Thursday, February 28, 2013

Wide Eyed in the Field: Ben Newman

Ben Newman (AEA) - New York: Bub in The Town of No One (NY Fringe '11), Richard in Henry VI, Pt. III (Wide Eyed Productions at CSC), Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet (Columbia Stages), R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (WEP), among others. Regional: Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Denver Center Theatre Company, Actors Theatre Kansas City, Riverside Shakespeare Festival. Creator and director of Wide Eyed's NY Fringe '10 hit A World Elsewhere! Arias in the Key of Clown. Performing next as Morris in Blood Knot at Profile Theatre in Portland, OR, where he has recently relocated in order to foster his passion for artistic creation and his love of the outdoors. BA University of Northern Colorado. MFA University of Missouri-Kansas City.
  • You’ve been working on a production of Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot for Profile Theatre in Portland, Oregon. Can you share with us a little bit about the show and your experience working on this production?
Ben Newman as Morris and Don Kenneth Mason as Zach;
Jamie Bosworth Photography
 The play is about two brothers, one black and one mixed race, trying to figure out how to love one another in Apartheid South Africa. Working on this production has been a huge growth experience both as an actor and a human. South African Dialect? Check. Two-hour-two-hander where you never leave stage? Check. Role that the playwright originally wrote for himself? Check. Around 18 monologues for said role? Check. Hugely important subject matter? Check. The list goes on…it’s been an incredible challenge to attack head on and dutifully explore. Fugard’s writing is absolutely beautiful and it’s been a blessing to learn and speak his words. There’s a trap there however, in making those words too precious (something I’m consistently guilty of), and losing good storytelling in the process. This is one of those plays where the same story never gets told twice during the course of the run. Every night is going to be a roller coaster ride, so it’s best to just strap in and enjoy the ride. It has been, and I’m sure, will continue to be, a great lesson in truly listening to your stage partner and remaining as present as possible. I can’t wait!
  • How would you say the Portland theatre community is similar to that of the New York independent theatre community? How did you come about to work with Profile Theatre?
The theatre community in Portland is hugely similar to NY indy theatre. Portland is filled with tons of great, hard-working, hugely talented artists striving to get their work out there, and willing to do whatever it takes in order to do so. Last week, I learned in conversation that there are 83 theatres in Portland alone. Not bad for a town whose population isn’t even one third of mannyhatty. However, that has some drawbacks as well. With the market being fairly saturated, financial support gets tapped out, and the levels of professionalism suffer across the board. I’m a firm believer in quality over quantity, and it will be interesting to see if Portland’s demand for good theatre can keep up with the number of people wanting to provide it.

Profile Theatre has a new Artistic Director at its helm in Adriana Baer. Adriana and I met when she was in grad school at Columbia and I worked with her on several projects in NY. She was offered this job last spring and when I decided to move to Portland this summer I reached out to her. Luckily enough, she asked me to audition for Blood Knot’s director, and I was offered the role. It’s a great opportunity to introduce myself to the Portland Theatre Community and I’m grateful.
  • What is life like for you out in Oregon? Are you working on any additional projects at the moment? Care to share with us?
I’m still figuring it out. Winter in Portland is pretty tough with all the rain. Weather was a huge factor in my decision to leave NY, so we’ll see if I can tough it out. My main reason for coming to Portland was to be able to marry my love for the outdoors with a theatre lifestyle. I’ve been able to go snowboarding quite a few times throughout the winter, and did a lot of camping, fishing, and golfing in late summer after I moved here. I have a feeling it’s going to be a pretty good fit. Regardless of how much I miss my Wide Eyed family!

As soon as Blood Knot closes, I’m going to Colorado to co-direct a production of Medea at the University of Northern Colorado. Very excited to work on that! Aaaaaand…High Plains, a play that Wide Eyed produced [The Prairie Plays, 2010], has been invited to Edinburgh in August! When I saw the playwright (Brian Watkins) perform this play in NYFringe ’09, I immediately fell in love with it and his writing. Brian called me last fall and told me he wanted to take it to Edinburgh and asked if I’d be interested in taking on the role of Jake. I leapt at the opportunity, and now it’s really happening! We’ll be doing 23 performances in an underground vault space known as Iron Belly. We also just booked some preview performances in NY right before we leave this summer. They’ll be on Sunday, July 28th at 7 and 9pm at Jimmy’s no. 43! Come check it out!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wide Eyed Improv!

