Fast Forward Friday with Heather Cappiello

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed  director Heather Cappiello. Heather is an award-winning director of film, television and theater. She has directed episodes of Madam Secretary, Criminal Minds, Blue Bloods (2016 Voice Award winner) and the horror series Freakish, streaming on Hulu. Additionally, she directed the pilot presentation for the one-hour drama Corporate produced by The Collective. Heather wrote and directed the short film Ruby’s Tuesday that screened at more than 25 festivals including The Short Film Corner at Cannes. She was one of two directors chosen for the CBS Directing Initiative during the 2015 cycle and is a current protege in the inaugural DGA Craft and Mentorship Program.  To learn more, visit www.heathercappiello.com.

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

I just conceived and directed my first site-specific live dance performance titled Break Glass at a beautiful outdoor space in Los Angeles. I had the pleasure of working with the talented dancer and choreographer Lizzy Mulkey, and three LA-based dancers for six weeks as we devised a 20-minute piece exploring what it means to be a woman working in a man’s world. Through dance and physical movement, the all-female ensemble explored motifs surrounding the experience of hitting the glass ceiling, climbing the corporate ladder and the barriers that often prevent women from getting a foot in the door. I chose a venue with an outdoor patio and a three-tiered staircase that allowed the dancers to use the entirety of the staircase as the set. The composer, Mike Meehan, created a score using original music, arranged tracks by the musician Ryat and sampled quotes from Hillary Clinton, Sarah Grimke and Abby Wambach. The pre-recorded score was accompanied by a live violinist during the final climb of the performance. The response to the show was very exciting and I hope to mount it again at various locations in California and possibly New York. In the meantime, I am editing a highlight reel of the show and will post it on my website.

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

Dance is my favorite art form and it has been a dream of mine to collaborate with a choreographer and dancers on a live performance. Over the past few years, the concept of exploring what it means to be a woman working in a traditionally man’s job has been at the forefront of my mind and dance seemed the perfect expression. As a TV director, I have witnessed the gender gap in the hiring process of television directors in particular and the production crew in general. I have been observing and discussing this inequity and have started to take an active role in trying to understand the underlying biases that lead to discrimination – starting with my own implicit bias. Using accounts of actual events from my own work life, stories in the news and the experiences of dancers in the ensemble, we set out to both entertain and enlighten our audience with a non-verbal portrayal of what we encounter during our career trajectories as women facing barriers of gender, race and unconscious bias.

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

The humorous and wonderful writing of Samuel Beckett; the courage and austerity of Peter Brook’s theater; the talent and friendship of actress Holly Hunter, writer Jessica Mecklenburg and activist-writer Kim Bender; the curated sounds of DJ-producer Gilles Peterson and all of the musicians he celebrates; the choreography of William Forsythe; the cinematic sensuality of Krzysztof Kieslowski.

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

Engaging in the process of art-making and experiencing art made by others.

Travel is also a gateway to creativity for me: smelling new aromas, hearing different languages, watching people from everywhere and getting lost in a new place. I love traveling with my son who has a similar thirst for new experiences and community.

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

I am very excited to return to New York this fall to direct episodes of the upcoming season of Blue Bloods. It’s thrilling to continue working with the cast and crew over several years and find new ways to shoot action scenes and delve into family dynamics that are so familiar. Also, stay-tuned for more site-specific dance! Lizzy Mulkey and I are conceiving a new piece around the ideas of touching/not touching in private and public spaces/relationships.

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

When audience members cried at each of the Break Glass  performances!

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

I would love to be a producing director on a TV show. I look forward to the opportunity to be part of the collective brain trust that creates a show, chooses the directors and attenuates the tone prescribed by the writer.

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

My gender. But the vision is coming into focus, I feel grateful for my patience and for the examples of my mentors.

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

Make art, travel, cook, laugh, dance in my kitchen, see art with my fiance, read, create community, swim in the ocean and stay physically connected to nature and myself.

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

Fear of failure.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

I’ve never been able to pick just one favorite book or movie or painting. I love Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings of women.

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

My mother. She always made everyone feel welcome.

