A fun cameo appearance

Well, the enforced social distancing of our current pandemic is giving me some time to catch up on posts! I recently had great fun auditioning for a cameo appearance in a big streaming miniseries.  My character only makes a fleeting appearance but it’s a vivid one, so for the audition I bought an ascot and matching pocket square. This little wardrobe enhancement helped me feel the part as well as look it–and I booked it! I met so many great folks at the table read for our episode–including the very talented Scott Thomas, and the sublime Ms. Karen Mason! More on this project when I’m allowed to talk about it.  Since the pandemic has forced all productions to shut down, we’ll all have to wait and see about the timeline for completion.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood Was a Hit!

It’s been a busy couple of months: I was cast as Phillip Bax/Bazzard in a holiday production of the chamber version of the fabulous show-within-a-show multiple-ending musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, at my beloved Maltz Jupiter Theatre in Jupiter, FL. Director/Choreographer Jennifer Werner was simply amazing, as were all the designers and the entire cast and crew. It was one of the loveliest experiences of my career–and that’s saying a lot!

In the chamber version, the 11 performers all visit with the audience during a pre-show segment, in the guise of our Music Hall characters.  Jen asked each of us to use one of our special skills–in my case, she wanted my character of Phillip Bax to be a ventriloquist! I suggested we should expand on that idea, and make both Phillip Bax and Bazzard ventriloquists, meaning if I got chosen as Detective, Murderer, or Lover, it would be both me and my dummy singing!  Jen loved the idea, and we wove my new dummy, Colin, into the whole production. Colin and I also thanked patrons in the lobby after the show; we had so many remarkable conversations! (And women flirted with Colin every single night; I didn’t see that coming!) This was the first time a ventriloquist and his dummy have played these roles, so that’s another first for me this year after becoming The Ventriloquist in the final season of Gotham.

The musical’s creator, Rupert Holmes, came to see our production. He said wonderfully generous things to the entire company, and also to me personally. He remembered the first time I played Bax/Bazzard, which was the first post-Broadway production almost 30 years ago!  And he was aware I had also done the role at Riverside Theatre two years ago.  He said he hoped I would play the role(s) a fourth time soon–and that if I played it as a ventriloquist again, to let him know so he could add some lines for Colin! It was a very special evening in the midst of an already special run.  

Here’s a montage from the show, a promo clip, and a few images. I hope they convey in some small way what a treat this was for audience and performers alike! I’m so grateful to Producing Artistic Director Andrew Kato, Jen Werner, and all involved for including me on this joyous ride.

Montage from The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Promo for Drood

The entire company of The Mystery of Edwin Drood
(Photo: Jason Nuttle)
With show creator Rupert Holmes
Colin and me with Rupert

Meanwhile Back at the Speakeasy: The Return of Immersive Musical “Whisper Darkly”

Last year, writer/composer Andrew Gerle and writer/director D.J. Salisbury asked me to play the wonderfully peculiar role of Dickie the Doorman in the first developmental reading of their new immersive speakeasy musical Whisper Darkly. I was delighted to return to the speakeasy this August for the latest developmental reading. This fascinating piece just keeps getting better and better. Imagine Cabaret crossed with Sleep No More. It’s just really cool. Fabulous songs, clever and surprising script. And I was delighted to reprise the role of Dickie, who is not the brightest bulb on the string, but who tries hard and is obsessively devoted to one of the chorus girls.  I love him in all his dim, creepy sincerity. Once again, the entire cast was absolutely stellar. 

The 2019 NYC Cast of Whisper Darkly: The New Immersive Speakeasy Musical

We also put together a fun little promotional teaser, which we shot at The Back Room–one of only two remaining prohibition-era speakeasies in NYC.  Here are stills from that video, including Dickie looking through the peep hole and awaiting the password.  Having worked on two readings of the show now, I can tell you the password is definitely: TOOMUCHFUNFUN!

Whisper the password to Dickie….
Dickie greets you with his customary glower….
Dickie trying to process being kissed by a cross-dressing customer….

I Directed a Triumphant Premiere of the New Opera “Lottie Silks”

As part of my duties on the faculty of Western Colorado University in Gunnison, CO, for the past three years I have been the Stage Director of the Opera Libretto Workshop that takes place during our summer intensive. In 2017 I staged Act One of the original American folk opera Lottie Silks by composer Justus (Jay) Parrotta and librettist Enid Holden. In 2018 I staged Act Two.

