Friday, February 28, 2014

"(not) Normal" Performed by Grace McLean

Check out the incredible, voice-looping Grace McLean performing "(not) Normal" from our recent Let Me Ascertain You: Sex Variants 1941 at Joe's Pub! Go HERE to listen to the entire podcast, and please subscribe on iTunes and rate us.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sex Variants, Part I

We’re kicking off a new series here at Let Me Ascertain You. These podcasts are taken from our live shows performed at Joe's Pub here in New York City and our most recent show was called Sex Variants 1941. As you may know, our shows are typically inspired by interviews we do ourselves but for this one, we are borrowing our inspiration from a medical study entitled Sex Variants: A Study of Homosexual Patterns. The book is a collection of case studies conducted by Dr. George W. Henry of Cornell University. Dr. Henry interviewed over 200 people about the sex lives, their childhoods, their family history - pretty much no stone was left unturned. There are also some really amazing drawings of the subjects’ genitalia, though only those of the female subjects. It’s unclear as to why that is exactly. We are bringing it all back to life in this podcast series.

Dr. Henry provided his written analysis of each case study, starting off with his general impressions. So throughout this series you’ll hear actor Trey Lyford quoting from Dr. Henry’s impressions. Starting off here with his thoughts on Molly N., followed by a performance of her personal history by the actor Nina Hellman. After Nina, you’ll hear Molly N.’s words turned into song by Grace McLean in her song “(not) Normal.” Then, Brandon Miller performs an excerpt from the case study of Louis E. And we’ll wrap up with a song written by Tim Acito inspired by Noel W. The song which is titled “I Have Had the Earth” is sung by Brandon Davidson accompanied by Tim.

If you haven’t yet, please subscribe to “Let Me Ascertain You” on iTunes to hear upcoming episodes in this “Sex Variants” series.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Meet The R&D: Maggie-Kate Coleman

Maggie-Kate Coleman, an artist in this year's R&D group, shares her unique developmental process.

Hello, my name is Maggie-Kate and I am a musical theatre writer.  There.  I said it. I’m still not sure how this happened.  And I’m not sure that I’ll ever be totally comfortable calling myself that.  Usually I call myself a playwright - not untrue, but sort of a lie of omission, because, hey I write a lot of lyrics too. Sometimes I opt for the all-encompassing and slightly vague “writer” and sometimes, depending on my motives, generalize even more and refer to myself simply as a “theatre artist.”  The truth is that I am just profoundly uncomfortable with people singing at me. Especially if they happen to be singing about their feelings. It’s just bizarre.  Am I right?  And singing and dancing?  Forget it. 

But I have written musicals in the past, and I am currently writing a musical in collaboration with composer Erato A. Kremmyda and Director/Choreographer Sam Pinkleton. And I assume that I will continue to write musicals well into the future. Sam once described us as a team of folks who all allegedly work in musical theatre by trade but tend to have a difficult relationship with the form and a lot of its output.  We’re not allowed to complain about it if we’re not working to change it, however, and aiming to make something as messy, huge, and impossible as this project seems like a good start. 

Why would three people who are somewhat uncomfortable with musicals want to write a musical together?  Well, first of all, the fact that musicals are bizarre and unnatural by nature gives you a lot of freedom as a creator. People are singing, so we’ve already tossed any semblance of realism out the window. So, if for example, you want to create a piece of theatre that is purportedly about Marie Curie and her life and work but probably actually about America’s long and troubled relationship with kitsch and terror in the post-nuclear era, and, if for example, you want to set it in an abandoned amusement park with attractions exploring the devastating (though indirect) repercussions of her work, specifically the five occasions post-Manhattan project when life has been threatened on a wide-scale by atomic devices (the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the outdoor testing of nuclear weapons in Nevada and the South Pacific from 1945-1980, the reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, the reactor explosion at Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986, and the multiple reactor failures at Fukushima in Japan in 2011) – if that’s what you want to do, then it seems pretty obvious to us that a musical is the way to go. Plus, we need each other.  We can’t create this monstrosity alone.  We’re a team of folks who sometimes if we’re honest about it are really just writing/composing/directing/choreographing because it gives us a legitimate reason to delve into a giant, messy pile of research, ask questions, and see what it’s all about. 

So what’s our process?  What we don’t do is sit down and make an outline of events and actions and say, this is the song moment where Marie discovers radium and this is the love ballad between Marie and Pierre.  We do a lot of research, we ask a lot of questions, we make a lot of lists, mostly on large sheets of butcher paper with sharpie.  Like this one:  

I also sometimes make collages.  This is largely a stalling tactic that keeps my hands busy and makes me feel productive when I don’t know what to write. It’s also a way of avoiding writer’s block, which is mostly about being afraid to write bad stuff. Since I am in no way a visual artist, I don’t have the same qualms about making bad collages that I might when I go to the dark place and worry about making bad writing and/or bad theatre.  Plus it’s a helpful way for me to hone in on how the piece feels or should feel.  Tone is super hard to describe in words, and it’s easier to show what it’s supposed to feel like than describe it.  Or at least that’s what I tell myself to justify the time spent making collages instead of writing. 

