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May 9, 2017
Q&A: Artists of the Downtown Urban Arts Festival, Part 1

The Downtown Urban Arts Festival brings six weeks of multi-disciplinary cultural offerings to lower Manhattan, including theater, film, music and poetry. We caught up with the theater artists whose work will be featured this week at Cherry Lane Theatre.

Joe Gulla, Garbo

Tuesday, May 9 at 7:00 pm

Tell us about your show.

Garbo is the story of Joe, a Gay New Yorker, who happens upon a tiny, hidden, candle-lit bar (called “Garbo”!) during his visit to Rome, Italy. An emotional journey begins when he finds himself in an “unrequited love affair” with the establishment’s bartender/owner. It’s a true story and, um, you may have noticed…. my name is Joe! Ha!

What have been the most exciting things about seeing your show jump from the page to the stage?

Things got pretty heavy for me over in Rome! It excites me to tell my story and have others potentially relate to the intense emotions I experienced.

Who are your favorite playwrights, past and present?

I am a gay playwright. I am proud of that! Tennessee Williams, Terrence McNally and Harvey Fierstein have had a huge impact on me. And, c'mon, I have to include Mart Crowley for his seminal The Boys in the Band

What would you change about the current state of theater?

Just one MAJOR CHANGE: Broadway marquees should have the name “Joe Gulla” printed on them more often! 

What famous line do you wish you’d written?

Ha! I love when "Buzz" in Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion! says -- "I am sick to death of straight people... I was in a bank the other day; they were everywhere - writing checks, making deposits."


Adam Seidel, Harold and Rodney Play Chess

Wednesday, May 10 at 7:00 pm

Tell us about your show.

Harold and Rodney Play chess is about life's circumstances and how people can be brought together who'd normally never meet or understand one another. It's about how we grapple with the mistakes of our past.

What have been the most exciting things about seeing your show jump from the page to the stage?

It's always exciting to see an actor make a choice or interpret your words in a way that you didn't see yourself and the choice or interpretation they make improves the story.

Who are your favorite playwrights, past and present?

My list changes on a weekly basis depending on who I'm reading, but as of right now my list would be Sarah Burgess, Tanya Saracho, Simon Stephens and Laura Marks.  Right now Abe Koogler's Kill Floor is kinda seared into my mind.

What would you change about the current state of theater?

To be honest I wouldn't change a thing because there are already so many people out there calling for changes. I think that no matter what the "thing" is, whether it be government, sports, the economy, or theater, no one is always going to be happy or satisfied, so for me in regards to theater, I can only focus on my contributions to the medium and the stories that I'm trying to tell.

What famous line do you wish you’d written?

Always be closing.

What director’s career would you most like to emulate?

I'd say Mike Nichols. I think what made him brilliant was that he was a master of blending humor with the serious stuff.


D.L. Siegel, Members Only

Wednesday, May 10 at 7:00 pm

Tell us about your show.

On the verge of a breakthrough, Cove is welcomed into an ancient circle she never knew existed. But the bonds of sisterhood are only as strong as we make them, and every club has its rules. Members Only is a funny, sad and scary exploration of the way we classify and judge each other's experiences, and it's part of a vital dialogue about women in the post-Trump ear.

What have been the most exciting things about seeing your show jump from the page to the stage?

It's been amazing to watch the actors wrestle with the presentation of classic archetypes, but the private discussions provoked by the material have been the remarkable part of the process. The play allows us to look at a serious topic through a comedic lens, and it's created a really beautiful sense of community in our rehearsal room.

Who are your favorite playwrights, past and present?

Charles Mee, Sarah Ruhl, Sophocles, Chekhov, Arthur Miller, Corey Pajka, and so many others.

What would you change about the current state of theater?

We need to find ways to move farther from realism, because the kitchen sink drama will not lead us through the revolution. Palatability will be the death of playwriting.

What famous line do you wish you’d written?

Pretty much all of Angels in America, but especially this gem from Belize: "The white cracker who wrote the national anthem knew what he was doing. He set the word 'free' to a note so high nobody can reach it. That was deliberate. Nothing on earth sounds less like freedom to me."


Alano P. Baez, Don't Take Me Alive!

Thursday, May 11 at 7:00pm

Tell us about your show.

Arthur Miller said "the tragic feeling is invoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing -- his sense of personal dignity." We are living in particularly troubled and troubling times today and my play, Don't Take Me Alive! is art that speaks for its time while remaining timeless.

What would you change about the current state of theater?

I have written for some years now, but this is my first foray into theater mostly because as a Puerto Rican/Latinx from the 'hood, I have rarely felt welcome/at home in that world. What i would change about the state of theater is the need to make it more legitimately inclusive and let the people (who experience life and their lives of experience) speak and act for themselves. People of a different color should not have to tell stories about our white "forefathers" in order to get inside the theater.

Who are your favorite playwrights, past and present?

