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Paris: The Sorbonne, The Irish Cultural Center and an American Connection

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The Pantheon, near the Irish Cultural Center, La Rive Gauche (photo Carole Di Tosti)

People clamor that it is good to be busy. Sometimes I question that thought, especially when I have press deadlines, when cinema publicists are wondering where their reviews and articles are and I’m exhausted from seeing a play on Broadway that I must review the following day.

So my travel to Paris in September of this year was exquisite because it took me away from the NYC helter skelter night life of an entertainment journalist. In Paris, la Rive Gauche, the pace is not as fast, the imperative not as overwhelming.

I could casually take photographs of the rainbow colored and salubrious fresh vegetables, sumptuous steaming paella flavoring the air with delicious spices along with other items folks lined up for in the open air markets.

Paris, La Rive Gauche, open air market

Carole Di Tosti at an open air market in Paris, La Rive Gauche (photo Carole Di Tosti)

I did write but at a more leisurely pace. I could do casual interviews of musicians and star Anne Carrere of Piaf! The Show.

I could have a casual chat with Rita Duffy about her brilliant installation The Souvenir Shop-marking the 1916 Rebellion, at the Irish Cultural Center. At the Irish Cultural Center, I could speak with Irish poet Pat Boran, and I could cover the goings and comings of playwright Rosary O’Neill in her celebration of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett and Impressionist painter Edgar Degas.

Pat Boran, Irish Cultural Center, Sinead

Pat Boron and Sinéad Mac Aodha at an Irish Cultural Center event. (Photo Carole Di Tosti)

Rosary O’Neill has more than a cursory connection to Beckett and Degas. She has thoroughly researched both men’s lives and has written plays about each. Her play about Beckett, Beckett at Greystones Bay received a focused reading in Paris in a downtown venue this September. It was directed and acted by Brendan McCall.

Earlier in the summer Barrett O’Brien directed and acted in the role of Beckett in a staged production of Beckett at Greystones Bay at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. As a result of that production, O’Neill collaborated with the director and upon his suggestion, expanded the work into two acts. O’Neill’s Beckett is being developed for future focused readings and productions in Paris and back in the US.

Barret O'Brien, Susan Lynskey, Beckett at Greystones Bay, Ashland Shakespeare

Barret O’Brien and Susan Lynskey in ‘Beckett at Greystones Bay’ at Ashland Shakespeare Festival (photo Dylan Paul)

O’Neill’s love of Degas began when she first appreciated his work as a young child. It blossomed when she was a Drama Professor at Loyola in New Orleans, Louisiana where she founded the nonprofit theater company, Southern Repertory which produced a number of her plays.

It was during the time she ran Southern Rep, that she researched Degas’s life and discovered that he had strong familial ties to New Orleans where he stayed for about six months during the tumultuous era of reconstruction seven years after the Civil War. Fascinated by Degas’ relationship with his brother Rene’s wife, Estelle Musson, and intrigued by Rene’s spendthrift lifestyle which bankrupted the Degas fortune along with the crash in the cotton markets during and after the war, O’Neill marshaled her talents and wrote Degas in New Orleans

Sinead, Rosary O'Neill, Irish Cultural Center

Sinéad Mac Aodha and Rosary O’Neill at an Irish Cultural Center event (photo Carole Di Tosti)

This year marks the centennial year of Degas’ death. O’Neill, who has collaborated on productions of her two act play Degas in New Orleans has enjoyed seeing her work performed in regional theater in Texas and Louisiana. The play has received focused readings in New York City and New York where it caught the attention of professional musician and Bard College professor David Albert Temple, who wrote music for the play and collaborated with O’Neill to make Degas in New Orleans, The Musical.

Their collaboration which included producer/director Deborah Temple and a cast from a regional performing arts high school, brought the musical to New York City where it was performed in a one-night-only show. Prior to its New York premiere, the production was performed in upstate New York at Bard College’s Black Box Theater.

The musical like the play focuses on Edgar Degas’ time spent with his mother’s relatives, the Mussons. It intimates the potential for a love relationship with his brother’s wife, Estelle. Surely, if his brother had not bankrupted the family fortune after the crash of the cotton trade (a painting of the family’s cotton office hangs in the New Orleans Museum of Art, as does his portrait of Estelle Musson with lovely red peonies), the situation would have been very different for the painter. Degas would most likely have stayed in New Orleans to pursue the possibilities of love with Estelle and to help her pick up the pieces after his brother Rene deserted her for her maid America. His painterly subjects would have been of the city of New Orleans, family portraits and perhaps even his cousin Norbert and his wife who were mixed race and free persons of color. But alas, Edgar had to return home to financially support his father, who was suffering a near breakdown because of Rene’s wantonness wracking up gambling debts.

Rosary O'Neill, Sorbonne, Irish Cultural Center

Rosary O’Neill and students from the Sorbonne at the Irish Cultural Center (photo Carole Di Tosti)

It would have been a magnificent tribute to Degas to mount a production of either the play or the musical Degas in New Orleans in New York City in celebration of the centennial of Degas’ death on September 27, 1917. Currently, the process is on hold. However, O’Neill’s play about Degas and the strong cultural ties between New Orleans and Paris are being studied by the students at the Sorbonne. French Professor of Contemporary Literature Joseph Danan will be examining Degas in New Orleans as contemporary literature. Additionally, the play will have  a focused reading in French at Columbia University’s center at the Sorbonne at Reid Hall. It is an event that is a first-of-its-kind.

Rosary O’Neill has made friends of visiting artists in residence at the Irish Cultural Center where she will be staying as her work is being studied and performed in Paris. She will continue to write, speak and share with the visiting Irish artists in residency at the Center, and be stimulated by their support and brilliance.

The Irish Cultural Center is the go-to place for events that highlight the strongly rooted Irish experience in Paris. It serves as an amazing resource for the community, students from the Sorbonne and visiting artists who are looking to feel at home in Paris. O’Neill is enthusiastic about her stay at the Center, and is happy that she, in a small way, is continuing to affirm links among the learning centers of the Sorbonne, the Irish Cultural Center and New Orleans. It will be a pleasure to cover the readings of her plays Beckett at Greystones Bay and Degas in New Orleans.

 

 

 

‘Degas in New Orleans’ the New York Premiere

 'Degas in New Orleans,' by Rosary O'Neill, directed by Deborah Temple, music by David Temple at the Arthur Seelen Theatre Drama Bookstore. (L to R) Lucy Makebish, Patrick O'Shea, Trevor Kowalsky,

‘Degas in New Orleans,’ by Rosary O’Neill, directed by Deborah Temple, music by David Temple at the Arthur Seelen Theatre Drama Bookstore. (L to R) Lucy Makebish, Patrick O’Shea, Trevor Kowalsky, Natalie LaBossier, Sarah Newcomb and Elizabeth Lococo. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Edward Degas, one of the most renowned and beloved of the French impressionist painters and sculptors is most often associated with paintings and drawings of the dance. His pale ballerinas in pink, blue, green and white tulle evoke an ethereal world of striking still points of movement. Their delicate loveliness is a gossamer of bodies  twirling, bending, stretching,  leaping, pirouetting, balancing, posing and dressing. His dancers spark fantasy and mythic beauty. There is not a pose, position or action of the mystic ballerinas that Degas has not rendered in painting or drawing, so avidly possessed was he with ballerinas.

