Announcing Lemon Girls or Art for the Artless

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Written and composed by OBIE Award winning playwright and composer, Ellen Maddow
Directed by Paul Zimet

Lemon Girls or Art for the Artless is a comedic and revelatory music and dance/theater celebration of older women and the thrill of unlikely art. Four long-time friends get talked into being in a performance at a local community center. Like dusty looking geodes that when cracked open reveal sparkling crystals, or pomegranates – dull and leathery on the outside, but filled with voluptuous bunches of red seeds – these women are full of contradictions.

At first we see them as a bunch of empty shell old ladies, cranky about anything new, and almost obliterated by the younger people who have overrun their world, but as they embark on their new adventure – creating dances, singing songs, telling nested stories – they reveal their singular histories, complex relationships, surprising professions, and unorthodox world views.

Cast: Michael Michelle Lynch, Ellen Maddow, Lizzie Olesker, Tina Shepard, Louise Smith, and Jack Wetherall
Choreography by Sean Donovan
Set and Video Design by Anna Kiraly
Costume Design by Kiki Smith
Lighting Design by Mary Ellen Stebbins
Sound Design by Tyler Kieffer
Production Stage Manager: Kristin Rose Kelly

Playing March 11-27, 2022 at La MaMa Downstairs Theatre

Photo credit: Craig Lowy

Announcing Efflorescence

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Efflorescence: A Serial Songspiel

Written and composed by Ellen Maddow

Directed by Paul Zimet

Efflorescence tells the story of six disparate people who have been living together for a year in an old farmhouse in the Catskills that has been transformed into a safe haven for Vulnerable Expendables. The story unfolds over seven nights that coincide with the nights on which each episode will be presented. The characters begin each night by singing together while they wash their hands outside in a tub of warm water. Each night they take a turn telling stories – stories of life-changing encounters with dogs, snakes, obscene plant life, sea nymphs, and the School of Disembodied Poetics. Linking these tales is the story of their evolving relationships – their struggle and fascination with each other and the natural world around them. The first episode begins on a night when a mysterious stranger arrives, shaking up the world they have created for themselves.

The cast of Efflorescence features Will Badgett, Suli Holum, Jax Jackson, Violet Newman, Tina Shepard, Louise Smith and Connie Winston along with musicians Maria Kovacevic and Sam Kulik. Sound design is by Tyler Kieffer with additional musical arrangements by Sam Kulik and Maria Kovacevic.

Free 10-15 minute episodes will be released daily from March 29- April 4, 2021 on and aired at 6:30pm.

On April 6, 2021 at 7pm, La MaMa and Talking band will premiere the full piece followed by a post-show conversation with the artists. Pay What You Can $5 – $25.

* * * * *

A Talking Band film is an Official Selection of the NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival!

ON THE ROOF: A glimpse of NYC in lockdown and a dance on the roof.

Written and Directed by Paul Zimet

Composed by Ellen Maddow

March 10-14. For information about the festival:

Talking Band in the New Year

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Dear Friends,

I want to let you know what we’ve been up to this Fall and Winter, and what’s coming up in the new year.

Lone Shark
Talking Band and the New York Aquarium are joined in an exciting collaboration – a site-specific music theater piece set in the exhibit halls and surroundings of the Aquarium’s new “Ocean Wonders: Sharks” building. Lone Shark tells the interconnected stories of Coney Island residents who live at the edge of the ocean’s hidden world. We will be presenting sixteen performances of the show throughout the month of June, 2020. We’ll let you know performance dates, times, and ticket information soon.

The Following Evening (working title)
Talking Band has commissioned Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone, the Artistic Directors of the acclaimed theater company, 600 Highwaymen, to create a new work for Talking Band. Starting last season they have conducted a series of exploratory workshops with Ellen Maddow and Paul Zimet who will perform in the new work. At the end of March, 2020 following a three week workshop there will be several work-in-progress showings of the piece at La MaMa.

Lemon Girls or Art for the Artless
A comedic celebration of older women, and those who will one day become older women written and composed by Ellen Maddow. Four female friends in their 70’s are roped into creating a performance at the local recreation center. As they embark on their new performance adventure – creating dances, singing songs, and telling nested stories – they reveal their singular histories, complex relationships, unusual interests and unorthodox world views. We had a reading of the show this Fall, and will continue to develop it in workshops it throughout the Spring.

We look forward to seeing you in the New Year!

With warm regards,

Paul Zimet, Artistic Director

A Really Big Show!

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You all know Paul, Ellen and Tina but you might not realize the amazingly talented array of artists they’ve worked with over the years. If you want to experience an encyclopedic, kaleidoscopic, Magical Mystery Tour through Downtown Music and Theater you couldn’t do better than the Talking Band 40th Anniversary Gala on Monday, April 27th at the Ukrainian National Home Ballroom located at 140 2nd Ave!

Just scroll through the bios below to see the incredible range of talent, experience and awesomeness in store! Hope to see you there!

Talking Band 40th Anniversary Gala All-Star Line-up!

WILLIAM BADGETT was a member of Target Margin Theatre for over 15 years and has worked with The Talking Band for nearly 25 years – two New York city based award-winning theater companies. He has performed regionally at The Guthrie Theater, Boston Shakespeare Company, Hartford Stage Company, The Cleveland Playhouse, Trinity Rep, as well as the Shakespeare Theatre in DC, Perseverance Theater in Alaska and others. With the Talking Band he has performed through out Europe, Russia, South America and the States. His work in Target Margin Theater’s translation of Goethe’s Faust parts 1 and 2 was called “a breakthrough performance” in American Theater. TV appearances include: The Shield and 24.

VIVA DECONCINI is Chryssie Hynde meets Jimi Hendrix. Viva plays guitar like a flaming sword, a screaming train, a ringing bell, and a scratching chicken. She sings like if Freddy Mercury had been a woman. She’s played everywhere from Bonnaroo to Monterey Jazz Fest, and is one of the few females to have been featured in Guitar Player Magazine.

