For the past two years, I have attended the ShowBiz Expo at The Hilton in New York City. Like everyone else there – actors, writers, filmmakers, designers, producers, directors, the press, marketing firms, and so many vendors and exhibitors selling headshots, dental whitening, theatre training and speech classes so you can look, sound and act better than the “other guy/gal” – I was there to network and make contacts.
I spoke to dozens of young people who were there trying to break into the business, and veterans who were there to pick up more work. I watched short films by up-and-coming filmmakers, and attended seminars with panels consisting of Broadway composers and lyricists, theatre legends, and a representative from the theatre owners, and the leaders of unions who represented actors, stagehands, and choreographers. I finally had a chance to meet Robert Diamond, the Editor-In-Chief of BroadwayWorld.com, where I write a monthly column called A Theatre Lover’s Guide to DC/Capital Area Theatres. But most important, I spent hours listening to to stories from actors, playwrights, composers, lyricists, filmmakers, and directors about their constant battle to make it in a very tough business.
Of everyone I schmoozed with, four of them really caught my eye, and I want you to meet them.
Raymond Pretlor is an energetic singer, dancer, writer, poet, composer, producer, songwriter, musician (he plays piano and trumpet), and is a model. He hails from NYC, but currently is residing in Sterling, VA, and is finishing a degree at the University of Maryland. Raymond, as you will see from his answers, is beaucoup enthusiastic, has amazing genes, and is oozing with talent. After meeting and listening to him, I wanted to stand up and shout, “Yes, you can!”
Raymond: Although I am new to the screen, I am not new to the Industry. With parents that both have made a mark in the industry, Mother retired after 24 years from HBO/Time Warner in Long Island, NY & Classical/Operatic Soprano for the Palm Beach Opera of FL, and Father a Jazz Producer of NYC. Since birth I have experienced and learned enough to know and understand how to make it in this Entertainment Business. In addition, my godfather, Clarke Peters has made a name for himself in Theatre by writing the European Hit and Off-Broadway play named, Five Guys Named Moe, and was featured in other Broadway hits such as Chicago with Jasmine Guy. His most recent appearance that I’ve been blessed to witness was his role as Det. Lestor Freamon on HBO’s Hit show, The Wire. At this point, God has blessed me with great talents that I have only buried in the past. Now, I look to resurrect each and every talent I have in order to make a difference in our society and beyond.
Jared Ross Jacobs is a super-bright and congenial playwright, who loves to write and can easily elaborate on his feelings about his work and his goals to be a successful writer for the stage. I saw a lot of myself in Jared – a fiery passion for theatre and the need to write and share his passion with others. Jared is extremely candid about the struggle to become a successful playwright, and the optimism that will need to motivate him on this career’s journey.
Jared: This past weekend, as it so happens, marked the culmination of a year-long final thesis project/”independent study” to wrap up my time at Emerson College, where I was a Theatre major (specifically focused on Playwriting, Acting, and Directing). The project was one which combined the aforementioned emphases – the first two in particular: First semester was dedicated to the process of working collaboratively with peer actors and my professor on readings, talk-backs, and (with their input and my own insight in the matter) ongoing revisions made on a full-length play which I had previously begun work on. The goal: seeing it through to a fleshed-out, “final” product/draft – one which could thus be moved into the next stages of the process (on-the-feet rehearsals, working towards a seminal mounting). The second piece of the process (and subsequent fulfillment of my remaining credits) focused on the fusion of the first semester’s work, as writer, with second semester’s rehearsal process, ending with this past weekend’s first mounting of the work, myself having now transitioned from writer to actor, respectively, in the process and mounting of the piece.
Paul Taylor‘s short film In Memoriam hit me with a wallop! I had actually seen someone stealing flowers and wreaths on the day of my mother’s funeral, and I thought, “What kind of insensitive bastard would do such a thing?” And here I was watching Paul’s powerful film at the Expo, about a man who stole flowers from graves and sold them to unsuspecting visitors. There is such beautiful black and white photography in the film. I have seen full-length films that never moved me, but here – in less than 8 minutes – Paul put my emotions through the ringer. Take a look at In Memoriam to see what I mean.
