Going Green with Jessica, Art, and Chris

“Footprints of the Polar Bear and Other Eco-Centric Plays” is a festival of one-act plays by acclaimed playwright, Phil Paradis that will run at the legendary American Theatre of Actors, 314 West 54th Street, Fourth Floor. The limited run will be November 13-16 and November 20-23 at 8:00 p.m. with matinees on November 17 & 24 at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 and will be on sale on or before November 1. The event is co-produced by Laurie Rae Waugh and Jessica Jennings.

iconsquareabc34C10915-E97F-4F1E-A51C36E743975012.jpgDirecting these words of warning is Chris Goodrich helming “God is a Ford Man;” (an alum of the University of Miami). Maybe you’ve heard of him – if you’ve been at the House of Solutions on Governor’s Island, NY International Fringe Festival and Rising Sun Performance Company in New York. He is joined by Art Bernal (directing) “The Perfect Place.” Bernal, an award-winning director, is a 40-year soldier of stage and film armies. Jessica Jennings – a familiar face of the ATA also joins the directors rep. The ominously titled “Natural Rarities Up For Bid,” is directed by Ms. Jennings. Her own accolades include Festival Award winner for All About Lorrie at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, and Jean Dalrymple Award winner (Best Director) for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a Princess Grace Award nomination in 2011 for her direction of Romeo & Juliet. She is the Board President of Ripple Effect Artists, Inc. a non-profit organization that leverages the arts to address and unpack critical issues alongside with advocacy partners. “I am very grateful to collaborate with Laurie,” says the heir to the Jennings legacy of the American Theatre of Actors – an original off-off Broadway movement theatre, “we have been circling around one-another for many years over at the ATA.  Over the summer, after dates for the production were locked-in,  I asked her to take on the direction of FOOTPRINTS OF THE POLAR BEAR.  She has a wonderful working relationship with our lead actor Ken Coughlin.  Both of them were already familiar with this play and had their sights on it for a while,” say concluded.

Jessica, Chris (pictured) and Art weighed-in on the plays and the parables. 
Monica Blaze Hewitt also serves as a director. 


Tell us about yourselves as artists

Jessica Jennings: I come from a movement background.  Steeped in both dance and theatre, I enjoy moving actors on stage.  This particular comedy will fun to explore as it’s futuristic but also reeks of old-school auction-house.  I look forward to merging the two, perhaps a lot like the film Land of The Blind.

Art Bernal: It is very difficult for me to describe myself as an artist because I don’t see myself as one. I see myself more as a work in progress, a person who is constantly learning about how to be a better director. I try to see as many plays as possible and try to understand how those directors came to make their choices. And there have been countless occasions when I have been completely awestruck by a director’s vision/interpretation. They are the source of my motivation.

Chris Goodrich: Whether I’m performing or directing, I focus on finding humor in the material. Finding the color and light in a play can be the best way to capture very serious subject matter, and it often has the added element of surprise. This year, I’ve been working with the Human Impacts Institute, performing songs on the subject of climate change. I try to tackle the issues in a way that entertains people, even in a dire situation. People listen better when they’re laughing.

What your directing style? Does it change per show? 

Jessica Jennings: At my core I love giving a lot of specificity. Certain gestures landing on particular beats, and perfecting it like choreography.  I like exploring the minute gestures, and background of characters.  But in between landing spots I give actors a lot of room to breathe life and find new things.  I use different tools for different kinds of work.  Some things need to be driven by emotion over external factors.  Other works need to have external factors driving the scene and then the actor must find the justification to – for example – the justification to land downstage-left- on a chair  – because that serves the scene or the next beat.

Art Bernal: If I had to explain my directing style, I would say it is very collaborative in nature. Although I may have an idea how I see a particular work, I always encourage my actors to contribute their ideas, suggestions and most importantly, their interpretations of the piece. In every single production I have ever directed, the actors’ contributions made each show so much more meaningful, insightful and wonderfully entertaining. I am very proud to say that my directing style does not change, regardless of the type of work it is. I was very fortunate to be a student of a Tony Award winning director who taught me to appreciate the creativity and talent that all actors have. By giving the actors the freedom to explore and create their characters, their performances are natural, believable and come from their inner selves. It is a beautiful thing to see when an actor’s eyes light up when he/she comes to the realization of who their character is and how to portray him/her.

Chris Goodrich: I love having time to sit down in rehearsal at a table and discuss. I want to let the actors talk about every little thing in order to get inspired, and to discover the world of the play. As long as there’s time, table work, discussions, and research allow the cast to start really collaborating as an ensemble. One element that has changed my style is having a cast of one. I have to adapt to support just one person’s internal process, since the actor has a lot of work to do on their own. Ultimately, the responsibility for telling the story is completely in the actor’s hands, and I can only shape and guide their development into the character during rehearsal.

What brought you to these plays?

Jessica Jennings: I asked Phil what materials he had that could go with FOOTPRINTS OF THE POLAR BEAR – materials that were somehow related to the environment or climate change.  Together the plays make for a fun evening.  The works tackle the issue of our planet, our humanity, and do so indirectly, serving up a lot of food for thought.

Art Bernal: What brought me to these plays and this marvelous opportunity was the generous recommendation of the ATA’s Artistic Director, Mr. James Jennings. It is Mr. Jennings who has graciously taken me under his wing and become my mentor and staunch supporter as I learn the nuances of directing. For that, I will be eternally grateful

Chris Goodrich: I was asked to be a part of this project, and I gladly accepted because I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak out about climate change. It’s important to bring attention to the environment given the current state of politics, and I love having a cause that I care about behind the work I’m doing. Go green!






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