MICHAEL EVANS is an improvising drummer/percussionist/ thereminist/composer whose work investigates and embraces the collision of sound and theatrics.While his primary instrument is an unconventionally altered drumset, his work with unusual sound sources includes found objects, homemade instruments, the theremin and various digital and homemade analog electronics. As an active and versatile New York City musician, he has worked with a wide variety of artists of all sorts including Ron Anderson, Jeff Arnal, Audio Artists, Claire Barratt, Samm Bennett, Jac Berrocal, Carla Bley, Naval Cassidy, James Chance, Martha Colburn, Combustible Edison, Lol Coxhill, EasSide Percussion (ESP), Roger Ely (the Devil’s Chaueffeur), Nicolas Dumit Estevez, Ken Filiano, Fast Forward (Gobo), Chris Ferris, Michael Gira (Angels of Light, Swans), Gisburg, Gilbert Godfried, God Is My Co-Pilot, David Grubbs, Alexander Hacke (Einsturzende Neubauten), Susan Hefner, Steve Horowitz’s Code Ensemble, Jarboe (Swans), Pamelia Kurstin, Skip LaPlante’s Music for Homemade Instruments, Zach Layton, Gen Ken Montgomery, Neil Leonard, Aimee Mann, Karen Mantler, Sean G. Meehan, Donald Miller, Eric Mingus, Gordon Monahan, Joe Morris, Michelle Nagai, Anders Nilsson, Evan Parker, Andrea Parkins, Maxime De La Rochefoucauld, William Parker, Yvette Perez’s Birdbrain, Yvette Perez’s Mitra Sumara, Gino Robair, Lary Seven, Elliot Sharp, Moe! Staiano, LaDonna Smith, David Simons, Jesse Stewart, the Talking Band, Toronto Dance Theatre, Stephen Vitiello, Christopher Walken, Jason Willet, Peter Zummo’s Noisy Meditation Band and John Zorn.

JAMES TIGGER! FERGUSON, “The Original King of Boylesque”, is a Stripperformance Artist/Actor/Dancer who has performed in New York & abroad since 1988. A Pioneer in the 90s burlesque renaissance who has been stripping since 1992, he won the 1st-ever boylesque award at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas 2006, plus several Golden Pastie Awards, including “Most Likely to Get Shut Down by the Law” & “Most Unpredictable Performer.” He has performed all around Europe, Australia & North America. His act was banned in Rome’s Gay Village in 2011. He has acted in classics & original works with Taylor Mac, Julie Atlas Muz, Penny Arcade, Target Margin Theater, The Talking Band & other geniuses.

JACK FERVER is a choreographer, writer, performer and teacher based in New York. He has been creating full-length works since 2007. His most recent work, Chambre, a collaboration with visual artist Marc Swanson, premiered at The Fisher Center for the Performing Arts as part of the curation, The House is Open, at Bard College in November, 2014. Ferver premiered All of a Sudden, a collaboration with Joshua Lubin-Levy in 2013 at Abrons Arts Center.  Ferver’s solo Mon, Ma, Mes premiered as part ofCrossing the Line at the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF) in 2012 and returned to FIAF and Abrons Art Center for American Realness in 2013.  His solo, Two Alike, a collaboration with the visual artist Marc Swanson, was presented at Diverse Works in conjunction with The Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston in 2011. The work then premiered in New York at The Kitchen and traveled to the Institute of Contemporary Art in conjunction with Summer Stages Dance in Boston in 2012.  In 2011 Ferver also premiered his duet with Michelle Mola, Me, Michelle, at the Museum of Arts and Design as part of Performa 11.  It returned as part of American Realness at Abrons Art Center. Ferver’s Rumble Ghost premiered at PS 122 in 2010, and was brought back for their COIL Festival in 2011.  His A Movie Star Needs A Movie was commissioned by The New Museum in 2009. It was also presented in American Realness at Abrons Art Center and at Théâtre de Vanves in France. He was the first choreographer to be presented at The New Museum’s current location with I Am Trying to Hear Myself in 2008. He remounted the work at PS 122 in 2009. In 2009 he also premiered his evening length work Death is Certain at Danspace Project. In 2008 Ferver premiered MEAT and in 2007 his first full length work: When We Were Young and Filled With Fear, both at  Dixon Place. As an actor, credits include the film GaybyStrangers With Candy(Comedy Central), and numerous other film and theatre projects. He currently teaches at NYU, Bard College, and has set choreography at The Juilliard School.

KIM GAMBINO graduated from Performing Arts High School and Purchase College. Since 1997, Kim has worked with The Talking Band in The Black Milk Quartet (La Mama e.t.c.), Delicious Rivers, and Imminence to name a few. Kim worked at length with playwright Ruth Margraff and director Tim Maner including The Hawthorne Trilogy (The Ohio Theatre), Night Vision by jazz composer Fred Ho (HERE),The Cry Pitch Carrolls, The Elektra Fugues, and The Centaur Battle of San Jacinto (Dixon Place). She has worked intensively with Puppeteer Ralph Lee and the Mettawee River Theatre Company including The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Brecht and Peace by Aristophanes (St.John’s Cathedral, Lincoln Center). Other theater credits include Still by David Neumann, Hair (European Tour), Singing in the Womb of Angels by Carl Hancock Rux, and Hot Mouth (PS 122). Kim recently performed at the Bluebarn Theatre in Omaha in Bug by Tracey Letts and has been a guest artist teaching and performing at the Great Plains Theatre Conference for the last 2 years. Film: Laws of Gravity, When It’s Over. TV: Officer Larson on Law and Order.

