Fast Forward Friday with Tonya Pinkins

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed the multi-talented, Tony Award winning actress-writer-director Tonya Pinkins.  She has been nominated for three Tony Awards, winning for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Jelly’s Last Jam, and has won the Obie, Lortel, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, AUDLECO, Garland, L.A. Drama Critics Circle, Clarence Derwent, and NAACP Theater Awards.  She is known for her portrayal of Livia Frye on the soap opera All My Children.  She is also the host of the Broadway Podcast Network’s You Can’t Say That! https://broadwaypodcastnetwork.com/podcast/you-cant-say-that/

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

I am working on expressing as much of the radiance of the divine as is destined for me this incarnation. Tangibly that looks like producing, writing, directing and acting in a socio-political horror film about the 2020 election starring Ruben Blades, Cathy Curthy, Kathy Erbe, Luba Mason, Colby Minifie and Jake O’Flaherty called Red Pill. I am also writing my next horror film Match.die, and then I am in edit on a series of 10 minute plays and songs that were produced at the Tank in 2019. They plays are about the ways women oppress one another and each play or song models a way to heal the wound. And then there is my novel The Angry Fat Black Woman Who Devoured The Earth and my travel memoir about walking the 100 mile west highland way in Scotland. It’s called A Woman’s Walk on the West Highland Way and it’s WILD meets 50 Shades of Grey.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

I am always creating multiple projects simultaneously. It is what I was born to do. I have four children. Egon Weiner said, “The only appropriate response to abuse is creativity,” so the harder life has hit me, the more creative I have become.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes who have had an impact on you and your work?

My artistic heroes include George C Wolfe, Eve Ensler.  Larry Kramer, Jane Fonda, Ivan Van Hove, Sam Mendes, Colmon Domingo, and Lin Manuel Miranda.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

I have a spider comedy/horror trilogy called Blaracknophia. Yeah, its about black people’s fear of spiders and people’s fear of black people.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

I had a moment on the set of Red Pill where I realized that the thing I wanted most, which was to have a team, and the thing I have never wanted, which was to be a leader because I feared leading people astray, were inextricably intertwined. I have really successful colleagues but I had never been able to initiate a project with them. Yet here I was making a movie. I had a team and I was the leader. It was an epiphany. I had to trust that I would not lead them astray.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

I would move from creative expression to creative expression. Write a piece of non-fiction, then a fiction book, Then run off to do a concert, then direct a film, act in a mini-series, write a Broadway show, travel and give away a lot of the wealth I accumulated from the success of my creative endeavors.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

I know the value of my art and in the time when I came up and the way I was brought up I was allowed to be as smart, talented and ambitious as my heart desired. I had to fit into other people’s ideas of what i was. It has taken me a lifetime to step into what is inside of me and risk expressing it without fear or shame.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

I would let go of the fear that pride goeth before the fall and have allowed myself to know that I was good rather than having to be faux humble for fear of inviting God’s wrath.

I would also let go of my screen addiction, which has slowed down my progress. I waste so much time mindlessly swiping pages.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

I want to be know for defying every odd and becoming one the of the most successful creative artists in the history of creativity. And that isn’t on a fame scale. It is on an artistic expression scale.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Indomitable.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

I am a sugar addict. But food is my sex.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

I would say: “Stop trying to do it the right way. Do it your way and it will be right for you, which is the best any of us can do.”

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I like mountains over the sea. So Bali or Mexico. But I have not traveled enough to say definitively.

Q: What is your idea of success?

There are many kinds of success.

I am successful at being authentic to my being.

I want to to be successful at magnetizing the resources to create any and everything I can imagine at the highest level possible.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Happiness is wanting what you have and having what you want. Doing things because you want to, and not doing things because you don’t want to and requiring no more explanation than that. Having the resources to live, travel, meet, and experience everything your heart can imagine. Being able to share your wealth and help others.

Q: Final Thoughts?

I don’t know how much time I have left. I hope I bring into the world all the stories that fill my heart. I hope I have left the world a better place for having been here. I know I have been blessed. I hope I have been a blessing.

