NMI BIZ Conference 2016

I was very fortunate to be a "Know the MARKET" panelist this past weekend at the NMI BIZ Conference. Moderated by Michael A. Kerker (ASCAP Director of Musical Theater), and featuring fellow panelists Tim Dang (Producing Artistic Director, East West Players), Karole Foreman (Writer, The Princess & the Black-Eyed Pea), Amy Lieberman (Casting Director), Michael Shepperd (Artistic Director, Celebration Theatre), and Katy Sullivan (Actress, Director), "Know the MARKET" examined diversity in musical theatre: how it affects writers, topics and themes, characters, and casting as well as how you can be a part of making musical theatre reflect the diverse face of the nation. After all, Hamilton's changed everything, right? Read more about the panel and my experience below.

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Women in Film Crystal & Lucy Awards 2016

I was very honored to attend the Women in Film Crystal & Lucy Awards earlier this week. All of the speeches from such reputable women were very meaningful and moving. As a fellow member of WIF, I have met many talented women in Hollywood who work in production, direction, and acting. I want to personally thank all of these women for the rejuvenated empowerment within me. I would especially like to thank Cate Blanchett, with whom I was able to share my appreciation for her acting craft in the film "Carol". She does know some sign language, and was able to share her gratitude with me. You can read more about the event and my encounter with Cate in the article below.

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My Hero Project

The My Hero Media Access Salon was the most attended in their two year history of the series. Kudos to all participants.

Vagina Monologues: Behind the Scenes

Here are some pictures from my time working on the Vagina Monologues at the Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood.


TITUS: Full Trailer

Independent full feature film called "TITUS" is soon to be released. I am (deaf actor) one of the leads in this intense and heartful story film. I was fortunate to be involved in this great story. Very powerful and was written/directed/produced by women, Diana Zuros and Co-written/co-produced by Nino D. Gordeli. We worked for almost one year to finish this production. It is being edited currently and getting ready for a red carpet later this year.

Here is the full-length trailer.

TITUS: Behind the Scenes

Independent full feature film called "TITUS" is soon to be released. I am (deaf actor) one of the leads in this intense and heartful story film. I was fortunate to be involved in this great story. Very powerful and was written/directed/produced by women, Diana Zuros and co-written/co-produced by Nino D. Gordeli. We worked for almost one year to finish this production. It is being edited currently and getting ready for a red carpet later this year.

Interview with Deaf Actress Antoinette Abbamonte

From About Health:

MAY 10, 2011 | JAMIE BERKE, HEARING LOSS EXPERT

Antoinette Abbamonte is a deaf actress who has appeared on television and in a web series (a web series is an original program for the Internet). After becoming aware of Antoinette via the web series, About.comDeafness interviewed her by email.

Q: How did you get into acting?

A: Since birth, I guess. I saw all the pictures of myself that my parents took and I noticed I learned how to be a performer in front of the camera.

I have the clip of myself when my brother, Carlo, was born and was in the carriage, sound asleep. My dad was running video on him and I saw myself climbing over the carriage because I wanted to be center stage in the video. I was signing to my 'deaf' dad "Shhh, he is asleep." I looked so natural and believable. I was only 2.

At age 12, I played Lisa in The Sound of Music. I enjoyed it and remember feeling so good about myself. I was using total communication language throughout the play (both sign and speech simultaneously which is quite difficult). I received an award and was so flattered.

I began acting school when I was at Edward R. Murrow High School. I withdrew from the acting world at times since I did not see a clear vision or role for myself as a child actor who happened to be deaf -- until the day my cousin who was also deaf took me to the Broadway performance of Children of Lesser God. I was so proud of Phyllis Frelich. I was thinking about her a lot after I saw the play. I was able to believe in myself all over again.

It was a great feeling of newfound confidence!

I applied for acting school at college while I was working full time at a bank. Then I applied for National Theater of the Deaf (NTD) and was thrilled when they accepted me. I had to quit my job to go away for the whole summer with NTD. Then, luckily, I was hired as a full time actor, instructor, director and writer for Fairmount Theater of the Deaf (later Cleveland Sign Stage). The goal was to develop the cultural bridge between the deaf and hearing communities. It worked well. I was able to direct plays and I wrote a play called "Subway Tales." Remarkable experiences.

Q: What are the highlights of your acting career so far?

A: Laura Wingfield, "The Glass Menagerie"; Queen Margaret, "Richard III"; Betty, "Raising Hope" on Fox; and Dewey, "The Vamps Next Door" web series. [This web series is closed captioned.]

Q: How would you describe your character Dewey?

