Fast Forward Friday with Richard Skipper

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed entertainer-MC-host-Interviewer Richard Skipper. He has conducted more than 700 interviews celebrating people in the arts. This past year, Richard completed an artist in residence at the Laurie Beechman Theater in New York City where he presented a monthly talk-variety show produced by Russ Woolley. His one-man show The Magic of Believing will be ready for booking when pandemic restrictions are lifted. For more information visit www.richardskipper.com.

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

Since the pandemic hit, I have focused solely on interviewing others. It is really nothing new, but the platform has changed. For years, I’ve done in store interviews for Barnes & Noble, red carpet events, and blogs. One of my goals this year was to launch my own podcast. I live stream on Facebook and YouTube, and then it is syndicated through my podcast, which is syndicated on more than 25 platforms.   

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

Richard Skipper Celebrates, my brand, came about several years ago when I started my blog. When I first began my blog, it was called Richard’s Rants and Raves. A good friend pointed out that I was always raving but seldom, if ever, ranting. He was right and I came up with Richard Skipper Celebrates because I believe every day is worth celebrating. I also want to be the antidote to all of the negativity in the world today.  

Q: In this current time of unprecedented change and uncertainty, what do you believe your role is in this moment?

To uplift. Building upon what I said before, there is enough negativity in this world. Why build upon it? I don’t know why we became a snarky nation.  

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

My first artistic hero was Miss Florence. She was my first mentor. She instilled in me a reverence for those that have gone before me. She told me that every time I step in front of an audience (either physically or virtually), that I carry the mantle of all that have gone before me, and to this day, I take a moment to pause in gratitude for those that have paved the way for me. My other artistic heroes are Ed Sullivan, Merv Griffin, James Lipton, and Graham Norton!   

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

By my very nature, I’m a very optimistic person. Even with what we are going through at the time of this interview, I’m looking forward to what I believe will be an even greater future. I love the creative process. After I do my morning pages and meditation, I’m open to the possibilities of what every day holds. I think of myself as a vessel and am open to the possibilities ahead of me. I try to say YES when I can. I think of each day, especially now, as its own entity. I also only think about what I can accomplish in the next 24 hours.

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

I am very busy with my interview series. One of my goals going into 2020 was launching my own podcast. They stream live through Facebook and YouTube and then are syndicated on to more than 25 platforms. I’ve also launched a bi-monthly program with Dr. Judi Bloom called  Creativity In The Age of Covid.  

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

Setting an “intention”  and following it through to fruition. When I apply myself wholeheartedly to my goals and they happen! Every time I hit the “end” button at the end of every interview, I know I’m living my vision.  

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

Exactly what I’m doing now. I have found my true calling in life. I truly love interviewing others and finding what makes them tick. My focus on others takes the focus off me, which is very gratifying especially nowadays. 

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

The word ‘no’. I’m a ‘yes’ man and unless the yes is going to be met with tension, I try to be open to that. The more I’ve studied the lives of others, I’ve discovered even with the greatest successes, there are those that go through life wanting to obstruct rather than being open to most opportunities.  Imagine a world of YES instead of NO!

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

I’m a huge follower of Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way.

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

Projecting negative thoughts about an outcome when they are not warranted.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

That is truly a difficult question. I try to look at art through the eyes of those that create it. I’m always interested in the backstory. What are the circumstances that brought this piece of art to us? 


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

Being thought of as someone who is interested in others and always being present to their needs or helping them to be able to tell their story.  

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

Empathetic.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Believe it or not, my work is my guilty pleasure. I LOVE what I do!  

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

That was 2005, I was 44. I went back and looked at that calendar year. It was a very busy year for me workwise. I would say: enjoy the day to day process. Take the time to smell the roses. I also look at the people who were in my life at that time who are no longer here. Appreciate the people that make the fabric of your life. Show gratitude to all they bring to the table.  

Q: Where would you most like to live? 

Depends on the outcome of this year’s election!  

Q: What is your idea of success?