Why did ballerinas stir him? The haunting melodies and beautiful rendering of Degas in New Orleans by Rosary O’Neill, with music and arrangements by David Temple, incisively directed by Deborah Temple suggest a reason. When Degas visited his brother and beloved sister-in-law Estelle, her daughter Jo danced ballet and wished to be a ballerina in Paris. This and other symbols whisper through the characterization, song, direction and staging in what can only be described as a consummate production which which premiered at the Arthur Seelen Theatre Drama Bookstore in New York City in a one-night showcase. The musical connects the tragic time Degas spent with family in New Orleans before he was famous to the evolution of his greatness as the founder of Impressionism.

'Degas in New Orleans,' (L to R) Lucy Makebish and Sarah Newcomb. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

‘Degas in New Orleans,’ (L to R) Lucy Makebish and Sarah Newcomb. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

It opens with the spotlight on the painter Degas reminiscing about his visit to America. He begins with a song of remembrance about the time he lived in New Orleans where his mother was from. He sings of the key family members with whom he lived, family whose unreconciled relationships with him would impact his life and art after he returned to France. Degas (Trevor Kowalsky in a sterling and evocative portrayal of the painter), sings Temple’s wistful melody of nostalgic longing, “I have a picture in my mind,” as the play flashes back to the roiling events in the Degas family household.

The in-laws/cousins, the Mussons, live on Esplanade Avenue in a New Orleans of 1872 that is raging against the carpetbaggers in the last days of Reconstruction. It is the beginning of the racial terrorism that blossomed like deadly nightshade and continued into the twilight of the 20th century. During Degas’ introductory song which sets the events and succinctly reveals the back-story of his visit to the most French city in America, the director has skillfully created the interior rooms of the Degas House. It is here the painter stayed with his brother René and tried to help out the family financially. He was also in New Orleans to escape the tumultuous events occurring in Paris during the days of the commune. 

For this memorable opening scene (which also serves as the closing scene of Degas’ flashback), director Deborah Temple cleverly stages a tableau of the characters who are instrumental in spurring on the transformation of Degas’ personality and art: his brother René Degas (Tom Bloxham is wonderful as the arrogant, cruel and duplicitous brother), René‘s Father-in-law, Michel Musson (Patrick O’Shea rings out this sexist, racist, humorous curmudgeon), Mathilde Musson Bell (Elizabeth Lococo in a superb and well grounded performance), Didi Musson (the excellent and heartfelt Natalie LaBossier), René‘s wife Estelle Musson Degas (the exquisitely acted, operatically talented Lucy Makebish), and most poignantly the budding ballerina Josephine (Jo) Balfour, who is Estelle’s daughter from her first marriage (in a wonderful portrayal by Sarah Newcomb).

'Degas in New Orleans,' Trevor Kowalsky and Sarah Newcomb. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

‘Degas in New Orleans,’ Trevor Kowalsky and Sarah Newcomb. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Together, the sisters (Didi, Mathilde and Estelle), and René subtly effect the influences that sideswipe Degas’ well being to devastate his emotions. O’Neill and the Temples have deftly drawn Degas’ family trials. One cannot help but intuit that this period in his life greatly influenced his career and was a turning point. The superb production and eclectic music (in an amazing rendering of different styles) David Temple ingeniously uses to infer the past and in some numbers suggests hints of blues and jazz that we associate with New Orleans in the present. The cogent directorial elements and memorable songs emphasize the import of Degas’ stay in New Orleans as  a time of sorrow, loss and pain, and suggest that these obstacles ultimately served to strengthen him; no doubt they contributed in helping pave the way for his entrance onto the art scene.

Happier days in 'Degas in New Orleans,' (L t-R) Lucy Makebish, Sarah Newcomb, Patrick O'Shea, Natalie LaBossier, Elizabeth Lococo. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Happier days in ‘Degas in New Orleans,’ (L to R) Trevor Kowalsky, Lucy Makebish, Sarah Newcomb, Patrick O’Shea, Natalie LaBossier, Elizabeth Lococo. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Of the three Musson sisters, Estelle, who remains loyal to his adulterous brother René, is the one who breaks Degas’ heart. Degas is unable to shake his lifelong love for her which he nobly expresses and which he more nobly understands will never be consummated because of Estelle’s integrity and sanctity.  O’Neill with the help of Deborah Temple’s direction and the adroit actors (the uber talented Makebish is stunning in the part of Estelle and Kowalsky is powerful as her soulful, haunted Edgar) brilliantly weave Degas’ love into a force which compels him toward a spiritual attachment with Estelle and her daughter ballerina Jo. The director wisely stages Jo as a central figure; throughout we see her practicing her positions as she dreams of flying away, perhaps to Paris to one day join the ballet. Jo also hopes with a great and tender love that her mother Estelle who has become blind and attempts to hide this fact from Edgar will one day see again. Encapsulated in Temple’s wistful song, “I dreamed that I could fly,” Estelle and Jo sing to each other echoing these and other yearnings which we later discover never come to pass.

The play develops smoothly following the arc of human foibles and is faithful in following the history of Degas’ life when he stayed in New Orleans. In the flashback Degas arrives at the house and there is great joy and a sense of wonder and appreciation for the painterly cousin, brother-in-law and brother. As the action progresses, we learn why. The family perceives Degas to be the savior who will make everything right for them since they are in a state of physical, mental and emotional devolution. Initially unaware of this situation, Degas is happy to see the one he has always loved, Estelle, whom he knew when she and her sisters visited him Paris. This is his first time in the new world and he has a positive and outlook about America and New Orleans which family letters have kept alive for him.

'Degas in New Orleans,' Lucy Makebish and Trevor Kowalsky, one night showcase at the Arthur Seelen Theatre Drama Bookstore. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

‘Degas in New Orleans,’ Lucy Makebish and Trevor Kowalsky, one night showcase at the Arthur Seelen Theatre Drama Bookstore. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

But family was not forthcoming about their condition or the cultural circumstances of New Orleans after the Civil War. The longer he stays, the more his awareness grows; he begins to understand the darker elements consuming the city and his family. O’Neill’s play and the production masterfully reveal the series of devastating pictures the situations paint for Degas. As a result of these dramatic scenes and the misery he sees and experiences, on his return to Paris he will be forced to emotionally vitiate his suffering through his art. The economic portrait of his family who live in cramped quarters is borderline squalid. We see this especially in the second act when New Orleans  floods: rats drop from trees around the house, the family takes in as many homeless as they can to help their neighbors at their own expense. The city is reduced to a fetid swamp whose filth can never been expunged or wiped away. The song “Rats” sung by America (a terrific job by Mickey Lynch and the company) is humorous, dark and revelatory of the city’s torpor, want, financial devastation and foreboding.

