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The Drama Desk Presents a Summer Panel Discussion at Fordham University
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The Drama Desk Presents a Summer Panel Discussion at Fordham University

- Backstage with the Playwrights: Special Events

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The Drama Desk
Isa Goldberg, Drama Desk President
Fordham University Theatre Program
Matthew Maguire, Director

The Drama Desk Summer Panel Discussion
“Making My Broadway Debut”
Moderator: Robin Milling
Host of Milling About on Blogtalk Radio
(2013 Drama Desk Awards Website)

Fordham University
Pope Auditorium
113 W. 60th Street and Columbus Avenue
NY, NY 10023

Panel Participants:
Richard Kind (The Big Knife)
Carrie Coon (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
Shalita Grant (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike)
Dee Nelson (The Heiress)
Keala Settle (Hands on a Hardbody)
Jonny Orsini (The Nance)

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 17, 2013

Click Here to see reviews of the above productions on Backstage with the Playwrights.

Tonight’s Drama Desk panel’s lively discussion of Broadway debut nerves and thrills was expertly moderated by Robin Milling, who’s host of “Milling About”. The panel participants, who were all seen onstage this past season, were Richard Kind, who appeared in The Big Knife, Carrie Coon, who appeared in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Shalita Grant, who appears in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Dee Nelson, who appeared in The Heiress, Keala Settle, who appeared in Hands on a Hardbody, and Jonny Orsini, who appears in The Nance.

Ms. Milling’s first question was about the route to Broadway. Richard Kind was impassioned on the subject. He said he grew up going to shows, knows Broadway trivia, and has seen as much as possible since 6th grade. He worked in Second City, followed by Hollywood, did summer stock, was in a TV series, and then appeared in Tales of an Allergist’s Wife. Keala Settle spoke about auditioning for Priscilla Queen of the Desert and, before she knew it, was accepted to Hands on a Hardbody. Jonny Orsini said he grew up playing sports and at first thought all the plays were musicals. He’s now in The Nance. Carrie Coon, who also grew up playing sports, started her Broadway debut role in Virginia Woolf in Chicago. Dee Nelson first came to New York for Sons of the Prophet and landed the role in The Heiress. Shalita Grant, from Virginia, began in the Baltimore School of the Arts. She auditioned for and then studied at Juilliard, where she met Christopher Durang, playwright, who invited her to Vanya at Lincoln Center, after a reading. The show moved to Broadway the same season.

Ms. Milling’s second question was about the actors’ feelings when the Opening Night curtain rose. Ms. Coon said she received roses from Edward Albee, at the closing curtain, Mr. Kind said he played the show for the laughs, Ms. Settle spoke about “doing right by the character”, Ms. Grant first knew the audience loved the show, during the after-party, Mr. Orsini spoke about his happiness knowing his mother and sister were there, and Ms. Nelson spoke about a wig malfunction. For the remainder of the panel discussion, participants expanded on each other’s experiences, plus responded to Ms. Milling’s and the audience’s brief queries. Ms. Coon commented on her acting for television as forcing her to deliver, be centered, and focus, for instantaneous performances, with acting for live theater, in contrast, lasting up to three hours and maybe two years of shows. Mr. Kind said he’s a “loud talker”, having it easy in projecting himself in theater, while having to “tone it down” for TV. He also spoke on the ease of getting a laugh in theater, playing for pauses, while on TV the editor can cut his time, and the laughs, as well. Ms. Settle expanded on the “laugh” topic, as she had a huge, hysterical laughing segment in Hardbody. When one actor took time for his spoken cue, to switch from her laughing to the group singing, she had to improvise to remind him.

The subject turned to audience misbehavior, with Ms. Grant speaking about people yelling out lines, plus people arriving at the show in serious illness, coughing and wheezing throughout, rather than resting at home and postponing the evening. Ms. Nelson then mentioned enjoying the chiming “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from St. Malachy’s church tower. Ms. Coon bemoaned playing to half a house, on a few occasions, in a show with no renowned celebrities. Mr. Kind closed the evening on a positive note, happy that actors “get to play pretend and be childlike every day”, because they’re blessed with talent.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at