B Street Weekly: October 1 – 7

Last week at The Sofia saw the arrival of our new roommate, Tea Bar & Fusion Cafe, plus the continued run of Ironbound, and continued rehearsals for Treasure Island and Mathematical Madness. Scroll down to see all the great photos from this past week.

Tea Bar & Fusion Cafe officially opened on October 1 and the B Street Theatre cannot get enough of those scrumptious teas and delicious, healthy snacks! Come check out this amazing new restaurant in Sacramento.

 

B Street Theatre continues to bring a variety of programming to the Sacramento area. Next week, we’ll have three productions running: Ironbound on the Mainstage, Treasure Island in the Family Series, and Mathematical Madness touring hundreds of schools throughout the area.

Ironbound cast members Dana Brooke and Sam Kebede made a visit to Capital Public Radio and had a great conversation on Insight about the play and its significance in today’s world. Listen to the segment here.

Thanks @momokapeachy for coming to The Sofia on a rainy day. Wine from the Kelly Bar makes everything better.

Hungry when you come to the B Street Theatre? Go to T-Bar and get one of their amazing wraps or bowls for a very affordable price.

We’re so happy @pranajustin that you came to see Ironbound. It really is a wonderful play. Thank you so much for coming to The Sofia. We hope to see you again soon.

This week grab tickets to Ironbound and on Sunday join us on a paranormal investigation in the latest episode of Seekers of the Strange in Upstairs at the B. And as always, Like, Follow, and Tag us at @bstreettheatre on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We’ll share your experience on the blog.

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Martyna Majok: Playwright of “Ironbound”

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Martyna Majok is one of the premiere playwrights in the country. Her plays Ironbound and Queens have received critical acclaim for their moral plurality and magnificent story telling. Recently, Martyna was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play Cost Of Living. In this blog, we look at her fantastic career and how she came to write the stories for the stage.

Martyna Majok saw her first play at the age of 17, after winning $45 dollars hustling at pool. Living with her mother in Kearny New Jersey, Martyna went home to find a magazine advertising the musical Cabaret at Studio 54, starring John Stamos. Martyna decided to use her pool hustling prize on a night in a Broadway theatre.  In an interview with the Chicago Maroon, Majok describes that first show:

It was just this beautiful, sexy, dark, funny-as-hell story, and it didn’t compromise what it was about, while still being a really generous and exciting experience for an audience member.

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John Stamos in Cabaret

Born in Bytom, Poland, Martyna moved to Kearny at the age five. For the first couple of years, she and her mother traveled between her homeland of Poland and her new home in New Jersey. She told the New York Times:

I didn’t realize [it was] because of visa issues. My mother was always saying that we were going on vacation. 

Eventually, they settled down in Kearny. Her mother did a variety of jobs, primarily working in a local factory and cleaning houses. Majok describes her neighborhood in an episode of One on One with Steve Adubato:

It was an immigrant neighborhood. Everyone was from somewhere else. When kids were learning to walk, their parents were learning to speak English. There are a lot of places where there is one specific immigrant nationality in place. Where I was from, everyone was from everywhere.

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In high school, Martyna was working several part time job to help her family with bills. It wasn’t until November of her senior year that she even thought about applying to colleges. She found a list of the Top 50 schools in the country, which is when she discovered the University of Chicago. Talking to the Chicago Maroon, she described her reasons for going to U of Chicago:

I thought, ‘Oh, Chicago—blues and Polish people, that sounds awesome! I’ll apply there,’ not knowing anything about the school. Then I got the brochure and was like, seduced with the life of the mind. This creativity and weirdness, an embracing of many possibilities, that was just so thrilling—it’s like a geek paradise. I think one of my essay questions was “How do you feel about Wednesday?” Or like, “Wednesday. Discuss.” You could go any direction—an invitation to think so creatively that I responded to. I applied and was just floored that I got in, and the only reason I was able to go is because I was basically an entirely funded scholarship kid.

Martyna was the first member of her family to attend college. She was eager to participate in the theatre department immediately, however, her lack of experience compared with those of her trained peers kept her away for a year. But then, as she describes in an interview with the Chicago Maroon, something happened.

