Howard Steven Frydman
The Hartt School
The Rhythm of U.S.
I just witnessed a spectacular student produced production-“The Rhythm of U.S.” – but how I got here is a story in itself- it took a twist of fate, a new heartbeat’s tick, once broken now mended – that brought it all together.
So here’s the yarn according to me – Howard!
The McGuffin: Serendipitous moments- a zig or a zag- do you take the right turn or the left, saying yes instead of no. It’s amazing how ones choices lead us to extraordinary moments, chance encounters, wonderful unforeseen opportunities.
These “blink in time” flash points embrace – placing you at random encounters, a drift-less decision that leads you to meet someone new, participate in an event or place you at the right moment at the right time.
Over the years, I have been a magnet for these happy heavenly happenstances – finding fate’s “fickle finger on my shoulder” -this time it led me to meet writer, director, actor Emma Krishnaswami, view her production- “The Rhythm of U.S.” and revisit old and new friends at the Hartt School in Hartford, Connecticut.
The Zig: Three weeks since my most recent open heart bypass surgery-and now only two days home after a two week stay at Caleb Hitchcock at Duncaster- a rehab center in the beautiful hamlet of Bloomfield- and now the blizzard of ’17 hits the region! Oy! As Mark Twain testified, “don’t like the weather- just wait” – I came home the temp was 55, a day later, it’s 16 degrees and snowing to beat the band- over two feet!
With my Cardiologists warning ringing in my ear- “Howard- never ever again- no snow shoveling” – yet the next day I had to go back to the doctor- so what to do? Another “Oy”!
The Zag: I needed help- What else could I do-I sent an SOS via emails and Facebook seeking snow storm assistance- and it came!! It came from folks who were concerned about my predicament such as famed actress and Hartt Voice, Speech, and Dialects Professor Johanna Morrison, restauranteur Maria “Pizza Empress” Rosu, and folks like Hartt Student Miss Emma Krishnaswami who I had never ever met!! Miss K. wrote “I was wondering if you still needed help? I won’t be able to get there till this evening after 6, but I would be happy to help you out.” Who is this extraordinary woman?
A Serendipity Snowstorm: what a moment- I was so truly overwhelmed by this young woman reaching out to me in a real time of desperate need- it really touched my heart! Yet before I could actually take up anyone on their kind offers- Unbeknownst to me Mayor Syd Schulman of Bloomfield sent someone over to clear the driveway of snow- I am blessed with friends! However in response to my friend Johanna Morrison’s concern I emailed her,”Johanna- can you believe Mayor Syd of Bloomfield sent someone to my home to do my driveway! They were so quiet I didn’t even know they had been to my home—and then I received an email from one of your Hartt students- Emma Krishnaswami- I don’t even know her- and she wanted to help dig me out!!! Wow!! That was so nice!!! If you know her- please give her a big hug from me!! You have some wonderful thoughtful students!!”
An Emma Krishnaswami Invitation: At this point about 5 weeks have passed- I am still home recuperating and now in mid-April I received an unexpected and welcome email invitation from Miss Emma inviting me to “a show that I have spent 7 months planning and the entire semester directing. It is called “The Rhythm of U.S.” ” – a collaborative project created by University of Hartford students, co-written and directed by the one and only Emma Krishnaswami.
The production features an original piece by Connecticut’s next Mark Twain, famed playwright and friend Jacques Lamarre, plus up and coming student playwright Sam Seleznow. Hartt Student performers include: Scott Burrows, Pedro Fontes, Genevieve Hendrix, Quiana Leigh, Voni Kengla, Arianna Ortmann, Alex Robertson and Mr. Matthew Werner. Of course I’m excepting Emma’s kind Invitation- my first live production in months since the “Big H-Cut” – nothing short of an April blizzard would stop me from seeing this student production. Hartt here I come!!
With Cane in Hand- I make my way slowly to The Handel Performing Arts Center, Studio N125. There is so much creative energy emanating from this room it could light the lights on Broadway. I’m greeted by old friends including, Robert H. Davis, Hartt Professor of Theatre in Acting and Voice & Speech, and my singular choice to take over the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in The Hartford Stage’s annual production “A Christmas Carol”- (are you hearing me Mike Stotts!!), as previous mentioned, my old pal, the legendary playwright and all around “good guy” Jacques Lamarre, and then a whirlwind of a gal approaches me – “are you Howard?” – I reply- “are you Emma”? – I promptly receive a heart healing hug from the one and only Miss Emma Krishnaswami. I could cry!
Miss Emma’s Production: “The Rhythm of U.S.”, a series of short acting pieces, explores different political issues – women’s rights, LGBTQ issues, the refugee crisis, and anti-semitism. Issues that I personally must state that have been brought “front forward” by a “Enfant Terrible’s trumpeted rage and reign.
