Friday, April 18, 2014

Nero/Pseudo: Meet Alani Kravitz


(As part of my blogging about Nero/Pseudo here at Balkans via Bohemia, I will be introducing readers to members of the cast and creative team of the show.) 

Alani Kravitz is one of the members of the ensemble of Nero/Pseudo -- a trio of actors who have completely wowed all of us with their smart, hilarious effervescence. She is a native DC resident who's been back in the 202 for two years after getting a BFA in Musical Theatre from Syracuse University. You may have seen here in DC in Faction of Fools/NextStop's Pinocchio! WSC Avant Bard's Friendship Betrayed, and Infinite Jest's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at Capital Fringe. Her other credits include The Cradle Will Rock and Lysistrata (Syracuse University); Shipwrecked! (Syracuse University/Edinburgh Fringe Festival); and A Phoenix Too Frequent (Unexpected Stage).

Alani was kind enough to play along with our three questions about the Nero/Pseudo experience.

Who is your favorite person/god from antiquity?

Dionysus (Greek god of wine, parties, debauchery, you get the picture), hands down. He had rabid devotees (almost entirely women) who would follow him and drunkenly frolic. They were also some of the most intense worshippers, as they would tear those who doubted him to shreds in an ecstatic trance. Dionysus was not a god to be denied, as 'frivolous' as his dominion seemed to be. The festivals dedicated to Dionysus eventually involved loose skits, and those skits eventually became plays, so you could say Dionysus is one of the reasons why we have theatre today. Also, he was the god of wine, and I happen to like wine very much.

What's the strangest fact about the ancient world or glam rock that you've learned from this experience?

I found the worlds of Nero and just-post-Nero Rome and 70s glam rock fascinatingly similar. For one thing, there were similar feelings of political unrest, and a dire need for change (either to stability or anarchy). It's also incredibly interesting to me how Nero as a singer and performer was idolized to the point of deification. The Augustiani (Ryan Alan Jones, Brian McDermott and myself in the show) would be essentially his 'roadies' and actually lock the doors when he performed to keep anyone from leaving, and beat anyone who didn't clap hard enough. In the world of glam rock, you had these crazed teenage fanatics who, in their own way, worshipped their favorites the same way.


If you were Empress for a day, what would be your first decree? 

If I were Empress for a day, I think I would decree a maximum amount of hours per week people can work. I get very disheartened by the amount of people who have told me they don't have time for the things they want to do, because of the things they 'have to do'. That becomes an accepted reality. Sure, we all need to make a living, but I wonder sometimes if the ends justify the means. So, that is what I'd do. Dionysus would back me up, I'm sure.

Nero/Pseudo previews open at The Shop at Fort Fringe on Friday May 2. Find out more about the play at WSC Avant Bard. Tickets are now on sale

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nero/Pseudo: The World of the Greek Taberna

(As part of my blogging about Nero/Pseudo here at Balkans via Bohemia, I have also asked Alan Katz -- the dramaturg of the show -- to share some of his wisdom and wit about the ancient world as guest posts on the blog. This is his first look inside the world of the play.) 

In taberna quando sumus, 
non curamus quid sit humus, 
sed ad ludum properamus, 
cui semper insudamus. 
quid agatur in taberna 
ubi nummus est pincerna, 
hoc est opus ut quaeratur; 
si quid loquar, audiatur. 

-- Carmina Burana

“When we’re in the tavern,
We don’t give a fuck for grit
But we rush to gamble
We always sweat over it.
What goes on in the tavern
Where money brings the cup,
If you want to find out
You better listen up”

(Loose translation by Alan Katz)


One of my my main jobs as Nero/Pseudo dramaturg is to help flesh out the context of the production. In this particular case, that context includes the world of first century Greece, the seedy and sexy world of glam rock, the violent and occasionally hilarious antics of  Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, and how this new production fits into (or disrupts) the current DC theater scene. But before I can start digging into the kaleidoscope of influences harmonized in this play, I need to start with the most essential and practical element of the context of Nero/Pseudo: where the hell is the play set?

The first half of Nero/Pseudo takes place in a taverna. As you may know (or hope), the holy tradition of getting shit-housed on beverages made of  fermented grains and fruits has been around for thousands of years. Accompanying peoples’ desire to drink has been the desire to do said drinking  far away from the domestic abode, which is associated with the distasteful responsibilities of things like spouses, children, and laundry. On the face of it, a taverna is exactly that place of escape: just a shop, usually selling wine, food, and a place to fall asleep, perhaps in one’s own vomit.

But, much like Shakespeare’s Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap, the taverna of first century Greece was much more than a place to spend your whole paycheck on some old wreck. Imagine walking down an ancient Roman street. There’s a square cut out of a building on street-level, and from that aperture music, raucous swearing, and the smell of roasted meat float down the street. When you walk in, the floor is covered with chairs and tables, except for a stand in the center that the drunks are trying to knock down by flicking the dregs of their wine (Roman and Greek wine was unfiltered at the time, so the bottom was full of half-crushed grapes and sticks).  The walls are covered with graffiti of a classic tenor with verses like “Here Stratocles puked in my wine jug. He owes me 5 sestertii.” or “Chrysis makes the boys moan like girls.” The ceiling is hung with produce and meat of a far higher quality than ever would be served by the proprietor.