One day I was at the Reg and walking around, and I stumbled upon this collection of Sarah Kane’s plays. I was drawn to that amazing picture of the kid in Chechnya that’s on her collected works book, and I picked it up and started reading it right there. And there’s something about being a young woman in her early 20s that’s really important for you to find Sarah Kane at that time. Then I kept reading all these other new plays, and it was like a whole new world was opening to me in a certain section of the Regenstein Library. I was encountering all these plays and exciting work that I just didn’t know existed. Even though I lived 15 minutes away from New York in Jersey, it was still a world that was very outside. Nobody went to theater in my working class family—we were just trying to survive. So the next quarter, I saw that they were going to stage Crave in the UT season, and I was like, I’m gonna audition, dammit! I don’t care if I don’t belong! And I got in, and ever since then I was in a production of something every quarter. I started out as an actor I guess, which is sort of the gateway drug to theater, [before] you figure out where you actually belong!

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Playwright Sarah Kane

In the Autumn of her fourth year, Martyna Majok wrote her first play, wander/standing as her thesis for her Bachelors in English. She received extra funding from the Merge Foundation for the American Dream, a foundation started by two Iranian immigrants who were looking to assist immigrant students achieve their aspirations. While studying and working as a cocktail waitress, Majok used the grant money to give her more time to read and write at the university library. After graduating from the University of Chicago, she applied for the Masters Program at Yale University.  In the same interview with the Chicago Maroon, she says:

How will I be supported in some way in the theater? So I applied and I got into the Yale School of Drama on a tuition-free, stipend, free health insurance, so I thought, OK, I can be a playwright for three more years! And then I was like, well now it’s too late to be a lawyer I guess.

By the time she was 30 years-old, Martyna received multiple playwriting fellowships and her play Ironbound was produced in Bethesda, Maryland. Using her own life growing up in New Jersey as an influence, Ironbound tells the story of a Polish immigrant named Darja who desperately seeks a steady life. Over the course of 20 years, and three relationships, Darja negotiates for her future with men who can offer her love or security, but never both. In an interview with the New York Times, Majok discussed the things that influenced her to write the play:

A lot of the circumstances are hers [Majok’s mother], but Darja’s personality is more mine. My goal was to show a character who for the most part, in my experience of consuming American pop culture, has been seen as stupid and just walks around with a funny accent: these horrible caricatures of what immigrants and poor people are. Writing from that perspective, you’re constantly having to explain what living in that body is.

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B Street Theatre’s production of Ironbound 

Ironbound would go on to several productions throughout the country, including an Off-Broadway run at the Rattlestick Playwright’s Theatre in 2016 that received rave reviews. In the New York Times, the reviewer comments, “Ms. Majok’s perceptive drama, with its bone-dry humor and vivid characters, illustrates how vulnerable people like Darja are, hostages to the vagaries of chance, unless they can manage to climb out of poverty.”

Ironbound gave Martyna Majok a presence in New York City as well as many regional theatres throughout the country. However, it was her follow-up that supplanted her as not only an up-and-coming playwright, but one of the most prestigious currently working in America.

Cost of Living was the 2018 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Drama. The play made its premiere at the New York City Center and was critically acclaimed by the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Rolling Stone.

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Cost of Living at the New York City Center

The story follows two pairs of relationships between disabled and able persons: one between a graduate student with cerebral palsy and his female caregiver and the other between a quadriplegic woman and her ex-husband. In the New York Times Review, Jesse Green comments, “…it would be a mistake to see ‘Cost of Living’ as an identity play about people with disabilities. Rather, it’s a play about disabilities with people. In both of its stories, which eventually collide, the biggest handicaps are the universal ones: fear and disconnection.”

On April 16, 2018, the Pulitzer committee announced that Cost of Living had been rewarded the Pulitzer Prize. The committee commented, “An honest, original work that invites audiences to examine diverse perceptions of privilege and human connection through two pairs of mismatched individuals: a former trucker and his recently paralyzed ex-wife, and an arrogant young man with cerebral palsy and his new caregiver.”