Paul: When I was younger I was big into the skateboarding scene and would always try to replicate the skateboarding videos my friends and I would watch, which led me where I am today. All those broken bones and bruises actually accounted for something.
Donald Brenner has done it all. As a stage director, Don has directed close to a hundred productions – plays and musicals – in and out of NYC. He’s written new adaptations of Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street and A Tale of Two Cities, has worked at Lincoln Center, York Theatre Company, The Abingdon Theatre, The Lucille Lortelle Theatre, and has been an Assistant Director at City Center Encores, among many others. Regionally, Don has directed over productions. What makes The ShowBiz Expo so wonderful is having veterans like Don sharing his experiences with the younger generation, who are trying to make their mark in theatre. And, most important, Don is one helluva nice guy.
Don: I’ve directed over 85 productions around the country – both original and established works – at places like the Berkshire Theater Festival, New Jersey Rep, the Pioneer Theatre Company and the Harvard Hasty Pudding Theatrical.
For the last 11 years or so, I’ve focused pretty exclusively on new works: I’ve worked with a lot of companies here in New York: Lincoln Center, Urban Stages, the Abingdon Theatre, The York Theatre, The Lark. Last year, I adapted and directed The Christmas Sweater – based on Glenn Beck’s novel. It went out on a 13 city sold-out tour that played major venues of more that 2,500 seats (The Fox in St. Louis, Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh) and ended at the Charleston Performing Arts Center where is was simulcast live to 500 movie theatres all over the country.
And now for the conversation.
Joel: How did you train for your career?
Raymond: I started producing music and writing songs with the assistance of my father at the age of 9 in the Motown Studios of Englewood, NY, and excelled as a literary writer/poet all throughout grade school. These were my early training days. Since then, I have begun my On-Camera training with Brenna McDonough with her Basic and Master Classes. I also completed a training called, “Mastering the Audition,” held by John Marshall Jones in L.A. Lastly, I completed my first course on Improv at Washington Improv Theatre and look to take more classes to sharpen my acting skills. I am also in the process of finishing my last credits for my B.A. in English from Univ. of Maryland – University College. As I grow in this industry, I aim to act in, direct, produce, and write for film/TV and even compose music for film with the right training and mentorship. I intend to see the gifts and talents take me where I was destined to be…at the top of my purpose of living!
Jared: I am a firm believer that any and all experiences undergone in any facet of the industry/the arts can only prove beneficial and helpful in my own personal growth and understanding, my “shaping” as an artist in my own right. Thus, my training and experience has been rooted firmly to the three emphases aforementioned – specifically stage-oriented at the core; however, I have also branched out on my own, acting in countless screen roles (television series, a number of film shorts, and a full-length feature forthcoming in June), Experimental theatre (in line with Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, specifically “Invisible Theatre”), and an innumerable list of other endeavors which have helped to my growth and personal sense of style within my own writing, acting, or otherwise.
Paul: I attended C.W. Post University and enrolled in the film program, which was very small and intimate. From there I was introduced to a plethora of unique films and cinematic techniques which really captured
Don: I studied directing in college and when I came to New York, I took classes with Nikos Psacharopoulos of the Williamstown Theatre Festival. I also assisted several directors, including Susan Schulman. But for me, more than anything else, it has been a trial-by-fire-type education in that I have consistently pushed myself to take on new and different types of directing assignments that pushed me to “go to places” where I had not been before creatively.
Joel: Why did you want to become a filmmaker, composer, actor, director, or playwright?
Raymond: I have come to desire to see my gifts and talents come to be used in this business after years of working the 9-5 job route and not feeling the fulfillment as the stage or camera has helped me to feel and experience. My heart throbs for this business and to be the best actor I can be – in order to be the best director I can be – in order to be the best Filmmaker I can be – and ultimately the best composer I know,- and the best writer I can be for the greater good. Then I will know my purpose on this earth would have been fulfilled all in one!