Fast Forward Friday with David Kessler

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed writer-producer David Kessler.  His most recent project is the drama Minamata, starring Johnny Depp, about the photojournalist William Eugene Smith which David adapted from the book of the same name.  It will have its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2020 and will be released theatrically in fall 2020.

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

Hopefully my next feature film after Minamata will be Dreamers, the story of John Lennon’s five-year immigration battle with the USA. Until recently, I was working on a story about a cult from the 1970s but had a falling out with the author of the book about it.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

Literally 21 years ago, in 1999, I sent a fax to Lennon’s lawyer, thinking it would be a great film. I didn’t hear back but did reach out again 17 years later in 2016 when he had a book coming out about the case. I suspected there was a story there – a beginning, middle and end, and a hero (Lennon and his lawyer) and an enemy (Nixon and Hoover). Little did I know how rich and moving the story was. The lawyer became a father-figure to a Lennon who had been abandoned by his own father and how the case led directly to DACA.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes who have had an impact on you and your work?

Writers, in no order: Dan Fogleman, Billy Ray, David Koepp, Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin,. Musicians: The Beatles, Paul Westerberg, Graham Parker.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

Minamata, to to be released this fall, is about mercury-poisoning in Japan in the 1970s. It will premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in a few weeks.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

When I was on set in Serbia for Minamata, watching Johnny Depp say my lines in an office dressed as I had described in my script.

Additionally, when Paula Wagner – of Mission Impossible I, II, III; The Last Samurai; Marshall and now a producer of Dreamers – told me to my face I was a “great writer”.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

Writing and producing a ton more screenplays.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

True-life subjects’ disinterest in working with me – nos, unanswered e-mails and letters, difficult managers.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

Parental expectations.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

Minamata

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Quirky.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Cookies, candy, snacks, a Coke.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Stay the course. This quote from Steve Jobs has been on my computer probably for that long: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I still love living LA – I wish I had known about it way, way earlier.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Making enough money to lead a creative life i.e., no boss, no alarm clock, no structure to one’s day, trapped with unreasonable people and expectations.

Fast Forward Friday with Kerry Carlock

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed award-winning Director-Writer-Producer Kerry Carlock.  Her first feature, Armstrong which she co-directed with her husband Nick Lund-Ulrich, is currently streaming on Amazon.  As a TV producer, She was the VP of Programming for Pie Town Productions,where she oversaw nine series including HGTV mega hits House Hunters and Flip or Flop. Other projects, include the Emmy nominated Trading Spaces and the feature documentary, Pageant, which premiered at the 2008 Slamdance Film Festival.

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

I recently transitioned out of my job as a television executive to focus on my second feature Red Knights Forever with my husband, Nick Lund-Ulrich. We wrote it together and are working toward going into production next fall.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

Nick grew up in a small town in Western Massachusetts and there was a murder there in 1988. The killer hid in the woods and there was a massive man hunt. They couldn’t find him so they cancelled Halloween-every kid’s worst nightmare and a great set up for a scary story.We really wanted to do a classic adventure movie with girls at the center so we drew upon my 8th grade friendships that same year to create the characters – a trio of girls that dress up as knights to save Halloween.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

Even though I don’t work in comedy, I really look up to comedians like Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore and Tina Fey because it requires such a balancing act of rigorous craft and free play.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?  

This one is totally stumping me right now! I’m going to come back to this…

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

Our first feature Armstrong is on Amazon Prime and I’m also starting a podcast called Okay, Back to that One  that I’m really excited about. I want to talk about resetting my artistic life, get inspiration from other women that have made a similar leap and hopefully create a community that will support each other moving forward.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

Well, I sure do know what it feels like to NOT be living your vision. Before I left my job, I felt so overwhelmed and emotional all the time. I knew in my gut that I needed a change but it was really scary because leaving a comfortable paycheck is considered insane. But it felt right and I’m glad I embraced the insanity!

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

Making female-centric movies!!!

Q: What has been your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

The biggest barrier for us is fundraising so if money grew on trees, you better believe we would be planting elms in our backyard and harvesting cash.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

I’m the wrong person to ask about staying connected because I’ve been lost for a couple of years! I’m in the process of RE-connecting. I’m trying everything – meditation, books, long walks with my dog, movie marathons, crafting, journaling, road trips. Anything that can jostle my shellshocked creativity into shining again!

