Keith: Welcome to Disability Empowerment Now, Season 2. I'm your host, Keith Murfee- DeConcini. Today I have the pleasure of talking to Nicholas Viselli who is the Artistic Director of Theater Breaking Through Barriers. Nick, welcome to the show.
Nicholas: Wow. Thank you so much, Keith. It's such a pleasure to be with you. Wow, this is wonderful. Thank you.
Keith: So we have a very storied history despite only knowing each other, about five years. But before we get into that, I want to hear all about the history of Theater Breaking Through Barriers, the original founder, where you came in and all of the storied history of that theater company.
Nicholas: Wow. Uh, okay. Well, first of all, again, thank you so much for reaching out. It's such a pleasure to be able to talk to you and to be able to share our work. Theater Breaking Through Barriers actually started, was actually founded in 1979, by my predecessor Ike Schambelan.
And at the time, we were founded, under the name of Theater by the Blind. Theater by the Blind was an off-Broadway company here in New York that was dedicated to working with and advancing the work of professional artists who were blind or had low vision. From the very beginning, the company was always integrated.
Meaning that we always worked with blind, low vision, and sighted actors as well as the artists with all sorts of abilities and disabilities. It's actually kind of rare because at that time in 1979, you didn't see a lot of theater companies that were dedicated to really working with disabled actors, other than companies that sort of, they didn't consider themselves professional.
There were more, I don't like to use the term therapy theater, but usually they were smaller groups that were formed by organizations that worked with artists or worked with people with specific disabilities and theater was an outlet for. I sort of got the idea for this because in 1980, the play that won the Tony Award was Children of a Lesser God.
And Ike thought to himself, well, if the deaf community is finally being recognized, that, you know, and they won a Tony Award for the play, well then he felt that the blind community should also be recognized and he decided to start his theater company based on that. So we were actually asked early on by Lincoln Center and by the Lighthouse as well to start creating plays or doing readings of plays for the blind and so that's how we started with this company and ultimately started doing other work, doing original plays, original sketches. That actually went on to doing little tours, going to nursing homes and community centers.
In 1982, we became officially licensed as a non-profit organization corporation. Then the company continued to grow from there. I began with the company in 1997 which I find kind of interesting, even though I am not blind, low vision. As I said, the company was always integrated and Ike always liked to hire sighted actors specifically when they were trying to decide what they wanted to do for their seat their next season.
And they said rather than choosing plays and then having to get them brailed and get them in large print to get them all the different formats, he said, we'll just hire some sighted actors. We'll call the group together. The sighted actors will read the plays, and then we'll get to decide what shows we're going to do.
It just became a much more expeditious way of handling it, and at the same time, it was sort of an audition, so to see who worked well with the company.
So that's when I got started with the TBTB and worked with them as an actor for many, many years. Throughout that time there was a point where we felt, wow, you know, we're fighting the same stigmas that all other artists with disabilities are fighting.
And because we are theater by the blind, people automatically think. If I have another disability or if I'm not blind or have low vision, I can't work with your company because you're being very clear about who you are. So we really started a campaign to say, we need to expand our mission.
We need to sort of change this. So by 2008 we were able to do that and TBTB Theater by the Blind became TBTB Theater Breaking through Barriers and it was a huge game changer for us because it literally opened the doors and allowed it, made it very clear that we were all, we are willing to work and want to work with all artists.
That's where everything really changed and here we are.
Ike passed away in 2015. He ran the company from the very beginning and he asked me to be his successor and so I've been running the company ever since. Sorry, long story there, but, it's a lot. 43 years you know.
Keith: Non no, it's everything and more that I wanted you to get to. So how I got involved is that the theater company I was on the board of at the time Arizona theater company, about a year before I touched back down in New York, we did a production of The Diary of Anne Frank and Anna Lance who, you know, played a marvelous Anne Frank and I just happened to be in New York and the Arizona Theater Company was doing their annual New York trip there and I asked if I could tag along and just pay for the theater tickets because I was already staying there. Anna and her mother were there and so we caught up. Then Anna told me, hey, I'm in the show, a Public Servant with this theater company that promotes disability talent.
If you can, you should come check it out. And I did. I brought my parents. I was either wearing a red velvet or a blue velvet jacket.
