MEET ALEKSANDRA SZCZEPANOWSKA
GEN PH MEMBER
Aleksandra, you are a theater lover as well as a theater performer. Tell us a little bit about how you were first introduced to theater.
I had my first stage experience both as a performer and spectator when I was seven. My mother took me to see my first play, Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. I remember fidgeting in my seat, looking at her face pleadingly, laying my head in her lap and popping up on occasion to see if anything had changed on stage. Nothing. At the end I asked her what it was all about and could not believe the silent and captive audience. I was bewildered.
Luckily Shakespeare & Company was at my school that year and as any seven year old might, I decided that doing was more exciting than watching. I begged and begged to play Brutus in Julius Caesar and to my delight I was cast. I remember pouring over the text and enjoyed memorizing Shakespeare’s beautiful language. I was hooked. After the play went up, parents were shocked that I was cast as Brutus and I was even interviewed by the local papers asking how it felt to play a man. Offended, I replied that sex doesn’t matter. We can all do and play whatever we want! And that’s exactly what was printed.
What is it about Playwrights Horizons that prompted you to join Generation PH and to support this particular theater?
I was so thrilled to learn that such a group existed. Playwrights Horizons is one of my favorite off-Broadway theatres and any way that I could build some kind of camaraderie around this feeling was appealing. I was keen to meet others who found PH’s productions and intimate atmosphere as enticing. The fact that there is a theater in New York that so ardently stands by its choice of which playwrights to support, playwrights who haven’t yet come into the spotlight, often young, often women (a key for me), supported by some of the best acting I have ever seen, is what draws me to this theater in particular. There is also a certain modesty and elegance to the productions. I get to enjoy and discuss all the details of productions with a dynamic group of theatregoers that make up the Gen PH group.
What is your fondest Playwrights Horizons moment?
I remember walking into Sam Gold’s production of The Flick with a friend. And I knew I would just love it. The staging, before the play had even begun, was so strange and disorienting. I could feel the people around me – some were uncomfortable, especially with the projection light shining on them, shielding their eyes, some were disgruntled at being thrown off and experiencing the unexpected. I just loved the play, loved it. And I know that it stirred some controversy among Playwrights Horizon theatergoers. But for me, that’s exactly what we should want, a bit of controversy, in the most unexpected way. This play created a lot of emotion and discussion about art and what art is. I was floored by the letter sent out by Playwrights Horizons’ Artistic Director Tim Sanford in response to an uneven theatergoer reaction. I found it an interesting move, and ultimately so brave. It was honest, vulnerable and on point. This move also underscored the intimate community that Playwrights Horizons has been able to foster among its supporters.
As an actor, how do you see the importance of supporting new works?
I try to find any way possible to support new works because new voices are a vital reflection of our current thinking, our zeitgeist. They help me to stop and think about what is going on around me in different ways, whether I am on or off stage. As an actor, new works are our lifeblood. It’s a joy to play the classics but it’s an entirely different experience to work with the playwright and director on creating a character. There is a certain freedom in originating a modern character as well as an entirely different challenge than playing a Miss Julie or Miss Brodie. I am always searching for the most interesting story, or the one that speaks to my life experience the most, or alternatively ushers me into a world I never imagined. And any actor can tell you, there are far more actors than there are stories being produced in the city. So supporting quality works in whatever way I can, be it readings or workshops or belonging to a group like Gen PH, helps keep this kind of theater and writing alive, which is so important for theatregoers today and in the future.
Photo of Aleksandra by Laura Rose/Hoebermann Studios.
MEET STEVE NOWICKI
GEN PH LEADERSHIP COMMITEE MEMBER
Steve, tell us a little bit about how your interest in theater began.
As an elementary school student, I auditioned for and occasionally was cast in school plays but it quicky became apparent that my involvement in the theater should be strictly limited to sitting in the house. Despite that, I've loved going to the theater ever since. When I moved to New York 18 years ago, I turned what have been a passing interest into a full-blown obsession, thanks to the presence of amazing theater companies like Playwrights Horizons.
You've been a member of the Gen PH Leadership Committee for about one and a half seasons. What drew you to becoming involved with this group?