Jared: I have the personal conviction that art, when executed effectively to achieve its end goal, or more specially my end goal, does have an incredible ability to impact not only those involved in the process itself, but the unsuspecting others who come to join in and experience the work in it’s final form. It can shape who we are as individuals: our personal beliefs, passions, perspectives on ourselves and the society which surrounds us – what it is we hold most important and invest ourselves in being a part of. This is the case even when we come expecting nothing, wanting nothing, seeking out nothing short of simply “a light-hearted evening of entertainment.” Whether it is desired or not, once you’ve bore witness to the work, it’s influence and power to force your need to engage and evaluate its greater meaning on a personal level is unavoidable and, subsequently, leaves a new mark on said person that may have never been there otherwise, perhaps leading them down an entirely new path in their own life.
Paul: To say I want to share my vision with the world would be both cliché and egotistical. I am not the greatest articulator, so the film medium gives me a chance to express myself through other means. I let the images and the actors do all the work for me. With a little guidance, of course.
Don: I’m originally from Pittsburgh and I graduated from West Virginia University – where I was journalism major. That was probably the beginning of where I learned about structure in terms of storytelling. I lived in Washington, D.C. for several years where I worked as an actor, doing a lot of theatre and commercials. I moved to New York in the early 80s and started directing -which seemed to bring together all the experience I had into one job.
Joel: Who were some of your major influences?
Raymond: Obviously, my major influences were my parents, my godfather, true friends, Will Smith, Michael Jackson, Cornell West, Denzel Washington, Clint Eastwood, James Newton Howard, John Debney, John Powell, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, Michael Bay, Steven Spielberg, John Ottoman, Darkchild, Quincy Jones, Gerard Henry and lastly my Pastor, Dr. Mike Freeman.
Jared: As far as my main focus is concerned – writing for the stage, with some aspirations towards screenwriting – names that most readily come to mind are Edward Albee, Nicky Silver, Douglas Carter-Beane, Neil LaBute, Harry Kondoleon, Paula T. Vogel, Alan Ball, Jonathan Marc Sherman, Eric Bogosian, and Richard Greenberg. Perhaps not-so-ironically, these also tend to represent the very same writers whose bodies of work I, as an actor, most admire and seek out opportunities for participating in, at some point down the road, in such a capacity.
Paul: Everything seems to influence me in some way. Whether it’s good or bad, it has an influence on everything I do.
Don: Over the years, many directors have had a significant influence on my work. I admired Gerald Gutierrez’s ability to bring believable and heartfelt performances from an entire cast. I was influenced greatly by Harold Clurman’s logical and articulate approach to pre-production planning, and Harold Prince’s visual theatricality.
Joel: How has your experience been at the Expo?
Raymond: I attended the ShowBiz Expo with hopes to get contacts in the NYC area that can lead me to getting work where I was born and raised. I look to expand my territory this year and take my skills to the next level no matter where I am requested on the East Coast, first!
I attended 3 separate seminars/round tables or focus groups, (1) Producers, Writers, Composer and Lyricists, (2) Production Companies, Business Owners and Entrepreneurs and (3) Lyricists/Composers. I was able to meet individuals that are aiming to go into the same direction as I am. My expectations were actually met, knowing that a plethora of information and knowledge was in the building, and I was able to get all that I could and more.
Jared: I attended the Expo for all the very same reasons: One more opportunity to connect with others in all fields and walks of life, immersed together and connected by the common thread of the industry itself, opening paths and doors towards new experiences and chances of grow – another outlet with which to continue shaping myself as a player in the field, now seeking footing towards my next step into the “reality sphere” with which I hope to continue pursuing my greatest passions, on a professional level.
The outcome? Success, in all ways. I met a host of interesting individuals, all able to speak to their own experiences and thus gaining insight into my own; questions gone previously unanswered and merely contemplated, now filled out by the real-life knowledge of those who’ve stepped inside them; and, like all opportunities to network with people in one’s field of interest, the rare one or so who may find within themselves a yearning to help, to aid in one’s personal journey in the arts and entertainment industry – Again, luckily enough, easily my greatest moment realized in my time at the Expo: this very column and its writer Joel Markowitz (having had, in turn, been that special someone, affording me such an indispensable and immensely appreciated opportunity towards further exposure!) A step – a link, even – one more between myself, my work and the column’s readers; the types of people who may, in turn, see this feature and may find their interests and intrigues peaked to learn more about this young, emerging new artist seeking outlets and opportunities up ahead in his not-too-distant future, readily awaiting my arrival.