PETER GORDON is an American experimental composer and musician, whose music draws from influences as diverse as jazzoperarock and world music. He has released several albums, and has also composed film and theatre scores. Gordon earned a BA in composition at University of California, San Diego, where he studied with Kenneth Gaburo and Roger Reynolds; he earned an MFA at the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music, where he studied with Robert Ashley and Terry Riley. In addition to his own work, and that with his Love of Life Orchestra, he has appeared on or composed music for albums by Laurie AndersonSuzanne VegaDavid JohansenThe Flying LizardsDavid Van TieghemLawrence Weiner, and Arthur Russell. In 2007, James Murphy and Pat Mahoney of LCD Soundsystem used Gordon’s classic Downtown tracks “Beginning of the Heartbreak” and “Don’t Don’t” to open their highly acclaimed dance mix Fabriclive 36. In 2008 an excerpt of his opera (with artist Lawrence Weiner) “The Society Architect Ponders the Golden Gate Bridge” was issued on the compilation album Crosstalk: American Speech Music (Bridge Records) produced by Mendi + Keith Obadike. Gordon wrote the scores for the serial mystery drama “The Necklace”, presented by The Talking Band. He also worked on the soundtrack to Desperate Housewives. In 2010, DFA Records released remixes by Gordon of “Beginning of the Heartbreak/Don’t Don’t” and “That Hat,” cowritten with Arthur Russell.

DAVID GREENSPAN with Talking Band: Star Messengers and Belize Two performance Obies: one for The Boys in the Band, one for Some Men and Faust; solo renditions of The Patsy, Gertrude Stein’s lecture, Plays and a program of Stein lectures and a playlet entitled Composition… Masterpieces… Identity; and his own plays, most notably Dead Mother, She Stoops to Comedy (Obie), The Argument (Obie), The MyopiaGo Back to Where You Are and I’m Looking for Helen Twelvetrees; Obie Sustained Achievement.

MARIJA KOVACEVIC was born in Belgrade, Serbia, and began playing violin at age 7.  She was trained from the age of 10 at The School for Musically Gifted Children, a boarding school exclusively devoted to string instruments, one of only three such schools in all of Europe. As a solo and ensemble player throughout this period, Marija won multiple musical festival awards and earned summa cum laude distinctions. In 2008 she earned her Masters degree from University for Music Arts in Belgrade, where she studied under Thomas Hagen, Yuri Bashmet, Gordan Nikolic, the Prague Quartet, the Bartok Quartet, the Artist Quartet and the Petersen Quartet.  Marija has performed across Europe in chamber and orchestra ensembles. She currently resides in New York City where she plays classical and tango music and is violinist for The Talking Band Theater Company.

SAM KULIK has appeared in two Talking Band productions, Delicious Rivers (2006) and The Peripherals (2012). He has also worked with like-minded theater makers Ralph Lee (the Mettawee River Theater Company) and Pete McCabe. His own band is called Escape From Society and he is currently working on a recording that synthesizes his love of baseball and his compositional and instrumental talents.

HARRY MANN (Saxophone/Composer/Actor) was a member of the Talking Band for many years and congratulates them on their fortieth birthday and thanks them for all the fun, adventures, and visionary theatrical know-how.

THERESA MCCARTHY has had the privilege to work with incredible artists such as directors Tina Landau, Ann Bogart and Richard Jones, conductors Ted Sperling and Marin Alsop, playwrights Chuck Mee & Peter Stone, and composers, Adam Guettel, Ricky Ian Gordon, Michael John LaChiusa and Maury Yeston. Performance highlights include being a member of the original cast of the Tony award winning Broadway musical TITANIC; originating roles in numerous plays and musicals off-Broadway and regionally; appearing as featured vocalist on several recordings including, FLOYD COLLINS, MYTHS AND HYMNS, BRIGHT EYED JOY, and THE FROGS/EVENING PRIMROSE. In 2000, she founded a professional theater in Northern Michigan where she directed MACBETH, GRIMM TALES, ART, and PIGEON RIVER OPERA and taught acting, The Viewpoints, and Shakespeare techniques to students of all ages. There she received grants from the NEA, Michigan Council for the Arts and Culture and others to produce original works and provide arts programming for under-served communities. Currently Theresa is Head of New Music Theater Collaborative at NYU Tisch School of the Arts Playwrights Horizons Theater School (PHTS).

TOM NELLIS Broadway: Enron; The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, Aida. Off Broadway: Road Show, Richard III, Henry IV, the title role in Henry VI, The Merchant of Venice, ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore (Public Theater); Doris to Darlene (Playwrights Horizons); Ipheginia 2.0, Hot ‘N’ Throbbin, (Signature Theater); Orlando (Classic Stage Company); Septimus and Clarissa (Ripe Time); The Merchant of Venice (Theater for a New Audience, The Royal Shakespeare Company); Ahab in Laurie Anderson’s Songs and Stories from Moby Dick (BAM/World Tour); The Blue Sky is a Curse (The Talking Band); Dionysus (Suzuki Company of Toga); Oscar Wilde in Gross Indecencies (Minetta Lane); Hot Mouth (Manhattan Theater Club); Pearls for Pigs (Richard Foreman/World Tour); The Trojan Woman/A Love Story, Strange Feet, Another Person is a Foreign Country (En Garde Arts). Mr. Nelis is a founding member of SITI Co, Anne Bogart Artistic Director and as such has appeared in Cafe Variations, American Document, Antigone, Under Construction, Score, bobraushenbergamerica, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, War of the Worlds, Going, Going, Going, The Medium, and Orestes. Nelis teaches Suzuki and Viewpoints training for SITI and is on the faculty of Barnard College.  Awards: OBIE (THE MEDIUM), Drama League Nomination (SCORE), San Diego Critics Ensemble Award, (WINTERTIME), Barrymore Nomination (CANDIDE). MFA, UC San Diego.

