Monday, March 9 |  6:00 PM–8:00 PM  |  For everyone ages 9-109   |  $5, reservations are required – offered through the NJTA Stages Festival

We all know that March is a cold, dark month. There’s no better way to kick it off than by singing a joyful song with friends! In this participatory master class, multi-talented Elliot Roth will teach new arrangement of an unlikely mashup with lots of harmonies for singers of all ages. Hailed by the New York Times for his “silky smooth voice”, Elliott is the Musical Director for Two River’s Summer Intensives program. A Masters graduate of the prestigious Manhattan School of Music jazz arts program, he has Broadway (Our Sinatra and A Christmas Carol) and Off-Broadway credits, and currently teaches voice, rock/pop audition technique and jazz/soul recording arts in Manhattan and Brooklyn, NY. Come join the fun!

Monday, Jan 27 |  6:00 PM–8:00 PM  |  $40—Adults and High School Juniors/Seniors 

Michael Cumpsty has spent much of his career in the theater working on Shakespeare’s plays as an actor, teacher and director. An Obie Award winner for his performance as Hamlet at Classic Stage Company, he received raves for his Malvolio at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. Insightful, patient, and immensely gifted in taking young people and lifelong learners through the creative process, Michael has a remarkable facility with language that he will share with participants as he leads them through scenes from Twelfth Night, which many consider Shakespeare’s most perfect comedy.

Monday, Dec 2 |  6:00 PM–8:00 PM  |  $40—Adults and High School Students

Explore your inner juvenile delinquent with the choreographer for Love in Hate Nation, Mayte Natalio, as she takes participants through the steps of one of the show’s instantly iconic dances! Mayte started her career as a dancer and is now a choreographer who works in a variety of styles, from modern dance concerts and musicals, to experimental downtown New York theater and arena tours with some of your favorite pop stars. “I want people to see the 1960s in a different way,” Mayte says about her choreography for Love in Hate Nation. “I want them to feel the energy of young girls—grounded, messy, dirty and new.”

“I really love the eccentricities of people”: Joe Iconis in conversation with Playwright-in-Residence Madeleine George

Joe Iconis

 Madeleine: I know that musical theater fans really make all other fans look like amateurs. Has anyone ever ripped your clothes off in the street?

Joe: (laughing) No, we’ve never gotten that far, but I have had people give me clothing in the street. People are really into giving me socks, which I love. I think the fans have perceived that I’m a fairly snappy dresser when I’m out in the world doing events. I definitely care about my socks. And because I play piano, people tend to be really aware of them—their eye level is right at my ankles.

Madeleine: Do you have a sense of what creates that kind of rabidity and passion and fainting intensity of musical theater fans? What is it about the form that makes people go crazy?

Joe: I think it’s a few things. For one, I think theater attracts a certain type of person—there’s an inherent strangeness and sensitivity in theater people. And theater is such a home, it’s such a community. I feel like when young people, especially, discover this community, it makes them double down on their weirdness and double down on their sensitivity. And musical theater is an explosion of different obsessions because you have the theater people, but then also the music people—the people who are going to know all the lyrics to the songs and go to the concerts and wear the T-shirts.

Madeleine: Is it different for you writing now post-Be More Chill because of the global scope of this intensity?

Joe: I’ve always occupied a very culty place in the New York theater scene; I’ve been lucky enough to have a good number of people who are aware of my work and who like my work. And age-wise, it’s been an across-the-board kind of thing. At the same time, I have done work in regional theaters, and those audiences tend to be older. So with Be More Chill it’s been really mind-blowing to see all these young people be aware of my work and get excited about it.

Madeleine: And so well-deserved.

Joe: Thank you. It’s the coolest thing and really kind of unexpected for me. Be More Chill is a show that’s about young people and there’s definitely a youthful energy to it, but when I wrote it for Two River, I wasn’t necessarily imagining that the audience would be filled with young people. I was imagining the audience would be filled with the traditional regional theater crowd. The fact that these young people came to my writing when I wasn’t trying to write for a young audience has been great. It made me realize that I don’t need to change my writing in order to keep the fanbase happy; what they dug about my stuff or what they connected to is something, I think, inherent in what I was doing. And I hope that Love in Hate Nation connects in the same way. The show is, technically, about young people in 1962 but the idea is that anyone can relate to it—whether they grew up in the era or not and regardless of age.

The other nice part of it for me is that I’ve met and interacted with so many young people who are fans of Be More Chill, who then got turned onto the rest of my work. And I do feel like I owe it to them to not let them down. Be More Chill deals with very real issues, like anxiety and depression. I’ve met so many people—and not just young people—who deal with those things in their day-to-day life, and would talk to me about how the show helped them. And I feel like I have a responsibility to these people if I’m writing something that interacts with those issues—which invariably, all of the things that I write do. I have a responsibility to make sure that I’m being authentic, and that I’m always aware that there will be human beings watching what I’m doing. It’s made me more aware of the art that I’m putting into the world.

