. ART, on the double bill was incredibly boring.  

Don’t experiment on me. I’m not a rat in a lab. Show me slick, well-written plays that transport me into another place and time by conflict, characters, and story. THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE…still relevant today as it was in the 1880’s. Ibsen knew how to keep and audience interested. 

There is a wealth of good plays out there, and I’ll be scratching my head when I sit at a professional regional theater and witness a play that seems like a first draft. It happens. It seems that theaters don’t take enough time to really evaluate plays. In a regular season of six plays in a LORT theater, maybe one, on the average, will be worth watching. 

So be careful what you buy a ticket for. You can waste your money and it goes right into their pocket anyway.  Theaters are always crying poor. Maybe if they hit a bullseye more often, people would have faith in supporting them. 

Just my opinion, but I think I’m right. 

Snobbery ends right here folks. Now go out and see a good production of a good play. 

Photo: Joan Marcus

'Ragtime' : A Show Needed Now More Than Ever

Chris Peterson

  • OnStage Founder

Last night I had the chance to see a local theatre production of Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty's iconic classic, Ragtime. This show is near and dear to my heart. I was fortunate enough to see the original production months after it had opened. I was 15 years old and while I loved the sweeping, epic score and outstanding performances, I would be lying if I said the messages within the text resonated with me. However seeing it last night, it was very clear how important this musical is and how much of the themes are ever present today. 

Before I go any further, let me just say that if you're in the Stamford, CT area, I hope you got a chance to see the Curtain Call production of Ragtime. I would encourage you to go see it, but I hear this upcoming closing weekend is completely sold out. Talk about a powerhouse company, it features one of the finest ensembles I've seen on a local stage in years. The story is moving and powerful enough but it's only amplified by the talents of this cast. So my congrats to everyone involved! 

But I must praise the work of director George H. Croom. Mr. Croom's staging highlights the messages of the piece without becoming heavy handed, which allows them to be the most impactful. It's impossible not to think of the race issues and xenophobia that dominate today's headlines. And while the original material only skims the surface of these issues, Mr. Croom's direction allows the actors to go deeper and give these themes the attention they deserve. 

When Coalhouse Walker Jr. is walking out of the library with his hands raised, it's impossible not to think of Terence Crutcher, who was shot to death by a Tulsa police officer while he was doing the same. Watching the treatment of Tateh and his fellow immigrants enter this country, it's hard to not think of the atrocious commentary this election has produced towards those coming here in search of a better or safer life. 

Since we all know that the arts can help to educate, stir discussion and raise awareness, it is my hope that Ragtime is going to be performed now more than ever. I've always felt that while hate is certainly dangerous, ignorance can be just as damaging. Shows like Ragtime, Parade and Hairspray can help to enlighten and at the same time, entertain. 

So I hope that if your theatre company has the means, you'll consider performing pieces like these. There was a lot of love inside the Kweskin Theatre last night but also a lot of healthy discussion about these issues. Lord knows we could use more of that right now. 

Photo: Pictured: Minuette Griffin as Sarah and Kevin Thompson as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. Credit: Deb Failla