My favorite playwrights are many. Some who have particularly impacted and moved me are the Nuyorican poet Miguel Pinero, who taught me that I too possessed a worthy voice; Amiri Baraka/Leroi Jones, who brought a confrontational Black militancy to the theater, and who helped to usher in more written and staged Black plays to the theater than in the previous 130 years of American Black theater history; Suzan-Lori Parks, whose The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, was hugely impacting on me and my development as a playwright, and a poet, Ntozake Shange, whose poetic, often non-narrative style of writing inspired me, and Manuel Puig, of Argentina, who wrote Kiss of the Spider Woman, and showed me that one can create theater and art that can both entrance and enrage.

What director’s career would you most like to emulate?

Although there are many directors that I admire and respect, I cannot say that there are any that I would most like to emulate or to emulate at all. That said, I do appreciate Bertolt Brecht, Elia Kazan, Alice Childress and Melvin Van Peebles.


Justice Hehir, Dear Dashboard

Thursday, May 11 at 7:00pm

Tell us about your show.

A short play about waiting, making decisions, and bad CDs.

Who are your favorite playwrights, past and present?

Annie Baker, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Brighde Mullins, Sarah Ruhl, Caridad Svich.

What would you change about the current state of theater?

I hope that at some point in my career, the American theater will become more welcoming to storytellers whose narratives make upper middle class New Yorkers uncomfortable. That is: stories about race, gender, class, sexuality, etc., can be presented without tempering and without apology. Right now I think theater may be in a bit of a self-serving feedback loop, and that's really not artistically healthy. Just as important as the makeup of storytellers changing, I hope to see the makeup of audiences changing, ticket prices drop, and theaters become more open and welcoming spaces.

What famous line do you wish you’d written?

Not sure I have one; because if I wrote it, then who would my favorite authors be?


Chip Bolcik, The Field Trip

Saturday, May 13 at 7 PM

Tell us about your show.

Can your world change in seven subway stops?  An aspiring actress, new to New York, takes a chance and meets an unconventional family on an uptown R Train, where she learns about love, family and the value of the four of clubs.

What have been the most exciting things about seeing your show jump from the page to the stage?

The most exciting thing about seeing my show jump from the page to the stage was realizing how funny and touching this play really is.

Who are your favorite playwrights, past and present?

Neil Simon, Michael Frayn, and my friend Lucas Hnath.

What would you change about the current state of theater?

I would make the tickets much cheaper so that more people than just the 1% can see it.

What famous line do you wish you’d written?

I don't think I can answer this question with just one line.  I wish I had written the whole "Who's On First" routine.  It is a sublime bit of writing.


Jeff Tabnick, The Problem of Verisimilitude

Saturday, May 13 at 7 PM

Tell us about your show.

The Problem of Verisimilitude is a comedy about how we create imaginary versions of the people around us to suit our own needs. It's about love, friendship, playwriting and existential philosophy. The play is hopefully a thought-provoking puzzle.

What have been the most exciting things about seeing your show jump from the page to the stage?

The best thing about a play going from the page to the stage is always watching actors breathe life into the characters. Being able to feel the characters' needs through the actors' performances is always a joy.

Who are your favorite playwrights, past and present?

Favorite playwrights (not all of them and not in any order): Chekhov, Will Eno, Suzan-Lori Parks, Noel Coward, Albee, Yasmina Reza, Wallace Shawn

What would you change about the current state of theater?

Hm. This is how I would change the current state of theater. I would move more theaters out of Times Square and put them in prettier places around the city. Like where St. Ann's Warehouse is? I'd basically move all the theaters out of Times Square and put them along the East River so I wouldn't have to go midtown anymore.

What famous line do you wish you’d written?

"I'm in mourning for life." I would have liked to have written that, now all I can do is plagiarize it.

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Q&A: Artists of the Downtown Urban Arts Festival, Part 2

By Hanna Oldsman

The Downtown Urban Arts Festival brings six weeks of multi-disciplinary cultural offerings to lower Manhattan, including theater, film, music and poetry. We caught up with the theater artists whose work will be featured this week at Cherry Lane Theatre. Nako Adodoadji, The Protest Tuesday, May 16 at 7:00 p.m. Tell us about your show. Featuring live music that fuses together jazz and hip hop, THE PROTEST is a mash up of physical, devised and testimonial theatre that explores the economic, political and social landscape of an America on the cusp of revolution. What have been the most exciting things about seeing your show jump from the page to the stage? Working with the cast and musicians in rehearsals has been an amazing experience.  Because of the devised nature of the show, there are certain sections of music and choreography that were not pre-set before rehearsals, so we are literally creating orchestration and choreography during each rehearsal with the cast.  It makes the show extremely unique to the actors and musicians, and the personal archives they each bring to the development process.  This is a very special and intuitive group of artists, and I’m excited to continue dis …Read more

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