A New Reading Series from Face to Face Films

Things are a bit wonky right now. The opportunities for entertainment that we once chose so easily are not an option, and so we’re left hunting for ways to fill our time. Movies are on hold, sports are shelved, book events, festivals, and more have been cancelled or postponed. The primary path to entertainment at the moment often involves a chair, a sofa, or whatever the telelvision can offer. Fortunately, we’re living in a time in which technology offers greater reach and ingenuity is giving rise to new ways of reaching those at home. Which has been a great blessing to those of us in need of entertainment and the inspiring touch of creative folks.

Over nearly a year now, I’ve had the pleasure of following the progress of The Girl With the Red Hair, a play by Anthony Laura of Face to Face Films and starring Casey Hartnett. Through an ongoing series of interviews the cast and crew has offered a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to bring a play to the stage.

Recently, Face to Face Films announced a new initiative, one that immediately caught my attention. A new reading series, utilizing a collection of talented actors and actresses, that would touch on works relevant to the theme and focus of The Girl With the Red Hair, as well as the strength of women. On Saturday, May 23rd, at 2 p.m. via Zoom, Face to Face presents a reading of Little Women. You won’t want to miss it.

In a time when we’re hungry for entertainment, this inventive and creative use of technology seemed the perfect fit for our time. And a perfect fit for all of us.

So, me being me, I had questions. I wanted to dig in deeper and highlight this effort. Not only to shine a light on something of value, but because this is a rare opportunity to see such talented professionals read work we know so well.

With that, I present a brief interview with Anthony Laura and Casey Hartnett. You’ll want to read this. Then you’ll want to tune in Saturday May 23rd to see something unique and wonderful.

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Face to Face films has launched a new reading series, which includes the May 23rd reading of Little Women. What inspired you and the company to create it?

CASEY: Since all theatre and film productions had been shut down, we wanted to find a way to keep theatre alive while in quarantine. We were already virtually workshopping our play, The Girl with the Red Hair so we figured, why not do a series of readings related to the subject matter of the play and themes showcased in the projects being created by the company. Little Women was a great place to start with a public reading because it showcases the stories of these women in such an honest and empowering way and the story is still relatable even today. The reading series has also been a great way to showcase the actors in the company by highlighting their talent in different roles each month. While all of our productions have been put on hold for the time being, the reading series has been a creative life saver.

ANTHONY: We were in talks before the pandemic to start a reading series with our ensemble.  I have been wanting to explore classic and contemporary works that audiences may not be too familiar with.  I also loved the idea of not always casting age appropriate actors in certain roles to further explore the dynamics and chemistry within our company.  There are so many fantastic films and plays out there that have not been on people’s radar and I don’t think there’s anything more exciting than discovering works that are new to you and forming a connection to the people telling you those stories.  I’m very excited for audiences to see our ensemble tackle so many varied roles as we move forward.

Given the current issues with Covid-19, you’ve planned to hold the reading of Little Women via Zoom. Working in this capacity can certainly offer its share of challenges. How are you dealing with those?

CASEY: We have certainly experienced some technical challenges, but none so drastic that would prevent the reading series from working successfully in a virtual space. We have had to figure out the best way to work with sound and dialogue cues, such as not talking over each other as you would be able to do in a live in-person stage production or playing with certain vocal volumes. Instead of having characters talk over each other in the case of having layered text in the script, we have found that having one character speak before the other, with the second actor coming in quickly after the first actor, has helped clean up the dialogue for viewers of the virtual read. Sound just doesn’t carry the same way through a computer screen as it does in person. Another challenge was cutting down the script in a way that would translate better for a virtual reading series. We can’t be on our feet and moving around and working off of the other actors physically, so certain stage directions can help or hinder the viewer’s understanding of the story.

ANTHONY: I’m so proud of how everyone has risen to the challenges that Casey has spoke about.  Dealing with WIFI issues and having to rework the script so it makes sense to a virtual audience as opposed to being put in a visual medium has presented creative hurdles, but it never stopped the progress.  Intact, there has been such camaraderie and laughter as the challenges presented themselves, that it only served to bring us closer and enjoy the process even more!

