IN THE WINGS: Chatting with The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane‘s Aimé Donna Kelly

Philly teaching artist, actor and playwright Aimé Donna Kelly, who you can currently see in InterACT Theatre Company‘s powerful The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane, talks her devotion to green smoothies, being named after her grandmother’s childhood rival and being told by President Obama that she kind of looks like Michele. 


My name is … Aimé Donna Kelly. My grandmother actually named me after a childhood rival she had back in Cuba. The idea being that she wanted me to be greater. Strong words to live up to. The name also means “to be loved” in French.

I am … an actor. I am also a resident teaching artist with Philadelphia Young Playwrights.

On opening night … a show is born! It starts to live and breathe freely on stage with all our work behind us. It has a life separate from the rehearsal process and we follow it to the end. Its an amazing feeling. I think that’s why we always celebrate it with a party.

If I had to describe The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane in one sentence, I’d say … it is a peek under a veil that we rarely lift and forces us to look into the lives of those who don’t have the freedom to be who they are—and because of that, two brave souls put themselves in danger, simply by living.

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In The Wings: Chatting with The Body of an American star Harry Smith

Philly expat Harry Smith, now starring in The Body of an American at the Wilma Theater, talks about the notorious opening night parties at the Wilma, falling in love with a Bucks County gal, and balancing more than 20 characters in his latest show. 

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My name … is Harry Smith. My mother claims I was named after Shakespeare’s Henry V (“Cry God for Harry etc”) but my father says it was Cockney music hall legend Harry Champion.

I am … an actor, currently appearing in The Body of an American at the Wilma Theater. It’s about war reporter Paul Watson and his relationship with playwright Dan O’Brien. I’m playing Dan.

On opening night … I can be found dancing (badly) to Wham! Thanks to our brilliant front-of-house manager, Javier, the Wilma’s opening night parties are legendary (or possibly notorious).

My favorite moment in The Body of an American is  when the lights come up for the first time. There are two actors in the show (myself and the absurdly talented Ian Merrill Peakes) and we never leave the stage. So it’s like strapping yourself into a roller coaster; there’s no turning back.

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NO WIRE HANGERS: The Bearded Ladies and Dito van Reigersberg to Perform Mommie Dearest Pop-Opera

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Don’t f*ck with me, fellas! This ain’t my first time at the rodeo!

I am willing to take bets that we’ll be hearing this line, plus many others, at the upcoming collaboration between The Bearded Ladies and Dito van Reigersberg. The dynamic duo will be camping it up for a two-performance-only special benefit aptly titled Mommie Queerest, where Bearded Ladies Artistic Director John Jarboe and van Reigersberg will fight to the finish (Bring me the axe!) to see who will star as Joan Crawford in their show within a show. Read more »

Here’s the Brochure for Up-for-Sale Suzanne Roberts Theatre

Suzanne Roberts Theater. Photo | G. Widman for Visit Philadelphia

Suzanne Roberts Theater. Photo | G. Widman for Visit Philadelphia

In an email sent out this morning, CBRE advertised 480 South Broad Street—better known as the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. The bank foreclosed on the home of the Philadelphia Theatre Company last April.

According to a tax return, the Philadelphia Theatre Company had a balance of $11 million on its mortgage when TD Bank foreclosed on the theatre. The theater company, which has been struggling financially due to operating and mortgage costs, received $5 million from the state and $3 million from the city to help construct its theater. The theater attached to Symphony House opened at Broad and Lombard in 2007.

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Rudolph the Horny Reindeer: Tribe of Fools’ Holiday Show For the Naughty

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Rudolph the horny reindeer had a very shiny “nose,” and if you ever saw it, you would even say it grows … uh, I mean, glows.

If you and your fellow vagrants enjoy sexy striptease and revisionist holiday tales, then you’re in luck. Tribe of Fools, Philadelphia’s signature physical theatre company, is bringing back what has become a Christmas tradition in the City of Brotherly love: their seasonal burlesque show. And this year, Rudolph and pals are taking no prisoners. Read more »

Bradley Cooper Breaks Box Office Record In The Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man.

Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man.

I’ve already reported that ticket sales are through the roof for Bradley Cooper’s turn as John Merrick in the Broadway production of The Elephant Man, but new stats show that they’ve soared right up to record-breaking status—and the show’s still in previews. More from Playbill:

The Broadway revival of The Elephant Man, starring two-time Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola, has broken the Booth Theatre box-office record.

The production, which began previews Nov. 7 and will officially open Dec. 7, grossed a record-breaking $966,896 for the week ending Nov. 16.

Here’s how the show is billed:

The Elephant Man tells the story of a 19th-century British man (Cooper) whose severe disfigurement made him a star of the traveling freak show circuit. When the renowned Dr. Treves (Nivola) takes Merrick under his care at the London Hospital, he discovers that beneath this shocking exterior lies a brilliant mind and an unshakable faith. Soon all of Victorian high society becomes fascinated by Merrick, especially the beautiful actress Mrs. Kendal (Clarkson). But with his new life comes new complexity… and as Merrick’s condition grows more severe, a ‘normal’ life begins to seem all but impossible.

The show’s only open for 14 weeks. You can snag tickets here.