Do you like flying by the seat of your pants? Coming up with characters on the spot? Playing games with a group of funny people? Laughing? If you answered, “Yes, and…!” to any of these questions, then YOU are perfect for the Wide Eyed Improv Troupe! 

Beginning Sunday, March 3, we will host a 3-weeks series of improv forums. These are a great chance to test the improv waters to see if it’s right for you. We’re looking for all experience levels and will be forming as many teams as necessary, so don’t worry if you’ve never done improv before. You can still join and have a great time! 

We will be running some basic short form games, exercises, and warm-ups, all to get a feel for what an awesome troupe we will be able to craft. It will be led by Jeff Adams (Cardboard Box Theatre Team (Founder); Inoperable Humor (Member, Santa Clara, CA); Sanguine Humours (Captain, Educator); "Drew" in our FringeNYC 2012 production of ANIMALS by Sam Byron) and Brennan Lowery (Second City Conservatory, iO Harold Team (Meridian); Playground House Team (The Grrr)). 

Join us Sunday, March 3, from 12-2pm at The New School for Drama (151 Bank St). Email WideEyedImprov [at] for information/questions. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Artistic Director Kristin Skye Hoffmann "Winks"!

Kristin Skye Hoffmann
We present to you a special “Winks” Interview with Wide Eyed’s Artistic Director Kristin Skye Hoffmann! It’s not easy to do with her schedule, but we chased her down, crawled into her head, and got some exciting answers. You’re welcome.
  • This whole “Winks” idea is pretty great. Can you tell us how it came about?
I’m so happy you think it’s great! I do, too. I first had the idea for a season of staged readings last summer. The board reappointed me to the position of Artistic Director and I had to come up with a realistic and creative idea for our members and audience. For a long time, Wide Eyed has been extremely ambitious with the plays we put up, producing prolifically with almost no down time. Since I’m still pursuing my graduate degree at The New School for Drama, a lot of my time is spoken for, so continuing to produce fully staged plays was an unrealistic goal. The board and I saw this as an opportunity to explore multiple texts briefly and then hear feedback from our company members and audience. The idea is to choose our 7th season from these readings. The most exciting part of this has been working with artists from all around the New York theatre community. Directors, writers, and actors who are new to Wide Eyed have been invited to participate. It has been really great seeing all of the new work and getting feedback from them. Hopefully, the future plays of Season 7 are within the “Winks” series. Only time will tell.
  • How were these particular plays chosen? 
We wanted to go back to the triple threat combo that we love best which is doing original work from emerging playwrights, contemporary published works, and classic texts that are in the public domain. Our board looked over quite a few texts, some suggested by company or board members and some were brought to us from outside sources. As is Wide Eyed’s style, we selected which plays we were most inspired by as a team. I think it’s a great selection of works.
  • How has the feedback from our audience been coming along?
The audience response so far has been wonderfully heartening. After each “Wink” I've received personal emails from audience members who have simply enjoyed the work they saw or are interested in being considered as participants in the future. The work everyone is doing is so impressive, it doesn't surprise me at all.
  • As most of our fans know, you directed this week's wildly popular reading of Dead Special Crabs. What drew you to directing this particular piece? 
Oh, man! I couldn't wait for this. I’m very lucky to be in school with the brilliant and talented playwright, Daniel Ajl Kitrosser. I first read the text as part of a play script analysis class in my first year at The New School for Drama and immediately fell in love with it. We were working in a sort of 3-D dramaturgy where the playwrights and directors in the class stood in as actors as we mined the circumstances of the text. I was immediately drawn to the role of Aunt Missy and asked Dan if he’d let me read for her (fun fact: Wide Eyed’s Resident Playwright Sam Byron played Detective Horntub). He agreed and enjoyed watching me makeshift a costume and bum a cigarette to let dangle out of the side of my mouth in class. After that, I did my best to let Dan know how interested I was in someday fully producing and directing this text. Dan has a sensibility of quirky dark humor and heartfelt characters that I am extremely drawn to, and when he agreed to let me work on it, I immediately took it to the board. They loved the play almost as much as me. Rehearsal has been a great time, full of laughs. I always know it’s a special play when you can open the script to any page and find a line that makes you laugh. That’s a rare and wonderful thing.
  • You are Wide Eyed's Artistic Director, so obviously you would be the person to ask: What direction is the company heading in this year? 
Wide Eyed is taking a giant step forward, and I couldn't be happier about it. We are about to have our own 501(c)3 not-for-profit status, which is something we've been working on for quite a while. We are enormously proud of our past work, but now we want bigger and better venues, longer runs, and more innovative production values. When our “Winks” series is finished and we've heard what our company members want to perform, as well as what our audience wants to see, we will choose the content of our season and get started!
  • On a personal note, how's school going?
I can’t answer this! I have too much homework! (But thank you for asking.)
  • We know it's still hushed, but can you tell us anything about the big party in September?
Is it hushed? Well, I’m letting the cat out of the bag then, because I’m so excited! Co-Founder and Board Chair Liz White and our Event Coordinator Melissa Johnson have been working very hard to put together an exciting Gala Fundraiser on Saturday, September 28th. The Gala will be held at the beautiful Dune Studios. There will be delicious food, an open bar, as well as entertainment and an introduction to our plans for Season 7. All the proceeds will go toward producing our plays and keeping our production quality high. It is going to be a great time, and a perfect excuse to dress up and look fabulous. Tickets will be available very soon through our website, Facebook event, or any Wide Eyed Company member, and there are early bird discounts so keep an eye out for the announcement!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Meet the Playwright: Dan Kitrosser

