Thursday, October 19, 2017

Why Anna Karenina Lives?

Part of Bad Quarto Productions' mission is to explore modern plays using Shakespearean staging conditions: this serves the dual purpose of illuminating the effects of early modern playing conditions on plays for which they were not written, and for engaging with the early modern staging condition of presenting new plays. Hamlet was a new play once, after all, and while we revere (some of) the plays of Shakespeare and (some of) his contemporaries, early modern audiences tended to crave newness.
The cast of Bad Quarto Productions’ Anna Karenina Lives! (from left to right: Rachel Marie Kemp as Anna Karenina, Kirsten Egenes as Sophia Tolstoy, Brigette Estola as Mae West, and James Overton) sings their curtain number. Written by Germaine Shames. Directed by Tony Tambasco. Choreography by Mike Canestraro. Musical Direction by James Overton. Costumes by Joanne Famiglietti. Photo by James M. Smith. 

But that's why we do new plays, generally, not why we're performing Anna Karenina Lives!

Anna Karenina Lives! is the clearest departure from a Shakespearean play that we've done to date; all the others that we've done have had some connection, direct or indirect, to Shakespearean plays or dramaturgy. But of all the modern plays we've done, Anna Karenina Lives! perhaps best encapsulates the spirit of Bad Quarto Productions. 

Anna Karenina Lives! is a musical vaudeville that remixes Anna Karenina, the life of Sophia Tolstoy, and the life and art of Mae West in a narrative that challenges the traditional readings of a novel that was voted "greatest book ever written" by a 2007 poll of authors in Time. Germaine Shames looks through the academic bravura of the novel in a way that even other stage adaptations have wrestled with, and looks to the heart of the eponymous character through the lens of the 21st century, exemplified by the century-ahead-of-her-time Mae West. The "standard" readings of Anna Karenina are offered only to be brushed aside as irrelevant to the needs of a 21st century woman, and Shames offers a template for reading the novel that insists that we read critically, and through the lens of our own modern relevance. 

Mae West (Brigette Estola, right) teaches Sophia Tolstoy (Kirsten Egenes) the shimmy in Bad Quarto Productions’ 2017 production of Anna Karenina Lives! By Germaine Shames. Directed by Tony Tambasco. Choreography by Mike Canestraro. Musical Direction by James Overton. Costumes by Joanne Famiglietti. Photo by James M. Smith. 

Anna Karenina is a novel so rich and large in scope that it defies easy description or summary, but even those who haven't read it will identify it as the novel where the heroine throws herself in front of a train. In creating a parallel between Anna's regrets and Sophia's, Shames asks the audience to consider the world in which that defining moment is avoidable, and Anna and Alexei Karenin are able to grow beyond their circumstances. It is a reading that dares us to imagine that to be human is the most heightened form of existence there is.

Shames's reading also asks to consider Anna Karenina through the eyes of two very different women, who were both pioneers in their own way. Sophia Tolstoy, Leo Tolstoy's wife, who was a diarist and pioneering photographer, but who also lived to see everything she loved swept away by the Communist revolution, and Mae West, an artist and social activist so far ahead of her time that we still fall short of her sex-positive, Feminist philosophies have competing readings of the novel, and of the nature of reading. Sophia looks back in fatalistic regret, but Mae looks forward with the determination of an architect of the future: the former laments that a "flawless work of art" cannot be changed, the latter insists it needs to be. 

Mae West (Brigette Estola, right) seduces Alexei Karenin (James Overton) in a bid to get him to loosen up a bit in Bad Quarto Productions’ 2017 production of Anna Karenina Lives! By Germaine Shames. Directed by Tony Tambasco. Choreography by Mike Canestraro. Musical Direction by James Overton. Costumes by Joanne Famiglietti. Photo by James M. Smith.
Right now, we are all Mae West, insisting that the system needs to change. For centuries, our cultural narratives have been dominated by white, male elites, and it is a testament to the success of Liberal Arts education that individuals of every race, gender, and socio-economic class can insist that their narratives be heard. In presenting Shakespeare's plays the way in which we present them, it is partly our aim to liberate Shakespeare from the prison of high drama and English literature classes that elites have placed him in, and restore his work to its rightful place on public stages, warts and all, where Shakespearean plays can truly be for everyone. While we may sometimes fall shy of our goals to make our plays as diverse as our audiences, they are goals that we continually strive for. 

And they are goals that any theatre company that hopes to be relevant in the 21st century needs to work for. 

While Anna Karenina Lives! breaks the mold of modern plays that Bad Quarto Productions has presented, it confronts the most critical issue of the modern stage head-on: who are the classics for. And the play's answer is the same as Bad Quarto's: a resounding everyone.  

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Meet the company of Anna Karenina Lives!

Meet the company of Bad Quarto Productions' Anna Karenina Lives!

Brigette Estola (Mae West) is a Brooklyn-based theatre creator and performer, poet and stand-up comedian. She is a Michigan native and a graduate of Carthage College. Most recently, Brigette produced and directed her play Up Above & All Around in the New York Theatre Festival's Summerfest. Favorite roles include Ursula (The Little Mermaid), Roberta (Danny & the Deep Blue Sea), Janis Joplin (Beehive! The 60's Musical) and Dot/Marie (Sunday in the Park with George). She's forever thankful and grateful for all those who support and push her daily.

