Monday, April 5, 2021

ALL New Virtual Legends and Bridge To Stream April 30 and May 1



C. Stephen Foster played Bette Davis in Legends and Bridge to tremendous public and critical acclaim in 2002 at The Group Rep Theatre in Burbank. Foster penned the play and now almost 20 years later we may look forward to a brand new production. 

Dramatically Incorrect Theater Group & Dance Company
proudly presents the premiere streaming production of Legends and Bridge directed by Paul R. Gymziak. It streams April 30 and May 1st, 2021 at 7:30 pm (EST) Tickets cost $15. You may purchase tix at https://ditgdc.org


The play features an all-star cast that includes Valerie Schillawski as Joan Crawford, Debbie Moylan as Judy Garland, Jen Knight as Bette Davis. Matthew DeBettencourt as Madison. Steven Cristofono as Tennessee Williams and Mic Godin as the Cab Driver

Foster, who is also well renowned for the off-Broadway musical The Green Room and his self-help book Awakening the Actor Within, sat down recently and discussed the play in depth and how it has evolved over the last 20 years. 


We then chatted in detail with the new director Paul R. Gymziak and the three actresses playing BD, JC and Judy Garland.

Don G: Stephen, tell our readers what inspired you to write Legends and Bridge?

SF: Don, first off, it's a great pleasure to talk to you once more. Thaaaaaaank you. What I'm most excited about is the current production is being produced in Lowell, MA where Bette Davis was born! WOW!

The genesis of the comedy was born shortly after I had co-written, directed and starred in "Divanalysis: the mechanics of camp" (with Scott Wilkerson) in which I played: Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, Karen Carpenter and Judy Garland. My entire frame of work back then was campy divas from the past. One day the image of Judy Garland, Bette Davis and Judy Garland sitting around a card table playing bridge thundered into my brain along with the title "Legends and Bridge." Now, I had played Judy Garland in "Divanalysis" and assumed I would play her in this as well. I had done extensive research into her life, career and knew her inside and out. I knew nothing of Joan Crawford or Bette Davis so I went to the library to do research and found they were mortal enemies! Great Material! So, I began to write the play on a vintage 1930's Underwood typewriter. The first draft of the play took place in the 1940s when they were all still under contract at studios and playing a social game. It was very much in the vein of "If Men Played Cards as Women Do" by George S.Kaufman. Very snappy, witty and stylish. I always imagined the play to be a drag show!

As my research evolved, I set the play in 1965 after Crawford and Davis worked together on "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" and after Judy was fired from her CBS show. Tragic! They were all old, washed up and down and out, but still hopeful. Still wanting the limelight, wanting fame and attention.

Around this time, through some fluke, I was in a play called "It Started With a Lie" where I played an old battle-axe and all the reviews compared me to Bette Davis and so I switched gears to play her! I learned how to BE Bette Davis!

I had formed a theatre company Off Hollywood where we did 2 scenes from the show (which is all I had written) and the other 2 roles were played by women, and we had a smashing success. I ran off to complete the play and shopped it around the local theaters in Hollywood and it got selected by The Group Repertory Theatre (directed by the great Stan Mazin) as part of their season. We added Tennessee Williams and Madison (the love interest) and bing, bang, boom a play was born!

The show was well-received, but has never been done fully by men in drag! I found out the play does just fine with women playing these legends. Many have said that the show is more than just camp, it's a show about survival. Women surviving Hollywood. I never thought of it as "deep" in anyway, but I guess it strikes a chord. The theme of the 3 legends being cooped up together might have significance with everything we've all been through with Covid. It might now resonate in a more profound way.

Don G: Do you feel that you have earnestly kept the characters' personalities in tact? When I saw it in 2002 you played Bette to great comic achievement. What made you decide to let an actress play her this time around?

SF: These characters have lives of their own. Their personalities leap out at the audience. I wrote the play after many years of research and writing. The main issue with comedy is to keep true to the subject you are writing about and not try to cram in jokes just to be "funny." Being an actor in the show helped me because I could tell when something worked or didn't work!

I gladly hand the torch over to those who want to play Bette Davis. Although, I mouth all the words along with them when they play her. It's fun to watch another actress step into those royal shoes. Jen Knight, who plays her in this production, packs a punch with her delivery of Ms. Davis. She's got her down! I think people will be pleased with how she smokes and delivers the one-liners.

I'm extremely impressed with director Paul Gymziak and the entire gang at Dramatically Incorrect who are doing amazing hybrid theatre shows due to Covid. The cast delivers new elements and surprises to the text.

Paul Gymziak is the owner of DITGDC. He is an actor, singer, dancer and director. Past work includes: “Noises Off,” “Clue,” & "The Green Room.”  He won the Olympic Mr. King award for dance.



Don G: Paul, it is a huge undertaking to direct this play. What are your biggest obstacles?