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

Bringing people together for artistic collaborations and personal friendships.

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

Curious.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Watching Claws and all of the Step-Up movies. I also love setting-off illegal fireworks!

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

Time flies as a parent but it slows down as a female director – keep pursuing both things everyday with all of your might!

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Where I live now – Venice Beach.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Enjoying my daily work life and having a community to engage with regularly.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Telling stories for a living and being in the moment with people I love.

Q: Final Thoughts?

“She rises by lifting others”

Fast Forward Friday with Ludovica Villar-Hauser

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed theater director-artistic director-dramaturg Ludovica Villar-Hauser. Ludovica has directed a wide range of plays on diverse topics, most recently She Calls Me Firefly, which just completed a run at the SoHo Playhouse. Alongside her directorial career, Ludovica is founder and artistic director of Parity Productions. She is a recipient of NYWA’s Galaxy Award, and has served on the Board of the League of Professional Theatre Women since 2009. To learn more, visit www.parityproductions.org

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

I recently directed the world premiere of Teresa Lotzs She Calls Me Firefly. My company, Parity Productions, has been developing this play for the past few years with New Perspectives Theatre Company and we are thrilled that we had our world premiere at SoHo Playhouse.

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

When I first read the play, I was struck by how an emerging playwright could have such an extraordinary understanding of the human condition. She Calls Me Firefly speaks innately to how we can be hurt, live through it and despite copious scars learn the importance of positive and unconditional love. In short, despite bad odds, we can become better. The subject matter is entirely relevant on many different levels it delves deeply into the culture of sexual abuse and the generational effects that ignorance and silence can have on a family. In addition, Teresa Lotz takes on a dynamic model of non-linear storytelling, which is thrilling. For subject matter that would often be portrayed in a dark manner, it is ultimately a story that is filled with ingenuity, humor, light, and, most importantly, hope for all its characters.

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

Its something that I cant put into words. It really just lives inside.

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

We are currently developing Melisa Anniss Charlies Waiting, which is one of our 2017 Annual Parity Commission winning plays. Melisa has been working through rewrites and we just recently had a closed reading that received wonderful feedback. Here is the description of the play:

The night before their wedding, Louise is busy with all the planning while her fiancée Kelly busies herself feeding the goats. Everything is blissfully exciting until a friend from Kellys past shows up with an unexpected wedding present and threatens to derail Louises hopes for the future she so carefully planned.

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

When I start dreaming about projects.

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

I would definitely be directing most of the time.

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

Myself An innate lack of confidence. But it is changing as I get older.

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

Meditation though not enough of it! I enjoy seeing other work. And developing new work.

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

The producing side of things.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

Anything by Sylvia Sleigh. Parity received an endowment of her work a few years ago. Her art is particularly inspiring to me because it equalized men and women, and reversed stereotypical artistic themes by featuring nude men in poses that were traditionally associated with women.

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

I admire many. Nelson Mandela. Gloria Steinem.

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

Directing and Advocacy. Sorry thats two things, but for me theyre so intimately and necessarily connected.

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

 Tireless.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Chocolates. And massages.

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

Let go of everything that doesnt serve you and focus on what you really want and what makes you happy. 

Q: Where would you most like to live?

NYC and London.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Happiness.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Directing!

Fast Foward Friday with Russell G. Jones

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed actor-director-teaching artist- facilitator-moderator Russell G. Jones. He has been a member of The Labyrinth Theater Company since 1995. He is an OBIE, Auldeco, BTAA, NAACP Theater and SAG Award winning actor. In addition to his multi-award winning theatre work, he has a recurring role on the hit FX show The Americans and was recently seen in the Netflix series Godless.  To learn more, visit www.russellgjones.com.

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

I am currently acting on Broadway in George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan starring Condola Rashad as Joan of Arc.

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

This was one theater audition amongst several that for the first time in years was not a new play.  It is neither a play nor playwright that I had imagined working on and therefore presented a new challenge.