Because I'm that flamboyant winner. See in the theater, because I really like it. And I met Christina Brewer who was also in that. And then I met you after the show and at that time you wanted to acquire me for your board of directors and the only issue I had with that was, could I be on two different theater boards?
I later found out that there was no problem whatsoever, and so that is how I became aware of Theater Breaking Through Barriers, it's all because of Anna Lance, and I hope she doesn't mind me name dropping her, played Anne Frank in a very moving but gripping production here in Tucson, Arizona of that play.
She was the lead actress or lead actor, now.
I often think that with everything that came after it, in all expanding relationship, I would have probably had a very hard time finding Theater Breaking Through Barriers or not have had found you guys at all had did not been for Anna Lance who invited me to Public Servant and I would not have met Anna Lance had Arizona Theater Company not decided to put on the Diary of Anne Frank at the end of one of our seasons. So it was this leap frog journey of theater companies and theater actors supporting each other and it was a very happy stance that I found out about Theater Breaking Through Barriers.
Nicholas: Isn't that amazing? First of all, I'm so grateful to Anna, and I love the way circumstances rolled out there. I think that it's really kind of an interesting thing because the theater community is, as big of a country as we are, it's still a very small community. I wish I could say Theater Breaking Through Barriers was more well known because we've been around for 43 years and we've been doing really well a lot of important work, groundbreaking work, and yet we still remain a small company, partially because of the fact that we have such a limited season. We don't do as much live theater production here in New York as I think we would like to. It's very expensive, and we're still a small company.
I think the mission of our company is so important because it is really, of course, our goal is to, while we want to advance and celebrate the work of artists and performers with disabilities, yeah, I mean, there's, the overall goal is to change the perceptions or the misperceptions of disability in our world.
And, you know, our goal is to function as a mainstream off Broadway Theater Company and so it's very unique to say that an organization with our mission is striving to function on a mainstream level and compete with other mainstream companies. Sometimes people say, you should be playing in your own yard.
You should be staying, you should be working primarily just with disabled artists and my take on that is, no, I disagree with that. I think if we're going to change the perception and we're going to move the needle, then we need to recognize. Our artists as artists, not as disabled artists, and not put a label on them.
And again this is not to hide disability. It is more to emphasize the artists that work with us and that disability, having a disability does not change or diminish the quality or integrity of our art or our artists.
So, I'm so grateful to Anna that she was wonderful, we did that, that production Public Servant was written by Becca Brunstad or we had commissioned her to write that, and it was a wonderful play.
Keith: Yes it was!
Nicholas: You mentioned Christine Bruno. Christine is a wonderful actor and also an outstanding, disability rights advocate. So again, really wonderful company and we got the chance to meet afterwards. You had told me a lot about what you were doing in Arizona and how you were living in New York at this point.
After our first meeting and discussion, I thought, wow, you should be more involved in the work that we're doing. I think that you have a great viewpoint and a lot to offer.
I think, you know, one of these big issues is that, you know, it's our goal to compete on a mainstream level because our work is of that caliber and our artists are of that caliber. A lot of our artists don't get the opportunities that they should be getting because they have a disability, whatever that disability may be. Whether it is because they are blind, low vision, whether it be they're a deaf or hard of hearing, whether they have a mobility disability, whether they have a neurocognitive disability. There are so, you know, an artist is an artist. That's sort of how I feel. Everybody brings something very unique to the table whenever they're part of the work that we create as a collaborative arts organization. So disability is a human characteristic. It is one characteristic of many, and to make a judgment on a person based on that is just wrong.
It's just incorrect. So, our goal is to demonstrate by doing first rate work, first rate art, and quality work. Featuring our artists who are both, artists who are both disabled and non-disabled and being able to show that we can do anything, that to me is very, very important.
So while we're a company that doesn't exclusively work with disabled artists and we don't exclusively do work or plays about disability, I think it's more important to showcase the artists and I think by doing this we can change the world.
Keith: Very well said. So I had just graduated in 2019, the spring, and you had contacted me, or I'd somehow found out about your small production of several different original plays and theater has always been a part of my life, and you caught on to that very early on in our discussion. I'm very glad to have seen a lot of Broadway Theater in my youth and so I have always enjoyed seeing theater, particularly musicals from the audience and that's how I found you guys from the audience.
