Saturday, November 19, 2016

Pass Go: See Billie Roe!

"Art is a ripening, an evolution, an uplifting which enables us to emerge from darkness into a blaze of light." - Jerzy Grotowski

For her current show at the Metropolitan Room, “Monopoly,” Billie Roe has fashioned, with the assistance of director Mark Nadler and musical director Steven Ray Watkins, a compelling and affecting spoken-and-sung narrative based on the beloved and long-running board game. She begins by recounting her own childhood memories of often cutthroat family Monopoly games, specifically an annual tournament at her grandparents’ summer cottage on an Upstate New York lake in 1963.The song Roe sings to accompany the reminiscence is “Come On! Let’s Play Monopoly” (Mark Mitchell). Remembering her own strategies for buying houses, hotels, and railroads, and those of her two brothers and their parents, Roe reaches back to the Depression era for “Raisin’ the Rent” (Harold Arlen, Ted Kohler). But soon enough she takes off into the world of speculation about the denizens of those Atlantic City streets and other AC locales dotting the Monopoly board, imagining and enacting their lives. (Read MORE)

- November 16, 2016 | By Robert Windeler, Bistro Awards

BILLIE ROE (Performer/Writer/Teacher) is the recipient of the 2014 MAC Award for Female Vocalist, the 2014 Bistro Award for Best Tribute Show, ‘1978 NYC UNDERGROUND – A Tribute to Tom Waits’, the 2012 Bistro Award for Best Theme show ‘DANGEROUS WOMEN: LIFE IN FILMNOIR’ also the same year she
won the Metropolitan Room’s 2012 MetroStar singing competition, and in 2016 was asked to be a permanent judge of the very competition she won 4 years earlier!  Previously, Billie played most of the NY clubs in the 70’s and early 80’s; The Bushes, Reno Sweeney, The Grand Finale, The Copa, Trax, The Electric Circus, and Les Mouches where she debuted her acclaimed act The Heat Is On’, opening for Gloria Gaynor.  Ms. Roe has sung with the San Diego Symphony in a salute to Cole Porter, and has performed in regional professional theatres throughout the country. As an actress, Billie received the ‘New York State Drama Festival Award for Best Performance’ playing Gertrude in Israel Horovitz ‘Morning’.  She holds a BFA in Acting from Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, as well as a Master’s degree in Playwrighting from the Actors Studio Drama School, New School University, New York.  Ms. Roe is a founding member of the Playwrights Directors Workshop (PDW) at the renowned Actors Studio where she has moderated sessions as well as work shopped her plays.
with director Mark Nadler
She has taught both Voice and Acting at the University level. (Cortland, SUNY and New School University) As a playwright, teacher, and cabaret performer, Billie is dedicated to original work and the exploration of cabaret as an art form.

Billie works with affordable housing for the state of New York. She deals with people trying to get housing every single day, building homes, and getting apartments. She has had a fascination with the game of Monopoly since childhood so she thought, 'why not combine them' and also the political climate that we have now found ourselves in the midst of.  
It is all of Shakespearean proportions. Billie thought it would be interesting to tell a story through various characters that she has set up based on people that she has met or has become acquainted with through the twelve years that she has worked at the agency. She has dramatized this as a playwright. She likes to combine her play writing skills with singing. That is how she works in cabaret.
Billie met Mark Nadler last year (2005) at Provincetown's CabaretFest. They hit it off and he told Billie that he would love to work with her and she wanted to work with him. They got together over the summer and she pitched four different ideas to him. He really liked the Monopoly idea. That, thrown in with the political ramifications, as well, really interested him. They jumped in and she started writing characters and sending them together. When they got together, they would bandy ideas around
piecemeal. This process took a year. The script and the ideas started building from 'nothing'. She has had a great time working with Mark. "He is such a brilliant talent, so I feel very honored to work with him."
According to Billie, Mark is a great dramaturge. He helped in that respect. Also Billie talked with Stacy Sullivan. He had directed her act as well. He has a great sense of story. He can cut through 'this is too much; this is too little, add more here' which is a very valuable asset to a writer. He is also a wonderful director. He simply knows how to bring out the best in the person he is directing as an artist. He does this in such a way that is truthful to the artist and never imposing his own sense of theater or drama on what the artist is doing. Again, it has been a wonderful experience.
They started working together and beginning to write the script in July of 2015. They started out with seven characters that eventually got cut down to six.