Being able to do what I desire to do when, where, and how I desire to do it without the permission of others.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

My home life, my career, my pets, my husband, music, sitting in the audience of a great entertainer, being in the spotlight, sharing the spotlight, seeing those that I love succeed.  

Q: Final Thoughts?

Please go out and do something nice for someone else without expecting anything in return. Go to your Friend’s list on Facebook and call the seventh name on your list and tell them that you love them and what they mean to you! “We are all in this together, but not in the same boat!” -David Friedman 

 

Fast Forward Friday with Morgan Millogo

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed  actor-director-writer-producer Morgan Millogo. Morgan spent five years as part of the Seattle Indie film scene as an actor and director, and was also a burlesque performer and emcee. Her recently released web series Tabs & Clea marks her first project as a writer, actor, director and producer since the passing of her father in 2010.

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

I just released my web series Tabs & Clea about a psychic going through a crisis of faith and her audacious ex-roommate showing up to help uncover the truth of a tragedy that was unforeseen. It’s six short episodes, which can all be found at tabsandclea.com

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

Tabs & Clea is an exploration of spirituality and death. What we get to know, what we don’t get to know, how there are reasons and a plan beyond our understanding. Being a spiritual person who does ancestral work and works with spirit guides, I have learned that even those of us who are in tune and work to help people, don’t get to know everything. Also, we aren’t always meant to save people, which is a harsh lesson for any hero journey and something that I wanted to explore with Tabs. How can you have a gift that is meant to help people, and death can still result? What is it like to have a spiritual gift and go through a crisis of faith? 

I decided to make a web series because I had an acting partner to play Tabs, and I initially was going to play Clea, until I discovered I was pregnant. I knew I could pull off making and completing this series with next to no money. I also have a love for television and decided this would be a fun, doable experience. I’ve made short films and I’ve worked on independent feature films. A web series format was exciting to embark on and there was a great freedom to allow the episodes to be the length that felt organic to each individual one. 

With all of my limitations and resources in mind, I wrote the series to fit what we could do. The majority of the scenes take place in the same location that I had access to, and I used the support of friends and family and local businesses to make the little things happen, such as DIY lighting, meals for the shoot, and art direction. The cast and crew came together based on everyone reading the script and wanting to do it. I am incredibly grateful to everyone who donated their time, energy, resources, talent and skills to tell this story. 

Q: In this current time of unprecedented change and uncertainty, what do you believe your role is in this moment? 

There are dual roles happening: an individual role and community role. For myself, I was laid off in April because of COVID and have been spending the months since running my household, doing deep work on myself, and looking for a job. My understanding is that this is my time to transform and evolve into the next chapter of my life. It is time for me to step up and embrace my dreams head on and not to give up. As a storyteller, I have a lot to offer this world, and I need to truly own and trust that. 

For my community role, being a true ally is my current focus. Within the work I do, I fight for diversity and inclusivity, and I tend to take on and support taboo or dark subjects that need to be explored and discussed. I listen to BIPOC about what good allyship looks like, and I work to be that ally. Supporting BIPOC through their projects and building diverse teams are top priorities for me as I move forward. I believe what many white people need to understand is there is room for all of us to share our unique voices. Just because a BIPOC person gets a job or gets funding for their project, doesn’t mean you will not. Oppression and racism are born out of fear, including fear of “the other” getting what you have or what you want, and then you don’t get to have it. This fear is not based in truth and can even be unconscious. It’s time to make it conscious and step up to release it. Now is the time for white people in the industry to do the hard work and not simply continue to hire their white friends and colleagues. Take the extra time to seek out true diversity, not tokenism, for your writer’s rooms, casts and crews. There is room for all of us, and we can support each other and lift each other up. 

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

During my 20s, my greatest influences were Rebecca Miller, Miranda July, and Amanda Palmer, all incredible independent spirits with a DIY drive and intriguing experimental elements with their storytelling. 

As I have been in my 30s, I find myself inspired by anyone who bravely shares their voice and tackles difficult subjects. I am currently in awe of Michaela Coel and the brilliance of I May Destroy You.

