Angelo Parra!

Live and let live.  Not very profound, I know, but, in my opinion, most of the heartache and tragedy in the world is caused by people trying to force their ideas or beliefs on others.  If people would tend to their own lives, and not try to run the lives of others, we’d all be a lot better off. 
-Angelo Parra

Happy Spring!
The calendar is telling us that spring arrived sometime around 1:45 AM here in the East...the weather is telling us otherwise. This has been an incredibly gorgeous March in New York!

Hoping you're looking forward to an artistic day. I'm having lunch today at Sardi's with some pretty heavy hitters. Maybe I'll have some photos for my blog tomorrow. One would be a great coup for my book. I hope to secure another interview this afternoon for my book...since I'm going to be in the city. Tonight, we will be celebrating Terese Genecco's 3rd anniversary at The Iridium and her new CD (Check out my blog from Saturday).

Before I focus on me today, I want to celebrate Angelo Parra who has a new book coming out later this week, Playwriting For Dummies. I'm a huge fan of Angelo's work. I met him year's ago through my friends, Joe Brancato, artistic director of Stony Point's Penguin Rep Theatre, and my late great friend Heather Duke. I was already a fan of Angelo's work having seen his acclaimed play, The Devil's Music, about Bessie Smith, currently playing at St. Luke's Theatre in Manhattan.

I was very excited about the prospect of this happening. Unfortunately, I could not afford him! Therefore, it never happened. When I got the press release for his book, I suggested doing this blog on him. So, today, I'm celebrating Angelo Parra!

 Angelo Parra is a professional playwright with productions:  Off-Broadway; in LA, Chicago, and Washington; at Hartford Stage, Florida Stage, Cape (Cod) Playhouse, George Street Playhouse, Theatre Memphis, Florida Rep, St. Luke’s Theatre (NYC), and Penguin Rep Theatre, among others; and at the Edinburgh International Theatre Festival.  He wrote “The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith,” named among the “Top-Ten Off-Broadway Experiences of 2001” by the NY Daily News.  He is also the author of “Playwriting for Dummies.”  Angelo’s honors include two NY Foundation for the Arts Fellowships in Scriptwriting, and the 1998 Chicano/Latino Literary Award (University of California).  In 2000, he was named a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the .  He is a member of the Dramatists Guild and a member emeritus of the BMI/Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop.  He is the founder and director of the Hudson Valley Professional Playwrights Lab, president of the Penguin Rep Theatre Board of Trustees, and he teaches playwriting and performing arts at SUNY Rockland Community College.

The first live show Angelo saw was a production of “The Miracle Worker” done at his high school, Cardinal Spellman, in the Bronx.  It was a spectacular production of a great play.  The first professional show he saw was the amazing “Man of La Mancha” on Broadway.  Though one is a straight play and the other is a musical, what they both have in common was a high degree of theatricality.  And he was hooked.
 Angelo has learned – and does – to share with his theatre colleagues leads and contacts that come his way.  In other words,when he hears that such and such an organization is conducting a playwriting competition, whether or not he sees the opportunity as right for him personally, he sends out an email to his playwriting colleagues to let them know about it.

The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith

 His feeling is that, if he doesn't win or get the production, whatever, it’d be great if someone he knows gets it.  We’re all in this together.

Angelo teaches playwriting and intro to performing arts at SUNY Rockland as one of his day jobs, but also because he loves sharing his passion and opening the eyes of students to possibilities they may never have considered.  And, it keeps him young.  A point that he stresses in his classes is this:  anyone can learn technique or structure, to one degree or other, but what’s going to set you apart from others is how much of yourself you’re willing to share with the world.  How you see the world and what you believe is your unique resource.  If you want to hide, the arts is not the place to be.  A writer once said, “writing is easy.  You sit at a keyboard and open a vein.”

Angelo told me that if he could go back for a week to any time and place, it would be Philadelphia during the Second Continental Congress.  He would have loved to have met and chugged ale with the likes of Ben Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson.  These were very flawed men – with differing opinions – who put aside their differences to invent a country.  The politicians of today could learn a lesson or two from those guys.