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

I care way too much about what other people think of me. I wish I could let go of that need and be more confident.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

My screensaver is a painting by Anna and Michael Ancher called Judgment of a Day’s Work. The couple collaborated on the self portrait and in it they are sitting back and critiquing a painting together- probably one of hers. It is sort of quietly feminist and it was painted in 1883! When I first saw it, I suddenly had the vision of what I want my own collaborative relationship to look like.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

Michelle Obama. I well up with emotion when I hear her talk or smile or laugh or motivate or … she can do anything and I will cry at the very notion that there can be some one so wise and effervescent in the real world.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

Expressing my self and connecting with others.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Enthusiastic

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

The Great British Bake Off!

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Impostor Syndrome is real! If I could go back, I’d kick myself and say everyone feels like they don’t belong but don’t let that hold you back. You can do anything!

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I like where I am. I’m proud of the life we’ve built for ourselves and our home feels like a little oasis. But I DO want to travel. Top of the bucket list is Africa.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Making a living creating the projects we’re passionate about… and staying married through it all.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Living in the moment and not getting caught up in the past.

Q: Final Thoughts?

Okay, back to that question about staying motivated and inspired— I still can’t think of an answer so I’m just going to say ice cream. Ice cream keeps me motivated and inspired as an artist. And THAT is probably my most honest answer.

Fast Forward Friday with Harvey Edelman

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed theater lyricist-writer Harvey Edelman, His works have appeared on stage throughout the country, and been part of the Macmillan Publishing Educational Series and the Headstart program. He is a member of ASCAP and the Dramatists Guild.

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

I am currently completing a musical based on the 1933 landmark play Dead End, written by Sidney Kingsley. I began working on this project with my collaborators about 40 years ago … yes 40 years ago. We resumed work on it earlier this year after acquiring the rights to produce it as an audiobook musical, with the ultimate goal of getting it to Broadway. Assuming we complete it and it reaches an audience, the saga of the ups and downs and the making of Dead End could be a book, play, or musical in its own right.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

After one of our musicals, On The Air, reached Off-Broadway, my collaborators – composer Neil Fishman and book writer Peter Palame –  and I looked for a project with Broadway potential that we could bring to the ASCAP musical theatre workshop for development. Peter, who had and has, spent his entire life in theater as a performer, writer, director, and producer, suggested Dead End. After reading the play and watching the movie adaptation of the same name, we all saw the possibilities for what we envision as epic, an American Oliver … maybe bigger. Apparently, others felt the same as our ASCAP project was then chosen for a special reading at the Dramatists Guild, where a jury of Broadway legends – Joseph Stein, Stephen Schwartz, Charles Strauss, among others –  agreed that what we had written so far – about half the score – was Broadway worthy.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

In musical theater, Stephen Sondheim has always been the guiding light for me and my creative partners. His clever use of language and music to tell a compelling story, and his intellectual awareness of every element of dramatic development is pretty much the gold standard for us. When I first began to write during my college years, writers who saw the world through a different and perhaps somewhat outrageous lens, such as Kurt Vonnegut, Ken Kesey, and Henry Miller, appealed to me the most.

I’ve also been influenced by singer songwriters such as Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, and of course, Lennon and McCartney. In recent years, I’ve become obsessed with comedians, who as an artistic group, most closely match the way I view and process the world. The best of them have unique takes on everyday life and cut to the bone on the insanity of the human experience. The comedians I’m listening to the most in recent years include John Oliver, Marc Maron, Woody Allen, and John Stewart, but there are so many more.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?  

Though I have nothing against praise and adulation, and even making a few bucks, the process of creation is ultimately the most fulfilling. The satisfaction of working with creative collaborators, even with the inevitable artistic disagreements, sometimes heated, combined with ultimately realizing a vision, is always worth the pain endured to get there. The icing on that cake, at least where musical theater is concerned, comes when the material is handed over to talented performers and directors who take what was on the page to another level and dimension.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