I have never really considered myself an actor or wanted to be an actor and so I did this on a whim to judge, try it out and ended up having a really ridiculously good time. The first production I did, I forgot the name, but I acted opposite your wife, who is, I still professionally fawn over her to this day because she played the antagonist in that production.
She ends up winning in the end. She was menacing but in the best possible way, and so, hi Emily, and then you recruited me to do a disability retelling of Richard the Third with Identity Theater which sounds a lot harder than it actually was to do.
And then we flash forward to the beginning of the pandemic, and you and your team created this idea that I really want you to tell us about because it is not to be the hype man here too much but it was a stroke of genius and so tell us more about that idea.
Nicholas: Well you know thank you Keith. I think that a lot of times it's amazing what a little bit of desperation can do to you when your back is up against the wall. Obviously when the pandemic hit in, it was March. It was the beginning of March in 2020, when it hit. It immediately shut everything down.
And for a theater company in New York to not be able to present live theater, it was deadly. As well as you know, all of our restaurants, everything just shut down. So everyone was trying to scramble to figure out what we're gonna do as a live theater company. How do we continue forward?
Well we started by doing, I asked theater company members to create little videos that we started putting online called Stories From Home, which I thought was a nice way to start, and they would sort of do videos about what their favorite theater experience was and all that.
And that became our original idea for presenting content online. But we had been doing a project since 2011 called Our Playmakers Intensive. One of the things we do every year in addition to creating, you know, doing an off-Broadway show or two is we like to develop a lot of new material and we started this project called Her Playmakers Intensive, which started almost, it was like a 24 hour bootcamp where you'd gather a group of artists together and you'd give them 24 hours to write a play and present a play and all that. And we started by doing that and it was a nice idea, but it sort of felt lacking because that works for the writer, but it doesn't give the actors a chance to do what they wanna do or the director a chance to do what they want, that they do.
So we said we'll meet on a Saturday. We'll gather a group of artists, a group of actors, writers, directors, and randomly the groups will be paired together. A writer will choose the name of a director out of a hat. The director will choose the name of a few actors out of a hat, and that becomes one group.
And then that group has one week to write, rehearse, and then ultimately perform an original short play. And that became very popular. People loved doing it because it was a good exercise. It was a team exercise, it gave us a chance to really work with artists we'd never worked with before and see how they work with others.
But the excitement of that project always comes from the energy in the room. When there's a group of people together, it’s really exciting, but I thought, well, why don't we try, now that we're sort of all locked away, why don't we try to do that virtually. I'll be honest, I didn't think it was gonna work.
I said I think it's a nice try. Might get us through, you know, to the next project, whatever that'll be. So I gathered a group of artists together and we'll meet on Zoom and we'll try to coordinate it as we did, and I'm so happy to say I was so wrong about that because everybody loved doing it.
The development process remained the same. Artists got a chance to rehearse as much as they wanted, on Zoom. We would set up the rehearsals and we used our license, we had two Zoom licenses, and they could just rehearse whenever they needed, and then rather than when we did it live, we would always present the plays the following week, on a Sunday, we'd have a rehearsal and then we'd invite an audience in to see the work, for free, you know, it's a workshop. That's how it was done. But when we decided to do it on Zoom, we said we'll just make this, alright, we're gonna do seven plays, let's make it a week long event and each night we'll premiere one show and we will perform that show live, we will stream that show all the actors will meet on Zoom and we'll do it on Zoom and we will stream it to our Facebook page and then we'll do a second performance on our YouTube page. Then we do little talk backs afterwards, rather than having the writers write plays for stage plays, we suggested writing for Zoom, we want you to be able to write the play for Zoom and it became an amazing experience. We were able to work with artists wherever they were in all parts of the world. We were performing live on, you know, and again, note we weren't trying to use a lot of camera tricks or anything. It was really trying to present the material as raw and authentic as it could be.
And so it became so successful we ended up doing six virtual Playmakers Intensives over the time of the Pandemic and we created over 75 shows and worked with over 200 and 230 or 240 artists during that time.