Madeleine: I was thinking in terms of awareness that you write really good girls and women; it’s noticeable. What accounts for your insight?

Joe: Every time I’ve spoken about this, I feel like I oversimplify it, but I truly believe that people are people. I think that women are not another species (laughing) and so I feel like if I’m able to write a cis white male character, I should be able to write human beings who are not that. I really love the eccentricities of people, and I like to find the things that are universal in all of us. I think my writing really tries to find commonalities between people who, on the surface, might seem really different—from each other, from the rest of society—and find things that everyone can relate to and latch onto. That’s definitely the heart of it.

But another part of it is that in musical theater specifically, I feel like women almost always get the short end of the stick insofar as having good stuff to do. That’s such a musical-theater thing and it drives me insane. It’s like the female characters in musicals, even if they actually have something substantial to do, invariably, they have to take on this like noble stance or something. It’s like they have to be an angel or they have to save somebody or they have to be saved, and then it’s like their character becomes whatever their issue is, you know?

Madeleine: Yes.

Joe: And in my writing, I’m obsessed with actors. I love actors. I love collaborating with actors and, when I write, I try to give actors material that they can sink their teeth into. I hate the idea of ever wasting an actor in a show. I want to give every single human being who’s on stage something meaningful and exciting to do, and I want to be able to see women have just as much complexity and weirdness as the men, you know?

And then, as far as the songs, the women characters in musicals always get these songs, where, as soon as an intro starts, I feel like I always know, oh, this is going to be the ballad, the female song, and I know basically how she’s going to sing it because she’s not allowed to sing an up-tempo number. And I try to play against that as much as I can. Love in Hate Nation is pretty much all women, and the only for-real “ballady” moment in the show is something that the guy sings, and it’s not even a whole song.

Madeleine: A lot of your work has been you striking out on your own—writing book, lyrics, music—and then you’ve also worked with collaborators on adaptations of existing material. Is there like a zone where you feel like most at home?

Joe: No is the easy answer. Whether I’m writing on my own or writing with a collaborator is really based on the project, and dictated by the content. Be More Chill was based on a book by Ned Vizzini, and I loved the book and responded to it, but it was very immediately clear to me that I wasn’t the person who should write the book for the musical. Joe Tracz was a writer who I loved and thought, oh, that’s it, if he was into it, we could make a really cool musical out of this.

Love in Hate Nation was an idea that started with me and came together really organically. But when I first started working on it, I definitely had a moment where I was like, hmm, this show is really telling me that it wants to be a musical that is about a 16-year-old queer woman of color in the 1960s. And I could not be further apart from a 16-year-old queer woman of color in the 1960s (laughing) and so I wondered, should I get a collaborator who can speak to that point of view a little more explicitly? What ended up happening was I started writing and the show just kind of presented itself and it then became about trying to like populate the room and the process with many people who have a different life experience and different point of view from myself.

I truly love collaboration. I love being in a room and wrapping the writing around the actors who are inhabiting it. And I love a room that feels like anyone can say anything and things change based on what everyone is feeling. All I ever want to do is finish the draft or get something down on paper so that I can take it and collaborate with all the other people. And it’s cheesy, but anytime I’m ever writing something myself, it never feels like it’s by myself. All my writing is just to be able to get in a room with other people to start the actual work on it.

Meet Choreographer Mayte Natalio

Mayte Natalio

If you were to watch choreographer Mayte Natalio in rehearsal, you’d see a woman go from lightning-speed instruction to a long moment of silent calculating. She choreographs with the grace of someone who has been there—and she has been there. She started her career as a dancer herself, performing in a myriad of settings and styles. From modern dance concerts and musicals, to experimental downtown New York theater and arena tours with some of your favorite pop stars, Mayte’s varied experiences are all at her disposal as a choreographer.

Born and raised in Queens, NY, dancing came into Mayte’s life organically—through the social dances she learned from her Dominican family. When her mother saw how serious she was about learning the dances she saw in Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul music videos, she was immediately enrolled in dance classes. She then went on to LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts and then received a BFA from SUNY Purchase.

After college, her first job was a musical (“but I’m not a traditional musical-theater girl”). While she has worked regionally in places like Ogunquit Playhouse, Dallas Theater Center and Pregones Theater, and served as an associate with Broadway choreographers including Camille A. Brown and Sam Pinkleton, it was Mayte’s unique perspective that was interesting to director John Simpkins and writer Joe Iconis.

“This is my first experience working with Mayte,” Joe says, “but it feels like we’ve been collaborators for years. She’s electric, inspired, inspiring, persnickety, fired up, and collaborative. Her point of view is singular and her perspective on the characters is so integral to the show as a whole. I never feel like she’s delivering ‘steps,’ but movement that stems from the inner lives of the human beings on stage. Her dance makes the drama easier to understand and effortlessly elevates the stakes. This musical has piss and vinegar in its veins and Mayte’s choreography brings that to the surface in the most exciting way.”