I had been to several shows at Playwrights Horizons over the years. When my friend and fellow Gen PH Leadership Committee member Pauline told me about the program and invited me to one of the Gen PH events, I was really impressed by the enthusiasm of the group, the terrific post-show events such as cocktail parties and talk-backs, and the opportunity to support one of the best theater companies in New York. It wasn't a difficult decision.
What do you see as the importance of a patron program for younger theatergoers, like Gen PH?
Establishing a new generation of theater patrons is essential to the continued development of original works for the theater. With so much recycled content appearing on Broadway each season, it's exciting to be able to see 6 new plays or musicals each season at Playwrights Horizons. Developing an enthusiastic base of support among younger theatergoers helps to ensure that this can continue for many seasons to come. Also, the Gen PH events allow younger patrons to meet some of the best writers, directors, and actors in the theater today, many of whom are young themselves. I've been to see plays at other theaters solely becasuse I met someone from the creative team or cast at one of those events and wanted to see their work again. In that way, supporting Playwrights Horizons benefits the entire theater community and ensures the next generation of creative talent is supported by a committed, dedicated group of patrons.
What has been your favorite Gen PH moment so far?
Getting to meet Stephen Sondheim at last year's gala. That was a real thrill, despite my gawky awkwardness when speaking to him.
If you had to tell a person why they should join Gen PH, what would you say?
There is no other young patron's program in New York that offers the benefits, the access, or the thought-provoking discussions that Gen PH does. Playwrights Horizons consistently produces incredible theater and the Gen PH events allow members to have a deeper, richer experience with the productions. Plus, it allows members to take pride in their support of new theatrical works and the writers who create them. And sometimes, there's free wine. So, really, there's no reason to not join. I've had lots of fun being involved with Gen PH. I'm excited for the upcoming season and excited to continue to support this amazing theater company.
MEET MARISA SECHREST
GEN PH LEADERSHIP COMMITTEE CO-CHAIR & MEMBER OF THE PH BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Marisa, you have a very interesting background. Could you tell us a little bit about your journey from ballet dancer to theater producer?
I fell in love with the performing arts — ballet in particular — at age 4 when my grandmother took me to see Nureyev and Cynthia Gregory perform. After a brief career as a professional ballerina, I realized I wanted to be involved in something that combines creative with business (right & left-brained skills). So, I opted to study law at Harvard where I learned to advise entertainment clientele. After a stint at a large firm in L.A., I joined a NYC entertainment boutique firm where I structured deals in the theater, music, publishing, and movie industries. This is where I started doing a lot of work with producers who are in effect the "CEO" of a production — working with the creative and business teams to create and realize a vision that can have a profound influence on the audience.
You have been an active member of Generation PH for several seasons. What drew you to becoming involved in this group of younger donors?
In my work for a commercial theatrical production company I am keenly aware that the "key" demographic tends to be middle-aged women. These are the folks typically targeted by marketing/advertising agencies, but as the avid theater-going population ages we need to ensure that younger generations are exposed to the magic of theater and continue to support this art form in the years to come. I want to be a part of reaching out to and embracing Gen Y Millennials. This is something Gen PH does so well by hosting intimate talk-backs with the creatives and sponsoring cocktail parties with the casts where younger donors can meet one another and learn more about this exciting organization.
What connections do you see between the programming at Playwrights Horizons and the interests of younger theatergoers?
Playwrights Horizons is a unique not-for-profit in its commitment to support emerging artists - writers, directors and performers. The organization is unafraid to take risks and has discovered some of the most talented young artists of our generation. These young voices pick themes that theatergoers in their 30s and 40s can relate to (Assistance,Maple & Vine, etc.), and this peaks the interests of younger theatergoers to see more shows.
What has been your favorite moment at Playwrights Horizons, either at a show or an event?
Some of my favorite moments include Generation PH post-performance talk-backs with writers, directors, and casts. This intimate "behind-the-scenes" look at the show has led to some thought-provoking discussions with the younger generation of theatergoers and seems to be a favorite event amongst Gen PH members.