Our recent opportunity to complete Dead End the Musical came about due to the success of our two most recent works, audiobook musicals adapted from our earlier stage works. Spin, the Rumpelstiltskin Musical,  published by Harper Collins, essentially created the category of audiobook musical. On the strength of our script, we were fortunate to cast the legendary performer, Jim Dale, as the narrator, to complement our cast of Broadway and audiobook performers. Released in 2017, Spin has won numerous awards including anAudie for Best Original Work and two SOVAS awards for Outstanding Production in Audiobook and Best Voice Over in Children’s Audiobook. Our latest audiobook musical, Puss In Boots a Musical, published by Harper Collins this year, features Jim Dale returning as narrator along with an even bigger cast. Puss has already been nominated for several awards.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

I think everyone has a story to tell but not everyone gets to tell it to an audience. Early in my writing career I got to express my thoughts and feelings to audiences via song and dramatic dialogue but often within a context or with limitations not of my own making. Still, I did live my vision on occasion. I’m reminded of a musical we wrote that was produced at the Passage Theatre in Trenton that dealt with bigotry and bullying. That musical afforded me the opportunity to express thoughts about bullying that my son, about ten years of age at the time, had been experiencing in school. It was the first thing he had ever seen that I had written and it was deeply satisfying for me to share that with him. Our recent projects have allowed me, or I have taken, more writing freedom, more satirical freedom, to comment on social and political issues in an entertaining way, and perhaps, in some small way, change hearts and minds. That is my vision.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

Once upon a time when my creative partners and I were told Dead End was heading to Broadway, I dreamt of a life waking each morning in my Italian Villa (hey, it’s my dream), and strolling over to my piano to write lyrics and plays while sipping grappa, and gazing out over the Mediterranean. Though I’ve pretty much given up on the Italian Villa, waking each day to write (alone) and collaborate (on musicals with other creative people), would be a nice way to spend most days. For now, I’ll have to gaze at the Hudson, and have a cup of coffee.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

The whiny, petty part of me could say that we had more than our share of bad breaks along the way e.g. playwrights reneging on giving us adaption rights, producers developing amnesia during negotiations, theaters suddenly padlocked during the run of a show … you know the usual stuff.  The truth is, not persevering, not committing, not working hard enough to get there … or get there sooner, has been the biggest obstacle. Though we had a share of early success, sometime along the way, the setbacks and time passing combined with a need for financial stability, detoured my creative partner and me. Instead of staying on the narrow, perilous path towards artistic success, we became business partners and turned our skills in audio production towards making a more reliable living. From that point, our creative interests took a Rip Van Winkle snooze, occasionally aroused to take on a project but with no real continuity or ongoing effort. We were shaken from our slumber a couple of years ago, when an associate, milling through our trunk of musical material, suggested resurrecting some of it in the not new, but evolving medium of audiobooks.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

When I’m not working to earn a living, I tend to try to make my free time have some link to creativity. Though I can while away the hours with the best of them, I’m the most content when I’m engaged with lively substantial conversation or reading/viewing books, movies, and the like that have something to say or some lesson to communicate. Though I read and view for entertainment, I tend to deconstruct the material to see how it might apply to my creative process and my vision. 

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

Procrastination. It’s amazing how often I need to water my plants (they’re very thirsty) or look out my window for approaching enemy ships. 

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

Though I appreciate “pieces of art” both modern and traditional, I tend to turn to the performing arts and film when I think of what has influenced and entertained me the most. The movie, Casablanca is one of my favorites as it tells a great human story against a backdrop of changing and significant historical events. Movies such as Dr. ZhivagoRedsSchindler’s List, and Lawrence of Arabia, would fall into this category. These are great entertaining movies with the power to move and influence. My list would also include Groundhog Day, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chinatown, and Citizen Kane, although there are so many others. Of course, I’m influenced by live theater, musical or not, when it has something to say beyond exciting scenery and costumes.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

Though there are several people that would make my list, including Nikolai Tesla, Barack Obama, Gandhi, Muhammad Ali, and Leonardo da Vinci, I think I would settle on Ben Franklin. From everything I have read or seen about him, he was not only a Renaissance man of the first degree, but he was also clever, funny, and fair minded, and most importantly, learned from his mistakes and fought the status quo when necessary.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

