AN INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL G. ROSENTHAL, PLAYWRIGHT OF "IS THIS AMERICA?"

WHAT WERE YOUR SPECIFIC INSPIRATIONS FOR THIS PLAY?

Ian Sullivan and Tom Brown are great friends and I’ve kept a close watch on their theatre and film projects for many years. I had long sought to write roles specifically for them. In the summer of 2014, I had an idea to write a play set in the 1960s with Ian and Tom playing civil rights workers. I am incredibly grateful that I will see Ian and Tom playing the roles that I wrote for them.
I was seized by a more encompassing wave of inspiration in the summer of 2015. I was struck by the possibility of writing a period play set in the 1960s that would be steeped in the historical realities of time period and setting but would also boldly explore the subject of prophetic consciousness. When I began learning about the 1964 Freedom Summer movement in Mississippi, I instinctually knew that I had the ideal dramatic setting for my new play. Ian Sullivan was the first person I told about the play when it was just an idea smoldering in my soul. He has been the play’s greatest champion ever since our first conversation about it in Central Park.
I spent nearly a year researching before I started writing the play in earnest. I have steeped myself in the history of Freedom Summer and the 1960s Civil Rights movement. I have also extensively studied the great theologian and activist Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel’s biography and writings. Heschel is an incalculably large influence on the play. My rabbi and friend Daniel Ornstein has served as a theological consultant for the play
I feel an immense responsibility to honor the heroic leaders and participants of the Mississippi Summer Project. I have been particularly haunted by the brutal murders of Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner and James Chaney, which occurred at the onset of Freedom Summer. I am writing the play to pay tribute to them and many others who sacrificed their lives for the movement. I have also been deeply inspired and heartened by the Long Island Theatre Collective. I wholeheartedly believe that LITC is the ideal home for a play about civil rights, prophetic consciousness and liberation theology because they are courageously committed to supporting and producing socially conscious, highly affecting works of art. They are passionate about the unlimited potential of stories to generate authentic change in the world.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my values are closely aligned with their values.

WHEN PEOPLE LEAVE THE THEATRE AFTER SEEING IS THIS AMERICA? WHAT DO YOU WANT THEM TO TAKE AWAY?

I want the audience to have a cathartic experience with Is This America? I want the audience to recognize how urgently relevant this play is to our present moment even though it is set over a half century ago. I want to provoke self-confrontation and ultimately charge the audience to want to fight more vigorously for justice and equality for all people. I want the production to take the audience on a voyage into the dark heart of America and leave them emboldened to renew their engagement with certain sacred American principles and credos, especially the freedom to vote in a democratic society. I also would feel fulfilled if the audience leaves with genuine respect for the heroic freedom fighters that were willing to lay down their lives for oppressed African Americans in Mississippi. These men and women were truly soldiers without weapons whose noble legacy is our inheritance as Americans. It’s an inheritance that should give us light and sustenance when the war for freedom truly tests our mettle as soldiers waging our battles for a “more perfect union.”

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE PROJECTS THAT YOU’VE WORKED ON?

Freeman in Paris is a play by my close friend Herb Newsome that I helped develop as a dramaturg and director. It is also a period play that tells the story of a fictional jazz musician in the 1950s. I directed the original production at the New Horizon Theater in Pittsburgh. Herb and I would remount the play for the United Solo Festival in New York City and a run at the Center Stage NY theater in New York City. I had an extraordinarily fulfilling and triumphant experience with Freeman. The play also was the catalyst for me reconnecting with the woman whom I would eventually marry so I am extremely grateful for the play every day of my life.

WHAT STAGE OF THE PLAYWRITING PROCESS ARE YOU CURRENTLY IN FOR IS THIS AMERICA?

I am unbelievably fortunate to have Laura Maria Censabella as my dramaturg for this production. Laura Maria is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. I have taken two ten-week playwriting workshops with her and I can bear witness to her exquisite brilliance as a writing teacher. She is an invaluable resource and I am excited to collaborate with her in January and February.

WHAT OTHER PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON?

I am a teacher at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. My greatest passion is supporting the artistic endeavors of my students. I am currently involved in supporting a film titled Charlotte with a production team comprised of my students Sophie Cohen, Elinor Cherin, Caroline Bissaillon and Julia Murphy. I am exceptionally gratified to be an ally of such remarkably talented and passionate students and I am intensely anticipating their finished film this spring.

Lenny Motsinger on American Buffalo, LITC and the Company

On "American Buffalo"

As a director, you are often surprised by a play as you go through the rehearsal process. "American Buffalo" by David Mamet is one such play.  Many Americans have been surprised by those who have been left behind by the American dream.  Mamet's play focuses on three men who have been left behind and are down and out.  Focusing on themes of loyalty, friendship, and success/failure, he puts a spotlight on those the American dream has eluded.  The obscenities, as well as their homely exchange, form a litany, a kind of prayer of the dispossessed.  Whatever your political views may be, we can no longer ignore those left behind.  Mamet's words allow us to experience their pain.

I would like to thank Chris, Danny, Frank and Ann-Marie whose assistance made mounting this production so much easier and enjoyable. 

