Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Debra Martin Chase, Two Time Emmy Nominated Motion Picture & Television Producer to Present the Riant Theatre's Pioneer of the Arts Award to Broadway Producers Stephen Byrd & Alia Jones-Harvey

Debra Martin Chase will be presenting the Riant Theatre's Pioneer of the Arts Award to Broadway Producers Stephen C. Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey on Sunday, February 9th at the Riant Theatre's Launch Party for the Strawberry One-Act Festival at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1040 Grand Concourse.  For tickets go to http://www.therianttheatre.com/item.php?id=200

Debra Martin Chase is the first African-American woman to have a solo producing deal with a major studio. Her company, Martin Chase Productions, is affiliated with the Walt Disney Company and ABC Studios.  She ran both Denzel Washington’s and Whitney Houston’s production companies before forming her own, Martin Chase Productions in 2000. Debra’s producing credits include:  Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Just Wright, and Sparkle (2012).

In 2001, partnering with Disney, Chase produced a movie hit with The Princess Diaries. Starring Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway, the movie grossed over $109 million in domestic box office receipts and sold over 17 million video and DVD units. She also produced The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. Her work with Princess Diaries was designed to make, “Every girl, and the girl in every woman, [wish] that she would wake up one day and find out that she’s a princess.” (Alexander,497) Chase inspires young girls to be reminded that they have the power to do what they want to do. @RiantTheatre #StrawberryOneActFestival. #GreatWomanOfColorInFilm. #YouthEmpowermentAwards. #HistoricBlackWomenInFilm

Friday, January 17, 2014

Pioneer of the Arts Honorees Know the Economics of Entertainment

By Fern Gillespie
Whether it’s casting African American superstars in Broadway classics or inspiring the rock and roll movement or web casting the sensational Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, Riant Theatre’s “Pioneer of the Arts Awards” honorees are not only cultural innovators; they are experts in the economics of entertainment.

Stephen C. Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey left Wall Street to become Broadway’s leading African-American producers and create acclaimed star-studded productions like Romeo and Juliet with Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad; The Trip To Bountiful with Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr.; A Street Car Named Desire with Blair Underwood and Nicole Ari Parker and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof with Phylicia Rashad, James Earl Jones, Terrence Howard and Anika Noni Rose.  Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer Lloyd Price launched the teen craze of Rock and Roll with “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and transitioned into successful enterprises from records to boxing to construction to food. B. Jeffrey Madoff's creative career evolved from being a top fashion designer to a documentary filmmaker and commercial producer-director, who devised the splashy web cast and network broadcast of the amazing Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
“Alia and I think outside the box,” explained Stephen C. Byrd, a former Goldman Sachs executive, whose Front Row Productions with Alia Jones-Harvey is the only African-American theatre production firm on Broadway.
Their formula for developing hit Broadway shows for African-American audiences has resulted in top grossers like the  revivial of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  Later on the London stage, it earned the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for Best Revival of a Play.