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Martyna winning the Pulitzer

In her interview with the Chicago Maroon, Majok remembers how blindsided she was:

My husband had the day off work, and we were planning on doing our taxes. He had been working nonstop, so he was taking a nap on the couch, so I started catching up on other work. At around three or so I got a phone call from my agent, and I heard screaming and my agent was like, “Well, you won the Pulitzer.” And I got so mad at him! I was like, how dare you, do you know much this means to me, this is not funny!

The B Street Theatre has a passion for presenting plays and playwrights that reflect today’s world. The 2018 season has been full of exceptional work from remarkable playwrights, and the recent production of Ironbound serves as yet another moving reflection of the present. We look forward to all the great work that comes from Martyna in the future, but if you want to see the play that put her on the map, than make your way to the B Street Theatre and see this exceptional story.

Ironbound runs until October 28th. Get your tickets here, and come see this remarkable work of theatre. 

B Street Weekly: September 24 – 30

This past week at The Sofia featured two big openings: Ironbound on the B Street Theatre Mainstage and Sacramento Ballet’s 2018-2019 season opener, Telling Stories. Scroll down to see all of the amazing photos from these two shows.

Previews are very important to us at the B Street Theatre. We thank all of our preview audiences who come see a show in process. We saw great responses. Also @thepeterstory has some great photography skills.

 

Sacramento Ballet rehearsed all week for its 2018-2019 season opener, Telling Stories. It’s always inspiring to watch these phenomenal dancers go to work.  Thanks @lowinternhalder for capturing this great photo.

B Street Theatre was picked as SNR’s Best Professional Theatre Company in Sacramento. Thank you to all who voted. It means a lot to us that our work is making such an impression on the community.

The opening of The Sofia has given B Street Theatre a plethora of exciting partners. We are so happy that Sacramento Ballet is among them.

 

Thank you @mlo1969 for supporting local theatre. It’s because of people like you that B Street Theatre continues to grow and thrive.

 

A great photo from @mekatcher of Sac Ballet’s world premiere of “Black Eyed Dog.” The lighting was great but the dancing was out of this world!

 

Ironbound has officially opened and is running on the Mainstage until October 28. Come see this funny, heart warming show featuring some of the best performances in Sacramento theatre.

Ironbound is running, while Treasure Island and Mathematical Madness is in rehearsal. Grab all the tickets you can here.

Meet Arusi Santi: Maks in IRONBOUND

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B Street Theatre is known for its exceptional actors. Making his premiere at the B Street Theatre in Ironbound is the very talented Arusi Santi. Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill interviewed the actor on his life, his career, and his time here in Sacramento.

Arsui, where are you from?

Cuernavaca, Mexico. It’s a small town just south of Mexico City.

When did you move to the United States?

I originally moved to the United States for college. I got my BFA in Acting in Minneapolis.

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The Guthrie?

Yeah! I was there four years. And after graduating, I worked in the U.S. for a little bit, and then I decided I wanted to move back to Mexico. So I did, and I did a short stint in soap opera/telenovela acting.

How was that experience?

I didn’t like it honestly.

[Arusi and Sean laugh]

It’s just so different. I just studied classical acting and then immediately going into that world, it’s an entirely different pace. I mean they feed you all your lines. You get the script two hours before you shoot, and they give you an ear piece and then they tell you  your lines.

They tell you all your lines?

They feed you everyone’s lines! It’s super distracting. They have a person just reading the whole script. So, I’m reacting to this little voice in my ear versus the person I’m supposed to be acting with. But they didn’t really care cause they were more interested in just pumping out as many episodes as possible.

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How long did you do that for?

Just one year. That’s all. And then I got back into theatre, and it didn’t really take long for work to start piling up, and I was kind of eager to move back to the United States. So, I moved to San Diego and it’s been great. It’s a wonderful theatre town.

When was the first time you heard about B Street Theatre?

So, my agent came to me and started talking about this production at B Street Theatre. At first I was confused until I realized that I had actually sent an email to you all when you first announced your season. So, I went back to your website and saw all the pictures of this beautiful building and got very excited.

So you’re in Ironbound, which you’ve done before. What’s it like to do this play again?