The people are the most interesting thing, though. The taverna is one of the few places where slaves and freemen could intermingle freely, and you might see a slave making a deal to tutor a rich man’s son to earn enough to buy his freedom. Musicians would probably be playing, either amateurs taking a crack at the public or pros brought in by the owner. There will probably be people tossing dice (actual knucklebones around this time), and you could find some of the shadiest and lowest class characters of first century Greece there: actors, hucksters, trickster slaves, low-ranking soldiers, and musicians. It would actually be surprising not to see women, especially ones selling services that only they can sell.

The fact that one of the characters in Nero/Pseudo, Chrysis, is a woman who runs a taverna is a neat touch for this play. We don’t have much information regarding who actually ran taverns, but it is a solid bet that a woman who ran a taverna would have to be a serious badass. Richard takes advantage of this interesting persona by making her essential to the main con of the play, but never letting go of the threat that she is under as a marginalized member of society. Chrysis just wants to preserve the meager place for which she worked her ass off, but the circumstances of the play take her a place she never expected.

Where does she go? Come see Nero/Pseudo and find out!

Nero/Pseudo previews open at The Shop at Fort Fringe on Friday May 2. Find out more about the play at WSC Avant Bard. Tickets are now on sale. 

(Image of dice players from Pompeii from Wikipedia Commons.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nero/Pseudo: Meet Alan Katz

(As part of my blogging about Nero/Pseudo here at Balkans via Bohemia, I will be introducing readers to members of the cast and creative team of the show.) 

Nero/Pseudo is very fortunate Alan Katz as the production's dramaturg. He is a librarian at the Folger Shakespeare Library. His knowledge of the classical era is pretty amazing (he reads ancient Greek), and he's revved up to speed on the magical world of glam rock as well.  He has previously worked as a dramaturg for WSC Avant Bard on the company's terrific production of Ally Currin's Caesar and Dada and Harold Pinter's No Man's Land.
to have

Alan is also a translator, poet, dog whisperer, house manager and Tweeter (@dcdramaturg). He will contribute guest posts to Balkans via Bohemia in the next few weeks about various aspects of the play, but first he had to answer the playwright's three questions about the Nero/Pseudo experience.

Who is your favorite person/god from antiquity?

The awesomest person from antiquity is totally Diogenes, the Cynical philosopher. He lived in a jar and didn't take shit from anyone. Alexander the Great once asked him what he was doing in a pile of bones, and he said, "I'm looking for the bones of your father, but I can't tell them from the bones of a slave." Also, he took a shit in the theater. What a guy.

What's the strangest fact about the ancient world or glam rock that you've learned from this experience?

My favorite fact I've learned is about glam rock artist Alice Cooper. He performed with a freaking boa constrictor wrapped around his body. That's so hot.


If you were Emperor for a day, what would be your first decree? 

If I was emperor for the day, my first decree would be easy: declare war on Canada. Those maple-syrup-chugging hockey-lovers would never see it coming. Plus we could possess all of the poutine. I'd probably make weed legal, too, so we could dominate all of Canada's biggest industries.

Nero/Pseudo previews open at The Shop at Fort Fringe on Friday May 2. Find out more about the play at WSC Avant Bard. Tickets are now on sale. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nero/Pseudo: Meet Brian McDermott

(As part of my blogging about Nero/Pseudo here at Balkans via Bohemia, I will be introducing readers to members of the cast and creative team of the show.) 

Brian McDermott is a member of our terrific ensemble for the show. They play a lot of parts and have dazzled all of us -- and cracked us up -- from the first rehearsal.

Brian is a Marine Corps veteran and a student at George Mason University where he studies acting, writing, and directing with big dreams of one day making a payment on his student loans. He's been featured in Molotov Theatre Group's Normal, Quotidian Theatre Company's The Iceman Cometh, and Prince George's Little Theatre's Over the River and Through the Woods. He will sticking around at Fringe this summer, appearing in an opera called A Fire In Water presented by Silver Finch Arts.

Brian says he enjoys studying whisky, music, language, and food in his spare time. He also answered the three questions I'm posing to all members of the creative team:

Who is your favorite person/god from antiquity?

When I first started reaching back and exploring my Celtic roots, I really got into the mythology surrounding the Celtic Sun-God, Lugh. He is often referred to as the King of Celtic gods and is also seen as a master of all arts. I also really dig the mythos around the Greek god Dionysus -- the god of wine, merriment, ecstasy, and theatre. What's there not to love about that résumé?

What's the strangest fact about the ancient world or glam rock that you've learned from this experience?

One of the most interesting things I came across during this experience was that Nero convinced the Greeks to delay the Olympic games for a whole year so that he could compete in them, and to include artistic competitions such as singing and acting. It's rumoured that Nero was so pleased with the experience that he declared Greece to be exempt from paying taxes to Rome, which had been ruling Greece for around 200 years at that time.

If you were Emperor for a day, what would be your first decree? 

Four day weekends. Definitely.

Nero/Pseudo previews open at The Shop at Fort Fringe on Friday May 2. Find out more about the play at WSC Avant Bard. Tickets are now on sale