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BWW Feature: George Salazar & Joe Iconis Among Starry Benefit for URBAN STAGES October 22nd

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Founding Artistic Director Frances Hill chats with Broadway World

BWW Feature: George Salazar & Joe Iconis Among Starry Benefit for URBAN STAGES October 22ndIn New York City, somewhere in that area that is technically still midtown but is just about to become Chelsea, that's just a block or two out of the Fashion District but just a block or two from the Fashion Institute of Technology, on 30th Street, is a wondrous little place where theatrical magic happens, all year long - even during a global health crisis. Like most organizations that deal in live theater, this theater company has been struggling for the last eight months to stay active, to stay relevant, and to stay hopeful, and this Thursday, October 22nd, at 6:30 pm ET, URBAN STAGES will debut a five-day benefit to raise much-needed funding to keep their theater alive... and it sounds like a real fun one, too.

MIXING MELODIES AND MARGARITAS is a virtual benefit for Urban Stages that will feature performances by many celebrities who have seen, first hand, what a valuable organization this is. At the Gala Performance on the 22nd, the artists will not only perform, they will share the recipes of their favorite cocktails - don't worry, there will be mocktail mixology lessons, too! Viewers will be able to log on, make a drink with a favorite performer, and then sit back and watch their favorite do that thing that made them a favorite. Among the stars slated to appear: BE MORE CHILL star George Salazar and BE MORE CHILL creator, Joe Iconis. Will their drinks be served in a chilled glass, one wonders? Tony award recipient Reed Birney is due to stop by, as is fellow Tony recipient and Harry Potter audiobook frontman Jim Dale. Joining the gentlemen is Tony Award winning actress Trazana Beverley, who holds a special distinction as the first black actress to take home the award for Best Supporting Actress in a Play. The evening begins with a pre-show party at 6:30, with lots of chat and company, followed by the revue, which starts at 7:30. The benefit features an incredible line up of talents (all listed below) including cabaret legend and Broadway star Karen Akers, all of whom believe, deeply, in Urban Stages and their mission statement "to champion new works by artists of diverse cultural backgrounds and to make these works available to all."

In the 36 years since the non-profit Urban Stages was founded, the theater company has used its Development Program to seek out and mentor new artists, their Mainstage Program to produces works by new artists through Off-Broadway productions and tours, and their Outreach Program to provide free plays and workshops. The theater and all of the work it has done is now at risk because of the closure of their 30th Street location and this benefit fundraiser will help Urban Stages to keep their doors open. Even in quarantine, the company has gone virtual, presenting the ACRONYM Playwriting Contest HERE, a Playfest HERE, Stories and Activities At Home HERE, Sue Matzuki's online chats with industry artists HERE, and online screenings of WINTER RHYTHMS 2019, showcasing the concerts of some of cabaret's most beloved artists like Sally Darling, Tom Toce, and vocal group Clearly Now HERE. Urban Stages even hosted a virtual live summer camp to great success, producing an entire play via ZOOM. At no time during the theatrical shutdown has Urban Stages stopped producing, right down to their current fundraising efforts, which include a fundraising auction HERE. To get a better picture of what the theater has been doing is planning for the future, and what to look for on Thursday night, Broadway World Cabaret reached out to Urban Stage Founding Artistic Director Frances Hill for a digital chat.

Frances, welcome to Broadway World! With only a few days to go, tell me: how's the benefit for October 22nd shaping up?

Stephen, We have a couple of interviews with Michael Riedel and our artists today. Then all the parts of the show go to Ryan Belock, the Video Designer/Editor, and the Director Kristan Seemel, I will see a cut of the show for comment... We have some excellent footage by our performers. I am excited!!!

There have been a lot of virtual shows these last few months - how did the Urban Stage team devise a show that would stand apart from all the rest?

I don't think anyone has done a Mixing Melodies and Margaritas: Make a Drink, Raise a Glass, SAVE THE THEATER... We wanted to bring as much interaction, fun into the show. We have a PRE Party, like a cocktail party, in the theater to meet the artists who create many of Urban Stages projects - Summer theater Camp, Winter Rhythms, Plays and Productions. It is a meet and greet along with good entertainment. Our host is WBAI's King Downing.

BWW Feature: George Salazar & Joe Iconis Among Starry Benefit for URBAN STAGES October 22ndWhat makes me especially happy is that all the performers, Tony Winners, etc., have performed at Urban Stages in our productions. There is a surprise element in the show - A Clown, an International MIME! The Show portion of the evening is artist's interviews with Michael Riedel and wonderful performances with familiar music - Summertime, Tomorrow Tomorrow, and some exciting original music. Plus opportunities to make another drink!!!