'Degas in New Orleans,' Tom Bloxham and Mickey Lynch. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

‘Degas in New Orleans,’ Tom Bloxham and Mickey Lynch. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

By degrees reality stencils terrifying images on Degas’ soul. He discovers Estelle is blind and pregnant though they can’t afford another baby. René has not paid off the debts which are increasing exponentially and threaten to bankrupt the family in New Orleans and France. René and Michel seek the oblivion of alcohol and drink throughout the day, becoming willful, argumentative and confrontational. Mixed race cousin Norbert Rillieux, who was a wealthy free man of color before the Civil War, is being threatened daily by the White League, a white supremacist group growing in political power.

What horrifies Degas most is that René has “turned his back” on beloved, beautiful Estelle and is having an affair with America, a married woman who tutors the children. America (Mickey Lynch is superb), has gradually insinuated herself into the family and by the play’s conclusion is ruthlessly running the household, the sisters and René as she arrogantly steps around Estelle who “sees nothing.” Didi, who loves Degas and wants to be with him in Paris, tells Estelle that René is cheating on her. She does this in a jealous fit of rage after Didi discovers Degas loved Estelle. Estelle tries to be stoic but she eventually confronts René who lies to her. Estelle is a tragic figure caught in circumstances from which, as a woman, she will never escape or rectify. She must just try to survive and prevent her newborn from dying. Degas is appalled at the family’s deterioration and Estelle’s lifestyle. All has turned from the joy of his first weeks with them, symbolized by the song they sang to unmarried Didi for her birthday celebration (“The Sunny Side of Thirty”). Now there is only chaos, argument, racial tensions and impoverishment.

Trevor Kowalsky and Liz Louie in 'Degas in New Orleans,' by Rosary O'Neill, music by David Temple, directed by Deborah Temple. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Trevor Kowalsky and Liz Louie in ‘Degas in New Orleans,’ by Rosary O’Neill, music by David Temple, directed by Deborah Temple. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

O’Neill has created interesting parallels between the family’s deterioration and the decline of New Orleans which has not recovered economically and whose white citizens angrily blame on Reconstruction politics. Degas learns that many of the white males have joined the White League and the Knights of the White Camellia to take the city and the South back from the Northern marauders. Mathilde’s husband Will and Father/Uncle Michel are important leaders and they have shunned Norbert from their family and most probably would not stop his being lynched. Even René has been persuaded to their side.

As Norbert’s wife Emily (Liz Louie is terrific as a free woman of color who is angry, fearful and sorrowful as she recognizes a new, terrifying city), sings of the augmenting racial hatreds in Act I (“Don’t Matter If You’re Free”), and in Act II when she tells Degas that she and Norbert are leaving for Paris fearing for their lives (“Time to Say Goodbye”). Degas acknowledges New Orleans is a dangerous, racist and demoralized city. In comparison to France and Paris which are havens of justice, New Orleans is reprehensible. Degas is further unsettled when a letter arrives to announce that his father has gone bankrupt and has been thrown into prison. René’s mismanagement of finances and importunity with money have economically destroyed the family in Paris and in New Orleans. When Edgar confronts his younger brother, they argue and he almost pummels him but restrains himself. He is not a brutal man; he will use his hands for painting. René kneels to him for forgiveness, but Degas is powerless to change his brother or the circumstances. He must leave for Paris to help whom he can help, his father. Somehow, he must restore the Senior Degas to wholeness and pay off the creditors. Painting is his only way out.

'Degas in New Orleans,' (L - R) Trevor Kowalsky and Tom Bloxham. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

‘Degas in New Orleans,’ (L – R) Trevor Kowalsky and Tom Bloxham. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

At the end of the play in a song reprise when Jo leaves for the convent, Jo and her mother again sing “I Dream.” It is a magnificent moment, for we understand the tragedy of hopes never realized: Jo dies of malaria at 18; Estelle, having never regained her sight, is abandoned by René who marries America and goes to Paris.  Only Degas’ dream is realized, the dream which establishes him as a world-class Impressionist painter. O’Neill implies and the production so beautifully reveals that the fires of his greatness have been stoked in New Orleans. The regrets  of an unfilled love with Estelle and the sorrow of his failure to to stop his family’s and especially Estelle’s decline become the emotional sources of his art.

 

This intriguing and memorable musical, Degas in New Orleans, creates a new vista for understanding Edgar Degas’s life and work. In appreciating the impact and importance of the painter’s time in the crescent city, the production reveals the extent to which influences born of tragedy can be translated into great good. And it shows how spiritual love and remembrance can be translated into artistic genius. Whether or not the symbolism of Jo’s wish to go to Paris to be a dancer is rooted in fact, O’Neill’s characterization of Jo coupled with Temple’s melodic compositions and Debrah Temple’s high concept production values anchor Degas’ love for Estelle and her daughter which is historically accurate. The work illuminates the idea that Degas’ ballet dancers are a tribute to Estelle’s daughter who “flies” in the still point of his artistry. In his work during the time he was in New Orleans and his work afterwards, Degas remained inspired and he dreamed. Through these dreams he was able to direct his career onto a completely new path, helping to establish an artistic trend which is globally loved today.

'The Little Dancer' by Edgar Degas.

‘The Little Dancer’ by Edgar Degas.

Edgar Degas most probably carried his love for Estelle and Jo to the grave, a spiritual attachment which Degas in New Orleans conveys. After seeing this incredibly realized production, we know that if not for that fateful visit, we would not be able to appreciate the 24 works he painted in the Big Easy such as “A Cotton Office in New Orleans,” or his three paintings of Estelle completed at the Degas House. As for Estelle’s daughter from her first marriage, Jo, whose wish to go to Paris and be in the ballet was cut short?

Perhaps she got their after all. Degas’ loving remembrance of her, manifested in his numerous paintings of the ballet, is the triumphant iconography of his work. These paintings, sketches and sculptures of ballerinas when not loaned out to museums around the world, have remained in Paris and in France through wars, protests, floods and plagues. It is vital that the meaningful connections between Paris and New Orleans in Degas’ life and work be acknowledged. The wonderful Degas in New Orleans is a step in the right direction to uplift the life and work of this incredible artist for the upcoming 100th year anniversary of his death in 2017.

The production was awarded a generous grant from Red Hook School District in New York and was produced by Deborah Temple with the Red Hook Performing Arts Company.

 

 

Who Was Edgar Degas? The Musical ‘Degas in New Orleans’ Reveals Another Side of the Painter

Degas in a Green Jacket, Edgar Degas. Photo taken courtesy of the Wiki Art site.

Degas in a Green Jacket, Edgar Degas. Photo taken courtesy of the Wiki Art site.

Much of the background (setting 1872, New Orleans) ,of the Musical, Degas in New Orleans written by Rosary O’Neill, music composed by David Temple, is gathered from biographies written about Edgar Degas.

