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.

The Girl with the Red Hair, part 3: An Interview with Samantha Yestrebsky

The following is the final part a 3-part series of interviews on the forthcoming play, The Girl With the Red Hair. Written and directed by Anthony Laura, and featuring Casey Hartnett as Hayley Jones, Vivien Cardone as Doctor Watkins, and Samantha Yestrebsky as Courtney Dawson/Azura, The Girl With the Red Hair will begin a two-week run on December 5th at The Alchemical.

The opportunity to explore the inner-workings of a play, as it transitions from table read to stage has been one of the more fascinating explorations of the art I’ve made. Special thanks to Anthony Laura for offering me this opportunity. The Girl with the Red Hair is heartfelt, brilliant in scope, and has left a lasting mark on my perception and perspective of mental illness.

To close out the series, we delve into the characters of Courtney and Azura, the girl with the red hair, both roles played by Samantha Yestrebsky.

If you wish to revisit Part One, featuring actress Casey Hartnett and Anthony Laura, can it be found here. While, Part Two, featuring actress Vivien Cardone and Anthony, can be found here.

Starring Casey Hartnett as Hayley Jones, The Girl with the Red Hair, is an exploration of the damage rendered by sexual abuse, of a mind in turmoil as it attempts to cope with experiences far too extreme to process. In the ever-deepening shadows of the girl she once was, who is Hayley Jones, and will it be enough to simply be a survivor?

With The Girl with the Red Hair, Anthony Laura captures the true struggle of Hayley Jones in a troubling yet empathetic light. With the added insight of Casey Hartnett’s approach to portraying Hayley, they remind us that a victim’s experience never ends. That the struggle of coping is a solitary and difficult journey that pits the mind with the heart in a fight neither can truly win.

An Interview with Samantha Yestrebsky

Samantha Yestrebsky hails from Owasso, Oklahoma and moved to New York in 2016 to train at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts where she received her Associate’s Degree in 2018. During her time at the Academy, she performed in Blood at the Root, written by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Kareem Fahmy, and Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 1 as Charles and Somerset, directed by Lisa Milinazzo. She also side hustles as a librarian and dog walker. Samantha was recently nominated for Best Actress in a Drama for Mosaic at the New Jersey Webfest.


As an actress, you need to dig deep into a character to completely understand who she is. Who is Cortney Dawson, and what does her connection to Hayley say about her?

Cortney Dawson is a young woman who has been through a traumatic event and is having a hard time coping with it, hence the behavioral health facility. The specific reason she’s at this facility is not mentioned, but from what we can gather throughout the play, she is extremely intelligent and empathetic. I believe during her time at the hospital she hasn’t had much luck with getting a diagnosis, or getting help, which I believe leads her to shut herself off emotionally from the doctors and other patients. Hayley Jones is the only person who seems to understand her, and for some specific reason I don’t think we can palpably dissect, a small part of her feels vulnerable and free around her.

The Girl with the Red Hair delves deeply into depression, mental illness, and sexual abuse. How has the journey of Hayley Jones altered your view of these issues in your life?

Hayley’s story hasn’t necessarily altered my view on mental illness, but has actually validated it. I’ve always believed these stories need to be told in an unbiased way, without projecting any kind of political stance to the audience. I think it’s refreshing to read a play like this that encompasses all aspects and ranges of mental illness.

What appealed to you about the role of Cortney? What did you feel you could bring to the character?

I think many reasons why I took this role, and why many actors feel connected to roles in general, is that they see a part of themselves in a character. Cortney is extremely intelligent, honest, compassionate, and just so happens to have been living in a behavioral health facility for the last year of her life following a traumatic event. Cortney’s story deserves to be completely free of judgment, and I feel like I’m able to share her story from an unbiased perspective.

Toward the end of the play, Cortney tells Hayley a story about her grandmother. What do you believe she hoped to convey to Hayley in that moment?

In the scene, Hayley tells Cortney that she wishes people understood her. Cortney decides then and there that she’s going to allow herself to be vulnerable in order for Hayley to realize that sometimes it doesn’t matter if people understand or believe us, because, at the end of the day, we alone are the only people who fully comprehend exactly what we’re experiencing.

In addition to Cortney, you also take on the role of Azura—the girl with the red hair. How does your preparation differ for multiple roles?

Anthony made it incredibly easy to differentiate these two characters. The writing alone is usually all I need to prep for these scenes. Many times, when playing two roles, I want to make sure these two people are different in terms of physicality, the tone or pitch of their voice, their style, their hair—and I make a conscious decision about each aspect. The writing of this play honestly made all of those pieces come together naturally.

Azura mentions the sadness in the song Puff the Magic Dragon. She says Hayley is like Puff without his roar. What do you think she’s trying to say to Hayley?

Azura sings this song to Hayley because she believes there’s a fire inside Hayley that has diminished, and she knows that Hayley needs to get her wildfire back. In reference to a line Tabatha says in the play, “Some of us are supposed to be at this hospital, waiting for princes, and others aren’t.”

Both Azura and Cortney seem happy, yet aloof, both with their own memorable lines. Is there one line for either—or both—that sticks with you?

The most important line Azura says that sticks out to me is, “You really are a superhero, you know?” Although this is one of her more serious lines, I think it encompasses everything you need to know about Azura—she truly believes in the good in people, no matter what.

What about you? Do you believe in the good in people?

Truthfully, sometimes it’s really difficult. I want to! I really do, but living in a big city, you see a lot of bad things, and believing in the good in everybody can sometimes get you in some not-so-great situations. That’s why I really love playing Azura, because she’s so extremely different from me! It’s really refreshing to see the world through her eyes.

 The art of writing and performing a script requires a great deal of collaboration between actor and director. In what ways did the collaborative effort affect the roles of Courtney and Azura?

I’ve worked with Anthony on a couple of different projects and I really respect and admire his approach to the work. The number one reason is because he trusts his actors. He allows me the freedom to explore my character (in this case, characters) and let me do my work. I feel free to make new choices with him, and he trusts me to pick whichever ones feel best to me.

What do you want the audience to take away from the roles of Cortney and Azura?

This is such a hard question for me because I believe a character’s purpose is to serve the story, and my job is to serve the character and tell their story as truthfully as I can. There are so many themes and motifs and images that are being expressed here and I believe it’s up to the audience what to take away from the play. With so many different themes I think each person is going to take away something different that they personally connected with. I’m so excited to talk with people who see the show to hear their thoughts and opinions on what they think the play is about!

The process of staging a play takes considerable time—from the first table read to the first performance. What about this process do you find most enjoyable, and to that end most frustrating?

My favorite part of putting on a show is absolutely the rehearsal process. Second to that is the table read because those are where the first genuine moments and reactions take place, but the actual rehearsal is my favorite part. We get to play around so much with these different characters and find choices that work and choices that don’t work and that’s where I find the most enjoyment. There is so much that happens in rehearsal that the audience will never see and to me that’s really special. On the opposite of that spectrum, I can’t think of anything I find frustrating about the process at all! I really do love everything about the process.

 Tickets for the upcoming run of The Girl with the Red Hair are available now. For those considering the idea of attending, what would you tell them?

I would tell them they need to see it! This show is just genuinely good theatre, which I think sometimes is hard to find. It will leave you asking questions, discussing moments, and creating theories about the end of the play. We’re a cast and crew of passionate people who believe in telling good stories, and that essence shines throughout the whole show.