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‘High Risk, Baby!’

2021 June 13
by Susan Asher

Shelby Hofer has guts. Her one-woman show “High Risk, Baby!” follows her own life from a bossy tyke who told her dolls and friends exactly what to do to her current status as middle-aged mother.

As a child, Hofer loved babies and would lock eyes with them. She pretended to give birth to them as dolls would spew forth from her crotch. Her dream was to have a baby. As an adult, the years ticked by, and she had imaginary conversations with Oprah. Maybe babies weren’t all that necessary.

On stage, Hofer runs around jumping, leaping, and dancing, talking to and throwing her dolls, bringing back images of Gilda Radner as “The Judy Miller Show.” This is the child who takes Ritalin to treat her ADD.

This inquisitive child shares that she doesn’t understand the things she hears. She has no one to turn to to give her answers. She found in her home her parent’s copy of “The Joy of Sex,” but she needed help understanding the book. She’s heard about blow jobs and camel toes and calls upon audience members to help her understand their meaning.

As a child, Hofer mothered her baby brother and always wanted to be a mother, until she came of age. We see her in her early thirties as she constantly answers her mother’s phone calls reminding her that her eggs will be gone and she’s running out of time.

Now, at 35, it’s too late. She discovers she can’t get pregnant. But she wants a baby more than anything. We see her at age 37 travel to another continent and trust strangers from non-English speaking countries to tell her what she must do to have a baby.

Hofer is a “High Risk, Baby!”. She puts the mistakes of her life on the table for all of us to see and marvel at how she never gives up and finally finds what she has always been looking for.

Written by Shelby Hofer and directed by Ellen McQueen, “High Risk, Baby” was performed from May to June 12 and will be remounting in the fall at PushPush Arts. The theater, of which Hofer is a co-founder, helps artists explore new ideas and collaborate across the globe. See more at PushPush Arts.

‘Working: A Musical’ Opens at the Alliance Theatre

2021 April 26
by Susan Asher
Working Cast

WORKING: A MUSICAL explores what makes our work meaningful across all walks of life. Whether it be in an office, a restaurant, your home, or you’ve retired, this musical reminds us to celebrate not only what we do, but how we do it.

The Alliance’s production will include never-before-seen monologues, as well as a new song.  The new monologues are based on interviews the Alliance conducted with people who impact and sustain Atlanta through their work, with a focus on the resilience of workers over the past year.  The new song will be inspired by the theater’s interviews with Atlanta’s community organizers and activists, showcasing the vital role that Atlanta and Georgia have played in conversations on race and politics this year.

The song lyrics will be written by poet, author, and actor Carlos Andrés Gómez.  Gómez has won awards for his books Fractures, Hijito, and his memoir Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood.  He is also a star of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam.  Music for the new song will be composed by musician and producer, Brandon Bush with his brother, Grammy Award-winning songwriter and Sugarland front man, Kristian Bush.  Brandon Bush’s musical career includes his time as a studio musician performing on releases by John Mayer, Sugarland, and Shawn Mullins, as well as performing globally as part of the multi-platinum-selling rock band Train.  Kristian Bush’s career includes front man and songwriter roles for the bands Billy Pilgrim, Sugarland, and Dark Water, as well as his solo albums.   

Original WORKING adapter Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin) has been an active collaborator on the Alliance’s production.  On their process, Director Tamilla Woodard said, ““It’s humbling to sit in the (virtual) room with one of the greatest lyricists and composers in all of the American theater! [Schwartz] remains so deeply inquisitive of the process and collaborative and trusting as we make our way through this concept and how we would be reshaping the show to include Atlanta voices.”

With original songs by Lin-Manual Miranda, Stephen Schwartz, James Taylor, and more, the Alliance Theatre’s concert staging of WORKING will premiere as part of the “Under the Tent” series. WORKING is presented as part of the Alliance’s Under the Tent series, April 22 – June 6, 2021.  For tickets and information, visit www.alliancetheatre.org/working

Family Fiction Storytelling: Andy Offitt Irwin
& Paul Strickland

2020 November 15
by Susan Asher

When I click the link for the virtual storytelling live streaming video just a couple of minutes after the starting time Saturday night, I don’t even realize the show has begun. A guy is singing what appears to be an original a folk singer, so I click to another web page. I am expecting to see storytelling. I click the link again a couple of minutes later, and folk singer is still on. So I wait. Could this be the comedy duo I was expecting and had read about on Facebook? He begins singing about Bic pens and their value. At the beginning of the school year, he says, you can get a package of 10 for just a dollar he says. Then he talks about the hole in the cap and its purpose, and the little man on the barrel holding a pen. The video screen divides again and again, as individual after individual appears each singing from their own homes about the pen, the cap, and the man holding a pen on the barrel of the pen. I get it. This IS the show. It brings me back to Steve Martin’s early days, playing a banjo, telling wild stories, and acting silly. Oh, yes, this is the show.

