Monday, April 8, 2024

Go "Backstage" and Discover a New Film by Kevin Austra

Jeff Gudzune writes book reviews for a variety of publishers and is active in community theater. Since 2013, Jeff has owned and operated Matrix Notary Service.

Theater is a world of its own. A multi-faceted realm where reality intersects with fantasy and art is given life. It isn’t easy. Anyone who has gone through the rigors of cold readings, callbacks, and the emotional roller-coaster associated with awaiting a casting decision can attest. Actors are not simply reciting words; they are giving of themselves to bring their characters to life. It’s a wonderful, collaborative, and exhausting process. It is agony and ecstasy. Directors have the arduous task of taking the script and translating their vision into blocking. Set Designers must bring the bare stage to life. Costume Directors must outfit an entire troop in keeping with the theme of the show, often using a shoestring budget. In essence, every theater is a community theater. Months of work go into production — most of it happening before Opening Night. But what of the drama that happens behind the curtain?

Backstage is a film that exposes the gritty underside of theater with a careful mix of humor and drama. An unnamed theater group is working hard on their winter show, Romeo and Juliet. Among the cast is newcomer Sam, whose struggles with bringing his character to life will strike a familiar chord with many neophyte thespians. Sam is the everyman, a complicated person with a backstory that is cleverly revealed throughout the film.Among the players, each one represents an archetype of the theatrical world. There are stars, prima donnas, hams, and old hands. There is the frustrated Director, the sanguine Stage Manager, and the interfering Board Member. While the principal focus of the dramatic arch is Sam, the ensemble characters stand out with their own stories.

The cast of Kevin Austra's new film, Backstage.
Photo provided by Kevin Austra.
Backstage is an independent film by Kevin Austra, shot entirely inside the iconic Everett Theatre in Middletown, Delaware. Utilizing a cast of local actors, the film examines the complex dynamics of the theater itself. While there are points where the timing seems slightly off, and some of the lines are rushed, the performances are nuanced and poignant. Among the more memorable moments is a conversation in which a more experienced performer explains why he accepted the relatively minor role of Montague even though he thinks he deserves a larger role. Confronting a younger performer, whose inclusion in the cast was the result of his association with a prominent board member, the older actor explains that at the end of the day, the theater is where he wishes to be. His job may pay the bills, but the theater is his life.

This alone underscores the reason actors, directors, stage crew, and those who run the theater do what they do for little to no pay. It’s not about the money, it’s about the art. There are moments in the film where it seems as if the characters have lost their direction, and the plot seems to grind to a halt. This can only be deliberate, as the tone change represents a transition into the more serious aspects of the drama.

Find out more about the filmmaker at

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Kick Up Your Heels with Wilmington Drama League's Snazzy "Kinky Boots"

By Mike Logothetis
Theater reviewer Mike Logothetis grew up in North Wilmington, performing in school and local theater productions. He lives in Newark, but you can find him wherever the arts are good.

The cast of WDL's Kinky BootsPhotography by Rich Lee

The Wilmington Drama League
is staging an enthusiastic rendition of the much-beloved show Kinky Boots at its refurbished theater on Lea Boulevard. If the standing ovation the players received on Opening Night is any indication, this production is one the reader should make plans to experience!

Kinky Boots is an award-winning musical with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and book by Harvey Fierstein. Based on the 2005 British film of the same name – written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth (and mostly inspiredby true events) – the musical tells the incredible story of Charlie Price. Having inherited a shoe factory from his father, Charlie forms an unlikely partnership with drag queen Lola to produce a line of high-heeled boots and save the business. In the process, Charlie and Lola discover that they aren’t so different plus are stronger together than apart.

Disparate Charlie (Stephen Piergrossi) and Lola (Aubrey Murphy) connect over two common bonds – shoes and people. Charlie is as loyal to his factory workers as Lola is to her “Angels” – drag performers like her who form her family. They are also true to themselves – who they are and what they aspire to be. 

Piergrossi and Murphy leapt off the stage with powerful voices and sincere emotions that kept the audience rapt. Piergrossi excelled with his touching solo “The Soul of a Man.” It seemed like every Lola song morphed into an epic disco number with bright lights, a chorus of dancers, and a party atmosphere. Murphy held the audience in a trance with her subtle yet strong movements and pointed dialog. You really can’t take your eyes off her. “Celebrate yourself triumphantly,” she says…and does.

Kudos to director/choreographer Patrick Murray for filling every inch of the multi-level modular stage (by Aaron Cook) with dancers, props, and overall action. I especially enjoyed the slapping fans, elevated conveyor belt catwalking, and the visuals during the boxing match. Timothy Cannon and Laurene Eckbold must be cited for the costuming of everyone in the show, but especially Lola and her Angels. The sassy Angels were played by Cannon, Tommy Fisher-Klein, Keian Hagstrom, Todd Hartsock, Galen Keliikuli, and Ricky López.

The crux of any show is the interaction between characters on stage and with the audience. There’s no room for “stupid hubris” (Charlie) and the actors bear all for us to appreciate. At the same time, the core for any musical is the performance of the songs. While many of the songs feel the same, the high energy and quality of the vocals elevate the musical numbers into crowd-pleasers. Simply put, this production of Kinky Boots has you rooting for all sides to win from the get-go. The coda “Raise You Up/Just Be” got the crowd up and moving in their seats for a rollicking finale.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out solid performances by Meghan Arters (Nicola) and Catherine Callahan (Lauren) as Charlie’s romantic interests. Both portray characters with kind souls who have no real malice toward people when things aren’t quite going their way. They’re both strong actresses and singers whose postures and authenticities shone.

Performances of Kinky Boots run from March 8 through 17 on Friday and Saturday nights (8 pm) plus two Sunday matinees (2 pm). Tickets prices are $25 with senior/student tickets $20 and children (12 or younger) $15. Group ticket rates are also available through the box office. Tickets can be purchased online at; by contacting the box office at 302.764.1172; or visiting in person at 10 Lea Boulevard. The show runs approximately 2.5 hours with one intermission.

The Wilmington Drama League seats 260 patrons, including six wheelchair bays. The newly revamped theater is equipped with an ADA compliant entrance ramp and bathrooms. “Flex Tickets” are also an option for those who plan to watch several WDL shows, but maybe not all of them. Inquire at the box office. 

“The most beautiful thing in the world is a [red!] shoe.” – Lola

Friday, March 8, 2024

Maiss Hussein is Poetry Out Loud's Delaware Finalist

The content of this post comes from a release from The Delaware Division of the Arts...

Senior Maiss Hussein (pictured at right) from Paul M. Hodgson Vo-Tech High School has been named the Delaware State Finalist for the national Poetry Out Loud competition. Maiss will represent Delaware and advance to the Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest, National Finals in Washington, DC on April 30-May 2, 2024, where $50,000 in awards and school stipends will be distributed.

Hussein is currently in the dental program and plans to attend Dental Hygiene school. She loves poetry and has always had an interest in literature. Recently, she has started to write her own poetry. 
Hussein also works with her school's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) program, which correlates with her interest in literature and culture. She has great pride in her Palestinian heritage and loves to find connections between her culture and poetry.

Photo by Sam Wilson, Moonloop Photography