Dan Kitrosser has been teaching year-round at Writopia since 2007. He is the founding artistic director of Writopia's Worldwide Plays Festival and teaches musical theater, playwriting, language play, and fiction workshops. Dan is currently an MFA student (dramatic writing) at the New School and is also the resident storyteller at Central Park and an award-winning playwright. His plays and musicals have appeared at Urban Stages, 45 Bleecker Theatre, The Ohio Theatre, The Brooklyn Lyceum and American Place Theatre. His children's musical, NIGHT OF THE BUTTERFLY, has been declared "a winning original musical!" by TimeOut Kids, and had an extended Off-Broadway run. He was the recipient of the 2010 Brooklyn Arts Council Grant for his one-man musical THE LEGEND OF ICHABOD CRANE (Halloween Pick - Village Voice) which he continues to tour around the city. At Writopia, six of Dan's students have won "Best Play" in Stephen Sondheim's 2008, 2009, and 2010 Write a Play! contests, and many others were named finalists or won honorable mentions. A graduate of NYU, Dan's screenplays include Old Days, directed by Matt Shapiro and starring Brad Oscar (Tony Nomination, The Producers) and Mary Beth Piel (Dawson's Creek) and Bodybuilder Island, directed by Matthew Kliegman. Dan has been a final committee judge for the Philadelphia Young Playwrights Festival for four years (this coming summer will be his fifth). Dan's play Be Here Now won this festival and was a finalist in Stephen Sondheim's National Playwriting Competition.
  • We are so very excited to be doing a staged reading of your new play Dead Special Crabs as part of our “Winks” season. Can you give us a bit of a synopsis of the play and provide some insight in terms of what inspired it?
DEAD SPECIAL CRABS is a road trip play--my favorite genre--that follows Loomer as he and his best friend June drive from Maine to Florida in order to deliver their vehicle, a brand new tan corolla, to his sister Amy for her wedding. Meanwhile, Loomer’s Aunt Missy, a-feared that Loomer will get all the credit for the gift, hires Detective Barney Horntub to track Loomer down. All of this with a serial killer on the loose, the play is a lot of fun. 

The previous play I had written was about cancer, transgenderism, and how God factors into all of that and I think I wanted to write something fun. I had just read David Lindsay-Abaire’s RABBIT HOLE, which I loved, and was told that he also wrote some wacky stuff, so I literally read the first page of his play A DEVIL INSIDE and put the book down and said out loud (and on the toilet, that’s where I do my reading) “I want to write like this.” And so, while I was in Julian Sheppard’s playwriting class in 2010, I started bringing in pages that were simply nuts and the joy of making the same group of people laugh and gasp each week pushed me to keep making it crazier and crazier.
  • When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? What made you start writing plays?
My mother had these 2nd edition Wizard of Oz books with wonderful illustrations inside and when I was three I used to climb to the top of the bookshelf and tear out the pictures to make my own books. So from an early age I was already plagiarizing. 

Theatre was big in my family. My father was a part time clown and we used to listen to old radio programs of vaudeville acts and I remember the first play I ever wrote was at my camp, which was a very sportsy camp, but every year the oldest bunk did a little skit. I turned that into an hour long musical--and because I stole from pretty much every vaudeville act that I could find--it was hilarious and so at 13 or 14, the camp hired me to write plays for them each year, for the next few years.