STEVEN RATTAZZI: With Talking Band: Painted Snake on a Painted Chair, Belize, Imminence, New Islands Archipelago, Walk Across America For Mother Earth, Marcellus Shale. New York: City Of (Playwrights Realm), Marie Antoinette (Soho Rep), Galileo (CSC w/F. Murray Abraham), The Tempest (Target Margin), Spy Garbo (3LD), Henry V (NYSF w/Liev Schrieber), David Adjmi’s Stunnning (Lincoln Center), Dinner Party (dir.David Herskovits), The Tempest (w/Mandy Patinkin), Age of Iron (dir.Brian Kulick), Therese Raquin (dir.David Esbjornson), McGurk (ERS), The Fourth Sister (dir.Lisa Peterson), Samuel’s Major Problems (Richard Foreman). Regional: The School for Wives (Two River Theater), Marie Antoinette (A.R.T and Yale Rep), The Lovesong of J. Robert Oppenheimer (dir.Mark Wing-Davey), Really Rosie (Maurice Sendak). TV: The Venture Brothers (Dr. Orpheus). Film: The Family (Luc Besson).

RANDY REYES, Artistic Director of Mu Performing Arts, graduated from The Juilliard School Drama Division in 1999 and has worked as a professional actor, director, and theater educator in theaters and educational institutions including The Guthrie, Mixed Blood, Ten Thousand Things, Thirst Theater, Chicago Ave. Project, The Playwrights’ Center, Cincinnati Playhouse, Seattle Children’s Theatre, NYU Graduate Acting Program, University of Minnesota/Guthrie BFA Acting Program, Wagner College, The University of Utah, Augsburg College, and Macalester College. He is a board member of the Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists (CAATA) and the Minnesota Theater Alliance.  Randy also represents Mu as a member of the newly formed Twin Cities Theater of Color Coalition (TCTCC) along with Penumbra, New Native, Pangea World Theatre, and Teatro Del Pueblo. Acting credits include FOB, A Little Night Music, Yellowface, Little Shop of Horrors, The Romance of Magno Rubio, at Mu Performing Arts, M. Butterfly, The Government InspectorA Midsummer Night’s Dream, both “Dromios” in Comedy of Errors at the Guthrie, Pacific Overtures at the Alliance/Cincinnati Playhouse/North Shore Theater, and Tibet Through the Red Box by David Henry Hwang at Seattle’s Children’s Theater.

MICHELLE RIOS has performed throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe in numerous theatrical, operatic, and concert venues. Her credits include featured roles in the Broadway productions The Capeman by Paul Simon & Derek Walcott, and the Tony Award nominated revivals of The Sound of Music and Man of La Mancha. She also appeared Off-Broadway as “Abuela Claudia” in the Tony Award Best Musical In the Heights, and originated the role of “Maria Elena” in Elizabeth Swados’ Missionaries at La MaMa, ETC., and at New York Stage and Film. Ms. Rios also appeared with the Talking Band as “Miss Fitz” in Bitteroot and as “Salviati” in Star Messengers, both at La MaMa, ETC..

PETER SAMELSON insists he doesn’t do magic, he only helps people to see it. He combines twin passions – magic and theater – to carve out a unique place in the world of show business. He has been a supporter of Talking Band since first seeing Worksong, then consulting on Pedro Paramo, and finally collaborating on and performing Radnevsky’s Real Magic. Christened “the soft-spoken conceptualist of sorcery” by the New York Times, Peter is a producer of Monday Night Magic, New York’s longest running Off-Broadway Magic Show, where he headlines throughout the year. He designs illusions for television, film and theater, including Sam Mendes productions at BAM and the Old Vic (London) and for the Broadway shows, Leap of Faith and Harvey. He created and starred in two other critically acclaimed Off-Broadway shows; The MagicianPaperWork, and is the author of the book Theatrical Close Up.

KAMALA SANKARAM has appeared with Beth Morrison Projects, the Philip Glass Ensemble, and the Wooster Group, among others. She is the currently the frontwoman for world music ensemble, Bombay Rickey. Also a composer, awards and grants include: Jonathan Larson Award, NY Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical, Opera America, NEA ArtWorks, and MAP Fund. Residencies: Civilians R and D Group, HERE Artist Residency Program, the MacDowell Colony, the Watermill Center. In addition to her musical pursuits, Kamala holds a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology and can be heard as a voice on the Cartoon Network show Superjail.

“BLUE” GENE TYRANNY, composer and pianist of avant garde music, has toured extensively in solo and group concerts throughout the U.S., Europe, Canada, Mexico and Brazil. He also played in teenage rock bands and for a gospel church. He has composed over fifty works for electronic, instrumental and vocal ensembles, over thirty film and video soundtracks, and fifty scores for dance and theatre productions. He has performed on many albums and performed with such diverse performer-composers as Robert Ashley, Peter Gordon, Laurie Andersen, John Cage, Leroy Jenkins, David Behrman, Brenda Hutchinson, Jon Gibson, William Duckworth (The Cathedral Band), Phil Perkins, Ben Manley, Carla Bley, Iggy Pop, Lise Vachon and many others. He has published articles including the 20th Century Avant-Garde section of the recent All-Music Guide (Miller-Freeman, 1993, 1995, 1997).