Keith: So I came in on the third one, and what was really fascinating about that experience, is the men I was acting opposite of was in France and for your first Zoom or first acting job in the Pandemic, that was thrilling and I got to work with one of my mentors and really heroes in terms of her musicality Anita Hollander, I hope she doesn't mind me name dropping her as well, she was also quite menacing but in the best possible way, and she is a wonderful singer.
So talk about how the Pandemic really forced you to go virtual and how that allowed you to branch out from being a small National Theater Company to an International Virtual Theater company seemingly overnight.
Nicholas: It actually did. Again we took this, you know, we took advantage of this wonderful format, the Zoom format in this case and thought, you know, this is just gonna be a lifeboat. Most of us at the beginning said this will be a way that we'll be able to remain in touch and we'll be able to maybe create a few things and, you know, share some ideas.
But what we didn't realize at the time was this creates such a limitless amount of possibility. I think now that we're sort of towards the back end of the pandemic and you know, we're trying to once again go back to you know, full operations, things are still a little strange, but we're getting there.
We're every day, I guess, but any theater company that does not continue to use this virtual format is really missing a great opportunity because you can develop so much new work. We had been working, there were a lot of artists who had left New York, so they were in different parts of the world.
So, to be able to reach out to them and work with them wherever they were was great. It also allowed us to open the door to work with a lot of other artists, so we had artists that would say, oh, I have a friend who would be a wonderful writer. They live here and we’d connect.
And then suddenly all this new talent started coming through and it was amazing for us. It literally transcends time. We can break the time space continuum where you have an actor who's in South Korea, you have an actor who's on the west coast. You have an actor who is in Chicago, an actor who is in Florida, and another actor who's in New York.
And we all agreed to meet in this one place at a given time and present a live play, a live production that goes out into the world. So we're literally transcending, we're breaking the time barrier, which I think is kind of incredible. It also allowed us, we just came back,TB TV just actually returned from our trip to Japan.
We were planning to go to Japan in September of 2020 and we were planning to work on a collaboration between TBTV and the Freedom Theater, which is a company in Japan, and that all fell through because of the pandemic, but because of this format, we were able to meet and create work.
We created four short plays that were written specifically for our actors and the actors from the Freedom Theater that we were able to present two of them on Zoom. You can see them on our website if you go to TBTB.org, and then there were other places that when we went to Japan this September, we had already started rehearsals for them and we were able to actually meet in person and rehearse them and perform them live.
You know, and again, this was a collaboration with artists that I don't know if this would've ever happened, if it wasn't for the fact that we're able to do it on Zoom.
Keith: So you have long standing ties to the theater community and you often work with your friends some of whom you have had over 30 years of friendship and I think you know who I am talking about, Richard M. Rose, talk about him because, and I hope again, he doesn’t mind me name dropping him into the conversation, but his connection with you and your wife even before you two were married is something, if you didn’t know it happened you would assume it was a novel that god made into a movie that god made into a series of novels for theater nerds because it is just that fantastical and again the most beautiful way. So talk about that relationship and how they intersect.
Nicholas: Oh my goodness. Well, thank you for even bringing up Richard. I mean, again very much in the same way that we connected through a series of random events, seemingly random events that sort of ended up bringing us together as we are now, that's sort of how it was with Richard and I. I mean, I've known Richard Rose. The first time I actually met Richard Rose, I was still in high school. I had not done any professional theater. I was starting to get involved in community theater where I grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Richard was living there.
So the first community theater production I ever did was 1776 and Richard Rose was in that and we became very good friends. Again, in community theater, especially in a smaller city like Scranton, you always tend to work together. There were like three or four theater groups, community theater groups, and usually they would steal from you. Like if they saw you in one show, then they'd say, oh, we want you to be in this show. So we were always sort of traveling together. So he and I did a whole bunch of work together in Scranton. We did a production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
We did Midsummer Night's Dream together. We did, oh my God, I can't even remember all the plays that we had done. We had a really good friendship and this was obviously before I had even met Ann Marie, my wife and we started dating.
Then we sort of went our separate ways just because he was taken, he moved to Maine and I ended up going to college and, you know, for years we didn't really communicate with each other because we were in our own bubbles, I guess. And then, when I graduated college, I was applying for internships and I was applying for an internship at what was then the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival. Now it's the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, and I had applied for an internship and I went in for an audition and I got a call that evening and who was it but Richard Rose and Richard Rose had been working at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival and he called me to tell me that I was accepted as an intern. So once again, we were connected. At that time I was also with my wife and she was an actor and she had applied for an internship and she also became an intern at the theater.