A: Dewey is very smart and insightful. She works in the mainstream and overcomes many obstacles in life. I can't say any more. I would want for you to watch! (Wink)

Q: How did you find out about this web series role?

A: Olivia Dunkley, whom I have worked with at acting workshops, and I met many casting directors. She is fluent in ASL and would frequently stand up at workshops and say I will volunteer to interpret for Antoinette. We became friends. She is a very talented and beautiful woman. She went for the audition of "The Vamps Next Door" and the role was adeaf woman. Olivia suggested my name and said I know someone who is talented and actually deaf. Phil Ramuno, the director and Laura Van Scotter, writer, decided to develop a new character, Dewey.

Q: Given that this is a web series, how do you see your character developing over time?

A: I'm the actor so I would have the confidence of my writers to take the lead in that developing and maturing of Dewey.

Q: Would you encourage other deaf actors to take roles on other web series?

A: It depends how much they can accomplish. Sure, I would encourage them to jump off the cliff and fly. It does not matter if you win or not. If it doesn't succeed initially, stand up and do it again... keep trying to move forward!

Q: Do you act only or do you have another job?

A: In the past during my 20's, I had no money. I had students coming to my studio paying me for private American Sign Language (ASL) lessons to help me feed myself and pay for my studio apartment. I found a way to survive just like any other actor. (Antoinette is also actively advocating for the hiring of more actors with disabilities.)

Q: Will you come back on "Raising Hope?" (On "Raising Hope," she played a deaf co-worker in one scene in the episode "Meet the Grandparents.")

A: I am hoping to come back on "Raising Hope." Betty is a great role. I believe it would help to reach others as a role model. Speaking [as] a deaf person who can work out there in the real world. Helping the employers hire more employees who are deaf.

It was awesome. They [came] to me and said thank you for being part of this scene. The director, Jace Alexander, was well aware of working with me as a deaf [actress] but I did not see him limiting my work. I saw him believing in me. That was the most important for me to see that. I have always want to see people looking at my talents, not my ears!

Q: Tell me about "Beyond Essays," the film you had a role in?

A: "Beyond Essays" made it into the Deaf Film Festival of 2010 in Stockholm, Sweden. It is at http://www.dovfilmfestival.nu. You can find the English link in the navigation. The film isn't shown on there yet, but it will be updated soon.

Q: What is your children's book "Tree Wise" about?

A: Here is the synopsis of my "Tree Wise" book: It's a delightful story about a boy who learns how to help his new friend and classmates understand more about deaf culture. A wise old tree teaches sign language to the children through games. Colorful pictures and simple diagrams make it easy to pick up sign language.

My book was published but then the publishing company was a victim of the economy and closed down. The manuscript is complete and is presently being submitted to new publishers.

"Tree Wise" was adapted into a play by the National Theatre of the Deaf from 2008 to 2010. The Artistic Director for NTD very much appreciated producing the "Tree Wise" play, and said it was successful throughout their tour of the schools all along the East Coast.

Q: You wrote a solo play. What is it about?

A: "Cliterally Speaking." It is about the journey of my life. Being a woman, being deaf, growing up in Brooklyn and much more. There are some points in the story that have comic relief, as if you ride on a roller coaster.

Goodman Theater Bio

Antoinette Abbamonte

(Bio as of February 2003)

Antoinette Abbamonte most recently appeared at the Goodman in By the Music of the Spheresduring the 2002/2003 Season. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, to deaf parents. She has worked for many years in theater, film and television. In Los Angeles, she performed with Deaf West Theatre, where she was nominated for an Ovation Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. She has appeared at Greenway Court Theatre in Sonnets for an Old Century; at the Group Repertory Theatre as Gloria in At Last Long Leo (a role or iginally not intended for a deaf person); and at Deaf West Theatre as Martirio in The House of Bernar­da Alba. Favorite roles include Queen Margaret in Richard III at Shotgun Players, Anna in The Lower Depths at American Conservatory Theatre, The Snow Queen with 450 Geary Theatre, Holly in A Deaf Family Diary with Signrise Cultural Center, The Shadow Box at Jackson The­atre, and Laura in The Glass Menagerie and Sarah in the national tour of Children of a Lesser God at Cleveland Signstage Theatre. She wrote and directed The Cliff at March Works and directed The Rover at City College in San Francisco. Ms. Abbamonte has taught acting at American Conservatory Theatre, the Deaf Arts Counsel's summer camp at Reif-Mar Studio, and helped set-up nine theaters of the deaf around the U.S. through Signstage's Instant Theatre Residency Program. She was the sign-master for Marin Shakespeare Festival, and John Leguizamo's Freak. She has taught American Sign Language with Vista for many years in New York and California. Her video Sign and ABC's was released through Alymar Press. She has studied with the National The­atre of the Deaf and American Conservatory Theatre. Film and television credits include E.R., Angel and End Game. She is currently writing two plays, Tales of the Subway and Butterfly, for future production.