Paul: I attended the Expo because it was my film’s New York premier. Being a native New Yorker, there was no way I was going to miss out on it. By attending the Expo, I had hoped to network, schmooze with some industry professionals and maybe meet someone valuable that I could work with in the future. I didn’t have any expectations coming into it. Expectations aren’t always a good thing to have. Though, I did learn a few good tips and got an interview out of it. Thank you D.C Theatre Scene and thank you Joel Markowitz.
Don: I think in this economic climate, one shouldn’t pass up any opportunity to network with other industry professionals. I had no expectations going into it. I did meet a talented young playwright who I have had some dealings with since then.
Joel: Fill us in on your current projects.
Raymond: My current projects consist of finishing my background acting role in HAZE, an independent film soon to be featured in a theater near you. I am also getting my music production technology and skills up to par so I can resurrect this present for the world. I have been already asked to write background music for a TV show, which I am contemplating. I am currently writing weekly Inspirational Emails after 3 years, to a list of over 900 individuals that look forward to what I like to call, “Expressions of Prudence.” Now, I am looking to get selected for speaking roles in films and TV for starters. The inspiration of these projects came from my inner voice that tells me to keep going and the sky is the limit!
Jared: Sight Lines, the full-length play which just finished it’s first mounting only days ago, thematically-speaking, was focused on the ideals of my generation, one which I dubbed (in the work) to be the “generation-in-transition,” and the journey they are faced with in this present, transitionary stage of life: Finding the courage and embracing it, gaining one’s footing to find inertia with which to move forward and pursue the bright idealistic future they had spent their past living inside of, exclusively-so, through fanciful daydreams and fantasies.
It explores the notions of struggles to define oneself and one’s personal understanding of their identity and place in the world and the society around them (one bogged down, rather hopelessly so, in black-and-white extremes, polarized by rigidly conditioned social norms and codes/labels created to better serve our unnatural desires to most clearly define and seek the security and comfort in definitively “knowing and understanding”); struggling with the paralysis of self-doubt and insecurity at their own gauge that while society may dictate such expectations, they themselves find a personal resonance with humanity’s innate, unspoken truth: that we, in fact, fall somewhere along the many levels of the spectrum, somewhere amongst the middle-ground of our reality – the “greyscale” of humanity.
Furthermore, it explores the journey towards discovery that one must first overcome and find resolution with past obstacles and points of struggle/distress (previously kept hidden and buried in the very depths of their subconscious mind) before they can be released from their catatonic state of fear in the present, finding that forward-motion towards their future, however uncertain – and, often times, terrified at the notion of the many failures and missteps down wrong paths along their way, as is inevitable, only finding the beauty in them and their own right towards newfound discoveries and opportunities never before contemplated – a directive towards an even brighter path than they ever sought out, even in their dreams. These are all themes I find myself constantly contemplating and, whether intentional or not, integrating into the over-arching motifs which surround my present body of work.
Paul: As of right now I am stuck in a creative conundrum. I’m juggling multiple ideas and hoping I’ll settle one soon. There’s not enough time or money to go around filming everything. Inspiration comes randomly from things I wouldn’t expect to inspire me in any way. The other day I was inspired by a landfill. It was rather odd, albeit encouraging.
Don: I’m directing a reading of a new musical, Heaven Knows by Charles Bloom at the beginning of May, featuring Christy Faber (Les Miz) and with musical direction by Matt Castle (Company). This summer, I’ll be directing The Light in the Piazza for an Equity theatre in upstate New York. Also, I’m currently writing the books for two new musicals: Merton Of The Movies, with music and lyrics by Doug Katsaros (the musical supervisor of Altar Boys and Toxic Avenger) and The Future Of Love, with lyrics by Sara Wordsworth (Primary Stages’ In Transit( next fall), and music by Washington State composer Linda Dowdell.
Joel: What are the biggest challenges you face?