So we all became very good friends. Then we went through a couple of years and then ended up, we moved on and he moved into a different direction, and then we connected again. And so we're destined to be together, Richard and I. He's one of my oldest and dearest friends and such an incredible artist, incredible director, incredible actor.
A very brilliant man, and a brilliant friend.
Keith: So, looking to the future, particularly having gone through the pandemic as a theater company, you're now located directly on Theater Row in New York which is a big deal for a small theater company to be on.
So looking ahead, your company or the team you've put together doesn't show, hopefully, any signs of slowing down.
And so looking ahead to the next 10, 15 years, what is the, if you could see an end point or some goal that would be the capstone of your artistic director journey with TBTB, or maybe its several little things, what would that be? Where would you like to get TBTB to and where would you like to leave it to the next generation?
Nicholas: Mm. Such a good question, Keith. I think I have an ambition. I have a real dream and vision to grow this company in a big way. And when I say grow it, I don't mean I want to become the next public theater or the next whatever, Manhattan Theater Club or a roundabout. I think it's important that we remain, we try to sort of, keep a smaller, feel to it.
I think our mission, the mission that was established by Ike and the mission that I am following today is so very important. While I think it's wonderful that, with all of the changes in our world now that we are now starting to really pay more attention to, well, with all of the big movements with the Me Too Movement and of course Black Lives Matter and, you know, we're now starting to see more attention paid to disabled artists.
But I don't think we're there yet. I think right now the problem is people want to, they're, you know, people think they can solve a problem by just, oh, easy we'll just hire some disabled actors and boom, the problem is solved. That's not the case. It's the same problem that we will always have, which is the ability to recognize the person and not just what you see to not just look at a disability or to not look at the color of one's skin or one's gender or, you know, one's sexual orientation, none of that. Those are all parts of people and they're very important, but they're only just a part. If we only focus on that part, then we're failing to see a much bigger picture.
That's a much bigger problem, and I don't know if we'll ever solve that because it's something that we constantly fall over ourselves with. I think it's important for us to constantly, be able to produce more work, to be able to generate more theater, to be able to do work that educates and enlightens and entertains. Yes, to do everything we wanna do everything from Agatha Christie to Shakespeare, to new plays, to plays about disability, but I don't want that to be exclusively what we do. I think we have to constantly keep changing and showing that we can do everything and reinventing.
I also think we need to be able to do more outreach and to actually teach classes and to be able to bring new people in. People who do want to act who don't know how, we can do classes in theater and playwriting and directing to help foster that and develop it and grow it.
The reason why our Playmakers Intensive is so important is because it's not even so much that we want writers to write plays about disability. We want writers to write plays for our artists, and, you know, to consider that a disability is a part of a person's who a person is, but it is not the entire story.
I think it's much more interesting to tell a story about a person's life that other people can identify with. And if that person has a disability, to be able to create a story that if I don't have a disability, I could still identify with this person and I can realize I can come to this realization that we're the same.
We're all the same, and that's important. People don't wanna hear that in this world, now they like to be in their own little tribes and I say it's important, tribalism is great. But if we can't see ourselves and the person standing opposite us, then something is wrong because then we can embrace the differences and accept them as wow, that's you and this is me.
And that's exciting as opposed to, oh, you're one of them. And I'm not one of them. I'm one of these people over here. That's where our problems are, that's where we are in our world right now, isn't it?
Keith: Yeah. So not to put you on the spot too much, but go with me. I have a purpose for why I'm bringing a personal anecdote.
You had to adapt to disability in your family with your wife. So talk about how that experience shaped, not only your personal journey, but also in how you relate to running TBTB If it did, because I have CP. Cerebral Palsy. It's with me from birth to death. I can't get out of it. There's no way for me to pray it away. No way for me to take supplements, medication with me ‘till I graduate into the next realm of existence. But the disability community is the only community that anyone and everyone frankly can and probably will join at some part in their lives. And so it's a constant adaptation that a lot of people are either ignorant or arrogant about or a little bit of both. So how did the adaptation of having disability in your family made your work, impacted your work so much more personally, if I may make that assumption.
