Meet The Playwrights of NY SummerFest: Joseph Vitale
Joseph Vitale marks the beginning of his love affair with theater to the day his high school English Lit teacher brought a group of freshman students to see the Broadway production of Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun. “It was the first time I was ever in a professional theater and I was mesmerized,” says Vitale. “So many years later, I can still remember the lighting, the music, the unforgettable scene where Pizarro waits for the Inca King Atahualpa to rise from the dead. I was hooked.”
That infatuation led Vitale – whose latest play, Dragons in the Crease, is opening at New York’s Hudson Guild Theater in September – to begin writing plays as a student at Rutgers University and later to enroll in New York’s HB Studio. About 10 years ago, he joined the playwrights’ workshop of The Theater Project, a small, award-winning Equity theater in central New Jersey. In addition to writing for the workshop, he serves on The Theater Project’s board and runs the theater’s annual short-play contest, “Think Fast.”
“In addition to writing for the theater, it’s so important to nurture theater, especially in small communities, and to continue to cultivate an audience,” he says. “Theater is not engaging the younger audience and we’ve got to find ways to get them in.”
A semi-finalist for the 2012 Eugene O’Neill Theater/National Playwrights Conference, he is the author of a number of plays, including, Back Channel, a play about the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was performed at The Theater Project in April 2018.
Murrow, his one-man show about the life of Edward R. Murrow (called “a dramatic masterpiece” by theHuffington Post), was performed Off-Off Broadway in 2016 at The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble and later as part of the ACANSA Arts Festival in Little Rock, AR.
“Writing Murrow was an exhausting but exhilarating experience,” says Vitale, who has a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and who worked for 15 years as a reporter and editor in New York and New Jersey. “Researching the life of this ground-breaking journalist and broadcasting pioneer made me realize how much he still has to say about the media and the changing role of news gathering in our society. An added bonus was getting to meet Murrow’s son, Casey, who granted me the rights to use certain material for the play and who attended one of the performances in New York. A true gentleman.”
Vitale’s 2011 play, The Fourth State of Matter,was performed at the Theater for the New City in New York and was later nominated for the National Playwrights Conference. His one-acts have been produced around the country.
Dragons in the Crease, will be part of the New York Theater Festival’s Summerfest 2019. It will run September 17 at 6:15 p.m., September 21 at 9 p.m. and September 22 at 1:30 p.m. at the Hudson Guild Theater, 441 West 26th Street. The Theater Project’s artistic director, Mark Spina, will direct.
The title comes from a line in an Emily Dickinson poem and the play is based on an incident that occurred at a small college some 10 years ago. A student with a severe stutter was given a note by his professor asking him not to speak in class but to write his questions down. Although considered by the teacher as a way to facilitate the class while, at the same time, giving the student a chance to express himself, the request was viewed by the boy and his father as an infringement of his rights.
“The incident, which would have ordinarily remained between the student, the professor and the college, wound up in the pages of the New York Timesand became something of a cause celebre, changing the lives of those involved forever,” says Vitale. There were stories in major newspapers, segments on cable TV news and a virtual firestorm online.
“The event became, for me, emblematic of something happening in our culture,” says Vitale. “Without knowing all the facts and often the subtleties of a situation, hundreds – sometimes thousands – of people make instant judgements, condemning people and often subjecting them to vilification and even threats. The Internet and social media are wonderful tools, but my fear is we’re becoming tools of the technology. Without recognizing it, we’re being conditioned and pressured into thinking and acting in ways that would have seemed alien to us only a few years ago. The demands for instantaneous opinion and online peer pressure are changing the way we interact with the world and each other. I guess you can call Dragons in the Creasea commentary and a cautionary tale.”
Tickets for Dragons can be purchased by visiting: newyorktheaterfestival.com/dragons-in-the-crease. For more about Joseph Vitale, visit:www.murrowtheplay.com
SummerFest 2019 Nominees
Where do you go if you are a young playwright and want to have your play produced? The answer is the NY WinterFest and NY Summerfest’s. This year at the Summerfest Robert Williams gave 60 plays, 14 musicals, 50 shorts, 8 solo plays, 325 actors, 330 actresses and 130 directors, a chance to perform, be seen and reviewed. The festival ran from July to October with 130 productions making it to the stage. Each brought their own unique story, perspective, designs that inspired and captivated their audiences. Each was required to enlist the bravery and inventiveness of live theatre that didn’t rely on special effects, Hollywood stars or huge budgets.
The 2019 SummerFest has come to an end. Here are the nominees for the Best of the Fest.