 It’s title is “Family Fiction: You can’t choose your family, but you can make one up!,”  and it features storytellers Andy Offitt Irwin and Paul Strickland. Its tagline is “tall tales, music, and fun.” Music! I had forgotten about that.

Performing live virtually, a week ago Saturday, Offitt Irwin played his guitar and sang outside in the dark night standing in front of a fence. Strickland played guitar and talked of the small town where he grew up while sitting on an overstuffed brown couch in what appeared to be his home.

Strickland introduced his story as a triptych revolving around growing up in a town whose name everyone has forgotten and was so small that the local newspaper was called “The Local Newspaper.” His father grew up raised by wool, which he carried on his back. It scratched his skin and died undyed. His father became a psychic who didn’t read palms or tea leaves but the oil on a dipstick. His father was fond of saying, “Just because the shoe fits, doesn’t mean you gotta wear it. Folks don’t like it when you steal their shoes.” On the wall next to the couch where Strickland sits is a framed mustard-yellow canvas with an old brown shoe stuck to its center. He also told a tale about his mother eating all the soup cans that were hidden inside a home wall. She tore the wall down and feasted on the soup for months.

Offitt Irwin later told a story about his Southern Aunt Marguerite going to medical school at age 85, her husband Charles and friend Sally Lynette. On her first date with Charles she repeatedly asked him to pull over to a gas station. He repeatedly said he had plenty of gas and wouldn’t pull over. Marguerite could wait no longer. She peed on the car seat.

Offitt Irwin acted out the roles so well that he became the characters as he described them and the words they had spoken years ago. When Aunt Marguerite was about 90, she was being honored at an event in a nearby town. Sally drove her there when suddenly Marguerite “felt something warm down there” and peed on the car seat.

Strickland has performed at the National Storytelling Festival and in comedy clubs across the country and in Canada. Offitt Irwin is a singer-songwriter, Shakespearean actor, and theater director who won a Storytelling World Award in 2020, and in eight previous years.

Alexandra Bodnarchuk Dancers Virtual Premiere

2020 October 23
by Susan Asher

TITLE: Heritage Sites , a dance film Virtual Premiere
DATES/TIME: October 24 & November 7, 2020 // 5:00pm, & 7:00pm
TICKET COSTS: $20 suggested ticket price (additional Pay-As-Able prices available)
LOCATION: Online
TICKETS: http://alexandrabodnarchuk.org/premiere
DESCRIPTION:
Join Alexandra Bodnarchuk + her artistic team for the virtual premiere of their film, Heritage Sites.
Set in an enigmatic space containing a bathtub, we initially see an interplay between the water and each dancer as they tentatively touch, experience, and immerse themselves in it. Filmed on location in a warehouse in St. Paul, the dancers eventually transcend the confines of the tub to the floor of the space. Moving deftly between the pillars they jump, run, and sway. The film’s most intriguing moments may stem from the intimate shots of individual dancers that capture a glistening tongue, the sound of a breath, and the slap of a thigh up close.
Artistic Associate Brandon Anderson Musser’s soundtrack layers in live sound over a supportive musical landscape that amplifies the vulnerability of the dancers’ performances. Cinematographer Arlo Myren’s camera work creates a world that is unfettered and unconcerned with glamourizing dance. We see dirt on the dancer’s feet and underwear riding up; its presence grounding us in the moment on screen.
Each screening is followed by a discussion with Alexandra and a Guest Speaker on a topic related to her artistic process or ethos (see list below). Q&A to follow. 60 minute run time.
EVENT DETAILS:
OCTOBER 24

5:00 pm – Screening + discussion with Alexandra & 2019 McKnight Dancer Fellow Erin Thompson on The Evolution of Bodies in Dance
7:00 pm – Screening + discussion with Alexandra & Emily Madigan of the Mixed Messages Podcast: Making Work as a Radical Act of Self Love & Rebellion
NOVEMBER 7
5:00 pm – Screening + discussion with Alexandra & Patrick Scully of Patrick’s Cabaret on Dismantling the Starving Artist Archetype
7:00 pm – Screening + discussion with Alexandra & Joseph Hall the Executive Director of the Kelly
Strayhorn Theater on The Evolution of Voice
BIO:
Alexandra Bodnarchuk is a Carpatho-Rusyn-American dance artist. She creates original works that reframe, identify, and re-contextualize her programmed responses to body shaming and the intimate violence of female perpetuated sexism. She pursues the question ‘what is honesty’ as a choreographic prompt and a commitment to the physicality of weight. She frequently collaborates with sound designer Brandon Anderson Musser; they are currently in post-production for Heritage Sites, a dance
film. She is in her third season moving with Black Label Movement.
This work was created through the Works-In-Process Residency at the Center for Performing Arts under the mentorship of April Sellers.

