Jacqueline Novak chats with Glamour

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Blow Job Techniques Are Overrated, Says the Woman Who Wrote a Show About Them

Jacqueline Novak’s Get On Your Knees is a show about blow jobs—but it’s also not a show about blow jobs. Here, she explains.

Jacqueline Novak’s Get On Your Knees bills itself as “the most high-brow show about blow jobs you’ll ever see.” It’s an accurate description: Although you won’t hear any advice about blow job techniques at the one-woman stand-up show, you will leave the theater feeling like oral sex might be the most poetic thing two partners can do in bed (or wherever they choose). Get tickets at getonyourkneesshow.com.

I have this stand-up/one-woman show called Get On Your Knees. It’s about blow jobs, but of course it’s not about blow jobs. I prefer to say it’s a show about ideas. So when people see the show and then ask me about my blow job techniques, I have nothing to say. I’m a writer, a comedian; I’m not a sex therapist. I have no tips and tricks for giving blow jobs. All I have are notions about blow jobs. And if I were allowed to go into a blow job with only one or the other in tow—practical skills or fanciful ideas—I’d choose ideas.

One of those ideas: Technique is overrated.

The more mechanically, technically skillful your blow job, I’d argue, the more generic your blow job. Think of it this way: If there was a machine designed to successfully milk semen out of as many dicks as easily and pleasingly as possible, and you were able to mimic that machine with your mouth, in theory, you would have achieved perfect blow job form. But to what end? I truly believe technical proficiency isn’t that…hot. Many people can achieve orgasm on their own via their hand or a toy. So why do we involve others? Not for technique.

To me, the “perfect” blow job is about the intersection of a mouth and a penis. Seriously, I think that alone is enough. I think it’s a pretty compelling core concept to explore according to your own whims. Whatever happens next is up to you.

Don’t be tricked—there are no rules when it comes to blow jobs. Really, who is the authority on it? Someone you overheard at school when you were 12? Articles online? The last person you blew who had commentary? There is no central sex act governing agency. We are on our own out here.

The closest thing to an authority on blow jobs for me growing up was articles in women’s magazines like this one, and those are just articles written by people. I am a person too, and I’m writing this article, so may I be your authority? Why not?

And to me, the ways in which a blow job veers away from that imagined semen-milking machine are not limitations. The closer you can make your mouth into a jerk-off device, a lubed-up flesh light, etc., what have you won? In fact, I argue that only once you’ve learned to retain and revel in whatever you perceive your specific limitations to be, there, then, you will have found your blow job voice.

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Cast out the swirl of concerns on technique in favor of a simple notion: that putting your face near someone’s dick is already radically sexy. It’s generous. Not in terms of providing an orgasm, but in terms of being willing to have someone stare at your face so close to their dick. Your face is the center of your dignity, your most specifically you place. It’s the big front-facing fingerprint, that which will remain, past death, in a gorgeous portrait on your grandchildren’s stairwell, in a newspaper clipping about your greatest achievement, in your loved one’s locket. The willingness to put that, your site of dignity, posterity, identity, the most recognizable part of yourself, right up near someone’s silly dick! That’s so cool.

And it’s not just cool because it’s your face, but also because it’s your mind. They say “giving head,” and I never liked the term, but there’s a metaphor there I can get into the spirit of. To bring a dick right up into your skull, into the realm of your beautiful brain, your seat of memories, curiosities, notions, and dreams…there’s a kindness there. To elevate the simple, pulsating penis by bringing it so close to your sparkly, neon, neural network, nothing but a roof of the mouth between the two? It’s like inviting a dog into your special study, a library of your rarest books. You’re letting someone’s wet dog roll around in the site of your most glittering wonder.

Any intersection of your face, mind, mouth with someone’s dick? It’s outrageous, and it’s enough. So if someone says, “What in the hell kinda blow job was that?” You can say, “That? That was my head on a stick.”

 

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Clearview Energy And The New York Yankees Announce Partnership

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Clearview Energy And The New York Yankees Announce Partnership

Clearview Energy, the leader in the green energy industry, is proud to announce its partnership with the New York Yankees. As part of the partnership, Clearview Energy will be giving away thousands of tickets to foster children in the New York tri-state area to attend Yankees games against the Los Angeles Angels on September 17-19 and the Toronto Blue Jays from September 20-22.

“We are excited to be working with Clearview Energy to give these children an amazing day at the ball park,” said Michael J. Tusiani, New York Yankees Senior Vice President, Partnerships. “The Yankees believe that hard work, dedication, and setting goals are so important and it doesn’t matter where you come from when you dream big.”