IN THE WINGS: A Conversation with The Matter of Frank Schaefer Star Paul Kuhn

Paul headshotMy name is … Paul Kuhn. The “u” in Kuhn is supposed to have an umlaut over it, but I think that is way too pretentious. The only way I would do that is if i could utter more than one phrase in German, which I cannot. I do speak modern Greek, though.

I am … happiest when I am designing/building a set. I love acting but my greatest love is designing and building for Curio Theatre. I am a rabid recycler. Don’t leave a piece of wood or steel on the street because it will be on a set at Curio.

How would you describe The Matter of Frank Schaefer in one sentence? Raised with evangelical homophobic principals, a United Methodist minister transforms himself into an advocate for the LGBTQ community and challenges the bigotry of his own Church in an ecclesiastical court.

What’s your favorite thing about playing Frank Schaefer? My favorite part is that I got to hang around this man for over a year. I have never had this much insight into a character I am playing.

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IN THE WINGS: A Conversation With Red Speedo Star Keith Conallen

Keith Conallen plays Peter, the brother of an Olympic swimmer, in Theatre Exile’s production of Lucas Hnath’s Red Speedo.My name is … Keith Conallen. Sometimes I insist on my middle initial J., but not today.

I am … Philly born and bred, a lover of baking and the messiest OCD neat freak in the world.

I grew up … just south of Oregon Avenue, on Sydenham between 15th and 16th. It was a 5-10 minute walk to get to any stadium for a game.

On opening night I … try to hide. I love being an actor and having all that attention but I also kind of hate all that attention.

My favorite part of Red Speedo is … the intensity. It’s simmering at the start and its boil raises higher and higher.

Speedo or trunks? Trunks.

There must a a ton of Speedo jokes backstage … Ya know, sadly we don’t have any jokes re: Speedos. We just keep laughing at ourselves when we say something dumb or make up words. It’s effortless to laugh with this crew and cast.

The show features the edge of an Olympic swimming pool and real chlorine smell. What’s it like to have a real, water-filled pool on stage? To have a pool is sort of the game-changer. We can do so many more things than if we didn’t have it. The images are cool, the reflections on the walls, and the immersion of the environment helps us tell this tale.

If I were to compete in the Olympics I would … aside from fail, have no idea what I was doing there. I am not athletically inclined.

Brian Ratcliffe (left) and Conallen in "Red Speedo." | Photo by Paola Nogueras

Brian Ratcliffe (left) and Conallen in “Red Speedo.” | Photo by Paola Nogueras

To get into character as Peter, I … focus very much on his intensity and legal skill set; as a lawyer, Peter has a few angles he plays.

The first play I was in was … ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas and I played Father. I was 6, in kindergarten. Funny story: I was sick and very tired and when I laid down for “a long winters nap,” my teacher had to shake me awake so I could “spring from my bed.”

My dream role is … I don’t really have a dream role per say but I do like thinking about Albee’s The Zoo Story.

My surprising celebrity crush is … Sandra Bullock. I just love her. A friend just moved to Austin and I found out Sandy (yes, I call her Sandy) has a bakery/café in Austin. I plan on visiting my friend and stalking Sandy Ms. Bullock.

The most famous person I’ve ever met … I’ve met a few celebrities, they were all just people like you and me. Sitting, relaxing, a couple beers, some jokes. But the most famous would have to be Haley Joel Osment, who was a total douche. Just kidding, he was fine.

The last time I dined out in Philadelphia, I ate … goat meat and guac at Cantina Los Caballitos. Yum. If you mean fancy-pants, it’s been a while, but I had dinner with friends at Russet. So yum.

The best show I saw in Philly recently … was a cabaret/concert at the Fringe Arts during our Philly fringe. It was drag, it was punk, it was gross and it was electrifying. Christeene is the name of the performer and I thank them for a fantastic journey.

The craziest thing I’ve ever had to do for a Philly theater performance was … for Theatre Exile. A few years back we did a production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore where I hung upside-down for 11 [minutes] out of a 13-minute scene.

The best thing about Philadelphia’s theatre scene is … its continuous growth and evolution with new companies springing up, new concepts in what theatre is, new voices, our voices, our minds creating our work. I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. Why ever would I leave this magic?

Red Speedo plays at Studio X now through November 23rd. More information and tickets can be found here.

Cast, crew and staff of "Red Speedo." | Photo via Theatre Horizon Facebook

Cast, crew and staff of “Red Speedo” pose in front of their stage pool. | Photo via Theatre Exile Facebook

IN THE WINGS: A Conversation with Blood Wedding Star Judith Lightfoot Clarke

JudithLightfootClarkeMy name is … as you might suspect, a family name, coming from Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  Although when asked by a prospective landlord in NYC if I was related to Gordon, I didn’t deny it …

I am … blessed to work in the theatre, where talent, values, politics, vision and humanity all serve at the pleasure of bringing the written word off the page and into a room with people breathing the same air.  Turn off your cell phones and be present with us …

On opening night I … will be grateful that my husband, Dean Harrison, and sons, Owen and Beckett, are in the house (theatre house, that is … )

If I had to describe Blood Wedding in one sentence, I’d say … a wrenching poetic saga about forces, seen and unseen, that lead men to violence in the name of love while the women watch, written as only the genius Lorca can. (I’ve made it sound so upbeat! Truly, though, there is much music, love and laughter in the mix.)

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