In July 2019, after three years of mentoring Enid on the libretto rewrites, I staged the first full-length reading of the newly-completed Lottie Silks. The audience was extremely enthusiastic both at the performance, and during the Q&A I conducted afterward. Lottie Silks is based on a real life love story and tragedy that happened in Gunnison, CO. In fact, Enid and her husband Paul live in the house that was once the story’s dance hall! The Dean of Graduate Studies was so impressed by our performance that he has already offered to help with mounting the 202o workshop.

I’m incredibly proud of Enid, Jay, our conductor/pianist Sarah Holtan Stai (absent from the photo below), and our entire cast of superb opera artists: Clara Nieman, Adam Ewing, Jason Baldwin, Phoenix Gayles, Sarah Stone, and Joshua Zabatta. All delivered a beautiful evening of storytelling. We had approximately six hours to work on music, six hours to work on staging, and one dress rehearsal before our performance. The performers made strong choices, took direction beautifully, and sang their hearts out. Bravi. I’d also like to thank Jay’s father Frank Parrotta, who took rehearsal photographs and recorded the entire performance. The opera’s magic realism ending was my idea, and I’m thrilled with how Enid and Jay embraced it and brought it to life. If you’re an opera fan, you can watch the staged reading here. The voices are gorgeous. The performance runs about two hours. Enjoy.

At the Lottie Silks after-party celebration.

Another Great Summer Intensive Teaching Public Performance Skills

As you may know, I am on the faculty at Western Colorado University, in the Graduate Creative Writing Program. For the last four years I have coached talented grad student creative writers (poets, genre novelists, and now screenwriters) on Public Performance presentation skills during the department’s summer intensive in beautiful Gunnison, CO.

Each year I have been impressed with the quality of the writing across the genres, and also with the willingness of each student to open up to my coaching, which I’ve designed to help typically introverted writers to embrace public performance of their own works. After all, a good reading can help sell books! And it’s very important to all of us on the faculty that we are preparing our writers to succeed in the real world.

My group of students for 2019 was terrific–and more diverse than ever. In addition to coaching the third year MFA students extensively (all of whom must give a public reading of 15-20 minutes from their work), I also held a session with the second year genre fiction class, and conducted a number of sessions with the first year poetry cohort. The improvements in each case were palpable to all in the room. As is typical, some students took small but tangible steps toward comfort in public performance, and others seized the opportunity full on and ended up delivering truly exciting readings.

Congratulations to all my students. Well done! Here’s a picture of me with the 2019 MFA/MA graduating class. I can’t wait to hear more from all of them. If you’re a writer looking to hone your skills, you really should check out the excellent program we have at WCU and join us. It’s a low-residency program with an amazing faculty, and a great in-person summer residency each year. And you’ll have me as your Public Performance coach. I’d love to see you there!

Shakespeare in Virtual Reality!

Sometimes when it rains, it pours. In a good way. At the same time I was offered the plum role of Polonius in the Shakespeare@ stage production Hamlet on the East Coast, I was also offered the role of another classic Shakespearean advisor on the West Coast: Gonzalo in The Tempest. And this Tempest had a twist I couldn’t resist: it’s a pilot for a science-fiction version of the classic play, filmed in Virtual Reality (VR). Plus, in this interpretation, Gonzalo is an android–a kind of Elizabethan C3PO!

I was able to fly out to LA to shoot The Tempest VR pilot midway through rehearsals for Hamlet. Producer/Director Charles Huddleston ran a tight (and super fun) spaceship and we even wrapped production early. Watch for our pilot episode of The Tempest VR at film festivals in Fall 2019!

Gonzalo, trusty android advisor
A mysterious space storm causes concern….
Some of our fabulous cast: Nija Okoro (Sebastian), Michele Martin (Miranda), Adam Langton (Boatswain), and yours truly.

Hamlet was a smashing success!

Thank you to everyone who made it to our production of Hamlet in Jersey City; the reviews were raves, and the audiences were amazing. This was the inaugural production for new classical company Shakespeare@, led by Artistic Director (and our Director) Sean Hagerty and producer Sydney Steele, and it was a roaring success in every way. I am honored to have been part of this wonderful cast and truly fine production. We were at 80% capacity over the run, and sold out our last two weekends–turning people away the final weekend! What a great ride.