Looking now at what I’ve said, I’m suddenly self-conscious of how much my work has been derived from others. But I think, with comedy in particular, you are coming out of a tradition, and so stealing is the way you learn. Hopefully people will steal from me one day. 
  • Who or what has been your biggest influence as a writer? What inspires you to get to the page?
I love theatre that gets us out of our seats. My first plays that were produced in New York were for children where that has to be part of the aesthetic because kids literally will stand up and walk on the stage. But as I am able to write for older audiences, I think the reason we come to the theatre is to play--it’s called a PLAY for godsakes. So people who instill that wonder in us--David Lindsay Abaire, Sarah Ruhl, Tony Kushner, Lisa Kron, Anna Deveare Smith--people who welcome us into the theatre and play with us and make us think and feel and love and hate and be alive, that’s what I look forward to.

Is Dead Special Crabs an important play? Does it tackle any big issues? Probably not, but it’s a helluva lot of fun and makes us feel like kids again and I truly believe that comedy has that power to make us happy like happy kids. And if we could all be like that for two hours, plus the drink after the show, I don’t know, maybe we could end homelessness, or something.
  • In terms of your creative process, do you have a particular ritual when it comes to writing? If so, can you share it with us?
I think my ritual is procrastination. I need about four hours to really write because I need about two hours to not write. I’m trying to get better, but what can you do with all this internet and television.

I do yoga before I write, and I really only write in the mornings. The writing I do in the late afternoons and evenings is--as my high school English teacher said of my final paper on Jane Austen in 12th grade--”Less than good. And in many places, not good, or, bad.”
  • You’ve been working for some time now with Writopia Lab. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Rebecca Wallace-Segall, who is my sister-from-another-mister, founded Writopia Lab, a creative writing workshop for kids, in 2007. When it started, it was in her studio apartment on the upper west side, and I was her one employee. It’s grown to a national organization serving thousands of kids each year (this year, we’ve partnered with the New York Public Library, serving even more kids!). When it began, most of the kids were writing memoirs and short stories, and I, as a playwright, wanted them to write plays. So little by little, I got a few plays out of the kids and soon we had about twenty plays, so in 2009, I put together a two night festival of the plays, directed them all and it was a lot of fun. Four years later, with the aid of David Letterman’s production house Worldwide Pants, the Mellam Foundation and now Playscripts as sponsors, the Worldwide Plays Festival produces about a 100 plays each year written by kids as young as 5 and as old as 18. It’s really exciting how much its grown, and though I have stepped down as Artistic Director while in grad school, I am still very much involved, dramaturging the plays and working with the kids. Teaching is a very sacred profession and an opportunity for artists to really do good in the world and I’m so thankful for Writopia Lab for both the kids its serves, as well as what its done for me as an artist and and as a human being.
  • Can you tell us about any additional projects you are working on right now? 
Well, I had my first Off-Bway show, TAR BABY, open this past January, which I wrote with Desiree Burch. Reviews and audience responses were great so I know there’s talk of a future life for that show. I’m also currently adapting the gorgeous best-selling novel “We The Animals” by Justin Torres with Jeremiah Zagar for the screen. And like I mentioned before, as I am in grad school, I am working on a musical called HOMOS! AS THE WORLD IS ENDING! : A disaster musical, bitch. The most recent part, of which, Wide Eyed’s own Kristin Skye Hoffmann is directing. She’s the bomb, ain’t she?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