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

Interviews where people go into the process of how they created something inspires me. I love hearing their thoughts, journeys, and feelings about it all. What were they trying to accomplish? How do they feel about it? What did they struggle with? I love every detail, and it gets my own thoughts and ideas stirring. 

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

I have a feature length, female driven, supernatural thriller screenplay that I am working to get into the hands of an agent in hopes to sell it.

I am also evolving Tabs & Clea into a full supernatural thriller series titled Missing. The series introduces an additional lead character who is a Native American woman deputy and goes into solving what has happened to multiple missing Indigenous women. The greater purpose of the series is to bring more attention to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and GIrls (MMIWG) epidemic that is currently happening in the United States and Canada. Currently, I am doing research and seeking out a Native American woman writing partner to co-create this with me. 

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

This last summer I directed a short film capturing the choreography and poetry of Meg Affonso, who is an incredible artist and was doing a show in Albany, NY, titled Body: An Experiential Art installation It was her expression of the separation of the body and soul and included her expression of being a black woman. The day we filmed was absolutely incredible. It was a small crew and two dancers, including Meg. There were no egos that day, and we all worked so beautifully together. Everyone contributed their ideas and the footage was gorgeous. I felt in my power and in my joy the entire shoot. That was living my vision and is my goal for every project. 

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

I would be fully financed for developing my own series. 

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

Financial stability and being able to balance having a young family while working in film and TV. Working six days a week for 12+ hour days is not sustainable in general, let alone if you are a mother. I believe productions do not have to be run the way they are, and with the right mindset amongst the producers, a healthier work lifestyle can be formed. There are other ways to do production if we are willing to be open to it. 

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

I take walks in nature. This is where I feel grounded and magical. My thoughts can work themselves out, and I can open up to let new ideas rise. 

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

I would let go of self-doubt and worry.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art? 

La Sagrada Familia by Antoni Gaudi. I visited in 2011, and it has stayed with me. It felt like walking into a fairy tale. All of his work felt that way to me. The magic in his work vibrates through you and sparks your own inner magic. I’m in love with it.

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

My father. I reflect a lot on who he was as a person, the layers of complexities. I try to see him as a full human being, what he had to battle and overcome in his shortened life. I admire the interesting choices he made for himself and how he loved, for better or worse. He was open to everyone and kind to everyone, no matter their race or sexuality. His best friends were immigrants, whom he supported in any way they needed. I am who I am because of what I learned from him, how he treated others, and how he loved me. His openness and encouragement of all of my whims made me believe that I could do anything. 

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

A human being with an incredible mindset and willpower to make things happen. 

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

Genuine. 

Q: What is your guilty pleasure? 

Spending time by myself either going out or staying in to be engrossed in something be it art, nature, or a movie or series. 

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

Cherish these moments, even the dark ones. Spend time with those you love. Trust yourself. Believe in yourself and your path. It’s going to be really rough, but there is purpose to it all. Never give up. Follow your intuition and use your voice. 

Q: Where would you most like to live? 

In a house wherever it is safe for my bi-racial family. 

Q: What is your idea of success? 

Work/life balance with my work as a filmmaker and having financial freedom. My child(ren) growing up to be kind, respectful human beings with an incredible inner strength. My husband pursuing and living his dreams. 

Q: What is your idea of happiness? 

Happiness is being in the present moment free from over analyzing the past and worrying about the future. 

Q: Final Thoughts?

Our country is in chaos and it is hard to navigate that while navigating what we are each going through personally. Don’t give up hope. Find hope in the small things. A small kind gesture from a loved one or even a stranger. A child laughing. The sweetness of a piece of fruit. The little things can add up to get us through each day. When it all gets too hard, go outside or look out a window. Take in the air, feel how big nature is, the earth is, and feel yourself a part of it. We are bigger than just this one moment. We can overcome this rock bottom as a collective, heal, and find our way to a better future for all. We may not know how we will get there or how long it will take, but trust that even the hard, terrifying times are part of the path. Wishing health, love, and safety to everyone.