P.S. I would also like to thank Holy Trinity HS Performing Arts Dept. for bringing us all together!

On LITC and the Company

My involvement with LITC began long before LITC even existed! As many of you know, I taught Ian Sullivan when he was a student at Holy Trinity. It was then that I think that the seeds for LITC were planted in Ian's heart. Trinity theatre taught all of us, teachers and students, that great theatre only happens through hard work and collaboration!

After Ian graduated, we kept in touch and became friends! A friendship that I deeply treasure. When an opening for a theatre teacher at Trinity became available, I strongly encouraged Ian to pursue the job (teaching theatre at HTHS had been a dream of Ian's). I also strongly advocated on his behalf. As we know, the rest is history.

By this time, LITC was up and running and Ian asked if I would be interested In directing for the company. I of course jumped at the chance! I knew that this would give me a chance to work with many HTHS alumni who were already apart of the LITC family! It was like coming home!

I am privileged to be apart of this theatre family that values hard work and collaboration. I truly believe in the mission of LITC and am honored to be apart of this dynamic and creative company! My hope is that as more people become aware of LITC that this theatre company will continue to grow and prosper!

LITC bringing great theatre to Long Island!

An Interview with Michael Paul Smith, playwright of "Twas the Night"

What first inspired you to do start acting and doing theatre?

My earliest memory was being told that the people on TV weren't actually going through those situations, and wanting to do what they do. It was Mary Martin's "Peter Pan" to be exact. I noticed the strings that were making them fly, and then I got the news. And it wasn't bad news. It changed my life (to the extent that a 3 year old's life can be changed).
My second earliest memory was crying when I had the tragic realization that I'll never be able to see my own face without a mirror. Un-related, but dramatic, nonetheless...

What continues to inspire you today?

I want to say that seeing good work inspires me, because it does. But that's not exactly true. Seeing bad work inspires me, also. It makes me analyze what could have been done differently. So I guess the real answer is that I am inspired by anyone in any artistic medium that risks failure; even if the end result turns out to be failure. It's only the safe, "hotel art" work that bores me.
Also, jazz. I can't listen to jazz and not want to create something.

What were specific inspirations for this play?

The main inspiration is Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit From St. Nicholas." I love Christmas with a passion. I wrote the first draft of "Twas the Night" over Memorial Day weekend 2014 because I wanted it to be Christmas. It was hot, I already had bug bites, and I just wanted to have a reason to put on a sweater and listen to Bing Crosby. I love Christmas music. And good Christmas movies; all of which I tried my best to shout-out throughout the play. I was also just trying to write something funny, and produceable. I found myself thinking about Tom Stoppard's brilliant "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead"--which follows the two most forgettable (and most often cut) characters from "Hamlet." While the parents in Moore's poem are not nearly as insignificant as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I had the idea of really exploring the world of that household that night, and went from there. 

When people leave the theatre after seeing Twas The Night what do you want them to take away?

I love Christmas because of the way it can bring people together, and how it often makes us our best selves. But it can also be a very bittersweet, sometimes even lonely, time. I want every person who sees 'Twas the Night to leave feeling like they just got a present of their own. And maybe the communal aspect of theatre will remind them that none of us are as alone as it feels sometimes. We all have a lot in common.

Do you have any personal Christmas Memories or stories to share?

Oh, man. I was raised to watch "March of the Wooden Soldiers" every Thanksgiving, and the Alistair Sim portrayal of "Scrooge" every Christmas Eve. When I was a teenager, I started staying up late and reading the poem by myself as I put my presents for my family under the tree; even sort of acting it out like the nerd that I am. Nowadays, my wife and I read the poem together on Christmas Eve, alternating every year. My favorite recent Christmas memory was from just a few weeks ago. It was the day of our first rehearsal, and I wanted a new illustrated copy of the poem for the occasion. So the lady that was unlucky enough to get me at the book store found herself looking through their back room because it was too soon for any Christmas books to be out on the floor. But she found it. And the first thing I did with my amazing cast was have them all sign the space that says "This book belongs to..." and then we passed the book around, reading the poem like it was "story time." I even baked cookies for the occasion. And I don't bake. But as the saying goes: anything worth doing is worth doing right.

Tell us a little about the cast?

They are an inspiring, generous, patient bunch of people. Perhaps I should have put the word "patient" in caps. Most of us already knew each other going into the process, and I certainly consider them all personal friends as well. But this is my stage directorial debut. And a brand new piece that's never been staged! So we're taking some time to experiment and see what works, but there's so much love in the room when we're all together I don't even know what to do with myself. Plus, I baked Christmas cookies for them in October, so...yeah. I've known Kevin Mundy and Chris Cuoccio since High School, and had a blast working with them both in "Waiting for Godot" last year and "Much Ado About Nothing" this past Spring. My favorite actors are versatile, and these guys are nothing if not that. And Kelly Warne is one of the funniest people I've ever known. I was such a big fan of her's that I wrote a principal role specifically for her in my webseries "The Residuals." She brings a wild silliness to her role in 'Twas the Night that's taking shape in ways I hadn't even imagined. 