View IMDB page

Review: Oliver!

From Variety

JUNE 5, 2000 | JULIO MARTINEZ

Under the deft, imaginative adaptation and staging of Tony Award-winner Jeff Calhoun (Broadway revival of “Grease”), Deaf West’s thoroughly original interpretation of the popular Lionel Bart musical reaffirms the power and transcendence of live theater.

Calhoun’s creative interplay of speaking and signing actors is near seamless, bonded by the director’s clever incorporation of Dickens’ original text to facilitate the continuity of the storyline. Complementing Calhoun’s efforts are the adroit musical direction and keyboard work of Carol Weiss and a facile four-piece instrumental ensemble.

And given the limited space he had to work with, Brian-Paul Mendoza’s musical staging is remarkable.

Utilizing the great 19th century British author’s words even more faithfully than Bart’s original book, this tune-filled yarn follows Oliver’s (Joshua Ari Soudakoff) nutrition-deprived orphanage days under the rule of inept Mr. Bumble (Troy Kotsur) and the rapacious Widow Corney (Carol Kline), to his brief but volatile experience as a mortician’s assistant to the cadaverous Ms. Sowerberry (Vae), and his adventurous days as an apprentice thief under the tutelage of the gleefully larcenous Fagin (George McDaniel).

Enlivening the lad’s adventures are congenial, light-fingered pickpocket the Artful Dodger (Harris Doran), murderous master crook Bill Sykes (Ryan Schlect/Tasos Pappos) and Sykes’ streetwise but tenderhearted girlfriend Nancy (Antoinette Abbamonte/Susan Hoffman).

The driving force of the action is McDaniel, who skillfully segues back and forth from his sophisticated duties as narrator to wallow in the persona of Fagin. The dual role often provides hilarity, as McDaniel’s stiff-necked narrator often has to dissolve in an instant into the comical villain who delights in instructing his thieving charges (“Pick a Pocket or Two”), yet is single-mindedly looking out for himself (“I’m Reviewing the Situation”).

For the most part, the ensemble is superb. The shifting focus between players is dance-like, but it’s clearly a careful blending of choreographed action. The attention is never divided, as the singing Nancy (Hoffman) and the signing Nancy (Abbamonte) meld their talents in the ironic “It’s a Fine Love,” the raucous “Oom Pah, Pah, Pah,” and the emotion-packed, “As Long as He Needs Me.”

This singing-signing synergy segues into a quartet, as Soudakoff’s Oliver and Abbamonte’s Nancy offer a playful, signed rendition of “I’d Do Anything for You” voiced in perfect unison by young Josh Breslow (the voice of Oliver) and Hoffman. Breslow also turns in a fragile but haunting a cappella rendition of “Where Is Love.”

Doran is effective as the swaggering, scampish Dodger, who first invites Oliver into Fagin’s den of thieves (“Consider Yourself”). The bawdy courtship (“I Shall Scream”) of Kotsur’s Mr. Bumble and Kline’s Widow Corney is a comical delight, as is the Vae (acting and signing)/Faye DeWitt (singing) collaboration on Sowerberry’s parsimonious rendition of “That’s Your Funeral.” Later, DeWitt offers an exquisite vocal rendition of “Who Will Buy.” Also memorable is the soaring tenor voice of William C. Martinez, who captures the sadness inherent in “Boy for Sale.”

The only weak aspect of the production is Wanda LaCoure’s lackluster signed performance as Oliver’s eventual benefactor, Ms. Brownlow. She’s never in sync with the surrounding action, despite the earnest voiced efforts of DeWitt.


Oliver!

Deaf West Theatre; 99 seats; $22 top

Production

Deaf West Theatre presents a musical drama in two acts, book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, adapted and directed by Jeff Calhoun. Producer, Bill O'Brien.

