Women of New York

Phew… What a season!
It all started with LPAC’s production of Privatopia by Maria Efstathiadi, where I got to portray a larger than life board member of a gated community, scared of a strange cat and all the other strangers around.
Right after our successful run of 8 shows in two weeks, I was ready for the auditions of Women of New York. A new play that I had written throughout my summer in New York, hanging around the Upper West Side, New York Public Library and Caffe Vivaldi with my straw hat and old laptop.

That laptop went through so many projects, presentations, plays… he’s a proud veteran.
Women of NY_Poster
Design: Emir Gamsizoglu

Women of New York was an ambitious project, with nearly 20 characters, a funky mix of actors and non-actor New Yorkers with diverse ages and backgrounds. That has been one of the key factors in our shows with 4thU-Vday through the years. Now we are 4th U Artivists, carrying the same mission; creating and producing artistic projects/events to raise awareness and funds to stop violence against women and girls. Women of New York was written with the same mission to be premiered by 4th U Artivists. Proceeds benefited three amazing non profits working for women in need; Her Justice (Provides free legal advice for women in need), Restore NYC (Provides services for the victims of sex trafficking) and V-Day (A global movement founded by Eve Ensler the author of The Vagina Monologues).
Feb7_4_FotorOff we started the rehearsal process right before Christmas, most of the early rehearsals were for the monologues, and scenes. Meeting the new cast members one by one and sharing stories, talking about beats, and doing exercises from Spolin and my teacher George Morrison was a real joy as a director and the writer of the play.
IMG_3013Many characters gained their real voices through honest discoveries of the actors playing them. We had several rehearsals in our organizer Deb Roth’s living
room, sipping some hot tea in the breezy cold New York winter. As a theater artist I learned one more time how important it is to open yourself up to your partner and your director. Being vulnerable is the sign of a good actor and theater maker. Our conversations with Tammy (A transgender comedian who performed a part that I had written thinking of her (-Yes, you should totally check her out!), and the rehearsals of mother-daughter scenes with Lynn, Elizabeth, Mary Anne and Shena, as well as our rehearsal with wonderfully talented Niesha who was playing a young woman from Bronx frustrated by the effects of social media and how “real life is not real anymore” were among the gatherings that opened many doors for me.
By the end of February all the small pieces of our puzzle were almost ready to find their places in the big picture. As an actor, I am used to embellishing the piece that I have and, as a director your job is not only guiding the small pieces but also (and more so) creating the whole puzzle.…The colors, and overall shape in which the smaller shapes can find their places and fit in. So there I was in the middle of splashes of colors waiting to find harmony. Those were our ensemble rehearsals where the whole cast got together to rehearse, the group scenes, transitions, entrances, exits, floor plans, sound effects, and lastly music…

Click to enlarge the photos in these collages.

Luckily my favorite jazz musicians in town both happily accepted to be a part of the show, donating their time and talent for the cause. Having Stephanie Layton and John Lander performing some old timey New York tunes from Gershwin and Ellington added another layer to the show, which made the big picture complete for me.
Before we knew it, it was March 11 ; opening night! Viola Spolin’s warm up games and my beloved teacher Lester Shane’s voice warm up set were there with us as we gathered in a circle with the cast. It was my first time coaching Spolin games with a wig on my head and a heavy make up on my face as the “Homeless Woman”. I cannot wait to check out the footage we took from that warm up 🙂
Women of New York had two successful performances in the beautiful Fourth Universalist Society on Central Park West. Several audience members asked me after the show “What is next for the play?”. Hey! We are New Yorkers after all, it’s all about the next step!! Of course I took this question as a compliment. They had enjoyed the show and wanted to see it have a longer run, and maybe share it with their friends. Hopefully that can happen in the near future… New Yorkers asked me how come I knew what New York women go through so well, and how the characters can be so different from each other. My answer is simple; the women of New York! Especially the diverse group of women I got to meet and work with through our “artivist” group over the last 7 years made me aware of women’s issues both current and past. When it was my first time co-directing The Vagina Monologues with 40 women in the cast in 2011, I was terrified. My fear became awe as we moved on to create a terrific show together with so much joy and kindness. Now I say, bring the women on!

Click to enlarge the photos in these collages.

I am impressed by my cast who followed this long journey, and were so attentive on stage and off stage, my crew who was organized, peaceful, supportive and happy, our A-Team; the volunteers, supporters everyone who were happy to support our cause and my fellow artivists Deb, Lynn, Mary Anne, Zafreen, Pangia, Matt, Erin along with my stage managers Aydin, and Cihangir who were there to lift me up when I fell down. And of course my partner in crime, Emir who so relentlessly worked on every detail of the project starting with graphics, and production.
The world premiere of Women of New York featured these talented people;
Lynn Bourbeau, Mary Anne Holliday, Shena Gryffudd, Elizabeth Raia, Maria Severny, Pangia Macri, Tammy Twotone, Niesha Brown, Derya Celikkol, Lisa Curry, Yi Liu, Luisa Alarcon, Amelia Zuver, Deborah Roth, Rebecca Geneve, Joanie Watkins, Ege Maltepe, Antonio Truyols, Zachary Nading, Nick Velkov. Musicians: Stephanie Layton, John Lander.
And lastly, we are still accepting donations!!
Go ahead and click the NY Charities link and all the way on the bottom, you will see a box to donate whichever amount you wish to contribute. I thank you for your contribution on behalf of our beneficiaries and the women who receive services from them.
DONATION PAGE: http://www.nycharities.org/Events/EventLevels.aspx?ETID=8759
Photo credit: Andrei Severny and Luisa Alarcon

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