“If we cast a production interracially and get panned by the critics, it doesn’t matter to us because African-Americans want to see their talent,” said Byrd.  “They want to see Terrence Howard. They want to see James Earl Jones.  They don’t care what the New York Times says.”
“We’re approaching these productions as if they are start-up businesses. They take all of the research and planning of any start-up business,” said Jones-Harvey, a former NASA executive who holds a MBA and masters degrees in engineering and math. “Each time you put on a production, you need to know what market you are targeting. The profit margins are all in reaching your market efficiently.”
Right now, they are developing a Broadway production of the 1959 Brazilian film Black Orpheus. Byrd has seen the film over 30 times.  “I see something new every time.”
Singing sensation Lloyd Price, known as “Mr. Personality,” has used that personality to create a cache
of careers. “Everything I do, I’ve never done before,” he said.
When he recorded the rock and roll, R&B classic “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” in 1952, the 19 year old from Louisiana thrilled black and white teens. “It caused a youth movement and a rock and roll revolution,” explained Price.
After serving in Korea, his label replaced him with Little Richard.  Then, Price’s classic “Stagger Lee" topped the pop and R&B charts and sold over one million copies. By 1962, he owned Double L Records recording The Coasters and Wilson Pickett. In 1969, after his business partner and friend Harold Logan was murdered in their club, he moved to Nigeria.
            In Zaire, he tapped his friend Don King, who Price had introduced years earlier to Muhmmad Ali. Together with King, he produced the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” fight between Ali and Joe Frazier. “The whole deal was my production. They got the biggest purse ever, which was $5 million,” said Price. “We changed the entire concept of how sports and entertainers get paid for their work.”
            By the 1980s, Price took a $6 million bank loan and constructed over 40 low-income homes in the Bronx and Staten Island. Today, at age 80, he is not only singing “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” onstage, he manages Icon Food Brands, which includes Lawdy Miss Clawdy products.
            “Lloyd Price has such a layered story,” said B. Jeffrey Madoff, founder of Madoff Productions, who directed a film on Price and is now developing a Broadway bio drama with music.  “Lloyd is the messenger. The play is about how music and rock and roll brings about integration in the United States. Before Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, the young people started to listen to the same music, dance together and socialize. As they got older it impacted on popular culture on the Civil Rights Movement and, arguably, you could take that up to getting President Obama elected.”
Madoff earned degrees in philosophy and psychology at the University of Wisconsin and, by
accident, became a fashion designer in the 1970s.  In his first year of business he landed on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily and was named one of the top 10 designers in the U.S. Today, he directs award winning commercials, documentaries and web content viewed worldwide. High profile fashion and education clients include: Ralph Lauren, Victoria’s Secret, Godiva Chocolates, Weill Cornell Medical College and Harvard University. Madoff used his film and fashion sense to pioneer the flamboyant Victoria's Secret Fashion shows on the web. He’s penned a Huffington Post column and is at work developing a movie “The Hard Kill” about the desire for redemption.

“Creativity: Making a Living with Your Ideas” is Madoff’s expertise and the title of a course he teaches at Parsons School for Design. “I bring in people who make a living with their ideas and the students get an idea of how to bring their ideas to market,” he pointed out. “Creativity is a job and a discipline. If you think your ideas are good, you have to get them out there.”

For tickets to the Riant Theatre's Launch Party - Pioneer of the Arts Awards & Tribute Show go to www.therianttheatre.comTickets.

The event is Sunday, February 9, 2014.  

5:30pm is the VIP Reception - $50 for Reception & Awards Show

6:45pm is the Pioneer Awards Show - $25 for the Awards Show

At the Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1040 Grand Concourse, NY.

For further info call 646-623-3488. 

Fern Gillespie, Publicist for the Riant Theatre & The Strawberry One-Act Festival.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Broadway Producers ALIA JONES-HARVEY & STEPHEN C. BYRD will receive the Riant Theatre's PIONEER OF THE ARTS AWARD

Broadway Producers ALIA JONES-HARVEY & STEPHEN C. BYRD (Romeo and Juliet, Trip To Bountiful, Street Car Named Desire and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof) will receive the PIONEER OF THE ARTS AWARD at the Launch Party for the Strawberry Theatre Festival at the Bronx Museum of the Arts (1040 Grand Concourse @ 165th St.) on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 7pm. Join us for a panel discussion about LIVING THE DREAM with our honorees, which will include: Theatre Producers, Agents, Casting Directors, Singer/Songwriters, Directors and Actors.  Save the date and like us on Facebook and join our email club to receive updates of other panelists by clicking here.