What are some other favorite projects that you have worked on?

"The Residuals" is definitely the project that I'm the proudest of. My wife Gillian (who is making her stage managing debut for 'Twas) and I shared all of the responsibilities as showrunners and taught ourselves how to make it through every production-related roadblock from budgeting to post-production. What resulted is our pride and joy. It's a show about actors that do commercials, and you can see both seasons at www.theresiduals.tv
Onstage, I've learned as much about myself as an actor this past year as any other year that I can recall. Playing Vladimir in "Waiting For Godot", opposite my dear friend and LITC's Artistic Director Ian Sullivan, was an enormous challenge not only because of the absurdist material, but also because of the sheer wordiness of it. We worked very hard with our beloved Lenny Motsinger to put our own spin on it, and I'm very proud of the result.
Playing Don Pedro in "Much Ado" this past spring was a challenge for me because the character, while important for the plot, isn't the subject of much personal conflict. Kevin Mundy directed me to fill in those blanks with my own imagination, and so I did.  

Are you working on any other scripts right now?

Oh, nothing really. Just the 30 minute pilot version of "The Residuals", another pilot with guys from my old improv/sketch group, an animated short, an animated full-length, two screenplays, two treatments, and exactly seven other ideas that I fervently believe in and that deserve my attention. Basically, if I'm not down with the flu or some such thing, you can find me at the keyboard.

'A Christmas Carol' The Legend Behind Story

In the fall of 1843 Charles Dickens was already a very famous writer.  Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby were already widely acclaimed, and with these successes Dickens had pulled himself out of his impoverished upbringing.

But his funds were spread thin; he and his wife were expecting their fifth child, he was supporting most of his extended family, his mortages were an enormous expense, the sales for his newest book were far underperforming his and his publishers' expectations, and his monetary advances were drastically cut.

So Dickens cooked up ‘a little scheme’ to make money. He would rework some of his audience’s favorite characters -- a sick boy, a miserly old man, a loving father, and put them in the world of a Christmas story. Surely this would be a way to capitalize on the holiday season.

Upon sitting down to write the piece Dickens was possessed by the story.  He fell in love with the characters and with the season. He professed that while he was writing it he would burst into tears and then into laughter and then back into tears again.  He was so moved by the journey of these people who he had grown to love.

‘A Christmas Carol’ was published on December 19th 1863. Six-thousand copies were printed and by Christmas Eve you couldn’t buy a copy anywhere; they were sold out of every bookstore in London.  However, Dickens did not receive his windfall because he insisted that the book would be ornately designed and cost only five schillings, ensuring that every family could buy a copy, and also ensuring his profit margins would be very thin.  Dickens scraped by and eventually wrote more hugely profitable successes like ‘Tale of Two Cities’ and ‘Great Expectations’

Within the first two months of “Carol’s” release there were eight stage adaptations of the short novel.  Since then there have been countless adaptations on film, tv and stage (my personal favorite is “Muppet’s Christmas Carol:")  LITC is so proud to be part of this tradition.  Dickens created a piece whose story is just as palpable, just as relatable, just as uplifting, just as important as the day it was released one hundred and seventy two years ago, and we are honored to be able to advance that tradition.  We are honored to bring you a production of “Christmas Carol” that is uniquely Long Island and we hope you are as moved by this piece as we are.

Click here to purchase tickets and join us in celebrating this beautiful story and season.  

Marley haunts Scrooge - 1843                             Marley haunts Scrooge - 2015                   Ghost of Christmas Present - 1843                    Ghost of Christmas Present - 2015

DESIGNING MIDSUMMER: LIGHTING DESIGN

On the evening before LITC’s first production, The Pillowman, the company worked into the night to build a truss in the middle of Rambo Hall. As soon as the last bolt was tightened, a young man eagerly climbed to the top with a Source Four in his hand and a crescent wrench bungeed to his belt. It was LITC’s electrics intern, Brendan P. Warner, a senior at Holy Trinity Diocesan High School. The hang was done in a flash, the focus and color choices were artfully made, and Brendan’s title was adjusted from intern to resident lighting designer.

At an age when many students are sampling the diverse disciplines of theatre to find their own path, Warner is laser-focused. “I believe I was born to find my passion for designing,” he says. “It is a gateway to open my imagination and to paint a picture I haven’t seen yet. People do that in different ways. I do it through light.”

Now, Warner will tackle A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the first time. “I have only seen it once before,” he admits, “so it is a fairly new experience.” To express the mystical forest settings, he and director Ian Sullivan discussed drawing inspiration from a more modern outdoor adventure: music festivals. Rambo Hall, which does not contain the flyspace, wingspace, or catwalks of a larger theatre, is a challenging space to design within—but that’s alright with Warner. “I love to rise to the occasion when new goals and challenges are set in my path,” he says. Warner will soon rise to new challenges; he was accepted to the renowned design program at North Carolina School of the Arts, and will begin his studies this fall.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs June 19-21 in Bellmore, NY. Tickets are on sale now; click here for more information.

