Melisa Tien’s SWELL to Premiere Online at HERE

Created by 26 artist-collaborators, Swell weaves together ten original, new music compositions by ten composers.

Melisa Tien

Playwright, lyricist, and librettist Melisa Tien is the creator and producer of the upcoming live, online song cycle Swell, presented by HERE from March 17-21, 2021. This contemporary work about immigrants and children of immigrants, written by immigrants and children of immigrants, is directed by Elena Araoz with music direction by Tian Hui Ng.

“Right now, the U.S. feels like it’s on the brink of so many things – politically, economically, socially. Immigrant stories, especially ones that humanize the people they’re about, help highlight those who are often left behind when, for example, a medical disaster happens. Swell reminds us these are real people, simply trying to make their way, like everyone else,” Melisa said of the piece’s subject and timeliness.

Swell features the work of composers and lyricists Joshua Cerdenia, Carolyn Chen, Justine F. Chen, Or Matias, Tamar Muskal, Polina Nazaykinskaya, Leyna Marika Papach, Izzi Ramkisson, Kamala Sankaram, Jorge Sosa, Stavit Allweis, Konstantin Soukhovetski, and Melisa Tien, who draw from their personal histories and cultures. Hailing from Mexico, India, Israel, Japan, Trinidad, the Philippines, Russia, and Taiwan, the composers’ unique, surprising, and deeply human stories are expressed through voice, piano, cello, and violin.

Performers include mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn, soprano Mimi Hilaire, tenor Alok Kumar, and baritone Ricardo Rivera. Instrumentalists include members of the Victory Players Nathan Ben-Yehuda, Clare Monfredo, and Elly Toyoda. Additional collaborators are Video Designer Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, Audio Engineer Jon Robertson, Video Engineer Kris Kirkwood, Production Stage Manager Neelam Vaswani, and Assistant Stage Manager Alyssa K. Howard.

As an online presentation, Swell is building upon the wealth of knowledge that has accumulated over the past year in live, online productions. It will feature singers singing together remotely, and aims to incorporate accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, through captioning, an interpreter, and a new application that conveys music in a dynamic visual format.

Melisa summarizes the origins of the piece: “The seed for Swell started when I attended a new music festival a few years ago and was struck by a piece of Nathalie Joachim’s. It was tied to her home country of Haiti and I recall being so moved by it, partly because it put me in mind of Taiwan, where my own family is from. I started to wonder where the other U.S.-based new music writers were, who came from outside the U.S. I couldn’t think of any, yet I was convinced there had to be new music writers out there who identified as immigrants, or children of immigrants, who had stories to tell, and I wanted to hear them.”

Half of the program will be presented on Wednesday, March 17 at 8pm ET, and the second half will be presented on Thursday, March 18 at 8pm ET. The full program will stream on Friday and Saturday, March 19-20, at 8pm ET, and on Sunday, March 21 at 6pm ET. Audiences can purchase a sliding-scale ticket ($5-50) and will receive details for a password-protected video on HERE’s website.

Melisa Tien is a playwright, lyricist, librettist, producer, and educator. She is the author of the plays Untitled Landscape, Best Life, The Boyd Show, Yellow Card Red Card, and Familium Vulgare, co-author of the music-theater works Swell, Daylight Saving, and Mary, and co-producer of the audio experience/podcast Active Listening. A New Dramatists resident playwright, Melisa is a recipient of a grant from the NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music, and Theatre, a commissionee of the Ensemble Studio Theatre/Sloan Project, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Playwriting/Screenwriting. She teaches experimental theatrical writing at Sarah Lawrence College. BA, UCLA; MFA, Columbia University. www.melisatien.com.

Read the full article from Broadway World here.

“The Free Wheelin’ Insurgents” by Psalmayene 24 Featured in “Indigenous Earth Voices”

Psalmayene 24

Proving that a theater can be groundbreaking even when its grounds are closed, Arena Stage is launching a virtual spring season that includes a film about Indigenous North Americans and their relationship to the land — entirely written, directed and acted by Native people.

“Indigenous Earth Voices” will premiere in May, the fourth in a series of pandemic-era films that Arena Cultural Director Molly Smith has produced since the start of the outbreak that shuttered theaters around the world. Following the template of the other docudramas, which included “May 22, 2020” and “The 51st State,” “Indigenous Earth Voices” features the verbatim words of Native American and First Nation subjects from the United States and Canada as fashioned into monologues by Indigenous playwrights and actors.