According to Emma, “While the production represents different races, genders, cultures and sexualities, the show also unites performers and audience in a commonality we all share: humans trying to live together in America”.
The pieces in this one hour production include; “Bottom of the River”; “Yearning to Breathe Free”, Jacques Lamarre’s “Gaybraham Lincoln”, “Amazing Grace” and the thought provoking “Sunday In The Park with Anne” – Anne being the ghost of “Anne Frank”- told in three parts-and utilizing various “diary” selections. Anne is the illusion of “hemp happy” Jonah as they discuss anti-semitism then and now. A powerful emotional “triptych” that could be made more emotional if the ending was heightened with an unexpected twist- that Jonah is also a Ghost- a victim of someone’s hateful antisemitic rage. Only a suggestion!
I look forward to seeing this splendidly conceived production augmented by additional pieces and produced at other theaters! Great job all!
A Questionable Mr. Howard: Several questions that I put forward to Miss Em.
What was the hardest part of putting this production together?
“This process had many difficulties, but I think I was well prepared for each of them with the amount of experience and training I have had in theatre on and off stage. I’d say one of the biggest struggles was coordinating all of the students’ rigorous schedules with my schedule and the availability of rehearsal space. I remember spending full days coming up with the rehearsal schedule for the next 2 weeks. Sometimes we would be in the depths of a rehearsal and we would get kicked out because there was a class. Going into the project, I also knew I had to accept the fact that people may drop out, people may forget about rehearsal or may have to cancel coming to one at the last minute”.
What did you learn?
“Ooooh many many things. One of the most important things I learned was what I am capable of and that I should trust myself. I went in with a lot of self-doubt about my abilities to see the fine points in real moments, which I think are essential to making a piece of theatre believable and relatable. But as the process continued I learned that I had a very good sense of these moments and could actually guide actors in a helpful way. It was always magical when I would adjust something and suddenly the moment came to life. I also learned that I have gained enough acting, stage management, technical, and leadership experience over the years to properly plan the birth process of a show in a timely fashion. I learned to have much more confidence in what I know. I learned that I am a director as much as I am an actor”.
“I also learned that all those years of being taught and directed really did teach me how to get the best work out of actors. In order to create real, relatable theatre you must be willing to let the actors be artists and trust them. Make them comfortable, treat them as equals rather than lesser, and make sure they feel validated in their contributions so that they are inspired to continue contributing.”
“I also learned that actors really need to eat if you want to have productive rehearsals. One weekend we had an 8am and no one had eaten because the dining halls weren’t open that early and people were so slow and cranky. The next weekend I brought food and people were much more lively. The contrast was night and day. Literally.”
Why did you put this project together- was this your concept?
“This project was very much my concept. Prior to the election of Trump, I came up with the idea to tell the Syrian refugee story. I realized I had not paid much attention to this horrible crisis across the sea and that I was one of millions who didn’t bat an eye at it. This had to stop because if it were me over there it would make no sense to me how my world could be falling apart, but there are people out there who still have perfect lives and refuse to help. This bothered me on a deep level. Looking back now, I am not sure how I would have accomplished this. Then the election of Trump occurred and I realized our citizens needed something encouraging, something uniting, but being a student in college it was difficult to feel like I could do anything to bring about change. I saw this show as an opportunity to help. I still wanted to shed light on the refugee crisis, but also on other communities and groups that were negatively influenced by this election.”
Is this your senior Project- how many students were involved-are they all Hartt seniors?
“This is my senior project. There were 12 students involved altogether. 8 actors, 1 student writer, 1 director/writer, 1 music director, 1 dramaturge. The only seniors were Sam Seleznow (“Sunday in the Park with Anne” playwright) and me. All the actors were freshmen and sophomores. Our music director, Danny Brown, was also a sophomore.”
Btw- what was your grade?
“This was actually something I chose to do on my own, not as an assignment, so I have not been graded on this. I am thinking of talking to my advisor about getting credit for it, but I am not sure.”
From Heart to Hartt: It’s a simply amazing serendipitous road on how I was invited to participate in seeing Emma’s theatrical vision. Thank you Emma Krishnaswami! “Thank god for the arts”- and thank our lucky stars for the staff and rising star talents at The Hartt School.
I have said it once and I will say it again – these students- these young men and woman at Hartt definitely have wonderful hearts – and here’s my tale and how it led to my visit to see the production of “The Rhythm of U.S.” And its all true- cross my heart!!
A good cast is worth repeating ( Universal Pictures) -all actors enjoy seeing their names not only in lights- but in print- so I am honored to list those participants here again now- Scott Burrows, Pedro Fontes, Genevieve Hendrix, Quiana Leigh, Voni Kengla, Arianna Ortmann, Alex Robertson and Mr. Matthew Werner.
And look out world – Here Comes Emma Krishnaswami! Oh and by the way- Stay off Motorcycles young lady!!!!
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at Howardbatv@aol.com