DESIGNING MIDSUMMER: SCENIC DESIGN

"Every time I am asked to design scenery for plays I find myself starting from zero," says A Midsummer Night's Dream's scenic designer Sean Ward. "My background is not in theatre," he admits.

Scenic design in theatre has a long history of artists trained in the visual arts, architecture, and related fields. Ward, who lives in Wantagh, has a BFA in painting from Syracuse University and MFA in painting from the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is currently a Program Manager at ArtsConnection, a nonprofit that brings the arts to public school classrooms.

This is Ward's first time designing Midsummer, although he has seen the show before: a 2000 production that featured LITC's Kevin Mundy, and Ian Sullivan. Ward did not know these actors at the time.

His design for Midsummer accentuates the mysticism and magic of the forest setting, but while the play is set outside of Athens, Ward’s inspiration comes from the east. His design combines two traditions from Japanese culture: the tenugui towel and ikebana.

“Tengui towels are versatile sheets of patterned cloth that are used as towels, headcoverings, and also as doorway entrances. I liked the idea of moving through a simple piece of cloth to enter a new space.” Ward says the motion implies a kind of magic and transformation.

Ikebana is a form of flower arrangement, an art that Ward himself practices. It is a disciplined art form that seeks to unite nature and humanity. While determining the arrangement, the practitioner observes silence and focus.

“I felt these two things (Tengui and Ikebana) fit Midsummer well—for its setting, and also how silence is recognized in the comedy.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs June 19-21 in Bellmore, NY. Tickets are on sale now; click here for more information.

Inspiration

By Adam Zurbruegg

I write. Well, I say that I write. I spend a lot of time thinking about writing. That counts for something, right? And I am pretty good at starting to write. It's the following through that gives me problems. So, actually, I guess I don't really write.

Things get busy at work, obligations fill the calendar, distractions pop up... you know, life. And staring at a laptop, laboring over a single sentence while a whole hour passes, is not exactly the best path to a healthy social life. Writing can feel downright lonely sometimes. Solitary.

Producing our New Plays Festival, I had the opportunity to read plays from all across the world, and to personally speak with six amazing playwrights. It turns out that somehow, despite the obligations, distractions, and day jobs, plays are being written. They're even being finished! And they're good. On stage last weekend, I saw brilliant premises and unexpected twists. I saw compelling characters with unique voices and exposed honesty. I sat in the audience and kicked myself for every play I abandoned after page one.

I spoke with our actors, who were challenged by these pieces and excited to be the first performer to tackle the role. They're part of that creative process, too, as are the directors and designers. I spoke with audience members who were so glad there was a place to see new work on Long Island. I thought about every story idea that drifted away because I never got around to putting it down on paper, never shared it with other artists.

I've been writing a lot since the festival. There's a ten-minute play and a full-length that I think might have some potential. Or not. Maybe they stink. That sort of doubt used to stop me in my tracks, but I think I'm going to push through it this time. Writing doesn't feel quite so lonely anymore. There's a whole community out there, staring at laptops. I've seen them respond in droves to our call for submissions. There's a competitive little voice in my head reminding me that they're all around me, writing, finding the time, putting in the work. If I want to call myself a writer, I'd better keep up with the writers. I've got to make up for some lost time.

=========================

Post-script: The entire Collective owes a sincere "thank-you" to everyone who submitted their work to the New Plays Festival. Putting yourself out there takes guts. Although we could only select six plays for our festival, there were hundreds of other plays that we found exciting, entertaining, dramatic, and inspiring.

Preview: FERTILE by Tony Foster

When Tony Foster submitted his 91-page script called Fertile to the New Plays Festival, his email simply said, “The play is about a dirt-eater.” But that may have been an understatement; the play mines much richer soil than that.

Yes, there is a dirt-eater, a woman who suffers from the eating disorder known as pica, a compulsion to eat non-edible substances. This subject alone might be compelling enough for an entire play, but Fertile also explores themes of parenting, fate, meaning, and home. Foster compares his play to Gustav Klimt’s painting Three Ages of a Woman (see below). “To me that image says it all: motherhood, love, hope, despair, and dirt.”

Foster’s play is both funny and touching, thought-provoking and undeniably one-of-a-kind. When asked what’s next for Fertile, the playwright says, “With what I glean from this first draft, I hope the play grows into a stronger piece.” He says that any new play “needs nurturing from understanding, talented artists as it moves forward to the next step.”

LITC is happy to provide that nurturing soil. We promise not to eat it.

Playwright Tony Foster

Playwright Tony Foster

Three Ages of Woman; Gustav Klimt

Three Ages of Woman; Gustav Klimt

Preview: TWO SHIPS by Ed Friedman

Opportunity is like a ferry boat. It can take you to a new place, or you can miss it completely.

The characters in Ed Friedman’s Two Ships happen to meet while waiting for the ferry to Fire Island. The ten-minute play presents a new twist on the classic “will they?/won’t they?” storyline, while its setting and its inspiration are uniquely Long Island. “A number of years ago I was waiting for the ferry at Bayshore,” says Friedman. “Someone got off the bus with a gigantic duffel bag, and I wondered, ‘What’s her story?’”

