Tags Posts tagged with "Acting"


Jo Ann Havrilla in a scene from 'Stephen Wins the Olympics' with Stephen Colbert

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

Dreams do come true. How terribly worthless and dull life would be if we didn’t aspire for something even though we might be surrounded by those voices of “reason” warning us to be practical. But sometimes that dream plays out in ways we never would have imagined.

Jo Ann Havrilla

Take acting for instance. What does it mean to be an “actress”? Is it someone walking the red carpet, cameras flashing, posing in a sequined Versace gown and dripping in Harry Winston diamonds? Is it making major motion pictures or bowing on a lavish Broadway stage to enthusiastic applause or being featured on a long-running television series?

There’s Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, and Viola Davis living the dream; all household names commanding oodles of money acquired from the wheelings and dealings of big-time agents securing Academy Award-worthy roles for them. But not all actresses luck out with this iconic recognition. In fact, most don’t “make it.”

“There’s a broken heart for every light on Broadway” is an adage that holds much credence. Many come to the Great White Way in search of a life in the theater, but few receive the recognition that Lin-Manuel Miranda with his Hamilton has enjoyed. 

There are some actors who aren’t house-hold names, yet they manage to earn a living wage doing what they love.

Meet 70-year-old working actress, Jo Ann Havrilla, who grew up in Jericho. She pursued the dream refusing to give up. That persistence paid off with some major motion pictures, television, stage and commercials. What makes Havrilla stand out as a formidable presence is her greater than life upbeat nature, energetic persona and timing equal to that of Carol Burnett.

Hers is a life of perseverance. At 23 years of age, she moved from her family’s Jericho home to a studio apartment in Manhattan where she resides to this day with her husband, Brad Firminger.

She earned her equity card while in her early twenties and doors opened for professional stage work.

Jo Ann Havrilla in a scene from ‘Hairspray’

Havrilla’s ability to play characters of all ages, especially those much older than her years, landed her the role at age 38 of Prudence Pingleton, the overprotective mother of Tracy Turnblad’s friend, Penny, in John Waters’ 1988 cult classic film Hairspray. 

In 1989, Havrilla appeared as  Boolie Werthan’s loyal secretary, Miss McClatchey, in another classic film, Driving Miss Daisy, this time with the legends, Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy. That same year she was in the Tom Selleck, James Farentino film, Her Alibi.

A role on the 1989-1990 television series True Blue followed the films. Other television credits include All My Children, One Life to Live and the Michael J. Fox series, Spin City. 

In 2004 Havrilla was featured in the comedic role of diner waitress Maxine  in the short film Sara Goes to Lunch which received recognition at the 2005 Fargo Film Festival.  

In 2010, Havrilla landed a role on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report opposite Stephen Colbert performing in a satirical skit titled “Stephen Wins the Olympics.” Havrilla played Colbert’s coach, Svetlana Oranskaya, strong as nails with a thick Russian accent. Her hysterical performance made the scene so successful that she was invited back during the 2014 Olympics to recreate Oranskaya. Hopefully, Colbert will resurrect Oranskaya during this coming summer’s Olympics. 

In 2018 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences celebrated the 30th anniversary of the making of Hairspray by reuniting Havrilla and the cast with their director, John Waters, at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles. 

Much commercial work and personal speaking appearances keep her busy to date. Havrilla centers her talks on her lengthy career and what it was like working with some of the most prominent personalities in show business. She enjoys retelling how John Waters worked with a mere budget of 2 million dollars, making it imperative for the actors to nail the scenes on the first take. 

Havrilla knows she has been lucky though her name may not trip off your tongue. But look through magazines or newspapers and you just might see her inviting grin or watch the original 1988 Hairspray, Driving Miss Daisy or Her Alibi and see her doing what she loves best — being a working actress.

Her advice is don’t ever give up. Your dream may not materialize quite as you envision, but persistence pays off. Doors will open and opportunities will unfold. Believe in yourself and you can make dreams happen.

Postscript: Havrilla’s inspirational message of ‘never giving up’ happened in a dramatic way on January 26, 2021, when 48-year-old country singer/songwriter, Thad Cockrell debuted on The Tonight Show, getting a chance of a lifetime to perform his original song “Swingin” remotely with the Tonight Show band, The Roots. 