“As a foster parent myself, I know the importance of role models and making memories and what better way to do this than at a New York Yankees game,” said Frank McGovern, CEO of Dallas-based Clearview Energy. “The New York Yankees reflect the diversity and spirit of New York City and working with an organization that embodies tradition the way they do emphasizes how to stay true and loyal in a world that is constantly changing.”

“The New York Yankees were the first major North American team to join UN Sports for Climate Action and working with them reinforces our commitment to advancements that are making the world a better place through green energy,” said McGovern.

Founded in 1903, the New York Yankees are the most successful and popular team in Major League Baseball history, having won 27 championships while appearing in 40 World Series. The club plays its home games at Yankee Stadium, which is one of New York City’s most-frequented tourist destinations and home to numerous non-baseball events, including college football’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl. As a result of their on-field accomplishments and iconic interlocking “NY” logo, the Yankees are among the most recognized brands in the world.

Clearview Energy is a supplier of 100% Green Energy throughout 14 states in the U.S. They provide customers with energy products and services in ways that protect the environment. They believe that customers are their greatest asset and are driven to align environmental values with everyday needs. Founded in 2006, Clearview Energy has experienced triple-digit growth as more and more customers are choosing energy derived from clean sources such as solar, wind and hydro.

Jacqueline Novak chats with Vulture

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Wherefore Art Thou, Penis?

Jacqueline Novak on her lyrical, epic deconstruction of the blow job in Get on Your Knees. 

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The lady has lost her head.

We don’t know when it happened, but she was found that way by two Egyptologists in a Paris shop in 1957 and has remained the same since, with liquid hips and an ankle-length skirt of sandy limestone. Her name is Tagerem, and she worked in the temple of Sakhebu on the southwestern delta of the Nile in a revered position known as “God’s wife” to the sun god Re. She’s about 2,300 years old — give or take a few years — and 16 and a half inches, roughly the size of a small newborn. She’s the ideal woman of the Ptolemaic period, described as “demure” yet “alluring.” Perhaps because her upper torso has been lopped off.

“I can’t tell what she’s thinking,” Jacqueline Novak tuts dryly in front of the broken figure. “It’s nice that these statues do tend to have a lower belly of some sort. It’s not a complete washboard, which I do find comforting.”

We step out of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur and take a seat above the reflecting pools, just beneath the picturesque slant of the floor-to-ceiling windows. Novak sits cross-legged and empties the contents of her purse — a toothbrush, 31 dollars, a pair of black-and-white Adidas soccer socks — to unfurl the gray T-shirt she bought during a Bloomingdale’s quest to find the perfect one for her show. She likes it — it’s heathered and doesn’t have that stripy effect under the stage lights — but it’s still not the Platonic ideal. Every night for her acclaimed one-woman show, Get on Your Knees, which is ostensibly about blow jobs but is really about how we think about our bodies, she wears a variation on the same monochromatic palette: gray shirt, washed-out black jeans, and gray-and-white sneakers. It is an attempt to “neutralize the form,” she says, meaning the female body. Her body. “Which is kind of an irritating thing to feel like one has to do.”

Novak would prefer to be the opposite of poor Tagerem: just a floating head and nothing else. Or maybe a ghost. Whatever. The point is, she’s constantly in her head, assessing not only the object but all the social meaning thrown upon it. The female form feels particularly burdensome. “Every day, you leave the house with goals and dreams and things to do,” she says in Get On Your Knees. “You’re forced to lug [your body] along like a sack of sex potatoes, constantly having to say … ‘No taters for sale tonight, boys.’”

Get on Your Knees became a sensation during its sold-out run at the Cherry Lane Theatre this summer, through a combination of critical praise and star power: Attendees have included Lorde, Amy Poehler, Emma Stone, and Sally Field. Now it has been extended for one final run at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, through October 6. (As for its life beyond, Novak would like to go on tour and film it as a special.) The show, which sits somewhere between a theatrical monologue and a stand-up comedy set, is Novak hitting her stylistic stride. Her work has always been ironically high-minded in a way you might expect from someone who studied creative writing and linguistics at Georgetown. She had been doing stand-up comedy for years but didn’t begin to find her comedic voice until she immersed herself in the alt-comedy scene in New York with like-minded people who could apply basic gender theory to cum jokes. Then an invitation to participate in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last summer challenged her to put together an hour-long set. Her friend the comedian John Early came on to direct, and Natasha Lyonne and Mike Birbiglia lent their names as producers.

I ask Novak how old she is, to get a sense of how long she’s been at this, and she balks. While I could figure it out on my own, did this information need to be included? Because once someone knows your age, it locks you in their mind, and a whole bunch of judgment is placed upon you — whether you’re far enough along in your career, what you should be doing with your life. And that’s especially true if you’re a woman, and a woman working in comedy, at that. Getting older has always bummed her out, like when she turned 17 and realized the movie Sixteen Candles no longer applied to her. It was this sense of constant loss; you could never go back. “Fuck it,” she says. “I’m 36.”