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

One of my artistic heroes is a former professor and one of only three black acting teachers that I’ve had, Jim Spruill.  He is no longer with us but his vivacious and unabashed love of storytelling and his keen understanding of the line between business and art made it seem like a career was a possibility for me.  He was an early example of a actor-director-teacher-husband-father who embraced the socio-political climate with his life onstage and off. I love what Don Cheadle, Geoffry Wright and Viola Davis have been able to carve out for themselves.

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

My community continues to inspire me.  Although Facebook definitely has it’s downside, being able to see a wide swath of my peers creating opportunities, exploring, and booking enables me to keep the dream aspect alive.

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

I have an ongoing side project called Blind Spot.  It is an effort to normalize conversations about systemic oppression and implicit bias so that our theater community can embrace anti-racism.  I just finished a year long salon series with Ensemble Studio Theater and prior to that a concentrated version at HB Studio. Both organizations have really taken to the work and have asked me to join the organizations in a more hands on manner.  I continue to look for ways to infuse my longtime artistic home LAByrinth Theater Company with these values.

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

Blind Spot is definitely one example but an even more concrete example is that my last vision board had the goal of appearing in three films and three TV shows in 2017 and I shot three films and three TV shows.  And this is after making a conscious choice five years ago to book more film and TV.

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

Directing TV and film.

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

Access to the directing pipeline and the self-confidence to create my own way in.

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

Having a near three year-old keeps me on my toes creatively, whether by finding new ways to engage and teach him or by watching the ways he does so for himself.  That and being involved in play development.

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

Racism.  White supremacy colors so much of the world we live in and rooting it out of myself requires much of my focus.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

I have been moved by many works of art and it’s hard to name a favorite.  Right now I have a water color that my castmate Max Gordon Moore painted of my character in Saint Joan that I am really enjoying.  Last year Rueben Santiago Hudson directed a production of The Piano Lesson that was perfection.

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

Dick Gregory.  He maintained his creativity, integrity and our attention for 6 plus decades.

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

Enabling and empowering scores of other artist-activists.

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

Dogged.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Late night binge watching.

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

This is the best path for you.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Someplace that values and practices justice and equality with all people and nature.  I thought that was the Bay Area for a while.

Q: What is your idea of success?

When love is visible.   

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Grattitude.

Q: Final Thoughts?

I love being an artist!  Thanks for letting me share about it.

 

Fast Foward Friday with Arden Kass

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed playwright-screenwriter-producer Arden Kass. She is is the recipient of two playwriting Fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Her work, ranging from full-length dramas and dance theatre to musical theatre, has been seen in Philadelphia, Minneapolis and New York productions and developmental workshops. She is the author of several full-length screenplays, and with her writing partner Mark Gallini, co-author of numerous screenplays and television pilots. To learn more, visit ardenkass.com.

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

My main project right now is writing the book for my first original musical comedy, Daddy’s Girl. It’s a mash-up of contemporary themes and music and old-fashioned Broadway/vaudeville-style theatricality, underscoring the idea of changing assumptions and values. Daddy’s Girl is about 40 year old Tracey Zelnick who returns home for her Papa’s funeral after twenty years of estrangement, where she faces a daunting task in briefing the Rabbi who will officiate –  given that Papa was America’s leading merchant of sexy/sleazy women’s lingerie designed “through a real man’s eyes,” and she is now a noted feminist academic.

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

There are far too few stories about women’s lives, told from a woman’s point of view, on Broadway — not to mention the scarcity of great roles for women. I wanted to write a story that is relatable to audiences of various ages and genders, that is funny and emotionally authentic, and that addresses vital issues without being dogmatic or pedantic.  This piece was inspired by a magazine interview from the 1970s or ‘80s with the man who founded an iconic direct mail lingerie catalogue – America’s first – which referenced the fact that his daughter had worked for him briefly, then left the company to take a totally different path. I couldn’t stop wondering what a young woman must have felt, coming of age (as I did) during the height of Second Wave Feminism and trying to process the growing realization that her father’s worldview, once considered progressive, now defined political incorrectness — or appeared to. I invented a daughter and several other characters and soon realized that the story was far more personal than I had understood; and also, that what I was writing about was in part, the contentious fault line existing today between being politically correct and creating meaningful political change.