Joe Gransden Big Band
at Callanwolde

2020 October 20
by Susan Asher

Joe Gransden’s 16-piece big band will be playing with Robin Latimore at an outdoor concert at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center Friday, Nov. 6.

Trumpeter Gransden formed his big band in 2009 and has performed around the world. As a singer, he’s been compared to Chet Baker and Frank Sinatra.

Before starting his own band, he played as a sideman with the Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey big bands. He later played with The Moody Blues, Aretha Franklin, and Toshiko Akiyoshi.

Latimore started singing as a child at church revival services, won numerous talent competitions while in college, and joined her first band in 1988. She sings a variety of musical styles, including R&B, rap, country and gospel.

Callanwolde will be implementing a socially distant, seating “pod” structure. Parties will be seated comfortably within each pod and will be 6 feet from all other pods. Callanwolde recommends people purchase tickets as a group, based on their entire party size to ensure the correct pod size.

The outdoor venue opens at 6:30 p.m., and the concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased here.

Alliance Theatre launches virtual play club

2020 April 8
by Susan Asher

COVID-19 be damned! The show must go on!

The Alliance Theatre presents its new virtual Play Club series to showcase the scripts chosen as finalists in its 16th annual Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition.  The Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition has a strong track record of identifying the most exciting new voices in American theatre, including past winners Tarell Alvin McCraney, Madhuri Shekar, Jireh Breon Holder, Mike Lew, Alix Sobler, and Steph Del Rosso.  


This year’s finalists had been scheduled for staged readings as part of the Alliance’s Festival of New Works until the festival was canceled.  Instead of staged readings, the virtual Play Club will follow a book club model: four scripts will be made available on the Alliance Theatre website for audiences to read between April 9 and April 24.  After the scripts have been available for a week, the Alliance will begin hosting a series of free live conversations with the playwright of each play to discuss the script.  


The virtual Play Club series will culminate with an Artists Roundtable Discussion moderated by Rachel Karpf, former Artistic Producer, WP Theater, NYC, and will feature all four Alliance/Kendeda Competition finalists, as well as Atlanta-based playwrights Will Power, Steve Coulter, Kimberly Belflower, Mary Lynn Owen, and Mark Kendall
Virtual Play Club Schedule:

Thursday, April 9 – All four finalists scripts are available to view at www.alliancetheatre.org/virtualplayclub.  

Thursday, April 16, 4:00 p.m. – Unkindness by Logan Faust (NYU Tisch), a conversation with the playwright, director Matt Torney and associate producer, Amanda Watkins.

Friday, April 17, 7:00 p.m. – Djarum Vanilla by Cary J. Simowitz (UCLA), a conversation with the playwright, director Keith Bolden and associate producer, Amanda Watkins.

Thursday, April 23, 4:00 p.m. – Monster by Ava Geyer (UCSD), a conversation with the playwright, director January LaVoy and associate producer, Amanda Watkins.

Friday, April 24, 4:00 p.m. – Stitched with a Sickle and a Hammer by Inna Tsyrlin (Ohio University). In conversation with the playwright, director Lauren Morris and associate producer, Amanda Watkins.

Friday, April 24, 5:30 p.m. – Artists Roundtable Discussion moderated by Rachel Karpf, former Artistic Producer, WP Theater, NYC, and featuring all four Alliance/Kendeda Competition finalists, as well as Atlanta playwrights Will Power, Steve Coulter, Kimberly Belflower, Mary Lynn Owen, and Mark Kendall. 

All virtual events are free and open to the public, but RSVPs are required so that each link to the live conversation may be emailed to participants.  Learn more and RSVP at www.alliancetheatre.org/virtualplayclub

‘Indecent’ at Theatrical Outfit brings magnificence

2020 March 22
by Susan Asher

 “Indecent,” the 2017 Tony Award-nominee for Best Play, is now playing at Theatrical Outfit. This is one the best plays and performances I’ve seen in years.