Monday, October 21, 2013


Ashton Pina has been awarded the YOUTH EMPOWERMENT AWARD by the Riant Theatre, the award is given to an outstanding student enrolled in college and includes a scholarship of $2,500, which Mr. Pina will use to complete his thesis film THE BROTHERS TEXAS.  Check out his campaign on kickstarter to help him reach his goal.  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ashtonpina/the-brothers-texas

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Play Submissions for the Strawberry Theatre Festival & Strawberry One-Act Festival (Deadline October 30, 2013)

The Riant Theatre's Strawberry Theatre Festival will be at the 160 seat Theatre at St. Clement's on 46th St. in Manhattan from February 12th - February 23, 2014, and is now accepting submissions for Full Length Plays (between 55 - 90 minutes) and Musicals (not to exceed 120 minutes), Short Plays (40 minutes - 50 minutes) and Staged Readings. Plays selected for the festival can perform between 3 - 5 performances and elect to share a percentage of the box office by paying a theatre usage fee between $1 - $9 per ticket to receive 10% - 100% share of the box office. To download an application go to www.therianttheatre.com or email us at RiantTheatre@gmail.com. The deadline to submit an application is October 30, 2013.  Late Submissions deadline is November 15, 2013. The participation fee for the STF is $400 for plays received by October 30, 2013 and $500 for plays received after October 30, 2013. The participation fee for Short Plays is $350. All submissions are done by email.

Also seeking submissions for the Strawberry One-Act Festival (February 12th - February 23rd) for plays with a running time from 15 minutes - 30 minutes. Plays can advance from Round 1, Semi-Finals, Finals and the Awards Show & Performance. The judges for the Finals will consist of (2) Artistic Directors, (1) Agent and (1) Casting Director. The 4 Best Plays will perform at the Awards Ceremony on February 23rd and have the option to do an Encore Performance at one of our Partner Theatre Companies. The participating fee for plays accepted into the festival is $300 for plays submitted by October 30, 2013 and $350 for plays received after October 30, 2013, which includes: an on-camera interview for your play, inclusion in our mailing brochures and the Riant Theatre Review Magazine, (1) ticket to our Launch Party and Screening of the Video Diaries Project: A Series of Short Films about the artists in the Strawberry One-Act Festival;
(1) comp ticket whenever your play is performed, (1) ticket to the Awards Ceremony. The winner of the Best Play receives $1,500. Awards are given to Best Play, Best Director ($150), Best Actor ($150), Best Actress ($150) and Best Short Film - The Video Diaries Project ($250). Some plays will be selected for publication in the anthology The Best Plays From The Strawberry One-Act Festival. All Submissions must be done by emailed. Deadline October 30, 2013. Deadline for late submissions is November 15, 2013.  Download an application at www.therianttheatre.com (There is no sharing of the box office for the One-Act Festival.). To buy Volume 7 of the anthology: THE BEST PLAYS FROM THE STRAWBERRY ONE-ACT FESTIVAL go to www.therianttheatre.com or http://www.therianttheatre.com/index.php?n=books

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Radio Interview with Kristen Seavey & Van Dirk Fisher on BOOK TALK with DJ Kory on Break Thru Radio

Check out this Radio interview with DJ Kory on BOOK TALK on Break Thru Radio with Van Dirk Fisher and Kristen Seavey at www.breakthruradio.com/#/post/?dj=kory&post=1527&blog=89&autoplay=1  Kristen and Van Dirk discuss the plays in the anthology The Best Plays In The Strawberry One-Act Festival: Volume Seven
To buy the book go to http://www.therianttheatre.com/item.php?id=184

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Embracing the Spark: Orpheus Group Casting Founders Receive Pioneer of the Arts Award