For Friedman, LITC’s New Plays Festival presented an interesting opportunity as well. “This is one of the very few geographically-specific plays I’ve written,” he says, “so I thought it was serendipitous.”

Meanwhile, co-director Brendan Warner is seizing a new opportunity of his own. Warner, who will join the prestigious drama program at University of North Carolina School of the Arts this fall, has largely focused on lighting design and electrics. This time, he’ll be directing under the mentorship of Lenny Motzinger, a teacher at Holy Trinity Diocesan High School. “I’m looking forward to seeing a show through a different pair of glasses,” says Warner. Regarding the play's themes, he says, “I hope people take away the courage to not miss their opportunity.”

Or, as Ed Friedman puts it: “Don’t let the moment pass you by. Unless, of course, you just want to turn it into a play.”

Playwright Ed Friedman

Playwright Ed Friedman

Preview: ORDINARY by Jack Feldstein

“Look through the curtain. At the audience,” says the Clown to the Bearded Lady. “It could be us.”

Jack’s Feldstein’s ten-minute play Ordinary happens backstage at the circus. “I wanted to explore what it might be like for those on the fringes of society,” Feldstein says. “Those who peer into how the majority live and yearn to join them.” He says the play is largely about the concept of belonging and following your dreams.

Director Caroline Jannace is following a dream of her own. A student at Holy Trinity Diocesan High School in Hicksville and an aspiring director, Jannace will get the opportunity to tackle Ordinary with guidance from LITC’s artistic director Ian Sullivan. “This piece is all about taking risks, and I think it will inspire the audience to try something they normally wouldn’t do,” she says.

Aspiring and risk-taking are common themes for Feldstein, a Queens-based playwright. “Often, I find myself writing about characters who have a dream,” he says, “and then set about pursuing it.” And when those dreams don’t turn out as planned? “That’s irrelevant. It is in the going for one’s dream that makes for a content life.”

Playwright Jack Feldstein

Playwright Jack Feldstein

Preview: THE BUNK BED IN HEAVEN by Laura Brienza

“I grew up in Tokyo,” says Laura Brienza, the author of The Bunk Bed in Heaven. “A priest there once gave a homily hypothesizing that Heaven and Hell were identical rooms with long tables and chopsticks so enormous that you couldn't use them to feed yourself. In Heaven, everyone fed each other across the table. But in Hell, everyone starved.” 

Brienza’s 53-page script explores the afterlife, but is really about human relationships. The titular bunk bed is shared by Natalie and her estranged mother, Ellen. Director Thomas Brown was immediately drawn to the unique format and the themes of forgiveness and redemption. “The story unfolds beautifully in the hands of some very intricate and compelling characters,” he says.

Brown will face the challenge of differentiating two “worlds” within the play, with scenes alternating between Heaven and Earth. Like each of the New Plays Festival productions, he’ll do so with very few technical elements. “I intend to do a ‘glorified staged reading’,” says Brown, “meaning there will be scripts in hand with some very minimal blocking, lighting, and props.” The main emphasis will be on performance, story, and dialogue. “I have a very talented set of actors from different backgrounds, and I think the chemistry between them promises to bring some fantastic results.”

Brienza is a rising star in theatre, television, and film. Says www.nytheatre.com: “Brienza has vision, talent, a unique point of view, and an exciting dynamic voice. She’s also got a playwright’s ability to make her audience think, without preaching at them.” This even-handed quality is not surprising, considering Brienza’s take on her characters in The Bunk Bed in Heaven. “There’s two sides to everything,” she says. “A little empathy goes a long way.”

Playwright Laura Brienza

Playwright Laura Brienza


NOTE: The Bunk Bed in Heaven will be performed on Saturday, April 18 only.


Preview: HIP BONES by Anthony Donald Kochensparger

Glenna, the sole character in Hip Bones, ends the play with her hand pressed tightly to her chest. It’s a gesture that the playwright, Anthony Donald Kochensparger, noticed himself doing while going through a tough break-up. “I would look down and just kind of see it there,” he says.

Hip Bones is raw and honest, peppered with personal nuances so simple and human that they could only be inspired by real moments. The eight-minute monologue began as a journal piece, “only a play happened instead.” Kochensparger says, “It was one of those rare gems that suddenly appears in full form, one night in your notebook.”

His character Glenna writes children’s poetry; or did, before losing her lover and the illustrator of her books. “The character is a poet, and she speaks in these beautiful phrases with really interesting rhythms,” says Adam Zurbruegg, who will direct the piece. “The play itself is a poem, really. It’s what drew me to it.” The production will be staged as a reading with virtually no scenic elements, to let the language take center stage.

Hip Bones is one piece of The Pink House Plays trilogy by Kochensparger, who lives in Dayton, OH and is a founding member of The Right Questions Theatre Ensemble. In addition to his plays, Kochensparger also writes poetry for children. The titles Glenna mentions in Hip Bones? That’s just one more autobiographical touch. “Those are mine, those are all my poems.”