Best Play or Musical $3000
Am I Blue? – by DeShawn Aaron Jenkins
Lilith In Pisces – by Kayla Eisenberg
Chasing Jack – by John Anastasi
Humanity’s Child – by John Tierney
Junior – Marshall Evans
Borders – by Maera Daniel Hagage
Aussie Song – by Frances Key
Best Short $500
Honesty In An Apology – by Nathan David Smith
Molotov Cocktail – Edward J. Fee
Nonno In The Basement – by Robert LoManto
Night Turns Day – by Michael David Johnson
Best Director $500
Samantha Baptiste = Junior
Peter Loewy = Chasing Jack
DeShawn Aaron Jenkins = Am I Blue?
Meghan Mulcahy and Reilly Johnson = ReallyReally
Marlow Scott = Over The Rainbow
Keena McDonald = Humanity’s Child
Ellie Handel – Aussie Song
Best Actor $500
Ernest Mingione = Nonno In The Basement
Nathan Tolliver = Am I Blue?
Patrick Hamilton = Chasing Jack
J. Marshall Evans = Junior
Tony White = The Sample
Augustus Oicle = Really Really
Nathan Tolliver = Am I Blue?
Best Actress $500
Johnnie Mae = Night Turns To Day
Patricia Field = Junior
Kelsea Lea Jones = Chasing Jack
Virginia Logan = Lilith In Pisces
Arlene Bozich = Cry Wolf
Gretchen Schneider = Bossa Nova And Bees
Best Singer $500
Evan Crommett = The Fling LP
James Kivlen = Hill & Holler
Flor Lopardo = Second Story Man
Amanda Tong & Matthew J Taylor = Daughter of Society
Jordan Stam = Aussie Song
The WinterFest is still accepting submissions!
Now calling all playwrights: Here’s a chance to have your play live on a New York City Stage! Submit your work to the Winterfest festival competition. Accepting plays and musicals of all genres between 5-90 minutes in length. New York Theater Festival has been a haven for playwrights for 16 seasons—Read below to find out why!
NY SummerFest: Meet Meghan Mulcahy and Reilly Johnson Two Graduates With Big Plans
Meghan Mulcahy is an NYC-based actor and director. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Meghan went on to study at the Meisner Studio at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she expanded her artistry in Buenos Aries, Argentina and Barcelona, Spain. She received her BFA in Drama in 2017. Really Really, first mounted in March at Gibney Dance Center, is her first directing project. An enthusiastic collaborator, Meghan strives to produce work that is accountable to the best of storytelling. In a time that is often chaotic and commercial, her work operates from a place of sensitivity, specificity, and clarity of purpose, no matter the scale.
Reilly Johnson is a Chicago-raised, New York-based actor and director who graduated with a BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2017. At NYU, Reilly studied at the Meisner Studio where she received the 2017 award for Outstanding Achievement in Acting. She studied under incredible faculty (Vicki Hart, Gigi Buffington, Nate Flower, and Lucas Caleb Rooney), who helped her to hone her craft and developed a strong passion for theater, film, and television. Really Really is her first directing project.
Reilly Johnson and Meghan Mulcahy are recent graduates of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. As actors-turned-directors, this is their first directing project. They came together with the need to wrestle with theater that is risky, authentic, and immediate. When they encountered Really Really, nearly ten years after its writing, they were struck by its unabashed investigation of both sides of the “Me Too” era’s most vital conversation. It took the incendiary “he said/she said” conflict that we are seeing on national display and told it as a story between people whose motivations and actions never fit neatly into the predator/victim categories. Whatever bias you may walk in with, whoever you believe, this play will make you uncomfortable holding to that. In a time when so much seems black and white, with Really Really it has been our aim to stick our heads in the gray and stay there.
The challenge as actors has been to bring humanity to this group of people, and as directors to shape the story in the most truthful way possible, for all the characters.
Really Really: NY SummerFest, Hudson Theatre, 441 West 26th St. Sept. 21st @ 6:30
NY SummerFest Dragons in the Crease
“I’m frightened, Richard. I dream that people are talking about me on television. Then I wake up and realize they are. Some of my colleagues have sent me articles that have appeared on the internet. At the end of those articles are comments by readers. The hatred. If I were a woman living in the Thirteenth Century, I’m sure they’d burn me. I’ve always wondered how human beings could hunt down and burn another human being. Now I know. They’re the same people.” Dragons in the Crease
Where are the lines drawn between the rights of one and the rights of many? In Dragons in the Crease, Jeffrey Lowry (Brennan Tracy), a student at a small junior college is asked to write down his questions by Evelyn Whitehead (Dara Lewis) his poetry professor. She asks him in the form of a letter due to his severe stutter and amount of questions. Jeffrey takes to the internet, but his father (Brian Rock) sees this as disabilities fighting for their rights and calls his friend (Andre DeSandies) at the New York Times. The story becomes the front page news.