This story is as fantastic as it gets. Jimmy Fallon heard Cockrell’s anthem song while he was in  the local hardware store. The lyrics, with the motivating chorus “If I’m gonna go down, I wanna go down swinging,” so impressed Fallon that he invited Cockrell, who had been a struggling artist for decades, to perform his song on The Tonight Show. Cockrell’s album, If In Case You Feel the Same, released in 2020, hit number three on iTunes, shooting him to instant success.

Miller Place resident Barbara Anne Kirshner is a freelance journalist, playwright and author of “Madison Weatherbee —The Different Dachshund.”

Acting students perform a scene at Take 2 Actor’s Studio in Huntington. Photo by Wenhao Ma

By Wenhao Ma

Huntington residents should get ready to break a leg, with the opening of a new acting studio in town.

Regina Schneider, 46, an actress and acting teacher, is set to open Take 2 Actor’s Studio in Huntington this September. Her studio offers eight different classes, including intro to acting, acting on camera, television crime drama intensive, college auditions, kids character builders and private coaching. Classes meet weekly or by appointment.

But these classes are not just for the seasoned actors in town. The owner said she encourages everyone to take an acting class, regardless of their experience.

“I welcome anyone to come in because I feel like as humans, we need to connect,” Schneider said in an interview. “We all have a voice. And we all deserve to have our voice heard and our stories told.”

The studio is located in a rented space from LaunchPad, a company that provides resources for startup businesses to grow.

Two classes are set to start in September: actor’s gym, a course designed for adults with basic acting knowledge, and teen scene, where teenagers get to learn about acting.

“My plan is to have everybody working every night,” Schneider said, explaining why she wants to keep no more than 12 students in each of her classes. “Every time they come to class they have an exercise.”

At the University of California, Los Angeles, Schneider taught acting, but after she graduated she stopped and focused on her own acting career.

“I love [teaching],” she said after getting back to it. “I love connecting with people. I love sharing what I know… I feel like everyone has an obligation and if you have a gift, you are robbing the world if you are not sharing it with others.”

Karen Lico, 57, a student at the studio, said that she loves Schneider’s way of teaching.

“She has a way of pulling us in and getting us to feel things that you don’t even realize you are feeling and can feel,” Lico said. “She just makes you feel good.”

John Battaglia, 57, another student, never had any acting experience until this January when he took a class with Schneider at Bare Bones Theater in Northport.

“I like the idea of being somebody else and using the feelings and emotion inside me in another character,” Battaglia said.

Schneider was born on Long Island and moved to California as a teen. She received both her bachelor’s and master’s degree in theatre from UCLA. After meeting her husband, Steve Schneider, she moved back to Long Island and got married.

She has more than 20 years of acting experience, and yet she said she still goes to acting classes occasionally, as many famous actors do, Schneider said, because acting, just like sports, relies on muscle memories. Attending classes would help actors “flex their acting muscles,” she said.

However, most of the classes at Take 2 Actor’s Studio are made for students with little to zero acting experience.

“If you come in with acting experience, in some ways you may have habits that I need to break,” Schneider said. She said she is more inspired by students who come in uncomfortable acting in front of other people and leave her class motivated and excited by the progress they have made.

Schneider said that there are not many adult acting schools on Long Island and she welcomes people who are interested in acting but never got the chance to try it.

“No matter your age, if it’s something that you’ve always been curious about or wanted to try, then [you should],” she said. “It’s never too late. You will gain more than the skills needed to act. You will gain new friends and a deeper understanding of yourself.”

Alexandra Juliano, far right, in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Rita J. Egan

Before she flies off to the University of Delaware in a few months, Alexandra Juliano is taking on one of her dream roles — Peter Pan. The Commack High School senior and other young actors, who are all 18 years old or younger, will be hitting the stage at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts in “Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.,” which opens on May 14.

The Commack native is no stranger to the stage. She has performed in various productions at the Dream Makers Performing Arts School in East Northport as well as her high school, most recently playing Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd.” Over the last few years, she has appeared at the Smithtown Theater in the junior versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Les Miserables,” as well as the Mainstage production of “The Little Mermaid” as Aquata, one of Ariel’s sisters.

Recently, Juliano took time out from rehearsals to talk about her portrayal of the iconic character of Peter Pan and about growing up.