Embracing the Spark:  Orpheus Group Casting Founders Receive Pioneer of the Arts Award
By Jane Rubinsky
 Ellyn Long Marshall and Maria E. Nelson, the founding partners of Orpheus Group Casting, receive the Riant Theatre’s Pioneer of the Arts Award in recognition of their 27 years of uncompromising dedication to the arts of film, theater, and television.  Among the critically acclaimed films enriched by their expertise are Girlfight (2000), Real Women Have Curves (2002), Maria Full of Grace (2004), and Amreeka (2009).  The pair have also worked with respected theater companies such as INTAR, on Broadway, and at Lincoln Center.
A native New Yorker born into a theatrical family (her father was the actor Avon Long), Marshall studied acting before landing a job in casting at the Public Theater back in the late 70s.  “A regular paycheck, health insurance, doing something I loved; I was in heaven,” she recalls.  She was casting for the Los Angeles tour of Joseph Papp’s Pirates of Penzance when she met Nelson, an agent for a musical theater company on 42nd Street, over the phone.  “I just found a really pleasant person on the other side of the phone,” says Nelson.  “And that’s basically how we began this friendship.”
Nelson, who was born in Costa Rica to a family of entrepreneurs, had become New York State’s youngest licensed agent at age 23, after already having worked in the fashion industry.  She moved up the ladder quickly, but her goal was to launch a production company – “completely out of my forecast for my life,” laughs Marshall.  But their tastes and values were in sync.  And as Marshall began seeing more shows that were “terrible” – “not a lot of them, but just the concept,” she recalls – the two decided it was time to open their own company in an office at Kaufman Astoria Studios in 1987.
Initially they focused on theater production.  But directors were also looking for help with casting, and the pair had a wide knowledge of actors from their previous lives.  As the casting work “mushroomed,” says Marshall, the two eventually moved into film with Above the Rim (1994).  Since then, they have been playing an integral part in shaping independent features with multicultural themes.
“People often ask us, how do you decide what to work on?” says Nelson.  “We’re totally script-driven; that’s the deciding factor.”
“We choose projects that are important to us, that introduce new ideas,” concurs Marshall.  “And things that have an impact on society, that the audience will come away from with something positive, regardless of how dark the subject matter might be or how it’s presented.”
That often means working on a project from the ground up, with lots of challenges – from helping to find financing to steering someone to the right cinematographer or director.  Nelson recalls the Canadian producer who confessed, once a project was under way, that she “needed a little help” because she had never produced a film before.  “I told her, ‘Well, you’re going to produce this one!’” says Nelson.  “And of course we helped her, and talked her through the process.  Then there was the film they had to cast in five different countries from New York City – with the audition tapes in Arabic.  “We were arguing with the producers about using this actor or that actor, and I don’t know if they even internalized the fact that we didn’t speak Arabic!” laughs Nelson.  “But we were lucky enough to be right, and the particular actor got all the accolades in the trade.”
Singling out a favorite project is hard, but Nelson says they are especially proud of Girlfight.  “We worked hand-in-hand with the writer and director, Karyn Kusama, from the very beginning,” she says.  The casting was pivotal.  “We’d been talking about this role with Karyn for nearly a year,” recalls Marshall.  “She was very specific about what she wanted this person to be.  We saw hundreds and hundreds of young ladies.  When we saw Michelle Rodriguez, I just knew immediately that was the girl.  She had no credits, and came in off the street to an open call, and she was fabulous.”
Current projects include fully producing two films and working on an innovative Broadway musical, as well as building a media arts center in Middletown, N.Y. (where the Hoboken Film Festival was transplanted this year after the damage of Hurricane Sandy).
Despite rapid and sometimes unsettling changes in the industry, they remain optimistic.  Technology, maintains Marshall, changes “not only the process, but also the creative part of the brain.  I think it has atrophied.”  They also refuse to cave in to the pressure to cast big names that have nothing to do with a script.  “But recently, we’re getting these little inklings from people who have this spark,” says Marshall.  “I’m seeing that there are young people coming up with good scripts, with good ideas, who need guidance.  To be able to nurture that, and help them find the money, that’s the challenge, and that’s specifically where our heads are at right now.”
“We who have the experience should be there to embrace this, to help it along,” adds Nelson.  “Because that’s our responsibility.  And I feel very seriously about that.  Personally, that’s why I’m in this end of the industry – because I want to leave a legacy.”

Tickets are available for the PIONEER OF THE ARTS AWARDS, which will be presented at the Launch  Party for the Strawberry One-Act Festival.  The event will be on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 7pm at the Tribeca Grand Hotel - Cinema, located at 2 Avenue of the Americas, NYC.  There will be a special screening of the Video Diaries Project: A Series of Short Films About the Artists in the Strawberry One-Act Festival.  For tickets go to http://www.therianttheatre.com/item.php?id=185