Next: Polonius in “Hamlet” for Shakespeare@ in Jersey City!

Aria Shaghasemi, Jonathan Forbes, Eden Brolin, and Andrew Sellon
Photo: Will O’Haire

I’m thrilled to announce my next project: I’ll be playing my first Polonius in Hamlet for the inaugural production of new professional company Shakespeare@ in Jersey City, NJ. Hamlet will be played by Irish actor Jonathan Forbes (Amazon’s Catastrophe). My two children, Laertes and Ophelia, will be played by Aria Shaghasemi (CW’s Legacies) and Eden Brolin (Freeform’s Beyond), respectively. Also in the stellar cast are Mark Torres as Claudius and Thia Stephan as Gertrude, along with Francis Mateo, Fernando Hernández, André Revels, Tenzin Yeshi, Mark Jonathan Quiles, Alice Marks, Wesli Spencer, and Robert Steven Anderson.

Shakespeare@, the brainchild of Producing Artistic Director Sean Hagerty (who directed me in The Taming of the Shrew in NYC a few years back for NY Classical Theatre), will focus on creating intimate, accessible productions of Shakespeare plays in unique performance spaces in Jersey City, NJ. Hamlet will take place in Grace Church Van Vorst, and as you can see by the press photo here, it’s a gorgeous early Victorian church, so that will be the period for our production. It’s going to be thrilling theatre.

Hamlet will run Thursdays-Sundays only, March 28-April 14. Seating is very limited, so order your tickets now!

Making DC Comics History on Gotham

A Gotham Rogues Gallery of Gay Blades!

Tonight (2/28/19) in Episode 508 of Gotham on Fox, I’m back. And I’m not alone. I’m also making a bit of DC Comics history.

Tonight I become the first live-action performer ever to portray classic DC Comics villains The Ventriloquist and Scarface. And in case you’re wondering: yes, I do have some ventriloquism skills; I operated and voiced Scarface in real time on set, while simultaneously performing the role of Mr. Penn/The Ventriloquist. It was an amazing and incredibly fun challenge. I was so happy to have another episode with Robin–and to finally work with Cory! Seth Boston wrote an amazing script; one of the best in the entire series. Director Ken Fink and I have the same warped sense of humor, and he guided this crazy episode with fantastic flair. His visual ideas were insanely clever. Props gurus Courtney Schmidt and Giovanni Rodriguez created an amazing Scarface. It was a joy start to finish.

I can only say thank you again to everyone on the show for this incredible 2-season experience–the simply amazing and sweet cast, the entire crew (including fabulous DP David Stockton), my series directors (Danny Cannon, Rob Bailey, Ken Fink, Mark Tonderai, Nathan Hope, Nick Copus, and Scott White), the tireless office staff, the incredible writers room, our gifted designers, and our incomparable team of producers–especially Danny Cannon, John Stephens, Scott White, Tom Whelan, and assistant Shelby Coppola–for your belief in me. Thank you all for welcoming me into the delightfully demented world of Gotham, and making me part of the coolest, craziest TV family ever.

On the casting side, huge thank you’s to Renée Glicker, Joe Kokofsky, and team at About Artists Agency for submitting me for the initial Mr. Penn audition, to the fabulous team at Bowling/Miscia Casting for granting me an audition, and a special thanks to Warner Brothers Senior VP of Casting Tony Sepulveda for saying that magical, life-changing word: “Yes.” I hope we share more “yes” moments in the future!

My biggest thank you’s go to my husband Tim (for over 25 years of love and encouragement), our families, and especially to Gotham’s absolutely incredible legion of fans. Moments like this are rare in any actor’s career. I’m honored to play these iconic roles, and so grateful we got to share this ride. Thank you all.

Given that my character of Mr. Penn was killed off in Episode 503, this appearance as the Ventriloquist and Scarface almost didn’t happen. For the whole amazing story on how it did, check out the exclusive interview I did with GothamTVPodcast, which will be available on their site and via most podcasting apps, shortly after Episode 508 airs.

Stay tuned for news of my next project!