Nicholas: Yes. Your assumption is correct. I wanna be clear, you know, I've grown up around disability.
While I am not at this point in my life that I know of, I do not have a physical or a neurocognitive disability. Doesn't mean I won't. As you get older, yes you are absolutely correct that, as John Belluso, playwright John Belluso once said, disability is the only minority that anyone could fall into at any given time.
As you get older, yes, the chances that you will become disabled, even if you don't consider it a disability at first, oh, my back is bothering me, my knees are bothering me. The inability to do what you used to be able to is a disability. That's exactly what it is.
But I've grown up with a disability my whole life. I had siblings who have a disability. My next door neighbor growing up had down syndrome. I have a cousin with CP. I had another cousin who he was schizophrenic. So I've grown up around disability my whole life and I've seen it and experienced it.
I think for me, it just became another thing, you know, It's like, it didn't change the person. You know, my brother and my sister are still my brother and my sister, and my, you know, my neighbor was still my neighbor. And, you know, it didn't change anything aside from the fact that, you know, I knew that there was something that they had or that I didn't and that was okay.
When I met my wife, when I met Anne Marie, she has multiple Sclerosis, and at the time that we met, it was not affecting her. It was only, it was a couple years after we met that it started to affect her and yes, you could then you see this progression.
So, you know, but when I knew her, she was on stage singing and dancing with me, and now she's in a wheelchair. She's a wheelchair user full-time.
I think for me, that is why I feel so passionate about our mission. It's that idea of saying that a disability does not affect the quality or integrity of the work that we do. It might telegraph it in some way. It might allow us to interpret something in a different way.
I think it actually gives a great deal of depth and humanity. As far as accommodating to people with disabilities, people always ask me, what is it like to work with disabled artists? And my answer is always the same. It's like working with any artist. It's the same, you know, every artist has their needs, whether they are disabled or not. Sometimes a non-disabled artist, the needs of a non-disabled artist are a lot more of a hassle than someone who is someone with a disability. It's my job as a producer or director of a show to be able to give our artists all they need so that they can do their best work.
Some things are given, you know, you wanna make sure that you have an accessible space to perform an accessible studio to rehearse in. If you are working with an actor who is deaf hard of hearing, you wanna make sure that you have interpreters in the room, or that you are, you know, during this time we have an actor who's a wonderful actor, Stephen Dre Vickii, who reads lips. But when you're wearing a mask, how are you going to read lips? Right?
So making sure that we have the, like masks with windows in them or, you know, ways that we can communicate so that remains open if you're working with a blind artist, a low vision artist, making sure that they have what they need so that they can. So it's always a little bit of problem solving and anticipating needs, and I think that that's not mutually exclusive to theater.
But most people are afraid of that. They think, oh, disability is just gonna add a whole other list of problems. And to me, I like, as an artist, I say, I like to look at that as challenges. I like to look at that as, you know, this is interesting. How can we incorporate this into the work? And, you know, it makes it better if you can take a piece of art that you've created and now you can say, okay, well, if we wanna show this to an audience who can't see, how can we make this experience as dynamic for someone who can't see it as someone who can?
So now you have to look at it from this angle. Now what about someone who's deaf hard of hearing? How do we make it accessible to them? Well, now I gotta look it up from this angle. So it's trying to come up and you're not always gonna be a hundred percent successful, but it's in the effort that you find your success.
Keith: So, your next intensive is coming up this weekend, and it's gonna be a lot different than the previous six that you've had. Talk about the anticipation and the challenges of going into another creative brainstorming.
Nicholas: I'll be honest with you. It's a lot of work and it's all in the preparation, but, when you see what comes out of it and you see how it's growing during the course of it, it really is so rewarding. To me anyway. I enjoy seeing how the plays develop and how the actors are working and how the creative teams that are randomly paired together, that's a big thing because you're really rolling the dice.
You know, you hope that everybody's gonna work well together. It only takes one person who's not having a good time to make it hard for the rest of the group. So, you know, we just have to cross our fingers and say, okay, here we go. This one's gonna be a little different because I want to, right now, I'm really interested in trying to incorporate what we have learned through the pandemic with what we already knew before the pandemic.