This is a special script. It’s extremely well-written. I was telling Lyndsay (Burch) how great it is to work on it with different people. You discover new things. The play is completely different for me. And that’s good. It keeps it fresh and exciting, and different themes come through for me.

What are some aspects of your character that you connect with? 

I love that he plays Harmonica, and there is something about Maks’ immigrant story that hits close to home. Being in a place where you don’t feel at home. You go to work or you go to the supermarket, and you feel like you’re an outsider. Maks has this dream of being a blues musician.  I relate to that determination, having that dream push you.

Have you had fun in Sacramento?

Yeah! I love the trees!

What do you hope the audience gets out of this play?

I hope they see themselves reflected in these characters. Particularly with the times we are living in right now,  if you can relate to an immigrant story, relate to the humanity in their story, relate to the struggle, that’s important, and I hope people get that from this show.

Random Questions

What’s your favorite thing to do on a lazy Sunday?

Laundry.

[Arusi and Sean laugh]

It’s important!

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What’s a book you’re reading right now? 

Russian House. I went to the Sacramento Library, and I bet you didn’t know this, but if you sign up for a library card, they give you a book for free.

I do know that.

Oh yeah?

Sacramento Public Library is an educational partner with B Street Theatre.

Well look at that.

What’s a sport you like to watch?

Basketball.

What’s your favorite meal to have? 

Pho. It’s good!

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Come see Arusi Santi in Ironbound, currently in previews and opening Friday, September 28. Tickets are available here. 

 

B Street Weekly: September 9 – 16

Even when the Mainstage is dark, The Sofia continues to entertain the Sacramento area. This past week, we hosted our first Upstairs at the B Festival and kept the Sutter Stage buzzing with great live music performances. Scroll down to see all of the exciting photos that came out of this past week, and if you want to see more, find us on Instagram or Twitter @bstreettheatre.

Tara Sissom’s play Brother Sister was featured in our Boozy New Play Brunch series this last Tuesday night. It was a great play, full of laughs and sincerity, and we also learned waffles are an acceptable dinner entrée.

The set for Ironbound is being built as we speak. Set at a bust station in the Ironbound District of New Jersey, Samantha Reno shows once again her brilliance as a set designer. Come see the real thing next week when previews for begin.

Myer Sound has revolutionized sound engineering in the American theatre, and we are so proud to have worked with them in creating the best quality sound in The Sofia. If you haven’t seen a concert in the Sutter Theatre, we have five concerts this week!

Maximum Occupancy is the funniest improv show in Sacramento! This past Friday, Dave Pierini, Stephanie Altholz and Dave Pierini cracked us all up with bits about a man falling in love with a dart board, a cursed cruise line, and a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. They return this Saturday!

 

Thanks to @floyd.brian for capturing this awesome picture of the talented Todd Snider Sunday night. We are so thankful to these amazing musicians who come to the Sutter Theatre and wow us.

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Rehearsals for Ironbound are up and running. Come see this beautiful story capturing the triumphs and tribulations of a Polish-American immigrant.

John Waite sold out the Sutter Theatre on Saturday night and the show did not disappoint. This legendary musician rocked out and the audience couldn’t have been happier. Thanks to @lifelightphoto for snapping this awesome shot, and come see more concerts at the best music venue in Sacramento.

The Sofia stays plenty busy this week as we are hosting Cris Williamson, Corey Harris & Guy Davis, the Baylor Project, and Ray Wylie Hubbard on the Sutter Theatre stage. Plus, Upstairs at the B will feature The Arlyn Anderson Quartet, Maximum Occupancy, Boozy New Play Brunch, and Poison Boot. Come spend a night at The Sofia.

 

Last Day of Upstairs at the B Festival: Maximum Occupancy

For the past four days B Street Theatre has produced special presentations of our Upstairs at the B programs. Now, on the last day of the Festival, we are happy to showcase the show that opened Upstairs at the B:  Maximum Occupancy. Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill interviewed Company Members Stephanie Altholz, Tara Sissom and Dave Pierini to discuss Sacramento’s newest improv hit. 

When did you all start improv?