For Little Women, you’re using a mix of current and former cast members of The Girl With the Red Hair. Was that the intent from the beginning, or did it just work out that way?

CASEY: When casting the readings, we want to cast them with the right actors for the roles. However, with the next run of The Girl With the Red Hair in the works, we wanted to highlight the cast and company members for audiences to see those actors in certain kinds of roles that would bring some excitement and anticipation for audiences to then see those actors perform in the play when it goes up (hopefully this fall!). We happened to cast a few actors from the first run of the play who were perfect for Little Women, and that has been a really fun experience to have everyone back together again, mixed with some new actors as well!

ANTHONY: No, there was never a specific intent.  Many of the actors in TGWTRH are Resident Artists, so I usually try to think of works that will best show off our RA’s, both in the show and not, and then cast the piece around that.  However, as Casey said, we are also looking to showcase the actors from the show through the exploration of similar themes to TGWTRH, in hopes of increasing interest for when the show returns.

Beginning a new program of any type requires a lot of trial-and-error before it settles in. What have you learned through this process, and where do you see this series going long term?

CASEY: I think the main thing we’ve learned is that a virtual reading series could be a really great way to keep theatre alive in a safe and healthy way while also including actors and audiences from all across the country, not just those located in NYC. We have some actors in Lilttle Women located in LA, and we’re excited that we can have friends and family members join the Zoom session from anywhere. Something we’ve learned through the virtual readings is that certain scripts translate better for in-person reads than they do virtually, since the actors can’t work in a physical capacity with the material. That’s just something we keep in mind when deciding which scripts to read over Zoom and which to save for the live reads. So eventually, in the long term goal for the reading series, we plan to put reads up in theatre spaces with live audiences and continue to showcase our resident artists in roles and stories we are excited and inspired by.

ANTHONY: One of the positives I’ve learned is that the interest for storytelling knows no bounds.  People are hungry to tell stories and listen to them, no matter the current constraints.  We’ve been so fortunate to have interest in the series during this time and it has inspired us to work hard and share our love of these stories with people even while they are inside their homes.

What other works are you considering for future readings?

CASEY:So far we’re looking at Doubt, The Hours, Jane Eyre, Steel Magnolias, The Glass Menagerie, Girl, Interrupted, Mean Girls and so many others! We have a long list.   

ANTHONY: Next month, we will be performing Doubt with Vivien Cardone, Alex Commito and Rheanna Salazar.  We are still casting one final role for that.  In addition to the titles Casey spoke about, which I’m so excited about, other titles we are also looking at are The Wolves, 4.48 Psychosis, The Flick, Dance Nation and The Goat.

Both The Girl With the Red Hair and Little Women focus on the strength and resilience of women. Is this a facet of the company’s mission?

CASEY: Absolutely. Our mission is to tell honest, complex stories about women so those are the stories we will be showcasing in the reading stories as well as the stories that we will be writing and creating within the company’s original film and theatre productions.

ANTHONY: 100%.  We are dedicated to telling stories with women at the forefront of these narratives, as well as continuing to explore a multitude of themes that we feel strongly about.  However, that being said, it is also important to us as a company that the women we represent in our characters (both in our original work and our reading series) are seen as people, and not women.  We are striving to have our audiences not assign gender to the stories they watch, but instead become invigorated by each character as a person.

For those interested in watching the reading, how does one register?

CASEY: You can email facetofacereadings@gmail.com to RSVP and then on the day of the read you will receive a Zoom link and voila, you’re in! Technology can be cool sometimes.

Because Writing About Writing is What Writers Do

Somehow, it’s reached a point these days where you aren’t really considered a writer unless you’re writing about writing. I can’t really say whether that’s good or bad. Perhaps because I don’t know, but more likely because I avoid reading most of them. One might deem this tutorial littering of the internet a consequence of self-publication, in that everyone who wants to see their book in print (or on a Kindle or whatnot), can then take to their respective blog (or blob, if you’re my mother, bless her heart) and detail all the ways in which you can achieve whatever level of success they deem they have attained.