As a team of three, we give ourselves a lot of assignments in order to generate a giant pile of source material that is ours, and not dry, academic or biopic in nature.  We use a random number generator to determine who is doing what in order to break down the roles of writer, composer, and director/choreographer so that we all share ownership of the piece equally.  Here are some of the early assignments:

1. Make a list of what Marie would cook during the day.
2. Design some radiation related tattoos.
4. Find the most boring piece of Curie-Related writing – 1 page max
5. Find Pierre and Marie’s favorite (post 1980s) dance song.
6. Build a giant Pierre or Marie using 10 people (like Voltron or Lion King Dad Face).
7. Make a list of 50 things that wash up on the shores of distant lands after Tsunami.
8. Come up with a game for Russian Children to play in a playground after Chernobyl.
9. Write a scene in which Godzilla comes to dinner at Marie and Pierre’s house in the style of kitchen sink American realism.
10.Write the worst version of a love scene between Pierre and Marie Curie
11. Come up with a game for Russian Children to play in a playground after Chernobyl.
12. Explain the history of French music in 1 page or less.  Do NOT research first.
13. What time of the day would Marie and Pierre have sex and where?
14. Make a list of actual celebrity biography titles.
15. Make a video of yourself listing as many elements from the periodic table as you can recall.  Do Not Cheat.

What comes of all this?  A lot of stuff that I’m definitely not going to share with you under any circumstances (except for #7 which you’ve seen above).  But it led us to think about a lot of things we might not have thought about if we just sat down and wrote an Opening Number with capital letters and an “I want” song. For example, it led us to an image of a roller coaster submerged off the coast of New Jersey post-Sandy, which led us to the Golden Age of theme parks in America, which led us to think about how American culture is still so saturated with the colorful, kitschy images of the Atomic era that we often dismiss the reality that we (humans, earthlings) have put ourselves in the almost incomprehensible position of trying to find a way to mitigate the risk of living in a world we are undeniably turning into an apocalyptic wasteland, which led us to wonder who might be the radioactive superhero we can turn to save us from the horror we’ve created?  Is it Marie Curie? With jazz hands?

Thanks for sharing, Maggie-Kate. For other posts about our R&D Group artists, please click HERE!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Meet Our Newest Associate Artists

We are thrilled to introduce our newest group of Associate Artists!

Susannah Flood
With the Civilians, Susannah appeared in Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play (Playwrights Horizons). Other favorite New York projects include  Love and Information (New York Theater Workshop), Sylvia in Tribes (Barrow Street Theater); Phoebe in As You Like It (The Public/NYSF); Bird in Hand (Fulcrum Theater); Baby Screams Miracle (Clubbed Thumb); Okay (Ensemble Studio Theatre). Regional credits include two seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (including Mayella Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird and Ophelia in Hamlet); Travesties (McCarter Theater); A Civil War Christmas (world premiere, Long Wharf Theatre); A Midsummer Night's Dream (Hartford Stage); Quilters (Denver Center Theatre Company); Our Town (Trinity Repertory Company – IRNE nomination for Best Actress); Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare in Santa Fe); boom (world premiere, Brown/Trinity Playwrights Repertory Theatre), among others. She's a graduate of UC Berkeley and Brown/Trinity (MFA).

Rebecca Hart 
Rebecca Hart is an actor and singer/songwriter based in NYC.  Current/upcoming projects include The Civilians’ ‘The Great Immensity’ at the Public Theater, and the  hip hop theatre piece ‘How to Break’ (as actor and songwriter) at the Spkrbox Festival in Oslo, Norway. Film: ‘Young Adult’ (Paramount), ‘Wendell & the Lemon’ (Imperfect Films). NY Stage:  ‘Uncle Vanya’ (Target Margin/HERE), ‘Son of a Gun’ (Beckett/Theatre Row), ‘Dead City’ (New Georges),  ‘Vendetta Chrome’ (Clubbed Thumb), ‘Love Sucks’ (NYMF) and the original rock musical ‘STRUCK’ (co-written with Bob Saietta) at the 2011 Ice Factory Festival (New Ohio).  Regional credits include the premiere of 'The Great Immensity' at Kansas City Rep, the 35th and 37th Humana Festivals at Actors Theatre of Louisville, the 2010 O'Neill Playwrights Conference, and the 2011 O'Neill Music Theatre Conference.  She is an alum of Brown University's Theatre department, the Public Theater Shakespeare Lab, and the Maggie Flanigan Studio's two year training program.  She ‘plays out’ regularly in collaboration with the folk band The New Students, and co-writes a food blog (A Mouse Bouche: the Hart Sisters Eat Life) with her sister Megan.