“Right? Right? What do you know about what’s right? You live in a world where there’s no room for anyone except you. You talk about reaching out your hand, but you’ve never reached out your hand to anybody. You cast yourself as some sort of heroine but you’re really just sad woman who can’t see beyond her own needs.” Dragons in the Crease
As the past is brought out, Evelyn 10 years prior wrote love poems to her student and again acted inappropriately. In the end Evelyn loses her career as a teacher and doing what she loves. The title Dragons in the Crease, is drawn from an Emily Dickinson poem, points to the desire – but ultimate failure – to achieve love and human connection.
The cast does well, but I long to see seasoned professionals take this script to the next level. Mr. Tracy, manages to bring a truth to his character that is refreshing.
Mark Spina’s direction keeps the action on point and enhanced the storyline.
Joseph Vitale’s script is poignant, giving a voice to both the student with a disability and the longing to be set free and the teacher, who sees the world though warped glasses of her own choosing. There is a painful truth in these flawed individuals. I look forward to seeing another production of this and more work by this talented writer.
Dragons in the Crease is loosely based on real-life incident, and shows how social media turns us into instant heroes and villains.
Dragons in the Crease: NY Winterfest, Hudson Theatre, 441 West 26th St. Sept 21st at 9pm and Sept 22nd at 1:30pm.
NY SummerFest Brings NYU Students Together For Really Really
I first saw Paul Downs Colaizzo’s Really Really at MCC in 2013. Last night an ensemble of NYU Tisch School of the Arts alumni presented the work at the NY SummerFest and it was well done. Co-directors Meghan Mulcahy and Reilly Johnson, created an atmosphere of dorm life that seemed real and went against stereotypes.
The play begins with roommates Leigh (Reilly Johnson) and Grace (Natalie Shinnick) stumbling into their apartment drunk. The next morning, blood has covered the sheets from Grace’s fall onto broken glass. She is headed off to a conference for “Future Leaders of America”, but before she leaves she wants to hear all about Leigh’s night with Davis (Augustus Oicle), the boy she has been crushing on all year. Leigh, is the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, while everyone else has or comes from money.
Turns out Leigh is pregnant and her wealthy boyfriend Jimmy (Brian J. Sanchez), does not know about last night.
Davis rooms with best friend Cooper (Buchanan Jackson Highhouse) and both are nursing vicious hangover. Davis has no memory of the events, but news gets out when Rugby teammate and video-game obsessed Johnson (Jackson Dockery) and Cooper spill the beans.
Jimmy angrily confronts Leigh, but she tells him that she was raped and because of this lost the baby. The scandal threatening to destroy Davis’ life.
When Leigh’s sister Haley (Courtney Sumlin) hears she sees an opportunity to cash onto what Leigh has gotten.
This group together is really really special, with Ms. Sumlin and Mr. Oicle really shinning.
I have always loved this play and Mr. Colaizzo’s words that seem to jump off the page with a realism that dares you to look at them. Meghan Mulcahy and Reilly Johnson have taken that a step further in their direction and the result is satisfying theatre.
I hope that this group will do what Bedlam did before them and stick together, form a company and keep on working together.
Really Really: NY SummerFest, Hudson Theatre, 441 West 26th St. Sept. 21st @ 6:30
Running, Where Politics are Outed
In Sean Chandler’s new play Running, now playing at The NY SummerFest, politics are at the forefront. As secrets that are held are disclosed, this play hits the mark.
A couple of years ago closeted, married candidates were being outed in a very public manner. Like most candidates we saw in the paper and in the news, mayoral candidate Ed Shirko (a winning David Leeper), has treated his children like props, while ignoring his wife (a wooden Laura MacLean). His daughter Cassidy (a wonderful and comedic Dineen Markey) has a sharp tongue and is not afraid to say it like it is. His son Justin (a fabulous Jay William Thomas) has left the family fold due to his views clashing with his father. At his mother’s insistence he has come back to help strategize his father’s campaign.
Turns out the reason Ed was ignoring his wife, was because he was seeking pleasure elsewhere, mainly in peep rooms where gay men went to be pleasure through a glory hole. When Ed is caught having a heart attack in the most inconvenient places, his campaign and his family are in jeopardy.
His running mate (a soft spoken Laura Leigh Carroll) wants to take over as the candidate, but Ed has other ideas. In the end Justin becomes the candidate of choice in more ways than one.
The direction by Mark Robert Finely is well done and adds to the overall journey. Morry Campbell’s sound and music design is first rate.
Sean Chandler is a playwright to watch. His dialogue flows and he has taken what could be a movie of the week and made it interesting.
The reason to see this play however is Jay William Thomas who has the “it factor” in spades. He makes his character not just 3, but 4 dimensional. His scenes with Ms. Markey are well done. Mr. Thomas allows us to see the humanity in loving a father, who has lied and bullied his way through life.
In the end this is a father and son play with politics thrown in.
Running: The NY SummerFest: 441 West 26th Street. You can still catch the last two performances Saturday the 24th at 9:00pm and Sunday the 25th at 1:30pm.
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