3 Questions for: Nic Marrone

Nic Marrone hails from Georgia where he attended GCSU in Milledgeville, GA (a.k.a. the town where Honey Boo Boo is living). He's currently working towards his MFA at the New School for Drama. This is his first production with Wide Eyed and his second time working with playwright / friend Dan Kitrosser. Y'all enjoy the show! "We all become important when we realize our goal // Should be to figure out our role within the context of the whole // And yeah, rock and roll is fun but if you ever hear someone // Say you are huge look at the moon, look at the stars, look at the sun // Look at the ocean and the desert and the mountains and the sky // And say I am just a speck of dust inside a giant's eye." - Kimya Dawson 
  • You’ll be performing in our upcoming staged reading of Dead Special Crabs as part of our “Winks” series. As this is your first time working with Wide Eyed, we’d like to get to know you a little better. Could you tell us a little bit about your last project? 
Well, I moved to New York to earn my MFA at the New School for Drama. With the 3-5 minutes of free time I get each week, I haven’t been able to do too much outside of school, but within the program, I’ve been all over the place. I actually just worked on a fantastic musical, Homos! As the World is Ending! also written by Dan Kitrosser. And through school, I get the rare opportunity to take on incredible roles that I’d never be cast in, like Martha Dobie in The Children’s Hour
  • When did you know that you wanted to be an actor? How did you get started? 
I don’t know if I ever had that moment where I knew I wanted to be an actor, and to be honest I’ve realized that the more I delve into my theatrical studies, the more my directing bug awakens. However, if I get the chance to play awesome roles, I’m sure as hell not going to turn them down! And as far as getting started - I played the leading role of The Owl in the Church Street Elementary School’s spectacle production of Who, Who, Who Lost a Shoe? 
  • Are you working on any additional projects at the moment? Care to share with us? 
One huge project I need to get done (ASAP) is new headshots…Maybe I should get cracking on a website, too…definitely. Other than that, I’m working towards getting an awesome internship this summer. This May, I’ll be in a production of As You Like It at the New School for Drama, and I’ll also be working on tons of new plays written by the unfairly talented Sam Byron, Molly Haas-Hooven, Matt Herzfeld, and of course Dan Kitrosser!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

3 Questions for: Kevin R. Free

Kevin R. Free is a writer/performer whose work has been showcased on the Moth Mainstage and on NPR's "News & Notes." His full-length plays are Face Value (Henry Street Settlement Playwright’s Project Grant, 2000; Mill Mountain Theatre New Play Festival Finalist, 2003); A Raisin in the Salad: Black Plays for White People (FringeNYC, The New Black Fest Fellowship; Semi-Finalist, Eugene O'Neill Theatre Conference 2013); and The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, or TRIPLE CONSCIOUSNESS (The Fire This Time Festival, 2012 and 2013). He is an alumnus of the New York Neo-Futurists, with whom he wrote and performed regularly in Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind (30 Plays in 60 Minutes) between 2007 and 2011. As an actor, he has performed regionally, Off- and Off-Off-Broadway, and is the narrator of over 80 audiobooks. He is the former Education Director at Queens Theatre in the Park and is now the Co-Executive Producer of The Fire This Time Festival. In 2010, He was named one of’s 15 People of the Year, because of his “outstanding, noteworthy contributions to the New York theatre scene.” 
  • You’ll be performing in our upcoming staged reading of Dead Special Crabs as part of our “Winks” series. As this is your first time working with Wide Eyed, we’d like to get to know you a little better. Could you tell us a little bit about your last project? 
My last project was The Fire This Time Festival, which is a festival that features the work of early career African-American playwrights (or playwrights of the African Diaspora). I was the Co-Executive Producer of the festival this year, and I directed a new 10-minute play by Tracey Conyer Lee… Plus, I had a staged reading of my new full-length play, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, or TRIPLE CONSCIOUSNESS. I was busy! It feels good to be on the other side of the festival – and not to have to be so responsible for a few days! 
  • When did you know that you wanted to be an actor? How did you get started? 
My older brother was an actor when I was in high school, and I wanted to be just like him! I moved to New York in 1995, after I got my AEA card at the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival. A mentor in NC hooked me up with Julie Hughes, the casting director whose big show had been "The Cosby Show." Her advice to me was to audition EVERYWHERE. Which I did. I even auditioned for things for which I wasn't right, just so that I could get my face out in the world. I was cast in an AEA Showcase that was written by Curtiss Cook and produced by the Present Company… I met my first agent at the cast party, started over as an actor/auditioner on a new level, did a lot of regional theatre, met my manager through a colleague – and then my career began. Again. I think my career began again last year, too, when I started being recognized as a playwright. I guess I'm looking forward to starting again again, which, it seems, is inevitable. 
  • Are you working on any additional projects at the moment? Care to share with us? 
Yes! I am directing a new play by Michelle T. Johnson, who is an emerging playwright from Kansas City, MO, which will be performed in The Midwinter Madness Festival February 18, 21, and 23. I will also be performing in a new one-act musical by my brilliant friend Lori Fischer at Don't Tell Mama. All the info is on my website!

Sunday, February 3, 2013


(If that's not a boiling crab-pot of goodness, we don't know what is.)
Check out the Facebook event here.

Photo by Melissa Johnson