PG: I think that the biggest obstacle for me was casting. DITGDC is an up and coming theater and dance company. We have gained a lot of amazing talent over the past 3 years. Legends and Bridge calls for something more than just talent, it calls for a strong team of players that have a bond that can't be broken. I honestly didn't have auditions for the roles. My fiance and I reached out to a selected few actors. We then sent them all sides from the script to read. We asked them to make sure that they take this character and turn it into the real thing. As I watched the videos, I tell you the talent was on point with everyone but there were three ladies that stood out; Val, Jen and Debbie. These ladies did their homework and have really put their full game face on throughout the entire process. 

When I talked to each lady, we got into a conversation about the roles. For Example, Val was doing research on Joan. Not just any "let me look her up", she was studying Joan's interviews and her movies to get a good feeling on her mannerisms and little nuances. I remember she had sent me a video that had me laughing so hard and right there I knew she was the right fit. Jen and Debbie also had amazing videos and you can see that they also really did their research. These 3 ladies not only landed the roles of these Legends but they are also very close friends in real life. Seeing them on stage together will bring tons of laughs. 

Don G: Paul, this is a comedy, but the drama seeps through consistently. Tell us any secrets in trying to keep the actors on track.

PG: Diving into characters immediately so we can really sit with them. We can play around as the characters to get the feeling. You build in time to the process to allow for so much fun. Doing this allows you to be able to really work on the drama and comedy to make sure they mesh and read well on stage. Legends and Bridge was written by a smart man. Stephen Foster really knows how to engage an audience with his amazing writing talents and is pure genius in knowing these legends so well.


Jen Knight (Bette Davis) has been involved in north central Massachusetts theater for 30 years. Her favorite roles include “Hold Me, Touch Me” in “The Producers”, John Colton Sumner in “Men On Boats” and Marina Piskolovka-Parker in “Seven.”


Don G: What a role! Have you ever played BD before? What are your greatest challenges in bringing her to life?

JK: It is a wonderful challenge. My exposure to Bette Davis previous was her legendary longevity, her acting record, the song from my young adulthood, and Johnny Carson visits late in her life. I preferred light-hearted comedies and musicals, so my heroines from her era were Rosemary Clooney and Judy Garland and the like. Taking on the role has opened my eyes to her actual personality and drive. And she was a Pip! I admire her strength and drive. She was an Actress first and Star as a result.

One of the biggest challenges is not copying the playwright's interpretation of her. Stephen did such a wonderful job bringing her to life. I have to remember I am doing my own interpretation of the character from Paul's point of view. Not an imitation of him imitating her....I hope I make them all -SF, Paul and Bette- proud.

Val Shillawski (JC) an award nominated regional actress and costume designer. She has 6 projects in the works, a movie in July, 3 costuming projects ... and a coming soon “hush hush " project.

Don G: JC is an overpowering woman and...difficult. In many ways more irritating and controlling than BD. How are you preparing to play this role?

VS: Joan Crawford  worked constantly on her career and image, always putting them first. She was a perfectionist  when it came to her image and her environment with a controlling personality. She  was sent away to school, having to work her way through, She had that "up by your bootstraps'' attitude of hard work. Even so  there were stories of abuse, alcoholism  and narcissism.

A line in Stephen's  script says it perfectly: "I'd bottle myself and sell it door to door if it could help me get ahead."

I first researched online  for videos, candid interviews,  Pepsi  commercials,  her official Pepsi duties like plant openings, or an insight into  the person she  really was. She didn't give interviews on the popular talk shows  like Bette Davis, or  have at tv show like Judy Garland did. When you look at those snippets, you realize  she was  very thoughtful  and studied with her interviews. Occasionally a hard edge to her voice, a look for a question she didn't like. I wanted to find what might be under that facade: after all we all have  our public face  and our private  lives . I tried to imagine the stress of  maintaining that image all the time.. 

Who do you turn to? How do you manage  the  perfect body, perfect  life , all in the public eye?  I tried to relate  my own experiences  on managing  pressure and found  parallels . If you know me,  you know exactly  when I'm overstressed: my apartment gets an overhaul, I rearrange my living space. It is something I can control, when  nothing else is controllable. I've been nervous  when entertaining the CEO of  the company  my ex-husband managed.  Had a career change  in midlife. I've taken my own experiences, used them, and amplified them. 

The relationship between the 3  women is a game of give and take, Joan working toward  her comeback while Bette and Judy hoping this will be theirs as well.  Finding  the  nuances  in the script has been fun! Especially since  Jen {Bette} and Deb (Judy) and I  have been  friends and colleagues for years.

This part has been such a challenge, since everyone has an image of who she was, to bring her essence, good, bad, and sometimes extreme .  

Debbie Moylan (Judy Garland) is a long-time character actress, director of the critically acclaimed "Seven," and producer/director at City on a Hill Arts.


Don G: Judy Garland in many ways is the most challenging of the 3 roles to play, probably because she is so endearing. What do you like best about her and what is your process in trying to recreate her? Renee Zellwegger could not sing like Judy, but cornered her sensitivity as a human being. Where do you fit, in your opinion, into Judy's personality? What do you feel are her strengths and weaknesses?