Again, good or bad, I don’t know. This is just a truth we all have to accept. Maybe there’s useful information out there that can help you. Maybe there isn’t. No idea. I mean, I can’t tell you what the Onion is writing about today because I haven’t read it. I know it’s funny though. I can guarantee that. And it’s there. There is far better than not.  Just like writing a book. It will always be better to you if it is there than if it is not.

There you go. Hallelujah, praise Timmy Christ, and may the force be with you. My writing lesson of the day. If you don’t write a book, you don’t have a book you have written. Genius. I have now joined the ranks of pseudo-professional writers who have blogged about writing. I am nearly complete as a human being. I’m one drunken tour of Scotland’s Pub of the Day Club away from ascension.

So, what do you do? How do you decide whether the advice you’re getting is advice you should be taking? Look, the truth is–the thing you need to know before taking this whole writing thing to the next level–there’s no such thing as a simplification of writing that any one person can offer. As with life, the process of learning about writing is an extensive and exhaustive process. One blog, one book, cannot cover what you need to know. Yet here you are, all engrossed in my words, or perhaps just hiking your way across the internet one click at a time, so allow me to illustrate my point in as simplified a way as I can so you only have to read one blog about it. Then you’ll know everything you need to know about writing. Ready?

Writing is hard.

Boom. You’re welcome.

Ok, so maybe that was too concise. But the truth remains. Are there varying levels of talent in which writing becomes less hard? Absolutely. Tom Robbins forged a career out of his brilliance, tapping one mind after another with a skilled hand that is not so much stratospheric as it is alien. Yet, he wrote every manuscript by hand, working on each individual sentence until it was exactly what it needed it to be. He didn’t use word counts. He just let the work tell him when he was done. Which is not “as easy as that.” That’s fucking hard. That insane-level genius. Sure, it comes easier to him than it does to most everyone else, but his easy isn’t easy for him. It’s grueling.

Writing will kick you to hell and back, then wait for you to stand so it can kick you around some more. It’s a giant sponge sucking all your time and energy, then squeezing it down the drain while letting you know it’ll be right back k thanks. It’s something that requires you to spend more time in a world that doesn’t exist than the one you’re supposed to be living in. It offers you an array of friends you can’t live without then scoffs at your genie-in-a-bottle wish that they were real. It tempts you with hope, then insists you proceed with squashing all level of hope anywhere and everywhere for everyone you create, and, shamed though you are to admit it, love. It coaxes you with the allure of wealth, readership by the millions, adoration and praise, then leaves you with a waste basket of rejection and the realization that you have yet to leave the workforce, and probably won’t anytime soon. Writing is your mistress, and it won’t be satisfied with an occasional text. It wants all of you, but it doesn’t want you to stay over, and it sure as hell doesn’t want to be anything else. It wants you to succeed, it needs you to succeed, but it doesn’t stop badgering you just because you don’t.

And you know what? You love it. You revel in it. You slosh around in your misery like a pig in filth. You devour the entire helping of writing for the pure gluttony of it, then dive into the fridge with an appetite for more. Writing is that friend you can’t live without, and it both is and isn’t there with you at every waking moment. It is the single greatest love-hate, abusive relationship you will ever know, and it will inspire you to journey into the greatest, most wonderful, corners of your mind, where mystery and fantasy burn like wildfire, where romance and seduction beat like a heart, and where the entire universe is willing to bow to the supreme truth of 42.

This is what you want. This is why you believe you exist. This is why most of your earth-based friends and family have difficulty understanding you. This is why you creep people out in crowded spaces as you stare off into alternate realities, completely unaware of your surrounding, or of the uneasiness you leave those in your path. This … this insanely hard, difficult, maddening, bitch of an art, is why everything matters, and why every struggle is survived, every fear faced, every trace of indignity of self ignored.

If not, you can stop looking for advice on writing. You can stop worrying about improving. Just write. Do your blog thing, keep a journal, write whatever your kids or family seem to want to hear, but leave the advice on the shelf, leave the expectations be.

Because writing is hard.

And quitting it is impossible.