How did you feel when you heard you got the part?
I was ecstatic; I was over the moon! I love doing shows here, especially the junior shows. I’ve done a Mainstage show and it was amazing, but the junior shows are really nice because I love working with the little kids and all my friends and everything. Peter Pan actually has always been my favorite Disney movie, ever, and Peter Pan himself has always been one of my dream roles. I love “Peter Pan” and everything that it’s about. So, not only did I know it was going to be a great experience because of that, but it’s a part I always wanted to play. I was so proud, so happy, so humbled to get the chance to play it.

What’s it like working with the cast and crew?
Amazing. I’ve done so many shows here and I’ve never had a bad experience from the adults to the directors to the kids. You just get so close to everyone. It’s such a warm environment.

Do you have a favorite song in the play?
I guess I have to say my favorite song is the first time the Darlings fly with me. The “You Can Fly” sequence, where the famous line is, “Neverland is second star to the right, straight on till morning.” I’ve always loved that line. I can’t wait for that magic with the audience, the little kids thinking that we’re flying.

What is the energy like with a children’s audience?
The energy in the audience is always so high. We do autographs after, and obviously performing onstage is amazing, but that’s one of my favorite parts, is the autographs after. For “The Little Mermaid Jr.” I was Sebastian, and the kids, just the things that they would say to you, they really believe that you’re the character. They thought I was this little red crab. I think that’s the best part. These kids come, and they’re so young some of them, and even the ones who are older, and they know that it’s not real, they still get sucked into it. They still have that Disney Magic. Like I said, even though I love performing, obviously, I love the autographs, and the energy that the kids show, the enthusiasm they show.

Do you think some of the kids in the autograph line will realize you’re a girl?
I’ve actually thought about that. I don’t know exactly what response I’m going to give yet if anyone says that to me. I’m thinking I’m going to have a short enough wig and if they say anything to me, I’ll just have to stay in character and say, “No, I’m Peter.” And I hope, even if they do realize I’m a girl, I hope that when I’m onstage, they’ll forget the fact that it’s a girl playing a boy, and just enjoy it for what it is.

Peter Pan and his friends are resistant to growing up. How do you feel about growing up?
It’s scary. I just paid my deposit for college actually this past weekend, and it’s really scary. My brother, my whole life I’ve grown up with me and him being very, very close … my older brother … When I was younger I was always like, “No, I want to be an adult. I want to wear the high heels and the lipstick,” but he was always like, “I just want to stay young forever.” And now that I’m actually wearing the high heels and the lipstick, I love looking back at the memories of being a kid. There are perks of being an adult but then there’s definitely reasons why I see that Peter didn’t want to grow up. It’s definitely a lot more fun being a kid.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
I would love to be an actress. Hopefully, knock on wood, but I’m actually majoring in dietetics, so nutritional sciences and stuff like that.

Do you plan on acting at college?
Yes, I plan on minoring in theater. Which is good, since I’m doing the minor, I’ll be able to audition for their shows and everything. And, I know already Ken [Washington] said next year for the summer show I’ll be able to audition for it when I get home from college. So, it’s good. Even though I’m not majoring in it, it will always be a part of my life.

Do you see yourself acting professionally?
I would love to be able to pursue it professionally. It’s such a risky and tough business. My parents have told me you’re more than allowed to audition, and they’ve even told me if you get a part while in school, you’re allowed to take time off to pursue a part on Broadway or off Broadway if you get that opportunity, because they know how important it is to me. I have my backup plan, I have the backup job, but I definitely would love to audition and put myself out there for it.

What advice would you give young actors?
Just keep trying out. You’re not always going to get the part you want. You’re not always going to get the lead role your first try or your second try. But, it’s all about making the best of the role you get, in theater so many people don’t see that, but there’s no bad role. Even ensemble in shows, they’re so much more than ensemble. I’m one of those people I’ll watch a show, and during the big dance numbers, I love seeing the facial expressions of the ensemble, and I love seeing the energy. And, the ensemble really makes or breaks a show. So ensemble is sometimes the best role. Just keep trying. Just keep going. Don’t get down on yourself. Because eventually you’ll get there, you’ll get the role you want.