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III is a singer- songwriter and actor. He has recorded over 25 albums including the 2010 Grammy Award winning “High, Wide, & Handsome ”. Wainwright’s songs have been recorded by , among others ,Johnny Cash , Bonnie Raitt, Mose Allison, Earl Scruggs, and Rufus Wainwright. As an actor he has appeared on TV (“M.A.S.H.”, “Ally McBeal, “Undeclared”), in movies (“Big Fish”, “The Aviator”, “Knocked Up”), on Broadway (“Pump Boys & Dinettes”) and off Off-Broadway (“Hot Lunch Apostles”). His one man theatrical piece “Surviving Twin” will be presented on Wednesday nights this June at Subculture (45 Bleecker St). “Mr. Wainwright wrings more truth out of his contradiction than any other songwriter of his generation”- Stephen Holden, The New York Times,

JACK WETHERALL is a distinguished artist in theatre, television and film. With the Talking Band: TRISTAN AND ISOLDE, PEDRO PARAMO, HOT LUNCH APOSTLES, THE FURIES, THE WALK ACROSS AMERICA FOR MOTHER EARTH. Over 40 Years in the Theatre including Broadway(title role in THE ELEPHANT MAN); Stratford, Canada (“Orlando” in AS YOU LIKE IT and “Konstantin” in THE SEAGULL, opposite Dame Maggie Smith) and Regional Theatre (title role in CYRANO DE BERGERAC at the Guthrie). Television and Film: “Vic” in the Showtime series QUEER AS FOLK, 4 seasons.

What’s Next for Talking Band

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As we’ve been preparing for our upcoming 40th Anniversary Gala, we’ve had fun looking through our archives, revisiting songs from our plays and reaching out to our extended network of friends, family and collaborators past and present. We’re looking forward to celebrating those relationships, our community, and the great plays we’ve built together. We’re also thinking about the future.

Over the next year we will be embarking on some significant projects including Burnished By Grief, a new play with music, written and composed by Ellen and directed by me; a national project developing unique, individual, community-engaged productions of Talking Band’s Marcellus Shale in communities affected by, or concerned with, fracking; and continuing our Performance Lab program.

People who have worked with Talking Band are familiar with our ensemble approach and process-driven aesthetic, the way we gather artists together for collaborative workshops and productions in a process that can span months or years rather than mere weeks. What makes this possible is our Performance Lab, an ongoing and evolving creative workshop where we cultivate the seeds of new plays and test new creative processes and methodologies. Work begun in the Performance Lab is allowed to evolve organically, with some ideas maturing into production as the company founders find it ready, while other ideas may have no ambition for public presentation, serving instead to educate and enrich the artists themselves as a form of ongoing training and collaborative research.

We believe our work demonstrates that there is something worth preserving and cultivating in this process. At a time when the theater is bowing more than ever to pressures of time and economy, we believe there is another way.

We are proud and honored to see how many of the artists who have worked with us in the Lab over the years have started their own companies or gone on to become accomplished, admired theater artists in their own right. The Performance Lab has become an important place for our own research and for providing a platform for early career theater artists to develop their skills.

This year in the Performance Lab, our experiments will focus on creating theater pieces devised from contemporary classical music and still photography. Right now we’re thinking about it in terms of “music/moving time” juxtaposed with “photography/still time”.

Choreographers often use music as their inspiration. And while playwrights sometimes refer to a piece of music that is important to a character, memory, or mood, the music generally remains incidental (i.e. a reference point or a soundtrack).

We are ultimately interested in a piece in which a chamber ensemble of musicians would be at the center of the work, and the story, imagery and action emanates from what they are playing.   We are interested in exploring how the melodic, harmonic, and tempo shifts in the music either dictate the action or act as a counterpoint to it. In one sense this musical exploration would be an extension of our exploration of time: in this case the moving time of music.

For the “photography/still time” component we will be working with long-time collaborator photographer Suzanne Opton – as well as with images from other photographers – to examine the power in the contemplation of a still/stopped moment.   What does this captured moment imply about the moments before it, and the moments to follow?

We’re also excited about a really new project, a unique “tour” of 2013’s play Marcellus Shale which tells the story of a community fractured by natural gas drilling. Rather than presenting “our” production of Marcellus Shale, we are connecting with community and producing partners in five communities around the country affected by natural gas drilling, and collaborating with them as they create their own interpretations of the play, using local artists and tailored to the needs and aesthetic of their community. In the process, we will train local artists in our unique methodology developed over 40 years, and create a national dialogue based on how these diverse communities engage with a single piece of theater.

Training local and emerging artists to create their own experimental versions of Marcellus Shale around the country is in many ways far more time consuming and risky than simply re-presenting a version of the play our company is now well-versed in. But we believe communities will engage with the play more deeply when they see themselves in the art, and their artists will be better served by creating the art as opposed to simply viewing it.

And finally, as if that weren’t enough, we’ll be producing Burnished By Grief in Spring 2016. It is still in development, but Ellen describes the play as “a sinister romantic comedy,” in which Tony Hudson, a seventy year old African American homeowner, decides to convert the basement of his Brooklyn home into a garden apartment, in order to help finance the purchase of a condo for his daughter, Blossom. His solid sense of himself becomes fractured when his generosity and vulnerability is exploited by a parasitic tenant and her intimidating boyfriend. The play’s five characters share a longing for a pocket of stillness, a relief from loneliness and the possibility of falling head over heels in love with their opposites. But they are set against each other in a city of scrambled energy and the overlapping realities of race, culture, and generations.

We are fortunate to have been able to do this work for 40 years, and we are excited by what the future holds. We’re still growing, learning and creating and hope to continue for many years to come. Your past support has made this possible; your support today will make possible the future.

Please join us on Monday, April 27th at the Ukrainian National Home Ballroom for our 40th Anniversary Gala to celebrate how far we’ve come and support us as we look to the future. If you can’t attend on the 27th, please consider making a donation. We’ve got a $14K match and your support now will make a real difference.

Thanks and see you soon!


Rediscovering Our Repertoire, Planning the Party

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In preparation for Talking Band’s 40th Anniversary Party, Ellen Maddow and I have been listening to cassette tapes, video tracks, CD’s, and MP3s of 40 years of Talking Band music. We are choosing the songs from past shows, which a stellar group of singers and musicians will be performing at the Party.   There is a lot to choose from. We are looking for songs from a wide range of our past shows, contrasting musical styles and moods, songs that the performers said they wanted to sing, and mostly songs that we still love. We also want to have some songs sung by the original performers, and other songs, in new musical arrangements, covered by performers who hadn’t done them before. We have narrowed down our list to about twenty songs going as far back as Bedroom Suite (1984), Ellen’s first show about the avant-garde housewife, Betty Suffer, and as recent as this year’s The Golden Toad. In between there will be songs from: Black Milk Quartet (1989), Party Time (1996), Star Messengers (2000), Bitterroot (2001), New Islands Archipelago (2010), The Peripherals (2012), and more.