Novak’s mind is always abuzz, sometimes flitting between various observations like an overstimulated bumblebee surrounded by wildflowers — a result, she says, of her “unmedicated ADD.” And while there are plenty of digressions in Get on Your Knees, they inevitably loop back to a narrative, turning the act of giving a blow job into an epic bildungsroman. It’s The Odyssey meets a French semiotician’s wet dream. Like Odysseus, Novak learns to navigate the treacherous waters of female heterosexuality — how to avoid a toothy blow job and preserve the male ego (the Scylla and Charybdis of oral sex) — and, like a post-structuralist, she delights in dismantling the inherent, cough, patriarchy of language.

She takes particular interest in deconstructing the penis itself. After all, if you were to choose a part of the body to symbolize masculinity, the penis, Novak says, “feels like a desperate attempt to cover for its vulnerability, by going like, ‘No, it’s strong! And if you say it’s not strong, I’ll kill you!’” She devotes a section to dismantling all the words we use to prop up the phallus: rock-hard boner, penetrate, anaconda. In her hands, the penis becomes soft and delicate, like a flower. It’s not a weapon of mass destruction but a drama queen who wilts on the fainting couch soon after climax. It is the most hysterical part of the male body.

“I don’t think of myself as doing a bunch of jokes about penises, really, even though obviously I am,” she says earlier that morning, over a breakfast of eggs and trout crêpes under the stern eye of a waiter at Café Sabarsky. “Someone in an interview was like, ‘Oh, what’s your blow-job technique?’ I was like, ‘I’d rather not answer that. Did you see the show?’ Because I don’t really have any opinions on blow jobs. It’s an idea I’m exploring more than anything else.”

“Sometimes I think my heterosexuality is a sham,” she goes on. “I just slowly socialized myself to the idea of the male body. I mean, I intuitively had crushes on boys in an abstract-gender way, versus bodily. And that’s actually a big reason that I’m asking myself, What is the penis? Because I’ve never been like, Am I really into penises as an object? I had to adjust to, like, not being horrified by a penis.”

Still, ever since her childhood growing up in Westchester County, her ideas around sex have been startlingly precocious. When she was four years old, a little boy classmate asked her if she had a penis. “I said, ‘No, I have a vagina,’” she remembers. “And then he goes, ‘Does your mom have a vagina?’ I said, ‘Yes, but hers has feathers.’ So I was young enough to have sort of a general feather perception. You know, like not pubic hair.” Her teachers were amused, so when her mother came by, they recounted the story. “When my mom walked out of the office, she flapped her wings,” Novak laughs.

A similar thing happened when a group of girls in elementary school asked her if she knew what a period was. She gave a clear textbook answer: that it occurs when the body sheds its uterine lining. “They were like, ‘No! It’s when you bleed out of your vagina!’”

“The curse of real knowledge,” she says, shaking her head. “I was the fool.”

Len Cariou & Craig Bierko join “Harry Townsend’s Last Stand”

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Len Cariou & Craig Bierko Set For New Off Broadway Play ‘Harry Townsend’s Last Stand’

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EXCLUSIVE: Tony winner and Blue Bloods star Len Cariou and UnREAL‘s Craig Bierko will co-star in Harry Townsend’s Last Stand, a new Off Broadway play set for a limited run this fall at New York City Center.

Written by George Eastman and directed by Karen Carpenter (Love, Loss and What I Wore), the new play is set for City Center’s Stage II for a strictly limited engagement beginning previews November 18 and opening December 4.

Producer Dennis Grimaldi announced the production today.

Harry Townsend’s Last Stand follows 85-year-old Harry Townsend (Cariou), a widower, living alone in the Lakeside home he built in Vermont. While he still possesses a sharp mind and a dry wit, he is getting up there in age. Beside his daughter, Sarah, the one happiness in his life is his son, Alan (Bierko), who is finally coming home after an 18-month absence. Yet Alan’s return is accompanied by an agenda that puts the aging father and his concerned son at odds. The production describes the play as “a story of complex family dynamics, passion, humor and the shorthand of communication that we have with our loved ones.”

The creative team includes Lauren Helpern (scenic design), David C. Woolard (costumes), Jeff Davis (lighting) and John Gromada (sound).

Cariou won his Tony for 1979’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the Stephen Sondheim musical in which he starred opposite Angela Lansbury. His extensive stage credits include A Little Night Music, Night Watch, The Speed of Darkness, Neil Simon’s The Dinner Party and Proof.

Feature film credits include Spotlight and Flags of Our Fathers. He stars as patriarch Harry Regan on CBS’ Blue Bloods.