Fast Forward Friday with Zeva Oelbaum

Letters From Baghdad — London Premieres

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed award winning filmmaker Zeva Oelbaum. She recently co-directed and produced the NEH supported documentary Letters from Baghdad, which showed theatrically in over 150 theaters in the U.S. and U.K. and premiered on PBS in 2018. The film is voiced and exec. produced by Tilda Swinton. Oelbaum also produced Ahead of Time, a feature length documentary about journalist Ruth Gruber, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival before garnering six Best Documentary awards.  Click here to learn more.

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

I’m working with my producing partner  Sabine Krayenbühl, on a documentary film about the visionary artist and performer Loïe Fuller. The film is titled Obsessed with Light.  Fuller was the American creator of modern dance and a trailblazing inventor who became an overnight sensation in Paris in 1892. Electricity was still in its infancy, yet she invented remarkable lighting techniques, taking out numerous patents on these techniques, as well as stage design and costuming, as early as 1893. She even wanted to incorporate fluorescent materials into her costumes and worked with Thomas Edison on this project.  She was close friends with Marie Curie and Auguste Rodin, and her inventions became the foundation of today’s most elaborate multi-media productions. Fuller was one of the most famous performers in the world at the turn of the 20th century and although few people know her name, her legacy is remarkably strong. She has inspired or influenced luminaries including Taylor Swift, Alexander McQueen, and numerous other artists and designers. Both Dior and Valentino have referenced her in their recent collections.

We are thrilled that we just received a media production grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for this film project! We previously received grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and Artemis Rising, so we’re feeling very optimistic about the potential of this project to reach a broad audience.

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

After the distribution of our film about Gertrude Bell, we were looking for another remarkable woman whose name has been forgotten, but whose accomplishments still resonate today. When we looked  deeply into Loïe Fuller, we found an unconventional woman who achieved success on her own terms. She disrupted conventional ideas of femininity and gender identity and had enormous respect for the power of science to transform lives. We feel that her story is surprisingly contemporary.

Q: In this current time of unprecedented change and uncertainty, what do you believe your role is in this moment?

Loïe Fuller was an outlier in many ways and her story is an inspiring one. Bringing an inspiring story to an audience is always gratifying, but during these crazy and uncertain times, inspiring stories are, perhaps, even more valuable.

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

I began my career as a still photographer, so I have been most influenced by painters and photographers. So many have influenced my work — from Cy Twombley to Anna Atkins to the incredible photojournalist Robert Capa. A zillion years ago, I was an intern at the International Center of Photography and have immense respect for photojournalists. I was very fortunate that Rizzoli Int. published a monograph of my cyanotypes, which I did as an homage to Anna Atkins. Atkins was the first person to publish a book illustrated by photographs in 1843. Documentary film is actually the perfect union of my love for both photojournalism and fine art.

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

The feeling that I have something potentially meaningful to contribute to the contemporary conversation keeps me motivated. I feel inspired by the subjects of my films and photography projects to get their stories across.  I hate the idea of people (especially women) being forgotten and written out of history.

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

Our previous film Letters From Baghdad tells the story of another incredible woman, British explorer and diplomat Gertrude Bell. Bell was sometimes called the female “Lawrence of Arabia” but she was actually much more influential than her colleague T.E. Lawrence, helping to reshape the Middle East after WWI.

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

When we were originally pitching our film on Gertrude Bell, we were told by one British broadcaster “why would we be interested in a film on Gertrude Bell, since she was only a footnote to history?” I’m happy that we proved him wrong. As a result of the press for the film, Gertrude Bell finally has a Blue Plaque installed at her London residence; and her archive at Newcastle University, which we used extensively, is now on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, in recognition of its global significance. It is one of the few archives with this designation in the UK.  Bell has now been profiled in television segments, books and plays and we are very gratified that we have contributed to bringing Gertrude Bell back into the history books.

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

Exactly what I am doing.

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

Allowing myself to become discouraged, if I don’t succeed right away. Too many projects are still in my drawers!

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

I never leave my creative self!

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

Being timid about expressing my vision.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

Too many to choose from.