The process of selection has been a great excuse for Ellen and me to dip into the rich archive of the Talking Band’s past work, uncover some wonderful material (as well as some not so wonderful material) that we had forgotten, and especially to be reminded of the fabulous work of so many artistic collaborators over the last four decades. We are truly excited that we will get to re-connect with many of these artists – some of whom are coming from great distances to perform in the celebration.

In addition to being a celebration of 40 years of creating theater, the Gala on April 27th is also a fundraiser. When you buy a ticket you will be helping Talking Band to continue bringing you new theater and music for years to come. Next season, we will produce a new play by Ellen Maddow, Burnished by Grief; launch the Marcellus Shale Project – a national initiative to develop regional productions of Talking Band’s play Marcellus Shale in communities effected by fracking; and start new theatrical explorations in the Talking Band’s Performance Lab on music, photography and time (the fruits of which will undoubtedly find their way into new work).

We have set a goal this year of raising $40,000 from individual contributions, and we are already halfway to our goal. In addition, two generous supporters, in honor of our 40th,  have created a $10,000 matching grant so that your contribution (whether it’s through a ticket purchase or a donation) will be doubled! So please join us! Bring your friends! Spread the word! You can buy a ticket and/or make a contribution here.

Listen to the song that Lou Reed said “should be a  hit single!” and then come to the 40th Anniversary gala on the 27th to hear it live and in person. This is “Hello Stranger” from Bitterroot (Music-Peter Gordon, Lyrics-Paul Zimet, Performed by Michelle Rios):

Reflections on Budapest -Theater and Cultural Politics

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Budapest is a beautiful city of fin de siècle buildings and graceful bridges connecting Buda and Pest on either side of the gently curving Danube. From the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th, Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which dominated much of Europe, but most of the 20th century was a disaster for Hungary: it was on the losing side in World War I; occupied by Germany in World War II; and then under Communist rule for forty years. Now it is a parliamentary democracy led by Prime Minister Victor Orban of the right wing Fidesz party, which was re-elected a year ago with a two-thirds majority.

Ellen Maddow and I had been in Hungary in 2008 when I directed her play, Flip Side (translated into Hungarian) at the National Theater in Debrecen, Hungary’s second largest city.

Ellen Maddow's "Flip Side" in Hungary.

Ellen Maddow’s “Flip Side” in Hungary.

This month we returned to Hungary, where we were invited along with almost fifty U.S. theater and dance artists, presenters, artistic directors, and journalists to attend the Dunapart 3 Festival of the Performing Arts in Budapest. The trip was organized by the Center for International Theater Development and funded by the Trust for Mutual Understanding. I saw thirteen productions in eight days, attended panel discussions, and talked over many coffees with theater professionals from Hungary, the U.S. and other countries.

In an introductory panel discussion Hungarian art critics framed the festival in the context of the country’s current cultural politics.   The festival showcased the work of independent theater and dance companies. These companies are small relative to the state sponsored National theaters, however most of them also receive subsidies from the government. Now the increasingly nationalistic and authoritarian rhetoric and policies of the Orban government make them feel under attack, and their existence threatened. Grants to small companies have been cut drastically and in some cases eliminated, while large sums have been given to the state sponsored theaters. The Minister of Culture comes from the far-right wing Jobbik party, known for it’s anti-Jewish, anti-Roma, anti-gay platform. (In 2008 Ellen and I saw a small, motley group of Jobbik members parade in black shirts in the central plaza of Debrecen. Back then they were an extreme fringe party: in the most recent election they won twenty percent of the vote).

Cuts in governmental funding for the arts are not news for U.S. artists. The National Endowment for the Arts, under pressure from the right, stopped funding provocative individual artists years ago.  State and local governments responded to a souring economy by slashing their arts budgets. Hungary is a country of only ten million people yet their government still spends the same amount on the arts as the NEA does for the whole of the U.S.

What’s different in Hungary is that there is no private sector support for the arts. There are no Kickstarter campaigns. Foundations, corporations, or individuals don’t give to the arts, because under Communist and then Socialist regimes that was considered to be a government responsibility.   So, the Hungarian artists experience their new reality as a crisis – some companies have announced they are disbanding, others are struggling to find new ways to survive.   Moreover, they view this struggle as part of a larger political struggle against a regime that is effectively stifling opposing voices and any art that does not reflect Hungarian traditional/nationalist values.

Most of the productions I saw at the festival were responding to this new political reality.

Loser by Árpád Schilling and his company Krétakör is the most direct response to the government’s cultural policy. Krétakör, one of Hungary’s celebrated theater companies, has announced that this will be their last production. Loser starts with Schilling alone on stage. He tells the audience how the company’s government grant has been denied; of his unsuccessful attempts to get an explanation; and of his public protests. He then strips naked and invites audience members to come up and write with a marking pen on his body what they think he should do.   He is joined on stage by his wife, who disapproves of his behavior, and then by other members of the company. In a chaotic series of scene fragments Schilling mocks himself: he shows himself as a superhero, as a wife beater, and as a whining, diapered infantilized man – in short as a loser.

a scene from Béla Pintér and Company's "Our Secrets"

A scene from Béla Pintér and Company’s “Our Secrets”

Our Secrets, written and directed by Bela Pinter for his company, is set in a “dance house” in the 1980’s when the communist regime sanctioned the Hungarian folk dance revival as an acceptable art form. During that time, the regime also exerted control through a vast network of informers, and it coerced many ordinary citizens to spy on each other. These informers have never been named, and many believe that a number of them hold high offices in the present Oban government. The actors – like many of the actors I saw at the festival- are skilled and versatile. They play multiple characters of different genders and ages, and they are also the musicians and dancers.  The back wall of the set is dominated by two giant spools of a tape recorder –they could be playing back music, or secretly recording conversations, or grinding relentlessly like the enormous machine cogs in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. The end of the play jumps ahead in time: an informer who has destroyed his friend is now Prime Minister.