In the rehearsal hall, Mayte enters the process with a movement vocabulary but takes in all of the opinions of everyone in the room and incorporates them into her process. “Things change,” she says, noting that dancers move better when their steps are tied to the story they are telling. “I’m a big editor. You get into the rehearsal room and start to cater to space, the personalities of the actors, the characters and the story.”

For Love in Hate Nation, she says, “I want people to see the 1960s in a different way. I want them to feel the energy of young girls—grounded, messy, dirty and new. These are young women rebelling and finding their voices and becoming individuals.” To Mayte, dance is the perfect way to convey these ideas. “Dance allows you to release things and say things that are impossible to speak in words and offers a beautiful way to be both entertaining and say something valid.”

Notes from the Dramaturg

Joe Iconis’ new musical, Love in Hate Nation, is set in a small juvenile detention center in Connecticut during 1962. In discussing his setting, Joe says, that “the show tells the story of young people caught between eras of a changing America and their attempt to break out of the boxes society has created around them. The early sixties were really the last time that Americans could stick their heads in the sand and pretend that these changes weren’t happening.”

Indeed, 1962 marked a significant crossroads for the United States on a number of fronts. Although a number of equal rights and counterculture movements began in the mid-1950s, the majority of the country stubbornly held onto the ideals of family, establishment, order, and country cultivated during WWII and the post-war years. The 1950s and first three years of the 1960s saw major strides in racial civil rights including the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, which desegregated schools (at least on paper), Dwight D. Eisenhower signing the Civil Rights Act of 1957, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott sparked by Rosa Parks. The LGBT community began mobilizing in new ways around burgeoning ‘homophile’ organizations such as The Mattachine Society (1950), ONE, Inc (1952), and The Daughters of Bilitis (1955). As the United States entered into the conflict in Vietnam, a small number of individuals began expressing condemnation of the country’s violent involvement in global affairs.

The Daughters of Bilitis Founders, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

Between 1963 and 1969, however, the cultural shifts occurring in this country became difficult to ignore. Because of the Baby Boom after WWII, there were more teenagers and young adults than any era beforehand clamoring to rebel from restrictions set by their parents. Advancements in science such as the birth control pill and mass-produced penicillin helped instigate a culture of free-love and recreational sex. Drug use from marijuana to psychedelics became more popular. The government relaxed censorship laws that once restricted how artists could express themselves, leading to more radical material being created.

Bold ideas surrounding women and their roles in family and business began to gain popularity. Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, lead the charge in critiquing what she called “the cult of domesticity” that for years mandated that “a woman’s place was in the home.” Instead she claimed that, “if women do not put forth, finally, that effort to become all that they have it in them to become, they will forfeit their own humanity. A woman today who has no goal, no purpose, no ambition patterning her days into the future, making her stretch and grow beyond that small score of years in which her body can fill its biological function, is committing a kind of suicide.”

Americans watching the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War in 1968

Television also changed the way everyday Americans engaged with world events. The war in Vietnam dominated news channels, giving people new windows into the horrors of war. As disapproval for the war grew, protestors around the country took to the streets to express their disapproval. Perhaps most notably, on October 21, 1967, an anti-Vietnam demonstration took place at the Lincoln Memorial involving over 100,000 protestors, followed by a smaller demonstration at the Pentagon later that day. A number of prominent figures supported the anti-war effort including Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali. Many musicians likewise used their platforms to express their displeasure over the war such as Nina Simone, Phil Ochs, Barry McGuire, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Pete Seeger.

Bayard Rustin and Cleveland Robinson

Media outlets also gave ordinary homes more access to the ever-growing civil rights battles erupting across the country. In 1962, fighting erupted at Ole Miss between southern segregationists and state forces over the enrollment of one black student. Also, in 1962, The Daughters of Bilitis held a national convention followed by what was likely the first American national broadcast that specifically covered lesbianism. In 1963, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was organized by Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, and Dorothy Height, and included an estimated 250,000 participants at the Lincoln Memorial. In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson signed a sweeping Civil Rights Act. In 1965, the Supreme Court established the right of married couples to use contraception. The long, hot summer of 1967 saw uprisings and violence in Atlanta, Boston, Milwaukee, Chicago, New York, and Detroit. Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement for black Americans, activists also began organizing a unified Chicano Movement and Asian American Movement. In 1969, the Stonewall Uprising occurred after police raided a gay bar in Greenwich Village. The subsequent demonstrations powered the gay liberation movement in the United States.

The sustained and ever-present struggles for civil rights during this time challenged and worked toward dismantling institutions that had stood in this country for centuries. The characters in Love in Hate Nation stand at the cusp of all this profound change. For some, the future elicits fear and a desire to revert back to the way things were. For others, however, the coming revolutions offer a glimpse into a new world, in which they can be accepted and thrive as their whole unique selves.