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A Chat with Tuscan Sun's Szajda, Appearing at the Fringe

Well, the summer has been sweltering with heavy humidity in the air but there is something positive to look forward to in the month of August to help us forget about the heat for a little while--it's time for the 10th Annual New York International Fringe Festival, featuring some of the most innovative and creative new works  

One of the original pieces being presented at the Festival is THE INFLICTION OF CRUELTY by Sean McManus and Andrew Unterberg, which will be presented at the Fringe from August 18-26th. The show stars rising actor Pawel Szajda (It's pronounced PAV-el (it's Polish for "Paul") SHY-da).  

THE INFLICTION OF CRUELTY marks Szajda's theater debut but many people may remember him from his performance in the heartwarming film, UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN with Diane Lane. He played the Polish immigrant worker in love with a rich Italian girl whose dad doesn't approve of their relationship. He was also featured as Ricky in "Venom" and "Death Without Consent". YM Magazine chose Szajda as one of their up and coming stars. 

Szajda took some time out from his busy schedule preparing for the show and had a chat with us about the show and life in general…. 

TJ:OK, Pawel…a very interesting name.  Were you named for someone in your family? What does your name mean? 

SZAJDA: Pawel is Paul in Polish and is a popular name in Poland. 

TJ:Were you born in the US?  

SZAJDA:Yes, I was born in Connecticut. 

TJ:So, how did you get involved with the Fringe Festival?

SZAJDA: I have always been interested in theatre and after reading the script for THE INFLICTION OF CRUELTY, I thought that being part of this show and the Fringe would be a great experience.

TJ:Tell me about the play and your character in THE INFLICTION OF CRUELTY? 

SZAJDA: My character's name is Benjamin Pascal and he is the youngest of four children.  He's a bright young man that's part of a very intelligent family. The play tells the story of the siblings reuniting end a punishment they have been enforcing on their father unbeknownst to him for the last 15 years.   Not all of the siblings were part of the plan to punish their father or even privy to his crime.  The play tackles the drama that ensues when both are unintentionally revealed. 

TJ:How long have you been in rehearsals for the show? 

SZAJDA:We have been in rehearsals since July 12th. 

TJ:Did you study acting? 

SZAJDA:I've studied acting in many different places. I started as a theatre and business major at Bridgewater State College and then the following summer took acting classes at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  When I transferred to Fordham University at Lincoln Center I decided to earn my degree in English and Economics.  The summer following my transfer I took a class through Harvard Summer School at ART.   It was during that time at Harvard that I was cast in Tuscan Sun.  Since then I have continued study around NYC and LA in an array of classes at different acting studios. 

TJ:How did you get your first big break in acting? 

SZAJDA:When I first moved to New York I had been trying to work on anything and everything I could.  From extra work and commercials to short and student films so I could learn in front of a camera.  One day I received a call from my agent, he asked me to put myself on tape for a film that was being cast in LA.  I was thrilled at the possibility alone.  Two days after I sent my tape, the agent called again and told me that the director had seen my tape and wanted me to audition for her in California.  I flew to LA and auditioned in front of about 7 people for about 25 minutes.   Three hours after the audition, the director Audrey Wells called me and offered me the part.  That film was UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN. 

TJ:Had you done any stage acting before this? 

SZAJDA:I have acted on stage when I was in high school and College. 

TJ: I see that you have film credits including a truly wonderful film, UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, which featured Diane Lane.  That must have been a wonderful time for you.  

SZAJDA:It was great learning experience to work with Diane Lane.  She's a smart, talented, and beautiful woman who has been acting since she was 8.  

TJ:Do you have a preference of film versus theatre? 

SZAJDA:I don't really have a preference when it comes to acting on film versus stage and both are fascinating to me in different ways.  Mainly, I feel very fortunate to be able to do what I love. 

TJ:Now I see you attended New York City's Fordham University.  Was it difficult for you attending school full time and doing theatre at the same time? 

SZAJDA:I graduated from Fordham at Lincoln Center in 2004. When I was in school I would try and take all my classes early in the morning or at night so that I would have most of the day to go out on auditions. 

TJ:What was it that made you want to pursue a career in acting? 

SZAJDA:I decided to pursue an acting career after having had an incredible experience working on a play in high school.  The play was THE FORIEGNER by Larry Shue. 

TJ:What were some of the shows you did in college? 

SZAJDA:While I was attending Bridgewater State College I took part in the school production of THE WHO'S TOMMY and played the Hawker and the First Officer. 

TJ:Were there any special mentors along the way who left you particularly inspired and encouraged?   

SZAJDA:Audrey Wells, the director of UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN is a monumental source of encouragement for me.  She has been a friend and a mentor whom I have often turned to for
advice. 

TJ:Anything lined up after the festival? 

SZAJDA:Not at the moment 

TJ:OK, let's find out about some of your FAVORITE THINGS where I ask five questions to help readers get to know you better. Your FAVORITE ACTOR  

SZAJDA:Marlon Brando  

TJ:FAVORITE TEACHER  

SZAJDA:Here I have two…Economics Professor at Fordham University, Shapoor Vali and English Literature Professor also at Fordham, Elizabeth Stone 

TJ:FAVORITE FOOD  

SZAJDA:Polish pierogi  

TJ: FAVORITE SUMMER GETAWAY  

SZAJDA:Anywhere by a beach, preferably with waves…or even a pool.

TJ:FAVORITE TIME OF YOUR LIFE SO FAR  

SZAJDA:Seemingly endless summer vacations during elementary school 

The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC) is the largest multi-arts festival in North America, with more than 200 companies from all over the world performing for 16 days in more than 20 venues. The dates for FringeNYC 2006 are Friday, August 11th through Sunday, August 27th, 2006. Performances are from 2pm to Midnight on weekdays, and Noon to Midnight on weekends.For more information on FringeNYC, check out the website at http://www.fringenyc.org/. For tickets to see Pawel, check out the show's website at http://www.theinflictionofcruelty.com/home.html. Ciao for now and theatre is the word!! 


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