Playwright Anthony Donald Kochensparger (website)

Playwright Anthony Donald Kochensparger (website)

Preview: VACANCIES by Brett Hursey

"We read so many plays during the last few months, and some just stuck with me," says LITC artistic director Ian Sullivan. "I found myself thinking about Vacancies, and the world the story was told in, for days and weeks after I read it." 

That "world" is unsettling in its stark simplicity: a room with two chairs, three people, and a resume. At face value, Vacancies is about a job interview. When asked, playwright Brett Hursey sums it up quite simply: "BLACK is a man with a job to kill for. BLUE is a man who'd kill for the job BLACK has. The WOMAN would happily kill them both—on and off the job." Yet throughout the delightfully strange ten-minute play, the audience can't help but suspect there is something more going on. "I think the simplicity of the set and staging allows the moments of absurdism to really shine through," says Sullivan, who will direct the piece. He calls the play "a bit of a mystery. A mystery that I hope will remain unsolved."

Hursey, an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Longwood University in Virginia, has over thirty New York City theatre credits to his name, and his comedies have appeared in over ninety theatres across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. He chose to submit Vacancies to LITC's New Plays Festival because of the collective's "innovative" approach. "It's so cool to see new, fresh theatre hit the stage."

As for Vacancies' future after the festival, Hursey says, "I hope the show plays well, and I'll keep working to improve it," adding that it is "only slightly less weird than the one I wrote with the zombie telemarketers."

Playwright Brett Hursey

Playwright Brett Hursey

A Time to be Thankful

by Ian Sullivan

When I look back to last Thanksgiving, I see that a lot of things about my life are drastically different. I moved from Philly back home to Long Island. Instead of waiting tables, auditioning, and piecing together acting gigs, I have a career and home at Holy Trinity, teaching and making theatre. Long Island Theatre Collective is a reality and not just a dream between childhood friends.

It’s Thanksgiving, a time to be grateful for the gifts in your life, and these positive changes are among the things I am most thankful for. It's knowing that so many people have helped to realize these dreams that is the most inspiring and humbling. In the instance of LITC, so many individuals have donated their time, talent, and money to make this collective possible: the board and artists who give countless hours of their time to serve the work; our families, who have supported us financially and emotionally; our audience, who comes to see our work and responds with so much enthusiasm; and our donors, who believe in what we are doing so much that they are willing to share in our commitment. (We hope you will keep LITC in mind as you consider your year-end giving this holiday season. Click here to get involved.)

Things are changing, and as I said, I'm very grateful for these times that are before us.  However, it is the things that are most constant that I am absolutely most thankful for. My loving family, my brilliant teachers, my hilarious and creative friends, my beautiful and inspiring love. I can’t wait to see what the next year will bring for all of us.

Dusk and Dawn

By Adam Zurbruegg, Chairman, Board of Directors

I’ve always loved the Fall. It seems like the shortest season: a brief flash of beautiful colors and crisp smells that fades too soon into Winter’s white.

It’s easy to associate Fall with endings. The leaves drop, Summer fades, the harvest must be reaped before it turns to rot. But endings herald beginnings, and the Fall also brings new life: the school year, the football season, flannel jackets and beef stew. New seasons begin in theatre, television, music, and dance. The entertainment industry re-awakens from its fanciful dream of summer stock and blockbuster films and, like kids returning to school, emerges refreshed from its summer jaunts and ready to begin the work again.

Fall is neither a beginning nor an end, but a change. It is a transitory time, like dusk and dawn, or the foggy moments before falling asleep or waking up. In that brief flash of color things are both on and off, here and there, yesterday and tomorrow.

September approaches, and with it comes LITC’s debut performance. Even this is not a beginning. It’s a change. For the members of the collective, it’s the next step in the long walk that’s led us here. This march to September can be traced back to Winter, when we incorporated and began the work in earnest; or ten years ago, when many of us were college theatre students together; or further still, to a small group of childhood friends playing pretend in backyards in Wantagh. So, in a way, the collective has always existed, and this Fall is not a beginning, but the turning of a page in a story that has had many chapters, eras, seasons.

We hope, too, that this marks a time of change for you, our audience. You’ve seen live theatre, but we’d like to show it to you a little differently. You may have been to Rambo Hall, but this Fall it will become a space of stories, a backyard for us all to play pretend.

So, let’s enjoy this Fall. Embrace the transition, the straddling of things, the on and the off. There’s time for a few more cookouts, or for simmering stew. Make one more trip to Jones Beach, even if you need that flannel jacket. Take in the changing leaves, that brief flash of red and yellow that reminds us that we are meant to change, and grow, and begin, and begin again. And make plans to join us on September 26-27 for The Pillowman. Like the colors of the leaves it will come and go quickly before it is on to the next new beginning.

If the cause is just, if the need is true

It has been almost six weeks since Founders Day and we have a little less than two months until The Pillowman.

Toward the start of this campaign, I went out to lunch with long-time friend and member of the collective, Tommy, and one of my former teachers and mentors from high school, Lenny Motsinger. I pitched Lenny the idea of starting up LITC and he immediately offered to donate. He always believed in me, and Tommy, and Kevin, and Chris, and all his Trinity kids. I was a little embarrassed and apologetic. It is an uncomfortable situation to ask for and receive money from your friends and family. But Lenny assured me that I shouldn’t be sorry. "When I was in the seminary," he said, "the Franciscan brothers always taught us to never be ashamed to ask for what you truly need. If the cause is just, if the need is true, do not be ashamed." That was the first donation I secured for the collective, but the lesson was far more valuable.