So, normally this year, now that audiences are back, we could say, okay, let's go back to our Playmakers Intensive and do it the way we always used to do it. Well this is going to be our first hybrid intensive, so we are going to create I think seven or eight shows and it'll be a six day event. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. It's gonna be a six day event. And what we will do is for the first five nights we'll premiere five short plays as we've done during our virtual intensive. We'll do two performances of each play every evening at 7:30PM on YouTube and at 8:30PM on Facebook, followed by a little talk back.
Then on the sixth. What we are going to do is we are going to do, we're going to take I guess it's gonna be three or four shows and we are going to present them live. We're going to have them in a studio the way we did our traditional intensive and we will present them before a live audience and we will stream that performance on our Facebook and YouTube channel.
So you will get, it's a longer show because each play is about maybe 15 or 20 minutes with a discussion afterwards, maybe about a 30 to 40 minute evening. So this is gonna be over, like maybe an hour and a half. But you will get to see these plays, these original plays performed live before an audience.
And you will also be able to sort of hopefully absorb that energy and electricity of, you know, the audience and see the response of the audience and the artist performing it. So it should be an interesting experiment, we'll say this time.
Keith: So wrapping up I just have a few last questions. For any inspiring advocates or actors who are just starting out on their professional, or in my case amateur career, what would be some action steps, let's say five, that you would give them in how to navigate this ever-changing and challenging landscape.
I mean, before the pandemic, being an actor in New York City, the greatest city in the country by the way, was very challenging, almost excruciating and that is someone outside of being a professional actor. I cannot imagine all of the extra layers of challenges, stresses and so forth. And so keeping both of those in mind, what are some action steps that you would provide?
Nicholas: I think it's always hard, you know, going into this business is really hard. There's no sure fire way to be successful. So there's a randomness to it. Yeah, I think talent is certainly important. Making sure your skills are as sharp as they can be is absolutely essential.
But it's not the answer because there's also a question of making the right contacts, making sure that you are getting out there and getting to know people, and getting people to know you, because as we've talked about earlier, when you start making connections with people in this business, opportunities come from places you would never even dream of.
And so, you know, when I met you for example, we were having a discussion about what we did as a theater, what you were doing as a theater, and how we might be able to work together. And now you're acting with us and you're a wonderful actor, by the way, Keith, you say an amateur, but you're a wonderful actor.
So I encourage that completely. But that's such an important thing that you always have to, you know, you've gotta be out there. You've gotta constantly be out there. There are a lot more opportunities now in the sense that you can sort of get yourself out through social media now.
You can create your own videos. You can create your own work online. Now auditions have changed so much because, before you used to have to be in the room auditioning in person and with the pandemic, everything went online. Everyone wanted you to tape your auditions and film your auditions. And even though we're coming back, you're gonna see now more filmed auditions and less live auditions, then ever before. So, that can work to your advantage. I think learning how to work in front of a camera, learning how to do what you do when you're the only person in the room is a very important tool. Even though what we do on stage is in, you need the audience, you need people, you need that energy.
But you have to be able to convey that to a camera so that when you're going into an audition, or when you're submitting an audition, they can see that in what you do. I think it always helps to study business and marketing. I know that sounds silly, but the fact of the matter is when you go into this business, you are selling a product and that product is you.
And so, you know, you have to really know how to sell yourself and know what works and what doesn't work. It's hard because when you're an artist, you want people to see you the way you see you, or the way you feel, and that's not always gonna be the case. More often than not, you go into a room and you're typed a specific way, and that's it.
You know, like, you know, for me, it was always hard because I have sort of an ethnic face, an ethnic look. They were either Italian or Jewish or something and that and so, and then people would say, okay, so you're, and they'd see the name and they'd say, okay, so you're Italian, you belong on the Sopranos, or something like that.
And then they'd see my resume and it was all Shakespeare and they were like, I don't know what to do with you. So, that's how this business works. That's why it's very hard. It's even harder when you are a minority or when you will have a disability because people see a wheelchair or they see a disability and right away they're like no, no, you're done, and they don't have that imagination to say, Why not? Why not?
So that leads to the final point, which is you really have to be tenacious and you have to have a thick skin because you are going to face a lot of rejection. Rejection is a big, big, big part of this business, and you can't let that deter you. You can't let a disability deter you.
