Smart Reads: Jack Smart Edition #2

As is probably obvious, I’m still trying to figure out this blog’s relationship with my current job which involves taking breaks from writing about theater, film, and TV to write about theater, film, and TV, with a side of writing about theater, film, and TV. There’s a lot of really great material over at Backstage, as well as some fun stuff of mine and other writers I admire on my Twitter. Here are some highlights from the last few weeks!

Robin Williams

Robin Williams on ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’

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Smart Reads: Jack Smart Edition

As you may have noticed, JackSmartReview updates have been few and far between and laaaame. But fear not, readers! My life has been very happily taken over by a full-time job at Backstage, which I highly recommend frequenting even if you’re not a struggling actor type. Here are some highlights from the last month, and if you’re not hearing from this blog as frequently, dear readers, just head over to Backstage.com. There’s something there for all both of you (thanks for reading, Mom and Dad!).

The Simpsons

Did you know I am an expert on famous actors who have guest starred on ‘The Simpsons’?? I am now!

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James Wirt: From New York to ‘Phoenix’

Hey! I interviewed up-and-coming indie star James Wirt for Backstage! Check it.

Phoenix

Photo Source: Courtesy of Cherry Lane

There’s no other way James Wirt would rather be spending his summer than starring opposite Julia Stiles in Scott Organ’s “Phoenix.” Now playing Off-Broadway, the provocative romantic comedy was chosen specifically, says Wirt, from among 10 or 15 plays of which “Phoenix” was his favorite. “It resonated, it had a charming quality, it wasn’t cynical. It was a good play for the summer.”

“Phoenix” is one of several projects giving Wirt’s career some serious momentum after years of working on New York stages. “I got involved because I know the director [Jennifer DeLia]. I did her movie coming out in November called ‘Billy Bates,’ ” he says. “I had met Julia once at the premiere [at] the SoHo Film Festival, and she liked the movie and agreed to do a play with me.” Wirt and Stiles will be acting opposite each other again in the upcoming Mary Pickford film “The First.”

Wirt chats with us about his relationship with live audiences, the crucial advice he got a decade ago, and—full disclosure—his fondness for Backstage.

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Local Theater Is Keeping Austin Weird—and Inviting

Keep Austin Weird! And go there to make theater! Read my piece on the Austin theater scene over at Backstage.

 

In recent decades the population of Austin, Texas, has exploded almost as much as its craving for groundbreaking theater. Thanks to booming tech and entertainment industries, there is a higher demand for art than there are arts organizations producing it. If you’re an actor who marches to the beat of your own drum, pack up your wildest artistic impulse and take it to Austin.

“Austin has grown so much and so fast,” says Nathan Jerkins, associate artistic director of Penfold Theatre Company. “We need more places to produce, so if you can’t find it, you make it.” Many artists refer to Austin as a “maker’s town,” a breeding ground for emerging talent with a distinctly offbeat charm. Much like its renowned music scene, the city’s theaters—from the eccentric devised work of the Rude Mechanicals to ZACH Theatre, the state’s oldest continuously operating company—are fueled by a youthful, entrepreneurial energy. Many burgeoning artists find creative outlets in the city’s parks, warehouses, and bar basements.

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IRT’s Westside Experiment Provides Eureka Moments for Teens

I got to interview a group of youngsters well-versed in the art of experimental theater! Reminded me of my summers teaching musical theater to middle schoolers. The following article appeared in the most recent issue of Backstage magazine, the must-read “Backstage 30” issue! Read it on Backstage.com!

IRT's Westside Experiment

Photo Source: Courtesy IRT

IRT Theater’s Westside Experiment is not your average summer camp.

Instead of mounting a musical or learning to tap dance, teenaged actors immerse themselves in the art of devised theater, developing original work with a professional downtown company. “I think a lot of theater [education] programs are about the spectacle and making sure that the kids have really great costumes for the parents,” said Kori Rushton, producing artistic director of IRT. “This is about the work, this is about the process, this is about the nitty-gritty of the core of the art form.” As evidenced by their exuberant July 19 showcase, teens and experimental theater are a perfect fit.

An offshoot of IRT’s 3B Development Series, the Westside Experiment has for the last three years paired middle school- and high school-aged kids with a theater company for two weeks of unstructured collaboration, physical expression, and improvisation training. This summer’s teaching artists were Qui Nguyen and Robert Ross Parker, co-artistic directors and founders of the Obie Award-winning “geek theatre” group Vampire Cowboys. Their wacky genre-blending approach to devised work matched the youngsters’ bouncy energy, and culminated in three original mini-comedies dubbed “Inquiries of Time Space and Robots.”

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The O’Neill Celebrates 50 Years

My time at the O’Neill Center as a National Critics Fellow culminated in a fabulous, fun anniversary gala. The O’Neill is turning 50, read about it here or over at Backstage! Also, this morning CBS is airing a segment about the O’Neill called “Launchpad of the American Theater.” #oneill50

The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center

The full moon shone over the ocean at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center during its 50th Anniversary Gala July 11. It was a fitting coincidence, as actors Reed Birney and Sally Wingert performed a stirring reading of a play set right there in O’Neill’s New London, Conn., neighborhood: “A Moon for the Misbegotten.”

“We knew that we had two really special actors who really wanted to do that scene, and we had a full moon outside,” said Gregg Wiggans, artistic associate for the National Playwright Conference and director of the gala’s entertainment. “It’s special to George C. White, that particular play. So it’s as much a gift for him as it was for everyone else.”

It was 50 years ago that White discovered what some of the country’s best theater artists now refer to simply as “the O’Neill.” Passing by on a boat, White learned the property’s facilities were going to be burned for a fire exercise. He approached the O’Neill family about turning the grounds into a play development conference instead. “The O’Neill was founded on somebody’s willingness to move forward and take a risk,” said Wiggans. “It’s very much a supporter of the new and the now and what’s next.”

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Community Theater Is Alive and Well and Everywhere

I’m back! Get ready for a deluge of arts journalism realness.

Two weeks ago Backstage featured a piece about the American Association of Community Theatre or AACT, written by yours truly. Read it here, there, and everywhere:

 

Community theater, that wonder of nationwide, volunteer-run artistry, remains as popular as it is miraculous. If you’re a working actor, chances are your dream of theatrical stardom was born on a community theater stage. Unlike the high stakes and cutthroat competition that may dominate professional acting, the amateur theater world brings communities together, inspires local audiences, and launches the careers of emerging thespians. Keeping this magic alive is the American Association of Community Theatre, a substantial resource for community theaters and the starry-eyed enthusiasts who run them.

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