So far, the experience with “Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.” has left the soon-to-be 18-year-old with  wonderful memories. She said not only does she enjoy working with the whole cast but the musical gives her a chance to perform with one of her best friends Cass Fawcett, who plays Tinker Bell. Juliano also said the young actors playing the Darlings — Moira Swinford (Wendy), Cole Napolitano (John) and Erika Hinson (Michael) — with whom she appears in many scenes, are exceptionally talented.

Catch Juliano and her fellow young actors at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts until June 19. The theater is located at 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, and tickets are $15 per person. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

This version corrects the last name of Erika, who plays Michael Darling.

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Hans Paul Hendrickson, second from right, with the cast of ‘Godspell’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Rita J. Egan

When it comes to the lead role in “Godspell,”  one important trait for the actor to have is charisma. During a recent interview with Hans Paul Hendrickson, it was obvious that he not only possesses this important characteristic but also enthusiasm for the musical’s upcoming run at Port Jefferson’s Theatre Three, as well as working with his fellow cast members and director Jeffrey Sanzel.

The company member was in middle school when he first saw the production at a local high school. “I was just blown away by how it was so different than anything else I had known in the musical theater realm,” he said.

After seeing the show, Hendrickson bought the album on iTunes. “I bought it and I lived it. I listened to it over and over again. And then, when I found out that they were doing it this year when I was signing my company contract, I was very much excited, and very eager to get a chance to get a crack out of it,” the actor said.

While it’s a role he always wanted, Hendrickson explained his reasons have changed since rehearsals started. He also said he finds himself getting along even easier with people, and taking the stance of turning the other cheek when someone does him wrong. “Originally I wanted to play it because it’s the lead, and he has great songs, and who wouldn’t want to play Jesus Christ. And also, the person who played it at the high school was someone I admired through doing theater and looked up to, which made me want to play it even more,” he said.

“But as I’ve gotten the role it’s kind of become a situation where, I’m not saying I’m becoming the character, but I’m adopting his teachings. I’m becoming able to relate to what he’s saying because a lot of what he says in the show is straight out of the Bible, and it’s not exactly written in the most plain of terms, but through my work with Jeff I’m able to connect that stuff with my life. And I’m able to adopt these ideals and these thoughts and these concepts of this man, and the character and the actor are becoming one,” he added.

The actor said the play asks, “If this charismatic character came into your life for one day, how will he change you?”

“In our production, we kind of take the name of Jesus out of the play. We are focusing more on the teachings and the identity, the being, the idea of Jesus. Rather than them addressing me as Jesus and me wearing a beard and long hair, we kind of focus on the love aspect,” said Hendrickson.

“Throughout the rehearsal process, Jeff [Sanzel] has been emphasizing the idea to me of leading from behind. Yes, [Jesus] is the leader but he kind of is the gas in the tank of the ensemble. He helps them to realize that they have all the teachings and understandings in themselves. And as he teaches them to tell these parables and these stories, not only do they learn the lessons about the stories but they learn lessons about themselves.”

The actor explained that the Theatre Three production takes place in an old theater, and as the musical opens, we are introduced to characters representing theater regulars such as the shining star, the understudy, the costumer and the director. While the beginning number shows disconnect, the Jesus character, who happens to be the janitor, comes in to help connect everyone. “We kind of wanted to emphasis the idea that he could be anyone. It’s not about, yes, he was the son of God, but he’s also the son of man.”

While Hendrickson has a number of favorite moments in the musical, he said he loves how the cast comes together in “Save the People” and feels a surge of energy that he said organically came along in the rehearsal process. The number first starts with Hendrickson and Patrick O’Brien, who plays Judas, on stage, and then everyone joins in with the band dropping out for about four measures where everyone sings a cappella.

“There’s such a surge of energy. And, it’s something that you don’t get in every production, and it’s something that you can’t take for granted as a performer, because it’s so genuine of everybody coming together for this one purpose. I’m getting goose bumps just talking about it,” Hendrickson said. “They’re almost coming together to be together. They’re not entirely sure why they are coming together but there’s something pulling them, there’s something bringing them in. Their vocals are just so on point at that moment.”

As for his fellow cast members, Hendrickson said they all bring different energies and personalities, and they jokingly refer to themselves as the God Squad. “There’s not a weak link up there.”