Bierko was last on TV in the Lifetime/Hulu series UnREAL, with other credits including Boston Legal, Damages and The Good Wife. He starred on Broadway in Des McAnuff’s Guys & Dolls, Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man and most recently in Matilda.

Krysta Rodriguez chats with Forbes

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This ‘Smash’ And Broadway Star Thrives On Her Own Terms

By Jeryl Brunner

Krysta Rodriguez saw her first Broadway show when she was six-years-old. Her family had taken a year-long hiatus and were traveling around the country in a motorhome from Orange County, California. “We rolled up to New York City in an RV and went straight to TKTS,” says Rodriguez. “This was the 1980s and back then people got so dressed up for the theater.” As she waited for Fiddler on the Roof with Topol as Tevye to begin, Rodriguez, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, felt really insecure.

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But when the lights went out, she realized what she was wearing didn’t matter anymore. “Even at six I remember thinking how powerful that feeling is—you are equal, no matter who you are,” she says. “I still love theater for that reason.”

Rodriguez first had a sense that she could sing when she went to a private middle school. “Sports were cool and I was not—haha,” she says. But she loved being in the church choir. When she sang the kids in the pews in front of her would turn around and look at Rodriguez. “Mostly because I was probably the loudest!,” she offers.

From there she went to Orange County High School of the Arts and starred in several musicals playing Marian in The Music Man. She even played the title role in Gidget: The Musical, co-written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

By 2005 Rodriguez made her Broadway debut in the short lived Beach Boys musical Good Vibrations. Getting on the Broadway stage that first time was “kind of a mess” as she explains. Rodriguez had been cast as a swing. An actor had gotten sick during the second preview. “I had no rehearsal and they had just made a ton of changes to the show that day,” she shares. “The dance captain read out the changes to me while they scrounged together a costume.” Rodriguez was literally shoved on stage as the lights came on. “And that was it,” she recalls. She remembers thinking who came up with this job! “My family didn’t even get to be there!”

But Rodriguez bravely showed her mettle. She went on to originate the role of Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family. She was in the original and revival productions of Spring Awakening. Her Broadway credits also includes A Chorus Line, First Date and In The Heights. On TV she was a series regular in the hit series Smash.

Working nonstop, this month she stars as Megara (aka Meg) in The Public Theater’s Public Works’ musical adaptation of Hercules. The stellar cast also includes Jelani Alladin, Roger Bart, Jeff Hiller, James Monroe Iglehart, Ramona Keller, Tamika Lawrence, Rema Webb, the Broadway Inspirational Voices and 200 New Yorkers from all Five Boroughs. All performances are free.

Hercules has been such a wild experience. With Public Works you have 250 people in the show,” adds Rodriguez. “I love how the team has adapted this story about one man and his strength and made it about finding strength in community. It’s very special. And playing Meg is an absolute dream come true.”

Also this month, from September 10 to September 14 Rodriguez is doing her first solo show at Feinstein’s/54 Below. Plus she is also performing at The American Theatre Wing gala on September 16 to celebrate the legacy of Jonathan Larson. And if that’s not enough, next month she stars with Raúl Esparza in the New York premiere of Seared by Theresa Rebeck at MCC Theater.

“I’m excited to get to do another Theresa Rebeck show. And, our director, Moritz Von Stupnagel is a dream director,” says Rodriguez who was a force in the 2017 revival of Rebeck’s What We’re Up Against at WP Theater. “We did the show at Williamstown Theater Festival last summer. So to get another stab at the role is thrilling. The show is cool because it’s about chefs and we actually cook onstage! It smells incredible in the theater all the time.”

Jeryl Brunner: This month, you are making your solo debut at Fenstein’s/54 Below. What inspired you to do this particular show?  

Krysta Rodriguez: I’m so excited to be doing the show! It’s something I’ve talked about doing for years so to actually be putting it together feels really good. I would describe the show as personal and fun. There are a lot of songs that I’m going that I love to sing which is how I picked them. They make me smile, laugh, cry, think. They’re all there!

Brunner: Why do you love collaborating with Ben Rauhala, your music director for your solo show?

Rodriguez: He’s just the best—so encouraging and thoughtful. I love throwing an idea at him and watching him create something unbelievable in no time. He is great at medleys too,. So we have a ton of fun conceiving those. He is also a great director and knows how to put a show together that flows perfectly.

Brunner: What role are you aching to play?  

Rodriguez: Sally Bowles in Cabaret. I have always really connected with that part. It’s rare for a musical of that era to have a messy, complicated, human woman as the lead. That has always been so attractive to me and is still how I like to pick my roles

Brunner: What do you wish you could have told your younger self?  