“It’s a ‘heart’ project for me,” Smith said in a phone interview. “I just realized that more than half my life I’ve spent with Indigenous people, whether being in Alaska or being married to a Yankton Sioux.” Before coming to Arena in 1998, Smith spent 18 years at the Juneau company she founded, Perseverance Theatre, and her wife, Suzanne Blue Star Boy, is an artistic adviser on the film.AD

The movie is a key ingredient in a wholly reimagined 2021 for Arena. In a plan announced last July, its in-person performance season was to have started up again last month, with the world premiere of Eduardo Machado’s “Celia and Fidel.” Now that play, which was forced to close last March, and four other productions will be presented later, and subscribers have been offered refunds or exchanges.

The digital roster replacing them will also include a free streaming series called “Arena Riffs”: three original filmed musicals, each 20 to 30 minutes and debuting in March and April. Actor-director Psalmayene 24 will unveil his “The Freewheelin’ Insurgents,” a “pandemic-era hip-hop musical,” to be joined by as yet untitled projects by the indie-folk duo Shaun and Abigail Bengson and composer Rona Siddiqui.

Shannon Dorsey during filming in Rock Creek Park.
Shannon Dorsey during filming of “The Free Wheelin Insurgents,” by Psalmayene 24 in Rock Creek Park. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

“These are fully conceived and created for the virtual form,” Smith said, adding that the short versions may be developed into longer productions, possibly even for live stagings. “The artists in all three have said they have a hunger to continue to build on these projects, so we shall see.”

Psalmayene 24 was shooting “The Freewheelin’ Insurgents” in the District’s Rock Creek Park on Sunday, with four other actors: Louis Davis, Shannon Dorsey, Gary L. Perkins III and Justin Weaks.AD

“It’s the story of a cadre of hip-hop theater artists who are meeting to rehearse in Rock Creek Park,” said Psalmayene 24, who wrote three songs for the piece, with choreography by Tony Thomas and music direction by Nick “tha 1da” Hernandez.

“It explores issues like violent versus nonviolent protest, love and mental health,” he added. “And these artists are grappling with the inability to do what they love doing the most, which is live theater.”

Washington theaters have been increasingly active in creating content online, even if the monetary returns are meager. Arena has been particularly active in filmmaking. As Psalmayene 24 noted: “That’s one of the positive things that have come out of the pandemic. It’s forcing us to be creative. That’s what we need as artists: We need to be locked in a box to figure out how to break out.”

Arena will again offer digital classes with actors, playwrights and others, including such artists as Franchelle Stewart Dorn, Nehal Joshi and Machado. But perhaps the most noteworthy offering is “Indigenous Earth Voices,” by virtue of the unusual fact that a major American theater company is providing a breadth of opportunity to Native artists who struggle for national recognition.

Read the full article by Peter Marks for the Washington Post here.

EllaRose Chary Featured on Broadway on Demand

EllaRose Chary and Brandon James Gwinn are an award-winning writing team specializing in stories that take a fresh look at the queer community with cutting-edge music. They’ve been commissioned and produced by The Civilians/Encores! Off-Center at City Center, The Tank, Prospect Theater, 54 Below, Theatre C, All For One Theatre, NY Theatre Barn. They’ve been in residence at Ars Nova, Rhinebeck Writers Retreat/Triple R Residency, The O’Neill Theatre Center, Catwalk Institute, and The Polyphone Festival at UArts. They’ve been awarded grants from NAMT and Anna Sosenko Trust. As Dramatists Guild Fellows, they’ve been featured many times by the Guild and The Dramatists Guild Foundation, including in The Dramatist Magazine. Ella’s work has also been recognized as a Kleban Award Finalist, NYFA Fellowship Finalist, Kernodle New Play Award Finalist, and with Weston and BOH Cameronian Arts Awards. Brandon has been a Richard Rodgers Award Finalist, celebrated piano bar entertainer, LiveNation touring artist, and is also known for his work as a music producer. He produced and performed on the albums TWO BIRDS & ONE STONE by Trixie Mattel (Winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Allstars 3), which debuted at #1 on the iTunes Top Albums chart and Billboard Heatseekers.

www.brandonandella.com
BroadwayOnDemand

Live Cast Production of THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL by Ifa Bayeza on August 28, 2020.

The online reading will take place on the 65th anniversary of Till’s murder at 4.p.m. PT. / 7 p.m. ET and be available for viewing at HERE.