Sociopoly is a theater event that is set up like a game of monopoly. The audience is divided into four teams of poor families.   Each family must make choices about how they will survive for the month.   They are given a list of basic expenses – food, rent, transportation etc. – then actors play out different scenarios, for example the father is offered a part time construction job but then the family can no longer take welfare payments. The father can decide to work off the books but then there is no guarantee that he will be paid. Or, a child needs eye glasses in order to stay in school, but the money for the glasses either has to come from the food budget, or from a loan shark who charges exorbitant interest. Then the family/team decides what to do. The game is presided over by a real life sociologist who describes the actual economic realities facing poor families in Hungary. When I played, only one of the four families was able to get through the month: even then one felt it was just pure luck, and that it was unlikely that they would stay afloat the following month.

Given the political climate even the classical plays I saw appeared through the lens of contemporary politics. In an exuberant Twelfth Night, Malvolio, portrayed as an authoritarian, puritanical official, is undone by the riotous, free spirited Toby Belch, Andrew Aguecheek, and Maria. An austere production of Schiller’s Mary Stuart evokes the intrigues of those in power. In an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello, the director, Sándor Zsótér placed all the action in a contemporary kitchen, thereby signaling that the treachery, violence and racism depicted should not be considered something of the past. I didn’t list love or passion because there was little of either. Iago was the only character who showed passion – or any energy for that matter – and his passion was for manipulation, deception and revenge. The other characters’ speech and behavior was flat and detached. I found this a puzzling choice. It eliminated any sympathy or even interest I might have in the fates of Othello and Desdemona. When the actors in a Richard Maxwell play perform with affectless minimalism, I still feel the soulfulness of Maxwell’s characters, and believe that the choice to play down emotions comes out of discretion – a wish not to smother the characters with overacting. In contrast, the performances in this Othello left me cold and enervated.

The next day I spoke about the production with John Freedman, the arts critic for the Moscow Times, an English language newspaper in Russia. He loved the show and thought it made a powerful political statement. For him, the director was mocking a kind of detached, apathetic stance that has become pervasive in Russia and parts of Eastern Europe. He said that people – especially younger people – have become so beaten down, and disillusioned by the politics in their countries, that they have adopted a pose of cool indifference. John has lived in Russia and written about culture there for over thirty years, so I trust he is seeing something real that was not apparent to me. It was a stark reminder to me of how what we see is shaped by context.

I think this was also true in the way some members of the U.S. theater contingent reacted to the violence directed at women characters in a number of the productions. Men hit women, leer at them, make obscene gestures at them, insult them. In panel discussions, Hungarian critics and artists talked about the ingrained male dominance in Hungary. Women do not hold positions of power in the government. In the theater there are only a handful of women directors. While some American viewers saw the onstage behavior as a gratuitous reinforcement, and possible promotion, of violence towards women, Hungarian theater goers might see the depictions both as a reflection and critique of their culture.

Photo of "Joan of Arc at the Stake" at the Hungarian National Theater

Photo of “Joan of Arc at the Stake” at the Hungarian National Theater

On the last day of my stay in Budapest I went to see a production outside of the festival: The National Theater’s production of Joan of Arc at the Stake, an oratorio by Arthur Honneger and Paul Claudel.  As Joan of Arc is about to be burned to death she sees her life flash before her eyes. The production directed by the National’s Artistic Director Attila Vidnyanszky was enormous: there were 150 performers including dancers and several choirs onstage plus a full orchestra in the pit. Sections of the stage continuously rose and descended on hydraulics lifting the cast high into the air or below stage level. Churches, heavenly meadows, and a massive wall of books flew in and out. There were angels, devils, priests, characters with pigs heads, whole choruses with gargoyle heads, chefs and feasts, dancers in folkloric costumes, dancers in tights, hooded acrobats, a man in a dress suit who rolled in on a fantastically ornate metal contraption. And so on. The production was a display of excess – let’s show everything we are capable of doing with our tremendous technical capabilities and our large budget. (I was told that the budget for the set alone would fund all the independent theaters in Hungary). The libretto concerned faith, not politics. Yet the production was political as all art is either by intention or default: it either challenges or reinforces the status quo. This Joan of Arc endorsed an aesthetic of monumentality – to my foreigners’ eyes it primary intent was to impress, even to overwhelm. But the response from the sparse, elderly audience was tepid. The real excitement was elsewhere.

Talking Band 40th Anniversary Party

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We’re turning 40 and we’re having a party on Monday, April 27th at the Ukrainian National Home on 2nd Ave in the East Village!

We plan to have many of the extraordinary performers we have worked with over the years sing songs, and play music, from 40 years of Talking Band shows.  The list of performers is growing, so far the line-up includes: David Greenspan, Loudon Wainwright III, Theresa McCarthy, Kamala Sankaram, Peter Gordon, Kim Gambino, Steven Rattazzi, Tom Nellis, Randy Reyes, Michelle Rios, William Badgett, Viva deConcini,  Sam Kulik, Jonathan Hart Makwaia, Harry Mann and of course, Tina Shepard, Ellen Maddow, and Paul! It will be an amazing, joyful event and we want all of you to join us at the celebration.  So mark that in your calendars now and we will let you know more soon.

Also as part of our 40th Birthday Celebration we’re reconnecting with all our friends, new and old. Remember to click here to “Like” us on Facebook, where we’ll be sharing interviews with collaborators past and present, video clips, photos, and invites to special events.