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

I most admire my grandmother who passed away when I was 16 years old. She was the first person in my family to come to this country. She arrived in 1905 from the pogroms in Lithuania with a cousin when she was only 14 years old. They made their way to St. Joseph, Mo. and were soon followed by the rest of their families. My grandmother and grandfather owned several buildings, but my grandfather developed a heart condition, so the upkeep of the buildings fell to my tiny 4’10” grandmother (along with raising 5 children). During the Great Depression, there were frequently men who would get off the train looking for work and my grandmother would always have chores for them, in exchange for a hot meal. She was grateful for their help and never turned anyone away. My grandmother sent both sons to medical school, two daughters to nursing school and one daughter to teachers college. She had grit and determination and was an incredibly generous soul.

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

Generosity of spirit.

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

Curious.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art … I’ve really missed going there this summer. It is deeply spiritual and nourishing to me.

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

Not to be intimidated by people who I think know more about what I am doing than I do

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Lots of places! I like Montclair, NJ ! (where I live now)

Q: What is your idea of success?

To be productive and continually engaged in creative pursuits

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

That my family is healthy and doing well and that I am able to pursue my passions.

 

 

 

Fast Forward Friday with Tracy Brigden

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed director-writer Tracy Brigden. She  has spent over 30 years in the theatre nurturing, developing, producing and directing new work for the stage. She was Artistic Director of City Theatre in Pittsburgh for 16 years where she produced almost 200 new plays and musicals including world premieres by Keith Reddin, Chistopher Durang, Sharon Washington, Daniel Beaty, Jeffrey Hatcher, Michael Hollinger, Cori Thomas, Adam Rapp and many more.  You can visit her website at www.tracybrigden.com

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

I’m writing a fictional podcast called The Okachokee Sink.  It’s about a tiny, kooky town in the Florida Everglades with only 12 residents. When one of them goes missing, the other 11 become suspects. It’s sort of Sharp Objects  meets Twin Peaks. I hope to record it with my husband, Mike DelGaudio, who is a voice actor, and some pals this summer. I just have to figure out the ending! 

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

I read an article a few years ago about a missing man in a tiny town in the Australian Outback. I filed it away in my “ideas” folder and came back to it recently. I transposed it from the Outback to Florida since recording an audio drama full of Australian accents might prove a bit challenging. And Florida has such great, crazy characters, including descendants of the “carny folks” from the Ringling Brothers days who used to winter in down there. I was interested in making a podcast even before the pandemic! I loved Homecoming and Limetown and wanted to do a serialized drama like that. 

Q: In this current time of unprecedented change and uncertainty, what do you believe your role is in this moment? 

I have been doing quite a lot of reading, reflecting, posting, protesting, donating and other actions towards a more equitable and just world. It’s just my small part, but I think we are all learning that we can feel proud of our work as artists telling stories with important messages of social justice, but it’s just not enough. We have to make change in every way we can – starting with ourselves. The more we can listen and learn and reflect and act personally, the better we will be at getting the important ideas of the moment out into the zeitgeist with our work. 

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

My late mother, Madeline Tracy Brigden, was an inspiration and a champion for me. She was the fiction editor at Mademoiselle magazine in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and published and worked with many incredible writers of all stripes and genres. She always told me “Do something with your life you would do anyway even if you weren’t being paid for it.” And she led by example as a woman who did not let her gender or having a family keep her from also having a wonderful career. 

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

That spark that keeps showing up that says “That would make a great story!” or “Ooh, I can envision how that story could be told!” 

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

I have a play that I wrote that I’m dying to get out into the world! It’s called Stage Struck and it’s about Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, who worked for the great actor-manager Henry Irving at the Lyceum Theatre in London during the time he was writing his famous novel. The play parallels that story with a downtown theatre troupe in 1980s New York putting on a production of Dracula. The two worlds collide in theatrical ways and reveal that a life in the theatre is both fraught and joyous in any century. 

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

The triumphant opening night of the first production I directed at City Theatre as a newly appointed artistic director in 2001. 

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

Directing a television show or a film that I wrote. 

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

I have been a theatre person my whole career, and starting down the path of a whole new field takes some doing! 