We have raised a little over $2,500 and need to raise almost five hundred more. We are so grateful to those who have given. To those who haven’t, we ask for your help. 

Our cause is just. Our need is true. We need your help to transform Rambo Hall into an immersive and professional theatrical space, to pay our artists, and to cover seemingly countless legal and incorporation fees. And so it is not with shame or embarrassment that we ask for your help, but with humility and gratitude.

To make your tax-deductible donation, please visit our RocketHub campaign page by this Tuesday, August 5th.

With warm regards,

Ian Sullivan
Artistic Director
Long Island Theatre Collective

Founders Day 2014: What's Past is Prologue. Our Story Begins Here.

by Ian Sullivan

Where does this story begin? 72 hours ago, when the cast was together for the first time? Six months ago, when I sat with Adam and pitched this ridiculous idea to him? Eight months ago, when Ilana inspired and empowered me to actually pursue this insane life-long dream? Fourteen months ago, when I conjured up the notion that we could do a great production of Midsummer in my backyard? Eight years ago, when we sat in Matt Hamilton’s apartment in Albany and imagined what this wondrous thing could be? 1977, when my parents bought this tiny house in a still under-developed suburb of Long Island? 

I just don’t know. Who can trace the genesis of a story? The roots of a tree stretch and grow with its leaves, the beginning and ending forever in flux and unclear.

On the morning of June 21, I awoke in the dark basement I spent most of my childhood in, with many of the boys I spent that childhood with. I was a little sick, very tired, stressed, nervous, and excited at the same time. My first fear was alleviated when I walked up the stairs and saw the sun poured in through the windows. It was beautiful out. I think it’s a good sign for our endeavor; the universe will listen to you if it’s meant to be. We made coffee and ran the show for the first time as a full cast in the performance space. It went well. The show started coming alive.

When board arrived, the ten founders of the collective were together for the first time. “Happy Founder’s Day!,” Ilana said, and we all greeted each other. It was a victory that we had even gotten this far.

Among the first guests were my first-grade teacher, one of my best friends, and his wife. Then, the neighbors. Then, everyone. My friend, Erin, from high school came—she gave me this notebook. Steve was late, but he made it, and the crowd raved about the art he donated to the raffle. Mikey was there (“my mentor” was all I could say as I introduced him), and Allison, too. Jerry wanted to know when the show started. “Not soon enough,” he said. I couldn’t have agreed more. 

When Kevin’s son, Braedon, wanted to paint, my mom set him up in her studio.  Everyone loved her work. And the house. And the backyard that my Dad worked tirelessly on. “I haven’t worked that hard in years,” I overheard him say to my Mom. “You used to, all the time,” she replied with a smile in her voice. I remember him doing just that: from the minute he woke up, working like a dog (as he would say) on the house and lawn. But the older Jimmy Sullivan replies, “Now, I just think, I’ll do it tomorrow,” and he has earned that privilege. But for us, right now, there is no “let’s do it tomorrow.” We must put in the work on this day and every day forth.

When we collected the chairs and moved them to the stage, Kevin asked me, “Are we ready?” I just nodded, and he began to thank people for coming and then seamlessly transitioning into his first speech. I stared from the back of the audience. What a privilege to see Kevin Mundy performing again. 

The show went by in a whirlwind, as they always do, until we were singing the final song. “If we shadows have offended,” set to the tune of The Water is Wide. Steve later said, “It made me feel good feelings.” Adam came to the stage and thanked everyone for being there. He said, “This will always be a special group for us, you who are here today.” Now, it seemed like we had fifty founders. What a feeling to look out onto that group of smiling, loving, and supportive faces. People were very kind in their feedback. Good weather. Good people. Good show. Good food. Best we could have possibly hoped for.

And yet, there was a moment after that when I retreated to the sanctuary of my house, like Gatsby in his room full of unread books. Some of mine have never been opened either. There is far too much to be read in any one lifetime, far too much to be done. But some things must be done, and I took that moment to appreciate what we had all accomplished in that little backyard. We started a theatre company!

That night we laughed so hard, telling stories from days past and present. In the end, we are all just a bunch of wacky, goofy, crazy people… just like Bottom, Quince, and Snug. And that’s just it. It’s why I picked the play and adapted it the way I did: because anyone can make great theatre. You don’t have to be on a Broadway stage, or working for a million-dollar theatre company, or have one hundred lighting units on you. Theatre does not belong to the elite and privileged. It is all of ours. It is our stories, told in the ways we need to tell them. If you have Bottom’s presence, or Quince’s vision, or if, like Snug, you just try really, really hard, you can make something stunning and beautiful. And maybe, through the sum of all your work and the work of your colleagues, for a couple of moments on that stage, you can become more that what you actually are. The greatest possible version of yourself.