The World Premiere of Degas in New Orleans produced and directed by Deborah Temple with the Red Hook Performing Arts Club is being presented at The Bard Fisher Center. The dates are Thursday, December 18th and Friday, December 19th at 7:00 pm. It is being presented at Red Hook Central School District on Saturday, December 20th at 7:00 pm and Sunday, December 21st at 3:00 pm.

About Edgar Degas, the Background for Degas in New Orleans

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) has been regarded as a  founder of Impressionism because he was a key organizer of exhibitions of those painters who designated themselves as spontaneous and painted en plein air (in the open air). However, he disliked the categorization and preferred to be noted as a realist. He commented, “What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing.” (Armstrong, 1991, p. 22) His scenes of Parisian life, his experiments with form and color and his friendship with several key Impressionist artists, for example,  Mary Cassatt and Édouard Manet,  connect him intimately to the Impressionist movement (Roskill 1983, p.33), even if he denied it himself.

Pink Dancers, Before the Ballet, Edgar Degas (1884). Wiki site.

Pink Dancers, Before the Ballet, Edgar Degas (1884). Wiki Art site.

The eldest son of a wealthy banking family, Edgar’s artistic talent was recognized early by his father. Degas wanted to improve his artistic skill, so in his youth, as was done in Paris, he spent time copying the Italian masterpieces in the Louvre. Later, Edgar traveled to Italy in search of copying the greats: Michelangelo, Titian, and other Renaissance painters, visiting various churches to see the works on display. Not stuck in the past, Degas enjoyed studying modern artistic techniques, including photography and engraving. In searching about for his life’s work, he studied law to help with the family business as most sons did. But he decided against it and ended his law career in 1855 to pursue his early love of painting, sketching and drawing.

Degas had family in the US, his mom’s family, the Mussons. It was his Uncle Michel Musson and his daughters who lived in New Orleans on Esplanade Avenue in what is today known as “The Degas House.” After the Civil War broke out, and the conflict increased in intensity, the Musson sisters, Edgar’s cousins, were sent to France which is where Edgar first became acquainted with them. The youngest cousin, Estelle (Tell), lost her first husband during the War, while pregnant with their daughter.  Despite Edgar’s affections for Tell, it was Edgar’s youngest brother, René who married her and took her back to live in New Orleans. René amassed tremendous debts, ruined the business and eventually had to be bailed out by Degas, after Degas returned from his stay in New Orleans. It is his trip to New Orleans to visit his brother and the family when he discovers the family crisis and his brother’s negligence to the business and his own family.

Portrait of Estelle Musson Degas, Edgar Degas (1872). Courtesy of the NOMA site.

Portrait of Estelle Musson Degas, Edgar Degas (1872). Courtesy of the NOMA site.

Composer David Temple’s Observations Related to the Musical World Primere ‘Degas in New Orleans’

Degas joined the National Guard to fight for France during the Franco-Prussian War. During rifle training, his eyesight was found to be defective. And it was on his subsequent visit to New Orleans that he realized his right eye was permanently damaged: “What lovely things I could have done …if the bright daylight were less unbearable for me.  To go to Louisiana to open one’s eyes, I cannot do that.  And yet I kept them sufficiently half open to see my fill.”  In years to follow, he lost his ability to read and to identify colors, and he worked more and more in sculpture, a more tactile medium.  By 1891, he would write, “Ah! Sight! Sight! Sight!… the difficulty of seeing makes me feel numb.”

Edgar’s own failing eyesight most probably increased his empathy and affection for Tell who he discovered had gone blind after she returned to New Orleans with René. Edgar expressed his feelings in a letter to a friend: “My poor Estelle, Rene’s wife, is blind as you know.  She bears it in an incomparable manner; she needs scarcely any help about the house.  She remembers the rooms and the position of the furniture and hardly ever bumps into anything.  And there is no hope!”

Our attempt in this production is to elicit the artistic — and amorous — affections of the Musson – Degas clan, and to have a window into this beautiful yet tragic connection of the two who are losing their sight — yet perhaps truly “see” more clearly than anyone else — has been an exciting journey.  We so hope our work reaches the passion and artistic vision of each audience member.
Rosary O'Neill with Degas' The Dancer in Green exhibited at NOMA (New Orleans). Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Playwright Rosary O’Neill with Degas’ The Dancer in Green exhibited at NOMA (New Orleans). Photo by Carole Di Tosti

PERFORMANCES AT BARD FISHER CENTER BLACK-BOX THEATER

Tickets are selling fast. But you can call Bard Fisher Center’s Ticket Office to purchase tickets.

WHEN:  THURSDAY, December 18 and FRIDAY, December 19 at 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are $10.00/$8.00 students and seniors available in advance for Thursday and Friday night performances at the Fisher Center Box Office, 845-758-7900/6822 and sold at the door. Click on the dates (December 18, December 19) in the calendar for tickets.

Deborah and David Temple, director and composer of 'Degas in New Orleans.' Photo courtesy of the Temples.

Deborah and David Temple, director and composer of ‘Degas in New Orleans.’ Photo courtesy of the Temples.

PERFORMANCES AT RED HOOK CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL

WHEN:  SATURDAY, December 20 at 7:00 p.m. and SUNDAY, December 21 at 3:00 p.m. at Red Hook Central High School.

Tickets are $10.00/$8.00 students and seniors. Tickets for the Saturday and Sunday performances will be available at the door at Red Hook High School.

Sources

Armstrong, Carol (1991). Odd Man Out: Readings of the Work and Reputation of Edgar Degas. Chicago and London:      University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-02695-7
Roskill, Mark W. (1983). “Edgar Degas.” Collier’s Encyclopedia.
David Temple co-wrote the article.

Degas in New Orleans, a Musical World Premiere, Opening Thursday at Bard’s Fisher Center

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Edward Degas’ dancers. Courtesy of the website, Old Art. 

The year 2017 will mark the centennial of Edward Degas‘ death when the renown French Impressionist died in Paris, quite alone and nearly blind. Events celebrating Degas’s life and work are already gearing up. Playwright Rosary O’Neill, and the husband wife team, composer and solo guitarist David Temple and producer/director Deborah Temple are in the forefront celebrating the beloved artist in the World Premiere of the musical Degas in New Orleans which is opening Thursday, December 18th at Bard’s Fisher Center.

Degas is most famous for his paintings, prints, and drawings, and is closely identified with the subject of dance, since more than half of his works depict dancers. He has been associated with Impressionism, though he preferred to characterize himself as a realist. What many Americans and French do not realize about Edgar Degas was that he spent a period of his life in New Orleans, Louisiana, with his brother Rene and his family, staying at the home of his Creole uncle, Michel Musson, on Esplanade Avenue. This dramatic period of his life is the setting of the new musical Degas in New Orleans, written by Rosary O’Neill, with music composed by David Temple. The production, which is beautifully conceived and directed by Deborah Temple, has the honor of being presented by a select group of students in the Red Hook Central School District.