As they honed the characters, they assigned music to them. They continued writing and working from July through the first of 2016. They then brought on musical director Steven Ray Watkins. He has a lot of experience in terms of musical theater. The three of them working together was like magic according to Billie. Mark and Steven are both strong as far as story and structure and music are concerned. At times, Billie says, it was if they were speaking a language in which she had no idea what they were saying. She feels that she got the best from both worlds.   
Steven Ray Watkins is also an incredible entertainer on stage as well as being wonderful with arrangements, his vocal arrangements especially. It was a great collaborative process working together which added to the excitement.  
When they began working on this show, we were all in the midst of the craziest election on record. Now, unless you've been under a rock, we all know the outcome. Billie is not changing anything in terms of what was written before we knew the outcome.
The characters stand on their own. The political climate, certainly with audience members, will probably take them to a different level and a different point of view.

Now, when we see people suffer, we know we have a president-elect who makes a big stand for the one percent rather than the ninety-nine percent. She feels that the audiences perceptions will affect how they observe this but she will not change this anymore. She originally had said, "You can buy hotels that will eventually make you wealthy and prosper so that you can win the game of monopoly. You can also run from President!" Now, she will change that to you can become President. 

She never thought she would be saying that. Most of us didn't. 

Finish this sentence: I'm very bad at...
socializing! She spent so many years in the theater where you do your job. You write the play. You sit and watch the house. You pack up your make-up, your clothes, and you go home. The biggest problem for Billie in cabaret is adjusting to working on stage, getting off, and having to stand outside the room and talk to the audiences that have just been entertained. That was a big adjustment for Billie. She, at first, felt weird and strange and, "Oh my gosh!

What am I going to say to these people and I felt like an ass!@#$!" It is still kind of awkward for Billie. She has gotten better at it, especially when Mark, who is Mr. Show Biz, says, "Ah! Come over here and talk to this person" and Billie still reluctantly says, "OK." She still carries around that 'actor's head' as opposed to the 'performer's head'. She is also wearing the 'writer's head'.  Sometimes, people think she is stand offish or she doesn't know what they think. She is trying to get better at it as this has been a part of her since she was a kid. As most of us do, she developed a sense of humor about it when kids invited her to their birthday parties. 

I asked Billie to name one piece of art that she wishes she had created. 
Evita. It is historical. It is satirical. It is incredibly powerful. It is a great vehicle for a woman. 
In her brain, Patti LuPone remains as Eva Peron. Billie believe that musically it is stunning. 

Billie started doing cabaret in the late seventies and early eighties and it was a stepping stone to musical theater and Broadway. She remembers doing an entire act  for $225.00. You got booked and you did two shows a night and it was packed. That $225.00 included her musicians and rehearsals and everything. That seemed like a lot at the time. Now, everything is "super sized" and very show BIZ. It has become now that you have to be the artist and be the promoter and it has become so big and so expensive and it gets depressing for Billie.
You work and work to create a project and she basically has to figure out to get twenty paying customers to come and see her work. It is not just Billie. This is what it has become. It has become such a business. When she was just starting out, it felt more entrepreneurial and more creative. It didn't feel as much as a business as it does today. There are contracts to be signed and you have to make so much money for the clubs and try and figure out how you're going to pay the musicians and it's ALL on the performer's backs. Billie knows that the clubs are in it for the business but she feels, as do I, that there really has to be a better way. Artists should not have to go into debt for two years in order to do one cabaret show.  
It has become more of a corporate enterprise.