Original Cast of the Fountain Theatre's THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL Reunites for Online Reading

The original director and cast of The Fountain Theatre‘s 2010, multiple award-winning production of The Ballad of Emmett Till by Ifa Bayeza will reunite for a live-streamed reading of the play on Friday, Aug. 28, which marks the 65th anniversary of Till’s murder. Tickets are $20.00.

In August, 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi when he was accused of whistling at Carolyn Bryant, a white woman who was a cashier at a grocery store. Four days later, Bryant’s husband Roy and his half-brother J.W. Milam kidnapped Till, beat him and shot him in the head. The men were tried for murder, but an all-white, male jury acquitted them. Till’s murder and open casket funeral galvanized the emerging Civil Rights movement. Bryant recanted her story in 2017, admitting that the court testimony she gave more than six decades prior was false and stating “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.”

“As America is now being challenged to face its racist history, I can think of no project more worthy,” says Fountain artistic director Stephen Sachs. “In addition to being the 65th anniversary of the murder, Aug. 28 also marks the 57th Anniversary of the historic March on Washington in 1963, and a 2020 march on Washington is being planned this year, on that date, as well.”Part history, part mystery and part ghost story, Bayeza’s lyrical integration of past, present, fact and legend turns Emmett’s story into a soaring work of music, poetic language and riveting theatricality. The Fountain’s 2010 West Coast premiere was twice extended and won a combined total of 14 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Ovation, Backstage and NAACP awards for production, direction, playwriting and ensemble. Bernard K. Addison, Rico E. Anderson, Lorenz Arnell, Adenrele Ojo and Karen Malina White will reprise their roles for the online reading, with Shirley Jo Finney again at the helm.

Read the full article from Broadway World here.

Praise for Sean Cawelti’s Puppets in the Pasadena Playhouse Production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ in Pasadena: Secrets of a radically reconceived Audrey II

“Strange.” “Weird.” “Exotic little beauty.” “Like something from another world.”

These are ways in which the plant of “Little Shop of Horrors” is initially described by its characters. They’re perplexed by its presence, its mysterious origins, its unidentifiable genus. But the botanical fascination is so enticing that it boosts the business of a skid row flower shop — and convinces its caretaker to commit a bit of murder in exchange for fame and fortune.

Countless stagings of the Howard Ashman-Alan Menken musical have remained visually devout to the sprout that debuted off-off-Broadway in 1982. Based on the 1960 Roger Corman cult classic and popularized by Frank Oz’s 1986 musical film, the Faustian fable has been mounted again and again with a green, podlike growth resembling a Venus flytrap and a bountiful head of lettuce.

la_ca_little_shop_of_horrors_movie_61.JPG
The 1986 film starred Rick Moranis opposite a pod-like creature, often re-created onstage.
(Warner Bros. / Shutterstock)

“The classic look can be nostalgic but also predictable,” said Mike Donahue, who directed the Pasadena Playhouse production set to close Sunday. “All of the language that’s in the piece is about how the plant stands out, how it catches people’s eyes immediately when people are walking by. There’s gotta be something about it that, in this drab and depressed and bleak world, just pops.” Advertisement

The Playhouse questioned those optical expectations and answered with a radical redesign of the plant, Audrey II, nicknamed Twoey. Housed in a large tomato can, its flower is a fantastic fuchsia hue, the five appendage-like tendrils glistening and sparkling. When closed, a bud of polka dot petals resembles a head with lips. It opens into a lily with a playful yellow tongue. This Twoey is indeed a new sight for those onstage and in the audience, and now that the run is ending, her secrets are being revealed in new photos presented exclusively here.

“I wanted to make something that seems alien and extraterrestrial but also that gives an emotional reaction — you can’t help but smile,” said Sean Cawelti, who led the show’s puppet design, direction and choreography. “And when the plant opens its petals for the first time and reveals what’s inside, it’s not inherently scary but surprisingly whimsical and magical.”

Twoey (also known as Audrey II), the carnivorous plant in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
With a new look and strategic puppetry, Twoey comes off as friendly and adorable to Seymour and the audience.
(Courtesy of Pasadena Playhouse)

Fear is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind during the song “Grow for Me.” A first version of Twoey — which “faints” via remote control — is swiftly swapped for a rod puppet plant with hard-to-spot cables controlled by three puppeteers under a metal table.

Read the full review by Ashley Lee from the LA Times here.