Rosary O'Neill with Degas the green dancer in NOMA (New Orleans). Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Rosary O’Neill with Degas the green dancer in NOMA (New Orleans). Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Degas in New Orleans is about Edgar Degas’ visit to his family who were in a state of crisis after the Civil War and struggling to survive. Degas is swept up in the events of family, the political currents and the cultural changes that are upending the city of New Orleans. He  attempts to give his moral and financial support, but finds the circumstances there more and more troubling as he becomes entranced with Estelle and other family members. He gains solace through painting family; notably there is a niece who loves to practice her dance. As the conflicts grow more desperate in his life with them, he discovers secrets about his sister-in-law, Estelle and his brother Rene. The circumstances which spin beyond his control ultimately break his heart. The production of Degas in New Orleans is in its final rehearsal stages. As you can see from the production photos, it looks to be one more amazing achievement in the careers of the husband and wife team David and Deborah Temple and Rosary O’Neill.

About the composer, playwright, director/producer

David Temple at a solo event. Photo courtesy of David Temple.

David Temple at a solo event. Photo courtesy of David Temple.

David Temple is a noted composer, classical guitarist and faculty member of The Bard College Conservatory of Music. Temple collaborated with Rosary O’Neill and Deborah Temple on the production Broadway or Bust, which was also presented at the Bard Fisher Center a year ago and for which he originated all of its music. Temple is a solo and instrumental composer who has performed globally and whose works are being used for film and television. His CDs may be found online along with his performance schedule and videos of his performance events.

Rosary O’Neill is a noted playwright, whose works have been produced at The Southern Rep, a theatre she founded in New Orleans. Her plays have been published by Samuel French. Some of them have been compiled in three anthologies whose subject is one of the loves of her life, her native New Orleans. She  has written novels and screenplays and has also authored texts on the theater, acting and the dramatic arts. Her most recent published work is non fiction. It is a subject close to her heart and on which she is an expert, New Orleans Mardi Gras which has its roots steeped in the occult and mystical Carnival celebrations of Europe.

Deborah and David Temple, director/producer and composer of 'Degas in New Orleans.' Photo courtesy of the Temples.

Deborah and David Temple, director/producer, and composer of ‘Degas in New Orleans.’ Photo courtesy of the Temples.

Deborah Temple has years of experience producing and directing musical theatre and is well known in upstate New York’s Hudson River Valley circles. For over a decade her dedication and tireless efforts directing and producing talented students in the Red Hook Performing Arts Club with the assistance of friends and community members have garnered the support of all those in the Red Hook Central School District and beyond. Her reputation for high standards in producing quality productions precedes her.  As a long time Red Hook Central School District employee and Performing Art’s Club adviser, she is thrilled to be an integral part of the community. And whether she is aware of this or not, in producing exceptional high school productions she has become an important vehicle for sustaining regional theater in upstate New York, especially in a time when it is increasingly difficult to mount and/or innovate theater productions without incurring massive debts (the budget of a minimalist production could feed 2 families with children for a year).

 Degas in New Orleans. Photo courtesy of Deborah Temple, producer/director.

Tom Bloxham and Mickey Lynch in ‘Degas in New Orleans.’ Production photo courtesy of Deborah Temple, producer/director.

The Cast of Red Hook Performing Arts Club is a group of select, highly talented students whose energy and creativity have inspired them to collaborate with composer David Temple and director Deborah Temple. Together this group of artists have evolved the songs for Degas in New Orleans in “real time,” honing the words and the musical lines to perfection. It is a process all composers use when innovating the musical scores for both opera and regular musical productions. Their dedication to this amazing project is truly remarkable and speaks to their professionalism, work ethic and love of performance.

The cast of the Red Hook Performing Arts Club in rehearsal for Degas in New Orleans. Photo courtesy of Deborah Temple, producer/director.

The cast of the Red Hook Perform(L to R) Lucy Makebish, Elizabeth Lococo and Natalie LeBossier in  ‘Degas in New Orleans.’ Production photo courtesy of Deborah Temple, producer/director.

The production photos indicate the quality of the scenic design, the staging and the sheer beauty of the dramatic rendering thus far created by the director’s artistry and skill. The period costumes and set pieces were generously supplied by Montgomery Place, the Center for Performing Arts Center at Rhinebeck, Bard College, and other local sources.  The Pit Orchestra is made up of Red Hook Central students and teachers.  Production staff, technical support, and set construction staff are a combination of professionals, students, parents, and Red Hook alumni.

 

PERFORMANCES AT BARD FISHER CENTER BLACK-BOX THEATER

Tickets are selling fast. But you can call Bard Fisher Center’s Ticket Office to purchase tickets.

Cast of the Red Hook Performing Arts Club in rehearsal for Degas in New Orleans. Photo courtesy of Deborah Temple.

Trevor Kowalsky as Degas in ‘Degas in New Orleans.’ Production photo courtesy of Deborah Temple.

WHEN:  THURSDAY, December 18 and FRIDAY, December 19 at 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are $10.00/$8.00 students and seniors available in advance for Thursday and Friday night performances at the Fisher Center Box Office, 845-758-7900/6822 and sold at the door. Click on the dates (December 18, December 19) in the calendar for tickets.

PERFORMANCES AT RED HOOK CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL

WHEN:  SATURDAY, December 20 at 7:00 p.m. and SUNDAY, December 21 at 3:00 p.m. at Red Hook Central High School.

Tickets are $10.00/$8.00 students and seniors. Tickets for the Saturday and Sunday performances will be available at the door at Red Hook High School.

 

David Henry Hwang, Nick Flynn, Rosary O’Neill: Writers Giving Back to Writers

Writing I worked on during a workshop at Omega Institute.

Writing I worked on during a workshop at Omega Institute.

The Paradigm Shift

The long needed paradigm shift for authors is here. Like never before, successful writers of all genres are available to their fans and others as many discard traditional publishing routes that were profitable to everyone but the writer.  Self-publishing and direct to the source return the profits back to authors. As social media, blogs and e-zines trump traditional media, and streaming (House of Cards) Youtube (plays and shows) and Google Hangouts (live music shows) become widespread, TV venues that formerly preyed upon the division between the creator and the passive audience are dying. It’s about interactivity.  As a result writers are relying on interactions with followers on Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, etc., to promote and sell their work, engage their readers and update them on their latest triumphs. To remain current, they must stir the pot and trouble the waters of innovation and artistry. How else can they benefit from the currents of cultural resplendence? If they don’t connect, they will eventually be choked off as is happening to old line venues for the cultural arts.

Authors Stay Juiced Through Workshops and Master Classes

Nick Flynn at work during the workshop at Omega Institute.

Nick Flynn at work during the workshop at Omega Institute.

Another way noted writers are connecting is by giving back in workshops, conferences and master classes.  It is particularly rewarding when brilliant authors are sure footed guides who can shepherd their fellow writers up the mountain of difficulties regarding word-craft to unlock inspiration. Fluid workshops are settings which inspire writers to share their work without fear. They encourage spontaneous, authentic writing. They help authors learn new techniques and allow them to bathe in the creative flow of juiced writing.