Rodriguez: Your gut was always right. And also never be afraid to make noise and be heard. It’s your super power .

Jacqueline Novak chats with Entertainment Weekly

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Jacqueline Novak goes deep on getting down in her hit show Get On Your Knees

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It was the unexpected feel-good (and then feel weird about it, and then feel good again) hit of the summer: Get On Your Knees — approximately 80 minutes of high-flying mediations on, essentially, the art and etymology of blow jobs, filtered through the fantastically discursive mind of comedian-turned-monologuist Jacqueline Novak.

After a sell-out run at the West Village’s historic Cherry Lane Theater, the show — presented by actress Natasha Lyonne and executive produced by Mike Birbiglia— has now moved to the larger Lucille Lortel Theatre, where it’s running through Sept. 21. Novak spoke to EW about elaborate vagina metaphors, celebrity fans, and why she won’t be giving out freelance sex tips anytime soon.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you care very much about the semantics of whether Get On Your Knees is called stand-up or a one-woman show?
JACQUELINE NOVAK: Well, I sort of joke that it depends who I’m talking to. If I’m talking to theater person and they’re like “You’re just doing stand-up in a theater!” I’ll be like “Um no, it’s theater, and here’s why,” or [mock-serious voice] “Consider this an experimental theater piece about a woman doing stand-up, and I am playing myself.”

And if I’m talking to stand-up people and they try to say “Oh, you’re just doing a one-woman show, there’s less pressure to be funny,” then I’m like, ‘Check the jokes count, motherf—ers! Laughs-per-minute, asshole, they’re all there!” [Laughs]

In the show you talk about discovering sexuality, and particularly blow jobs, through a friend’s older sister’s friend. But now when every kid has a smartphone, it seems like that era of finding things out more organically or socially is sort of over.
Totally. Totally! Now there’s so much information, and we’re so inundated, you can read endlessly about the blow job. But what I hope is relevant in my show is that the questions I have still stand, even when there’s endless takes on technique and videos of people giving them — it’s even more necessary to assess what the blow job might mean to you, you know? It used to be a lack of information and now it’s too much information, but you’re still left with the same questions. The internet certainly doesn’t poeticize it for me. [Laughs]

As you talk about coming of age and learning how to live as a girl in the world, you use so many great metaphors: That a vagina looks like a stepped-on rose, or the line that being a woman “is to be the great American novel baked inside a cheesy-crust pizza — whether someone’s hungry or they’re looking to read, either way they’re annoyed.”
Yeah, metaphors are really big for me obviously. I think it’s truly how I tend to understand thing — maybe even a tool I rely on too much. But there are some benefits. And it’s always evolving over the course of my life, like the metaphor’s a cap that fits on the thing I’m trying to describe, and if I come across about a better-fitting cap I might pick it up, try it, toss it around… That’s literally another metaphor, and I’m not sure it’s a good one. [Laughs] But the right one has a really satisfying feeling.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge started Fleabag at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as a one-woman piece, just like you did with Knees. Do you feel an affinity for her considering that you both broke through with this very personal, boundary-breaking kind of show?
Yeah, for sure. I think Edinburgh has a real anything-goes kind of feeling, but also there’s a rigorousness at the same time. So I think it’s a really creatively stimulating experience, and also the sheer value of getting to put a show on 26 nights in a row is so huge in terms of getting used to turning personal material into a piece that’s just separate enough from you to be able to perform it. But I also just love her, so any excuse to compare myself to her, I’ll take. [Laughs]

How much room do you leave for tweaking or cutting or ad-libbing each night?
I see it as kind of locked in, as in the show that was reviewed is the show you’re going to see, right? But then I’m always trying out tweaks out each night. It kind of feels like I’m making a case for something, an argument, and every night I have the opportunity to make that argument again, so I absolutely leave room. And it does keep the fear of God in you as a performer. [Laughs]

You pretty much wear the same thing every night onstage — a plain grey T-shirt and jeans. Did you deliberately want sort of a blank slate, maybe a Spalding Gray kind of thing?
Yeah, I certainly enjoy having fun with clothes, but it felt like maybe because this show is my introduction to a wider audience, I didn’t feel ready to make an arguably strong sort of statement. To do stand-up is kind of this high-wire tightrope act, right? And to me, if you just go out in a leotard and do the tightrope thing, it really draws attention to what’s being done.

It’s almost like clothes are another language, and my show is so much about words and what I’m saying that I almost have to get as close as I can get to nothing competing with it. And then because the show is also about my discomfort with the body, it feels like the most neutral kind of nondescript clothing makes sense for the show. And it’s sexual material, so if you see an image of me dressed as a kind of librarian, that would seemingly tell you something more about it than if I dressed sensually.  