I asked Billie about her training. She feels that training is very important for an artist. It is something she feels artists should be doing their entire life. She would sit at the Actor's Studio and watch Estelle Parsons get up and work or Al Pacino. She just thinks that no matter what level you are at, you should always check back in. Billie has really good training. She has a BFA in acting from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. She then went on and studied the "method" both in Los Angeles and here in New York.The Master's degree that she has is in play writing. 
She got really great training in the "method" from the top acting teachers in the United States. She tries to bring her training to her work. Unfortunately, the method sometimes gets a bad rap and Billie feels that when an artist is doing the work that, we the spectator, should not see the 'work'.  For lack of a better word, there are a lot of misunderstandings, about the method.
Billie believes in using the techniques that she has learned with the method. Not with everything, but those things that are important to her.
She still trains, she still takes classes. She has taken classes with just about everyone in the city. She remembers when she was in the 2012 MetroStar competition, one very well known musical director came up to her and asked, "Why are you in this competition?" Billie believes that it is very important that artists keep putting themselves out there. You have to keep testing the waters. Acting is something that is lifelong. It is an expression of who you are as a human being. You are not the same person that you were twenty-five years ago no more so than you will be ten years from now. Because we keep evolving and because it is so much a part of our lives, it should be incorporated into your work and we all as artists should keep 'exercising'. Right now, Billie is working with Peter
Napolitano and Matthew Martin Ward. According to Billie, it is a sweet little class consisting of between five to six people, tops. There is a wonderful sense of camaraderie and it embraces the art form.     
She has studied with Lennie Watts, Marilyn Maye, Barbara Young. Again, she thinks it is really crucial to get out there and keep working at your craft. Keep exercising who and what you are as an artist.
Billie is making the kind of art that she envisioned at this point in her life. She is very much into exploring the art form of cabaret in terms of bringing more theater into it, into bringing more acting into it, moving the performer standing on the stage, just seeing how that goes. She has other projects that she has in mind as soon as the 'Monopoly wheel' stops turning. The next project that she wants to work on is
The Oracle of Delphi which is the retelling of an ancient Greek tale through the music of Sting. It is about war. That's probably going to be at least a year away. 
That's going to be a bigger production and will involve others on stage. She is envisioning a cast of about six people. She loves the idea of working in a cabaret and doing something like this. We've become accustomed of going to a show and seeing a singer stand center stage and sing with fourteen to seventeen songs and maybe tell a story. Billie loves to do projects that will cause the audience to think. Things that are provocative, things that are humorous.
She desires audiences to walk away feeling that they have experienced something. Of course, that is what good theater should be...AND good cabaret. One thing that makes working with Mark great is that he is not afraid to push the envelope. She likes to push the envelope, too. Sometimes, things don't work. They simply go back to the drawing board. That is the creative process. You have to be brave. You have to be willing to take chances and go back and say, "By God, we're going to make this work." 
That is exactly what happened with Monopoly. They started off playing the game on stage and it just didn't work. they wouldn't have known that if they didn't try it. They went back to the writing board and the status of what the show is now is the result of rewrites and tweaks. That is what makes it so much fun as well as making you crazy! It pulls your hair out, but that is all part of the process. 
I asked Billie what the most surprising thing that she learned from this project. That it worked! 
Mark kept telling Billie that it would work even when she doubted it.
Billie's greatest production is her daughter
She was afraid that people would not get it and go "What this? What is she doing up there?" She wants people to have a good time and that is what is joyful. It is joyful when you put something out there and it's kind of scary and you don't know if it's going to work and the audience will ask, "My God, where is she coming from?" When it all comes together, you shout, Yay! It was all worth it!" 

Musically, the person who has made the biggest impact on Billie's career is Jack Everly. He is the premier conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony. They met in summer stock in 1976. They became fast and furious friends. He taught her how to approach a song, how to structure it, and how to take her acting skills and incorporate it into what she was singing. He has gone on to national recognition around the country. (He is actually one of my holy grail interviews having conducted Carol Channing's last Broadway run of Dolly!). He actually got Billie an audition for that production. 
Billie and I served on a MAC panel discussion last year discussing press in cabaret. Mark Dundas Wood is sitting next to Billie,
Betsyann Faiella, Sandi Durell, ME, Moderator Frank Dain
Billie and I were recently invited to a party at KT Sullivan's after a recent performance that her and Mark did together. It was like the old days of cabaret in which everyone is there to support each other with no agenda other than to have a great time.
Billie is most proud of her daughter, Kaitlin Columbo, a proud fierce stand-up comic. Chronologically, she is thirty years old, but actually, she is "about 110 going on 200." She is an old soul.
Getting back to Monopoly, it talks about Billie's childhood experiences playing Monopoly with her family up at the summer camp that her grandparents had.
It is the retelling of that story and how that Monopoly board impacted Billie as a human being through that particular game. 
In closing, if Billie could change one thing about the current cabaret scene, it would be more about art and less about 'career'.    