What are you, personally, looking forward to the most on Thursday night?

A GOOD SHOW, Enjoyed by ALL...

Many of the cabaret community's performers have attachments to Urban Stages - how did that tradition start?

Good Question. For several years we produced a new Holiday Family show in December. However, we realized that our box office was not great. We also realized that Urban Stages Theater has terrific sound values for singers, high ceilings, etc. So the idea of Winter Rhythms featuring cabaret singers, musical theater, jazz, etc. became a reality. Since the shows were during the holidays, they would benefit our large Outreach programs of Arts in Education which tour through the NYC Library system. Winter Rhythms has become a tradition!!!

Urban stages has a decades-long history of excellence and education. Why do you think people, from artists to audience members, have been so dedicated to the company?

I hope because they feel that they have an opportunity to be creative allowing their talents to grow and develop. I want all artists to feel they are professionals and get paid. Also, there is a great satisfaction to perform in the libraries and feel that you are reaching someone with your talents that would not go to the theater. As an artist, you have allowed your audience to experience theater or perceive new information that could change their thinking. No better way to work on your concentrations and focus as a performer than working in between the stacks in a library with the audience at your feet.

With live theater still in a holding pattern, what efforts are the folks at Urban Stages making to keep creating virtually?

I think we have been working harder than ever. The NY Public Libraries have picked up 32 arts in education programs, and they are buying more. We have had about 18,000 audience members tune into these shows. We are able to pay the artists. We had a 10-minute play contest asking playwrights for new plays with the theme ACRONYMS. We had 175 submissions. In September we held our Play Festival, with 4 new plays zoomed for 4 days each. We even had our Summer Theater Camp on Zoom with campers in France, Florida, Connecticut. In our Pre Party show, one of our campers is performing her brilliant Monologue. In December we will have our Winter Rhythms playing virtually on our website. In January a set of new Monologues will be performed. We do want to open the theater. Live theater is so important to our culture. Yet we have reached an amazing number of audiences through our virtual shows and our interviews of artists with Sue Matsuki all from our website.

Speaking frankly about Urban Stages and the plight of being shut down for the rest of the year - what do we stand to lose if your fundraising efforts don't meet their goals?

Basically, we could lose our lovely theater that has been a great space for other small theater to rent for their shows. This is why we have emphasized SAVE THE THEATER, which is both for a tangible theater and the intangible experience of live theater.

BWW Feature: George Salazar & Joe Iconis Among Starry Benefit for URBAN STAGES October 22nd

If people don't have enough money to contribute, are there other ways they can support Urban Stages?

Yes, we like audiences. they can go to our website urbanstages.org and sign up for our mailing list. We also will accept small donations. I do think that even in this time of COVID small donations are good to show that audiences care about supporting our artists who have bills to pay also.

Frances, what cocktail will be in your mixology lesson on Thursday night?

Urban Margarita, (This is our classic drink) MOXIE Cocktail (This is named after our summer camper and it is a type of Shirley Temple) Melody Manhattan, (a basic Manhattan Cocktail with a twist) 30th Street SMASH (This is a whiskey concoction with peaches) Most of the drinks are made in the Pre Party !!!!

Thank you so much for chatting with me today! I look forward to watching the festivities on Thursday night!

BWW Feature: George Salazar & Joe Iconis Among Starry Benefit for URBAN STAGES October 22ndAppearing at MIXING, MELODIES AND MARGARITAS are Karen Akers, Aya Aziz, Terence Archie, Jenny Lyn Bader, Trazana Beverley, Reed Birney, Bill Bowers, Jim Dale, Joe Iconis, Lori Brown Mirabal, Sue Matsuki, David Quinones, Ilanna Saltzman, George Salazar, Disney Sebastien, Tom Toce, Gregory Toroian, Skip Ward, and Zhu Yi. WBAI Host and advocate King Downing and theater journalist Michael Riedel will act as Masters of Ceremony.

MIXING, MELODIES AND MARGARITAS will have its live premiere on October 22nd at 6:30 pm HERE. The benefit will remain online for repeat viewings until October 26th.

Check out the URBAN STAGES fundraising auction HERE

Read about all of the URBAN STAGES programs at the Urban Stage website HERE



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From This Author Stephen Mosher