Because you do have this sort of graphically honest show, do people assume when they meet you that they can kind of say anything to you because you must be this super open, sexual person?
When people see it they do want to talk sometimes — like when an usher on the show was like, “Can I ask you a few questions about, you know?” It was insane. I was like, I’m not a sex expert! I mean I know it’s pretentious to say “It’s a show about ideas!” but I think I’m more scandalized than people expect me to be. Like, I would gasp at a picture of a penis.

I wondered if it’s like on Seinfeld where Jerry’s dating a masseuse and always trying to get her to massage him, and she’s like, “No thank you, that’s my day job.”
Well luckily I’m in a long-term relationship, so there are no more blow jobs. [Laughs]

It seems like men too might have very different takes than women do on the show, but not always be sure how to express that to you.
It’s a wide variety. I would say that in general I’ve found that men for the most part actually receive it all really well, more than one would think. All of my stuff that’s like “the takedown of the c–k” — and I put that in quotations — I’m like, “No, I’m trying to restore authentic dignity to the penis by acknowledging what it really is, and that being okay.” So in a weird way it’s a takedown of the c–k, but it’s a defense of the penis.

You’ve been on Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon, all these shows, which is great for your career of course, but you’re also on television talking about…dicks. How have your parents handled that?
They really are proud, like unabashedly proud. They love the show! And if someone else were to say something disparaging to them, they would defend me to the death. We got through the awkwardness of sexual stuff literally when I was a teenager by watching Six Feet Under on HBO, or even The Sopranos. HBO programming really helped normalize sexuality in our house, so I always credit them.

Obviously you have Natasha Lyonne as a presenter, and the night I was at the show, Jemima Kirke from Girls and Alan Cumming were both in the audience in this tiny, tiny room. Is that strange for you?
Alan Cumming was, yes! I got to see his face from the stage, literally a round O mouth of shock. At a key moment his jaw was just open, and that was like, the greatest. Just thinking of him in Cabaret, I was like, “Maybe I need to throw in a dance number now?” [Laughs]

Shoshana Bean chats with Forbes

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Shoshana Bean, A Recording Star And A Force On Broadway, Has A New Show At Feinstein’s/54 Below

By Jeryl Brunner

Shoshana Bean began performing was she was just three-years-old. She had been watching her cousins in a tap recital, when suddenly she rushed onto the stage right in the middle of their performance.

Maybe it was a case of FOMO on Bean’s part. But at that moment her mother was convinced that she needed to enroll her daughter in tap class so she could experience her own recital. ”That was apparently the sign she needed and that’s where it all began!,” says Bean who was born and raised outside Portland, Oregon, and has a B.F.A. in Musical Theater from Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM).

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Since then the singer, songwriter, recording artist and actress has been dazzling audiences with her fierce talent.Three of her solo albums have topped the iTunes R&B and Blues charts in the United States and United Kingdom. Her newest album, Spectrum, debuted on the Billboard Jazz charts at number one. A Broadway veteran, Bean’s credits includes Hairspray, Wicked and Waitress. Off Broadway and beyond she has appeared in Songs for a New World, Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell and the pre-Broadway production of Beaches.

This month she makes her debut at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York City and will perform there through September 3rd. Bean, whose belt is as nuanced and richly layered as it is powerful, will sing an all-Broadway repertoire. She has included songs from roles she has played, roles she wants to play and roles she’ll never play. “I was inspired to do a show of all Broadway material because it’s something I’ve never EVER done in New York City,” says Bean who describes the show as “warm, folky and soulful.” And, she adds, “It is made up of songs that tell wonderful stories and evoke powerful feelings.”

Jeryl Brunner: Can you put into words how singing makes you feel? 

Shoshana Bean: Oh that’s easy! Singing makes me feel I am the truest, purest most authentic version of myself. It’s my superpower so I always feel empowered, powerful—like I’m in my purpose and have a responsibility. I can get lost in it. I lose track of me. And when I’m really locked in, I lose track of myself. In the absence of self-consciousness and self-judgment, I feel liberated and limitless.

Brunner: Do you remember the first Broadway show you saw? 

Bean: When I was 8-years-old my mom brought me to New York City to visit relatives and we went to see Cats. I had been preparing for months listening to the vinyl and memorizing the entire soundtrack. While I had seen plenty of theater at that point in my life, I had never seen a theater come to life all around me in the way that Cats did at the Winter Garden Theatre. I was riveted!

Brunner: Can you talk about when you heard you were cast in Hairspray and going to make your Broadway debut? 

Bean: I was home in my apartment in Astoria on a Friday evening. My agent at the time called with the news. I remember being over the moon and calling my parents and closest friends. I remember riding the subway into the city later thinking about my cousin who had told me as a teenager, ‘you have a better chance of landing on the moon than you do landing a Broadway show.’