Germaine Shames (author), recipient of Arizona’s Fellowship in Fiction, is author of the award-winning  novels, Between Two Deserts and You, Fascinating You. Writing under the pen name Casper Silk (Hotel Noir, Echo Year), she has been compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene and P.D. James “on steroids”. A returning playwright, Shames majored in Theatre as an undergraduate. Following a successful career as a novelist and journalist, she wrote her first suite of short plays, Wars of the Flesh, which was voted into Tucson’s 2014 New Play Festival. Her first musical, the epic historical drama You, Fascinating You, was a finalist in the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival and under contract with a commercial producer. Songs from the show have been performed in Paris and New York City cabarets. Learn more at

Kirsten Egenes (Sophia Tolstoy) is thrilled to be making her debut with Bad Quarto Productions. NY: Charles and Diana: The Musical (Morningside Players), Oliver! (The Secret Theatre), The Importance of Being Earnest (Titan Theatre Co), The Jolly Holiday Carolers. Past favorites include Crimes of the Heart (Lenny), Ordinary Days (Deb), Lucky Stiff (Annabel). Doing great work as a proud grad of Gettysburg College. This is for Gail.

Mike Canestraro (choreographer) recently played Henry Higgins as  well as choreographed My Fair Lady for Plaza Theatricals, directed and choreographed Evangeline: A Musical Journey at Adelphi University; A South Shore Summer; Blame it on the Movies; and The Melody Lingers On for the Madison at Molloy, starring such artists as Kathryn Crosby, Rob Gallagher, Marie Danvers, Sarah Rice and Angelo Fraboni. Mike previously collaborated with Tony Tambasco on Merrily We Roll Along for the Drama League NYC. Mike has staged and restored countless musicals including several for the Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart estates, at such venues as The Gateway Playhouse, College Light Opera Co., Five Towns, St. Joseph's College, and many Long Island school districts. He is a member of AEA and Lincoln Center Theatre's Directors Lab. Mike has twice won the Innovation in Theatre Award from the STARS AWARDS, plus a third Judge's Choice Award for his production of Ah, Wilderness! He has appeared Off-Broadway in Give My Regards to B'way. Student Prince, Merry Widow, New Moon and at such NYC venues as the Russian Tea Room, Don't Tell Mamma, and the Liederkranz Foundation. Regional credits include Maine State Music Theatre and Theatre by the Sea. TV: Royal Pains, Macy's Parade.

James Overton (music director / Vronsky, Karenin) is performing in his fifth show with Bad Quarto Productions, and this will be his second play with the company as Music Director. James was recently the Music Director for Bad Quarto's Cupid's Revenge earlier this year, in which he also performed. Other credits with Bad Quarto include Pastor John Ball in The Life and Death of Jack Straw: A Notable Rebel; The Ghost, Fortenbrasse, and the Player Duke in Hamlet: The First Quarto; and the Lord in The Taming of a Shrew. Other NYC theatre credits include Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night with Swiftly Titling Theatre Project. James has also appeared with New Hampshire's Shakespeare in the Valley as Launce in Two Gentlemen of Verona as well as Oberon and Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream. He received his Bachelor's Degree from Bennington College where he starred in Don Juan, and Myths and Hymns. James is very excited to perform in something less than 100 years old.

Rachel Marie Kemp (Anna Karenina) is an actor/singer/dancer based in NYC. Originally from the Adirondacks, she has worked there regionally; favorite roles include: Baskerville (Actress 1), The Seagull (Nina), and A Midsummer Night's Dream (Hermia). In Brooklyn: Parade (Iola Stover), Singin’ in the Rain (Zelda), and Les Miserables (Cosette u/s). Rachel has performed at venues in the city ranging from Carnegie Hall to the Brooklyn Dodgers' MCU Stadium. Love always to the Kemp Fam.

Tony Tambasco (director) is the Artistic Director of Bad Quarto Productions, where he has directed The Life and Death of Jack Straw: A Notable Rebel; Hamlet: The First Quarto; The Taming of a Shrew; The Cronicle Historie of Henry the Fift, The Ballad of Dido; The Merry Devil of Edmonton, and others. Some other favorite directing credits include Julius Caesar with Sweet Tea Shakespeare in Fayetteville, NC; As You Like It with The Weathervane Playhouse in Newark, OH; An Experiment with an Air Pump with Clarkson University's Theatre Co., and Closer with the Catalyst Theatre Co. in Burlington, VT. Tony holds an MFA in directing and an M.Litt. in Shakespeare and Performance from The American Shakespeare Center's partner program with Mary Baldwin University. Tony's writings on Shakespeare, directing, and other theatrical topics have appeared in Didaskalia: The Journal for Ancient Performance, The Marlowe Society of America Newsletter, Breaking Character Magazine, and The Shakespeare Standard. You can learn more about his work at