Three noted writers and authors whose workshops and classes I took in the last months were particularly helpful and each was extremely generous. David Henry Hwang, successful Pulitzer Prize nominated playwright, Nick Flynn, poet and memoirist, and Rosary O’Neill, playwright, screenwriter and diverse author reached into their bounty of spirit and shared liberally. Reflecting back on the process with these exceptional writers, I now see that the exchanges and connections offered unique experiences that are helping me hone my craft and provide direction for my writing projects.

MASTER CLASS WITH DAVID HENRY HWANG at the Cherry Lane Theatre in NYC

David Henry Hwang graciously speaking with us and staying for pictures after the class at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

David Henry Hwang graciously speaking with us and staying for pictures after the class at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

I absolutely adore this man, this stunning screenwriter, librettist and multiple award-winning playwright best known for M Butterfly, Yellow Face and Chinglish. I have seen much of his work on Broadway and Off Broadway. The first time I saw M Butterfly (I saw it twice.) starring John Lithgow and B.D. Wong, I remember telling my cousins after the performance that it was a happening.  Thrilling and alive, it was like seeing Venice for the first time or tasting my first sip of vintage wine from a bottle that cost more than $150. Poor similes, I grant you, but I was gobsmacked. Taking this class with him I was anxious to understand his technique. I had seen his development and knew early works like Dance in the Railroad. I and was looking forward to seeing his Kung Fu at the Signature Theatre in March of 2014. What would he share?

The writers/students in the master class with David Henry Hwang were at various stages in their writing careers; their backgrounds were motley. Wang enjoys people and he interacted with us after getting a general feel for this large group who was there to breathe the same air as this multiple award winner and Pulitzer Prize nominee. He of course, is unassuming, disarming and a sponge of humility you could just hug and squeeze. Despite the large  numbers in the group, David Henry Hwang put us at ease and somehow created an intensity and intimacy during the session, a talent in itself.

David Henry Hwang and me.

David Henry Hwang and Carole Di Tosti.

Move toward the unconscious.

The master playwright encouraged us to continually transcend the conscious mind and write frequently, overriding our conscious censor. For example, when thinking “I’m not good enough,” or “Why should anyone care about what I’m writing,” that is the nihilistic self-critic. Inspire yourself and unblock using various techniques; some suggestions are below.

  • Silence the censor by writing as fast as you can. You can always go back and edit.
  • Cut out phrases from a magazine article and shuffle them into various sequences. Copy a phrase or two priming the pump until it’s flowing. Don’t stop until there is a natural pause.
  • Write out words in free association. Put them in a hat and choose various ones that continue the associations. Write continually and automatically. Follow where the writing leads you; don’t lead it.
  • Of course, David Henry Want suggested to always write what inspires and keeps your interest. The more you have fallen in love with what you are writing about the better.
  • Allow yourself to give your characters free reign. They will lead you to amazing places that you never new were possible on the journey.

NICK FLYNN’S MEMOIR AS BEWILDERMENT at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY

Nick Flynn chatting with writers before class.

Nick Flynn chatting with writers before the workshop begins at the Omega Institute.

Nick Flynn is a poet and  best-selling memoirist. He wrote The Reenactments, The Ticking Is the Bomb, and the haunting and beautiful best seller, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City which was published as Being Flynn, the title of the independent film based on the book. The film stars Robert DiNero and Paul Dano. Flynn’s three books of poetry are The Captain Asks For a Show of Hands, Some Ether, and Blind Huber. I was familiar with his memoir Another Bullshit Night... and liked his style of writing.  During the two day workshop, Nick Flynn was generous answering questions about the making of the film (it took seven years) and his writing life. He challenged us, attempting to jar our sensibilities into the unusual because only then could the chaffing break us into the realm of the unexpected to authenticity. As we wrote and shared our writings, elements he uses in his own writing resonated deeply. His wonderful humor carried us through any nervousness.

Use image and object chains from various sources.

  • Flynn encouraged us toward selecting images and objects threading them in our work. Images carry emotional power and weight. These are tied to associations from our unconscious that have meaning beyond what we may not recognize consciously.
  • Write down dreams and the images will more naturally appear to us. Incorporate images or objects in automatic writing which should be spontaneous and  unedited.
  • The writing muscle should be exercised each day, a minimum of seven minutes. Write ceaselessly allowing the flow and trusting it to take you wherever. Dare to risk the journey, the more bewildered the better. Eventually rationality through the concrete image emerges.
  • Create moments of surprise and use them in writing. Look for a science article (NY Times, perhaps) that is filled with images or objects and write about one that has energy and interest. Look through old pictures. List three questions about the people or objects in the photos. Write on each for 7 minutes. Incorporate the results in your work then edit later what doesn’t sing. You’re practicing powerful description and your technique will be enhanced overall with your writing projects.

ROSARY O’NEILL’s SCRIPTWRITING WORKSHOP at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY

Deborah Temple, Dr. Rosary O'Neill, and Mary at the Omega Institute.

Deborah Temple, Dr. Rosary O’Neill, and Mary Anderson at the Omega Institute.

Rosary O’Neill, Ph.D. is a playwright, director, screenwriter, writer of narrative nonfiction and a scholar who hails from New Orleans. She was the founding artistic director at Southern Rep Theatre where her plays about family with Southern Gothic themes were produced for many years. A prolific writer and virtual dynamo who has received 7 Fullbrights, and fellowships to the Norman Mailer House, Tyrone Guthrie Centre and other venues, she has studied abroad where she has completed research for a play about John Singer Sargent and a book and play about Degas, to name a few works. With extensive experience in acting and theatre production, she has written The Actor’s Checklist, is currently working on a soon to be published book with new information never before revealed about the Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Rosary O’Neill has written 22 plays. Most have been published by Samuel French. Many of them have been performed at the Southern Rep and many have garnered readings at the National Arts Club, the Rattlestick Theatre, The Players Club and in regional theaters like The Westchester Collaborative Theatre and Bard College. Her latest work, an uplifting musical entitled Broadway or Bust with lyrics/music by David Temple, directed by Deborah Temple will be performed at Bard College Black Box Theatre, November 13th and 15th. She has written a TV series entitled Heirs that that is currently being shop optioned. An experienced college professor, Rosary’s class was a joy and steered folks in a different direction, toward writing characters that live and are breathing and vital. This is playwriting/screenwriting at its best.

Deborah Temple, Dr. Rosary O'Neill, Mary, Carole Di Tosti at the Omega Institute.

Deborah Temple, Dr. Rosary O’Neill, Mary Anderson, Carole Di Tosti at the Omega Institute.

Sound character when creating dialogue.