DM: I’ve always loved Judy Garland - I watched just about everything she ever made even when I was a young girl. In order to prepare for this role, I began to watch and listen to a vast array of her work, from when she was young to when she was much older, and even some obscure recordings of her later years. I admire her passionate love of her children, even though she struggled in so many ways to be a mom. I also admire her ability to laugh through her struggles. 

I guess I see myself in that aspect of her life: using humor to survive the darkest times. It might be why I love character acting so much: that ability to create something that might be the direct antithesis of what I am experiencing personally. She lived in the tension of being so beloved, yet never truly finding love herself. This play balances on the tension of the humor in the script that is based on so much pain in her life. Trying to stay true to both is certainly a challenge!


Remember, Legends and Bridge streams April 30 and May 1st, 2021 at 7:30 pm (EST) Tickets cost $15. You may purchase tix at https://ditgdc.org



JOAN CRAWFORD, BETTE DAVIS & JUDY GARLAND 
attempt a comeback in the 
ONLINE screwball comedy
 
“Legends and Bridge”




Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Interview 2021 - Ana Isabel O

Brilliant scientist and writer/ illustrator of children's books Ana Isabel O has been my subject of many interviews over the years. She is so productive and prolific even in these hard times and recently released two new books. Instead of asking her a batch of questions, I suggested to her that she herself tell our readers about these curiosities and explain in detail her loving process of creating. What follows is the result.

Aye Aye, Fedor, Eurycoti and the Great Escape, and The Big Musical Forest were just released last year.  Doubtless the pandemic slowed a few projects but equally ignited ideas and musing that didn't make any sense. Thereafter all took shape in children’s books.  In these last two stories I could paint a certain complexity and creepyness related with this time we all are enduring which somehow defined the form. I had a great time writing and illustrating these two last sequels. 

In Aye Aye, Fedor, Eurycoti and the Great Escape, the animals all of a sudden realized why destiny put them in the Cinico Forest; there they had a difficult journey until their great escape when Aye Aye, Fedor y Eurycoti achieved the rescue of several tropical jungle animals in extinction. This bold action was very rewarding for all of them;  facts affecting humans were connected specifically to their existence too. 

Recently all animals in the Musical Forest have been working on a way to be absolutely independent of external factors which ironically converted their habitat in the Big Musical Forest. As Aye Aye and her friends saved tropical species from toxic environment and extinction, I envisioned the characters more real than the page. The result was actually interesting because I ended up oil painting, an activity I’ve been practicing on and off in my life. Several paintings illustrate my children's books. 


All stuff going on on Earth is a matter of inspiration. Aye Aye, Fedor, Eurycoti and the Great Escape as well as The Big Musical Forest  showcased new ways of illustrating. All support is good for painting. However, the force and means one uses to point to climatic issues doesn’t change the problem. The point, in my opinion, is how to recognize what you can do and what purpose it serves. Future extinctions are inexorable. The real consciousness about what’s happening with jungle and wild animals doesn’t affect  descriptions of how life could be idyllic in a magic place even if it exists only on paper. On that, writing is a healing power because it might change how to perceive the stories. It is important to emphasize the force to which you want the story to be painted. 

Everyone has a voice and everyone has a story. If you dig into those experiences. whatever you write is based on what happened to you, but if you dig deeper in your mind the story reaches an imaginative level. Therefore part of that is just a narration of what occurred while other parts are merely a result of what happened. In regards to the form of my children's books there is a musical sort of insistence to get something in my head.  I let manyfold sort of imagery come out of that forest to run as freely as possible: a course through the literal to the imaginative. Different kinds of illustrations allow me to play off of it, like musicians who take melodies, harmonies and use them to showcase sounds and sometimes other music. The animal extinction melodies are old,  whatever is  written and/or created must come up with a new pattern, but overall it must be relevant.


One thing I enjoy very much is looking back at childhood. Then looking ahead became easy because I looked back. I also recently released in French a poetry, photography book -- I called it
Somnia Nova --  I had pending as well as these two more sequels to my children's books. During several years I dealt with funny stuff  which led me to the power of dealing with the next phase of my life. At the same time the animals' characters  became heroes trying to turn things around in another forest. 

Doing things in another way led to new experiences, and it doesn't  make any difference in terms of comprehension. The books are written in different periods. Actually so far my sequels cover four life's landscapes: there are experiences from Europe, from NYC, from South Africa, and from the UK. But it showcases the same approach: we must take care of our environment and respect wild life, perhaps now more than ever.


I try to be as free as I can be within the written stories like when you’re releasing something out of yourself. It’s like you turn on a water source and the flow starts running fast, but you won't let it just run, because it’s an emotion coming out of you; your mind naturally directs that flow. If you just think as the kid you were, you will find no restrictions. At a very young age I knew what I wanted to do. I sensed that feeling. Later I could understand that emotion as an incommensurable detachment, but not in the way of being detached from something. It was more like an outsider's view. I believe that's a gift: being able to experience complexity in the journey without bending or feeling restricted by anyone or any mass at all. Each character of my children’s book is like a layer of myself and many people and animals I’ve known. A mirror gallery.