I hope you can join me tomorrow night for Billie's show Sunday at 7pm at The Metropolitan Room. Her performance proceeds will be donated to this wonderful organization that supports homeless women with children in NYC.

As we approach this Thanksgiving Holiday we all in the cabaret community have much to be grateful for so let us all spread good will in a positive nature by lending a helping hand. If you can't
make the show tomorrow night you can still donate to WIN. Thank you and God Bless, America!
with Roy Sander at 2016 MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) Awards, photo courtesy Natasha Castillo

“Singing the lives from Baltic Avenue to Boardwalk”
Offering up her own brand of pithy politics, humor, and humanity, MetroStar BILLIE ROE returns to the Metropolitan Room’s cabaret stage with an original new musical show that explores the lives of the people who reside on the Monopoly game board, and quite possibly in your own neighborhood. 
Directed by MARK NADLER. 
Musical Direction by STEVEN RAY WATKINS.
Musical arrangements by Mark Nadler and Steven Ray Watkins
Written by Billie Roe
SUNDAY, November 20th, at 7pm
Mark Nadler
MARK NADLER – is the recipient of seven awards from the Manhattan Association of Cabarets (MAC), three Backstage Bistros, two New York Nightlife Awards and two Broadway World Awards including Entertainer of the Year.  Additionally, he was awarded two Bay Area Outer Critics’ Circle Awards.  He has been a soloist with major orchestras, playing everywhere from Carnegie Hall to Philadelphia’s 14,000 seat amphitheater at The Mann Center.  His most recent off-Broadway show, “I’m a Stranger Here Myself”, was honored with a New York Nightlife Award, a Drama Desk nomination and a nomination for Australia’s highest performing arts honor, the Helpmann Award.
STEVEN RAY WATKINS - has been playing the piano for 47 years, and has been a working musician for 43 years. He attended Shenandoah Conservatory of Music with a focus on Musical Theater and Piano. In the 80’s, Watkins was the lead singer of the techno-pop band Ampersand, who had a top 20 Billboard single with the song “Traction.” After their disbandment, Watkins returned to musical theater performance, performing in the national tours of
“big,” “Singin’ In the Rain,” and “Showboat.” Regionally he performed in “Falsettos,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “42nd Street,” “Evita,” “They’re Playing Our Song,” “The Last Session,” and “Witness For the Prosecution,” among others. In 2000, Watkins turned his attention back to music, and quickly became one of the most sought after musical directors and pianists in NYC. As a theater MD, he has worked on “A Chorus Line,” “Funny Girl,” “The Last Five Years,” “Once On This Island,” etc. As a musical consultant and vocal coach he has worked with a myriad of different performers, including Patti LuPone, Hugh Jackman, Beyonce, Anne Hathaway, Cynthia Nixon, Bonnie Franklin, Amanda McBroom, Louise Pitre, and Karen Mason.  He consulted on the 2009 Oscars, has musical directed the MAC Awards 3 times, and has been involved in many benefits and concerts in NYC and around the country, including performances at Town Hall and Carnegie Hall.
As a composer, he has written specialty material for many cabaret acts, the MAC Awards, and his song “Give Me A Voice” appears on Lennie Watts’ CD “I Want….You Want.” Currently, Watkins teaches a cabaret performance class at Marymount College of Manhattan plus many private classes, all with Lennie Watts.

Thank you, to ALL who are mentioned in this blog for showing me that it is up to ME to lead by example!

With grateful XOXOXs ,

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

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