Terri Kohler
With the Civilians:  Brooklyn at Eye LevelParis Commune, In the FootprintThe Great Immensity 
New York Cheri (Signature Theater), The Designated Mourner (The Public/Tfana), In Darfur, (The Public), The Caucasian Chalk Circle, The School for Lies, The Forest (CSC), Belleville, The Black Eyed (NYTW), We are Proud...., Orange, Hat & Grace (Soho Rep), Orpheus X (Tfana), Garden of Earthly Delights (2 Step), Killers and Other Family (Rattlestick), Angel Reapers (The Joyce Theater), Don Juan in Prague (BAM)
Regional: As You Like It (Two River Theater Company), Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare on the Sound), Wild Swans (American Repertory Theater/ The Young Vic), Quixote (Stillpoint Productions), Carmen (Madison Opera), I Just Stopped By to See the Man, God’s Man in Texas (Geffen Playhouse), Oedipus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, La Dispute, The Sound of a Voice (American Repertory Theater), Moscow: Cherry Tree Towers, The TenderlandOffenbach!!! (Bard Summerscape) The Tales of Hoffman (New Orleans Opera).

Alyse Alan Louis
The Civilians: Workshop of Times Square (Pammy) at Joe's Pub and Let Me Ascertain You.
NYC: Broadway: Mamma Mia! (Sophie). Off Broadway: City Center Encores: Bells Are Ringing; Lucille Lortel: The Civil War; LaMama ETC: Camp Wanatachi; CAP21:The Daughters
Regional: Wendla in Spring Awakening (dir. Steve Cosson) at Olney Theatre Center; Philadelphia Theatre Company: NERDS (Thekla); Pittsburgh City Theatre: POP! Who Shot Andy Warhol? (Valerie Solonas); Revision Theatre; Prince Music Theatre; Walnut Street Theatre.
BFA NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

Nedra McClyde
NEDRA McCLYDE believes our job is to unfold what is already within us. She hails from Mitchellville, Maryland and received her MFA from the Actors Studio Drama School. Member of the Ensemble Studio Theatre, recipient of New Dramatist Charles Bowden Award,  NYIT Best Leading Actress nominee, and two-time AUDELCO Award nominee. Recent theater includes Mr. Burns at Playwrights Horizons, Good People at The Old Globe. Television/Film: Blue Bloods, As the World Turns, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, 30 Rock and One Life to Live. Please visit

Sam Pinkleton
Sam Pinkleton is a New York City-based director and choreographer. As a choreographer, his work includes the recent Broadway revival of Machinal (Roundabout) and the Off-Broadway productions of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 (Kazino), Mr. Burns... (Playwrights Horizons), Marie Antoinette (Soho Rep), Stage Kiss (Playwrights Horizons), and Buyer and Cellar (Barrow Street). Other recent work includes Spring Awakening (Olney Theater Center), The Material World (Dixon Place) and Love Machine (Incubator Arts Project). As a director, Sam has developed and directed new work with The Vineyard Theatre, Ars Nova, The O’Neill, Joe’s Pub, Abingdon Theatre Company, Primary Stages, Rattlestick, and City Theatre. Sam is co-director of The Dance Cartel’s long-running ONTHEFLOOR at the Ace Hotel. As part of The Civilians R&D group, he is developing a new music theatre work loosely based on the life of Marie Curie and other radioactive terrors with Maggie-Kate Coleman and Erato A. Kremmyda. Sam teaches Bustin’ Moves  at NYU and is a company member of Witness Relocation. Upcoming choreography projects include Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (Theatreworks USA/Lucille Lortel), Fly By Night (Playwrights Horizons), and A Little Night Music (Berkshire Theatre Festival).

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Holy Matrimony! Part IV

This is our fourth and final episode of “Let Me Ascertain You: Holy Matrimony” from our investigations into American Weddings. In celebration of the defeat of DOMA in the Supreme Court this past summer we decided to poke around in the grand old institution of marriage and then as we do with each of our Let Me Ascertain You shows, we have actors perform these verbatim interviews in front of a live audience. This show took place in our home away from home, Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater.

We’ll start things off with a couple here in NYC who celebrated their 25th anniversary by traveling across the country to get married in every state that currently recognizes legal gay marriage. Here are actors Greg McFadden and Brad Heberlee playing Stephen and Pat. Then, Susannah Flood plays Caragh, a designer from Australia and Daoud Heidami plays Paul, from the town Normal, Illinois. We did these interviews separately and then edited them together, so Paul and Caragh can tell you their story together. Our final song of the series is based off of an interview with Brian, manager of the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel who stars in all of their themed weddings from Elvis to Darth Vader to Fat Bastard. “In Vegas” was written by Erato A. Kremmyda, with lyrics by Maggie-Kate Coleman. Erato and Maggie-Kate are both currently members in our R & D Group this year working on a new show of theirs and we’re glad they lent us their talents for this Vegas extravaganza. “In Vegas” is performed here by Brian Charles Rooney, Annalisa Ledson and Christine Perotta, accompanied by Erato Kremmyda.

Interviews for this podcast were conducted by Joel Glassman and Talya Klein and many thanks to everyone involved in this project and our project contributors Darien Battle, Nora Sørena Casey, Molly Coogan, Ian Daniel, Meredith Domalakes, Gibson Frazier, Joel Glassman, Donnetta Grays, Laura Hedli, Amina Henry, Michelle Jalowski, Alexandra Keegan, Talya Klein, Leicester Landon, Calane Schafer, Jessica Watkins and Colleen Werthmann. If you haven’t subscribed yet there’s no time like right now!