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

Tony Kushner, Suzan Lori Parks, Jeanine Tesori, Bob Dylan, Paula Vogel, Marsha Norman, Wendy Wasserstein, Kurt Weill, Toni Morrison, Peter Schaffer, Maria Irene Fornes, Quiara Hudes, Lynn Nottage, Lee Breuer, Mark Morris, Laurie Anderson, Rinde Eckert, Tony Yazbek, Dorothy Parker, Alberta Hunter, Cole Porter, Carl and Rob Reiner, Mel Brooks, Art Spiegelman, Emma Thompson, the Coen Bros. and Frances McDormand. I could go on for pages …

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

Inspired: Visual art, music, travel, nature. Motivated: my children and their future on this planet.

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

In 2014/15, I conceived and co-created a “live documentary theatre” project, School Play, based on 100 interviews with PA residents statewide, that dramatized the chronic underfunding of Pennsylvania’s public education system and the devastating real life human impact on individuals and communities.  It premiered at the National Constitution Center and toured Pennsylvania. I recently co-authored several TV pilot concepts, including one that’s a sort of American Downton Abbey drama set during post-Civil War Reconstruction, one that’s based on William Carlos Williams’  The Doctor Stories, and I’m about to write a series pilot about a woman attorney who defies many, many expectations when passed over for a partnership. Frankly, my list of dream projects would fill many lifetimes.

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

Discussing a word choice in my play Appetite with the perceptive and articulate Jemma Redgrave, and realizing that this was exactly the level and tone of conversation I live for, any time I am not sitting at my desk writing.

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

Writing a well-funded adventure/romance film set in an exotic locale in South America.

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

Time, timing and the times into which I was born. For a variety of reasons, including bringing up two kids and money, I have devoted time to many different things besides my writing career. Now that I’m more in control of my schedule and resources, my greatest obstacle seems to be “breaking in” to the various fields I couldn’t wait to work in years ago — which is frustrating, as I’m probably a much more thoughtful, disciplined and determined artist now, thanks to the variegated life I’ve had. To my great joy, I think I see some of those walls starting to come down.

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

I am never not-creative — my issue is how to stay focused and seated long enough to get at least a fraction of what goes through my brain onto the page. Walks, bike rides, museums and yoga are helpful. And espresso. (And Joanne!)

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

The negative, anxious goblin that lives under my bridge. It is a demon that whispers to me about my greatest fears: missed opportunities and mediocrity.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

I could never choose one – my whole life is about art. The first one I visualized is the Nike of Samothrace at the top of the stairs in the Louvre. I wrote about her.

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

Oskar Eustis. I love his taste in artists and how he treats them.

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

Writing an iconic role for a woman on stage, film or TV.

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

Rechargeable.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Expensive black boots, on sale.

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

Believe it or not, you’re still young. And no, you’re not fat.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Maybe the Southwest, maybe Monterey, maybe Italy. I like sun better than clouds, horses better than cars and natural scenery better than buildings. But I have to be able to get to a good city fairly easily.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Having healthy, inspirational relationships with creative colleagues, getting my work produced consistently and finally earning enough money to stop worrying about money.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Being healthy and fit, having a life filled with exciting, wonderful people — and knowing that I have succeeded enough to feel proud of myself and the choices I’ve made.

Q: Final Thoughts?

Girls rule. (Pity everyone else didn’t figure this out sooner.)

Fast Forward Friday with Michael Bofshever

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed actor-director-teacher-author Michael Bofshever.  As an actor Michael has appeared in countless theatre, film and TV projects including A Dog’s PurposeUnited 93, Scandal and Breaking BadMichael recently made his film directorial debut with the award-winning short Echo Park Blues, which will be playing at The Garden State Film Festival in Asbury Park from March 22-25. To learn more, visit www.michaelbofshever.com.

Q: What are your currently working on?

As an actor, I recently appeared this season, opposite Viola Davis, on two episodes of How To Get Away With Murder. Next up, I will be seen in Bill Haders’ new HBO television series Barry, in which I guest star opposite Bill, Henry Winkler and a troupe of wonderful actors playing actors.