If you have a Talking Band memory, picture, song, video, or story to tell, please join us on Facebook and share with us! And if you know people out in the world who have been part of the Talking Band family, let them know we’re on Facebook and encourage them to get in touch.

Thank you for being a part of Talking Band’s history – and future. We’re looking forward to celebrating with you!

A Letter from Paul

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Dear Friends,

I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who joined us at LaMama over the last few weeks for The Golden Toad, and to say how deeply satisfying it was to finally put together all four episodes – plus an epilogue! – and share it with you after two years of research and development. This long developmental period allowed us the time to explore, refine the writing, and deepen the work of the ensemble – and we couldn’t have done it without you. A group of committed audience members who saw some or all of the episodes as works-in-progress in their original sites formed an essential part of the creative process by supporting our wonderful group of performers and artistic collaborators.

Part of the adventure of each site-specific episode was a certain degree of seat-of-your-pants unpredictability and intermingling of audience and performers. These performances were a lot of fun to put on, but frankly, I was worried about how it would all translate into a theater space. Fortunately, with the help of our brilliant designers, cast, and technical crew I think we pulled it off. Whatever was lost by not being in the actual locations, was more than made up for by getting to know the characters through the whole trajectory of the story.

We were pleased to receive some terrific press coverage for the show and if you haven’t read any of it yet, you can find links to select press here. But even more meaningful to us has been the extraordinary outpouring of enthusiasm we received from audience members – old friends, new friends and strangers alike – after the show, in emails, on Facebook and on blogs.

Many of you probably know Ellie Covan, founder and guiding light of Dixon Place and long-time Talking Band supporter who wrote to us after show, “wow (shaking my head back n forth…). anything i could say would b insufficient. I had an amazing experience. I’m soooo happy/fortunate I got to see it. Honestly, i’ve never seen anything like it. Thank you so, so much for an incredible adventure.”

A new arrival in the extended Talking Band community, the promising young musician Jonathan Ragonese, wrote, “I cannot express to you how much I enjoyed your play. Your show was the first thing I have come in contact with in [a long time] that has been utterly uncompromising, fun, and filled with a sense of depth that most things lack.”

Jan Cohen Cruz left us a note on Facebook saying, “Dionisio and I were moved and delighted by The Golden Toad. We were especially struck by it as a reflection on aging, and so enjoyable. Thank you all!

Our longtime friend, colleague and former collaborator Jean-Claude van Itallie said, “I had the pleasure of watching my old friends and colleagues of the Talking Band — Paul Zimet, Ellen Maddow, Tina Shepherd et al — in a fantastical, whimsical three and a half hour (for once long theatre is good theatre) light-hearted, touching, musical, quirky, funny extravaganza called Golden Toad that they created. Between old friends performing and other old friends mesmerized by them in the audience, my realities were pleasantly confused. Go see Golden Toad. It’s wild and unique.”

Ronnie Scharfman wrote, “Joe and I have been musing, smiling, tearing up and exchanging impressions all weekend of your marvelous “Golden Toad”. It is quintessential Talking Band – zany, inspired, surprising, inventive, poetic, hilarious, imaginative and deeply moving.  This time, though – is it our age and the poignancy of loss, or your 40 some-odd years of endless creative searching and researching, or the constant commitment to your collective process and the community that has fostered? – the whole work, in its novelistic breadth, has the feeling of burnished copper.  It is deep and shines with a patina of emotion and wisdom as well as theatrical brilliance We wanted to thank you for all the years that your work has brought joy to our spirits and stimulation to our minds.  May there be many more!”

Frank Paiva told us “I really loved it. Fantastic music. Fantastic performances … I was sad to see it end. Looking forward to the next show and the one after that and the one after that!”

And Rev. M. Zell Schwartzman wrote us saying, “The final coda/tableau captures the shimmering aura of inevitability – and we (who had become friends) have now known what you have made for us to know – that we, indeed, have always been family.  And what a tree we be!  As theater it’s Talking Band at its heart centered best – –ultimately, brilliantly, so completely satisfying! “

“We who had become friends had always been family and what a tree we be!” And as the character Amethyst (indelibly played by Tina Shepard) sings at the end of Episode 4, “What’s Next?”

Well, we have a number of projects percolating in our heads and will fill you in on all that soon enough. But the next big event is 40th Anniversary Celebration/Gala/Bash on Monday, April 27. We plan to have many of the extraordinary performers we have worked with over the years sing songs, and play music, from 40 years of Talking Band shows.

The list of performers is growing, so far the line-up includes: David Greenspan, Loudon Wainwright III, Theresa McCarthy, Kamala Sakaram, Peter Gordon, Kim Gambino, Steven Rattazzi, Tom Nellis, Randy Reyes, Michelle Rios, William Badgett, Viva deConcini, Sam Kulik, Jonathan Hart Makwaia, Harry Mann, and of course, Tina Shepard, Ellen Maddow, and myself! It will be an amazing, joyful event and we want all of you to join us at the celebration. So mark that in your calendars now and we will let you know more soon.

With gratitude to you all for the theatrical journeys you have taken with us,


Golden Toad Press

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We had a great time making and performing The Golden Toad, audiences loved it and we got some great press to boot! Here are links to some reviews:

The Golden Toad was a Time Out NY Critic’s Pick! Read Helen Shaw’s review here.

The New York Times called The Golden Toad an “amusing journey of discovery” that “is like doing a jigsaw puzzle with friends”. Read Neil Genzlinger’s review here.

Curve Magazine says The Golden Toad is a “whimsical journey,” an “evening of theatre that’s not to be missed”! Check out the review here.

Kathryn Paulsen wrote “…The Golden Toad is about time, change, aging, art, love, loss, and chance–among other things. It’s beautiful and complex, rich and strange, funny and moving–altogether a masterwork.” Read  her review here.