 The timing was divine because at that point I was considering moving out to Los Angeles to work on my music as nothing had really taken off for me in New York City since doing Godspell [off Broadway], almost two years prior. Getting Hairspray was the sign I was looking for. It was a clear sign that New York City and theater was where I was meant to be, at least for the time being. And it turned out to be some of the best years of my life and gave me friends who have become family.

Brunner: Music virtuoso, James Sampliner, is your music director for your show. Why do you love collaborating with him?

Bean: James is like family. He loves, lives and breathes music the same way that I do. He loves taking tunes and reimagining them for our purposes. And he’s wonderful at it. When James shows up to the gig, he commits himself fully. And above being a professional and a skilled player, he shows up with his whole heart. And heart is very important to me.

Brunner: What role are you aching to play? 

Bean: Oh there are so many! But as always, the number one is Fannie Brice. In my opinion, it is the single greatest score of all time. OK next to West Side Story. And because the character is in me, I know her, I feel her. She is painful, hopeful, challenging and familiar.

Get to know Smith Street Stage’s Beth Ann Hopkins

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Get to Know Smith Street Stage’s Beth Ann Hopkins

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Smith Street Stage has always looked for new ways to tell classic stories and they are doing just that with Lear – That Old Man I Used to Know, a new take on the classic story of King Lear.  Performances begin at the A.R.T/New York Theaters on September 5th, for a limited engagement.

Since that inaugural production (a five actor adaptation of Romeo and Juliet) 10 years ago and under the artistic direction of Beth Ann Hopkins, the Company has grown to hiring over 40 artists a year, receiving New York Innovative Theater Awards across multiple seasons, and bringing full productions of critically acclaimed shows to theaters throughout the city. They believe that easily accessible productions of plays produced at a high artistic level can transform audiences’ relationship with great literature.

The Company’s foremost principle is that classical texts are not elitist, and they aim for their productions to be both meaningful and accessible by focusing on relatable human dilemmas without diminishing their complexity. Their goal is to demystify the classics.

In Lear – That Old Man I Used to Know, King Lear is told through the eyes of a child as the words on the page literally come to life before her eyes while in her grandmother’s attic.

This adaptation explores the conflict between love and disappointment. It presses audiences to think of how much we are able to bear for the people who are most important to us. It challenges us to think of what we’re able to forgive, what that forgiveness is able to do and the strength of the family bond.

At its core, it’s a human story.

T2C posed a series of questions to get to know Beth Ann Hopkins and learn more about her creative process.

T2C: How did you get involved with Smith Street Stage?

Beth Ann Hopkins: I founded Smith Street Stage back in 2010 with my good friend, now husband Jonathan Hopkins. We had adapted a 4 person production of Romeo & Juliet and wanted to find a platform where we could perform it again. The production was really well received, and we felt we had a certain way of working on these plays that made them resonate with people.

T2C: What is the mission of Smith Street Stage?

Beth Ann Hopkins: Smith Street Stage seeks to tell classic stories in new ways through affordable, exciting and consequential theater arts. The Company holds that universally recognizable and deeply human conflicts are inherent in great literature, and by exploring such texts with rigor and creativity, one may apprehend these truths and reveal anew their relevance to our lives. Such stories presented skillfully and earnestly have the power to engage philosophical issues, excite spectators of all backgrounds and predispositions, and bring communities closer.

T2C: Where is Smith Street Stage located?

Beth Ann Hopkins: Our home base is Carroll Gardens Brooklyn, where we’ve done free summer Shakespeare for ten years now. But we’ve performed work all over the city, including an Off-Broadway house on 42nd street.

T2C: How do other get involved in Smith Street Stage?

Beth Ann Hopkins: The best way to begin is to come and see one of our performances. If you find what we do exciting, we have seasonal auditions for Actors, interviews for our Assistant program, and plenty of ways to volunteer to get in on the other side of the table. Lastly, we exist because of the support from our community, and our subscriber program is a way that Smith Street can continue to produce exceptional work.

T2C: You adapted Lear – That Old Man I Used to Know. What made you choose Lear?

Beth Ann Hopkins: Every Shakespearean actor or director holds one of Shakespeare’s plays closer to their heart than the others, and for me that’s King Lear. The themes of forgiveness and love are epic and, I believe, unparalleled in dramatic literature. It’s about the power of familial love, which is something that affects everyone. I also think this play has some of the most beautiful language that I’ve ever heard. It sings to me.

T2C: What fresh ideas do you bring to this age old story?