As a director-producer, I have hired screenwriter and good friend Steve Armour (All Saints), to adapt an award winning short story by novelist Donald Lystra into a feature film. The story takes place in Northern Michigan, where my family has a multi-generational summer cottage. It has been a goal of mine to film a story there for quite some time. My short film, Echo Park Blues, in which I made my directorial and writing debut, is finishing up its festival run, having been recognized in Europe, Canada and the United States with wins in all cinematic categories.

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

Having been an actor for over 40 years, but yet to direct a film – I have directed for the stage and have taught acting class on and off for decades – I did an inventory of myself and felt that if not now, when? This motivated me to approach a dear acting friend of mine Allan Wasserman to see if he would raise the money and executive produce a short film. With him jumping on board immediately, I approached another long time actor friend of mine turned writer Rick Lieberman. Rick and I wrote Echo Park Blues around Allan, who is a talented journeyman-jazz saxophonist. Having taught at the University of Southern California School of Cinema, I brought on my department heads for the film from a very talented group of filmmakers that I previously worked with or were recommended to me. The success of the film has exceeded any expectation I may have had when I first created this endeavor. To see it come to fruition, has been one of the most rewarding highlights of my professional career.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes?

Artists who think outside the box, that are daring, innovative, willing to share, expose who they are within their work. Those with humor, passion and commitment. I love watching actors who give a revelatory performance on stage or film or even in the classroom. It inspires me to be brave and challenge myself to be the best that I can be.

Q: What keeps me motivated?

My motivation comes from an internal drive to succeed, a need to be creative, a desire to belong to a group of like-minded individuals that appreciate the need of living an artistic life. I have had the good fortune to have been able to earn a living as an actor throughout my career. To me, that’s a remarkable accomplishment.

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

Sometimes it is the absence of being creative, when I am out of work, not knowing when I may be cast again; then I feel like chucking it all, until my wife or a close friend reminds me, that after all these decades, you are an actor, an artist and you will get through this period. The opposite holds true as well. When I am on set, feeling like I belong to a group of fellow artists, all working for the same goal, when I’m in rehearsal and my fellow artists are struggling, discovering the material, when I recite poetry or Shakespeare just for myself, so as to express what is going on inside me, I know this has been my true north.

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

I would be in pre-production; scouting locations; hiring department heads; casting exciting, talented actors; and preparing to direct my first feature length film. And I will also be playing the lead character. Doesn’t hurt to dream big!

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

On a personal level it is fear. That insidious, critical voice that artists have, I struggle with that. At times it prevents me from realizing my full potential. And as much success as I have had, I still do battle with those inner demons, seemingly on a daily basis. But when I give myself permission to be whole, I find that I can soar in my endeavors.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

We have a painting in our bedroom, from our younger daughter who was a Fine Arts Major in college. It is a self-portrait of her looking in profile out into an empty space, seemingly an unfinished piece of art, with a few additional paint strokes in the corner of the canvas, as if testing what color is to be used next. To me it is a story of a young woman seeking her future, not yet completed but recognizing her potential with an optimistic outlook. My wife and I many years ago visited the Rodin Museum in Paris and his sculptures still inspire me.

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

My creative role model has been my acting teacher, mentor, colleague and friend Michael Howard. His compassion, theatrical knowledge and unique understanding of the creative spirit molded me into the artist I eventually became. It was also in his class that I met my wife, 40 years ago. Lucky me!

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

My two beautiful daughters, Jessica and Katie, now married, whom I am most proud of. They are the very best parts of my wife and myself.

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

Perseverant.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Spending time with my family at the dinner table, eating, drinking, laughing, sharing stories.

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

There is still so much more to accomplish. Keep striving, never give up. So much to look forward to.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Anywhere my family is, now here in LA, so we are always close by each other.

Q: What is your idea of success?

My healthy family, being able to find balance between my life and profession, internal well-being, continuing to grow as an artist.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Finding joy in the moment, giving back to my artistic community, being available to listen with humor and patience.

Q: Final thoughts?

It has been a great journey of discovery, a few setbacks but many more accomplishments. I continue to persevere.  “ And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.”