Raymond: My most difficult challenges about writing has been having the right environment and surrounding life experiences to allow my writing hand to flow. As far as acting is concerned, I have been challenged to get speaking roles and may have to consider a manager/agent to help me to get these. At this point, however, I have only begun to enter the industry as a whole, so I will have to get back to you on any other challenges that come. Stay tuned…
Jared: Chiefly, two things come to mind when considering the entirety of my work and past experiences in all areas of the field:
Time: The gnawing sense of never having quite enough of it to truly and fully realize the work/performance/what have you to the degree I had hoped in a perfect, unrealistic world. The wishing and wanting always for more.
Self-Doubt: Forever quite the perfectionist (see TIME, above, for further re-enforcement), the overwhelming sense of doubt in my ability to effectively convey the message and intention of the work – be it through capacities as actor, writer, or director. That, in the end, it goes to some great degree, or almost entirely, over the heads of those who have come to experience this “world” and the ideas it speaks to.
Yes, to a degree, an artist can only rest in the security of their own work and knowing that, on some level, it will be heard and seen in the end (and if not, that these other notions or fears are not of their immediate responsibility or concern). However, it is my belief that if not, on some level, such a personal feeling of accountability to the audience in these ways, does in fact exist, then when all is said and done, what truly was the point to the entire process? After all, it is in the process, the work, and the artistry put forth from start to finish that we essentially aim for such an end-result: Exposure of said work to the masses, having the time invested in the artistic endeavor not gone completely in vein – that they had succeeded in efforts to convey such messages, evoke such thoughts, ideas, and emotions – making the art effective in a greater sense beyond that of purely light-hearted spectacle and amusement.
Paul: Either you have a ton of ideas or you have none. You have to pursue the one idea that you really feel a part of. Making a film is like a child. It has to be nurtured, it is expensive, and can cause a lot of problems, but you stick with it because you love it and want to see it grow. I think someone said that once. It can be difficult to find reliable people, especially when you are working with a small budget. It’s rare to find someone who will work hard when being paid in small quantities. When trying to get your film screened, you have to prepare yourself to be rejected a lot. I suppose that is healthy, though, in a cathartic kind of way.
Don: With everything that’s going on in this country, simply getting work is a challenge we all face right now. I’m always looking for new opportunities to expand the base of theatre artists that I work with.
Joel: Where can we see your work read, performed, or screened?
Raymond: My inspiring “Expressions of Prudence” can be read via email. All people have to do is email me at RPretlor(at)yahoo.com and request to be added to my distribution list of “Expressions of Prudence”. Another location where I am actually being published is at www.AboveRubiesMag.com , where I write an exclusive edition of “Expressions of Prudence”. So once a person subscribes to this magazine, they can catch me in a different mode of writing!
Secondly, HAZE will be coming out soon in theaters, so be on the lookout for this where I am a background actor
Jared: Currently, I am working on constructing my new website www.jaredrossjacobs.com for such purposes of promotion – alerting those interested in my work to any and all instances in which it can be accessible to them, whatever form that may be.
In the meantime, however, I have also begun (and have made far more progress currently) a “Fan Page” via Facebook to generally serve the same purposes. This can be accessed by any Facebook member searching for “Jared Ross Jacobs: Playwright, Actor, Director” and, subsequently, requesting to “Become a Fan.”
Paul: In Memoriam is part of the “Box[ur] Shorts Film Festival” program, playing at various places across the country and in Switzerland. You can watch In Memoriam on their website here: Apart from that, it will be playing at the Showbiz Expo in Los Angeles, April 24th -25th, and at the Staten Island Film Festival, in New York the first week of June. I am hoping for further acceptances in the future.
There is contact info, reels etc. on our website www.karioutfilms.org for those who wish to inquire further and check out some of the other productions me and the others in our company are working on.
I will also be directing and writing a short play, part of a showcase taking place sometime in the end of May or early June in Brooklyn, New York. For those who may be interested, they can contact me through the link above.
Don: Heaven Knows will be playing at Emerging Artists Theatre, in NYC on May 5th ; and The Light in the Piazza plays at River Valley Rep, in Poughkeepsie from July 22nd through the 31st. Check out my website here. Watch a video of production pictures of Don’s work here.