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 Silent Note of the Running Boy

In the words of the reality firestorm that is renowned chef, entrepreneur, cheeky Brit and Tantrum King of the World, Gordon Ramsay, “Here’s the thing.”

I know I’m not dumb. I am, I will acknowledge, a few sprinkles shy of a full spread of shredded cheese on the taco of common sense, but I’m not dumb. Hey, I made all A’s in fifth grade. Not exactly A Brilliant Mind level accomplishment there, but it’s notable. Sure, I misspelled parsley in the school spelling bee, denied the notably visible crush I had on a girl who liked me quite a lot—to her face no less—and chartered my socially awkwardness bus of one onward to middle school with no sign of let up, but I made excellent grades. What did you do?

Point is, I rather like the mad festival of characters that comprise the committee of my brain. I would prefer they come to some consensus on what they ultimately want of me, but they do entertain me so. That has to count for something.

The problem is—the thing that has made my journey through this life so frustrating—I chastise my brain regularly as if it operates individual of the Me that is me, while moving through each moment like a spastic terrier in a thunderstorm. Can’t really blame the brain if I’ve soundproofed its walls, right? I’ve developed this utopian idea of what the world around me should look like and, ignoring my brain’s insistence I step clear of the cabin and move to the back of the plane please sir, I’ve gone ahead and bypassed the computer in order to pilot from the toilet.

In no aspect of my life has this whimsical spontaneity of questionable choice (see? not dumb … questionable … whimsical spontaneity) been more apparent than in my desperate quest to find the perfect woman. I want to say love here, rather than woman but it doesn’t fit the mold. Because, like any good writer, I’ve embodied this woman with a character, a persona, a name by which I might better define her. I call her Aphrodite. I know. Clever, right? Real original. She’s been at the forefront of every decision I’ve ever made, deeply ingrained in every story I’ve ever written. Moreover, she’s become a beacon to the greater dreams of life, thus rendering the name Aphrodite to a branding effort of all things I desire. Primarily, I seek her companionship. Tragically, every aspect of my life has fallen miserably short. Allow me to demonstrate. This tidbit is the into to my current work-in-progress, tentatively titled On the Market:

     When night comes she falls asleep on my couch, hand tucked between face and pillow, crumpled folds of cheek powdered and soft in the moon glow, and I see Aphrodite. There’s a peaceful chaos to her hair, a darkness that betrays the night, finds refuge across a pale canvas of forehead and slips unnoticed behind an ear. She smiles, not much, a simple turn now and again, just a glance behind the curtain. Not enough to comprehend what is seen, but enough to know that whatever it is beats whatever dream I may conjure behind closed doors. 

      She’s a queen of beauty and magnificence when she sleeps, this Aphrodite before me. Time can only grant me a glimpse, I know, until sleep has abandoned her, until her body goes rigid, arms outstretched, fingers flexing, uncoiling, reaching for a heart that is not my own. Then she’ll flash that smile, say my name and never realize how much she makes me quiver. I’ll go weak in the knees, and know that I will love her forever.

Though I understand now how this image has trickled down into every nook and cranny of my desire, I channeled it all for years into this hopelessly romantic ideal of a perfect mate. I simply had to find her. I had to be complete. I put it all on the unwitting shoulders of every woman in my life in order to make it so.

From pretty, shirt-signing, Lori in third grade onward, every female I’ve fallen for has been unwittingly and unfairly compared to this image.

Hey, did you know my relationships haven’t gone well? I wonder if there’s a link? Probably not. Just life stickin’ it the man.

man-around-wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The great irony is that, as a child, I went about pursuing every girl I liked as if things would work out fine, as long as I just never ever talked to her ever ever. I mean, I made no secret about liking a girl. If my repeated stares didn’t cover it, my insistence on giving said girl a note to define said liking then sprinting off as if I had just dropped a ticking time bomb in her hands spelled it out without question. Granted, in the few instances in which I spilled my soul to a girl who actually liked me, the resulting connection was one of her trying to talk to some paralyzed, non-responsive, version of myself. I swear ladies, I thought you all were a different species. I feared any measure of contact, verbal or heaven-forbid physical, would result in complete annihilation of self and soul. This lasted all the way through high school. It got mildly better as an adult.

To deal with this, I began subconsciously (I’m leaning on hope here, otherwise I have to admit it was by choice) sabotaging my efforts to find a girlfriend by fixating on girls who clearly had no interest in me (if they even knew my name in the first place, which most didn’t), while simultaneously ignoring any girl I truly liked. I wrote notes to girls I knew would never respond. I wrote one to a girl who—I was told by a friend sitting near her on the bus—laughed her way through it with friends. Yay me! I actually spoke to girls with whom I clearly had nothing in common, fishing for any kind of attention, blinders set to the rest of the school’s female population in order to maintain my focus. I was thirty-five before I learned most of these girls actually liked me. You know … liked me liked me.

In tenth grade, I moved in with my father. The shift from small town Florida to small town Georgia wasn’t much of a transition. Leaving the one friend I had behind hardly registered. In fact, I don’t even remember being at all fazed by the move initially, other than missing my mother terribly. My brain might have had issues with it all, but I wasn’t listening.

My first day at school I made my way to First Period, drifting down the hall of a foreign land like a fading cloud against blue skies, ducked into class and found a seat in the second to last row, three seats from the front. I would have tucked all the way into the corner had other students not beaten me to it. About two minutes after I sat, a girl walked in the room. The second Lori life offered for me to crush on. Dark curly hair, incredible smile, piercing eyes, absolutely beautiful. To this day, I still think she’s one of the prettiest women I’ve ever seen. She sat in the last row, two seats further up. First bell hadn’t even rung and there she was. Aphrodite.

Any normal kid might have thought about talking to her, introducing himself, finding some way to at least say hello. After all, we were going to be in class together for a few months. Plenty of opportunity to get to know one another, right? Nope. I sat there through that class learning everything I could about her without ever saying a word. I mean, I didn’t say a word. To anyone. I managed to channel my inner-chameleon just to ensure the teacher never called on me. What a crushing blow to the universe it would have been had she actually heard what my voice sounded like.

Though I carried this quiet crush through the whole of the next three years—we managed to be paired in exactly zero classes going forward—I never spoke to her. Sure, I watched for her, put myself in positions where I could see her from afar (ahem, yes I will cover the football and basketball teams for the paper, conveniently watching from seats near the cheerleaders, ahem), but I didn’t do that whole Hello, my name is Awkward how can I make you run away? thing I feared so much. Instead, I actively pursued all the girls whose primary talent or hobby seemed to be syphoning my soul into a tin can and crushing it whole. There really were a lot of them. I got quite adept at it, in fact. Practice does indeed make perfect.

Now, this isn’t meant as a lament. I don’t regret not talking to this one girl. Well, I do, but for different reasons. I don’t fear I may have lost my singular chance with Aphrodite. Rather, I want it to serve as the foundation for the stories that follow. Though I’ve made my life into a continual barrage of “whimsical spontaneity of questionable choice”, they’ve all been tied to this quest for Aphrodite, how that became a greater symbol of all that I desired, and every single one is relevant to this moment. This one instance in which I didn’t talk to a girl I liked, while actively talking to and pursuing girls I liked far less (and who all bested my less than like with none at all). Or, as an adult, choosing women unavailable, be that emotionally, physically, or romantically and attempting to force them into the wedge that defined Aphrodite no matter how much they subconsciously protested.

As I said, I’m not a dumb guy. I just want a designed perfection in life that defies true definition and requires only one possible truly glorious and dream-worthy outcome in order to pacify my need to be happy.

That’s normal, right?