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

Keep reading, watching, listening and supporting other people’s work. 

Put myself in challenging situations. Recently, I volunteered to be a writer for a local theatre company’s 24-hour play marathon. I stayed up all night on Friday and wrote a play that was performed on Zoom on Saturday night. It had a whole zombie subplot. If it hadn’t been 2 am I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to write that! 

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

Self-censorship. Feeling that since I haven’t been primarily a writer for my whole career, I’m not allowed or not as talented. 

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

Too hard! I went into the theatre because I love all the arts and theatre combines them all. But, I’ll say: a whole bunch of productions ranging from Dreamgirls to the production of Midsummer I saw at the Bridge Theatre in London last summer – enhanced by the fact that it was my kids’ first Shakespeare, and they laughed their asses off and loved it. I’m also a museum and art junkie and couldn’t begin to pick a favorite painting OR song OR novel OR movie – well maybe The Godfather.  I guess any piece of art that pulls you in and transports you to another place – even for a moment. 

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

Theatre people – really any artists – who aren’t actually making a financial living at their work but feel so passionately called to the art they must still pursue it every day for their whole lives.

And the Obamas. They were onstage for eight years with an audience of millions and they never missed a line or a cue or a step. They deserve a standing ovation forever. 

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

Being a great friend, step-mom and wife. 

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

Multi-faceted.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure? 

Wine at lunch. 

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

Try to get some work or an observership in film or TV. 

Write. You’re allowed! 

Take more vacations.  

Q: Where would you most like to live? 

Greenwich Village in the 1960s.

Q: What is your idea of success? 

Work you are excited about and getting to be with the people you love. 

Q: What is your idea of happiness? 

A long dinner with friends after a spectacular play. 

Swimming in the ocean.

Wandering around a museum by myself, after a glass of wine at lunch, preferably in a foreign city.

Typing  “The End” as I finish a piece of writing.

Q: Final Thoughts?  

Vote in the fall like your life depends on it, ‘cause it does! 

 

Fast Forward Friday with Donna Kaz

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed  New York based writer-director-choreographer-activist Donna Kaz. For the past 20 years she has led Guerrilla Girls on Tour with performances that address social issues and prove feminists are funny. Her new eBook, PUSH/PUSHBACK 9 Steps to make a Difference with Activism and Art (because the world’s gone bananas) can be found at ggontour.com and  donnakaz.com,

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

I am a multi-genre writer and I work in nonfiction, poetry, stage and screen. Currently, I’m working on a play set in New York City in 1981 at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.  It is based on my experiences of living through that era and losing so many friends to AIDS, specifically a very close collaborator who directed my first plays. The play is called The Docent, and had a first read with American Renaissance Theatre Company in NYC in February.

I am also still very involved in my work as a member of the activist theater group Guerrilla Girls On Tour.  Usually, at this time, we would be touring to colleges around the country with lectures, workshops and performances but since COVID-19 we have had to pivot to virtual workshops and artist talks. Our third Art of Activism Poster Making Workshop will be offered via Zoom on June 26.

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

My mom was very creative and had an amazing sense of humor. My dad made beautiful things out of wood and I spent a lot of time in his workshop.  I have also been inspired by the work of Yoko Ono, Gloria Steinem, and others who have made it possible for women in theater to have a voice on stage, like Deborah Randall of Venus Theatre and Lisa McNulty of the Women’s Project Theatre.

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

Realizing that creating art takes many steps, some of them slower than others, and you often have to be patient to allow inspiration to enter.  I have found that making art is a process and that putting time into thinking about an idea is often just as important as executing that idea.

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

I would like to share some links to some organizations doing important work within the theater community right now like The Broadway Advocacy Coalition, using the arts for social change; Honor Roll, an advocacy group for women playwrights over 40; and Guerrilla Girls On Tour’s Blog featuring womxn artists called  On Being a Womxn Artist.

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

Remember to celebrate your successes, even if they seem small. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Believe in yourself and your ability.

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

This is such a great question, especially during this self-quarantine year. If I could, I would be in a crowded theater, either involved in a production or sitting in the audience watching some great new play or musical.