If I could write a musical that truly reached a lot of people and brought them all together while making them laugh and cry, that would be it. I suppose I’m describing a musical theater god, which might be above my pay grade. You did ask though.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Not sure one word can describe any human being, but I’ll go with “inquisitive”. I like to know how things work and what makes people tick. In our current sociopolitical climate, I’m extremely challenged by the latter.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Well, I have more than one, but I suppose that playing golf would be my prime guilty pleasure. Its allure is only understood by golfers, while the rest of humanity looks upon the game with disdain, which I oddly kind of get. The only negative I and my fellow golfers generally agree on is that it takes up too much time. Larry David, an avid golfer, has said that if he had used the time he spends playing golf towards other pursuits instead, he’d be first cellist with the NY Philharmonic and speak Mandarin fluently. Occasionally I’m able to rationalize my guilt, like when I recently met someone while playing golf who showed me his wonderful, whimsical watercolor cityscapes which gave me the idea to collaborate with him on a children’s book. So there’s that. 

Another notable guilty pleasure is playing hooky from work or daily life and going to see a movie matinee. It’s tough to beat the joy of sharing a nearly empty theater with other hard core movie goers, draping my legs over the seat in front of me, while armed with a large soda and a jumbo box of Raisinets. 

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Overall, given my surroundings, and my life’s trajectory, I don’t know if I would have been compelled or successful in steering myself in any other significant direction. As John Lennon wrote (or perhaps paraphrased from someone else), “Life is what happens while you’re making plans.” Or as they say in Yiddish: “Mann tracht, un Gott lacht” ie. Man plans, and God laughs.” (Disclaimer: I Googled the Yiddish). The upshot of it is, I was where I was and was heading in a direction partly of my own making but it was based on choices I had made and the serendipity of life, and I was, and am, okay with the outcome. I probably would have said, keep on going, who knows what’s in store? 

Q: Where would you most like to live?

That is a question I ask myself a lot these days as I’m getting to a point where I can probably choose to live almost anywhere I want. Truth is, no one place would suit me very long. If I lived in the country, I’d miss the activity and stimulation of the city. If I lived in the city, I’d need a break from the activity and stimulation before long. These days, I live in Jersey City, a 5 minute ferry ride from Manhattan, a 30 minute ride to the suburbs/country, and a 20 minute ride to the airport to parts unknown, so this works for now. 

Q: What is your idea of success?

Purpose in life, friends and family you can count on, and getting a tee time at any golf course I choose.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

I think happiness and success go hand in hand, so purpose in life, friends and family you can count on, and getting a tee time at any golf course I choose.

Q: Final Thoughts?

The hardest thing in life, art, and filling out these interview questions, is being totally honest, with yourself, and with others. For me, it’s a work in progress, but I thank Joanne for the exercise.

Fast Forward Friday with Ryan Lonergan

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed Writer-Director-Actor Ryan Lonergan. He is best known for the films  Kill the Monsters (2018), The Fall of 1980 (2013) and A Thousand Beautiful Things (2005).

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

I am currently working on my first novel.  It has been a much lengthier process than writing a screenplay but very rewarding.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

It is not autobiographical but it does deal with many real life experiences I have had and experiences others I know have had. I suppose everything is autobiographical to some degree, but this really delves into things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

Too many to list. My favorite book is The House of Mirth  by Edith Wharton. My favorite film is Passion Fish by John Sayles.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?  

Seeing films and reading books, and watching theatre and television that gets out ahead of my expectations and challenges me by asking complicated questions.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

Several projects. I have a noir that takes place in 1932 in Kansas City, which is where I grew up.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

I’ve had final cut on my films so far.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

Shooting more films. 

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

Film financing is always complicated, but there are solutions.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

I read a lot.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

My concern over current political trends and how they negatively impact the arts.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

I mentioned Mirth  and Passion Fish. I would also add Howard’s End, both the novel and Merchant/Ivory adaptation.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

Artistically, I would say Robert Altman. 

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

Storytelling

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Persistent

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Photography 

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

I would tell myself what to focus on and what not to worry about because most of the advice I received on those points turned out to be incorrect.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Where I live now in Bushwick but in a bigger apartment. 

Q: What is your idea of success?

Being able to make films and not stress about money.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

See above plus have a family and give back. 

Q: Final Thoughts?

Grateful to be a part of this!