  • When writing characters, think of individuals you know, their high points and dramatic episodes. Ask yourself why you remember them; what strikes you about them? Give yourself a prompt that you think might help you distill who they are in an image, then write about them. Eventually, this can be worked into creating character.
  • Read all dialogue aloud. Make sure it sings. If you are bored and don’t wish to read it, have someone else read it aloud. If it doesn’t resonate to you or the other individual, then drop it and move your inspiration elsewhere.
  • Select a scene where there have been family get-togethers. Dialogue should reveal differences in character, cadences, phrases, accents, content. How are you revealing tonal messages through speech? Act out the lines. What doesn’t fit, jettison.
  • Remain upbeat at all times. Shun negative thoughts. Do you have anything better to do with your life than to create life, through characters, dialogue and plays/films? All dialogue has run through you at one point or another. You are recalling it to your remembrance and shifting it around for greater use. Above all, enjoy the experience.

PARTING SHOTS: David Henry Hwang, Nick Flynn, Rosary O’Neill

DHH- Find a way to have your plays read aloud, even if you are getting actors in your living room. It’s the only way to find out if the characters cohere, if the whole thing works.

NF-Only submit your finest work, your best, work, the stuff you’ve edited and crafted and you still find vibrant after reading it 100 or more times. If you don’t want to read what you’ve written, then put a red line through it and circle it. Cut it out. You’re bored with it, others will be too.

RO-Spend a lot of time editing and revising. The work must pop, the dialogue must sing. If it doesn’t, you’ve overwritten. It’s too long. Cut, cut, cut, but still be logical and make sense. You can always add. The editing is hard, but vital to great writing.

All of them:  Keep on writing!

Westchester Collaborative Theatre: New Season, New Innovations

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WCT announcement for Summerfest 2013

The Westchester Collaborative Theatre has been on a whirlwind beginning January when Alan Lutwin and Marshall Fine received a 2013 Arts Alive Grant from ArtsWestchester! The WCT is officially a non-profit 501C3 corporation and will be able to intensify its fund raising efforts and continued integration with the New York City theatre community in Westchester. This inspiring and vital group theatre continues to evolve productions and projects, some of which with further development may move to New York City venues. The artistic symmetry and free flowing energy between and among artists in Westchester and New York City move their currents back and forth. This company is open and flexible and inspired by its artists’ innovations. It is apparent they will not limit themselves.

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Alan Lutwin, discussing upcoming events at WCT.

LABS, where great work continues to be read and presented and where guest artists conduct workshops, now follow a new tri-monthly schedule. On March 21st Sheila Speller conducted an acting seminar workshop and on April 11th, John Pielmeier, author of Agnes of God was the Guest Artist. Buddy Crutchfield, director of the Off-Broadway hit Freckleface Strawberry, was the Guest Artist at the May 23 Lab.

During May, two events enabled WCT to contribute its energy and engage its directing and acting talent. One was in celebration of the Village of Ossining’s two hundred year birthday. Actors (including the current mayor) directed by Alan Lutwin dramatically recreated the first Ossinging Willage Board Meeting that was held in 1813. The event, “The Village of Sing-Sing, How It All Began,” was produced in the Town of Ossining Justice Court. WCT actor members who were in the production were Sherman Alpert, Jon Barb, Marilyn Colazzo, Janice Kirkel, Joe Lima, Ward Riley, Jeff Virgo and Howard Weintraub. These individuals linked their gifts to Ossinging’s history and had a ball. Lutwin who researched the project discovered, among many other interesting facts that some of Ossinging’s early residents had slaves. All slavery was banned in New York State on July 4, 1827.

Playwright Rosary O'Neill

Playwright Rosary O’Neill

The second event was a full length reading premier of White Suits on Sunday, a play by New Orleans/New York City playwright Rosary O’Neill directed by WCT member (actress and director) Elaine Hartel.

Elaine Hartel, Director

Elaine Hartel, Director

With the help of WCT, O’Neill has been developing the play and was thrilled that actors were able to portray the characters, allowing her to understand what sections of the play resonated and what dialogue, if any, needed tweaking. After the reading, discussion followed. Initially, O’Neill thought to entitle the play, Exposition Boulevard, referring to the play’s setting in the elite section of New Orleans. Then she reconsidered (She was raised in New Orleans in a wealthy family.) because those living on the real “Exposition Boulevard” might be offended. O’Neill’s play, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work, The Great Gatsby, peels the onion on the culture of wealth, but in New Orleans. (The play has themes similar to a TV series O’Neill also wrote, Heirs. The series is currently being option shopped by Executive Producers Wendy Kram and David Black.) O’Neill’s writings (plays, the TV series) about New Orleans reveal the rages, complexities, machinations of families in this elite class with often humorous results. It is a familiar subject dear to O’Neill’s heart.

O'Neill and Lutwin after the reading listening to audience feedback.

O’Neill and Lutwin after the reading listening to audience feedback.

The discussion after the reading which held praise for the playwright, the play, the director and actors also pinpointed that the title “Exposition Boulevard,” resonated with the action and themes. Considering the current productions about New Orleans on cable TV (Treme) the widest latitude about the cultural life of that amazing city should be explored and O’Neill’s work does that with humor, grace and depth. Hers is a rare look at New Orleans’ economic strata and a reminder that the gaps among rich and poor can only be melded if they are first examined.

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Deacon Hoy, Sharon Rowe, Janice Kirkel, Evelyn Mertens, Enid Breis

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Margie Ferris, Marilyn Collazo, Deacon Hoy, Sharon Rowe, Janice Kirkel

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Cathy Jewell-Fischer, Margie Ferris, Marilyn Collazo

The WCT continued June 1st, with its dynamic Spring Fundraiser at the Steamer Firehouse with their theme “Trash n’ Vaudeville.” Members dressed for the fun event in offbeat attire and enjoyed the food and drink during and after entertainment.  The fundraiser signals that the summer season is in full swing. The SUMMERFEST 2013 plays which were announced in May are currently being worked on by the directors and actors and will be presented on Friday, June 28th at 7:30 pm and Saturday, June 29th at 2:00 PM. Five selected plays that participated in the Lab process will be performed: You Were Awesome by Bob Zaslow, Hedge Fund by Csaba Teglas, Excess Baggage by Carol Mark, Facebook Friends by Marshall Fine and Wander Inn by Ginny Reynolds.

The Friday and Saturday performances will be at the Budarz Theater in Ossinging. Additional performances are planned at Atria-on-the-Hudson on Saturday June 22 at 2 PM and Briarcliff Atria on Sunday, June 30 at 2PM.
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While other theater groups languish for lack of vision, the Westchester Collaborative Theatre continues to move forward innovating, growing, pulsating life.  WCT is fed by the creativity, ingenuity and vitality of its members. All are sustained by an immense passion for theater and the enjoyment and community of creative endeavor. This is a group to watch, nurture and hold dear. You “ain’t seen nothing, yet!”