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

Living in a world which oppresses and marginalizes women is the biggest obstacle I can think of. Patriarchy has to go.

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

I read, write, listen to music, cook, and try to connect with nature whenever I can.

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

 I think of my past as something I have worked hard to accept so rather than letting it go I would like to answer this question in a different way. I could never really “let go” of the violence and abuse that is in my past – the trauma of surviving domestic violence and sexual assault.  For me it is more a question of how to accept what happened to me. In order to make peace with my past and move forward I first realized that it was impossible to change what happened. I came to accept the fact that I am who I am because of my past. The way forward for me was to acknowledge what I have gone through and that has made me stronger.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

I am drawn to activist art and work that inspires change such as the artistic responses to the murder of George Floyd like LA artist Nikkolas Smith’s portrait of Floyd; and Houston street artists Donkeeboy and Donkeymom who painted a powerful mural in Houston’s Third Ward.

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

Michelle Obama. I’ve never met her but whenever I see her speak I feel like she’s talking to me.

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

Helping to change the face of theater to include the work of more women and artists of color.

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

Feminist.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Hawaii. It is a beautiful and magical place.

Q: What is your idea of success?

I wrote a lot about this in my memoir UN/MASKED, Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl On Tour.  This is from the book: “Getting cast in a theater production or a movie or having my play produced does not make me an artist. Art is in me, lives in my soul, the vibration inside fights a way out to make stuff up. Nobody has to buy this stuff, this art, or look at it, or produce it. It is art because I am an artist and I made it up. If it is the truest stuff I can make, it is a success. Not to say that getting money for your art is not okay. It is. But it is no longer the criteria by which I identify myself as an artist. I am success. I am a success. My story is at the end of a pencil poised over an empty page. I picked the pencil up. And wrote.”

Q: Final Thoughts? 

Thank you for this opportunity to connect with other creative people. 

Fast Forward Friday with Rachel Feldman

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed director-writer-filmmaker-producer Rachel Feldman. This past season she directed multiple episodes of Blue Bloods, Criminal Minds, and The Rookie, As well as the pilot and full season of The BaxtersFeldman is the recipient of the Ravenal Grant and an Athena List winner for her feature screenplay Lilly, based on the life of fair pay activist Lilly Ledbetter. To learn more, visit her website.

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

I’m answering these questions in the time of the COVID-19 virus, hunkered down, “safer in place” in LA, wondering how and when our future will return to us.

I’m a mid-career director and screenwriter. I work as a director primarily in one-hour television dramas, and I write pilots and features in a variety of genre.

I work on many things at once, half-baked swirls of imagination juggling in front of me, so that I can grab at any one of them as desired. But the jewel in the crown of my slate is a feature film based on the life of fair pay activist, Lilly Ledbetter, the woman about whom President Obama named his first piece of legislation. I learned about Lilly’s story and optioned her rights, then wrote a screenplay that was an Athena List winner and the recipient of the NYWIFT Ravenal Grant for female filmmakers over 40. It’s been a seven-year journey so far and I’m not stopping until this film is complete. It’s a beautiful and important story and will make a deeply emotional and enlightening movie. 

When I first began shopping the project, the responses were similar, “We can’t make a film with a female protagonist. It’s impossible to make a feminist/political film. We might be interested if we could hire a male director.”  But I’ve stuck with this because Lilly’s story is so important. Her story is my story, and yours. It’s a film for this moment in time and for girls and women around the globe. #IAmALilly

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

Pushing back against the patriarchy is my motivation.  And making a great film. The injustice and inequity women face in every aspect of life must be shouted from the rooftops until things change. Certainly, in the past few years, post #TimesUp and #MeToo, certain aspects of our culture have become more enlightened, but Lilly’s story is the narrative of one woman who made a difference for others. Her life’s arc is brilliantly compelling. I’m a filmmaker because I know in my bones that the best way to make change is through compassion. I’m eager to share this woman’s remarkable journey through cinema, it’s rich dramatic fodder. Think about Norma Rae, Silkwood, Erin Brockovich, The Insider, or Spotlight – these were about important subjects but they were also brilliant movies.