Beth Ann Hopkins: I began to think of this story through the lens of Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordelia, the one whom he banishes at the beginning of the play. I imagined a scenario in which a girl, mourning someone from her life, would retreat into a hidden space and find a sort of solace in the story of King Lear, which would come to life around her. The girl identifies with Cordelia, becomes her in the story, and through trying to influence the stories characters, learns we don’t always get the ending we expect to have with our loved ones. I wanted Cordelia to be able to watch her father’s decline, in order to understand and not only forgive but come to a higher place of learning about death and age.

T2C: What other shows would you like to bring to the stage?

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Beth Ann Hopkins: I have an adaptation of An Enemy of the People, that I’d love to express fully. We did a workshop production a few years ago. It has very little text and the movement spans from dream like to tribal. Elliot Roth wrote a magical contemporary classical score which I would love more people to experience.

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I also have a Tempest I’d love to play with inside. We performed it a few years ago outside with our Shakespeare in Carroll Park program. Clara Strauch wrote the most haunted musical score.

T2C: You are an actress as well as a director. What roles would you like to perform?

Beth Ann Hopkins: I love playing the misfits, the leftovers, the weirdos, the ones on the brink of madness and brilliance. For Shakespeare that means Ophelia, Lear’s Fool, Lady M, Hamlet. Otherwise I look to my favorite authors, Harold Pinter, Edward Albee and Jez Butterworth.

T2C: What do you prefer more acting or directing?

Beth Ann Hopkins: I love them both for completely different reasons.
With acting, I love being able to get lost in a role and be a part of someone else’s vision. It’s very playful and fun. I get to shut off parts of my brain and swim around in beautiful waters that have been filled for me by designers & Directors. Directing a play spins the brain. All your cylinders have to be working. I have to be ready to discard ideas and concepts that don’t feel right or aren’t helping the play. That can be a downright heart-breaking and exhausting experience. But when something works, when the music and movement and acting swirl in such a way that can take away someone’s breath or remind an audience member of what it feels like to be human? That’s something very special.

T2C: What would you like our readers to know about you?

Beth Ann Hopkins: I think collaboration is essential in the arts. I believe in the magic of storytelling and think that live theatre can change people. I have every confidence our Lear will do that.

Lear – That Old Man I Used to Know: A.R.T/New York Theaters, 502 W 53rd Street, starting September 5th, for a limited engagement through September 22nd.

 

Shoshana Bean chatted with BroadwayWorld

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BWW Interview: Shoshana Bean On Her Feinstein’s/54 Below Debut and How Life Can Be Its Own Muse

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Broadway’s Shoshana Bean, most recently seen as Jenna in Waitress, will be making her Feinstein’s/54 Below debut this summer!

This electric concert will feature music from the iconic roles she has played (such as Elphaba in Wicked!); roles she has dreamed of playing; and other Broadway favorites!

BroadwayWorld had the chance to catch up with the talented singer, songwriter, actress, and recording artist about her debut and return to New York City; the musical influences that inspire her; the most empowering part about her time on stage as Jenna; and how life in general can be its own muse.

Congratulations on making your Feinstein’s/54 Below debut!

Thank you! I’m really looking forward to it and will be happy to be back in New York City – I’ve been going through withdrawals!

Love that your song list will encompass all things Broadway! What is your creative process like for choosing your material?

I usually start by making a list of songs I’ve performed, in addition to the ones I’ve always wanted to cover. I get it down to about 20-30 songs and then go through the selection process. I have to consider what will resonate the most and what feels the strongest lyrically. I’m really happy with how this set will fall into place!

Right on! Who are some of your biggest musical influences and how do you find inspiration in life?

Some of my biggest influences include Aretha; Barbra; Frank Sinatra; Stevie Wonder – I love 90’s R&B. Definitely an eclectic mix.

I would say that I receive inspiration from life in general. You learn so much just from walking through the day and all that you experience. There’s certainly plenty to choose from!

Speaking of lessons in life, you most recently starred as Jenna in Waitress who we see go through this incredible journey. What was the most empowering part about playing that role?

I had a great experience! The biggest lesson that stayed with me was just how powerful vulnerability can be. The more willing you are to show the deepest and darkest parts of yourself, the greater the connection you will have with others. Some of the other roles I’ve played [such as Elphaba] were examples of women who led with this outward strength. Jenna’s journey was different, and it was a little more challenging to play her.

Looking back on your career, is there a lesson or piece of advice that has continued to move you forward?

Not something specific, but something that I think is important is that it’s not enough to just have a goal or dream in life – because it can’t just be about yourself. It needs to serve a bigger purpose. I’ve always lived by that and knew that performing was what I was meant to do – – there was never a Plan B. I wanted to share my journey with others.

Shoshana begins performances on Saturday, August 24th and her run at Feinstein’s/54 Below will go through September 3rd. Click here for tickets and to learn more.