From Westchester to NYC. New York Regional Theater’s Burgeoning Westchester Collaborative Theater

WCT Program, 2012 Winterfest of  Ten Minute Plays

WCT Program, 2012 Winterfest of Ten Minute Plays

Regional Theater is the engine that drives original theatrical productions and puts them on the map, moving them toward greatness. If new plays are nurtured and developed with love, effort and artistry,  eventually they may be shepherded to Broadway. This is especially true if the theatrical group has an esprit de corps and inspired guide to watch over the flock of artists and their offerings. The beauty of such non profit theater is that there are no chains shackling its creativity.  Without the pressures of time and money weighing heavily upon it, the best regional theaters make the most of their incredible opportunity to experiment, innovate and collaborate with a fluid mix of playwrights, actors and directors.

This has been the case with Westchester Collaborative Theater, established in 2011 in Ossining, New York. Within the span of barely two short years, this regional theater group’s productivity has burgeoned like Jack’s magical beanstalk. WCT has produced Winterfest 2011 and Winterfest 2012.  These events included a number of Ten Minute Plays, original offerings by WCT member playwrights…world premiers, acted and directed by professionals and aspirants. With a variety of individuals at the ready, a spirit of generous camaraderie infuses openness and flexibility not regularly accessible in the closed atmosphere of stuffy professional theater which is hesitant to take risks.

Campbell Scott, award winning actor and director, was a guest artist in November.

Campbell Scott, award winning actor and director, was a guest artist in November.

A blessing for WCT is its proximity to New York City, the theater hub of the world. Guest artists who live in the area, like comedian Robert Klein (last year) and in November of this year, well known actor and filmmaker Campbell Scott, are able to share their talent and expertise and serve as an inspiration to veteran performers and engaged newbees. The atmosphere at WCT is creative and non threatening, the overriding risk of lousy box office receipts absent. WCT thrives on donations, grants and the good will of patrons and the surrounding community. It is a labor of love won by the efforts of dedicated individuals like Executive Director, Alan Lutwin, who adore live theater and the living moments of performance art.

This year’s Winterfest follows on the heels of a productive year for the  Westchester Collaborative Theater which included the scheduled Summerfest of One-Act play readings, monthly LAB with developmental readings and talk backs about select playwrights’ works in progress and a full length play reading. As a result of WCT’s labs, playwright/director Michael Thomas Cain was able to develop his play and present Enough’s Enough at La MaMa E.T.C. in NYC as part of the 2012 NY International Fringe Festival.

The works-in progress initiative for playwrights, directors and actors has been exciting. Each week guest artists with years of experience in the entertainment industry engaged in readings and talk backs. In November award winning actor and director, Campbell Scott (Victor Geddes with Julia Roberts in Dying Young and the protagonist of David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner, Co-director of the award winning film, The Big Night with Stanley Tucci) performed a reading of The Wife and the Widow Next Store by Richard Manichello. The playwright, screenwriter, actor, poet (penned the award winning Choices of the Heart for television) who wrote Agnes of God, John Pielmeier (he also wrote the screenplay for the film Agnes of God) was another guest artist in November who shared his experiences and contributions to the theater and television community.

WCT Director, Alan Lutwin, introduces the 2012 Winterfest

WCT Director, Alan Lutwin, introduces the 2012 Winterfest

This season’s 2012 Winterfest of Ten Minute Plays included new members, professionals and those whose love of theater, writing, directing and acting have kept them involved in regional theater in the New York City area. Many of the artists’ works have appeared in Drama festivals in New York City and around the nation. Of these, some have been semi-finalists or finalists at the festivals, nominees of major prizes and award winners of other venues.

One such notable is Richard Manichello, 30 years in the entertainment business (actor, producer, Artistic Director of Peekskill Playhouse) and an Emmy Award-winning director and writer of stage, film and television. Manichello directed two plays for the WCT Winterfest. The first was Hooters, written by playwright Gabrielle Fox. Fox’ plays have been produced throughout New York City and the metro region. Manichello also directed Lava Sus Manos by playwright Jess Erick.

Hooters, directed by Richard Manichello, with Jess Erick as Becca and Adam Glatzl as Sammy

Hooters by Gabrielle Fox.  Directed by Richard Manichello, with Jess Erick as Becca and Adam Glatzl as Sammy.

The Hunters by Joe McDonald, Directed by Matthew Silver. Janice Kirkel (left) as Eileen and Lorraine Federico as Rose (

The Hunters by Joe McDonald, Directed by Matthew Silver. Janice Kirkel (left) as Eileen and Lorraine Federico as Rose

New Orleans Playwright's Turtle Soup from White Suits in Summer. Directed by WCT actor and director Elaine Hartel.

New Orleans Playwright, Rosary O’Neill’s Turtle Soup from White Suits in Summer. Directed by WCT actor and director Elaine Hartel.

Turtle Soup: Suzanne Ochs as Lucille (left) and Janice Kirkel as Aunt Jean.

Turtle Soup: Suzanne Ochs as Lucille (left) and Janice Kirkel as Aunt Jean.

Another professional, Rosary O’Neill, whose work was presented at the Winterfest, like Manichello, has weighty career experience and many awards and fellowships under her belt. O’Neill who is from New Orleans is a published/produced playwright (22 published plays) novelist, actor, director and retired Professor of Drama and Speech at Loyola University of New Orleans. The fourth edition of her textbook, The Actor’s Checklist, is used in schools nationwide. O’Neill founded the Southern Repertory Theatre in New Orleans and for many years was its Artistic Director, producing a number of the plays she had written. The comedic 10 minute play “Turtle Soup,” directed by Elaine Hartel (actor and director for WCT and other New York regional theater groups) was excerpted from O’Neil’s semi-autobiographical play about a wealthy family in New Orleans, White Suits in Summer

Snow Birds by Csaba Teglas. Directed by Michael Thomas Cain with Jon Barb and Leslie Smithey

Snow Birds by Csaba Teglas. Directed by Michael Thomas Cain with Jon Barb and Leslie Smithey

For more information about the Westchester Collaborative Theater’s 2012 Winterfest of Ten Minute Plays, the actors, directors and playwrights, or for information about membership in this active regional theater company, check their Facebook page, Westchester Collaborative Theater.

Not pictured, Take One for the Team by Carol Mark. Directed by Joe Albert Lima. With John Barbera as Will, Margie Ferris as Terri and Taku Hirai as Kevin.

Bobbo's Bullet by Wayne Paul Mattingly. Directed by Joe Albert Lima. Left to right, Sara Beth Colten, Femi Alou, Pe'er Klein, Margie Ferris.

Bobbo’s Bullet by Wayne Paul Mattingly. Directed by Joe Albert Lima. Left to right, Sara Beth Colten, Femi Alou, Pe’er Klein, Margie Ferris.

Lava Sus Manos by Jess Erick. Directed by Richard Manichello. From left to right, Femi Alou, Shelley Lerea, Tracey McAllister, Ryan Mallon, Mary Roberts.

Lava Sus Manos by Jess Erick. Directed by Richard Manichello. From left to right, Femi Alou, Shelley Lerea, Tracey McAllister, Ryan Mallon, Mary Roberts.