Stephanie:  I started taking my first improv classes when I was around 12. I was hooked instantly. I never stopped.

Tara: I started improvising when I was 13. I started a club in my High School, eventually started one in college too. I went on to more formal training in 2008 when I moved to Chicago and was deeply entrenched in the iO and Annoyance scene there for 5 years.

Dave: I’d taken classes from various people when I was younger just for fun. But then when Kurt Johnson started teaching, I tried to really learn.

How has improv helped you as an actor? 

D: It’s all about being comfortable on stage and listening. Improv forces you to listen while you’re on stage and not be in your head thinking about the audience, or how to say a line, etc. The same goes for a scripted play. You’re a better actor when you listen.

T: Improv helps me in every aspect of my life, not just acting. It’s taught me to open myself up to opportunity by saying ‘yes’, helped me trust my instincts and gut feelings and also continually teaches me to take care of myself first before trying helping others.

S: Improv is essential for me as an actor. To be in the moment on stage and responding to your partner as organically as possible is what keeps your performance from getting boring after doing it for long stretches of time. It’s also so helpful in the rehearsal room. Being willing to look like a fool, and support your scene partners is what it’s about. It’s how you find those moments you couldn’t possibly have planned by thinking.

Where are some places you’ve trained/performed improv? 

S:  Improv has been a component in every acting class I’ve ever taken in some way or another. But specifically, one of the founders and instructors of the acting conservatory I went to in New York was Paul Sills, who was also one of the founders of Second City. And his mother was, of course, Viola Spolin who basically created “improvisation for the theatre”… she literally wrote the book on it. So all of those theories were the foundation for everything we did at that school. Improv was a part of everything. I also studied at The Groundlings in Los Angeles.

T: iO Chicago (improv Olympic), The Annoyance Theatre (Chicago)

What is the difference between short form improv (Who’s Lines Is It Anyway?) and long form improv (Maximum Occupancy)?

S: Short form can sometimes be referred to as theatre games, or theatre sports. They are short, heavily structured games with pretty specific outlines as to how the scene should go. The improvisers fill in the rest(e.g. the improvisers can only ask questions in a scene). These games are funny. In their bones they are created to be funny. Long form is much more free-form. Even when you have a loose structure (such as The Harold), it’s still up to the improvisers what the shape of the scenes will be. It’s far more daunting, but far more satisfying. And they’re not always funny. That’s not their purpose. Humor is just the side effect of honesty. I had a teacher tell me that when an audience sees a bad short-form improv show, they don’t remember it. But they always remember a terrible long-form show. It’s just a more impactful thing to see and do, good or bad. But, both are incredibly important, helpful, truthful, funny, and necessary. And they both require the same underlying skills.

When did you all start improvising together?

S: I think we all started consistently doing improv together about 6 or 7 years ago when we started doing improv and sketch comedy shows pretty regularly.

T: I joined the B Sketchy crew in 2013, which I believe was the 3rd season of our Sketch and Improv show. It had an Improv set in the second act.

D: Over 10 years ago, Buck came up with the idea to do a night of improv for our annual fundraiser. We were tired of the same old rubber chicken dinner and silent auction fundraisers that plague most non profits so we conceived of a way to entertain people while asking them for money. We focused on short form games that could include audience participation. As we all got better, Buck put together an improv/sketch show that we all contributed to.

How was this show born? 

S: Dave said, “I pitched a show. The three of us are doing long form. Bye.”

T: When we imagined the Upstairs at the B space we knew we wanted improv to be a regular element of our programming. In the old space there just wasn’t the ability to have concurrent events, just one of the many upgrades of The Sofia!

D: What’s great about the three of us is we all have different strengths. Stephanie is the smartest person in the room. She will always bring a withering sharpness to the show. Tara is on another planet and brings the weird. Her default starting position is usually crawling on the ground. I just try to move story forward and not get in their way!

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What has been the most memorable from Maximum Occupancy? 

T: When Stephanie started a scene lying next to me, and didn’t realize I was in a coffin. She looked over, got up and said, “What am I doing in this coffin?” Epic.