The actor credits Sanzel for bringing out the best in all of the cast members. He explained the director doesn’t just simply direct but also pulls the best from each actor, discussing with each their thoughts about the role and any problems they may encounter. Hendrickson said Sanzel also understands how to take into account the actors’ ideas of approaching a role and making the entire cast feel connected. “He’s created a completely judgment-free zone, which we’re able to try, and which we’re able to grow, and which we’re able to love and love each other, and love the work that we’re putting together.”

After “Godspell,” Hendrickson said he will appear at the theater in the one-act play “OK Computer” by Tom Moran  at the Ronald F. Peierls Theater on  the Second Stage at the end of April and as Pinocchio in the Mainstage musical “Shrek” in May. The 23-year-old plans to take the summer off and then audition, something Hendrickson said he’s more confident about than in previous years due to this past year as a Theatre Three company member.

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, will present “Godspell” from Feb. 27 to March 26. For more information, please visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

From left, Aaron Dalla Villa, Sean King and Jay William Thomas in a scene from ‘Orphans.’ Photo by Jacob Hollander

By Charles J. Morgan

The three-person drama “Orphans” officially opened at the Conklin Barn in Huntington last week kicking off a 12-performance run.

It is no wonder that stars like Alec Baldwin, William Devane and Ned Beatty have played a part in the past on Broadway in this powerful, dynamic effort. Playwright Lyle Kessler has written an interlocking, emotion-laden, compelling drama about two orphaned brothers living in North Philly; one, Treat, a slick domineering “Mack the Knife” type played to the hilt by Aaron Dalla Villa; the other, Philip, a mentally challenged younger brother who manages to maintain a tenuous grip on reality, handled skillfully and deftly by Jay William Thomas. Treat is convinced that his criminal lifestyle is morally acceptable since it is all for the benefit of his meek, needy and obedient brother.

Both actors discharged their characterizations brilliantly. Kessler has painted the emotional dynamism here with the precision of Seurat’s pointillism, perhaps with an admixture of Van Gogh’s intensity. Dalla Villa and Thomas display this with character intensity, revealing each to be skillful actors with an explosive stage presence and role interpretation of the highest magnitude.

Then on to the 18-inch-high stage platform of the Conklin Barn enters Sean King as Harold. He is drunk and has been kidnapped by Treat who discovers that Harold has a load of stocks, bonds and cash in his briefcase as well as on his person. Treat ropes him to a chair and, foolishly, leaves Philip in charge of him as he goes out to make outlandish “ransom” demands.

The great dramatic change comes when Harold frees himself and becomes the salient character. Was he a mob boss? A crooked businessman? Actually, he provides intellectual and emotional help to Philip, putting him on the road to extra-mental reality.

Treat is enraged on returning, but Harold mollifies him with a promise of a job as his bodyguard at an enormous salary. At this juncture the audience is beginning to realize that King’s portrayal of Harold is something larger than life. Harold is “The Other.” He dispenses moral and ethical advice that begins to give some concrete meaning to the lives and actions of Treat and Philip. King’s consistent playing of this role is startlingly understated, which gives it far more impact than if there had been added bombast — a temptation to a lesser skilled actor.

The final scene in this two-act production occurs in a very heart-rending denouement redolent of a Renaissance triptych.

Direction was by the multitalented Jim Bonney. Any director confronted by a fast moving three-actor property has issues with blocking. Bonney overcame this problem with the fastest-paced blocking your scribe has seen in a long time. He used karate, a fist fight, wrestling and logical positioning that was keenly correct. Bonney’s skills were challenged, but he showed his directorial métier so admirably that he came up with a tightly controlled, expressive result.

Is there a philosophy in “Orphans”? Yes. But it is not a transcendent one … more of a purely human one. Yet the humanity of Harold is so overwhelming, despite his lifestyle that it penetrates the façade of “goodness” between the brothers. It is tragedy, yet its human dimension provides an element of hope. Keep in mind that Renaissance triptych.

Bonney/King Productions will present “Orphans” at the Conklin Barn, 2 High St., Huntington, through Sept. 5. Meet the playwright Lyle Kessler and join him for a Q-and-A after Sept. 4th’s performance. Tickets are $25. For more information, call 631-484-7335 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com.