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

There are so many. Anyone who has survived injustice moves me. The righteous struggle is a theme about which I’m continually interested. But at heart, I’m a romantic and the daughter of a movie lover whose taste influenced mine.  The golden age of Hollywood, grandiose movie musicals with high production value including sets, costumes, lighting, great acting —these are the elements that get me excited.

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

My imagination is always working on many stories simultaneously. I gestate these pods of character, plot, and theme often for long periods of time before they become realized on paper. I liken this process to playing with dolls, a preoccupation that was the genesis for my story making in a primitive form. After a while the plot will focus and I will be compelled to write things down either as an outline or sometimes a first act spills out of me fully formed, and then I stop and have to figure out the rest.  I have always felt that I had a weather vane to the zeitgeist, I feel the collective unconscious often before it comes into social clarity.  But I am also motivated by image. I draw, I shoot pictures, and sometimes the way something looks evokes feelings that will send me flying into a world fully formed with characters and plot.

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

I have 16 projects in my slate that I’ve built up during the past 20 years in several different genres. The industry at large is not a fan of writers who have different voices. The conventional wisdom is that you should focus on one kind of material and for the most part, I do love a twisted, psychological thriller. But I also write musicals, comedy, and romance.  I wrote a science fiction screenplay more than 30 years ago and just reverse engineered it as a YA novel. I’m looking for a publisher now.

But no matter the genre, girls and women are and have always been my protagonists and promoting a progressive world, filled with challenging convention is a constant.

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

That I’m often ahead of my time with regards to stories that interest me. It’s sometimes a decade or more until the industry begins to make shows from concepts similar to what I had tried to pitch when I was told that no one was interested. 

Also, my imagination is my dearest companion and I’ve been living with her for as long as I can remember. I’m a grounded person, a responsible mother and wife, but the images and ideas in my head are vibrant, palpable, and easy to access when I need them.

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

I would be the CEO of a thriving production company with multiple productions going at once in features, television, and branded media. I’d be a media mogul supervising a network of storytelling and storytellers. My company name is Dollface Films. Why? I’m from NYC, doll! Dolls were my first actors. And for me, my love of movies and my love of humans is all about the face. Hello there. 

Q: What have been big your biggest obstacles in achieving your vision?

1-The conventional, copy-cat thinking of an industry/business that considers itself creative.

2-Dysfunction, patriarchal Hollywood.

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

I’m a very playful person and fortunately so are my husband and kids. I sing, dance, make-up voices and bad rhyming schemes, I draw and doodle. I take a long walk every day in a lovely park with large trees and open space. 

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

People pleasing. What a big fat waste of time.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

I love a great, classic song. The melody, the lyric, the concision of thought and feeling in one lovely and clever bite. Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, The Gershwins, Rodgers and Hammerstein/Hart, you get the idea.

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

I’m not good at this kind of question.  My mother was a nut case, difficult and mentally unstable, but she brought me into this world and survived so many of her own demons. I don’t exactly admire her but I’m grateful to and for her. She was my first fan – and also my first troll.

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

Being a filmmaker who makes beautiful films that move audiences in profound ways. 

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

Persistent.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

I don’t feel guilty about my pleasures.

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

Stop worrying about what you look like. Okay, you have big thighs and frizzy hair, just wait a few years,hose attributes will be trending!

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Living in a charming village in France by the sea is a nice fantasy.  But my imagination and my ability to sink into story has taken me far and wide.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Not worrying about money. Not having to wait for others to trigger my projects.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Being with my husband and kids on a tropical isle with live music and fruit drinks. Or being on a smooth-sailing set, making movies and calling “Action!” 

Q: Final Thoughts?

Agents and managers. The gatekeepers of who gets in and who stays out of the creative wheel is a disastrous system. Celebrity is the single most valued commodity in Hollywood, not talent, not skill, not profound, original thinking. After that, sales agents and the perceived value of actors is the next poisonous system that prevents progressive voices and inclusive filmmakers from thriving. 

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.