S: Our third show was it for me. We had this conversation backstage between the three of us and something clicked. It felt like we all settled in to what the three of us doing improv together really meant. Our group-think clicked on, everything settled. It was incredible. I could have lived in every one of our scenes that night for hours. Although Dave playing a DJ at a gay club where Tara and I were dancing is perhaps the slowest burn to the greatest scene button we’ve had. It broke us for a full minute before we could continue. Those moments are like heroin.

Where do you hope this show will go in the future?

S: I hope the show grows to a place where this is a Sacramento attraction. You go have drinks, or dinner, and then you try to get tickets to Maximum Occupancy… but you can’t… cause we’re sold out!

T: Tonight? Online to order pizza. Otherwise, no where…? It’s a B Street Show. We’re not going to Broadway, Sean.

Besides free pizza, why should people come and see this show?

S:  I would say besides the free pizza, people should come to Maximum Occupancy because they will be a part of something that will never exist again. It’s this weird contract improvisers have with their audiences. What happens in this room, stays in this room. And then disappears forever. And they got to see it.

T: Sacramento has a popping improv scene and I will always support performers getting onstage and saying “Yes” and being brave… anywhere. But between the 3 of us there are like 50 years of experience performing improv and in many cases teaching long-form improv; add to that the working relationship and friendship between us for the past decade, Fuhgetaboutit. Our group mind is just superior.

D: Look, it’s all made up on the spot so there’s never any guarantees with improv. But even our worst night is still funnier than hell. If you come, you will laugh.

Maximum Occupancy will close out the Upstairs at the B Festival tonight at 8:00 PM. Come see the funniest people in Sacramento and enjoy the fun Upstairs at the B atmosphere.

Upstairs at the B Festival Day 1: New Play Brunch…at night!

The New Play Brunch is a fun insight on the development of new plays that also includes complimentary waffles, coffee, and mimosas. These plays are in their first or second draft and often have not been read in front of an audience. Our first play featured was Kettlehouse by playwright Robert Caisley, and our second was In Between the Hours by Core Acting Company member Dana Brooke. Tonight, we’ll present Brother Sister by Core Acting Company member Tara Sissom. We interviewed playwright Tara Sissom on developing new work through the brunch series. 

Where did the idea of this play come from?

I write what I know. My family has been a major player in almost every play that I’ve written. However, it’s always something that I dread before I share with others. Have I gone too far? Will this family member ever speak to me again? Who will judge us, because of this? I wrote this play to get my brother to move out to California. If it works, it might be the first of its kind.

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First New Play Brunch featuring Robert Caisley’s Kettlhouse

How has this process helped in the development of the play? 

This play didn’t have an ending or a clean plot line until a couple of weeks before the New Play Brunch. I wrote Scene One August 2017 and Scenes Two and Three followed within about a month. The New Play Brunch gave me a deadline to have a draft completed and really helped me put my ideas to the page. The ending and the new source of conflict added into this draft is, in huge part, thanks to the New Play Brunch, my friends and colleagues and the B Street and good ole’ fashioned fear to complete it! So the rehearsal process was way more about getting the script where it needed to be than focusing on a full, completely staged reading. We had to sacrifice a little on the production side to get the words right. And for me as a playwright, I felt tremendous gratitude for B Street helping me reach my goals as a writer. Now I get to learn from this reading and I am really excited to hear what people have to say.

 

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Our second featured play was In Between the Hours by Dana Brooke. From right to left: Stephanie Altholz, Dana Brooke, and Darek Riley

What are you hoping to get out of this experience?

I am hoping to understand this play better and figure out what is serving it, what should be taken away, the audience will tell me that. So my goal is to listen (the best I can while onstage) and ask the audience questions in the talk-back afterwards.

Why is New Play Brunch fun for audiences?

The brunch series is fun because it gives plays a safe space to be heard in for the first time. Cause like, who would storm away from bottomless mimosas and waffles?

 

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Tara Sissom’s Brother Sister will be featured tonight in a special presentation of New Play Brunch at 7:00 PM. Come see this new play in its infancy, and if you’re interested to see all of the great programming available Upstairs at the B, click this link to get ticketing information.