“Indecent” tells the history of a theater company in the early 1900s when a young Jewish Polish writer, Sholem Asch, wrote a play about the darker side of Jewish life. “God of Vengence” revolved around a Jewish family, living above the husband’s brothel, and the daughter’s love and sexual relationship with a Jewish prostitute. The play was performed in Yiddish for years around Europe and eventually, the theater troupe moved the show to New York where it eventually played on Broadway, was shut down after one performance and got the company thrown in jail for indecency.

The play and cast are outstanding. While crowds are mainly staying at home to combat Covid-19, Theatrical Outfit is staying open and selling general admission seats so people can sit far away from one another. If you’re one to chance getting out, this is one place you need to go.

Directed by Mira Hirsch, musical direction by Chip Epsten, and written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Vogel for “How I Learned to Drive,” “Indecent” runs through March 29 at Theatrical Outfit.

Cast:

Andrew Benator
Stephanie Friedman
Pamela Gold
Brian Kurlander
Clayton Landey
Christina Leidel
Brandon Michael Mayes

Dee Dee Bridgewater at the Rialto Center for the Arts, Saturday, March 7

2020 March 4
by Susan Asher
Dee Dee Bridgewater on NPR Tiny Desk Concert Series

Three-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Dee Dee Bridgewater will perform this Saturday at the Rialto Center for the Arts.

A renowned jazz singer, Bridgewater has performed with Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Max Roach, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the Terence Blanchard Quintet and many others. She is the former host of NPR’s syndicated radio show JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Bridgewater has received seven Grammy Award nominations. In 1975, she won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress for her role in “The Wiz.” I saw her in it when the Northside High School of Performing Arts went to New York over the Thanksgiving Day holidays and saw three Broadway shows. She can be heard on more than 50 albums.

Bridgewater will sing Saturday, March 7 at 8 p.m. at the Rialto Center for the Arts.

Harlan Coben, Emily Griffin Book Talk at MJCCA

2020 February 18
by Susan Asher

A Page from the Book Festival of the MJCCA presents a #1 New York Times bestselling author, Harlan Coben. He and New York Times best-selling author Emily Griffin will discuss his newest book, “The Boy from the Woods,” Wednesday, March 18 at 7:30 p.m.

In Coben’s latest thriller, a man whose past is shrouded in mystery must find a missing teenage girl before her disappearance brings about disastrous consequences for her community and the world. The Harlan Coben author talk and book-signing event will be held at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta – 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody.

Tickets: $35.00 and includes a hardcover copy of the book. For information, visit atlantajcc.org/bookfestival or call 678.812.4002.

‘Maybe Happy Ending’ at Alliance Theatre
Makes You Happy

2020 February 7

There’s no maybe about it. The U.S. debut of “Maybe Happy Ending,” now playing at the Alliance Theatre, will delight you.

This innovative musical about human-like robots in Seoul, Korea, has won six Korean musical awards and the Richard Rodgers Award. But this story is not about robots. It’s about humanity. And the two main characters, Claire (Cathy Ang) and Oliver (Kenny Tran), seem to be as human as any one of us.

Claire and Oliver live in private rooms in a building that houses obsolete helperbots. With no humans for them to service any longer, they live out the rest of their lives in their own rooms without venturing outside their doors. That is until Claire’s charger malfunctions, and to save her life she must cross the hallway to borrow one from her neighbor.

Oliver spends his days pining for his past owner, listening to jazz albums and reading the latest monthly jazz magazine brought to him by the mail carrier. When he hears a knock on his door and sees Claire, he’s reluctant to let her inside. But in time he relents, and within days they become friends.

In time Claire and Oliver find themselves falling in love, but they know they must squash their feelings.

Claire exclaims, “Robots don’t have feelings.”

With lifespans that will expire within a year or two, they must decide whether to keep living with deep feelings for one another only to suffer loss upon the other’s expiration or to end future pain now.

“Maybe Happy Ending,” whose setting takes place in the future, reminds us how similar we are to these helperbots.

The Korean version of “Maybe Happy Ending” won Best Book, Lyrics & Music at the Korean Musical Awards, and the English version was awarded 2017’s Richard Rodgers Production Award by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The Alliance Theatre pairs a wonderful cast with innovative set designs and lighting. A revolving stage instantaneously transports the audience from Oliver’s apartment to Claire’s, to an outside garbage alley. Long rays of horizontal and vertical light beams on frames zoom in and out, blocking out large parts of the set, bringing focus to a tiny portion of a room and a helperbot’s heart.

Book and music by Will Aronson and Hue Park, directed by Michael Arden, “Maybe Happy Ending” runs through Feb. 16 on the Coca-Cola Stage at the Alliance Theatre.

Cast:
Dez Duron . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Gil Brentley
John D. Haggerty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . James
Diana Huey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JiYeon