One of my favorite stories about Founders Day didn’t happen on the 21st. It was on the morning after. One of my neighbors walked into the backyard and dropped something off for the collective. My mom and I were wondering where she and her eighty-one-year-old husband had been. He had been sick, and just wasn’t up for it. She had tears in her eyes and she apologized for missing the day. I opened the envelope to find a very generous donation. And this: “We’re sorry we didn’t make it to your soiree last night, but John was not feeling up to snuff so I thought we’d just chill out. But never let it be said we are not patrons of the arts. So, we have decided to contribute to the cause. We also know that you and ‘the dude’ (that’s what they call Tommy) will be a huge success. Best of luck. We love you, John and Gee.”

So where does this story begin? I just don’t know. Perhaps it’s fitting, because we don’t know how its going to end either… and I hope it never will.

To keep the story alive.

The following are excerpts from a commencement address made by LITC Artistic Director, Ian Sullivan, to performing arts graduates of his alma mater, Holy Trinity School.

Thanks to Mrs. Murphy and the theatre department for inviting me to join you today. Thanks to Mr. Fennell and the administration for welcoming me back. Also, thank you, Mr. Fennell, for not writing me up for having this beard. I appreciate that. When I went to school here, Mr. Fennell was the Dean of Discipline. One time he stopped me in the hallway.

Sullivan...” he said. I froze. Your top button’s unbuttoned. I’m not going to give you detention, though.” I was relieved. I have to give you detention for the stubble on your face, though... I was going to let you get away with one.” Mr. Fennell: tough but fair. 

My favorite Mr. Fennell moment happened during my Honor Society induction ceremony.  A young girl’s hair accidentally caught on fire from the candles. I do not say this to make light of the situation; it was a scary moment. You could hear the air get sucked out of the room like a vacuum. While everyone else stood in shock and confusion, Mr. Fennell leapt into action. In an instant, he bounded off the stage, took off his jacket, covered the girl, and escorted her safely from the theater. It was heroic.

This is our job, as artists: to keep stories alive by sharing them with others.  Maybe it’s a story form our own life. Maybe it’s a madcap murder mystery musical like Curtains. Maybe it’s a four-hundred-year-old Shakespeare play. Whatever the tale, it is our responsibility to tell it. Because stories bind us together. The metaphors within make our own struggles more clear.  It is also our job to elucidate these metaphors. In Mr. Fennell’s case, I see a man, on a stage, called to action, who performs in a brilliant and powerful way. The metaphor is that all of you have been called in the exact manner. 

Will you answer the call? Will you be ready when destiny howls at your soul?

It will not be easy. You will sacrifice many things along the way. You will miss friends' weddings and loved ones funerals. You will spend many sunny days locked in the theatre. You will put thousands of miles on your body before you are thirty. But for us, there is no other choice.  This is our vocation, and to deny that is to make a terrible mistake—one that you will run from for the rest of your life.

I don't want you to think of this as advice. Everyone’s path is completely unique, and you will learn to traverse yours through time. Instead, this is your official call to arms: to be the most awake, open artist you can possibly be, each and every day, with each and every person you interact with. You don’t need to be on stage to give that gift to others, to be present with people, to breathe them in, to say ‘yes, and' to life. This is a call to arms, like Henry V on the battlements: 'This story shall the good man teach his son, and this day shall ne’er go by, from now, til the ending of the world, but we, in it, shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.' This is the greatest thing we can do with our lives: to tell stories that help others... and to be remembered for telling them.

There will always be someone better than you, someone who has been doing it longer or knows more people than you, someone who has the role you want. When I was a Senior, my best friend was cast as Hamlet. Of course, I struggled with the fact that he got to play one of the greatest characters of all time, and I didn’t. And so I chased Hamlet for years, read the play over and over again through my darkest days in college, worked on the speeches with an old mentor after I graduated and finally, when I was 25, I was cast as Hamlet in a professional touring production at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre. One day, Tommy came to Philly to see it. It was a dream come true. But the only reason I finally got to tell the story which I had yearned to share for so long was that I never gave up. I chased after it with dogged determination and, after years, the universe provided. This is the one thing that no one can ever take from you: your passion. It doesn’t matter how talented you are, or what you look like. If you work harder than you ever thought possible, you can achieve powerful and beautiful things.

I was here last Saturday for the final performance of Curtains. I was impressed by the talented cast, laughed at the hilarious bits, and was actually moved to tears by the ovation and outpouring of support at the end. You deserved it. You told a story that made us laugh and think, and we appreciated it. I hope you take that memory with you, and draw upon it for inspiration in the years to come. And maybe—hopefully—one day, we can tell some stories together. Toward the end of Curtains, the detective quotes The Tempest, and I will close by echoing those sentiments.

What’s past is prologue. These our actors, as I have foretold, were all spirits and have melted into air, into thin air. We are such stuff that dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded in a sleep. My staff is broken, my charms all o’erthrown and so I’ll drown my books. Now I want spirits to enforce, art to enchant.

What do you want from your life? Tell me a story, and let’s find out together. Thanks again for having me, and congratulations to you all.