Your thoughts on Carol Channing (All my blogs focus on Carol Channing’s Foundation for The Arts)
Needless to say Carol Channing is a remarkable performer.  She has starred in some of the great shows of American Theatre.  And, in addition to her acting, singing, and dancing talent, she has a unique knack of making everything she does joyous.  Her signature wide-eyed smile and relentlessly upbeat persona is contagious, infusing everything she does with life, cheer, and love.  She is a theatre icon and a national treasure.

 Most recent appearance
As a playwright, appearances normally are not relevant; playwrights mostly work behind the scenes.  However, as author of “Playwriting for Dummies,” I am making appearances at libraries and bookstores to talk  playwriting. It's a pretty heady experience.

The Empress sings the Blues: Jim Hankins on bass and Miche Braden as Bessie Smith in "The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith." The show goes to the Cleveland Play House in February, 2013.

Next appearance
My next playwriting talk and book signing is Sunday, March 25, at 2 p.m. at the Palisades Mall Barnes and Noble, to be followed by a appearance at the Nyack Library on Sunday, April 22, at noon.

What is your biggest success in Show Business?
My biggest success is the critically acclaimed play with music, “The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith,” which is currently running Off-Broadway at St. Luke’s Theatre on West 46th Street.  The show was written in collaboration with Director Joe Brancato, artistic director of Penguin Rep Theatre in Stony Point, New York, and Miche Braden, our Bessie and the show’s musical director.  Over a decade, “The Devil’s Music,” has been performed up and down the East Coast, from Cape Cod to Palm Beach, Florida.  We have been invited to perform the show at the Montreal Jazz Festival this summer, and, not long after, we make our first foray westward, to Cleveland Play House.
What one change would you like to see in today’s industry?
What I would like changed is the tragic trend toward reducing public support of the arts.  Some short-sighted people see the arts as a luxury to be cut back first when times are tough.  What some of these people don’t realize is that every book they read, every painting they enjoy, every song they hear, every play, movie, and TV show they see is art – art that is the end result of the sweat, blood, and tears of artists throughout the country.  When you cut off support for the arts, you choke off inspiration and effort that produces the entertainment we all enjoy.  No one wants life without art, but you can’t have art without artists, and artists need all the nurturing and assistance we can provide – much more, not less. 

Are you happy at the point you are right now in your career?
I got into performing arts late; I was in my late-30s when I quit my full-time corporate job to focus on playwriting.  So, having a show running Off-Broadway and a book on playwriting in bookstores all over the country ain’t half bad.  And I’ve made so many great friends in the performing arts; wonderful people.  Thus, despite the financial ups and downs (and the “downs” can be very vexing), I wouldn’t change the decision I made for the corn in Kansas.

How did you get into this business?
When I was in high school, college, and in my early corporate career, I was terrified of standing in front of people and speaking.  I would go to pieces.  One day I finally decided to do something about that, and I signed up for an improv course at NYU.  And I loved it.  It brought the inner ham out.  I made actor friends and began writing skits for them to perform.  Seeing my work performed by actors was exhilarating.  I had found my niche, and two or three years later, I left the secure (at the time) corporate world for the unknowns of a career in the arts.
Do you make a living at this or do you have a survival job?  As I tell my students, the fact of the matter is 95% of those who consider themselves artists need to do something else to support their habit.  It’s not a matter of talent or successful output so much as it is an issue of numbers.  There are thousands upon thousands of folks out there doing the same thing you and I do.  The amount of competition is overwhelming.  So, the fact that I teach part-time and do other things (like selling books on to bring money in is no shame.  I’m among the 19 out of 20 artists who need the “day job.”  I’m in good company.

What is your favorite compliment?
My favorite “compliment,” so to speak, is when I hear people say that a play of mine made them think, made them see something in a different way, made them argue about the issue(s) of the play in the car on the way home.  To me, to make people see an issue – from bigotry to love – in a new way is so cool.


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!

Tomorrow's blog will be..Remembering Donald Smith

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

  Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Richard Skipper,
This Blog is dedicated to ALL ARTISTS: Past, present and future and the gifts they give to the world!


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