If you want to be an artist, if you want to act, if you want to be in this business, you must pursue it doggedly. And you have to say, I'm not gonna let anything stop me or intimidate me. If you do, then you are defeating yourself because everybody has a gift.
Everybody has something special in them that only they can bring to the table. That's what makes theater so exciting. You know, every time you go to see a show, I can see the same show every night for a year and every show is gonna be different every night. Why? Because the audience changes. The seasons change, the events of the day affect every person on that stage personally and individually, and they carry that with them on stage and it changes the show.
So, a person with a disability, they bring so much more to the table. You know, people with disabilities are the most adaptable people I know. They have to adapt every day and they are the most resilient and some of the strongest people I know. So, those are special sacred gifts and when you can bring those into the room, that's amazing stuff.
Keith: So, before I let you go, one final question. Sort of a two parter. I hope this podcast reaches people with disabilities and I hope it reaches people who have yet to discover their own disabilities either now or in the future. I would be naive to assume that the people who have yet to discover their disabilities will get out of this episode what people with disabilities will get from it and vice versa.
So as the guest and as doing this interview we have talked about a wide breadth of subjects. What would you hope that people with disabilities will get out of this interview would take away from this episode? And what do you hope that the people who have yet to discover their own disabilities would take away from this episode?
Nicholas: Mm-hmm. Wow. I think, well, let me just start with both. I think the most important factor I want to convey to everyone is that whether you are disabled or not, whether you are male or female, or haven't quite decided what you are. No matter what your race or your religion or whatever, we're all the same. Okay? I think everyone, every human being has their gifts and every human being has their limitations, whether they are physical limitations, whether they are emotional limitations and I find great comfort in that because as an artist, you know, theater tries to understand and explain the human condition and that tries, you know, when you go to see a show that you can empathize with the characters on stage and you can take something away from that, that enriches you emotionally or makes you think, that is a great gift.
And that means that by definition, everyone can be a player in that, and so it's important that we all realize that and, you know, if you shut down and say, well, I'm not disabled, so this isn't for me, it's for them, I would urge you to, to listen on, because not to be cautious and say, oh, you may be disabled.
It's just the idea that it's not us and them. It's all of us. We are all the same time, and yes the great paradox, we are all different, every one of us, but the fact that we are all different is something that makes us all the same. So we can have this discussion for days and days, but the fact of the matter is until we can recognize that spark of divine humanity that we all have and recognize it in everybody that's around us no matter who they are, no matter what they believe, then we are always gonna be fighting this battle of us versus them. The privileged birds versus the unprivileged, the this versus the that and this is a battle that we're never gonna win. So my hope is that we can find a way to come together.
Keith: So, if someone wants to find out more information about the incredible work that TBTB does or sees some of your virtual productions or get in contact with you directly. How would someone do all of those things? .
Nicholas: Okay. The easiest way of, of course, is to go to our website. Our website is tbtb.org. If you go to our website, you'll get to see everything. You'll learn more about us. You can read about our history. You can see all of the work that we've done. We have all of our virtual Playmakers Intensives, all of the plays that we had done posted on our website. There's also our archives that show production photos and some critical response to the plays that we've done.
You can certainly reach out to me through the website if you go to [email protected]
You can certainly reach out to us, we're here. Like I said, we've been here. This is our 43rd season and again, I think that our best years are to come.
I think we have a lot to offer and I think the biggest thing that, I will say once again, that we have to offer is trying to change perceptions in the world and to get people to realize that disability is not the game changer. It is, you know, it is the quality of our humanity.
It is the quality of our work as artists that will set our standard.
Keith: Nick, thank you so much for coming and I hope you will join me for another episode some time to talk more about the incredible work, the life changing forward thinking work that TBTB has always been known for and will most likely always be known for.
Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me today.
Nicholas: Oh, Keith, thank you. It's such a pleasure and I'd be happy to join you anytime, anytime. So thank you.
Keith: Thank you. Take care. Bye.
Keith: You have been listening to Disability Empowerment Now. I would like to thank my guest today and you, the listener. More information about the podcast can be found on visit on disabilityempowermentnow.com. The podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts or on the official website. This episode of Disability Empowerment Now is copyrighted 2022.