Creative

Musical direction/keyboard, Carol Weiss; associate director, Mel Johnson Jr.; musical staging, Brian-Paul Mendoza;sets, Robert Steinberg; lighting, Michael Gilliam; costumes, David Zyla; sound, Douglas Green. Opened May 14, 2000, reviewed June 1; closes June 25. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Cast

Dickens/Fagin - George McDaniel Nancy - Antoinette Abbamonte/Susan Hoffman Oliver - Joshua Ari Soudakoff/Josh Breslaw The Artful Dodger - Harris Doran Bill Sykes - Ryan Schlect/Tasos Pappas Widow Corney - Carol Kline Mr. Bumble - Troy Kotsur Mrs. Brownlow - Wanda LaCoure/Faye DeWitt Charlotte - Jennifer Madden Sowerberry - Vae

With: Bryan Buckley, William C. Martinez II, Koli Kutler, Alex Dolan, Shady Ellaham, Zachary Lotane, Stephen Thomas Morse.

Deaf Actress Interprets NoHo Role as Good Sign

From the Los Angeles Times Valley Life | SPOTLIGHT:

FEBRUARY 26, 1999PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN

Antoinette Abbamonte flashes her dimples as she talks about her rage.

Thirty-year-old Abbamonte is currently in rehearsal for her Los Angeles stage debut as Gloria in Mark Stein's comedy "At Long Last Leo" at North Hollywood's Group Repertory Theatre.

Abbamonte has been in town only four months, and she has already snagged an agent and a lead in a NoHo play. But the rage is something she has always dealt with.

As Abbamonte explains, her eloquent fingers flying, she is deaf--as are her parents, her brother and a number of other relatives--and that sometimes makes life hard.

"I'm still angry about this," Abbamonte says, using American Sign Language and an expressive personal vocabulary of smiles, grimaces and gestures.

"I go home. I cry. I write down in my journal, 'Why me?' "

That done, she gets on with her life--trying to make it as an actress in Los Angeles; spending time with her boyfriend Brian Kapell, a fellow actor, at their home in Hermosa Beach; doing the hundreds of little chores that modern life requires.

A native of Brooklyn, Abbamonte says she first remembers acting as a child, when she would use every wile and stratagem to get her volatile parents to stop arguing.

"My parents fight because they're deaf and Italian," she explains, with a grin.

As a youngster, Abbamonte thought she could never make it as a performer.

"I wanted to be on 'Charlie's Angels,' but I'd say to myself, 'I can't do it because I'm deaf.' "

That all changed when a cousin, also deaf, took her to see the play "Children of a Lesser God." The play was written for, and starred, deaf actress Phyllis Frelich, who won a Tony for her performance. Marlee Matlin won an Oscar in the film version.

"I was like--wow!--a deaf person on stage--on Broadway," recalls Abbamonte, who made her acting debut at 11 in a production of "The Sound of Music."

The role of Gloria, Leo's lawyer love in "At Long Last Leo," was written for a hearing actress. But director Patricia Lee Willson thought using a deaf actress would give an added dimension to the part. A nonhearing Gloria who had managed to become a lawyer would be the very embodiment of hope actualized that so much of the play is about, Willson explains.

Most weekends the part of Gloria is played by GRT regular Jonna Ivin (the play opened Feb. 18). But when Abbamonte, as guest artist, takes over the role March 12 through 14 and March 19 through 21, she will put her own spin on it.

The most dramatic difference is that she will sign her lines, which will be spoken by a newly created character--her cat, Priscilla.

Played by Amelia Norfleet, the cat functions as the nerdy Gloria's sensual alter ego (since Norfleet spends much of her time crawling around the stage, she has taken to wearing kneepads). Norfleet knew some American Sign Language when she took the part, and, as partners in bringing Gloria to life, the two women communicate easily and often.

"The first day we felt a bond," says Abbamonte, as Norfleet sits across from her backstage, translating questions into sign and answers into spoken English.

The entire cast of the Abbamonte version of the play has learned to sign, with her help. And, for a benefit performance March 12 at 8 p.m., the show will feature two professional interpreters for the deaf, Delia D'Angelo and Trisha Zagha. Proceeds will go to Los Angeles' House Ear Institute, which conducts research on hearing loss.

In Abbamonte's view, both her fluency in sign ("the most expressive language") and her rage at the oppression the deaf sometimes face have enhanced her acting ability. She especially values the rage.

"That makes me who I am," she says.

Abbamonte has played roles as diverse as Queen Margaret in "Richard III" and Laura in "The Glass Menagerie." She has taken her turn as Sarah in "Children of a Lesser God." She studied at San Francisco's prestigious American Conservatory Theatre and started an acting program there for deaf students. She has directed as well.

Even with such solid credentials, Abbamonte knows that deaf performers don't get parts, especially parts written for hearing actors, unless someone in charge has the imagination to offer the role.

Abbamonte thanks director Willson for that.

"Not many people are like that," Abbamonte says. "I feel grateful for the opportunity."